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US Takes a Break From Condemning Tyranny to Celebrate Obama’s Visit to Saudi Arabia

Selecting the year’s single most brazen example of political self-delusion is never easy, but if forced to choose for 2013, I’d pick British Prime Minister David Cameron’s public condemnation of George Galloway. The Scottish MP had stood to question Cameron about the UK’s military support for Syrian rebels. As is typical for Western discourse, criticizing western government militarism was immediately equated with support for whatever tyrants those governments happened to be opposing at the time: “Some things come and go,” proclaimed the Prime Minister, “but there is one thing that is certain: wherever there is a brutal Arab dictator in the world, he will have the support of [Galloway].”

What made Cameron’s statement so notable wasn’t the trite tactic of depicting opposition to western intervention as tantamount to support for dictators. That’s far too common to be noteworthy (if you oppose the war in Iraq, you are pro-Saddam; if you oppose intervention in Libya, you love Ghaddafi, if you oppose US involvement in Ukraine, you’re a shill for Putin, etc. etc.). What was so remarkable is that David Cameron – the person accusing Galloway of supporting every “brutal Arab dictator” he can find – is easily one of the world’s most loyal, constant, and generous supporters of the most brutal Arab despots. He has continuously lavished money, diplomatic support, arms and all sorts of obsequious praise on intensely repressive regimes in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, and Egypt. That this steadfast supporter of the worst Arab dictators could parade around accusing others of supporting bad Arab regimes was about as stunning a display of western self-delusion as I could have imagined . . .

Tommy Vietor at home (Bloomberg TV)

Until this week. Tommy Vietor was President’s Obama National Security Council spokesman during the first term. He left to form a consulting firm (along with Obama’s former speechwriter Jon Favreau) that trades on his White House connections by forming messaging and communications strategies for corporations that have extensive business with the government, although he still literally adorns the walls of his home with multiple large posters of President Obama (see this remarkable 3-minute video profile of Vietor and his new work, which a friend sent with the title “the care and feeding of a young imperial bureaucrat” (it features a bonus pre-Snowden quote angrily condemning the Chinese for hacking)). Vietor’s function, which he performs quite faithfully, is simple: to express and embody the most conventional, defining views of official imperial Washington about itself.

On Monday, Vietor took to Twitter to try to publicly embarrass Oliver Stone for expressing support for the Maduro government in Venezuela:

This, of course, is nothing more than the long-standing favored tactic of official Washington: cynically feigning concern for human rights as a means to undermine the governments that do not comply with US dictates. To the Tommy Vietors of the world, the Maduro government isn’t bad because it “illegally jails opposition leaders”; it’s bad because it opposes US policy, refuses to obey US dictates, and defeats neo-liberal, US-subservient candidates in popular elections. That’s all obvious.

Tommy Vietor, displaying his patriotism

But what never ceases to amaze me is the ability of the Tommy Vietors – like David Cameron before him – to convince first themselves, and then others, that they are able to issue these denunciations without instantly being driven from the public square in shame. The very same person invoking human rights concerns to publicly condemn Stone for supporting the democratically elected government of Venezuela spent years working to support and prop up far more brutal, vicious, oppressive tyrannies, ones never elected to anything.

The Obama administration for which Vietor was a spokesman repeatedly supplied arms to the regime in Bahrain as they brutally crushed democratic protesters. They vigorously supported the repellent Mubarak regime, the long-time US ally, until his downfall became inevitable; Hillary Clinton, upon being named Secretary of State, gushed: “I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family.” Obama has continually embraced the anti-democratic Gulf monarchs ruling Qatarthe United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait. And all of that is independent of the unparalleled political, financial, diplomatic and military support with which the US lavishes Israel as it engaged in all sorts of decades-long occupation, repression and aggression. 

And then there’s the closest US ally of them all, which also just happens to be one of the world’s most brutally repressive regimes: the House of Saud. During Vietor’s tenure, the administration revealed “plans to offer advanced aircraft to Saudi Arabia worth up to $60 billion, the largest US arms deal ever, and is in talks with the kingdom about potential naval and missile-defense upgrades that could be worth tens of billions of dollars more.” Five months ago, the Pentagon announced “plans to sell Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates $10.8 billion in advanced weaponry, including air-launched cruise missiles and precision munitions,” a package that “includes the first US sales to Middle East allies of new Raytheon and Boeing weapons that can be launched at a distance from Saudi F-15 and UAE F-16 fighters.” The Obama White House has repeatedly affirmed its “strong partnership” with the Saudi tyranny.

Today, Obama arrives in Riyadh to assure the Saudi monarchs that the US is as committed as ever to its close partnership in the wake of Saudi anxiety. He’ll meet with King Abdullah, “the president’s third official meeting with the king in six years.” The purpose of this trip: “trying to smooth relations with Saudi Arabia without making the longtime US ally seem like an afterthought.” Indeed, “top presidential advisors say the visit is an ‘investment’ in one of the most important US relationships in the Middle East.”

If you want to justify all of this by cynically arguing that it benefits the US to support repressive and brutal tyrannies, go ahead. At least that’s an honest posture. But don’t run around acting as though the US is some sort of stalwart opponent of political repression and human rights violations when the exact opposite is so plainly true. And if you’re someone who has worked extensively to provide the world’s worst regimes with all sorts of vital support, don’t hold yourself out as the leader of the mob condemning others for expressing support for far more benign governments.

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Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, constitutional lawyer, commentator, author of three New York Times best-selling books on politics and law, and a staff writer and editor at First Look media. His fifth and latest book is, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State, about the U.S. surveillance state and his experiences reporting on the Snowden documents around the world. Prior to his collaboration with Pierre Omidyar, Glenn’s column was featured at Guardian US and Salon.  His previous books include: With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the PowerfulGreat American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican PoliticsA Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency, and How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism, a George Polk Award, and was on The Guardian team that won the Pulitzer Prize for public interest journalism in 2014.

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