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The Gaddafi Comedy Hour

In a handful of hours I’ll be leaving for Seoul on a 6:00 a.m. flight – Tel Aviv to Amsterdam; there to Frankfurt and on to Seoul.  A grueling silver tube transit back to work.  Behind I’ll be leaving the middle-east, which in the few weeks I’ve been here, has been transformed:  Tunisia led the way; Egypt followed.  In little Bahrain, next door to Saudi Arabia, things haven’t quite settled out, and in Libya the ugliest change is going on at this moment.   Muammar Gaddafi, having occupied the world’s stage for 42 years is making a tragicomic exit with broadcasts to his nation which veer from crazed to truly insane.  The tragedy is not in him, but rather in all those whose lives were mangled during his reign, and those whose lives are being laid down in the last days and next days to grease his departure.   In another day or two he will go the way of Mussolini, perhaps in a similar manner, strung up to show all he’s truly dead, and for a ridicule he always invited.   The other tragedy is that for all those decades he was propped up with western arms and money, naturally for the oil and gas to be extracted from Libya’s soils.  It is alleged he has extracted 60 billion dollars in “personal” wealth, squirreled away in squeaky-clean Switzerland’s banking system.

Among those who have consorted with Muammar are Silvio Berlusconi, the comic of Italy, who apparently learned of bunga bunga thanks to the Colonel.   Also the deposed Prime Minister of the UK, Tony Blair.  In truth nearly all western leaders found ways to accommodate themselves to this wild and crazy guy, even after he sent Semtex to the IRA, organized the Lockerbie bombing, and myriad other affronts.  But, he sat on lots of oil, and like the other regional potentates, this made going along worthwhile, or so it seemed.   Since the end of World War Two the US has cleverly mis-managed its relationships with the entire region, placing its weight, bets, and arms behind all those tyrants presently being toppled.   It wasn’t as if the behaviors of these people were hidden or unknown – it was clear all along.  But, for the sake of a hit of oil and gas, “anti-communism” or being allies in “the war on terror,” the US and its European counterparts went along with whatever outrages they committed.  Policy was bent into pretzels while America preached rhetorical words about democracy and freedom, and looked the other way when elections were transparently rigged, or when an honest election occurred, as in Gaza, and the result did not please the colonial oil-addict’s tastes, were promptly contested or punished.

So now, as 60+ years of misguided policy unravels, America and Europe, along with Israel, squirm, agitated with the sudden lack of apparent control over the politics of the region.  In turn, “national interests” have caused America’s responses to warp in the worst of ways, betraying – as if it hadn’t been clear for decades – what the real interests are:  when it comes down to it “democracy” and “freedom” are jettisoned while we fret about the oil supply, military bases and supposed allies for our “war on terror.”  The silences of Obama, the clear hedging of bets, the equivocation, the obvious worry about the next big domino, be it Saudi Arabia or Morocco, and the utterly transparent anxiety about Iran, all reveal the craven truth of the moment for America.  It is appalling, and, keeping  in perfect synchronicity with past policy, is 100% guaranteed to alienate the regional population yet again.  But then, being honest about it, America’s rhetorical postures have always been false, a cover for venal business moves, and it shows now whether in Tripoli or Madison.  Our powers-that-be don’t really have any principles that don’t cave in to the “national interests” of the corporations which dictate America’s posture in the world or at home.

While the Gaddafi King Lear show plays out, in Egypt we wait to see exactly how things will conclude – will the military continue to retain ministers of Mubarak’s, or dump them?  Will it really re-form itself, and let go of its large business interests?  This Friday there’s a call for another large demonstration, to push for a genuine reform, and not just a shuffling of the same old deck.   Meantime Washington continues to equivocate, leaving it very unclear where it really stands in these matters.   And here in Israel, from which I’ll be leaving in a handful of hours, there is a nervousness about just where all of this is leading.  It is, from here, understandable, though I think the local paranoia functions to blind political understanding here.  Here the worry is that these changes will lead axiomatically to an Iran-style installation of Islamic hard-liners.  I think the opposite – that the young (and many not so young) don’t wish to exchange one authoritarian system for another, but want to have the option of getting on with their lives, having a job, a future, a hope.  My view is that in not much more time the wave of  “revolution” crossing the Arabic world will wash into Iran, and unlike a year and a half ago, the next time it will wash the Iranian Islamic Republic aside.  But here in Israel they chew on their fingernails in fear.  I’d like to think that because they are here, and are closer observers, they should be right.  But my experiences tell me the opposite normally is the case – those nearest are blinded by narrow biases and self-interests and lack the capacity for a broad view.   Whether in the old USSR and “Eastern Bloc” or Berlin behind its wall, or here:  proximity seems to generate blindness.

For more information see Al Jazeera

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