‘Obama, the Grinch who stole Christmas’

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s reaction to his American counterpart's abrupt, out-of-character, untimely and uncalled for reaction to alleged hacking during elections painted Obama as ‘the Grinch who stole Christmas'

In the dying hours of 2016, we witnessed a mellower Vladimir Putin (left)
In the dying hours of 2016, we witnessed a mellower Vladimir Putin (left)

In the dying hours of 2016, we witnessed a mellower Vladimir Putin. He left outgoing US President Barack Obama with egg on his face. In an effort to penalize Russia over alleged hacking during the United States election, Obama invoked sanctions against Russian top officials and expelled Russian diplomats from the US.

The former black belt judo master, instead of a tit-for-tat response, invited the children of Moscow-based American diplomats to Christmas celebrations at the Kremlin. It was an untypical response from the former KGB officer-turned-President. Putin’s reaction to Obama’s abrupt, out-of-character, untimely and uncalled for reaction painted Obama as ‘the Grinch who stole Christmas’, as CNN’s Jill Dougherty so rightly put it. This year, the world shall witness new, unprecedented, relations between the US, with Donald Trump at the helm, and Vladimir Putin’s Russia. 

Lone wolves 

2017 could actually be worse. 2016 ended with another bloody terrorist attack in Istanbul which left 39 people dead, mostly tourists. Turkey, on the border with Syria, has had no fewer than 22 terrorist attacks in 2016. Following the New Year’s Eve bar attack, the Turkish interior ministry stated that we should expect more of the same this New Year. We know that. The war on terror failed miserably. It is actually a misnomer.

Pre-ISIS, terror was perpetrated mainly by Al-Qaeda, which had its cells mostly in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The US and its allies attacked specific, identifiable, targets and destroyed most of its networks and resources. Osama Bin Laden, after a manhunt which took years, was found living with his large family in a nondescript residential area in Attobadad in Pakistan.

He was shot dead by a US soldier, as was his family. Following Bin Laden’s death, the Al-Qaeda leadership was at a loss. Following the US and its allies’ war on Iraq and its catastrophic aftermath, ISIS was born. Since then, most of its cells, in Libya, Iraq and Syria have been destroyed, but ISIS perpetrated an ideology of evil which results in today’s numerous, lone wolf attacks in Europe and beyond.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to prevent further terrorist attacks. Guns and warplanes are effective in destroying its resources, but the war on terror today requires an effective intelligence network which identifies potential, radicalized, young men and women who are prone to carry out lone wolf attacks. Admittedly, it is easier said than done.

Labour’s last full year

2017 is Labour’s last full year in office. Malta’s Presidency of the European Council comes to an end in June 2017. October 2017 would be an election-tailor-made budget. By April, latest May 2018, Malta will go to the polls.

This year is therefore crucial for Labour, as it is for Simon Busuttil’s Nationalist Party. The economy is doing well, although wealth being generated is not trickling down to all. Key sectors of our economy are doing remarkably well: the construction industry is booming, as are sales of property and the rental market. The financial services sector and the gaming industry continue to do well.

On the other hand, our public transport system, and the management of traffic on our roads, are a mess. Serious allegations of corruption surfaced in 2016. The government failed miserably in this regard, as it did in its failure to deliver its pre-electoral promise of political transparency. Key contracts have gone unpublished. Taxpayers’ money is being squandered on questionable consultancies. Now we learn that government ministries exceeded their allocated budget by €250 million.

The sad thing about all this is that the government thinks that as long as the economy is doing well, a second term in office is a sure bet. It is not always the case. The economy was doing well too pre-2013, but people had had enough of the PN. Labour had then managed to portray a bleak picture of an arrogant, corrupt, bureaucratic government. The rest is history.

True, by the next election, Labour will have been in office for only one term, compared to the three successive terms of Nationalist administrations. However, voters shift and Joseph Muscat’s Labour cannot afford to take them for granted. A strong economy and Malta’s Presidency of the EU may not be enough to pull it off in early 2018.

Frank Psaila, a lawyer by profession, anchors Iswed fuq l-Abjad on Net TV

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