Democracy is coming…to the USA — Leonard Cohen.
Wow, some weeks are like an Australian landscape – or an Australian movie – flat and featureless in all directions, and others are like New Zealand with every conceivable feature squeezed up against each other. In Australia it was rich enough, with the Utegate doing circle work in the parliamentary carpark, Libs lining up to cross the floor, and the ETS dying in the Senate barely noticed. Iran, res ipsa loquitur.
But the most interesting transformation has been in the US, where the combination of the Iran crisis and the double-whammy scandals of John Ensign and Mark Sanford have contributed further to the fragmentation of defiend political positions in the states.
Most of this has been to the detriment of the Republicans, but I won’t gloat about that – gotta save something for next week – but far more interesting is the way in which political positioning has become a sort of chinese checkers in which everyone is leaping across everyone else.
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The most interesting thing is the way in which Barack Obama has effectively been positioned as, in foreign policy terms, the first Burkean conservative US President in decades. The Cairo speech was a clear example of this – a statement that while the US would not resile from having a set of concrete values, it would not define itself around projecting power onto others, or a simple unitary formula for modernity and the good society.
Whether that had an effect on the Lebanon election, and lessened the support that territorial defenders such as Hezbollah might have got remains to be seen – the right, who ridicule it, are forever looking for a delayed Bush effect – but there is now doubt that it is more likely than support for an Israeli invasion or threats to wholesale bomb the region have been.
Some on the left – John Pilger is the most noteable example – will suggest that Obama is simply another imperialist President. There’s a lot of evidence for that, but overall the case seems unsustainable. The biggest case for Obama the imperialist comes from Afghanistan – where (or on the Af-Pak) border this week, while Americans were yammering about beacon of freedom and human rights, another drone killed dozens of civilians – and Bagram Prisoner of Non-Declared War camp is expanding to effectively take up the slack left by Gitmo – and that prosecution of the war is utterly indefensible and has to be attacked at every turn.
Personally, I don’t believe that Obama wants a 10 year war there, but wants to get out from a position of strength, but that may be the booze talking.
What is certain is that, with the Afghan war going on, Obama couldn’t consistently speak from a liberal human rights approach without looking utterly ludicrous – and his Burkean realism is throwing the liberal-left into disarray, torn between their idea of Obama, and the reality of his gradual shift in US-world relations.
But the right has gone simply crazy. On FOX News Charles Krauthammer derided Obama for saying he was putting ‘US interests first’ – in comparison to the noble task of advancing freedom thriugh useless rhetoric. Is this a bizarre new low in the history of the right? What mad jig have they got on that they see themselves as some sort of revolutionary suicide squad?
Signs are that the FOX/Krauthammer crowd are getting a pasting from what is emerging as a new centre-right more aligned with Obama than the GOP. On the right-shifted Morning Joe show on MSNBC, former soc con congressman Joe Scarboroiugh derided fellow GOPers for their irrationality, and the same has come from a host of columnists and congressman.
Meanwhile people like Chris Matthews keep reminding people that the US spent a half century screwing up Iranian democracy, and amazingly, the idea that the US should butt out of people’s affairs, is becoming a part of public discourse.
The only people who don’t yet get it are the burnout right, and the burnout cruise missile left, together in a reality of their own making.
Strange days indeed, when Laughing Len is a guide to political outcomes.