While there’s always room for hope, so far it is clear that Barack Obama is just a standard political hack from Chicago who made it to the presidency, primarily through his gift of gab and through voter dissatisfaction with the standard political hacks in the Republican Party.
While Obama has disclosed the Bush torture memos, he has simultaneously promised that U.S. government personnel who broke criminal laws against torture will not be prosecuted because they were simply following orders. At the same time, Obama has expressed his opposition to prosecuting the higher-ups who gave those orders, on the grounds that it’s time to move on.
Despite his much-vaunted opposition to Bush’s invasion of Iraq, Obama has embraced the Iraq occupation by refusing to order an immediate withdraw of all U.S. troops and by promising to keep tens of thousands of troops in Iraq for several more years.
Not only is Obama embracing the Bush administration’s indefinite occupation of Afghanistan, he is doubling down Bush’s bet by increasing the number of U.S. troops there and ordering the killing of people in neighboring Pakistan.
Here at home, Obama is defending and even expanding the Bush administration’s war-on-terrorism powers, which have constituted among the greatest infringements on civil liberties and privacy in our nation’s history.
Obama has announced that the cruel and brutal 50-year-old embargo will continue to hammer the Cuban people, under the old Cold War rationale that Cuba’s communist regime must do more before the embargo can be lifted.
At the same time, Obama is continuing the Bush administration’s policy of unrestrained federal spending, which continues to send our nation down the road to inflation and financial bankruptcy.
After enduring eight years of pro-empire, pro-interventionist policies under the Bush administration, it’s increasingly obvious that we’re in for another four years of such policies under Obama.
How unfortunate. If only Obama could break free of the pro-empire, pro-interventionist box in which he operates. If only he would be able to rise above the standard mindset of an American political hack and instead think terms of a grand vision in favor of restoring a constitutional republic to our land.
Alas, that would require Obama to confront uncomfortable realities about the paradigm of empire and intervention that has held our nation in its grip for so long.
Prior to the election, Obama was often compared to John Kennedy. Let’s follow up on that comparison.
Kennedy came into office as mired in the Cold War muck as Obama is in the war on terrorism muck. The defense establishment and the CIA had the same powerful control and influence then as they do now, enabling them to induce Kennedy into supporting the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.
That was followed by the Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the world to the brink of nuclear holocaust, a crisis in which members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were pressuring Kennedy into taking the offense with a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union.
As James W. Douglass points out in his excellent book JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters, by his third year in office Kennedy was apparently experiencing an epiphany. He was beginning to rise above the mindset of a standard Massachusetts political hack and thinking on a high, grander level. He began recognizing the possibility of ending the Cold War with the Soviets, which of course would have transformed world history.
By this time, Kennedy was beginning to understand President Eisenhower’s famous warning about the enormous threat that the U.S. military-industrial complex posed to the American people. For all practical purposes, Kennedy had declared war on the CIA for the Bay of Pigs fiasco, promising to tear that agency into a thousand pieces. He had fired Allan Dulles as head of the CIA. He had guaranteed that Castro would not be the target of another U.S. regime-change operation. He told close associates that he planned to withdraw all U.S. forces from Vietnam after the 1964 election. He established secret personal communications with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and was attempting to do the same thing with Fidel Castro.
Whether you accept Douglass’s thesis that agents of the CIA and defense establishment took Kennedy out, in an attempt to protect the national security of the United States from his actions, is beside the point. The point is that by the time he was killed, Kennedy was apparently breaking free of the old, decrepit Cold War mindset against America’s World War II ally, the Soviet Union, and trying to figure out a way to end the Cold War and move America in a non-imperial, non-militarist direction.
Alas, it was not to be. Kennedy was killed, and Johnson, a standard political hack from Texas, continued operating in the old ways, expanding the war in Vietnam, continuing the embargo on Cuba, and continuing the Cold War, all to the great satisfaction and contentment of the CIA and the defense establishment, both of which were convinced that all this was necessary to protect the national security of the United States.
And so here we are today — mired in the war on terrorism, a “war” that was brought by the 9/11 attacks, which were a direct result of the U.S. government’s post-Cold War foreign policy of empire and interventionism in the Middle East. That has produced not only the never-ending occupation of Afghanistan and the continued occupation of Iraq, but also a perpetual war on terrorism that guarantees the flow of never-ending profits to the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about, not to mention ever-increasing infringements on the liberties and privacy of the American people.
Can Obama rise to the occasion and move America in a different direction, as Kennedy was starting to do. Who knows? But I wouldn’t put much hope in that prospect. My feeling is that Obama is much more like Lyndon Johnson than John Kennedy.
My hope is in the American people. If they’re able to achieve the necessary breakthrough, the political hacks will come around. Can Americans rise to the occasion and recognize that the root of their foreign-policy woes lies in empire and intervention? Can they come to understand the nature of Eisenhower’s warnings to them as he was leaving office? Can they see that their only solution lies in the restoration of a constitutional republic to our land?
Time will tell. If they do, the years ahead will hold peace, prosperity, and harmony. If they don’t, the years ahead will hold more death, destruction, financial bankruptcy, and loss of liberty.