Obama Looks Strong: But World Events He Can't Control are Election Wild Card
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Think of that wrecking crew, in retrospect, as the three stooges of geopolitical dreaming. The invasion and occupation of Iraq, in particular -- as well as the hubris that went with the very idea of a “global war on terror” -- were acts of take-your-breath-away folly that help explain why the Bush administration was MIA at the recent Republican convention (as was, of course, the Iraq War). In the process, they drove a stake directly through the energy heartlands of the planet, leaving autocratic allies there gasping for breath and wondering what was next. Since 2009, the managers of the Obama administration have been doing what managers do best: fiddling with the order of the deck chairs on our particular Titanic. This might be thought of as managing the Bush legacy.
The problem was that in much of the world an older order, linked to the Cold War scheme of things, was finally coming unglued. A combination of the Bush invasions of the Eurasian mainland and the way the U.S. financial sector stormed the planet with a vast ponzi scheme of bogus financial derivatives did much to promote the process, especially in what neoconservatives liked to call “ the arc of instability” (before they offered a striking demonstration of just what instability was really all about). In a sense, what they dubbed their “democracy agenda” -- though it had little enough to do with democracy -- played a distinct role in unifying much of the Arab world in opposition to its Washington-backed one-percenters. In this way, the Arab Spring was launched against Ben Ali-ism, and Mubarak-ism, against, that is, an American system of well-armed regional autocrats. (The unraveling of Syria is just a reminder that what we are watching is the disintegration of the full Cold War set-up in the Middle East, including the less significant Soviet part of it.)
Back in 2004, Egyptian diplomat Amr Moussa warned the Bush administration that its invasion of Iraq had opened “the gates of hell.” Of course, Washington paid him no heed. He was neither an autocrat nor a soldier, but the secretary-general of the meaningless Arab League, so what were his credentials to explain reality to them? As it happened, he couldn’t have been more on the mark and they more in the dark. Unfortunately, it took some time, two minority insurgencies, much chaos, millions driven into exile, a bitter sectarian civil war (now being repeated in Syria), and morgues filled with dead bodies before the Arab Spring would be launched. Though that movement was named for a season of renewal, its name was apt in another sense entirely: a whole system that had long held in place a key region of the planet was being sprung loose.
From Tunisia and Egypt to Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, vast hordes of people would take to the streets, nonviolently at first, to protest the corruption and depredations of the 1% in their countries and, often, the foreign powers behind them. As autocrats began to fall, a region-wide system in all its complexity, corruption, and brutality began to shudder and come apart at the seams.
Today, that system is, politely put, in transition, but possibly simply in a state of collapse. What will replace it remains unknown and probably unknowable. In the meantime, into the emptied space have flowed all sorts of raw emotions, bitterness, repressed memories, hopes, and despair, much of it stored up for years if not decades, including feelings that are extreme indeed, and some that are simply murderous or quite mad. A way of life, a system in the Greater Middle East, is clearly over. Surprise is the order of the day, including wild demonstrations and killings over a bizarre “trailer” for a non-existent film that barely made it out of Southern California.