I’m going to engage here in a thought experiment which may make some readers a little queasy, but bear with me.
It’s been half a century since the wrenching experience of having a charismatic young president cut down by bullets in what most Americans apparently still believe was a dark conspiracy by elements of the US government unhappy with the direction he was taking the country in international affairs.
Certainly powerful people like ex-CIA Director Allen Dulles and some of the nation’s top generals, not to mention executives of what prior President Dwight D. Eisenhower had labeled the military industrial complex were outraged that in his third year in office Kennedy was trying to dial back the Cold War, to reduce or even end the threat of actual nuclear war, and that he was even thinking of pulling US troops out of Vietnam and of reaching some accommodation with Fidel Castro’s Cuba.
Today we can read analyses like this that compellingly argue that the assassination of President Kennedy was orchestrated by those in the ruling elite who opposed such moves towards peace by a president who had campaigned for office as a hard-line cold warrior.
What then are we to make of recent actions by President Obama, who since his election has been a supporter of aggressive, even criminally aggressive militarism in Latin America, the Middle East and Africa, but who, in recent months has been taking steps that appear, at least on their face, to be aimed at tamping down American belligerence?
Take his surprising back-down from a threatened attack on Syria. That prospective war at one point was only two days from being launched, with US ships and planes in place surrounding Syria, all fueled, armed and awaiting orders from the commander in chief.
Hawks in the Pentagon, CIA and the President’s own National Security Council, and the Israeli government and its US lobby, the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) were pushing hard a US air attack on the government and the military of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, along with direct military support for the Islamic militants battling his regime. Then suddenly, in an address to the nation, the president did a volte-face and announced that he was backing a Russian peace initiative that called for an internationally supervised program to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile. The Neocons in Washington erupted in fury that their latest war was aborted. Their rage was echoed by AIPAC and by Israel’s right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
This peace move was followed by another shocker: the temporary six-month nuclear agreement just negotiated between a US-led group of six nations (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany), and Iran. This deal, coming after 34 years of enmity and conflict between the US and Iran, reportedly requires Iran to scale back and limit its uranium enrichment program, while continuing to produce fuel-grade uranium — which the Iranians have insisted all along is for the peaceful development of nuclear power, not the making of a nuclear weapon. In return the US and Europe have agreed to begin dismantling the economic sanctions which, under US leadership, have been crippling Iran for years.
Again, the Neoconservatives in Washington are braying that Obama is “selling out” Israel and “appeasing” the mullahs who rule Iran. Israel’s government and the Saudi Arabian monarchy are both denouncing the agreement. But the president is calling it a good deal. He’s right. And if a permanent agreement can be hammered out in the coming months, it will effectively end the looming threat of a war of aggression by the US and Israel against Iran — a war that would likely ignite the whole Middle East, and that could possibly spiral out of control into a global conflict.
So, here’s my question, for those on the left who will no doubt scoff at these recent decisions by the president and say that the US remains the world’s biggest threat to peace: If this president, like Kennedy before him, were to be assassinated, would we be willing to accept the inevitable claim that some lone crackpot racist had done him in? Or would we not be digging around looking hard for evidence that a cabal of warmongers inside the government, the Pentagon and in the military industrial complex, had acted to prevent a president who had seen the light from dialing back the nation’s bellicose war-mongering?
I think the answer is clear.
If readers want to see this dark line of thinking as this writer’s having been suckered into believing that Obama is becoming what his grossly premature Nobel Peace Prize implied he was — a genuine opponent of war — go ahead. The truth is that I remain very skeptical on this point. It would take a lot more action on his part for me to say that.
After all, under Obama’s leadership the US military and the CIA are still launching drone attacks in countries like Yemen and Pakistan, the State Department is in the process of imposing a deal on Kabul allowing the US to continue to continue posting 15,000 US troops in Afghanistan for another decade, American soldiers are actively engaged in a secret war in Colombia, the CIA is seeking to subvert elected governments in Venezuela, Bolivia and other Latin American nations, the US Navy is being beefed up in the western Pacific to confront an increasingly assertive China, and of course, the Pentagon budget is continuing to grow, instead of being cut down to a size appropriate to a nation that clearly faces no military threat. As well, the alphabet soup of intelligence agencies continues to grow in size and power.
Still, as we re-examine the old evidence and look at new evidence that strongly suggests President Kennedy was murdered by a cabal of warmongers within the bureaucracy because he had decided to seek peace instead of endless war, it is worth considering whether this current president, fifty years on, may have decided, midway into his second term, to attempt the same thing. If true, there is reason to worry about his own safety, particularly given the enormously more powerful secret agencies that have been nurtured since 9-11, including during Obama’s own first five years in the White House.
Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).