In general, I like caveats. The world is not a simple place. But that can be taken to extremes, especially by supposedly liberal politicians. The best description I’ve ever heard of Obama is by Roger Hodge in The Mendacity of Hope, “Obama presents a dizzying series of hands—on the one and then the other, repeatedly, like some hyper-discursive blue-skinned Hindu deity—in which he discusses the Bill Clinton wing of the Democratic Party (the wing to which he belongs, but he doesn’t really come out and tell us that), which embraces the new economy of advancing pools, even though ‘a sizable chuck’ of the Democratic base resists the agenda.” In other words, Obama is a conservative Democrat but he respects the rest of us who aren’t.
After President Obama’s speech last week, I didn’t know what to make of it. As usual, it sounded very nice. He got all the stuff that I didn’t like out of the way at first so he could provide me with a soft landing. But I’ve been hearing pretty words from Obama for five years and I’ve been disappointed in his actions for four. On economics, I feel more qualified to cut through his bullshit, but I’m none too clear on the War on Terror, regardless of what the current administration wants to call it. So I have to depend upon more knowledgeable people like Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald to clarify what the truth actually is. So I was very eager to hear what Greenwald had to say, especially given his tardiness in weighing in. Finally, his morning he published, Obama’s Terrorism Speech: Seeing What You Want to See.
He started out saying what I’ve long known, although in this case specific to Obama’s speech on Thursday:
He then goes on to point out the fundamental purpose of the speech was to calm progressives. I’m a little more positive than Greenwald. I think it is progress that Obama cares enough to shore up his left flank. Most of his presidency was marked by a total disregard (Or worse!) for his base. Remember Rahm Emanuel calling us “fucking retarded”? That was Obama’s Chief of Staff telling us we were evil and stupid.
But that’s a small advance. There is a fundamental problem with all the plaudits Obama got for claiming the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) should be scaled back and eventually repealed. I don’t read this as, “Obama wants to repeal the AUMF.” I read it as, “Obama wants to tinker with the AUMF while he’s in office and then he’ll be for repeal after it isn’t his to use.” He also said, “Unless we discipline our thinking and our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight, or continue to grant Presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states.” As far as I can tell, he’s the one with that power and he’s the one who chose to use it so intensely.
And let me be very clear: the attempt to mollify liberals with the speech was offensive. To begin with, it was fundamentally the usual (very successful) appeal that, unlike George W. Bush, we can trust Obama. He only kills innocents all over the world after thinking about all of the complexities. What’s more, he said, “For me, and those in my chain of command, those deaths will haunt us as long as we live.” That’s pure horseshit. Unlike Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, I do not believe that this or any other president loses a moment of sleep over all the killing they do. What’s more, as Norman Solomon writes in War Made Easy, presidents always claim to be very concerned about going to war; it is the last thing they ever want to do. The fact that they don’t end up killing themselves is either a miracle or an indication that they are lying. Which do you think it is?
Glenn Greenwald, Jeremy Scahill, and Michael Hastings all agree on one thing: Obama’s speech put nice sounding words on top of what is George W. Bush 2.0. And so do I.