Obama’s State of the Union as an exercise in national denial
Listening to President Obama’s last State of the Union speech, I was reminded of the country that was my second home: having spent a total of thirty years living in France, I have a Ph.D in the study of national denial: when I first arrived there as a child in 1948, France still ruled Indochina, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and a host of other third world countries. Britain had its Commonwealth, but France, as De Gaulle never tired of saying, had its ‘rayonnement’.
The seven foot tall general led the French resistance to German occupation from London, ruled France after the Liberation, then again in the late fifties when he designed the Presidential Vth Republic and steered France out of its North African colonies – and NATO. De Gaulle was to twentieth century France what George Washington and Abe Lincoln combined are to the United Sates: a country’s enduring image of itself with a halo.
The political class in France coped with their country’s terminal decline after World War II by mocking and denigrating the United States: Americans were loud and ignorant, and they were going to destroy Europe’s unique culture! The earliest modern graffiti was probably the popular slogan “US Go Home!”
Europe’s Opinion-Makers Pledge Allegiance
But by the early 1980’s, Fulbright and other government-sponsored programs having lured European decision-makers to the US for lavish stays among America’s best and brightest, even left-wing intellectuals found things to admire, while the rest of the country took to ‘Le Drug Store’ and the latest street memes.
Fast-forward to 2015: the Fifth Republic’s second socialist president, Francois Hollande, dubbed its least popular ever, faces recession, an avalanche of immigrants, and the looming dissolution of the European Union that neither France nor Germany can avoid without taking their heads out of the sands of America’s Empire.
For forty years, Europe had told itself that it shared the convictions of the superpower across the seas, even though liberte, egalite, fraternite implies solidarity, whereas the pursuit of happiness does not. Although each individual country had an array of left-wing parties, Europe was content to play off Washington and Moscow while clinging to the Atlantic Alliance just in case if the Red Army really was poised to strike – or to save itself from a soft takeover known as ‘Finlandization”.
In the nineteen-eighties and nineties, instead of letting its myths go, France continued to claim a unique place among America’s subalterns – right behind Great Britain (“Perfide Albion”!). As long as Marianne, the symbol of France, was standing, English would never become the world’s lingua franca (franca….). The ‘Academie’ continued to Frenchify American words, while Arab youth adopted hip-hop and created a street language incomprehensible to Sorbonne/Harvard-educated adults.
Today, Finlandization is alive and well. The current kerfuffle over the supply of gas from beyond EU borders feeds a dawning awareness among European economic leaders that they can have non-imperialist relations with Eurasia instead of subordinate relations with the hegemon overseas. But this piece is not about Europe, it’s about the US refusal – so similar to the one I witnessed in France for decades! – to admit that its time in the sun has passed, and to graciously, for the good of humanity – pass the baton to Eurasia.
As clearly demonstrated by Obama last night, the American version of National Denial does not involve cultural icons, but a commitment to full-spectrum dominance. This requires no-drama Obama to assure us that we are defeating ISIS and that Russia’s showing off of its latest hardware at its airbase in Latakia with a lot less formality than journalists get on US installations, is a desperate attempt to deny its isolation.
The Real Deal
Faced with the daily, embarrassing proof of the failure of its campaigns against Iraq and Libya, compared to evidence that the Russia intervention requested by President Assad is moving the Syrian tragedy toward resolution, the US has adopted two tactics: it paints Putin as a sort of Lone Ranger, getting himself into a ‘quagmire’ with no real allies other than China, Iran and the creepy Hezbollah, while touting the biggest trade deals ever, the TPP for the Pacific rim and the TTIP for Europe, as evidence of its military and economic dominance.
But these assertions are even easier to debunk than France’s ‘rayonnement’.
Washington claims the TPP accounts for 40% of the world’s GDP, but the math says otherwise: the US accounts for 17%, and even with Japan’s 4.6%, the other members only account for 10%, for a generous total of 28%. A statement on the TPP site reveals the deliberate obfuscation: “Through this agreement, the Obama Administration seeks to boost U.S. economic growth and support the creation and retention of high-quality American jobs by increasing exports in a region that includes some of the world’s most robust economies and that represents nearly 40 percent of global GDP. “
But the Pacific region only represents around 40% of global GDP if China, the world’s second largest economy, with 10% of GDP is included. But the purpose of the treaty is to exclude and if possible counter China! Given this reality, the two mega trade deals pursued by the US, the TTP to the East, and the TTIP to the West, are a desperate attempt on the part of the hegemon to preserve its status – a major exercise in denial.
In addition to aligning its ducks in the Pacific to counter China, it is crucial to the future of the US that Europe sign on to the TTIP, notwithstanding the new regional trade entities that Russia and China are creating across the Eurasian continent.
Never completely identifying with Europe, Britain has already signaled its interest in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, even as it renegotiates its EU status. Should the entire European Union, instead of joining the TTP, follow suit, adding its 18% of global GDP to China’s 10, Russia’s 1.8, India’s 2, Brazil’s 2.3, South Africa’s 350 (these latter part of the BRICS, the main upstart group organized around Russia and China) the result would be 32% versus 28% for the US-sponsored Pacific rim.
While France still believes all other cultures draw their creativity from her unique example, last night Obama claimed that when the world has a problem it does not go to Moscow or Beijing, but to Washington. But even as he boasted that no country can even come close to US economic and military power, and that the world has “no alternative” to American leadership, Russia pursued its successful bombing campaign in Syria.