War and peace in the times of Obama

Barack Obama who received the Nobel peace prize, is now the President at war longer than any of his predecessors

May 18, 2016 04:43 pm | Updated December 04, 2021 11:07 pm IST

File photo of U.S. President Barack Obama with troops at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

File photo of U.S. President Barack Obama with troops at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

When the Nobel peace committee presented US President Barack Obama the Peace Prize, just one year into his first term, critics thought it was a premature decision. In fact, Mr. Obama himself acknowledged it in >his acceptance speech . "Perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of this prize is the fact that I am the Commander-in-Chief of a nation in the midst of two wars," he said.

Way back in 2001, U.S. troops were fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. Both were started by his predecessor George W. Bush. The U.S. invaded Afghanistan immediately after September 11. And the reason — the Taliban refused to hand over Osama Bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders.

Three years later, the U.S. and the U.K. attacked Iraq with the claim that Baghdad was manufacturing weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The Iraq war II had three major casualities: Iraq's Ba'ath government collapsed, the country’s President Saddam Hussein was hanged and the Republicans failed to put their man back in the White House.

But today, at the end of Mr. Obama's presidency, U.S. troopers are still fighting the Bush-era battlegrounds of Iraq and Afghanistan, along with the newly opened fronts in Syria, Jordan and Turkey. This are in addition to one off military strikes carried out in >Pakistan , >Cameroon and >Somalia .

Death of Osama

All the President’s men (and women) gathered in the ‘Situation Room’ of the White House, their eyes glued to the ‘live TV feed’ of the Osama elimination. Photo: AP

In the wee hours of May 2, 2011, U.S. Navy SEALS >killed al-Qaeda leader and mastermind of 9/11 attacks Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan. "Justice has been done," Mr. Obama had said announcing killing of Osama. But that was not the first time the Nobel peace laureate supported military strikes. The day after receiving the Nobel award, >Mr. Obama had said : "A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms... To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism, it is a recognition of history.”

Last year, London Review of Books published an > investigative piece by Seymour Hersh on the Abbottabad raid , code-named Operation Neptune Spear, reiterated the fact that "just wars' not only failed to mark the end of al-Qaeda or for that matter any militant operation, but the world is now fighting a bigger threat — the Islamic State.

U.S. intervention in Libya

Though abstaining from the civil dissidence in Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco and few other West Asian countries famously referred as the Arab Spring, the United States supported the Libyan revolution that overthrew Muammar Qadhafi’s regime in 2011. Along with the NATO, the U.S. conducted air strikes and fought on the sides of the National Liberation Army against Qadhafi. The civil war ended with the killing of Qadhafi on October 20, 2011. But politics in Libya turned murkier with militias taking over many parts of the country and two rival parliaments functioning. “Probably failing to plan for, the day after, what I think was the right thing to do, in intervening in Libya,” >Mr. Obama would tellFox News in 2016 on went wrong in Libya.

Also read:>Obama, the serial interventionist

Civil war in Syria

The year 2011 also witnessed civil unrest Bashar al-Assad government in Syria. Mr. Obama extended support to the Syrian rebels while Russia aligned with Syrian government. Unlike the Libyan intervention, which had the approval of the United Nations, Mr. Obama took a Bush-like unilateral decision on Syria. In fact, it was Russian President Vladimir Putin who rose to centre-stage in averting a Libya-like fiasco in Syria. But today, Syria is in the middle of a three-way battle with the U.S., the NATO and Syrian rebels on one side, the Syrian government and Russia on the other, and both fighting the Islamic State. According to an U.N. estimate, over 2,50,000 lives have been lost till August 2015 in the Syrian civil war.

A new monster, a new war

Smoke rises from the site of U.S.-led air strikes in the town of Sinjar. Photo: AP

In February 2009, Mr. Obama announced that his country's combat mission in Iraq would end in 2010. The final 50,000 American troops were subsequently withdrawn by December 2011, marking the end of the 11-year-old Iraq war. Similarly, U.S. began troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2012. As per original plans combat troops should have left Afghanistan by the end of 2014. But U.S. troops returned to both the nations, this time to fight the newly-formed terror group, the Islamic State.

Between Iraq and Afghanistan, the latter has comparatively better governance — having a peaceful transition of power from Hamid Karzai to Ashraf Ghani. Both nations continue to witness militant attacks and suicide bombings after the wars were officially ended. It was decided that some troops would continue to stay in these two countries until a smooth transition takes place.

In 2012, when United States was claiming a big leap in the War on Terror to contain the al-Qaeda, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi took over the little known Daesh, the Arabic acronym of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The ISIL-under al-Baghdadi went on consolidate its presence in Iraq and also in Syria at a time when the nation was already reeling under civil unrest.

The ISIL eventually re-named itself as Islamic State with a “caliph to bring the world under Sharia". In 2014, Islamic State captured the northern Iraqi town of Mosul, prompting the United States to send back its troops. The fundamentalist outfit has to its credit ethnic cleansing, beheadings, bomb blasts in several European nations and even in moderate and liberal Islamic countries. The United States is also fighting the group in Jordan and Turkey.

When he talked peace

A poster features portraits of Cuba President Raul Castro and U.S. President Barack Obama and reads in Spanish "Welcome to Cuba" outside a restaurant in Havana. Photo: AP

But Obama administration is not just about military interventions. He would like the future to remember him for restarting dialogues with some old rivals — namely Iran and Cuba, and his scheduled visit to Hiroshima, the Japanese town which the United States nuke bombed during the World War II.

After Iran rolled back its uranium enrichment programme, >the United States lifted secondary sanctions against Tehran thus allowing it to re-enter the global oil market. The U.S.-Cuba thaw reached a new high when the >Obamas became the first American first couple to visit the communist nation since Cold War. The U.S. removed Cuba from the list of nations sponsoring terror and Cuba reopened its embassy in Washington.

Mr. Obama chose to maintain status quo when >North Korea tested its nuclear capabilities or when >Russia annexed Crimea after pro-E.U. protests erupted in Ukraine.

In his Peace Prize acceptance speech Mr. Obama defended “just wars”. He said: “War is justified only when it meets certain preconditions: if it is waged as a last resort or in self-defence; if the forced used is proportional; and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence." History will judge Mr. Obama, not only for his “First Black Man in White House” badge, but also for being the President at war longer than any of his predecessors and a commander-in-chief with his own standard of justice.

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