Obama’s Failure as a Leader July 22, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in About Barack Obama, Barack Obama, Foreign Policy, War.
Tags: Barack Obama, candidate obama, health, health care, health care reform, health insurance industry, healthcare, healthcare reform, leadership, politics, power, presidency, president obama, roger hollander, single payer
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www.rogerhollander.com, July 22, 2009
To quote John Lennon, “Imagine!” Imagine Barack Obama giving a nationally televised speech on health care reform. In it he outlines the advantages of a single-payer plan. He gives the statistical evidence to demonstrate the enormous savings by eliminating private health insurance. He discusses the German, French, British and Canadian systems. He acknowledges some drawbacks, but shows clearly how they achieve the fundamental objectives of universal accessibility, choice, and cost savings. He directly challenges the medical, health insurance and pharmaceutical industries, and exposes their high priced media propaganda for what it is: distortion and lies. With most American already having a predisposition towards universal coverage, and with the myths dispelled and replaced with hard undeniable facts, the pressure from the public on Congress to achieve a single-payer option would be irresistible.
Barack Obama wouldn’t be President of the United States today if he hadn’t been the pragmatic, hard-ball, Chicago-bred politician that he is. His failure, or his inability, or his lack of will – call it what you like – to withdraw from the country’s imperialist (criminal and destructive) war adventures in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan or to hold the Bush administration accountable for its high crimes and misdemeanors is eminently predictable and in entirely in character. That many expected more, a hell of a lot more, is due entirely to his campaign rhetoric, which was calculated and for the most part fraudulent.
But this is no reason to not render critical judgments about the Obama presidency despite the fact that we are still quite early into his tenure. There is no doubt that we can expect more of the same. There is a principle to the effect that the practical should be judged by the ideal, and not vice versa. Following this principle is the keystone of leadership. President Obama violates this principle on a daily basis.
Obama knows what leadership is. Candidate Obama demonstrated the epitome of leadership as he led the nation to an electoral victory over a McCain/Palin ticket that had the potential to give the country a government even more disastrous than that of Bush/Cheney – virtually inconceivable but true.
He gave the country its first Afro-American president. However, once elected, he cast off the leadership role as a snake sheds its skin.
President Obama is fond of saying something to the effect of not letting the perfect get in the way of achieving the possible. Politics is the art of the possible, as common wisdom has it. In other words, judge the ideal by the practical, which is to my mind a cynical and nihilistic form of non-leadership.
In a sense, a leader’s role is to remain to a large degree above the fray. A leader reflects the needs, hopes and aspirations of the people. A genuine leader is not a power broker.
In the U.S. system of government, the Congress makes laws which, once agreed upon by both houses, are presented to the President to sign into law or veto. Apart from skewing factors such as massive corporate lobbying and the infamous Bush “signing statements” that allowed the President to ignore laws passed by Congress, the system as it has evolved does generate legislation, for better or worse.
A president’s role can vary between staying out of the process until a piece of legislation reaches his or her desk, and active participation in creating legislation and stick-handling it through Congress. In modern times presidents have leaned more towards the latter role, thereby sacrificing their capacity to lead rather than to broker.
I would suggest that the proper role for Obama or any other president is to communicate to the general public and to the members of Congress his vision on any given issue that is in the best interests of the nation. In the case of health care reform, for example, that would be for a single-payer option, which is what Canada and European industrial democracies have had in place for decades or longer (and which, despite being virtually ignored by the mainstream media and subjected to massive campaigns based upon outright falsehoods, most Americans believe in). But since that is the “perfect” solution in Obama’s frame of thinking, it is “off the table” presumably so as not to hinder a less than perfect but “realizable” option. This is the way of the defeatism, it is not leadership.
In other words, if Obama were a leader rather than a manipulator, he would go over the heads of Congress and speak directly to the people, and let Congress take the consequences for its action or failure to act. This might entail short term risk (that a flawed reform or no reform at all would result), but surely is the only road to genuine reform in the long term. Leadership is about taking risks; but what is ironic, not to mention tragic, is that by taking the path of power brokering a deal, the only possible results are either a much less than adequate reform or total failure. It is also ironic that the entirely self-interested neo-con (Republican) opposition will go for the jugular on the compromised, brokered solution as if it were the ideal solution (so, why not go for broke if you are going to be viciously attacked in any case?). The pragmatist will argue that the less than adequate reform is an incremental step to genuine reform. This indeed might be the case were it not for the fact that bastardized reforms are the result of catering to special interests (in the case of health care reform the AMA, the insurance and pharmaceutical industries), who having been victorious in fending off genuine reform will only remain further entrenched and less likely to be defeated in the future.
In feudal times there was in some senses a positive relationship between kings and subjects vis-à-vis confrontation with the ruling nobility. At times a serf could go over the head of his Lord and appeal to the king for justice. I am no lover of monarchy and only offer this as an analogy. A president who was a genuine friend of the masses and an ally in their struggles with enormous economic interests and compromised legislatures would be a sight to behold.
The problem, of course, is that the President is just as compromised as the legislatures with respect to the funding required to gain a nomination and to launch a successful presidential campaign. What I find so insidious about the Obama (full disclosure: I voted for him, the alternative was too scary, but I can understand those who bit the bullet and voted for Nader) is that he promoted himself and catapulted himself to the presidency by pretending to be a leader. I have to confess that in spite of my better judgment, there was a part of me that wanted to believe him. This may have been naïve on my part, but at least I kept it to myself.
Why I Distrust Obama April 30, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in About Barack Obama, About Justice, Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Torture.
Tags: Abu Ghraib, bagram, convention on Torture, Criminal Justice, geneva conventions, George Bush, Guantanamo, justice, law enforcement, nuremburg, president obama, prosecution of crimes, roger hollander, rule of law, torture, torture memos, torture photos, values, War Crimes, waterboarding
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Roger Hollander, www.rogerhollander.com, April 30, 2009
If it were George Bush using imprecise and ideological laden language I could understand. But Barack Obama is a constitutional law professor. One can interpret his comments with near absolute certainty that he realizes exactly what he is saying; more importantly, what he is not saying.
In his 100 day press conference, as reported by the Associated Press (http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090430/ap_on_go_pr_wh/us_obama_50) where he acknowledges that waterboarding is torture, he explained that he has banned the practice “Not because there might not have been information that was yielded by these various detainees … but because we could have gotten this information in other ways, in ways that were consistent with our values, in ways that were consistent with who we are.”
Consistent with our values? What about consistent with our LAWS? The man is a lawyer. What he is admitting to via his sin of omission is that some in America are above the law, that we are NOT a nation of law. We are instead, a nation of “values,” a fluid and wishy-washy notion that may be interpreted at any given moment by any given authority – and with absolute immunity from consequences.
Ironically, he is also inadvertently telling us who we are: a nation of hypocrisy, a nation that will tolerate the barbaric authorization and use of torture by its own citizens, up to and including the president, while at the same time prosecuting those who use it against us.
Where is the change this man told us we could believe in?
Where is the courage to stand up for truth and justice, regardless of the political consequences?
A caveat: it has been suggested that Obama’s motive in releasing the torture memos and photos is to generate the public pressure that will force the political and justice system to investigate and prosecute. This is risky business. If this is the case, and if it does in fact succeed, than give President Obama credit for a brilliant Machiavellian manoeuvre. This does not lead me to retract anything I have said about his lack of honesty and courage; its purpose is to generate that pressure.
Barack Obama’s South of the Border Adventure April 25, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in About Barack Obama, Barack Obama, Latin America.
Tags: Afghanistan, bailout, Barack Obama, bay of pigs, Bolivia, bolivia politics, bush policies, cuban blockade, daniel ortega, eduardo galeano, Evo Morales, foreign policy, healthcare reform, howard zinn, Hugo Chavez, irqa, Latin America, open veins of latin america, Pentagon, summit of the americas, Venezuela, Wall Street, war profiteers
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By Roger Hollander, www.rogerhollander.com, April 22, 2009
It’s amazing what you can learn about a Gringo when you put him together with a bunch of Latinos.
Barack Obama, as the adored new president of the giant republic to the North, likely arrived at last weeks Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago expecting to strut his stuff.
The President would have been briefed on the question of the Cuban Blockade; the latest shenanigans of his putative hemispheric nemesis, Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez; free trade issues, and the like. But it is not likely that any of his advisors would have thought to advise him about the romantic and spontaneous nature of the Latino soul.
You have to have lived amongst Latin Americans (as I have for the past fifteen years) to understand how natural it was for Chávez to greet Obama with open arms (“Chávez Hates America” Republicans and the lapdog North American mainstream media equate disagreement with a government’s policy with dislike of its people; Latin Americans are generally astute enough to be aware there is a difference). But what was really not only a stroke of genius but also totally in character was Chávez’s presenting Obama with a signed copy of Eduardo Galeano’s classic masterpiece on U.S/Latin American relations, “The Open Veins of Latin America.”
And how did Obama react? According to his spokesperson, the president would probably not read the book because it was in Spanish. Talk about a dud of a response. And can you imagine Obama presenting Chávez with the North American counterpart to Galeano’s work, I’m referring to Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States?” I apologize if I’m wrong, but I would bet that President Obama is not even aware of the Zinn’s best seller alternative version of U.S. history, much less read it. On the other hand, it would be hard to convince me that there is a president of a Latin American republic that is not familiar with Galeano.
Next up steps Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega whose speech includes a criticism of US imperialism throughout the 20th century. In it he mentions the failed U.S. sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961. Obama’s response? “I’m grateful that President Ortega did not blame me for things that happened when I was three months old.” Ha, ha. Very funny but quite beside the point.
But if there was ever a contrast between Latin American and North American leadership, it is exemplified in the person of Bolivia’s young, charismatic and dynamic President Evo Morales (But Obama is also young, charismatic and dynamic, you say? True, but wait and see). Morales, the first native president of a nation that is 60% Indigenous, would have arrived at the Summit a bit under the weather, having just come off a five day hunger strike, which he conducted on a mattress on the floor of the Presidential Palace. Morales is a former coca farmer and labor leader, who in the tradition of Gandhi and California’s great farm worker leader, Cesar Chavez, is a strong believer in the efficacy of the hunger strike as a political strategy. His longest previous hunger strike lasted 18 days (can you picture Bill Clinton going more than 48 hours without a Big Mac?). The current fast was to protest tactics used by obstructionist Congressman that were preventing a vote on a measure that would increase Indigenous representation in Congress, and enable elections to go ahead in December in which Morales would be eligible to run for re-election (and where because of his immense popularity he is virtually a shoo-in).
Many if not most North Americans can understand direct action or civil disobedience on the part of a Martin Luther King, but from the President of the United States? How undignified. And to what end? Well, here’s what Morales achieved: the obstructionists backed down, and the Congress approved the election law. Why would they have done that? Because Morales enjoys enormous popularity among the Bolivian electorate. He went over the heads of the right wing congressmen and appealed directly to his people, and his adversaries saw that they had no choice but to back down. Now can you imagine Barack Obama taking advantage of his enormous popularity to engage in such a heart-felt demonstration of his convictions in order to stand up say to the private health insurance industry and its bought-lock-stock-and-barrel representatives in Congress in order to achieve a single-payer universal healthcare plan (which he once supported but now is “off the table”)? Can you imagine him conducting a sit-in in the Oval Office in order to face down the Pentagon and the merchants of death military contractors in order to rally the kind of popular pressure that would force approval for a substantial reduction in the gargantuan defense budget? (Try channeling your inner John Lennon, and Imagine!)
So what was the interaction between Morales and Obama at the Summit? First you must realize that for the past year or so, Morales has been the target of right wing terrorists, who have attempted to destabilize his government by brutally attacking his supporters and who have recently failed in an attempt on his life. So Morales approached President Obama directly at the Summit – man-to-man, no bureaucratic intermediaries, no diplomatic niceties – and (according to Bharrat Jagdeo, the president of Guyana, who attended the session) presented him with specific information about U.S. mercenaries who he said were operating in his country. The President again came up with a non-response response that was as rote and as lame as his others. He stated that his administration ‘does not promote the overthrow of any democratically elected head of state nor support assassination of leaders of any country’ (which, if true, would be quite a radical departure from past U.S. foreign policy towards Latin America!). Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, confirmed the account. End of discussion.
So what is my point? What I am trying to show is that there is a refreshing authenticity about some Latin American heads of state, who can be candid and direct on a person to person basis in a way that we seldom if ever see in North America. U.S. presidents go in for photo-ops and prepared statements that more often than not occult hidden agendas.
The tragic irony here is that Obama’s speedy and dramatic rise to the presidency was largely due to his ability to convince the American people of his own authenticity. He convinced us that we could believe in him. It is said that a person who can dissemble while at the same time projecting unimpeachable sincerity has the recipe for wielding immense power. And Barack has shown himself to be a first class dissembler. He convinced the American people that his administration would be a “genuine change” from that of previous administrations while in a few short weeks in office he has forged ahead both with President Bush’s major domestic and foreign policies (continued giveaways to Wall Street and the corrupt banking and finance industries on the home front; military escalation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a disingenuous promise to leave Iraq which he knows the generals will not stand for, and blind uncritical support for Israeli militarism and apartheid in the area of foreign policy).
Barack Obama did not get to where he is today by taking principled stands on issues. He cut his teeth in the corruption riddled cradle of Chicago ward politics, where winning and holding power is the only principle that matters. His cynical choice of anti-gay bigot Rick Warren to give the Inauguration prayer and his support of the so-called Jewish Lobby and Israel’s war crimes in Gaza are only two of many examples of his going for the votes and principles be damned.
It is interesting to note that early on in his career Obama evidenced his ability to project an image as an agent of change while at the same time remaining snuggly in bed with the status quo. This is what a colleague said of him when interviewed by the Toronto Star in 1990 in a story about Obama as the Harvard Law Review’s first Black editor:
“He’s willing to talk to them (the conservatives) and he has a grasp of where they are coming from, which is something a lot of blacks don’t have and don’t care to have,” said Christine Lee, a second-year law student who is black. “His election was significant at the time, but now it’s meaningless because he’s becoming just like all the others (in the Establishment).”
But I would add a caveat. Few if any of the Latin American presidents at the Summit, (with the possible exception of Daniel Ortega, when he was the Sandinista guerrilla leader) have sent men and women into battle to kill and be killed. They are not the heads of state of the world’s largest military power and self-appointed imperial policeman. While on the other hand, from the moment that Obama’s hand slipped off the Bible on Inauguration Day, it was awash in blood (he is already responsible, for example, for more civilian deaths in Pakistan that result from U.S. unmanned drone missiles than was President Bush).
We should therefore not expect Barack Obama to be anything more than a slightly kinder, gentler enforcer of United States imperial mandates. That is what he has spent his entire life preparing to do. We need to realize that it is not “change we can believe in” that we should expect from him, but rather “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”
Genuine winds of “change you can believe in” are in fact blowing throughout most of Latin America, especially in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, but also to a lesser degree in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, El Salvador, Paraguay, Chile and Nicaragua. It is a refreshing breeze, one that North Americans also hunger for but will soon realize that they have been duped once again.
Looking Forward to What, Mr. President? April 24, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in About Barack Obama, About Justice, About War, Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Pakistan, Torture, War.
Tags: Afghanistan escalation, al-Qaeda, bailout, bush crimes, bush era crimes, civilian casualties, Criminal Justice, derivites, drone missiles, Economic Crisis, foreign policy, gaza, geithner, great depression, healtcare, health care, health care reform, health insurance, healthcare reform, Iraq war, israel, justice, looking forward, medicare, netanyahu, Pakistan acceleration, ponzi, president obama, private insurance, roger hollander, rubin, single payer, special prosecutor, summers, Taliban, tarp, torture, toxic loans, US constitution, Wall Street, War Crimes
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Roger Hollander, www.rogerhollander.com, April 24, 2009
O.K. Let’s for a moment entertain the president’s thesis. The problems facing the country are enormous. No one can deny that. Are they that critical, however, so as to justify ignoring the prosecution of those responsible for war crimes and violations of the United States Constitution of the gravest nature?
Since this is hypothetical I am willing for the moment to grant the president his argument: to wit, the need for the government to attend to critical matters is so vital that at the very least investigations and prosecutions of the Bush era crimes have to be put off. In other words, as the president has put it, we need to look forward not backwards.
(There are those supporters of the president’s position who allege that those who are screaming for investigation and prosecutions are extreme leftists, partisan, out for revenge, etc. There arguments are too facile and prima facie ridiculous to merit a response. All I am granting here for the sake of argument is the hypothesis that it is in the country’s interest to attend to matters other than the Bush era crimes.)
What then, are we “looking forward” to?
In foreign policy the president has made a promise about withdrawal from Iraq that is so full of loopholes and caveats that any serious analysis cannot but conclude that the generals will have there way and the U.S. military presence, supported by an army of mercenaries, dozens of military bases, combat troops operating under a different name, and the largest embassy in the history of the world, will be extended indefinitely. The president has gone ahead with a major escalation of the futile aggression in Afghanistan along with an escalation of the bombarding border areas of Pakistan with unmanned drone missiles. His generals have assured him that the value of the “military gains” will outweigh the recruiting boon to al qaeda and the Taliban (who as we speak are marching towards Kabul) that results from the massive killing of civilians (the ghost of light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel-troops-home-for-Christmas General Westmoreland lives on) . With respect to the Middle East, so far President Obama has followed the Bush agenda to a tee, with uncritical support of Israeli aggression in the Gaza Strip. Whether he has the guts to stare down Netanyahu with respect to the latter’s threats to attack Iran remains to be seen.
On the home front looms the largest economic crisis since the Great Depression, the catalyst of which was the sub-prime mortgage scandal and the massive Ponzi schemes that the banks (banksters) and finance industry have run with toxic illegal loans and the unregulated derivatives market. The president has put in charge of dealing with the crisis the very team (Geithner, Summers, Rubin) that created it and is throwing taxpayers monies down the same Black Hole created by George Bush, known as the Toxic Assets Relief Program (TARP), the premise of which is that bad debts equal money. The “relief” goes to the Wall Street mafia while the nations’ mortgage defaults and employment goes through the ceiling.
In one of the country’s other most critical issues, that of health care reform, a major plank in the president’s campaign platform, the president apparently has reneged on his previous support for a single-payer national program (similar in theory and practice to Medicare), which he now tells us is “off the table.” This can be considered as nothing less than sacrificing the national interest by caving in to the bloated blood-sucking private health care industry.
Well, Mr. President, I have gone along with you in agreeing on the seriousness of the problems facing our nation; but if what you have shown us about how you intend to deal with them is your justification for putting aside taking steps to achieve JUSTICE (and restore a semblance of respect for the rule of law) for the most heinous of war crimes and constitutional violations, then you have failed miserably to make your case.
You can count me out, and despite the psychotic-like ranting and ravings of the radical right (to which you have not stood up) and a mainstream media that has its collective head in the sand, I believe that I am part of a rapidly growing soon to be majority.
Someone, Mr. President, perhaps it was you, once quoted FDR telling those who were crying for radical reform to “make me do it.” Well, Mr. President, do it.
Bibi Wags the Dog April 2, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in About Barack Obama, About War, Barack Obama, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
Tags: ahmadinejad, apocalypse, atomic bombs, Bush, cheney, Iran, iran nuclear, israel, israel nuclear, israeli military, jeffrey goldberg, netanyahu, nuclear non-proliferation, president obama, roger hollander, us military aid israel
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Roger Hollander, www.rogerhollander.com, April 2, 2009
“You don’t want a messianic apocalyptic cult controlling atomic bombs. When the wide-eyed believer gets hold of the reins of power and the weapons of mass death, then the entire world should start worrying …” (about-to-be-sworn-in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, Atlantic Magazine, March 31, 2009).
You’re eight years too late, Bibi, Bush and Cheney are gone. Oh, what? You were referring to Iran? I beg your pardon. Honest mistake. But really, Mr. Prime Minister, after eight years with Apocalypse Now Dubya with his finger on the button that could shoot off enough atomic bombs to wipe out the globe a thousand times over, you can hardly expect anyone to get excited about little old Iran, which may one day have the capacity to build a single atomic bomb and with no way to deliver it.
What is that you say, Bibi? “Iran has threatened to annihilate a state or to have a state wiped off the map of the world.” (cited, in Jeffrey Goldberg’s Blog, http://jeffreygoldberg.theatlantic.com, April 2, 2009). My God, do you believe everything Ahmadinejad says? Could it be that you are taking such threats seriously so as to instil the kind if fear that keeps warmongers like you in power? Do you really think the Iranis are dumb enough to risk annihilation by engaging in an unprovoked first nuclear strike (if they had the means, which they don’t) against a nuclear armed ally of the United States?
And by the way, Mr. Prime Minister, can you explain how Israel is the potential nuclear victim when it alone in the Middle East possesses nuclear weapons? What’s that, you say? Israel’s nuclear capacity has not been verified? Of course it hasn’t. Israel has refused to sign on to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NNPT), so we can only guess as to the size of its nuclear arsenal. I understand the Pentagon estimates 60 Israeli nuclear warheads. You don’t allow inspections. Iran, by the way, is a signee to the treaty, and it claims that its development of nuclear energy is for peaceful purposes, which is allowed. I admit that it may be naïve to think that Iran is not intent upon the development of a nuclear warhead, but if they are, would it not be as a counter to Israeli nuclear weapons? Let’s get real, Mr. Prime Minister.
Wait a second, isn’t that President Barack Obama I see down the hall. Excuse me, Mr. Prime Minister, I have a couple of questions to ask him.
Mr. President, Mr. President, a minute of your time? Thank you, most accommodating of you. I assume you’ve read Jeffrey Goldberg’s interview with Benjamin Netanyahu in Atlantic and the clarification piece in his Blog? You have? Good. I’d like to know your response to the Israeli Prime Minister’s apparent challenge to you, do something about Iran’s nuclear capacity, or he will. But first I’d like to check a few facts with you. According to Wikipedia, the U.S. sent some 20 Billion dollars worth of arms to Israel between 2001 and 2007. These and other numbers suggest that in effect Israel is just about entirely dependent upon the States for its military strength. That sound about right to you, Mr. President?
I see you nodding, so I’ll take that as a yes. Now, Mr. President, where does Mr. Netanyahu get off laying down the gauntlet to the United States President when he rules a country that is in effect a client state of the U.S.? What is that, Mr. President, you’re sort of mumbling. I thought I heard you say something about the pro-Israel lobby. What is that, Mr. President? Oh, yes, you’d rather look forward than backward. I see, but, but … yes, I know you’re busy and thank you for taking the time to speak with me.
(Here is the Atlantic interview and the subsequent clarification)
Jeffrey Goldberg, Atlantic Magazine, March 31, 2009
In an interview conducted shortly before he was sworn in today as prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu laid down a challenge for Barack Obama. The American president, he said, must stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons—and quickly—or an imperiled Israel may be forced to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities itself.
“The Obama presidency has two great missions: fixing the economy, and preventing Iran from gaining nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu told me. He said the Iranian nuclear challenge represents a “hinge of history” and added that “Western civilization” will have failed if Iran is allowed to develop nuclear weapons.
In unusually blunt language, Netanyahu said of the Iranian leadership, “You don’t want a messianic apocalyptic cult controlling atomic bombs. When the wide-eyed believer gets hold of the reins of power and the weapons of mass death, then the entire world should start worrying, and that is what is happening in Iran.”
History teaches Jews that threats against their collective existence should be taken seriously, and, if possible, preempted, he suggested. In recent years, the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has regularly called for Israel to be “wiped off the map,” and the supreme Iranian leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, this month called Israel a “cancerous tumor.”
But Netanyahu also said that Iran threatens many other countries apart from Israel, and so his mission over the next several months is to convince the world of the broad danger posed by Iran. One of his chief security advisers, Moshe Ya’alon, told me that a nuclear Iran could mean the end of American influence in the Middle East. “This is an existential threat for Israel, but it will be a blow for American interests, especially on the energy front. Who will dominate the oil in the region—Washington or Tehran?”
Netanyahu said he would support President Obama’s decision to engage Iran, so long as negotiations brought about a quick end to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. “How you achieve this goal is less important than achieving it,” he said, but he added that he was skeptical that Iran would respond positively to Obama’s appeals. In an hour-long conversation, held in the Knesset, Netanyahu tempered his aggressive rhetoric with an acknowledgement that nonmilitary pressure could yet work. “I think the Iranian economy is very weak, which makes Iran susceptible to sanctions that can be ratcheted up by a variety of means.” When I suggested that this statement contradicted his assertion that Iran, by its fanatic nature, is immune to pressure, Netanyahu smiled thinly and said, “Iran is a composite leadership, but in that composite leadership there are elements of wide-eyed fanaticism that do not exist right now in any other would-be nuclear power in the world. That’s what makes them so dangerous.”
He went on, “Since the dawn of the nuclear age, we have not had a fanatic regime that might put its zealotry above its self-interest. People say that they’ll behave like any other nuclear power. Can you take the risk? Can you assume that?”
Netanyahu offered Iran’s behavior during its eight-year war with Iraq as proof of Tehran’s penchant for irrational behavior. Iran “wasted over a million lives without batting an eyelash … It didn’t sear a terrible wound into the Iranian consciousness. It wasn’t Britain after World War I, lapsing into pacifism because of the great tragedy of a loss of a generation. You see nothing of the kind.”
He continued: “You see a country that glorifies blood and death, including its own self-immolation.” I asked Netanyahu if he believed Iran would risk its own nuclear annihilation at the hands of Israel or America. “I’m not going to get into that,” he said.
Neither Netanyahu nor his principal military advisers would suggest a deadline for American progress on the Iran nuclear program, though one aide said pointedly that Israeli time lines are now drawn in months, “not years.” These same military advisers told me that they believe Iran’s defenses remain penetrable, and that Israel would not necessarily need American approval to launch an attack. “The problem is not military capability, the problem is whether you have the stomach, the political will, to take action,” one of his advisers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told me.
Both Israeli and American intelligence officials agree that Iran is moving forward in developing a nuclear-weapons capability. The chief of Israeli military intelligence, Major General Amos Yadlin, said earlier this month that Iran has already “crossed the technological threshold,” and that nuclear military capability could soon be a fact: “Iran is continuing to amass hundreds of kilograms of low-enriched uranium, and it hopes to exploit the dialogue with the West and Washington to advance toward the production of an atomic bomb.”
American officials argue that Iran has not crossed the “technological threshold”; the director of national intelligence, Admiral Dennis Blair, said recently that Israel and the U.S. are working with the same set of facts, but are interpreting it differently. “The Israelis are far more concerned about it, and they take more of a worst-case approach to these things from their point of view,” he said. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Michael Mullen, recently warned that an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would undermine stability in the Middle East and endanger the lives of Americans in the Persian Gulf.
The Obama administration agrees with Israel that Iran’s nuclear program is a threat to Middle East stability, but it also wants Israel to focus on the Palestinian question. Netanyahu, for his part, promises to move forward on negotiations with the Palestinians, but he made it clear in our conversation that he believes a comprehensive peace will be difficult to achieve if Iran continues to threaten Israel, and he cited Iran’s sponsorship of such Islamist groups as Hezbollah and Hamas as a stumbling block.
Ya’alon, a former army chief of staff who is slated to serve as Netanyahu’s minister for strategic threats, dismissed the possibility of a revitalized peace process, telling me that “jihadists” interpret compromise as weakness. He cited the reaction to Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza four years ago. “The mistake of disengagement from Gaza was that we thought like Westerners, that compromise would defuse a problem—but it just encouraged the problem,” he said. “The jihadists saw withdrawal as a defeat of the West … Now, what do you signal to them if you are ready to divide Jerusalem, or if you’re ready to withdraw to the 1967 lines? In this kind of conflict, your ability to stand and be determined is more important than your firepower.”
American administration sources tell me that President Obama won’t shy from pressuring Netanyahu on the Palestinian issue during his first visit to Washington as prime minister, which is scheduled for early May. But Netanyahu suggested that he and Obama already see eye-to-eye on such crucial issues as the threat posed by Hamas. “The Obama administration has recently said that Hamas has to first recognize Israel and cease the support of terror. That’s a very good definition. It says you have to cease being Hamas.”
When I noted that many in Washington doubt his commitment to curtailing Jewish settlement on the West Bank, he said, in reference to his previous term as prime minister, from 1996 to 1999, “I can only point to what I did as prime minister in the first round. I certainly didn’t build new settlements.”
Netanyahu will manage Israel’s relationship with Washington personally—his foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, of the anti-Arab Israel Beiteinu party, is deeply unpopular in Washington—and I asked him if he could foresee agreeing on a “grand bargain” with Obama, in which he would move forward on talks with the Palestinians in exchange for a robust American response to Iran’s nuclear program. He said: “We intend to move on the Palestinian track independent of what happens with Iran, and I hope the U.S. moves to stop Iran from gaining nuclear weapons regardless of what happens on the Palestinian track.”
In our conversation, Netanyahu gave his fullest public explication yet of why he believes President Obama must consider Iran’s nuclear ambitions to be his preeminent overseas challenge. “Why is this a hinge of history? Several bad results would emanate from this single development. First, Iran’s militant proxies would be able to fire rockets and engage in other terror activities while enjoying a nuclear umbrella. This raises the stakes of any confrontation that they’d force on Israel. Instead of being a local event, however painful, it becomes a global one. Second, this development would embolden Islamic militants far and wide, on many continents, who would believe that this is a providential sign, that this fanaticism is on the ultimate road to triumph.
“Third, they would be able to pose a real and credible threat to the supply of oil, to the overwhelming part of the world’s oil supply. Fourth, they may threaten to use these weapons or to give them to terrorist proxies of their own, or fabricate terror proxies. Finally, you’d create a great sea change in the balance of power in our area—nearly all the Arab regimes are dead-set opposed to Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons. They fervently hope, even if they don’t say it, that the U.S. will act to prevent this, that it will use its political, economic, and, if necessary, military power to prevent this from happening.”
If Iran acquires nuclear weapons, Netanyahu asserted, Washington’s Arab allies would drift into Iran’s orbit. “The only way I can explain what will happen to such regimes is to give you an example from the past of what happened to one staunch ally of the United States, and a great champion of peace, when another aggressive power loomed large. I’m referring to the late King Hussein [of Jordan] … who was an unequalled champion of peace. The same King Hussein in many ways subordinated his country to Saddam Hussein when Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990. Saddam seemed all-powerful, unchallenged by the United States, and until the U.S. extracted Kuwait from Saddam’s gullet, King Hussein was very much in Iraq’s orbit. The minute that changed, the minute Saddam was defeated, King Hussein came back to the Western camp.”
One of Iran’s goals, Netanyahu said, is to convince the moderate Arab countries not to enter peace treaties with Israel. Finally, he said, several countries in Iran’s neighborhood might try to develop nuclear weapons of their own. “Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons could spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. The Middle East is incendiary enough, but with a nuclear arms race it will become a tinderbox,” he said.
Few in Netanyahu’s inner circle believe that Iran has any short-term plans to drop a nuclear weapon on Tel Aviv, should it find a means to deliver it. The first-stage Iranian goal, in the understanding of Netanyahu and his advisers, is to frighten Israel’s most talented citizens into leaving their country. “The idea is to keep attacking the Israelis on a daily basis, to weaken the willingness of the Jewish people to hold on to their homeland,” Moshe Ya’alon said. “The idea is to make a place that is supposed to be a safe haven for Jews unattractive for them. They are waging a war of attrition.”
The Israeli threat to strike Iran militarily if the West fails to stop the nuclear program may, of course, be a tremendous bluff. After all, such threats may just be aimed at motivating President Obama and others to grapple urgently with the problem. But Netanyahu and his advisers seem to believe sincerely that Israel would have difficulty surviving in a Middle East dominated by a nuclear Iran. And they are men predisposed to action; many, like Netanyahu, are former commandos.
As I waited in the Knesset cafeteria to see Netanyahu, I opened a book he edited of his late brother’s letters. Yoni Netanyahu, a commando leader, was killed in 1976 during the Israeli raid on Entebbe, and his family organized his letters in a book they titled Self-Portrait of a Hero. In one letter, Yoni wrote to his teenage brother, then living in America, who had apparently been in a fight after someone directed an anti-Semitic remark at him. “I see … that you had to release the surplus energy you stored up during the summer,” Yoni wrote. “There’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s too bad you sprained a finger in the process. In my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with a good fist fight; on the contrary, if you’re young and you’re not seriously hurt, it won’t do you real harm. Remember what I told you? He who delivers the first blow, wins.”
2009 03:27 pm Jeffrey Goldberg’s Blog
There’s some controversy about just what Bibi Netanyahu said to me when we were talking about the challenge President Obama faces on Iran. Gary Rosenblatt, the editor of the New York Jewish Week, writes:
“This week (Goldberg) landed another major interview, this time with Benjamin Netanyahu on the day he was sworn in as Israeli prime minister. The interview offers insights into Netanyahu’s priorities and strategies in dealing with foreign policy. But it does not make good on its headline: “Netanyahu to Obama: Stop Iran – Or I Will.” Nowhere in the Goldberg piece does Netanyahu say that Israel plans to attack Iran, nor does it even hint that the new Israeli leader will offer an ultimatum to Obama.”
Rosenblatt’s got a partial point here — the headline is an interpretation of Netanyahu’s statements, and framed in such a way to perhaps make an Israeli prime minister squeamish — even when Israeli leaders make demands on America, they don’t like to be seen as making demands on America. On the other hand, Netanyahu signals in about a dozen different ways that if the world doesn’t deal with this problem, Israel will be forced to. And his advisers, speaking on background, made themselves even more clear.
But since there’s some confusion on this point — and since, through the miracle of blog technology, I can update articles as I see fit — I’ll give you two quotes that I neglected to include in the first piece. The first one is from one of Netanyahu’s defense advisers, speaking on background: “We have to make sure our friends in Washington know that we can’t wait forever. There will come a point soon when it will be too late to do anything about this program. We’re going carefully, but if we have to act, we will act, even if America won’t.”
The second is from Netanyahu: “Iran has threatened to annihilate a state or to have a state wiped off the map of the world. In historical terms, this is an astounding thing. It’s a monumental outrage that goes effectively unchallenged in the court of public opinion. Sure, there are perfunctory condemnations, but there’s no j’accuse – there’s no shock and there’s a resigned acceptance that this is acceptable practice. Bad things tend to get worse if they’re not challenged early. Iranian leaders talk about Israel’s destruction or disappearance while simultaneously creating weapons to ensure its disappearance.”
I followed this statement with a question: Is there any chance that Iran could be stopped through non-military means? Netanyahu responded: “Yes I do, but only if the military option is left on the table.”
Based on all these statements, I think it’s fair to say that Netanyahu, when he comes to America, will tell President Obama that should America fail to suppress the Iranian nuclear program, Israel will have to try.
Yet More “Plus ça change…” You Can Believe In March 29, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in About Barack Obama, About Pakistan, About War, Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan, Pakistan, War.
Tags: Afghanistan, Afghanistan escalation, afghanistan government, afghanistan occupation, Afghanistan War, Barack Obama, foreign policy, gates, hillary clinton, jones, mullen, obama bush, obama militarism, pakistan, pakistan government, Petraeus, plus ca change, rahm emmanuel, roger hollander, stockholm syndrome, w.e.b.du bois, war
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Roger Hollander, www.rogerhollander.wordpress.com, March 29, 2009
“Good morning. Today, I am announcing a comprehensive, new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“This marks the conclusion of a careful policy review that I ordered as soon as I took office. My Administration has heard from our military commanders and diplomats. We have consulted with the Afghan and Pakistani governments; with our partners and NATO allies; and with other donors and international organizations. And we have also worked closely with members of Congress here at home. Now, I’d like to speak clearly and candidly to the American people. “
These are the opening sentences in Barack Obama’s March 27 speech in which he announced the escalation of the U.S. occupation and agression in Afghanistan. Note the list of people and institutions with whom the President consulted before coming to a decision about his policy: military commanders and diplomats, Afghan and Pakistani governments, partners and Nato allies, donors and international organizations, members of Congress. There is one glaring omision: THE AMERICAN PEOPLE . Not to mention world public opinion. Note that Obama has a tendeny to speak down people rather than listen to them. As with his excluding from consideration a single-payer national health plan, which is favored by a vast majority of Americans, for President Obama a peaceful and diplomatic solution in Afghanistan/Pakistan which for most Americans is a fervent hope, is “off the table.”
The lead in a Time Magazine article covering the speech suggested that George Bush must have left an old speech lying around in his desk.
When Obama was criticized from the left prior to his inauguration for retaining the key members of the Bush team of militarists and war profiteers (Gates, Petraeusl, Mullen, Jones) and adding Hawks such as Hillary Clinton and Rahm Emmanuel, he countered by declaring that he would be making the decisions and not his advisors (Obama the Decider). Well, if Obama ever was indeed a peacenik, he surely has since succumbed to the Stockholm Syndrome in a big way.
Yet More “Plus ça change…” You Can Believe In.
“There was a day when the world rightly called Americans honest even if crude; earning their living by hard work; telling the truth no matter whom it hurt; and going to war in what they believed a just cause after nothing else seemed possible. Today we are lying, stealing and killing. We call all this by finer names: Advertising, Free Enterprise, and National Defense. But names in the end deceive no one; today we use science to help us deceive our fellows; we take wealth that we never earned and we are devoting all our energies to kill, maim and drive insane men, women, and children who dare refuse to do what we want done. No nation threatens us. We threaten the world.” (italics added)
These words could have been written today, but they weren’t. They appeared forty one years ago in the Autobiography of the Afro-Aerican activist and historian, W.E.B. Du Bois. Plus ça change… plus c’est la même chose. I despair to say it, but our nation’s first Afro-American president is turning out to be a traitor to his heritage.
Question: is there any difference at all between the foreign policy of President Obama and his predecessor? Only if you believe that the part’s of Obama’s speech on Afghanistan/Pakistan that spoke of investment in non-military programs constitute more than window-dressing. I don’t. I believe that with respect to the militaristic policies of peace candidate Barack Obama, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Barack Obama, Iraq and the Big Lie March 1, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in About Barack Obama, About War, Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: Barack Obama, Bechtel, big lie, Blackwater, cheney, corporate america, counter terrorism, democracy, dynacorp, erc alterman, first gulf war, George Bush, gulf war, gulf war 1991, haliburton, Iraq, iraq combat troops, iraq military occupation, iraq redeployment, iraq transition, Iraq war, Iraqi people, jeremy scahill, joel hirschhorn, judge judy, kuwait, McCain, Middle East, military industrial complex, Nancy Pelosi, oil, phyllis bennis, republican right, roger hollander, saddam hussein, SOFA, south korea, status of forces agreement, tyranny, us embassy baghdad, xe
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By Roger Hollander, March 1, 2009, www.rogerhollander.wordpress.com
“Don’t piss on me and try to tell me it’s raining”
Does it matter whether it is a moral and intellectual imbecile like George W. Bush or a brilliant and charismatic intellectual like Barack Obama who employ the Big Lie as a tactic to explain and justify the unjustifiable?
In a posting that appeared in towardfreedom.com on February 18, Joel S. Hirschhorn writes, “Compared to rioting Europeans, Americans seem like docile, drugged out sheep … mesmerized by melodic rhetoric of political messiah Barack Obama.”
(http://towardfreedom.com/home/content/view/1529/1/) (italics added)
In an ironic and tragic twist of fate, it now appears that Barack Obama’s mesmerizing and melodic rhetoric has turned out to be a two-edged sword. The same magic timbre that inspired and motivated millions of America to work day and night for his election in order to end America’s disastrous military adventures in the Middle East is now being put to use to give credibility to the Bush/Cheney worldview of the Iraq War and to thwart the desires, interests and welfare of those very same millions. The delivery hasn’t changed, but God help us, look at the content (which is what this article is all about).
In an article entitled “War Is Over (IF You Want It)” that appears in the current edition of The Nation magazine (http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090316/alterman), Eric Alterman calls attention to the radical Republican right strategy of defining the fiasco in Iraq as a “victory.” He cites, for example, an editorial that appeared in the Wall Street Journal that quotes Bush speech writer Marc Thiessen, “As Mr. Bush leaves office, Iraq is a unified and free country, and our enemies there have suffered a devastating defeat. If his successor does not squander that victory, a free Iraq will one day be to the Middle East what a free South Korea has been to Asia.” (this parallels the same kind of Big Lie that the radical right has propagated about the Vietnam War, that it could have been won if only the politicians had given the military a free hand – to nuke Hanoi presumably).
Alterman goes on to cite other neocons in a similar vein and suggests that this is a conscious and concentrated strategy the purpose of which is to set up President Obama up for failure. If that is indeed the case, then Obama seems to be willingly and blithely walking into the trap.
In his speech given on Friday, February 27 at marine Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, Obama both affirms the neocon revisionist history of the Iraq invasion and occupation and lies blatantly to the American public about the proposed withdrawal.
First the latter. Obama: “Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end …. And under the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government, I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.”
A bald faced lie.
Writing in the journal Foreign Policy in Focus on Friday, February 27, (http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5910), Phyllis Bennis exposes Obama’s dissimulation about the up to 50,000 allegedly non-combatant troops “left behind.” Leaving aside the question of why that huge number would be required to “train,equip and advise” (one is reminded of the “advisors” in Vietnam), which even Nancy Pelosi has questioned, Bennis refers to a December New York Times article “describing how military planners believe Obama’s goal of pulling out combat troops ‘could be accomplished at least in part by re-labeling some units, so that those currently counted as combat troops could be ‘re-missioned,’ their efforts redefined as training and support for the Iraqis.’” She adds, “That would mean a retreat to the lies and deception that characterized this war during Bush years — something President Obama promised to leave behind. It would also mean military resistance in Iraq would continue, leading to more Iraqi and U.S. casualties.”
Along with AlterNet’s Jeremy Scahill (“All Troops Out By 2011? Not So Fast; Why Obama’s Iraq Speech Deserves a Second Look,” (http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/129362/all_troops_out_by_2011_not_so_fast%3B_why_obama%27s_iraq_speech_deserves_a_second_look/), Bettis shows how the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which was adopted by the Iraqi government but never ratified by the United States, and which calls for all U.S. troops to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011, is full of loopholes that the Pentagon and presumably the President are ready, willing and able, to employ when the time comes for the helicopters to be evacuating the remaining troops a la Vietnam (in other words, it ain’t gonna happen).
Obama himself (inadvertently, I presume) lets it slip into the speech where he states that he will “retain a transitional force … conducting targeted counter-terrorism missions.” Such missions can hardly be characterized as anything other than combat missions. He also telegraphs to both the American people via his warning to the Iraq resistance what his ace-in-the-loophole will be: “But our enemies should be left with no doubt: this plan gives our military the forces and the flexibility they need to support our Iraqi partners, and to succeed.” It’s that flexibility that we knee-jerk peace-mongers worry about.
Sins of omission can be as deceptive, disingenuous and morally corrupt as sins of commission. As Bettis points out, Obama neglected to mention the future use of air and naval force in Iraq, the disposition of the more than fifty military bases in Iraq, or the future status of the enormous numbers of mercenaries and contractors (e.g. Dyncorp, Bechtel, and Blackwater, now Xe). Nor did refer to the city within a city that is the United States Embassy in Baghdad, the largest embassy in the history of humankind of which you can bet that it wasn’t built to become redundant in a period of a couple of years. Come December 31, 2111, all logic and experience tell us that United States military presence in Iraq will continue to be substantial. Obama does himself and the nation a disservice by suggesting otherwise.
As for the Bush, Cheney, neocon, and now apparently Obama fairytale version of the United States involvement in Iraq, it is probably true that it is the only one that would have been palatable for obvious reasons to the marines at Camp Lejeune, not to mention the neo-Fascist right that has ruled the country for the past eight years. But to speak before the country and the entire world and characterize the United States invasion and occupation of Iraq, which has been responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths, untold misery for millions and the virtual destruction of the Iraq infrastructure, as some kind of a noble venture is to contort reality into nothing less than a Big Lie which can only serve to justify past atrocity and foreshadow future ongoing bloodshed and destruction.
Obama: “We Americans have offered our most precious resource – our young men and women – to work with you to rebuild what was destroyed by despotism; to root out our common enemies; and to seek peace and prosperity for our children and grandchildren, and for yours.” Bush could not have said it any better (which is probably why McCain is salivating as we speak).
The Biggest Lie of all comes toward the end of Obama’s speech: “And so I want to be very clear: We sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein’s regime …We kept our troops in Iraq to help establish a sovereign government …And we will leave the Iraqi people with a hard-earned opportunity to live a better life …”
Alleging that “we sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein’s regime” contains the truth within a lie. In making the statement, Obama incredibly admits that the United States government violated the most fundamental precept of the United Nations Charter and international law, to wit, an unprovoked attack on a sovereign nation. But does the President expect the American people and the world to forget about the intentionally false information about nuclear materials and weapons of mass destruction that was fed to the American people and world community as the justification for the invasion in the first place? In this instance Obama’s Big lie serves to reinforce the Original Big Lie of the Bush administration. The growing demand for prosecutorial accountability with respect to Bush and Company include, we should remember, not only torture, rendition, illegal wiretapping, etc. but also the crime of lying to the American public and Congress about the grounds for the invasion.
(To put matters into an even broader historical context, I refer readers to Nora Eisenberg’s excellent piece in AlterNet.com where she documents the Big Lie technique that was used to justify the first Gulf War in 1991 where according to a United Nations report the United States Air Force bombed Iraq “back into the Dark Ages.” “Obama to Announce Iraq Troop Withdrawal,”
As for establishing a sovereign government and leaving the Iraqi people the opportunity to have a better life, while the jury may still be out on those counts, the evidence we have to date flies in the face of such empty rhetorical wishful thinking.
Some time ago Bush and the neocons began, ominously, comparing Iraq with South Korea, where the U.S. has had a “successful” military presence for over 50 years. They neglect, of course, to note the difference, to wit, that South Korea was a military ally of the United States against the North Korean invasion, whereas the U.S. has been bombing the life out of Iraq since 1991 and through its unlawful invasion provoked a near civil war within the country that has cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis? Will this South Korea paradigm fiction be the next straw that Obama will need to grasp in order to justify occupation in perpetuity?
There are two other critical concepts, which are central to the forces that were behind the original invasion and which impulse the continued military occupation, that Obama neglected to mention. One of them is “war profiteering.” Wipe out the infrastructure, and then as a pretext for reconstructing it, give billions in untendered contracts to the likes of Dick Cheney’s Haliburton. And that is not to mention the corporate ghouls who manufacture our weapons of mass destruction.
The other concept, however, is one that virtually every American, not to mention the rest of the world, knows in her or his heart to have been, is, and will continue to be the single most – if not the only – motivating force behind the U.S. military adventure in Iraq. It can be found in the original but quickly discarded acronym for the mission: Operation Iraqi Liberation.
Further Deconstruction of President Obama’s February 27 “Withdrawal from Iraq” Speech
Obama: (to the military) “You have fought against tyranny …”
Deconstruction: Those soldiers who have fought tyranny are living in Canada.
Obama: (to the military) “You have fought against … disorder.”
Deconstruction: Disorder created not only by the current invasion and occupation but also by 19 years of U.S. bombing and economic blockade. Eisenberg: “We never learned that the government’s goals had changed from expelling Saddam’s forces from Kuwait to destroying Iraq’s infrastructure. Or what a country with a destroyed infrastructure looks like — with most of its electricity, telecommunications, sewage system, dams, railroads and bridges blown away.”
Obama: “Violence has been reduced substantially from the horrific sectarian killing of 2006 and 2007.”
Deconstruction: Sectarian killing and violence that the U.S. invasion and occupation provoked and by which Saddam Hussein’s atrocities pale in comparison. U.S. inspired violence and killing 2003-2006 conveniently ignored.
Obama: “Al Qaeda in Iraq has been dealt a serious blow by our troops and Iraq’s Security Forces …”
Deconstruction: And has been handed a recruiting opportunity that will dramatically inflate the ranks of revenge-motivated terrorists who will plague us for decades or more.
Obama: “… a transition to full Iraqi responsibility … an Iraq that is sovereign, stable and self-reliant … The United States pursues no claim on your territory or your resources.”
Deconstruction: An Iraq that is occupied by the U.S. military in perpetuity, in order to ensure the protection of U.S. interests in the region’s natural resources and to ensure the “election” of government’s that maintain Iraq as a client state of the U.S.
Obama: “There are those … who will insist that Iraq’s differences cannot be reconciled without more killing.”
Deconstruction: We don’t insist on more killing we just do it. Bennis: “And what if the reduction in ground troops is answered with an escalation of U.S. air power? The U.S. appears to be planning to control the skies over Iraq for years to come. That means even more Iraqi civilians being killed by the U.S. military. We need the withdraw all air and naval forces too — something the SOFA agreement mentions, but we have yet to hear anything from the Obama administration. The U.S. has been conducting continuous overflights and regular bombing of Iraq since January 1991 – isn’t 18 years of air war enough?”
Obama: “And as long as I am your Commander-in-Chief, I promise you that I will only send you into harm’s way when it is absolutely necessary …”
Deconstruction: Necessary to what and to whose ends?
Obama: “What we will not do is let the pursuit of the perfect stand in the way of achievable goals.”
Deconstruction: Forget such wishy-washy idealist notions such as actual peace and justice.
Obama: (with respect to) “millions of displaced Iraqis … America has … a moral responsibility – to act.”
Deconstruction: This is another Obama slip up: America has no “moral responsibility” to help those refugees. It was Saddam who made us create all those refugees. Right? We do it out of the goodness of our gas-guzzling hearts.
Obama: “… the United States of America – a nation that exists only because free men and women have bled for it from the beaches of Normandy to the deserts of Anbar; from the mountains of Korea to the streets of Kandahar.”
Deconstruction: Obama gives us jingoistic triumphalistic patriotism, when the American people hunger for a truthful acknowledgement of the past crimes.
One has to ask the question why the entire sub-text, not to mention the practical implications, of Obama’s speech was addressed directly to the radical Republican right, corporate America, and the military-industrial complex.
Tags: congress, constitution, crimes against humanity, Criminal Justice, cynthia boaz, Dick Cheney, extraordinary rendition, ford, George Bush, george stephanopoulos, gonzales, high crimes, International law, Iraq invasion, justice, justice committee, nixon, nuremberg, nuremberg principle, nuremberg trial, ollie north, president obama, reagan, reconciliation, retribution, roger hollander, rule of law, rumsfeld, special prosecutor, torture, truth commission, us attorney, War Crimes, weinberger, wiretapping, wolfowitz
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by Roger Hollander
www.rogerhollander.wordpress.com, February 19, 2009
(SEE UPDATE BELOW)
An essay entitled “Obama’s Justice: Reconciliation Not Retribution” appeared recently in the progressive online journal, Truthout.com (http://www.truthout.org/021809J). Its author is Cynthia Boaz, assistant professor of political science at Sonoma State University, who is described as a specialist “in political development, quality of democracy and nonviolent struggle.”
Professor Boaz’s approach was most annoying in that she felt the need to set up a straw man (the notion that those who want justice want it for purposes of retribution) and resort to the ad hominem by characterizing those who are pushing for investigations and prosecution of the Bush era crimes as “disgruntled, self-identified progressives” and comparing them to “villagers wielding torches and pitchforks.”
But such annoyances pale in light of the implication of her thesis in support of Obama as a “unifier,” and his mission of “reconciliation, not retribution” in an attempt to justify Obama’s oxymoronic and disingenuous statement that he believes in the rule of law but would rather look forward rather than backward.
(To her credit Professor Boaz acknowledges that the Bush administration may have committed misdeeds “which in some cases, rise to the level of crimes against humanity” and does not argue that they should not be brought to justice. Her point is that justice should not be politicized, that the president should not seek “retribution” for his predecessor)
In the real world justice in fact usually occurs in a political context – especially when crimes occur at the higher levels of government. Obama recognizes this and his remarks to George Stephanopoulos were in response to overwhelming public sentiment for him to appoint a special prosecutor as reflected in his transition sounding exercise. Presidents do appoint Special Prosecutors and the United States Attorney General. Presidents grant pardons, often controversial and often of a political nature (Ford/Nixon; Reagan/Weinberger, North, Irangate). The political and the judicial are indeed intertwined.
Talking about “reconciliation” and “looking forward rather than backward” is in itself a blatant political intrusion in the world of justice. If Obama were not signaling to the heads of the Justice Committees in both houses of Congress (and the American people) that he would prefer for them to back off, then he simply would have affirmed his commitment to the rule of law and left it at that.
The evidence that is already in the public domain with respect to the knowingly false pretense for the invasion of Iraq, the high level authorization of torture, the extraordinary renditions, the wiretapping, the U.S. Attorney firings, etc. is so overwhelming that – in spite of the sacred principle of “innocent until proven guilty” – the American and world public cannot be faulted for demanding that the Nuremberg principles be applied to the neo-fascist Bush clique. That former Vice President Cheney, who is universally considered to have been the Bush administration Godfather, has been making the rounds boasting about his role in committing in effect what are crimes against humanity, constitutes an open challenge to anyone who takes the rule of law seriously. Given the literally millions of human beings whose lives have been destroyed or seriously debilitated by the actions of the Bush administration and the gross violations of constitutional and international law, the imperative for speedy justice within the context of due process is overwhelming.
What I fear is some kind of Truth Commission based on the premise of giving immunity for the sake of getting the truth out. This, I believe, is what Obama was getting at with his “looking forward” remark and what Professor Boaz would like to see. Such a notion mocks the concept and dignity of Justice. It gives no closure to those who have suffered at the hands of high level war criminals and it has little or no deterrent effect. What it is is politically expedient.
Do I expect to ever see Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Gonzales, Wolfowitz et. al. in a United States court of law charged with high crimes? Honestly I do not (but I didn’t ever expect to see the election of an Afro-American president in my lifetime either). But genuine truth, reconciliation and justice demand that such high crimes be investigated and prosecuted; those who suffered deserve justice; and the future of what is left of constitutional democracy is worth fighting for.
What is more, if President Barak Obama or anyone else acts in any way to impede or frustrate the carrying out of justice, they become to some extent complicit with the principal perpetuators.
UPDATE (May 1, 2009)
There has been a lot of -pardon the pun - wate(boarding) under the bridge since I wrote this piece in mid February. If you surf around my Blog or the many Blogs I post on it, you will find dozens if not hundreds of articles on the issue of torture and criminal responsibility for it. Just today, for example, I posted an excellent article by Glenn Greenwald that appeared in salon.com which documented the words of, of all people, Ronald Reagan, who, in introducing the law that made torture a serious crime in the United States, states that torture is a crime, with no exception for extraordinary circumstances (including, presumably, the phony “ticking time bomb” scenario). Ronald Reagan!
Professor Boaz, who is the target of my criticism in the original article above, had argued that those of us demanding that now President Obama take criminal action against the Torturers were misunderstanding the role of the presidency. Investigation and criminal prosecution in the bailiwick of the Judicial System, not the presidency she tells us. I wonder what she is thinking now that President Obama has heard, tried and exonerated the CIA agents who carried out the war crime known as torture.
During the longest eight years in history that we lived through under Bush/Cheney, one felt that what was happening as if it were in the realm of the surreal. Anti-war election results, and the war escalates (excuse me, surges). Torture with impunity. Habeas Corpus out the window. Warrantless wiretapping. An ideologically politicized Justice Department. Signing Statements allowing the President to ignore laws passed by Congress. Dr. Strangeglove figures such as Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Rice, Gonzales; and Darth Vader himself disguised as Dick Cheney, bunker and all.
May the goddess help me, I am having the same surrealistic dizziness all over again. The Attorney General declares that waterboarding is torture. Torture is a crime. Therefore … do nothing about it. The President releases evidence in the form of the infamous torture memos that, that along with photographic and other (International Red Cross, for example) evidence, leaves no doubt about the nature and extent of the torture; and then he proceeds to grant amnesty to those who committed the crimes. They were only following orders, he says, as the Nuremburg amnesia sets in alongside the swine flu. Pelosi and Reid want investigations … in secret (!). The mainstream media, as it did under Bush/Cheney, plays along with the Alice in Wonderland fantasies, and the maniacs on the neo-Fascist Right have convinced a signficant percentage of Americans that torture is not a crime under “certain circumstances.” The torture memos written by John Yoo and Jay Bybee are so patently phony and Kafkesque that Yoo is invited to teach law in Orange County and Bybee is made a Federal Judge.
It has been suggested that President Obama doesn’t feel there is the political will to prosecute the war criminals, which is why he has been so wishy-washy, but that he has released the tortue memos and is soon to release more photos as a way to achieve that will. I don’t believe this, but that doesn’t matter. Only by latching on to the the issue like a pit bull and refusing to let go can we who believe in Decency and Justice bring the American War Criminals to justice.
Barack Obama: International Outlaw? January 30, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in About Barack Obama, About War, Barack Obama.
Tags: Afghanistan, al-Qaeda, Bush Doctrine, child casualties, civil rights movement, civilian casualties, commander-in-chief, International law, Iraq, martin luther king, nationa security strategy, national sovereignty, obama outlaw, Obama war criminal, pakistan, pakistan missiles, preventive war, Robert Gates, roger hollander, War Crimes
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Have we become so inured to the United States government willy-nilly violating international law that it hardly registers in the mainstream media when the new “change” president continues in the same tradition?
Of all the disappointments and mis-appointments (Gates and Clinton, Sumers and Rubin) Barack Obama has laid on his most progressive followers, none compares with his continuing to send missiles into Pakistan.
The most fundamental principle of international law is that no nation has the right to unilaterally attack another unless first attacked. In his notorious National Security Strategy document of 2002, George W. Bush introduced what has become know as the Bush Doctrine, which includes the notion that the United States reserves the right to engage in “preventive” war. This euphemism for international outlawry is used to justify the U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq. Then, by declaring a phony “war on terrorism,” Bush in effect created a justification for the United States to attack anyone at any time.
In the context of international legal vacuum (no court with the authority or wherewithal to prosecute a criminal government) and a “might makes right” U.S. foreign policy, the United States military can pretty much get away with whatever its Commander-in-Chief decides to do.
Barack Obama was elected by the American people precisely to cease and desist from such unlawful practices as torture, spying on its own people, holding prisoners indefinitely without charges, and unprovoked attacks on sovereign nations.
Sadly, he authorized missile attacks on Pakistan on January 23 (BBC) and January 26 (Reuters) in which as many as 22 were killed, including at least three children (according to reports).
According to the Reuters report of January 27, Obama’s Secretary of Defence, the Bush holdover Robert Gates stated, “Both President Bush and President Obama have made clear that we will go after al Qaeda wherever al Qaeda is and we will continue to pursue that.”
Along with Obama’s stated intention to escalate the War in Afghanistan, this bodes ill for the kind of change he led us to expect. One speculates that Obama may feel he needs to show the hawks and his military commanders that he has sufficient macho to fulfill the role of Commander in Chief. Much has been made of the historic antecedent to the election of the country’s first African-American president, the Civil Right Movement and in particular Dr. King. What we should remember is that Dr. King faced angry racist police in the South and their vicious dogs; he spent time in their jails; whereas Barack Obama rose to the presidency through making inspirational speeches and raising millions of campaign dollars. What he has yet to show us is that he is a man of courage.
It is tragic that he has not had the guts from the beginning to face down the hawks in his own party much less the militaristic Republicans. It is not too late. We know he can talk the talk. We need to see him walk the walk.
(For more on the Pakistan attack, read Amy Goodman’s interview on Democracynow!
Barack Obama: More ” Plus ça change… You Can Believe In” January 18, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in About Barack Obama, Barack Obama.
Tags: afghnistan, ahmadinejad, alioto, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, castro, charles colson, clearance thomas, Cuba, democrats, Free Trade, gaza, George W. Bush, george will, Guantanamo, harvard law review, hillary clinton, Iran, Iraq, israel, jewish orthodox union, lawrence summers, rahm, Ralph Nader, reagan, republicans, rick warren, roberts, roger hollander, stem-cell research, supreme court, tax cuts, toronto star, torture, welfare reform
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Several weeks ago I coined the phrase “plus ça change… you can believe in.” (http://rogerhollander.wordpress.com/2008/12/14/plus-ca-change-we-can-believe-in/?) It is an obvious take-off on the Obama slogan that twists the meaning 180 degrees via the classic French dictum, which translates to English more or less as “the more things change the more they stay the same.” (plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose)
Today’s Toronto Star (http://www.thestar.com/news/uselection/article/572960) has published an article it had run nineteen years ago in 1990 on the occasion of Barack Obama’s election as the first ever elected president of the Harvard Law Review. The article is eerily prescient; and it provides grounds both for those who believe he will bring meaningful change as well as for those, like me, who based upon both his words and actions, have lost most of what hope we may have had.
(Full disclosure: I voted for Obama but my heart was with Ralph Nader)
The article confirms that as early as nineteen years ago, Barack Obama had already clearly demonstrated his brilliant mind, a social conscience, formidable personal drive, and magnificent diplomatic skills. In an uncanny way we see in this article almost a carbon copy of the Barack Obama that we have watched as a presidential candidate and now President-elect.Those of you pragmatists out there will thrill by the account of how he was able to relate positively to conservatives along with those of his more natural constituency to achieve his historic election as the Law Review president. From your adulatory postings on the article’s Comment section, however, you must have either missed or ignored that paragraph that jumped out at me.
“‘He’s willing to talk to them (the conservatives) and he has a grasp of where they are coming from, which is something a lot of blacks don’t have and don’t care to have,’ said Christine Lee, a second-year law student who is black. ‘His election was significant at the time, but now it’s meaningless because he’s becoming just like all the others (in the Establishment).’” (my emphasis)
If this isn’t prescient, I don’t know what is.
In a recent article in politico.com (http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0109/17532.html) entitled “Obama Tries to Seduce Republicans” we read about not only Obama’s selection of the notorious Rick Warren for the inauguration invocation prayer, but also of his dinner with right-of-center writers at George F. Will’s home and the transition team’s reaching out “to other prominent figures atop the Southern Baptist Church, Charles Colson’s Prison Fellowship Ministry and the Jewish Orthodox Union.” We read of his cozying up to McCain and others in the Republican leadership, and he has been eulogized by everyone from Condoleezza Rice to Pat Robertson (from Robertson’s CNN interview with Larry King: “I must say, this is the most amazing campaign that I think we’ve seen in our life time or maybe in this century. Obama is absolutely brilliant. I would like to make a prediction. He can one of the great presidents of the United States if he doesn’t get pulled too far off of center and gets over into some of the things the American people don’t want. If he governs the way he said he is going to do, as I say, he has the smarts and the charisma to pull this nation together and be an outstanding president.” (http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0811/05/lkl.01.html)
I have no problem “reaching out” to the neo-Fascists who control the Republican Party, but what had set him apart from the others in the campaign was his initial indication that he would “reach out” to the likes of Cuba’s Castro, Chávez in Venezuela and Iran’s Ahmadinejad. That would take courage and show leadership, but unfortunately he has backpedalled on this commitment since he won the election.
It is interesting yet most disturbing to note that right wing Republican presidents like Reagan and W. tend to be aggressive in promoting their agenda and thereby achieve results (which unfortunately are disastrous for most Americans), while Democrat compromisers like Clinton and Obama tend to be diplomatic and achieve little of their own agenda while advancing that of their opposition (in Clinton’s case, for example, welfare “reform,” free trade, reduced social spending, etc.).
I am still more than pleased that Obama won over McCain, that the United States elected its first Afro-American President, and I have confidence that the Obama presidency and the Democratic controlled Congress will undo some of the most horrendous crimes of the Bush Administration. I believe that Obama will outlaw torture, eventually close Guantanamo, and make some necessary changes with respect to women’s health care, domestic spying, stem cell research and other important areas. And it cannot be too soon for some of our existing Supreme Court Justices to move on to that even higher court up in the sky so that Obama will have the opportunity to make appointments to that will serve to detoxify the Court, which has become contaminated with the likes of Thomas, Alioto and Roberts.
But by his policy statements (slower troop reduction in Iraq; troop build-up in Afghanistan; at least tacit support of the Israeli massacre in Gaza; no immediate doing away with the tax cuts to the rich, etc.) and his appointments (Gates of Iran-Contra fame, Rahm the unabashed Israel apologist, Clinton the cheerleader for the Iraq Invasion; Lawrence Summers the wolf to guard the economic chicken coop), Obama has shown us what we can expect in the most critical areas: change that is pretty much the same thing.