Saturday, March 1, 2008

Obama's Rhetorical Fog

Artful evasion of the moral point is a highly compensated political talent in Washington and few engage in it more skillfully than Senator Barack Obama.

Consider his September 2007 speech, "Turning the Page in Iraq," posted on his campaign website. Instead of attacking Iraq in 2003, he says, our priority should have been "finishing the fight" in Afghanistan. In other words, we should be slaughtering more Afghans instead of Iraqis. This in a country where the average life expectancy is barely forty years, and roughly a quarter of Afghan children never make five years old. Our having made their misery even more miserable is supposedly justified because we had to "smoke out" Osama bin Laden and his terrorist entourage. But who brought the moujahedeen to Afghanistan in the first place? It was the CIA and their civilian leaders in Washington, who engineered a war with the former USSR that killed roughly a million Afghans, which makes the appalling destruction on 911 seem trivial by comparison. Obama isn't talking about bringing these serial killers to justice. Reigning them in would seem to be an urgent necessity, but apparently it's not "change we can believe in." Change Obama does believe in involves putting in two additional combate brigades "to help Afghans help themselves." That's not change, that's doublethink.

Curiously, Obama speaks of "what we've gone through as a country in Iraq," as though Americans were the primary victims of the war. He barely mentions the Iraqi people, whose suffering is of such immensity that few of us can bring ourselves to consider it very deeply. And thanks to the slick deceptions churned out by the likes of Obama, we don't have to.

In order to sidestep our moral responsibility for the horrifying carnage we continue to inflict on innocent Iraqis, Obama draws up a laundry list of "costs" of the war, without mentioning the little matter of mass murder of Iraqi civilians. In his mind the latter does not rise to the status of a cost, while the alleged underfunding of "homeland security and counterterrorism" due to the hundreds of billions of dollars allocated to the occupation, does. And again, by counterterrorism Obama does not mean effectively bringing to an end the terrorism practiced by U.S. officials via military and CIA interventions throughout the world for the past six decades, which is the only course of action that would entitle us to "homeland" security. Of course, calling for an end to Washington's crimes against humanity would more than tarnish the luster on Obama's gleaming presidential bid: it would end his political career altogether.

Therefore, onward into the fog of distortion and deceit. Obama complains that "our moral leadership has been compromised by Abu Ghraib." This is a bit like saying that Jack the Ripper's habit of slashing women's throats compromised his feminist ethics. Vicious brutality and moral leadership are worlds apart. An empire aspiring to moral leadership is like a prostitute aspiring to virginity.

Obama worries that "our powers of deterrence and influence around the world are down," and that "our diplomacy has been compromised." Translating to standard English, deterrence means nuclear and other forms of terrorism, influence means coercion, and diplomacy means power projection. Unfortunately, Obama gives no clue why we should regard the waning of this bully ethic as a tragedy. Empires inevitably decline, as they should, and there is no reason to hope that Washington's power base lasts one minute longer than it proves able to - unless you are a politician whose blind ambition has sent his conscience into exile.

Like Obama. He regards the U.S. war in Iraq as merely "misguided," not criminal. But wars of unprovoked aggression cannot rightly be called "misguided." Imagine trying to get away with calling Hitler's 1939 invasion of Poland "misguided," while focusing laser-like on the costs it imposed on the German people. Would that be kosher? Ask a Zionist.

Obama says we Americans have lost "our sense of common purpose" in Iraq and must "reclaim" our foreign policy and "our politics," in order to "end this war that has cost us so much." (emphasis added) He seems not to notice that nothing like a sense of national purpose has been evident in the United States since the Great Depression and WWII. Nor has foreign policy ever been permitted to express popular preferences, which, according to poll results, favor diplomacy over force. That sentiment alone disqualifies the American people from any role in forming international policy, and makes Obama's call for us to reclaim such policy quite nonsensical.

Positioning himself as a peace candidate, Obama also calls for the "responsible removal of our troops" from Iraq. (emphasis added) What is the difference between responsible withdrawal and withdrawal without preconditions? Responsible withdrawal means drawing down our troop strength in accordance with the achievement of political "benchmarks" that we determine for ourselves. Morally, of course, an aggressor has no right to set preconditions, but rather, is obligated to withdraw and pay reparations for the crime of having invaded in the first place. Obama ignores this elementary point. His "responsible" withdrawal is actually redeployment, with the U.S. maintaining the fictitious right to continue its intervention in order to combat a resurgence of Al Qaeda, a force that was attracted to Iraq in the first place by the U.S. occupation. In short, Obama reserves the right to "defend Iraq" indefinitely with the U.S. military - just like George Bush.

Obama's delusions are a sight to behold. In a flight of incredible fancy, he claims that U.S. troops "have fought for over four years to give Iraqis a chance for a better future," a claim that is hard to square with Abu Ghraib, Fallujah, and Blackwater, not to mention the overwhelming majority of Iraqis who have said in polls that they want all U.S. forces out of their country.

But Obama is determined to make the problem "them," not us. He blames the Iraqis for being congenitally divisive: "They are not moving beyond their centuries old sectarian conflicts." He declines to mention that current divisions in the country are not centuries old, but have resulted precisely from the U.S. invasion and occupation. Ignoring this, Obama has the nerve to complain that "our troops fight in the 120-degree heat to give Iraq's leaders space to agree - but they aren't filling it." In short, "we" sacrifice, while "they" fail to agree. This is more than a little disingenuous. After all, who is demanding "Iraqi" leadership that sees the U.S. not as the criminal aggressor it is, but as an ally?

It's no surprise that, like his AIPAC masters, Obama believes Iran, not Israel, is the main threat in the Middle East. Says he: "Iran poses a grave problem. It builds a nuclear program, supports terrorism, and threatens Israel with destruction." In response, one can only point out that,(1) it is not illegal to develop nuclear energy, (2) the "terrorism" Iran supports is trivial in comparison with Washington's longstanding violence, and (3) Iran has not, in fact, threatened to destroy Israel. Prime Minister Ahmadinejad's alleged threat to "wipe Israel off the map" was actually more a prediction of regime change, which is not exactly an unreasonable expectation vis-a-vis a widely hated apartheid state that even Jimmy Carter, who believes Israel was "ordained by God," cannot abide.

Obama mentions that we should increase relief funding for displaced Iraqi refugees almost as an afterthought. No doubt we should, but what about reparations? Obama makes no mention of them. Instead, he goes on to state that "we should lead in forming a commission of the UN to monitor and hold accountable perpetrators of war crimes within Iraq," as though that could lead anywhere but to mass indictment of U.S. officials. But Obama isn't thinking of that. He's thinking of another imperial "axis of evil" - Iran, Syria, and Al Qaeda.

Obama says he wants to "spread hope, not hate" in the Islamic world. But in this week's debate with Hillary Clinton in Cleveland, he called Washington's commitment to Israel's security "sacrosanct." How much hope can Muslims be expected to muster up in response to such religious dogma from the leading presidential contender in the world's most powerful "secular" democracy? As the entire Islamic world knows very well, but Obama ignores, Israel's "security" is a euphemism for Jewish domination. If the U.S. backs Holy Apartheid so it can have its way forever while Palestinians languish in misery and are gunned down with impunity, how reasonable is it to expect friendly relations with the Muslim world? Not very.

Meanwhile, Obama stands on a high moral mountain and condemns Iraq as a "foolish" war. God help us if we allow ourselves to be drawn into the "smart" wars he and AIPAC are eager to have us fight against Israel's endless enemies.


"Turning the Page in Iraq," remarks of Senator Barack Obama, Clinton Iowa, September 12, 2007, available at

William Blum, "Killing Hope: U.S. Military And CIA Interventions Since World War II" (Common Courage, 1995) See "America's Jihad," Chapter 53.

William Blum, "Rogue State: A Guide To The World's Only Superpower," (Common Courage, 2000). See in particular pp. 4-5

Noam Chomsky, "The World After September 11," lecture at Tufts University, December 8, 2001

Jimmy Carter, "Keeping Faith - Memoirs of a President," (Bantam, 1982)

-----Michael K. Smith is the author of "Portraits of Empire" and "The Madness of King George" (illustrations by Matt Wuerker), both from Common Courage Press. He can be reached at


Anonymous said...

That's so funny, look here Bush don't want even talking to Iran because it keeps dissidents in jail, but that's exactly what Israel does, keeps Arab and Jewish dissidents in jails. Why don't Bush stop talking to Israel?

Fringe said...

Hi Michael

You might find the discussion at this site about Obama and the Zionist lobby perception of his stance toward Israel interesting.

Avishai writes in part:

"He said he admires the debate in Israel, where views of the Palestinians are often “more nuanced” than in the US. “I think there is a strain within the pro-Israel community,” Obama lamented, “that says unless you adopt a unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel, that you're anti-Israel. And that can't be the measure of our friendship with Israel.”"

This may explain the rightwing neozioncontard backing for the more pro Israel right or wrong Hilary.

Thanks for your articles, which are too few :)