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In our make-believe politics, the strings pulled by the super-rich are all too visible

Biden wanders offstage or walks like a geriatric robot. Yet we are meant to believe he’s carefully navigating us through the nuclear tripwires of the West’s serial wars

We live in a world of make-believe politics, a world where strings pulled in the interests of the super-rich are ever more visible. And yet we are expected to pretend we cannot see those strings. More astonishing still, many people really do seem blind to the puppet show.

1. The “leader of the free world”, President Joe Biden, can barely maintain his attention for more than a few minutes without straying off topic, or wandering offstage. When he has to walk before the cameras, he does so like he is auditioning for the role of a geriatric robot. His whole body is gripped with the concentration he needs to walk in a straight line.

And yet we are supposed to believe he is carefully working the levers of the western empire, making critically difficult calculations to keep the West free and prosperous, while keeping in check its enemies – Russia, China, Iran – without provoking a nuclear war. Is he really capable of doing all that when he struggles to put one foot in front of the other?

2. Part of that tricky diplomatic balancing act Biden is supposedly conducting, along with other western leaders, relates to Israel’s military operation in Gaza. The West’s “diplomacy” – backed by weapons transfers – has resulted in the murder of tens of thousands of Palestinians, most of them women and children; the gradual starvation of 2.3 million Palestinians over many months; and the destruction of 70 per cent of the enclave’s housing stock and almost all of its major infrastructure and institutions, including schools, universities and hospitals.

And yet we are supposed to believe that Biden has no leverage over Israel, even though Israel is entirely dependent on the United States for the weapons it is using to destroy Gaza.

We are supposed to believe Israel is acting solely in “self-defence”, even when most of the people being killed are unarmed civilians; and that it is “eliminating” Hamas, even though Hamas doesn’t appear to have been weakened, and even though Israel’s starvation policies will take their toll on the young, elderly and vulnerable long before they kill a single Hamas fighter.

We are supposed to believe that Israel has a plan for the “day after” in Gaza that won’t look anything like the outcome these policies appear designed to achieve: making Gaza uninhabitable so that the Palestinian population is forced to leave.

And on top of all this, we are supposed to believe that, in ruling that a “plausible” case has been made that Israel is committing genocide, the judges of the world’s highest court, the International Court of Justice, have shown they do not understand the legal definition of the crime of genocide. Or possibly that they are driven by antisemitism.

3. Meanwhile, the same western leaders arming Israel’s slaughter of many tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, including more than 15,000 children, have been shipping hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of armaments to Ukraine to assist its armed forces. Ukraine must be helped, we are told, because it is the victim of an aggressive neighbouring power, Russia, determined on expansion and land theft.

And yet we are supposed to ignore the two decades of western military expansion eastwards, via Nato, that has finally coming knocking, in Ukraine, on Russia’s door – and the fact that the West’s best experts on Russia warned throughout that time that we were playing with fire in doing so and that Ukraine would prove a red line for Moscow.

We are supposed to make no comparison between Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and Israel’s aggression against the Palestinians. In the latter case, Israel is supposedly the victim, even though it has been violently occupying its Palestinian neighbours’ territory for three-quarters of a century while, in flagrant violation of international law, building Jewish settlements on the territory meant to form the basis of a Palestinian state.

We are supposed to believe that the Palestinians of Gaza have no right to defend themselves comparable to Ukraine’s right – no right to defend against decades of Israeli belligerence, whether the ethnic cleansing operations of 1948 and 1967, the apartheid system imposed on the remnant Palestinian population afterwards, the 17-year blockade of Gaza that denied its inhabitants the essentials of life, or the “plausible genocide” the West is now arming and providing diplomatic cover for.

In fact, if the Palestinians do try to defend themselves, the West not only refuses to help them, as it has Ukraine, but considers them terrorists – even the children, it seems.

4. Julian Assange, the journalist and publisher who did most to expose the inner workings of western establishments, and their criminal schemes in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, has been behind bars for five years in Belmarsh high-security prison. Before that, he spent seven years arbitrarily detained – according to United Nations legal experts – in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, forced to seek asylum there from political persecution. In an interminable legal process, the US seeks his extradition so he can be locked away in near-isolation for up to 175 years.

And yet we are supposed to believe that his 12 years of effective detention – having been found guilty of no crime – is entirely unrelated to the fact that, in publishing secret cables, Assange revealed that, behind closed doors, the West and its leaders sound and act like gangsters and psychopaths, especially about foreign affairs, not like the stewards of a benign global order they claim to be overseeing.

The leaked documents Assange published show western leaders ready to destroy whole societies to further western resource domination and their own enrichment – and eager to wield the most outrageous lies to achieve their goals. They have no interest in upholding the supposedly cherished value of freedom of the press, except when that freedom is being weaponised against their enemies.

We are supposed to believe that western leaders genuinely want journalists to act as a watchdog, a restraint, on their power even when they are hounding to death the very journalist who created a whistleblowers’ platform, Wikileaks, to do precisely that. (Assange has already suffered a stroke from the more than a decade-long strain of fighting for his freedom.)

We are supposed to believe that the West will give Assange a fair trial, when the very states colluding in his incarceration – and in the CIA’s case, planned assassination – are the ones he exposed for engaging in war crimes and state terrorism. We are supposed to believe that they are pursuing a legal process, not persecution, in redefining as the crime of “espionage” his efforts to bring transparency and accountability to international affairs.

5. The media claim to represent the interests of western publics in all their diversity, and to act as a true window on the world.

We are supposed believe that this same media is free and pluralistic, even when it is owned by the super-rich as well as western states that were long ago hollowed out to serve the super-rich.

We are supposed to believe that a media completely dependent for its survival on revenues from big corporate advertisers can bring us news and analysis without fear or favour. We are supposed to believe that a media whose primary role is selling audiences to corporate advertisers can question whether, in doing so, it is playing a beneficial or harmful role.

We are supposed to believe that a media plugged firmly into the capitalist financial system that brought the global economy to its knees in 2008, and has been hurtling us towards ecological catastrophe, is in a position to evaluate and critique that capitalist model dispassionately, that media outlets could somehow turn on the billionaires who own them, or could forego the income from the billionaire-owned corporations that prop up the media’s finances through advertising.

We are supposed to believe that the media can objectively assess the merits of going to war. That is, wars waged serially by the West – from Afghanistan to Iraq, from Libya to Syria, from Ukraine to Gaza – when media corporations are embedded in corporate conglomerations whose other big interests include arms manufacturing and fossil-fuel extraction.

We are supposed to believe that the media uncritically promotes endless growth for reasons of economic necessity and common sense, even though the contradictions are glaring: that the forever growth model is impossible to sustain on a finite planet where resources are running out.

6. In western political systems, unlike those of its enemies, there is supposedly a meaningful democratic choice between candidates representing opposing worldviews and values.

We are supposed to believe in a western political model of openness, pluralism and accountability even when in the US and UK the public are offered an electoral scrap between two candidates and parties that, to stand a chance of winning, need to win favour with the corporate media representing the interests of its billionaire owners, need to keep happy billionaire donors who fund their campaigns, and need to win over Big Business by demonstrating their unwavering commitment to a model of endless growth that is completely unsustainable.

We are supposed to believe that these leaders serve the voting public – offering a choice between right and left, between capital and labour – when, in truth, the public is only ever presented with a choice between two parties prostrated before Big Money, when the parties’ policy programmes are nothing more than competitions in who can best appease the wealth-elite.

We are supposed to believe that the “democratic” West represents the epitome of political health, even though it repeatedly dredges up the very worst people imaginable to lead it.

In the US, the “choice” imposed on the electorate is between one candidate (Biden) who should be in pottering around his garden, or maybe preparing for his final, difficult years in a care home, and a competitor (Donald Trump) whose relentless search for adoration and self-enrichment should never have been indulged beyond hosting a TV reality show.

In the UK, the “choice” is no better: between a candidate (Rishi Sunak) richer than the British king and equally cosseted and a competitor (Sir Keir Starmer) who is so ideologically hollow that his public record is an exercise in decades of shape-shifting.

All, let us note, are fully signed up to the continuing genocide in Gaza, all are unmoved by many months of the slaughter and starvation of Palestinian children, all are only too ready to defame as antisemites anyone who shows an ounce of the principle and humanity they all too obviously lack.

The super-rich may be just out of view, but the strings they pull are all too visible. Time to cut ourselves loose.