Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Er, President Obama sir.... is anybody home?

Jeez, what a month!!!... The only thing that hasn't happened yet is...
Forges - El País
In short, for the first time since the end of World War II, no country or strong alliance of countries has the political will and economic leverage to secure its goals on the global stage.  Nouriel Roubini

David Seaton's News Links
Even at the best of times, the Japanese apocalypse, something that insurance companies like to call an "act of God", would transfix the world with its reminder of how precarious life is, and how much pathetic optimism lies in the words, "see you later".  But now, in addition, the sinister and invisible, man-made horror of atomic radiation shows us more clearly still how fragile and vulnerable, how mysteriously complex our carefully constructed society is: we are living the terror of the sorcerer's apprentice.

And, of course, these are not the best of times.

The scale and terror of Japan's tragedy pushes things like the Saudi invasion of tiny Bahrain, the home base of the US Navy's 5th fleet, down to footnote size, but the potential of Saudi Arabia's actions to affect our lives could quickly become much greater than any tsunami imaginable. We might be looking at the "Sarajevo" of a war on the Persian Gulf that would paralyze the world economy at a moment when nuclear power is finished as an option. 

A Saudi led, Sunni crackdown on Bahrain's Shiites, could bring in Iran, Saudi Arabia's own Shiites, who are a majority in its oil provinces... and even Iraq to their defense. The situation that developed would no longer be about Iran's nuclear program, but about the rights of a persecuted majority... and where and how America could intervene in such a clusterfuck to any benefit is hard to see. There is a growing air, an odor, of powerlessness coming off of Washington.

Great power, the perception of that power, is there... and then it isn't.
American power was built around a large, healthy, well-fed population, great manufacturing capacity, cheap energy, good public education, solid money, a general national political consensus, a victorious military and a solid and growing middle class. After the collapse of the Soviet Union the USA has attempted to organize the affairs of the planet into a economic and military  "New World Order" based upon that power and in America's image... all of whose elements, except "large", are now, simultaneously, in crisis. 

And this is not just happening "out there somewhere".

What is happening in Michigan and Wisconsin, shows that in the US today, even middle-aged and middle-class Americans and not just the right-wingers or WTO "anarchists" appear ready to take their grievances "to the streets" in response to what is being called "financial martial law" and doing so in a manner nothing like the university-youth led anti-war protests of the prosperous, full employment 1960s. 

Whether in labor relations, or health or financial sector reform, or Guantanamo prison, or the wars in Afghanistan, or Iraq, or the Israeli settlement policies, or Egypt, or Libya, or Bahrain,  the White House appears frozen like a rabbit paralyzed in an oncoming car's headlights.

I suppose though that this ineffectual catatonia is to be preferred to the decisiveness and "moral clarity" of a fool like Obama's predecessor.

Let's face it, Barack Obama won his Nobel Peace Prize by simply not being George W. Bush... It is impossible to exaggerate how relieved the world, and most Americans with them, felt that the most powerful (or at least the most dangerous) country on earth was no longer governed by a murderous idiot.

Not being Bush is a wonderful thing, but it isn't really a solution to America's problem, because Bush wasn't the problem itself, only an outward sign, a symbol of that problem. The problem is still there... with bells on.

Obama is going to have to draw some clear red lines somewhere, sometime, but I think that is going to be difficult for him... it would be like Microsoft manufacturing airplanes... that is not how they got where they are.

My basic reading of Barack Obama and his difficulties remains more or less the same: he got where he is by appearing to be all things to all men.  In this he is a genius... I have never ever seen such footwork before. Comparing Obama's powers of triangulation to Bill Clinton's or Tony Blair's is like comparing Einstein to your high school algebra teacher. But finally, he is going to have to play the ball where it lies. To do that, however, would be to betray his very nature, his strategy of life, which is ambiguity.

He may soon find himself in a great war, plus a great depression, without ever really understanding how it happened to him. DS


Mike Doyle said...

David Swanson's take on Obama:
I was never an enthusiastic supporter but I did think he would be much better than Bush. But no.
Today I read that Obama will press for Social Security cut backs. He will, no doubt, be proud to achieve what Bush couldn't for his owners on Wall St.

Anonymous said...

The King of Bahrain's police and military are mostly foreigners (many Bahraini wouldn't want to work there.) Shias are not wanted because a scant 15 years ago the Iranians were funding something close to an insurgency on the island, and were openly speaking of plans to invade the island ASAP 30 years ago. Plain common sense. And now, rather than hire more Pakistanis or Syrians and the like, he has Saudis and Emiratis come to cover his back as he can under treaty obligations. The British used to second officers to his army to do counterinsurgency.

So far he's had the Saudis stick to the baracks and watch them so to free up his men for other duties, and if he's wise at all, he'll only deploy them in extremis.

How does this become an invasion?

Was Britain invaded by the Gurkhas who used to lounge about in British baracks?

An Italian there at the time who was a good friend of the King's father told me that many of Bahrain's Shia had been given quickie nationalizations in the 1970s when Bahrain's Sunnis were flirting with Baathism and Republicanism, and the Shia were considered to be the Conservatives.

They're not that educated and often won't take the less well paid jobs that Indians and Pakistanis take, and live off of the comparatively - to other Gulf states - threadbare welfare payments, (which may explain why the mobs are attacking Indians and Pakistanis a fair bit.) In other words, this whole brouhaha was less about democracy and more a bit of a ghetto riot.

Bahrain certainly has had its tragedies, but I can fully understand why thy don't want to become an Iranian protectorate. Much of the reporting about Bahrains is pretty confused.

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

Democracy is usually defined as "one man, one vote". I don't see how the rebellion of the majority of the population of a country can be considered a "ghetto riot".

Anonymous said...

We live in a nation that has been practicing magical thinking since Reagan came to office. It's broad outlines suggest we can do anything we want except those things that are necessary because we're good but the government is bad.

There is no escape from this hell.

Jimmy Carter, who Obama is often compared to, had a sense of our imperial fatigue. He even tried to get people to see the problem of seeking material solutions to a psychological issue. But it was already too late by that point and Ronald Reagan definitively cast our lot with the forces of fantasy.

Obama cannot unring this bell. He can preside over the debate whether we should downsize the future at the expense of the poor because Obama has the soul of an arbiter. Simply tell him what the options are and he'll gladly keep the debate polite. He's not going to challenge us with Carter's moralistic ardor. He understands that we want to be left alone more than anything else. You want to sleep late? Hey, it's your bed! Sleep all day if you want to.

Anonymous said...

Per Wikipedia, 54% of Bahrain's population are not citizens; of the 46% that have citizenship, perhaps 66% are Shias, there deliberately are no official figures.

At roughly 33%, Bahraini Shias do not comprise "the majority of the population of a country." Not all of them are disaffected, and not all of the disaffected are rioting.

I for my part don't see how the rioting Shia who killed several Asian guestworkers in the last weeks can be painted as persecuted idealists.

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

Not idealists, simply the people of the country ruled by a minority clique.