Curtain Raiser

The Company We Keep, Colltalers

When Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff speaks at the opening of the United Nations General Assembly tomorrow, the thorny issue of the NSA spying on her private conversations as well as on high-level affairs of Brazil, will likely get a fresh paint of rebukes and recriminations.
After all, just a few weeks ago, she was forced to cancel her official October visit to the U.S. in response to an enormous political fallout that followed the revelations, made public out of the secret documents leaked by former CIA contractor Edward Snowden. More about that in a moment.
In fact, President Obama is probably bracing for a beating at the U.N. this week, as a host of countries seem very unhappy with the way the U.S. is treating its former allies, and almost recklessly vying for fights no one is sure it can handle on its own, or extricate itself soon enough.
Thus, before even leaving South America, take Bolivia, for example. This past week, President Evo Morales said his country will sue the U.S. for ‘crimes against humanity,’ no less, for allegedly preventing Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro from flying over Puerto Rico on his way to China.
This gesture of regional solidarity, which would certainly have the late Hugo Chavez wringing his hands with glee, can also be traced back to the former contractor: in July, Morales’s plane was rerouted because the Obama administration suspected that it was carrying Snowden out of Russia.
The U.S. never admitted it’d a hand on the incident, which caused a minor diplomatic ruckus, but French and Portuguese authorities did deny clearance for the plane to fly over their countries, forcing it to be held up in Austria. And the Department of Justice had in fact made public its intention to call on countries that would dare offering help to Snowden, and Bolivia, for one, did just that. As did Russia, of course.
Which confirms that perhaps unwittingly President Obama has been sowing bad blood at a frightening rate among countries that only recently were useful allies (or at least, no longer foes), and exercising a behind-the-scenes game of bullying against those that don’t seem to be willing to go along with the Pentagon’s wishes.
The crisis in Syria seems to be exposing more than ever this arguably new reality: they, the countries and the wishes, have been multiplying lately. No major European power so far has supported the president’s threat to strike Syria, and even a ‘coalition of the willing’ now seems improbable.
Even the U.S.’s ‘special friend,’ the U.K., toed the line and refused to endorse Washington’s war plans (and planes). That cut both ways, since P.M. David Cameron, who hasn’t found much love neither at home nor among his European counterparts, was counting on getting at least that done.
Some invoked George W.’s nefarious legacy as the beginning of the end of global goodwill towards the U.S. For despite having had a rare moment of worldwide solidarity, following the Sept. 11 attacks, he took immediate steps to ignore allies and engage in a costly war on false premises.
Something must be said, however, about President Obama’s own inability to pick the right fights, and align his agenda with that of his constituency, even considering the barrage of dishonest opposition he’s faced from day one. The president can add himself to the list of his own biggest foes.
Now it’s as if the domestic shortcomings of his two-term presidency have started to spread out to his foreign and defense policies, and he’s been doing an exquisite job of looking and acting as autocratic and isolated as Dick Cheney, er, the Bush administration, when it comes to global relations too.
Thus if the U.S. has been getting it from all sides (did we mention that Germany and France have all but abandoned the American ship of foreign intervention since the Iraq war, and that Angela Merkel’s win may signal more of the same ahead?), one has to wonder: so who are our friends?
And that’s when a grim prospect becomes a losing proposition, for many of the traditional political alliances, forged during the Cold War, have vanished or evolved into a whole new ballgame these days, where trade interests often take precedence over old-style politics.
Economics being a slippery slope, it’s only part of the pragmatism of our times that many former strong commercial partners of the U.S. are also, well, jumping ship, in this case, to China. Brazil, for instance, has in the Asian mammoth, not the U.S., its biggest trade partner.
Case in point, Egypt. Not only the U.S. has been consistently caught in the wrong side of the country’s complex politics for at least 40 years, but it’s also captive to supporting the Egyptian army as the only reliable protector of its commercial interests in the region, the Suez canal chief among them.
Of course, no one ever mentions that big energy corporations hidden behind such self-interest-driven official policy, stand to gain a lot from U.S.-sponsored military-enforced security of facilities and trade in the area, despite contributing close to nothing for the overall effort.
The case of Russia is also exemplary, in what it shows that the two countries remain effective commercial partners, even if not in a grand scale, but way better than during the Cold War anyway, while about their political relations, not so much, or rather, not at all. Actually, disastrously so.
Other ‘friends’ of this special list include Saudi Arabia and Yemen and Ryhad, as everybody knows, bastions of democratic institutions and individual rights, plus a handful of dictatorship and regimes throughout the world, all reportedly extremely unhappy with the U.S.’s ‘hesitancy’ in Syria.
With friends like that, it’s hard even to shop for new ones. Take Iran. If winds of change confirm what many hoped for so long, that it may veer towards a negotiated solution for its nuclear aspirations, how is the U.S. supposed to walk back its past inflammatory rhetoric against it?
Worse, what of the small elephant in the desert, Israel, or rather, its current leadership and its own vituperative stance against Iran? Would this other ‘special relationship’ suffer an irreversible turnaround? For it’s not that it hasn’t already dug hole after hole for the burial of any peace process.
But let’s pause here, for just like the U.S. foreign policy, we’ve been all over the place. Colltales also enjoys a special relationship of its own, with Brazil, as our readers know. That being said, it’s fair to expect that President Dilma, as she’s known at home, will hardly speak only about the NSA.
Since she also took a beating of her own a few months ago, with massive street rallies against perceived corruption in her administration, just as she was about to sail through a reelection campaign, she most likely will use the occasion to appear resolute and viable to her own constituency.
In other words, as with many U.N. speeches, hers may also be a combination of two parts grandstanding against vague threats to sovereignty, and one part striking of the same one-note samba of political expediency, calls for universal peace, et and al. Pardon if we don’t sound impressed.
As for the U.S., and being extra careful not to rehash old cliches about friendship and solidarity, the main challenge to President Obama may be to convey the idea that strength is on flexibility and willingness to collaborate, and not on a renewed gathering of weapons and boots, out for blood.
Just as Obamacare, the president’s most viable horse in the domestic race, is being led to the gate, and Republicans getting ready to re-stage the hijacking of national interests in the name of their defeated-in-the-polls agenda, it won’t be another U.N. speech the one destined to turn all tides around.
In other words, his, and Rousseff’s, are sure to be rousing, and little else. But the gathering of many former friends, the glaring absence of real ones, the ‘evolving attitude’ of old foes, and the intense maneuvering to get the Security Council to agree on anything, will surely bring their own rewards.
Even though the U.N.’s long lost its patina of peace-promoting body, compromised by too many instances of rubber stamping or just plain inaction, the fact that the U.S. was forced to resort to it may be the best silver-lining yet coming out of that tragic and tempestuous cloud hovering over Syria.
It’ll be also a good time for President Obama to find out what kind of friends he’s been cultivating all along. Hopefully, he’ll have better clarity than when he picked his economic team out of the very industry they were supposed to monitor, all the while turning into a typical fair-weather friend for the rest of us. Have a great one. WC


One thought on “Curtain Raiser

  1. WordsFallFromMyEyes says:

    You know so much about world news events – I don’t really know how you do it. Always news to me, is coming over here. An interesting read AGAIN, Wesley.

    And “vituperative” is my word of the day – never heard it before! Thank you!


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