Roger Whittaker

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Saturday 15th November 2008

Like many other people I was pleased that Barack Obama will become the next President of the United States. This outcome is certainly enormously preferable to the alternative.

I'm not particularly hopeful however that this will really be "change we can believe in" or that American policy towards the Middle East is going to change radically. It's good that Obama is planning to do something about Guantanamo, but exactly how this will work is still unclear. As for the rendition and the secret prisons and torture chambers around the world: unless their existence is acknowledged, then it's not clear that he will or can do the right thing. And there are too many people who "know too much" to be released, and whose prior treatment means that it is impossible for them to receive a fair trial, or any trial at all. The most prominent of those is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. In a way the actions of the current administration really have tied the hands of its successor.

What can the incoming administration do about KSM? And how will it admit and compensate the terrible wrongs done to people like Binyam Mohamed?

More generally, Obama is up against the power of the "Military Industrial Complex" that Eisenhower warned about in 1961, and the power of the "thugs in suits" who have been ruling the world for the last eight years.

The "dog that did not bark" during the election was al-Qaeda: many were surprised that no (genuine or otherwise) pronouncement from Bin Laden or others was used to try to sway the election. That dog seems to have barked: see this Times report today. Headline: Barack Obama is warned to beware of a 'huge threat' from al-Qaeda, subhead: Security officials fear a 'spectacular' during the transition period.

There's actually a rather fine line between "security officials fear" and "security officials threaten". I desperately hope I'm wrong, but I can at least imagine a situation in which the world changes as much between now and the inauguration as it did on September 11th 2001.