Bad Behaviour

From this remove, the South African commentariat’s reaction to events in Parliament on February 12 seemed a little shrill. Who doubted that the Economic Freedom Fighters would cause a ruckus with the intention of being removed? Not the government and its heat-packing waitrons, obviously. Nor can any other half-way sensate observer have been overly gobsmacked either, if they were honest.

As for the jamming of cell phone signals, that can hardly have been aimed exclusively at the media. It must have affected every mobile in the chamber. In any event, there was nothing to stop people taking pictures and videos of whatever transpired for sharing immediately afterwards. Is the right to live tweet now sacrosanct?

Realising that these are matters that have already been well masticated inside and outside the local media bubble, I raise them simply to say what has been happening in the US Congress this past week has demonstrated that South Africa’s politicians have no monopoly on loutishness. Only in the US case, with respect, issues of a rather more global nature are at stake, the US being a substantial power which, whatever the prejudices of the SA establishment, many other countries still take seriously, look to for leadership and don’t sophomorically accuse of spying.

The Republican Party, or a goodly number of its members, have shown themselves to be motivated by a contempt for President Obama that leads them to acts some would — and do — say border on treason. That goes too far. Nevertheless, lines have been crossed.

Foreign policy, to use a Marxist cliche increasingly unique to SA, has been a terrain of partisan struggle for as long as the American republic has existed. But never before have Congressional leaders invited the leader of another country to appear before a joint session of House and Senate to attack the policies of a sitting president. And never before have these same leaders written to an adversary with whom the president is actively negotiating to intimate that, as far as they are concerned, whatever agreement emerges may not be worth the paper it is written on.

The Obama administration and its partners in the so-called P5+1 (the UK, France, China, Russia and Germany) are closing in on 10-year deal with Iran that would prevent it from launching a nuclear first strike on Israel or any other target while allowing it to continue operating a nuclear fuel cycle for peaceful purposes. Inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency would ensure that in the event the mullahs decided to go full pariah and weaponise, they would need at least a year to ready a bomb, during which time sanctions would be reimposed and preemptive strikes could not be ruled out.

Call this kicking the can down the road, if you must, but it’s a vast improvement on the status quo. With the easing of sanctions, it allows for the possibility, if not of entente, at least of detente between two powers hitherto united only by their loathing of each other.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has little interest in detente between the US and Iran or of the lessening tensions of between Iran and the states of the Arabian peninsular or even of regional de-chaos-ification. As long as he can portray Israel as an island of democracy under existential threat, he will feel free not only to prevaricate on a two state accommodation with the Palestinians but to squeeze them out of Greater Israel.

In inviting Netanyahu to address Congress, did House Speaker John Boehner think through all the implications? How many, one wonders, of the 47 Republican Senators who signed the condescending “Open Letter to the Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran” gave it more than a moment’s thought. Loathing for Obama, fear of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the crassly imagined prospect of shaving Jewish votes from the Democrats, and a literal reading of the Old Testament — all these were impulses enough for Republican knees to jerk.

Which said, let’s not, in our rush to condemn the Republicans, rule out the possibility that the Netanyahu invitation and the Republican letter may, ironically, advance the cause of a worthwhile agreement with Iran. It’s the Mad Man theory, first articulated by Henry Kissinger in his dealings with the Soviet Union. Let your adversary think that your body politic will go hyper-destructively bonkers given certain stimuli; it may cause him to proceed with greater care.

By the same token, I wouldn’t rule out Julius Malema and his red dungaree gang making a substantial contribution to a safe and prosperous South African future.

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