Thursday, January 31, 2013

Our Dimwitted Columnist (On Egypt and Israel)


The Dimwit in question is Jennifer Rubin, writing for the Washington Post, who on 28 January published some commentary about the Obama administration’s policy towards Egypt charmingly titled “Our Dimwitted State Department”.  My creativity being of the stunted nature, I thought I’d borrow a rhetorical leaf from Rubin’s book.

She began on a promising note, critiquing the President’s uncritical arming of the Egyptian government.  In undertaking such a move, Obama follows in the illustrious footsteps of every one of his predecessors.  Flogging arms to autocrats, thugs and murderers is a specialty of the U.S. government and arms industry.  After all, there’s plenty of money to be made.

If Obama is the villain of Rubin’s piece, Senator Jim Inhofe is the hero.  He has been inveighing against the Obama administration for selling F-16s to the Egyptian government—less, it should be noted, out of any concern for the safety of Egyptian citizens or the health of Egyptian democracy than out of an extraordinary solicitousness for Israeli security.

In assailing the State Department for dealing with Egyptian President Morsi, Rubin wrote, “We should be deploring Morsi’s move and making clear that the special relationship Egypt enjoys is dependent upon the regime’s behaviour”.  First, note that the word “regime” suggests a certain illegitimacy, but however crudely populist Morsi might be, he is legitimate.  And let’s face it, he doesn’t have anything on GOP Presidential candidates last year who told audiences that sick people should be left to die if they can’t afford health insurance, proudly proclaimed the number of people they’d executed to audience applause, who equated gay marriage with “man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be”, and who suggested that Muslims should be prohibited from public service in the United States. 

What Inhofe and Rubin don’t have much of a problem with is the manner in which Morsi is dealing with dissent and violating people’s rights.  And there, he shares some notable characteristics with the Israeli “regime”.  The word “regime” is perhaps more applicable in this case, because although commentators in the United States are wont to praise Israel as the region’s only democracy, it only counts if we discount its colonies, the possession of which generally precludes a democracy given that possession of colonies is predicated on some people possessing fewer rights than others, and being subject to the controls and whims of the colonisers. 

Rubin’s remark about Morsi—to the effect that our “relationship” with Egypt should be predicated on his “behaviour”—should apply equally to Israel.  Surely a country that sows such instability in the Middle East by dispossessing people from their land, herding them into marginal territory, deliberately creating refugee-like conditions amongst those people, and sabotaging their every effort to obtain international recognition is violating enough legal norms and moral frameworks that we should reconsider our support.

Surely a country which takes U.S. military aid and then expands its imperial incursions onto subject people’s lands through illegal settlements, should be prepared to suffer, at the minimum, a loss of uncritical support. 

Chuck Hagel, Obama’s pick for Defence Secretary, was today grilled for once saying that Israel keeps “Palestinians caged up like animals”, for suggesting that the Israeli lob intimidates people, and for suggesting that Palestinians who seek to kill Israelis have legitimate “grievances”.  One Senator attacked him for saying that Israel stands guilty of war crimes, because it is “particularly offensive given the Jewish people suffered war crimes”.  The same bloviating hypocrite (Ted Cruz) attacked Hagel for referring to the “Jewish” rather than “Israeli” lobby, precisely the same conflation Cruz performed in attempting to use the Holocaust experienced by Jews in the 1940s to obscure Israeli war crimes in the twenty-first century. 

Much is made of Hagel’s remarks about the Israeli lobby’s intimidation.  I personally don’t see how what Hagel said is in any way controversial.  All lobby groups, by their nature, work by some combination of carrot and stick.  They use both bribes and threats, some implicit, others explicit.  Their task is to make politicians fear for their job so that they will perform the will of the lobby in question.  Everyone knows this.  It is one of the elementary problems of our democracy that no politician is willing to tackle...because they’ve already sold themselves to various lobbies.

We see intimidation everywhere.  Our President is intimidated.  Why else would he go to AIPAC every year and talk about how much he loves Israel and how unshakeable his commitment to Israel is.  This is a sordid, shameful ceremony in which every President and every presidential candidate engages.  Joe Biden is intimidated.  Why else, during his Vice Presidential debate, would he grin that toothy grin and talk about how much he loves nutty “Bibi” Netanyahu?  Hagel himself is intimidated.  Why else would he be attempting to backtrack on all of these statements now?  Most of the Senate is intimidated.  Why else would they spend so much time talking about Israel’s needs instead of our own, particularly when Israel’s intransigence, coupled with our blinkered backing of its every move, tends to bring the ire of its neighbours down on our own heads.

Rubin concluded, “You have to wonder why, in the face of a mound of evidence to the contrary, the Obama team keeps enabling a [sic] Islamist despot”.  I don’t hear Rubin’s crocodile sobs on behalf of people in Saudi Arabia or Bahrain when their U.S.-armed autocrats brutally put down protests.  Where was she during the Mubarak years, when the dictator and his family engorged themselves on their nation’s wealth and swept aside all dissent...once again using U.S. arms?  Does she have any sympathy for Palestinians when the Israeli government blocks their efforts to attain statehood, or rolls through their territories, or erects a blockade, always safe in the knowledge that it can maintain its colonial regime so long as it has the unconditional backing of the U.S. government? 

Has she ever spoken out against the global arms trade in which the U.S. participates so enthusiastically?  This is, after all, a trade of spectacular proportions in which arms companies rake in incomprehensibly large profits so that people may be killed every year around the world in their thousands.  It is a murderous trade which in a just world would be criminalised.  Rubin is right to object to weapons sales to Egypt.  But she should equally reject the arming of other countries, in general because the proliferation of weapons of war brings no good to mankind, and in particular in those places where those weapons are so actively used to promote injustice and inequality.

Rubin’s critique is partly dim-witted, but most just hypocritical.

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