So good it hurts
I couldn’t bring myself to watch the final State of the Union address of the 2008-2012 presidency. I took myself off the grid just in case a knee-jerk temptation would change my mind. It didn’t. It can be important (or feel important) to watch political theater—I’ve always found it hard to tear away from the interconnected fabric of the Stagey National Things, especially when commentary about them erupts in real-time. But I couldn’t stomach this one, and in hindsight I register it as a one-person act of refusal and protest against the stealthily creeping covert war on Iran.
Acts of invasion might be easier to universally condemn when the public is allowed to view the cities, structures, and even citizens of the enemy in the crosshairs of war’s talons. I don’t remember the last time that happened in my lifetime; when it did, say in the Gulf War, the principal instruments of visualizing the enemy were green-lit night vision and birds-eye-views of dusty stretches of land. Even the Collateral Murder video demands context and explanation behind the cold calculability of the airborne soldiers’ footage.
So I use covert war deliberately to describe the feeling reverberating in Iran these days. The sense of disaster is not necessarily tied to the future movements of the gifted-and-talented air force of the U.S. military, or ‘boots on the ground,’ or whatever post-Bush, post-shock-and-awe neologisms have been invented under the Obama presidency. It’s absolute doom. Doom about the open-air, daylight drive-by assassinations of young Iranian scientists. Doom about unprecedented U.S. sanctions of Iran on top of the heap of thirty years’ worth. Doom about official sanctions on Iran’s third-largest bank, Bank Tejarat (‘the 23rd Iranian-linked financial institution to be blacklisted by the U.S. since 2006′), effectively ending a last-remaining trade route. Doom about the unanimous House approval of sanctioning the Iranian Central Bank. Doom about the European Union’s ban on further sales of Iranian oil. Doom about the colossal spike in gold prices. Doom about the exorbitant price of daily goods (not just luxury goods). Doom about how far ordinary people will be pushed, strangled, and bankrupted.
The language of the Obama presidency exhibits a love affair with using pain management terms in describing its ongoing plans for Iran (Republican candidates, with a single exception, ‘mostly agreed on Obama Iran policy’). I would pay incalculably to never again hear the words options and on and the table used in the same sentence again—as though one were slapping on a pair of disposable nitrile gloves in a dank, perverse, and unlicensed medical lab. Sanctions bite, one headline read, and Iran feels the pain. We will bring Iran to its knees. Sanctions will cripple Iran.
I couldn’t bring myself not to look up the text of the speech to see the word choice Obama’s speechwriters panned out. Iran was mentioned four times in the span of one paragraph.
And we will safeguard America’s own security against those who threaten our citizens, our friends, and our interests. Look at Iran. Through the power of our diplomacy, a world that was once divided about how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program now stands as one. The regime is more isolated than ever before; its leaders are faced with crippling sanctions, and as long as they shirk their responsibilities, this pressure will not relent. Let there be no doubt: America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal. But a peaceful resolution of this issue is still possible, and far better, and if Iran changes course and meets its obligations, it can rejoin the community of nations.
There is nothing new here whatsoever, though if the ‘progress report’ tone of the exchange is ignored the American presidency’s fungible logic does get revealed in its full glory (the crime-and-punishment story is interchangeable with Iraq).
I ran away from this speech on account of this exact point: fabrications that border on stupidity repeated over and over become too painfully sardonic to bear. This stupidity has nothing to do with intellect. Imagine giant mechanical robots stamping their giant metallic robot hooves on the people of a little town. Now imagine the commander-in-chief of the robots claiming that the stamping only hurts the town’s leaders, makes them look weak and ineffectual, and forces them to bear the brunt of the town’s demise alone. This is the stunted and insulting panorama that the Obama administration affords its denizens while ordinary people in Iran, upwards of 70 million people, are watching their currency, livelihoods, and hope evaporate.
Art by Saeed Ensafi, from the ‘War or Peace’ collection, Tehran.