Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Feel the Absurdity

OK, so let me get this straight. The revolutionaries we supported in Libya are now attacking our consulate in Benghazi, and the revolutionaries we supported in Egypt are attacking our embassy in Cairo. Not only that, but the Benghazi contingent has actually managed to kill four of our diplomatic personnel. And all, presumably, over some sort of movie or video on YouTube? A convenient excuse, I call it. They were just waiting to bite the hand that fed them. 

Well, I know, maybe things aren't quite that simple. But when is our government going to figure out that politics in the Arab/Islamic world are beyond the comprehension of us infidels, and simply refuse to take sides in any conflict over there, regardless of how compelling the “evidence” seems to be? We are more or less keeping our distance in the case of Syria, at least – but we went into Libya in a ham-handed way and now look at what's happened. And in the case of Egypt, we apparently decided that one of our favorite dictators had reached retirement age, so didn't object when he was toppled from the pinnacle of power. Whatever happened to our old “pragmatism”, where we would support any dictator or tyrant who seemed to prefer our friendship to that of the Soviets? Oh yeah, the Soviet Union broke up – and with it the crystal-clear, black-and-white sort of landscape that the simpletons in the State Department are so fond of. If there is any realism to be found in the area of foreign affairs, it probably resides in the CIA, which is, it seems to me, the least ideological entity in the government. Some would say they are all game-playing cynics... but in these times I would almost prefer a good dose of healthy cynicism to the nationalistic delusions that infect Congress and the State Department.

At any rate, we have preferred, of late, to support “democratic revolutions” against long-time dictators who were also, in most cases, our allies – or at least “tamed” a bit in Qaddafi's case. We have a knee-jerk response to the word “democratic”, as if it is the magic potion that cures all ills – so the minute a political or armed revolutionary movement labels itself “democratic”, we shower money and diplomatic support on the parties involved. The agenda behind it is, of course, that any country that is “truly democratic” will naturally gravitate in our direction, and become our ally – i.e. part of the American Empire. The problem is that we have yet to focus on that other variable, namely religion – and the reason for this is obvious. We take great pride in our hallowed “wall of separation between church and state”, and find it incomprehensible – not to mention upsetting – when not all other countries on the planet agree with us on this matter. Talk about “clinging” to religion! We, of course, know better – the ideal government being one in which congregation, sect, religion, and spiritual considerations in general have no part. We were designed to be a secular humanist nation, and have successfully held off any and all attempts to make it otherwise. Except, of course, for the unwritten rule that no Catholic can ever be president – violated only once – and the fact that our foreign policy is dominated by Evangelical Protestants. You know, minor stuff like that. But otherwise, we are blessedly free of “superstition” and all the other old-world handicaps to enlightened government that religion brings.

So when we encounter an enemy for whom faith/religion/creed is the primary motivator, we don't know what to do. We are metaphysically helpless, one might say. All we can do is fight back in an irrational way with brute force, since the realm of ideas has been closed off. They don't understand our ideals, and we don't understand their faith. Much better to be in conflict with a nation, or other entity, that agrees with us that religion is of no use or relevance in the modern age. Better, therefore, to be fighting the Nazis, or the Soviets, or the Chinese Communists than the Islamists. Warfare between believers (in anything) and non-believers has to be the ultimate in “asymmetrical warfare”.  For one thing, they truly believe in sacrifice at the individual level, whereas we're only willing to made collective sacrifices.  Problem is, there are no political or economic systems in foxholes -- only actual people. 

So what happens when we let our favorite dictators be toppled and Islamists take their place in the name of democracy? Simply that we trade the devil we know (and can make a deal with) for the devils we don't know, don't want to know, and generally despise – and the feeling is mutual. And yet there they are, large and in charge – and, predictably, attacking our embassies and consulates. See, they are nobody's fools. They know who supported their oppressors all these years, and they know that we're no more than hypocrites when it comes to supporting their cause. For all our lip service about democracy, it's seldom only about that – it's also about oil or other resources, international finance, and above all supporting Israel.

But again, it makes no sense. We allow leaders who have come to some sort of detente with Israel to be thrown out, and people who think Israel is the Little Satan (the Great Satan being ourselves) to attain power. Whose interests are served by all this? Let's go back to my favorite Fearsome Foursome – the cabal that, in my opinion, is running the show when it comes to our foreign policy. They are (1) the armaments makers; (2) the Evangelicals; (3) Israel and the Israeli lobby; and (4) the neocons. For the armaments makers, the answer is easy – the more wars the better, regardless of cause or justification. The Evangelicals have a motto, “Israel uber alles”, so when we help replace a pro-Israel or neutral government with one that is overtly anti-Israel, one has to wonder what their reaction is going to be. Did they lose Obama's phone number? Likewise, Israel and the Israeli lobby must be marveling at the rate with which we aid and abet the “Arab Spring”, only to find ourselves worse off than before. And as to the neocons, well – their top priority is the spread of the American Empire, so they have to be seeing events like these as a set-back. (And oh, by the way, any foolish notion that the Democratic victory in 2008 put the neocons out of power in D.C. is woefully in error.)

So with three of the four cabal members' interests not being served, one has to wonder at our consistently picking the wrong winner throughout the Arab/Islamic world. But perhaps I've been too quick to judge when it comes to the neocons. They are all about “democracy”, as long as it's done their way. So they would be ardent supporters of the Arab Spring and other spring-like movements. Perhaps they see events like those in Cairo and Benghazi as no more than growing pains – awkward, teenager-type stumblings on the road to true democracy. If so, they should go back and study the history of Iran since the Shah was exiled to Egypt. Might as well wait around for a country that has had a communist revolution to convert (peacefully) to capitalism. It can and does happen, but “bring a lunch”, as they say.

What I suspect is that we are seeing a genuine clash between American idealism and the various agendas of latter-day agents of influence. After all, the neocons have not always been with us, nor have the Israelis. War industries, on the other hand, are as old as the republic, and proto-Evangelicals have been part of our religious landscape since the first Pilgrims stubbed their toes on Plymouth Rock.

To all of which, some pragmatist might say, why can't we just make up our minds? What's more important? What are our priorities as a nation? And the answer is, we don't know, we never have known, and we never will know. Granted, there are long-term historical and political trends, economic vectors, social movements, and so on – but if you expect our foreign policy in the long run (or even in the short run) to be a seamless garment, think again. Living by ideas while at the same time “embracing diversity” is a plan that simply will not work; somebody – which means some group, some world view – has to be dominant at any given time. But even the ideas by the dominant political/social classes get compromised now and then.

And above all, we want to be friends. Yes, friends – buddies, comrades, “homies” -- to the rest of the world. We don't want to be that armored warrior in the Roman helmet and the unshaven face that the cartoonists favor. No, we want to be G.I. Joe tossing Hershey bars to the kiddies from the top of the tank as it rumbles through their humble village. But... at the same time we want to conquer the world.

No wonder we're neurotic.

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