Will Obama really bring the "Change" we "Hope" for?
Monday, January 26, 20098 Comments
So I went to Washington pretty confused on where I stood surrounding the whole Obama phenomenon. I think I learned a few things by seeing and talking to Obama supporters in the Capital of the Empire, but I admit that I am not a prophet and do not know what will happen over the next four years of Obama’s term. That being said I’ll take my best guesstimate. I've decided to split this stuff in half for the sake of space and reader's attention span. Below I'll quickly sketch out my case for Obama skepticism.
So why was I a skeptic? Because when it came down to actually talking about policies, it did not really seem that Obama was that different from the traditional American political establishment. Since his election he has surrounded himself with Clintonites (not to mention Hillary herself). During the inauguration ceremony Rev. Rick Warren was invited to lead a prayer. Rick Warren is a televangelist and anti-gay rights crusader. It was clear that the majority of Obama supporters present did not agree with the decision to have Warren “speak” as a loud thunder of boo’s came from the two million people watching. The Rev’s speech made our group of Canadians, all of whom were less critical of Obama than myself, uneasy. We were all thankful that Canadian politics has a more clearly defined separation of church and state. The selection of Rahm Emanuel as Obama’s chief of staff also represents a lack of qualitative change. The appointment of this Clintonite and close “friend” of the state of Israel left Palestinian rights advocates aghast. The case can be made that a return to Clinton-era politics is a step forward when compared to the Bush era, but I think it’s clear that this is not what the majority of Obama supporters had in mind when they voted for “change”.
In terms of foreign policy he has said he will negotiate with perceived “enemies", who by the way pose no threat to Americans but maybe to American financial interests abroad. Well this is certainly a step forward from the “right to unilateral action” attitude of the Bush era. But when we look at his stated policies, do they match the rhetoric? Let’s look at Pakistan as a case study. Obama tried to “out-hawk” McCain and Hillary by saying he would be willing to bomb targets in Pakistan. This is a grossly irresponsible thing to say, and Pakistanis were astonished that Obama would posture in this way when their government continues to support America’s questionable regional interests. It would play into the hands of Pakistani Muslim fundamentalists, who actually have very little support in that country but undoubtedly that support would grow tremendously if the US was to attack. Obama’s political strategy was pretty cynical in this case. It essentially boiled down to trying to rustle up support from the traditionally Republican Hawkish Christian fundamentalists at home by acting tough, and by doing this strengthening the argument of the Muslim fundamentalists abroad. Is this really a move towards “unity”, “peace” and “change” in US foreign policy?
Ok, but he wants to get out of Iraq right? Yes, although who knows how long his exit strategy will actually take. But he also knows that support for the Iraq war is extremely minimal and he probably would not have got the masses of people out to the polls if he did not join with the anti-war movement. The thing that needs to be understood is that Obama has not fully rejected the role of the US as the “Global Cop”. He has said that he will send troops from Iraq to Afghanistan which is where they ought to be. Well it is true that Afghanistan is a less controversial war in the eyes of the American public, but that is mainly because the reasons for the invasion were not as totally and completely insane as compared to the justifications for the war in Iraq. The fact remains that the occupation of Afghanistan is continuing with no end in sight. The government headed by Karzai is corrupt, filled with the repressive fundamentalism that we are supposedly there to fight and has direct links to the opium trade. British military experts have recently warned that the war is lost and that its a hopeless fight. And just one snapshot from "on the ground" in Afghanistan: on the night of Obama’s election the US bombed another wedding party, killing 37 people, including 23 children and 10 women, all civilians.
In DC last Tuesday I spoke to a couple protesters that were handing out papers criticizing Obama's pledge to move troops to Afghanistan. They said the response from the 2 million people that were outside the capital building, was one of disbelief. Obama supporters were calling them liars for saying that the President-elect had promised thirty thousand more American troops in Afghanistan. And this is the heart of the disconnect between what people see in Obama, Obama’s rhetoric of “change” and “hope” and the under-publicized policy debates. So the question that remains is; who is the real Obama? Is it the Obama that tries to appease the right-wing through hawkish posturing and getting bigots to lead his prayers, or is it the Obama that millions of Americans have placed their hope in? I’ve presented a very bleak picture on the possibility for change and this is largely how I felt before I left for Washington on Monday evening. Stay tuned for the next segment that will be significantly less depressing and will explain why I still have hope in "Obama-mania", what Obama represents and the forces that have brought him to power.