By John O’Driscoll
While Japan is visited by cruel calamity(and the consequences of disastrous nuclear planning), in geopolitics too a great earthquake is underway. American, or western, hegemony, backed by Australia and New Zealand, is shaking. Half-finished revolutions in the middle east announce a realignment perhaps more significant than the fall of the Berlin wall.
Since the end of the Cold War, the US and the west have been ‘clutching at enemies’, unable to conjure a consistently winning bogeyman to unite the public, and the world, behind them. Drug cartels and ‘al-toilet’ don’t make much of an enemy, any more than Manuel Noriega or Saddam Hussein.
Byzantine US policy backs all parties at once. The state department cables show them wringing their hands while signing arms deals with ‘stable’ dictators while also making a great public song and dance about ‘Freedom’ and ‘Democracy’. Propaganda, wilful ignorance, and learned arrogance make many American officials easily manipulated.
Policy – and antipolicy : the empire is torn by contradictions of maintaining real and fake friends in every country, each with particular rivalries. It’s hard to imagine Saudi Arabia intervening in Bahrain, without consulting the US and its military. Then after the deed was done, the US issues a condemnation of violence against civilians, They seem to promote chaos to propagate their power, without understanding how their prestige has suffered. In the days of the Marshall plan they got the support of the clients by enriching them with gold, trade, and technology. The US fantasises that Facebook revolutions will bring down the Chinese or Iranian regimes, when their own clients are in much more danger, as in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen.
The pursuit of a repressive ‘stability’ turns social stresses into petrified faultlines, until people’s frustrations and grievances burst through in a cataclysmic earthquake against unmerited privilege, all the more when the repression is on behalf of an imperial absentee landlord, and above all in a world where technology has opened the eyes of the poor to the world at large, and provided the means of communication and mobilisation.
The empire, at least at the periphery, has not kept up. The tools whose ancestors (fax, email, mobile) Germans and Czechs and Russians used to help free themselves from the Soviets, with the covert and overt assistance of the west, now , in the form of Aljazeera, Facebook and Twitter, return to assist in the overthrow of rotten western clients. The backwardness and cronyism they have been maintained in, made their repressive structures unable to keep up with the times, not to mention how it made the young contemptuous.
Attempting to deal with this has given the US propaganda indigestion. Obama tells his brainstrust, the public and allies such as Australia that the revolutionaries in Egypt demand democracy, and that as democrats they will support Israel like the US does. But Mubarak was the guarantor of the peace with Israel, and could only guarantee a cold truce. As no fair Palestinian/Israeli settlement was on offer, he could go no further. As it was, it could be presented to them as keeping the peace with the US on the most honourable terms possible.
The western powers are evidently dismayed, if not panicking: after prevaricating over Mubarak, they wish they could intervene in Libya. Envoys of ‘democracy’ are seeking to ingratiate themselves with Egyptian and Tunisian activists and organisers(perhaps stealing their biometric data!). Yet in Libya, while they could have telephoned, or walked off a British warship in Benghazi to meet with the revolutionary council, the highest levels of the UK government hatched a loony scheme to insert a military intelligence hit squad, so incompetent that they were immediately captured by the the opposition they hoped to meet, handing propaganda victory to Gaddafi. Do they secretly wish Gaddafi to prevail? His is a ‘stable’ regime, after all, and there is significant western investment in Libyan oilfields.
While excited by the possibility of a royal restoration in Libya, the western media, including our own here in the Pacific, harp on the jihadist theme, the bogeyman of the Muslim brotherhood, quarantining developments as something incomprehensible, dangerous and Arab. Yet Egypt is a metropolitan culture, and Al Jazeera, the revolt’s mirror, is a cosmopolitan operation, in no way so insular as US networks like Fox. They have flourished as a non-state-co-opted news source in an Arab world, typified by puppet and crony regimes where TV is a vector for state propaganda. Images of common suffering enabled people to find common cause.
Yet the issue of cronyism and unresponsive political systems unable to address pressing issues are not just Arab problems. Many western democracies been captured by vested interests to the point where many people, especially the young, believe voting is futile and the government actively attacks their interests. Civil rights are being white-anted, central banks engineered a vast wealth shift to the rich from taxpayers and pension plan members after the GFC.
Our leaders use shifty accounting at Cancun, allowing Kyoto signatories to put off substantive action on emissions till at least 2020, while pretending things are back on track, cavalierly disregarding scientific advice, and the real interests of the people they claim to represent. Barack Obama refers to nuclear power as ‘clean energy’ in the midst of a triple meltdown in Japan. Without a forward-looking and responsive polity, the west may yet face its own cataclysms of popular self-organisation.
The US must be terrified of the contagion spreading beyond Arab lands. Its whole alliance and protectorate system could unravel. Its challenge will be to stop the allies from slipping quietly, or rushing, out the door, to arrest its decline without going through a period of chaos like the former Soviet Union experienced in the nineties.
John O’Driscoll is an Australian artist with an interest in reality, history and politics. He studied modern European history at Sydney University and first worked and exhibited at the Gunnery in Sydney’s Woolloomooloo.