28.07.2020 Author: James ONeill

US Rhetoric Reflects a Long Past Era


The United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a recent rapid trip to London and Copenhagen followed by the making of a speech in California, all in the same week. His speech in California was billed as “a major policy speech.” To have observed his actions and utterances in this rapid cross-world travel was to hear what could only be described as a throwback to the worst Cold War rhetoric of the 1950s.

His rhetoric about “communism” and “government tyranny” might even in one sense be regarded as funny, so divorced was it from 21st century realities. Presumably the rhetoric resonated with his American audience and one heard no words of demurral from his boss Donald Trump, himself much given to rhetorical flights of fancy, or what as less kind observers may label it, unhinged rhetoric and downright lying.

In his address to the Richard Nixon library in California, Pompeo argued that “securing our freedoms from the Chinese Communist party is the mission of our time.” One might have thought that the United States had higher priorities to occupy its government, such as solving the problem of 40 million persons unemployed; or the deep rooted racial prejudice that manifests itself in all manner of forms, including the world’s highest incarceration rates of its black population; or deep seated inequalities in everything from healthcare to life expectancy, job opportunities and cities wracked with crime and violence.

What is always revealing is to compare the rhetoric of US political leaders with the reality of their actual behaviour. Although billing itself as the leader of the free world, that alleged leadership more often manifests itself as unbridled bullying of nations it regards as lesser entities.

The visit to Copenhagen for example, received a surprisingly small amount of mainstream media coverage. Denmark is a NATO member and has an historical record of equality and opportunity for its citizens that easily surpasses any comparable effort by the United States. It is not too difficult to ascertain the real reason for Pompeo’s flying visit. Not long before Pompeo flew into Copenhagen the Danish Government announced that it was approving the use of its territorial waters for the laying of Russian pipelines designed to provide Russian oil and gas to the German market.

Nord Stream 2 as it is commonly referred to will provide vital and cheap energy to the German market and European destinations beyond. It is a project bitterly opposed by the Trump administration. There are multiple reasons for the US antipathy. Two are particularly significant. The first is that the Americans would prefer Germany and other European nations to purchase the much more expensive American energy supplies. An incidental benefit from the US point of view is that it will maintain and increase European dependence upon the United States.

The second major motive is that the failure of the Nord Stream project will have a detrimental effect upon the Russian economy. This is not as great as the Americans like to imagine given a host of alternative Russian projects, not the least of which is an overland supply of Russian energy to the enormous Chinese market.

No details have emerged as to the United States’-Danish talks, but it is a safe bet that Pompeo would have applied enormous pressure on the Danes to cancel their approval of the use of their territorial waters for the transit of Russian oil and gas. Thus far the pressure seems to have failed and there has been no withdrawal of Danish approval.

What the western media never reflects upon and is glaringly obvious from Pompeo’s visits to the United Kingdom and Denmark and his Californian speech, is the obvious disjunction between US rhetoric about “liberty”, “free choice”, “market forces” etc and the blatantly self-interested and bullying nature of United States behaviour.

Apart from the obvious reaffirmation of the fact that American rhetoric rarely matches the reality, is that Pompeo’s speech exemplifies the fact that the world he (and his predecessors and undoubtably his successors) fondly imagine to be the case has long since ceased to be an accurate view of the world.

Pompeo’s speech attacks China which he likened to a “Frankenstein” country, not unlike the old Soviet Union that in Pompeo’s eyes shared similar characteristics. Decades of United States engagement with either Russia or China were, he said, a dismal failure. He called on “freedom loving nations” to keep pressure on China to change, and he wanted a “new grouping of like-minded nations” to assist the United States to achieve this goal.

Again, such a fantasy-based goal would be almost funny were it not both out of touch with 21st-century reality, and what the overwhelming majority of nations actually want for their citizens and their economy.

As the Russian analyst (but US resident) commentator Andrei Martyanov points out on his website, the modern reality is that it is Russia and China who are in effect the “guarantors of global peace and stability”.

The danger comes in the failure of the United States to recognise that most nations, particularly in the major Eurasian landmass, are not interested in the United States’ attempts to recapture its past pre-eminence. They have seen the consequences of the United States’ endless wars (70+ since World War II), exploitation and bullying of weaker and smaller nations, and the living examples of the “benefits” of United States invasion and occupation in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The world is changing, even if the United States fails to adjust its behaviour. A very recent incident occurred over Syrian air space that vividly illustrates the point. An Iranian civil flight, en route from Teheran to Beirut was “buzzed” by two United States fighter planes, forcing the civilian pilot to take violent evasive action, causing injury to some passengers.

Although the incident was reported in western media, none raised some obvious points. The United States military aircraft had no right to be in Syrian airspace, let alone endangering civilian aircraft. Their presence, and the acclaimed right to be there at all which is manifestly untrue, was totally ignored by the western media.

The second point the United States’ behaviour and reactions reminded one of was their shooting down of another Iranians civilian aircraft in 1988 with the loss of all 274 passengers and crew on board. Not only did the United States refuse to apologise or pay compensation, they lied about it being mistaken for a hostile military flight. To add insult to injury the ship’s captain received a medal.

As the French say, the more things change the more they remain the same. Pompeo’s speech reflects exactly the same mentality as that of the Vincenne’s Captain in 1988 and the pilots of the military aircraft over Syria in July 2020. The big difference now is that the world no longer looks the other way at the latest United States outrages.

As the BRI and a host of similar programs are demonstrating, the Chinese and the Russians are at the vanguard of different forms of relationships, what China’s President Xi called a “win win” solution. The challenge for the world will be to prevent the United States, in its desperate and flailing attempts to re-capture a lost era, from jeopardising a fragile peace.

James O’Neill, an Australian-based Barrister at Law, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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