Obama’s Iraq Position and the Academic Meritocracy: An Exchange

Here (pasted in below)is my response to a student from a liberal arts college where a liberal professor recently played the role of Barack Obama during a pretend presidential debate. That must have been fun! The student wrote me to say that his professor (a big Obama fan, like so many liberal and even some left professors I’ve met, often under unpleasant circumstances in the last year) had Obama claiming to have "opposed the illegal invasion of Iraq from the start."   First I paste in the short note from the student  Then I paste in my longer response, which I do because I think it summarizes some key points on Obama’s Iraq position (also on the political culture of academia) in a blog-friendly way that might be usefully circulated. I did this only with approval from the student and with the promise to maintain some basic level of anonymity. I will add that the student attends a nice liberal arts school where I would be more likely to find employment as a janitor than as a professor despite my long but professionally irrelevant (I have even been told harmful!) record of highly regarded publications (including acadmic publications), grants received, positive teaching evaluations, and so forth – a record that would certainly trump that of many its tenured professors if actual merit meant more than power worship and mute quiescence in the supposedly leftist realms of "higher education," where smart professors know better than to profess. Speaking of academic meritocracy, please note also that the great political genius and War Criminal KARL ROVE - yes, Karl Rove – will be getting $40,000 to display his unmatched brilliance at the University of Iowa (in my current home town of Iowa City) on the evening of March 9th, 2008. If you live anywhere near Iowa City and you feel concerned about this imminent display of imperial power worship and taxpayer crime-subsidy, come on down to assist me and others in protesting.  I’m thinking of trying to make a citizens arrest.  As I told the student who wrote me (see below), I will speak at his campus at a much lower fee than that of Rove and with a much stronger record of accomplishment beginning with the fact that I never played a key role in selling a criminal mass-murderous war of aggression that has so far killed more than 1million Iraqis. .                                                                                                                                                                                                       Speaking of speaking,  I will be at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, speaking  about the Barack Obama phenomenon and the U.S. elections system on the evening of March 11th.  More details on that in my next blog post.     


Here first is the note from the student:

 ”Hey Paul,”


”My campus has had a lot of political activity today. Early in the afternoon [a U.S. state Governor] spoke at our student center (I’m a junior at [XXX] liberal arts college) and tonight a few professors arrived for a mock debate. The reason I’m telling you is because I couldn’t help but notice that the professor playing the role of Obama was making the candidate seem much more progressive than he actually is. For example, the first questions related to Iraq, and "Obama" said that he opposed the "illegal invasion" from the start. I winced because the real Obama, his avatar, has not said that on-record and probably won’t. Even though it’s true, and elementarily true at that. So approaching the prof. afterward, he told me that right after he said it he had the thought that, Yeah, Obama would not say that, whoops. Reveals something.”


— Student who knows more than Obama-worshipping liberal arts college professor


Okay, here’s my response: 


Dear Student:


Yes, not only has Obama actually supported the invasion in numerous ways (that I and other left writers have documented ad nauseum in recent months) since running for the U.S. Senate, but Obama has never said that the in fact deeply illegal invasion/occupation was criminal or immoral, consistent with his stance well within the "official dove" side of the very narrow imperial spectrum of acceptable foreign policy debate…as during the Vietnam era (see Chomsky’s recent "Good News" ZNet essay, which connects the current limited official ‘debate’ to the similar [well, same] parameters in the late 1960s).  He’s never said it was imperial (it was and is) or racist (it was and is) or significantly about oil (it was and is and Obama has on at least one occasion cynically denounced oil-related interpretations as "cynical").   What Obama has said all along – and there’s nothing all that left or progressive about it, it’s strictly Council of Foreign Relations sort of stuff – is that it’s a ‘"dumb war" (his 2002 speech in Chicago, at his leftmost extremes) and of course (as in a recent candidates’ "debate") a "strategic blunder."  A mistake, not a crime. Bad for America but forget those million plus Iraqis killed.  Same for Edwards and Hillary and other top Dems, of course.


Worse, the "skeptical" Obama has consistently brought into the utterly preposterous, deeply childish notion that the U.S. invaded Iraq in order to export freedom and democracy.


Not sure how to interpret your professor’s admission afterward. 


The "liberal" professors are often terrible – really bad.  Here in Iowa City, they were by far the worst I had to deal with during the big run up to the Caucus. There were exceptions but generally it was awful with them.  I had a hard time distinguishing between stupidity and cynicism in breaking down their lockstep, authoritarian and semi-cultish "klnow it all" Obamanism.  They have Ph.Ds and spend hours every week pontificating before captive audiences half their age and so of course they know everything. But they actually often know quite little or how to process what they do know (their minds are exhausted by endless clerical tasks and crippled by narrow and incestuous professional discourses and related infatuation with dominant ruling class modes of indoctrination). I have a doctorate too but I increasingly see it as a liability. I think I’m going to sell it on E-Bay.


You really should invite me to your campus to speak. My fees are reasonable – nothing close to the $40,000 the smiling war criminal Karl Rove is about to receive from the University of Iowa Lecture Committee (which boasts of its long history of bringing “great thinkers” to Iowa City) when he speaks in my university-dominated town (there will be a large protest) on the night of March 9, 2008.  I say things that only a tiny percentage of the supposedly radical (please) U.S. professoriat – there are some nice exceptions and I do envy their ability to be good left public intellectuals and activists while simultaneously keeping a decent academic paycheck coming in (various liberal academic authorities have made sure to deny me such fine fortune) – has the brains and/or guts to say.  Also, I’m better looking than most of them (that’s not saying much) and if you put a keyboard on stage when I speak I’ll promise at least one radical song.


Of course, it’s not insignificant if one member of the ruling class is less inclined to attack people (even if just for imperial reasons) than another member of the ruling class.  We would prefer to have the first ruling class person in the White House than the second person.  As I’ve been saying on my blog, Obama’s maybe a little bit less awful on foreign policy than Hillary (she may actually be less awful on domestic) in ways that could matter to people on the wrong ends of U.S. imperial guns and policies.  



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