December 01, 2009

A Deadly Liar and Manipulator

To all those who repeatedly claimed that, no matter what "mistakes" he might make and regardless of the scope of the devastating effects of those errors, Obama had to represent a markedly better choice than McCain, take note: in certain respects, Obama is far more dangerous than McCain could have been. For the same reasons, Obama is also more dangerous than Bush was. I remind you that I have written numerous essays damning Bush for almost every single one of his policies. It is hardly the case that I viewed Bush in anything approaching a positive light, however remotely.

In large part, the danger represented by Obama arises from the fact that Obama's election gutted whatever effective opposition might have existed. To their eternal shame, the Democrats never opposed Bush in any way that mattered -- but at least the possibility of opposition had not been obliterated entirely. In the near term and probably for longer, that possibility now appears to have been extinguished. I've been writing about this aspect of Obama and what he embodies for some time; see, as one example, "The Fatal Illusion of Opposition." As I noted in a later article:
I confess that I am very fearful for the future of this country, even more fearful than I have been in the Bush years. And that, I also confess, is a development I would never have predicted. But there had been the possibility of opposition over the past seven years, although it finally became clear that all such opposition was a deadly illusion, and that the nominal opposition was in certain respects even guiltier than the Bush criminals.

An Obama victory will kill much of the possibility for meaningful political opposition for good -- that is, opposition that might significantly alter the existing system without destroying it (if that is at all possible, which I am almost entirely convinced it is not). But the resentments, the anger and possibly even the hatred will remain, and they may grow. What happens then?

It hardly bears thinking about.
Even given my views over a substantial period of time, I have to admit that I was taken aback by one aspect of Obama's speech this evening on Afghanistan. I wasn't mistaken about the policies he would announce, or the obviously false arguments he would employ to justify those policies. About all that, I was correct in every detail; see the immediately preceding article for the details. Nor was I surprised by the number and comprehensiveness of the lies Obama told. On the occasion of Obama's widely-heralded speech about race in America, I wrote:
Almost every politician lies, and most politicians lie repeatedly. Yet in one sense, Obama's speech is exceptional, rare and unique -- but not for any of the reasons offered by Obama's uncritical, mindless adulators. It is exceptional for this reason: it is rare that a candidate will announce in such stark, comprehensive terms that he will lie about every fact of moment, about every aspect of our history that affects the crises of today and that has led to them, about everything that might challenge the mythological view of America. But that is what Obama achieved with this speech. It may be a remarkable achievement -- a remarkable and detestable one, and one that promises endless destruction in the future, both here and abroad.
Before discussing the aspect of Obama's speech that most concerns me -- and that, I respectfully submit, should deeply concern you -- let me note that Obama made very clear that he purportedly intends to extricate us from Central Asia by involving us in increasingly complex ways in the affairs of both Afghanistan and Pakistan. If you think that is a glaringly obvious contradiction, you're entirely correct. How exactly do you leave that region of the world more quickly by involving yourself in ever more complicated and numerous ways? The answer is that you don't. But as my previous article stated, we aren't leaving. Obama and the U.S. government are not unlike the dreaded house guest who insistently tells you he's going home in just another week or two -- honestly, he is, and how could you possibly not believe him? -- even as he redecorates your extra bedroom at notable cost and takes over several of your closets for many of his most precious belongings. You hear his words, and you see what he does -- and your heart sinks as you realize that a life of independence, a life that is yours, is gone.

Consider the extent of our ongoing involvement in all aspects of life in Afghanistan:
Second, we will work with our partners, the UN, and the Afghan people to pursue a more effective civilian strategy, so that the government can take advantage of improved security.

This effort must be based on performance. The days of providing a blank check are over. President Karzai's inauguration speech sent the right message about moving in a new direction. And going forward, we will be clear about what we expect from those who receive our assistance. We will support Afghan Ministries, Governors, and local leaders that combat corruption and deliver for the people. We expect those who are ineffective or corrupt to be held accountable. And we will also focus our assistance in areas – such as agriculture – that can make an immediate impact in the lives of the Afghan people.
Were Obama and the U.S. appointed dictator of Afghanistan? I seem to have missed that bit of news. Almost immediately after that passage, Obama said: "So tonight, I want the Afghan people to understand - America seeks an end to this era of war and suffering. We have no interest in occupying your country."

This is the advantage of holding a gun to someone's head: your victim isn't about to call you a goddamned liar when you can pull the trigger at any moment.

And consider what Obama said about Pakistan:
In the past, we too often defined our relationship with Pakistan narrowly. Those days are over. Moving forward, we are committed to a partnership with Pakistan that is built on a foundation of mutual interests, mutual respect, and mutual trust. We will strengthen Pakistan's capacity to target those groups that threaten our countries, and have made it clear that we cannot tolerate a safe-haven for terrorists whose location is known, and whose intentions are clear. America is also providing substantial resources to support Pakistan's democracy and development. We are the largest international supporter for those Pakistanis displaced by the fighting. And going forward, the Pakistani people must know: America will remain a strong supporter of Pakistan's security and prosperity long after the guns have fallen silent, so that the great potential of its people can be unleashed.
If you think we're leaving this part of the world any time soon, or perhaps even in your lifetime, you'll believe anything. But that's all right: lots of Americans do precisely that.

But all of this is standard issue for rulers of Empire; the rhetoric and presentation may be of better quality than offered by Bush or that would have issued from McCain, but the points are essentially identical. What I find both revealing and disturbing is the concluding section of Obama's speech; more specifically, there are two elements that Obama put together in a way that is extraordinarily manipulative. I also consider it exceedingly dangerous.

Look at the final section that begins, "Finally, we must draw on the strength of our values..." Obama tells a series of notable lies here, starting with his very next sentence: "That is why we must promote our values by living them at home – which is why I have prohibited torture and will close the prison at Guantanamo Bay." Guantanamo "will close," at some future date that forever recedes from the present. And Obama may have said the words that "prohibit[] torture" -- but Bush said the same words, to the same effect. In fact, Obama has emphatically not ended the practice of torture: as proof, consult this article and this one (and there are more than a few additional articles elsewhere making the same and related points).

Obama's description of the unique role played by the United States tells the usual story of "American exceptionalism." We might appreciate the uniformity of the ruling class's view on this point, captured in this passage from earlier tonight:
Since the days of Franklin Roosevelt, and the service and sacrifice of our grandparents, our country has borne a special burden in global affairs. We have spilled American blood in many countries on multiple continents. We have spent our revenue to help others rebuild from rubble and develop their own economies. We have joined with others to develop an architecture of institutions – from the United Nations to NATO to the World Bank – that provide for the common security and prosperity of human beings.
This is indistinguishable from the views of Irving Kristol, widely considered the "godfather" of the neoconservative movement, views which I recently recalled in this piece. For Kristol as for Obama, the impersonal, unanswerable forces of history have placed this "special burden" on America's shoulders. We don't want to run the world, but no one else is sufficiently special or unique to do the job; as Kristol so wretchedly and dishonestly put it, it was all just "our bad luck." We had to do it -- for the good of everyone who lives on Earth. This is the all-purpose disinfectant for crimes of staggering magnitude: the U.S. murders more than a million innocent Iraqis, but we did it for the Iraqis' "own good"; we torture, but we only do it because our enemies leave us no choice -- and we learn very early that the infliction of pain is the path to moral improvement, most especially for the improvement of those weaker than ourselves.

As was true of Obama's speech on race, the lies this evening were breathtaking in their scope:
For unlike the great powers of old, we have not sought world domination. Our union was founded in resistance to oppression. We do not seek to occupy other nations. We will not claim another nation's resources or target other peoples because their faith or ethnicity is different from ours. What we have fought for – and what we continue to fight for – is a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if other peoples' children and grandchildren can live in freedom and access opportunity.
You might object to these proclamations by pointing out, as one singularly contradictory fact, that the U.S. maintains a global empire of military bases. Your objection is easily parried by the earlier part of the argument: But don't you see we don't want to do this? This isn't what we would choose, if the world would only behave itself. The United States has no choice about any of this, not if we want a world of security and peace. And that is what you want, isn't it?

Thus do domination, control and power serve as their own justification. This is what Kristol believes, it is what Obama believes -- and he told you he believed all this two and a half years ago -- and it is what everyone in the American ruling class who wields power believes.

With this background, I want you to read or reread the final paragraphs of Obama's speech. It is this passage more than any other that causes me to conclude that Obama is an extraordinarily dangerous man, and a manipulator of the first order:
In the end, our security and leadership does not come solely from the strength of our arms. It derives from our people – from the workers and businesses who will rebuild our economy; from the entrepreneurs and researchers who will pioneer new industries; from the teachers that will educate our children, and the service of those who work in our communities at home; from the diplomats and Peace Corps volunteers who spread hope abroad; and from the men and women in uniform who are part of an unbroken line of sacrifice that has made government of the people, by the people, and for the people a reality on this Earth.

This vast and diverse citizenry will not always agree on every issue – nor should we. But I also know that we, as a country, cannot sustain our leadership nor navigate the momentous challenges of our time if we allow ourselves to be split asunder by the same rancor and cynicism and partisanship that has in recent times poisoned our national discourse.

It is easy to forget that when this war began, we were united – bound together by the fresh memory of a horrific attack, and by the determination to defend our homeland and the values we hold dear. I refuse to accept the notion that we cannot summon that unity again. I believe with every fiber of my being that we – as Americans – can still come together behind a common purpose. For our values are not simply words written into parchment – they are a creed that calls us together, and that has carried us through the darkest of storms as one nation, one people.

America – we are passing through a time of great trial. And the message that we send in the midst of these storms must be clear: that our cause is just, our resolve unwavering.
We will go forward with the confidence that right makes might, and with the commitment to forge an America that is safer, a world that is more secure, and a future that represents not the deepest of fears but the highest of hopes.
Two aspects of these remarks are noteworthy; I consider both to be abominable in their meaning and intent.

Obama maintains that "our security and leadership" ultimately "derives from our people," and he then itemizes certain of those "people" ("workers," "entrepreneurs," "teachers," and so on). It's obvious that Obama means you, and me, and every other "ordinary" American. What may not be immediately obvious is much more significant. Given the context of this speech, and in light of Obama's announcement that the U.S. will remain in Central Asia for decades to come (in addition to being involved in virtually every other region of the world in numerous ways), Obama thus seeks to implicate you in the crimes of Empire. Never mind that the ruling class will act as it chooses for its own interests, and that they don't give a damn about you except insofar as you provide the money and blood for their damnable work. Forget the fact that you are incapable of redirecting the actions of the U.S. government, and that your only choice is to withdraw your support when the crimes become too ghastly for you to allow yourself to be associated with them any longer.

No, according to Obama the crimes of Empire are your crimes. The work of Empire is your work. You are as responsible, and as guilty, as anyone. Obama maintains that you cannot disown it, even if you wish to.

And that leads directly into the second aspect of these concluding remarks. Read this sentence again: "But I also know that we, as a country, cannot sustain our leadership nor navigate the momentous challenges of our time if we allow ourselves to be split asunder by the same rancor and cynicism and partisanship that has in recent times poisoned our national discourse."

To make certain you understand him, Obama makes the same point a moment later: "I refuse to accept the notion that we cannot summon that unity again. I believe with every fiber of my being that we – as Americans – can still come together behind a common purpose."

Obama has put us all on notice: if we disagree with his policies, if we condemn the endless series of aggressive wars waged by the U.S., we are imperiling the strength and security of the United States itself. If we dare to criticize him or the actions of the U.S. government, we are displaying "rancor and cynicism and partisanship" that will "split asunder" the absolutely necessary national "unity." If we challenge Obama on any point of importance, we are "poisoning" the "national discourse."

In other words: disagreement on any matter of moment is not only dangerous, but illegitimate and even immoral. And if you consider the logical end of this argument, and what has happened before in American history (see this post about what happened during both World Wars, under Democratic presidents; much more about Wilson, World War I and the suppression of dissent will be found here), there is a further meaning: such disagreement may well be criminal.

No, I am not saying that Obama makes this full argument in explicit terms. He hasn't -- not yet. But look at the meaning of what he has said -- and consider the principles upon which that view rests, and where those principles can lead. But most people will focus only on the immediate problem of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and this very ominous warning will escape them.

To return to one of the points from which we began: when Bush or others in his administration made efforts in this direction, they were quickly condemned. If McCain had offered similar statements, he would almost certainly have been similarly condemned, out of primitive partisanship if for no other reason. But who will object when Obama makes such statements? Other than a few disaffected people like me, anyone at all? Anyone of note? I very much doubt it. We shall see.

Many of my articles over the last few years have analyzed what I consider to be the great dangers represented by Obama. My judgment of him has been consistently negative in the extreme. But I have to say that I now think I underestimated just how dangerous he may prove to be in time. And in terms of his concluding remarks tonight, what might happen if there were, may God forbid, another attack in the U.S. on the scale of 9/11 or even worse? What would Obama say and, more importantly, what might he propose to do about those who displayed "rancor" or "cynicism" or "partisanship," or who "poisoned" the "national discourse," thus perilously undermining national "unity"?

In the wake of such an attack here at home, who would oppose him? Would anyone dare to? And if they did, at what cost?

Vigilance, my friends. Eternal vigilance, as the man said.