With an eye on US President Barack Obama, someone wrote somewhere very recently that to saddle politicians with lame duck status simply because they are about to reach the end of their terms is like assuming that an aged lion has no teeth. Obama was once, after all, powerful.
In the foreign-policy arena at least, he refuses to be meek – although, paradoxically, there is no Congressional or public pressure on him. Obama’s talks with European leaders in Berlin in the final November of his presidency saw him setting the agenda of trans-Atlantic discourses for his successor Donald Trump. Subsequently, the meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels early this week underscored that Obama might have ensured that Trump’s accommodation with Russia will be infinitely more complicated than anyone would have thought. In a curious reversal of roles, it is the US’ NATO allies who have seized that initiative from the US Establishment to oppose Trump’s approach to Russia ties.
However, Obama is selective. he floats like a butterfly over the Asia-Pacific, avoids Guantanamo Bay like plague, but stings like a bee when the issue is Vladimir Putin. The antagonism is visceral. It’s difficult to pin point how it began, but Ukraine and Syria must have had something to do with it. Simply put, Putin outwitted him on both issues and worse still, made Obama look a ‘loser’.
China may have lethally deflated Obama’s pivot-to-Asia balloon, but has been smart enough to make it look as if a valve leak caused the balloon to collapse. Again, no one rubbed Obama’s nose in the dust that he didn’t keep his word on shutting down Guantanamo Bay. But, on the contrary, Ukraine and Syria stand out as living monuments to his failure as statesman. He became the laughing stock on the Arab Street, in Jerusalem, Istanbul and Cairo.
Yet, Obama didn’t inherit the problems in Ukraine or Syria from President George W. Bush; he himself created them. Obama didn’t have to push for ‘regime change’ in Ukraine to overthrow an elected government simply because the incumbent president wasn’t ‘pro-American’ enough. Nor did he have to incite Turkey and the US Gulf Arab allies to hijack the Arab Spring in Syria – again, pushing the ‘regime change agenda’ to remove from power a ruler who wasn’t willing to serve the US interests in that region.
Obama miserably failed to realise his objectives in both projects. Of course, he was sensible enough not to push the envelope in Ukraine by arming Kiev or put ‘boots on the ground’ in Syria. But the cock-up as such is fundamentally so tragic – two sovereign, independent countries that are member states of the United Nations lie in ruins.
Syria, in particular, haunts Obama. He is now considering a project to dramatically step up arms supplies to the Syrian opposition groups. These weapons might include even US-made portable shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles. Simply put, Obama can derive vicarious pleasure that these advanced missile systems can target the Russian jets. But past experience shows that the American weapons inevitably reach the extremist groups. Why such an insane act by a lame duck president?
Again, recently, Russia alleged that the US military provided the coordinates to the opposition groups to target a Russian field hospital in the Aleppo region, killing two paramedics and a doctor. Evidently, Obama administration hopes to force the hands of Trump who said only last week for the umpteenth time,
We (America) will stop racing to topple foreign regimes that we know nothing about, that we shouldn’t be involved with. Instead our focus must be on defeating terrorism and destroying Isis, and we will. We don’t want to have a depleted military because we’re all over the place fighting in areas that we shouldn’t be fighting in. It’s not going to be depleted any longer… We will build up our military not as an act of aggression, but as an act of prevention. In short we seek peace through strength.
The Obama administration wants to keep the flame of war alive in Syria so that the US’ regional allies take the cue despite the imminent fall of Aleppo. There is much symbolism in the dastardly act of the lame duck administration lifting the embargo on supply of advanced weaponry to Syrian groups when it has just 40 days left in office.
We find a similar perverse attitude on the diplomatic front, too. The Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov laid bare at a press conference in Hamburg on Friday what is actually happening under the rubric of Russian-American ‘consultations’. Read the TASS report here.