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All the President’s Women

By Andrew Levine / Counterpunch.

Photo by ASACP RTA | CC BY 2.0

There is no doubt about it: Stormy Daniels is a formidable woman.  Karen McDougal is no slouch either, though she is hard to admire after that riff, in her Anderson Cooper interview, about how religious and Republican she is; she even said that she used to love the Donald.  Stormy Daniels is better than that.

How wonderfully appropriate it would be if she were to become the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Even in a world as topsy-turvy as ours has become, there has to be a final straw.

To be sure, evidence of Trump’s vileness, incompetence, and mental instability is accumulating at breakneck speed, and there are polls now that show support for him holding fast or even slightly rising.  Trump’s hardcore “base” seems more determined than ever to stand by their man.

But even people as benighted as they are bound to realize eventually that they have been had.  Many of them already do, but don’t care; they hate Clinton Democrats that much.  This is understandable, but foolish; so foolish, in fact, that they can hardly keep it up indefinitely.

To think otherwise is to despair for the human race.

What, if anything, can bring them to their senses in time for the 2018 election?

Stormy Daniels says she only wants to tell her story, not bring Trump down.  But her political instincts seem decent, and she is one shrewd lady. Therefore, I would not be the least surprised if that is not quite true.  It hardly matters, though, what her intentions are; I’d put my money on her.

A recession might also do the trick.  A recession is long overdue, and Trump’s tax cut for the rich and his tariffs are sure to make its consequences worse when it happens.

To turn significant portions of Trump’s base against him, a major military conflagration might also do — not the kind Barack Obama favored, fought far away and out of public view, but a real war, televised on CNN, and waged against an enemy state like North Korea or Iran.   It would have to go quickly and disastrously wrong, though, in ways that even willfully blind, terminally obtuse Trump supporters could not fail to see.

Or the gods could smile upon us, causing Trump’s exercise regimen (sitting in golf carts) and his fat-ridden, cholesterol rich diet to catch up with him, as it would with most other sedentary septuagenarians.  The only downside would be that a heart attack or stroke might elicit sympathy for the poor bastard.

No sane person could or should hope for a calamitous economic downturn or for yet another devastating, pointless, and manifestly unjust war, especially one that could become a war to end all wars (along with everything else), on the off-chance that some good might come of it.

And if the best we can do is hope that cheeseburgers with fries will save us, we are grasping at straws.

These are compelling reasons to hope that the accusations made by Daniels and McDougal and Summer Zervos – and other consensual and non-consensual Trump victims and “playmates” – gain traction.   If the several defamation lawsuits now in the works can get the president deposed, this is not out of the question.

The problem for Trump is not that his accusers’ revelations will cause his base to defect; no matter how salacious their stories and no matter how believable they may be.  Trump’s moral turpitude is taken for granted in their circles; and they do not care about the myriad ways his words and deeds offend the dignity of the office he holds or embarrass the country he purports to put “first.”  If any of that mattered to them, they would have jumped ship long ago.

Except perhaps for unreconstructed racists and certifiable sociopaths, white evangelicals are Trump’s strongest supporters.  What a despicable bunch of hypocrites they are!  As long as Trump delivers on their agendas, his salacious escapades don’t faze them at all.  Godly folk have evidently changed a good deal since the Cotton Mather days.

What has not changed is their seemingly limitless ability to believe nonsense.

And in case light somehow does manage to shine through, Trump has shown them how to restore the darkness they crave.  When cognitive dissonance threatens, all they need do is scream “fake news.”

The problem for Trump is that what his accusers are saying puts him in legal and political jeopardy.  They are claiming, in effect, that he has committed a variety of unlawful and impeachable offenses – from obstruction of justice to violations of campaign finance laws.

In this case as in so many others, it is the cover-up, not the underlying “crime,” that could lead to his undoing – especially if the stories Daniels and the others are telling shed light upon or otherwise connect with or meld into Robert Mueller’s investigation of (alleged) Russian “meddling” in the 2016 election.

Trump could and probably will survive their charges.  His base is such a preternaturally obdurate lot that there may ultimately be no last straw for them.  We may have no choice, in the end, but to despair for a sizeable chunk of the human race.

Stormy Daniels would not be any less admirable on that account. She took Trump on and came out on top.  For all the world (minus the willfully blind) to see, she, the porn star, is a strong woman who has her life together, while he, the president, is a discombobulated sleaze ball who is leading himself and his country to ruin.

***

It was different with Monica Lewinsky, another presidential paramour who, almost two decades ago, also held the world’s attention.

There was nothing sleazy or venal about Lewinsky’s involvement with Bill Clinton; and, for all I know, unless chastity counts, she is as good and virtuous a person as can be.  But personal qualities are not what made her affair with our forty-second president as historically significant as it turned out to be.

It would be fair to say that of all the women who have ever had intimate knowledge of that old horn dog’s private parts, there is no one who did more good for her country. If only for that, if there were a heaven, there would be special place in it just for her.

The Clinton-Lewinsky dalliance led to a series of events that prevented Clinton from doing even more harm to our feeble welfare state institutions than he would otherwise have done.

Who knows how much progress he would have turned back had he and Monica never done the deed or at least not been found out.  Building on groundwork laid down by Ronald Reagan and the first George Bush, he and his wife had already terminated Aid to Families With Dependent Children, one of the main government programs aimed at relieving poverty.  This was to be just the first step in “ending welfare as we know it.”

With their “donors” pushing for more austerity, those two neoliberal pioneers were itching to begin privatizing other, more widely supported social programs, including even Social Security, the so-called “third rail” of American politics.

The “Lewinsky matter” put the kybosh on that idea, leaving the American people forever in Monica’s debt.

Back in the Kennedy days, Mel Brook’s two-thousand year old man got it right when he said: presidents “gotta do it,” to which he added – “…because if they don’t do it to their wives and girlfriends, they do it to the nation.”

Stormy Daniels made much the same point ten years ago, while flirting with the idea of running against Louisiana Senator David Vitter.  Vitter’s political career had been almost ruined when his name turned up in the phone records of the infamous “DC Madam,” Deborah Jeane Palfrey.  Daniels told voters that, unlike Vitter, she would “screw …(them) honestly.”

What then are we to make of the fact that Trump screws both the nation and his wife (maybe) and his girlfriends (or whatever they are)?

Blame it on arrested development, on the fact that despite his more than seventy-one years, Trump still has the mind of a teenage boy, one with money and power enough to live out his fantasies.

The contrast with Bill Clinton is stark.  Clinton is a philanderer with eclectic tastes, a charming rascal with a broad and mischievous mind.  Honkytonk women from Arkansas appeal to him as much as zaftig MOTs from the 90210 area code.

Trump, on the other hand, goes for super-models, Playboy centerfolds, and aspiring beauty queens — standard teenage fantasy fare.

He seems to have had little trouble living his dreams – not thanks to his magnetic face, form and figure, and certainly not to his refinement, wit or charm, but to his inherited and otherwise ill-gotten wealth.

It is money and the power that follows from it that draws women to his net.

Henry Kissinger understood; recall his musings on the aphrodisiacal properties of power.  Even in his prime, that still unindicted war criminal (and later-day Hillary Clinton advisor) was even more repellent than Trump.  But that never kept him from having to fight the ladies off.

This fact of life puts a heavy responsibility on the women with whom presidents hook up.

Consider Melania.  She made a Faustian bargain when she agreed to become Trump’s trophy bride; in return for riches and a soft life in a gilded tower, she sold her soul.  She might have thought better of it had she taken the burdens she would incur as First Lady into account, but why would she?  The prospect was too improbable.

She has, it seems, a very practical, old world view of marriage, and is therefore tolerant of her husband’s womanizing.  At the same time, as a mother and daughter, she is, like most immigrants, a strong proponent of old world “family values.”

Too much of a proponent perhaps; insofar as her idea was to “chain migrate” her parents out of Slovenia and onto Easy Street, or to raise a kid who would never want for anything, there were less onerous ways of going about it.   After all, there are plenty of rich Americans lusting after supermodels out there, and it is a good bet that many of them are less repellent than Trump.

She was irresponsible as well.  She ought to have realized that the man she married had already spawned two idiot sons, along with other fruit from the poisonous tree, and that four bad apples in one generation are enough.

And so now she finds herself a single mother – not in theory, of course, but very definitely in practice.  Unlike most women in that position, she is not wanting for resources.   But it must be a hard slog, even so.  To her credit, Melania seems to be handling the burden well.  More power to her!

She also deserves credit for her body language when the Donald is around; the contempt she shows for him is wonderful to behold.  Best of all is her sense of the absurd.  The way she plagiarized from Michelle Obama had obvious comic validity, and making childhood bullying her First Lady cause – all First Ladies have causes — was a stroke of genius.

On balance, therefore, it is hard not to feel sorry for her.  Of all the women in Trump’s ambit, she deserves humiliation the least.

The rumor mill has it that with all the publicity about Daniels and the others, she has finally had enough.  This may be the case; the old world ethos requires discretion and a concern with appearances.  That is not the Donald’s way, however, and now she is paying the price.

What a magnificent humiliation it would be if she and Trump were to split up on that account.  This could happen soon.  I would expect, though, that through a combination of carrots and sticks, Trump and his fixers will find a way to minimize the political effects.  More likely still, they will channel Joe Kennedy and Jackie O, and figure out a way to head the problem off.

Then there is poor forgotten Tiffany.  Her Wikipedia entry lists her as both a law student and a “socialite.”  I hope her studious side wins out and that, despite the genes from her father’s side, she is at least somewhat decent and smart.

I’d be more confident of that if she would do what Ronald Reagan’s daughter, Patti, did: use her mother’s, not her father’s, name.  Unless she is a sleaze ball too, a Trump in the Eric and Don Junior mold, that would be a fine way to make a political point.

It would also pay back over the years.  With the Trump administration on its current trajectory, who, in a few years’ time, would take a Tiffany Trump seriously?  A Tiffany Maples would stand a better chance.

Her half-sister, the peerless Ivanka, the Great Blonde Hope, is, of course, her father’s sweetie.  Let’s not go there, however.  Her marriage to Jared Kushner is already enough to process.

What a pair those two make; and what a glorious day it will be when the law finally catches up with Jared, as it did with his Trump-like father, Charles.  Perhaps he will take Ivanka down a notch or two with him.

Despite an almost complete lack of qualifications, Trump made his son-in-law his minister of almost everything; a pretty good gig for a feckless, airhead rich kid.

Among other things, Trump enabled him to become Benjamin Netanyahu’s ace in the hole.  Netanyahu is a Kushner family friend.

Netanyahu has more than his share of legal troubles too.  Let them all go down together!

Ivanka and Jared are well matched – they share a “business model.” It has them exploiting their daddies’ connections and money.

Jared peddles real estate; his efforts have gotten his family into serious debt, while putting him in solid with Russian and Eastern European oligarchs, Gulf state emirs, and Mohammad bin Salman – people in comparison with whom his father-in-law seems almost virtuous.

Ivanka sells trinkets and schmatas to people who think the Trump name is cool.  There actually are such people; at two hundred grand a pop, Mar-a-Lago is full of them.  Ivanka’s demographic is made up mostly of their younger set.

Two other presidential women bare mention: Hope Hicks and Nikki Haley. Surely, they both have tales to tell, but it looks, for now, as if their stories would be of little or no prurient interest.  Neither of them appear to have been propositioned or groped.

Even though Hicks is said to be like a daughter to the Donald – we know what that could mean! – it is a safe bet that there was nothing of a romantic nature going on between them.  For one thing, Hicks seems too close to Ivanka; for another, she is known to have dallied with two Trump subordinates, Corey Lewandowski and Rob Porter.  The don is hardly the type to let his underlings have at his women.

Haley had to quash a spate of rumors that flared up thanks to some suggestive remarks    Michael Wolff made while hawking Fire and Fury.  The rumor caught on because people who hadn’t yet fully realized what a piece of work Trump is, imagined that something had to be awry inasmuch as her main qualification for representing the United States at the United Nations was an undergraduate degree in accounting.  Abject servility to the Israel lobby also helped.

But the Trump administration is full of ambitious miscreants whose views on Israel and Palestine are as abject and servile as hers, and compared to many others in Trump’s cabinet she is, if anything, over qualified.  Think of neurosurgeon Ben Carson heading the Department of Housing and Urban Development.  He is qualified because, as a child, he lived in public housing.

With the exception of Stormy Daniels, Karen McDougal, Summer Zervos and whoever else comes forward with a juicy and credible tale to tell, the women currently in the president’s ambit, though good for gossip and interesting in the ways that characters on reality TV shows can be, are of little or no political consequence.

This could change if any of them decides to “go rogue,” to use an expression from the Sarah Palin days.  But, while neither Melania nor Tiffany can yet be judged hopeless, it would be foolish to expect much of anything good to come from either of them.

Stormy, Karen, Summer, and whoever else steps forward are a better bet.  They are the only ones with any chance of doing as much for their country and the world as Monica Lewinsky did a generation ago.

Among the president’s women, they are a breed apart. This is plainly the case with Stormy Daniels; it is already clear that she deserves what all Trump’s money can never buy – honor and esteem.  To the extent that the others turn out to be similarly courageous, they will too.

ANDREW LEVINE is the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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The Rise, Fall, and Rise Again of the Politics of Middle Eastern Soccer

By James M. Dorsey

Edited remarks at The Beautiful Game? Identity, Resentment, and Discrimination in Football and Fan Cultures conference, Center for Research on Antisemitism, Berlin, 12-13 April 2018


The virtually continuous role of soccer as a key player in the history and development of the Middle East and North Africa dating back to the late 19th century seemed to have come to an abrupt halt in 2014 as the Saudi-UAE-led counterrevolution gained momentum, the Saudi-Iranian regional rivalry accelerated, and the political rift in the Gulf initially manifested itself.

The long and dramatic history of the Middle Eastern intersection of sports and politics took a backseat as the fallout of the popular Arab revolts of 2011 unfolded. In contrast to other parts of the world in which rulers and politicians at times employed sports as a tool to achieve political goals, sports in general and soccer in particular had been a player in the Middle East in terms of nation, state and regime formation; assertion of national identity; the struggle for independence; republicanism vs monarchy; ideological battles; and fights for human, political, gender and labour rights.

Soccer in the Middle East and North Africa had repeatedly demonstrated its potential as an engine of social and political change not necessarily the lovey-dovey kind of building bridges and contributing to peace, but more often than not divisive and confrontational. That was evident with the role of soccer in the 1919 Egyptian revolution; the struggles for nationhood, statehood and independence of Jews, Palestinians and Algerians; the quest for modernity in Turkey and Iran; the 2011 popular revolts; post-2011 resistance to a UAE-Saudi-inspired counterrevolution; the awarding by world soccer governing body FIFA of the 2022 World Cup hosting rights to Qatar; and ultimately the battle for regional dominance between Saudi Arabia and Iran as well as the Gulf crisis that since June 2017 has pitted a UAE-Saudi-led alliance against Qatar.

The Gulf crisis put an end to a period starting with the crushing of student protests with militant soccer fans at their core against the military coup in Egypt in 2013 that brought Mr. Al-Sisi to power in which the sport no longer seemed a useful prism for analysing developments in the Middle East and North Africa. The crackdown turned Egyptian universities into security fortresses and seemed to have largely silenced the ultras.

The first round of the Gulf crisis in 2014 when Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Doha for a period of ten months;  the escalating war in Syria; the rise of King Salman and his son, Mohammed bin Salman, and the changes they introduced in Saudi Arabia; the escalation of the Saudi-Iranian rivalry and its associated proxy wars; and the initial phase of the second round in the Gulf crisis with last year’s imposition of a diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar reinforced a sense that soccer was not a working prism for analysis of events.

A number of developments have however reversed that sense. One is the re-emergence of soccer in Egypt as an important player despite the crackdown on the anti-Sisi protests. Mr. Al-Sisi repeatedly tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to forge links with the ultras while the ultras in past years despite the repression again emerged as one of the few groups willing to stage protests. Scores of protesters have since been sentenced to prison, many remain detained awaiting trial.

Enlisting the support of soccer represented by the Egyptian Football Association and major clubs for his re-election this year, Mr. Al-Sisi positioned soccer as a key tool of associating himself with something the country is crazy about and that evokes deep-seated, tribal-like emotions. Egypt’s qualification for this year’s World Cup like that of several other Arab teams cemented the role of soccer in Egypt and the other qualifying countries.

Similarly, Saudi soccer diplomacy in Iraq has earned the kingdom brownie points. Soccer, despite the Gulf crisis, has moreover proven to be the wedge that has driven change and significant reform of the labour regime in Qatar. The changes fall short of what human rights groups, international trade unions and the International Labour Organization wanted to see. Nonetheless, the changes amount to far more than a cosmetic face lift.

Last but not least, soccer, and particularly the Qatar World Cup, is an important battlefield in the increasingly overt public relations battle between the Gulf state and its detractors, particularly the United Arab Emirates. In addition, to playing an important role in the politics of the region, Middle Eastern soccer has in the past three years highlighted the hypocrisy of the insistence by world soccer body FIFA that governance should ensure its separation from politics. The endorsement of a candidate by a football association and/or clubs makes a mockery of a division of sports and politics. So do FIFA decisions regarding venues and choice of referees for competition matches involving teams of the Middle East’s feuding states.

The political role of soccer is rooted in the politics of sports that goes back to 5th century Rome, when support groups identified as the Blues, Greens, Reds and Whites in the absence of alternative channels for public expression acclaimed a candidate slated to be installed as Rome’s emperor in games dominated by chariot racing.  Much like modern day militant soccer fans or ultras, they frequently shouted political demands in between races in a bid to influence policy. In doing so, the Romans set a trend that has since proven its value as well as its risk. In today’s modern world, soccer pitches, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, were frequently viewed as barometers of the public mood and indicators of political and social trends. They also were platforms for the public venting of pent-up frustration and anger as well as grievances.

Rome also served as an early example of the impact of fan power. That was most evident in the 532 AD Nika revolt, the most violent in Constantinople’s history, when the then dominant Blues and Greens rioted for a week, destroyed much of the city, sacked the Hagia Sophia, and almost succeeded in forcing the Byzantine emperor Justinian I to vacate his throne.

The identification, through patronage and micromanagement, of modern-day Arab autocrats with soccer emulates the Romans’ use of games and sports to solidify their power. Arab autocrats, however, unlike their Roman predecessors, were determined to prevent soccer clubs from becoming arbiters of political power. The Greens and the Blues and their fans in fifth-century-AD games were the Roman predecessors of today’s Middle Eastern and North African soccer fans who expressed similarly deep-seated passions.

Arab autocrats, however, unlike their Roman predecessors, were determined to prevent soccer clubs from becoming arbiters of political power. In contrast to the Romans, giving fans and the public a say in the choice of a leader would be unthinkable in contemporary autocratic Arabia. It would have to give the public a degree of sovereignty and undermine the position of the ruler as the neo-patriarchic, autocratic father in the mould of Palestinian-American scholar Hisham Sharabi, who characterized autocracies in the Middle East and North Africa as expressions of neo-patriarchy.

Soccer was the perfect tool for neo-patriarchic autocrats. Their values were the same values that are often projected onto soccer: assertion of male superiority in most aspects of life, control or harnessing of female lust, and a belief in a masculine God. The game’s popularity, moreover, made it the perfect soft-power tool to wield transnational sporting influence in an era of decolonization followed by a Cold War in which sporting powers like the United States and the Soviet Union were focused on the Olympics rather than the World Cup, and it continues to serve this purpose in subsequent globalization.

As a result, neo-patriarchy framed the environment in which militant soccer fans turned the soccer field into a battlefield. Arab autocrats, such as the toppled Egyptian and Tunisian presidents Hosni Mubarak and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, had no intention of risking a repeat of Justinian I’s experience. Theirs was a world in which there could be no uncontrolled public space, no opportunity for the public to express itself, voice grievances, and vent pent-up anger and frustration. They could suppress most expressions of dissent, such as underground music. Musicians were intimidated, imprisoned, or refused entry into the country, with by and large little or no public response.  Labor activism was brutally repressed.  The soccer pitch, however, like the mosque, were venues for the deep-seated emotions they evoked among a majority of the population and could not simply be repressed or shut down. The mosque proved easier to control. The pulpit was subjected to government supervision; clerics were state employees. Security forces successfully confronted more militant, politicized lslamists.

Soccer pitches were not that simple. Fans, particularly militants, who described themselves as ultras and viewed club executives as representatives or corrupt pawns of a repressive regime and players as mercenaries who played for the highest bidder, were cut from a different cloth. They understood themselves as their club’s only true supporters, and as a result believed that they were the real owners of the stadium. In staking their claim, the fans emerged in countries like Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco as the most, if not only, organized force willing and able to figuratively and literally challenge the regime’s effort to control all public space.
The fans’ claim positioned soccer as both a threat and an opportunity for Middle Eastern and North African autocrats. The threat was an increasingly fearless, well-organized, highly politicized, and street battle–hardened force that attracted thousands of young men who were willing and able to stand their ground against the security forces. In doing so, they were publicly challenging the state’s authority.

Long deprived of the option to simply close down the contested public space, autocrats like Mr. Mubarak were forced to respond with a combination of co-optation and repression. Alongside heavy-handed use of security forces, they sought to identify themselves with the game, the region’s most popular form of popular culture, by basking in the success of national teams and major clubs and exploiting neo-patriarchal attitudes by showering players with expensive gifts and the ruler’s attention, while at the same time denouncing the ultras as criminals and thugs. That pattern continues until today buffeted by significantly stepped-up repression and in the case of Egypt the virtual closure to the public of stadiums for much of the past seven years made possible by the 2011 revolt.

Co-optation potentially creates significant opportunity for the autocrat no more so that at times of major international competitions like the World Cup. Identification with one of the country’s most popular and emotive pastimes offered the autocrat the prospect of harnessing it to polish his often tarnished image. Co-optation also provided an autocrat with an additional peg for favourable media attention that could help distract attention away from or overshadow criticism. Finally, it enabled autocrats to manipulate public emotions at given moments and rally the nation around them, as the Mubaraks did against Algeria in late 2009.

In many ways the Middle East of today is not the Middle East of a decade ago. Arab autocrats recognize that in their efforts to upgrade autocracy and embrace economic and social reform coupled with increased repression. The mayhem in the region works in their favour. The wars and the violence invoke nationalist and other useful emotions and invoke fears that popular protest could lead to chaos and anarchy. Yet, discontent is simmering at the surface much as it did in the run-up to the 2011 revolts and the soccer pitch is often where it rears its head.

The mayhem in the Middle East and North Africa is not exclusively, but in many ways, due to autocrats’ inability and failure to deliver public goods and services. That is true not only for the region’s autocratic majority but also for Iran, and Tunisia, the Arab revolt’s one and only relative success story.  Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman appeared to be holding out a dream for his kingdom. But that dream increasingly is being shattered in Yemen and at homes has yet to produce more than greater freedoms for women and opportunity for entertainment.  Autocrats in the Middle East and North Africa are about upgrading and modernizing their regimes to ensure their survival, not about real sustainable change.

Human rights activist and former Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki was asked in a Wall Street Journal interview why it was not only those who lacked opportunity and felt that they had no prospects and no hopes but also educated Tunisians with jobs who had joined the Islamic State. His answer was: “It’s not simply a matter of tackling socioeconomic roots. You have to go deeper and understand that these guys have a dream—and we don’t. We had a dream—our dream was called the Arab Spring. And our dream is now turning into a nightmare. But the young people need a dream, and the only dream available to them (was) the caliphate.”

Mohammed bin Salman has come closest to creating a dream. For now, it remains a dream on which he has yet to deliver. Much of the Middle East does not have a dream.

A court ruling In Egypt since the rise of Mr. Al-Sisi banned ultras groups as terrorist organizations. A similar attempt failed in Turkey. Yet, the scores of arrests in Egypt demonstrate that the ultras are alive and kicking. Said a founder of one Egypt’s original ultras groups that played a key role prior to the rise of Mr. Al-Sisi: “This is a new generation. It’s a generation that can’t be controlled. They don’t read. They believe in action and experience. They have balls. When the opportunity arises, they will do something bigger than we ever did.”

In sum, soccer resistance may be down but not out. Autocratic rulers retain the upper hand and use the sport to enhance their grip on power, ironically aided and abetted by FIFA. Yet, it is that very approach to the sport that also positioned it as a platform for protest and resistance. The jury is out on whether autocratic efforts at reform will produce sustainable results. The record so far is mixed at best. If there is one group at the ready if reforms fail, it is likely to be soccer fans.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the New Books in Middle Eastern Studies podcast. James is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title as well as Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa, and the forthcoming China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom

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Light at the End of the Tunnel?

By Andrew Levine / Counterpunch.

Photo by Acid Pix | CC BY 2.0

As public support for the Vietnam War waned, and as all LBJ could do about it was send more troops, he would periodically announce, for the flimsiest of reasons, that victory was at last in sight; that “there was light at the end of the tunnel.”  From that time on, it has been impossible to use that expression without irony.

But for that still living memory, we might now be hearing a lot about light at the end of the tunnel from Democratic Party and liberal pundits intent on putting Donald Trump behind us – first, because the law is closing in on that temperamentally unsuited, defiantly ignorant, morally impaired, and recklessly dangerous Commander-in-Chief; and then because it is likely that, in the November midterm election, the more odious duopoly party, the GOP, will be swept away in a “blue wave.”

There is still much to get through before anything noticeable changes, but it does indeed feel as if relief is on the way.

Is there then reason to rejoice?

The short answer is: probably, but only to some (very small) extent.

In addition to the usual uncertainties surrounding predictions about the course of future events, there is the fact that where Trump goes, chaos follows, rendering the old saw about not counting chickens before they hatch more than usually relevant.

However, this is not the only reason to be wary of rejoicing.

All things considered, Trump is worse than anyone after him in the line of succession, and Republicans are worse than Democrats.  But A can be worse than B, without B being anything to rejoice over.  The light at the end of the tunnel that now seems to be coming into view is like that.

If Trump goes, his Vice President, Mike Pence, takes over; and his administration, chock full of miscreants as pernicious and vile as the Donald himself stays intact – or no less intact than it currently is with Trump purging it of everyone he deems insufficiently servile, and with the rats who work for him, fearing what he has in store, deserting the sinking ship.

Trump is an opportunist with noxious attitudes and base instincts, but no settled convictions.  He has been pushing a reactionary line lately because he needs the Republican Party to govern, and that is what that wretched party’s leaders demand of him.

Also, he understands that to keep his administration afloat, he needs the unstinting support of his “base,” and he believes, with good reason, that, it is comprised of people who hold what Hillary Clinton called “deplorable” views.  Acceding to their desires comes naturally to him; his instincts are as deplorable as theirs.

Trump is also scary in the way that a little kid wielding a loaded gun is.  This is the main reason why everyone who is not with him is fervently against him.  That would be roughly two-thirds of the electorate – more than enough to get him replaced if our institutions at the national level were (small-d) democratic enough to allow, say, for recall elections.

To the dismay of millions, however, it may not be enough, as matters now stand, to get him impeached or removed from office in the way prescribed by the Twenty-fifth Amendment.

Meanwhile, Pence – a self-declared “Christian, conservative, and Republican in that order” — is a true believer in retrograde causes, a bona fide reactionary who comes by his vileness honestly.  That counts for something; people who stick to their principles are respected, even by those who consider their principles foul.

This is one reason why Pence would likely elicit less “resistance” than Trump.  Another is that he is about as scary as white bread.  Therefore, were he, not Trump, in the Oval Office, it is likely that the ardor and size of the opposition to retrograde politics would diminish, irrespective of the issues involved.   How could reactionaries not find that appealing?

Therefore, bracketing everything that falls outside the purview of domestic politics, Pence might actually be worse than Trump.  Nothing to rejoice about there!

On the other hand, he would almost certainly be less likely than the current Commander-in-Chief to succumb to fits of pique that could cause him to wreak havoc at home and abroad, to start or escalate wars, or, worst of all, to ignite a nuclear holocaust.

It is not that his understanding of foreign affairs is better, but only that Trump’s impulse control is worse.

In this instance too, “worse” is a relative term – Pence doesn’t dine with women when his wife Karen is not there, or attend events in her absence where alcohol is served.  It is reliably reported that Pence’s pet name for Karen is “mother.”

There is yet another reason why the sooner Trump is dispatched, the better: his absence will help keep “liberals” from succumbing to the temptation to stop worrying about and instead start loving the state – especially, the part of it that Marxists call its “repressive apparatus.”

On the principle that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” – that if Trump tweets against it, it cannot be all bad – liberals have lately been falling into the welcoming arms of the FBI and CIA with unseemly abandon.  For this, the Democratic Party and its media flacks have much to answer for.

It wasn’t always this way; thanks to unfiltered lived experience, a minimal knowledge of history and world affairs, and a modicum of political vision, most everyone with a progressive bone in his or her body used to harbor a healthy contempt for America’s forces of order, domestic and foreign.

Our is, of course, an age in which Republicans are “red” and words like “resistance” and “revolution” (as in “Our Revolution”) are embraced by proponents of formerly mainstream liberal or social democratic politics.  In these circumstances, the idea that, for a better possible world to come into being, a world that transcends the horizons of our overripe and rapidly decaying capitalist order, it is necessary to “smash the state,” not just take it over, seems hopelessly anachronistic if not downright utopian.

My own view is that we need not concede the irrelevance of that venerable and eminently defensible tenet of anarchist and Marxist political theory just yet; that if anything is historically superseded, it is instead the rather different idea that “smashing” states requires insurrectionary violence of the kind that occurred in the great revolutions of the seventeenth through the twentieth centuries.

The general idea, shared by anarchists and many Marxists, including Marx himself and Lenin in The State and Revolution, is that the state form of political organization enables ruling classes to overcome their own internal divisions by organizing the domination of subordinate classes, a feat accomplished through repressive (and also ideological) institutions appropriate to that function.

The ultimate goal, then, of persons who share the anarchist-Marxist vision is and ought to be to replace existing institutions with institutional arrangements suited to sustaining radical transformations conducive to making their vision of ideal social and political arrangements real.  They want to put institutions in place that build and sustain regimes of uncoerced cooperation — in which, as Marx famously said, “the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”

For anarchists, this objective requires the immediate abolition of the state, if not of political (coercive) authority relations altogether.

Within the socialist tradition, the idea was that, for some indefinite future, states of a new type, representing popular, not elite, class interests, are necessary for overseeing a protracted transitional period at the end of which the state would “wither away” — in which, as Engels said, the “governance of men” would give way to “the administration of things.”

Notwithstanding the destructive edge they share, that vision has almost nothing to do with what Steve Bannon, the de facto architect of Trump’s electoral victory, seems to have in mind when he advocates  “deconstructing” what he calls “the administrative state.”  His proposals would reinforce ruling class power, not overthrow it.

Because he was caught – or got himself caught — badmouthing Trump and his family, Bannon is, for the time being, persona non grata in Trumpland.  His spirit lives on, however.   With or without him, Trump and his minions are hard at work turning back all the institutional and regulatory impedances to untrammeled corporate power they can.

In the face of their onslaught, it is can actually be reasonable for enemies of the old regime to side with its defenders – though only in particular circumstances and only to some extent.

Loving the FBI and the CIA the way that so many in the anti-Trump “resistance” now do is a step – many steps! – too far.  In light of their past and present functioning, those key components of the old regime’s repressive apparatus merit “smashing” as much or more than any other of its many bulwarks.

Our enemy’s enemy is not always our friend.  Even if the FBI and CIA, and perhaps also other parts of the so-called “deep state,” have it in for Trump, the last thing anyone with progressive instincts should want to do is to further entrench their power.

***

Meanwhile, the duopoly party that made Trump possible and arguably even inevitable, the one that is poised to ride a blue wave back to power, remains unchanged – except perhaps at the margins.

When the primaries are over and the candidates chosen, it will become clear how bad the situation is.  It is already plain that the party’s leadership has survived Trump, just as surely as “crooked Hillary” (not all of Trump’s nicknames are ill-conceived; “little Marco” is also spot on) survived Bernie Sanders.

If only Sanders had led his supporters out of the Democratic Party — either to mount an independent campaign or into the Greens.  If he had, we’d be no worse off than we now are, and there would be an organized force in place, unencumbered by the Democratic Party’s rotting hulk, poised to capitalize on the massive anti-Trump sentiment abroad in the land.

Had that happened, would there be less Cold War revivalism in America and Europe today?  One reason to think so is that then Sanders or the Greens or both would be drawing some of the heat currently leveled against that all-purpose bogeyman, Vladimir Putin.   The recriminations Democrats spewed out against Ralph Nader after the election that set George W. Bush loose upon the world would be small potatoes in comparison.

But it is far from clear that the world would be any safer on that account, whether the current wave of Cold War hysteria would be any less virulent and potentially lethal.   Mainstream Democrats have no problem scapegoating the party’s feeble leftwing or suppressing progressive third parties, but their corporate masters and the military brass have more demanding needs.  Terrorism just isn’t doing enough for the military-industrial complex anymore; they need a superpower to scare the public into acquiescence.

The Clintons and other like-minded Democrats saw the need and seized the opportunity, dragging their party and eventually the entire political class along with them.  With the help of corporate media pundits – not just Rachel Maddow but the whole sorry lot — their war mongering has taken on a life of its own.

The situation has become so bad that, for example, MSNBC (=MSDNC) and CNN cannot even report on Facebook’s abject failure to defend its subscribers’ privacy rights from the nefarious machinations of Republican donor (specifically Mercer family) funded campaign propaganda targeting operations, without confounding the issue with alleged “Russian meddling.”

On this, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and other “progressives” are no better than the rest.

From where I live, I can walk down to the ocean and stand where their progressivism stops.  The old maxim was that the water’s edge was where partisan differences ended.  That rings less true now that Trump is in charge – not because he is wiser than the foreign policy establishment, he is not, but because of his yet to be discovered interests and nefarious entanglements.

Even so, he is “objectively,” as some on the Left used to say, the most enlightened figure in official Washington today when it comes to defusing tensions that could erupt into World War III.  Just watch the media coverage of bipartisan outrage when he has a kind word to say about – or to – Vladimir Putin; for instance, by congratulating him on his electoral victory.  How pathetic is that!

It isn’t just on issues like Israel-Palestine and Russia that even the most progressive Democrats, the ones who are comparatively decent on domestic matters, go perilously wrong.  They are as wedded as any liberal imperialist, as wedded as the Clintons or Barack Obama, to the idea that America is the “indispensable nation.” The Sanders-Warren version may be kinder and gentler, but it is not in any substantive or consequential way less wrong-headed or noxious.

If there are any Jeremy Corbyns within the Democratic Party fold, any genuine internationalists whose progressivism doesn’t stop at the water’s edge, they have not revealed themselves yet.

There is some chance, of course, that among the many persons contending to run against Republicans in November – thank Trump for their eagerness and enthusiasm! — that a few genuine progressives will prevail and, in due course, win.   They will need all the help they can muster to fight against the leadership of the party on whose ticket they will be running.

Trump and Pence are awful enough, and Republican “donors” and their bought and paid for flunkies in the House and Senate are reactionary enough that it may actually make sense, in some circumstances, to vote for Democrats in the mainstream or worse, Democrats like Connor Lamb, the “moderate” who won the special election in Pennsylvania last week.

However, this is not a time to fall back into the lesser evil voting trap; no time is.  There can be a place for strategic voting in parliamentary systems of various kinds, but in a duopoly party system like ours, lesser evil voting, the closest analogue, generally results in a race to the bottom that almost never ends well.  It was lesser evil voting that gave us Clinton and Obama and that therefore ultimately led to Trump.

But with the Trumpian menace upon us, it may be time to take the adage about politics being “the art of the possible” more seriously than usual by reviving the spirit of inter-war anti-fascist popular fronts – by maintaining a critical distance but nevertheless voting in concert with those one would otherwise oppose, provided that they too stand steadfastly against a clear, present, and supremely intolerable danger.

In order to win back control of the House in the 2008 election, Rahm Emanuel and Nancy Pelosi loaded the ballot with “moderates,” so-called “Blue Dog” Democrats.  Those Blue Dogs dragged the Obama administration even farther to the right than it would otherwise have been, contributing little, if anything, to its modest legislative successes.  Then, in the Tea Party onslaught two years later, they were swept away.

With a largely unreconstructed Democratic Party calling the shots, that could happen again.  Lamb’s insistence on positioning himself to the right of Nancy Pelosi (seriously!) is a warning sign.  Were the Democratic Party less debased, there would be no space to her right for him to be.

And yet, the talking heads on MSNBC and CNN fell all over themselves praising Lamb’s “moderation,” and recommending it for other Democratic candidates.

This is the danger inherent in making common cause with Trump opponents regardless of their other views.   On the other hand, there may be no better alternative in the circumstances closing in upon us.

A popular front strategy merits serious consideration at this point in time; it probably does make sense for Congressional races in “red” districts this year.  Looking forward to 2020, however, it would almost certainly do more harm than good if, but only if, between now and then progressives use their time wisely.

Had the Democratic Party run Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren in 2016, they might well have succeeded in holding Trump back.  Even had they run someone who espoused Hillary Clinton’s brand of neoliberal politics, but with more political skills than she could muster – someone as dreadful, say, as Joe Biden – they could probably have defeated Trump.

Would the outlook be worse in the up-coming midterms were Democrats to run candidates for the House and Senate whose views on foreign affairs are more like Jeremy Corbyn’s than Bernie Sanders’?  I would say No.

Corbyn-like candidates would encounter more opposition from political lobbies that, like AIPAC, want American military and foreign policy to stay on its present deleterious course.  But there is not as much percentage as there used to be in supporting at least some previously untouchable historical injustices, like the one in Israel-Palestine; and it is becoming increasingly obvious that military spending is leading the country to ruin, and that liberal imperialism does more harm than good.  There is therefore reason to think that more voters would be brought on board than would be lost if Democrats did run candidates in the Corbyn mold.

If the Democratic Party does not go that route, the light people now see at the end of the tunnel now will surely expire, probably not by November but in short order, especially if Trump is no longer around to keep it ablaze.

Trump must be stopped, of course; but if the Democratic Party cannot be replaced, then the only defensible goal looking forward, if not to this November then to the November coming up in two year’s time, is to transform the Party of Pelosi and Schumer beyond recognition.  All else is folly.

ANDREW LEVINE is the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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Remembering Syria: Iran struggles with potentially explosive environmental crisis

By James M. Dorsey / Mid-East Soccer.

Iranian leaders are struggling, three months after anti-government protests swept the Islamic republic, to ensure that environmental issues that helped sparked a popular uprising in Syria in 2011 leading to a brutal civil war don’t threaten the clergy’s grip on power.

Like Syria, Iran has been confronting a drought that has affected much of the country for more than a decade with precipitation dropping to its lowest level in half a century. Environmental concerns have figured prominently in protests in recent years, often in regions populated by ethnic minorities like Azeris, and Iranian Arabs.

Unrest among ethnic minorities, who account for almost half of Iran’s population, takes on added significance with Iran fearing that Saudi Arabia’s activist crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and the Trump administration’s antipathy towards the Islamic republic bolstered by the appointment of a hardliner, John Bolton, as the president’s national security advisor.

Mr. Bolton has called for regime change in Iran, aligning himself with a controversial exile opposition group, while Prince Mohammed is believed to have tacitly endorsed thinking about stirring unrest among Iran’s ethnic minorities even if he has yet to decide whether to adopt subversion as a policy.

Iran has repeatedly accused Saudi Arabia in the past year of supplying weapons and explosives to restive groups like the Baluch and the Kurds.
Yet, concern about environmental degradation and its potential political fallout goes beyond fear that it could facilitate interference by external powers. Demonstrators in the province of Isfahan last month clashed with security forces after they took to the streets to protest water shortages. The protest occurred some three months after Iran was wracked by weeks of anti-government demonstrations.

The protest was the latest in a series of expressions of discontent. Anger at plans in 2013 to divert water from Isfahan province sparked clashes with police. The Isfahan Chamber of Commerce reported a year later that the drying out of the Zayandeh Roud river basin had deprived some 2 million farmers or 40 percent of the local population in the Zayandeh-Roud basin of their income.

“Over 90% of (Iran’s) population and economic production are located in areas of high or very high water stress. This is two to three times the global average in percentage terms, and, in absolute numbers, it represents more people and more production at risk than any other country in the Middle East and North Africa,” Al-Monitor quoted Claudia Sadoff, director general of the Sri Lanka-based International Water Management Institute, as saying.

A panel of retired US military officers noted in December that “since the 1979 revolution, the per capita quantity of Iran’s renewable water supplies has dropped by more than half, to a level commonly associated with the benchmark for water stress. Even more troubling, in large swaths of the country, demand for fresh water exceeds supply a third of the year. Fourteen years of drought have contributed to the problem, as has poor resource management, including inefficient irrigation techniques, decentralized water management, subsidies for water-intensive crops like wheat, and dam building. As a result, parts of the country are experiencing unrest related to water stress.”

By identifying water as one of the country’s foremost problems, the government recognized that mismanagement leading to acute water shortages risks becoming a symbol of its inability to efficiently deliver public goods and services.

The government has sought to tackle the issue by promoting reduced water consumption and water conservation, halting construction of dams, combatting evaporation by building underground water distribution networks, introducing water metres in agriculture, encouraging farmers to opt for less water-intensive crops, multiplying the number of treatment plants, and looking at desalination as a way of increasing supply.

With agriculture the main culprit in Iran’s inefficient use of water, Iranian officials fear that the crisis will accelerate migration from the countryside to urban centres incapable of catering to the migrants and, in turn, increase popular discontent.

A US study suggested in 2015 that decades of unsustainable agricultural policies in Syria; drought in the north-eastern agricultural heartland of the country; economic reforms that eliminated food and fuel subsidies; significant population growth; and failure to adopt policies that mitigate climate change exacerbated grievances about unemployment, corruption and inequality that exploded in 2011 in anti-government protests in Syria.

The Syrian government’s determination to crush the protest rather than engage with the protesters sparked the country’s devastating war, currently the world’s deadliest conflict.

“We’re not arguing that the drought, or even human-induced climate change, caused the uprising. What we are saying is that the long-term trend, of less rainfall and warmer temperatures in the region, was a contributing factor, because it made the drought so much more severe.” said Colin Kelley, one the study’s authors.

“The uprising has…to do with the government’s failure to respond to the drought, and with broader feelings of discontent in rural areas, and the growing gap between rich and poor, and urban and rural areas during the 2000s, than with the drought itself,” added Middle East water expert Francesca de Chatel.

Adopting a different emphasis, Ms. De Chatel argued that demonstrations in Syria, despite the drought, would not have erupted without the wave of protests that by then had already swept the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt and subsequently toppled the leaders of Libya and Yemen.
She asserted further that the protest movement-turned-war in Syria would not “have persisted without input and support from organised groups in Syria who had been planning for this moment for years and certainly since before 2006 or the start of the drought.”

For Iranian leaders, the threat is real irrespective of the difference in emphasis between Mr. Kelly and Ms. De Chatel. Former Iranian agriculture minister Issa Kalantari warned in 2015 that left unresolved the water crisis would force 50 million Iranians to migrate in the next 25 years.
In other words, the environmental crisis that drives migration and unemployment and fuels discontent risks political upheaval. Similarly, multiple groups and external powers have for years contemplated regime change in Tehran.

The issues that were at the core of the initial protests in Syria in 2011 – unemployment, corruption and inequality – were at the heart of Iranian anti-government demonstrations in December and January.

Despite a renewed focus on the water crisis, the government’s Achilles Heel could prove to be the fact that its response has included shooting the messenger who bears the bad news as environmentalists increasingly find themselves in the firing line.

Authorities arrested in January Kavous Seyed-Emami, a dual Iranian-Canadian nation who directed the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, and six other environmentalists. It asserted two weeks later that Mr. Seyed-Emami had committed suicide in jail after confessing to being a spy for the United States and Israel.

Three more environmentalists were arrested a month later while Mr. Seyed-Emami’s wife was prevented from leaving Iran.
State TV subsequently reported that Mr. Seyed-Emami and his colleagues had told Iran’s enemies that the country could no longer maintain domestic agriculture production because of water shortages and needed to import food.

Said Saeed Leylaz, a Tehran-based economist and political analyst: “Public opinion has become sensitized to environmental issues. So the government may see the organizations and institutions who work on environmental issues as problematic.”

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the New Books in Middle Eastern Studies podcast. James is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title as well as Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa, and the forthcoming China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom

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Good Enemies Are Hard To Find: Therefore Worry

By Andrew Levine / Counterpunch.


Why is the American political class so intent on reviving the Cold War?   Why does Israel have it in for Iran?

These are complicated questions; many factors are involved.

But there is “a fact of life,” as it were, that bears on the answers to both questions: that to keep their regimes – their distinctive ways of organizing cultural, economic, and political institutions — going, the United States and Israel need enemies, and the ones most readily at hand no longer seem up to the task.

One reason why Russia has again become America’s enemy, and Iran Israel’s, is that good enemies are hard to find.

***

When the Soviet Union imploded, America’s political and economic elites found themselves facing a problem that they had not seen coming: how to make do without a rationale that had served them well for as long as anybody could remember.

Almost from the moment World War II ended, Americans were made to understand that an Evil Empire threatened the Land of the Free.  That implacable foe, the Soviet Union was, by any reckoning, a worthy antagonist, and an enemy for all seasons — of limitless scope and world-class capabilities.

It provided our rulers with reasons why so much of our wealth had to be spent fattening an ever expanding military-industrial complex, why our basic liberties might have to be (and sometimes were) curtailed, and why dissent had to be kept in bounds.

In totalitarian societies, states force compliance with the demands of rulers and the exigencies of regimes through the use or threat of force.  We Americans had little need of that; our propaganda system gave us motivation enough to make “defense” our highest priority.

A less formidable adversary could not have brought us to that point.  What our rulers needed was a foe capable of “scaring the hell out of us,” as the stately Dean Acheson famously said.

Therefore, if the Soviet Union had not existed, it would have had to be invented.   It was invented to some extent, especially at first.  In short order, though, it became a credible enough adversary in its own right; a nuclear arsenal capable of destroying us many times over will have that effect.  Our ruling class could then rest easy; all was well.

Too bad for them, that the Communist system collapsed in 1989 and that those damnable Russians threw in the towel two years later.  What a nightmare!

It took a while for them to realize what a pickle they were in.   For a few years, they rejoiced in the prospect of a pax Americana superseding the bipolar Cold War order.  They even tendered the thought that history had ended with the triumph of liberal democracy.

Before long, though, they realized that they could not make do without the status quo ante or some functional equivalent of it restored.  The empire was becoming too hard to superintend.

With one of the Cold War’s two major players gone missing, governments, like the one in Iraq, that had become accustomed to playing one superpower off against the other were starting to act up; while nationalist and fascist currents that the Soviet Union had long suppressed revived, with dangerously destabilizing consequences.  There was also the prospect of China on the rise; what to do about that?

An even greater problem was that with nothing frightening the peoples of the West into acquiescence, how could NATO and the several other international institutions through which the United States secured its position as a global hegemon be justified and sustained?

And how could the American people to be scared into acquiescence?

***

Pro-Soviet political parties and movements had been in terminal decline for decades before the Soviet Union’s demise.  Nevertheless, its disappearance damaged the historical Left, which had also been in crisis, largely for unrelated reasons, in all the four corners of the earth.

The consequences were especially devastating to secular political forces in historically Muslim regions, where, in the absence of viable Left alternatives, forms of religious fanaticism that had only recently seemed unimaginable in the modern world emerged and flourished.

The American role in bringing that particular cause of disorder into being and in magnifying its consequences was enormous.  America’s ability to control the monster it had helped bring into existence was lame.

But with terrorism on peoples’ minds, our “billionaire class” and our masters of war could rest easy: the world was again becoming a scary place.

Seeing which way the wind was blowing and having nothing more to offer than “fear itself,” they had figured out how everything could change in order to remain the same.

And so, “terrorism” was made to play the role Communism had.  This worked for a while.  However, it soon became old.

The beauty of the original dispensation was that it permitted the military-industrial complex to call the shots without ever having to prove its mettle.  So long as direct confrontations between the United States and the Soviet Union were avoided, it was impossible to tell how well they were doing.  They could therefore never be called to account in ways that could jeopardize widespread beliefs about their indispensability to the regime.

This is not so under the new dispensation.  With terrorism in Communism’s place, pipsqueak Davids can and do challenge the Goliath America had become, much to the embarrassment of our political leaders, death merchants, and Masters of War.

To be sure, even with the Cold War on, the Vietnamese and others succeeded in delivering decisive blows to the American empire.  But wars of national liberation and other forms of anti-imperialist resistance back then were the work of giants, engaged in protracted struggles at grave cost to themselves.

The terrorism our rulers invoke to scare the hell out of us now is the work of religious fanatics.  It can be genuinely terrorizing, especially when recounted over and over on corporate media outlets, but, in the end, there is no way to make them out to be anything more than pathetic.

Terrorists are unworthy antagonists, and the terror they cause is a slender reed upon which to hang the fate of the regime.

Worse still, from our rulers’ point of view, their successes, such as they are, discredit the regime by underscoring the inability of its forces of order to secure public safety, despite the resources thrown their way.

Back in the eighties, with a view to overcoming the so-called Vietnam Syndrome, Ronald Reagan and then Bush the Father started wars against mighty Granada and Panama, respectively.  Since then, with the arguable exception of the first Bush war against Iraq, the American military has never actually won a war.

The United States has never exactly lost a war either.  With resources to spare and a population willing to tolerate considerable levels of rectifiable but unmet social needs, the United States has instead turned the wars it has not won into low-grade military conflicts that wax and wane in intensity, but never go away.

Thus world domination has given us perpetual war, not perpetual peace.  The inevitable result is that we are, at one and the same time, scared as hell and gripped by war fatigue.

A further problem for defenders of the status quo is the dawning realization on the part of everyone who is not willfully blind that, on the whole, America’s military ventures in the War on Terror have been counter-productive – that they have recruited more terrorists than they have killed, and that they have made a self-fulfilling prophecy out of the widely believed but ultimately fatuous claim that the Muslim world and the West are locked in a “clash of civilizations.”

With terrorism in Communism’s place, we find ourselves mired in wars that don’t just fail to address the problem they purport to solve, but that are the problem themselves.  Communism was a more serviceable bugbear.

The Soviet Union was remote enough, thanks to the “iron curtain,” and militarily mighty enough to serve as a durable and worthy enemy.  China, whether conceived as an ally of the Soviets or as their actual or potential enemy, was, and still is, worthy too.

But there is no way to turn the world’s 1.7 (some say 2.1) billion Muslims into serviceable substitutes, especially now that so many of them live, not just in distant and exotic lands, but also among the peoples of the West as friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens.

It was therefore only a matter of time before those who are wedded to America’s time proven way of maintaining its increasingly corrupt and decreasingly democratic regime would look elsewhere for something with which to scare the hell out of everyone who might otherwise not acquiesce.

With no better enemy available than the one that had seemingly expired decades ago, the time therefore came to bring the old rotting corpse back to life.

This realization was not the main factor leading the Democratic Party and its media flacks to give themselves over to a kind and degree of Russophobic Cold War revivalism that would have embarrassed even classical Cold Warriors and old school neoconservatives.

But it surely was a significant factor – not least because of its instinctive appeal to leading members of the Democratic Party’s nomenklatura, people long in the tooth like the Clintons, who imbibed Russophobia with their mothers’ milk, and who came of age politically before the bipolar world order that collapsed in the years between 1989 and 1991 effectively disappeared.

***

That American elites would take aim at Russia makes sense; for more than seventy years, that has been the American way.  That Israel would take aim at Iran makes less sense.  It is historically anomalous and it defies geopolitical logic and longstanding cultural understandings.

Indeed, were an Israeli Rip Van Winkle who had fallen asleep as recently as a decade or so after the Iranian Revolution suddenly to awaken, he would find relations between Israel and Iran among the most baffling developments he would encounter.

He could adapt well enough to Israel’s newfangled “existential threat” gibberish; the concept existed before the expression entered the political lexicon.  But he would be surprised to learn that Persians, not Arabs, were the ones posing an existential threat to the Jewish state.

The Zionist project began as a reaction to late nineteenth century European anti-Semitism, not as an expression of longstanding, much less eternal, national aspirations.  In effect, the first Zionists believed that anti-Semites were right; that Jews cannot be assimilated into even the most enlightened European (and North American) societies.  Palestine was therefore not an essential part of the original Zionist idea; a Jewish state could be anywhere.

But, in line with the thinking of peoples all over Europe at the time, nationalist sentiments soon came to dominate Zionist ideology, along with an historical narrative according to which the world’s Jews were not just co-religionists but also members of a distinct ethnos, destined to turn the Holy Land of the Jewish religion into a homeland for a Jewish nation.

Thus it was determined that the Jewish state could only be in Palestine — not Uganda or the wilds of Patagonia, as some had suggested.  From that moment on, Arabs in Palestine and nearby regions became a problem.  Their Sin was being there.   Persians were not of any particular concern at the time; neither were Muslims generally.

From the outset, it was clear too that whatever else it might be in the minds of its proponents, Zionism was a colonial project and that a Jewish state could only be a settler state.

There were, and still are, Zionists with loftier intentions, but there has never been any way around the fact that for a Jewish state to be established in Palestine, it would be necessary to do to the people living there what settlers from Britain, Spain, Portugal, France, and the Netherlands had done to the peoples of the Antipodes and the Americas.

Those colonial ventures succeeded by depopulating the lands they settled, thanks mainly to guns and germs, and by subordinating indigenous peoples who had somehow managed to survive.

Intermarriage also diminished native populations and cultures.  There was more ethnic melding in territories taken over by Spain and Portugal than in other areas of European settlement, but the phenomenon was commonplace in many parts of the New World.

In sub-Saharan Africa and in the Maghreb, European settlers had a harder time laying down roots because prevailing conditions were less propitious.   But they had successes nevertheless, at least for a while.  They had the good fortune to come along at a time when social and economic circumstances and therefore the spirit of the age, the Zeitgeist, accorded with their ambitions.

Israel’s misfortune, on the other hand, was to be conceived and born just as anti-colonial movements all over the world were coming into their own and beginning to succeed.  Therefore, the Zeitgeist was emphatically not on its side.

But post-War guilt over the fate of European Jewry was.   It was that guilt, more than anything else, that caused the newly launched and still Western dominated United Nations to call for the establishment of a Jewish state in part of Mandate Palestine.  Exactly which part has been contested ever since.

Thus the state of Israel was born without fixed borders but, in the eyes of Western nations, with nearly limitless moral capital.

In the United States, it has secured that advantage with the help of one of the most dogged, nefarious, and well-funded lobbies on the face of the earth.  Similar lobbies exist in nearly all other Western countries.

In these circumstances, the victims of the Zionist project would have had little hope of resisting expropriation and deportation with the best of political leaderships directing their efforts.

But, to make matters worse, for most of their history – but especially before a genuine national liberation movement emerged under Yasser Arafat’s leadership and then again after his death (possibly at the hands of assassins) – Palestine’s leaders have not served their constituents well.

Palestinian efforts to resist Israeli domination have therefore always been handicapped – politically and militarily.  Palestinians have a moral case that earns them support around the world, but the arguments, no matter how compelling, fall on deaf ears in the ruling circles of the West.

Times are changing however, as Israel becomes bolder in its depredations, and as Western public opinion becomes increasingly aware of the Palestinians’ plight and the injustice of their situation.

Christian Zionists remain on board – they continue to support Donald Trump as well — but others, including Western Jews, younger ones especially, increasingly hold different views.

The Israeli regime has always required enemies; it requires them now more than ever.  But, as in the American case, only worthy enemies will suffice.

They are hard to find.  With the United States and other Western powers in tow, talk of existential threats to the Jewish state ring increasingly hollow.

In addition to that, there is the IDF, the Israel Defense Forces, a nuclear juggernaut, armed to the teeth, enjoying almost universal support within Israeli civil society and a reputation for excellence around the world. But its problem is much the same as one the American military confronts: for all its might, it is no longer suited to winning the wars it fights.  All this self-proclaimed “most moral army in the world” can do is kill, maim, and bully.

It would be different if Israel had traditional state armies to fight.  But it has not had enemies like that for many years.   Instead, it has only defenseless populations, equipped with primitive homemade weapons to slaughter; and, of course, settlers to protect.

There are still those for whom it is axiomatic that in its War of Independence — Palestinians call it the naqba (catastrophe) — plucky little Israel fought off and defeated a coalition of mighty Arab armies.

However, the consensus view among informed historians is that there was never any doubt what the outcome of the 1948 war would be, and that its purpose was not to defend the nascent state against Arab hordes so much as to ethnically cleanse the territory of Arabs.

Keeping the myth of a besieged and embattled Israel alive would be a problem even if Israel’s War of Independence had been more like unreconstructed Zionists claim it was.  Jordan fell away from Day One, Lebanon long ago became a lost cause, and Egypt, by far the greatest danger Israel faced, was neutralized at Camp David.

Then the two Bush wars rendered Iraq harmless, and, for a variety of diplomatic and military reasons, Syria was effectively neutralized as well — even before inept American and European reactions to the Arab Spring brought that country to the brink of ruin.

And now a de facto Salafi-Zionist alliance, spurred in part by Saudi efforts to establish itself as a regional hegemon, has isolated Palestinians further.  The theocrats in Riyadh have it in for the theocrats in Tehran, much to the detriment of the Palestinian national movement.

And so, the vaunted IDF is reduced to periodic slaughters of Palestinians living in the open-air prison that Gaza has become.   It has not had an enemy worthy of the name since Hezbollah, a non-state actor supported by Iran, fought it to a draw more than a decade ago.

This is quite a problem for the IDF and, even more, for a regime that depends on existential threats to overcome internal divisions and to retain the support of the majority of the world’s Jews and of Israel’s allies abroad.

Therefore, even more than the Soviet Union in the Cold War era or Russia now, if Iran didn’t exist, it would have to be invented.

This would astonish an Israeli Rip Van Winkle.  What he had known was a world that deprecated and villainized Arab countries, and that cultivated ties with non-Arab Muslim states in the Greater Middle East – Turkey, of course, but also mainly Israel’s existential threat du jour, Iran.

This is not to say that there was ever much fondness between the European Jews who came to Palestine and Turks or Persians; as Europeans, they shared the attitudes and prejudices of the ambient cultures in which they had lived.

Europeans held all non-European peoples in contempt; of the peoples of the Greater Middle East, Arabs were the most despised of all.

It was therefore easier for Israel to make common cause with Turkey and Iran than with Arab powers, especially when there were sound geopolitical reasons for doing so.  There were obvious reasons of that kind: could anything be more congenial to the geopolitical situation Israelis confronted than alliances with militarily powerful non-Arab states situated just beyond the outer boundaries of the Arab world?

And so, while public opinion in Iran was, of course, more sympathetic to Muslim co-religionists (Shia or Sunni) than to European Jews, it was comparatively easy for pre-Revolutionary Iran to ally with the Jewish state.

The Iranian Revolution put an end to that.  Even so, in the years following the seizure of state power, a time when the ruling theocracy in Iran was especially given over to rhetorical extremes, the alliance with Israel never entirely lapsed.  There were times during the Iran-Iraq War, and as the events that led to the Iran-Contra affair unfolded, when it was actually rather robust.

It was only after the first Bush war against Iraq ended the prospect of serious Arab-Israeli hostilities, and after it had become indisputably clear that Palestinian resistance posed no serious military or diplomatic threat to Israel, that Iran would become a full-fledged, serviceable existential threat.

Russia served as a bogeyman for Americans for so long that Russophobia was easy to revive when the time came.  But since Biblical times, Jews have held Persia and Persians in high esteem.

Israel may not be “the nation state of the Jewish people” that Benjamin Netanyahu claims it is, but for the people living there, or rather the eighty percent or so of the Israeli population that is Jewish, respect for Iran and its heritage comes naturally, while anti-Iranian animosities go against the grain.

Fear mongering can and does overwhelm that sentiment, but it is nevertheless there, beneath the surface, affecting public opinion at some level.

They therefore need a war bad, a war against a worthy antagonist.  Iran is the only serviceable one in sight.

The Israeli Right understands this; this is why Netanyahu fear and war mongers as much as he does.

The problem, though, is that without American help, Israel would lose the war its leaders and many of its people want and may actually need if the regime now in place is to survive.  They would likely lose too badly to save face.

If America was led by sensible people, it would never be dragged into such a dangerous folly.  But it is led by Donald Trump.

And, on matters of interest to the Israeli Right, Trump, it seems, is himself becoming increasingly led by Zionist plutocrats of the Sheldon Adelson type, and by similarly noxious Israel-fisters.

As the Donald cleans house, settling accounts with everyone in his administration who he thinks has not shown him due respect, as if anyone who knows him could fail to despise him, has said bad things about him, the number of persons within Trump’s inner circle who are not in Netanyahu’s ambit is diminishing rapidly. Therefore, the danger that Netanyahu will get what he is asking for, goes up.

And, with each passing day, Trump becomes increasingly unhinged.  If events tumble out of control, as they likely will with no one sensible in charge, the consequences could be catastrophic.

***

Regimes that need enemies are trouble — for the people over whom they rule and for the world.

The trouble is all the worse when serviceable enemies are hard to find.

And when the regimes are those of the United States and Israel, the two most bellicose nations on earth, countries with enormous militaries that are seldom idle, nuclear weapons, overactive intelligence services, and morally deficient leaders of dubious competence and consummate stupidity, leaders who are becoming increasingly unhinged as the law closes in on them for corruption and other high crimes and misdemeanors, the situation is perilous indeed.


ANDREW LEVINE is the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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