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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Barack Obama and The Script

There are quite a few interesting articles out there on the new Palestinian bid for statehood and the likely U.S. veto. But the most interesting is this one by former CIA vet Robert Grenier. Speaking on his experience during the Clinton years.

The situation back then: The sale of F-16s to Pakistan. The U.S. had made a decision not to deliver the planes and not to refund the money. As you read, understand that Barack Obama now faces a similar test:
When the entire US foreign policy/national security apparatus begins to move in one direction, it is an impressive sight. A vast bureaucracy churns out elaborate rationales for its decided policy, and these are mind-numbingly repeated in dozens of different ways for use in dozens of different fora. This was a classic case in point.

I saw it myself from inside the State Department bureaucracy, where I was serving at the time. Justifications for the patently unjustifiable were delivered to the Pakistanis at all levels. They were mouthed by State Department and White House spokesmen, repeated in Congressional testimony, delivered to the press in many different settings, elaborated in written responses to inquiries from congressmen and the public, to say nothing of internal communications in the Executive Branch.

All of this bureaucratic momentum hurtled forward towards the climactic moment when President Clinton would deliver the same message, in person, to Prime Minister Bhutto.

The preparations for such encounters are, again, highly impressive. Huge briefing books requiring hundreds of man-hours are drawn up. They contain scene-setters, and backgrounders, and elaborate policy justifications, backed up with legal briefs organised under alphabeticised tabs, followed by detailed talking points designed to turn the president into a virtual ventriloquist's dummy. And then the whole lot is coordinated and cleared up through the system, through the secretary of state, and the National Security Council, to the president himself.

And so it was here. But in this case, at the very end, having carefully studied all this codified nonsense, this monument to bureaucratic inertia, and just before walking in to meet with Bhutto, when he would have to look the Pakistani prime minister in the eye and defend the patently indefensible, Clinton did something no one - but no one - in the bureaucracy would ever have anticipated.

With simple, clear-eyed common sense and the innate sense of justice with which God has endowed most five-year-old children, he said, simply, "but this is not fair". And then, wonder of wonders, he walked in and said just that to Bhutto.

Here are Clinton's words recorded moments later, when the two leaders emerged to speak before the press: "I have already made it clear to you, and I don't think any American president has ever said this before, I don't think it's right for us to keep the money and the equipment. That is not right. And I am going to try to find a resolution to it."

If you have not served in America's foreign policy bureaucracy, if you have not seen this from the inside, you cannot imagine the effect which these words would have had - to have a fully elaborated policy position publicly repudiated by the president, completely and unexpectedly, at the last possible moment, and on a world stage.
Again, the question now before us comes to this: Is there any chance -- any chance at all -- that Barack Obama could break from The Script and start improvising?

I don't think so. And that's the difference between the two presidents.

Barack Obama, like other presidents, has signaled approval of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem. (As readers know, I don't favor that idea.) But that approval is in the abstract. Now that there is a definite move in that direction, he is to expected go along with Israeli obstructionism. In fact, the U.S. is bribing nations to go along with Israeli wishes in the U.N.

Obama's recent (and laudable) shifts to the left on domestic economic issues may be dismissed as political maneuvering. Why not ask for higher taxes on millionaires when he knows he won't get it? But if he were to "pull a Clinton" on this occasion...

...well. We really would be seeing a new Obama.
I'd also be very pleasantly surprised if O did such a thing, but maybe he's at a point where he realizes he has little to lose, so why not try to get the thumbs up from someone.
Abu Mazen has certainly got the world in a tizzy with his insistence on statehood. Suddenly, everyone is willing to talk. No better time to use the leverage.
As Albert Collins said, don't mistake kindness for weakness. Sadly, O has only had weakness.

The difference is about intellectual confidence. Clinton believed in himself. I dont think Obama does.

Received wisdom, an oxymoron.

It wasn't belief in self that made Clinton do right by Pakistan, it was growing up seeing black people getting the shitty end of the stick. Something Obama never saw.
US encouragement of Security Council members to force them to vote against Palestinian statehood has involved more than "bribery". The threat of bankruptcy in Lisbon will ensure compliance. That's unless Arab moneymen offer to help them out (as they did to save Barclays Bank in the UK, and as Russia did in Iceland), which is unlikely.

Given how many roads lead to Switzerland, I wonder whether Swiss banks might be in big trouble. UBS lost 2 billion because of a rogue trader. Haven't we heard that shit before? Nick Leeson makes clear in his autobiography that someone with backroom access to the Singapore exchange's computer system was criminally using it to maximise his exposure and gobble it up.

It could be an eventful late summer and autumn in the financial centres.

This Palestine-UN business - why now? The answer is unclear.

It might be more than just the silly season, makework for diplomats and diplomatic correspondents, and needing to have something to print in the newspapers.

I'm waiting for stuff to happen in left field.

Abbas can cry to the US, 'oh help me, help me, I'm losing all credibility'. But the Fatah leadership lost that years ago. They took a cut from the Wall and Hamas didn't. Oslo bit the dust in 2001, on 9/11. Those who opposed it were proved right. And so on. People ain't so fuckin' stupid in the Middle East as they are in the West.

Gotta admit, the 'CERN neutrinos travel faster than light' story caught my interest this morning.

They haven't linked it Iran. Not yet!

As for NASA and that satellite!

Meanwhile the issue of taking Israel to the Hague, which would be easier if Palestine belonged to the UN, gets sidelined.

International investigations always whitewash Israel, share out the blame for its actions, or say it acted with great aims but a teensy bit over-zealously.

All that shit gets forgotten after 5 minutes.

The Hague is a different matter; it's a stronger brand than just some international investigator or other, famous for 15 minutes or so.

Brands, of course, can bite the dust - and the Hague's never done anything about war crimes committed by the US.

As for Sarko the sayan, he says it's time for the US not to be the only peace-maker. Hilarious!! Plays well to the home audience though - or at least, to that part of it who've forgotten who he works for.

In the UK, Cameron talks about bad management in the eurozone club. Again, a hilarious assertion which plays well to the home audience. Those continental types, they don't do things properly, the way we do them in London! Nobody in the home audience is going to notice that if only the UK had joined the fuckin' eurozone, its money johnnies could have had a say on the inside. And the fact that they didn't, makes the UK look a fuckin' laughing-stock, with a cocksure attitude which derives from nothing other than speaking the same language as the other 50 states of the US.

And Palestinian statehood getting backed in the UNSC by Russia? Yeah, right! I'll believe that when I see it. Someone remind me how many of the 'oligarchs' (a Chatham House term, I think) in that country are Arabs? Oh, and who are Russia's main competitor in the oil sector?
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