Thursday, July 18, 2024

Azu Ishiekwene: Who does America listen to?

The ‘complex’ has Biden by the balls. And what a hold they have on him and anyone in the White House in an election year!

• May 18, 2024

I was chatting with a friend last week, who, mid-speech, redirected our conversation to the situation in the Middle East. She wanted to know what the mood in the U.S. was. Over 6,000 miles away in Nigeria from where she was calling, she didn’t quite trust the media accounts. Since I was visiting the U.S., she thought I might have a better reading of the pulse.

Her call coincided with the decision by Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu to launch a ground offensive in Rafah, in spite of warnings about compounding the current humanitarian disaster in Gaza, where over 32,000 Palestinians have been killed, not counting bodies still under the rubble.

No one is sure how many more dead would be counted before Netanyahu finds the last Hamas, but is there still a chance – just one chance – that the dog in this deadly hunt will hear the hunter’s restraining whistle? Is the U.S. unable or unwilling or both unable and unwilling to call Netanyahu to stop?

Calling America

I told the caller that the honest answer was I don’t know. The mood on U.S. campuses was clear. Students from Columbia to Yale and from Harvard to New York, and the University of Texas at Austin pitched tents outside for days in running battles with the police to demand an end to the war. They wanted the Biden administration to call Netanyahu to order. 

There were counter-protests, alright, but the overwhelming majority of students across US college campuses made their voices loud and clear: Israel had gone too far in avenging October 7. 

That was the mood on the campuses. 

It wasn’t very different on the streets, too. You could say that is to be expected. Two of the three cab drivers I used were persons with Arab roots who wore their grief on their sleeves. 

They were not all Hamas sympathisers, just ordinary folks who might still have remained in Palestine under better leadership, but in whose eyes the worst Palestine leaders now look like saints, thanks to Israel’s ruthless war in Gaza. But you don’t have to be Arab or Jew or Greek to ask, who can stop Netanyahu? You just have to be human to see that if two wrongs don’t make a right, a third only compounds it.

So, who does the U.S. listen to, and why does it matter in the war in Gaza? In politico-speak, those who move the hand that moves the most powerful country in the world are called the “military-industrial complex.” 

Who’s the complex?

This is how Meta AI defines it: “The military-industrial complex (MIC) refers to the interconnected network of relationships between the military, defence contractors, and the federal government. It involves the collaboration and cooperation between these entities to produce and profit from military weapons, equipment and services.

“The term was first used by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his farewell address in 1961, where he warned of the potential dangers of an unchecked alliance between the military, defence contractors and politicians.”

If there’s anyone who ought to know that a threesome involving the military, defence contractors and politicians can hardly end in any good, it was Eisenhower. He was on two of the three sides, and Dick Cheney, who became Vice-President decades later, was on the last two – defence contractor and politician. 

Eisenhower led two of the most consequential military campaigns in the Second World War before he later became president.

This ‘complex’ is not large. In number terms, it would be a tiny fraction of the number of college students who besieged dozens of campuses last week, calling for an end to the war in Gaza. Statistics in 2009 suggested that it includes around 1,100 lobbyists who represent about 400 clients from the defence sector, mostly companies that make losses from peace.  

Size matters not

But you would be mistaken to judge its influence by its size. Although it accounted for about three per cent of the U.S. GDP two years ago, these folks, famous mostly for their notorious exploits, with strong ties to the Jewish lobby, have been linked with nearly every bad thing from the overthrow and murder of radical Chilean president Salvadore Allende Gossens to the Vietnam War and the Iran-Contra Affair to Gulf War I & II. 

As bad things go, the last one was the baddest. This ‘complex’ instigated the U.S. invasion of Iraq in spite of all evidence to the contrary. It made up its own convenient evidence, bomb after bomb, as hundreds of lives were destroyed and centuries of civilisation in Mesopotamia were pillaged and ruined.

After the war, one of the last surviving White House peaceniks, Barack Obama, said, in a declassified document, “ISIS (Islamic State), is a direct outgrowth of Al Qaeda in Iraq that grew out of our invasion, which is an example of unintended consequences – which is why we should generally aim before we shoot.” 

Unfortunately, even Obama the Dove shot before aiming in Libya.

In the Middle East, the ‘complex’ has President Biden by the balls. That was what I told the caller from Nigeria. It doesn’t matter what the students are saying on college campuses or what the cab drivers think; the ‘complex’ has Biden by the balls. And what a hold they have on him and anyone in the White House in an election year! The ‘complex’ has got Israel’s back. Biden is damned if he calls out Netanyahu. Damned if he doesn’t. 

Owners of America

That’s what I told the caller. The Igbo of South-Eastern Nigeria have a profound way of saying it that is lacking in the English language: “Ana enwe obodo enwe!” A town is owned, and the owners call the shots. It’s a hard thing to say, even harder, perhaps, to accept. Because the logic of accepting that the ‘complex’ owns America and has its ear, is to deny the agency of actors within the system who may hold different, even stridently opposing views.

But think of it this way: why would America, a beacon of the rule of law, conveniently hide under its non-signatory status to ICJ to allow Israel to continue bombarding Gaza in spite of warnings by the court and the UN of an impending humanitarian catastrophe? Why would Biden, who regretted voting for the war in Iraq, and who as president, has prioritised diplomacy, become so impotent over Gaza? It’s the ‘complex’, folks! They’ve got him by the balls in an election year!

And Netanyahu knows this, as does large sections of the Western media largely controlled by vested interests in the Middle East conflict. Netanyahu knows that Israel’s invincibility is an American yarn. The students said that much in their placards and graffiti last week, but who’s listening? 

Certainly, not Biden, who, along with his British ally, Rishi Sunak, scrambled military assets to defend Israel on April 15, when Iran launched what might otherwise have been a devastating retaliatory attack on Israel. The yarn of Israel’s invincibility, largely overplayed in the Western media, continues to feed the war. For how long? How many more lives before enough is enough?

What price, peace?

On the whole, the world is a far more peaceful place today than it was in the 20th century when millions of people died from senseless, bloody conflicts over ego and territory. Yet, it has taken bloody hard work to bring us here, where prosperity is not only measured by the ‘complex’’s profit from wars but also by how many ordinary folks around the world have bread on their tables and milk for their babies.

Now, it seems like from South Sudan to Yemen and from the meat grinder in Ukraine to Gaza, the world is adrift again, one war at a time, as America defies the voices of its own children.

Someone must stop, listen and act. If not Biden, then who?

Ishiekwene is Editor-in-Chief of LEADERSHIP

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