January 21, 2010
The end of politics-2: Obama on Iraq and Afghanistan
(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the publishers Rowman & Littlefield, and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here. You can also listen to the podcast of the interview on WCPN 90.3 about the book.)
Obama and the Democrats came to power on a crest of public anger with opposition to the policies of Bush-Cheney, who had initiated two unjustified and expensive wars and had given huge tax breaks to the rich and business interests, thereby threatening to bankrupt the country. And what have Obama and the Democrats done? Continued almost every policy unchanged, and even expanded the war both in Afghanistan into Pakistan. Although Obama did promise to do the latter, the fact that he did so just shows that war is a favored policy of both parties.
In the light of Obama's decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan, it is worthwhile to watch Bill Moyers' gripping show on how President Lyndon Johnson got sucked deeper into Vietnam in 1964 and 1965. Thanks to the secret recordings of the phone calls between Johnson and his advisors and political and military leaders, we have a revealing glimpse at how, even though a weary Johnson realizes the situation on the ground is hopeless, political calculations force him into escalating the war with the disastrous results that ensued. There is always the danger of seeing the ghost of Vietnam in all conflicts, but it is also foolish to not learn from what happened there.
After grandiosely promising to withdraw troops from Iraq, Obama is dragging his feet. I have long felt that there was a bipartisan agreement to keep US troops in Iraq indefinitely and that Obama was part of that deal. The building of permanent massive military bases in that country (whose construction has gone under the media radar) was for me sufficient evidence that there was never any intention of a total withdrawal. What Obama will do is grandstand when a few troops are brought home while keeping quiet about the fact that many will remain and even increasing the number of mercenaries in that country. The long term goal of the US has been to have a strategic military outpost in that oil-rich region in order to ensure that oil supplies to the US are not threatened and for that they needed a subservient client state. Iraq has become that state.
Paul Craig Roberts points out that Obama is also continuing the policy of subservience to the military-industrial behemoth, bellicosity towards Iran, and groveling before the Israel lobby, ignoring or condoning Israel's expansionist settlement policy in the occupied territories and its appalling treatment of Palestinians. That last policy alone is sufficient to guarantee that attacks by Islamic terrorists will continue into the indefinite future.
In an interview on Fresh Air journalist Jeremy Scahill tells host Terry Gross how Obama is continuing the practice of using unaccountable mercenaries like Blackwater in his wars, just the way that Bush-Cheney did.
In Afghanistan, it's more pronounced, though, Terry, because you have about 68,000 U.S. troops operating alongside a whopping 104,000 contractors. And with the recently announced surge in troops, that number's expect to grow at a one-to-one ratio with U.S. troops. So it's quite stunning, the number of contractors that are currently deployed on the U.S. government payroll.
There are about 600 corporations that service the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and these range from KBR, which specializes in logistics, to Blackwater, DynCorp and Triple Canopy, which are essentially paramilitary forces that are working for either the Department of Defense, the Department of State or the CIA.
I mean, this is a stunning rarity in the military history of the United States, where you actually have a theater of war, Afghanistan, where the U.S. military is actually the second-largest force operating in the country.
The disillusionment with Obama is becoming widespread because his abandonment of the goals outlined in his campaign rhetoric and his embrace of Bush-Cheney doctrines has been so blatant. As Roger D. Hodge writes in The Mendacity of Hope (Harper's Magazine, February 2010, p. 7):
Obama promised to end the war in Iraq, end torture, close Guantánamo, restore the constitution, heal our wounds, wash our feet. None of these things has come to pass. As president, with few exceptions, Obama either has embraced the unconstitutional war powers claimed by his predecessor or has left the door open for their quiet adoption at some later date. Leon Panetta, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, has declared that the kidnapping and rendition of foreigners will continue, and the Bush Administration's expansive doctrine of state secrets continues to be used in court against those wrongfully detained and tortured by our security forces and allies. Obama has adopted military commissions, once an unpardonable offense against our best traditions, to prosecute terrorism cases in which legitimate convictions cannot be obtained; when even such mock trials provide too much justice, he will make do with indefinite detention. If, by some slim chance, a defendant were to be found not guilty, we have been assured that the president's "post-acquittal" detention powers would then come into play.
The principle of habeas corpus, sacred to candidate Obama as "the essence of who we are," no longer seems so essential, and reports continue to surface of secret prisons hidden from due process and the Red Cross. Waterboarding has been banned, but other "soft" forms of torture, such as sleep deprivation and force-feeding, continue—as do the practices, which once seemed so terribly important to opponents of the Bush regime, of presidential signing statements and warrantless surveillance. In at least one respect, the Obama Justice Department has produced an innovation: a claim of "sovereign immunity" in response to a lawsuit seeking damages for illegal spying. Not even the minions of George W. Bush, with their fanciful notions of the unitary executive, made use of this constitutionally suspect doctrine, derived from the ancient common-law assumption that "the King can do no wrong," to defend their clear violations of the federal surveillance statute.
As the attorney Glenn Greenwald has argued, in his writings for Salon and elsewhere, the rule of law has not been restored but perverted; what had been outlawed but committed, the law now simply permits. Obama's lawyers, benefiting from Bush-era litigation, can claim conformity with law, but the disgraceful policies continue largely unchanged. Better, smarter legal arguments obtain for policies that should give any decent man nightmares. Our torturers and war criminals and illegal spies and usurpers remain at liberty, unpunished.
Obama has done what once seemed impossible, and that is make George W. Bush, easily one of the worst presidents in US history, actually seem moderate.
POST SCRIPT: Larry Wilmore on Obama's first year
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