As I’ve always said about Barack Obama, you’ve almost got to admire his cynical Orwellian chutzpah. Reading some talking points of Empire, the United States President recently told his fellow US-of-Americans that Venezuela – yes, Venezuela – is an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.” Obama declared a “national emergency” to deal with that threat. The perceptive Canadian observer Graeme Cheadle offered the following reflection on Obama’s declaration in an online communication:
“Venezuela’s air force is the 43rd largest in the world (smaller than Singapore’s), its navy is smaller than Cameroon’s, and its army has fewer tanks than Uganda’s. Its total defense expenditures come to about 1.7% of those of the United States. The US was recently implicated in a coup attempt against the Venezuelan government, not the other way around. Yet somehow Venezuela is the threat? Reminds me of Reagan’s 1986 warning that the Nicaraguan Sandinistas were just ‘two days driving time’ from Harlingen, Texas, or the response given by the Mexican ambassador to the United States in 1961 to Kennedy’s call for collective action against Cuba: ‘If we publicly declare that Cuba is a threat to our security, 40 million Mexicans will die laughing.’”
Shall US citizens rush to the military recruiting office, stock up on weapons and ammunition, form militias, and prepare to defend the nation’s borders because …the Venezuelans are coming? Will the deadly Latin American revolutionists arrive by land? By sea? By air? Will they perhaps dig underground, burrowing beneath Florida to emerge from the infields at Major League Baseball spring training and exhibition game diamonds? Yes, it’s like something out of Monty Python’s Flying Circus: absurd.
I learned about Obama’s declaration after finishing British Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn’s important new book The Rise of the Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution (Verso, 2015). Cockburn writes (among other things) about two governments that might well be legitimately be understood as a threat to the security of US citizens: Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Together with their US sponsors, these two governments nurtured the rise of Islamic terrorist organizations including al Qaeda, which on September 11, 2001 carried out the most spectacular foreign assault on US soil since the War of 1812, killing thousands of innocent US citizens. Like its heir ISIS, al Qaeda was funded largely by Saudi oil sheiks. Most of the 9/11 attackers were Saudi nationals. Both governments, along with Turkey and the other Persian Gulf oil kingdoms, are heavily implicated in the emergence and consolidation of ISIS, a genuine threat to life and sanity within and beyond the Middle East.
Neither Saudi Arabia nor Pakistan was invaded or otherwise targeted for US punishment after 9/11. Indeed, the US let bin-Laden relatives and other elite Saudis flee the US before they could be investigated right after the jetliner attacks. Not long thereafter, Washington backed and sponsored a failed military, business, and media coup attempt against Venezuela’s democratically elected and highly popular socialist president Hugo Chavez. Perhaps Washington wanted to seize and secure Venezuela’s vast oil reserves prior to its planned and brazenly petro-imperial invasion of Iraq, an oil-rich nation that (contrary to the claims of the George W. Bush White House, dutifully disseminated by most US “mainstream” media) had nothing to do with al Qaeda and 9/11 (and no great stocks of “weapons of mass destruction”). By Cockburn’s expert account, “The shock of 9/11 provided a Pearl Harbor moment in the U.S. when public revulsion and fear could be manipulated to implement a preexisting neoconservative agenda by targeting Saddam Hussein and invading Iraq. A reason for waterboarding al Qaeda suspects was to extract confessions implicating Iraq rather than Saudi Arabia in the attacks.” (“Bad information” was precisely the point of the torture.)
On what grounds did Obama justify his latest Monty Python-like statement on Venezuela, which accompanied a White House executive order slapping economic sanctions on seven top Venezuela officials? He recycled standard trumped-up US charges accusing the Caracas government of corruption and unjust, authoritarian state repression of political protestors – protesters, the President did not mention, who have been significantly funded and otherwise sponsored by United States agencies hoping to de-stabilize Venezuela. The deeper US goal is to assist in the overthrow of that nation’s democratically elected Left government and its replacement by a Big Business and US- (Empire-) friendly regime, less encumbered by concern for popular aspirations and social needs.
But of course, if corruption and the oppression of domestic populations (both much less pervasive in Venezuela than in most other nations, including the United States itself!) are grounds for Washington to declare a foreign government a threat to US security, then most states on the planet would qualify for the designation.
Which brings us back to Saudi Arabia, one of most corrupt nations in the world and very possibly the most oppressive and reactionary state on Earth. If ‘totalitarianism’ has any meaning,” the leading Middle Eastern expert Gilbert Achcar noted seven years ago, “that’s totalitarianism there [in Saudi Arabia].” By Sarah Flounders’ accurate account:
“Saudi Arabia is an absolute and brutal dictatorship. The country is named after the royal Saud family that has expropriated the country’s fabulous oil wealth, and treats it as a wholly owned family asset. Their control is maintained by massive state-organized repression. All forms of political dissent and social organization, from political parties to trade unions, are banned under pain of death.”
“Executions by decapitation in public squares are held on average once every four days. Capital crimes include adultery, homosexuality and political opposition to the regime. Public stonings are also a common form of execution. Other punishments include eye gouging, limb amputation, tooth extraction, surgical paralysis and public lashings.”
“Government departments are treated as fiefdoms … Personal and state funds are completely commingled. All family members are guaranteed astronomical monthly allowances from birth…60 percent of the population live[s] below the poverty line… More than 1.5 million migrant women work in domestic slavery [and]… the International Trade Union Confederation … report[s] alarming levels of child labor, discrimination and forced labor … women have no rights to employment, property or education. They cannot step out of their homes unless covered head-to-toe in a long black abaya and accompanied by a male family member.”
The vicious elite atop this horrific society has provided more funds and arms than any other national ruling class to al Qaeda, ISIS, and related al Qaeda-inspired (and now ISIS-inspired) forms of Islamist terrorism, whose leading single accomplishment before the recent formation of the ISIS “caliphate” was the 9/11 attacks on US soil.
Obama makes no denunciations of Saudi Arabia and no calls for Saudi Arabian democracy, reform, transparency and regime change. He orders no punitive sanctions when it comes to this ghastly, terror-financing state. Quite the opposite. Last January, Barack Obama responded to the death of Saudi Arabia’s medieval monarch King Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz by hailing the despot’s “vision” and “courage.” Obama asked “God” to “grant [Abdullah] peace” and saluted the departed despot’s commitment to the sacred “partnership” between the U.S. and the Saudi kingdom.
Abdullah’s death was followed by high-profile visits to the Saudi royal palace in Riyadh on the part of the President and First Lady. Also sent to pay tribute to the deceased royal brute: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, CIA Director John Brennan. U.S. General Lloyd Austin (head of U.S. Central Command for the region), U.S. Senator John McCain, and leading U.S. House Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Joe Cowley. General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced a research and essay competition in honor of the king, who Dempsey called “a man of remarkable character and courage” – a fascinating act by a top military official in a nation that claims to have been born in popular opposition to absolute monarchy and hereditary aristocracy. It was like something out of, well, Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
TeleSur tells us that Obama’s declaration is to be taken seriously: “This type of declaration tends to precede military aggressions, either by its own hand, as was the case of the bloody invasion of Panama to overthrow Manuel Noriega in 1989, as well as the one issued in relation to Southeast Asia that culminated with the Indochina war, especially in Vietnam, starting in 1964. But it can also be the prelude to military operations of a different kind, in which the United States acts jointly with its European minions, grouped under NATO, and the region’s oil theocracies.” Indeed, as TeleSur and other outlets have been reporting, the White House, Pentagon, and CIA recently supported another attempted right wing business-military-media coup in Venezuela. There is every reason to think that US public and private agencies are at work preparing the ground for new putsch efforts.
Nobody who has followed the career and record of Barack “The Empire’s New Clothes” Obama without silly imperial blinders on should be remotely surprised to see the United States’ fake-progressive and fake “peace” president following in George W. Bush’s footsteps on that score. Obama backed a right wing coup that overthrew the democratically elected government of Honduras in 2009. Three years before that, in the foreign policy chapter of his personally and nationally narcissistic campaign book The Audacity of Hope (2006), then presidential candidate Obama criticized “left-leaning populists” like Hugo Chavez for thinking that developing nations “should resist America’s efforts to expand its hegemony” and for daring – imagine! – to “follow their own path to development” [emphasis added].” Such dysfunctional “reject[ion] [of] the ideals of free markets and liberal democracy” along with “American” ideas like “the rule of law” and “democratic elections” (interesting terms for the heavily state-sponsored U.S. effort to impose authoritarian financial and corporate-state policy on poor countries) would only worsen the situation of the global poor, Obama claimed. Obama did not comment on the remarkable respect the U.S. showed for “democratic elections” and “the rule of law” when it supported an attempted military coup to overthrow the democratically elected Chavez government in April of 2002. Obama also ignored a preponderance of evidence showing that the “free market” neoliberal “Washington Consensus” had significantly deepened and expanded poverty and inequality across the world and in the US itself.
Beneath the at once childish and cynical White House rhetoric targeting socialist Venezuela but not the Islamist terror-sponsor Saudi Arabia as a “national security threat,” what’s really going on is that the bipartisan US “foreign policy” (imperial) establishment cannot forgive the popular and democratic Bolivarian government of Venezuela for choosing to use its political influence and its giant oil resources in ways that do not fit Washington and Wall Street’s imperial directives. Venezuela prioritizes Latin American regional independence, social justice, and the reduction of poverty and inequality, in accord with popular demands and elementary democratic principles. Washington has always looked with extreme displeasure upon such disobedience.
Things are different in the neo-feudal oil principality of Saudi Arabia, where the populace is brutally repressed with some of the military hardware the regime purchases in astonishing quantities from U.S. “defense” (Empire) contractors like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon. The despotic Saudi regime is much friendlier to US oil corporations and to the giant Wall Street financial institutions who “service” trillions of surplus Saudi petrodollars.
Meanwhile, today as on the eve of the 9/11, the greatest threat by far and away to the security of U.S. citizens is the far-flung and mass-murderous U.S. Empire, which wreaks havoc, distributes means of destruction, and cultivates deadly “blowback” the world over.
Paul Street is the author of numerous books, including The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (Paradigm, 2010) and They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014).