Obama’s Parting Gifts for Asia

A few final lies

The late “rhetorical pugilist” Christopher Hitchens sub-titled his book God Is Not Great with “How Religion Poisons Everything.” He might have added, and perhaps did in his leftist days, that propaganda poisons everything, too. It certainly feels like its ideological signature is everywhere these days. Not least on President Obama’s final tour of Asia, including stops in Vietnam and Japan as highlights of his farewell junket.

Memories of Mayhem

Perhaps no leg of this absurd journey is more disorienting than the stopover in Obama demanding Vietnam make new human rights commitments–the USA telling Vietnam this after committing genocide across Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. And what’s the carrot? Lethal weapons. And why lethal weapons? To help polish off Obama’s preoccupation with surrounding China with bases, artillery, and trespassing destroyers. It’s all part of what journalist John Pilger calls a “lethal arc” that extends, relative to China, from Korea in the northeast to Australia in the south to Afghanistan in the west, with many points between.

The U.S. press hardly bothers to think through the implications of the visit. Selling lethal arms to Hanoi as part of the Asian pivot is described in Time Magazine as an effort by Obama to leave “a positive legacy.” These and other articles seemed to have seized upon the storyline of America, as usual, coming to the defense of small indefensible countries being bullied by the rank hegemon in Beijing. A CNN article said that, “In a recent and provocative show of force, China flew two jets close to U.S. aircraft in airspace stationed above the disputed region.” No one asks why there are U.S. aircraft “stationed” in airspace above territory that doesn’t belong to it in a distant sea thousands of miles from its coast. Or why it has made provocative gestures in the South China Sea on a fairly regular basis.

It is true that Vietnam has documented human rights abuses on the books, particularly a distaste for dissent, which is a restraint on free speech, which stifles a free press, which deters freedom of assembly, and so on down the line until you find yourself in a police state. Yet who is the United States to lecture Hanoi on human rights? This is the rogue state to which all rogue states aspire—a nation with a fearsome stockpile of might, its heavy footprint on every nation’s sovereign turf, its tentacles reaching into every political sphere on every continent, and the world’s trade currency in its pocket. All of it transformed through a vast rhetorical fog that renders every evil a good, every murder a mercy killing, and every impulse of the human heart as a yearning for Western democracy.

The gangsters of the Islamic State must dream of such a reality. Of course, in their case, their global dominion would be masked behind the Cyrillic script of the Quran and its calls for fealty to Allah. Everybody has an ideology. It is hard to imagine a system of international law not subjected to the ideological perversions of its heavyweight members. The only feasible avenue—so far as I can tell—is a multi-polar system that balances the warring obsessions of competing ideologues. Which is why a multi-polar world sounds so much better than a unipolar world led by a “hyperpuissance,” as French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine once put it.

Yet here is our dapper Commander-in-Chief, glad-handing the proles and sliding suitcases of wealth across the negotiating table. Vietnam is loathe to fall afoul of Washington’s favor, as did Thailand, leading the White House to deny Bangkok access to its agricultural markets on the pretext that the Thai human rights record wasn’t up to our high moral standards. The humorless media reports the fictitious as fact without a trace of irony or self-awareness.

When Death Fell from the Sky

The stop in Japan included an ignominious visit to Hiroshima. This is the site where the U.S. obliterated at least 140,000 people, mostly harmless civilians, in an action considered by many analysts to have been entirely unnecessary. It was a signal to Russia and the world that the U.S. was now the hegemonic military kingpin in world affairs. Nagasaki suffered the same fate. Yet as Secretary of War Henry Stimson said, even before the nuclear attack, “Japan had no allies; its navy was almost destroyed; its islands were under a naval blockade; and its cities were undergoing concentrated air attacks.”

Visiting Hiroshima, Obama was the first sitting U.S. president to visit the site of our nuclear crime, a legacy of insulting arrogance if nothing else. He told the assembled crowd, in the nicely crafted prose that has become the hallmark of a presidency of empty platitudes, “Seventy-one years ago, on a bright cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed.” The president said that, “Technological progress without an equivalent progress in human institutions can doom us,” adding that the possession of nuclear weapons “requires a moral revolution as well.” He called for Hiroshima to be the “the start of our own moral awakening.”

It is hard to know what he meant, if anything. After all, this comes from a man who declared, in the misty dawn of his presidency no less, that he would put the world on a path to freedom from nuclear weapons. Yet he recently broke all spending records by signing off on a one trillion dollar nuclear investment over the next few decades. Many have noted that this violates the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Not only that, but he has reduced funding for non-proliferation efforts, evidently not content to let the nuclear buildup accomplish the same by negation.

The mainstream media, the New York Times in this case, only recalls the rhetoric, noting that Obama embraced survivors of the nuclear attack, “which exposed humanity to risks the president has repeatedly said the world must do far more to resolve.” Why does the paper of record consider what the president says to be more important than what he does? Is it not because they are servants of the same criminal class of elite capital that he is? Because they work tirelessly to outfit a caste of white-collar gangsters in the sanctifying cloth of good intentions?

Eclipse of the Real

One of the signs of our Western pathology is Obama’s use of the passive tense to describe our crime: “Death fell from the sky.” Was it unbidden? An act of nature, perhaps? Was God punishing the Japanese? One might as well assume so, given the unwillingness of the perpetrators to shoulder responsibility for their actions. But you might expect as much from an African-American who harangued his own economically exiled ethnic group for their supposed lack of personal responsibility—all the while representing a country founded on genocide refashioned as destiny. And yet where in our culture is any sign that we recognize our signature in these world-historical tragedies?

There’s a scene in the classic early James Bond film Dr. No, which seems to air every few weeks, in which Bond finds himself at dinner with Dr. No, who has a pair of steel hands. Treating the fledgling terrorist with contempt, Bond at one point smiles smugly and says in his lilting Scottish brogue, “World domination. Same old story.” Of course, the irony is that Bond represents the ultimate colonial empire, and is indeed a fictive representation of an imperial ideal—swatting away testy usurpers even as he enjoys the luxuries of Western consumption. Rather than call Bond on his own country’s imperial behavior, Dr. No instead crushes a table ornament in his black claw before having Bond beaten up.

Little has changed in the contemporary entertainment culture. A show called The Last Ship starring former Grey’s Anatomy lead Eric Dane (aka “Mcsteamy”) relentlessly airs advertisements for upcoming episodes. A recent promotion for the show has Dane, as an American naval commander, squaring off against a villain, who happens to be Asian. Dane imperiously informs the scheming criminal, “If you will not spread the cure, my president wishes you to know that we will.”

Yet the show is not a comedy. But are these fictional scenes much different from the fanciful nonsense produced by Obama on his Asian farewell tour? Point being, the highest levels of our government are living in a fantasyland hard to distinguish from the entertainment content that parrots the same heroic themes. Or it is the reverse: are our venerable leaders modeling themselves after their preferred Hollywood icons? Are they adopting the narratives of their youth, reenacting the cowboys versus Indians games in which the latter was always the antagonist soon to be righteously slain by the freewheeling gunslinger?

Perhaps the most well-known example of widespread self-delusion is the McCarthy era, when the country was collectively terrified of being labeled communist, and a previously unremarkable senator molted into a latter-day Savonarola, single-handed purging more than 500 employees from the State Department in a single year for the phantom taint of having “red” sympathies. This was likely an unconscious—or perhaps conscious—response to the collectivist mindset of the New Deal era, and it is what preeminent evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers would call, “a false historical narrative,” a fairy tale embraced on a mass scale. Here’s Trivers:

False historical narratives are important because every country has one, they are often fiercely defended (and regularly upgraded), and they provide a strong underlying system of logic (easily biased) for interpreting social and historical trends and truth. In short, they are available to justify all action—contemplated, under way, or accomplished. Deception is often involved in their construction. That is, people consciously lie to create them, but once created, false historical narratives act as self-deceptions at the group level. Most people are unconscious of the deception that went into constructing the narrative they take to be true.

Nazi Germany is the instructive example. But America is neither immune to the phenomenon nor aware of its own vulnerability. In fact, it is striking to read social psychologist Alex Carey’s chronicle of the McCarthy era. Carey doesn’t find the McCarthy era to be an outlier in American political history. He sees it as part of the American character, “…to understand McCarthy’s influence we should not regard his form of paranoia as unique in American history. It represented an extreme but nonetheless typical form of propaganda and mind-control which the US public had been subject to since before World War I.” As children, we run around in superhero capes. As adults, we fashion ourselves as the ultimate superheroes, gallant freedom fighters carrying the flag of liberty to benighted peoples everywhere. In the field of trans-media storytelling this is called “world building.” The construction of innumerable small fictions that all ladder up to a vast false historical narrative.

Yet the inversion of fantasy and reality has grave consequences—for reality—not least of which is nuclear war. At the moment, we are blind to the direction we are headed as a nation. We believe we are saving the world from rogue despots when in actuality we are leading the world toward a combinatorial apocalypse of nuclear winters and anthropogenic heat waves. We kill to save. We wrong to set right. We lie to protect the truth. We condemn to uplift. We look, but do not see.

It seems not to matter. Liberals will continue to use the lesser evil argument as cover for their support of an indefensibly corrupt and violent Democrat, who will inch us that much closer to a nuclear holocaust that will dwarf the historic one Democrats use to legitimize their human rights wars. The only question is, who will survive long enough to appreciate the irony?

Jason Hirthler is a writer, political commentator, and veteran of the communications industry. He has written for many political communities. He is the recent author of Imperial Fictions, a collection of essays from between 2015-2017. He lives in New York City and can be reached at jasonhirthler@gmail.com. Read other articles by Jason.