By William Pfaff
PARIS—This certainly is not the best of times, nor can it be called the worst of recent times, considering the years of totalitarianism, war and cold war the world lived through in the 20th century, recently closed. But the years since 2000 have provided no auspicious start to the 21st century.
Even the American Republican right, which thought itself on top of the world when it won the congressional elections of 2010, has just concluded a convention of conservative voters in which the dominant theme has been the Republican Party’s own self-destruction—its willful distancing of itself from those new forces in the country that, to the astonishment of Republican voters, have now twice elected a black liberal intellectual to the presidency, despite the fact that this man’s first term was not much of a success, and his second term is badly begun.
This group—the Conservative Political Action Conference—heard little about how the Republican Party can recover; even though even the Republican National Committee has recently acknowledged its own mishandling of the Romney presidential campaign.
All this concerns non-Republicans because in the 1980s and 1990s the United States seemed a solidly right-wing country, with Ronald Reagan’s enchantment of the electorate, later followed by his vice president, George H.W. Bush, and the latter’s disastrous scion, George W. Even the interval between the two Bushes was occupied by Bill Clinton, a Democrat who had succeeded by turning right, and the Democrat now in presidential office is, in matters of international law, civil justice and morality, continuing in the soiled steps of the Bush/Cheney administration.
The question now raised on both right and left in the United States is whether the Republic itself can survive its suffocation by political money that blocks any legislative or even executive-branch action not bought and pre-paid by self-serving interests on one side or the other. Republics cannot live without a modicum of disinterested leadership.
Elsewhere in the world, what has naively been seen as spontaneous democratic progress in the Arab Middle East has been halted in Tunisia and Egypt because of the popular religious appeal of the Muslim Brotherhood parties. They have been put into office by generous and edifying promises, but halted not so much by forces of private interest as of factionalism and political inexperience and incompetence. These are the same factors in the past responsible for the incidence of military or “national security” governments in the Islamic region, where no real tradition or inheritance of experience in secular and representative government has existed, so that monarchical or sectarian family power continues to rule Saudi Arabia, the Gulf monarchies, and—suicidally so—Syria.
And of course, thanks to the George W. Bush administration, we observe this week the 10th anniversary of the American invasion of Iraq. Infrastructure ruin still exists there, consistent episodes of violence, and the country slips slowly towards sectarian war. According to official Iraqi statistics, the incidence of cancer in Iraq, which was 40 cases in 100,000 people before the invasion, now is 40 times higher and rising, presumed the result of U.S. use of depleted uranium munitions, above all in Fallujah and Baghdad, both subjected to American “shock and awe” attacks.
To turn to the source of the Middle Eastern crisis, President Barack Obama is in Israel this week without even an official hint from the White House of a renewed search for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The skim on the situation from the usual “informed sources” is that the president will trade a promise by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to attack Iran soon (and thereby draw the United States into another Middle Eastern war on Obama’s watch) in exchange for continuing American complicity in Israel’s annexation of Palestinian lands, and displacement and persecution of the Palestinian people. One favor deserves another. Obama might even give back the Israeli spy, Jonathan Pollard, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in the United States in 1987.
Even Western Europe, which until the bankers made it their prey had presumed itself a fairly safe haven from the ills of the world, has condoned the dangerous precedent of looting citizens’ bank accounts in the name of fiscal integrity. No one escapes, when times are bad.
Visit William Pfaff’s website for more on his latest book, “The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America’s Foreign Policy” (Walker & Co., $25), at www.williampfaff.com.
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