Most leaders in their last years in office worry about their 'legacy' or how the world in the future will view their tenure in power. Many wait until they are free of day-to-day responsibilities before publishing their memoirs, hoping to set the record straight (or bend it in a favourable direction) or giving extensive interviews to journalists who will act as sort of instant biographers. But Barack Obama has acted pre-emptively and, with more than nine months left of his term, given extensive interviews to Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, which has published them in a series. I must confess I have not read the interviews which apparently, combined, are almost of book length. Instead I am relying on second-hand reports such as the following by Patrick Cockburn, Middle East correspondent of The Independent.
Cockburn comments that Obama, unlike David Cameron and his Chancellor, George Osborne, learns from his mistakes. He also seems to have learned from his political rivals, by whom I mean the NeoCons, in that he has adopted the tactic employed by George W. Bush (and many Israeli governments of the past) of striking pre-emptively.
In many ways Obama's remarks seem like Dwight D. Eisenhower's farewell address of January, 1961, in which he warned America of the dangers of the growing power of the "military-industrial" complex. Obama in his turn warns of how it is not in the interests of the USA to be led into overseas wars, which are really more in the interests of others than of the US itself. He is particularly critical of the influence of Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states, long allied to the US. He is also critical of Britain's David Cameron and French ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy, for the way in which they beseeched the US to lead a NATO air campaign against Libyan president Mummer Qadaffi, but then walked away when the Libyan state structure was destroyed, leaving the chaos which has prevailed for the last five years. It was this breech of diplomatic politesse, criticizing leaders of allied countries, that seemed to gain most traction in the press, but what Obama had to say was really much more important than that - it amounts to a repudiation of the foreign policy that the United States has been following, since the inauguration of George W. Bush, i.e. for most of this century.
Goldberg states that "A widely held sentiment inside the White House is that many of the most prominent foreign-policy think tanks in Washington are doing the bidding of their Arab or pro-Israeli funders." He also mentions how Obama "broke with the Washington playbook. This was his liberation day" referring to when he overturned his own 'red-line' and refused to bomb Syria.
The Cockburn piece dwells heavily on the malign influence of Saudi Arabia, both in spreading Wahabbi extremism throughout the Muslim world and in their "purchase of people and institutions which they see as influential". "Academic institutions of previously high repute in Washington have shown themselves to be as shamelessly greedy for subsidies from the Gulf and elsewhere, as predatory warlords and corrupt leaders in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and beyond".
In Cockburn's piece little mention is made of the malign influence of the pro-Israel NeoCons. I don't know if this is how it is in Goldberg's piece. But I wouldn't be surprised - Goldberg is a dual US-Israeli citizen and served in the Israeli Defence Forces. He was a drum-beater for the invasion of Iraq, and according to Glen Greenwald prepared and disseminated a litany of falsehoods which rivalled those of Judith Miller of The New York Times. However unlike many of the War Party, Goldberg later recanted publishing a piece in 2008, entitled "How Did I Get Iraq Wrong?"
Whether Goldberg should still be counted as a NeoCon is a moot point. But the fact is that the NeoCons as a group, hold considerable influence among the Washington foreign policy community. And I am sure that their influence on foreign policy under Obama has been very bit as strong and as malign as that of Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States. In so many cases the interests and aims of the Saudis and Israel coincide e.g. in overthrowing and de-stabilizing Iraq; throttling the 'Arab Spring'; overthrowing any Arab leader who is perceived as an enemy either for being prepared to act independently (Qadaffi) or who is too close to Iran (al Assad). Both Saudis and NeoCons have urged US governments to use military force to accomplish these goals either directly or through the support of proxy militias such as is happening in Syria.
But it seems that Obama has had a conversion. One could almost say that the conversion happened on the road to Damascus, since as Goldberg reports, it happened with Obama's refusal to bomb Syria, after the sarin gas attack on the edge of Damascus, attributed at once by the NeoCons and the compliant media, to al Assad, but which on further examination appears to have been a "false-flag" operation, designed to discredit the al Assad regime (see e.g.
No doubt Obama's fight with Binyamin Netanyahu and the Saudis over the nuclear deal reached with Iran, helped to clarify his thinking - both parties tried, with all means at their disposal, to act in a way which Obama saw clearly was not in the best interests of the USA.
An intersting question is why Obama has chosen to go public with his concerns at this point. One answer is that he wishes to burnish his legacy - sort of implying a statement along the lines of "Sorry I made some mistakes (e.g. Libya) but I was misled by people in the pay or the sway of other interests. It won't happen again on my watch." Of course too, he is probably deeply concerned at the way in which the US has been steered in directions inimical to its best interests. But there is a third possible explanation which I find interesting. This is that he is firing a shot across the bow of Hillary Clinton's election campaign.
Hillary Clinton has shown herself to be like those "predatory warlords and corrupt leaders shamelessly greedy for subsidies from the Gulf". The Clinton Foundation received $25 million from the Saudis. Qatar and Oman are both reported to have given between one and five million. What do they expect in return? Well Hillary, for one thing, as Secretary of State helped broker the sale of $29 billion of advanced fighter jets to the Saudis - jets which are now being used to pound Yemen, its impoverished neighbour.
There is an irony in Hillary's position vis a vis the Saudis, that not too many have picked up on. In the election campaign Hillary is presenting herself as a champion of women's rights and during an early primary campaign event, Madeleine Albright, with Hillary at her side, stated that there was a "special place in Hell reserved for women who didn't help other women". She clearly was not thinking about the repressed women of Saudi Arabia, when she said it.
Hillary has been no less shameless in the way she grovels to Israel. As Mondoweiss reports: She has promised to take the Israel relationship “to the next level,” has bragged that she was born within months of Israel, she has promised to fight Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) and work with Republicans to do so. She has also promised to invite Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House in the first month of office.
So it seems that Hillary, if she wins next November would be quite happy to do the bidding of the Saudis and the Israelis, even into wars, which Obama has pointed out are often not in America's best interests. This is fascinating because Donald Trump, who seems set to be the Republican candidate, has taken a different position, and has promised that he would not get the US involved in foreign wars of choice, and would adopt a more even-handed stance in his dealings with Israel.
Is Obama trying to warn Hillary? Or is he perhaps trying to scupper her chances? With the popularity of Donald Trump, there does seem to be a change in the air, with respect to US policy in the Middle East. Obama's statements can only help in this direction. Whether anything will come of it remains to be seen, but it seems at last that people are waking up to the fact that the US has been used by unscrupulous allies.
Could it be that the reign of the NeoCons is coming to an end?