Barack Obama’s 100 Days of Denial
With the wind of his virgin European trip to his back, Hurricane Obama blew into the Caribbean last weekend for the Trinidad Summit, promoting the most-hyped product of the year: American Leadership.
Yes, it gets out even the most stubborn stains – even impossible to remove Bush and torture stains! So just like that, the star struck South Americans, like the Europeans before them, were all abuzz about the charming new and improved leader with the dual heritage and dazzling white smile who perfectly personifies, like Lazarus, the resurrection of old American politics.
Admittedly, there are some welcome changes with the new administration that cannot be cynically ignored: Over the weekend, for example, Obama was hailed (at least by half of the registered American voters) for courting Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez, as well as making polite overtures to outcast Cuba. It must be remembered that just five months ago such acts would have been tantamount to treason by Homeland Security. And this was shortly after Obama said that he might consider risking a chat with Iran’s firebrand President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (!).
Incredibly, in the two-tribe cannibalistic jungle known as US Politics, the pendulum has swung so fiercely to the right that even talking to opponents who do not share our same beliefs and philosophies has been branded a political heresy. So what is it? Are we courting friends, or courting disaster by just talking?
The Republicans, still teaching fear and paranoia, believe we are courting disaster because Obama fraternized with folks south of the Rio Grande who do crazy things like tax the rich and provide social safety nets for their people instead of bailing out the entire financial system every 20 years with taxpayer dollars.
But the main point, which everybody is only too happy to ignore, is that Obama is being cheered wildly for performing the simplest of all diplomatic gestures – shaking hands with fellow leaders regardless of their political colors. This cannot be considered the work of a hero, or a political genius, except in a nation where 50 percent of the people are opposed to formal debate and cool negotiations.
Obama defended his decision to shake hands with Hugo Chavez during the summit by alluding to the relative puniness of Venezuela’s military in comparison to the Dr. Frankenstein monster of the United States.
“Venezuela is a country whose defense budget is one-six hundredth of the United States. They own Citgo. It’s unlikely that as a consequence of me shaking hands or that having a polite conversation with Chavez that we endanger the interests of the United States,” observed the American president.
The weakness of Obama’s comment, however, is that had Venezuela been an ‘enemy’ armed to the teeth (as is Iran, incidentally, as well as ornery North Korea) then this fact would have possibly precluded any discussion, debate or even gentlemanly handshake. This militaristic way of organizing foreign policy is setting the threshold for successful negotiations dangerously high in a world that cannot afford to experience another world war.
Super Obama, or Super Hype?
Even the diehard Republicans must be feeling some relief watching their new president construct complex sentences and win thunderous applause in town squares around the world. And I’m probably not the only American who was getting very tired of telling caffeinated European taxi drivers at 3 in the morning that I was a Canadian, Australian or even a German in order to avoid a hostile debate about MY foreign policy.
For reasons not fully understood, at least here, there exists somewhere in the back of the world’s mind a little padded room where the United States of America is still perceived as a powerful force for good. In the center of this room is a film projector that continuously plays black-and-white grainy images of America’s illustrious past: European immigrants getting off the boat at Ellis Island; American GIs returning home from World War II; Marilyn Monroe singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to John F. Kennedy. With these comforting images in mind, the world has come to expect, despite the ugly seizures of the last decade, nothing less than exemplary behavior from the United States.
And it is this undying hope in the principles that America preaches, yet is at great pains to practice, that makes people forgive and forget Washington’s occasionally monstrous behavior with such alarming alacrity.
Perhaps it is America’s geographical isolation that gives the global village a case of acute long-term memory loss on every subject that involves American politics. After all, just yesterday we were (delicately) debating the use of torture, secret US prisons in Eastern Europe and the outing of a CIA agent; today, it’s as if we had never gone tumbling down the rabbit hole of sheer insanity for 8 long years. Even regular nightmares are symptomatic of deeper psychological problems.
So it could be argued that we are not really applauding Barack Obama per se, but rather we are applauding Barack Obama because he is not George W. Bush. And that is a very dangerous reason to heap so much adoration on any young president, despite Mr. Obama’s obvious talents (which may or may not include leading a nation of 300 million people in the middle of a crisis).
Don’t get me wrong. I’d love to forget about the last 8 years just as much as anybody. But forgetting history, the historians warn us, means that we will be condemned to repeat it, and those are eight long years that very few people – even amongst the Republicans – want to repeat.
Presently, the mainstream media is spotlighting one legally suspect act by the Bush administration, which involved “waterboarding” [an interrogation tactic that involves covering a detainee’s face with a towel, which is then heavily saturated with water. The technique is said to simulate the very unpleasant sensation of drowning] suspected Al-Qaeda members and other terrorists. President Obama has already said that his administration views such harsh interrogation techniques as good old fashioned torture. But because the Bush administration defined it as a legal means of extracting information from the enemy, Obama said he will not pursue legal action against the individuals who participated in those activities.
However, there are many other questions that need some presidential resolving. First, ‘torturing’ enemy detainees, as bad as that might have been, was not the worst offense of the Bush administration. First and foremost, there is the question of the Iraq War itself, which the United Nations determined to be an illegal war, carried out without the full consent of the Security Council. To date, not a single weapon of mass destruction, the reason given for launching the invasion, has been found in Iraq. But yes, it gets worse.
Not a single newspaper is spilling valuable ink over Valerie Plame, the CIA operations officer who had her identity revealed just before the Iraq War shifted into fifth gear. Although the details of the case are extremely involved, basically it boils down to the allegation that Plame had her CIA cover blown after her husband, the former ambassador to Niger, Joseph Wilson, penned a damning article (“What I did not find in Africa,” New York Times, July 6, 2003) that contradicted the official claim by the Bush administration that Iraq had attempted to acquire uranium, allegedly for the purpose of making nuclear weapons.
Eight days after Wilson’s unhelpful article appeared, columnist Robert Novak wrote in the same paper, “Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction.” With those words, which amount to nothing less than a federal offense punishable up to 15 years in prison, Mrs. Plame’s cool career as a secret agent was officially over.
By now it seems certain that Obama has no intention of reopening that court case, which saw the single individual convicted in the case, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, originally sentenced to 30 months in jail, set free after Bush commuted the sentence.
Although President Obama has shown great determination (the level of judgment, however, remains an altogether different question) in battling the global financial meltdown, as well as attempting to befriend some of America’s most resolute enemies, he is showing great denial in matters that involve American politics past, present and future. This can only prove disastrous for the US, which is getting too comfortable with the idea of new leaders whitewashing the blackened slates of their predecessors.
Unless the potential misdeeds of the past are brought fully to light, in a court of law, there is every reason to expect, with the next ‘national emergency,’ that the ugly head of history will reveal itself once again. And this article has not even touched upon the loss of civil liberties that Americans have suffered since the turn of the millennium.
Barack Obama, who is already being lightly derided as a ‘Black Gorbachev’ in Russian circles, needs to be every bit as brave in the field of domestic politics as he is on the stage of international politics, otherwise the great American experiment could easily slip through his fingers like sand in an hourglass.