Imperial Blind Spots and a Question for Obama

Photograph Source: thierry ehrmann – CC BY 2.0

The biggest of the many moral blind-spots that mar the politics of the Democratic Party is American imperialism.

Biden Helped Lead the Charge into Iraq

Look at the Inauthentic Opposition Party’s[1] presumptive presidential nominee.

Biden recently chided Donald Trump in not-so veiled terms for failing to overthrow the democratically elected socialist Maduro government of Venezuela? How imperialist was that?

Go back seventeen years. Joe Biden did not just briefly go along with and get “fooled” by George W. Bush’s case for undertaking the monumentally criminal, racist, mass-murderous, and petro-imperialist invasion of Iraq in 2003. Biden helped champion that epic imperial transgression as a veteran Democratic leader in the U.S. Senate. This was consistent with his strong support for Bill Clinton’s lethal economic sanctions (responsible for the death of at least half a million Iraqi children) and missile strikes on Iraq, for Clinton’s criminal bombing of Serbia, and (later) for (of course) his future boss Barack Obama’s many targeted drone assassinations and disastrous attack on Libya.

Why does this not cancel his candidacy? Because of the giant blind spot that Democrats have on the U.S. imperialism past and present.

Tammy Duckworth was Not “Defending America” or “Democracy”

It is, yes, absurd and offensive for Fatherland News’ star white-nationalist commentator Tucker Carlson to say that U.S. Senator and wounded “Iraq War” veteran Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) “hates America” because she thinks it merits discussion that George Washington was a slaveowner should be heard. George Washington (known to the Iroquois as “Town Destroyer”) was a big-time slaveowner. Anyone who doubts that that makes his national glorification morally problematic is a stinking racist bastard like Tucker Carlson.

But here’s something else that is absurd: Democratic politicos and their media allies leaping to Duckworth defense by claiming that she was injured while “defending democracy” and America. That is Orwellian nonsense: the U.S. invasion, occupation, torture, and damn-near murder of Iraq was a brazenly imperial action. Iraq posed no threat – zero – to the United States in March of 2003.

Bounty Bombast

Look at the drama that Democrats and their many media allies have created over the claim that “Russia paid the Taliban bounties for killing our soldiers in Afghanistan.” The claim is highly dubious, to say the least: even the so-called U.S. intelligence community cannot say for certain that the “bounty program” existed. But what if it did? Who is Uncle Sam to be getting riled up over Russians and Afghans killing American occupation troops half-way across the world just below Russia’s southern border? The U.S. equipped and trained Islamo-fundamentalist extremists like Osama bin-Laden to murder masses Afghanis and Russians in Afghanistan during the late 1970s and 1980s.

What would Washington be doing if Chinese and/or Russian troops were strutting around “on patrol” in northern Mexico? Paying bounties to Mexican drug gangs for every Russian and/or Chinese soldier killed there? No: The Pentagon would be launching missiles and sending in combat troops in the name of the Monroe Doctrine.

And why does anyone think the Taliban needs money from Moscow to want to kill imperial troops occupying their country from the other side of the world?

This is the kind of total absurdity that arises from the doctrinally imposed blind spot that plagues the Democratic Party and its backers.

The Audacity of Orwellian Deletion

With rare marginalized exceptions like Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel, Democratic presidential candidates never acknowledge the giant world-historical historical reality that is U.S. imperialism. Take the deeply conservative Barack Obama, whose center-right record has been ironically burnished by the neofascist president (Donald Trump) he helped birth. Released just as he prepared to announce his presidential candidacy in late 2006, Barack Obama’s widely read 2006 book The Audacity of Hope praised the militant racist Woodrow Wilson for seeing that “it was in America’s interest to encourage the self-determination of all peoples [emphasis added] and provide the world  a legal framework that could help avoid future conflicts” (p. 283).

Too bad the Wilson administration’s extreme racism found expression in the brutal U.S. invasions of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. As Noam Chomsky noted, “Wilson’s troops murdered, destroyed, reinstituted virtual slavery and demolished the constitutional system in Haiti.”  These actions followed in accord with Wilson Secretary of State Robert Lansing’s belief that “the African race are devoid of any capacity for political organization” and possessed “an inherent tendency to revert to savagery and to cast aside the shackles of civilization which are irksome to their physical nature.”

Obama’s Audacity audaciously honored U.S. Cold War foreign policymakers for combining “Wilsonian idealism” with “humility regarding America’s ability to control events around the world” (p. 284).  Obama justified lovely examples of that “humility” like the U.S. overthrow of democratically elected governments in Iran (1953) and Guatemala (1954) and the sponsorship of mass-murderous dictatorships in Indonesia, Latin America (Brail, Chile, Paraguay, etc.) and across the world by recycling the doctrinal myth that the U.S. was protecting the world against an “expansionist” and “totalitarian” Soviet Union (p. 284).

In a further act of Orwellian audacity, Obama’s Audacity claimed that “the biggest casualty” of the “Vietnam War” was “the bond of trust between the American people and their government and between American themselves” – not the 3 to 5 million Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians slaughtered by the “U.S. crucifixion of Southeast Asia” (Chomsky’s excellent phrase at the time). For Obama, the massive and racist imperial onslaught inflicted on peasant nations by the world’s greatest military-industrial power was a “mistake,” not a crime. (He even blamed this “mistake” for helping generate the supposed “radical excesses” of 1960s protests!)

Consistent with it right-wing take on the so-called Vietnam War, Obama’s Audacity of Hope also failed to accurately identify the George W. Bush administration’s Biden-backed invasion of Iraq as a monumental crime. In Obama’s myopic eyes, Bush and Biden’s (and Hillary Clinton’s) invasion was a strategic blunder – a “dumb” and “botched” (p.308)war but not a criminal one, It was carried out with “the best of [democratic] intentions” (pp. 290-309).  It was a mistaken effort “to impose democracy with the barrel of a gun” (p.317).

Obama’s blood-soaked imperial presidency was richly congruent with the whitewashing of U.S. foreign relations history in The Audacity of Hope – and in various speeches candidate Obama gave to elite foreign policy groups. Survivors of the Obama years in Honduras (where Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary aided and abetted a vicious right wing coup), Venezuela, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, northern Africa, Palestine and Yemen (among other locations) can tell you a thing or to about it.

And so it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut used to say.

Pentagon-Budgetary Cancel Culture

The Democratic Party’s blind spot on imperialism informs and reinforces its giant matching and disastrous blind spot on the Pentagon budget, which accounts for nearly 40 percent of global military spending and up eats more well more than half of federal discretionary spending. The nation’s vast military outlay cancels out remotely proper domestic social spending while funneling massive taxpayer-funded subsidies to high-tech “defense” (war and empire) companies like Raytheon, Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, and Martin Marietta. Captive to the nation’s giant military-industrial-complex and to corporate and imperial power more broadly even as the nation descends into a runaway pandemic and a Second Great Depression, the Democratic Party has no substantive social policy counter to the extreme right-wing party in presidential, U.S.-Senatorial, Supreme Court, and majority state government power. The Democrats can only pretend to function as a serious popular opposition.

As the Republicans have gone full-on white nationalist and apocalyptic under the command of the Orange Fascist Death Machine (OFDM) called Donald Trump, the dismal, dollar-drenched Democrats spent three years ostensibly trying to the nail the OFDM not for its worst crimes – racist-nativist-sexist neofascism, reckless war-mongering, bacteriological terrorism, and (last not least) eco-cide – but for being corruptly out of step with U.S.-imperial foreign policy vis-à-vis Russia and Eastern Europe. As the liberal Russian dissident Masha Gessen tried to warn Democrats early on, the “Russia Conspiracy Trap” proved a great political gift to the OFDM, which has been accurately described by Chomsky as “the most dangerous criminal in human history.”

Hey Obama: Is it the Apocalypse Yet?

Speaking of fascism, apocalypse, Trump, and Obama, here’s what Obama said privately to the “lying neoliberal warmonger” Hillary Clinton’s Weimar-like vice-presidential candidate Tim Kaine during the 2016 presidential campaign: “Tim, remember…you’ve got to keep a fascist out of the White House.” Obama 44, no fool, had an accurate read on his successor, but his assessment was for private and elite consumption only. Here is what Obama said to the American people the day after Trump was elected:

“Now, everybody is sad when their side loses an election. But the day after, we have to remember that we’re actually all on one team. This is an intramural scrimmage. We’re not Democrats first. We’re not Republicans first. We are Americans first. We’re patriots first. We all want what’s best for this country. That’s what I heard in Mr. Trump’s remarks last night. That’s what I heard when I spoke to him directly.”

And here’s what Obama has just said to younger staff in the Oval office before giving us all the good news about how the next president wanted what was “best for this country”: “This is not the apocalypse.”

When The New Yorker’s editor David Remnick asked Obama about that consoling remark two days later, Obama said “I don’t believe in the apocalyptic – until the apocalypse comes. I think nothing is the end of the world until the end of the world.”

Here we are three years and eight months later. The U.S. is heading to a world-leading 200,000 or more COVID-19 deaths (“America[ns] First”!) by September while the OFDM encourages millions of Amerikaners to disregard and even resist basic public health recommendations. The OFDM has just falsely claimed that the coronavirus is “harmless in 99% of cases.” It has threatened to cut federal funding for school districts who determine that it is unsafe to resume in-person classes next fall. It has pulled the U.S. out of the World Health Organization amidst the global pandemic. Meanwhile, the tangerine-tinted mad-dog killer is taking his fascistic conduct to new heights, embracing “white power” and calling Black Lives Matter a “hate”-slogan while all-too quietly doing everything he can to destroy what’s left of livable ecology.

All of this and more raises an interesting question: Hey Obama, is it the apocalypse yet? Are we there yet?

It probably doesn’t feel like it on a $12 million mansion on Martha’s Vineyard, but it sure does down here on the mean streets of Chicago, where Obama falsely claimed to be from many years ago.


1. The description of the Democrats as the “Inauthentic Opposition” belongs to the late Princeton political scientist Sheldon Wolin. In his 2008 book Democracy Incorporated: Corporate-Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism, published just half a year before Obama was elected, the Princeton philosopher Sheldon Wolin laid out the nature of what was to come. “Should Democrats somehow be elected,” Wolin prophesied, they would do nothing to “alter significantly the direction of society” or “substantially revers[e] the drift rightwards. … The timidity of a Democratic Party mesmerized by centrist precepts,” Wolin wrote, “points to the crucial fact that for the poor, minorities, the working class and anti-corporatists there is no opposition party working on their behalf.” The corporatist Democrats would work to “marginalize any possible threat to the corporate allies of the Republicans.” It was a prophetic observation. A nominal Democrat was elected president along with Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress in 2008. What followed under Obama (as under his Democratic presidential predecessor Bill Clinton)– was the standard “elite” corporate and financial manipulation of campaign populism and identity politics in service to the reigning big-money bankrollers and their global empire. For similar predictions issued around the time, see my 2008 book Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (New York: Rooutledge, 2008). For an early “told-you-so” catalogue of Obama’s White House service to each of what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, called “the triple evils that are interrelated: – racism, poverty/class inequality/capitalism, and militarism/imperialism – see Paul Street, The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (New York: Routledge, 2010).

Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).