President Obama: Plus ca change

Isn’t it great the religiously-driven, militaristic and simplistic George Bush is no longer in the White House? 


Take the following quotes for example: "I believe that Jesus Christ died for my sins and that I am redeemed through him. That is a source of strength and sustenance on a daily basis".  "I strongly support the expansion of our ground forces by adding 65,000 soldiers to the Army and 27,000 Marines".  "We lead the world in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good".


The problem is the quotes above all came from the mouth of the United States‘s new President and all-round boy wonder, Barack Obama.


Not that you would know about these inconvenient truths from watching the wall-to-wall fawning mainstream media coverage across the globe.  Jonathan Freeland, writing about Barack Obamas campaign speech in The Guardian, breathlessly reported the then Democratic presidential nominee "almost floated into view, walking to the podium on a raised, blue-carpeted runway as if he were somehow, magically, walking on water." 


Wade through this all-to-common quasi-mystical bullshit and you will find the distinctive smell of cold hard cash propping up the new Presidency.  That’s right folks, liberal Americas hero raised a record $750 million during his campaign, dwarfing John McCains total of $370 million.  So where did all the money come from?  A July 2008 story in The Daily News reported "Wall Street is investing heavily in Obama", noting that four out of Obama’s top five contributors were employees of financial industry giants – Goldman Sachs, UBS AG, JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup.


Not only is it highly unlikely these big corporations have propelled a socialist revolutionary in to the most powerful elected office in the world (as some of the more excited pundits would have us believe), but only the most naïve would believe they won’t be expecting something in return from their investment.


Indeed, Wall Street was surely happy with Obamas senior appointments to his economic team - Citigroup director Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers, both key players in the deregulisation that many argue has been a major factor in the current financial crisis.  According to Dean Baker, one of the few economists who predicted the financial collapse, hiring Rubin and Summers is "a bit like turning to Osama bin Laden for aid in the war on terrorism".


Turning to foreign policy, Obama has chosen to surround himself with hawkish Washington insiders (so much for bringing change to Washington), praised by none other than former Vice-President Dick Cheney as "a pretty good team".  For example, Vice-President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton were two of the most enthusiastic supporters of the illegal invasion of Iraq and continue to be staunch allies of Israel.  The icing on the cake though is surely the retention of George Bushs Defense Secretary Robert Gates in the same role, adding a whole new dimension to voting in the US – vote Democrat, get a Republican.  "I can assure you that a change in administration does not alter our fundamental interests, especially in the Middle East", Gates told a security conference in Bahrain in December.


That there will be far more similarities than differences between the incoming and outgoing Administrations is most evident in Afghanistan and Pakistan, with Obama planning to institute an Iraqi-style "surge" in the former.  In his first military action in office, Obama authorised two missile strikes inside Pakistan earlier this week, killing 22 people, reportedly women and children among them.  Unsurprisingly a Pakistani foreign ministry spokesperson said the attacks were "counterproductive and should be discontinued."


With the only viable alternative being Republican McCain, for progressives Obama was, of course, the best choice on election day.  However, rather than implementing the "change" he promised on the campaign trail, Obama is more likely to simply rebrand American power to make it more palatable to the rest of the world.  And as any student of advertising knows, rebranding is what you do to more effectively sell essentially the same product as you had before.  So the American Empire, with it’s staggering $711 billion military budget (a figure greater than the budget of the next 45 highest spending countries in the world combined) and more than 700 military bases in over 100 countries, will stay.  Just with a smarter, more media friendly, manager than before.


Rather than crossing our fingers and hoping President Obama will do the right thing – a losing game if ever there was one – it is high time we regained our critical faculties and started to build popular movements that will compel Obama Administration to deliver the positive changes we all desire.  As the freed slave Frederick Douglass noted, "power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will."



An edited version of this article recently appeared in the Morning Star.  [email protected]

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