Sunday, December 28, 2008

More Wars Ahead?

With an inspiring speech of unusual eloquence in the offing and with Lincolnesque symbolism abounding, Obama’s inauguration should surpass even that Grant Park moment on election night – especially as the fact registers that, at last, we are free from further depredations emanating from the wretched House of Bush. The entire world will rejoice.

But, even as celebratory thoughts multiply, there is cause for concern. Eight years of Bush misrule have left Obama with multiple, inter-related disasters to confront. It’s not just “the economy stupid,” catastrophic as the economic situation now is. There is also the harm done to our liberties and to the rule of law, environmental problems to address and much more. Most of all, there are those two on-going Bush wars – at least one of which Obama, formerly “the peace candidate,” intends to ratchet up several notches – proving that he too can act in dumb, counter-productive ways when “national security” is involved.

In the past few days, however, it has become clear that the outlook for peace is even worse than this because two more wars are looming. The United States is not directly involved in either, not yet; but it is a major cause of both.

There is first of all the growing likelihood of a war between India and Pakistan – both of them nuclear powers. All American presidents, going back to Jimmy Carter, helped conjure political Islam into being and Hindus have long had their own variation on the theme, but it took George W. Bush to turn Pakistan into a powder keg and to make war with India likely. Do Obama and his team of Clintonites have a clue about how to navigate this maelstrom? It remains to be seen.

Conflicts between India and Pakistan may be beyond the reach of any American government to resolve, even if there is now a window of opportunity, as Indians and Pakistanis compete to demonstrate good will by “winning one” for Obama. On the other hand, it is entirely within the means of any American government to restrain Israel as it embarks on yet another war; all that is required is a credible threat to withdraw that open-ended blank check American governments have given them almost since the inception of the state. For keeping Israel at peace, the problem is our politics, not our leverage. This too is a cause for concern.

Ever since Hamas took effective control of Gaza, Israel has done everything in its power to make life intolerable for the people there, turning an occupied territory into a besieged open-air prison. No wonder that there is armed resistance! The remarkable thing is how little there has been – just a few, mostly harmless, rockets lobbed into southern Israel. Now, though, it seems that Hamas feels strong enough to want to draw Israel into a ground war, not to defeat it outright – that would be impossible – but to humiliate it, as it was humiliated, at least twice in recent years, by Hezbollah in Lebanon. Thus they have intensified the still mostly harmless rocket lobbing. Count on Israel to find the bait irresistible. Yesterday’s murderous “shock and awe” bombing raid, killing some 240 people according to the latest reports, may just be intended, stupidly and counter-productively, as a retaliation. More likely, it is a prelude to a ground war. Who knows what disasters that will bring, especially if things go poorly for Israel, as they most likely will – if not in the (re)conquest, then in the post-conquest occupation. Are Obama and his band of Clintonites up for dealing with that war too? They won’t do right by the Palestinians, at least not intentionally; that would be asking too much. But maybe, just maybe, they can find it within themselves to save Israel from itself by imposing a semblance of a just, durable and respectful peace. There’s so far no sign of it.

But for the Israel lobby with its Jewish and fundamentalist Protestant wings, saving Israel from itself would be child’s play -- easier by far than saving capitalism from itself, the task that, thanks to Bush, the Wall Street flunkies Obama has (re)empowered may have no choice but to attempt. It is ironic that there is so much less domestic resistance to breaking with Reaganite-Clintonite orthodoxy than there is to holding Israel back. It just goes to show how, when in dire enough straits, capitalists will willingly abandon their convictions to save their asses. Believers in manifest destiny and divine providence, not to mention ethnic supremacy, are less disposed to forsake ideologically driven ambitions.

So in addition to everything else, Obama may find two more wars on his plate. Will he and his “competent” cabinet be up to dealing with so much so soon? Or will he stumble from the outset, bringing the Obama high crashing down even before memories of Inauguration Day fade? I hope I’m wrong, but my money is on the latter prospect.

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