Watershed. It’s the only word for it. Once Lebanon and Syria and Egypt trembled when Washington spoke. Now they laugh. It’s not just a question of what happened to the statesmen of the past.
No one believed that Cameron was Churchill or that the silly man in the White House was Roosevelt – although Putin might make a rather good Stalin. It’s more a question of credibility; no one in the Middle East takes America seriously anymore. And you only had to watch President Barack Obama on Saturday to see why.
For there he was, prattling on in the most racist way about “ancient sectarian differences” in the Middle East.
Since when was the president of the United States an expert on these supposed “sectarian differences”? Constantly we are shown maps of the Arab world with Shias and Sunnis and Christians colour-coded onto the nations which we generously bequeathed to the region after the First World War. But when is an American paper going to carry a colour-coded map of Washington or Chicago with black and white areas delineated by streets?
But what was amazing was the sheer audacity of our leaders in thinking that they could yet again bamboozle their electorates with their lies and trumperies and tomfooleries.
This doesn’t mean that the Syrian regime did not use gas “on its own people” – a phrase the West used to use about Saddam Hussein when it wanted a war in Iraq – but it does mean that our present leaders are now paying the price for the dishonesty of George Bush and Tony Blair.
Obama, who is becoming more and more preacher-like, wants to be the punisher-in-chief of the Western world, the avenger-in-chief.
There is something oddly Roman about him. And the Romans were good at two things. They believed in law and they believed in crucifixion. The US consititution – American “values” and the cruise missile have a faintly similar focus. The lesser races must be civilised and they must be punished, even if the itsy-bitsy tiny missile launches look more like perniciousness than war. Everyone outside the Roman Empire was called a barbarian. Everyone outside Obama’s empire is called a terrorist.
And as usual, the big picture has a habit of taking away some of the little details we should know about.
Take Afghanistan, for example. I had an interesting phone call from Kabul three days ago. And it seems that the Americans are preventing President Karzai purchasing new Russian Mi helicopters – because Moscow sells the same helicopters to Syria. Well, how about that.
The US, it seems, is now trying to damage Russian trade relations with Afghanistan – why the Afghans would want to do business with the country that enslaved them for eight years is another matter – because of Damascus.
Now another little piece of news. Just over a week ago, two massive car bombs blew up outside two Salafist mosques in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli. They killed 47 people and wounded another 500.
Now it has emerged that five people have been charged by the Lebanese security services over these bombings and one of them is said to be a captain in the Syrian government intelligence service.
His charge is “in absentia”, as they say, and we all like to think that men and women are innocent until proved guilty. But two sheikhs have also been charged, one of them apparently the head of a pro-Damascus Islamist organisation. The other sheikh is also said to be close to Syrian intelligence. Typically, Obama is so keen on bombarding Syria for gassing that he has missed out on this nugget of information which has angered and infuriated millions of Lebanese.
But I guess this is what happens when you take your eye off the ball.
It reminds me of a book that was published by Yale University Press in 2005. It was called The New Lion of Damascus by David Lesch, a professor at Trinity University in Texas. Those were the days when Bashar al Assad was still being held up as the bright new broom in Syria.
“Bashar,” Lesch concluded, “is, indeed, the hope – and the promise of a better future.”
Then last year – by which time the West had abandoned its dreams of Bashar – the good professor came up with another book, again published by Yale. This time it was called Syria: The Fall of the House of Assad, and Lesch concluded:
He (Bashar) was short-sighted and became deluded. He failed miserably.
As my Beirut bookseller remarked, we must await Lesch’s next book, tentatively entitled, perhaps, Assad is Back. Why, he may well last longer than Obama.
By arrangement with The Independent