Obama’s Liberalized Hegemony

Today’s New York Times (Mar. 11), as usual, imparts scented news from its Administration sources, blissfully ignorant of how damaging the content, in this case, the use of the sequester presumably to trim down excess budgetary fat, but actually, to make the Leviathan more battle-ready, more able to spring forward in execution on multiple fronts, all for the purpose of flexing American muscle in the service of counterrevolutionary aims.  One has to hand it to Obama; he has a finger in every pie, which is why the one-two combination of heavy armaments (think supercarriers, long-range bombers, nuclear-armed subs) and greater emphasis than earlier on the coordinating efforts of elite forces assigned to paramilitary operations.  Still, pulling away the details, it seems to me the priority here is the all-but-military (thus far) confrontation with China—the so-called “pivot” to the Pacific of US military activity.

America requires a new, or rather, continued, Cold War, the same as an addict his drugs, or a banker his bonuses.  It’s as though hegemony (the modern version for exceptionalism, taking us a long way from John Winthrop) is inscribed in America’s DNA, the ratifying condition for domestic political legitimacy subscribed to by both parties and heavy-handidly sold to the American public.  We feast on it, identifying with dictators abroad the way we identify with billionaires at home…and now, increasingly militarily-connected evidences of exploit and carnage.  Bradley Manning languishes in his cell while Obama, who put him there, prances on the world stage.  To the former, his country has affronted moral decency and international law; to the latter, America can act with impunity in its own self-interest as being the highest morality there is.  One also has to hand it to Obama, because he knows militarism and democratization are incompatible—you can’t have both, which is why he has chosen militarism, any kind of diversion of funds, resources, ideas, values in support of social justice at home therefore representing national weakness and pitiable self-contempt.

Like Dr. Strangelove, he has plugged into the juices of reaction, possibly even barbarism, in part because he senses that this is the path to receiving the admiration of others, in part out of recognition that this is the means of placating ruling groups in America, and in part, because, although he has been portrayed as a compromiser, he actually believes mightily in the core of capitalist ideology, from imperialism and commercial penetration in foreign policy to market fundamentalism and the weakening of social dissent and countervailing powers at home.  Whether an act of Divine intervention, or simply being in the right place with the right set of advisers, Obama has got it right, a full recognition that foreign and domestic policies are interrelated, that it makes no sense to be and seek to remain the dominant military power in the world, and at the same time neglect the internal restructuring of domestic society.  Wealth is a supreme good (concentrated, of course, in the hands of the wealthy, rather than as a mere abstract national attribute), necessarily complemented by extremes of income, status, and power, so that the poor indeed know their place and show gratitude for the crumbs thrown their way.

Social miscreants may call for, “Power to the People,” but true patriotism demands, instead, a meaner, leaner war machine, echoing the cry, and implementing its achievement, “Power to Our Saviors, who have kept us on the Right Path of Capitalism.” Amen.

[My New York Times Comment (Mar. 11) on article discussing military budget cuts.  A technologically-driven war machine]:

A “leaner” military–e.g., drones, cyberweapons, Spec Ops forces–is hardly a step toward either peace or demilitarization, but simply a way of maximizing LETHALITY at reduced costs. Obama is more militarily aggressive than his predecessors, of both parties, going back to the mid-20th century. This should, but does not, stick in the craw of the American public, a geopolitical strategy sheathed in liberal rhetoric that is counterrevolutionary in intent and wholly cynical and amoral in execution. To have the likes of John Brennan at his elbow is confirmatory of a qualitative leap in arrogance, the spirit of impunity, and a readiness to defy international law.

Obama incarnates treachery. The trinity of armed drones for targeted assassination, cyberwarfare, and, not merely Spec Ops, but a functioning integration of CIA and JSOC, casts the US into an unprecedented role, even by previous standards (such as Vietnam)–a role of unabashed insistence on unilateral global dominance, all comers, especially China, beware. This, in the context of negating social welfare at home, the Democrats’ own version of “starve the beast.”

The sequester is a hoax when it comes to military spending. Nothing is sacrificed, but rather, as with nuclear weapons, upgraded. Budget cuts, if any, equals merely a more technologically-driven war machine, and, as with drones, more impersonal, bloodless, the great psychological leap into deniability and seeming rationality.

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 Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.