The US and its close allies have been engaged in an offensive on several fronts since 11 September 2001. Their aim has been to entrench the global dominance of US imperialism. Barack Obama has entered the White House at a key moment in that offensive.
Obama’s stated policy is to stop reinforcing failure in Iraq in order to concentrate forces against what the White House website calls “the greatest threat to our security – the resurgence of Al Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan”.
The new administration promises to “increase our troop levels in Afghanistan, press our allies in Nato to do the same, and dedicate more resources to revitalise Afghanistan’s economic development”.
It’s hard to see how this is going to work. Fatally, the US lacks reliable allies in Afghanistan. Hillary Clinton, Obama’s new secretary of state, acknowledged this during her confirmation hearings when she attacked the corruption of Hamid Karzai’s client regime.
Worse still, the war in Afghanistan has destabilised Pakistan. The Taliban’s support always sprawled over the Afghan-Pakistani border – and the operations mounted on the Pakistan side by government forces and the US have worked to the Taliban’s advantage.
Obama’s decision to authorise missile attacks on villages in Pakistan last weekend shows that he has yet to learn from his predecessor’s catastrophic blunders.
The same is probably also true of the most immediate foreign policy crisis to confront Obama – Israel’s war against Gaza.
This brutal one-sided assault saw the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) inflict devastation and carnage on the Palestinians at very little cost to themselves.
But even the New York Times conceded, “What is clear is that, despite vague Israeli hopes that Hamas could be completely removed, that has not happened.
“Much of the group’s manpower remains, mostly because it made a point of fighting at a distance – or not at all – whenever possible despite the fury of the Israeli advance and bombardment.”
Quite predictably, despite all the IDF’s butchery, the assault on Gaza leaves the situation fundamentally where it was before.
Israel enjoys overwhelming military superiority, but is quite unable to crush the Palestinians or destroy the movements – Hamas and Lebanon’s Hizbollah – that express the Arab masses’ will to resist.
What will Obama do? The new administration’s foreign policy agenda on the White House website includes the headlines “Ensure A Strong US-Israel Partnership”, “Support Israel’s Right To Self Defence” and “Support Foreign Assistance To Israel”.
Maybe this is protesting too much. Maybe these conventional sentiments conceal a real intention to shift US policy. But the intelligence consultant George Friedman thinks not:
“The Israeli-Palestinian dispute is an intractable conflict to which there is no real solution,” he writes. “Certainly, Obama will fight being drawn into mediating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during his first 100 days in office.
“He undoubtedly will send the obligatory Middle East envoy. Such a mission is not involvement – it is the alternative to involvement.”
This cynical reasoning may well prove correct. But this doesn’t alter the fact that the Gaza war has damaged the imperialist position worldwide.
The worldwide explosion of anger against Israel and support for the Palestinians represents a step change in the development of an international solidarity movement that could begin to compare with the movement that fought against apartheid in South Africa.
As Noam Chomsky writes, “Israel is deliberately turning itself into perhaps the most hated country in the world, and is also losing the allegiance of the population of the West, including younger American Jews, who are unlikely to tolerate its persistent shocking crimes for long.”
In more immediate power-political terms, Israel’s war on Gaza has put further pressure on the rulers of Egypt and Saudi Arabia – the US’s key allies in the Arab world.
The Israeli government had previously secured these regimes’ support for the Gaza assault. But the Financial Times on Friday of last week carried a remarkable piece headlined “Saudi Patience Is Running Out”.
The author was Prince Turki al-Faisal – former director of Saudi intelligence and ex-ambassador to the US and Britain. “Eventually, the kingdom will not be able to prevent its citizens from joining the worldwide revolt against Israel,” he warned.
The Saudi royal family and Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak initially backed Israel against Hamas because they feared the influence of radical Islamism on their own subjects.
Now they are worried that the backlash against Israel’s crimes – and their complicity in them – will stoke the flames of rebellion at home.
This illustrates one of the US’s biggest difficulties – the fact that setbacks on one front can affect the others. This is also true in the case of Afghanistan where, as we have already seen, the war against the Taliban has spread to Pakistan.
One of the many reasons why this is a problem for the US is that the supply lines for its troops in Afghanistan run from the Pakistani port of Karachi. Already convoys have come under attack from the Taliban in the Khyber Pass.
The only alternative supply routes run through Central Asia and depend on Russia’s approval.
But the war between Russia and Georgia last summer confirmed beyond any doubt that Russia is determined to assert itself as the dominant power in its neighbouring regions.
Russia’s economic power has been battered since then by the financial crash and the collapse of oil prices. But Russia is still willing to flex its muscles – as the latest row over natural gas with Ukraine demonstrates.
So on the different fronts in the offensive that he inherited from George Bush, Obama has accepted defeat on one (Iraq), is marching toward defeat in another (Afghanistan), and faces an intractable situation on a third (Israel-Palestine).
And he has to deal with a resurgent Russia to boot. If he hasn’t already, Obama will soon find the imperial mantle weighs heavy on his shoulders.
Alex Callinicos is the author of The New Mandarins of American Power (£14.99). It is available from Bookmarks, the socialist bookshop. Phone 020 7637 1848, email or go to » www.bookmarksbookshop.co.uk