[Marxism] William Blum on Obama

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Dec 2 07:52:43 MST 2008

The Anti-Empire Report

December 1st, 2008
by William Blum
Vote First. Ask Questions Later.

Okay, let's get the obvious out of the way. It was historic. I choked up 
a number of times, tears came to my eyes, even though I didn't vote for 
him. I voted for Ralph Nader for the fourth time in a row.

During the past eight years when I've listened to news programs on the 
radio each day I've made sure to be within a few feet of the radio so I 
could quickly change the station when that preposterous man or one of 
his disciples came on; I'm not a masochist, I suffer fools very poorly, 
and I get bored easily. Sad to say, I'm already turning the radio off 
sometimes when Obama comes on. He doesn't say anything, or not enough, 
or not often enough. Platitudes, clichés, promises without substance, 
"hope and change", almost everything without sufficient substance, 
"change and hope", without specifics, designed not to offend. What 
exactly are the man's principles? He never questions the premises of the 
empire. Never questions the premises of the "War on Terror". I'm glad he 
won for two reasons only: John McCain and Sarah Palin, and I deeply 
resent the fact that the American system forces me to squeeze out a drop 
of pleasure from something so far removed from my ideals. Obama's votes 
came at least as much from people desperate for relief from 
neo-conservative suffocation as from people who genuinely believed in 
him. It's a form of extortion – Vote for Obama or you get more of the 
same. Those are your only choices.

Is there reason to be happy that the insufferably religious George W. is 
soon to be history? "I believe that Christ died for my sins and I am 
redeemed through him. That is a source of strength and sustenance on a 
daily basis." That was said by someone named Barack Obama.1 The United 
States turns out religious fanatics like the Japanese turn out cars. 
Let's pray for an end to this.

As I've mentioned before, if you're one of those who would like to 
believe that Obama has to present center-right foreign policy views to 
be elected, but once he's in the White House we can forget that he 
misled us repeatedly and the true, progressive man of peace and 
international law and human rights will emerge ... keep in mind that as 
a US Senate candidate in 2004 he threatened missile strikes against 
Iran2, and winning that election apparently did not put him in touch 
with his inner peacenik. He's been threatening Iran ever since.

The world is in terrible shape. I don't think I have to elucidate on 
that remark. How nice, how marvelously nice it would be to have an 
American president who was infused with progressive values and political 
courage. Just imagine what could be done. Like a quick and complete exit 
from Iraq. You can paint the picture as well as I can. With his 
popularity Obama could get away with almost anything, but he'll probably 
continue to play it safe. Or what may be more precise, he'll continue to 
be himself; which, apparently, is a committed centrist. He's not really 
against the war. Not like you and I are. During Obama's first four years 
in the White House, the United States will not leave Iraq. I doubt that 
he'd allow a complete withdrawal even in a second term. Has he ever 
unequivocally called the war illegal and immoral? A crime against 
humanity? Why is he so close to Colin Powell? Does he not know of 
Powell's despicable role in the war? And retaining George W. Bush's 
Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, a man against whom it would not be 
difficult to draw up charges of war crimes? Will he also find a place 
for Rumsfeld? And Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, a supporter of the 
war, to run the Homeland Security department? And General James Jones, a 
former NATO commander (sic), who wants to "win" in Iraq and Afghanistan, 
and who backed John McCain, as his National Security Adviser? Jones is 
on the Board of Directors of the Boeing Corporation and Chevron Oil. Out 
of what dark corner of Obama's soul does all this come?

As Noam Chomsky recently pointed out, the election of an indigenous 
person (Evo Morales) in Bolivia and a progressive person (Jean-Bertrand 
Aristide) in Haiti were more historic than the election of Barack Obama.

He's not really against torture either. Not like you and I are. No one 
will be punished for using or ordering torture. No one will be impeached 
because of torture. Michael Ratner, president of the Center for 
Constitutional Rights, says that prosecuting Bush officials is necessary 
to set future anti-torture policy. "The only way to prevent this from 
happening again is to make sure that those who were responsible for the 
torture program pay the price for it. I don't see how we regain our 
moral stature by allowing those who were intimately involved in the 
torture programs to simply walk off the stage and lead lives where they 
are not held accountable."3

As president, Obama cannot remain silent and do nothing; otherwise he 
will inherit the war crimes of Bush and Cheney and become a war criminal 
himself. Closing the Guantanamo hell-hole means nothing at all if the 
prisoners are simply moved to other torture dungeons. If Obama is truly 
against torture, why does he not declare that after closing Guantanamo 
the inmates will be tried in civilian courts in the US or resettled in 
countries where they clearly face no risk of torture? And simply affirm 
that his administration will faithfully abide by the 1984 Convention 
Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, of 
which the United States is a signatory, and which states: "The term 
'torture' means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether 
physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such 
purposes as obtaining information or a confession ... inflicted by or at 
the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public 
official or any other person acting in an official capacity."

The convention affirms that: "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, 
whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political stability 
or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of 

Instead, Obama has appointed former CIA official John O. Brennan as an 
adviser on intelligence matters and co-leader of his intelligence 
transition team. Brennan has called "rendition" – the kidnap-and-torture 
program carried out under the Clinton and Bush administrations – a 
"vital tool", and praised the CIA's interrogation techniques for 
providing "lifesaving" intelligence.4

Obama may prove to be as big a disappointment as Nelson Mandela, who did 
painfully little to improve the lot of the masses of South Africa while 
turning the country over to the international forces of globalization. I 
make this comparison not because both men are black, but because both 
produced such great expectations in their home country and throughout 
the world. Mandela was freed from prison on the assumption of the 
Apartheid leaders that he would become president and pacify the restless 
black population while ruling as a non-radical, free-market centrist 
without undue threat to white privilege. It's perhaps significant that 
in his autobiography he declines to blame the CIA for his capture in 
1962 even though the evidence to support this is compelling.5 It appears 
that Barack Obama made a similar impression upon the American power 
elite who vetted him in many fundraising and other meetings and smoothed 
the way for his highly unlikely ascendancy from obscure state senator to 
the presidency in four years. The financial support from the corporate 
world to sell "Brand Obama" was extraordinary.

Another comparison might be with Tony Blair. The Tories could never have 
brought in university fees or endless brutal wars, but New Labour did. 
The Republicans would have had a very difficult time bringing back the 
draft, but I can see Obama reinstating it, accompanied by a suitable 
slogan, some variation of "Yes, we can!".

I do hope I'm wrong, about his past and about how he'll rule as 
president. I hope I'm very wrong.

Many people are calling for progressives to intensely lobby the Obama 
administration, to exert pressure to bring out the "good Obama", force 
him to commit himself, hold him accountable. The bold reforms of 
Roosevelt's New Deal were spurred by widespread labor strikes and other 
militant actions soon after the honeymoon period was over. At the moment 
I have nothing better to offer than that. God help us.


    1. Washington Post, August 17, 2008↩
    2. Chicago Tribune, September 25, 2004 ↩
    3. Associated Press, November 17, 2008 ↩
    4. New York Times, October 3, 2008 ↩
    5. Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom (1994) p.278; William Blum, 
Rogue State, chapter 23, "How the CIA sent Nelson Mandela to prison for 
28 years" ↩

full: http://killinghope.org/bblum6/aer64.html

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