“No Refuge But in Audacity”: Barack Obama and the Democratic Party’s Holocaust Denial

Crime once exposed has no refuge but in audacity

 – Tacitus




In February of 2008, Barack Obama received some interesting commentary from a curious source: David Duke. Duke is the former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and founder of the National Association for the Advancement of White People, February 2008. Twenty years before, Duke had said that the election of then presidential candidate Jesse Jackson “would be the greatest tragedy ever to befall this country.”


Traveling in Europe, where he was meeting with fellow deniers of the Nazi Holocaust, Duke could find no particular reason last February to specially fault or fear Obama’s candidacy. He told The New Republic’s Michael Crowley that “white nationalists” like him “don’t see much difference in Barack Obama than Hillary Clinton – or, for that matter, John McCain.”


Why this curious, counter-intuitive lack of Obama hatred on the part of American “white nationalists”? Crowley guessed that it reflected “hatred overload” on the part of radical rightists exhausted with their white-hot loathing of “the Zionist conspiracy” and Hillary Clinton (seen as “a leftist man-hating shrew”) and their profound contempt for John McCain, whose immigration plans they “view as a dire threat to America’s European-based culture.”


There was something else behind the odd phenomenon of Klansman seeming okay with a black American president, Crowley felt.  “It also reflects the fact,” Crowley noted, “that, unlike Jesse Jackson, Obama simply lacks the certain cultural signifiers – not to mention an urban-centric policy agenda – that would viscerally threaten racist whites obsessed with maintaining white rights, ending affirmative action, and cutting off nearly all non-European immigration” [1].


True enough.  Obama doesn’t sound like Rev. Jesse Jackson (or Rev. Jeremiah Wright).  He has been running to the white-soothing center on race, making sure not to offend his many affluent white supporters by daring to notice the continuing power and relevance of white skin privilege in American life.  He’s also been getting in the occasional good victim-blaming shot at “cousin Pookie” and other examples of supposed black “underclass” sloth [2].




But would Crowley or anyone else in the liberal commentariat like to address the fact that Obama is himself a Holocaust-denier? No, I’m not talking about Nazi crimes. I’m talking about his denial of the U.S-imposed Holocaust in Iraq, voiced in a speech Obama gave to General Motors workers in Janesville, Wisconsin on February 13, 2008. “It’s time,” Obama said, “to stop spending billions of dollars a week trying to put Iraq back together and start spending the money putting America back together” [3].



“Putting Iraq back together?” Is that what “we” have been doing over there?


Among the Democratic Party’s leadership for some time now it’s been commonplace to say that “we’ve” spent enough “blood and treasure”* trying to “help” Iraq and now its time to step back from this great benevolence to focus on putting our own house in order [4]. This was the line of all the Democratic presidential candidates except Kucinich and Gravel in Iowa last year. His Holiness the Dali Obama said it more than any of them.


Never mind that the United States’ brazenly imperialist assault has killed as many as 1.3 million Iraqis and caused the exodus and displacement of many millions more.


That’s just since March of 2003, after more than a decade of U.S.-imposed “economic sanctions” killed a million Iraqis.  Before that there was the Desert Storm slaughter, which Obama recently praised [5] despite such Gulf War highlights as the U.S. murder of thousands of surrendered Iraqi troops on the “Highway of Death,” B-52 attacks on teenage conscripts hiding in the sand, the sacrifice of Shiite and Kurdish civilians to Saddam’s guns (in the interest of “stability”), and the poisoning of Iraq (and U.S. soldiers) with depleted uranium munitions.





While dominant corporate media obsessed about a racialized soap opera conflict between Hillary and Obama, the antiwar writer Tom Engelhardt noted the following in mid January of 2008:


“Whether civilian dead between the invasion of 2003 and mid-2006 (before the worst year of civil-war level violence even hit) was in the range of 600,000 as a study in the British medical journal, The Lancet reported, or 150,000 as a recent World Health Organization study suggests, whether two million or 2.5 million Iraqis have fled the country, whether 1.1 million or more than two million have been displaced internally, whether electricity blackouts and water shortages have marginally increased or decreased, whether the country’s health-care system is beyond resuscitation or could still be revived, whether Iraqi oil production has nearly crept back to the low point of the Saddam Hussein-era or not, whether fields of opium poppies are, for the first time, spreading across the country’s agricultural lands or still relatively localized, Iraq is a continuing disaster zone on a catastrophic scale hard to match in recent

memory” [6]


According to the respected journalist Nir Rosen in the December 2007 edition of the mainstream journal Current History, “Iraq has been killed, never to rise again.  The American occupation has been more disastrous than that of the Mongols who sacked Baghdad in the thirteenth century.  Only fools talk of solutions now.  There is no solution.  The only hope is that perhaps the damage can be contained” [7].




Would any of the top Democrats like to observe that the U.S. blood shed in Iraq comes mainly from working-class families while much of the “treasure” spent there rotates back in the form of profits to the wealthy capitalist owners and top managers of military (so-called “defense”) companies like Raytheon, Lockheed-Martin, and Boeing? Today as across the capitalist era, the costs of empire and militarism are spread across the entire society.  They fall with special force on the predominantly working-class soldiers who lose their lives, limbs, and sanity in a colonial oil war that actually increases Americans’ susceptibility to terrorist attack. The profits revert upward to the privileged few, whose fortunate sons and daughters are exempted by class privilege from “service” in colonial struggle. 




There is a critical difference, of course, between Duke’s Nazi Holocaust-denial and Obama’s U.S. Holocaust-denial. Duke obviously had no hand in the crimes of the Third Reich.  Obama cannot say the same about “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”  He is a living agent of the Iraq Holocaust. He has repeatedly funded the occupation – unconditionally (with no “withdrawal” timetables) in 2005 and 2006 – and he campaigned for pro-war Democrats (including his self-chosen war-hawk Senate mentor Joe Lieberman) in the congressional primaries of 2006.  He distanced himself from U.S. Rep. Jack Murtha’s (D-PA) call for troop “redeployment” in the fall of 2005. He voted against a timetable proposal advanced by Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Russ Feingold (D-WI) in June 2006, arguing that a firm date for withdrawal would “hamstring diplomats and military commanders in the field.”


The current “antiwar” Obama can’t commit to having all U.S. troops out of Iraq by 2013.  He can pledge only to “try” to have all “combat troops” out in 16 months, neglecting to add that “combat” brigades make up less than half the total U.S. force structure in Iraq. Close examination of Obama and Hillary Clinton’s detailed Iraq plans during the primary campaign show author and journalist Jeremy Scahill that “both of them intend to keep the Green Zone [the giant American military and diplomatic section of Baghdad] intact.  Both of them intend to keep the current US embassy project, which is slated to be the largest embassy in the history of the world…it is 500 CIA operatives alone, a thousand personnel.  And they’re also going to keep the Baghdad airport indefinitely.  And what that means is that even though the rhetoric of withdrawal is everywhere In the Democratic campaign, we’re talking about a pretty substantial level of US forces and personnel remaining in Iraq indefinitely.” 


Obama can’t even commit to calling for the banning of the notorious private “security” contractors likes Blackwater Worldwide – a telling fact since these forces are a critical part of the occupation.  Their presence may increases as “combat forces” are drawn down [8].


For what it’s worth, huge majorities of the Iraqi people have long viewed U.S. forces in their country as occupiers, not liberators and have long wanted all US troops to leave immediately. Three and a half years ago, the Chicago Council of Foreign Relations (CCFR) found that 72 percent of Americans thought the US should remove its military from Iraq if that’s what the majority there wanted (CCFR, Global Views [October 2004]).




I’m not sure that Obama’s Janesville comment is actually the creepiest thing I’ve heard him say on Iraq. At one terrible point in an important speech Obama gave to the Chicago Council of Global Affairs (CCGA) on the eve of forming his presidential exploratory committee in November of 2006, Obama had the cold imperial audacity to say the following in support of his disturbing claim that U.S. citizens support “victory” in Iraq: “The American people have been extraordinarily resolved [in support of the occupation of Iraq, P.S.] They have seen their sons and daughters killed or wounded in the streets of Fallujah” [9].


This was a spine-chilling selection of locales. Fallujah was the site for appalling U.S. atrocities in April and November of 2004. The American crimes included the murder of civilians, the targeting of ambulances and hospitals, and the practical leveling of an entire city. The town was designated for destruction as an example of the awesome state terror promised to those who dare to resist U.S. power. Not surprisingly, Fallujah became a powerful hated symbol of vicious U.S. imperialism in the Arab and Muslim worlds.


It was a deeply provocative and insulting place for Obama to choose to highlight American sacrifice and “resolve” in criminally occupied Mesopotamia [10].




Consistent with comments in earlier foreign policy speeches and the

reactionary foreign policy chapter of his deeply conservative book “The Audacity of Hope” (2006), Obama told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel last February that the U.S. invaded Iraq because of naïve hopes to impose “Jeffersonian democracy” there [11].


This is a childish or cynical thing to claim to believe, for reasons that I and other left analysts have explained on numerous occasions [12].  It is consistent with the repeated claims of past imperial conquerors – from the Romans through the Nazis and beyond – that their barbarism was inspired by the best and most noble intentions, including assistance and liberation for the conquered.


Obama has gone overboard in proclaiming his faith in the broader benevolence and good purposes behind U.S. foreign policy beyond “strategic blunders” like the Iraq War, driven, he wants us to believe, by a desire to “export democracy by the barrel of a gun” [12A]. Look, for example, at his revolting embrace of the continuing bloody U.S. war on Afghanistan [13] (also welcomed by such great bastions of so-called left-liberal anti-imperial sentiment as Moveon.org), his recent declaration of admiration for George Bush I’s 1991 Iraq butchery [14], and his curious claim in “The Audacity of Hope” that “perhaps the biggest casualty” of the Vietnam War was “the bond of trust between the American people and their government” [15].  


Obamanists, please tell your silver-tongued pseudo-progressive “JFK in sepia” [16] that the biggest casualty of the American War on Vietnam was Vietnam, which lost more than 2 million people to superpower Uncle Sam’s benevolent “crucifixion of Southeast Asia” (Noam Chomsky’s phrase).


Americans’ distrust of the imperial policies and pronouncements of their elected officials and politicians is a very good thing.  Obama is an excellent example of why. Perhaps he would like to enlighten us as to the source of the “bitterness” that leads him to cling to the guns and secular religion of U.S. Empire [17].


Elite socialization at ruling class educational institutions like Columbia (home for an Obama bachelor’s degree in “international relations”) and Harvard (Law School) may be part of the problem.  As Noam Chomsky noted in a critical study of the United States’ narrow-spectrum political culture and Obama’s arch-militarist hero John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK), “the ability to churn out self-acclaim for unspeakable atrocities is highly regarded, virtually an entry ticket to the respectable intellectual culture.”    


“Crime once exposed,” the historian Tacitus observed, “had no refuge but in audacity” [18]. 




Paul Street (paulstreet99@yahoo.com) is a veteran radical historian and independent activist, researcher, and journalist in Iowa City, IA.  He is the author of Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Paradigm 2005); Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in the Post-Civil Rights Era (Routledge 2005), and Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis (Rowman & Littlefield 2007).  Street is currently writing a book on U.S. political culture, the 2008 elections, and the Barack Obama phenomenon.








1. Michael Crowley, “Post-Racial: Even White Supremacists Don’t Hate Obama,” New Republic (March 12, 2008); Clarence Page, “Obama’s Changing Battlefield,” Chicago Tribune, 2 March, 2008, section 2, p.7


2. Paul Street, “Barack Obama’s White Appeal: and the Perverse Racial Politics of the Post-Civil Rights Era,” Black Agenda Report (June 20, 2007), read at http://www.blackagendareport.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=254&Itemid=34


3. WIFR Television, CBS 23, Rockford, Illinois,   “Obama Speaks at General Motors in Janesville,” February 13, 2008, read at http://www.wifr.com/morningshow/headlines/15618592.html



4. Paul Street, “Vilsacking Iraq,” ZNet Magazine (December 22, 2006), read at http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=11689; Street, “We’ve Done a Lot More Than Talk,” ZNet Magazine (January 19, 2007), read at http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=11895.


5. Devlin Barrett, “Obama Aligns Foreign Policy With GOP,” Associated Press, 29 March, 2008.



6. Tom Engelhardt, “The Corpse on the Gurney: the Success Mantra in Iraq,” Antiwar.com, January 18, 2008, read at www.antiwar.com/engelhardt/ ?articleid=12229


7. Nir Rosen, “The Death of Iraq,” Current History (December 2007), p. 31. 



8. Juan Gonzales, Amy Goodman, and Jeremy Scahill. “Jeremy Scahill: Despite Antiwar Rhetoric, Clinton-Obama Plans Would Keep US Mercenaries, Troops in Iraq for Years to Come,” Democracy Now (February 28, 2008) read text version at www.democracynow.org/2008/2/28/jeremy_scahill_despite_anti_war_rhetoric; Jeremy Scahill, “Obama’s Mercenary Position,” The Nation (March 16, 2008)


9. Barack Obama, “A Way Forward in Iraq,” Speech to Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Chicago Illinois (November 20, 2006), available online at http://obama.senate.gov/speech/061120-a_way_forward _in_iraq/index.html.


10. Michael Mann, Incoherent Empire (NY: 2005, p. xii); Anthony Arnove, Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal (NY: 2006), pp. 27-28).


11. Greg Borowski, “Obama Addresses State, U.S. Topics,” Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Online (February 13, 2008), http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=718193


12. See my article “Largely About Oil: Reflections on Empire, Petroleum, Democracy, and the Occupation of Iraq,” Z Magazine (January 2008): 38-42.


12A. Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope (NY: 2006), p. 317.


13. Paul Street, “Obama’s Good and ‘Proper’ War,” ZNet (March 5, 2008), read at http://www.zcomm.org/znet/viewArticle/16760


14. Barrett, “Obama Aligns Foreign Policy With GOP.”


15. The Audacity of Hope, pp. 287-288


16. Michael Hureaux (February 13, 2008), comment to Juan Santos, “Barack Obama and the End of Racism,” Dissident Voice (February 13, 2008) http://www.dissidentvoice.org/2008/02/barack-obama-and-the-%e2%80%9cend%e2%80%9d-of-racism/ (second of 22 comments).


17. For more details, see my following essays: “Barack Obama and the Audacity of Deception: The Manufacture of Progressive Illusion,” Black Agenda Report (December 12, 2007), www.blackagendareport.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=463&Itemid=1“Imperial Temptations: John Edwards, Barack Obama, and the Myth of Post-World War II United States Benevolence,” ZNet Magazine (May 28, 2007), read at http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=12928;

“Running Dog Obama” ZNet Magazine (July 29, 2007), available online at http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=13396; “Obama’s Audacious Deference to Power,” ZNet Magazine (January 24, 2007), read at http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=11936


18.  Noam Chomsky, Rethinking Camelot: JFK, Vietnam, and US Political Culture (Boston, MA: South End Press, 1993), pp. 6-7.


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