Barack Obama, "The Audacity of Hope".
“The only time a black man has a voice in America is when he speaks through a white man’s trumpet”
An 1830’s American civil rights activist
One astute observation made by a friend surrounding the US elections is that not voting for/being excited about Obama would be like not celebrating/being excited about Christmas. The analogy was actually more profound than intended, since not only are both events extravaganzas that bring people together, happen rarely, and make people feel good, they are also events whose founding principles have zero fundamental substance, and whose joys wear out very quickly.
Though undoubtedly the result of the US elections is a happy event for most sane people, the happiness should not stem from an Obama victory so much as from a McCain defeat. The fact that this jingoistic warmonger is not in control of the most dangerous threat to human existence in all history- namely US military capabilities- is a relief that can be felt the world over, other than the American Deep South. The problem is, that such is the hysteria over Obama, as a man of tremendous charisma, oratory, a relatively progressive history, as well as for the not insignificant fact that he is the first black president, has come not only to obscure, but also to distort his positions on fundamental issues, with the result that he is taken to be what he is not. The hopes that he will enact liberal reform and take the US along the path of a functioning democracy are utterly misplaced, and the truth is right in front of our very eyes. The reality is that he will stay firmly within the spectrum of previous presidents, pandering to special interests, sustaining oppression of people in impoverished, but strategically important countries around the world, and subscribing comfortably and without a doubt to Noam Chomsky’s observation that if the Nuremberg Laws that were applied in 1946 to try the Nazis were applied to post war American presidents, every single such president would go to the gallows in the same way as Goering, Bormann et al.
Let’s start with the most common, and most serious misapprehension about the Obama campaign. Read carefully and repeat- HE IS NOT GOING TO END THE OCCUPATION OF IRAQ. He has never said he would, so why believe it? What has he said- he said he would engage in a phased withdrawal of US combat troops. His ex foreign policy advisor, Samantha Powers, later said that in fact this was a "best case scenario" that "he will revisit when he becomes president. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/hardtalk/7281805.stm. The desires of the Iraqi people don’t come into it, clearly- it’s only their country after all. Regardless, the major military entity in Iraq is not the US combat troops, but the private military contractors, who at 180 000, outnumber the US military by about 30 000. These consist of private mercenary armies such as Blackwater and Dyncorp, independent groups of professional “soldiers”, who are essentially accountable to no one, and over whom the US has zero effective control. This was evidenced in the Nisour Square massacre in 2007, where 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians were murdered by Blackwater staff, non of whom have been charged with any offence. Under an Obama presidency, these people will be left in Iraq, useful loose cannons, since they can do the dirty work of the US in an efficient manner without the US having to get their hands dirty, and totally unaccountable for their conduct and actions against the people whose land they have invaded and are occupying under a mandate provided by President Obama, which is totally in contravention of every major piece of international law- the Geneva Convention, the UN Charter, the Nuremberg Principles, as well as the Kellogg Briand pact. For some reason, we happier to tolerate illegal activity on the part of states (especially our own) than we are of individuals- there is little or no basis for this judgement.
Obama would also maintain the US Green Zone; a 20 000 person “embassy city” in the middle of Baghdad, that serves as a sort of quasi-garrison for the occupiers. In addition, he has said repeatedly that he will maintain a residual security force in Iraq to fight any potential Al Qaeda uprising- missing the somewhat important notion that were the US not in Iraq, Al Qaeda would not be there in the first place.
So the occupation of Iraq is not going to end under an Obama presidency. In fact, it is instructive to look at his war stance in more detail- although he openly opposed the war in 2003, he said one year later, when the war had gained a little more traction in the public eye- “Mission Accomplished” etc- that had he known what Bush knew then, he may have voted the other way, saying he was "not privy to Senate intelligence reports… What would I have done? I don't know. What I know is that from my vantage point the case was not made." In 2004, regarding the occupation, he stated: “there's not much of a difference between my position and George Bush's position at this stage." It was around this point that he removed his anti Iraq war speech from his website, seeing that it lacked political expedience. So his position as an opponent of the Iraq invasion is not clear cut ; his position as an opponent of the Iraq occupation is not one that can be taken seriously.
Indeed the War on Terror may well escalate, given his sabre rattling against Pakistan (threatening to bomb it if it didn’t cooperate with US demands); Iran (stating that the nuclear attack option was still on the table in dealing with them), and Afghanistan. Iran is an interesting example, because here is a country that has seen the US overthrow its last democratic leader, Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953, install a brutal regime under the Shah for 26 years, and then support, finance and arm Saddam Hussein during his invasion of the country in the early 80’s, which killed hundreds of thousands of people. Iran has never invaded or attacked a country in its recent history, nor has it seriously threatened pre-emptive aggression against any other country (the media concocted allegations of “wipe Israel of the map” is not something anyone rational takes seriously anymore). Yet it has to face constant threats against its own existence by the US, a country that is maybe responsible for the deaths of more foreign civilians than all other countries in the world put together since 1945; a country that has launched attacks, coup d’états or interventions in 50 different countries since that date. It is a truly rotten history, and one to which Obama has repeatedly added entries in his personal chapter even before assuming office.
Afghanistan is the theatre into which Obama plans on transferring the excess combat troops from Iraq. Forget the fact that the majority of the Afghan people want negotiations to begin with the Taliban, and that the leading UK commander in the region has conceded that a NATO victory is impossible; Obama sees the need to compensate the bloodthirsty hoards for his draw down in one country by an escalation in another. Can anyone remember what the justification of the Afghan invasion was? Bush gave the Taliban 48 hours to hand over Bin Laden on October 5th, 2001. The Taliban, who (according to the Independent and Reuters) had warned the US on August the 26th that Al Qaeda were plotting a big attack on the US, simply asked for proof that Bin Laden was involved, and they would be happy to hand him over, or at least to try him. No evidence was forthcoming, Bush and others claiming that they just knew it was him, and the invasion started 2 days later. Fast forward to 2008, and lets have a look at the FBI’s much vaunted 10 Most Wanted Terrorist list. http://www.fbi.gov/wanted/terrorists/terbinladen.htm
Of course, OBL is there, but what is he wanted for?
“Usama Bin Laden is wanted in connection with the August 7, 1998, bombings of the United States Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya. These attacks killed over 200 people. In addition, Bin Laden is a suspect in other terrorist attacks throughout the world.”
Errr… so not wanted for 911 then? Let’s ask the FBI what they have to say about this little pickle. According to Rex Tomb, Chief of Investigative Publicity for the FBI :
“The reason why 9/11 is not mentioned on Usama Bin Laden’s Most Wanted page is because the FBI has no hard evidence connecting Bin Laden to 9/11.”
Ah. Well never mind, just continue the looting of the country in any case Barack, no one minds, except all the people who have to die, and they’re all dead now in any case, so no matter, right?
What is the point to these wars? They have no more or no less point than any of the imperialist wars that preceded or will succeed them, from Panama to Vietnam, Grenada to Kosovo, but they do serve an important purpose in illustrating how snugly and perfectly Obama fits into the spectrum of imperialist criminality that is prerequisite for the ruler of any empire, and has been systematic in every president this side of WW2. There is no change.
None of this should be news. Obama has constantly voiced his support for continuing the “War on Terror”. The notion of a war on terror is just not one that can be taken seriously. Attacking defenceless countries where you will inevitably kill truckloads of civilians, no matter how much you want to target the “bad guys”, is of course terrorism- it is violence that is systematically non discriminatory between combatants and civilians, engaged in to reach a political/ideological goal. And you cannot fight terrorism by committing terrorism. These are pretty simple truisms. The US cannot be fighting, and would never fight, a war on terror. The reasons are simple. Last year, 4 000 people in the US died from peanut allergies. That’s more people than have ever died in the US from terrorism in any one year. So why spend $3 trillion fighting “terror”, when peanuts are an infinitely greater killer? Why not invade the world’s peanut farms?! The fact is that the impact of terror on western countries is so insignificant, that you just cannot take it seriously. And though peanuts is a facetious example, if you want to extend it to something like gun or knife crime, where the yearly deaths are even greater, you can just ask yourself the simple question- why spend billions every month on fighting “terror”, when the goal of fighting terror is to protect civilian life, and there are infinitely greater, and cheaper to deal with, threats to civilian life than terror. However the strategic advantages to reducing knife crime are far less than invading oil rich countries under the guise of protecting the people from “the terrorists”. This is a notion that Obama is well aware of, and hence he subscribes to it whole-heartedly.
To conclude the point on terror, were this a true war on terror, Luis Posada Carriles, Orlanda Bosch and Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada would be first in line for the waterboard, being 3 of the biggest terrorists in the world today- each having participated in countless plots, and killed countless people in Latin America throughout the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. But don’t expect the country that is granting them asylum and diplomatic protection to be invaded and looted by the US, because that country is the US. But has such unspeakable hypocrisy been mentioned by Obama? Carriles and Bosch, who both participated in the bombing of a Cuban Airlines passenger flight in 1975, killing over 70 innocent civilians, will be housed, shod, fed and watered in Obama’s America. The hatred of these vicious terrorists towards Cuba, who described each Cuban passenger airplane as a "legitimate target", will be replicated in effect by Obama himself, who has vowed to continue the 40-plus year old embargo that has contributed much to crippling the island.
Maybe his most depressing position is on Israel. Every year, the UN Assembly votes on the resolution condemning the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Every year, every single year, every country in the world votes in favour of this resolution. The only ones to abstain are the US, Israel, and 4 or 5 Polynesian US protectorates- Guam, The Marshall Islands etc. This is an illustration of how extreme a position any support of the occupation is. Yet Obama, in his now notorious speech to AIPAC (the US Israel Lobby) stated that under his presidency, “Jerusalem will be the undivided capital of Israel”. This actually represents an escalation of an occupation that is completely illegal in the eyes of the World Court, the UN, and the 4th Geneva Convention, which prohibits the seizure of land by military force. It represents an escalation of the conflict that lies at the heart of global geo-political instability. But what makes it depressing is that Obama is fully apprised of Palestinian issues. He has dined with the late great Palestinian scholar and activist Edward Said. He is friends with scholar and Palestinian activist Rashid Khalidi. He is aware of the issues. But yet he still has the capacity, in spite of this, to take up a position so extreme in the eyes of the whole world, of the international legal system, of all major international human rights groups, but one that is expedient to his political career. If he cannot act in the interests of justice despite having had all the past experiences necessary to make a stand on this, then what are the hopes for him making any just decisions as president, when faced with pressure from special interests?
Its not just on foreign policy that Obama fits the mould of all others that have gone before him. Back in October 2001, he voted to pass the PATRIOT Act, one of the most monstrous pieces of legislation in the post war US, that essentially allows the government to spy on its citizens without warrants and without recriminations. He voted in favour of the telecoms immunities bill, during the Democratic primaries, which granted telecoms companies retroactive immunity for prosecution they might have faced for having helped Bush wiretap the private phone calls of US citizens. Such monstrous acts were endorsed by Obama despite both anonymity and limelight. So neither can be used as a variable to hope that under one or the other circumstance he would act differently. Such drastically corrupt measures came to be among the hallmarks of the Bush presidency- and they were freely endorsed by Obama, when there was no pressure on him to do so. He kept this up right until the end of the race, voting in favour of giving (not lending, or investing, note) Wall Street banks- Goldman Sachs being his 2nd biggest source of donations( http://www.opensecrets.org/pres08/contrib.php?cycle=2008&cid=N00009638) - $700 billion to bail out their irresponsible behaviour. That’s around $5 000, or 6 weeks gross salary- for each average US tax payer. Bear that in mind when he next says that he is a man of Main Street over Wall Street- it is just fundamentally false, contradicted by all important evidence. It wasn’t as if there was great public pressure against this- like the telecoms bill, like the PATRIOT Act, there was overwhelming popular opposition to this, but Obama chose to listen to his financial backers, rather than his popular backers.
Private political discourse has a spectrum that does indeed range from left to right. This is why Obama will indeed be a more progressive president than Bush, and probably Clinton too. But the real spectrum of public discourse is one that dwarfs that of private political discourse, extending slightly further to the right, and lurching a very, very long way to the left. This is why public policy will never match public opinion, and why any shifts to the right and left, republican to democrat cannot be taken seriously, because they are just illusory shifts that in the grand scheme of things do not represent fundamental change- that’s to say, change that the public believes in. This is why, once the glow of the halo has died down a bit, and people start rubbing their dreary early morning eyes, they will surely see disillusionment staring back at them- not as bad as Bush style disillusionment, but certainly Clinton style, and more importantly, a cold sober assessment of the facts will show quite simply that Obama has fit snugly into the pattern of presidential politics, and people will have had to suffer and die for his being there.
Change that we can all believe in is going to have to wait a little while longer I’m afraid.