Obama on Syria: The emperor has no policy
Last updated: 11 September 2013
Incoherent foreign policy is not unique to this president - it's rooted in the DNA of US political culture.


Obama's indecisive position is now evidently public knowledge. According to the Huffington Post:

President Barack Obama was ready to order a military strike against Syria, with or without Congress' blessing. But on Friday night, he suddenly changed his mind. Senior administration officials describing Obama's about-face Saturday offered a portrait of a president who began to wrestle with his own decision - at first internally, then confiding his views to his chief of staff, and finally summoning his aides for an evening session in the Oval Office to say he'd had a change of heart.

The fact is that Obama lacks any coherent policy on Syria - precisely the way that no other US president had any serious policy except habitually reaching for his gun. This habit has become second nature to US foreign policy, and it is deeply rooted in the very DNA of the US' political culture, exacerbated by the Arab revolutions towards which the US could not possibly have any constructive policy because they have no clue what it is.

So far as the ruling culture in Washington DC is concerned, these revolutions are "destabilising" the region and endangering US allies - ranging from the apartheid settler colony of Israel to the retrograde ruling class in Saudi Arabia - and that is not good.

The nature of American empire

The last time any US administration had any foreign policy, it was called the "Project for a New American Century" - led by a band of militant ideologues whose most intelligent theorist, Francis Fukuyama, thought world history had come to an end but soon discovered he was wrong, jumping ship after the Iraq debacle.  

Obama came to office to oppose the neoconservative project, but he soon ended up exacerbating its contorted logic. He did so not because Bush and his team were particularly evil or because Obama and his team are any less violent. He did so because this is in the nature of American empire - a world-conquering project that is confused by its own Christian morality, that wants to have its cake and eat it too - both rule the world with the most deadly military machinery in human history while doing so in the name of saving humanity from its own evil.

It's not just this administration: Americans in general know very little about the world, and they have projected this ignorance onto the tabula rasa of a "Manifest Destiny" that they are divinely ordained to a delusional "shining city" upon a fictive hill. The delusion has been deadly for generations of Americans and calamitous for the world at large - and until they snap out of it they will remain the most monumental obstacle to peace and sanity in this world, with their leaders always at the mercy of swindlers who can only serve their own immediate interests.

In the absence of any serious or enduring knowledge, the operation of this empire is at the mercy of ignorant think tanks like the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and swindlers like AIPAC. The knowledge they produce and feed the elected officials of this land is based on the model of American fast food: easy to digest but dangerous for your health.

Old-fashioned Orientalism, as Edward Said had theorised it, was commensurate with European imperial interests, for at least it was a body of coherent and enduring knowledge. But what we see in the US case is a mode of what I called "dispensable" knowledge in my Post-Orientalism: Knowledge and Power in Time of Terror (2008). This knowledge has no theoretical or epistemic consistency - for by the time the catastrophic consequences of a policy (say in Afghanistan or Iraq) is discovered, the administration that had initiated it has changed, and a new war is on the horizon.

So do not expect any serious or consistent policy from this or any other US administration about anything vital to the perilous course of humanity ahead. For these emperors are too busy shooting from the hip to look down to see whether they are wearing any pants.   

Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York. The Arabic translation of his Arab Spring: The End of Postcolonialism (2012) is scheduled for publication later this year.

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