Friday, February 22, 2013

Haggling over Hagel


Ian Williams Friday 22 2013

Republican Lunatics would Destabilise the Whole System

Faced with the likelihood of fierce Capitol Hill battles to nominate members of his own party, Barack Obama sneakily nominates Republicans. It should send a message to the President about the perils of so-called bipartisan politics. Offering a hand to some Republicans is like putting it in a tank of hungry piranhas. His conservative opponents live down to their increasingly bedraggled reputation. The Republican right is holding up the confirmation of Republican former Senator Charles Hagel as Secretary of Defence, as well as that of John Brennan, the somewhat reactionary nominee waterboarding accomplice, to head the CIA.

Mark Twain once said: “Imagine, if you will, that I am an idiot. Then, imagine that I am also a Congressman. But, alas, I repeat myself.” Present Senator and former presidential nominee John McCain’s part in the plot shows how even the few reality-related Republicans are now held hostage by the lunatic fringe. McCain had considered war veteran Hagel for his own cabinet when he ran for President, but did not fall over himself to show public support. The CIA director’s job was held hostage by Republican determination to somehow shift the blame for the killings of Americans in Benghazi from al Qaida to the administration. For that, they were prepared to cripple the agency which they claim is the front line defence against terrorism.
In American politics, one can never be sure which particular combination of sincerely held but totally wacko political ideology and craven or naked self-interest motivates legislators. Voting to stall Hagel makes a certain degree of career sense for legislators with expensive election campaigns to worry about, no matter what the cost to the national interest.

Hagel is accused, effectively, of being rational about Israel, Iran and Iraq, when so many of his colleagues were so easily stampeded into voting for a blank cheque for Benjamin Netanyahu. For those who castigate Obama as a sell-out for nominating a Republican, it is worth remembering that Hagel is far more rational on issues in the Middle East than many Democrat legislators who happily supported the Iraq war and sign on for resolutions calling for United States support for an Israeli attack on Iran. Since the Republican-dominated Supreme Court effectively overthrew all campaign cash restrictions with its “Citizens United” decision – that corporations had all the rights of human beings – there has been a further element of irrationality. Outsiders could never quite get their heads round the subtlety of the American concept that corporations handing over cash to an elected official in the expectation of favours was bribery, but that bundling large amounts of cash to the same person for campaign expenses was public-spirited support of the democratic process. The “Citizens United” decision opened the floodgates. There were some eccentrically right-wing organisations putting money into American politics before, but now crazed rich individuals can ride their political hobbyhorses around the ring. In training Washington DC’s large donkey population, they use both a carrot and stick. The implied threat is not only how much money they gave a candidate, but how much they could concentrate behind the contenders against anyone who stepped out of line. It is symbolic of this ideologically inspired dysfunction that deranged minorities have stopped the US from signing United Nations conventions like that on the Rights of the Child (Somalia being the only other holdout), the Law of the Sea, even though the Pentagon wants it, and the International Criminal Court, even though the US supports its work in other countries. A tiny minority have held up ratification.

Just as the party of Abraham Lincoln is now in thrall to the former Confederacy, the rabidly right-wing heirs of the Ku Klux Klan and the John Birch Society, once tainted with anti-Semitism, are now burning crosses along with loony Likudnik billionaires. However, Obama’s apparent timidity might shroud a shrewd appreciation of the American political system. He lets his opponents commit psephological seppuku on the public stage while he advances his pragmatic agenda. It is not his fault that what are major strides forward for the US are but faltering steps to others in the industrialised world, but in the face of Republican lunacy and conservative Democratic cowardice , any progress at all is a minor miracle.

No comments: