Two days ago, people were being burned alive inside their tents in Cairo. That was their punishment for protesting against the military government that had ousted the elected Egyptian president last month. President Obama’s response? To promise that the US army would not be playing their biannual war games with the Egyptian military. They probably didn’t mind much. It looks like the soldiers will be too busy anyway, with the bodies they’ve got to stack up. Better to say you don’t want to come before you get stood up. Germany, by the way, summoned the Egyptian ambassador and told him off.
This won’t really do. Egypt is the biggest recipient of US foreign military aid after Israel. In a harmonious, happy world, when civilians are being shot in the head by their own army, the US would have decided it was time to stop donating $1.3 billion of taxpayers’ money every year to these murderous thugs who don’t even need the money because they own the country’s economy anyway. It would have been the least they could do, just out of respect for those wretched people being incinerated alive.
But that didn’t happen, because the US is scared that if it stops paying those murderers, someone else will. Give Putin half a chance, the Pentagon fears. He’d love to pay that $1.3 billion instead. And then the US would have lost its “leverage.” Leverage is a Big Deal. Leverage is everything, and it’s fucking expensive – billions of dollars and hundreds of innocent lives a year. As one commentator put it, withdrawing military aid is like a nuclear weapon – it only works as long as you only threaten to do it. Once you’ve used it, the world has changed forever, and you’ve lost the power you had. But if that’s true, then who’s really holding the levers? If that’s true, then you’re a prisoner of your own power.
When he was a policeman for the British Empire in Burma, a skinny, awkward 20-something police officer had a moment of clarity, which he described later in an essay called “Shooting an Elephant.” With a runaway elephant – now peacefully nibbling in a rice field – in front of him, and a mob of excited Burmese people on his back, George Orwell suddenly realized that he had to kill the docile creature to prove that he was in charge, that the British were in charge. Imperialism, that lanky policeman suddenly knew, brutalizes the oppressor the same as the oppressed. That’s exactly what Obama has become. With a bloodthirsty mob to deal with, it is irrelevant how good a man you are, or what values your empire claims to protect – democracy, human rights, rule of law – you have to show that you are stronger. That’s why Obama has to keep paying for the petrol to incinerate those people in their tents, because if he doesn’t, someone else will, and then what would happen?