Good Cop, Bad Cop: Obama, Bush and Iraq (June 24, 2009)
Obama's "good cop" routine has masked the reality that his administration has followed the same policy paths in finance and geopolitics as "bad cop" George W. Bush.
I finally understand the fundamental analogy of American politics, and of course it's drawn from film/television: good cop, bad cop. You know the scenario: Bad Cop enters the room and recalcitrant suspect/perp gazes up in hostile, stony silence.
Bad Cop "softens up" the suspect/perp with a "we're going to kick derriere and take names later" speech and then moves on to hardnosed "persuasion:" It'll be a lot easier on you if you cooperate, tough guy, but if you want to play tough, then fine, play tough; we'll play tougher.
After a round or two of this, Bad Cop appears to lose control and is either restrained from assaulting the suspect/perp or goes ballistic in a spittle-flecked tirade a few inches from the suspect/perp's face which communicates this sobering message: "You think you're crazy? Well, I'm crazier."
Bad Cop then lunges at the suspect/perp, only to be restrained by polite Good Cop, who forcefully pushes Bad Cop out of the room and apologizes to the suspect/perp. Good cop speaks in a reasonable, sonorous tone, the exact opposite of the swaggering, aggressive Bad Cop. Good Cop just wants to reach an understanding with the suspect/perp, and just wants to hear him out.
The suspect/perp is delighted to find a reasonable person in this hellhole cell, and with a few additional reassurances from Good Cop, proceeds to spill his guts.
Later, outside, Good Cop and Bad Cop exchange knowing glances; different techniques, same result.
Exactly what has the Obama administration done that the Bush administration would not have done? Throw even more trillions of dollars at the banking sector? Nope; that is precisely what the Bush administration would have done.
Boost American "boots on the ground" in Afghanistan? Ditto.
Give even more power to a hopelessly opaque, venal, destructive Federal Reserve? Ditto.
Foist off simulacrum reforms of the finance and banking sectors as "real reform"? Ditto.
Maintain the American presence in Iraq, regardless of announced "troop withdrawal deadlines"? Ditto.
Loudly proclaim programs to "save the American homeowner" which end up aiding a mere handful of the millions losing their homes? Ditto.
Announce bailout after bailout, all in the name of "saving jobs" even as it would have been cheaper to simply pay hundreds of thousands of people to stay home or go out and have a good time? How many jobs were saved by giving AIG $150 billion? Some of that money will flow into the gargantuan bonuses of Goldman Sachs employees, but that's also what happened when Bush and Paulson held the reins of power.
The number of jobs created or saved with that $150 billion is miniscule compared to what that money could have funded (say, 100 immense solar-power plants).
Back in April I speculated that perhaps Obama had a secret plan to discredit the investment banker cabal and thus undermine their vast political power and reach: Obama's Secret Plan (April 22, 2009)
Alas, like all hopes for genuine, fundamental reform via the political process, this now seems like a foolish bout of wishful thinking. With the "backstops," guarantees, loans and outright direct investments in the banking sinkhole now totalling $13 trillion (the entire GDP of the nation and 1/3 of its total net worth), there is no way Obama can extricate himself from this deep of a pit except to devalue the dollar, which will have horrific consequences far beyond the banking sinkhole.
Let's consider Iraq--the military/Empire misadventure Obama opposed in the election, an opposition which helped him win the presidency. Yes, a "deadline" of American withdrawal has been announced, but such a timeline was already in the works before Obama was sworn into office. Since U.S. casualties are down in Iraq, the conflict has slipped from the news entirely except for brief coverage of suicide bombs which kill scores of Iraqi civilians (lesser bombs and casualty numbers are simply "noise" that's ignored).
In other words, as far as the general American public is concerned, the war is already over. The only people who still care what goes on in Iraq are the people whose family members are still serving there in the U.S. Armed Forces and various subcontractors with lucrative construction or security contracts.
This seems to suit Obama and the Empire just fine. In fact, it's ideal for both: the American presence slips out to secured bases far from the media limelight and Iraqi civilians, fulfilling the strategic goal of the war from the start: regional dominance.
I addressed this dominance in The Fulcrum of the Mideast?(May 19, 2008):
1. The strategic value of Iraq and Afghanistan is rather obvious. If you want to control or influence the mideast, then by all means take the center, Iraq; and if you want to extend your influence all the way to China, Pakistan, Russia and India, then take Afghanistan, too.
Put another way: The U.S. never had to "win" the war to gain strategically; it only had to deprive Iran, Syria and Russia a cost-free sphere of influence/satrapy. It has accomplished that at, in terms of Empire, a rather low "cost." All the power-projection assets were already in place: naval strike forces, bases in Europe and Diego Garcia, etc.
Even more ironically, the oil-thirsty major power with the most to lose from U.S. domination of the region--China--ended up funding the war's financial costs via lending the U.S. $1.5 trillion at stupendously low rates of interest. That, ladies and gentlemen, is Empire writ large.
Knowledgeable correspondent B.C. and I have been discussing Iraq and China in some depth recently. As B.C. noted in a recent email:
China is about 30-50 years late to the auto-oil growth model.
B.C. also made these observations on the U.S. strategic interests in Iraq:
The invasion of Iraq was part of a larger strategy to (1) secure the Mideast oil fields and shipping lanes; (2) encircle and contain Iran; and (3) a forward front against any designs by Russia and China for future moves against Central Asian and Mideast oil supplies.
Thank you, B.C., for these insightful comments and links.
As a result of these energy and geopolitical realities, China has been forced to seek long-term oil contracts with Venezuela (also a major exporter to the U.S., and within the U.S. sphere of military influence established by the Madison Doctrine) and various unstable kleptocracies in Africa--regimes which may prove to be not the most reliable allies or suppliers.
Imagine for a moment if the roles were reversed: The U.S. loans China $1.5 trillion in low-yield loans, money which China used to establish military influence over the heart of the Mideast oil region, forcing the U.S. to seek oil from marginal suppliers a half a world away and from unsavory, profoundly unstable kleptocracies.
No one can say how long any oil-dependent Empire can last, but we can safely assume that the
Empire which controls access to most of the world's oil will outlast all others--at
least until the oil being exported declines precipitously.
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