folio politics

Thank You Note

Why, yes, UAE! We’ll take that blood money!

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As has been documented in this column over the last couple of years, Jacksonville City Councilwoman Anna Brosche and Mayor Lenny Curry don’t get along.

The two Republican CPAs, both elected to their first terms in 2015, never quite gelled. And daylight emerged from the moment that Brosche defeated John Crescimbeni, the Democrat who was favored by Curry in the 2017 race for the council presidency.

Brosche was cool on pension reform and the Kids Hope Alliance proposal—two Curry priorities. But in the wake of Charlottesville, she called for Confederate monuments to be inventoried and then brought down. Curry was not willing to take that position. He and his political operation know that wouldn’t play well with the base. Despite quietly pedaling back, Brosche got little credit for taking a leadership role … and less for abandoning it.

Brosche’s council presidency ended in June, as did her influence on the council itself, a body that clearly has gotten sick of her. The latest example (at least before the publication deadline): last Tuesday’s Rules Committee. That’s when Brosche filed a bill that would have called for the city to return a $2.775 million gift given by a criminal enterprise with a flag: the United Arab Emirates.

We’ve covered the UAE money before, of course. Some cynics call it “blood money.” But what does it matter?

In October, when asked about that country’s human rights record, Mayor Curry punted. It’s a great look if you are a native-born male citizen, but less so if you are a female, a dissident, a journalist, a thought criminal, an expat or someone on Yemeni soil, where the UAE tortures locals as part of our endless proxy war against Iran.

People of a certain age will remember the neoliberal justification for American hegemony: we are, the story went, the Indispensable Nation, a beacon of democracy and justice in a world inclined toward tyranny without our benign guidance.

That got us through 9/11 and maybe a bit longer (even the dovish Democrats in 2004 and 2008 called the Afghanistan sh*tshow “the good war”). But the enduring truth from that era was Vice President Dick Cheney, weeks after 9/11, predicting that this would be a decades-long struggle in the shadows.

The lines between good and evil have been blurred, we can agree. We are lined up with Saudi Arabia and the UAE against Iran, and we have geopolitical reasons for doing so. Beyond the transactional relationships, though, it’s clear that we are backing one set of barbaric values over another.

And judging from the curb-stomping the Council Rules Committee gave Brosche’s bill, moral strictures about good and evil are as disposable as styrofoam.

Here’s Bill Gulliford: “I’ve seen a number of ridiculous bills come through. This is right at the top … All the billions of dollars we’ve given to countries over the years. Isn’t it nice to get some back?”

Well, sure, it’s always nice to have extra money. But endorsing those checks means that you basically agree with how that country does business. And, as Americans, we know that the number of drone strikes we drop on a daily basis dwarfs our reasons to live by an order of magnitude.

Here’s Tommy Hazouri, pretending not to know better in order to again shiv a council enemy: “Many of these countries we give money to are worse on human rights than the UAE. This is not Saudi Arabia. This is the United Arab Emirates.”

No substantiation was needed for that innuendo—or for anything else discussed in this committee.

John Crescimbeni, who may or may not be running for tax collector as his council tenure nears its term-limit terminus, proposed an elegant solution: to substitute and re-refer the bill, to offer the UAE a gesture of appreciation.

Uncertain at the time of this writing: will there be a formal proclamation?

The UAE already got one press event out of this, with dignitaries feted by Mayor Curry at a local school. Would they send the ambassador back to a plaque? Depends on what’s in the green room that night.

One of the recurring miscalculations made by commentators in our era is to assume that people actually care what’s being done in their names. The bigger the unit of government, the more divorced we are from its actions. We are subjects, satellites and nothing more.

We don’t care about some funky little proxy war in Yemen that cynics describe as genocidal. We didn’t care about Iraqi sanctions killing a few hundred thousand kids. And whatever happened in Libya and Syria was cool, at least as long as we don’t have to take in refugees from the war zone.

Another hurricane will come, soon enough. What despotic mess from overseas will cut the next check? Sooner or later, we will find out.

@aggancarski

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