Tag Archives: Wall Street

Three Unshakeable Pillars of American Foreign Policy

3 Apr

 

 

It deserves to be noticed that it is only the two anti-establishment candidates who have challenged the foreign policy consensus that has guided American politicians ever since the end of World War II: consistently express unconditional support for the Pentagon, Wall Street, and Israel (especially since the 1967 War).

 

Bernie Sanders has been the first serious presidential aspirant for several decades to challenge directly and unabashedly at least one of these pillars by way of his principled and concerted attacks on Wall Street, on the billionaire class, on the exploitative 1%. Although moderate overall, Sanders has been respectfully deferential to the other two pillars, Pentagon and Israel. Because he has mobilized an intense following among all categories of American youth there has been a media reluctance to assault his substantive views frontally, except to offer a variety of snide remarks that cast doubt on his ‘electability.’

 

Such a dismissal pretends to be pragmatic, but the polls indicate that Sanders would do better against likely Republicans than Clinton. This leads me to interpret the refusal of the corporatized mainstream to take Sanders seriously, at least so far, as a coded ideological attack, basically a reaction to his anti-Wall Street stand that can be viewed as the opening salvo of class warfare.

 

Donald Trump has encountered a somewhat different firestorm but with a similar intent. At first, when the cognoscenti dismissed him as a serious candidate, he was welcomed as a source of entertainment. When his popularity with primary voters could no longer be overlooked, he was challenged by a steady flow of condescending rebukes that question his competence to govern (rather than his electability) or to be a commander in chief. Again his cardinal sin, in my judgment, is not the extraordinary mobilization of a proto-fascist populism that relishes his anti-Muslim immigration stand, his xenophobic call for a high wall on the Mexican border paid for by Mexico, and his proposed revival of torture as a necessary instrument of anti-terrorism. Most hard core Trump supporters have been long hiding out in a closet until The Donald stepped forward with aplomb and a strident willingness to be politically incorrect. As with Sanders, but seemingly more capriciously and less convincingly, Trump has agitated the guardians of all three pillars, unlike Sanders with a programmatic assault, but more obliquely with provocative comments here and there. He manages to convey, although by way of his many off hand and unrehearsed asides, a heretical state of mind with respect to the received wisdom that has been guiding the country since World War II regardless of which party’s president sits in the oval office.

 

Of the Pentagon, his heretical views seem spontaneous challenges to settled policies. Trump appears to look with some indifference, if not outright approval, at the prospect for further proliferation of nuclear weapons, specifically in relation to Japan and South Korea. Such a comment is regarded as imprudent even if never meant to be acted upon as it makes the so-called ‘nuclear umbrella’ seem leaky to those accustomed to its protection, and more importantly, casts some doubt on American global commitments around the world.

 

Similarly, casting doubt on the role of NATO in a post-Cold War world, asking for the Europeans to pay more, is seen by the Beltway wonks, as both an unacceptable public rebuke to allies and an even more unacceptable failure to take seriously the threat being posed by a newly belligerent Russia that flexed its muscles in the Ukraine, and then Syria. Trump’s skeptical attitude toward NATO was particularly resented as it seemed insensitive to the bellicose slide toward a new cold war that had been gathering bipartisan momentum in Washington.

 

Beyond this, Trump showed little appreciation of the way the Pentagon community views the war on terror. Although war planners likely welcomed the Trump promise to rebuild America’s armed forces so as overcome their alleged decline during the Obama presidency. What bothered the Washington policy community was Trump’s skepticism about such mainstays of American foreign policy as military intervention and regime-changing missions. At one heretical high point Trump even hinted that it would be a good idea to divert Pentagon dollars into infrastructure investment here in America. Annoyed listeners among the guardians might have detected in such a sweeping assertion a disguised, if confused, nostalgia for a revival of American isolationism.

 

Of the Wall Street pillar, Trump is perhaps more seriously worrisome, although not at all in the Sanders’ mode. Trump trashes the international trading regime that has been such an article of faith at the core of ‘the Washington consensus’ that gave substance and direction to neoliberal globalization in the latter stages of the prior century. His views of the world economy clearly favor the nationalist sort of protectionism that is widely held responsible for the Great Depression. Beyond this, Trump seems intent on challenging the terms of trade with China in ways that could expose a disastrous American vulnerability to Chinese countermeasures, especially given their enormous dollar holdings. Although the foreign policy approach to China endorsed by the guardians is ready, if not eager, to confront China on the island disputes in the South China Sea, it does not want to disrupt the enormous economic benefits and continuing potential of orderly relations with the Chinese market. From this perspective, Trump’s aggressive deal-making approach to global economic policy is viewed as highly dangerous.

 

Trump has even made the Israeli pillar quiver ever so slightly by suggesting at one point that he favored neutrality in approaching the relations between Israel and Palestine. He sought to override this unwelcome and uncharacteristic display of judiciousness, by making a fawning speech at the AIPAC annual conference. Yet Trump’s willingness to follow the intimations of his gut must have probably made ardent Israeli advocates yearn for the likes of Clinton and Cruz who have mortgaged what’s left of their soul on the altar of subservience to the lordship of Netanyahu and his extremist cohorts.

 

The candidates who pass the litmus test associated with the three pillars approach are clearly Clinton and Kasich, with Ryan on the sidelines waiting to be called if gridlock ensues at the Republican Convention. Cruz would also be treated as an outlier if it were not for Trump preempting him by this assault on the three pillars. Cruz is hardly the kind of candidate that the guardians prefer. His evangelical religiosity is outside the political box, as is his imprudent stance toward engaging international adversaries, crushing enemies, patrolling Muslim communities, and endorsements of waterboarding. It is not the sort of image of America that the guardians wish to convey to the rest of the world.

 

Sanders is grudgingly admired for his authenticity, but grounded politically for assailing Wall Street and cruel capitalism in ways that threaten the established economic order (universal health care, free public university tuition) with initiatives popular with many voters.

 

For months the guardians assumed that Trump would self-destruct but instead he kept dominating the field of presidential hopefuls among the Republican ranks. Unlike the Clinton control of the Democratic Party machine, the Republican Party bureaucracy has been ineffectual in stemming the Trump tide. For this reason media and establishment reinforcements were called upon, and even President Obama joined the chorus of Trump detractors, not because he overtly opposed to the activation of fascist populism but to relieve pressures on the three pillars consensus.

 

The voters in Wisconsin and elsewhere still have an opportunity to push back. If Sanders should win by double digits on Tuesday, it will create a quandary for the guardians. To have to depend on Clinton’s support among the super delegates for the nomination would be such an anti-democratic rebuff of the Sanders’ constituency that not even Sanders could effectively control the backlash. Many of the Sanders’ faithful would sit out the election no matter what their leader urged, rejecting the lesser of evils plea.

 

If Trump should prevail, even narrowly, it looks as though the Republicans will find themselves swallowing hard while being forced to select a candidate unacceptable to themselves. Such an outcome would also probably mean kissing goodbye to any hope of regaining the White House, leading the main party effort to be directed at holding on to control of Congress.

 

Actually, this primary campaign reveals a dismal underlying situation: in a healthy democracy all three pillars should long ago have been shaken at least as hard as Sanders is currently challenging Wall Street. This benevolent challenge mounted by Sanders is a sign that America may be finally getting ready for a genuinely revolutionary challenge, although the grassroots strength of the Trump legions creates the menacing alternative possibility of a fascist counterrevolution. Such radical options are at this point no more than remote possibilities. The persisting probability is more of the same, most likely under Democratic Party auspices. In this respect, the three pillars seem secure in their dysfunction for the foreseeable future. We who lament this can only wish that this dysfunction does not achieve political maturity in the form of global catastrophe.

 

I have not dwelled on the lesser of evils argument that makes Clinton seem a vastly preferable alternative to a wannabe reactionary like Trump or Cruz. Even if we fear Clinton’s warmongering past, we could at least expect better judicial appointments, more positive initiatives on health care and women’s rights, and more informed and balanced assessment of foreign economic policy. Whether this is enough to overcome our distaste for Clinton’s wanton opportunism and instinctive militarism, is something every citizen will have to ponder on her own if the choice comes down to this next November.                            

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Two Ways of Looking at the Race for the American Presidency

12 Mar

[Prefatory Note: This is a rewritten and partially modified version of what posted to hastily yesterday.]

 

#1: as an incredibly dumbing down of the political process, turning the presidential campaigns for the nomination as heavily financed shadow shows, hiding special interests and money management, all about selling the candidate by boast and bluster;

 

#2: as pre-revolutionary ferment, mobilizing the young, and confronting the established order, finally, with non-establishment choices between the radical right of Trump & Cruz and the moderate social democratic left of Sanders.

 

This tedious struggle for political prominence and historical name recognition is being played out against a backdrop of the three pillars of America’s global role: the Pentagon, Wall Street, and Israel. No candidate has managed to shake the pillars, although this time around Sanders has at least launched a genuine attack on the Wall Street pillar, and Trump has gestured toward what might turn out to be a mild push against the Israel pillar. This alone makes Sanders and Trump the first outsiders to compete seriously for a mainstream run at the White House. Of course, since Sanders has done so much better than expected, Clinton has taken to making some noises as if she too is ready to take on Wall Street, but as the unreleased transcripts of her mercenary talks at Goldman, Sachs undoubtedly confirm, no one think she means it, and she doesn’t; this is her way of harmlessly sparring with the man from Vermont until she locks up the machine-driven nomination, and then we might get a hint of the real Hilary, that is, unless she worries about alienating the Sanders’ supporters when election time comes in November.

 Torquemada

When we look at the candidates from a Hollywood central casting point of view, we have to wonder who is running the show, especially on the Republican side. Senator Ted Cruz appears to be a credible reincarnation of Tomás de Torquemada, Grand Inquisitor of Spain (1484-1498), grimly ready to deal harshly with the infidels whether within the country or without. Like Torquemada he is sincere, personally austere, and reflective of God’s will. He also seems to have an incidental fondness for ‘carpet bombing,’ and all out war with ‘the enemies’ of the United States wherever they might be in the world, and looks to Netanyahu as the sort of leader he would like to be.

Ted_Cruz,_official_portrait,_113th_Congress 

Then there is Marco Rubio snapping at the Cruz and Trump heals as if a scrappy dog seeking an evening meal. Rubio reminds one of a high school debating champion, articulate and self-assured, yet so lacking in political gravitas as to be irrelevant.

 And I almost forgot John Kasich that redoubtable former governor of Ohio who repeatedly tells his audience in a conversational monotone that he has already solved all of America’s problems in microcosm while he brilliantly managed the public life of Ohio from the state capital in Columbus. He pledges to do the same for America as a whole once in Washington, and puts himself forward as the only candidate with the right experience and track record to take up residence in the White House. It is not surprising that there is a tendency to forget Kasich as he has so far managed to stay on board the train only because he has become the default candidate of that endangered species, ‘moderate Republicans.’

 Trump 2Trump

Then there is Donald Trump who, whatever else, is hardly in danger of being forgotten. He is leading the pack into some wild terrain of which he seems only dimly aware. Trump’s idea of how to do international politics boils down to hard driving real estate deal making backed by an larger, all powerful military machine and tax breaks for American multinationals. Without exhibiting much command of the political domain Trump offers some mildly encouraging, even sensible, takeaways that are almost lost in the bigoted noise—his skepticism about regime-changing interventions, opposition to neoliberal international trade agreements, and even casting a smidgeon of doubt on the special relationship with Israel. Of course, it is not these sensible asides but the Trump thunder that excites his followers and energizes his crowds. He wins his mass following by demonizing Muslims and Latinos, promising to end all Muslim immigration, deport 11 million illegals, and build that high wall along the Mexican border, and then send the bill to the Mexican Government, and, get this, restore American military might. His reputation for repudiating what liberals espouse as ‘politically correct’ earns him a reputation for talking right-wing nonsense to power, and being perceived by his followers as deliciously politically incorrect. The Trump appeal is based totally on the politics of emotion, tapping into resentments, prejudices, and racism, unleashing a venomous tide of proto-fascist activism that should be, but isn’t yet, scaring Americans as much as it seems to be frightening and startling the rest of the world.

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The Democrats seem to be doing a little bit better, but only in comparison to the current crop of Republican alternatives.Hilary Clinton, running needlessly scared as frontrunner, seems to have that ‘deer in the headlights’ look every time her ‘core beliefs’ are probed or challenged. The unclassified, yet disclosed, truth, is that she doesn’t seem to have any, or at least not yet. Or maybe she had, but lost track, and now can’t find them or lost them along the way or will rediscover them if necessary. Ever an ambitious opportunist par excellence, it seems that her least laundered credential is her steadfast realization that the three pillars are absolutes in American politics, maybe better represented as ‘sacred cows.’

 

Hence, Hilary is fully credible when promising to improve upon current U.S. relations with Israel and can be trusted never to let down either the Pentagon or Wall Street, or to go wobbly when given the opportunity to champion a new military intervention. What more could the Democratic Party establishment want from a candidate, and this is the point that has seemed to resonate so strongly with the so-called superdelegates (elected officials and party luminaries who can vote for whomever they wish, neither being selected by voters or pledged to a particular candidate) who mostly stand shoulder to shoulder with Clinton and virtually extinguish the slight hopes of Sanders however many Michigan style upsets he manages to pull off.

 

And then there is Bernie Sanders, as genuine a proponent of a decent American society as the political system has produced since FDR, and maybe more so, but he only knows how to carry melodies with only a single note, and while it is a high note, pushing hard against the Wall Street pillar, it exhibits too narrow a grasp of the American political challenge to make him qualified to lead the first global state in human history. His views on the other two pillars seem unthreatening to the mainstream, he goes along, perhaps reluctantly at the margins, seeming to accept the defense budget except some quibbles, as well as existing alliances and alignments, and raises no awkward questions about continuing unconditional support for Israel. Of course, shackling Wall Street while universalizing health care and providing free public education at college levels would give the country a vital breath of free air, but given the U.S. global role, it is not enough to validate the claim of delivering ‘a social revolution.’

 

Let’s ask where all of this leads? The probable short term result is probably Trump versus Clinton, with either Trump navigating the ship of state through turbulent waters fraught with danger and unpredictability or Clinton sailing full speed ahead as if Barack Obama was still serving as the real president, but somehow has grown more macho in the process of aging. Either outcome is, of course, problematic. If Trump, the beast of fascism slouches ever closer to Washington; if Clinton, the gods of war will be dancing through the night.

 

There are a few silver linings that may be merely wishful thinking. It is possible that the Republican Party will implode, or reemerge for what it is becoming in any event, that is, the party of discontent and revenge, shedding its pedigree as the sedate sanctuary of privilege and big business. For the Democrats, the Sanders defeat might give birth to a break with party politics on the part of its young and progressive contingent, who leave discontented, adopting an anti-three pillars agenda that expands upon what Bernie so resolutely initiated. It is this possibility that seems plausible given the extraordinary strength of Sanders’ support among voters 18-25 who will be bound to feel more bitterly frustrated than ever by the dynamics of ‘normal politics.’ The country can again become hopeful about the future if such a progressive vision of a better America prevails among the young and is sustained by a strong consensus giving rise to a militant nonviolent movement for drastic change at home and abroad.

Of course, I may be wrong, my imagination remains trapped in what now seems most likely. It is possible that Trump will be stopped and Sanders will prevail, or that some kind of third party will be insinuated in the political process to save the established order from shipwreck. If it happens, then the  shape of the future will be different from what is conjectured here, but I doubt that I will have to eat many of these words. 

At another level, the political soap opera that seems to be entrancing the American people at present can be seen as an epic battle between ‘the politics of emotion’ (Trump), ‘the politics of sentiment and values’ (Sanders), and ‘the politics of reason and knowledge’ (as variously represented by Clinton, Cruz, Kasich, and Rubio). 

 

 

 

Political Infernos: United States, Turkey, Egypt

28 Jun

A New Political Inferno: Polarization of Immature Democracies

 

Prelude

 

To begin with, I know of no truly mature political democracy on this, although to be sure some rest on a more stable political base than others. Most importantly, some forces of opposition despair of ever succeeding by democratic procedures, while others pin their hopes on the next election, or the one after that. Some democracies have greater economic stability or can boast of high growth rates, possess a larger private sector and bigger middle class with more to lose, than others. Some states are more vulnerable to foreign interference than others, and some have formidable foreign enemies that seek regime change or something worse.

 

Perhaps, more victimized than any most modern societies, Germany devastated after World War I was caught in the midst of recovering from a humiliating military defeat accentuated by vindictive victors, a resulting economic depression featuring high unemployment and runaway inflation. Its pathetic enactment of liberal democracy could neither find credible solutions nor adopt principled positions. It should not be surprising that an extreme form of political polarization emerged in response, producing disastrous results not only for Germany but for Europe and the world: Communism versus Fascism. Battles raged between these antagonists in the streets of German cities, and the Nazis emerged triumphant even at the ballot box, helped by the complicity of cartelized big business and the ethos of the Bavarian elites hostile to any hint of democratic politics. The rest is history.

 

Today, there exist an assortment of deeply worrisome encounters between political extremes brought on by a range of conditioning circumstances. As a first approximation I would mention three disturbing instances, each distinctive, yet each afflicted by destructive polarized politics: Egypt, Turkey, and the United States.

 

Infernal Polarization and the Creative Dialectic

 

Before offering some comments on the three cases, it seems helpful to clarify what is meant by ‘polarization.’ There are several features, varying with context,  grievances, goals, outlook, and unity of the opposition, as well as the response of those in control of the government, the economy, and sometimes the military, but there are also certain shared characteristics that encourage generalizations: On discourse: in a polarized polity the opposition seldom reasons and never listens, while those governing rarely hear what critics say and almost never engage in serious self-scrutiny; reasonableness is seen by both sides more often as a lack of conviction and principle rather than as an expression of respect and inclusiveness: moderation is out, polemics are in. On governance: both sides are generally inhibited from offering compromises and accommodations for fear of seeming weak, and thereby alienating their base of support. On tactics: the opposition seeks instability and dissatisfaction, and if possible a climate of opinion that demands change either by constitutional means or by a populist uprising that makes the country ungovernable; the government, in contrast, obtains law and order by whatever means are at its disposal, often provoking worse opposition by employing excessive force.

 

There is also an emergent form of polarization that may be more productive of positive results, and seems often to be hiding behind the curtain of its infernal other. It is a youth oriented rejection of all traditional forms of political rivalry: parties, programs, politicians. Pox on both your houses! This kind of creative dialectic takes many forms depending on heritage, context, and cultural sensibilities.

 

In its most radical forms a creative dialectic is a bottom up momentum, sometimes substituting humor, sensuality, and satire for polemics, valuing all forms of inclusiveness, welcoming the participation of LGBT activists, celebrating the joy of living, and committed to governing from below. A rather restrained form of such a creative dialectic can easily confused with ‘infernal polarization.’ It was such a creative dialectic that flourished in Tahrir Square during those remarkable 18 days in January 2011, reflected in the spirit of the 99% that brightened the skies above Wall Street, St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, and many other cities for some hopeful months later in the same year, and just recently again became manifest during the early days of the Gezi Park protests in Istanbul and the Brazilian risings. A benevolent future for democratic societies depends on nourishing these forces of mainly youth and malcontents that have ‘invented’ their version of a creative dialectic while not partaking of the largely negative energies of infernal polarization that are pushing many societies to the risky precipices of implosion.

 

Why infernal? The legitimating premise of a democratic society is some form of consent by the governed, normally by the political verdicts delivered at periodic, fair and free elections. In the extreme instances of infernal polarization, the opposition seeks to change the rules of the political game by forcing the elected leaders to surrender their power or face chaos or a military takeover. It may be democracy to end autocracy (as with Mubarak) or it make take aim at democracy (as with Morsi), ultimately, the politics of the Reichstag fire (1933), the military takeover in Algeria after the 1991 electoral triumph of Islamists, and the unfulfilled phantasies of extreme Kemalists in Turkey.

 

An abusive or highly incompetent and corrupt majority invites radical forms of dissent, and so it is not fair to put all the blame on the side of the opposition. It all depends. An autocratic option for the governing majority is to cancel elections, invite a military to take over, and throw in the towel of democratic legitimacy. In effect, polarization becomes infernal because it inclines both government and opposition to adopt extreme positions usually for contradictory reasons, either the majority becomes oppressive and greedy or the minority becomes desperate, despairing of gaining control over the levers of governance by fair play. Of course, in racist Rhodesia or apartheid South Africa it was the abusive minority that held the majority in chains, and yet had the temerity to claim lawful and legitimate governance. At minimum, infernal polarization jeopardizes and impairs the quality of democracy, and its persistence, is likely to impose a death sentence on what be called ‘the realm of decent politics.’

 

Comparisons

 

            The mildest instance of infernal polarization is currently evident in the United States, although it may be the most consequential, given America’s global projection of hard power and its world leadership role. Increasingly, the domestic political atmosphere is beset by a polarizing opposition that rejects reasonableness in its preoccupation with inducing the elected leadership to fail and thus disappoint the electorate even if the result is overall decline for the society, especially its poorest 40-60%. The Tea Party mentality of opposition to the Obama presidency is mainly expressed by way of polarizing rhetoric and irresponsible Congressional behavior, but its worldview is extremist, and regards with a scary sympathy right-wing advocates of anti-democratic and even violent tactics. In the background is the post-9/11 mainstream moves to monitor the behavior of the entire citizenry, regarding each person, whether citizen or not, as a potential terrorist, and possibly a target for assassination. On the one side of the divide is a rejection of compassionate governance and an unconditional libertarian distrust of government, while on the other side is the expectation that citizens will forfeit their freedoms to the Orwellian security claims of a government engaged in a perpetual war against its enemies who could be hiding in the bushes situated anywhere in the world including within its borders, or even deep in the bowels of its most secretive bureaucratic domains.

 

How else to interpret the vindictive fury, cries of ‘treason!’ even by supposedly liberal politicians and media stalwarts against such public spirited whistle-blowers as Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden? To tell the secrets of government is not a matter of breaching security, but it is a massive, acknowledgement of cruelty and criminality. The messenger must be mercilessly destroyed so as to frighten potential future messenger, and the message shredded and forgotten. Whether such a pattern governance and opposition is to remain relatively ‘mild’ is a matter for debate, but so far the framework of constitutional government has been superficially maintained, and neither an appeal nor threat of a military coup seems imminent.

 

Less containable within the boundaries of constitutional government is the virus of infernal polarization that has been afflicting Turkey for the past eleven years, ever since the AK Party gained a plurality in the 2002 elections. Particularly the traditional Kemalist opposition, long the governing majority, has seen its grip on power slip away in this young century as the AKP has won successively more impressive electoral victories. At base there is a polarization that is sometimes confusingly phrased as an opposition between traditional and modern values, although there is an important dimension of the rivalry and distrust that pits the religiously observant against the secularly permissive, but really the tension is between different visions of modernity expressed as secularism versus religion. The AKP is all for modern business and science, has turned many keys of power over to the private sector, although its main leaders are privately devout, avoid alcohol and gambling, pray daily, and marry women who cover their heads.  Also, there are class and regional tensions, with the AKP being seen as a slightly disguised movement of political Islam, while the secular opposition, and its political parties, represent the social and nationalist elites that were associated with the life and leadership of Kemal Ataturk that above all saw a modern future for the country depending on mimicking European life styles and church/state relations.

 

These Europeanized elites were never really willing to cede power to their AKP rivals, and counted on a military intervention to end the political nightmare, and validated by judicial activism from the high court dominated by Kemalist holdovers that shared the sense that the AKP posed a dire threat to the Turkish republic as established by Ataturk. When these anti-democratic plans of the opposition failed to materialize, the opposition grew increasingly frustrated and bitter, and began to see itself as a permanently beleaguered opposition with little hope of regaining control. On the other side, as the AKP and its charismatic leader, Recip Teyyip Erdogan, rode the ever higher waves of success, became contemptuous of their opposition, and seemed to pose an autocratic threat given concrete form via Erdogan’s ‘presidential project.’

 

Simultaneously, many urban youth in Turkey yearned for a permissive social milieu, a redeeming purpose for their lives, and deeply resented the tendency of Erdogan to express his constraining personal life style preferences as if they should become the law of the land. It was this combination of factors that suddenly erupted in reaction to the plans to transform Gezi Park into a shopping center. What was evident, along with the anti-Erdogan animus, was the clash between the old style of party politics as the negation of the AKP, and this new style that refrained from articulating its vision, but appeared to seek substantive and participatory democracy that was not only inclusive of and responsive to all elements in society, even the most marginal, but also seemed intent on reinventing the modalities of opposition and governance. There is confusion in Turkey, partly because this new youth politics of revolution is intertwined with the old party politics that wants to enjoy the fruits of power, prestige, and influence. It is encouraging and appropriate for this innovative current of Turkish politics to be holding nightly forums to discover what it is they believe and desire, and how to go about attaining it.

 

This political and cultural thrust of the Turkish protests needs to be understood against a background of economic stability and fantastic progress as assessed by standard economic indicators. Somehow, despite the inequality of benefits associated with this spurt of growth, and the presence of a large impoverished underclass, the AKP has so far maintained the support of the poor and disenfranchised. The agenda of social and economic rights was not entirely absent from the Turkish demonstrations, but it was certainly not salient. In contrast, the Brazilian protests, also coming after a decade of progress and left of center political leaders, found their unity in these social justice issues, especially rallying against the perception of corruption at the top and distorted priorities as embodied in expensive sports stadiums for international events while the Brazilian poor languished. Unlike Turkey, the Brazilian political scene is not polarized, and there is no comparable antipathy toward (or enthusiasm for) Dilma Rousseff as exists in relation to Erdogan. For these reasons, at least for now, Brazil with all its problems, and its opposition because more motivated by material demands may be more sustained, is still not to be categorized as infernally polarized.

 

Egypt is by far the most precarious of these three instances of infernal polarization, especially at the moment. For months it has become evident that an incompetent and beleaguered elected government headed by Mohamed Morsi was opposed by an irreconcilable opposition that would only be satisfied by the resignation of the elected leader, and new presidential elections far earlier than their scheduled 2016 date. As this process slides toward its awful and dreaded moment of truth on June 30th (a year to the day after Morsi was sworn in as president) when both sides have promised a show of populist force in the streets of Cairo and elsewhere in the country. Morsi has become for the opposition the new Mubarak, the latter provided the unifying element in those remarkable days of January 2011. Unlike Mubarak, however, Morsi has legions of Muslim supporters rallying to his side beneath the banner of ‘No to violence, Yes to legitimacy.’ But unlike Mubarak in 2011, even in 2012 when Ahmed Shafik, a Mubarak surrogate came within 2 percentage points of an electoral victory in a runoff election against Morsi), the once anti-Mubarak secular/Copt oppisition is now allied with the Mubarak remnant, as well as those who once hope for change, but now just want normalcy, especially with respect to the economy.

 

As brilliantly analyzed by Esam al-Amin (“Egypt’s Fateful Day,” Counterpunch, June 26, 2013), the outcome for Egypt is uncertain, but extremely dangerous as the country is in the midst of staggering unemployment, especially among the young, near 50%, living in poverty, stagnant development, a failing tourist sector, and dwindling currency reserves, while also being engaged in a potentially dangerous conflict with Ethiopia over the damming of the upper Nile whose waters are indispensable to Egypt’s subsistence as a nation. In other words, the political confrontation on June 30th takes place against a backdrop of economic and foreign policy crisis, and will not be resolved in the street because both sides seem to have formidable backing. The only way to avoid such a dismal and demoralizing unraveling would seem to be either a sudden moderating of opposition demands or a reentry of the military into the governing process, thereby canceling the extraordinary achievement of Tahrir Square, a regression of unimaginably demoralizing proportions.

 

I recall my visit to Cairo weeks after the overthrow of Mubarak when great excitement about and support for an inclusive democratic process existed in most circles, although some suspicions were also voiced. At that time, the secular forces seemed confident that they could control Egypt’s political future. The sentiment expressed in Cairo was that the Muslim Brotherhood should by all means be encouraged to participate in elections, and was likely to win support at the 30% level. It was further conjectured that this would be fine, but that if it was at a level of 40% the country would be in trouble. When the initial elections for the parliament disclosed far stronger Muslim support than anticipated, including over 20% for Salafi parties that were far more socially conservative and politically constraining than the MB, it was clear that the future was not what the anti-Mubarak secular liberals expected or wanted, and with the passage of time, especially since Morsi managed to win the presidency in a close vote, this implacable opposition hardened to the point of outright defiance. No matter what kind of peace offerings were made

by Morsi, the opposition was not interested. The composition of this opposition is also a restored blend of Mubarak fulools, disenchanted secular liberals and , and a reenergized revolutionary youth, which is quite a political brew that would seems an expedient coalition that is likely to survive only so long as the Brotherhood runs the country. If the Egyptian situation is not bad enough, there are a variety of foreign governments that would like to push the political process in one direction or another, including the Gulf giants of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and of course, the United States and Israel. For different reasons, it would seem that all these foreign meddlers would if the situation further deteriorates, will side with the opposition, which certainly had feeble democratic credentials, and is suspected, as with the Kemalist opposition in Turkey, of looking with favor at a takeover of the reins of government by the repoliticized Egyptian military.

 

A Concluding Observation

 

            Infernal polarization is unlikely to give rise to efficient and humane forms of democratization, unless transformed from within by a creative dialectic that seeks to transcend traditional political encounters. As the future unfolds it will become clearer as to whether this positive scenario has sufficient traction to both end polarization and offer something new by way of democratic governance. At present, there are few reasons to be hopeful about these prospects for the United States, Turkey, and Egypt. In some respects, Turkey offers the most hope of the three cases as its governing leadership has achieved much that is beneficial for the society, and the polarized opposition seems capable of exerting strong reformist pressures that yet fall short of threatening to capsize the ship of state.

 

 

 

Reflections on Teju Cole’s OPEN CITY

21 Feb

 

 

Anyone interested in the world, or for that matter, an affection for the greatest of modern cities—New York—will find Teju Cole’s Open City, a feast for both mind and heart. He writes with exquisite discernment about almost everything under the sun, from the details of church architecture to reflections on the lingering impacts of the 9/11 attacks on the urban mood in Manhattan to his childhood memories of Nigeria. Open City is presented as a work of fiction, a novel, but its real interest is not in the story line, or even in the characters as presented by the narrator, which has an autobiographical feel, although this could be an accomplishment of this writer’s craft and imaginative skill, rather than what it seems to be, a disguised replication of the author’s search for meaning and moorings in the world at large, as well as a rich depository of remarkably astute observations on an extraordinary range of interesting topics. Cole in Open City delivers a master class in everyday awareness continuously transforming the ordinary experience of the non-heroic narrative voice into a quite extraordinary immersion in the lifeworld of the city.

 

This is a story of what I would call voluntary displacement, somewhat reminiscent of Edward Said’s partial memoir, Out of Place. Both of these gifted and multi-talented men chose to live as expatriates but without losing their attachment to their home country. There are also some dramatic differences, as well. Said became passionate about his Palestinian identity, a badge of honor for him, and the focus of his concerns in the final decades of his life, while Julius the fictionalized ‘I’ of Cole’s narrator is totally preoccupied with his private feelings, perceptions, and experience, noting public concerns, but avoiding engagement by deliberately adopting a modulated apolitical stance. Said as a high profile Palestinian in America in this period almost ensured that he would find himself embattled, which he was, especially as a professor at Columbia University who spoke out in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle. More generally, being a Palestinian, or any kind of Arab or Muslim, in New York City is certainly a different reality than being Nigerian, or even an African. Although the difference may not be as great as it might first seem. Julius is fully conscious that history has not been kind to those with his racial identity. He makes note of the frequent reminders throughout the city that Africans were not that long ago profitably traded as slaves by New York bankers or subject to colonial atrocities, as in Belgium, where Julius visits for several weeks.

 

The ironic tone on race reaches a paradoxical climax when Julius is mugged and badly beaten by African American hip-hop teenagers during a walk in the vicinity of Morningside Heights. Julius reports this violent incident almost in a journalistic tone, refraining from moralizing commentary and even self-pity. He leaves for readers an implicit challenge to draw out the deeper implications of the event, which include a recognition of the difference between the ‘civilized’ Julius and his ‘savage’ attackers, which is a way of saying that race counts, but socialization counts more. Yet, Julius carries his irony to a fever pitch of self-indictment when confronted by Moji, the older sister of his childhood friend in Nigeria, who reminds him of how he sexually abused her at a drunken teenage party, and how that incident caused her enduring pain. Just as slavery is forgotten by New Yorkers who pound the pavements of Wall Street, Julius forgets what was unpleasant in his past, not even recognizing Moji when they run into each other on a Manhattan street, and she calls out his name. The unarticulated morality here is profound and in keeping with the narrator’s sensibility: we are in denial about the wrongs we do to others, as is Julius, while we being haunted by those done to us, as is Moji. This fictional template fits much that takes place in our collective lives. Compare, for instance, the contrast between the collective official memory of Hiroshima in the United States (shortened the war, saved lives) and the way the event is perceived in Japan, and elsewhere (unspeakable atrocity on a par with Auschwitz).

 

 

There are also notable differences between author and narrator that make the facile assumption of an autobiographical novel suspect. Cole is pure Nigerian, while Julius has a German mother along with a Nigerian father, which underscores a type of hybridity that can never even aspire to achieve a ‘normal’ identity. Wherever Julius is, including Nigeria, he is destined to be an outsider. In the novel Julius is finishing a psychiatric residency at Columbia Presbyterian in New York dealing with patients who are burdened with a variety of mental disorders, while Cole is described as “writer, photographer, and professional historian of Netherlandish art” in an author’s note.

 

As Julius takes his long walks through the city he contemplates the troubled lives of his patients, and is aware of how little he can do to improve their lives, how limited has been medical progress with respect to mental illness. Julius muses about the nature of severe depression and other illness of the mind that afflict patients identified by letter, ‘V’ or ‘M,’ an indication of Julius’ adherence to the code of anonymity in his professional calling. There are intimations, but nothing explicit, that there may be analogies between these private agonies that Julius confronts at work and the grotesque pathologies of our collective existence as a species.

 

Julius is estranged from his German mother who lives in Lagos while missing his recently dead Nigerian father. Thus he has little reason to return to Nigeria for visits. Instead he searches for his beloved German grandmother who he believes is living in Brussels, and once there is much more enthralled by the ambience of European culture than anything that the non-West has to offer and by a new city to explore. While in Belgium, his supposed reason for making the journey fades into the background, and is replaced by his chance acquaintance with a couple of Moroccan immigrants, who sought refuge from an oppressive monarchy in their native country. To leave for Europe was for them to realize their dream of political and intellectual freedom, but upon arrival disillusionment immediately their fate. They were daily challenged by an increasingly vicious and omni-present Islamophobia. Their reaction was to learn economic and social survival skills needed to remain in Brussels, while inwardly converting their disillusionment into a blend of anti-American radicalism and an embrace of Islam.

 

The resulting conversations between Julius and Farouk, and his friend, Khalil, are fascinating exchanges of views and perceptions. The narrative voice controls the shape of the dialogue, but it has an authenticity that fits with the variety of experiences and viewpoints that give vibrancy to the book. In essence, Farouk and Khalil hold somewhat stereotypic left views on such key issues as Israel/Palestine and the 9/11 attacks on the United States, although they distance themselves from the tactics of terrorism, they empathize with the motivations of the terrorists who are regarded as having legitimate anti-imperial grievances. In contrast, Julius, is far more detached during the conversation, reacting in a measured apolitical and evasive tone, manifestly distrustful of dogma in any form. When asked directly for a response, he speaks of attitudes toward Israel in the United States without revealing his views, choosing to occupy a neutral, uncommittal space, and somewhat derisively attributing highly critical views on Israel to “left-leaning magazines and journals.” He challenges the stereotyped views on the conflict, including that all Americans are unconditionally pro-Israeli, by explaining to these two ardently pro-Palestinian Moroccans: “There’s strong leftist support for Palestinian causes in the United States. Many of my friends in New York, for example, think that Israel is doing terrible things in the Occupied Territories.” (p. 118) By referencing ‘many of my friends’ keeps his own attitudes hidden from the reader, but they can be presumed to be more balanced, less partisan. Julius goes on, “there’s also the perception that we share elements of our culture and government with Israel.” The use of ‘we’ as America and ‘our’ as American in this sentence is an important signifier of Julius’ primary attachment to his chosen place of residence rather than to his African place of origin.

 

The Moroccans, as is the case with many progressives around the world, view the Israel/Palestinian conflict as the most important contemporary litmus test of international morality, as well as an unresolved remnant of the anti-colonial struggle. They are perplexed by why the Palestinians have failed where almost all colonized people have succeeded, and in their search for an explanation, reach for straws. In this spirit, Khalil challenges the uniqueness of the Holocaust, and alleges that to relegate the other countless genocides to a secondary status functions as a device, diverts public attention, especially in Europe, from the injustices imposed on the Palestinians, serves to silence criticism of Israel, and to punish those who dare raise questions about the uniqueness that Jews attribute to the Holocaust. “Did the Palestinians build the concentration camps? He said. What about the the Armenians: do their deaths mean less because they are not Jews.” (p.122) An agitated Khalil then proclaims, “(f)orget the Cambodians, forget the American blacks, this is unique suffering. But I reject the idea. It is not a unique suffering. What about the twenty million under Stalin? It isn’t better if you are killed for ideological reasons.” Julius is obviously made uncomfortable by such hectoring rhetoric, and does his best to change the subject by ordering food in the restaurant.

 

He fails. Farouq “steers the conversation back,” letting on that he is not unfamiliar that Jewish critics of Israel exist and several are living in America. In this vein, he recommends that Julius should read Norman Finkelstein’s searing expose of the holocaust industry, which he says deserves special respect, not only because Finkelstein is Jewish, but because his parents were Auschwitz survivors. Julius admits that he has not heard of Finkelstein, and when Farouq offers to write down the title, Julius indicates that this is not necessary as he will remember it, but this is said in such a way as to convey disinterest, and to let the reader know that he has no intention whatsoever of following up. Throughout the entire book Julius seems deeply uncomfortable with passion and partisanship unless it is historically removed from the present or is apprehended in artistic form.

 

Farouq is depicted as a kind of fugitive philosopher from the non-West who had hoped that he could cope with the poverty of his Moroccan background working in Belgium as a janitor, while devoting himself to his studies. He declares that he was driven by the grandiose ambition of becoming “the next Edward Said! I was going to do it by studying comparative literature and using it as a basis for societal critique.” (p.128) Proceeding on this path after arriving in Brussels, he wrote an M.A. thesis on Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space, which was rejected by a Belgian university on the grounds of plagiarism. “They gave no reason. They just said I would have to submit another one in twelve months. I was crushed. I left school. Plagiarism? The only possibilities are either that they refused to believe my command of English and theory or, I think this is even more likely, that they were punishing me for world events in which I had played no role. My thesis committee had me on September 20, 2001..That was the year I lost my illusions about Europe.” (p.129) Again Julius offers no response, even refraining any comment on the rather strained effort of Farouq to explain the arbitrary rejection of his thesis as a punishment to be visited on all Muslims after 9/11. Julius does not hide his distaste for the Farouk’s extreme rejection of the West, which is the counterpoint to his own cautious constructions of a life and career in New York undertaken with a full awareness of the crimes present and past of the West. If this is a correct reading, then one wonders whether Coles lineage is better tied to anglophilic V.S. Naipaul rather than to Said.

 

Julius makes his own position clear both by seemingly ignoring Farouq’s advice to read Finkelstein and even more emphatically by mailing him a copy of Kwame Anthony Appiah’s Cosmopolitanism, a diametrically opposed intellectual posture to that of political engagement. The choice of Appiah as a preferred alternative to Finkelstein is a perfect expression of Julius sensibility, and a telling sign that he is self-aware. Appiah is a much heralded and impressively cultured exponent of an apolitical cosmopolitanism that affirms rootedness in the familiar landscape of home with an appreciation of the world as a whole, including its many forms of strangeness and diversity. For Appiah a true cosmopolitan celebrates both the homeland and the world, and privileges that which is near at hand over all that is distant. As with Cole, Appiah has a superb command of the English language, as well as a vast intellectual comfort zone that manages to encompass the whole of Western thought. It is worth noticing that Appiah, like Julius, but not like Cole, has an African father and a European mother, and chooses to leave Africa for a life in America.

 

While mailing Cosmopolitanism at a local post office, an African American clerk greets Julius with mock familiarity as “Brother Julius.” The clerk announces that he is a performing poet and recognizes at first glance that Julius is a visionary; hence that they have much in common, and should get to know each other.  Julius brushes off this unwelcome approach with a hypocritical assurance that he will keep in touch, informing the reader his true feelings: “I made a mental note to avoid that particular post office in the future.” (p.188) I do not interpret this to be black on black racism, but rather an unabashed expression of snobbery and intellectual elitism. Julius showed clearly that he was offended by the purported camaraderie of this uneducated postal clerk who had evidently proceeded on mistaken assumption that their shared skin color was sufficient to make them ‘brothers.’

 

Julius consistently shows that he is not fond of any intense attachment, while at the same time exhibiting his somewhat anguished solitude. Even those who are too worried about climate change offend Julius’ sense of cool. As usual, his words of rebuke are carefully chosen: “..I was no longer the global warming skeptic I had been some years before, even if I still couldn’t tolerate the tendency some had of jumping to conclusions based on anectdotal evidence; global warming was a fact, but that did not mean it was the explanation for why a given day was warm. It was careless thinking to draw the link too easily, an invasion of fashionable politics into what should be the ironclad precincts of science.” (p.28) Of course, Julius is correct to make the distinction between a warming climate cycle and the temperature on any particular day, but by dwelling on this minor point he sidesteps any reference the serious dangers posed by climate change, as established by a consensus of experts. Instead Julius contents himself by complaining about those who embrace ‘fashionable politics.’ It is this refusal to engage the world, and its destiny, that I find most disturbing about the Cole/Appiah/Naipaul worldview. I find their shared cosmopolitanism a posture of a superior mind that seems frightened of taking stands that might be treated as controversial in public space or seen as too humdrum for such finely attuned intellects. Such detachment operates as a denial of love for the world and signals an unwillingness to lift a finger to reduce human suffering.

 

Along these lines Julius offers some rather strained observations on matters large and small, always worth pondering for their style even if not for their substance. For instance, Julius notes without qualification, “[w]e are the first human beings who are completely unprepared for disaster. It is dangerous to live in a secure world.” (p.200) This sentiment seems spoken by Julius from within his cocoon of condescending detachment.  Not only the mounting dangers associated with climate change, dangers now admitted at even the highest levels of government, but also living decade after decade beneath a nuclear sword of Damocles should at least establish remove from serious discussion any claim that we are living in ‘a secure world.’ True, there may not be the existential immediacy of earlier ages when the threat of epidemics, natural disasters, and bloody tribal warfare created pervasive and acute insecurity, but in our time there is more reason than ever before to apprehend the precariousness of our modern way of life, and even the fragility of the human species that appears so far heedless of the wailing sirens of planetary distress.

 

By establishing Julius as such a precise and subtle commentator on many aspects of the passing scene, Cole makes his readers think hard, while enjoying the pleasure of the beautifully crafted prose. The narrative smoothly navigates the succession of moods, experiences, and memories that lends an aura of coherence to this novelistic journal that delivers the reader to nowhere and everywhere. Despite my admiration for Cole’s artistic achievement, what a flock of admiring reviewers agree as the excellence of his ‘debut novel,’ which has received several honors, my experience the book is more ambivalent. This is partly, as earlier noted, a discomfort with attitudes that are fully aware of injustices and yet opt for a response of passivity. Also it is partly the overall impression of being under the spell of a rare, and ultra refined version of Orientalism, which is paradoxically and obliquely acknowledged by references to Edward Said. Julius is wonderfully articulate in describing the nuances of painting, poetry, literature, and especially music. Super-sophistication is exhibited not by namedropping, but by treating the reader to extremely illuminating comments on particular paintings, buildings, musical compositions and memorable performances.

 

Truly Julius is a man of arts and letters, but almost exclusively those of the Western world. The artists and writers mentioned are prominent in the Western canon or Westernized, and there is only a passing reference to two Chinese poets revered in the West and none at all to such African stalwarts as Soyinka and Achebe. We readers are left with the misleading impression that any celebration of aesthetic cosmopolitanism needs to be totally anchored in Western creativity. This may not be Cole’s intention, but it reflects my experience of this fine literary work. Cole demonstrates he is not only of a master of English but also an almost omniscient observer of all that is worth noticing and appreciating in the world around us. The fact that Julius refuses either to judge or to apologize for either private or public wrongdoing can be interpreted generously as the author’s modesty or more harshly as his arrogance. At this point I am not sure which, and maybe it is best grasped as a Hindu mixture of both, a non-Western infrastructure of contradictory feelings for the things and beings of this world, including its good and evil aspects. So conceived, maybe the Cole worldview after all transcends its self-imposed Western boundaries.

 

Reflections on Two Occupations

23 Nov

 

Not long ago I took part in a workshop in London that was jointly organized by young Palestinians and Israeli, and discussed prospects for a just peace, emphasizing the imperative of ending ‘the occupation.’ At about the same time I experienced the radiant energy of the young occupiers at Wall Street and near St Paul’s Cathedral. Several months ago I was in Cairo not long after Mubarak left power, and visited Tahrir Square still alive with its memories of occupation by the protesters. Occupation became a word of many resonances, both favorable and heinous, and this poem tries to acknowledge this interplay of feelings of solidarity and alienation. Perhaps, it is too personal to be sharable.

*********

 

 

Reflections on Two Occupations

 

To live             to love

                                                is to occupy           

                                                to be

                                                            occupied

 

By whom             with whom           

Occupy/ing

                        Tahrir Square

                        Wall Street

                        St Paul’s Cathedral

                                                            the world

 

To hope to dream

                                    to act

                                                is

                                                to

                                                            occupy

 

By whom            for whom

To fear to hide

                        to resist

                                                is to be

                                                                        (pre)occupied

            from within

            from without

 

It was once your land

I entered your land

                        picking olives

                                                settling there

Buying occupying

 

Above all remembering

                                                another distant tale

Filled with tears and dying

                                                                       

                                                                        my land

                                                                                    my law                       

                                                            my birthright

 

And now ours to keep:

                        history forgives

                                                what is stolen if time passes quietly

                                   

 

Long ago now

I did ask you to leave

            in a polite voice

                        then a raised voice

                                    then a scream

                                                            then no voice at all

                                    to go             get out

 

All I wanted then was for birds

                                    to sing some old songs

All I wanted was for flowers

                                                to bend toward home

 

And now I declare

            to myself to you

                                    to the world

                                                this occupation will end:

 

The graves

                        already full

 

            as dawn

                                    splits

                                                            the Jerusalem sky in two

 

What is occupied with love lives

What is occupied with force kills

                                                            before it dies and lives again           

                                                                                                            elsewhere

 

I never wanted this earth scorched

                                                            moist with

                                                                        native blood

 

amid the ruins

                        I fight              resist    pray           

 

 

XI/22/2011

An American Awakening?

5 Oct


             The exciting presence of protestors on Wall Street (and the spread of the #OccupyWallStreet protests across the country) is a welcome respite from years of passivity in America, not only in relation to the scandalous legal and illegal abuses of comprador capitalists, but also to the prolongations of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a shocking disregard of the impinging challenges of climate change, a rising Islamophobic tide at home, and a presidency that seems less willing to confront hedge fund managers than jobless masses. But will this encouraging presence be sustained in a manner that brings some hope of restored democracy and social wellbeing at home and responsible law-oriented leadership abroad?

 

            There is little doubt that this move to the streets expresses a deep disillusionment with ordinary politics based on elections and governing institutions. Obama’s electoral victory in 2008 was the last hope of the young in America who poured unprecedented enthusiasm into his campaign that promised so much and delivered so little. Perhaps worse than Obama’s failure to deliver, was his refusal to fight, or even to bring into his entourage of advisors some voices of empathy and mildly progressive outlook. From his initial appointment of Rahm Emmanuel onwards, it was clear that the Obama presidency would be shaped by the old Washington games waged by special interests, as abetted by a Republican Party leaning ever further to the right, a surging Tea Party that is pushing the opposition to the outer extremes of irrational governance, and a Democratic Party that is trying to survive mainly by mimicking Republicans. If such a portrayal of ordinary politics is more or less correct it is a wonder that a more radical sense of America’s future took so long to materialize, or even to show these present signs of displeasure with what is and engagement with what might be.

 

            For those of us with our eyes on the Middle East two observations follow. The extraordinary falling back from Obama’s speech in Cairo of 2009, which was, contrary to how it was spun by the pro-Israeli media, a very cautious approach to the Israel/Palestine conflict, but at least forward looking in its realization that something more had to be done if negotiations were ever to be more than a charade. The speech contained lots of reassurances for Israel, especially it treated the dispute as essentially territorial (withdrawal to 1967 borders, which deliberately pretends that refugee and exile rights of Palestinians are irrelevant to a just peace), and only seemed to project balance when it insisted on a suspension of settlement expansion as a confidence-building step toward a new cycle of negotiations. It really was a most modest request to insist that Israel temporarily stop expanding settlements that were almost unanimously seen as flagrant violations of Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention and posing a real threat to the viability of an independent Palestinian state. When Israeli leaders and their zealous American backers indicated ‘no go,’ the Obama administration back peddled with accelerating speed, gradually isolating the United States on the global stage by the unconditionality of its support for Israel even in situations where Israel is seen by virtually the entire rest of the world as defiant toward international law. Besides this, a few months ago the leaked Palestine Papers underscored Israel’s disinterest in a negotiated solution to the conflict even in the face of Palestinian of huge Palestinian Authority concessions behind closed doors. Of course, Obama should not take the whole blame as Congress has outdone him when it comes to support for partisan positions that often seem to outdo the Knesset.

 

            The latest phase in American foreign policy in relation to the conflict is associated with the American threat to veto the statehood bid of Palestine in the UN Security Council, coupled with its arm-twisting efforts to induce others to vote with the U.S. against statehood or at least abstain, so that Palestine will not get the nine affirmative votes it needs to receive a positive recommendation and the U.S. will be spared the embarrassment and backlash of casting a veto. The shrillness of the sterile call by Obama in his 2011 speech to the General Assembly to the parties to resume negotiations after almost twenty years of futility, and for the Palestinians the effects were far worse than mere failure    (the ordeal of occupation, loss of land to settlements, annexation wall, road infrastructure).  It should finally be understood. Time is not neutral. It helps Israel, hurts Palestine.

 

            Disavowing American party and institutional politics and situating hope with the arousal of progressive forces in civil society is different from concluding that the Wall Street protests is more than a tantalizing flash in the pan at this stage. Even this cautionary commentary should make it obvious that the events owe their primary inspiration to Tahrir Square (with a surprising initial push from the Canadian anti-consumerist organization Adbusters, previous mainly known for its irreverent and vaguely anarchistic magazine by the same name), especially the ethos of a nonviolent leaderless, programless spontaneous rising that learns day by day what it is about, who it is, and what is possible. Of course, the stakes for activists are much lower than in Egypt or elsewhere in the Middle East, as there is little risk of death at this point on American streets. At the same time, the monsters of Wall Street are not quite as potent a unifying target for an militant opposition as was the grim personage of Hosni Mubarak, cruel autocrat of more than three decades, and so it may be harder to transform the protests into a sustainable movement.

 

            In the end, we must hope and engage. The beginnings of hope are rooted in the correctness of analysis, and so we can be thankful that this initiative places its focus on financial and corporate structures, and not on the state. Further along these lines, if the struggle will gain momentum it will be totally thanks to politics-from-below. The implicit not so subtle point is that the center of power over the destinies of the American people has shifted its locus from Washington to New York, and from the penthouse to the the basement!!  We’ll see!!