In the parlance of the classic British colonial era, President Obama is faced with a bit of a sticky wicket in Benghazi, Libya. The metaphor refers to a patch of rough grass making it hard to hit the ball through the wicket in the British sport of cricket. British colonials liked to bring a little of England to the warm climes they colonized and played cricket on native-tendered grass between dealing with unruly wogs and quaffing gin and tonics to fight boredom and malaria.
Obama’s sticky wicket in Benghazi (four dead Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens) comes from the decision to pump in weaponry to support an assortment of militias to “take out” Muammar Ghaddafi, the mentally ill leader of Libya protected by a phalanx of armed females, a leader the US opposed after they supported him after they had opposed him. (I think that’s the correct order.) Ghaddafi was, of course, the inspiration for Admiral General Aladeen, Sacha Baron Cohen’s satiric leader in The Dictator.
Ghaddafi was finally ignominiously taken out in the desert by men who naturally humiliated him for a while and made him grovel before they put two into his brainpan. Praise Allah! God is great!
Typically for American preemptive nation-state hits, at this point things got a little murky. As in: Who the heck are these militias we’re supporting? The media blitz until this point had the US as the good guys and the Ghaddafi troops as the bad guys. All was well. American leaders had convinced the American media who had convinced the American people that it was good-guys-versus-bad-guys and we Americans were the good guys working with Libyan good guys.
But, then, that pesky problem of Islam crept into the affair, and things quickly got confusing. Some of the militias we presumed were good guys were actually bad guys with strong feelings about Islam. The troublesome fact we suddenly became aware of was that these Muslim bad guys hated Ghaddafi just as much as we did. People started scratching their heads.
At this point, in the midst of a particularly stupid and insidious election season in America, well-meaning and upstanding Americans began to ask: “Why is it these desert barbarians just can’t do what is in their obvious best interests and do what we want them to do? Do they have something against democracy? Gee! All they have to do is just look at America and our democracy and follow instructions.”
It does not appear that anyone in the US government, the Libyan government (what there is of one) or the Romney campaign is sure what actually happened on September 11 when the US consulate in Benghazi was attacked. Which is why the Romney gang has been having so much fun with the bloody incident.
Given the realm of dishonesty, secrecy and unmitigated moral darkness an American President must preside over these days, Romney’s band of polished thugs know the more confusing and ambiguous something is, the more perception can be manipulated and skewed to the advantage of one position or another. Who gives a damn what he said last week? This is the world of “bullshit” that Princeton philosopher Harry Frankfurt writes about in On Bullshit. In our political culture, playing with perception is much more fun than coping with reality. Thus, bullshit tends to always trump the search for truth.
But, then, Romney threw a curve ball and dropped the Benghazi matter in the final debate. Instead, he decided to deny every militaristic, reactionary thing he’d ever said and, like a boxer clutching his opponent through the whole match, agreed with everything Obama has done and said, while he condemned him as a poor Commander In Chief.
The obvious and key fact of the Benghazi affair (the reason Romney may have dropped it in the final debate) is the United States is so out of favor and out of touch in the Benghazi area that our FBI agents can’t even get to the city to even begin an investigation of the September 11 attack. This should tell us something. The problem is what it’s trying to tell us is something American politicians don’t want to think about or address. And because the imperial mantra of American exceptionalism has been drilled into their consumer-addled brains for decades, the American people don’t want to hear it either. Americans are about as willing to listen to this reality check message as they are to take a tablespoon of caster oil.
Enter a New Bad Guy
Making this predicament even more interesting is the presence in Benghazi of Ahmed Abu Khattala, the leader of an anti-Ghaddafi militia that is now on our list of bad guys. Khattala is reportedly the prime suspect in the September 11 attack on our consulate. Last week, he appeared publicly in Benghazi in a red fez and sandals on the veranda of a luxury hotel overlooking the Mediterranean regaling reporters from The New York Times and other American media outlets in what can only be described as a case of flipping America the bird.
Sipping a cool strawberry frappe, Mr. Abu Khattala accused the leaders of the United States of America of “playing with the emotions of the American people.” Mr. Abu Khattala sipped some more of his strawberry frappe and went on, wondering, “Why is the United States always trying to impose its ideology on everyone else? Why is it always trying to use force to implement its agenda?”
I’ve lived inside imperial American culture (and seen it from outside in Vietnam and Central America) for 65 years, so I can easily imagine every red-blooded American patriot sitting at a bar watching Homeland or 24 reruns or a suburban mom loading her groceries into her Humvee or John McCain and his trusty sidekick Lindsey Graham sitting in the US Senate arriving at a consensus that Mr. Abu Khattala is a man asking for a date with Seal Team Six. Or, given our access difficulties in Benghazi, maybe a nice lethal projectile from a predator drone. Which leaves the natural question hovering over this scene: Is President Obama desperate enough to order such a hit before Tuesday, November 6? Because as he and everyone in power in 2012 knows, patriotic Americans love a good killer.
Like everyone from Mitt Romney on down, Mr. Abu Khattala has an opinion as to how the stupid anti-Islam video that raised street ire in Cairo played into the attack of September 11.
Mr. Abu Khattala claims he had nothing to do with the attack, but he clearly was in the area while the attack went down. He says the attack grew out of a peaceful demonstration focused on the anti-Islam video and that guards inside the compound opened fire first, at which point the protest quickly changed into an attack that eventually involved the burning down of consulate buildings.
One thing Mr. Abu Khattala’s account suggests is that the discussion whether it was first a protest or first an attack is insignificant when one considers the larger view of American foreign policy interests in 2012. This is what the columnist Thomas Friedman calls “the view from 30,000 feet.”
That is, the Benghazi attack and all the other turmoil in the Middle East, North Africa and Southwest Asia is taking place in a context popularly tossed off as the Arab Spring. At the same time, the Euro zone nations are going through an equally epochal identity crisis. And for those honest and courageous enough to recognize it, the US is facing its own post World War Two epochal shifting reality.
Tragically, for many leaders and followers in the United States and for those in our tiny Middle Eastern client state of Israel, it’s a time to put their fat heads in the sand as they say in unison, “No one is gonna take away my glory days!”
With the little aggressive, armed-to-the-teeth nation of Israel in mind, consider the implications of an announced alliance between the current Muslim-Brotherhood-led government of Egypt and the highly sophisticated, moderate Muslim government in Turkey. Until recently Turkey was snuggling up to Europe; but with Europe’s troubles that seems to have shifted, with Turkey’s civilian leaders checkmating its military and seeing Turkey as a leader in the unfolding new Muslim world. The implications of a Turkey-Egypt alliance are profound, especially for Israel and its patron the United States, both of which are overly obsessed with shiite Iran. Meanwhile, the filthy rich Emir of Qatar visits Gaza with $400 million in gifts for the Hamas government that Israel, the US and Europe have tried to starve out of existence.
As it stands, former President Jimmy Carter is virtually the only American leader or ex-leader willing to speak uncomfortable truth to Israelis, something he has been crucified for.
The fact is, we aren’t living in Kansas anymore. And, accordingly, Dodge City’s famous TV Marshall Matt Dillon from Gunsmoke should no longer be our model for dealing with the world. My World War Two veteran dad used to love Matt Dillon in the early sixties when he would empty his gun into the bad guys.
It’s Time to Bury Matt Dillon
The question ordinary Americans and their leaders should be asking is not can a fast draw US Marshall/President gun down enough bad guys to remain the dominating violent force in the world — but whether the American people and the US leaders they pick have it in them to make a pragmatic and forward-looking peace with the world so we can be a constructively powerful nation in an unfolding future world.
President Obama uttered the phrase “nation building at home” a couple times in the final foreign policy debate. That’s wonderful. Unfortunately, this cannot be done adequately without beginning to dismantle the vast, arrogant post-WWII military monstrosity of 700-plus bases described here for lack of a better term as American Imperialism. If that’s too loaded and not a workable term to use, then let’s call it a humongous hosing out of hard-earned tax dollars and, in too many cases, an unnecessary provocation of local opposition that, then, goes global to attack us back.
Mitt Romney understands the US voting population has grown tired of war. Accordingly, he gave a classically dishonest closing statement in the final debate that made him sound incredibly like a peace activist. It was, of course, not couched in terms of real peacemaking, but in terms of US domination of the world — as in Pax Americana 2013 forward.
One of the smartest observers of American Imperialism (although he is unlikely to use the term) is Andrew Bacevich, who wrote an essay in The American Conservative called “How We Became Israel” that makes the case that the massive United States is tragically following tiny Israel as a model for its own militarist behavior in the world. He sketches out a frightening scenario.
“The process of aligning US national-security practice with Israeli precedent is now essentially complete. Their habits are ours. Reversing that process would require stores of courage and imagination that may no longer exist in Washington.”
It’s either find the humility and courage necessary to change … or ride out a runaway train to Hell. The stakes could not be higher.