FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Foreign Policy by Batman

The drums of war have faded into the distance and once more the people can breathe a collective sigh of relief or disappointment. Every few weeks the media ramps up war hysteria against one of the gallery of international villains. It’s like a game show: spin the wheel, which rogue regime is the Administration debating action against this week? Last week it was Egypt; this week it’s… Syria!

Over the past 12 months the government has deliberated bombing North Korea, Iran, and Syria. Why does no one seem to notice this revolving door of similar enemies? It looks cartoonish: the constant distraction of the populace in a television-show-like procession of this gallery of goons. Do we owe this approach to foreign policy to TV cop shows where we have a new villain every week or to comic strips where the same villains reappear time and again: the Joker, the Penguin, Mr. Freeze? Better call the Bat Cave!

This approach to foreign policy draws its immediate history from September 11. In 2002, in his State of the Union address, George W. Bush expanded his policy on the War on Terror, aiming to punish sponsors of terrorism, as well as terrorists themselves. He coined the phrase “an axis of evil,” naming North Korea, Iran and Iraq as its member states. At the time, some were surprised because the states had little in common and posed different dangers. Over the past 11 years we have seen the fallout of this policy with the country seemingly unable to turn away from the shooting gallery with the same characters popping up.

Analogies with popular culture are apt. The media forms a field which frames all political events for people. In the 1960s, Guy Debord developed the idea of the “the society of the spectacle.” The spectacle was not a collection of images but a “social relation among people, mediated by images”. Debord described the total subjugation of the individual by the commodity. According to the principle of commodity fetishism, the domination of society by “intangible as well as tangible things” reaches its absolute fulfilment in the spectacle, where the tangible world is replaced by a selection of images which exist above it, and which simultaneously impose themselves as tangible.

Post 9/11, Henry Giroux drew the links between consumer culture and terrorist spectacle. Meaning in consumerist society occurs through the accumulation of and identification with consumer objects and, in the case of the spectacle, through images. Giroux argued that the spectacle of terrorism asserts its power through a massive return to ‘the real’ through hyperviolence. “The spectacle of terrorism undercuts the primacy of consumerism by adding to it.”

Images generate desire whether it be for the latest consumer item or for a perfect safety, protected by a strong, militarized state. Raw displays of brutality by States or terrorists must have wide distribution through the media to have the desired impact. Giroux’s ‘citizen soldier’ protects his freedom, which remains constructed as the freedom to choose whichever consumer item he desires. This is ultimately the reconfiguration of the consumerist desire in a new direction. Fear and retribution become commodified images to be consumed and security is sold to us in the same way as breakfast cereal.

The Bush Doctrine has evolved into the Obama Doctrine but the presentation of politics and international relations in the media seems to follow themes similar to 11 year ago. Like any ongoing sitcom or soap opera, the axis of evil has broadened to include a larger cast of characters. North Korea and Iran retain their status and appear as regulars on the show. Iraq has been subdued into a violent mess by the intervention of the US so they do not appear on the play bill very often and usually only as a cripple to be ridiculed. Libya was included for a short run. Now Syria is auditioning and seems likely to acquire an ongoing role.

As we sit at our computer and television screens mesmerized by the passing spectacle of revolving enemies, government shut down, and racist crimes, spectacular power robs us of our capacity to act. However, as we can see by the current debacle in Congress, spectacular power captures the rulers as well as the ruled. Congress seems caught in the media frames of drama and conflict, providing a good show for the audience, rather than acting in rational and considered ways in the public interest of the whole country. By blaming one side or the other, we enter into the drama not as citizens with a stake but as audience and barrackers consigned to the sidelines.

Joanne Knight can be reached at: jofknight@yahoo.com.au.

More articles by:

Joanne Knight writes about the influence of the media on power and politics. She has a Masters in International Relations. Her blog is joanneknight@wordpress.com

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

June 20, 2019
Robert Hunziker
The Dangerous Methane Mystery
David Schultz
The Intellectual Origins of the Trump Presidency and the Construction of Contemporary American Politics
Sabri Öncü
Thus Spoke the Bond Market
Gary Leupp
Japanese and German Doubts on U.S. Drumbeat Towards Iran War
Binoy Kampmark
The Fragility of Democracy: Hong Kong, China and the Extradition Bill
Doug Johnson
On the Morning Consult Poll, Margins of Error, and the Undecideds in the Democratic Primary
Laura Flanders
In Barcelona, Being a Fearless City Mayor Means Letting the People Decide
Martha Rosenberg
Humor: Stop These Language Abuses
Jim Goodman
Current Farm Crisis Offers Opportunity For Change
Cesar Chelala
The Pope is Wrong on Argentina
Kim C. Domenico
Lessons from D.H. : A Soul-based Anarchist Vision for Peace-making
Jesse Jackson
Mobilizing the Poor People’s Campaign
Wim Laven
We Need Evidence-Based Decision Making
Cesar Chelala
Health Consequences of Overwork
June 19, 2019
Matthew Stevenson
Requiem for a Lightweight: the Mayor Pete Factor
Kenneth Surin
In China Again
Stephen Cooper
Abolishing the Death Penalty Requires Morality
George Ochenski
The DNC Can’t Be Allowed to Ignore the Climate Crisis
John W. Whitehead
The Omnipresent Surveillance State
William Camacaro - Frederick B. Mills
Guaidó’s Star Fades as His Envoys to Colombia Allegedly Commit Fraud With Humanitarian Funds for Venezuela
Dave Lindorff
What About Venezuela’s Hacked Power Grid?
Howard Lisnoff
Try Not to Look Away
Binoy Kampmark
Matters of Water: Dubious Approvals and the Adani Carmichael Mine
Karl Grossman
The Battle to Stop the Shoreham Nuclear Plant, Revisited
Kani Xulam
Farting in a Turkish Mosque
Dean Baker
New Manufacturing Jobs are Not Union Jobs
Elizabeth Keyes
“I Can’t Believe Alcohol Is Stronger Than Love”
June 18, 2019
John McMurtry
Koch-Oil Big Lies and Ecocide Writ Large in Canada
Robert Fisk
Trump’s Evidence About Iran is “Dodgy” at Best
Yoav Litvin
Catch 2020 – Trump’s Authoritarian Endgame
Thomas Knapp
Opposition Research: It’s Not Trump’s Fault That Politics is a “Dirty” Game
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
U.S. Sanctions: Economic Sabotage that is Deadly, Illegal and Ineffective
Gary Leupp
Marx and Walking Zen
Thomas Hon Wing Polin
Color Revolution In Hong Kong: USA Vs. China
Howard Lisnoff
The False Prophets Cometh
Michael T. Klare
Bolton Wants to Fight Iran, But the Pentagon Has Its Sights on China
Steve Early
The Global Movement Against Gentrification
Dean Baker
The Wall Street Journal Doesn’t Like Rent Control
Tom Engelhardt
If Trump’s the Symptom, Then What’s the Disease?
June 17, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
The Dark Side of Brexit: Britain’s Ethnic Minorities Are Facing More and More Violence
Linn Washington Jr.
Remember the Vincennes? The US’s Long History of Provoking Iran
Geoff Dutton
Where the Wild Things Were: Abbey’s Road Revisited
Nick Licata
Did a Coverup of Who Caused Flint Michigan’s Contaminated Water Continue During Its Investigation? 
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange and the Scales of Justice: Exceptions, Extraditions and Politics
John Feffer
Democracy Faces a Global Crisis
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail