Obama and the myth of the generational war

Whatever the outcome of the Iran talks, Obama's larger regional policies and absence of vision will fail the world.

    Obama can offer little more than tired cliches, writes LeVine [AP]
    Obama can offer little more than tired cliches, writes LeVine [AP]

    It has become the general wisdom that Barack Obama won the White House thanks to, in good measure, his early and articulate criticism of the US invasion of Iraq and the broader "war on terror" it fuelled.

    So why on the eve of his greatest foreign policy triumph, a nuclear deal with Iran, is the president embracing the very Bush Administration doctrine that enabled his ascension to the presidency?

    "The war on terror we fight today is a generational struggle that will continue long after you and I have turned our duties over to others," President George W Bush declared in his 2007 State of the Union address.

    Comparing the September 11 attacks to Pearl Harbor, the threat of al-Qaeda and Islamic extremism was linked both to the fascism that led to World War II and the Communist totalitarianism that defined the Cold War conflict for two generations after it.

    Iran and world powers inch closer to nuclear deal

    "They hate our freedoms," was how Bush explained the motivations behind 9/11 shortly after the attacks. Half a dozen years later, he still argued that "the war on terror is more than a battle of arms. It is an ideological struggle for hearts and minds."

    After a decade of war 

    After almost a decade of war, Barack Obama was elected, at least in part, because he didn't buy into such simple ideological cliches; in fact he lambasted the Bush Administration's rhetoric as little more than a "flawed ideology" that left the position of "leader of the free world" open under Bush.

    Obama's call for a "new start" to America's relationship with Muslims in his 2009 speech in Cairo, and his removal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan seemed to augur a shift in US strategic policy towards the region.

    But beneath the rhetoric and beyond the drawdown, the fundamental dynamics of US policy remained largely unchanged: continued support for the world's most brutal regimes, massive arms sales and aid to friendly states, and full-throttled support for Israel despite its ever deepening occupation.

    CodePink protest during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee debate on the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act [AP]

    Obama advocated "justice and respect, tolerance and dignity," but there is scant evidence that our policies support any of these goals.

    In Egypt, the president refused to even utter the word "democracy" until Mubarak was on his way out the door; today, the Administration has thrown its full weight behind President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi despite the unprecedented level of repression and abuses he's deployed. 

    Systemic, large-scale abuses

    On either side of Egypt, stretching from Morocco in the West to Bahrain in the East, the US continues to provide uncritical diplomatic, economic and military support to most every government in the Arab world despite ongoing systematic and often large-scale abuses of their people, lack of democratic accountability and corruption and cronyism.

    The global media focus on foreign fighters, jihadi brides and brutal executions, but in depth interviews and research on ISIL foot soldiers shows them to be largely locally drawn and motivated by feelings of fear, helplessness and complete alienation from the existing political order. It is precisely this dynamic that enabled the rise of ISIL in Iraq, as Der Spiegel's excellent expose on ISIL's inner workings revealed.

    In Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya, the four most violence-plagued countries today, the US and its allies (and other great powers, like Russia and China) offered decades of support to Assad, Saleh and Gaddafi, while the US enabled the emergence of the highly sectarian Iraqi political system that encouraged the emergence of ISIL. 

    And on top of all these, Obama has continued with the unflinching support for Israel and other countries in the region, despite their roles as catalysts for so many of the broader problems across the region.

    Deepening military relationships 

    By embracing the myth of the generational war fueled by irrational ideologies, the president is ensuring the no such vision can be offered.


    Whatever the frosty relationship between him and Netanyahu, under Obama the United States remain alone in the world in offering unhesitant support for its unending occupation. 

    Obama's policies have contributed to the weakening of the already frayed bonds between states and citizens, sidelined forces for non-violent, democratic change, and encouraged the rise of the extremist ideologies in the Arab and broader Muslim world. And yet there is no mention of this reality in the president's call for a "generational struggle" against extremism.

    Instead he declared that the struggle would require "discredit[ing] their ideology" through greater propaganda efforts: "Ideologies are not defeated by guns. They're defeated with better ideas - a more attractive and more compelling vision" than the "the twisted thinking that draws vulnerable people into their ranks".

    Embracing the myth

    By embracing the myth of the generational war fueled by irrational ideologies, the president is ensuring the no such vision can be offered.

    Instead, he's committing Americans to spending trillions of dollars more on militarised foreign policy and its attendant propaganda exercises that will do little beyond offering ever stronger rationales for violent resistance abroad while further strengthening the power of the military and intelligence/security industries at home and wasting billions of dollars desperately needed for things infrastructure, education, and retooling the US economy for the post-petroleum era. 

    If seven years into his presidency, Obama can offer little more than tired cliches that demand the sacrifice of another generation of soldiers, civilians, democracy, and sustainable development at home and abroad, it seems that the Muslim world is not alone in its absence of a compelling vision to lead it to the future.

    Even if Obama manages to pull off a viable nuclear deal with Iran, this triumph will be short-lived if the broader US policies continue unabated.

    The consequences of such a lack of creativity, never mind its inherent immorality, will haunt us all long after Obama, like Bush before him, "turns over his duties" to the next president.

    Mark LeVine is a professor of Middle Eastern History at University of California, Irvine, and a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Lund University. 

    The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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