Obama addresses CEO's in Washington 5 Dec. 2012Such a deal: capitulation to the right.
Obama's reelection to a second term, a vote of confidence on his policies and performance, justifies a new assertiveness and strength against his Republican opponents. But is this promise going to be fulfilled? Maybe he will manage to get that extra 2% back on the taxes (rarely paid) of the super-rich. He is standing firm -- finally-- on that. But his statements about the current "Fiscal Cliff" nonsense (his even acknowledging this bugaboo showing weakness) arouse a concern. He seems poised for further -- unnecessary -- capitulation to the right on "entitlements," the basic social safety net the Republicans are pledged to shred ASOP and Obama all along has shown a readiness to cede, at least in part. As Paul Krugman wrote
recently, Let's not make a deal.
But Obama still looks all ready to make one. Incarcerations and deportations
. "Closing Guantanamo," one of the various promises not kept the first time, is now announced to mean shutting that facility and moving the same prisoners to different locations. That wasn't what we meant. So the original prisoners, hastily seized on dubious charges in many cases, will be kept on, as Bush intended, without trial and without even charges brought. This step goes hand in hand with Obama's anti-immigration policies pursued through most of his first term. Statistics show
Obams has deported more people than President Bush, "Dream" gestures notwithstanding. It is a hallmark of the Obama Presidency, in contrast to the blunter (but Texas-raised and more Latino-friendly) Bush, to present a pleasing front, while carrying out brutal actions. Assertiveness and strength, perhaps, but behind a mask of blandness, and not assertiveness and strength of the kind progressives are looking for. Bradley Manning at court appearanceRepression of speech.
Obama has outdone his predecessors in repression of whistleblowers, a policy his administration even boasts of. The show case is that of Bradley Manning, who has recently testified that he thought he would die in custody. Obama is responsible for the two-year violation of Manning's basic human rights and of international law, a brutal period of incarceration that ought to gain his release or at least a reduced sentence; but we shall see. Manning is just one example of a general policy. Speaking up to power gets worse punishment under Obama than under Bush. Julian Assange
The direct corollary is the official US government response to WikiLeaks, which it has sought to bankrupt by forcing credit card companies to cut off donations, while hounding its founder Julian Assange, who sought refuge at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to avoid trial in Sweden and likely extradition by the Swedes to the US, where he might suffer an even worse fate than Manning. To judge by the enthusiastic use of WikiLeaks' major revelations by some of the West's major newspapers, these two men performed a useful service to the world. Daniel Ellsberg thinks so. The US's stance toward Manning and Assange reflects the current administration's repressive policies, not so different after all from the "red baiting" of the Fifties, though thankfully we don't live in the atmosphere of fear and repression that prevailed back then. Things have improved; we're just looking at whether that has anything to do with Obama.License to kill.
The Bush policy of the euphemistically named "extraordinary rendition," sending uncharged "terrorists" to other countries secretly to be tortured to death, has been replaced under Obama by something called "drones," unmanned devices sent off even more secretly to assassinate people anywhere at all, usually with some "collateral damage," of course -- which is when we learn about them. Why bother to torture when you can simply rub them out where they live? This was one of the big shockers of Obama1: learning that the President ticked off his own personal international hit list, subject to no oversight by anybody else. Push-button killing, ideal for yet another US leader unaware of the realities of war, this time one who never even did pro forma military duty as sometime member of a state national guard. (Actually, Obama has allowed the CIA to continue "extraordinary rendition.") Global warming failure: fiddling while the planet burns.
The failure of leadership for which Obama may be most remembered is on global warming. This is the US's crucial responsibility today, as the major first world polluter and the power that could have the most decisive effect in reversing or at least slowing climate change. A phrase or two about a "warming planet" by the President is a timid step onto a bandwagon with nothing to back it. At COP 18
, the UN Climate Change Conference at Doha, Qatar, the arrogant US representative, Jonathan Pershing, blandly stonewalled, promising absolutely nothing and declaring the US's efforts on climate change to have been "enormous." Sure, the US has taken some actions, but it has not shown global leadership. As many have pointed out, the US should be particularly aware of its own vulnerability after the effects of Hurricane Sandy, but such is not the case. The US is joined by the other rich nations in decisively not
providing essential leadership in climate action, thereby effectively "locking in"
unsustainable changes that will displace millions in the not-too-distant future. The Obama administration -- who else is in charge? -- will bear significant responsibility for leaving island nations, coastal cities, and future generations doomed and insuring worldwide chaos when millions are displaced by drought and rising waters. This failure by the US under Obama's leadership isn't just numbing and depressing and more of the same, like others: in this case it's downright terrifying. Survivors of flooded island of Leyte, PhilippinesThe Middle East.
There seems little hope of change in the US's stances on Middle Eastern politics under Obama2. Ultimately the Arab Spring got only the expected pro forma better-late-than-never nods. Iran remains under threat, with Israel hawks' desire to bomb Tehran just held in check. Worst of all, Obama gave blind, rote support to Israel's recent attack on Gaza. He made no mention of the rights or concerns of the Palestinian people, depicting them only as the attackers. He never acknowledged that they are powerless semi-prisoners while Israel is the most heavily armed nation in the region by a wide margin and was inflicting tens of times more deaths, casualties, and damage. This bias bodes ill for Washington as any kind of "broker" for a two-state solution. And anyway that solution has been virtually doomed by the new settlements splitting Gaza in two, which got only the gentlest of raps on the knuckles from ObamaPollution and oil.
Money talks. And therefore Obama promises US oil self-sufficiency, at the cost, of course, of the American environment, since harvesting US oil requires more dangerous and highly polluting methods than are possible in the oil-rich Middle East. This has nothing to do with saving the environment and everything to do with short-term profit and abdication of global responsibility. It's the kind of stance that made sense when a Republican administration adopted it -- par for the course, the favoring of large US corporations -- but when it comes from a Democratic President, it underlines the increasing lack of any difference between the two parties and between Obama and his Republican predecessor. The blending together of both parties and their abdication of responsibility was recently described
by longtime Republican policy maker Kevin Philips. All this makes one begin to agree with Brad Pitt's hit man character's blunt speech at the end of the new movie, Killing Them Softly
in which he declares America is a business, not a country.
In those terms, Obama is not the CEO; there are bigger, stronger CEO's. He is just a front man.Pursuit of empire.
Obama excels, like previous occupants of the Oval Office, as acting as a spearhead in the pursuit of US militarism. He wound down the US invasion of Iraq only to build up "his" war, piggy-backing Bush again, focusing on Afghanistan. But this again is just show, because the main thing is keeping up the US's military presence
all over the globe, 800 bases in 63 countries. That has not changed and is not going to be reduced to help the starving and jobless. It is clear that continued world domination is a top priority for Obama, as it has been for his predecessors, no matter what the human cost. We're basically on our own.
Barack Obama is a nice gentleman, a shooting star in politics if a bit inexperienced for the presidency, who is filled with good will, you can be sure. And you may be sure that not
carrying out the continuations of past policies and capitulations to the right I've enumerated in this essay would be very hard for him. He faces Republican opposition (but with greater Democratic and administration strength, which he would do well to make use of) and the much greater force of the banks and the corporations, if he attempts to accomplish anything positive for democracy and a sane, safe world for future generations. Yet it is his job to do these things, so he implied, and so his supporters have a right to assume.
Don't count on his doing them on his own, though. It's perfectly clear that neither Obama nor the people around him has anything much to do with progressive politics. Americans who voted for Obama need to realize this and act accordingly. This is no time to assume all is in good hands and that the President is doing the best that he can. It is the people's duty to demand their rights. To keep taking stands. Keep saying no. Keep petitioning. Keep demonstrating and protesting. Progressive change doesn't come from the top.