Revolution#133, June 22, 2008
The Barack Obama Campaign:
Should People Feel Good About This Country?
The emergence of Barack Obama as the Democratic Party candidate for President poses important questions. Among them, and central to Obama’s core message, is whether people who have not felt good about this country now have something to feel good about: that an African-American is the nominee of a major party for the first time in this nation’s history, and that he is running with a message of “hope” and “change.”
Should We Feel Good About This Country Now?
People are outraged and horrified about what this country has been doing. Millions of people do not feel good about this country right now. They’re right.
Take one very basic example: The so-called “war on terror.” The “war on terror” was launched in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 that resulted in the deaths of nearly 3,000 people. Under the rubric of this “war on terror,” the Bush regime has:
• invaded Afghanistan and continued to wage war on it for over six years with tactics that resulted in massive civilian deaths;
• invaded Iraq—a country that had nothing to do with 9/11—and has occupied it for five years, causing the deaths of perhaps a million Iraqis and the displacement of four million more—all on the basis of conscious, deliberate lies by Bush;
• supported Israel’s ongoing violent suppression of the Palestinian people and the denial of their national rights, and also backed up Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon—including the widespread Israeli use of anti-civilian cluster bombs that were made in the USA;
• threatened, and continues to threaten, Iran with military attack, including the implied threat of nuclear attack by the code-phrase “all options are on the table”;
• opened up a worldwide network of torture sites, where literally thousands of “suspects” are held incommunicado and tortured, with no rights or legal recourse;1
• swept up thousands of immigrants within the U.S., holding them without charges and in many cases torturing them, and also instituted new laws expanding the state’s power to wiretap and otherwise spy on people without legal review.
Who can forget the orange jumpsuit, the man in the hood, and the grinning American soldier giving the thumbs-up while she poses with a corpse?
Yes, people do NOT feel good about this—and should NOT feel good about this—and many are very righteously disgusted and angered and heartsick about it. Yes, they are—and should be—profoundly ashamed of it.
A Whole History. . .
Now it’s important to understand that none of this began with Bush. Long before Bush, the U.S. waged war and sponsored proxy wars in this region that took hundreds of thousands of lives since World War 2.2 The U.S. CIA installed tyrants like the Shah of Iran—and even had a hand in the ascension of Saddam Hussein—through military coups, and worked to violently suppress any viable communist or revolutionary nationalist movements or groups in the region.
Bush institutionalized open, legal use of torture but, before that, the Clinton administration kidnapped and “renditioned” people around the world, and sent them to countries like Egypt with the knowledge and expectation that they would be subjected to gruesome torture.3
And the U.S. government has backed up other repressive regimes like the Saudi royal family, the Sadat and Mubarak regimes in Egypt, etc., with massive military aid. Beyond that, and as a cornerstone to their whole policy, the U.S. has built up Israel as a highly militarized settler-state, supporting it as it subjected the Palestinian people to terror, exile, massacre, and a draconian occupation.
All this has been done to protect U.S. imperial “interests” in the region.
And what are those interests? The domination of the region’s oil both as a source of super-profits and as a strategic weapon against rival powers. Flowing from that, the U.S. imperialists need—from their interests and their point of view—to dominate and determine the politics of the region. All these policies have, for decades, led to rivers of oil flowing out of the Middle East—and rivers of blood flowing through it.
The “war on terror” itself—Bush’s “creative development” of all this—was launched to further protect those interests—and specifically to recast the political and social terrain of the region in order to defeat challenges coming from both Islamic fundamentalist political trends and its imperialist rivals to those interests. These are not the fundamental interests of the majority of American people, let alone the interests of the people of the world—but they ARE the interests of the ruling imperialists who sit atop this system, and they are at the heart of the whole “American way of life.”
And no, if you have any sense of this history at all—the crimes committed and the interests behind those crimes—you should NOT feel good about America and what it has done.
…And a Whole Bigger Picture
The Middle East, of course, is just one part of the world, and what we have just explored is just one brief period, and one dimension, of what the people of this planet confront. But look around the world. Pick a country—Haiti, South Africa, Mexico, Vietnam…. Wherever you look, you will find the same kind of history. And when you look deeper, you will find these same interests, the maximization of profit enforced through U.S. invasions, coups, puppet dictators, and massacres.
And what about the United States itself? The whole development of this country was driven forward by capitalism, and has developed through the most grinding exploitation of millions and millions of people, generation after generation, their lives feeding into the huge power and wealth of a relative handful. This nation, “from sea to shining sea,” was stolen through the near-genocide of the Native Americans. Much of the great wealth of this nation was produced by, and stolen from, African slaves — slaves who were brutally kidnapped from their homes, and often murdered and raped in the process. Their work, under the overseer’s whip, not only built up southern agriculture, but also provided much of the basis for northern transportation, industry, and commerce. Even after the end of formal slavery, Black people remained subjugated in the Jim Crow / KKK South, and then in the northern ghettos and factories—and are now often cast aside and criminalized. And today, from the meatpacking plants of Iowa to the fields of Florida and California, millions of immigrant workers live in the shadows, branded “illegal” and working under the most exploitative conditions.
Think about how many millions died, or had their whole lives plundered and mangled, to serve those interests. No, people should not—and many people do not—“feel good” about this.
The great wealth of the rulers of this country, extracted “at home” and even more viciously around the world, is now the basis for the most overwhelming military machine in world history. And that powerful military, including thousands of nuclear weapons, enforces this whole setup. From military bases in 130 countries around the world, and through proxies and regional enforcers (like Israel), that military has brought death and destruction from Somalia to Nicaragua, from Iraq to Vietnam.
If you cannot feel good about this, if you are outraged, you are right. But then the question must be asked: What would it take to really change it?
Would This Really Change If Obama
Let’s return to the very salient example of the so-called “war on terror,” and look at what Obama himself is saying about what he would do as president, and what he would be compelled to do if he was president.
Yes, Obama opposed the invasion of Iraq, but he is not calling for getting out of Iraq now. His talk of withdrawal and timetables is—as the Los Angeles Times recently wrote, “carefully hedged, leaving the option of taking more time—and leaving more troops—if events require.” He says that when he is president, “We will get out as carefully as we were careless getting in.” Should you feel good about this? That he uses the fact that he initially opposed the war, to now hem and haw about getting out, and to lay the basis to stay in “if events (!) require”?
And if Obama were to launch a war on Iran based on “evidence” of a nuclear weapons program (brought to you by the same liars who fabricated Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction”), but only after offering to “talk” with the Iranian President Ahmadinejad, should that make you feel good about this country? (Don’t forget that Obama, in a major speech that we covered last week, emphasized that “I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon”—and then departed from his text to repeat the word “everything” three times!)
Should you feel good about this country if, as Obama also pledged, it maintains its unconditional support for Israel’s violent suppression of the Palestinian people and Israel’s military aggression against other countries, as well as its maintenance of an arsenal of up to 150 nuclear weapons, but in addition to that Obama also held some meetings with the Palestinian Authority?
Why should any of this be a reason to feel good about this country? And yet, this is precisely the limit of the change that Obama promises.
Obama, let us be clear, is running for president of the U.S.A. That means president of an empire that sucks the blood of billions of people and uses the most terrible military machine in history to enforce that. When Obama talks about “change,” he is talking about change to serve and maintain all that. Listen carefully to the whole context in which Obama talks about the occupation of Iraq and the whole “war on terror.” When you do, you will hear him talking about how to carry out U.S. political, economic, and military domination of the Middle East. And if he became president, he would be presiding over a global system of capitalism-imperialism, contending with other capitalist countries, and suppressing any opposition, through political and economic structures that enforce that, and ultimately through the threat, or actual delivery, of military violence. That setup defines the terms for anyone running for president of—for chief executive of—that system. Obama cannot rise above that, and does not want to rise above that.
Empire—its consequences all over the planet, and what it takes to maintain it—is nothing to feel good about.
We Need Fundamental, Revolutionary Change
But that is the question people have to answer: do you want to live in an empire where the ruler might be able to make you “feel good” (or at least “okay”) with the crimes that necessarily go with maintaining an empire; or do you want to live in a world without empires?
The Obama campaign is not about—and cannot be about—addressing in any real, fundamental way, the things that make millions of people not feel good about this country. But an important part of what the Obama candidacy is all about, and why it has gotten as far as it has with the blessings of the powers-that-be, is that it is about mis-channeling outrage into making people feel good about this country.
The point here is not that nothing can be done about all the things that the rulers of this country have done, and are doing, here and around the world. It can—but only outside the killing confines of a system that allows nothing more meaningful than participating in a ritual choice of who will preside over the next four years of oppression.
What all this shows even more emphatically is that we need a whole new, radically different system, and a revolution to bring that system into being.
We don’t need change that we are allowed, and told to believe in—change that won’t really change anything fundamental—we need fundamental, revolutionary change.
1. While the world has learned about Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, much of this torture network remains secret—carried out at secret European prisons, on U.S. naval ships, and contracted out through “rendition” to other regimes. The human rights organization Reprieve recently reported that “By its own admission, the U.S. government is currently detaining at least 26,000 people without trial in secret prisons, and information suggests up to 80,000 have been ‘through the system’ since 2001.”[back]
2. The Iran-Iraq War, which lasted from 1980 to 1988, was initiated by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq with a green light from the Carter administration as a way to weaken the Islamic Republic of Iran. The U.S. fueled the war, providing military assistance at different times to both sides. Death toll estimates from that war range from hundreds of thousands of troops along with widespread civilians deaths. See “The U.S. & Iran: A History of Imperialist Domination, Intrigue and Intervention, Part 6: The 1980s—Double-Dealing, Double-Crossing, and Fueling the Gulf Slaughter,” by Larry Everest at revcom.us/iranhistory[back]
3. See “Outsourcing Torture: The secret history of America’s ‘extraordinary rendition’ program,” by Jane Mayer, The New Yorker, February 14, 2005[back]
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