21 February 2015

A thoughtful Obama

Return to frontpage

If taken at face value, President Barack Obama’s closing address to the Summit on Countering Violent Extremism could signal a repositioning of the official White House line on the war against global terrorism. The President’s speech was a carefully calibrated response to the recent wave of attacks by militants from the Islamic State (IS) in those countries that are part of the U.S.-led war in Syria and Iraq. Rather than the shrill notes of threat and retribution that usually attend U.S. policy rhetoric on the global war on terror, what the Summit heard from Mr. Obama were thoughtful insights into the human rights origins of terrorism. 

Speaking to a gathering of Ministers from nearly 70 countries, the UN Secretary-General and other senior officials, Mr. Obama made two significant points. First, he made an exceptionally strong plea to cut through the terrorist narrative based on “twisted interpretations of Islam” that allows groups like IS to act in the name of Islam. Secondly, he directed the attention of his audience to the need to transform the environments of economic impoverishment in which young people, trapped without education or any avenues of advancement, turn rich pickings for terrorist recruiters. “So if we’re serious about countering violent extremism, we have to get serious about confronting these economic grievances,” he declared.

While Mr. Obama deserves credit for outlining a nuanced view of the social origins of terrorism, and a more humane, long-term and inclusive approach to a possible solution to extremism, it would be unrealistic to expect a radical shift in U.S. policy towards this phenomenon. Despite the softer rhetoric, the Obama administration’s response has been far sharper and intensive than what was viewed as the heavy-handedness of his predecessor in office in conducting its global war against terror. Across Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, the Obama administration launched more than 390 drone strikes in its first five years. 

This is eight times as many as were launched during the entire George W. Bush presidency. The bombing of IS bases by the U.S.-led coalition of nations in Syria and Iraq is part of the continuum of war set by the invasion of Iraq by the same forces in 2003. Fighting them today is a deadly and ruthless war machine operated by religious extremists. IS is a deadly menace to the civilised world, with its acts of public brutality designed to radiate terror. While the U.S. and its allies are compelled to root out this sinister challenge, the imperative is for the global community to move ahead on issues such as Palestine which could conceivably lend more moral force to anti-IS operations in the Middle East

No comments: