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We do not know much about the tragedies in Sydney (15 December) and Peshawar (16 December). The latter, which brought about the massacre of almost 150 children in a school, was an act of sheer bestiality. Yet on 16 December another heinous act of terror was perpetrated in Yemen, which is by now torn between Sunni and Shia militant forces.

 

Terrorism has grown. Even worse, it is difficult to tell ‘organised terrorism’ from the acts of lone killers who ‘use’ terrorist ‘brands’ for their own purposes. Whatever the affiliations, or the lack thereof, of ‘terrorists’, these horrible stories suggest that US foreign policy in the last dozen years has failed. We used to think al-Qaida and bin Laden were the giant monsters, but now, after 11 years of US occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan and the killing of bin Laden, terror seems to be rife and even beyond control in a wide range of countries, an ‘arc of instability’ from sub-Saharan Africa and Nigeria to Libya, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and further beyond. Eleven years ago the USA and its allies invaded Iraq with the aim of ‘restoring order’, and now the country is split between the ISIL (whose ferocity cannot get unnoticed), the Kurdish region, and barely existent institutions in Baghdad. What a result.

 

In addition, the EU, that is, the US traditional ally, is engulfed in an endless economic crisis, particularly in the Eurozone and also because of financial speculation coming from Wall Street, on which the US administration has very little control. Japan, another key US ally, is betting on the ‘Abenomics’, which in 2014’s third quarter has brought further contraction (-1.9% on an annual basis). It really is time for reflection in the White House and Congress: where is America heading to?

 

USA problems start with finance. The US administration is to a significant extent controlled by a very opaque oligarchy of bankers; a key question arises, are they in power mainly to promote the interests of finance, and more particularly, those of their companies? Few examples will suffice: the current Treasury Secretary, Jack Lew, was Citigroup managing director (2006-08); his deputy, Nathan Sheets, was a Citigroup executive (2011-14), while the current Vice chairman of the Federal Reserve, Stanley Fischer, was Citigroup Vice chairman in the years 2002-05. In other words, a single financial institution, one of the world’s largest, has key figures in the top level of the US political establishment. Would Citigroup, which had tremendous losses in the 2008 crack, have survived without their support? Some US citizens and politicians denounce this state of affairs, but they are a tiny minority (see http://www.wsj.com/articles/elizabeth-warren-pins-wall-street-ills-on-citigroup-1418931017). Other giants, like JP Morgan, might have many more problems than we think (see http://www.cnbc.com/id/102254673#.). Yet large US financial institutions keep speculating on other countries and currencies (those in the Eurozone, Russia, other BRICS), and export US financial problems to other world regions. All of this is of course facilitated by the monetary hegemony of the US dollar. But for how long will the latter last?

 

Another crucial US problem has to do with the lobbies of oil, arms producers, the armed forces, and intelligence services; all these groups usually support the Republican Party. Such sectors had a lot of say under George W. Bush and are now claiming power back. Obama’s Secretary for Defence, Chuck Hagel, has resigned amid protests about American inaction, particularly in the Middle East. The military establishment has clearly expressed the view that, without ‘boots on the ground’, a victory against the ISIL will be unlikely (see http://www.ibtimes.com/us-gen-dempsey-says-coalition-needs-ground-troops-take-back-mosul-isis-1723386). Yet nothing has changed so far. Nor is the US likely to intervene elsewhere (e.g. in East Asia), to the dismay of the Pentagon hawks. The new Defence Secretary, Ashton Carter, is mainly a technocrat with a ‘caretaker’ profile; but what will happen in the run-up to the 2016 elections? The growing sentiment is that the ‘hawks’ will advocate for a more assertive and muscular foreign policy, with the risk of triggering further conflict and tensions. Moreover, in the latest weeks the ‘military-industrial complex’ has received another blow with the publication of the infamous CIA Report. How will the intelligence community react? The impression is that Obama’s action on these issues has been modest, and taken place too late. Now the CIA and the ‘military-industrial complex’ will likely have a more favourable Congress, with a House of Representatives in which the Republicans have a 33-seat majority and a Senate where they lead by ten seats (out of 100).  

 

All in all, Obama’s presidency has hardly delivered results, particularly in the light of the very high expectations it had raised. The king is by now naked. In foreign policy, very little has been achieved. Traditional allies such as the EU and Japan are battered and to some extent alienated. India is often siding with China and Russia rather than with the USA. In East Asia, the famous ‘pivot’ has not been translated into facts, and the trade partnerships across the oceans have not become reality. The Middle East is in a state of horrific chaos. In 2016 the USA will need a new leader, capable of restoring the role of politics vis-à-vis vested interests (finance, oil, arms, etc.) and gain consensus abroad with an enlightened foreign policy, different from both Bush’s unsuccessful wars and Obama’s inaction. The USA has lost credibility in many regions of the world. But does such leader exist?

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