This week 'The Independent' continued its quest to patronise its readers with another of its supposedly thought-provoking front page headlines. You know the sort of thing: 'IS GEORGE BUSH JUST A GREAT BIG DONGER?', as though being hit over the head with a blindingly obvious point really does mark out Independent readers as being some sort of intellectual elite, something the paper's numerous ad campaigns are eager to suggest.
This time it was 'ARE THESE THE ONLY PEOPLE WHO THINK THE WAR IS A GOOD IDEA?', accompanied by a picture of Tony Blair and George Bush. It's a fair point, but not exactly a road-to-Damascus moment of insight. Most people can see that the dual wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are proving to be unproductive, if not disastrous, and plenty of us were aware that military intervention was a dangerously high-risk strategy before either war had actually begun. However, it's true to say that opinion is mostly opposed to the campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, with even military chiefs calling for an exit date (for our troops in Afghanistan at least). The whole policy of military intervention in both countries has, in short, been shown to have very serious failings.
But over in the US recent events show a worrying lack of interest in the almighty messes in Iraq and Afghanistan. What's more, they show exactly how the childishness, petty vindictiveness and national navel-gazing of US politics contribute to reckless foreign policy.
The events in question relate to Congressman Mark Foley, a Republican representative of Florida who sent lewd email messages to male Congressional 'pages' (House of Congress functionaries). Foley apparently has a predilection for teenage boys, but at no point has there been any suggestion that any sexual acts ever occurred. Nonetheless, the affair is big, big news in the US, with the Democrats eagerly making as much political capital out of it as possible. Indeed, the Foley 'affair' could even be a significant contributing factor to the Democrats regaining control of the House of Representatives (for 12 years the Republicans have dominated both houses of Congress.)
The importance placed on the non-events surrounding Foley show a pitiful lack of priorities in US politics, and neatly illustrate how dangerous military adventures overseas are intrinsically linked to America's preoccupation with itself. The Foley affair is essentially trivial, by any standards. Foley hasn't molested anyone, and while the attentions of an older homosexual may be unwanted by younger, straight men, nothing very much seems to have actually *happened*. Moreover, being propositioned by a gay man isn't the most traumatic thing that can happen to you. We at TFT were once approached by a pissed, 60-something bloke on a railway station who offered to 'lick [our] balls'. As awkward social moments go, it's up there, but a polite 'No, thank you' resolved the situation, and the world, shockingly, kept on turning.
And while sexual harassment of *anyone* is obviously something that shouldn't happen, the reason Foley has attained such notoriety is obviously because he's gay. A lot of Americans really do have a problem with this business of men touching each
other's bottoms, and so essentially trivial events have taken on far greater significance than they deserve. If every ill-judged, sexually suggestive email was given such attention, Fox News would have to increase its staff several million times over, which is a genuinely chilling thought: millions of Bill O'Reilly's trading right-wing shit with the likes of Ann Coulter.
What's depressing is that in the real world, some fairly important things have been happening. There are obviously the ongoing debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan, but international terrorism has been happily trundling along as before, and one of the most bonkers regimes in the world, North Korea, is busy trying to build a nuclear arsenal. This is important stuff, but in American politics it appears to be small fry compared to a foolish older man unwisely emailing younger males saying 'I like your bottom', or whatever it is that you put in suggestive gay emails.
What's more, what Foley has done certainly isn't illegal. Making inappropriate sexual advances is something you shouldn't do, but he's hardly bummed the entire staff of Congress in a priapic orgy of male rape. But in American politics, events in the wider world are trivial compared with a minor sex scandal involving, horror of horrors, a gay man. If, like us, you've ever wondered 'How did we get into this sorry state of affairs?' when pondering the war(s), terrorism and so on, just reflect on Mark Foley. Who cares about war, death and suffering when there are goddam sodomites everywhere trying to make us all gay?