Obama is probably mightier than most of the kings of history, and he demonstrates his vast influence by playing golf. (Louis XVI, another elitist liberal confused by history, might have delighted in the game, played on lovely swards of greenery.) Obama has played 186 rounds of golf during his presidency to date, more than two per month. I don’t thinks it matters as long as he gets his work done, but the symbolism is less that of indifference to human suffering than incapacity to do anything about it. It was probably insensitive of him to golf twice after the recent beheading of the free-lancer though I see no particular reason to criticize him more for insensitivity to the gruesome on-air death of an American journalist than for the gruesome off-camera deaths of 72 Iraqis murdered yesterday in a Sunni mosque.
Iraq is the ne plus ultra of our daily witness to helplessness: armed men bristling with every sort of advanced weaponry who cannot assert their control. They can inflict damage and suffering, but they cannot organize society to their design. The latest explanation is that the recently departed and unlamented Iraqi president, Nouri al-Maliki, was a Shiite sectarian who drove the Sunni minority into the secessionist arms of ISIS. The new, improved Shiite president was supposed to fix all that, but then the mosque murders took place. Oops.
This commentator reminds us that the latest madmen we are now supposed to view with alarm are the ideological descendants of the same guys armed and empowered decades ago by the CIA to fight the Russians. Patrick Cockburn [see his new book, above] goes further back to point out that it is really the Saudi connection that gave such strength to the ultra-fundamentalist Islamic jihad sects, starting with the Saudi millionaire bin Laden. The Saudi fingerprint was all over 9/11, but how many Americans even know the nationality of the great majority of the twin tower hijackers?
Cockburn explains that the U.S. and its European allies have been very consistent in their inconsistency, trying to bake themselves a nice jihadist cake and avoid the resulting ISIS birthday party, trying to help the Iraqis crush the Sunni uprising in Tikrit while encouraging the same forces to overthrow Assad in Syria. He writes:
Iraqi politicians have been telling me for the last two years that foreign backing for the Sunni revolt in Syria would inevitably destabilize their country as well. This has now happened. By continuing these contradictory policies in two countries, the U.S. has ensured that ISIS can reinforce its fighters in Iraq from Syria and vice versa. So far, Washington has been successful in escaping blame for the rise of ISIS by putting all the blame on the Iraqi government. In fact, it has created a situation in which ISIS can survive and may well flourish.
Cockburn’s analysis is quite simple: the war on terror has failed because the Americans were unwilling to go to the source of the jihadist support: Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
The U.S. did not do so because these countries were important American allies whom it did not want to offend. Saudi Arabia is an enormous market for American arms, and the Saudis have cultivated, and on occasion purchased, influential members of the American political establishment. Pakistan is a nuclear power with a population of 180 million and a military with close links to the Pentagon.
It’s not hard to imagine the multiple competing pressures on people like, say, Barack Obama or George W. Bush if they were to do anything to undermine these lucrative relationships with the jihadi enablers. So we will hear a lot about frightful terrorists and threats to the nation, but the events that will unfold have taken on a life of their own.