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As a general rule, it is pointless to rank world leaders or lesser political figures by measures that track their vileness or how much harm they inflict upon the world.
Sometimes, though, it can be enlightening to do precisely that – provided it is understood that what is being compared are not so much the character traits of deplorable individuals, but the political lines they advance in the circumstances they confront.
One such time is now – as Donald Trump is doing his best to launch a “stupid war” against Iran. That expression was candidate Barack Obama’s in 2008; he used it to describe the war George W. Bush and Dick Cheney launched against Iraq.
Since at least 1945, the United States has only fought stupid wars. Some have been stupider than others, but, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, Democrats and Republicans have supported them all. If Trump does get an Iran War going, count on bipartisan support for it too, though, for sheer stupidity, it would rival and perhaps even exceed the Kennedy-Johnson-Nixon war against Vietnam.
It is telling that, notwithstanding his characterization of the Bush-Cheney Iraq War, Obama, the least lethal of our twenty-first century presidents and also the least odious, kept it going for many years.
It says a lot too that that Obama never had any problem with the Bush-Cheney Afghanistan War. Quite to the contrary, he actually revved that one up. It continues to this day, some seventeen years after it began.
Obama, the Nobel laureate, also launched several under the radar, lower intensity stupid wars on his own – in Africa and throughout the Greater Middle East. His machinations were so deeply under the radar that there is no general agreement about how many wars he started or even about when and where they took or are still taking place.
Trump had been, and maybe still is, agitating for an even stupider war than the one that might soon break out against Iran, a war against North Korea, a country with nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them to the United States.
Ironically, though, the gods seem, for now, still to be smiling upon the Donald, saving him from a mistake monumental enough to turn even his willfully blind, fatally obtuse, and, yes, “deplorable” base against him.
Trump’s ability to wreck everything he touches should not be underestimated, however; Korea could still be his, and the world’s, undoing. But, for now, his blustering, along with the diplomatic skills of all the parties involved, except of course the United States, may, at last, have paved the way for a resolution to the seven decades long state of war that has existed between the two Koreas. It might even lead to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
However, I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Trump’s new Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, Islamophobe and nativist extraordinaire, may not be quite the “deconstructer” of the State Department that Rex Tillerson – purportedly one of the “adults in the room” – was; and he certainly knows more and is smarter than Jarvanka and Trump’s idiot sons. Nevertheless, he is bad news; with him in charge and Trump calling the shots, the Korean deal could well fall apart.
For the time being, though, the world can breathe a sigh of relief. We should relish the moment.
There has been talk about how success in Korea would put Trump in line for a Nobel Prize. The idea is preposterous on its face, but hardly surprising; the Donald would be far from the only moral monster to be so honored. If a Nobel Peace Prize could go to Henry Kissinger, it could go to anybody.
Obama’s prize came to him before he had a chance to do anything to earn it, which, of course, he never did. Were the “honor” to come Trump’s way, he would deserve it even less. Even if all comes out well, the most he will have done is bluster, and then not squander whatever benefits resulted. Could the man even find Pyongyang on the map? Don’t count on it.
Insofar as his ravings do ultimately contribute to a good outcome, it would be because the stars are aligned in just such a way that a madman in the White House is the very thing needed to bring out diplomatic impulses in others.
Richard Nixon’s “madman strategy,” which some pundits credit Trump with following, is just that – mad, in much the way that a Dr. Strangelove Doomsday Machine would be. But it is a strategy, and it can sometimes work.
However, to praise or blame Trump for applying it would be a mistake. If it or anything like it does help defuse tensions in the Korean peninsula, it is just dumb luck that an emotionally immature “dodderer,” as Kim Jong-un aptly called him, managed somehow to stumble into it while acting out.
Compared to other major political figures currently on the world stage, Trump wouldn’t stand in any relevant competition. But he is so far off the charts that comparing him to anyone else would be pointless.
He must be taken seriously, however, because of the office he holds and because, on Iran, he controls the script.
This is well known even in corporate media circles. It is about the only aspect of the political scene that they get right.
It is different with two of the other important players in the developing Iran story: the West’s all-purpose demon, Vladimir Putin, and the darling of the American political and media establishment, Benjamin Netanyahu.
The conventional wisdom on them in the United States is seriously mistaken and dangerously wrong-headed.
Though, large majorities of Russians evidently think otherwise, Putin is too illiberal, too authoritarian, and too reactionary to be anything but a burden upon the Russian people. Netanyahu is no prize for Israelis either, though he too seems to fit the popular mood. Apparently, he and the people around him are corrupt as well; while, in Putin’s case, it is only the people around him who are. But even if these are suitable bases for outsiders to make comparisons, the differences are too slight to draw unequivocal conclusions.
It is different, though, when the issues in contention involve America’s stupid wars. Then, compared to Netanyahu, Putin is a saint.
Insofar as Putin’s domestic policies raise problems, they are for the Russian people and perhaps also for citizens of other former Soviet republics to deal with on their own. Pernicious Western meddling, especially the kind that liberal imperialists in the American foreign policy establishment have been dishing out, is the last thing anybody needs.
What does rightly concern Americans and others outside Russia is Putin’s diplomacy. On that score, notwithstanding views repeatedly expressed on the less reactionary cable news networks, PBS, and in what passes nowadays for a quality press, the plain fact is that Putin’s role has generally been more helpful than not.
With respect to Iran – and in Syria and Ukraine and other points of contention – he has been doing nothing more nefarious than deftly pursuing Russian national interests.
This is unacceptable to the stewards of the American empire – including, it now turns out, Trump and his minions. There is nothing “evil” about it, however. It is precisely what one would – and should—expect the leader of a world power to do.
The problem with Putin, from the point of view of our foreign policy establishment, is only that he is intent on defying their efforts to maintain American global hegemony.
They should get over this, however, because, with or without Trump, the American empire is in decline.
Whatever deluded Trump voters may think, no amount of xenophobic nationalism is going to change that. And whatever Democrats and old school Republicans may think, neither will imperialist predations of the “humanitarian intervention” kind.
America’s leaders will therefore have to learn to deal with other world powers on a more equal basis than they have in the past. They have become accustomed to calling the shots; it is all they know how to do.
But even if they can still get away with it most of the time, the writing is on the wall. The time is past due for them to face the fact inasmuch as, from their point of view, the situation can only get worse.
But the situation need not get worse for the rest of us.
In fact, we should welcome the empire’s decline – not just for the sake of justice or for the benefit of people elsewhere in the world, but also, if a soft landing can be engineered, for the sake of those of us who derive little or no gain from stupid wars that never end and from the over-the-top military spending they encourage.
That would be the vast majority of Americans, including the good (and not so good) folks Clinton Democrats deride and that Republicans bamboozle.
Notwithstanding the fact that the information comes from intelligence services that lie by nature and from servile corporate media, it now does seem more likely than not that there was some Russian “meddling” in the 2016 election.
How effective it was, and what role the Russian government and the Russian president played is unknown at this time. It is more likely than not, however, that, on both counts, the consequences, if any, were slight.
But the hypocrisy inherent in the self-righteous protestations of Russophobic Cold War revivalists that it has occasioned is mind-boggling. The United States is, and long has been, a serial meddler in Russian affairs and in the affairs of other former Soviet republics. Worse still: it regularly meddles in the affairs of nearly every country on the face of the earth.
It is also clear that homegrown assaults on what little (small-d) democracy we have, have been more damaging by many orders of magnitude than anything even the most ardent Cold Warriors have ever dared blame on Russians.
Republican voter suppression efforts have done more to diminish democracy than an entire army of Russian trolls possibly could. American plutocrats like the Koch Brothers, the Mercers, Sheldon Adelson, and countless others are worse by far than those Russian oligarchs we hear so much about or the demonic figure that the word “Putin” has come to denote.
It has lately come to light that there are Russian oligarchs who understand this well. They realize, apparently, that they can get the most bang for their bucks (or rubles) by working through rightwing lobbies like the National Rifle Association, the Republican National Committee, Trump underlings like Michael Cohen, and perhaps the Trump family and the Trump campaign itself.
It is also clear that while a clash of ideologies (not civilizations) was a factor in promoting hostilities and proxy conflicts between the United States and the Soviet Union during the original Cold War, there are no ideological clashes weighing in now.
Putin, along with all those Russian malefactors he purportedly keeps under his thumb, is as pro-capitalist as any card-carrying Democrat or Republican. Russia’s is not even a capitalism of a different kind. The Russians only sin is that they resist incorporation into a global order that America still dominates.
There is therefore no need, as before, to work to establish peaceful coexistence between rival political economic systems. What is necessary instead is good faith cooperation on matters of mutual concern.
Putin is no prize, but, on Iran, he is a force for good. Netanyahu emphatically is not. The contrast could not be more stark.
What Israel’s leaders want has always counted for a lot with the White House and Congress, no matter which duopoly party is in control. Trump didn’t invent the problem, but, as with so much else, he has made it worse.
He could not have done so, however, were Washington not disposed to wallow in hypocrisy and, in the case of Israel and therefore Iran, were it not in thrall to an infrangible double standard.
Compared to whatever Putin did and is still doing, what our own plutocrats have been doing over the years, as a matter of course, is a lot more harmful to (small-d) democracy. The only plausible justification for singling out Putin’s meddling is the fact that he is the leader of a country that our leaders find it advantageous to consider an adversary.
However, to hear the pundits that serve them talk, it might seem that their concern is just that foreigners should not ever even think of influencing our elections. That view is not without merit; for (small-d) democrats, citizenship matters. But it does not matter in the way or to the extent that demonizers of Putin suggest. They want to make a fetish of the idea.
It turns out, though, that the citizenship fetishism that has lately taken hold in their circles is selective. For his meddling, Putin is a demon from hell, while Netanyahu’s more egregious and effective meddling, when noticed at all, is accepted and even welcomed.
Israeli meddling is so extensive that, for all practical purposes, it transcends the ordinary kind. Directly and through the offices of powerful lobbies representing both Jewish and Christian Zionists, the Israeli government and the larger Zionist movement effectively own the American political class – all of it, left, right (especially right!) and center.
Netanyahu himself is too corrupt, and has been in power too long, for most Israelis, including the vilest among them, to hold him in high regard. American politicians, on the other hand, let him ride roughshod over them as a matter of course.
It was largely to please him and the American plutocrats who support him – and also to please that other anti-Iranian miscreant, Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince and de facto leader of Saudi Arabia – that Trump scuttled the deal with Iran that the United States, along with Great Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia, painstakingly concluded three years ago.
This folly may go over well with Zionists of the Sheldon Adelson sort, and with America’s death merchants (“defense” industry executives), but it is the stupidest and most self-destructive “achievement” of American diplomacy in living memory.
When it goes sour, will Netanyahu be villainized in anything like the way that Putin now is? Don’t count on it. Hell will freeze over before a mainstream Democrat or Republican will have a bad word to say about the Bibster. Corporate media will follow suit; it always does.
Public opinion, however, is catching on. Notwithstanding the deafening corporate media silence about Israeli atrocities in Gaza, throughout the West Bank and in Israel itself, the news is getting through and changing Americans’ minds.
With the Israel Defense Force, the IDF, mowing down unarmed protestors with live ammunition, murdering many scores of Palestinians and wounding hundreds, if not thousands, more, it is impossible to keep the American public and the publics of other nations entirely in the dark.
And so, Israel continues to lose support all over the world, including in those countries without which the Zionist project could not be sustained: the United States, Europe, and the former White Dominions of the British Empire.
Worse still, for the Zionist establishment, liberal Zionists in the United States and elsewhere have been increasingly losing, when not expressly rejecting, their erstwhile Zionist sympathies.
This is only to be expected. From a liberal point of view, the very idea of an ethnocratic settler state is problematic at best. Liberal democracies are states of their citizens, not of tribes or ethnic groups or religious communities. A state cannot really be both Jewish and democratic — especially when implanted into a territory taken over from another people not all of whom have been or can be ethnically cleansed away.
For a long time, though, it was possible to gloss over the contradictions inherent in the idea; to think of what is essentially a Herrenvolk democracy, a democracy for a master race, as a democracy plain and simple – the only one in the Middle East.
It was also possible to call the Israel Defense Forces “the most moral army in the world” without choking on those words as they were spoken.
However, with the passage of time, and in light of the illiberal, indeed reactionary, ways that the Zionist project has evolved, these illusions and contradictions have become too glaring to ignore.
Younger Jews especially are dropping away — to the horror of Netanyahu and those who think like him.
Their reaction is not unreasonable: with the Palestinian resistance movement taking a non-violent but still unflinchingly militant turn, Netanyahu et. al. feel more “existentially threatened” than usual. In light of Israel’s increasingly evident moral bankruptcy, that sentiment is becoming more justified than it used to be.
What else could explain their extreme hostility to the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement, a quintessentially non-violent form of solidarity politics, emanating out of Palestinian civil society, and growing by leaps and bounds throughout the Western world.
Putin is playing a game of Realpolitik; doing what he can with the hand he has been dealt; Netanyahu is doing all he can to draw the United States into a very stupid war with potentially catastrophic consequences.
In view of the role Iran’s nuclear program plays in Netanyahu’s machinations, it is relevant that the country he leads has had the bomb for many decades, by some accounts more than two hundred of them — a point that corporate media routinely fail to mention.
It bears mention too that, thanks to American largesse, Israel is armed to the teeth with conventional weapons. and that, after the United States, Israel is the most bellicose country on earth. Like the United States, it goes to war, more often than not, to maintain the “credibility” of its armed forces.
No doubt one reason for Netanyahu’s hostility towards Iran is that more than a decade ago, Hezbollah, backed by Iran, successfully fought the IDF to a standstill in Lebanon, humiliating it for all the world to see. Similarly, the hostage crisis in the early days of the Iranian Revolution still helps sustain American opposition to Iran.
But geopolitical considerations, as understood by the main protagonists, matter more.
Were Putin to have his way, at least some of the comparatively stable Middle Eastern world that George W. Bush broke could be put back together – with Syria and Iraq becoming forces for stability, not disorder.
Were Netanyahu to have his way, and the wishes of the larger Israeli Right to be fulfilled, we would get what we now have — an anti-Iranian “axis of evil,” comprised of Israel and Saudi Arabia, formerly two of the most unlikely allies on the planet, and Trump’s America.
It didn’t used to be this way, and it doesn’t have to be this way now. However, with Trump enabling Netanyahu, this is how it is.
And so, at his behest, America and the world stand on the brink of disaster – with Putin’s Russia no longer able, and Trump’s America no longer willing, to call back the dogs of war, keep murder and mayhem at bay, and let reason prevail.