About halfway through President Obama’s drone speech, I nearly threw in the towel and changed the channel back to HGTV. After all, why should I sit there and listen to out-and-out lies – and miss the latest episode of “Rehab Addict“? What set me off was the part starting with this line: “Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs.”
How does one integrate this with the actions of his own Justice Department, which seized the phone records of the Associated Press, and spied on the communications of a Fox News reporter, both in the name of “national security”? Not to mention the continuing refusal of the FBI to hand over documents on their surveillance of myself, our webmaster Eric Garris, and Antiwar.com.
I started to look for the channel changer even earlier, however, when he declared “our commitment to Constitutional principles has weathered every war.”
Really? I know a lot of Japanese-Americans who would contest that assertion.
Then there were the (relatively) little lies, such as: “There have been no large-scale attacks on the United States, and our homeland is more secure.” If one considers the Boston Marathon attack “small scale,” then this makes sense. Yet the smallness of an act of terror that closed down a major American city for nearly 48 hours is a matter of perception: to the people sitting in Washington, it was no doubt small, but many Bostonians would have another opinion on the matter. Then there’s this:
“Today, the core of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan is on a path to defeat. Their remaining operatives spend more time thinking about their own safety than plotting against us. They did not direct the attacks in Benghazi or Boston. They have not carried out a successful attack on our homeland since 9/11.”
We don’t know who directed the attacks in Benghazi and Boston. And unless we’ve developed a mind-reading machine, we don’t know what the Al Qaeda leadership is thinking.
And here’s a real whopper:
“I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF’s mandate. And I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further. Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.”
This administration, like its predecessor, has utilized the AUMF to justify each and every military action by the White House: beyond Iraq and Afghanistan, the AUMF has been invoked to “legally” justify attacks on Yemen, Pakistan, and our latest incursions into Africa, including the sinister “drone war.” That’s why he wants to “refine” it, and only “ultimately” – at some unspecified point in the future – “repeal it.” It is far too useful to be gotten rid of entirely.
Yet I have to give credit where it is due: President Obama clearly wants to close the Guantanamo prison, and put an end to the revolting legacy of torture and indefinite detention (without charges) left to him by the Bush administration. And although I disagree with his rationale for continuing the drone war, you have to admire a President who does so in the name of limiting the possibilities of a wider war by putting “boots on the ground” in places where we have no business sending American soldiers.
The most interesting aspect of the speech was his answer to Medea Benjamin, the peripatetic antiwar protester who somehow manages to show up at every major Washington event and insert herself into the proceedings. When she rose to denounce the drone war, the President seemed not only unsurprised, but he also engaged her from the podium, and after she had been dragged away, he said:
“The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to. Obviously—obviously, I do not agree with much of what she said. And obviously she wasn’t listening to me in much of what I said. But these are tough issues, and the suggestion that we can gloss over them is wrong.”
It’s not only morally wrong, it’s politically wrong – and this is the key to understanding the significance of Obama’s speech. Because there is huge disquiet in the US over our increasingly untenable foreign policy and its troubling domestic implications, and the President – the most skillful national politician since FDR – fully realizes the partisan “blowback” that is likely to result. With the libertarian wing of the GOP, led by Sen. Rand Paul, and Rep. Justin Amash in the House, making major headway, this President knows he has to appease his liberal base or else face a major partisan realignment on foreign policy and civil liberties issues. Especially with the hawkish Hillary poised to run in 2016, the danger of this happening is heightened.
After eight years of Bush-ism, and hyper-nationalistic “red state fascism,” as Lew Rockwell accurately called it, it is true that the country has veered left-ward – but not necessarily in the direction of “modern” liberalism, which has no quarrel with unlimited state power. Partially in reaction to those dark days, there has been a recrudescence of the old-fashioned liberalism of Randolph Bourne and Oswald Garrison Villard, the kind that objects to perpetual war and an all-powerful state, a liberal populism that didn’t quite die out for lack of a hate object when the Bush administration left office.
Obama wants to keep these people in the Democratic coalition, but they are defecting in droves: this speech was an attempt to reassure them. It was the “old” Obama, the one who campaigned against torture, against the Iraq war, and in favor of closing Gitmo. That Obama was largely believed to have disappeared shortly after taking office, but now that he has been resurrected the results should be interesting. This reappearance puts two factors into play: 1) the deepening divide between “centrist” Democrats and old-fashioned liberals, which will play out in the Democratic primaries leading up to 2016, and 2) this divide will be further highlighted by whatever action is taken on revising or even repealing the AUMF, which has been instrumental in prolonging our seemingly endless “war on terrorism.”
Lies mixed with indisputable truth – that’s been the Obama Method since day one. It’s worked so far: we’ll see how long it works this time. The President’s rhetorical talent is formidable, and it’s earned him some time to make good on his promises – but the hour is late. 2016 approaches. The future of his party, and the country, hangs in the balance, as does his legacy.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
Our spring fundraising campaign has reached a crucial stage – the matching funds stage, where our readers are exhorted to match the amount we have raised from our more well-heeled and generous donors. This time the amount is $24,000 – which we get only if we can match it in smaller donations.
As you can see from the above column, this administration is under considerable political pressure to tamp down the war hysteria and confront the basic issues that threaten our civil liberties under a regime of perpetual overseas conflict. That’s what the “drone speech” was all about. There is a movement, on both the “left” and the “right,” to get back to the business of being America, and leave the dark legacy of the Bush administration and its neoconservative henchmen in History’s Dustbin. There are, however, countervailing tendencies to keep us on the road to tyranny and international isolation, and not only coming from the neocons. That’s why it’s so important for us to seize this moment to make real gains for the cause of peace and freedom. Part of that effort surely means keeping Antiwar.com alive.
This has been a difficult fundraiser for us, coming as it does in the midst of our lawsuit against the FBI, the Boston Marathon bombing, and yet another economic downturn that makes it hard for nonprofits like Antiwar.com to raise funds in any event. In short, we need your financial support now more than ever – because we are poised to make some real gains. But we can’t do it without your help. I urge you to make your tax-deductible donation today – because we can turn this thing around.
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).