SAN FRANCISCO – Make my day, punk. Dirty Harry – and his double – showed up big time at the “foreign policy” debate in Boca Raton, Florida, on Monday, although sometimes the show looked more like a trashy American Idol rehearsal than a polished ode to American Exceptionalism.
It was all about the world’s “indispensable power” (President Barack Obama), the humongous, bipartisan military-industrial-congressional-media complex gobbling up everything like one of those medieval devils depicted in frescoes by Italian Renaissance geniuses. It was all about Imperial Projection – a sort of gleaming mega-special effects outfit sold like it was innocently high-tech Industrial Light and Magic.
Obama and the Robot camouflaged as a Product (or is it the other way around), Mitt “Binders Full of Women” Romney droned on in agreement on shadow-war droning and Afghanistan, with barely a dissent on Iran and the wider Middle East. No hard questions, no pressing on nuance, no smashing of preconceived misconceptions by meek moderator Bob Schieffer – who might as well have stayed home watching the San Francisco Giants. As for America, it might as well elect a drone for president.
To keep with the San Francisco theme, I was watching the debate in a fabulous house in Marin county with radio star and political campaigner Peter Collins; we got so mad with the theater of the absurd – which would have elicited approval from pataphysics master Alfred Jarry – that we interrupted the thing every two minutes to express our outrage or emit roaring laughter.
I could have pulled a Ginsberg and hit the streets of placid San Anselmo at night, starving, hysterical, naked, looking for a nugget of truth. It felt more like Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo – minus the solace provided by Kim Novak. Or maybe I could get the Roving Eyemobile and go on a Bullitt binge and crash it on a wall of No Expectations. No, this was more like a Dirty Harry-style shootout. A punk out-punking a punk.
One could actually see – and feel – Romney’s brain striving oh so hard to process and enounce all those facts from those weird faraway lands, without resembling to understand even why he began a sentence in the first place. And this is a candidate for president who has been prepped, over-prepped and uber-prepped not only for a few months, but for no less than six years.
As President Obama comfortably settled down on his Dirty Harry role – no empty chairs apply here – Mitt started to sweat profusely and entered lockdown, if not terminal failure mode. His Pakistan rant will have the Inter-Services Intelligence in Rawalpindi/Islamabad gaming for years.
He obviously was not prepped enough to negotiate his conceptual u-turn from extremist hawk to centrist dove – or, as the slimy president of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, put it, an “intelligent, reasonable” man. Do robots dream of electric elections?
The best Romney could come up with was an “I am not George W Bush” shtick. Well, he certainly is as geographically challenged as Dubya. America – and the world – have just learned that “Syria is Iran’s only ally in the Arab world. It’s their route to the sea.” As for the Persian Gulf, it’s obviously an evil Iranian invention, like their bomb. Oh, but this “route to the sea” thing – anybody got Iraq and Turkey’s opinion? – it has been going on for quite a while.
Then a top Romney adviser suggested that the “World Court” should arrest evil Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, as Romney suggested (“He should be indicted under the Genocide Convention”) and thus cut off the head of the snake – to use a metaphor the House of Saud is very fond of. Romney’s advisers actually believe Ahmadinejad runs the Tehran show.
But what should anyone expect? After all Romney was prepped in the last 48 hours before the debate by that oceanic mediocrity Dan Senor, former spokesman for Paul Bremer’s infamous Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Baghdad. An illiterate Taliban commander would have been a better teacher.
Sea cruise, anyone?
Mitt was relentless on Russia as the most dangerous “threat” to the US; no, the Cold War never died, it only went cryogenic. Yet if he was out-punked even by Professor Barack, Mitt better not pick a fight with judo master Vladimir Putin.
Still his foreign policy “vision” boils down to bullying “our friends” and forcing “our enemies” to roll over and die. Forget about Mitt explaining how he’s going to war with Iran – and who’s going to pay for it (Beijing already said “your credit card is maxed out”).
And forget about the oh-so-moderate moderator even hinting on the possibility of the US curbing any of the almost 900 outposts in the worldwide Empire of Bases. Forget about him even hinting there is a direct connection between no wars in the “arc of instability” and more investment in US education and decaying infrastructure.
My friend Vijay Prashad, author of Arab Spring, Libyan Winter and the inestimable The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World, made a crucial point. He was thinking about
the rest of the world – it was about 4:00 in the morning in Iran, it was about maybe 6:00 in the morning in India … people were awake in many of these countries following the debates. I mean, imagine watching the debates through their eyes. What they were seeing was a deeply sadistic foreign policy that kept trying to talk about “crippling” and such. You know, that’s really not the language even of diplomacy. That’s already a very aggressive tone, it sets the agenda that it’s either that places like Iran either follow an American diktat or they will face the consequences. There’s no understanding that on the other side, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan – the regional partners – are heavily engaged with Iran.
I was especially thinking about the Big League reactions inside the Zhongnanhai in Beijing and the Kremlin. They know what kind of unified War Party they are dealing with – and they will (forcefully) react accordingly.
Still, in a few days Washington will have three aircraft carriers harassing Iran anyway, in seawaters that according to Mitt Romney do not exist; after all Iran needs to go to Syria to reach the sea. So it’s back to our way or the highway (into the sea?).
Forget about statecraft. Forget about diplomatic nuance. The Bushobama continuum rules supreme; Iran is nothing but a bunch of criminal mullahs – and they will go down, one way or another. This is a Modern Republic in action. Make my day, punk.
All that sound and fury … And the day after, everyone had already forgotten about it. All that was left was tabloid fodder and speculation on who got the best tie and the best zingers.
Dirty Harry and his double couldn’t care less, in fact. Back to business; it still boils down – by 50% – to getting those undecided ladies in Ohio. Crucially, as experienced political campaigner Collins told me, “it’s close enough to steal”. And on top of it, what the hell do undecided Ohio voters know about Iran’s route to the sea?