The last re­sort

The Pak Banker - - Front Page - M.J. Ak­bar

IF by any mis­take Democrats had pub­li­cised widely why I, if per­chance an Amer­i­can ci­ti­zen, would have voted for Barack Obama, his tight vic­tory might just have be­come that much more tense.

Noth­ing that Obama did, and he did more than he is given credit for, matched, as far as West and South Asia are con­cerned, the one thing he re­fused to do: go to war with Iran un­der pres­sure from hawks in Wash­ing­ton and hunter­fal­cons in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. His cool de­flec­tion of war­mon­gers in the heat of elec­tions was quin­tes­sen­tial lead­er­ship.

He out­ma­neu­vered one of the wil­i­est politi­cians in the world, Is­rael's Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu. He watched with­out a flicker of an eye­lid as Ne­tanyahu ex­ploited his spe­cial cache in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics, and snubbed him as no ally had ever dared to do. Obama was quiet when Ne­tanyahu and Wash­ing­ton's leg­is­la­ture staged po­lit­i­cal drama to up­stage the White House; Ne­tanyahu vir­tu­ally ac­cused him of ap­peas­ing a nu­clear Iran and was drowned in ap­plause. Im­plicit in this game was an in­sin­u­a­tion, never voiced of course, that Obama was se­cretly pro-Iran. Mitt Rom­ney played this gallery; and Ne­tanyahu's judge­ment be­came so heady that he brazenly in­vested in a Rom­ney vic­tory.

Obama un­der­stood the risks, but did not flinch. Jewish sup­port for him slipped from an over- whelm­ing 78 per cent in 2008, to 69 per cent. To the credit of Amer­i­can Jews, by far the greater ma­jor­ity backed their Pres­i­dent's moder­a­tion against the provo­ca­tions of war­mon­gers. Ne­tanyahu upped his gam­ble by or­der­ing a silly at­tack on a Su­dan fac­tory, on the pre­text that it was build­ing Ira­nian mis­siles, as if Su­dan was ca­pa­ble of do­ing so even if it wanted to.

Ac­tion, but no re­ac­tion. Obama fi­nessed each chal­lenge with the ease of a mas­ter strate­gist, and kept the world safe from a con­fla­gra­tion that would have made Iraq seem like a sideshow.

This was nei­ther ap­pease­ment nor weak­ness; this was judge­ment. Obama has not be­come soft on Iran. He will not al­low Iran to be­come a nu­clear power un­der his watch. But he will not send Amer­i­can troops to pre­ma­ture war just be­cause Ne­tanyahu wants one. Obama is nei­ther goose nor duck­ling. He is not a paci­fist, as Pak­istan has dis­cov­ered. But for him, war is a last op­tion, not a first strike.

Such con­vic­tion re­quires more courage than Ge­orge Bush and Mitt Rom­ney, both of whom es­caped the war­front in Viet­nam through hum­bug: Rom­ney be­came a teenage preacher for his church in the rather charm­ing city of Paris; there is no record of how many French­men he con­verted to Mor­monism.

Iron­i­cally, this clar­ity was miss­ing in Obama's do­mes­tic poli- cy. When he did ini­ti­ate sig­nif­i­cant change, whether on women's rights, same sex mar­riage or health care, he pre­ferred to tem­per his rhetoric, as if he was not cer­tain about how many votes this would cost on elec­tion day.

This is why Obama was so limp in the first de­bate with Mitt Rom­ney; he thought he could fudge his way with si­lence and a pleas­ant nod. Those who be­lieved in him were shocked at the sight of a leader who did not seem to be­lieve in him­self. In 2008 can­di­date Obama in­vested in change be­cause he saw that Amer­ica was chang­ing; four years in of­fice put so much dust in his eyes that he could no longer see how much Amer­ica had changed.

In 2004 the war-tarred Ge­orge Bush man­aged to squeak past John Kerry be­cause he mo­bilised the anti-gay vote. In 2012, Amer­ica got its first les­bian Se­na­tor Tammy Bald­win de­feated the heavy­weight Repub­li­can, Gover­nor Tommy Thomson, in Wis­con­sin.

In Mis­souri, Claire McCaskill punc­tured Repub­li­can Todd Akin, who had the temer­ity to say that a woman's body could in some mys­te­ri­ous way pre­vent preg­nancy af­ter "le­git­i­mate rape". This was also prob­a­bly the first time in pub­lic dis­course that rape had been seg­mented as le­git­i­mate and il­le­git­i­mate. In­di­ana's in­cum­bent Repub­li­can Richard Mour­dock, went a step fur­ther; he thought that preg­nancy af­ter rape was "God's will". God told him it wasn't. He lost his seat. In Mas­sachusetts, the for­mer Har­vard pro­fes­sor El­iz­a­beth War­ren re­cap­tured an old Demo­cratic strong­hold, Ted Kennedy's seat, on a fem­i­nist plat­form that was re­mark­able for its straight talk.

The old lan­guage is dead. Amer­i­can lib­er­als have re­cap­tured the mind, and they are not go­ing to sur­ren­der their na­tion in a hurry. A self-con­fi­dent woman has taken her place at the high ta­ble of power, and the new ma­jor­ity is be­ing struc­tured in al­liance with the Obama man. Mitt Rom­ney is the last can­di­date of an age that has been de­feated. This will have, in­evitably, im­pli­ca­tions for for­eign pol­icy as well.

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