Obama’s Transmogrification


On May first, which we in the United States celebrate as Law Day, presumably to honor, at latest count, the principle and practice of indefinite detention, which includes torture, solitary confinement, and now, forced feeding, to pacify, break the will, and otherwise punish with impunity, detainees at Guantanamo, for many, going on a full decade, the New York Times in an editorial ever so gently criticized Obama for betraying (not their word) his promise to close the facility.  W

hether prompted by the other May Day (completely unlikely), or the excellent national-security reporters Mazzetti, Savage, and Shane’s investigations ranging from waterboarding to targeted assassination (also unlikely, given the disconnect between the editorial page and the live journalism), or simply, because the stench of illegality was so great that the Times had no other choice, provided of course Guantanamo was treated in isolation as a self-contained topic bearing not at all on the totality of Obama’s militarism and grandiose vision of world supremacy (to be executed through covert operations and the extreme importance attached to paramilitary operations and advanced technologies of killing), it took a step to chide the president in the hope perhaps that no one was looking.

Yet Guantanamo is but a speck in the vast sea of America’s international posture of counterrevolution.  In its own right it is our Devil’s Island, our Penal Colony, placing the United States in the fine historical company of the most nefarious imperialist powers.  And Obama of course still sleeps well at night, confident that he is proving his mettle to the military establishment, defense contractors, hired guns, and finding increasing favor, the CIA and JSOC.

Guantanamo is, for him, merely a symbolic gesture of unrestrained American power, a veritable sideshow as the US prepares to take on the big boys, most notably China, as well as the brush fires which keep Americans on their toes, defense spending copiously rolling in, and the force-feeding of another kind, the steady diet of patriotism in the Homeland steeling our resolve for further interventions, assassinations, etc., North Korea, Venezuela, Iran, and still, Cuba, filling the bill.  Counterrevolution and counterterrorism, dialectically entwined, becomes Obama’s magic elixir at the foundation of the National Security State, the one creating the conditions for making the second operable and, to the American people, legitimate, the second, meanwhile, in its execution feeding the forces of the first—a vicious circle of hegemonic dynamism.

In the larger picture, Guantanamo is merely confirmatory.  Already we see Obama’s contempt for the law and the rule of law, the former in blatantly disregarding the constraints of international legal-moral conduct (targeted killing), the latter in just as blatantly cutting the rug from under civil liberties whether through surveillance, the denial of due process, or, as in the case of Bradley Manning (our Dreyfus), the use of Espionage Act prosecutions and egregious modes of punishment.  A police state in the making?—probably not yet, but not for want of trying.

I referred to Obama as a pathetic despot because, as one meaning in Webster, he arouses this writer to contemptuous pity for his transparent (the only case of transparency in the Obama administration!) opportunism, absence of human concerns, gravitation to the sources of power in America: beyond the military, the world of banking especially, but all consolidations of megawealth, from pharmaceuticals to oil to health insurers, and the list daily grows.

CounterPunchers, Happy May Day even if my wishes are tardy, and the good old Bronx cheer for Law Day.  My New York Times Comment (5/1/13) follows:

This issue of indefinite detention without benefit of trial and the rights accorded defendants in Western legal philosophy and practice, indeed, conversely, subject to “enhanced interrogation,” i.e., torture in its most reprehensible forms, is but one indication of the TRANSMOGRIFICATION of Pres. Obama, who is hardly recognizable from the candidate in ’08, and presently a sinister force immersed totally in the ways of militarism in international policy, and friend to the wealthy and increasingly concentrated corporate-banking structure. Where has the American soul fled? How accept barbaric policies unworthy of a free citizenry of a democratic nation? Yet, accept, we as a nation do.

Guantanamo is INSEPARABLE from armed drones for targeted assassination. They complement each other and spring from the same mindset, a sick psychopathological take on the human condition in which exercising strength with impunity becomes the New Ethics of the present age in America. Regrettably, the nation gives evidence of being past caring, mounting defensive mechanisms in the collective mind to prevent shame or the stirrings of conscience–defensiveness to go with its concrete embodiment in a megalithic structure of power disposed to unilateral actions, a DEFENSE of a status-quo world structure conducive to and consistent with American hegemony in a global system itself seeking to become multipolar and, hence, decentralized, as more in keeping with nations’ peaceful existence and growth.

Norman Pollack is the author of “The Populist Response to Industrial America” (Harvard) and “The Just Polity” (Illinois), Guggenheim Fellow, and professor of history emeritus, Michigan State University.


Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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