Thursday, 10 February 2011

Oh do get off that soapbox!

The Times front page headline reads Saudis told Obama not to humiliate Mubarak followed by Hugh Tomlinson's report of the phone call made by King Abdullah to President Obama telling him that if they tried to force Mubarak out of Egypt in the face of popular protest, his government would retailiate by propping him, i.e. Mubarak up. And so it would seem our journalists are up in arms, outraged on the public's behalf as though this was the most scandalous thing since the last Wikileaks bombshell. Which leaves me wondering do people fully understand what happens in international politics?

Leaders threatening each other is hardly news and I for one didn't need to read any Wikileaks report to understand that politics is a dirty game where seemingly chummy Heads of States have utter contempt for one another. Is it not obvious that powerful countries achieved their status by less than pleasant means? Or that despotic regimes count so-called democratic leaders among their supporters? Perhaps I'm cynical and maybe people do go around thinking that our leaders are all fine upstanding citizens whose actions are purely altruistic. Somehow I doubt this very much. I think the public is a lot more discerning than the media would have us believe so their outrage at the USA being influenced by the oil-rich Saudis seems a little feigned to say the least.

Let's assume for a moment that we do all expect Western Leaders to uphold their democratic principles in all political matters, whether domestic or foreign. We know they can be very vocal in condemning the likes of Robert Mugabe for human rights abuses or supporting military coups of those they deem to be dictators(or as Bush would say 'against US'), and perhaps we find that laudable yet we can't ignore that when it comes to oppressive regimes like China and Israel it is always business as usual. What I find hugely duplicitous is that our so-called independent media perpetuate these double standards rather than acknowledge that politics is and has always been a dirty game. This may be part of our ability as Westerners to constantly maintain the moral high ground, albeit in our own minds. We're constantly told and we believe that we are free unlike the oppressed populations of the world. We elect our leaders and hold them accountable but do we really?

There are countless examples of actions that have been taken (see War in Iraq) and are still taken by our elected leaders which we have either no knowledge of, and which if/or when we do, we are rightly outraged by. Admittedly on fundamental issues such as our freedoms, to associate or to express ourselves in the media or in public, we are far more advanced than autocracies like North Korea or Iran, but we shouldn't fool ourselves into thinking that we know of, or could possibly approve of all the decisions that our governments make. Politics is a ruthless business, where power is the single most important factor and governments will carry out some of the most despicable acts in order to maintain or acquire such power.

In the game of politics leaders are ousted at a whim  because they do not suit a country's purpose as was the case with Haiti's Jean Bertrand Aristide, genocidal regimes are protected as the French did in Rwanda during Operation Turquoise and when governments refuse to play ball, crippling sanctions are imposed as was the case in Zimbabwe which end up affecting the ordinary man more than the despotic leader. Who on earth are we kidding when we try to hold Obama accountable for Mubarak's refusal to step down from power? The US's influence in Egypt is worth nothing as long as the 82 year old leader has the support of a mighty power like Saudi Arabia. As long as leaders have financial and often military backing from one country or another, whether openly or as is often the case 'behind close doors', they will continue to do exactly as they please even if that means defying their people and/or the international community. Politics will continue to be about a power struggle where sometimes the power shifts from one nation to another.

Oftentimes I wish people would simply call things like they are and stop pretending we live in some kind of Utopia where our leaders have our best interests at heart. What the phone call from King Abdullah and the subsequent 'delicate' diplomacy on the part of Washington proves is that the Saudis have the upper hand. Simply put, America will have to dance to their tune because clearly they have something that America wants.....or rather needs.
So my humble appeal to the next journalist who choses to pick up this story and run with it as though it were the 'scoop' of the week, do get off your soapbox for one minute and fully appreciate what being the leader of any nation means and if you already know this which I suspect you do, then try and find another story to demonstrate your moral indignation. I hear Britain's decided to triple its aid to Somalia. Now there's a story worth investigating.

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