Having read Jim’s short piece below,I thought it was worth looking a little more closely at John Pilger’s article “The Politics of Bollocks” in this week’s New Statesman. One of the things which I’ve never understood is the way that Pilger seems to be heralded as some sort of 19th-Century style Great Authority on whatever happens to be his chosen subject of the moment. Whether it’s Obama, Palestine, capitalism, or doubtless the beaches of Bognor or the price of fish that is the topic, you can guarantee that someone on the left will be swooning over Pilger’s Brilliantly Insightful Article Which Shows What’s Really Going On about that subject. So, let us take a look at what he actually writes here.
The article is essentially a vinegary dig at people who have been bowled over by Barack Obama’s victory in the US Presidential Elections, who now seem to think that the President is a cross between Jesus, Gandhi and Che Guevara, preparing to perform impeccably progressive miracles the world over. Now, doubtless such people exist, but they are not quite so thick on the ground as Pilger appears to think. Many of us, including myself, advocated critical support for Obama last November, and were absolutely delighted to see him win the White House, at the same time as seeing a Democratic surge flatten the Republican Party in Congress. How anyone could fail to see that on balance as a good thing does not make sense to me, unless that person is merely parroting a party line about the Democrats not being a “bourgeois workers’ party” like… err… New Labour apparently is. Of course though, the Left will always need its Big Yankee Imperialist Baddie and in the absence of anyone more obvious, it seems that mantle now falls to Barack Obama.
After opening with a rambling anecdote about how he first came to hear the term “bollocks” (gosh, how Brilliantly Insightful), Pilger’s article reads like one long stream of “yeah buts” on a variety of policy areas, ranging from Obama’s executive order to close Guantanamo Bay (“yeah but he hasn’t dismantled the entire US secret state apparatus”) to his stance on Israel-Palestine (“yeah but Zionist advisors, yeah but he’ll be talking to the Israeli right” etc). If anyone can show me a single statement, anywhere, at any time in the last election, either by the Democratic campaign or by Obama himself, where he said he would institute a socialist foreign policy, then please let me know because I haven’t seen it. However, to claim that his actions in the weeks since he was elected don’t mark a symbolic break with the Bush years is just asinine, as is the claim that his administration’s stance towards the international community is not qualitatively better than Bush’s. Indeed, even on the one overseas issue where Obama is arguably more hawkish than Bush (Afghanistan), the new president is doing exactly what he said he would do when people elected him. I don’t agree with his position, but the idea that this is a question of a hidden truth beneath obfuscatory “bollocks” is a nonsense.
One very interesting sentence in the course of the passage about Israel-Palestine is this:
What the childish fawning over Obama obscures is the dark power assembled under cover of America’s first “post-racial president”.
What “dark power”? And what relevance does Obama’s positioning as a “post-racial president” have to do with it? Pilger doesn’t elaborate on this statement, but instead launches straight into lambasting the new administration for being too pro-Israeli. What are we to deduce from this? Well I suppose either that Pilger has discovered that the Obama administration is secretly run by Cylons, or else that the “dark power” concerned is that favourite of wingnuts from Infowars to Maoist loony toons, “The Zionists Who Secretly Run Things”. I don’t propose to go into depth here with a very obvious and well-rehearsed debunking of claims that Israel lobbyists run the US government as though by remote control, but suffice to say that such statements on Pilger’s part don’t look Brilliantly Insightful to me, so much as paranoid. He also makes a point of saying, as though it reinforces his argument, that Richard Falk (the UN special rapporteur who described Israel’s policies a genocidal), is Jewish. This is unnecessary at best: the question is presumably whether Falk’s statement is correct or not. Whether he is a Jew, a Muslim or a Hare Krishna is entirely irrelevant.
A final highlight for me was Pilger’s de-contextualised claim about Hillary Clinton:
Under Obama, the “sense of a new era abroad”, declared the Observer, “was reinforced by the confirmation of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state”. Clinton has threatened to “entirely obliterate Iran” on behalf of Israel.
Is Clinton then champing at the bit to launch Shock and Awe against Tehran, or perhaps to nuke a few Iranian cities? Perhaps she secretly hopes to slip a mickey into Obama’s coffee and give the order herself?
Pilger’s use of this quote is in fact shockingly misleading. Clinton made the statement about “obliterating Iran” in April last year, during the heat of the Democratic primary campaign. It was one of a string of stupid things to say, which candidates are wont to do in US elections when bashing each other around in the scrabble for electors. Whatever I may think of Clinton – which isn’t very much – I simply don’t believe that she is plotting an apocalyptic war on Iran, and I very much doubt that the Tehran government disagrees with me. Furthermore, Pilger has cut her statement short, to make it look more bonkers even than it was. What Clinton actually said during the course of a TV interview, was this:
“I want the Iranians to know that if I’m the president, we will attack Iran (if it attacks Israel).“In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them,“That’s a terrible thing to say but those people who run Iran need to understand that because that perhaps will deter them from doing something that would be reckless, foolish and tragic,”
Still an utterly stupid thing to say? Yes. One of the many reasons why I was delighted she didn’t get the Democratic nomination? Most certainly. Evidence that she’s planning a unilateral strike on Iran? Is it bollocks.
Overall, Pilger’s article has the air of a desperate, quixotic search for an evil enemy to rail against, when actually what he finds himself faced with is a liberal Democratic administration. Such administrations are warts-and-all things, and they do things that are downright offensive to most people on the left. Obama’s Afghanistan strategy for example is something which (as I have said) I completely disagree with, and which I’ll be first on the protests against as and when they inevitably happen. But how one is supposed to perceive the hidden hand of a “dark power” underlying an administration which has taken bigger progressive steps in many ways (capping executive pay on Wall Street, the closure of Guantanamo, backing the use of unionised labour for federal construction prjects) in the course on the past few weeks than the free-market lackeys of our so-called “Labour Party” have managed in nearly twelve years, is simply beyond me. Obama’s administration, with all its flaws, represents a clear and obvious step away from a Bush era where CEOs simply called the shots on economic policy, and where foreign policy was governed by a coalition of empire-building neocons and religious-right fruitcakes who believed in the divine fate of Israel at the Apocaypse. Obama’s people aren’t socialists, but then they don’t pretend to be. And they’re not the boogeyman who comes to get you in the night either.
At worst, for me, the piece suggests a really feeble and paranoid view of politics which I am assured did not characterise his writing in his earlier days. At best, it’s just pish.