Much has been made of Mitt Romney’s purported gaffes during his recent trip abroad. Press coverage of his trip to Israel, Poland, and the United Kingdom induces one to believe that, as President, he would display the ineptitude that Rufus T. Firefly did as leader of Freedonia, absent the frenetic humor. Dull and incompetent, you can’t get much worse than that.
In fact, Romney remained aware that he was speaking to a particular domestic audience, and, despite some clumsy moments here and there, acquitted himself fairly well. Today, a Romney spokesperson told the press in Poland to “kiss my ass” which will go over well with those Tea Party people and social conservatives who continue to have reservations about him. Of course, the fact that they still have reservations is a problem, but this problem predated this trip and will persist afterwards. In any event, such a trip is a necessary evil that all presidential nominees must undertake, and, with this out of the way, he can return to hammering Obama on the moribund economy.
Such antics obscure, however, a more profound issue: to what extent does the public have any influence over US foreign policy at all? And I think we all know the answer: very little, if any. Despite significant domestic opposition, Harry Truman created NATO and sent troops to fight in Korea. Dwight Eisenhower deposed Mossadegh in Iran and Arbenz in Honduras, while LBJ escalated the Vietnam War after running as a peace candidate in 1964. Of course, Nixon had a secret plan to end that war that included the extension of the war into Cambodia and massive B-52 bombing campaigns.
More recently, Bush launched an open-ended “war on terror” that has been continued by Obama, and, in some instances, as with the drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen, intensified. None of this is being seriously discussed during the campaign, and there is, sadly, no indication that people want Obama and Romney to do so. Instead, we are treated to inane sound bites about how much America is respected (and, implicitly feared) throughout the world. Obama relies upon the fact that he killed Osama bin Laden, and has no problem considering any military aged Muslim male in Afghanistan and Pakistan a “militant” subject to drone strikes, airstrikes, and house raids, while Romney bleats about his love for Israel. And how does one express this love? By attacking Iran.
In this, both candidates recognize that the public relates to the President as a father figure responsible for keeping us safe. Hence, they persuade the public to measure their ability to do so by their willingness to indiscriminately kill others. It is, in fact, the one essential attribute that one must have to be President. As Doug Noble recently observed in a Counterpunch article, “Assassination Nation,” presidents have been doing it for over 50 years through the Phoenix Program, Operation Condor, and the School of the Americas, with the emphasis being upon the eradication of indigenous, frequently left, social movements.
Such suppression is an inescapable feature of American capitalism, and anyone who wants to be president understands that they have no choice but to do it. Liberals have historically sought to soften the ferocity of this endeavor through the creation of transnational institutions like the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, NATO, and the World Bank. Through such cooperative efforts, financed primarily by the United States, Europe, and Japan, recalcitrant peoples in countries around the world are brought to heel through military intervention, sanctions, and austerity imposed through structural adjustment plans.
Unlike people like Chris Hedges, who, because of his religious background, relates to current conditions in apocalyptic terms, I see no reason why this cannot continue for decades, with the attendant increase in violence that one would associate with it. No reason, that is, unless people organize themselves trans-nationally, going beyond the nationalism that is manipulated to their disadvantage. Tahrir Square, Occupy, the indignados . . . these are the tentacular roots of an anti-capitalist resistance which is the only possible escape from an increasingly violent future. Embedded within the belligerent chants of No Borders, No Nations, No Private Corporations, and F*ck the Police From Oakland to Greece is a message of hope, a message that our fates are increasingly intertwined wherever we may live. But will Americans embrace it in time?