Alexandra Chandler is correct that Congress has ceded its rights presidents to declare wars and play a greatr role in fashioning trade alliances. The problem is not really the authoritarian impulses of any particular president so much as it is the appetites of the American public, a people who love raw displays of military aggression. Congress, which most closely represents this public, is just along for the ride.
As soon as Chandler opens her mouth she falls into jingoism on par with any Republican’s. She wants a return to the “rules” that governed the postwar world as most of us have known it — colonial nations throwing their weight around in “coalitions” on the battlefield, at the G7 table, Aspen, Davos, the Security Council, at the IMF and the World Bank.
After all, the postwar world that neoliberals love may not be equitable or moral, but it must have its rules — rules that Democrats have eagerly believed in and played by — that the United States must lead this world. That the president of the United States must be its defacto leader.
Trump’s version of this doctrine is virtually indistinguishable from every preceding version — going back to the Spanish-American war or before. Chandler’s essays here in Blue Mass Group have been a nauseating reminder of how firmly entrenched American Exceptionalist doctrine is even among Democrats. And how fervently they pine for the “good old days” when a better-educated class of despots made the rules.
Memory took me back to September 2009, when then-president Obama was preparing to speak at the United Nations. American economists had just recently saved Capitalism again from itself. Just barely. Our European allies — hardly the unrepentant socialists Trump says they are — were grateful for Obama’s help, especially if theirs were the stronger Northern European economies. The inherent inferiority of their Southern brethren — Portugal, Spain, Greece — and newer members from former Eastern bloc countries merited less concern. The colonial powers playing monopoly in 1948 were still the dominant players on the board in 2009.
In that September of 2009 the neocons were again on the warpath with Iran and the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, would be speaking at the UN. Israel had again recently slaughtered thousands in Gaza and the Goldstone Report — written by a Jewish Zionist — indicted the Israeli military for disproportionate use of force and for war crimes. The frequently off-script Libyan president, Muammar al-Qaddafi, would also be delivering a speech. The New York Times lampooned Qaddafi for his dress, his mannerisms — and for the fact that, during his stay in the US, he would be setting up a tent in the backyard of a Westchester estate owned by Donald J. Trump.
No one from New York to the Bible Belt was seriously going to listen to Ahmadinejad or Qaddafi, especially when the mainstream media guaranteed that their speeches would be nothing more than unhinged anti-Semitic rants at a noble little friend of the United States.
Nevertheless, both Qaddafi and Ahmadinijad were at the UN not so much to “demonize” poor little Israel as to deliver very similar messages to the Western nations of the Security Council — Your time is up and we’re tired of playing by your rules. And the Western colonial powers were there to deliver a message to the rest of a world they still controlled — Nothing has changed. The world is still ours.
In a rambling, extemporaneous speech at the UN, Moammar Qaddafi slammed the notion of privileged Western nations leading the Security Council:
[The Security Council] is political feudalism for those who have a permanent seat. […] It should not be called the Security Council, it should be called the terror council. […] Permanent is something for God only. We are fools to give the power of veto to great powers so they can use us and treat us as second-class citizens.
An even more reviled speaker in Western eyes, Mahmoud Ahmadinijad, made the same points more lucidly:
It is not acceptable that the United Nations and the Security Council, whose decisions must represent all nations and governments by the application of the most democratic methods in their decision making processes, be dominated by a few governments and serve their interests. In a world where cultures, thoughts and public opinions should be the determining factors, the continuation of the present situation is impossible, and fundamental changes seem to be unavoidable.
Marxism is gone. It is now history. The expansionist Capitalism will certainly have the same fate. […] We must all remain vigilant to prevent the pursuit of colonialist, discriminatory and inhuman goals under the cover of the slogans for change and in new formats. The world needs to undergo fundamental changes and all must engage collectively to make them happen in the right direction, and through such efforts no one and no government would consider itself an exception to change or superior to others and try to impose its will on others by proclaiming world leadership.
And then Ahmadinejad got to the part of the speech that Western eyes had been looking for. He took aim at Israel, likening the slaughter of civilians in Gaza to genocide but mainly taking the West to task for its hypocrisy:
How can the crimes of the occupiers against defenseless women and children and destruction of their homes, farms, hospitals and schools be supported unconditionally by certain governments, and at the same time, the oppressed men and women be subject to genocide and heaviest economic blockade being denied of their basic needs, food, water and medicine.
This was apparently too much for France and the United States to bear. “It is disappointing that Mr. Ahmadinejad has once again chosen to espouse hateful, offensive and anti-Semitic rhetoric,” Mark Kornblau, a spokesman to the US mission to the UN, said in a statement. Right on queue, 13 Western nations then walked out of a speech that covered much more ground than Israel.
Between New York and Pittsburgh, backroom meetings at the Waldorf-Astoria involving the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Russia and Israel, the Obama administration was busy that week. Busy swatting down the Goldstone report, abandoning serious demands on Israeli settlements, and engaging in war frenzy to either impose more sanctions on Iran, or support bombing it. When Obama came to the podium, he enumerated four main themes in a “new” American relationship to the rest of the world:
First, we must stop the spread of nuclear weapons, and seek the goal of a world without them. […] Because a world in which IAEA inspections are avoided and the United Nation’s demands are ignored will leave all people less safe, and all nations less secure.
That brings me to the second pillar for our future: the pursuit of peace. […] That effort must begin with an unshakeable determination that the murder of innocent men, women and children will never be tolerated.
Third, we must recognize that in the 21st century, there will be no peace unless we take responsibility for the preservation of our planet. […] We will press ahead with deep cuts in emissions to reach the goals that we set for 2020, and eventually 2050.
And this leads me to the final pillar that must fortify our future: a global economy that advances opportunity for all people. […] In Pittsburgh, we will work with the world’s largest economies to chart a course for growth that is balanced and sustained.
Rather than the global or regional non-proliferation, Obama’s actual non-proliferation goals consisted simply of: No nukes for Iran. North Korea, a much more terrifying nuclear power, merited a mere “tsk tsk” from the President. There was no demand for de-nuclearization of Israel, the regional hegemon when it came to nuclear weapons, or for generally ridding the Middle East of nukes.
Obama didn’t sound any different then from Trump and Bolton today. The pursuit of peace, particularly the claim that the murder of innocent civilians would never be tolerated, was another one of Obama’s hollow high school valedictory speeches when measured against his own administration’s promise to torpedo the UN’s Goldstone report and prevent Israeli war crime charges from ever reaching the Hague. Of course, the United States could someday find itself in the same position as Israel, given Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, illegal renditions, assassinations, waterboarding, drone bombings, and the use of mercenaries in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. So perhaps avoiding the Hague was just American pragmatism. But for a country winding up one war in Iraq, escalating another in Afghanistan, and rattling drums for a third in Iran, the “pursuit of peace” was Orwellian Newspeak — at least to my ears.
Obama’s last two themes, global warming and globalism, didn’t inspire confidence either. Obama’s 2050 target data for lower global emission levels weren’t going to help many of us alive that September 2009. As for global prosperity, Obama offered the view that opportunity in the developing countries was linked to sustained, balanced growth in the industrialized nations. Democrats bristle at trickle-down economics when a Republican proposes it domestically — but lap it up if its victims are in the other two hundred nations of the world.
Even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and Qaddafi was no exception. In his quirky speech he made a valid point — that the UN Security Council is an anachronistic body. The Security Council, in fact, is 1948 in a time warp. It still consists of precisely the same colonial powers who made such a mess of the Middle East right after WW2, and they’re still trying to set the rules, still reminding everyone that the Security Council is theirs, that they control memberships in the nuclear club. And, with the exception of China, it’s an old White Boy’s club at that.
Two of the Security Council’s permanent members, France and Britain (each scarcely over 60 million), have insignificant populations compared to Indonesia and Pakistan (both Muslim states), India, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Japan, Mexico, or Brazil — all of which have populations over 100 million and two of which are also nuclear states. At least two of these emerging giants would be better candidates for permanent memberships on the Security Council — even by the rule-makers’ own criteria.
So the arguments of the world’s Qaddafis and Ahmadinejads — and all who will follow them — shouldn’t come as a surprise in a world that has changed greatly since 1948. These two leaders — one conveniently murdered by the Obama administration — were not the most accessible to Western ears, but they nevertheless echoed the sentiments of many of the 187 other nations of the UN whose views are routinely ignored or vetoed by present members of the Security Council.
The 2009 Goldstone report was a case in point.
The report, commissioned by the UN, condemned Israeli and Hamas crimes against civilians during Operation Cast Lead in 2008. Aside from various ad hominem attacks on Judge Goldstone, himself a Zionist Jew, no one seriously attacked its actual findings. The only issue that the US, France, and Britain had with the report is that the investigation was not initiated with their blessings. Hence, in UN Ambassador Susan Rice’s words: no mandate. Apparently the rest of the world did not agree. Yet the US vetoed the transmission of the findings to the Hague.
Iran’s nuclear program illustrates the same point.
In the Sixties a handful of Western nations were instrumental in providing Israel with nuclear weapons: the US, France, and Norway all played their various parts. The United States has played a game for decades of pretending that Israel has no nuclear weapons, and the other members of the Security Council have played along. Yet when the Shah of Iran — a Western puppet — was in power, the United States and Germany actually helped Iran develop nuclear power. But now with an Iranian government that no longer takes orders from the West, the rules were simply changed — it’s no longer acceptable for Iran to have nukes.
When the world is yours, you can do what you want.