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Vol. 77/No. 22      June 10, 2013

Obama says end ‘war on terror,’
backs secrecy, drones, press gags
(front page)
“This war, like all wars, must end,” President Barack Obama said of the so-called “war on terror” in a May 23 speech at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C. “That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.”

He said he will seek to end the Authorization to Use Military Force adopted by Congress after 9/11 and “determine how we can continue to fight terrorism without keeping America on a perpetual wartime footing.”

To many hearing the speech, the remarkable thing was how jarringly at odds it was with recent events — from the bombings of the Boston Marathon and hacking murder of a British soldier in London by al-Qaeda-inspired terrorists, to the entry of Hezbollah into the civil war raging in Syria on the side of the Assad regime.

Republican Sen. John McCain, who lost to Obama in the 2008 election, said the speech showed a “degree of unreality that to me is really incredible.”

To replace the “boundless ‘global war on terror,’” Obama called for a mix of “targeted action against terrorism, effective partnerships, diplomatic engagement and assistance” in Washington’s relations with “the Muslim world.”

The U.S. government, he said, must address the “underlying grievances and conflicts” there. It must tackle poverty, increase foreign aid, feed the hungry and create “reservoirs of goodwill.”

Alongside such sanctimonious verbiage, Obama said “targeted lethal action” — the drone assassinations he has authorized from Pakistan to Somalia — is far better than “putting boots on the ground.”

“Our efforts must be measured against the history of putting American troops in distant lands among hostile populations,” he said. From Vietnam to Iraq, “U.S. military action in foreign lands risks creating more enemies and impacts public opinion overseas.”

Obama rationalized the drone assaults and assassinations he has ordered — and the “collateral damage” to civilians in the wrong place at the wrong time — as “legal” and “effective” tactics. “We were attacked on 9/11,” he said. “So this is a just war.”

But U.S. military operations have entered a “new phase,” he said. Washington’s use of drones should be more limited. Maybe a secret “special court” should be established “to authorize lethal action,” or an “independent oversight board.” He urged Congress “to explore these and other options.”

Again and once again, Obama said the U.S. detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, should be closed — a pledge he made during his 2008 campaign and initial months in office. (More than 100 inmates at that barbaric prison camp are currently on hunger strike after being held for over 10 years without charges.)

But the president said he still has to grapple with “just how to deal with those GTMO detainees who we know have participated in dangerous plots or attacks but who cannot be prosecuted, for example, because the evidence against them has been compromised or is inadmissible in court of law.”

In many ways, Obama’s National Defense University talk was round two of the widely hyped speech he gave at Cairo University in June 2009, during a time — as he put it — of “great tension between the United States and Muslims around the world” that “violent extremists have exploited.”

There had to be a “new beginning,” Obama said then, a “partnership” to build schools and hospitals.

“Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype,” he said, “America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire.”

The U.S. president told the audience in Cairo that he had ordered the Guantánamo prison to be closed by 2010 — now more than three years ago — and that he planned to end the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama’s pitch, both in 2009 and today, is in keeping with the direction of his administration to pull back from direct military deployments abroad. The last U.S. troop units left Iraq in December 2011. And, although soon after the Cairo speech U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan rose by some 30,000 (less than the 40,000 demanded by generals on the ground), they are being drawn down by the Pentagon this year and next.

At the same time, the White House is accelerating the concentration of executive power. Obama made clear in his talk he has no intention of halting drone assaults or Special Forces missions like the one in which an unarmed, pajama-clad Osama bin Laden was shot through the eyes in Pakistan. And he plans to limit how much the Associated Press, Fox News, and other media can report on U.S. actions, whether in North Africa, the Middle East or the Korean peninsula.

What’s more, when political forces in the world don’t react to “partnership” and “engagement” as dictated by Obama, his administration can lash out in dangerous ways.

This is the hallmark of the Obama White House — one that acts on the meritocratic class prejudice that an administration drawn from the bourgeois-minded professional, academic and foundation-based social layers Obama himself comes from are the only ones with “the smarts” to govern on behalf of U.S. capital’s ruling families. They believe they can ameliorate the world’s problems if only they can just get in a room to hash things out with like-minded diplomats, professors and NGO staffers around the globe.

They look to their fellow self-styled cosmopolitans abroad “as a counterweight to the ruling families at home who ultimately tell them what they will and will not do,” as Jack Barnes puts it in Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power.

What Obama presented at the National Defense University, and earlier in Cairo, finds a foothold in bourgeois politics because there are sections of the U.S. rulers — with voices in both major capitalist parties, the Democrats and Republicans — who advocate cutting back military spending and wars abroad. Doing so, as they see it, is needed to reap the “peace dividend” and “rebalance” U.S. military forces to more effectively defend U.S. capital’s domination of global trade and markets, including in Asia and the Pacific.

Others among the capitalist rulers and their political spokespersons are convinced that U.S. imperialist interests are better served by stepping up direct military intervention, from Syria to Pakistan. “The president’s speech today will be viewed by terrorists as a victory,” Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the same day.

When the class interests of the U.S. propertied families are in danger anywhere in the world, however, the capitalist rulers close ranks. And whoever occupies the White House does what they’re told.  
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