The kings of the world are growing old,
and they shall have no inheritors.
Their sons died while they were boys,
and their exhausted daughters abandoned
the sick crown to the mob.
Ranier Maria Rilke wrote these words 110 years ago, at the beginning of a century in which the myths of modernity, so recently constellated, would gradually collapse into the utterly demythologized world that we have inherited.
In this world, all of our institutions – especially the political and diplomatic roles once held by the kings of the world (sometimes with honor and dignity) have become indistinguishable from entertainment. This is not to say that we no longer have myths, only that we are not aware of them, and that they no longer nourish us – and that it has become so much easier for imposters and con men to usurp the role of leader. Some Americans, of course, still haven’t understood this. These people remain innocently within the myth of innocence. They tend to be white-skinned.
What is that experience like? Consider an analogy from physics. The electromagnetic spectrum is the range of all possible frequencies of radiation. Visible light – what we can see with our eyes – makes up a band at the center of the spectrum. What we can’t see spreads out nearly infinitely: toward ultraviolet in one direction, and toward infrared in the other. That band of visible light – the unexamined assumptions of our mythology – makes up a tiny sliver of reality. But from within the myth, it is all we are aware of.
Another corollary of American exceptionalism is the unquestioned assumption that only the existing nuclear powers can be trusted not to use their weapons (tell the Japanese about that). No one else should be allowed to join this exclusive club. In effect, this means no Third World nation populated by dark-skinned people, except for India and Pakistan, who didn’t bother to ask anyone’s permission but usually align themselves with the U.S. This stance is arrogant and colonialist at best and proudly racist at worst. Yakov Rabkin adds:
It helped that Iran is an Islamic republic often portrayed as irrational and irresponsible. It is somehow deemed inferior to Western powers, considered to be rational and responsible in spite of their record of two world wars and innumerable colonial wars, including recent unwarranted attacks on Iraq, Libya and other Arab countries. Racism is likely to have played a part. Iranians are Orientals, many of them of brownish complexion, and thus they cannot be trusted to play with matches…The “Iranian nuclear threat” embodies the Orwellian principle that some countries are apparently more equal than others.
And all along, has any American politician or pundit ever wondered out loud near a microphone whether Iran, which is surrounded by hostile powers (including an American fleet in the Persian Gulf) – an Iran that has not attacked another nation for 300 years – should have the right to defend itself? Not in our mythology, where any force that questions American hegemony is automatically labeled as an aggressor.
We are completely acclimated to hearing the questions posed in terms (mythological terms) of American good intentions and dubious trust of the Other. The mythic framework never allows such questions as, Should the Other trust us? For more details on this issue, go here. Or you could simply ask any Native American about “broken treaties.”
As soon as the Iran deal was announced, the Republican clown caravan vomited out the predictable litany of impending Armageddon – predictable because for generations they have taught their base of aging, angry white males with mythological conditioning to expect nothing less.
Some of the Senators had to admit that they hadn’t even read the deal. (Queue the 2017 tax deal). But that hardly mattered, since they were merely preaching to their own choirs.
And the media, another broken institution, legitimated their squawks, as it always does, by reporting them as news instead of theater.
Please don’t kid yourself that the New York Times is a liberal exception in this broken system. As Professor William Beeman writes:
The New York Times is one of the worst offenders in telling outright lies about Iran. (It) has an inordinate influence on public opinion in the United States. The reporters David E. Sanger, William J. Broad, Rick Gladstone and Michael Gordon have been writing inaccurate, negative articles about Iran regularly for at least 12 years. The editorial staff, who writes the headlines for their articles also makes their articles look even more negative than they are.
And please don’t kid yourself that the Daily Show or Steven Colbert offer any real alternative. Every time John Stewart has Bill O’Reilly or Mike Huckabee as a guest (quite often, actually) and engages with them in “rational discussion” he is legitimizing them, their racism and their belligerent foreign policies in your eyes. This is what we mean by “normalization.”
But what was more astounding by far was Obama’s response: “Either the issue of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon is resolved diplomatically through a negotiation or it’s resolved through force, through war.”
Taking that statement at face value, we have to to ask: just how different are the “moderates” in our ruling class from the looniest of Republican foreign policy hawks? Was Obama really that close (as his spokespersons still say he is) to actually attacking another nation, one that has made no actual aggressive moves against the U.S., simply because it might someday acquire the capacity to do so?
If we don’t take it at face value, are we then compelled to add it to the long list of absolutely insane statements that we’ve been hearing for decades? Can we, at this point in history, ever expect a politician not to either lie or play the joker for the home crowd? Gareth Porter writes that
The administration’s determination to be just as alarmist about Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions as its opponents creates a U.S. political discourse…built around two dueling narratives that disagree about the effect of the agreement but have one politically crucial common denominator: they both hold it as beyond debate that Iran cannot be trusted because it wants nuclear weapons; and the only question is whether and for how long that Iranian quest for nuclear weapons can be held off without war…The common assumption about Iran’s nuclear policy is never debated or even discussed because it is so firmly entrenched in the political discourse by now that there is no need to discuss it.
That last sentence is a concise description of a mythic discourse. A fish never thinks about water, because water is all it knows.
This ridiculous but familiar litany is based upon another fallacy, the threat of a “rogue nuclear power.” And, like many mythological pronouncements do, it ignores the elephant in the living room, the “secret” known to all that there already exists such a rogue power, Israel, which has possessed such weapons for decades (expects generally estimate that Israel has 100-200 nukes) but refuses, along with our allies India and Pakistan, to sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (Iran has). For more on the very long history of American refusal to acknowledge this, read here.
Rogue power? Porter points out another relevant fact:
Iran was the one state in the entire world that had a history of abjuring weapons of mass destruction on religious grounds. During the Iran-Iraq war the military leadership had asked Ayatollah Khomeini to approve the manufacture of chemical weapons to retaliate against repeated chemical attacks by Iraqi forces. But Khomeini forbade their possession or use forbidden by the Shia interpretation of the Quran…
The nuclear deal itself requires that the Iranians show what everyone except the American public already knows – that they aren’t making a bomb. In exchange, the “West” (white European and American neo-colonial nations that already have the Bomb) will gradually relax their economic sanctions, as the U.S. has not yet done for Cuba after 55 years. Sanctions are an easy way to make war. The only cost is to friendly business interests that would like to trade with the target nations. The only other constituencies for lifting trade embargoes are human rights activists and expatriates of those nations.
And the victims are always defenseless, faceless civilians. The U.S. embargo on Iraq began in 1990. Six years later, a TV interviewer asked Secretary of State Madeleine Albright about the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children caused by sanctions. She responded, ”…we think the price is worth it.” Those sanctions remained in place for another seven years, until after the 2003 invasion, but no one has published estimates of the children who died after Albright’s admission. Do the math.
Is your head spinning yet? How about the notion that Israel can wreck the deal because of all its influence in Washington? AIPAC, the leading Israel lobby group, is expected to spend as much as $50 million to try and defeat the treaty (and side, ironically again, with the Iranian hard-liners). Altogether, the eight major Jewish-American groups opposing the Iran deal (remember: all of them know full well that Iran is no nuclear threat) have budgets of $145 million.
We all know that every single member of Congress is subject to enormous financial pressures to support Israel in every way. But there are equally huge pressures – or there could be, if the U.S. were serious about wanting peace – in the other direction. I have to state another opinion on the mythologies involved, and I’ll put it in quotes for emphasis:
At any single moment in the last forty years every single American president has had the option to end the Israel-Palestine conflict instantly, in a single phone call, to every single Israeli prime minister, with a single threat: Make peace, real peace, a just peace with the Palestinians – tomorrow – or we will shut off the financial and military tit.
Who’s the puppet here, the U.S. or Israel? Cui bono. Follow the money.
Or follow the stars, by which I mean movie stars. A disarmament organization released a video supporting the deal with compelling arguments such as this, from Morgan Freeman: “…the agreement on the table is the best way to insure that Iran doesn’t build a fucking bomb.” Well thank you, Mister Foreign Policy expert, or at least you play one on TV. A grateful public breathes more easily. Here we encounter yet another aspect of the demythologized world, when we consider a celebrity’s opinion as valuable. So the man can act…and?
So for now and the next year, the Republicans will have their prime war-mongering and fear-raising theme for the election season. And Obama may establish his legacy as a peacemaker. To his supporters he will have justified the Nobel Peace Prize that he received at the beginning of his presidency, apparently in hopes that he might become a peacemaker. Wasn’t that award another charade?
Shouldn’t we wonder why he has really spent so much time and energy on this project? Paul Craig Roberts comments on the broader geopolitical issues:
All that the agreement with Iran means is that Washington has belatedly realized that the concocted Iranian and Muslim threats are using up time, energy, and resources that Washington needs to apply to Russia and China. Moreover, there were too many threats for the American people to know which was paramount.
Noam Chomsky adds: “There’s nothing Iran could do with a nuclear weapon, except as a deterrent. And there are two countries in the region that freely use force and violence in the region: the U.S. and Israel.”
I’ll offer another opinion: big financial players have long lusted to attain entry into this lucrative market region saturated with oil. Professor Beeman has just returned from an extensive trip to Iran, which was “…prepared for foreign investment, which, based on the enormous number of foreign businessmen and women I met seems to be inevitable…”
Despite decades of demonizing the Iranians, Washington always knows that Wall Street has the final say. Meanwhile, liberals have another reason to ignore Obama’s real legacy, the Trans Pacific Partnership deal.
Forget the fear-mongers. As with Cuba and North Korea, watch to see who actually profits. Follow the money. Cui bono?
This is what a collapsing mythology looks like. The Kings of the world are dead and the jesters have turned the throne rooms into casinos. Queue Trump.
Beautiful! Incisive! It (both parts) should be published far and wide.
I agree with Hari. Especially the brilliant use of the electromagnetic spectrum to illustrate “the unexamined assumptions of our mythology”. Outstanding! And it was perfect timing for I had just tried to explain, while driving today, the spectrum to my wife Nancy without any props. Now she wants to read Part One!
You were brave to comment on Israel’s role in the US stance on Iran, but not brave enough to talk about the Jewish vote in Florida. You got an idea how to fix that excessive influence on US foreign policy?
The Jewish vote in Florida — or any other state — is of far less interest to politicians than the right-wing Cuban vote, which will soon be of less consequence as those people age out. Individual Jews (and that’s all we can speak of, just as we would speak of individual African-Americans) tend to vote much more progressively than the general public. Look at the polls on the Iran deal: a large majority of the public supports the deal, but an even larger majority of Jews do. The biggest issue in politics is the influence of billionaires and their money. A few of them are Jews, but most of them are not. We should all be careful about racial stereotypes.
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