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HindustanTimes Thu,18 Sep 2014
He isn’t holding his peace
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
June 01, 2012
First Published: 21:43 IST(1/6/2012)
Last Updated: 21:45 IST(1/6/2012)

Since his team was ousted from the NBA post-season, Metta World Peace, the hoopster formerly known as Ron Artest, probably used the leisure afforded to him to sleep in. On Monday, he tweeted, “Happy labour day… Enjoy it.”

Small problem, Labour Day, when work is celebrated by taking a long weekend off for holidaying, is actually more than three months away. World Peace corrected himself soon enough: “Happy memorial day… I was still sleep:))) Bout to fire up the grill... Shout out to the veterans!!!!!!!!! (sic)”.

World Peace, who plays for the LA Lakers, officially changed his name during the off-season. Then in April, he elbowed a rival player from the Oklahoma Thunder in the head, causing a concussion. NBA’s officialdom cracked down and kicked him off court for seven games. Those antics grabbed the headline: ‘World Peace suspended.’  American President Barack Obama, an avid hoops fan and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, must have been stunned.

It took him a while to react. It usually does since he governs by committee and tends to evolve on issues. On Memorial Day, when America remembers its warriors and peacekeepers, Obama signalled he no longer wanted wars that weren’t “absolutely necessary”.

Which was all very fascinating. While his presumptive opponent for the presidency in the November election, Republican Mitt Romney, was the one making war-like noises — “The world is not safe” — Obama has sent American troops into more countries than his allegedly warmongering predecessor did. The president has burnished his Noble Peace Prize winning credentials by even sending in special forces to hunt down Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony. Kony, of course, of the Kony 2012 social media meme. If social media villains are now the US administration’s targets, then Kim Kardashian is more of a threat to US security interests than North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

Now, while the Obama administration does want to deflect attention from the annoying reality of a sluggish economy - more recession than recovery — an actual conflict may be just too large a distraction. And there’s the irksome fact that the last time a Democratic Party president led the US into war, it turned into humiliation for the country. That, of course, was Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam. So, a looming war could send voters scampering to the Republican camp. Thus, the peacenik politicking.

Unfortunately, the rest of the administration wasn’t quite on message. General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told an interviewer that when it came to Syria, “There is always a military option.” Meanwhile, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who seems prepared to go ballistic on Iran, had his own spin on the situation: “Iran and Hezbollah are an inseparable part of the Syrian atrocities, and the world needs to act against them too.” The 2012 West Asia threat, therefore, is double barrelled.

Added to that is the Af-Pak situation, where Pakistan, America’s staunch non-Nato ally, has ensured that the drawdown will be an exercise in disarray, at best, or disaster.

These are good reasons for Obama’s campaign managers to execute a strategic retreat from reality. That’s where the recent focus on social issues and identity politics originated. To an extent, that’s been a successful gambit. Obama, after all, has been crowned America’s first gay president, since the mantle of being the country’s first black president was already taken, by Bill Clinton.

But massacres by the Assad regime, expulsion of Syrian diplomats, or Iran spawning weaponised nuclear technology undermine that spirit of gay abandon.

As the election approaches, American responses to the West Asia crises will depend on how the administration can avoid losing votes over the position it adopts, without appearing weak. When it comes to pols in full campaign mode, this quote attributed to Groucho Marx is fitting: “These are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others.”

Currently based in Toronto, Anirudh Bhattacharyya has been a New York-based foreign correspondent for eight years
The views expressed by the author are personal


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