March 22, 2013

Obama visits

Barack Obama, Chief Marketing Officer of US Arms Inc., the greatest arms and war conglomerate history has ever known, visited the offices of the company's important subsidiary, Israel. The US spends over 50% of its discretionary public budget, about 5% of its GDP, on war and armed repression. With 41% of global "defense" expenditures (actually, money spent primarily on repression), and five time more than its nearest competitor, the US dominates the market of death. In global arms transfers to developing countries the US ranked first with $56.3 billions in 2011, over thirteen times more than its nearest competitor, Russia. All actual military conflicts take place in "developing" countries, which therefore account for nearly 80% of all weapon transfer agreements, and the US holds nearly 80% of that lucrative market. The biggest client is in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia was the recipient of $33.4 billions in arms transfers in 2011, mostly for good coin. Historically, the Middle East accounts for about 50% of all weapon transfers to developing countries. In both relative and absolute terms it is the most important "defense" market. And we didn't even mention oil. Oil money (namely primarily the money consumers and businesses in the rest of the world pay for energy), over and above the profits of the oil industry itself, is the source of income that funds practically all arms that get bought in the Middle East, and concomitantly the use and threat of use of these weapons helps keep the price of oil high and the profits flowing.

The President of the US is the man in charge of coordinating maintaining the health of American economy, of which a key component is the safety of these profits. So he came to the Middle East, which is the pivot area of these profits, and talked about peace. What did you expect that he talks about? Do you expect the chief officers of Big Tobacco to talk about cancer when they make public addresses? Do the expect the CEO of Apple to extol the virtues of working employees to the point of suicide? Naturally, the President spoke about peace. Peace is lovely.

If one likens the US to a company, Israel is reporting to the marketing department. Some big business make money in Israel, but in the larger scheme of things it is peanuts. Israel is less a profit center than a freebie that drives up sales in other departments. Iran is a case in point. Few if any policy makers in their right minds want to invade Iran. Plus, the Iranian rulers have no substantial disagreements with the US and have repeatedly sent feelers with offers to join the US dominated world. Their conditions, essentially, staying in power and having some security guarantees, are not significantly different than what every pro-US junta in the world expects. But it is obvious from the consistent blocking of every possibility of dialogue that the US prefers Iran to remain in a belligerent relation. In the words of Michael Axworthy, 'the US and other western countries are not yet willing to take yes for an answer.' All those arms the Saudi state buys must have a reason. And reason number one is the Iranian threat. Iran, however, builds its influence in the region, in particular its ability to threaten the cohesion of pro-American regimes, by hyping up its enmity with Israel and  supporting Hizbulla. Peace in Palestine might be the start of a chain reaction that ends, God forbid, with Saudi Arabia no longer needing so many weapons, and, just as worse, not having the oil revenues to pay for them. But I hope you won't lose sleep over such a nightmare scenario. Let me just point out how good US foreign policy has been at keeping the pot of war simmering on low heat with the occasional boil-over and spill. Just trust Obama. He obviously knows how to handle this.

It feels different to those in the simmering pot.

Obama came to Israel to manage the conflict, that is, to keep it simmering, while preventing it from boiling over. Netanyahu represents a tendency in Israeli society that is insensitive to the American preference for slow cooking. His key constituencies make both money and symbolic capital directly from the process of colonization. That has led to some stormy relations. But the US arms industry needs Netanyahu, because it is ultimately the heat that his policies generate that keeps the pot simmering. The problem is having the right "thermostat," control mechanisms to hold Netanyahu and the settlers behind him in check. That is where Israel's famous "peace camp" comes in. Israel's "peace camp" has no deep interest in peace. It represents the segment of Israeli society, affluent, Ashkenazi, that isn't invested directly in the on-going colonization and is most aligned with and attuned to American interests. Its own fortunes depends on the US, and even more so, on access to the Western world. A sour face by a US President can send Israel's "peace camp" into weeks of morbid self-doubt.

The White House was undoubtedly pleased that Netanyahu had been weakened by the last elections. It could have been better, but it could also have been worse. Obama did not come to Israel to advance peace, but to give a boost, a 'hang in there,' to the Israeli "peace camp." Every word he said, especially the tepid, allegedly "pro-Palestinian," parts of his speech, was, no doubts intentionally,  music to the ears of Israel's "peace camp," to assure them of their importance and to maintain and bolster their ability to serve as as brakes when the US needs to lower the heat. The message was not directed at Palestinians, except those few Palestinians who are the junior business partners in the peace industry, those who would be tasked with repressing any third intifadah, and are therefore as keen as their Israeli partners on acting as a thermostat for the US weapons industry.

There was however a message also for Palestinians and their supporters in the US and the world. Richard Silverstein called it "Drop dead," evoking New-York City Ford era debt crisis. This is inaccurate. To those that expected him to help them, namely, the PA and such, his message was the very opposite, to keep going on the same path that leads nowhere. The US cannot afford them quitting. But to those who have given up on the US or who understand what the US is really about, the message was different. It was not "drop dead," since, unlike the former, they had no expectations of help. It was more like 'don't even think about it.' Obama practically read aloud from Israel's declaration of independence, mentioning every item on the checklist of Zionist talking points, from the Biblical land rights of Jews, through the holocaust, and to the "villa in the jungle", that democratic oasis of techno-prowess in the blooming desert that Israel fancies itself. That Obama felt it necessary to spell out at length so much that is supposed to be taken for granted was a backhanded compliment to a decade of Palestinian activism that has succeeded in calling these talking points increasingly in question. Obama's 100% Zionism performance was a step into the breach, expressing a complete rejection of that radical critique of Israeli settler-colonialism. It was calibrated to demoralize.

In that, Obama continues the role he played from his very election, both domestically and internationally, as the hegemonic fixer following Bush's decade of naked power, coming to offer a soothing yet firm no to any thought of escaping the American juggernaut  To those who had their eyes opened by Bush's blunt indifference Obama offers a blue pill, extending an invitation to recreate the fantasy of a kinder US, with its "values" and its "principles" and its "vision," but with lowered expectations and no meaningful change. To those who refuse, there will be nothing but cold steel.

Rabeea Eid, the Palestinian student who bravely heckled Obama and confronted him with the truth of his policy, challenged that demoralizing performance:
"Did you really come here for peace or to give Israel more weapons to kill and destroy the Palestinian people? Did you happen to see the apartheid wall on your way here? There are Palestinians sitting in this hall. This state should be for all of its citizens, not a Jewish state only. Who killed Rachel Corrie? Rachel Corrie was killed by your money and weapons!” (EI)

As Eid said later, "the most important part is for this visit not to go on in a normal manner." This empire is not in the mood for compromise. Why would it, when repression not only defends profits but is profitable in itself?

For those fawning over Obama's empathy and vision while complaining of "the lack of substance," seriously, expecting the Chief Marketing Officer of US Arms Inc. to bring peace to the Middle East is like expecting Silvio Berlusconi to usher in a new age of gender equality. Get real!

Ah, and then there is that circus elephant in the room, the famous Jewish lobby, which plays an important role, just like Obama, the Saudi Royals, Iran.  Everybody plays a role. Money doesn't flow naturally. It takes work. And that work isn't done by magical elves. it is done through various institutions that support and reflect each other and by people who actually intervene through them at various points to avert whatever risks bringing the system to a halt. It just doesn't play the kind of role that those invested in the fantasy of a pure, innocent America, subverted by foreigners, imagine it plays.

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