“I will promise you this, that if we have not gotten our troops out by the time I am president, it is the first thing I will do. I will get our troops home. We will bring an end to this war. You can take that to the bank” (Obama, 2007)
Hope. Change. Peace.
Barack Obama’s presidential campaign focused on the principles that changes were needed, and if he were given the chance, it would be possible under his leadership. He promised a ‘change’ from the Bush-era politics, an end to the Middle Eastern wars, and the closing of Guantanamo Bay. The emphasis was on hope. The emotive theme was peace. His inspirational rhetoric echoed around the world. The focus was not on the fact that he was the first black president of the USA, but rather that he was so vastly different from the militaristic George W. Bush. Whereas Bush inspired anger, even ridicule towards the end of his office, Obama inspired hope in millions simply through his rhetoric. In October 2009, Obama was named the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, a gesture that would never have been given to his predecessor.
Yet beneath all the spin, the PR tactics and the powerfully emotive rhetoric encompassing such words as “hope” and “change”, Obama’s policies are not so dissimilar to those that the Bush-era enacted. Some even claim that Obama may even be worse. He is certainly more charming, intelligent and emotive than Bush ever was, and this may be why he is able to captivate people’s hearts so. His eloquence with words and his calm, rational demeanor can potentially be very disarming; and if his policies are not so dissimilar to his predecessor’s, then his ‘promises’ for change are simply empty rhetoric, possibly designed to provide a smokescreen for what is essentially a continuation of the Bush-era politics that many Americans began to despise.
As I stated in my “Obama jokes about Predator drone strikes” post: “the newly-elected President ordered air strikes inside Pakistan just three days after being sworn in. During his first nine months he authorised as many strikes as George W Bush did in his final three years of office. And 2010 saw the number of drone strikes rise to 115 in that year alone, equal to a drone strike every three days.” In fact, since being elected, the US has escalated its drone-strike program, particularly in Pakistan. As The Atlantic reports:
The number of drone attacks [in Pakistan] has soared from 35 in 2008, the year before Obama’s inauguration, to 117 last year. Bill Roggio of Long War Journal, a Web site that tracks the attacks, estimates that missiles fired by American drones have killed nearly 1,500 people inside Pakistan, mostly in the two years that Obama has overseen the undeclared war there.
In this sense it could be stated that Obama is perhaps ‘worse’ than Bush, in that his rhetoric starkly contrasts his policies. As the Stop the War Coalition states:
In just two years since becoming president, Barack Obama has ordered military attacks on six countries: Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, all predominantly Muslim countries. George W Bush only managed four.
I suppose this can be constituted as ‘change’, if you count escalation of military attacks as change. In fact, despite stating that he would end the illegal occupation of Afghanistan if elected to office, Obama has escalated the Afghanistan war even further, tripling the number of US soldiers in Afghanistan to over 100,000. In Iraq, over 50,000 US soldiers remain, alongside US mercenary troops. Obama has not followed through on his promise to end the wars, despite stating that Americans could take his promise “to the bank”.
Obama has also increased military spending since being elected. The Obama administration has recently announced huge federal budget cuts to compensate for the astronomical national debt that the US faces; cuts which the President described as “the largest annual spending cut in our history”. However, as Time reports:
Not a solitary penny of the $38 billion in spending cuts will come out of the Pentagon’s coffers. In fact, defense spending will increase by $5 billion over 2010 levels, to $513 billion. And that doesn’t even include the cost of ongoing “overseas contingency operations,” otherwise known as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
All told, U.S. military spending in 2011 will exceed $700 billion — the most since World War II. That amounts to more than half of all government discretionary spending. It represents 35% of total military spending on the planet.
Is Obama really a pioneer for change if his administration’s military spending amounts to 35% of the planet’s military budget?
Obama also pledged to close Guantanamo Bay, which remains open for business. Guantanamo Bay has long been criticised for its unlawful imprisonment of suspects without trial and the use of torture on inmates to extract information. Suspects are imprisoned for years at a time, without fair trial. In regards to the use of torture, once again Obama’s rhetoric belies his true intentions. The Stop the War Coalition states that:
When campaigning for president, Obama said, “The practice of shipping away prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far-off countries, of detaining thousands without charge or trial, of maintaining a network of secret prisons to jail people beyond the reach of law” had to end. In office, Obama has continued to use rendition of suspects to foreign countries for the purpose of torture.
Obama has yet to close the prison, nicknamed ‘Gitmo’, but the administration seems to be moving away from unlawfully imprisoning suspects without trial to unlawfully killing suspects, naturally without trial. The recent Navy SEAL operation to pursue Osama bin Laden in Pakistan led to the murder of an unarmed bin Laden, culminating in a hasty burial-at-sea without even a post-mortem. It is slowly emerging that the operation was more of an assassination, in that the Obama administration never had any intentions of putting bin Laden on trial in the first place. The Atlantic reports that:
In the weeks before President Obama ordered Navy SEALs into Pakistan in pursuit of Osama bin Laden, administration officials weighed using American warplanes to obliterate the terror mastermind’s fortified compound from the sky
It is clear that placing bin Laden on trial for his suspected crimes was never the Obama’s goal. His aim was to conduct an assassination on Pakistan soil from the beginning. The White House disclosed sketchy and contradictory details of the operation initially, but it is now emerging that the Navy SEALs shot an unarmed bin Laden in the head and the chest in the Pakistan compound, situated in the suburb of Abbottabad.
It is clear that capturing bin Laden and placing him on trial would have posed many issues, both legal and political. However, does this justify an assassination conducted on foreign soil? As Noam Chomsky writes:
It might be instructive to ask ourselves how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos landed at George W. Bush’s compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic (after proper burial rites, of course).
While it is clear that there are opposing arguments as to whether Obama was justified in ordering such a contentious operation, it should be noted that this is perhaps further indication of Obama’s hypocrisy. As stated previously, Obama has not only continued many of the Bush administration’s contentious foreign and domestic policies, but he has also escalated them. The Atlantic continues:
The decision to kill bin Laden outright was the clearest illustration to date of a little-noticed aspect of the Obama administration’s counterterror policy. The Bush administration captured thousands of suspected militants and sent them to detention camps in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay. The Obama administration, by contrast, has focused on eliminating individual terrorists rather than attempting to take them alive.
The killing of bin Laden is not an isolated event, either. The White House seems keen to avoid capturing suspected terrorists and placing them on trial, preferring instead to kill them. In 2009, JSOC and the CIA located Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, an al-Qaida leader suspected of orchestrating a series of terrorist attacks which left around 250 dead. The Atlantic writes that:
In the fall of 2009, for instance, JSOC and the CIA located one of the administration’s most-wanted men, Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, the leader of the al-Qaida affiliate in East Africa, as he drove though Somalia…
Military commanders told Obama administration officials that commandos could try to take Nabhan alive or kill him from the air. The White House told JSOC they wanted Nabhan dead. A short time later, U.S. helicopters carrying SEAL commandos fired missiles into Nabhan’s car, killing him instantly.
Obama has also authorised the CIA to assassinate Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical cleric who has links with al-Qaida members, and has been suspected of organising and recruiting terrorist members. Stuart Levey, the under secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence at the Treasury Department, stated that al-Awlaki has “involved himself in every aspect of the supply chain of terrorism — fundraising for terrorist groups, recruiting and training operatives, and planning and ordering attacks on innocents”. Al-Awlaki is an American citizen, and the authorisation from the Obama administration to mark a US citizen for death without trial has caused some unease. Awlaki’s parents have attempted to sue the administration, challenging the legality of such an authorisation.
Obama has also come under fire for the treatment of suspected Wikileaks’ whistleblower Bradley Manning. Manning is kept imprisoned for 23 hours a day in what has been described by some as tantamount to torture. Stop the War Coalition reports that in 2010, Obama stated that:
I believe the more freely information flows, the stronger the society becomes, because then citizens of countries around the world, can hold their own governments accountable, they can begin to think for themselves.
This again is indicative of the hypocritical rhetoric from Obama, who have locked up Manning without trial for allegedly sharing classified embassy cables to Wikileaks. Contrary to his previous statement regarding the importance of sharing information freely, Obama remarked on Manning’s treatment that: “The procedures that have been taken in terms of his confinement are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards.” Basic standards, eh? New Statesman states that:
[Manning is] held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day under a Prevention of Injury order (which Brig psychiatrists, based on their psychological assessments of Manning, say there is no need for), Manning has become increasingly non-communicative, verging on the catatonic.
Sophie Elmhirst for the New Statesmen reports that “Manning has become increasingly non-communicative, verging on the catatonic”. Elmhirst continues:
Last month I met David House, a friend of Manning and the only person apart from his lawyer who is able to visit him in prison.
House finds it increasingly difficult to engage him in coherent conversation (the two men used to bond over a shared love of technology and politics). “I can’t really describe how bizarre it is to see a 110-pound, five-foot-three individual done up in chains from his hands to his feet, connected at the waist, so he can’t really move,” House told me.
These are simply examples of President Obama’s hypocritical rhetoric, which promises one thing and does the complete opposite. His demeanor and natural gift with words could be perhaps the most dangerous aspect of the Obama-era, which starkly contrasts the image of his predecessor, who was laughed at for his “Bushisms“, such as “”I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully.” — Saginaw, Michigan; September 29, 2000″; and “Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?” — Florence, South Carolina; January 11, 2000. Bush’s policies were much more blatant, the administration’s intentions matched up with the White House’s rhetoric. Obama is more subtle, and is able to influence people more easily. When Obama says “Yes We Can” – you believe him. When Obama says that now is the time for “Change” – you believe him. Yet once you look past the emotive and inspirational rhetoric you find an administration that is, perhaps, worse than the Bush-era government. Bush’s “War on Terror” is still going strong, the US’ military operations have escalated, and Obama has increased military spending even as national spending is slashed.
Is Obama worse than Bush? You decide. Leave a comment below.
EDIT (08/06/11): I came across this website “Citizens for Legitimate Government” detailing a demonstration/movement entitled “Seize DC” which is due to take place on Sept. 10th 2011. Reading the few paragraphs explaining the reasons for the movement, I equated their description of Obama’s administration with some of the points put forward in the article I wrote above. I thought it might add to the article to insert the “Seize DC” paragraph at the bottom here, perhaps to accentuate the points above but also to spread their website which can be found at: http://www.legitgov.org/seizedc. Anyway, here’s the copied paragraph below. Be sure to visit the website as well.
In 2008, we witnessed a supposed change of guard with the election of Barack Obama. But even before the election took place, we suggested that Obama, rather than being an agent for change, was in fact a cleverly constructed mirage to enable the financial, corporate and military oligarchy to continue on the same course, in fact, to do so with without the degree of opposition that was building to the Bush regime. What we have witnessed is not ‘change you can believe in,’ but, where Obama and most Democrats in Congress are concerned, belief you can change.
From Bush to Obama, we have seen not a change in policies, not a reversal, not even a ‘failing’ to change course, but the exact opposite: a determined continuation, extension and increase of the very same policies.
Rather than an end to imperialist wars, we have witnessed the increase in scope and the extension of war into other countries. Rather than two wars, we now have four.
Rather than policies favouring ‘Main Street’ as promised, we have witnessed the unprecedented transfer of wealth into the coffers of the banks, corporations and military contractors. We have seen record corporate profits while social misery for the working classes continues to rise, with unemployment not seen since the Great Depression and record home foreclosures. We now have austerity imposed on the vast majority while those who caused the financial crisis with wars, bailouts and corruption, pay little or no taxes and enjoy record profits.
Instead of restoring civil liberties, we have seen their further erosion with the extension of the Patriot Act, the increase of surveillance on the web, and a declaration by the president of the right to assassinate American citizens without any legal sanction whatsoever.
Indefinite detentions have not only continued under Obama, but he has also made sure that proven innocence is no cause for release.
- Obama’s Nobel (theophillus.wordpress.com)
- 10 questions Andrew Marr could have asked Obama, but didn’t (newstatesman.com)
- There is Much More to Say – Noam Chomsky (http://chomsky.info)
- How Obama the “change” candidate became the more-of-the-same president (www.stopwar.org.uk)
- Obama must change policy on Bradley Manning (www.newstatesman.com)