News Analysis

Thursday 28 August 2014

Con Coughlin: America's enemies still stand against you, Mr President

Published 08/11/2012 | 17:00

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BARACK Obama believes America's decade of war is coming to a close. If only it were that simple. For a country that still has a large proportion of its armed forces deployed overseas on combat missions, surprisingly little attention was paid during the election campaign to how Mr Obama intends to deal with various national security issues. There was a flicker of interest during the final television debate, when Mitt Romney pressed the president on his policies for preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan.

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For most of the campaign, though, the fate of America's struggling economy and the impending fiscal cliff took precedence over security concerns, as most war-weary American voters were happy to accept Mr Obama's assurance that he was bringing the troops home, come what may.

Having withdrawn US soldiers from the deeply unpopular war in Iraq, those fighting in Washington's last remaining combat zone in Afghanistan will be home by the end of 2014 at the latest.

But just because Mr Obama is desperate to scale down America's military footprint does not mean that the threats to the nation's well-being will simply disappear. Indeed, because of his less-than-convincing performance as America's commander-in-chief during his first term in office, when the White House mantra was "leadership from behind", the challenges facing him during his second term are arguably even more grave than when he first entered the Oval Office in January 2009.

Take the Iran issue. Having launched his presidency with an appeal to Tehran to "seek a new way forward" in its relations with Washington, all that has happened in the interim is that Iran has more than tripled its stockpiles of enriched uranium while moving a significant proportion of its nuclear equipment to the new bomb-proof underground facility it is developing at Qom.

Mr Obama's officials insist that the wide-ranging sanctions regime imposed over Tehran's refusal to discuss the nuclear issue -- which has resulted in the rial, the Iranian currency, losing 80pc of its value so far this year -- has had a sobering effect on the mullahs, and may yet lead them to the negotiating table.

However, while Mr Obama is happy to prevaricate on Iran, the Israelis are not, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who faces his own re-election campaign in January, is unlikely to remain patient for much longer.

Afghanistan is another issue where the president's unconvincing leadership promises trouble. Mr Obama began his presidency by authorising a "surge" strategy to defeat the Taliban and force them into negotiations. But, within a year, he had changed his mind and ordered the troops home, even though the Taliban remain a formidable fighting force, and the prospects of a peace deal being brokered before the troops are brought back to the US are virtually non-existent.

Even Mr Obama's staunchest supporters now concede that the Taliban are likely to reclaim large swaths of Afghanistan -- including Kandahar, the country's second city -- the moment the last troops leave.

Then there are the continuing ramifications of the recent wave of Arab uprisings, where pro-American regimes such as Hosni Mubarak's Egypt have been swept away and replaced with Islamic regimes with a decidedly anti-Western agenda.

In neighbouring Libya, Mr Obama took a back seat while Britain and France led the campaign to overthrow Gaddafi, but that did not stop Islamist militants from murdering the American ambassador in Benghazi.

Add to this China's deepening militarisation, Russia's resurgent nationalism and the expansion of al-Qa'ida's terrorist franchise throughout the Muslim world, and it is clear that, however much Mr Obama would like to disengage from the outside world, the Oval Office in-tray is going to give him many sleepless nights. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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