CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
“Solving Other People’s Problems in the Middle East”
Establishment journalists and politicos write and say the darndest things, advanced as common sense under the sway of reigning nationalist and imperial ideology. Take the New York Times’ chief White House correspondent Peter Baker. In a page-one “news analysis” last Sunday, Baker wrote the following about Donald Trump’s recent missile strike on Syria:
“The strike brought home Mr. Trump’s competing impulses when it comes to Syria — on the one hand, his manful chest-thumping intended to demonstrate that he is the toughest one on the international block, and on the other, his deep convictionthat American involvement in the Middle East since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has been a waste of blood and treasure….He did little to reconcile those impulses with his retaliatory strike to punish the government of President Bashar al-Assad for a suspected chemical attack a week ago that killed dozens of people. But then again, he reflected the contradictions of an American public that is tired of trying to solve other people’s problems in the Middle East….” (emphasis added).
The sheer tonnage of bullshit contained in this short passage is striking. Baker lacked the decency to note that (as everybody knows) Trump’s missile spasm was intended to distract U.S. public attention from his troubled political situation at home. It was a transparent dog-wag that worked for a day or two.
Note Baker’s absurd notion that the venal arch-narcissist Trump has “deep convictions” about anything other than the pursuit of personal wealth, power, and public attention.
Note also Baker’s preposterous idea that Trump’s supposed “deep conviction[s]” include a belief that “American involvement in the Middle East since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has been a waste of blood and treasure.” How does Baker explain the president’s recent appointment of the rabid war maniac John Bolton as his top National Security Adviser? Bolton was a leading architect and agent of the George W. Bush administration’s epically criminal invasion of Iraq, sold on openly false pretexts including the concocted claim that Iraq was involved in the 9/11 attacks. He has long been an advocate of extending “American involvement in the Middle East” to include a war on Iran.
Then there’s Baker’s childish suggestion that the “American public” makes U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East – or anywhere else. It does no such thing. U.S. “foreign affairs” (accurately understood as American imperialism in most of the world) has long been in the hands of a relatively small “elite” of policy-formulators and policymakers. Trump’s administration may be from outside the normal U.S.-imperial global policy channels to no small degree – an astonishing development – but that hardy means that the U.S. public is now directing U.S. activities in the Middle East.
The real kicker, though, is Baker’s notion that Washington’s foreign policy elite (falsely conflated with “the American public”) has been “trying to solve other people’s problems in the Middle East.” That’s a remarkable take on recent U.S. Middle East policy, including:
+ The U.S. invasion of Iraq, which led to the premature death of more than a million Iraqis and displaced millions more while devastating Iraqi infrastructure, blowing up civil society and government, and tipping Iraq into ethnic and sectarian strife that helped give rise to the mass-homicidal Islamic State.
+ The U.S.-led destruction of Libya, also turned into a chaotic, jihadist Hell hole by Superpower and its Western allies.
+ U.S. funding and equipping of its arch-reactionary ally Saudi Arabia’s sadistic crucifixion of Yemen, home now to one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes in recent history.
+ Continued U.S. backing and equipping of Israel’s openly racist and murderous apartheid state and its sadistic torture of the Palestinian people.
+ The ongoing criminal and bloody U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.
+ Continued U.S. backing and support of despotic and arch-reactionary regimes across the region: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Jordan, Djibouti, Turkey, Morocco, and Kuwait.
+ U.S. support of the epic Civil War in Syria (with a staggering death toll over 500,000 since 2011), consistent with Washington’s longstanding desire to remove the Baathist Party from power in Damascus.
+ Washington’s long “twilight war” with Iran ever since the Iranian Revolution of 1979.
+ I could go on. Saying that the U.S. has been trying to “solve problems in the Middle East” is like saying that the German Third Reich was trying to fix things for the people of Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Soviet Russia. It’s like saying that Richard Speck was trying to help increase the demand for nurses in Chicago in the summer of 1966.
Moral Fitness and Ethical Leadership
Which brings me to former FBI director James Comey, who may have played a significant role in helping the Mercer family, Sheldon Adelson, Steve Bannon, Hillary Clinton, Republican state vote suppressors, FOX News, the Sinclair broadcast network, and the slave-owning Founding Fathers (architects of the Electoral College and much more designed to keep democracy, our holy “framers’” ultimate nightmare, at bay) – among other key players not including most U.S. voters (who preferred even Horrid Hillary over Trump the Terrible) – elect Donald Trump in the fall of 2016. Still trying to atone for his sin and promoting a book meant to burnish both his legacy and his bank account, Comey said this about the Awful One on ABC News last Sunday night:
“A person who sees moral equivalence in Charlottesville, who talks about and treats women like they’re pieces of meat, who lies constantly about matters big and small and insists the American people believe it, that person’s not fit to be president of the United States, on moral grounds. And that’s not a policy statement. I don’t care what your views are on guns, or immigration, or taxes…Our president must embody respect and adhere to the values that are at the core of this country. The most important being ‘truth.’ This President is not able to do that. He is morally unfit to be President.”
The morning of the day on which he said this and very much more to George Stephanopolous, Comey wrote this on Twitter: “My book is about ethical leadership & draws on stories from my life & lessons I learned from others. 3 presidents are in my book: 2 help illustrate the values at the heart of ethical leadership; 1 serves as a counterpoint. I hope folks read the whole thing and find it useful.”
The two presidents who “illustrate the values at the heart of ethical leaders”? George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
I’m no fan of Donald Trump, God knows. If you ask me, he’s morally unfit to inhale oxygen. Still, one has to wonder just what makes one “morally fit to be president” in Comey’s (no pun intended) book. Does Comey’s concept of moral fitness and ethical leadershipstretch to include approval of the following?
+ Lying about Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction and purported connection to al Qaeda and 9/11 so as to justify a mass-murderous and arch-criminal U.S. invasion of Mesopotamia?
+ Using 9/11 to advance torture around the world?
+ Collapsing Libya?
+ Blowing up children in Bola Boluk – and then lying about it?
+ Destabilizing Syria?
+ Backing Israel, Saudi Arabia, and a host of other miserably despotic regimes around the world?
+ Ordering targeted assassinations and running a drone war program that Noam Chomsky rightly called “the most extreme terrorist campaign of modern times”?
+ Handing U.S. domestic policy over to the nation’s financial and corporate oligarchy in cold defiance of majority-progressive U.S. public opinion?
+ Enlisting the Department of Homeland Security in the surveillance, infiltration, and dismantlement of the Occupy Movement?
+ Bailing out the reckless and parasitic financial institutions that crashed the national and global economy while leaving the majority of U.S. people to struggle without lifejackets in the Great Recession?
+ Freezing Single Payer advocates (the people championing the health insurance solution favored by most of the population) out of the health insurance reform process and passing a health insurance bill only the big insurance and drug companies could love?
+ Cashing in on your years of service to the U.S. oligarchy by taking giant speaking fees and book contracts after years in the White House?
How’s all that (and much more terrible to mention) for moral fitnessand ethical leadership?
(I’m sure Comey, a Republican, would include Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush in his list of morally fit and ethically exemplary presidents. So what if Reagan did everything he could to advance the upward concentration of wealth and power in the U.S. – this while commanding a blood-soaked Central American policy that killed hundreds of thousands of peasants, workers, intellectuals, and activists in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua? So what if Bush, Sr. killed 150,000 Iraqis (including thousands of surrendered and retreating troops openly slaughtered by U.S. pilots on the “Highway of Death”) after advancing the ridiculous lie that Saddam Hussein’s troops were bayonetting babies in Kuwait? Or that Bush 41 and his commanders encouraged Iraqi Kurds and Shiites to rise up against Saddam and then ordered U.S. forces to stand by while Hussein mercilessly massacred the insurgents?)
Comey is rightly offended by a president who “treats women like they’re pieces of meat.” How does he feel about presidents who turn millions of women, girls, boys, and men into corpses, cripples, and refugees in the endless pursuit of U.S. global dominance – this while serving the corporate and financial oligarchy at home, also sold as “freedom” and “democracy”?
Trump’s Establishment Sin: Being an Open and Unabashed Devil
It’s the open crassness of Trump as much as his policy substance that bothers establishment operatives. Look at Trump’s recent yucky White House sit-down with Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. You can view it on YouTube here. It’s incredible. With MBS grinning sheepishly next to him, the Insane Clown President held up posters showing all the big-dollar weapons and war systems the Saudis are purchasing from the U.S. Trump brazenly boasted about Washington’s $12.5 billion arms deal with the most reactionary government on the planet.
“That’s peanuts for you,” Trump chided the crown prince while dangling the posters under his nose. “Saudi Arabia is a very wealthy nation, and they’re going to give the United States some of that wealth, hopefully, in the form of jobs, in the form of the purchase of the finest military equipment anywhere in the world,” Trump told reporters. MBS looked embarrassed as Trump listed the prices of the weapons the U.S. was selling to the Saudis: “$880 million … $645 million … $6 billion … that’s for frigates.”
The president sounded like a car dealer boasting about the bargains at Trump Ford-Mazda. It was ugly and humiliating for everyone involved and has been condemned in the dominant corporate media for its decadent unpleasantness.
Meanwhile, a recent Reuters exposé details, in the horrified words of Democracy Now’s Juan Gonzales:
“Trump administration plans to make the U.S. an even larger weapons exporter by loosening restrictions on the sale of equipment ranging from fighter jets and drones to warships and artillery. Reutersreveals that the new initiative will provide guidelines that could allow more countries to be granted faster deal approvals, and will call on Cabinet officials to help close deals between foreign governments and U.S. defense contractors…The role U.S. Cabinet officials may be asked to play in pushing arms exports abroad as part of the new initiative, which will call for a ‘whole of government’ approach—from the president and his Cabinet to military attachés and diplomats—to help draw in billions of dollars more in arms business overseas.”
So, do you think the Obama administrations sold arms to Saudi Arabia and other reactionary governments around the world? Do you think it enlisted Cabinet officials and U.S. diplomats in the project of advancing U.S. arms sales across a blood-drenched planet? If you answered “Hell yes it did” to both questions, then you are correct. Here is a forgotten story from the final days of the Obama administration, penned by Motherboard’s Farid Farid, who was understandably underwhelmed by Obama’s suspension of the sale of one type of munition to the Saudis in early 2017:
Obama’s Administration Sold More Weapons Than Any Other Since World War II
Many were sold to the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia.
President Barack Obama, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, will leave office in a few weeks with the dubious honor of having sold more weapons than any other American president since World War II. …Most of the arms deals totaling over $200 billion in the period from 2008 to 2015 have ended up in the Middle East, according to a Congressional Research Service report published in December…Focusing on arms deals to developing nations, the extensive report found that Saudi Arabia was the top arms importer with deals worth around $94 billion from 2008-2015. Under Obama the overall sales, pending delivery of equipment and specialized training for troops, to Saudi Arabia alone has ballooned to $115 billion.
Saudi Arabia is spearheading a coalition of Arab nations in a bombing campaign closing in on two years against the insurgent Houthi militias in Yemen, who took over the capital Sanaa in September 2014. The United States has sent special operations forces to assist the Arab coalition in a grinding war that has seen over 10,000 killed, 2.2 million displaced and nearly half a million children on the brink of famine from the ensuing crisis.
Earlier this month, the United States decided to halt future sales of precision-guided munitions, which are supposed to hit specific targets and minimize collateral damage, to the Gulf kingdom citing civilian deaths in Yemen. But experts are skeptical this will deter Saudi Arabia from continuing to fuel its regional proxy wars.
“Frankly it was a really minor and temporary punishment. I don’t view it as a major consequence and it is more symbolic than anything,” said Cole Bockenfeld, deputy director of policy at Project on Middle East Democracy.
He pointed to the US partially suspending military aid to Egypt after the military overthrew the unpopular government in July 2013 as another example of the lack of political will of the Obama administration to rock relations with its allies. The Congressional report, Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations 2008-2015, noted that Egypt was the biggest recipient of arms deliveries last year worth $5.3 billion.
“What’s changed during the Obama administration is that increasing arms sales has become a standardized component of diplomacy at all levels of government, not just in the defense department,” Bockenfeld told Motherboard. “For US diplomats to become the salesmen, that has been a new element which really increased exports.”
What’s the main difference between Trump and Obama when it comes to U.S. arms sales abroad? As the noted liberal arms trade analyst William Hartung told DN’s Amy Goodman this week, “Well, [Trump’s] much more blatant about it. He’s shouting it from the rooftops. He’s playing a very personal role….he held up a chart [during his appalling meeting before reporters with MBS] that showed 40,000 jobs from Saudi arms sales, and it showed the states, and they were all the swing states —Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Florida. So, among other things, not only is this a business proposition for Trump, but it’s a blatant political move to shore up his base.”
So here’s an interesting question: which is worse – (a) quietly equipping the most reactionary government on Earth and much of the rest of the world with lethal, high-tech means of mass destruction while posing as some kind of progressive and noble peace agent or (b) loudly equipping the most reactionary government on Earth and much of the rest of the world with lethal, high-tech means of mass destruction while boasting about the resulting revenue and jobs to reporters and your white-nationalist political base?
Something tells me the Yemeni victims of Riyadh’s U.S.- made bombs, missiles, bullets, and artillery don’t care all that much either way.
Obama, by the way, earned his designation as “Deporter in Chief”by kicking more “illegal” immigrants out of the country than any previous president. He just knew how to do it quietly, keeping bamboozled liberals and “progressives” on board without making a big nativist militarized police state show of it.
Maybe it’s preferable to some degree to have a president whomakes no bones about being a capitalist, imperialist, and nativist degenerate and an all-around narcissistic sack of shit. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t. The imperial Democrats, the nation’s Inauthentic Opposition Party(IOP,) have been happy to grant Trump every military dollar and surveillance power he’s asked for – this even as they rightly denounce him as a dangerous, Twitter- and FOX News-addicted brute. The party’s last Vice Presidential candidate, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (IOP-VA), is currently championing (along with Republican U.S. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee) an openly Orwellian bill that “offer[s] unlimited war [powers] to the President of the United States” (according to Faiz Shakir. national policy director for the ACLU) in the name of “strengthening congressional oversight.” Cuz 2+2=5. The dismal Dems hopes to run a devil its base and the world won’t know in 2020.
Help Street keep writing here.