The Two Faces of Barack Obama

One for the masses, one for the power elite

by , April 06, 2009

The news from Europe, if you listen to our infatuated media, is that the Euros love President Obama: according to the American reportage, his recent trip there was a cavalcade of photo-ops, cheering crowds, and hugs from the queen of England. Even the French were in awe of him! However, if you look beneath the surface, not that far beneath the gloss and the glam there runs a current of irritation, and, dare I say it, resentment.

Take, for example, his stop in the Czech Republic, where he declared that he was seeking a nuclear-free world – that is, a world free of nuclear weapons. This is a goal the United States has a special moral responsibility to seek, he averred, because we are the only nation that has actually used these weapons. The crowd loved it. What they didn’t at all love, however, was his announcement that

“‘As long as the threat from Iran persists, we will go forward with a missile defense system that is cost-effective and proven. Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile activity poses a real threat, not just to the United States, but to Iran’s neighbors and our allies.’”

"The governments of the Czech Republic and Poland, he added, are ‘courageous’ for ‘agreeing to host a defense against these missiles.’"

One supposes it takes a fair amount of courage to defy the wishes of your own people and obey the dictates of a foreign power, albeit not the sort of courage appreciated by Obama’s audience. As the London Telegraph put it:

"The crowd enthusiastically cheered the more idealistic parts of Mr. Obama’s speech but was relatively subdued when he spoke about his backing for missile defense.

"Petr Sramek, 33, was among those disappointed that Mr. Obama had not dropped a policy that was opposed by more than two thirds of Czechs. ‘I really liked the clear message on nuclear disarmament but I am against the missile defense system. It is more about geopolitical influence then defense against missiles.’

"Arena Protivinska, 30, described herself as a ‘big fan’ of Mr. Obama but accused him of ‘hypocrisy’ for urging world peace while also pushing forward with the missile shield. ‘He sounded like George W Bush saying that we should be afraid in order to justify missile defense.’"

Like Americans, the Europeans want to believe – but they see the two faces of Barack Obama too clearly, and the contrast is too apparent to be denied. The gullible Americans, who take things at face value, still believe their new president represents a real change, a challenge to the status quo, while the more sophisticated Europeans are quick to pick up on Obama’s inconsistencies – made all the more glaring by his habit of pairing two mutually contradictory stances on the same issue.

This includes not only coupling missile "defense" in Eastern Europe with the prospect of a nuclear-free world, but also the recent launching of his "Af-Pak" initiative. Although dressed up as a diplomatic offensive, this is essentially a military offensive aimed at widening the war in Afghanistan to include portions of Pakistan.

The administration and its media lapdogs portrayed the Af-Pak rollout as a definitive break with the bad old days of the Bush White House, when it was all about troop movements. The new regime, we’re told, will initiate substantial diplomatic and humanitarian aid efforts, notably an effort to reach out to dissident elements of the Taliban. However, the real core of the Af-Pak strategy is a radical escalation of the military element, in effect an Afghan "surge" spilling over into Pakistan’s tribal areas: it means the addition of some 21,000 soldiers to U.S. forces, with the prospect of more to come.

The Janus-faced American hegemon speaks out of both sides of his mouth, and in two voices: one for the masses, who delight in his soaring idealism and seeming ability to express their deepest aspirations, and one for the elites, who hear a promise of continuity rather than change.

This two-track narrative framed even his Prague declamation of a nuclear-free world. According to a top White House aide, we are not to take this idea all that seriously:

"Gary Samore, a White House adviser on arms control, indicated that Mr. Obama’s call for ridding the world of nuclear weapons should not be taken too literally. ‘In terms of a nuclear-free world, we recognize this is not a near-term possibility,’ he said. Rather, the call was an attempt to ‘seize the moral high ground’ in order to increase pressure on countries such as North Korea and Iran."

Obama giveth with one hand, and taketh away with another – smiling that oil-slick grin the whole time. Although I agree with the sentiments of the Czech woman cited above, the Obama method goes way beyond mere hypocrisy. It is a conscious technique of inverting the true meaning and intent of his policies.

Thus, his launching of an intensified military campaign in Central Asia is portrayed as an effort to "stabilize" the region. His provocation against Russia in Eastern Europe is paired with a call to abolish nuclear weapons. And, of course, this ploy carries over into the domestic arena, as well, where – in the process of giving certain favored sectors of the financial industry trillions in subsidies – he has launched a campaign against "corporate greed" and outrageously extravagant executive salaries and perks. He rails against corporate irresponsibility, yet he has appointed to his administration the very corporate insiders who got us into this mess in the first place.

Obama ran for president as the spokesman for the underdog – the little guy just managing to make ends meet, whose volunteerism and contributions over the Internet catapulted the Illinois senator into the running. Yet the reality is that Obama was corporate America’s candidate from the very beginning, and they showed it by lavishly financing his campaign: the money emanating from Goldman Sachs was quite impressive, and, together with the DNC, Wall Street buried the Republicans, who were outspent by three-to-one [.pdf] (and out of gas in any event). Unsurprisingly, the top echelons of the president’s economic team are filled with former Goldman Sachs officials – and, not coincidentally, that firm is the primary beneficiary of the AIG/bank bailout.

The ruling elites of this country, confronted by the specter of a rising populist anger, have found in President Obama a subtle and skillful anger-management expert. For years they’ve been frustrated in Washington, as their efforts to fight a spreading war met increasing resistance from the American people. Divine Providence smiled down on them, however, as Obama suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Here was an "antiwar" candidate who said we’ve been fighting the wrong war all along – and, upon taking office, immediately rectified that by sending 21,000 more troops to the wilds of Central Asia.

What a godsend to the War Party Barack Obama is! As he moves toward confrontations with Iran, Russia, and Pakistan, and continues to unnecessarily irritate China, Asia’s sleeping giant, the media portray him as the Great Peacemaker. As the mask slips, however, and the reality becomes all too apparent, how will his "progressive" supporters react? Will they rise in protest, or sign on to Obama’s war?

Stay tuned to this space for the answer…

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