FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Obama’s Hypocritical Crusade Against Extremism

In his speech last month to the United Nations, President Obama summoned foreign leaders to join his “campaign against extremism.” Obama has repeatedly invoked the “extremist” threat to justify attacking abroad and seizing more power at home since taking office in 2009. But the president’s own record makes it tricky for him to pirouette as the World Savior of Moderation.

Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater was vilified in 1964 for declaring that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” Obama’s presidency illustrates how extremism in favor of government power is not a vice – at least according to the mainstream media.

As part of his ever-broadening campaign against potential extremists, Obama now claims a right to kill Americans and foreigners without a trial, without notice, and without any chance for targets to legally object. Obama has authorized drone attacks that have killed thousands of people in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere; the casualties include large numbers of women and children who posed no threat to the United States. But as long as some of the victims were linked to purported extremists, Americans are supposed to cheer Obama’s pioneering prerogatives for secret assassinations.

Obama justified pummeling Libya in 2011 so that that nation would not become “a new safe haven for extremists” – but there are far more violent terrorists there now than before the U.S. intervened. Obama has written himself a blank check to expand bombing in Iraq and Syria because of extremist perils – even though the U.S. government previously covertly armed some of the same extremists it is now trying to destroy.   The notion that the U.S. government is entitled to bomb foreign lands based solely on the president’s decree – regardless of congressional opposition – would have been considered extremist idiocy by earlier generations of Americans.

Obama’s campaign against extremism apparently also entitles him to waive the rules of logic. Saudi Arabia King Abdullah recently denounced religious extremism as a perversion. The Saudis are charter members in Obama’s latest crusade, and the fact that the Saudis have beheaded vastly more people than ISIS seems to have vanished from the Washington storyline (or maybe pundits believe that people convicted of “sorcery” got what they deserved). Having the Saudis join a war against extremism is like enrolling the Mafia in a high-profile campaign against abusive loan collection practices.

While Obama acts as if extremism is a self-evident offense, his administration continually broadens the definition of potential enemies – or at least troublemakers. The Department of Homeland Security has attached the “extremist” tag to gun rights activists, anti-immigration zealots, and individuals and groups “rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority” – even though many of the Founding Fathers shared the same creed. A 2012 Homeland Security report went even further, stating that being “reverent of individual liberty” is one of the traits of potential right wing terrorists.

Similarly, the FBI and the Homeland Security Department justified massive surveillance of the Occupy Wall Street movement due to threat of “extremist” intervention in its ranks. A Transportation Security Administration memo called for “vigilance” of a planned Occupy New Orleans march because “the potential always exists for extremists to exploit or redirect events such as this or use the event to escalate or trigger their own agendas,” as a Center for Media and Democracy report noted.

Obama is following in the footsteps of the Bush administration. President George W. Bush praised praised Croatian troops sent to Iraq for having “performed bravely in recent active theaters during this war against extremism.” During his 2004 reelection campaign, Bush proclaimed, “This struggle between political extremism and civilized values is unfolding in many places.” And any methods the Bush administration used were “civilized” by definition because the opponents were extremists.

There is no reason to trust politicians not to exploit “extremism” to crush political dissent. In 2007, the House of Representatives passed the “Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Act by a vote of 405 to 6. The bill defined “violent radicalization” as opinions which promote an “extremist belief system.” Extremist was not defined: but opposition to U.S. government foreign policies has long been tacitly considered as “un-American” in Washington. The legislation would have left it up to the political appointees at the Justice Department to determine which ideas and beliefs are signposts on the road to damnation. The bill would have entitled the feds to stomp out extremism before it started. It also would have authorized the Secretary of Homeland Security to create a grant program to prevent radicalization and to bankroll a university Center of Excellence for the Study of Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism in the United States. The bill stalled in the Senate and never became law.

“Extremism” is even more vaporous than “terrorism.” With terrorism, at least the individual or group is purportedly committing (or planning to commit) some violent act. An extremist, on the other hand, is someone with a bad attitude who might do something unpleasant in the future. Crackdowns on potential extremists can provide the perfect tool to demonize political opposition at home and abroad. Should we assume that the feds are justified in targeting destroying anyone who is less moderate than Obama?

In his first speech to Congress in early 2009, Obama declared, “To overcome extremism, we must also be vigilant in upholding the values our troops defend – because there is no force in the world more powerful than the example of America.” Unfortunately, Obama seems to have long since forgotten his early admonition. Instead, he has taught the world how easy it is to seize new powers based on the shakiest pretexts.   How long will it take Americans to repeal Obama’s anti-extremism excesses?

James Bovard is the author of author of Public Policy HooliganAttention Deficit Democracy, The Bush Betrayal, Terrorism and Tyranny

More articles by:

James Bovard is the author of Attention Deficit Democracy, The Bush Betrayal, Terrorism and Tyranny, and other books. Bovard is on the USA Today Board of Contributors. He is on Twitter at @jimbovard. His website is at www.jimbovard.com  This essay was originally published by Future of Freedom Foundation.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

April 24, 2019
Susan Babbitt
Disdain and Dignity: An Old (Anti-Imperialist) Story
Adam Jonas Horowitz
Letter to the Emperor
Lawrence Davidson
A Decisive Struggle For Our Future
John Steppling
The Mandate for Israel: Keep the Arabs Down
Victor Grossman
Many Feet
Cira Pascual Marquina
The Commune is the Supreme Expression of Participatory Democracy: a Conversation with Anacaona Marin of El Panal Commune
Binoy Kampmark
Failed States and Militias: General Khalifa Haftar Moves on Tripoli
Dean Baker
Payments to Hospitals Aren’t Going to Hospital Buildings
Alvaro Huerta
Top Ten List in Defense of MEChA
Colin Todhunter
As the 2019 Indian General Election Takes Place, Are the Nation’s Farmers Being Dealt a Knock-Out Blow?
Charlie Gers
Trump’s Transgender Troops Ban is un-American and Inhumane
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Just Another Spring in Progress?
Thomas Knapp
On Obstruction, the Mueller Report is Clintonesque
Elliot Sperber
Every Truck’s a Garbage Truck
April 23, 2019
Peter Bolton
The Monroe Doctrine is Back, and as the Latest US Attack on Cuba Shows, Its Purpose is to Serve the Neoliberal Order
David Schultz
The Mueller Report: Trump Too Inept to Obstruct Justice
Geoff Beckman
Crazy Uncle Joe and the Can’t We All Just Get Along Democrats
Medea Benjamin
Activists Protect DC Venezuelan Embassy from US-supported Coup
Patrick Cockburn
What Revolutionaries in the Middle East Have Learned Since the Arab Spring
Jim Goodman
Don’t Fall for the Hype of Free Trade Agreements
Lance Olsen
Climate and Forests: Land Managers Must Adapt, and Conservationists, Too
William Minter
The Coming Ebola Epidemic
Tony McKenna
Stephen King’s IT: a 2019 Retrospective
David Swanson
Pentagon Claims 1,100 High Schools Bar Recruiters; Peace Activists Offer $1,000 Award If Any Such School Can Be Found
Gary Olson
A Few Comments on the recent PBS Series: Reconstruction: America After the Civil War
April 22, 2019
Melvin Goodman
The NYTs Tries to Rehabilitate Bloody Gina Haspel
Robert Fisk
After ISIS, a Divided Iraq, Wounded and Grief-Stricken
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange as Neuroses
John Laforge
Chernobyl’s Deadly Effects Estimates Vary
Kenneth Surin
Mueller Time? Not for Now
Cesar Chelala
Yemen: The Triumph of Barbarism
Kerron Ó Luain
What the “White Irish Slaves” Meme Tells Us About Identity Politics
Andy Piascik
Grocery Store Workers Take on Billion Dollar Multinational
Seiji Yamada – Gregory G. Maskarinec
Health as a Human Right: No Migrants Need Apply
Howard Lisnoff
Loose Bullets and Loose Cannons
Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada
Dreaming in Miami
Graham Peebles
Consuming Stuff: The Polluting World of Fashion
Robert Dodge
Earth Day: Our Planet in Peril
Weekend Edition
April 19, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
What Will It Take For Trump to Get His Due?
Roy Eidelson
Is the American Psychological Association Addicted to Militarism and War?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Time is Blind, Man is Stupid
Joshua Frank
Top 20 Mueller Report “Findings”
Rob Urie
Why Russiagate Will Never Go Away
Paul Street
Stephen Moore Gets Something Right: It’s Capitalism vs. Democracy
Russell Mokhiber
Why Boeing and Its Executives Should be Prosecuted for Manslaughter
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail