Thursday 27 October 2016

The mysterious case of the vanishing protesters

So Donald Trump isn't welcome in Ireland, but a man whose boss drops bombs on children is? That makes no sense, says Eilis O'Hanlon

Eilis O'Hanlon

Published 26/06/2016 | 02:30

MEETING: Taoiseach Enda Kenny with Joe Biden at Government Buildings. Photo: Arthur Carron
MEETING: Taoiseach Enda Kenny with Joe Biden at Government Buildings. Photo: Arthur Carron

Campaigners pledged to organise protests against Donald Trump if the Republican Party's nominee for US president visited Ireland this week.

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A 'Trump Not Welcome' umbrella group was formed, comprising Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit, the Greens and other feminist and anti-racist groups. In the event, the man who would be king didn't come, disappointing those for whom protesting is a way of life; but they didn't have to put away the placards so meekly. There was another target in town.

So where were the protests against US vice-president Joe Biden, who has been in the country since Tuesday, apparently researching his family tree? This is a man who supported sending troops to Afghanistan after 9/11 and who voted to authorise the Iraq War.

He later said the latter decision was a mistake, but that hasn't stopped him being a senior member of an administration, led by President Obama, which uses Shannon Airport as a stopover when flying American troops to conflict zones around the world.

The CIA denies that prisoners are being carried on these flights as a part of what is called "extraordinary rendition"; but, as the Peace and Neutrality Alliance points out, how can we know for sure when the planes are not searched?

Then there are the drone strikes which have killed thousands of people in Afghanistan and Pakistan. These were started by George Bush, but have increased substantially under the presidency of Barack Obama, the one who won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Accurate figures are hard to come by, but some estimates suggest that 10 civilians have been killed for every Taliban or Islamic State militant, including hundreds of children, and President Sharif of Pakistan has called the drone strikes "a continual violation of our territorial integrity", adding that the policy is "detrimental to our resolve and efforts at eliminating terrorism from our country".

All these decisions by the White House can be defended as part of the war on terrorism and it's better than the alternative of sending in troops in a ground war; Biden is also far from being an unreconstructed hawk in the Hillary Clinton mould. A vice-president doesn't have much power anyway.

But there's no denying that he has been involved in prosecuting several messy wars at a time when Donald Trump's main activities involved appearing on reality-TV shows, making money and marrying Slovenian supermodels.

Yet it is Trump who faces the threat of protests and Biden who is treated as a visiting celebrity, gracing us with his presence.

Irish media coverage of the vice-president's 'return home' has been characterised by the usual unctuous nonsense which gets poured like syrup on certain visiting politicians in a country where attitudes to US politics tends to get reduced to a simple formula - Democratic Party good, Republican Party bad.

So we've had shots of his plane coming into land at Dublin Airport. Pictures of Enda Kenny presenting Joe Biden with a hurl and a sliotar at a formal reception at Government Buildings. Mobile phone footage of Joe Biden watching the Ireland vs Italy game in a pub in Castlebar with the Taoiseach (because chilling with the vice drone-dropper is fine, but meeting Trump would be out of the question for our principled leader).

It's all been nauseatingly reminiscent of the time Obama came to Ireland and wowed all right-thinking people with his astonishing ability to sip a Guinness without spilling a drop. Is there nothing this saintly paragon cannot do?

There were even the obligatory JFK references (sheesh, will we ever get over that and move on?) as Joe Biden signed the visitors' book at Aras an Uachtarain, watched over by President Higgins.

Afterwards, we were informed, Michael D and his guest held a bilateral meeting at which they discussed "Irish, European and current global affairs", including "the current issues facing the European Union and the current position in relation to the peace process in Northern Ireland".

Subsequently, a statement was issued, commending Biden for his work "on the elimination of all forms of violence against women".

There was no official mention of that whole bombing people thing, but the current Irish President is a doughty defender of human rights, having protested as a younger man against the 1984 visit of President Ronald Reagan, whom he accused of being a "voice of war" and "conduct(ing) a holy war against communism". So no doubt he will have vigorously raised his ethical objections to the Obama administration's use of drones along the Afghan/Pakistan border, no matter how awkward it might have been.

The absence of any reference to it must have been an oversight.

The point remains that Joe Biden has managed to go from one meeting to another this week without hearing so much as a murmur of protest, when any Republican politician would have been hounded at every stage by the usual suspects demanding that he be arrested and brought before the Hague on war crimes charges.

At the very least.

So much for our apparent national cynicism right now about politicians. Biden has been a career politico since the age of 30 (the minimum age at which one can become a US Senator) and has been bumming around Washington since 1973, two years before the current Taoiseach, our longest-serving public representative, was first elected to the Dail. That's a grand total of 43 years, yet while we criticise our own TDs for spending decades with their noses in the trough with little to show for it, Biden is deferentially fawned over.

It's a mysterious contradiction.

So why the absence of protests? It can't be a matter of common courtesy, because the Queen, whilst subject mainly to sycophancy on her historic visit, wasn't universally welcomed and she's not even a political figure in the same sense; she makes no actual decisions.

Nor can it be the especially warm welcome reserved for visitors with Irish roots. Biden's mother's name is Finnegan, but Ronald Reagan was the descendent of immigrants from County Tipperary and that didn't spare him.

It's not even that the usual suspects are leaving the vice-president alone on the grounds that he is on a private visit to Ireland, because, whilst he may have brought along his daughter, five grandchildren, sister and brother on this trip, he has also used his time here to make major political statements, not least a speech attacking Donald Trump and other "reactionary politicians and demagogues" for "peddling xenophobia, nationalism and isolationism".

It's almost a pity that Trump didn't drop in on the country last week. Had he done so, there was a huge protest planned for outside the GPO, which would have provided the entertaining spectacle of Irish people railing against a man whose only direct effect on their country had been to lose his own money whilst providing jobs for their fellow citizens at his golf course in Doonbeg, Co Clare, whilst toadying over one whose boss uses Ireland as a stopping point on his way to bombing foreigners.

We seem to care more for hypothetical people who might hypothetically suffer under the hypothetical presidency of Donald Trump than we do for actual people who actually suffered under the actual presidency of Obama and his obedient sidekick, Joe Biden.

We're also more outraged about Trump's personal support for the gun-ownership rights of Americans than we are about the fact Obama has done nothing to solve the problem in all his eight years in office, despite multiple mass shootings. But he's a Democrat and he makes the right noises, so that's fine.

Meanwhile, a British man is arrested in Las Vegas after trying to grab a gun and shoot the businessman and most people's response is to shrug and say: "Meh, whatever."

What an absurd, self-satisfied bunch of hypocrites we are.

Sunday Independent

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