By Robert Fisk, The Independent – 11 Oct 2009
The US president received an award in the faint hope that he will succeed in the future. That’s how desperate the Middle East situation has become
His Middle East policy is collapsing. The Israelis have taunted him by ignoring his demand for an end to settlement-building and by continuing to build their colonies on Arab land. His special envoy is bluntly told by the Israelis that an Arab-Israel peace will take “many years”. Now he wants the Palestinians to talk peace to Israel without conditions. He put pressure on the Palestinian leader to throw away the opportunity of international scrutiny of UN Judge Goldstone’s damning indictment of Israeli war crimes in Gaza while his Assistant Secretary of State said that the Goldstone report was “seriously flawed”. After breaking his pre-election promise to call the 1915 Armenian massacres by Ottoman Turkey a genocide, he has urged the Armenians to sign a treaty with Turkey, again “without pre-conditions”. His army is still facing an insurgency in Iraq. He cannot decide how to win “his” war in Afghanistan. I shall not mention Iran.
And now President Barack Obama has just won the Nobel Peace Prize. After only eight months in office. Not bad. No wonder he said he was “humbled” when told the news. He should have felt humiliated. But perhaps weakness becomes a Nobel Peace Prize winner. Shimon Peres won it, too, and he never won an Israeli election. Yasser Arafat won it. And look what happened to him. For the first time in history, the Norwegian Nobel committee awarded its peace prize to a man who has achieved nothing – in the faint hope that he will do something good in the future. That’s how bad things are. That’s how explosive the Middle East has become.
Isn’t there anyone in the White House to remind Mr Obama that the Israelis have never obliged a US president who asked for an end to the building of colonies for Jews – and Jews only – on Arab land? Bill Clinton demanded this – it was written into the Oslo accords – and the Israelis ignored him. George W Bush demanded an end to the fighting in Jenin nine years ago. The Israelis ignored him. Mr Obama demands a total end to all settlement construction. “They just don’t get it, do they?” an Israeli minister – apparently Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – was reported to have said when the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, reiterated her president’s words. That’s what Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s crackpot foreign minister – he’s not as much a crackpot as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but he’s getting close – said again on Thursday. “Whoever says it’s possible to reach in the coming years a comprehensive agreement,” he announced before meeting Mr Obama’s benighted and elderly envoy George Mitchell, “… simply doesn’t understand the reality.”
Across Arabia, needless to say, the Arab potentates continue to shake with fear in their golden minarets. That great Lebanese journalist Samir Kassir – murdered in 2005, quite possibly by Mr Obama’s new-found Syrian chums – put it well in one of his last essays. “Undeterred by Egypt since Sadat’s peace,” he wrote, “convinced of America’s unfailing support, guaranteed moral impunity by Europe’s bad conscience, and backed by a nuclear arsenal that was acquired with the help of Western powers, and that keeps growing without exciting any comment from the international community, Israel can literally do anything it wants, or is prompted to do by its leaders’ fantasies of domination.”
So Israel is getting away with it as usual, abusing the distinguished (and Jewish) head of the UN inquiry into Gaza war crimes – which also blamed Hamas – while joining the Americans in further disgracing the craven Palestinian Authority “President” Mahmoud Abbas, who is more interested in maintaining his relations with Washington than with his own Palestinian people. He’s even gone back on his word to refuse peace talks until Israel’s colonial expansion comes to an end. In a single devastating sentence, that usually mild Jordanian commentator Rami Khouri noted last week that Mr Abbas is “a tragic shell of a man, hollow, politically impotent, backed and respected by nobody”. I put “President” Abbas into quotation marks since he now has Mr Ahmadinejad’s status in the eyes of his people. Hamas is delighted. Thanks to President Obama.
Oddly, Mr Obama is also humiliating the Armenian president, Serg Sarkisian, by insisting that he talks to his Turkish adversaries without conditions. In the West Bank, you have to forget the Jewish colonies. In Armenia, you have to forget the Turkish murder of one and a half million Armenians in 1915. Mr Obama refused to honour his pre-election promise to recognise the 20th century’s first holocaust as a genocide. But if he can’t handle the First World War, how can he handle World War Three?
Mr Obama advertised the Afghanistan conflict as the war America had to fight – not that anarchic land of Mesopotamia which Mr Bush rashly invaded. He’d forgotten that Afghanistan was another Bush war; and he even announced that Pakistan was now America’s war, too. The White House produced its “Afpak” soundbite. And the drones came in droves over the old Durand Line, to kill the Taliban and a host of innocent civilians. Should Mr Obama concentrate on al-Qa’ida? Or yield to General Stanley McChrystal’s Vietnam-style demand for 40,000 more troops? The White House shows the two of them sitting opposite each other, Mr Obama in the smoothie suite, McChrystal in his battledress. The rabbit and the hare.
No way are they going to win. The neocons say that “the graveyard of empire” is a cliché. It is. But it’s also true. The Afghan government is totally corrupted; its paid warlords – paid by Karzai and the Americans – ramp up the drugs trade and the fear of Afghan civilians. But it’s much bigger than this.
The Indian embassy was bombed again last week. Has Mr Obama any idea why? Does he realise that Washington’s decision to support India against Pakistan over Kashmir – symbolised by his appointment of Richard Holbrooke as envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan but with no remit to discuss divided Kashmir – enraged Pakistan. He may want India to balance the power of China (some hope!) but Pakistan’s military intelligence realises that the only way of persuading Mr Obama to act fairly over Kashmir – recognising Pakistan’s claims as well as India’s – is to increase their support for the Taliban. No justice in Kashmir, no security for US troops – or the Indian embassy – in Afghanistan.
Then, after stroking the Iranian pussycat at the Geneva nuclear talks, the US president discovered that the feline was showing its claws again at the end of last week. A Revolutionary Guard commander, an adviser to Supreme Leader Khamenei, warned that Iran would “blow up the heart” of Israel if Israel or the US attacked the Islamic Republic. I doubt it. Blow up Israel and you blow up “Palestine”. Iranians – who understand the West much better than we understand them – have another policy in the case of the apocalypse. If the Israelis attack, they may leave Israel alone. They have a plan, I’m told, to target instead only US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and their bases in the Gulf and their warships cruising through Hormuz. They would leave Israel alone. Americans would then learn the price of kneeling before their Israeli masters.
For the Iranians know that the US has no stomach for a third war in the Middle East. Which is why Mr Obama has been sending his generals thick and fast to the defence ministry in Tel Aviv to tell the Israelis not to strike at Iran. And why Israel’s leaders – including Mr Netanyahu – were blowing the peace pipe all week about the need for international negotiations with Iran. But it raises an interesting question. Is Mr Obama more frightened of Iran’s retaliation? Or of its nuclear capabilities? Or more terrified of Israel’s possible aggression against Iran?
But, please, no attacks on 10 December. That’s when Barack Obama turns up in Oslo to pocket his peace prize – for achievements he has not yet achieved and for dreams that will turn into nightmares.