Warmongering with a sartorial flair

Four months ago we were asking ourselves where this administration was heading as it prepared for a greater military presence in Afghanistan… posing the question, “War and rhetoric: Et tu Obama?” by then starting to acknowledge that Obama, both literally and figuratively, was stabbing and betraying those Americans who stood for world peace… and who had helped him get elected the year before.

If we had any hope for peace left then, it is now forever gone. During the past three weeks we have been able to observe what an American president needs to be all about these days. Republican, Democrat or Independent matters only in bellicosity degree; and our elected president, come hell or high water, is expected to hold his quiver full of arrows, making sure everyone knows he is, first and foremost, America’s warmonger-in-chief.

It doesn’t matter who you are or what party you belong to; any political aspirations to the presidency of the United States require knowledge of and allegiance to certain realities that no candidate should take lightly and that no dweller of the White House will be able to escape. Why would we have expected Obama to behave any differently?

It all started less than a month ago as Vice President Joe Biden went to Israel in hopes of rekindling peace negotiations in the Holy Land, to find himself and the US both the subject of disrespect, if not ridicule, as the Israeli government arrogantly announced the additional building of 1,600 dwellings in the occupied section of east Jerusalem. The clamor of indignation in both White House and State Department was quickly suffocated by the sharp, and always effective, propaganda machine of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) which within two days, in time for Netanyahu’s scheduled visit to the US, had the American press downgrading such action from a diplomatic mortal sin of insult to the veniality of a simple misunderstanding, as Netanyahu met with his host, Mr. Obama; Congress meanwhile welcoming the prime minister of Israel with open arms, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressed her peers’ sentiments formally pronouncing: “We in Congress Stand by Israel.” And it should come as no surprise that Netanyahu, or whoever happens to be leader of Israel, is probably just as popular in the US Congress as he is in the Knesset… oftentimes even more.

Nothing could have been more crystalline than that, and it expressed, unequivocally, one side of the US foreign diplomacy coin… with the Star of David in prominent display encircled by the inscription, “America Sempiternally Stands by Israel,” with the obverse displaying the American eagle over a five-sided war-enclave that we call the Pentagon. To most people in the world this foreign diplomacy coin is really nothing but a war coin, the currency of an empire enforcing its will by fear, or actual use, of its military force.

And a war coin it is! It didn’t take long after the Obama-Netanyahu meeting at the White House that Obama was pursuing a more aggressive tone with Iran, this time drawing the de rigueur foreign approval from France’s Sarkozy instead of the usual endorsement from the United Kingdom always employed by Bush Junior and his predecessors. Could Iran have been the chief topic of the Obama-Netanyahu conversation? Rest assured that it was! In any meeting between US and Israel leaders you can count on that agenda to either be written by, or succinctly replaced at the meeting, to suit Israeli interests. Obama may have had Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations in mind going into that meeting, but Bibi Netanyahu quickly disposed of that issue replacing it with Israel’s most pressing concern these days: the looming probability of a nuclear Iran.

Two weeks later, here is President Obama reprimanding Mr. Karzai; a poor but safe substitute to any public censure he should have publicly inflicted on Mr. Netanyahu. The fact that Karzai had exercised too much independence in his dealings with Tehran and Beijing really put him in hot water; even if his dealings with its neighbor to the west were only symbolic, underlining only the cultural and historical linkage between their peoples. In China’s case, however, the signing of three major trade/economic deals was of great significance, impacting present and future Sino-Afghan relations. But any forging of new regional alliances without expressed consent of the US does not set well with Washington since it disturbs the empire’s chessboard and how America wants the game played.

Afghans in general, and the Pashtun in particular, are not just too ruggedly independent to be held in a political straight-jacket, but their wheeler-and-dealer nature requires the tact and cultural understanding that Americans, politicians and military in this case, lack. When will it become clear to Americans that when it comes to Afghanistan no seeds of democracy may be planted there until they learn to “do Pashto”? Mingo, my journalist friend and expert on all-things-Afghan, made that comment to me early on in 2003, something which resounds in me as I hear Karzai’s comment du jour that he may join the Taliban if foreigners keep meddling in the affairs of Afghanistan. The new reality is finally settling in… that America is neither a friend nor a neighbor to Afghanistan, only an invader.

Fortunately, allowing both heads of state to avoid universal ridicule, the meeting held two weeks ago between Obama and Karzai was done in regular duds, Karzai dressing in more subdued garb than he is sartorially accustomed to, and Obama setting aside the leather bomber jacket he wore on his trip there, presumably to visit the troops… one emblazoned with the American Eagle and the words “Air Force One.”

Obama did not choose well, making the conflict in Afghanistan his personal war. But then, what other choices do you have as president of the United States of America when you are expected to be warmonger-in-chief?