That was the American week that was

It was a week of epic suffering and a heroic affirmation of life in Aleppo. It was a week of stunning triumph of gutter politics, lies and non-existent sex tapes in the American presidential race. It was a week when the Senate, supposedly the greatest deliberative body in history, experienced an embarrassing Brexit moment. That was the American week that was; indifference to the blood, sweat and tears of Aleppo, transforming presidential debates into freak shows and turning American public discourse into a form of political debauchery. It was the week when public spaces and social media were swept by excessive indulgence in narcissism and vindictiveness.

A presidential race, to the bottom

Republican candidate Donald Trump strutted into the arena hoping to turn the debate with his rival Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton into a duel in which he would mercilessly use all lethal weapons in his arsenal to dispatch his opponent. Ninety minutes later Trump was bloodied and flailing. The commentariat, and later the opinion polls declared Clinton the clear winner of the duel. But, in Trumpland, where old rules and conventional facts don’t apply, Trump proclaimed himself the winner then he became totally unrestrained and unhinged, the minute the debate was over.

Hillary Clinton, a consummate member of the “political establishment,” and known for shaving the truth, succeeded in piercing Trump’s vanity and duped him into admitting that he does not pay Federal taxes, then after she softened him, hit him hard as a vulgar misogynist. Clinton produced exhibit one in her indictment of Trump in the form of Alicia Machondo, a former Miss Universe, that Trump invariably denigrated her when she was 18-years-old, by calling her “Miss Piggy,” “eating machine” and “Miss Housekeeping” because she was Latina. The blindsided Trump lashed out at Clinton and Machondo, smelling a conspiracy to destroy his candidacy. But, instead of putting the controversy behind him, Trump ignoring the advice of his senior staff, plunged into the gutter, waging a quixotic campaign to destroy Machondo’s reputation. In the wee hours of Friday morning, an insomniac Trump unleashed a torrent of tweets against Clinton and Machondo, insinuating that the former beauty queen is a promiscuous woman and worse.

Trump tweeted “Did Crooked Hillary help disgusting (check out sex tape and past) Alicia M become a US citizen so she could use her in the debate?”

The presidential candidate of the Republican Party, was not only accusing his rival of abusing the law; he was also calling on American voters to watch an alleged sex tape.

And as usual, Trump could not and would not provide any proof against Clinton or to establish that Machondo had appeared in pornographic films as he and some of his henchmen have suggested. The moral vacuity of the Trump campaign is on full display when he and his senior surrogates claim that he behaved as a “gentleman” when he restrained himself during the debate and did not dredge up former President Bill Clinton’s philandering. No less a figure than the former speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich was touting this absurdity: “He thought about it, and I am sure he said to himself, ‘a president of the United States shouldn’t attack somebody personally when their daughter is sitting in the audience…And he bit his tongue, and he was a gentleman ...’

The mendacities of this political seasons are overwhelming particularly, but not exclusively from Trump and his campaign. The amount of brazen lies, embellishments and exaggerations contained in a speech (and there are people who count them) can be staggering. The lies continue even if there is a video stating the opposite. Trump still claims that he opposed the invasion of Iraq and the military campaign in Libya, despite the existence of tapes showing otherwise. Hillary Clinton denies saying that the Trans-Pacific-Partnership was the “gold standard” of trade deals, when there is a tape showing otherwise.

The amount of brazen lies, embellishments and exaggerations contained in a speech (and there are people who count them) can be staggering. The lies continue even if there is a video stating the opposite

Hisham Melhem

It was emblematic of the decadence that has engulfed political life in the United States, that a ninety minute Presidential debate circa 2016, at a time the US is being challenged by a belligerent Russia, an increasingly assertive China and by the historic unraveling of parts of the Middle East, that the war in Syria did not merit a fleeting mention and that the horror of Aleppo, caused in part by Russia, was not even mentioned once.

The Senate of our discontent

When the political class and the media were busy following the latest outrages from the campaign trail, Congress was grappling with the issue of overriding the Presidential veto of a legislation called the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, JASTA which was passed overwhelmingly by both chambers of congress. The new legislation allows victims of terrorism on US soil, such as the victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks, to sue foreign governments found responsible for those crimes. The legislation is first and foremost aimed at Saudi Arabia. The vote is considered one of the easiest votes a legislator would sign because of the great sympathy for the victims’ families and because the vote is taking place during the election season. The opponent of the Act, including the Obama administration, warned that it will create a dangerous precedent that could haunt the US if foreign governments enacted similar laws to be used against American interests and personnel overseas. Even the proponent of the Act warned against the many unintended consequences of the Act.

Even while voting to override the president’s veto, a number of Senators expressed a sense of buyer’s remorse and pushed for ways to amend or mitigate some of the “unintended ramifications” of the Act as Senator Majority leader Mitch McConnel said.

The Senate found itself experiencing a Brexit like moment when immediately after 97 Senators voted to override the veto, nearly 30 senators sent a letter to Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn and Senator Chuck Schumer asking for cooperation to mitigate those unintended national security implications of the legislation. What was equally shocking was the fact that President Obama and his senior aides did not lobby hard, as expected, against the veto override. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker said he and other senators repeatedly requested meetings with White House officials to work on a potential text, but the White House ignored their requests. Obama was described as “detached” or that he “did not lift a finger” to prevent the override. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said last week the White House did not ask her to oppose the override. So she voted to override the veto, thus giving a cover to all the Democratic representatives wishing to override the veto. It is believed that Obama’s position reflects his ambivalence, and maybe his unfriendly view of Saudi Arabia that he had expressed in the Atlantic Magazine’s interview last spring. The JASTA episode reflects negatively on the dysfunction in Washington and the wobbly leadership of Obama and the leaders of Congress.

Kerry to Syrians: You are on your own

On Friday evening, the New York Times published the minutes (along with the audio) of a meeting between Secretary of State John Kerry and a group of Syrian civilians opposed to the Assad regime in late September in New York City. The exchange is stunning and it confirms the worst fears of those Syrians who are looking for a post-Assad Syria. Kerry oscillated between expressing frustration with the unwillingness of the White House to take a more forceful position against Assad and Russia’s depredation and his feeble attempts to justify a policy he does not embrace. In a stunning move coming after five years of President Obama’s call on Assad to step down, Kerry called on the opposition to participate in elections with Assad remaining in power, claiming that “registered” Syrian refugees anywhere in the world could vote and that Assad really fears the outcome of such a vote. Kerry made it clear that there is no support in the White House, Congress or among the American people for military action in Syria, saying: “I lost the argument” for the use of force against the Assad regime. Listening to Kerry’s words is particularly painful, given the political absurdities of the political establishment in Washington and the abandonment of both political parties of those Syrians still struggling for a modern, open and representative post-Assad Syria, and given the horrific human disaster unfolding in Aleppo. These are the unvarnished confessions of John Kerry. As such they are a case study of the abject failure of imagination of leadership. One would imagine that Syrians and historians will be asking for years to come: What have you wrought Barack Hussein Obama?

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Hisham Melhem is a columnist and analyst for Al Arabiya News Channel in Washington, DC. Melhem has interviewed many American and international public figures, including Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, among others. He is also the correspondent for Annahar, the leading Lebanese daily. For four years he hosted "Across the Ocean," a weekly current affairs program on U.S.-Arab relations for Al Arabiya. Follow him on Twitter : @hisham_melhem
 

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