Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Obama flatters Americans while sending messages

Barack Obama's public speech today on Syria was a PR exercise aimed at a multitude of international players including Syria, Iran, Russia, China, the UK and other countries. The fact that it contained little of substance tells us how much a part of the theatre of international diplomacy it was. In the end, Obama notified the world that a military solution of a limited type - a "targeted strike" - was an option should further diplomatic endeavours involving Russia fail. Syria has admitted that it possesses chemical weapons.

But Obama's theatrical piece was also full of contradictions, and these especially appeared toward the end of the speech when the president's logic convinced him to address the issue of America's sense of manifest destiny, which is core to its identity. "For nearly seven decades the United States has been the anchor of global security. This has meant doing more than forging international agreements. It has meant enforcing them. The burdens of leadership are often heavy but the world's a better place because we have borne them."

I find it staggering that an American president can be so wilfully blind as to the truth of history especially when he dares to call history to his aid while working to gain support for military action. The fact is that "nearly seven decades" takes you right back to the end of WWII. Does Obama sincerely think that people do not remember the unwarranted aggression that led to the disastrous Vietnam War? Incredible to think so, but it appears he's conscripting that crime against humanity to give himself support now. And what about the outrageous destabilisation of the Mossadegh government in Iran in the 1950s? Does America sincerely feel that the animus that continues, to this day, to motivate Iranians against it, has no valid basis in reality?

Under Obama America continues to see itself as the world's policeman, a sobriquet the president was eager to distance himself from (much like John Howard in Australia hated being called George W. Bush's "deputy" despite his fawning eagerness to get involved in the twin stupidity of Iraq and Afghanistan). But for Obama as well as for most Americans the truth of a belief in manifest destiny continues - despite all the military failures and the illegal wars the country has embroiled itself in - to buttress their sense of identity. If we go on to listen to Obama right to the end of his speech we find more evidence of this belief, and of this sense of identity.

"Our ideals and principles as well as our national security are at stake in Syria as well as our leadership of a world where we seek to ensure that the worst weapons will never be used. America is not the world's policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe and it is beyond our means to right every wrong but when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gasses to death and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That's what makes America different. That's what makes us exceptional. With humility as well as resolve let us never lose sight of that essential truth."

As usual in official pronouncements, the sentiment gets thicker the closer you get to the end; it's sort of like a rhetorical money shot. In Obama's case the sentiment is so thick you can carve chunks off it and use them as fuel for a barbecue. America is "different" and "exceptional" and so it can never make mistakes. As in the case of Nixon, time dilutes the stain of ruthless self interest and washes away the lies and the deceptions. An experienced orator, and a good one, Obama has leveraged Americans' sense of self - their very identity - in order to sway international opinion and gather support from himself in the broadest possible public sphere.

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