This is not the most convenient time for reflection. It is a time for outrage, for doing whatever bit one can to demand a stop to the horror in Gaza. But if not now, when will it be too late to look where we’re going?
As things fall apart, US foreign policy is flailing and failing worldwide.
Is the United States bolstering prospects for a more peaceful world? Or is it mired in aims and commitments that make continuing wars and new ones more likely? A century after the outbreak of World War I, why are we beginning to be haunted by the possibility that this 21st century may yet see another global conflagration?
The week’s news puts US foreign policy into sharpest focus.
Increased sanctions on Putin are hailed as a victory even as prospects for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Ukraine diminish and today's headline reads: "U.S.-Russia Nuclear Deal Stalls As Tensions Over Ukraine Rise" (NY Times, 8/3/14). Congress votes 100 to zero to support Israel’s war in Gaza, while Amnesty International and representatives of the United Nations demand sanctions against escalating war crimes inflicted on a helpless population.
The eagerness for confronting Putin and reluctance to confront Netanyahu says a lot about the direction of US foreign policy. The point isn’t whether Netanyahu is better or worse than Putin. The bigger issue is one of direction, where we’re headed — what George H. W. Bush referred to uncomfortably as the “vision thing”.
If we’re ever able to see beyond today’s world in chaos, we’ll measure success by whether the “will of the people” worldwide can pressure most governments to oppose war and commit, despite deep-seated differences, to collective efforts on the most critical problems that endanger humanity. There is no other way in this fateful century to make headway on climate change, reverse the nuclear nightmare, reduce poverty and inequality, and cope with traditional ethnic and religious conflicts. It may sound like Gorbachev warmed over to talk of common ground between countries with different and competing political, economic and ideological histories. But please don’t turn off. If common ground is conceivable, it is rooted in the basic interests of all people, despite the incompetence and corruption of political rulers and the insatiable greed of controlling oligarchs.
So it’s more than alarming that our political establishment cheers any action that reignites cold war antagonisms and dutifully “justifies” Israel’s war on Palestine. In a Washington paralyzed by the GOP blockade against the Obama presidency and all social legislation, there is a formula for bipartisanship: get tough with Russia, China and governments in Latin America that challenge “our” dominance; give massive support to Israel no matter what (and by the way, don’t criticize Netanyahu in public!)
Think about that 100-0 vote in the Senate. Is it conceivable that the worldwide criticism of Israel’s mechanized massacre of so many civilians, so many children, is not shared by anyone in US high places? Is everyone satisfied to blame it all on Hamas and stay blind to the consequences of the occupation and de facto imprisonment of 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza? That’s not credible. A more likely explanation is the fear that any dissent from the official narrative is politically dangerous, taboo. So President Obama and Secretary Kerry show a little discomfort now and then, some unhappiness with Netanyahu, but quickly backtrack and apologize, repeating pledges of undying support while massive military and economic enablement of aggression actually increases.
The track we’re on isn’t promising if one dares envision a more peaceful and hopeful world. But why do we stay on this track and where does it take the United States?
The short answer for some analysts, not only those with a defined Marxist point of view, would be ‘it’s the system’: it’s in the nature of capitalism to generate inequality and subordinate the welfare of society to the interests of a super wealthy elite. But let’s just stay with the obvious: there is an enormous investment in US military and economic power worldwide, in continuing to reign as the sole global super power. That blinds much of our ruling establishment to the lessons of Afghanistan, Iraq and the general chaos of today (and back at least as far as Vietnam). Otherwise, why can’t our politicians recognize the folly of conceiving of this as the “American Century”, with the rest of the world accepting US interests as their own?
There is a lot of uneasiness, even despair, about the state of foreign and domestic affairs. As a country, we are hurting — especially, but not only, the people who bear the heaviest burdens of our military involvements and political gridlock. The really worrisome difficulty is that a reactionary political trend, though repeatedly discredited, nevertheless exploits limitless wealth to block common sense adjustments to new realities and all measures in the public interest. They are dragging the country down.
What can break the cycle of blackmail, intimidation, and conformity that keeps “real change” from happening? John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson didn’t lead on civil rights; they responded to political courage that came from the movement. Barack Obama didn’t lead on Gay marriage; political courage came from the movement that started out as a vilified minority.
So, to come back to the news of the day: there has to be the political and moral courage to condemn US support for the massacre in Gaza and to refuse to tolerate colonial occupation in the 21st Century. Maybe that can begin a turn toward sanity.