Tag Archives: Barack Obama

Blaming Russia

Condoleezza Rice has insisted that the interceptor missiles the US is installing in a silo on Poland’s Baltic Coast are “defensive” and “not aimed at anyone“. Russia argues that, in reality, the system serves to undermine its own strategic deterrent. Whilst the US may, with some ease, paint a programme designed to halt incoming missiles as defensive, we should consider the wider strategic implications of such a move. The point of a deterrent is to make any potential aggressor think twice before attacking; a missile attack by the US on Russia would currently be unlikely because Russia can counterattack and cause comparable damage to the US. If the US has moved to neutralise the potential of Russia’s deterrent system, by blocking any missiles from Russia, then it has given itself a significant strategic advantage; it may attack with relative impunity, and therefore affords itself a significant power-advantage.

Russia would appear to have some reason to feel defensive at this point. The blame for the conflict earlier this month was laid almost wholly at its feet, despite the reality being both more complex and more balanced (on this, see Gary Leupp and Charles King). NATO’s continuous move eastwards, likely eventually to encompass Georgia, challenges Russia’s self-perception as a Eurasian power and may see it attempt to boost its support in other regions of the world. Dmitry Medvedev’s wish to deploy Russian missiles in Syria is perhaps the latest example of this attempt by Russia to expand its influence, and to escape the corner into which the US seems determined to push it. The Syrian deal is comparable with the US-Poland system, although such comparisons escape a media which is able to publish the stories side-by-side without addressing the hypocrisy of a mixed reception.

Russia is far from a benign power, and surely harbours its own imperial ambitions (as does any state with the capacity to enact its plans). The danger is that western aggression (and the missile shield system can only reasonably be seen in this light – imagine a Russian plan to station boats around the US laden with interceptors) will force Russia to seek more extreme methods of preserving its deterrent; a situation which could see the weapons falling into the ‘wrong’ hands (not that there are ever ‘right’ hands for weapons to occupy). The US’s manipulation of Europe (which Obama’s chief foreign policy advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski argues is crucial if the US is to maintain its global primacy) is forcing Russias hand. Condemning Russia, and painting it as dangerous when it speaks out against ‘defensive’ measures is not productive, and distracts attention away from the real imperial danger.

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Corruption and Leaders – Why Commentators Miss the Point

Obama too thin?!

Obama too thin?!

During the slow news period which characterises the British summer, we’re treated to an increase in the amateur Kremlinology that passes for journalism in today’s news-on-demand culture. A quick glance at today’s Times shows up articles on how Obama may be too thin for US voters,* on how to interpret the books that Tory MPs are reading on their holidays, and on Boris Johnson’s distant blood relation to the royal family (not online yet). This fascination with the lives and personalities of our politicians is perhaps symptomatic of the representative system we live in. What is interesting is how it translates into a facination with personal scandals.

Political conversations have become dominated by shock and outrage at the latest corruption or sex scandal. Whole books and careers are dedicated to exposing and condemning such activities. There’s nothing inherently wrong with condemning politicians (or indeed anyone) for blatant disregard for moral conduct. However, when we focus on the personalities, there is an implication that our political system would be fine without these corrupt politicians. Such thinking obscures the fact that such problems are a natural sympton of the society we live in.

The latest scandal is always shocking. Commentators are appalled that Blunkett used ministerial privilege, and that Ian Blair gave the contract to a friend. When it happens constantly (as it has over the past fifteen years) the problem is presented a downturn in moral conduct in modern society, and poor delegation by those appointing the offenders. Boris Johnson, who has been involved in his fair share of scandals, was quick to fire Ray Lewis because of “financial misconduct”, to show that there can be no impropriety under his watchful eye. This is highly misleading; if the likelyhood of being found out were a sufficient deterrent, then corrupt practice would be a thing of the past. Instead, malpractice, ranging from a councillor skimming a few quid, to Berlusconi rearranging a country’s legal system to suit himself, is endemic.

This is not because of a few bad eggs. New Labour, and the Tories before them, have shown that payoffs and privilege can corrupt an entire government. To find the answer we have to go back to Lord Acton and his observation that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”, and to the namesake of this blog Percy Shelley, who said that “power, like a desolating pestilence, pollutes whate’er it touches”.

When individuals rise to the top of the hierarchy, there is a feeling, well explained by C. Wright Mills in The Power Elite, that they occupy a higher plain than those below them. Their actions are inherently justified. Those around them are doing it anyway, it’s the way things are done at the top, why get left behind? Such arrogance peaked with Richard Nixon, who famously insisted that “when the president does it, it’s not illegal”. We can criticise these people all we like, but the reality appears to be that they are products of an elite plateau which teaches its members that they are special, and that they are powerful. Power corrupts, and people start believing their own myths.

Barack Obama was criticised this week for being arrogant. Assigning such a term to any man who believes they have the capacity to be President of the USA is an impressive way to understate a situation. If we insist on having humble, loyal, honest and moral leaders, then we are begging for deception. The powerful are rarely any of these things, and never all of them. Our political system elevates some individuals into positions of great power, and from here they can and will do terrible things. Whenever we are shocked at the individual, we have missed the point. The focus should not be on achieving a system of pure leaders, but on abolishing the hierarchies which produce corruption and contempt for the voters. Anything else is a waste of time, a red rag which directs attention from the structural problems of modern society. It creates an obsession with personalities that has little or nothing to do with making the world a better place. We should criticise corruption, but through a broader critique of the system which produces it.

* The Andrew Marr show assured us that all may not be lost; he’s a heavy smoker, which apparently plays very well.

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Israel Does What It Wants

Dion Nissenbaum, on the relative impunity enjoyed by Israeli soldiers in the territories, is well worth reading.

Also, check out Steve Clemons’ interview with Mustafa Barghouti. On Obama he unfortunately pulls his punches, but his statistics and observations on the post-Annapolis environment are crucial.

“What happened since Annapolis is really shocking. Since Annapolis, the rate at which Israeli settlements expand in the West Bank is twenty times more than before. Since Annapolis, the number of Israeli military checkpoints have increased from 521 to 607.

Since Annapolis, the number of Israeli attacks on Palestinians have increased by 300%. During the whole year of 2007, 404 Palestinians were killed, and 10 Israelis, or 15 Israelis were killed. During the period since Annapolis, 520 Palestinians were killed, including 70 children.”

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