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A World Where No One Listens to the Planet’s Sole Superpower

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Posted on Sep 30, 2013
Raymond Bryson (CC BY 2.0)

By Dilip Hiro, TomDispatch

(Page 2)

Far more worrisome for Washington was the critical role that the al Qaeda-affiliated Pakistani Taliban, also listed as a terrorist organization by the State Department, played in determining the outcome of the country’s general election in May. It threatened to attack the public rallies and candidates of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) because its membership was open to non-Muslims. This tied the party’s hands in a predominantly rural society where, in the absence of reliable opinion polls, the size and frequency of public rallies is considered a crucial indicator of party strength. The outcome: a landslide victory by the opposition Pakistan Muslim League led by Nawaz Sharif, which drastically reduced the strength of the PPP in the National Assembly. 

In mid-September, Prime Minister Sharif returned the favor by securing an all-party consensus in the National Assembly to negotiate peace with the Pakistani Taliban without conditions. Militant leaders then raised the stakes by insisting that his government first devise a policy to halt the ongoing U.S. drone campaign against them in the country’s tribal borderlands.

This compelled the Sharif government to announce that it would raise the issue of the American drone campaign at the United Nations General Assembly. Its move is likely to coincide with a report by Ben Emmerson, the UN special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism, on U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia to be presented to the General Assembly in October. Emmerson has already described Washington’s drone campaign as a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.

In addition, ignoring Washington’s reported disapproval, Sharif’s government has started releasing Afghan Taliban prisoners—one of them “of high value” in the lexicon of the White House—from its jails to facilitate what it calls “reconciliation” in Afghanistan.  As yet, however, there is no sign that Mullah Muhammad Omar, the supreme leader of the Afghan Taliban (widely believed to be under surreptitious Pakistani protection), is ready to negotiate with the government of Karzai whom he regularly denounces as an American puppet. 

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In early August, in his annual Eid al Fitr (Festival of Breaking the Fast) message, Omar was unmistakably hawkish. “As to the deceiving drama under the name of elections 2014, our pious people will not tire themselves out, nor will they participate in it,” he said. He then called for continued struggle against U.S.-led NATO troops and their Afghan allies, and urged Kabul’s security forces to direct their guns at foreign solders, government officials, and Afghans cooperating with the U.S.-led troops.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has been pressuring Karzai to sign an agreement that, among other things, would allow the Pentagon to maintain a significant “footprint” in Afghanistan under the rubric of “training Afghan forces” after the withdrawal of U.S. and other NATO combat troops by December 2014.  So far, despite his dependence on Washington for his political survival, Karzai has been playing hardball.

In this, Washington is heading down a familiar path.  In Iraq, both the Bush and Obama administrations tried to reach an agreement with a government the U.S. had helped install to leave behind 10,000-20,000 military trainers and special operations troops. It failed when the pro-Tehran, Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki doggedly refused.

These days, despite the repeated U.S. complaints and requests, the Maliki government continues to allow Iranian arms to be sent overland and through its air space to the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad. In late August, during the Syrian chemical weapons crisis, Iraq even declared that it wouldn’t allow its airspace to be used for military strikes on Syria.

The Diminishing “Coalition of the Willing”

In a controversial New York Times op-ed on September 11th, Russian President Putin wrote of President Obama’s plan to launch a military strike against Damascus, “It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts has become commonplace for the United States… Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan, ‘you’re either with us or against us.’” 

Only days earlier, however, President Obama had failed to form a “coalition of the willing” on the Syrian issue at the G20 summit in St. Petersburg, managing to rally only 10 members. Those who opposed military strikes against Syria without a U.N. Security Council mandate included the five-strong BRICS powers—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa—along with Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, and Argentina.

A week earlier, the British parliament defeated a motion to join a U.S.-led operation against Syria. With the British “poodle” slipping Washington’s leash—an unprecedented act in recent memory—Obama was lost.

In desperation, he turned to Congress, where, thousands of miles from the Greater Middle East, only a minority tuned in. Responding to the overwhelming sentiments of their constituents and opinion polls showing that remarkably few Americans believed an attack on Syria in national interest, the lawmakers started lining up to give Obama a resounding thumbs-down. It was only then, after an offhand remark by his Secretary of State John Kerry was taken up by Moscow, that Obama went on television and accepted the outlines of Putin’s proposed plan for Syria’s chemical weapons.


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