Feluccas sent to negotiate in the palace of Bashar Assad in Damascus, hand extended to Iran that pursues nuclear power and also to North Korea which launches intercontinental missiles, pats on the back with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and revision of the embargo in Cuba in order to accelerate direct dialogue with Raúl Castro. Barack Obama changes his approach with the strategic adversaries of American interests with respect to the George W. Bush administration, aiming to thaw crisis situations and to carve out for America the role of the only world power capable of dialogue in any scenario.
Opening up to opponents has as its main axis the relaunching of relations with Islam because Obama believes that it is the most pressing urgency in foreign policy. In the inaugural speech delivered from the steps of the Capitol in Washington, he proposes a relationship based on “common interests and mutual respect”. A few days later he granted Al Arabiya, an Arabic-language television station intended for Middle Eastern audiences, the first interview as president in order to make viewers understand that “America is not at war with Islam”. In April in front of the Parliament of Ankara and in June in Egypt the steps follow one another. Obama’s offensive is not only political but also personal: he puts on the plate the fact of “having lived in a nation with a Muslim majority” like Indonesia and of having “Muslim relatives in the family” to present himself as the bearer of values that also belong to Islam. This does not mean abdicating American strategic interests, abandoning allies such as Israel or giving up the war against Al Qaeda, but Obama adds to these elements that of an America that seeks engagement (the direct relationship) with Muslims in the belief that this is the best way to make a scorched earth around anti-Americanism that allows jihadist groups to continue to have a hold. The “hand extended to those who will be willing to open their fist” which he speaks of in the inaugural address is to those Muslim countries that add up the greatest friction with the United States, starting with Syria and Iran. The president is convinced that he can undermine the Damascus-Tehran axis by offering both capitals options other than those of a tug-of-war. In the case of Bashar Al Assad’s Syria, think of a peace negotiation with Israel capable of bringing to an end a state of war that has lasted since 1947, while on Iran the crux of the nuclear program – of which the UN has asked for suspension fearing its military nature – is for Obama an opportunity to lead America at the helm of a multilateral diplomatic offensive, which also involves Beijing, Moscow and the major European capitals and is aimed at offering Tehran an end to sanctions and complete reintegration into the international community in exchange for blocking uranium enrichment. Every time Obama takes a step towards the dictators of Damascus and Tehran he reaped little results, but the tactical defeats push him to renew the challenge. For this reason, on the occasion of the Persian New Year, the Moscow and the major European capitals and is aimed at offering Tehran an end to sanctions and complete reintegration into the international community in exchange for blocking uranium enrichment. Every time Obama takes a step towards the dictators of Damascus and Tehran he reaped little results, but the tactical defeats push him to renew the challenge. For this reason, on the occasion of the Persian New Year, the Nowruz, dedicates to the Iranian people a message of openness and hope that aims to bypass the theocracy of the ayatollahs to build a direct relationship with the population. Behind these choices is the White House’s belief that Obama represents that ‘novelty’ that the new generations of Muslims in the Middle East are anxiously awaiting and that could prove capable of upsetting regional balances.
On the occasion of his first European trip, in April, the president explains first at the G20 summit in Strasbourg and then to the audience of Alsatian students in the same city that his idea of American leadership in the world involves “building coalitions” and being able “to help the world to find the best solutions to common problems “. With Obama, therefore, the declination of leadership changesAmerican: it no longer means taking solitary initiatives and therefore gathering the consensus of individual countries but being protagonists in the genesis of far-reaching common decisions. It is in this framework that the president launches his personal mediation to achieve a peace in the Middle East based on the coexistence in ‘peace and security’ between the State of Israel and the unborn State of Palestine. In the spring he receives the heads of government of Jordan, Israel, Egypt and the National Authority of Palestine in quick succession in the Oval Office, making it clear that they want to reach a regional agreement, capable on the one hand of putting an end to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and on the other to lead all Arab states to recognize the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. Among America’s opponents, the most affordable is also the closest: in the Cuba of the very sick Fidel Castro, Raúl’s government is leading a slow transformation of the economy and consumption which is read by Washington as the premise for a possible turning point. Supported by Cuban exiles from Florida, where the majority are the young and no longer the old generations who fled after the 1959 revolution, Obama thus makes the first gesture by reducing the restrictions on travel, family reunification and the sending of money. It is a signal that suggests the willingness to drastically review, if not completely abolish, an economic embargo that has lasted for half a century. Raúl Castro responds favorably, he makes it clear that he is ready to “talk about everything, including human rights and political prisoners ”and before the beginning of the summer in a Washington hotel senior officials of the two countries begin direct talks promising the normalization of relations. The opening in Cuba has an illustrious victim in Hugo Chávez, the president of Venezuela who built his popularity on anti-Americanism and the condemnation of the embargo on Cuba, aiming to legitimize himself as a regional leader thanks to bilateral agreements with Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Cuba itself and a strategic understanding with Ahmadinejad’s Iran. The closer Obama gets to Cuba the more difficult it is for Chávez to support the anti-Yankee campaign in Latin America and when the two leaders meet in Trinidad and Tobago, home of the four-year summit of the Americas, an exchange of pats on the back and gestures of friendship suggest a breaking of the ice. But for Obama, Venezuela is not Cuba: Chávez’s choice to allow pro-Iranian Hezbollah to settle in Venezuela and to sign military agreements with Tehran, Moscow and Beijing makes Caracas a much more destabilizing capital than Havana. If the match between Obama and Raúl Castro promises normalization in the short term, in the case of Chávez, tensions continue to hold the ground. Also because the serious acts of anti-Jewish intolerance that are taking place in Caracas – devastated synagogues, assaulted rabbis, nocturnal threats against institutions and families – raise serious concerns in the Democratic-led Washington Congress.
The Afpak War
After conducting an electoral campaign in the name of opposition to the war in Iraq and the need to devote more resources to the campaign against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, once elected President Obama turns promises into facts. The first decision is to let the Baghdad government know that by the end of 2011 the last American soldiers will leave the country, putting an end to the military presence that began with the 2003 invasion. Planning the withdrawal is possible thanks to the fact that, in the last 18 months Bush’s presidency, General David Petraeus, commander of troops in Iraq, has managed to drastically reduce inter-ethnic violence by striking hard blows against Al Qaeda terrorists and their jihadist allies. Petraeus is now the commander of all US troops in the ‘Greater Middle East’ region, which extends from Morocco to Pakistan, and Obama is so convinced of the effectiveness of his recipe that he wants to repeat it in Afghanistan. The Petraeus method is based on the anti-guerrilla manuals that are studied at West Point: the use of the military is not enough against armed insurrections but also the support of the civilian population is needed and to obtain it one must engage in reconstruction, public works, health care. For this reason, Obama proposes to NATO allies a new strategy in Afghanistan aimed at obtaining a double result: strengthening the institutions of the weak central state guaranteeing more services to citizens and increasing military engagement against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. This last aspect, however, has a novelty compared to what is inherited from the Bush administration: for Obama and his military advisers, the war against jihadists is taking place not only in Afghanistan but also in Pakistan. Thus was born the denomination of ‘Afpak’ for the strategic region that includes both countries due to the fact that the Taliban present in Pakistan are the rear of those who fight against NATO in Afghanistan and, according to American intelligence, guarantee the refuge for the still fugitive leaders of Al Qaeda responsible for the attacks of 11 September 2001: Osama Bin Laden and Ayman Al Zawahiri. Thus was born the Afpak war, a military campaign that develops on two fronts: on the Afghan one the Pentagon increases the troops up to 70,000 effective in September 2009 to give no respite to the jihadist groups, while on the Pakistani one it is the intelligence – American and British – to train Pakistani troops to hunt down the Taliban with CIA drones that strike from above, causing numerous victims, including civilians. Crucial to the success of this approach is the full cooperation of the governments of Kabul and Islamabad. For this reason, in May Obama invites both presidents to the Oval Office for a trilateral summit that ends with the commitment of the Afghan Hamid Karzai to lead a more efficient government committed to improving the lives of citizens and the Pakistani Asif Ali Zardari to use troops against the Taliban to dismantle Islamic strongholds in tribal border areas, starting with Waziristan. Inter-Services Intelligence) – with the Taliban groups during the presidency of General Pervez Musharraf have allowed Al Qaeda to reorganize, raising a new generation of colonels dedicated to organizing kamikaze attacks.
At loggerheads with the CIA
The most difficult issue facing the president is Guantánamo, the US base on the island of Cuba where his predecessor created a super-prison to interrogate, detain and have Al Qaeda detainees tried by military courts, including those most involved in the organization of the 9/11 attacks, such as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, creator of the plan for the assault with commercial planes transformed into suicide bombers that claimed almost 3,000 victims in Washington and New York. The double basic choice that Obama makes is to close Guantánamo and condemn as ‘torture’ the enhanced interrogation techniques used by the CIA on detainees, such as waterboarding.. In applying these two choices, in transforming them into concrete facts, Obama finds himself at loggerheads with the intelligence apparatus. The choice to declassify the top secret memorandain which the CIA illustrated the exact nature of the enhanced techniques provokes the irritation of many agents of the clandestine operations department – who are responsible for hunting down terrorists – who during a heated meeting in Langley, where the agency is based, they accuse the president of wanting to make them fight “with one arm tied behind their backs” depriving them of the possibility of conducting harsh interrogations to obtain useful information to prevent new attacks. The 007s also fear that equating the enhanced techniques with torture opens the way for legal prosecution of those who have practiced them. The other front of tension concerns the scenario of the transfer from Guantánamo to the American prisons of the majority of the 241 remaining inmates, because a multitude of mayors and legislators oppose fearing “repercussions for citizenship” and the director of the FBI himself, Robert Mueller, joins the chorus of opponents, entering into direct conflict with the president. Behind these difficulties is Obama’s need to rewrite the rules of the fight against terrorism. To reveal the difficulty of the work are the frequent about-faces of the president, who goes so far as to restore, albeit with different rules, the military courts created by the Bush administration and considered a violation of legality by liberal militants. Pressed by criticisms of the opposite political tenor, the president reaffirms the path taken and, speaking at the headquarters of the National Archives at the end of May,