Monday, December 12, 2011

Bring the Sentinel Home (Bring Him Home!)

A good many Americans rejoiced when Barack Obama became President, on the grounds that they no longer had a president who embarrassed them before the world. That didn't last long, not because Obama isn't embarrassing, but because his devotees will defend anything he says or does.

This one is relatively mild compared to his new Facebook ad promising to outbid any Republican candidate on aid to Israel; in fact it's more entertaining than embarrassing, much like many of Bush's stupidities, and to be thoroughly fair it's Secretary of State Clinton who's making a fool of herself before the world on her President's behalf: the US is asking Iran to return the RQ-170 Sentinel drone they captured.

"We are very clearly making known our concerns. We submitted a formal request for the return of our lost equipment, as we would in any situation. Given Iran's behaviour to date, we do not expect them to reply," she said.

She said that despite numerous "provocations" from Iran, the US would continue to pursue a "diplomatic approach".

("Provocations" is cute, when you consider the US' campaign against Iran, ranging from lies about its supposed nuclear program -- perhaps Iran does have one, but the US has not presented any evidence that it does, in a performance reminiscent of Bush's lies about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, and no doubt with the same intention -- its probable involvement in the murder of Iranian scientists, and its support for terrorist attacks on Iran from Iraq. And PS: Obama eventually bit the bullet and asked Iran for the drone himself.)

What I kept thinking about whenever I'd hear about the downed drone was a similar event a decade ago: on April Fools' Day, 2001, a Chinese jet fighter and an American spy plane collided over the ocean near the Chinese coast. The Chinese pilot died at sea, but the American crew managed to land their damaged craft on Hainan Island, where they were kept for ten days. The scenario was familiar: the US denied that its plane was in Chinese airspace, the Chinese demanded a US apology for its espionage. The US chided China for being so mean. At first the US President responded belligerently to Chinese demands, but eventually he backed down and apologized, though a "senior administration official was quoted as saying 'What the Chinese will choose to characterize as an apology, we would probably choose to characterize as an expression of regret or sorrow.'" In any case, the crew were released on April 11. The Chinese dismantled the plane to examine its intelligence equipment, which the crew hadn't had time to destroy before their capture, and eventually returned the pieces by way of Russia. The plane was "reassembled and returned to duty."

Of course, if another country's military technology were to fall into our hands, the US would give it right back without peeking, wouldn't we? Of course not. When a Soviet pilot defected to the US in 1976 with his MiG-25 more or less intact, the US ignored Soviet anger, gave the pilot asylum and disassembled the plane before returning it to the USSR, learning a good deal about Soviet military technology in the process.

And so on. I'm old enough to remember when the Soviets shot down a U-2 American spy plane in 1960, though I don't remember much about it. Later I learned that the US felt comfortable denying the Soviet charges of high-altitude espionage because U-2 pilots were supposed to destroy their planes and commit suicide to avoid capture, so our government lied freely for several days before
[Soviet Premier Nikita] Khrushchev sprang his trap and announced:
I must tell you a secret. When I made my first report I deliberately did not say that the pilot was alive and well… and now just look how many silly things [the Americans] have said.
Not only was Powers still alive, but his plane was also largely intact. The Soviets recovered the surveillance camera and even developed some of the photographs. The incident resulted in great humiliation for Eisenhower's administration, caught in a lie.
It couldn't have been too humiliating, for the US has continued to lie reflexively about sensitive matters right down to the present -- just like any government that has been caught, as it were, with its pants down. You know the Richard Pryor joke where he advises men caught cheating by their girlfriends or wives simply to deny it, saying, "Who are you going to believe, the man you love, or your lying eyes?"*

And of course, like parents, our Presidents exist to embarrass us. You want more?
It’s certainly true, as President Obama said, that many of the unethical and damaging acts of Wall Street were not illegal: thanks in large part to the orgy of de-regulation that took place in the Clinton era under Robert Rubin, Larry Summers, Tim Geithner, Gary Gensler and others (also known as: Obama’s economic team). But — as even life-long Wall Street apologist Alan Greenspan admits — much of what was done by Wall Street was outright fraud. Even after the 1990s spasm of deregulation, fraud — e.g., representing debt instruments to the public as sound and top-grade while scorning them privately as toxic junk — is (as Greenspan pointed out) still very much illegal, criminal, under existing statutes.
*The joke is a lot older than that. It goes back at least to Stendhal's On Love:
Everybody in France knows the story of Mademoiselle de Sommery, who was caught in the very act by her lover and denied it brazenly. When he protested, she cried out, “Oh, well, I can see that you no longer love me – you would rather believe your eyes than what I tell you!”
I owe the quotation to Stephen Vicinczey's The Rules of Chaos (McCall, 1970) p. 169.