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    Middle East
     May 22, 2012


THE ROVING EYE
War and cheeseburgers
By Pepe Escobar

A specter haunts Europe. No, it's not communism; it's US rating agencies. Greece is bankrupt; the eurozone is about to crack; JP Morgan makes billion-dollar "mistakes"; there's no (jobs) future for the new generations. And yet the weaponized arm of the Western 0.1% elites occupies Chicago - turned into an Orwellian police city-state - to discuss "smart defense".

In Afghanistan, the "smart" North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is in fact bound for a humiliating escape. "Smart defense"

 
is code for "there's no money". Only five among 28 NATO member states spend 2% of their gross domestic product on the military - as NATO would have it. One of them was - surprise! - Greece. Here's yet another crash course on weaponized neo-liberalism. First Greece was more or less forced to buy expensive submarines from the French and the Germans; then it was forced to make budget cuts. Call it the "food for subs" NATO relief plan.

The US pays for no less than 75% of NATO's bills - yet another graphic demonstration of NATO as the European arm of the Pentagon. Still, in 2011 European Union (EU) members spent no less that $180 billion on defense. Not anymore. There's no money. So it will be up to the Pentagon to keep it going.

And keep it going it will - with relish. As expected, this Sunday in occupied Chicago NATO approved - better yet, US President Barack Obama and his allies "just decided" - to go with the first phase out of four of the US missile shield for Europe.

This means in practice an American warship armed with interceptors stationed in the Mediterranean, and a NATO, Turkey-based radar system controlled out of the headquarters in Ramstein, in Germany. The sprawling Ramstein base is led by an American general. Now, according to the Turkish newspaper Zaman, a Turkish general will be his second-in-command. This is the kind of carrot Turkey gets for campaigning for regime change in Syria.

Those who believe NATO's spin - this shield is not aimed at Russia, but as a defense against "evil" Iranian missiles - may join Alice in Wonderland. For all practical purposes, Russian military chief General Nikolai Makarov has already said Russia is bound to respond by stationing short-range Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad, near the Polish border. You can take NATO out of the Cold War but you can't take the Cold War out of NATO.

Medium rare, no ketchup
On Afghanistan, the White House spin is that Obama has urged Afghan President Hamid Karzai to "implement electoral reform, cut out corruption and press the Taliban for a settlement". That's beyond wishful thinking; to believe that the corrupt-tainted Karzai system will "reform" is like believing the House of Saud cherishes Jeffersonian democracy. If there were to be a semblance of "electoral reform", Washington's allies in Afghanistan would lose every single election. And it's the Taliban that would force Karzai into some settlement, not the other way round.

So what's left to save Western civilization? Cheeseburgers. With French - not "freedom" - fries.

This new cheeseburger diplomacy, sealed at the Oval Office by Obama and new French President Francois Hollande, is supposed to save Greece, revamp the eurozone and reignite the US economy, just in time for the November US presidential election. How come the redoubtable US burger chain Five Guys never thought about that before?

Here's the Obama calculation. If his Republican challenger Mitt Romney gets elected in November, we are even more screwed than we are now. I need jobs. I need a recovering economy. I need those damned Europeans to put their house in order. I can't sit down here waiting for them to solve the Greek problem; I've got an election to win.

Here's the Hollande calculation. I won my election. I promised to deliver jobs and growth. Now I need my coalition of the willing - for growth; otherwise we will be run over by the extreme right, everywhere. Mon Dieu, how come "Onshela" - aka German Chancellor Angela Merkel - can't understand that?

For the Franco-American duo, it's a win-win situation. Hollande's economic policy is in fact Team Obama's economic policy. They may have laid down the (new) law to "Onshela" at the placid Camp David Group of Eight retreat - protected from the real world by an army that could effect regime change anywhere in five minutes.

Problem is, neither Barack nor Francois has briefed the God of the Market - and European and American banks - about it. The Masters of the Universe couldn't give a damn about Greece the birthplace of democracy; they want their money back.

Obama is in a hurry. Current Italian Supreme Interventor Mario Monti - former Goldman Sachs - may have the market credibility to convince Berlin and the troika (European Central Bank, European Commission, International Monetary Fund) that either Europe grows or there's no money to anybody. But Obama also needs a strategic political ally. That's certainly not austerity dominatrix "Onshela".

I'd rather have a steak
The problem is these cheeseburgers are drenched in oil. Iranian oil. Obama is playing the hardliner on Iran essentially for electoral reasons. Over the next five months he might be able to steer the debate were it not for the Europeans - following his directive, in fact - proceeding with their Iranian oil boycott starting on July 1. He dreads the inevitable consequence: an oil price spike. Then it's bye bye European recovery - duly followed by bye bye Obama's re-election.

This is what makes the next round of talks in Baghdad this week between Iran and the P5+1 nations even juicier. From the point of view of Team Obama, the best possible scenario would be…let's agree to talk some more.

That would leave Obama with a window to press - through Hollande - the necessity for Europe to forget about the oil boycott, at least while both parts are talking, and at least for the next six months. After all, the ultra-harsh sanctions package remains in place - and that is certainly biting the Iranian population, much more than the Tehran leadership.

The only thing that matters to Team Obama, above all else, is to guarantee victory on November 4. Will the cheeseburger diplomacy work? Or will Mitt Romney counter-attack promising a "No steak left behind" policy, with lots of Iranian ketchup?

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His most recent book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

He may be reached at pepeasia@yahoo.com

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NATO occupies sweet home Chicago
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