Mum's The Emperor

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

Seal up your lips, and give no words but mum;

The business asketh silent secrecy. --Shakespeare

Few observers regard the current Emperor of the lone surviving “Superpower” as someone given to silence. To the contrary, Barack Obama loves to lecture, explicate, inspire and inform. He loves the sound of his own voice. In short, he's a salesman. Isn't that what got him elected to his high office in the first place? His experience and qualifications were next to nil. His gift of gab was everything. That is still the case.

During the interminable and wildly expensive campaign for the Democratic nomination, and then the White House, Obama's speechifying was vague, all of it centering around the word "change", to which the bamboozled were left to fill in the blanks. When a few specifics were carefully thrown in, they amounted to promises to negate conspicuous policy mistakes and instances of outright criminality during the Cheney Regency. Who could disagree? No one in his right mind. Barack was convincing, articulate, and deliberate. 

On top of that, there was an unmistakable touch of grandiosity. There had to be. As an upstart out of nowhere, the junior Senator from Chicago was infused with an unwarranted, king-sized ego to make up for his inadequacies. Remember how the self-anointed Hillary Clinton--the most boring and over-rated personality to hit the national spotlight in a hundred years--reacted when she realized that Barack had to be taken seriously as a contender, despite his nonentity status? It was Barack's audaciousness versus Hillary's entitlement. Audacious won. He then proceeded to run circles around John McCain, that befuddled darling of the Neocons.

Since then, there have been two instances, and only two, in which Obama found himself at a loss for words--or else he decided to follow the advice from his inner circle to stay mum. Both occasions involved aggressive military actions by Tel Aviv to punish the Palestinians locked up in Gaza. I am referring, firstly, to Barack's studied "no comment" when asked to comment upon "Operation Cast Lead" in December 2008/January 2009 and, secondly, to his non-reaction or evasion with respect to the deadly commando raid on the Gaza aid flotilla a month ago.

Paul Craig Roberts, a top Treasury official in the Reagan Administration, has called "Operation Cast Lead" a war crime and the May 31st killings aboard the Mavi Marmara, the flagship in the Gaza flotilla, an atrocity. Roberts did not need to speculate to arrive at these conclusions. They are self-evident. The non-response of the American Emperor to both events speaks volumes. It reveals who or what is actually in control of the White House and Washington. In this respect, Barack and G.W. Bush have a lot in common. They are different sides of the same coin. 

Recall that "Operation Cast Lead" was a three-week "war" targeting the Gaza Strip, one of the most densely populated places on earth. Israel commenced operations midday on December 27th 2008 with airstrikes by U.S.-supplied F-16 fighter jets and Apache attack helicopters. Over 200 Palestinians were killed and more than 700 injured on the first day by the air strikes. The air offensive continued unabated for three weeks. There were no bomb shelters or places to hide. By January 15th, over 2000 sorties had been carried out. 

The ground invasion commenced on January 3rd 2009 with a massive artillery barrage, and the "war" ended on January 18th with a cease fire. For all practical purposes, Gaza was transformed from an open-air prison into a free-fire zone. The grand old man of Israeli politics, Shimon Peres, himself a Nobel peace prize winner like Obama would become, summed up the prevailing attitude: "Hamas needs a real and serious lesson. They are now getting it." The result was the massacre of almost 1,500 Palestinians, most of them civilians. The carnage in Gaza was appalling and deliberate. It is what lawyers of international law call "collective punishment", illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention. 

"Operation Cast Lead" is well worth a backward glance. You could start with Robert Fisk's article in The Independent of December 30th 2008 entitled "Why bombing Ashkelon is the most tragic irony"  and with Uri Avnery's "Molten Lead"  of January 3rd 2009, on the website of Gush Shalom, the Israeli peace organization. Both Fisk and Avnery are Middle East experts who have been around forever. Fisk, an Englishman, has taken up residence in Beirut; Avnery, a German Jew, in Tel Aviv. Both provide insights you will not find in the American news media. Here’s a sample...

From Robert Fisk:

...the original, legal owners of the Israeli land on which Hamas rockets are detonating live in Gaza.... That is why Gaza exists: because the Palestinians who lived in Ashkelon and the field around it...were dispossessed from their lands in 1948 when Israel was created, and ended up on the beaches of Gaza. They--or their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren--are among the one and a half million Palestinians refugees crammed into the cesspool of Gaza, 80% of whose families once lived in what is now Israel....

...watching the news shows, you'd think that history began yesterday, that a bunch of bearded anti-Semitic Islamist lunatics suddenly popped up in the slums of Gaza--a rubbish dump of destitute people of no origin--and began firing missiles into peace-loving, democratic Israel, only to meet with the righteous vengeance of the Israeli air force.... The existence of Gaza is a permanent reminder of those hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who lost their homes to Israel, who fled or were driven out through fear or Israeli ethnic cleansing 60 years ago....

Crammed into the most overpopulated few square miles in the whole world are a dispossessed people who have been living in refuse and sewage and, for the past six months, in hunger and darkness, and who have been sanctioned by us, the West.

From Uri Avnery:

The blockade on land, on sea and in the air against a million and a half human beings is an act of war, as much as any dropping of bombs or launching of rockets. It paralyzes life in the Gaza Strip: eliminating most sources of employment, pushing hundreds of thousands to the brink of starvation, stopping most hospitals from functioning, disrupting the supply of electricity and water....

Some time ago I wrote that the Gaza blockade was a scientific experiment designed to find out how much one can starve a population and turn its life into hell before they break. This experiment was conducted with the generous help of Europe and the U.S. Up to now, it did not succeed. Hamas became stronger and the range of the Qassams became longer. The present war is a continuation of the experiment by other means....

...these are George Bush’s last days in the White House. This blood-soaked moron could be expected to support the war enthusiastically, as indeed he did. Barack Obama has not yet entered office and had a ready made pretext for keeping silent: “there is only one President”. The silence does not bode well for the term of president Obama.

Up until "Cast Lead", Barack Obama had plenty to say about a host of things, from the American economy to the terrorist attack in Mumbai, India. Five months earlier, on July 24th, 2008 he delivered a speech at Tiergarten Park, Berlin, which amounted to a tour d'horizon of American foreign policy. He had just arrived from a campaign stop in Tel Aviv. In retrospect, his Berlin speech I believe will come to be regarded as one of the most grandiose speeches of all time. It was a blockbuster, delivered to 200,000 onlookers. Who wrote it remains unknown, but Obama was alleged to have been advised by 300 foreign policy experts. True to form, the content exhibited all the Messianic delusions of the American foreign policy establishment going back to Woodrow Wilson, especially the triumphalism coming out of the World War II.

The speech ended with these words: "People of Berlin--and the world--the scale of our challenge is great. The road ahead will be long. But I come before you to say that we are heirs to a struggle for freedom. We are a people of improbable hope. [sic] With an eye toward the future, with resolve in our hearts, let us remember this history, and answer our destiny, and remake the world once again." One has a right to ask, what madness is this?

Some months further on, now as President-elect, when faced with the IDF bombardment and invasion of Gaza, Obama opted for a less idealistic approach. While vacationing in Hawaii, he remained tight-lipped as the Gaza massacre unfolded day after day. In the face of ongoing war crimes en plein jour, it will be recorded that Obama did not even suggest a truce or urge restraint by the invading hi-tech army and air force, whose equipment had been provided by Washington. There was silence.  

Which brings us back to the assault on the Gaza-bound humanitarian aid flotilla in the early morning of Monday, May 31st. Nine people were killed by Israeli commandos, including a 19-year-old American citizen who was shot six times in the head at very short range, many more injured, the five vessels were hijacked in international waters, and their passengers kidnapped. This was an act of piracy and terror. What was Obama's reaction to the outrage? He could not hide beyond "no comment" as he did when President-elect. He could not run to the golf course or the beach, and stay there, like he did in Hawaii. 

For twelve hours at the White House, Obama remained behind the scenes and stayed quiet. When he emerged, it was to say that he wanted to learn "all the facts about this morning's tragic events." This was after he had talked to Israeli PM Bibi Netanyahu on the phone more than once, and after presumably being briefed by CIA director Leon Panetta, and after presumably checking with Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, as well as with General James Jones, head of the National Security Council. 

Are we suppose to believe that the White House was blindsided by the Israeli raid? Or that Tel Aviv did not inform elements at the CIA, DOD and the NSC about what it was planning? It is naive to think that Washington was not notified beforehand. Remember, the blockade of Gaza was stated U.S. policy, coordinated with Tel Aviv and Cairo, yet another cracked-brain idea carried over by Obama without debate or fanfare from the Cheney Regency. 

In the immediate aftermath of the raid--while Obama was trying to ascertain "all the facts about this morning's tragic events"--Israel's actions were being publicly denounced by most European governments, including London and Paris. Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said, "I deplore in the strongest terms the killing of civilians. This is certainly a grave act." From Berlin, government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm: "The German government is shocked by events in the international waters by Gaza.... Israeli actions should correspond to the basic principle of proportionality." From Madrid, Secretary of State Diego Lopez Garrido: "Spain unequivocally condemns the Israeli attack on the humanitarian flotilla, and it does so as a country and as the acting president of the EU Council."

The following day, June 1st, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton set the tone for official Washington by explaining, "I think the situation from our perspective is very difficult and requires careful, thoughtful responses from all concerned." Get the message? For Hillary, the unprovoked commando raid presented a public relations problem, requiring an exercise in damage control.

The next day, June 2nd, Obama's glad-handing Vice-President was sent out, and took a different tack. Joe "I am a Zionist" Biden appeared on the Washington establishment's favorite venue, the Charlie Rose Show. Biden opined that Israel had the right to stop the flotilla and enforce the blockade of Gaza. He wondered aloud, "So what's the big deal here?"  Even Charlie Rose looked sheepish when confronted with such a blatant hasbara hustle.  

On June 9th, after a meeting with the hapless Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas at the White House, a Reuters reporter stepped up and asked Barack Obama the first question, the one that was on everybody’s mind: "Did President Abbas ask you to take a tougher line with Israel over the Gaza aid flotilla raid, and will you in fact do so in outright condemnation of Israel's action?" 

Obama's answer: "I think everybody--people in Israel, people in Turkey, people within the Palestinian Territories, certainly people in the United States--want to know the facts of this tragedy, what led to it, how can we prevent it in the future. And I think I've said to the Israelis directly and certainly my team has communicated the fact that it is in Israel's interest to make sure that everybody knows exactly how this happened so that we don't see these kinds of events occurring again...." Ugh! 

The lesson here is: if you know the facts but can't say anything, say it well and act like you mean it. You will go a long way. Especially if you are a careerist Washington politician devoid of all principles. With a little luck, you may even get elected President of the United States and Emperor of the lone surviving “Superpower”--or at the very least, appointed Secretary of State.