In the last few days, Barack Obama has delivered two “major,” “landmark,” even “historic” speeches, which apparently have “reset” American policy in the Middle East, reaffirmed the overwhelming importance of “the West” (i.e., Britain and America) to the proper functioning of the world, and, we are told, “squarely” put the United States on the side of the dissidents and rebels of the Arab Spring. All of these claims, put forth in reams of earnest analysis and paeans of praise, call to mind the immortal words of Brick Pollitt: “Wouldn’t that be funny if that was true?”
Of course, none of it is true. Obama’s soaring rhetoric about America changing its policy of supporting dictators in favour of boosting democracy in the Middle East could have been taken word for word from several major landmark historic speeches that George W. Bush made on the same subject. But these words – the ones Bush used to mouth and the one mouthed by Obama these days – are always belied by the facts on the ground.
For example, in his afflated rhetoric to the UK parliament, Obama piously declared that “democracies are our best allies.” But in fact, on the ground, America’s best ally in the Middle East, outside of Israel, is Saudi Arabia – the most repressive, extremist regime on the face of the earth, with the possible exceptions of North Korea and Burma. And while Obama waxed lyrical about “the West’s” great moral beaconry and devotion to peace, NATO forces were pounding Tripoli with Western bombs, and planning to send Apache attack helicopters (whose very name evokes stirring echoes of the West’s pious history and its attitude toward ‘recalcitrant’ native tribes like the heathen redskins out West and those worthless sandgrubbers in Libya) to take part in a civil war between two armed factions.
But really, it is pointless to parse these things, or expend any mental energy on them at all, beyond that needed to note the murderous mendacity of these grand occasions with their endlessly rehashed bromides. There is no “news” in Obama’s speeches, nothing that will materially affect any of the complex processes now playing out in the Arab world (aside, of course, from his earnest pledge to continue killing people in Libya in order to save people in Libya from, er, being killed). The phrase “hot air” falls cosmically short of capturing the vacuous insubstantiality of these weighty addresses.
However, there was some real news in the Middle East this week, a development that will actually have a far greater impact on the labyrinthine power plays in the Middle East than any rhetorical “reset” in Washington. The Egyptian government announced that it is lifting the hideous blockade of Gaza imposed by the Mubarak regime in collaboration with Israel – a move which turned Gaza into a Warsaw Ghetto writ large, the “world’s largest open-air prison,” and subjected multitudes of innocent people to horrible suffering, grinding poverty, declining health, hopelessness, despair and rage. All of this was imposed on the Palestinians in Gaza for their heinous crime of ... voting for the wrong party in a free, fair, open democratic election. So much for the great Western commitment to “democracy” limned so nimbly by Obama this week.
Of course, anyone with the slightest acquaintance of history (which, of course, leaves out 97 percent of the Anglo-American chattering classes) knows that the United States has always been firmly and forthrightly committed to democracy for all god’s chillums all over the world – as long as they vote for the leaders that Washington wants.
In any case, the move by Egypt to open its border should have a genuinely profound effect on the region, in all kinds of ways. Most importantly, of course, it means that the old, the sick, the vulnerable and the young in Gaza will have a chance to have a little more food, a little more health care, a little more hope that their life will not always be a grinding hell of deprivation and enclosure.
UPDATE: As this post was being written, the newswires began crackling with reports that a major war criminal – a psychopathic thug said to be responsible for the deaths of thousands of people in a vicious campaign of ethnic cleansing – had been apprehended. Naturally, I expected to see George Bush or David Petraeus or Stanley McChrystal or Don Rumsfeld or Nouri al-Maliki being perp-walked to a paddy wagon for their roles in the furious campaign of ethnic cleansing that characterized the murderous “surge” in Iraq. (Yes, the same campaign that Peace Laureate Barack Obama once called “an extraordinary achievement.”) But no, it was old Ratko Mladic, an egregious beserker from the Bosnian wars. Mladic was evidently given up by his long-time protectors in order to facilitate Serbia’s bid to join the European Union.
Commentators are already rushing to join the arrest with the killing of Osama bin Laden as proof that the psychopathic bad guys on the international scene always get caught in the end. And so they do – unless of course they have done their killing, their ethnic cleansing, their drone bombing, their night raiding, their kidnapping, their torturing, and their gulaging for the right side.
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