Patrick Cockburn writes: President Obama is lucky in his opponents, particularly when it comes to explaining why America’s influence is waning in the Middle East. The issue was hardly mentioned in the election, aside from a botched attempt by Mitt Romney to blame the administration for the death of Chris Stevens, the US ambassador to Libya, and for the burning of the US consulate in Benghazi.
Romney soon steered away from his initial posture of attacking Obama for “apologising for America” and failing to assert US power. He recognised that the one thing the US electorate does not want is another war in the Middle East. By beating the patriotic drum too hard, Romney risked voters remembering that it was the Republicans who, not so long ago, led them into failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. On a more prosaic level, Romney may have sensed he would be vulnerable on topics he knew nothing about.
This near immunity from effective criticism during the campaign does not mean that Obama is not facing dangers across the region with which he has previously failed to grapple successfully.
Afghanistan is a good example. The “surge”, which preoccupied the White House when Obama first took office in 2009, led to an extra 33,000 soldiers being sent to Afghanistan, where they wholly failed to eliminate the Taliban. The remaining 112,000 Nato troops will be withdrawn by the end of 2014, bringing to an end one of the more disastrously unproductive wars in American history. The US and its allies are supposedly training up Afghan security forces to take their place, but so many American and British soldiers have been killed by Afghan soldiers and police that the transition is turning into a debacle. [Continue reading…]