Obama After Paris: A Sane and Moral Response?

by Alan Goodman | November 18, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


On November 16, Barack Obama held a press conference in Antalya, Turkey, where he is attending the “G20” Summit. This is a meeting of world economic powers. The terrible November 13 attacks across Paris by ISIS—the reactionary armed Islamist movement now dominating parts of Syria and Iraq—was not on the agenda. But it was all anyone was talking about. As Revolution emphasized immediately after the attacks, “The attack in Paris was aimed at advancing a reactionary agenda by spreading terror. It was cruel and unjust and horrific.” (See “A Terrorist Attack in Paris, a World of Horrors, and the NEED FOR ANOTHER WAY.”)

Bringing Forward Another Way

Bringing Foward Another Way is an edited version of a talk by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, to a group of Party supporters, in 2006. It is must reading for a serious understanding of what the U.S. "war on terror" is really about and how to bring forward a positive force in the world in opposition to both Western imperialism and Islamic Jihad.

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When Obama finished his opening remarks, representatives of ruling class media swarmed like piranhas. They hit Obama with “questions,” like calling on him to address those who say “[Y]our preference of diplomacy over using the military makes the United States weaker and emboldens our enemies.” Or, since “the United States has the greatest military in the world… why can't we take out these bastards?”

It almost seemed like déjà vu all over again—back to the days right after September 11, 2001, when anyone who said anything but “kill them all and let God sort them out” was condemned as a traitor.

At the press conference, Obama punched back—visibly pissed off. He argued that it was not possible or necessary for the U.S. to send 50,000 troops into Syria and every other country from which a terrorist attack is launched. He defended his moves to allow in 10,000 Syrian refugees (out of more than 11 million people displaced by the war).

Afterwards, Obama was denounced by all the Republican presidential candidates. They called him weak and demanded more aggressive military attacks, more fascist repression, and competed with each other to demonize immigrants and openly declare a religious war on Islam. Jeb Bush—the supposed “moderate” in the bunch—was not to be “left behind” in the race to incite Christian fascists and frame this as a clash of “my god is bigger than his god.” Jeb Bush called for the U.S. to make the criteria for refugee status those who “can prove you’re a Christian.”

Compared to the howls of the press, and the Republicans demanding more military aggression than Obama would commit to, and in the wake of the terrible ISIS massacre in Paris, Obama’s stand might seem measured. But let’s examine it.

First, at the press conference Obama reminded anyone who thought he was reluctant to carry out mass slaughter that during his administration, he has launched more than 8,000 air strikes. Obama was not specific about who those air strikes were directed at, but nobody (including him) mentioned the deliberate U.S. bombing attack on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, on October 3 of this year that massacred a dozen doctors along with patients and staff and destroyed the only surgical hospital in a major city in Afghanistan. So, while he argued for continuing to maneuver diplomatically and pay attention to public relations considerations, his basic message was insisting that a “sustained” strategy was the best and only alternative—which boils down to a grinding, endless, and hellish war.

For a MOMENT—Put Yourself in the Shoes of the Ruling Class

The tense and testy exchanges at Obama’s press conference in Turkey and in its aftermath reflect real crisis and dangers for the U.S. empire in today’s world.

Put yourself, for a moment—repugnant though it is to do so—in the shoes of those whose role in this world is to safeguard, maintain, and project the U.S. empire. They are top dog in a world of the most grinding exploitation. Around the world, they align with junior partners in crime in Asia, Africa, and Latin America who run torture chambers and death squads. The workings of their system, and their wars, drive millions from their homes. They are devastating the environment. In their U.S. “homeland” they are waging a reign of terror against Black and Brown people, and moving to force women to bear children against their will through making abortion—or any form of birth control—inaccessible to millions.

If you pull the lens back, you can see that what is going on right now with ISIS—their brutal and reprehensible attacks in Paris, in Beirut (the capital of Lebanon, where ISIS murdered 43 people and wounded over 200 one day before the Paris attacks), and apparently on the Russian passenger plane on October 31—and the response now coming from the imperialist powers, is part of a whole dynamic in which both of these poles carry out crimes on a daily, hourly basis.

If you took global imperialism out of this equation, the fundamentalist jihadists would be relatively dormant. But the workings of this system around the world have actually breathed life into and generated continuous incarnations of fundamentalist Islam. In part this is because of the way capitalism-imperialism tears up traditional societies from the “top down”—uprooting traditional ways of life while imposing new oppressive norms (for a substantial analysis of this phenomenon and how to bring forward a REAL alternative, see “Why Is Religious Fundamentalism Growing in Today’s World” by Bob Avakian). And the invasions, torture chambers, and drones that enforce all this have fueled the rise of fundamentalist Jihad.

In this situation, one side of the argument within the ranks of the U.S. ruling class insists that any sign of weakness, any sense that the USA will hesitate to invade anywhere, anytime, for any reason, opens the door to unraveling the whole U.S. imperialist setup. And so, insane as it seems, they argue for doubling down and lashing back in unrestrained forms.

The other side argues that if the U.S. strikes at their jihadist foes with all-out invasions—like they did after September 11, 2001—they will unnecessarily drive more and more people into the arms of more and more virulent jihadists. And as a matter of fact, reactionary jihadists openly bank on and want to provoke the U.S. and its allies into doing just that—in many ways actions like blowing up the Russian passenger plane in Egypt, or the attacks in Paris and Beirut (where ISIS massacred civilians in a poor neighborhood that is a base for Islamist forces fighting ISIS), are calculated to elicit a stronger response from “the West.”

Plus, sending large number of U.S. troops into the region, and suffering casualties, is bound to set off domestic conflict within the U.S. that can turn into a real danger for their rule. Obama argues for staying the course. For pressuring other powers and forces to throw more into the conflict; to maintain an endless reign of terror from bombs and drones; to ratchet up big-brother repression; and to continue to wage a war for “hearts and minds” by maintaining a facade of “tolerance” and branding wars for empire as “bringing democracy” to the world—tattered as that is.

A Horrific “Logic of the Logic” of the U.S. and “Global Powers”

Nobody in the “debate” within the U.S. ruling class rules out horrific mass slaughter. A truly chilling article in the November 17 New York Times—representing the outlook of liberals within the ruling class—explored various strategies for how global powers can smash ISIS. One was what the Russians did in Chechnya, which the article explicitly described as “a scorched-earth policy” that included the Russians kidnapping and holding innocent civilians as hostages, demolishing or burning the homes of relatives of suspected anti-government fighters, devastating the capital city of Grozny, and even holding the families of jihadists hostage.

And the article includes a call from the former chief of Israel’s “intelligence” bureau who demanded, “With this enemy, we have to push aside arguments on law, morality and comparisons of security and the rights of the individual. That means to do what they did in World War II to Dresden. They wiped it off the map. That is what has to be done to all the territorial enclaves that ISIS is holding.”

There are no accurate numbers, but civilian deaths in Dresden were at least in the tens of thousands. They were innocent civilians. There was no military value to the U.S. bombing Dresden. The city was swollen with refugees from fighting who were bombed “off the map” along with the city itself. The bombing was an act of massive terror on a monstrous scale. 

The Times article was an obscenely dispassionate exploration of how these ghastly war crimes might be duplicated to smash ISIS. In fact, the bombing launched by France in recent days has essentially begun to implement a strategy of wiping out not just ISIS, but also the civilian population in areas it controls. According to the Times article, when Obama began bombing the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria last year, he did not go after known targets in Raqqa, Syria—the Islamic State’s proclaimed capital—where hundreds of thousands of people live. But in the aftermath of the ISIS massacres in Paris, France is doing just that—bombing Raqqa with U.S. support.

In short, for the U.S. ruling class, the logic of their kill-or-be-killed system has them in a situation where they don’t have any good options. And whatever options they do pursue bring nothing but suffering and death to millions and millions of people.

Obama’s Role, and Record

Let’s be clear: Barack Obama has not mitigated the escalating vicious cycle between Islamic jihad and “the West”—just the opposite. In the actions taken in his capacity as chief executive and commander-in-chief of all this, he has actually contributed to this dynamic in very vicious ways. 

  • Obama has provided unstinting support for Israel’s apartheid regime and in particular its two genocidal wars against Gaza during the time he has been in office, and his continued and escalating arming of Israel (and yes, this is true even with his squabbling with Netanyahu over HOW Israel should carry out its “policeman for the West” role in the Middle East).
  • Obama has provided unstinting support for Saudi Arabia’s brutally repressive regime and its wars in the region, including its war in Yemen right now, which has taken thousands of lives, including several hundred children, and in which the Saudis have used U.S.-supplied cluster bombs (and again, this is true despite differences with the Saudis over his policy of trying to draw the reactionary Iranian regime into cooperating with U.S. domination of the region).
  • Under Obama, the U.S. was part of the bombing of Libya and the overthrow of Muammar al-Qaddafi, which directly contributed to the strengthening of ISIS and other forces like ISIS.
  • Obama’s strategy of relying on any forces who can be used to serve U.S. interests in Syria, including through Saudi Arabia, has enabled the arming and growth of non-ISIS fundamentalist jihadist forces (even as he has searched for and attempted to train non-Islamist forces that he could more openly give military support to).
  • Obama continues U.S. military support for the Afghan regime, including the bombing of the hospital in Kunduz.
  • Drone warfare, from Afghanistan to Yemen, wipes out wedding parties, assassinates civilians, and creates a constant state of tension and terror for millions of people for whom the United States and death-from-the-sky are synonymous.

And this is only a beginning list!

Another Way Is Not Only Necessary, It Is Possible

The U.S. rulers’ calculations are those of the defenders of an empire built on genocide and slavery, enforced around the world with endless unjust wars. On the other side of the conflict are smaller-scale reactionaries who aspire to a higher position within that horrible world and who have imposed Dark-Ages ignorance, vicious intolerance, and violent and extreme oppression of women where they are in control.

The interests of humanity lie completely outside these “alternatives.”

Here, we will refer readers to a statement we have up all the time at revcom.us and in every print issue of Revolution—which we cited in “A Terrorist Attack in Paris, a World of Horrors, and the NEED FOR ANOTHER WAY”:

“It is this system that has got us in the situation we’re in today, and keeps us there. And it is through revolution to get rid of this system that we ourselves can bring a much better system into being. The ultimate goal of this revolution is communism: A world where people work and struggle together for the common good...Where everyone contributes whatever they can to society and gets back what they need to live a life worthy of human beings...Where there are no more divisions among people in which some rule over and oppress others, robbing them not only of the means to a decent life but also of knowledge and a means for really understanding, and acting to change, the world.

“This revolution is both necessary and possible.”

And, as we also say,

“Because of Bob Avakian and the work he has done over several decades, summing up the positive and negative experience of the communist revolution so far, and drawing from a broad range of human experience, there is a new synthesis of communism that has been brought forward—there really is a viable vision and strategy for a radically new, and much better, society and world, and there is the crucial leadership that is needed to carry forward the struggle toward that goal.”

This really IS a way out of the madness, and everyone owes it to themselves, to their fellow humans, and to the future to really engage this. And spread it as you do.

And instead of, and opposed to, self-delusion, blinding oneself to the actual consequences of what any moves by the U.S. will bring to the world, or buying into the immorality of choosing between evils, there must be visible, determined opposition to the war and repression being carried out and now escalated by “your government” on the part of those of us in the U.S., France, and other imperialist countries.

Breaking through to another world, and breaking out of the current vicious cycle requires that people around the world see that the rulers do not speak for us. And that we stand with the interests of humanity.

Read, share online, and print and distribute “A Terrorist Attack in Paris, a World of Horrors, and the NEED FOR ANOTHER WAY.”



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