Saturday, January 11, 2014

U.S.: Deus ex Machina or Sorceror's Apprentice?

In May of 2012, President Obama addressed graduates at the U.S. Air Force Academy in these terms:

"I see an American century because no other nation seeks the role that we play in global affairs, and no other nation can play the role that we play in global affairs." 

Less than two years later, not only has the president’s claim of American exceptionalism been widely derided, the country is in disarray on the world stage.  In 2012, American troops having at last departed, Iraq was expected to flourish, even though some neighboring Syrians were chafing under one-family rule.  Today, both Syria and Iraq are enmeshed in new levels of violence, as Al Qaeda and its Sunni offshoots battle each other while simultaneously battling their Shiite rulers. 

In an article published on January 2, 2014 in the Palestine Chronicle, (, Ralph Nader lays the blame for Iraq’s meltdown on George.W. Bush: “ Today, Iraq remains a country you destroyed, a country where over a million Iraqis, including many children and infants (remember Fallujah?) lost their lives, millions more were sickened or injured, and millions more were forced to become refugees, including most of the Iraqi Christians. Iraq is a country rife with sectarian strife that your prolonged invasion provoked into what is now open warfare. Iraq is a country where al-Qaeda is spreading with explosions taking 20, 30, 40, 50 or 60 lives per day. Just this week, it was reported that the U.S. has sent Hellfire air-to-ground missiles to Iraq’s air force to be used against encampments of ‘the country’s branch of al-Qaeda.’ There was no al-Qaeda in Iraq before your invasion. Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein were mortal enemies.”

I fault Nader for not including Obama in his condemnation of Middle East policy.  Surely a man who has been in the White House for the last five years, and under whom our troops were finally withdrawn from Iraq, bears a heavy responsibility for that country’s current state. Considering the last hundred years of our history, it is nothing short of astonishing that far from calling the shots, Washington is now reduced to supplying arms to various militia groups whose agendas are far from clear, while appearing to fear they will end up in the hands of those we know to be our enemies - or who might become our enemies tomorrow. 

But the disconnect between stated fears and really existing concerns only exists because Washington cannot divulge its true criterion for judging others, which is acceptance of the 1%’s globalization agenda.  Its applicability is complicated by Washington’s inability to perceive the religious/cultural substrate that colors support for or opposition to the world military/industrial/financial complex. Not to mention the desire of countries such as Saudi Arabia to assert a determining role.  Or even plain old fashioned Arab, Iraqi or Syrian nationalism - or the concerns of the Druze in Syria and Lebanon, the survival of Christians, or the Kurds’ legitimate demand for a country, all groups successfully managed by the Ottomans for seven hundred years.  

From the time of the Roman Empire, political entities composed of different nationalities have only been successfully ruled by some form of despotism.  And yet,
seeing ethnic and religious issues as mere details in any political picture, the United States fails to recognize that it is ‘dictators’ who have long been ‘indispensable’ in keeping countries with diverse populations from disintegrating.  In the nineteen nineties I translated into French a book that details the history of Iraq leading up to the first Gulf War (The Making of the Gulf War: Origins of Kuwait's Long-Standing Territorial Dispute with Iraq By H. Rahman London: Ithaca, 1997.) It shows that Saddam Hussein was merely the latest in a long line of Iraqi rulers who, in their attempt to shape disparate peoples into a modern country, had recourse to policies and behaviors that today justify calls for regime change.  (Another example was Tito, who ruled the cobbled together nation of Yugoslavia with an iron first until his death - when the country split into half a dozen warring entities for the better part of two decades.)  

When Barack Obama succeeded George W. Bush, he may not have subscribed to the Neo-con agenda of systematic regime change in the Middle East.  However, as a product of the American melting pot, he too assumes Washington can wave a magic wand over the world and will liberal polities into being. The Middle East requires us to recognize country Muslims’ solidarity Islam, and city Muslims’ rejection of mindless consumerism and speculation, distinguishing between a medieval attitude toward women (shared by Christians until relatively recently), and the commercially inspired vulgarity that has nothing to do with women’s liberation.

In this respect, the latest news is that Americans going to fight with Islamists in Iraq or Syria are being trained to commit terrorism upon their return to the U.S.  No one appears to be asking what differentiates them from the veterans who return from combat to oppose war.  What aspects of Al Qaeda’s opposition to the United States do they identify with?  Is it simply a more violent opposition to imperialism, or have these young men adopted some Salafist attitudes toward modernity?

Eschewing intellectual questioning in favor of a military that ‘mistakes’ three year-olds for enemy combatants, Obama has taken us from being the world’s deus ex machina to an avatar of Walt Disney’s ‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice’, that can ever less seek, or be recognized as playing, a beneficial role on the world stage.

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