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Saturday, 5 November 2011

Obama Restores Gunboat Diplomacy, Imperial Power

At a round table discussion a few years back at Durham University, some of us discussed whether the-then President George W. Bush would order the bombing of Iran, such was the hubris of his administration despite setbacks in Iraq and Afghanistan. This week, it is revealed that there are contingency plans for Anglo-American military strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities (The Guardian, 3.11.11). These come off the back of the general celebration over the great victory in Libya - 'great' because Gaddafi has been overthrown, casualties were "few" (some estimates number well over 10,000), "democratic" forces are now in charge (the Libya Islamic Fighting Group might beg to differ), and an era of peace and prosperity beckons (as lucrative oil and gas contracts and arms deals get signed). A great enemy - a "mad dog" - has been slain, and Obama and his supporters bask in the glory. There is an echo - a fearful, more anxious one but an echo nonetheless - of the great celebrations that followed the collapse of the great enemy in 1989-91 - the Soviet Union.

In the wake of the Soviet meltdown, it was Francis Fukuyama who led the chorus and set the tone for the festivities. Nothing less than 'history' itself, he claimed, had come to an end: liberal democratic capitalism had triumphed - there were no more fundamental problems to be solved. Even so, Fukuyama warned that there would be negative consequences for mankind, i.e., the West: great problems brought to the fore "men with chests" who took on the great struggles and helped resolve contradictions and drove history forward. Along with "history", he argued, "we" would live to lament the loss of history's heroes.

Fukuyama was dismissed by many as a deluded neoconservative extremist. Indeed, his ilk in the George HW Bush administration were labelled "the crazies" - they were that far from the realist and pragmatic Bush-Baker team in the White House.

Today's celebrations are led by Walter Russell Mead in the pages of Foreign Policy, the magazine of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (a 'peace' organisation that supported American entry into World War I). This is instructive as to how far the ideas of the "crazies" of the early 1990s occupy the centre ground of US foreign policy politics today.

Mead sits at the heart of the US foreign policy establishment - Groton, Yale, Harvard, Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Foreign Affairs, the Democratic party, and supporter of the 2003 war of aggression on Iraq - these elite institutions are his past, present and future. His books are reviewed in all the right places. He is described as a centrist liberal-conservative which, today, means he cannot be counted among the "crazies" but is "mainstream".

What does he say about Libya? Well, he invents a new name for Gaddafi - the "Great Loon" - and proceeds to remind us of the way his "lifeless body" was kicked around Sirte, and how the former dictator's allies "are huddled in their homes" fearing retribution from the people Gaddafi "tortured, murdeed and dispossessed" (is Tony Blair really that worried?).

"History", Mead announces, "will not shed any tears over the Loon" - he was the "worst type of ruler". Was Gaddafi worse than any key US allies, like Duarte in El Salvador, or Somoza in Nicaragua? Did Gaddafi kill as many people as were killed on the orders of US presidents in Vietnam or Korea or Cambodia? Did he kill more people than did Suharto in Indonesia? Did not the US use Gaddafi's torture and rendition services when it suited them? This is not to defend Gaddafi's rule - it is to point up the one-eyed analysis of US foreign policy 'centrists' for whom official enemies may be denounced as satanic devils, usually without recourse to comparative evidence.

Gaddafi, we're informed, was worthy of support only by fellow "thugs" Robert Mugabe and Hugo Chavez - conveniently forgetting that law-breakers like Bush and Blair and Obama welcomed and supported Gaddafi after 2003.

The "Great Loon" wrecked his country - which actually had a higher standard of living than its neighbours along with other strong social indicators in education, health, longevity etc..: again, facts cannot be permitted to stand in the way of a good story of enemy evil and American purity.

After all this, the reader will be surprised to read that Mead declares his sadness at the manner of Gaddafi's demise; but his humiliation, like Saddam's, was "deserved": indeed, Mead declares that he "can think of a list of other vain, vicious and delusional tyrants who deserve the same fate" - this quest he calls "universal justice". So much for championing the rule of law and humanitarian values.

And for bombing Libya from high above the clouds, Mead praises the "brave Americans" who helped bring Gaddafi down: how brave is it to bomb with little threat of effective retaliatory action from ground forces?

And that is the most significant import of Mead's article - that the Victory in Libya has restored the balance of power in favour of the West/America to 19th century levels. Bush's freedom agenda, he says, is alive and well, and the US remains a "revolutionary power" in the Middle east, that wants to overturn the "status quo" (excepting Saudi Arabia, he argues, but omitting mention of Bahrain, Qatar, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, not to mention Israel).

"The US has considerably more power to impose its agenda on most 'third world' countries than it did twenty years ago," Mead notes. There is no alternative superpower to protect them, and the US military is today "the most effective force in the history of the human race... America's unprecedented military power has changed the way the world works."

The US "swatted" Saddam's forces (twice), while Libya was dealt "with the back of our hand".

"We are back to the kind of military superiority that European forces enjoyed over non-European rulers in Victorian times... Drone strike diplomacy is not all that different from gunboat diplomacy.."

It is ironic that it should be Barack Obama - a Kenyan-American - at the helm while a colonial balance of power is restored.

1 comment:

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