The Utter Disconnect between 'Realities'
Team Biden has painted the US into such a polarised ‘corner’ over Ukraine that America cannot ‘walk-back’ its narrative of Russia’s inevitable collapse and humiliation.
On 24 February, the anniversary of the Ukraine conflict will be marked across the western media. Except that the ‘anniversary’ label has been ‘slapped on’ to it, purposefully to solidify a western meme. Ukraine truly is a ‘hodge pot’ of fissiparous ethnicities, cultures and ancient roots: It has been in conflict for decades. It certainly didn’t just spring out of the blue last February.
The rest of world – including the Middle East – has taken the firm stance that both the war on Russia, and especially the struggles in Ukraine, is ancient, toxic European ‘feuding’. It is not their business and they want no part of it. They refused too, to be bullied into it.
That is understandable. Yet it would be a strategic mistake, however, to believe in one major respect that the Middle East can stand aloof from the dynamics that have surged out from Ukraine. The consequences will not escape them, and they will be profoundly important for the shifts under way in the Middle East.
Perhaps the most singular and novel aspect has been the utter disconnect between two ‘realities’ of – on the one hand - ‘what is happening in the Ukrainian battlespace and inside Russia’, and on the other, that which is being published and broadcast in the West. The two 'realities' scarcely touch at any point.
Of course, it is possible to diagnose this condition as being that of a West ‘losing its marbles’ -- ‘the war’ is veering so far away from the initial western absolute conviction of a quick collapse in Russia, and the humiliation of its’ Putin nemesis, that they have had to resort to denial. But that is too facile.
These types of disruptive narratives are far more common than is acknowledged. One aspect to this infowar revolution has been the inversion of the western media business model: Its revenue no longer derives from readers who buy or subscribe, and who want, and expect, reality.
At the supra-national level, it is government and its agencies which now pay handsomely for their narratives to be read by media consumers (as the Twitter email ‘dumps’ amply revealed). There is no standing apart from this discourse; there is no thinking outside of the social media feed.
And it works ... people repeat narrated realties: Alain Besançon has remarked that “it is just not possible to remain intelligent under the spell of ideology”. Intelligence, after all, is an ongoing attentiveness to reality, which is inconsistent with willfulness and fantasy. Nor can it take root in the sterile soil of widespread cultural repudiation.
So arguments no longer revolve around truth. They are judged by their fidelity to the tenets of singular messaging. You are either ‘with the narrative’ or ‘against it’. Remaining loyal to 'the group' becomes the highest morality. That loyalty requires each member to avoid raising controversial issues, questioning weak arguments, or calling a halt to wishful thinking. And to further reinforce conviction in the rightness of the ‘narrative’, those outside the bubble must be marginalised and, if necessary, their views mercilessly caricatured to make them seem ridiculous.
The point here is that this methodology for the western ruling class has become mandatory. It is as self-destructive for those individuals who try to move beyond it, as it is to question its core tenets.
So, in "Israel", the new government contemplates 'regime change’, sugar coated as ‘judicial reform’; the Palestinian Authority is being imploded; Palestinian rights are being further extinguished and the new far-right finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, who has been given broad responsibilities over "Israel’s" civil administration of the West Bank, too, can proclaim: “I’m a fascist and a homophobe” ... adding however, he won’t “stone gays”.
It is possible that Netanyahu does indeed intend to be a radically iconoclast on Palestinian policy. And it is also possible – nay, even near certain – that Netanyahu's new National Security Minister, Ben-Gvir, a disciple of Meir Kahane, will pursue a campaign of provocations around al-Aqsa Mosque intended to ‘set the theatre’ towards an ultimate rebuilding of the Jewish Temple on the Mount (a campaign promise).
Ben-Gvir promised Netanyahu not to change the status of al-Aqsa, however Avigdor Lieberman, a senior member of the opposition, described the situation in characteristically harsh terms: ‘Ben-Gvir simply doesn’t care what Netanyahu says’.
But will the US condemn the new Israeli path as it incrementally disenfranchises and dispossesses Palestinians? What will Washington do when Gvir stages a big provocation that threatens al-Aqsa, setting the region afire?
Will the US set aside its core ‘narrative’ of "shared values" with "Israel"? Or, following the Ukraine template, will it simply turn reality on its head, and accuse the Palestinians and Iran of being the instigators of crisis?
Again, can Washington accept that Iran -- albeit a nuclear threshold state, but nonetheless one not seeking weapons status -- is no threat. Or, on the basis of you are either ‘with the Israeli narrative, or against it’, threaten military action against Iran as Israel raises the bogey of Iran narrowing the time to nuclear ‘break-out’ to less than a year?
Can the US moderate its narrative of ‘Assad Must Go’ and that US forces must remain in eastern Syria, as the geo-strategic landscape in Syria shifts in response to a new political disposition crafted by Turkey, Russia, Iran, and Damascus -- one supported now by key Gulf States.
Or, will there be no standing apart from western the narrative of our heroic Kurdish and Jihadist An-Nusra ‘strategic partners’ having to continue the ‘fight against ISIS’?
And finally, can the western narrative of unwavering commitment to the US-led ‘Rules Order’ adjust to the notion of a new Eurasian trading bloc that is manifestly divesting from the dollar?
Team Biden has painted the US into such a polarised ‘corner’ over Ukraine that America cannot ‘walk-back’ its narrative of Russia’s inevitable collapse and humiliation. They cannot let it go -- maintaining the meme has acquired an existential quality for the US.
After decades of peddling the ‘falling dominoes theory’, (as justification for earlier US pre-emptive military interventions), Washington paradoxically now experiences the ‘hairs on its own neck rise’ - in fear that its own dominoes might cascade, were the western global order narrative to fall and crash.
And as commentator Yves Smith provocatively argues: "What if Russia decisively wins – yet the western press is directed to not notice?". Then presumably, by extension, the legacy of ‘confrontation narratives’ between West and Middle Eastern states will be held tight, too, in a wider, longer war in support of US primacy.