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President Of Cant


A year since the White House changed hands, how has the American empire altered? Under the Bush Administration it was widely believed, in both mainstream opinion and much of the amnesiac section of the left, that the United States had fallen under an aberrant regime, the product of a virtual coup d’état by a coterie of right-wing fanatics—alternatively, ultra-reactionary corporations—who had hijacked American democracy for policies of unprecedented aggression in the Middle East. In reaction, the election to the Presidency of a mixed-race Democrat, vowing to heal America’s wounds at home and restore its reputation abroad, was greeted with a wave of ideological euphoria not seen since the days of Kennedy. Once again, America could show its true face—purposeful but peaceful, firm but generous; humane, respectful, multi-cultural—to the world. Naturally, with the makings of a Lincoln or a Roosevelt for our time in him, the country’s new young ruler would have to make compromises, as any statesman must. But at least the shameful interlude of Republican swagger and criminality was over. Bush and Cheney had broken the continuity of a multilateral American leadership that had served the country well throughout the Cold War and after. Obama would now restore it.

 

Rarely has self-interested mythology—or well-meaning gullibility—been more quickly exposed. There was no fundamental break in foreign policy, as opposed to diplomatic mood music, between the Bush 1, Clinton and Bush 2 Administrations; there has been none between the Bush and Obama regimes. The strategic goals and imperatives of the us imperium remain the same, as do its principal theatres and means of operation. Since the collapse of the USSR, the Carter Doctrine—the construction of another democratic pillar of human rights—has defined the greater Middle East as the central battlefield for the imposition of American power around the world. It is enough to look at each of its sectors to see that Obama is the offspring of Bush, as Bush was of Clinton and Clinton of Bush the father, as so many appropriately biblical begettings.

 

Ignoring Gaza

 

Obama’s line towards Israel would be manifest even before he took office. On December 27, 2008, the idf launched an all-out air and ground assault on the population of Gaza. Bombing, burning, killing continued without interruption for twenty-two days, during which time the President-Elect uttered not a syllable of reproof. By pre-arrangement, Tel Aviv called off its blitz a few hours before his inauguration on January 20, 2009, not to spoil the party. By then Obama had picked the ultra-Zionist Doberman from Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, a former volunteer for the idf, as his Chief of Staff. Once installed, Obama called, like every us President, for peace between the two suffering peoples of the Holy Land, and again, like every predecessor, for Palestinians to recognize Israel and for Israel to stop its settlements in the territories it seized in 1967. Within a week of the President’s speech in Cairo pledging opposition to further settlements, the Netanyahu coalition was extending Jewish properties in East Jerusalem with impunity. By the autumn, Secretary of State Clinton was congratulating Netanyahu on the ‘unprecedented concessions’ his government had made. Asked by Mark Landler of the New York Times, at a press conference in Jerusalem, ‘Madame Secretary, when you were here in March on the first visit, you issued a strong statement condemning the demolition of housing units in East Jerusalem. Yet, that demolition has continued unabated, and indeed, a few days ago, the mayor of the city of Jerusalem issued a new order for demolition. How would you characterize this policy today?’, she did not deign to reply. [1]

 

A month earlier, the un Fact Finding Mission set up to look at the invasion of Gaza reported that the idf had not always acted by the book, though naturally rocket-attacks by Hamas had provoked it. Chaired by one of the most notorious time-servers of ‘international justice’, the South African judge Richard Goldstone, a prosecutor at the pre-orchestrated Hague Tribunal on Yugoslavia and self-professed Zionist, the Mission’s complaints against Israel could hardly have been feebler, in startling contrast to the testimony they heard in Gaza and which was made available on their website. [2] But unaccustomed to Establishment criticism of any kind, Tel Aviv reacted with dudgeon, and so Washington instructed its client at the head of the plo, Mahmoud Abbas, that he must oppose any consideration of it at the un. [3] This was too much even for Abbas’s followers and amid the ensuing uproar he had to retract, discrediting himself even further. The episode confirmed that aipac’s grip on Washington remains as strong as ever—contrary to delusions on the us left that the Israel lobby of old, never really much of a force, was now being superseded by a more enlightened brand of American Zionism.

 

In the Palestinian theatre of the American system, the lack of any significant novelty does not imply lack of movement. Viewed in a longer perspective, us policy has for some time been to coax Israel towards the creation of one or more bantustans, in its own best interests. [4] The condition of that has, of course, been the elimination of any prospect of a genuine Palestinian leadership or real Palestinian state. The Oslo Accords were a first step in this process, destroying the credibility of the plo by setting up a ‘Palestinian Authority’ that was little more than a Potemkin façade for the real authority in the occupied territories, the idf. Incapable of achieving even token independence, the plo leadership in the West Bank settled down to make money, leaving the bulk of the Palestinian people helpless: mired in poverty and regularly subjected to settler violence. In contrast, by creating a primitive but effective welfare system, capable of distributing food and medical care in poor neighbourhoods and looking after the weak, Hamas was able to win enough popular support to triumph in the Palestinian elections of 2006. Euro-America reacted with an immediate politico-economic boycott, hoisting Fatah back into power on the West Bank. In Gaza, where Hamas was strongest, Israel had for some time been inciting a coup by Mohammed Dahlan, Washington’s favourite thug in the plo security apparatus. Defence Minister Ben-Eliezer has openly testified before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee that in 2002, when the idf pulled out of Gaza, he had offered the Strip to Dahlan, who was quite willing to launch a Palestinian civil war, long a twinkle in the eye of many an Israeli colonizer. Four years later Dahlan was primed by Washington to implement a military putsch in Gaza, [5] but was beaten to the punch by Hamas, which took over the Strip in mid 2007. After Euro-American political and economic punishment of its voters for defiance of the West came Israeli military retribution, with the assault of late 2008, winked at by Obama.

 

But the result is not the impasse so regularly deplored by well-wishers of a ‘peaceful settlement’. Under repeated blows, and amid increasing isolation, the Palestinian resistance is being gradually weakened to a point where Hamas itself—unable to develop any coherent strategy, or break with the Oslo Accords of which it, too, has become a prisoner—is edging towards acceptance of the pittance on offer from Israel, garnished with a solatium from the West. No meaningful Palestinian Authority exists. Elected representatives from the West Bank or Gaza are treated like mendicant ngos: rewarded if they remain on their knees and follow Western bidding, sanctioned if they step out of line. Rationally, Palestinians would do far better to dissolve the Authority and insist on equal citizenship rights within a single state, backed by an international campaign for boycott, divestment and sanction till the apartheid structures of Israel are dismantled. Practically, there is little or no chance of this in the immediate future. In all probability what lies ahead is the convergence—already being hailed in Haaretz as even more enlightened than Rabin [6]—of Obama and Netanyahu on a final solution of ‘Palestinian’ entities Israel can live with, and Palestine can die in.

 

Harvesting Baghdad

 

For the moment, however, there are more pressing preoccupations: war-zones farther east have the first call on imperial attention. Iraq may have dropped from the headlines, but not from the daily security briefings in the Oval Office. In 2002, on his way up the political ladder as a low-profile state senator in Illinois, Obama opposed the attack on Iraq; it was politically inexpensive to do so. By the time he was elected President, American forces had occupied the country for six years, and his first act was to maintain Bush’s Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, long-time cia functionary and veteran of the Iran–Contra affair, in the Pentagon. A cruder and more demonstrative signal of political continuity could hardly have been conceived. In the last two years of the Republican Administration, us troop-levels were increased by a fifth, to 150,000, in a ‘surge’ that was

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