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Obama’s a Politician


I want to write a more uplifting and useful blog about the Vandana-Shiva style collective knowledge of knots, about how much mental stimulation and constructive use you can get out of some string, maybe even suggest avenues for some non-verbal, cross-cultural exchange…. But I have to get this off my chest.

Paul Street’s blog and comments got the ball rolling ages ago. (May 21, 2009)

YOUNG LEFT-LIBERAL (writes back to say): Didn’t intend to antagonize.  My bad.  I have read (not all the way through yet) your book on Obama.  And yes, when I think of it now, you do in fact acknowledge the bright as well as the darkness.  One thing that keeps me going is that even Obama himself acknowledged — though as you’d know he doesn’t say this anymore — that change "doesn’t happen from the top down."

STREET RESPONSE (writes back to say):  I’m not antagonized. Your question(s) helped clarify key interpretive matters.  I think you may care too much about what Obama thinks. Change doesn’t happen from the top down, it happens from the bottom — yes, and it does so regardless of the Dali Obama’s opinion!

Yes you are right we don’t hear that from Obama since he won the election. For what it’s worth See the latest Newsweek where the’re a piece by some Newsweek editor titled "Getting to Know Obama" or something like that and in which the editor (whose writer the self-described "establishment" journalist  Jon Meacham just did a big interview with "Obama on Obama") talks about how Obama just "relishes [holding and wielding] power" and "making the world in his image" and so on….Gee great. Pretty disgusting.

And then Tom Engelhardt kicks the ball along (hammers another nail into the coffin filled with Obama hope) with his June 14, 2009 TomDispatch post:

For all I know — and the test of this is still a long, treacherous way off — Barack Obama may turn out to be the best pure politician we’ve seen since at least Ronald Reagan, if not Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He seems to have Roosevelt’s same unreadable ability to listen and make you believe he’s with you (no matter what he’s actually going to do), which is a skill not to be whistled at…

All that said, let’s not forget reality. Barack Obama did not win an election to be president of Goodwill Industries, or the YMCA, or the Ford Foundation. He may be remarkable in many ways, but he is also president of the United States which means that he is head honcho for the globe’s single great garrison state which now, to a significant extent, lives off war and the preparations for future war.

He is today the proprietor of — to speak only of the region extending from North Africa to the Chinese border that the Bush loyalists used to call "the Greater Middle East" — American bases, or facilities, or prepositioned military material (or all of the above) at Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, in Bahrain, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Iraq (and Iraqi Kurdistan), Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan (where the U.S. military and the CIA share Pakistani military facilities), and a major Air Force facility on the British-controlled Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia.

Some U.S. bases in these countries are microscopic and solitary, but others like Camp Victory or Balad Air Base, both in Iraq, are gigantic installations in a web of embedded bases. According to an expert on the subject, Chalmers Johnson, the Pentagon’s most recent official count of U.S. "sites" (i.e. bases) abroad is 761, but that does not include "espionage bases, those located in war zones, including Iraq and Afghanistan, and miscellaneous facilities in places considered too sensitive to discuss or which the Pentagon for its own reasons chooses to exclude — e.g. in Israel, Kosovo, or Jordan."

In January when he entered the Oval Office, Barack Obama also inherited the largest embassy on Earth, built in Baghdad by the Bush administration to imperial proportions as a regional command center. It now houses what are politely referred to as 1,000 "diplomats." Recent news reports indicate that such a project wasn’t just an aberration of the Bush era. Another embassy, just as gigantic, expected to house "a large military and intelligence contingent," will be constructed by the Obama administration in its new war capital, Islamabad, Pakistan. Once the usual cost overruns are added in, it may turn out be the first billion-dollar embassy. Each of these command centers will, assumedly, anchor the American presence in the Greater Middle East.

Barack Obama is also now the commander-in-chief of 11 aircraft carrier strike groups, which regularly patrol the planet’s sea lanes. He sits atop a U.S. Intelligence Community (yes, that’s what our intelligence crew like to call themselves) of at least 16 squabbling, overlapping agencies, heavily Pentagonized, and often at each other’s throats. They have a cumulative hush-hush budget of perhaps $50 billion or more. (Imagine a power so obsessively consumed by the very idea of "intelligence" that it is willing to support 16 sizeable separate outfits doing such work, and that’s not even counting various smaller offices dedicated to intelligence activities.)

The new president will preside over a country which now ponies up almost half the world’s total military expenditures. His 2010 estimated Pentagon budget will be marginally higher than the last staggering one from the Bush years at $664 billion. (The real figure, once military funds stowed away in places like the Department of Energy are included, is actually significantly larger.)

He now inhabits a Washington in which deep-thinking consists of a pundit like Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution whining that these bloated sums are, in fact, too little to "maintain" U.S. forces (a budgetary increase of 7-8% per year for the next decade would, he claims, be just adequate); in which forward-looking means Secretary of Defense Robert Gates reorienting military spending toward preparations for fighting one, two, many Afghanistans; and in which out-of-the-box, futuristic thinking means letting the blue-skies crew at DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) loose on far-out problems like how to turn "programmable matter" into future Transformer-like weapons of war.

While Obama enthusiasts can take pride in the appointment of some out-of-the-box thinkers in domestic areas, including energy, health, and the science of the environment, in two crucial areas his appointments are pure old-line Washington and have been so from the first post-election transitional moments. His key economic players and advisors are largely a crew of former Clintonistas, or Clintonista wannabes or protégés like Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner. They are distinctly inside-the-boxers, some of them responsible for the thinking that, in the 1990s, led directly to this catastrophic economic moment.

As for foreign policy, had the November election results been reversed, Obama’s top team of today could just as easily have been appointed by Senator John McCain. National Security Advisor James Jones was actually a McCain friend, Gates someone he admired, and Hillary Clinton a figure he could well have picked for a top post after a narrow election victory, had he decided to reach out to the Democrats. As a group, Obama’s key foreign policy figures and advisors are traditional players in the national security state and pre-Bush-style Washington guardians of American power, thinking globally in familiar ways.

General Manhunter

And let’s be careful not to put all of this in the passive voice either when it comes to the new president. In both of these areas, he may have felt somewhat unsure of himself and so slotted in the old guard around him as a kind of political protection. Nonetheless, this hasn’t just happened to him. He didn’t just inherit the presidency. He went for it. And he isn’t just sitting atop it. He’s actively using it. He’s wielding power. In foreign policy terms, he’s settling in — and despite his Cairo speech and various hints of change on subjects like relations with Iran, in largely predictable ways.

He may, for example, have declared a sunshine policy when it comes to transparency in government, but in his war policies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, his imperial avatar is already plunging deep into the dark, distinctly opaque valley of death. He’s just appointed a general, Stanley A. McChrystal, as his Afghan commander. From 2003-2008, McChrystal ran a special operations outfit in Iraq (and then Afghanistan) so secret that the Pentagon avoided mention of it. In those years, its operatives were torturing, abusing, and killing Iraqis as part of a systematic targeted assassination program on a large scale. It was, for those who remember the Vietnam era, a mini-Phoenix program in which possibly hundreds of enemies were assassinated: al-Qaeda-in-Iraq types, but also Sunni insurgents, and Sadrists (not to speak of others, since informers always settle scores and turn over their own personal enemies as well).

With all this power, you would think it would be impolite (obnoxious to say the least) to just grind your heel into a few of the  most defenseless people in one of your ‘garrisons’ while they  are completely at your mercy. You wouldn’t want to rub noses in the kind capitulation of a weak little state doing it’s best to fend off becoming yet another military port  But then, perhaps taking BIll Maher’s exhortation to ‘be more like Bush’ the wrong way, Obama comes out with the Uyghur and Palao jokes, He’s probably getting ready to ram a nice deep port for nuclear -powered and -armed Navy Vessels down Palao’s, stable matriarchal society while he’s at it.

Obama Jokes about Plight of Uyghurs

Bermuda and the Pacific island nation of Palau have both accepted a group of Uyghur prisoners who had been held at Guantanamo for seven years even though US officials admitted they were wrongly detained. The Uyghurs are Chinese Muslims who could not be returned to China out of fear that they would be imprisoned and tortured. Over the weekend President Obama joked about the plight of the Uyghurs during the Radio TV Correspondents’ Dinner.

    President Obama: "Nick at Nite has a new take on an old classic: Leave It to Uyghurs. I thought that was pretty good."

Obama also joked about the refusal of other countries to accept prisoners held at Guantanamo.

    President Obama: "As I have traveled to all these countries, I saw firsthand how much people truly have in common with one another, because no matter where I went there is one thing I heard over and over again from every world leader: ‘No thanks, but have you considered Palau?’"

Since Obama is so comfortable with this "garrison state" power and his wars, all the articles above make me comfortable using John Pilger’s ‘Smile of the Tiger’ imagery. Maybe someone will redo that old ‘Eye of the Tiger’ song for Obama – do for him what ‘El Buey’ (dumb ox) from ‘El Rey’ (The King) did for George Bush 2. Not that it should take up all that much time as you’re running around working on issues. But you can’t help but think that power-lovin’ wieldin’ politician is just another word for scumbag, it doesn’t matter if it’s at the national level or the local level. I should focus a bit on our local ‘talent’ celebrity governor as people suspect our rural ‘conservative’ prefecture is being used as a stepping stone to the national stage. People are wondering why Governor Higashikokubaru, of the hand-made and participatory election campaign is in such a rush to get a job back in Tokyo (with all it’s TV studios) when he spends all his weekends there anyway.

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