Watching American politics is a bit like watching American-style gladiator wrestling on television. Part of you wants to flick on to the next TV channel for something more satisfying, edifying and real, but still you watch the stupefying spectacle with all its bluster and hype.
You know it’s contrived, pseudo, hammed-up and downright fake, but ironically because of all these dubious qualities, there is something compelling about the procedures. Can these people be for real?
Take the new US secretary of state John Kerry. He made his first overseas trip this week to various capitals in Europe and the Middle East. Compared with his bullish and vulgar predecessor, Hillary Clinton, the urbane Mr Kerry seems like a breath of fresh air.
Speaking in French and German, and reminiscing about his boyhood days in Berlin as the son of an American diplomat, Kerry conjures up an image of a new departure in US foreign policy, one that tacitly promises more reason and dialogue. After years of unilateralism and warmongering from Washington, this apparent accent on diplomacy raises positive prospects for political resolutions on a range of pressing issues, including Syria, Iran and Russia.
With regard to Russia in particular, Hillary Clinton had a habit of stomping with hobnail boots in her rhetoric and manner. In imperious style, she often berated Moscow in uncouth language over its long-held alliance with Damascus. And she did much to gouge-in-the-eye the putative reset in Washington-Moscow relations with her provocative accusations of the latter’s «re-Sovietization» of its southern neighbours.
Out of the ring, so to speak, steps churlish bone-crusher Clinton and in comes the more dapper-dancing Kerry.
A seasoned diplomat with a war-hero background that nevertheless didn’t prevent him in his youth from speaking out forcefully against America’s genocidal war in Indochina, Kerry’s appointment last month has raised some expectations that the second Obama administration would be more enlightened than the first one – bringing a welcome deviation from previous militarist foreign policy.
The first Obama administration had caused bitter disappointment around the world and among many American voters who wanted to see a complete break from the Bush neocon depredations of overseas wars, illegal detention, torture and the appalling use of assassination drones.
Far from overseeing a much-promised change in course, the lawyerly President Barack Obama proved to surpass the cowboy dead-or-alive Dubya Bush in violations of American constitutional and international law.
Obama’s routine exercise of executive powers to carry out extrajudicial killings in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia or Yemen has gained for the White House the sinister sobriquet «imperial presidency» with its literal thumbs-up or thumbs-down decision-making over human life.
But perhaps some redemption could be found in Obama’s appointment of John Kerry. Could this top diplomat posting signal a move towards more reasoned diplomacy, involving dialogue and steering away from belligerent confrontation?
Any illusions about a possible change in direction for American foreign policy were blown away this week with Kerry’s visit to Europe. And it was Kerry himself who blew away such illusions with his own words.
The US secretary of state may have sounded multi-lingual and looked urbane in his pinstripe suit, with all its hints of diplomacy, but what he had to say on the issues of Iran and Syria, and by extension Russia, revealed Kerry to be a consistent operator of the same openly militarist agenda that has become such a hallmark of post-9/11 Washington…
Speaking while in London, Voice of America reported Kerry exhorting Iran «to negotiate in good faith» at the P5+1 talks held this week in Kazakhstan and warning that «time is running out for a diplomatic solution». Such pejorative exhortation laced with the same old bullying menace hardly heralds any substantive change in Washington’s policy. Far from it. It’s the sound of a broken record, stuck in the same psychotic groove.
Then Kerry added the disreputable and hackneyed canard about Iran posing a nuclear weapons threat – a threat that even his own country’s National Intelligence has repeatedly dismissed as unfounded.
«An Iran with a nuclear weapon, in that region, and given all that has happened, is simply unacceptable», Kerry said. «And we have stated that they will not obtain a nuclear weapon».
This unfounded and unverifiable speculation by the US and its Western allies has underpinned the past 10 years of international deadlock, roiling security tensions in the Persian Gulf and imposing crippling economic sanctions on Iran and its 80 million people.
In contradictory double-think, Kerry said the US was approaching the nuclear negotiations in «good faith» and «mutual respect» in order to avoid «whatever terrible consequences could follow failure» of the talks.
The malevolent «terrible consequences» alluded to by Kerry is but a variation of «the no military options off the table» threat that Washington and its Israeli ally have been wielding for the past decade against Iran – a real threat (as opposed to the supposed Iranian threat), which many international legal experts view as constituting a crime of aggression.
So, in terms of Iran, the dapper Mr Kerry was conveying imperialist business-as-usual.
On the matter of Syria, the new US secretary of state was again consistently Clintonesque in content, if not in style. Indeed, Kerry signaled that the US was moving towards not just stepping up so-called non-lethal aid but also openly arming the militants in Syria trying to overthrow the Assad government.
These are the same Western-backed militants who last week detonated a 1.5-tonne car bomb in the capital, Damascus, killing at least 53, including women and children. Shamefully, Kerry did not condemn such indiscriminate mass murder, focusing instead on alleged crimes by Syrian state forces.
«We are examining ways to accelerate the political transition [in Syria],» Kerry said in a joint press conference with French foreign minister Laurent Fabius in Paris.
By accelerating the political transition, Kerry was delicately referring to his government’s policy of illegal regime change of the sovereign government in Damascus. With imperial arrogance, Kerry declared that Syrian President Bashar Al Assad had to step down and would not be part of any negotiated solution.
«He [Assad] needs to know he can’t shoot his way out of this, and so we need to convince him of that», said Kerry. «And I think the [Syrian] opposition needs more help [weapons] in order to do that, and we are working together to have a united position with respect to that.»
Appropriately, Kerry finishes his maiden voyage overseas as secretary of state in the embrace of the Persian Gulf Arab dictatorships, which have been openly supporting Al Qaeda-style terrorism in Syria and elsewhere in the region. Forget the illusions of diplomatic nicety.
This reliance of Washington on reactionary, absolute tyrants is the true and ugly face of American geopolitical interests.
Kerry’s only significance is the illusion of form over content, style over substance. In terms of expecting any meaningful change in Washington’s foreign policy, you may as well be watching American-style wrestling.
Finian CUNNINGHAM | Strategic Culture Foundation