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October 13, 2010

The fall of Barack Obama?

As the U.S. midterm elections near, President Barack Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden have announced, in unison, that Democrats have to stop whining: "We've done so much for you; how can you complain! Look at these Republicans, do you want them ruling over you?"

In other words, the Obama administration must now resort to the “at-least-we’re-not-them” strategy.

Why?

They don’t have much else to show after two years. Domestically and internationally, Obama has failed to deliver on crucial promises. Two failures are especially troubling and destructive.

Failure to restore civil liberties:

Early on, Obama refused to prosecute Bush-era Department of Justice officials because he said he wanted to “look forward, not back.” Those who worked with Alberto Gonzalez, John Yoo, etc. to formulate torture laws during the heat of the “War on Terror.” got off Scot free.

Obama also did not discontinue illegal wire-tapping by the state’s intelligence community; in fact, he has tried to expand presidential power to include the assassination of U.S. citizens. His mini-crusade against Imam Anwar al-Awlaki is bizarre to say the least. Claiming that the New Mexico-born al-Awlaki is in collusion with the Yemeni al-Qa‘ida, Obama has called for him to be killed without trial.

This all seems terribly surreal considering that Obama ran on a “liberty-first” campaign that seemed to shift away from Bush’s morbid civil rights record. Yet, Obama’s record on civil liberties is worse because not even George Bush tried to assassinate American citizens.

Failure to reduce U.S. violence in the Middle East:

Although Obama never campaigned on an explicitly anti-war platform, he did run on an implicit one. Since the beginning of his presidency, he has continued the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Pakistan and Yemen. Drone air attacks in Pakistan and Yemen have killed hundreds of civilians.

While sticking to the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) to pull around 15,000 U.S. troops out of Iraq in August, Obama has reneged on his pledge to pull out all combatants by Sept. 1. In fact, around 50,000 troops will remain, labeled “advisory and assistance brigades.”

To offset the mandated SOFA withdrawals, Obama also plans an upsurge in the number of private contractors/mercenaries from corporations like DynCorp and Blackwater Worldwide (now Xe), which already protect American diplomats and officials. As Timothy Scahill reported in The Nation just prior to the August withdrawal:

“The State Department is asking Congress to approve funds to more than double the number of private security contractors in Iraq with a State Department official testifying in June at a hearing of the Wartime Contracting Commission that the Department wants ‘between 6,000 and 7,000 security contractors.’ The Department also has asked the Pentagon for twenty-four Blackhawk helicopters, fifty Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected (MRAP) vehicles and other military equipment.”

This policy effectively shows that the Obama administration has made the U.S. footprint in the Middle East larger than ever, and is not committed to letting Iraqis shape their own future.

Not far away, Obama—sticking very much to his campaign message—has increased troops in Afghanistan by at least 30,000. Like the previous administration, the Obama establishment cannot break out of what Glenn Greenwald at Salon.com calls the “War on Terror logic”:

“The very idea that we’re going to spend an entire decade dropping a constant stream of bombs and other munitions on and in multiple Muslim countries and otherwise interfere in their governments—and then expect that nobody will try to attack us back—evinces such a child-like sense of imperial entitlement that it’s hard to put into words.”

The campaign in Afghanistan has yielded a number of gruesome incidents involving Afghan noncombatants that were released to the whistle-blowing organization Wikileaks, which subsequently released the 90,000-page trove to the New York Times, The Guardian, and Der Spiegel. One under-publicized incident involved the murder of five individuals, including two pregnant women and a teenage girl, in the province of Paktia. After the shooting, the soldiers even tried to hide the crime by prying out the bullets and washing the wounds with alcohol.

The perpetuation of occupation and violence, however, is not entirely Obama’s fault. Neither is the proliferation of the U.S. security state. As Dana Priest and William Arkin showed in Top Secret America,” a report for the Washington Post, the mammoth security state is so large and uncontrollable, that no single individual could be responsible for its extensive proliferation, and certainly no individual could single-handedly destroy it.

When he ran for president, Obama presented himself exactly as what he was—a slightly liberal centrist. He made almost no concrete promises, and what little he did say was mere slogans. Now, the idea of Obama—whatever is left from those hopeful campaign speeches—has collapsed. Those who put absolute faith and hope in him and endowed him with institution-toppling powers are disappointed, but only because they trusted their political judgment.

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