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The dove of peace over the American capital - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Washington, the capital of the United States, was founded after the American Revolution against a backdrop of war. In 1814, the British burned it to the ground, re-emphasising the connection of the city, named after a general, with war.

Not surprisingly, the American capital is full of war monuments.

Today, the US military budget, some 4.5 per cent of its annual Gross Domestic Product, is equal to the combined expenditure of Russia, China and the European Union on defence.

Last month, Washington acquired a monument to peace- a new touch to the city’s famous skyline.

Between the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol and passing by the Kenned Center stands the United States’ Peace Institute with its white roof that evokes the wings of a dove. The structure has been named the Ansary Peace Dove after Hushang Ansary, the philanthropist and business leader from Houston, Texas.

By coincidence, the monument was inaugurated by President George W H Bush at exactly the time US warplanes had started bombing Libya on orders from the incumbent Barack Obama.

At a ceremony the following night, all four former presidents still living were present.

The guests might have remembered that, in one way or another, all four had been involved in wars.

In fact, all 44 men who have served as US president so far have been involved in at least one war.

For the past 60 years, the United States has had the most powerful war machine in history.

However it has never been comfortable with war.

History shows that in almost every case the US was sucked into wars that initially had little or nothing to do with its national interests.

Also in almost every case, the chief concern of US leaders was to disengage from the war.

With one or two notable exceptions, the US never sought total victory.

In some cases, such as the war against Spain, victory proved troublesome for the US by landing it with colonial possessions that required decades to get rid of.

The Americans were almost always happy to see a war end in a fishtail, allowing the US to withdraw gracefully.

This was the case with the Korean War, although, in a sense, it is not yet ended.

In some cases, such as the Vietnam War and the mini-wars in Lebanon and Somalia, even a disgraceful departure was seen as better than staying stuck in long conflicts.

Jimmy Carter, an exceptional president in many ways, invented an original way of waging war.

In 1980, he ordered the invasion of Iran with six helicopters and two transport aircrafts with the mission to rescue American diplomats whose seizure as hostages was a declaration of war on the US.

When the mission failed, Carter just wrote a letter to the Iranian despot Ayatollah Khomeini begging for “improved relations”.

He showed that what counted in the end was not having power but the courage to use whatever power one has.

In early decades, the Americans chose some victorious, or at least prestigious, generals as president.

However, over the past century the tide has turned against the military.

The last time Americans rooted for a victorious general was in 1952 when they elected Dwight Eisenhower president.

The list of presidents who won wars but were kicked out of office is long, from Teddy Roosevelt to George Bush Senior.

Other presidents, like Lyndon Johnson, were destroyed by wars they could not bring to an end. In Johnson’s case, the tragic irony was that, in domestic policy, he was one of the most successful of American presidents.

Even winning two wars, as was the case with George W Bush, is not enough to ensure lasting popularity for a US president. And what about Harry Truman who left office as the most unpopular president in US history, despite his role in wining the Second World War?

Such is the United States economic and military power that winning a war, almost any war, abroad is not difficult for it. What is difficult for any American leader is winning the war on the domestic front.

The problem is complicated because most wars start by being popular but quickly end up unpopular.

Remember the surge of support for an invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. In December of that year, 92 per cent of Americans backed the war. A year later, that figured had halved. Today, 10 years later, only 18 per cent support continued involvement in Afghanistan.

And what about the war to liberate Iraq from Ba’athist oppression?

Never in US history had a war been so strongly supported by the US Congress. And, yet, barely a year later, its most enthusiastic supporters such as Senator John Kerry were trying hard to distance themselves from it.

The story of the US involvement in Libya is even more interesting.

A week before the bombing began, editorials were clamouring for action against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s tyrannical regime. Three days after the bombing had started, the same editorials were opposing “the war.”

This is why Obama, who has bested his predecessors in his desire to be re-elected at any cost, decided to invent a new American way of ending a war: pretending that it has ended and, then, whistling and walking away.

Obama is like a man who accepts an invitation to a party but leaves as soon as he feels he doesn’t like it.

It is possible that Obama’s decision to walk away was a key element in persuading Gaddafi to hang on to a power he thought he had already lost.

Gaddafi will in the end be booted out. But history would show that Obama’s decision might have prolonged the Libyan war.

What Obama seems to ignore is that by scripting the US out of war situations that constitute an inevitable part of international life he is also ending America’s role as peacemaker.

In other words, as long as international conflict resolution is concerned, he is rendering the US irrelevant.

A look at the various crises under way across the globe would show that Obama has been successful in transforming the US from a leading participant into an almost forgotten spectator.

Not willing to wage war and thus, despite the beautiful dove in Washington, unable to promote peace either.

Well, may be that is what Obama really wanted. Who knows?

Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. Mr. Taheri has won several prizes for his journalism, and in 2012 was named International Journalist of the Year by the British Society of Editors and the Foreign Press Association in the annual British Media Awards.

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