A STUDENT EDITOR allows one of his more incendiary contributors to pen an editorial condemning Israel’s “illegal” occupation of the West Bank. The editorial is duly published in the student newspaper of an obscure mid-western university. The year is 1975.
Nearly forty years later, that same student editor, now a US Senator, is his new President’s nominee for Secretary of State. Everything is going well until his enemies release that unsigned 1975 editorial to the press.
With the rolling of the presses, everything suddenly stops going well.
Yes, you’re right, this is the plot of Episode 2 of the American re-make of the excellent British television series,House of Cards.
And, yes, you’re right again – it is a work of fiction. But House of Cards would not be the runaway success it has become in the United States if its fictional characters and Machiavellian plot-lines were not so firmly anchored in the brutal facts of American political life.
One of those brutal facts is that no senior US politician can tell the truth about Israel and survive. The Israeli lobby in Washington is so powerful that a 40 year-old editorial condemning the State of Israel would indeed be enough to derail a Senator’s bid to become Secretary of State.
And yet Israel’s occupation of the West bank does contravene both UN Resolution 242 and international law – it is “illegal”.
Israel is also in possession of an estimated 250 nuclear weapons – along with the means of delivering them to practically any target in the Middle East. That the Israelis were developing their own nuclear deterrent was, of course, known to the US Government almost as soon as the programme began. What did they do with this crucial intelligence? Nothing. They turned a blind eye.
Compare the US reaction to Israel’s nuclear programme with its reaction to Iran’s openly declared intention to develop its own nuclear energy industry. Not only has the US imposed economic sanctions on the Iranians but they have also denounced it as belonging to an “Axis of Evil” and designated it a “rogue state”.
And yet, since its creation in 1979, the Islamic Republic of Iran has not repeatedly attacked its neighbours, violated international borders or been responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians. Yes, it did spend eight years fighting a war with Iraq. But that was a war of self-defence against the American-backed regime of Saddam Hussein whose armed forces violated Iran’s territorial integrity on 22 September 1980.
Cited as one of the most vicious conflicts of the twentieth century, the Iraq-Iran War cost the lives of between 250,000 and 500,000 soldiers and at least that many civilians. For the first time since World War I poison gas was deployed on a conventional battlefield – not by the Iranians, but by the US-backed Baathist regime.
The same cannot, of course, be said of the State of Israel which has, since its founding in 1948, and in marked contrast to the “rogue” Iranians, violated the territory of its neighbours on multiple occasions. Most notably in its preventive strike against Egypt and Syria in 1967 (“The Six-Day War”) and in its 1982 invasion of Lebanon.
Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people is an even more tragic story of illegality, terror and unjustified killing.
But none of these facts can be acknowledged in the mainstream of American politics. For a Republican of Democratic Party Senator or Congressman to draw attention to Israel’s historical crimes and misdemeanours would amount to political suicide.
This refusal to face facts: be they facts pertaining to the conduct of America’s allies, or facts relating to the role of the United States itself in world affairs; renders a reality-based American foreign policy impossible. Instead the United States pursues a fantastical foreign policy in which America and her allies stand as the resolute and morally unimpeachable defenders of all that is right and true.
In this fantasy world, the US was never the backer of Saddam Hussein’s murderous aggression against Iran. So how could its diplomats possibly anticipate how a dictator whom they had urged on against the Ayatollahs might respond when he discovered the Kuwaitis siphoning-off his country’s oil? In the fantasy-world of American foreign policy allies like Manuel Noriega and Saddam Hussein can be a heroic defender of freedom one day and a second Adolf Hitler the next.
If only America was caught up in these fantasies it would be bad enough, but it is the United States’ insistence that every one of its allies – especially the Anglophone states – endorse its make-believe diplomacy that makes the rest of the world shake its head in disbelief and despair.
The crisis gripping Ukraine throws all of these American failings into sharp relief.
With one hand the Obama Administration raises up a diplomat like Victoria Nuland. According to the Wall Street Journal’s former Associate Editor, Paul Craig Roberts, Assistant Secretary of State Nuland:
“In an eight minute, 46 second speech at the National Press Club sponsored by the US-Ukraine Foundation, Chevron, and Ukraine-in-Washington Lobby Group, Nuland boasted that Washington has spent $5 billion to foment agitation to bring Ukraine into the EU. Once captured by the EU, Ukraine will be ‘helped’ by the West acting through the IMF. Nuland, of course, presented the IMF as Ukraine’s rescuer, not as the iron hand of the West that will squeeze all life out of Ukraine’s struggling economy.”
Meanwhile, the other hand, closed in a fist of indignation, is being shaken in the face of Russian President, Vladimir Putin, by Obama’s Secretary of State, John Kerry. He has condemned Putin’s deployment of troops to the Crimea as “an incredible act of aggression”.
So, just to be clear, spending $5 billion to subvert the democratically elected government of Victor Yanukovych is not “an incredible act of aggression”. But Russia’s swift action to protect both its own interests and the rights of ethnic Russians, is.
And, naturally, violating the territorial integrity of a UN member state in blatant contravention of both international law and the UN Charter – as the United States and its allies did in Iraq – in no way warrants the description: “an incredible act of aggression”. Got that?
Like the fictional editor in Episode 2 of House of Cards, John Kerry was once an anti-Vietnam War activist: a fighter in the great struggle to make the United States see the world as it is – not as it would like it to be. But that was a long time ago, back in the early-70s. Clearly, Kerry never earned the enmity of a man like Francis Underwood.
So let us leave the last word to Nikolai Ryzhkov, a veteran of Soviet-era politics and now a Russian Senator. In debating the resolution to authorise the deployment of Russian troops in Ukraine, Ryzhkov warned his colleagues that the West would be sure to “unleash their dogs” on the Russian Federation.
“They ruined Yugoslavia, Egypt, Libya, Iraq, all in the name of western democracy. It’s not even double standards, it’s political cynicism.”
Would that it was! Political cynicism would at least impart to US foreign policy something of the spine-chilling introspection that Kevin Spacey brings to Francis Underwood’s Shakespearian villainy. The truth, however, is that the American political system lacks the self-conscious calculation required of true evil.
What makes the United States’ foreign policy so frightening is its capriciousness, its narcissism, its fatal addiction to the politics of make believe. America’s is not an old and adult evil like the Russian Federation’s. The harm that the United States inflicts upon the world flows from the insouciant malevolence of a spoiled and angry child.