Thursday, March 24, 2011
The Second Time as Farce
It was Hegel who said that history repeats itself because nations and governments fail to learn from it, but it was Karl Marx who added that history repeats itself a second time as farce. Which makes it all too appropriate that Obama is repeating the Bush era as farce.
For years American liberals accused George W. Bush of being dumb and unserious-- only to elect a man who actually is dumb and unserious. Who announces a war in between his NCAA picks and a trip to Rio. Who has spent more time playing golf, than directing the war effort. Who spends more time in front of the mirror and the camera, than on policy. They accused Bush of running an imperial presidency-- and that is exactly what they got the second time around. A war without even the thinnest facade of congressional involvement. Without Dick Cheney being anywhere in sight. They accused Bush of having a Nazi collaborating grandfather, and their own grass roots efforts to elect an Un-Bush were funded by a philanthropic Nazi collaborating billionaire.
They falsely insisted that Bush went to war for oil. And now their Great Hope has actually gone to war for oil. For BP's 900 million dollar Libyan oil deal, which Prime Minister Cameron endangered when he precipitously rushed to back the Libyan rebels who seemed on their way to victory, only to crumble at Gaddafi's pushback. After all those years of calling Blair, Bush's poodle-- Obama turned out to be Cameron's poodle. They're no doubt laughing about it in London.
Back when Gaddafi was securely in power, BP lobbied to free the Lockerbie bomber to avoid Gaddafi's threat to cut all commercial ties with the UK. What a difference a year makes. Now the only thing that will save BP is a good old fashioned war. Gaddafi had already called on Russian and Chinese oil companies to replace Western oil companies. Not to be left out, the Libya rebels quickly created their own oil company reminding everyone of what this is really about.
History repeats itself as farce. But who's laughing now?
There is a reason why Europe yawns at Turkey's use of chemical weapons against Kurdish rebels, while sending in the jets when Gaddafi bombs rebel positions. Why the genocide in Sudan was not interrupted by a No Fly Zone, and top European firms still do business with Iran through proxies in Dubai. It's not about human rights. It's not even about the threat potential. If it were, North Korea or Iran would be in our bomb sights. Right now Syria is massacring protesters, but don't look for military intervention there either. That's not what it's about. It's about the bright boys deciding that Gaddafi stands in the way of the future, just like Slobodan Milosevic once did. Genocide, ethnic cleansing and terrorism are minor crimes, compared to obstructing the emergency of a stable order and the fat profits it will bring.
Obama's justification for the bombing to congress, citing, "Qadhafi's defiance of the Arab League", and the "international community", as well as "the authority of the Security Council" should send chills up anyone's spine. The idea that the US has become the 'Enforcer' for the Arab League is an ugly enough idea, though it is a remarkable moment of honesty about just who's calling the shots in US foreign policy.
But more meaningful still is the end of that sentence which hinges that trail of justifications on, "efforts to preserve stability in the region". Which is another unexpected moment of honesty, as long as you understand that stability has nothing to do with democracy, human rights or preventing bombs from falling on orphans. It's about keeping the trade going and the oil flowing. Keeping the violence down to a dull roar and maintaining predictable economic conditions. No oil price fluctuations, no crazy demands from a lunatic and an advancement of the new order of the January Revolutions.
This wasn't an intervention in response to genocide or WMD's. Gaddafi is fighting a civil war with few blatant atrocities. Two weeks ago the UN death toll was at a mere 1,000. That would have been a slow month in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. But NATO set similarly low standards for declaring genocide in Kosovo. And all the weepy reports and heartstrings tugging was meant to disguise those simple facts. Just as news reports on Libya describe massacres in vague terms and cheer on the bravery of the rebels without telling us who they are.
We're told what we need to know, that Gaddafi is bad and the rebels are good. And while it's hard to argue that a world without him might be a better place, it's unclear what Libya will be like without him. The US and Europe have been encouraged to believe that they will be dealing with former members of the US governments and the Libyan human rights people they have been funding. That may or may not be the case. In Egypt, the Jan 25 twitter activists just got stomped into the ground. With enough members of the old regime around, Libya may experience a more stable transition. Most likely it will trade in one civil war for another. And the African mercenaries will be back hunting down Islamist rebels. If the Libyan air force bombs them, we won't say a thing. So long as the oil keeps flowing on schedule.
When a panicked Gaddafi gave up his nuclear program to avoid going the way of Saddam, European oil companies fared poorly at the bidding, while US companies got the inside track. But last year many of those companies, including the influential ChevronTexaco, pulled out, tired of the corruption and the bribery. BP however remained, holding on to its 900 million dollar deal, even lobbying for the release of one of Gaddafi's mass murderers. The Iraq War had intimidated Gaddafi, but its collapse had him feeling his oats again. Irrational demands followed. And the toadying of the American and British governments to his family only fed the beast.
France's Sarkozy now sees a chance to push his Mediterranean Union, by doing what France routinely does, and yet what President Chirac (now facing trial for embezzlement) lambasted the US for in Iraq-- unilateral intervention. Libya was formerly under French rule, and France is fairly casual about invading its former colonies to restore order. That the new coalition to bomb Gaddafi met in Paris is an ironic concession to its Francocentric nature. This war is a French project, in partnership with the UK, with the US along to provide the brute muscle.
Sarkozy needs to catch fire with French voters, almost as badly as Obama does with US voters. He is polling behind Marie LePen and his UMP party barely outdrew the National Front in local elections. He has failed to rein in domestic Islamism, but bombing Libya is easy by comparison. And gives him the illusion of placing his fingerprint on history's page. Then there's France's Total S.A. oil company which has its own presence in Libya. Between its dirty deals with Saddam Hussein and Iran, Total SA makes BP look good.
Three years ago, Gaddafi was pitching his tent in the heart of Paris, on Sarkozy's lawn. Back then Sarkozy denounced "those who excessively and irresponsibly criticised the Libyan leader’s visit" and his aide explained that Gaddafi's visit was a good thing because it brought billions of euros and tens of thousands of jobs to France. But now Monsieur Gaddafi is Le Monstre.
And what were those jobs and billions of euros coming from? The sale of French fighter jets to Libya, from the country which took the lead in going after the Libyan air force. Considering the poor performance of Libya's air force, Gaddafi would be justified in asking Sarkozy for a refund.
Two years ago, UK PM Gordon Brown was expressing his "admiration and gratitude" for Gaddafi. Now Cameron had to interrupt a Middle Eastern arms sales tour to call for a war on Gaddafi for his suppression of rioting rebels. Pity then that the UK had actually been selling some 350 million dollars worth of military equipment, including a good deal of crowd control gear.
Now France and the UK are stepping in to save the Libyan rebels from the military equipment that they themselves sold to Gaddafi.
Did Gaddafi dramatically change over the past few years? No. The circumstances did. In 2008, Gaddafi was being cooperative and welcoming to Western oil companies and arms dealers in a region ruled by tyrants. By 2011, he was no longer cooperative and it suddenly seemed as if a wave of democratic change was sweeping the region. That made him into an obstacle. Had Gaddafi quickly suppressed the uprising, Sarkozy and Cameron would have kept their mouths shut. But Gaddafi's real crime was to start winning, after the Europeans had decided he was going to lose. Now they intend to make sure he does. It's as cynically simple as that.
Sarkozy and Cameron are committed. The price of oil is also the price of political power. Western economies rise and fall on the price of oil. Falling oil prices after the Cold War helped spur economic development, and rising oil prices will prevent any recovery.
With an election in 2012, Barack Hussein Obama also stands to personally benefit from stabilizing oil prices. But that may be giving him credit for intelligence he doesn't have. What he does have is a need to be the center of attention. And given a choice between backing a fairly safe war, or standing shamefacedly on the sidelines, the choice wasn't surprising. Hillary Clinton needed to end her term as Secretary of State with a bang. It's not her husband's Kosovo, but it's the closest she can come to being Madeleine Albright. Everyone involved has now gotten their war. It's not a very impressive war, but even a small war is better than nothing.
The Libyan rebels range from Gaddafi's own regime cronies to Al Qaeda, to various professional human rights activists and rebels of the sort that all Arab countries collect after a while. And they're all eager for our support, so long as we don't ask any difficult questions. Such as who besides Gaddafi was responsible for human rights abuses and whether they intend to protect equal rights for all peoples regardless of gender and religion. And of course we won't be asking any bothersome questions like that.
Instead we will act as mercenaries for the Arab League, European oil companies and a trio of cynical leaders who embraced Gaddafi one minute and turn him into the world's worst criminal next. Those who wonder why Israel is constantly denounced by Europe while Muslim tyrants are pandered to, need only understand this simple fact. There is neither trust nor honesty in foreign policy.
Bush's invasion of Iraq, ill-considered as it was, had a basic germ of idealism in it. That idealism is wholly and completely absent from European foreign affairs, which is precisely why it stirred so much cynicism and rage. Bush genuinely believed that Iraq and the rest of the Muslim world could be made better if we just showed them what was possible. But Bush is gone now, and this is about trade, money and power. That iron triangle whose shape is regional stability and whose name is hypocrisy.
It is why we are now spending billions of dollars on regime change in Libya, while ignoring genocide elsewhere. It's why a man who denounced the overthrow of Saddam, who actually did commit genocide, is now part of a campaign against Gaddafi, who has not. We are ensuring stability. The stable order. The mold of convenience. Get your war on with Obama and see Iraq repeat itself a second time as farce. Marx would have been proud.