The West's Weapon of Self-Delusion
There are gun battles in Beirut Ã¢â‚¬â€œ- and America thinks things are going fine
So they are it again, the great and the good of American democracy, grovelling and fawning to the Israeli lobbyists of American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), repeatedly allying themselves to the cause of another country and one that is continuing to steal Arab land.
Will this ever end? Even Barack Obama -- or "Mr Baracka" as an Irish friend of mine innocently and wonderfully described him -- found time to tell his Jewish audience that Jerusalem is the one undivided capital of Israel, which is not the view of the rest of the world which continues to regard the annexation of Arab East Jerusalem as illegal. The security of Israel. Say it again a thousand times: the security of Israel -- and threaten Iran, for good measure.
Yes, Israelis deserve security. But so do Palestinians. So do Iraqis and Lebanese and the people of the wider Muslim world. Now even Condoleezza Rice admits -- and she was also talking to Aipac, of course -- that there won't be a Palestinian state by the end of the year. That promise of George Bush - which no-one believed anyway -- has gone. In Rice's pathetic words, "The goal itself will endure beyond the current US leadership."
Of course it will. And the siege of Gaza will endure beyond the current US leadership. And the Israeli wall. And the illegal Israeli settlement building. And deaths in Iraq will endure beyond "the current US leadership" -- though "leadership" is pushing the definition of the word a bit when the gutless Bush is involved -- and deaths in Afghanistan and, I fear, deaths in Lebanon too.
It's amazing how far self-delusion travels. The Bush boys and girls still think they're supporting the "American-backed government" of Fouad Siniora in Lebanon. But Siniora can't even form a caretaker government to implement a new set of rules which allows Hizbollah and other opposition groups to hold veto powers over cabinet decisions.
Thus there will be no disarming of Hizbollah and thus -- again, I fear this -- there will be another Hizbollah-Israeli proxy war to take up the slack of America's long-standing hatred of Iran. No wonder President Bashar Assad of Syria is now threatening a triumphal trip to Lebanon. He's won. And wasn't there supposed to be a UN tribunal to try those responsible for the murder of ex-prime minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005? This must be the longest police enquiry in the history of the world. And I suspect it's never going to achieve its goal (or at least not under the "current US leadership").
There are gun battles in Beirut at night; there are dark-uniformed Lebanese interior ministry troops in equally dark armoured vehicles patrolling the night-time Corniche outside my home.
At least Lebanon has a new president, former army commander Michel Sleiman, an intelligent man who initially appeared on posters, eyes turned to his left, staring at Lebanon with a creditor's concern. Now he has wisely ordered all these posters to be torn down in an attempt to get the sectarian groups to take down their own pictures of martyrs and warlords. And America thinks things are going fine in Lebanon.
And Bush and his cohorts go on saying that they will never speak to "terrorists". And what has happened meanwhile? Why, their Israeli friends -- Mr Baracka's Israeli friends - -are doing just that. They are talking to Hamas via Egypt and are negotiating with Syria via Turkey and have just finished negotiating with Hizbollah via Germany and have just handed back one of Hizbollah's top spies in Israel in return for body parts of Israelis killed in the 2006 war. And Bush isn't going to talk to "terrorists", eh? I bet he didn't bring that up with the equally hapless Ehud Olmert in Washington this week.
And so our dementia continues. In front of us this week was Blair with his increasingly maniacal eyes, poncing on about faith and God and religion, and I couldn't help reflecting on an excellent article by a colleague a few weeks ago who pointed out that God never seemed to give Blair advice. Like before April of 2003, couldn't He have just said, er, Tony, this Iraq invasion might not be a good idea.
Indeed, Blair's relationship with God is itself very odd. And I rather suspect I know what happens. I think Blair tells God what he absolutely and completely knows to be right -- and God approves his words. Because Blair, like a lot of devious politicians, plays God himself. For there are two Gods out there. The Blair God and the infinite being which blesses his every word, so obliging that He doesn't even tell Him to go to Gaza.
I despair. The Tate has just sent me its magnificent book of orientalist paintings to coincide with its latest exhibition (The Lure of the East: British Orientalist Painting) and I am struck by the awesome beauty of this work. In the 19th century, our great painters wondered at the glories of the Orient.
No more painters today. Instead, we send our photographers and they return with pictures of car bombs and body parts and blood and destroyed homes and Palestinians pleading for food and fuel and hooded gunmen on the streets of Beirut, yes, and dead Israelis too. The orientalists looked at the majesty of this place and today we look at the wasteland which we have helped to create.
But fear not. Israel's security comes first and Mr Baracka wants Israel to keep all of Jerusalem -- so much for the Palestinian state -- and Condee says the "goal will endure beyond the current American leadership". And I have a bird that sits in the palm tree outside my home in Beirut and blasts away, going "cheep-cheep-cheep-cheep-cheep" for about an hour every morning - which is why my landlord used to throw stones at it.
But I have a dear friend who believes that once there was an orchestra of birds outside my home and that one day, almost all of them -- the ones which sounded like violins and trumpets -- got tired of the war and flew away (to Cyprus, if they were wise, but perhaps on to Ireland), leaving only the sparrows with their discordant flutes to remind me of the stagnant world of the Middle East and our cowardly, mendacious politicians. "Cheep-cheep-cheep," they were saying again yesterday morning. "Cheap-cheap-cheap." And I rather think they are right.