The New York Times’ Delusions of Empire

On January 9, 2020 the New York Times Magazine ran a long, feature op-ed personality profile . This is the second profile of the same leader in the NYT since June 2019. Written by “security” and US foreign policy author Robert F. Worth, the piece augurs terrible things for the coming year and more. Facing 2020’s continuing intense political debate, elections, mass migration, ecological devastation, resource wars and our collapsing international political economic order, we learn in essence that the conversation is being led by self-deceiving boneheads.

The subject of this outrageous, fawning profile is the infamous leader of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Mohammed bin Zayed, or MbZ for short. As a sub-imperial creature of the shadows, albeit a fantastically wealthy one, MbZ is probably practically unknown to most Americans, and at best little known to even sophisticated New York Times readers who closely follow international affairs (including me). The paper of record’s choice to feature his world view and agenda, at the outset of a US presidential election year that should be seen as a referendum on fascism, is a very ominous sign. At best, it says a lot more about New York Times’ and US liberals’ hopelessly delusional world view, in the teeth of our planet’s existential crisis of crises, than it says about MbZ or any of his disgustingly puerile, authoritarian ideas.

Worth begins by framing MbZ’s perspective: He “seems to believe that the Middle East’s only choices are a more repressive order or a total catastrophe. It is a Hobbesian forecast, and doubtless a self-serving one.” But that dim prospect, according to Worth’s source of all wisdom “Brett McGurk, a former United States official who spent years working in the Middle East for three administrations and knows M.B.Z. well”, is said to be “often more right than wrong.”

Goddess help us, one of the usual gang of idiots at the root of recent catastrophic US foreign and war policies across the “Middle East” and North Africa informs the Grey Lady and her elite readership that seemingly “extreme”, self-serving neo-feudal analysis and policy advocacy by one of the world’s most powerful oil Sheiks should be normalized and endorsed as mostly correct. This expressly directs us between the poles of increased repression and “total catastrophe”. George Orwell said it much better in “1984”: “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.”

The immense assets MbZ brings to his visions for our world are clear: Worth reports that he “has put many of his resources into what could be called a counterjihad, and they are formidable. Despite his country’s small size (there are fewer than a million Emirati citizens), he oversees more than $1.3 trillion in sovereign wealth funds, and commands a military that is better equipped and trained than any in the region apart from Israel. On the domestic front, he has cracked down hard on the [Muslim] Brotherhood and built a hypermodern surveillance state where everyone is monitored for the slightest whiff of Islamist leanings.”

The Islamic terrorist bogeyman substituted for the outmoded communist bogeyman, as the prime justification for US imperial hubris and folly, has rarely been more clearly scapegoated. Out of such rotten ideological foundations, Worth painfully identifies a couple of the most batshit-crazy features of MbZ’s reign of error: “He would soon enlist as an ally Mohammed bin Salman, the young Saudi crown prince known as M.B.S., who in many ways is M.B.Z.’s protégé. Together, they helped the Egyptian military depose that country’s elected Islamist president in 2013.” And yes, Dear Reader, although I’ll spare you the details in this response (because they make we want to vomit), Worth goes on later to describe with specificity how MbZ personally enabled the deadly coup in Egypt by the 45th US President’s designated “favorite dictator” al-Sisi, as “the first great success of M.B.Z.’s counterrevolutionary campaign”. A couple more such “great successes” and we can all kiss our asses good-by!

Not that Worth believes MbZ to be infallible, mind you: “Even some of M.B.Z.’s admirers in diplomatic circles say that he can be too absolutist and that he has waded too deep into conflicts whose outcomes he cannot control.  Yet M.B.Z. remains a rare figure in the Middle East: a shrewd, secular-leaning leader with a blueprint of sorts for the region’s future and the resources to implement it. For all his flaws, the alternatives look increasingly grim.”

No matter how many times one encounters it, the total absence of imperial self-awareness on the part of the New York Times and its favored mainstream establishment contributors never ceases to stun the radical imaginary. MbZ’s admirers in the US Homeland basically agree he’s shrewd and has a recognizable game plan, but they fear his propensity for too-deep-absolutist excesses. Trump, Netanyahu, MbS, the catastrophes of permanent and unwinnable, bipartisan US resource wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and elsewhere are as nothing to them, compared to MbZ’s inability to control outcomes. What fantasy world do liberal imperialists live in?

Back in the reality-based community, Worth prods his turgid narrative with a prominent human interest story about MbZ’s relationship with his non-Islamist fanatic father and a major personal incident: “The Sept. 11 attacks were a life-changing moment for M.B.Z., unmasking both the depth of the Islamist menace and the Arab world’s state of denial about it.” Welcome to the human race, MbZ! US elites and national “security” patriots of all classes have been endlessly urging us to “never forget” that day of infamy. I seem to remember that 9/11/2001 was above all just such a “life-changing moment” for all of us. Now, less than a week since 45’s insane, criminal hit on Iranian General Quassem Soleimani, we learn that one of the most powerful salutary results of that tragic day in New York and Washington was enlistment of MbZ in the global war on terror? Is it just me, or are some of the deadly, threatening prospects for 2020 foreshadowed by this revisionist elite corporate journalistic piece of trash becoming clear? Let me eliminate all doubt: They are saying that they will be killing a lot more People, and calling it liberation from the “Islamic menace”.

The glories of MbZ’s praxis, according to Worth, don’t stop with blood running in torrents in the Arab street. He “cracked down on” the Muslim Brotherhood, and he built a state that is not “an illiberal democracy — like Turkey’s”, rather it is “a socially liberal autocracy”, much like Singapore. The distinction echoes the one famously made by Reagan’s brain-dead UN Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick between (good) capitalist autocrats, and (bad) populist (commie) dictators, i.e., Fidel, Lumumba, Mossadegh, Allende, Chavez, Morales, etc….  The whole range of targets of US coups, assassinations and hybrid propaganda wars.

The comforting, deadly hits just keep on coming, even beyond that hoary “distinction” between “our” sons-of-bitches and “theirs”:  “U.A.E. is not just looking for terrorists. It has developed an increasingly aggressive cyberintelligence program called Project Raven, built in part by former American intelligence operatives, that appears to be aimed in part at political rivals. Project Raven’s targets have included at least four Western journalists, including three Americans, according to a Reuters investigation published last year.” What could go wrong?

Basing his analysis on such shifting ideological (or psychological?) sands and hallucinatory distinctions, Worth brings his piece home with an even finer contrast for the ages: “This may be the central enigma of M.B.Z.’s tenure: He is a socially liberal autocrat, and his country looks different depending on where you stand. Weighed against the standards of Western human rights groups, the U.A.E. can easily look like a hyper-capitalist slave colony whose leader wants to crush all dissent. When you compare it with Syria or Egypt, the U.A.E. is almost a model of enlightened liberalism.”

At last we reach ground zero in the (admittedly not very deep) imperial rabbit hole: Any differences between slavery and liberalism are exaggerated, “depending on where you stand”. Fair enough, even a good point, when you take it to its logical conclusion of the absolutely desperate need for revolutionary transformations to turn the world upside down. But recognizing that “liberal” corporate globalization under racial capitalism is in essence a modern form of slavery, and then concluding that we should therefore aim for MbZ’s Hobbesian choice between “a more repressive order or a total catastrophe” is merely enabling neo-fascism. Yes, it’s officially time to be pissed off!

MBZ has hired an Australian special ops mercenary military chief to kill for UAE. At least he has the brains not to put Betsy DeVos’ sick little brother Erik Prince, another MbZ crony, in that powerful role. But as the climate catastrophic fires devour his top general’s Australian nation, and together they seek to plot our futures from UAE’s omnipresent, frigid air conditioned interior environments in the desert, we should treat this NYT op-ed as the Naked Lunch moment it is, “a frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork.”  Elite opinion makers live in a collapsing world of utter delusion. Tragically, it’s our world too, and they have lawyers, guns, and money as well as New York Times op-eds to broadcast their insane shit. Happy New Year, proles.

Tom Stephens is a volunteer educator for the Detroit Independent Freedom Schools Movement (DIFSM) and a Peoples lawyer in Detroit.