Revolution#120, February 17, 2008
Bamboozling You into the Empire
Change. How can anyone look around the world and not want change? Five years of war in Iraq leaving over one million Iraqis dead and five million displaced from their homes. Half of the planet lives on less than $2 a day. Within the United States, the net worth of the average Black family is one-tenth that of a white family. Torture is being legitimized and practiced by the U.S. at Guantánamo, Bagram and at secret prisons around the world. The U.S. government is spying on the people in unprecedented ways. Global warming threatens the very future of life.
The candidacy of Barack Obama promises change. and many have been attracted to his campaign, especially among young people and Black people, filling stadiums and bringing record numbers to the polls.
But you are being bamboozled. You are being lied to. And you are being enlisted in legitimating, complying with, and furthering murderous crimes.
Those who are BEING SWEPT UP IN Obama or Clinton need to ask some hard questions.
The operative point in Obama’s blathering about “no conservative America, no liberal America, just the United States of America” is that we are supposed to identify not with the interests of humanity, not with the interests of the people of the world, but as “Americans,” who patriotically support the U.S. imperialist ruling class in their contention with oppositional forces around the world. And that leads to support for the “war on terror” and all the horrors that has brought to the world—including the fostering of Islamic fundamentalist forces even as it wages war on them.
Obama’s “change” is about putting an acceptable and different face on the coffins of millions of Iraqis, on the orange jumpsuits that have become an international symbol for American-made torture, on the increased role of the Bible in government, and on the increased surveillance that heightens the whole “watch what you say” atmosphere.
Hope and raised sights are genuinely needed in the world today, but the hope in Obama is a false and harmful one.
First off, if you honestly look at what they are saying, neither Obama nor Clinton is even trying to speak about the most pressing issues confronting humanity. And they couldn’t do anything about all that even if they did want to—which they don’t. To really address the massive inequality and poverty in the world, or to solve global environmental problems, requires a radical restructuring of the economic, social, and political relations; this is something that neither of these candidates represents, or could represent. Just encouraging a spirit of public service won’t cut it—and will actually work against the kind of fundamental change needed, in effect putting band-aids on a cancer. But, even short of that, do either of these candidates represent a fundamental break with the trajectory of war and repression that the U.S. has been on over the last period?
Iraq and Foreign Policy
Let’s look at the war in Iraq. The United States is an empire. The relative stability of the ruling class (compared to the rest of the world) rests on the domination of U.S. capital, and that rests on the unchallengeability of U.S. military might. That—and not any supposed concern for “the mess we made”—is why no candidate who has been allowed to get this far in the race is for immediate and complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, let alone Afghanistan. It is why Obama, Clinton, and McCain all support U.S. military threats against Iran.
Obama makes a big deal about how he opposed the war from the start. Maybe so, but his objections were not principled opposition to pre-emptive war on oppressed nations, but concerns over whether this would “work”—i.e., whether it would be a military and political success for the U.S. empire. And now that the U.S. is in Iraq, Obama says he wants a phased withdrawal from Iraq and if elected he will begin pulling out troops and hopes to have all troops out in 16 months. But he refuses to pledge that four years after being in office he will have all U.S. troops out of Iraq.
Obama is right in line with all the other “credible” candidates in supporting the Bush doctrine of preventive war. For example saying this is the “right battlefield,” Obama said he would order U.S. military strikes on targets in Pakistan if President Musharraf did not target Taliban presence in the country’s tribal areas. “If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act we will,” Obama said. (New York Times, 8/2/2007)
The United States now spends more money on its military than all the nations on earth combined; yet both Obama and Clinton have called for even more money for the military. Columnist Robert Scheer writes, “Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have treated the military budget as sacrosanct with their Senate votes and their campaign rhetoric.” (Truthdig, 2/6/2008). Obama calls for adding 92,000 more troops to the U.S. military. His website says, “it is essential that our military continues to be the best in the world.” And again, this is because in a world dominated by capitalism, military might enforces the dominant position of U.S. imperialism. Imagine how everything that holds the oppressive, exploitive system in this country would unravel if that domination was undermined.
Obama is surrounding himself with foreign policy advisors who are tested operatives of U.S. imperialism. One of Obama’s key foreign policy advisors is Anthony Lake, who was National Security Advisor to Bill Clinton from 1993 to 1997, and who also played a role in the sanctions against Iraq which killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. And then there’s Zbigniew Brzezinski, another top Obama policy advisor, who as Carter’s National Security Advisor was responsible for, among other crimes, giving political and military support to the Indonesian dictator Suharto to wage a genocidal campaign against the people of East Timor, killing tens of thousands.
When the Military Commissions Act—which allows the President to decide what constitutes torture, indefinitely hold people without trial, put people to death based on “evidence” obtained by torture, among many other things—was being debated in the Senate, Obama voted against it. But Obama, like Clinton and all other Democratic senators, refused to filibuster to stop this law from going into effect. Obama said, “The problem with this bill is not that it’s too tough on terrorists. The problem with this bill is that it’s sloppy.” Calling this bill—which fundamentally changed rights as fundamental as habeas corpus that go back hundreds of years—“sloppy” is like criticizing Hitler for bad penmanship. Obama went on to say that he didn’t oppose military commissions trying the detainees, only that these commissions hadn’t been adequately thought through. And both Obama and Clinton supported the original Patriot Act and its renewal.
How then, should we understand Obama’s real differences with things McCain is saying (Obama speaks of trying to disengage from Iraq in a way that will preserve U.S. interests, while McCain talks about staying a hundred years)? First, underlying these disagreements are common shared assumptions: that U.S. “global interests” must be perpetuated and that the U.S. must defeat Islamic fundamentalist forces in the Middle East that stand as obstacles to U.S. control of this strategic region.
Beyond that, to understand Obama’s role we have to look behind the Wizard of Oz curtain to see how elections are used to play people into identifying with a system that does not represent their interests. One way this is done is by having two kinds of candidates running for president: There are the ones who are allowed into the early rounds of debates and caucuses to reflect real desires and demands of the people. These candidates are then rather quickly weeded out; their role is to draw people into the process before being “bait-and-switched” to another candidate who is deemed a “realistic” choice.
Right now Obama is playing something of an unusual, dual role. First, he is being positioned as a serious candidate by some forces in the ruling class—he raised $30 million in one month and that is not just “grassroots” support. There are forces positioning him, and arguments being made that he would be the best president to rally the patriotism of the masses behind the U.S. domestic and international agenda in the coming period. (See “Andrew Sullivan on Obama: The ‘Best Face’ for Imperialism,” Revolution #118, 2/3/2008.)
But he is also playing the role of the candidate who ropes people into the process. So some of the things he promises, like the rebuilding of New Orleans on a basis that takes into account its long history as a center of African-American culture and the needs of its people, are the kind of thing he can say now, but will slip away if he actually becomes president. In that case, he would serve as the head of a system that is driven by the insane logic of accumulating profit and all the thinking that goes with that. And Obama’s being Black will have nothing to do with it, one way or another—this is a country in which the system of capitalism and white supremacy have been tied together since the “birth of the nation.” If it so happens that having a Black president will best reinforce the oppression of the Black masses, then this system can do that. If you don’t believe that, look at the history of the Black mayors in America—including people like Wilson Goode of Philadelphia, who signed off on the bombing of a Black neighborhood there in 1985 which took the lives of 11 people, five of them children, and destroyed 61 homes.
And there is the possibility that Clinton, not Obama, will get the nomination, and the “new grassroots” people he has brought into the system will be channeled into Hillary Clinton’s establishment-as-usual campaign. Because once they’ve got you there, what else are you going to do? Support a Republican?
If You Want Real Change…
There is nothing good for the people in any of this and much that is harmful. We are told that the elections are the realistic way to change things. We are told that if we don’t join in all of this we are just being cynical or worse. In reality it is the process of elections that uses people’s hopes and dreams to draw them into identifying with and supporting the system and its crimes that they originally opposed. There is nothing more cynical than that.
But there is something that we can do if we want real change. We can demand that this government STOPS torturing people, STOPS spying on people, STOPS waging its wars for empire. STOPS destroying the planet. We can—and must—get much more active in resisting this, and in doing so, rupturing with the whole political framework that extinguishes resistance and confines protest to what the-powers-that-be find acceptable. And you can get out this paper that has a real alternative in its pages—a revolutionary solution that gets to the roots of this problem, a radical movement aiming to bring about such a revolution, and a far better society without the exploitation and oppression and divisions that are bred into the bone of this one. That is something to dream about and to fight for.
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