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Obama and the Empire

The New Yorker magazine in its July 14 issue ran a cover cartoon that achieved instant fame. It showed Barack Obama wearing Muslim garb in the Oval Office with a portrait of Osama bin Laden on the wall. Obama is delivering a fist bump to his wife, Michelle, who has an Afro hairdo and an assault rifle slung over her shoulder. An American flag lies burning in the fireplace. The magazine says it’s all satire, a parody of the crazy right-wing fears, rumors, and scare tactics about Obama’s past and ideology.

The cartoon makes fun of the idea that Barack and Michelle Obama are some kind of mixture of Black Panther, Islamist jihadist, and Marxist revolutionary. But how much more educational for the American public and the world it would be to make fun of the idea that Obama is even some kind of progressive.

I’m more concerned here with foreign policy than domestic issues because it’s in this area that the US government can do, and indeed does do, the most harm to the world, to put it mildly. And in this area what do we find? We find Obama threatening, several times, to attack Iran if they don’t do what the United States wants them to do nuclear-wise; threatening more than once to attack Pakistan if their anti-terrorist policies are not tough enough or if there would be a regime change in the nuclear-armed country not to his liking; calling for a large increase in US troops and tougher policies for Afghanistan; wholly and unequivocally embracing Israel as if it were the 51st state; totally ignoring Hamas, an elected ruling party in the occupied territory; decrying the Berlin Wall in his recent talk in that city, about the safest thing a politician can do, but with no mention of the Israeli Wall while in Israel, nor the numerous American-built walls in Baghdad while in Iraq; referring to the Venezuelan government of Hugo Chávez as “authoritarian”, but never referring similarly to the government of George W. Bush, certainly more deserving of the label; talking with the usual disinformation and hostility about Cuba, albeit with a token reform re visits and remittances. But would he dare mention the outrageous case of the imprisoned Cuban Five[1] in his frequent references to fighting terrorism?

While an Illinois state senator in January 2004, Obama declared that it was time “to end the embargo with Cuba” because it had “utterly failed in the effort to overthrow Castro.” But speaking as a presidential candidate to a Cuban-American audience in Miami in August 2007, he said he would not “take off the embargo” as president because it is “an important inducement for change.”[2] He thus went from a good policy for the wrong reason to the wrong policy for the wrong reason. Does Mr. Obama care any more than Mr. Bush that the United Nations General Assembly has voted — virtually unanimously — 16 years in a row against the embargo?

In summary, it would be difficult to name a single ODE (Officially Designated Enemy) that Obama has not been critical of, or to name one that he has supported. Can this be mere coincidence?

The fact that Obama says he’s willing to “talk” to some of the “enemies” more than the Bush administration has done sounds good, but one doesn’t have to be too cynical to believe that it will not amount to more than a public relations gimmick. It’s only change of policy that counts. Why doesn’t he simply and clearly state that he would not attack Iran unless Iran first attacked the US or Israel or anyone else?

As to Iraq, if you’re sick to the core of your being about the horrors US policy brings down upon the heads of the people of that unhappy land, then you must support withdrawal –- immediate, total, all troops, combat and non-combat, all the Blackwater-type killer contractors, not moved to Kuwait or Qatar to be on call. All bases out. No permanent bases. No permanent war. No timetables. No approval by the US military necessary. No reductions in forces. Just OUT. ALL. Just like what the people of Iraq want. Nothing less will give them the opportunity to try to put an end to the civil war and violence instigated by the American invasion and occupation and to recreate their failed state.

George W. Bush, 2006: “We’re going to stay in Iraq to get the job done as long as the government wants us there.”[3]

George W. Bush, 2007: “It’s their government’s choice. If they were to say, leave, we would leave.”[4]

Iraqi National Security Adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie, 2008: “said his government was ‘impatiently waiting’ for the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops.”[5]

Barack Obama, 2008: We can “redeploy combat brigades from Iraq at a pace of 1 to 2 brigades a month that would remove them in 16 months.”[6]

Obama’s terms of withdrawal equals no withdrawal. Literally. Has he ever said that the war is categorically illegal and immoral? A war crime? Or that anti-American terrorism in the world is the direct result of oppressive US policies? Instead he calls for a troop increase and “the first truly 21st century military … We must maintain the strongest, best-equipped military in the world.”[7] Why of course, that’s what the people of the United States and the people of Iraq and Afghanistan and the rest of the people in this sad world desperately desire and need — greater American killing power! Obama is not so much concerned with ending America’s endless warfare as he is with “succeeding” in them, by whatever perverted definition of that word.

And has he ever dared to raise the obvious question: Why would Iran, even if nuclear armed, be a threat to attack the US or Israel? Any more than Iraq was such a threat. Which was zero. Instead, he has said things like “Iran continues to be a major threat” and repeats the tiresome lie that the Iranian president called for the destruction of Israel.[8]

Obama, one observer has noted, “opposes the present US policy in Iraq not on the basis of any principled opposition to neo-colonialism or aggressive war, but rather on the grounds that the Iraq war is a mistaken deployment of power that fails to advance the global strategic interests of American imperialism.”[9]

He and his supporters have made much of the speech he delivered in the Illinois state legislature in 2002 against the upcoming US invasion of Iraq. But two years later, when he was running for the US Senate, he declared: “There’s not that much difference between my position and George Bush’s position at this stage.”[10] Since taking office in January 2005, he has voted to approve every war appropriation the Republicans have put forward. He also voted to confirm Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State despite her complicity in the Bush Administration’s false justifications for going to war in Iraq. In doing so, he lacked the courage of 12 of his Democratic Party Senate colleagues who voted against her confirmation.

If you’re one of those who would like to believe that Obama has to present moderate foreign policy views to be elected, but once he’s in the White House we can forget that he lied to us repeatedly and the true, progressive man of peace and international law and human rights will emerge … keep in mind that as a US Senate candidate in 2004 he threatened missile strikes against Iran[11], and winning that election apparently did not put him in touch with his inner peacenik.

When, in 2005, the other Illinois Senator, Dick Durbin, stuck his neck out and compared American torture at Guantanamo to “Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime — Pol Pot or others — that had no concern for human beings”, and was angrily denounced by the right wing, Obama stood up in the Senate and … defended him? No, he joined the critics, thrice calling Durbin’s remark a “mistake”.[12]

One of Obama’s chief foreign policy advisers is Zbigniew Brzezinski, a man instrumental in provoking Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in 1979, which was followed by massive US military supplies to the opposition and widespread war. This gave rise to a generation of Islamic jihadists, the Taliban, Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, and more than two decades of anti-American terrorism. Asked later if he had any regrets about this policy, Brzezinski replied: “Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter, in substance: We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war.”[13]

Another prominent Obama adviser — from a list entirely and depressingly establishment-imperial — is Madeleine Albright, who should always wear gloves because her hands are caked with blood from her roles in the bombings of Iraq and Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

In a primary campaign talk in March, Obama said that “he would return the country to the more ‘traditional’ foreign policy efforts of past presidents, such as George H.W. Bush, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.”[14] Use your imagination. Bloody serial interventionists, all.

Why have well-known conservatives like George Will, David Brooks, Rush Limbaugh, Joe Scarborough, and others spoken so favorably about Obama’s candidacy?[15] Whatever else, they know he’s not a threat to their most cherished views and values.

Given all this, can we expect a more enlightened, less bloody, more progressive and humane foreign policy from Mr. Barack Obama? Forget the alleged eloquence and charm; forget the warm feel-good stuff; forget the interminable clichés and platitudes about hope, change, unity, and America’s indispensable role as world leader; forget all the religiobabble; forget John McCain and George W. Bush … All that counts is putting an end to the horror — the bombings, the invasions, the killings, the destruction, the overthrows, the occupations, the torture, the American Empire.

Al Gore and John Kerry both took the progressive vote for granted. Neither had ever been particularly progressive themself. Each harbored a measure of disdain for the left. Both paid a heavy price for the neglect. I and millions like me voted for Ralph Nader, or some other third-party candidate, or stayed home. Obama is doing the same as Gore and Kerry. Progressives should let him know that his positions are not acceptable, keeping up the anti-war pressure on him and the Democratic Party at every opportunity. For whatever good it just might do.

I’m afraid that if Barack Obama becomes president he’s going to break a lot of young hearts. And some older ones as well.

Writer Norman Solomon has written: “These days, an appreciable number of Obama supporters are starting to use words like “disillusionment.” But that’s a consequence of projecting their political outlooks onto the candidate in the first place. The best way to avoid becoming disillusioned is to not have illusions in the first place.”

WILLIAM BLUM is the author of Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, Rogue State: a guide to the World’s Only Super Power. and West-Bloc Dissident: a Cold War Political Memoir.

He can be reached at: BBlum6@aol.com

NOTES

[1] WILLIAM BLUM, “Cuban Political Prisoners … in the United States

[2] Washington Post, February 25, 2008; p.A4

[3] New York Times. December 1, 2006, p.1

[4] White House press conference, May 24, 2007

[5] Washington Post, July 9, 2008

[6] Obama’s website: www.barackobama.com/issues/iraq/

[7] Speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, April 23, 2007

[8] Haaretz.com (leading Israeli newspaper), May 16, 2007

[9] Bill Van Auken, Global Research, July 18, 2008 — http://www.globalresearch.ca/

[10] Chicago Tribune, July 27, 2004

[11] Chicago Tribune, September 25, 2004

[12] Congressional Record, June 21, 2005, p.S6897

[13] For the full Brzezinski interview see http://members.aol.com/bblum6/brz.htm

[14] Associated Press, March 28, 2008

[15] See, for example, Peter Wehner, “Why Republicans Like Obama”, Washington Post, February 3, 2008, p.B7

 

 

 

 

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