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The American Century is So Over

The American Century is So Over

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Published by Dredd
[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Several past TD posts might be of interest for
those delving into Dilip Hiro’s provocative piece on American power in the Obama
era: Tony Karon’s “Israel Won’t Change Unless the Status Quo Has a Downside,”
Ira Chernus’s “Blood or Treasure? Obama’s Crucial Choice in the Middle East,”
and my own recent piece, “Obama’s Flailing Wars.” Note as well a small victory
in the Arctic -- and Washington. On Tuesday, TD posted Subhankar Banerjee’s
“BPing the Arctic.” It was at the leading edge of a rising tide of warnings about
Shell Oil’s plans to drill for oil this summer in Alaska's Arctic waters, an
ecologically rich but particularly extreme off-shore environment. Now, the Obama
administration is reportedly announcing a suspension of exploratory oil drilling
there until at least 2011. The next TomDispatch post will appear on Tuesday, June
1st, after the Memorial Day weekend.]
[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Several past TD posts might be of interest for
those delving into Dilip Hiro’s provocative piece on American power in the Obama
era: Tony Karon’s “Israel Won’t Change Unless the Status Quo Has a Downside,”
Ira Chernus’s “Blood or Treasure? Obama’s Crucial Choice in the Middle East,”
and my own recent piece, “Obama’s Flailing Wars.” Note as well a small victory
in the Arctic -- and Washington. On Tuesday, TD posted Subhankar Banerjee’s
“BPing the Arctic.” It was at the leading edge of a rising tide of warnings about
Shell Oil’s plans to drill for oil this summer in Alaska's Arctic waters, an
ecologically rich but particularly extreme off-shore environment. Now, the Obama
administration is reportedly announcing a suspension of exploratory oil drilling
there until at least 2011. The next TomDispatch post will appear on Tuesday, June
1st, after the Memorial Day weekend.]

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Tomgram: Dilip Hiro, Obama's Flip-Flop LeadershipStyle
By Dilip HiroPosted on May 27, 2010, Printed on July 27, 2010http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175254/ 
[
Note for TomDispatch Readers:
Several past TD posts might be of interest for those delving into Dilip Hiro’s provocative piece on American power in the Obamaera: Tony Karon’s “Israel Won’t Change Unless the Status Quo Has a Downside,” Ira Chernus’s “Blood or Treasure? Obama’s Crucial Choice in the Middle East,”and my own recent piece, “Obama’s Flailing Wars.” Note as well a small victoryin the Arctic -- and Washington. On Tuesday, TD posted Subhankar Banerjee’s“BPing the Arctic.” It was at the leading edge of a rising tide of warnings about Shell Oil’s plans to drill for oil this summer in Alaska's Arctic waters, anecologically rich but particularly extreme off-shore environment. Now, the Obamaadministration is reportedly announcing a suspension of exploratory oil drillingthere until at least 2011. The next TomDispatch post will appear on Tuesday, June1st, after the Memorial Day weekend.
]What do you make of it when Afghan War commander General Stanley McChrystalnow refers to the only significant offensive he’s set in motion -- the attempt to drivethe Taliban out of Marjah, a collection of villages in Helmand Province -- as “ableeding ulcer”? Or what about his upcoming summer “offensive” to drive theTaliban out of the second largest Afghan city, Kandahar, which has recently beenverbally downgraded from an “operation” to something called “Cooperation forKandahar,” now also referred to as a “military presence” so as not to offend localsensibilities with a hint of the coming violence. What do you make of it when DionNissenbaum and Jonathan Landay of McClatchy Newspapers report in mid-May thatthe American non-operation in Kandahar, scarcely beginning, is already showingsigns of “faltering,” while Karen DeYoung of the
Washington Post 
describes it as a“go-for-broke move that even its authors are unsure will succeed,” adding: “There isno Plan B.”Or what about when Gareth Porter, who has been doing top-notch reporting on theAfghan War for Inter Press Service, points out McChrystal’s striking recentKandahar flip-flop. Back in March, his team was talking about getting rid of AfghanPresident Hamid Karzai’s half-brother Wali Karzai, Kandahar’s major powerbroker,a man reputedly deeply involved in the drug trade, and an asset or former asset of the CIA. (“The only way to clean up Chicago,” said McChrystal’s intelligence chief General Michael Flynn back then, “is to get rid of Capone.”) More recently,however, they have executed a 180-degree turn and decided not only to leave him inplace, but to intensify their work with him. “The reaffirmation of ties between theU.S. and [Wali] Karzai,” writes Porter, “ensures that the whole military effort in theprovince is locked into Karzai’s political strategy for maintaining his grip on power.”Consider this but a brief snapshot of Obama’s flailing war in Afghanistan. AsTomDispatch regular Dilip Hiro makes clear in his latest canny analysis, thepresident of what was, until recently,
the
global power is losing his grip not just onAfghanistan, but on the planet. Hiro, whose latest book, After Empire: The Birth of A Multipolar World, offers a deep look into international power shifts, has beenwriting about the downward slope of American power at this site since 2007.
Tom
The American Century Is So Over
Obama’s Rudderless Foreign Policy Underscores America’sWaning Power
By Dilip HiroIrrespective of their politics, flawed leaders share a common trait. Theygenerally remain remarkably oblivious to the harm they do to the nationthey lead. George W. Bush is a salient recent example, as is formerBritish Prime Minister Tony Blair. When it comes to foreign policy, weare now witnessing a similar phenomenon at the Obama White House.Here is the Obama pattern: Choose a foreign leader to pressure.Threaten him with dire consequences if he does not bend toWashington’s will. When he refuses to submit and instead respondsvigorously, back off quickly and overcompensate for failure byswitching into a placatory mode.In his first year-plus in office, Barack Obama has provided us with
 
enough examples to summarize his leadership style. The Americanpresident fails to objectively evaluate the strength of the cards that atargeted leader holds and his resolve to play them.Obama’s propensity to retreat at the first sign of resistance shows thathe lacks both guts and the strong convictions that are essential elementsdistinguishing statesmen from politicians. By pursuing a rudderlesscourse in his foreign policy, by flip-flopping in his approach to otherleaders, he is also inadvertently furnishing hard evidence to those whoargue that American power is on the decline -- and that the downwardslide of the globe’s former “sole superpower” is irreversible.Those who have refused to buckle under Obama’s initial threats andhardball tactics (and so the impact of American power) include not justthe presidents of China, a first-tier mega-nation, and Brazil, a risingmajor power, but also the leaders of Israel, a regional power heavilydependent on Washington for its sustenance, and Afghanistan, a clientstate -- not to mention the military junta of Honduras, a minor entity,which stood up to the Obama administration as if it were the Politburoof former Soviet Union.
Flip-Flop on Honduras
By overthrowing the civilian government of President Manuel Zelaya inJune 2009, the Honduran generals acquired the odious distinction of carrying out the first military coup in Central America in the post-ColdWar era. What drove them to it? The precipitating factor was Zelaya’sdecision to have a non-binding survey on holding a referendum thatNovember about convening a Constituent Assembly to redraft theconstitution.Denouncing the coup as a “terrible precedent” for the region anddemanding its reversal, President Obama initially insisted: “We do notwant to go back to a dark past. We always want to stand withdemocracy.”Those words should have been followed by deeds like recalling hisambassador in Tegucigalpa (just as Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador,Nicaragua, and Venezuela did) and an immediate suspension of theAmerican aid on which the country depends. Instead, what followedwas a statement by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that theadministration would not formally designate the ouster as a militarycoup “for now” -- even though the United Nations, the Organization of American States, and the European Union had already done so.This backtracking encouraged the Honduran generals and theirRepublican supporters in Congress. They began to stonewall, while atop notch public relations firm in Washington, hired by the de factogovernment of the military’s puppet president Roberto Micheletti, wentto work.These moves proved enough to weaken the “democratic” resolve of apresident who makes lofty speeches, but lacks strong convictions whenit comes to foreign policy. Secretary of State Clinton then began talkingof reconciling the ousted president and the Micheletti government,treating the legitimate and illegitimate camps as equals.Having realized that a hard line stance vis-à-vis Washington was payingdividends, the Honduran generals remained unbending. Only whenClinton insisted that the State Department would not recognize theNovember presidential election result because of doubts about it beingfree, fair, and transparent did they agree to a compromise a monthbefore the poll. They would let Zelaya return to the presidential palaceto finish his term in office.That was when rightwing Republican Senator Jim DeMint, a fanaticalsupporter of the Honduran generals, swung into action. He would giveRepublican consent to White House nominees for important posts inLatin America only if Clinton agreed to recognize the election results,irrespective of what happened to Zelaya. Clinton buckled.As a result, Obama became one of only two leaders -- the other beingPanama’s president -- in the 34-member Organization of AmericanStates to lend his support to the Honduran presidential poll. Whatprobably appeared as a routine trade-off in domestic politics on CapitolHill was seen by the international community as a humiliating retreat byObama when challenged by a group of Honduran generals. Otherleaders undoubtedly took note.
 
A far more dramatic reversal awaited Obama when he locked hornswith Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Wily Netanyahu Trumps Naïve Obama
On taking office, the Obama White House announced with muchfanfare that it would take on the intractable Israeli-Palestinian disputeright away. On examining the 2003 “road map” to peace backed by theUnited Nations, the United States, Russia, and the European Union, itdiscovered Israel’s promise to cease all settlement-building activity.In his first meeting with Netanyahu inmid-May 2009, Obama demanded a halt tothe expansion of Jewish settlements in theWest Bank and occupied East Jerusalem,already housing nearly 500,000 Jews. Heargued that they were a major obstacle tothe establishment of an independentPalestinian state. Netanyahu balked -- andchanged tack by stressing the existentialthreat that Iran’s nuclear program posed toIsrael.Obama slipped into the Israeli leader’s trap.At their joint press conference, he linked theIsraeli-Palestinian peace talks with the Iranian nuclear threat. Then, toNetanyahu’s delight, he gave Tehran “until the end of the year” torespond to his diplomatic overtures. In this way, the wily prime ministergot the American president to accept his linkage of two unrelated issueswhile offering nothing in return.Later, Netanyahu would differentiate between the ongoing expansion of present Jewish settlements and the creation of new ones, with nocompromise on the former. He would also draw a clear distinctionbetween the West Bank and East Jerusalem which, he would insist, wasan integral part of the “indivisible, eternal capital of Israel,” andtherefore exempt from any restrictions on Jewish settlements.Reflecting the Obama administration’s style, Clinton offered a strongverbal riposte: “No exceptions to Israeli settlement freeze”. Thesewould prove empty words that changed nothing on the ground.When Netanyahu publicly rejected Obama’s demand for a halt tosettlement construction in the West Bank, Obama raised the stakes,suggesting that Israeli intransigence endangered American security.On October 15th, after much back-channel communication between thetwo governments, Netanyahu announced that he had terminated thesettlements talks with Washington. Having said this, he offered to curbsome settlement construction during a later meeting with Clinton. Thiswon him the secretary of state’s effusive praise for an “unprecedented”gesture, and a call for the unconditional resumption of the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks.The Palestinians were flabbergasted by this American
volte-face
. “Ibelieve that the U.S. condones continued settlement expansion,” saidstunned Palestinian government spokesman Ghassan Khatib.“Negotiations are about ending the occupation and settlement expansionis about entrenching the occupation.”In December, Netanyahu agreed to a 10-month moratorium onsettlement building, but only after his government had given permissionfor the construction of 3,000 new apartments in the occupied WestBank. Sticking to their original position, the Palestinians refused torevive peace talks until there was a total freeze on settlement activity.On March 9, 2010, just as Vice-President Joe Biden arrived in Jerusalemas part of Washington’s campaign to kick-start the peace process, theIsraeli authorities announced the approval of yet more building -- 1,600new homes in East Jerusalem. This audacious move, meant to underlineIsrael’s defiance of Washington, left Biden -- as well as Obama --fuming.With the House of Representatives adopting his health reform bill onMarch 24
th
, Obama was on a domestic roll when he met Netanyahu inWashington the next day. He reportedly laid out three conditions fordefusing the crisis: an extension of the freeze on Jewish settlementexpansion beyond September 2010; an end to further Jewish settlementprojects in East Jerusalem; and withdrawal of the Israeli forces to the

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