Monday, March 31, 2008

Selling Hope And Unity, Obama Makes His Intentions Clear

Hope is a wonderful thing, without which we can achieve nothing of value. And that may be sufficient reason to sell it as a political commodity, but it's not a good reason to buy it.

On the other hand, after seven years of being sold nothing but fear, the American people are ready to buy something different. So "hope" it is, and "unity" too -- two hot-ticket items this year.

But hope for what? Unity behind what? Clearly Barack Obama is hoping the country will unite behind him; but what then would become of the country?

Obama explained his position as clearly as we could ask for in Pennsylvania on Friday, as reported by Devlin Barrett of the AP, via Chris Floyd:

Obama aligns foreign policy with GOP
Sen. Barack Obama said Friday he would return the country to the more "traditional" foreign policy efforts of past presidents, such as George H.W. Bush, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.

At a town hall event at a local high school gymnasium, Obama praised George H.W. Bush — father of the president — for the way he handled the Persian Gulf War: with a large coalition and carefully defined objectives.

"The truth is that my foreign policy is actually a return to the traditional bipartisan realistic policy of George Bush's father, of John F. Kennedy, of, in some ways, Ronald Reagan, and it is George Bush that's been naive and it's people like John McCain and, unfortunately, some Democrats that have facilitated him acting in these naive ways that have caused us so much damage in our reputation around the world," he said.
Under the title "Hope Abandoned: Obama Stands Up for Murder and Plunder", Chris Floyd goes on to explain just what it means to "return" to the "traditional bipartisan realism" that has marked US foreign policy since World War II, with the exception -- according to Barack Obama -- of George W. Bush, who has been -- in Obama's word -- "naive".

You should read the whole piece. But you won't have to go far.

After quoting the AP piece, Chris writes:
Obama is doing two things here, reaching out to two very different audiences, on different wavelengths. First, for the hoi polloi, he is simply pandering in the most shameless way imaginable, throwing out talismans for his TV-addled audience to comfort themselves with: "You like JFK? I'll be like him! You like Reagan? I'll be like him too! You like the first George Bush? Hey, I'll be just like him as well!" This is a PR tactic that goes all the way back to St. Paul the spinmeister, who boasted of his ability to massage his message and "become all things to all men." Obama has long proven himself a master of this particular kind of political whoredom -- much like Bill Clinton, in fact, another champion of "bipartisan foreign policy" who for some strange reason got left off Obama's list of role models.

But beyond all the rubes out there, Obama is also signaling to the real masters of the United States, the military-corporate complex, that he is a "safe pair of hands" -- a competent technocrat who won't upset the imperial applecart but will faithfully follow the 60-year post-war paradigm of leaving "all options on the table" and doing "whatever it takes" to keep the great game of geopolitical dominance going strong.

What other conclusion can you draw from Obama's reference to these avatars, and his very pointed identification with them? He is saying, quite clearly, that he will practice foreign policy just as they did. And what they do? Committed, instigated, abetted and countenanced a relentless flood of crimes, murders, atrocities, deceptions, corruptions, mass destruction and state terrorism.

Obama is telling us -- and the war-profiteering powers-that-be -- that he will give us "realistic policies" like those of John Kennedy. These include his steady march into the quagmire of Vietnam, and the backing of a deadly coup in Saigon to replace one brutal junta with another; greenlighting successful coups in Guyana, the Dominican Republic and Iraq, where the CIA helped the Baath Party come to power; greenlighting the spectacularly unsuccessful Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba, not to mention the terrorist operations and assassination attempts there. As Edward Jay Epstein noted (in John Kennedy Jr.'s magazine George, of all places):
While the Mafia continued its unsuccessful machinations, John F. Kennedy became President and, in April 1961, launched the Bay of Pigs invasion, an attack on a swamp in Cuba by CIA-trained Cuban exiles that ended in disaster. Furious at this humiliating failure, Kennedy summoned Richard Bissell, the head of the CIA's covert operations, to the Cabinet Room and chided him for "sitting on his ass and not doing anything about getting rid of Castro and the Castro regime" (as Bissell recalled). Richard Helms, who succeeded Bissell, also felt "white heat," as he put it, from the Kennedys to get rid of Castro.

By then, the Kennedys had set up their own covert structure for dealing with the Castro problem the Special Group Augmented, which Attorney General Robert Kennedy and General Maxwell Taylor effectively ran and which, in November 1961, launched a secret war against the Castro regime, codenamed Operation Mongoose. Secretary of Defense Robert Strange McNamara, who was not a formal member of this group but attended meetings, later testified: "We were hysterical about Castro at about the time of the Bay of Pigs and thereafter. And there was pressure from JFK and RFK to do something about Castro." It was a "no holds barred" enterprise, as Helms termed it, for which the Special Group Augmented assigned such "planning tasks" as using biological and chemical warfare against Cuban sugar workers; employing Cuban gangsters to kill Cuban police officials, Soviet bloc technicians, and other targeted people; using agents to sabotage mines; and, in what was called Operation Bounty, paying cash bonuses of up to $100,000 for the murder or abduction of government officials.
More of this kind of thing, then, from Obama when he reaches the White House?

As for his other two foreign policy mentors, Reagan and Bush I, the rap sheet is far too long for even a brief accounting here. (And indeed, I've spent much of the past seven years detailing many of these crimes in various venues -- because they involved so many of the same players now spewing filth and blood from the current administration.) We could begin, I suppose, with Reagan and Bush's act of treason in negotiating with Iranian hostage-takers in 1980 to ensure that Teheran would not release the American captives at the U.S. embassy before the November election; in return, Reagan and Bush pledged to provide cash and military hardware to the extremist mullahs, which they duly did. (See here, and here.)

Or we could cite Reagan's ardent support for mass-murdering militarist regimes in Central and South America; the arming and funding of the Contra insurgent army in Nicaragua, which received CIA training in terrorist tactics. Or the Iran-Contra affair, which saw Reagan and Bush ship weapons to the extremist Iranian regime in return for cash which they then gave to their Contra terrorist militia, in flagrant violation of the law. Or Reagan's stupid and pointless invasion of Grenada, which he undertook solely to cover up the embarrassment of his stupid and pointless intervention in Lebanon, where 241 American soldiers were killed after having been dropped into the middle of a multi-sided civil war. Or Reagan's vast expansion of a policy begun under Jimmy Carter of arming, funding, training and organizing a global network of violent Islamic extremists -- a "foreign policy" masterstroke that is still paying dividends today. (Quite literally paying dividends for investors in the defense, security and military servicing industries.)

But at least Obama did qualify his embrace of Reagan's traditional and realistic bipartisan foreign policy, saying that he would emulate "some" of Reagan's approaches. So maybe he will skip on the election-fixing treason and go for supporting mass-murdering militarist regimes instead? Or are we being too cynical? Perhaps Obama means he will follow in the footsteps of some of Reagan's more merciful and reconciliatory policies -- such as the time the Great Communicator laid a wreath at a cemetery where Nazi SS soldiers lie in honored burial: a clear signal from the U.S. president to these dead mass-murderers that "all is forgiven" at last.

Obama offers no qualification at all to his championing of George Herbert Walker Bush however. Indeed, his was the first name uttered in the paean to bipartisan foreign policy. But here too one quails (and Quayles) at the prospect of toting up the high crimes and monstrous follies of this "traditional realist" whom Obama promises to emulate. Should we start with Bush's arming and funding of Saddam Hussein -- long after the latter "gassed his own people" -- and Bush's later perversion of the legal process to cover up his largess to the dictator? Or Bush's pointless and unnecessary invasion of Panama, which killed hundreds if not thousands of innocent people and drove at least 20,000 people from their homes, all to remove a long-time U.S. intelligence "asset," Manuel Noriega, who in the 1970s received fat payments of bribes from the director of the CIA -- one George Herbert Walker Bush?

Or perhaps we should follow Obama's example and point to "the way [Bush] handled the Persian Gulf War." Yes, let's take a closer look at that, since Obama clearly sees it as a model for his own presidency. Here's an excerpt from an earlier piece, Scar Tissue: How the Bushes Brought Bedlam to Iraq (where you will also find much more on Bush's backroom tryst with Saddam):
Then came Bush's "Gulf War," when he turned on his protégé after Saddam made the foolish move of threatening the Kuwaiti royals – Bush's long-time business partners [in the oil business], going back to the early 1960s. Saddam's conflict with Kuwait centered on two main issues: first, his claim that the billions of dollars Kuwait had given Iraq during the war with Iran was simply straightforward aid to the nation that was defending the Sunni Arab world from the aggressive onslaught of the Shiite Persians. The Kuwaitis insisted the money had been a loan, and demanded that Saddam pay off. There was also Saddam's claim that Kuwait was "slant-drilling" into Iraqi oilfields, siphoning off underground reserves from across the border. These disputes raged for months; a deal to resolve them was brokered by the Arab League, but fell apart at the last minute when Kuwait suddenly rejected the agreement, saying, "We will call in the Americans."

How worried was Bush about the situation? Let's look at the historical record. In the two weeks before the invasion of Kuwait, Bush approved the sale of an additional $4.8 million in "dual-use" technology to factories identified by the CIA as linchpins of Hussein's illicit nuclear and biochemical programs, the Los Angeles Times reports. The day before Saddam sent his tanks across the border, Bush obligingly sold him more than $600 million worth of advanced communications technology. A week later, he was declaring that his long-time ally was "worse than Hitler."

Yes, the Kuwaitis had called in their marker. Like a warlord of old, Bush used the US military as a private army to help his business partners. After an extensive bombing campaign that openly – even gleefully – mocked international law in its targeting of civilian infrastructure (a tactic repeated in Serbia by Bill Clinton – now regarded as an "adopted son" by Bush), the brief 100-hour ground war slaughtered fleeing Iraqi conscripts by the thousands – while, curiously, allowing Saddam's crack troops, the aptly-named Republican Guard, to escape unharmed. Later, these troops were used to kill tens of thousands of Shiites who had risen in rebellion against Saddam – at the specific instigation of George Bush, who not only abandoned them to their fate, but specifically allowed Saddam to use his attack helicopters against the rebels, and also ordered US troops to block Shiites from gaining access to arms caches. It was one of the worst, most murderous betrayals in modern history – and has been almost entirely expunged from the American memory.

Then came the Carthaginian "peace" of the victors – Iraq sown with the salt of sanctions, which led to the unnecessary death of at least 500,000 children, according to UN's conservative estimates. The sanction regime actually strengthened Saddam's grip on Iraqi society, as the ravaged people were reduced to surviving on government handouts of food....
Yes, these are truly worthy examples of the kind of traditional, realistic, bipartisan foreign policy that we need more of. And my stars, isn't that Obama a breath of fresh air, promising to take us back to that golden age of yore!

Next up: "Sen. Barack Obama said today that he would appoint Supreme Court Justices 'like John Roberts, Samuel Alito and, in some ways, Antonin Scalia,' in 'a return to a more traditional, realistic, bipartisan judicial philosophy.....'"

P.S. We've said it before and no doubt we'll say it again: an Obama presidency, like a H. Clinton presidency, will mean some measure of genuine mitigation of some of the worst depredations of the Bush Regime. There's no question about that. But no one who openly embraces the foreign policy of Ronald Reagan and George Bush I, or John F. Kennedy for that matter, is going to change in any substantial way the militarist-corporate machine that has already destroyed our democracy, gutted our Constitution, corrupted our system beyond all measure (and probably beyond all repair), and killed – and keeps on killing – hundreds of thousands of innocent people, decade after decade. Given this fact, every American voter must decide, in his or her own conscience, this question: Should I act to mitigate some small measure of the mass suffering wrought by this machine; or does that action, that participation, merely legitimize the machine, and strengthen it?

That is the only question at issue in this election. For none of the prospective presidents offer any hope – audacious or otherwise – of any kind of root-and-branch reform of the imperial system, which will continue to grind on -- in its traditional, realistic, bipartisan way.
I almost always agree with Chris Floyd, but we disagree just a bit this time. My understanding of Kennedy's position on Vietnam is closer to John Newman's analysis (which Noam Chomsky calls "deeply flawed") than it is to Chomsky's (to which Chris links with approval).

In other words, I believe Kennedy was trying to get out of Vietnam, rather than marching into the quagmire there -- certainly Kennedy didn't march in with gusto, the way LBJ did. But this minor disagreement is of little consequence in the long run, and in all other respects (in my humble opinion), Floyd's history lesson is right on the money -- so much so that there's very little left to be said. But that's never stopped me before.

I want to point out that the word "realistic", when used in this context, is meant in the political (i.e. false) sense. When did we ever have a "realistic" policy? We didn't. But we have had some presidents who liked short, sharp wars against small, weak countries, and these are the presidents (if I am right about Kennedy) whom Barack Obama wants to emulate. They didn't attack big countries all alone; if they couldn't drum up a "coalition", they subverted them quietly instead.

This is the "realistic" foreign policy that appeals to Barack Obama. He's not against all wars, he's just against long ones that we lose!

So there's not much to return to. And a turn to something resembling sanity is unthinkable -- not without a full and open investigation of 9/11 (and the subsequent anthrax attacks), and -- even more unlikely -- a full repudiation of George W. Bush's so-called "reaction" to those events.

But Obama won't have it, and there's the rub, because investigating 9/11 and punishing the crimes of the previous administration would be just the first step. The next step would be a repudiation of the foreign policy Barack Obama wants to emulate.

One other point is absolutely critical in this regard: Because the so-called War on Terror has been declared a top-priority item (as opposed to so many of the "realistic, bipartisan" war crimes committed by JFK, RWR and GHWB) it will get all the money it wants, until and unless it is stopped. So Barack Obama's domestic policies have no chance to get funded, unless he ... What am I saying? There's no money left anymore anyhow; even if Obama nuked the Pentagon and never gave the DoD another nickel, there would still be no way out of the mess his predecessors have made.

Not that he's looking for a way out, mind you -- he simply wants to abandon Bush's "naive" ideas about invading and occupying big countries, and return to the traditional, realistic, bipartisan method of "picking up small crappy little countries and throwing them against the wall, just to show the world we mean business" ...

... for as long as we can afford it ...

... even if it means we can never afford anything else.


The perversion of the language is so severe that it's almost impossible to write about these issues without lying. We're in the realm of political "secret code", where the words don't always mean what they mean.

For instance, Obama calls the policies of three of his recent predecessors "realistic", "bipartisan", and "traditional".

There's no doubt that such policies were "bipartisan". In fact, two of the three past presidents Obama mentioned were Republicans.

And there's no doubt that such policies are "traditional" as well -- after all, they've eaten everything in their path for the last 60 years. And that's why we now have nothing left except a government of heinous criminals, a propaganda mill of blood-soaked liars, massively crumbling infrastructure, a crippling national debt, the enmity of the entire world, and these "realistic" policies. Oh yeah, and some private armies, too. I suppose they add to the realism.

Meanwhile, George W. Bush's foreign policy features preemptive, aggressive war based on lies -- not just one lie but a deliberately crafted, expensively packaged, constantly shifting story. It includes bombing defenseless residential neighborhoods. It involves the use of incendiary weapons on innocent civilians. It involves indefinite detention without charges, and torture as a matter of course. And when Barack Obama describes these policies, the word that comes to mind is "naive".

having or showing unaffected simplicity of nature or absence of artificiality; unsophisticated; ingenuous ... having or showing a lack of experience, judgment, or information; credulous ... simple, unaffected, unsuspecting, artless, guileless, candid, open, plain ...
Let's get this straight: the president starts a war based on a pack of lies that kills a million people and destroys the lives of millions of others, and when his lie is exposed, he makes a big joke and laughs about it, and this happens because he's "guileless, candid, open, plain ..."??

How about cynical?
showing contempt for accepted standards of honesty or morality by one's actions, esp. by actions that exploit the scruples of others ... selfishly or callously calculating: showed a cynical disregard for the safety of his troops in his efforts to advance his reputation.
But that's not a hopeful and unifying message, is it?