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That Was Then, This is Now

When Obama Got It Right

by SERGE HALIMI

Was Barack Obama, then just an Illinois state senator, wrong back in 2002 when he thought that an invasion of Iraq would only “fan the flames of the Middle East and encourage the worst, rather than the best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of Al-Qaida”? Did vice-president Richard Cheney see things more clearly when he promised that US troops would be “welcomed as liberators”? Yet now it is Cheney who dares to accuse Obama of being a traitor and a fool in Iraq, concluding without shame: “Rarely has a US president been so wrong about so much, at the expense of so many” (1).

Obama currently rules out sending US troops to fight against the jihadist forces that control part of Iraq. But he has already agreed to dispatch 300 military “advisers” to the Baghdad regime, while suggesting that the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, should be replaced. The US has provided an autocratic and corrupt regime with “military advisers” before: Ngô Đình Diệm’s regime in Vietnam nearly 60 years ago. Exasperated by his ineptitude, the US let him be (or had him) killed. What followed — military escalation, region-wide violence, millions dead — may explain the American people’s reluctance to follow the warmongers this time.

Intervention by western powers has had catastrophic effects in the Arab world, too. The West has been tight-fisted over contributing to the economic and social development of Tunisia and Egypt by cancelling their debts, but spared no expense in destroying the latest enemy on “humanitarian grounds” — never invoked for US protégés such as Israel, Qatar or Saudi Arabia (2).

Obama suggested on 13 June that Iraq itself, laid waste by the US, was responsible for its current tragedy: “Over the past decade American troops have made extraordinary sacrifices to give Iraqis an opportunity to claim their own future.” This type of self-serving reconstruction of history can only embolden neoconservatives who believe that Washington’s failure to act anywhere automatically hastens the decline of US power, and the advent of universal chaos.

The Iraq war was “won” before Obama took office, Republican senator John McCain tells us. He believes any international crisis can be resolved by bombing the place and sending in the marines. On 15 March McCain had called for US troops to be dispatched to Ukraine and, on 13 May, for military intervention in Nigeria. Obama did not want to “fan the flames of the Middle East” in 2002. Will he be as wise now?

Serge Halimi is president of Le Monde diplomatique.

This article appears in the excellent Le Monde Diplomatique, whose English language edition can be found at mondediplo.com. This full text appears by agreement with Le Monde Diplomatique. CounterPunch features two or three articles from LMD every month.