Voutenay sur Cure, France.
The story goes that President Barack Obama left Washington on Air Force One last Monday morning for a visit to every country which genuinely respects America. He returned to the White House early next afternoon.
But one trip from which he returned recently was not entirely a jest because it was amateur week for its organizers and unhappily demonstrative of America’s regally scornful attitude to nations which are considered unimportant. That unfunny foray was his majestically counterproductive pre-Memorial Day visit on May 25 to a supposedly allied state — Afghanistan.
The only entertaining part of the pathetic charade was when the name of the CIA station chief in that war-torn wreck of a country was notified by mistake to media representatives. It was circulated to the press corps accompanying Obama and then distributed on what is called the ‘pool report’ sent to other news organizations. The spook was also depicted in a widely-circulated photograph, but that doesn’t matter either, because anyone who really wants to know the name of any CIA station chief already knows it. Their names are hardly a secret, but it is the policy of the US government to keep as much as possible undisclosed to the American public and the world at large.
So it follows that the visit by the President of the United States to Afghanistan would be kept secret from everyone, and especially from the president and government of the inferior host nation until the very last moment before the Obama air circus zoomed in, with Air Force One being escorted for thousands of miles by successive phalanxes of fighter aircraft before its night landing. Goodness knows what the performance cost the US taxpayer.
While we’re thinking of how he got there, have a look at a map and figure out what route was taken by Air Force One on its twelve hour flight. Afghanistan is surrounded by Iran, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China. Over which country did it transit? Did Washington thank Moscow for not revealing the impending overflight?
It is intriguing that Obama One had to visit in darkness. Indeed it is amazing that the president of the United States of America could not land in daylight with appropriate public ceremony in a country that his armed forces have occupied for over a dozen years.
The chief executive of the world’s strongest military power that has missiles, marines, soldiers, spooks and special forces and warships and strike planes and death-dealing drones operating from over a thousand bases around the globe had to whiffle in clandestinely to a tin-pot little country so that his mighty cavalcade would not be threatened by a bunch of raggy-baggy insurgents armed with rifles and a few vintage rocket launchers having all the sophistication of firework-loaded catapults. How humiliating. And what a commentary on the farcical futility of twelve years of war.
Quite why Mr Obama decided to take such a death-defying risk is not absolutely clear, but domestic politics may have had something to do with his flight into danger the day before Memorial Day, as there is growing concern in the US that all is not well with medical care of the countless thousands who have suffered so dreadfully, physically and mentally, in fighting Washington’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. So perhaps Mr Obama wanted to bolster the Democratic Party’s standing by getting on the veterans’ bandwagon. To take advantage of Memorial Day association to do this sort of thing is grubby and contemptible, but all presidents and other politicians act this way because they want to be popular. And adding to the gravity of the occasion, the President of the United States was accompanied by an equally eminent performer, the country music singer Brad Paisley who entertained the troops for an hour before Obama spoke to them.
Obama’s Afghanistan antics didn’t begin with guitars and bandwagons, however. They started with insults and plain old-fashioned but oh-so-familiar arrogance and went rocketing downhill from there. Not only was President Karzai not informed of the Obama visit until the last moment, he was then summoned to present himself at the US base at Bagram to tug his forelock to the visiting imperator. While Obama was dancing his public relations fandango someone in his entourage telephoned President Karzai’s office to propose that the president of Afghanistan should get up in the middle of the night and present himself at the colonial power’s fortress at Bagram to say hello to the illustrious night-tripper.
Mockingly, a “White House official” told the docile US press corps that Karzai refused to fall in with imperial wishes. The official’s condescendingly sarcastic comment was that “We did offer him the opportunity to come to Bagram, but we’re not surprised that it didn’t work on short notice.” The rabid insolence of that arrogant pronouncement would be hard to replicate.
Comment from Karzai’s office was understandably terse, in that “The president of Afghanistan said that he was ready to warmly welcome the president of the United States in accordance with Afghan traditions but had no intention of meeting him at Bagram.”
There have been some accidental affronts offered by national leaders to other national leaders over the years, but all US presidential statements are scripted and delivered with the aim of influencing a target. So who was Obama’s target in Afghanistan? Was it the dreaded Taliban whose rusty old rifles present such a massive threat that the president of the United States could avoid their menace only by slinking in and out in darkness? Or was the target the president of Afghanistan whose rigged election in 2009 was endorsed by the president of the United States?
Obama’s visit to Afghanistan was timed to take four dark hours. The flight plan required that Air Force One leave as scheduled (although its departure time was not notified to the Afghan authorities who were ordered to close down Kabul airport throughout the entire performance). So even if President Karzai, the highest representative of the nation of Afghanistan, had agreed to the presumptuous summons to attend the court of the visiting sovereign there would not have been time for arrangements to be made for his travel and reception. How could he have journeyed from Kabul to Bagram? Afghan air force helicopters can’t fly at night and in any case are forbidden to land at Bagram (which is, let us not forget, Afghan territory). Request for use of a US helicopter would have been admission of even further subservience to the imperial power. Travel by road would have been perilous because neither US nor Afghan forces could have secured the route. Mr Obama’s four hour stay would not be extended into daylight. It was set-up city. Obama couldn’t be bothered to meet Karzai and treated him with insulting contempt.
The message to Afghanistan and the world is that the United States presidency considers itself above all precepts of civilized protocol and convention. This comparatively tiny incident of spiteful conceit has demonstrated a deep-seated dogma of utter arrogance.
In a speech last week at the US army’s military academy at West Point Obama declared that “America must always lead on the world stage” and that the military “always will be the backbone of that leadership.”
Who else believes that America “must always lead”? In recent years its presidents and its military have led their country to create total disaster in Iraq and a debacle in Afghanistan. Its current leader believes “in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being,” but it’s a pity he doesn’t believe in affording common courtesy to fellow presidents. It was reported that that “Obama called Karzai from his plane after leaving Bagram.” What a lesson in how to add insult to injury.
AND LATER . . . .
As an afterword it should be recorded that when Obama spoke to the troops in Bagram he declared that “For many of you, this will be your last tour in Afghanistan,” which was greeted with understandable applause. But you have to wonder if these politicians, so clever in having their speechwriters dream up delightful phrases, really think about what they’re saying.
Because for two soldiers who were serving in Afghanistan on the day of the Barack Obama and Brad Paisley pre-Memorial Day junket it was indeed their last tour in Afghanistan. In the last few days these two were killed “in exchanges of fire” with Afghan insurgents. And what did they die for? America’s leadership?
Brian Cloughley is a Vietnam veteran. His website is www.beecluff.com