Matter of deadly legacies: War on terror and new Cold War

Can Erimtan
Dr. Can Erimtan is an independent scholar residing in İstanbul, with a wide interest in the politics, history and culture of the Balkans and the Greater Middle East. He attended the VUB in Brussels and did his graduate work at the universities of Essex and Oxford. In Oxford, Erimtan was a member of Lady Margaret Hall and he obtained his doctorate in Modern History in 2002. His publications include the book “Ottomans Looking West?” as well as numerous scholarly articles. In the period 2010-11, he wrote op-eds for Today’s Zaman and in the further course of 2011 he also published a number of pieces in Hürriyet Daily News. In 2013, he was the Turkey Editor of the İstanbul Gazette. He is on Twitter at @theerimtanangle
Reuters / Stringer
Today the West, and the rest of the world, is faced with a whole host of deadly threats affecting many people in many regions close by, as well as wide and far removed.

Jihadi terrorism and the ongoing armed strife in Ukraine represent the two seemingly very different faces of these dangers. But looking at President Obama's recent State of the Union (SOTU) speech and its ramifications, it becomes quite rapidly clear that underlying these current dangers is the ghost of a conflict that ended in the last century's final decade.

Back to the Cold War

The recent Paris attacks have very much galvanized public opinion. As a result, the world's attention is currently focused on the rise of Islamic extremism across the wider world. Jihadi terrorists now apparently also pose a viable threat to the ordinary citizens living and breathing in ‘Fortress Europe’ (aka, the EU). In other words, Europeans have now been promoted to join Americans shoulder by shoulder as favored targets for crazy, gun-wielding and/or bomb-throwing Muslim terrorists.

President Obama in this year's SOTU speech made it a point to call upon the Republican-held "Congress to show the world that we are united in this mission [to keep the world safe] by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIL,” as he likes to call the terrorist organization formerly known as ISIS but now sufficing with the moniker Islamic State (or IS). As such, the16 January announcement that the Pentagon will deploy "400 troops and hundreds of support personnel to train moderate Syrian rebels" in such locations as Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia already showed Obama's willingness to maintain an active military footprint in the Middle East.

These American boots on the ground will train "more than 5,000 recruits in the first year,” with the Pentagon adding insightfully that up to 15,000 men will be needed to get the job done -- the job being to "degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL" or the Islamic State. And the time frame would thus be three years; meaning that the Caliph should be undone by early 2018 or well into the next U.S. President's first term in office, if all's well that ends well.

U.S. President Barack Obama.(Reuters / Jim Bourg)

Obama killed Osama

By means of this section in his SOTU speech, Barrack Obama showed the US public at home as well as the wider world audience out there that the United States are not afraid to take up its responsibility in tackling the fallout of America's policy decisions of yesteryear. In fact, the U.S. President spelled out America's commitment in great detail: "first, we stand united with people around the world who've been targeted by terrorists — from a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris. We will continue to hunt down terrorists and dismantle their networks, and we reserve the right to act unilaterally, as we've done relentlessly since I took office to take out terrorists who pose a direct threat to us and our allies.” In this way, Obama presented his one-sided arc of action to rival the erstwhile global "arc of crisis" transformed into Zbigniew Brzezinski’s "arc of Islam,” while reminding everyone that Osama bin Laden was taken out under his watch.

The al-Qaeda leader's execution was in itself a splendid display of the American "right to act unilaterally.” As a result, last week's SOTU speech made plain that "fifteen years into this new century" the Bush Doctrine is still alive and kicking. Though Obama boasts at having ended the "long and costly wars" in Iraq and Afghanistan, the not-so veiled campaign against "Islamic militancy" euphemistically called the War on Terror-renamed-the Overseas Contingency Operation continues unabated. But rather than out in the open and in the full glare of media attention, the Obama administration likes to do things a bit more discreetly, as illustrated by the spectacular SEAL Team Six action in the improbably-named Abbottabad at the beginning of May 2011.

Lurking in the Shadows: Kill list and JSOC

Jo Becker and Scott Shane of the New York Times described how President Obama personally oversees a “secret kill list,” a directory of names and photos of individuals targeted for assassination in the US drone war or deadly strike campaign carried out by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). Becker and Shane show that President Obama's ambitions are not just limited to high value targets per sé. Far from it, in his 2013 book Dirty Wars, the investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill convincingly shows how the Obama administration carefully continues the Bush-proclaimed war against terrorists all around. Reviewing the book, the freelance journalist and researcher Dawn Paley states that "Scahill’s investigation leads him to unravel the secret maneuvers of the shadowy and powerful Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) as he is drawn into a world of covert operations unknown to the public and carried out across the globe by men who do not exist on paper and may never appear before Congress. In military jargon, JSOC teams 'find, fix, and finish' their targets, who are selected through a secret process . . . From Afghanistan to Yemen and Somalia". Paley then concludes that the "carefully gathered evidence, [presented in] Dirty Wars makes it clear that American military campaigns do little more than exacerbate existing situations . . . Scahill carefully documents how the militaristic approach taken by the US government towards perceived terror threats in Somalia, Yemen and elsewhere has served to drive up the influence of local armed groups," and foment terrorist activities across the globe. In other words, Obama's hidden yet relentless continuation of the Bush wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in other places and locales by covert and arguably immoral means does nothing but pour oil on the flames of discontent.

The new Cold War

But Obama does more than just carry on his predecessor's dirty work. In fact, as I wrote some time ago, the US President basically promotes a "proxy-war pitting the West, as represented by the US and its NATO and other allies, against the new unholy trinity of Russia-China-Iran.” [http://rt.com/op-edge/157704-new-cold-war-victims/] From Libya, which was left in a shambles, and has now become the new Afghanistan, over Syria, where the much maligned Bashar Assad has managed to resist all manners of "assisted rebels-with-a-cause,” to the apparently endless quagmire filled with death and suffering for the civilian population in eastern Ukraine. The Obama administration persistently blames Putin's Russia for the unrest next door. Literally, Obama stated in his SOTU speech that the United States are "upholding the principle that bigger nations can’t bully the small — by opposing Russian aggression, supporting Ukraine’s democracy, and reassuring our NATO allies. Last year, as we were doing the hard work of imposing sanctions along with our allies, some suggested that Mr. Putin’s aggression was a masterful display of strategy and strength. Well, today, it is America that stands strong and united with our allies, while Russia is isolated, with its economy in tatters.”

Even though it would seem a bit premature or even counter-factual to call Russia either "isolated" or "in tatters,” the fact remains that there has always been an American hand pulling the Ukrainian puppet's strings.

READ MORE: Creative chaos redux: The Black Sea pivot and the evolving project for the Greater Middle East

In the video clip of this year's SOTU speech provided by the White House on its dedicated YouTube channel, listening viewers could read on the screen's right side that the U.S. has now also committed nearly $340 million in economic assistance to President Petro Poroshenko (aka Chocolashenko), in addition to having provided a $1 billion loan guarantee.

Reuters / Maks Levin

At the same time, the internet-spread propaganda message proudly proclaimed that the US is leading a coalition of 31 counties in coordinating sanctions against Russia for its aggression against Ukraine.

A day after US President Barack Obama’s SOTU speech, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told a press conference in Moscow that the American leader’s address “proves that the [US] philosophy has only one central piece - we are No.1 and everyone else has to admit it . . . This [attitude] is a bit old-fashioned, it fails to meet present-day realities and demonstrates that the United States actually wants to dominate the world rather than be the first amongst equals.” In an afterthought, the Russian added that "this too shall pass.” But, on the ground in Ukraine the fighting continues, as described in the Washington Post, "tensions in Ukraine have escalated since the start of the new year to levels that NATO’s top commander said he has not seen since the summer, before government troops and pro-Russian rebels signed a ceasefire agreement — an accord rendered ineffective by the recent surge in violence.

Cold War theology in the 21st century

In the end, far from living in a world without ideological strife, as erroneously predicted by Francis Fukuyama at the end of last century, geopolitical competition and economic rivalry today are as dominant and dangerous as ever before. The US continues in its desire to be the global top dog, leading the West into battle with "Islamic militants" or "Muslim extremists.”

In fact, Obama condemned the Caliph and his henchmen as perpetrators of "act[s] of pure evil.” As an American politician, it is easy for the US President to use words and phrases redolent of piety and a belief in higher forces (such as, good and/or evil). In spite of the fact that many of his detractors describe the Hawaii-born politician as a "Nazi-Socialist-Communist-Muslim,” Obama is a deeply pious Christian with a personal commitment to serve good and fight evil in the world. About three years ago, I wrote that "Obama is much attached to the work of the American Protestant exponent of 'Christian realism', Reinhold Niebuhr. Back in April 2007, then-candidate Obama told The New York Times columnist David Brooks: 'I take away [from Niebuhr’s work] the compelling idea that there’s serious evil in the world, and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction. I take away . . .the sense we have to make these efforts knowing they are hard, and not swinging from naïve idealism to bitter realism’.

In other words, the Cold War and its binary rhetoric are still very much with us today, be it as the hidden reasoning behind the never-ending War on Terror-renamed-the Overseas Contingency Operation or as the economic power-struggle between Free World (the United State and the NATO alliance) and the new unholy trinity of Russia-China-Iran. This year's State of the Union speech eloquent yet veiled messages relayed this truth quite plainly.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.