Notes From the Margins…

David and Barack trip the light fantastic

  • March 15, 2012
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It’s over, but only the hardest hearts could have remained unmoved at the sight of  the president of the world’s only superpower romancing our Tory PM.   Like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Camerobama only had eyes for each other as they skipped lightly across the diplomatic dancefloor in  the greatest piece of US/British bonding since the heady days when Tony Blair and George Bush – the Laurel and Hardy of the war on terror – stood shoulder to shoulder on the White House lawn.

The bond between the ex-Etonian and the former community activist from Chicago was also a match between seeming opposites, but it was a different kind of love: glitzy but homely, feminine yet manly.   They watched a basketball game.   They cooked meat together.  They attended a celebrity gala dinner with George Clooney and Richard Branson.  They appeared with their sartorially accomplished wives on the White House balcony.  They made jokes in public.  They talked about their grandparents’ participation in World War II.

And above all they praised each other,  again and again, with Obama leading the way, deploying  the sonorous oratory that gives an air of profundity and gravitas even to his shallowest and most trite pronouncements.  Thus, according to the Telegraph,

He invoked the twin images of the St Paul’s Cathedral standing tall during the Blitz and the Statue of Liberty emerging from the smoke left behind by the September 11 attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center as he praised the alliance between Britain and the US.

“In those two moments I think you see all you need to know about who we are and what brings us together tonight,” Mr Obama said. “In war and in peace, in times of plenty and times of hardship, we stand tall and proud and strong, together.”

Why do politicians insist on talking such utter drivel?  But our PM’s speechwriters were not to be outdone:

Mr Cameron hailed the President’s “strength, moral authority, and wisdom” as he credited him with death of Osama bin Laden and the overthrow of Libya’s Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. He also praised Mr Obama for not “picking fights”, seemingly a message of support for the President’s resistance to an attack on Iran.

“It is a pleasure to work with someone with moral strength, with clear reason, and with fundamental decency in this task of renewing our great national alliance for today and for the generations to follow,” Mr Cameron said.

Sickbag please.  No wait, I think I’m over it, and a little dose of reality is always the best antidote for these nausea-inducing moments.   Because the speeches may have been dim, but the glitz, the slickly-orchestrated mutual flattery and the World War II nostalgia had a serious purpose.

In the last week six British soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan, and a ‘rogue’ US soldier has massacred 16 civilians.  Yesterday a driver carrying an incendiary bomb in a stolen car apparently tried to kill US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta inside the British base at Camp Bastion in Helmand province – the same province where British troops have been achieving the ‘momentum’ and ‘progress’ that Cameron has been hailing in recent weeks.

The Afghan war is unpopular with both the British and American public, and the discrepancy between its stated objectives and the actual situation on the ground is now so glaring that the US and UK governments are desperate to prevent an unseemly troop withdrawal that might look like a defeat.

Obama and Cameron have been at pains to emphasise that they are not losing the war but winning it, and that evidence to the contrary, everything is on track to ensure, as Obama put it yesterday,  that Afghan forces ‘can take the lead and our troops can come home’ in 2014.

This ‘lead’ role is akin to the ‘Vietnamisation’ strategy begun by the Nixon administration in 1969, when the US sought to shift the bulk of the fighting to South Vietnamese forces as preparation for troop withdrawals.   But the current ‘Afghanisation’ policy is deceptive, since the  US clearly intends to maintain what Obama calls ‘an enduring commitment so that Afghanistan never again becomes a haven for al-Qaida to attack our countries.’

British troops – and British political support – are crucial to these plans, and Cameron’s red carpet welcome was undoubtedly designed to ensure that HM government does what is required.  Given the craven subservience of  its political class to the US neo-imperial agenda,  this will never  be a problem, but the public also needs to be kept onside.

Then there is the looming war with Iran.   Despite Cameron’s praise for Obama’s ‘resistance’ to a military assault, this reticence may be a question of timing.   According to Haaretz, Russian diplomats have claimed that they were asked by Hilary Clinton to deliver an ultimatum to Iran last week, warning that it had one last chance for talks on its nuclear programme, otherwise ‘  an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities will occur within months.’

This ultimatum may be another form of brinkmanship, and it is difficult to believe that a date for an attack has been set in stone – yet.  But once again, the US is keen to coordinate its potential response with its most faithful vassal/ally.  And the corrolary of Iran is Syria, where Cameron  reiterated the UK/US commitment to regime change, and declared his intention to ‘work with anyone who is ready to build a stable, inclusive, and democratic Syria  for all Syrians.’

As usual, Cameron insisted that this aspiration is intended to ‘stop the killing.’  But his state visit had nothing to do with preventing or reducing violence, either in Syria or anywhere else.  On the contrary, both the US and UK governments remain committed to common foreign policies objectives that have already resulted in a great deal of killing, and may yet lead to a lot more in the months to come.

And that is why it wasn’t my heart that fluttered over the last three days, but my stomach.

 

 

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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