Goodbye to Uncle Sam?

The US bombardment-that-never-was in Syria has provoked an array of negative responses amongst those who wanted such an outcome, which spans a wide political spectrum. Republican hard-rightists and liberal interventionists alike have expressed alarm at the hesitancy and incompetence of the Obama administration and the war-weary “isolationist” mood of the American public.

Some have described Obama”s decision not to bomb as an abandonment of the Syrian people. Others have described the Russian diplomatic démarche as a dangerous symptom of the waning of US global power a prospect that they regard as a disaster not only for Syria but for the whole Middle East and beyond….

My new piece for Ceasefire magazine.   You can read the rest here

The Awesome Years

It would be something of an understatement to suggest that the historians of the future are unlikely to look back on the first decade of the twenty-first century with much favor.

It was a decade in which the world’s most powerful democracy unleashed   a swathe of violence across the world in the name of the ‘war on terror’, and used the atrocities carried out by assorted jihadist groups as a pretext for regime change in areas of strategic interest; in which the chimera of ‘national security’ became a catalyst for a new era of authoritarian governance.

A new era of permanent war was accompanied by the apotheosis of the neo-liberal economic model, in which the corruption, greed and reckless pursuit of the bottom line by the world’s leading banks and financial institutions has now brought country after country to the brink of collapse.

With every day that passes,   the consequences of this cynicism, waste and folly are becoming more glaringly apparent.     And this week, by a happy coincidence, three of the statesmen who presided over these golden years have emerged from the woodwork to reflect on their years in office.

For profundity and thoughtfulness,   pride of place must go to George W. Bush,   who told an interviewer from the Hoover Institution:

“Look, eight years was awesome.     You know, I was famous and I was powerful, but I have no desire for fame and power anymore.”

Memorable words, which will   surely echo through the annals of time.   Bush’s reappearance was partly intended to promote a new book entitled The 4% Solution: Unleashing the Economic Growth America Needs, to which he contributed the forward.

His expertise in such matters is unclear, given the state of the US economy when he made his political exit.       Last week, the Observer carried a feature on the impending bankruptcy of the town of Scranton, Pennsylvania, which warned that ‘ a wave of municipal bankruptcies is set to sweep the United States as towns, cities and counties plunge into a fiscal black hole, collapsing under the weight of huge debts and reduced revenues.’

When the historians of the future consider how this was allowed to happen, they may well ponder the mysterious and unfathomable processes that placed a country of such unrivaled wealth and resources in the hands of a man who wanted to be famous and powerful and who succeeded – in that and nothing else.

In the same way, Italian historians will undoubtedly puzzle to understand the   freakish mockery known as Silvio Berlusconi,   who appears to be planning a political comeback even as his country is poised to follow Spain into economic gaga-land, and who has declared that

‘My entry into politics 18 years ago saved Italy from Communism, that is a fact that I am very proud of..   I am the only leader to have had excellent relationships with the leaders of the United States and Russia at the same time and the strength of that relationship has helped peace and security in the world.’

Some may wish to challenge these assertions, and point out that Berlusconi’s entry into politics was designed to save him from prosecution rather than his country from the Red Menace.   Others may quibble with his assessment that the world has become a more peaceful and secure place as a result of his dismal trajectory.

Both Bush and Berlusconi share a belief in their own greatness that is clearly impervious to any contact with reality, and the same could be said of our own former Prime Minister, who has just paused in his indefatigable efforts on behalf of God and Mammon, to grant an   audience to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.

In it Blair looked back with obvious regret at having left the corridors of power, telling his star-struck and admiring interviewer

I”m a public service person.   You know, I would have liked staying as prime minister.   I would have taken the European job had it been offered me.   So that”s my preference.   But I”m also enjoying the life I”ve got and doing lots of things and you know, I kind of let the future take care of itself.

A more rigorous journalist might have asked Blair about the ongoing attempts to block the Chilcot Inquiry, or questioned why this ‘public service person’ has earned a fortune from some of banks and financial institutions that are dragging the global economy to ruin – not to mention his lucrative consultancy work undertaken on behalf of authoritarian governments and dictatorships, even as he was supposedly serving that urban rumour known as the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

But Amanpour is not that kind of journalist, and so the Great Man was allowed to present his departure from British politics as a noble act of self-abnegation:

It was – you know, it became very difficult for me to stay, other than a lot of damage to my party, but also probably to my country.   So I decided to go.   And I”d done it ten years, you know, it is a long time.

Both Blair’s party and the British public clearly felt that it was too long at the time of his departure, and wanted him gone, and there is no evidence that anyone except his former inner circle and assorted journalists feel any desire to have him back.

All of these three politicians share certain qualities in common; narcissism, an incapacity for self-analysis or honest reflection, an addiction to power for its own sake, an unerring belief in their own greatness and indispensability that is not commensurate at all with the disastrous fall out of the decade they shared,   and a persistent willingness to serve the interests of the rich and powerful both during and beyond the 21st century’s first lost decade.

All of them left behind an unmistakable stench of disgrace and dishonor that continues to undermine their attempts to preserve their ‘legacies’ for posterity.

In a sane world none of them would ever be allowed anywhere near public office again.   But Berlusconi may well become Prime Minister again, while Blair could conceivably return to frontline politics one day.

And who can discount the possibility that Jeb Bush might one day want to become president like his brother – and might actually succeed?   The current state of democratic politics is such that it wouldn’t be at all surprising to find a Bush, a Berlusconi and a Blair sharing the world stage once again in some capacity.

And that, as George W. Bush would say, would be truly awesome – and also terrifying.





John McCain wants to bomb…again

Republican Senator John McCain is one of those American politicians who rarely comes across a war he doesn’t like.   During a 2000 Republican debate,  he advocated a new variant on the Reagan Doctrine which he called ‘rogue state rollback’  and declared that if he were president

I would arm, train, equip, both from without and from within, forces that would eventually overthrow the governments and install free and democratically- elected governments.

In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal in October 2001 he called for an all out assault on the Taliban in Afghanistan without ‘half-measures’,  as part of a wider war which aimed at    ‘the complete destruction of international terrorism and the regimes that sponsor it’.   A Vietnam war veteran, McCain conceded that ‘war is a miserable business’ but nevertheless insisted that

However heady the appeal of a call to arms, however just the cause, we should still shed a tear for all that will be lost when war claims its wages from us. Shed a tear, and then get on with the business of killing our enemies as quickly as we can, and as ruthlessly as we must.

McCain has advocated similar policies on numerous occasions.   In 2003 he told a PBS interviewer that the United States should have attacked North Korea during the Clinton years to prevent it from acquiring a nuclear capability.  McCain was an enthusiastic supporter of the Iraq invasion and repeatedly insisted that US troops should remain permanently in Iraq.

During the 2008 Florida primary he predicted that American troops might have to remain in Iraq for a hundred yeas and declared that

It”s a tough war we”re in. It”s not going to be over right away. There”s going to be other wars. I”m sorry to tell you, there”s going to be other wars. We will never surrender but there will be other wars.

For McCain, there always will be.  An ardent Israel-firster, in 2006  he supported Israel’s bombing of Lebanon.  In 2008 he supported Israeli reprisals against Hamas in Gaza.  He has also been an uncompromising advocate of an Israeli/US military assault on Iran.  In 2007 he  was famously captured singing  ‘Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran’ to the tune of the Beach Boys’  Barbara Ann.  

McCain has continued to support the use of force to prevent Iran’s nuclear programme, and only last Sunday could be heard criticizing Obama and arguing that sanctions were not working.

In August  2009, McCain and two other Senators went to Libya to discuss the sale of American military equipment to the Gaddafi regime.  In April 2011 he was back in Libya again, where he became the first Western politician to visit rebel-held Benghazi, and urged the US to carry out a ground invasion to overthrow the Gaddafi regime, because Gaddafi had ‘American blood on his hands’ from the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

Given this record, it is no surprise at all to find him yesterday urging the US to carry out  air strikes on Syria in order  ‘to  stop the slaughter and save innocent lives‘.  Well not only that, because as is often the case,  humanitarian interventionists like McCain,  are always trying to kill two birds with one missile:

Increasingly, the question for U.S. policy is not whether foreign forces will intervene militarily in Syria. We can be confident that Syria’s neighbors will do so eventually, if they have not already. Some kind of intervention will happen, with us or without us. So the real question for U.S. policy is whether we will participate in this next phase of the conflict in Syria, and thereby increase our ability to shape an outcome that is beneficial to the Syrian people, and to us.

McCain goes on to compare Homs to Grozny and Benghazi before the Nato bombing campaign and argues that

If Assad manages to cling to power — or even if he manages to sustain his slaughter for months to come, with all of the human and geopolitical costs that entails – it would be a strategic and moral defeat for the United States. We cannot, we must not, allow this to happen.

To prevent this’ defeat’ MCain recommends that airstrikes should aim ‘ to establish and defend safe havens in Syria, especially in the north, in which opposition forces can organize and plan their political and military activities against Assad.

What gives the United States the right to ‘shape an outcome’ in Syria?   How many ‘innocent people’ would die if air strikes were launched?  Why are ‘Syria’s neighbours’ intervening in Syria and what are their motives for doing so?  To what extent has such intervention already fanned the flames of civil war?

So far something like 2,000 refugees are reported to have fled Homs.    How many would be forced to leave Syria if air strikes were carried out, as McCain recommends?  Would it be 900,000, as was the case in Libya?  Or would it be closer to the four million who fled their homes during the Iraq war and occupation?

McCain does not answer or even ask these questions.  Nor does CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, who has praised his speech as  ‘ a strong and courageous move‘ and a ‘call to arms’ in a conflict which has ‘ echoes of Bosnia genocide’.   Amanpour uncritically supports McCain’s proposals, pausing only to make the erudite observation that

Of course Syria is not Bosnia, nor is it Libya, they are different countries, but just like in those countries, in Syria today a heavily armed military is besieging and slaughtering ordinary civilians, and outgunned rebels too.

Pretty much like Jenin in 2002, Fallujah in 2004 or Gaza in 2009 then, except that no one talked about ‘genocide’ in either of those situations or discussed whether to come to the rescue of the ‘outgunned rebels’ either.

To point this out these discrepancies is  not a question of political point-scoring, nor is it to argue that what Assad’s security forces have done is legitimate or acceptable by comparison.  What is happening in Syria is horrific and tragic.  But there is no evidence whatsoever that the prescriptions of maniacal warmongers like McCain – and their liberal supporters – will do anything to alleviate the situation.

On the contrary, the evidence of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya suggest that military intervention will make things worse.   And despite Amanpour’s praise, there is nothing courageous about McCain’s proposals.  He  is just another militarist from the Republican/Zionist nexus, doing what comes naturally.

And militarism is not a cure for anything, but a disease in itself, and that is why it must be opposed even when it comes draped in humanitarian rhetoric and seeks to claim the moral high ground.