Thursday, February 10, 2011

Yo, O!

Yo, O!

It’s not often that I feel compelled to draw simultaneously on the deep rhetorical powers of the 43rd President of the United States and the literary efforts of John McCain’s campaign team, but there’s a chain of events that I’ve been troubled by, and I’d like to get President Obama’s attention.

Barack Obama was brought to national prominence by his attack on the “dumb wars” that characterised the Bush era.  Many of us assumed that “dumb wars” included those which were undertaken immorally, those which were based on the hood-winking of the public or on outright lies, those which jeopardised our national security, and all those which kill the innocent for sordid political purposes.  As a pacifist (though in its earlier historic sense), I would have liked him to go farther still. 

But no matter.  In November of 2008, we had elected a President who had declared his staunch opposition to needless wars.  We expected, perhaps naively, that this reasonableness would extend to other arenas of foreign policy.  And then in late-2009 Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  But something funny happened.  Those same months he was ramping up the U.S. war in Afghanistan and (though he didn’t publicise this and still hasn’t come clean about it) extending that war into Pakistan.  Obama now owns those wars as surely as Bush did Iraq, and I fear that they will prove to be but one among many capitulations that will cripple what started as the most promising presidency in decades.

And now we have Egypt.  A genuinely popular, spontaneous and democratic revolution...the sort that was supposed to break out in Baghdad after we’d bombed it.  But, having committed billions of dollars in military aid to the dictator Mubarak and his henchmen (the foremost of which, erstwhile head of the secret police, appears to be the Obama administration’s preferred successor), Obama has gone weak in the knees yet again. 

Obama and his administration have made ‘stability’ their watchword, apparently totally unaware that the U.S. version of stability in the Middle East—the imposition and support of dictators, the revolution of all policy around the needs of a dangerously militant Israeli leadership, the demonisation of Islam—is predicated on the creation of regimes whose life-cycles involve the explosion of a festering resentment that rightly ends up coming back to haunt the U.S.  Their failure to back a genuinely democratic revolution in Egypt will be remembered by people across the Middle East and the world—whether the brute force of the dictator or the passions of the people prevail.

So returning to my salutation...  I’ve no choice, at this point, but to call Obama the worst kind of hypocrite.  As someone who grew up in a political world dominated and defined by the post-9/11 world ruled by George W Bush and his wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I could never bring myself to vote for a President who showed himself to be of that ilk.

So I have a promise for Obama.  If he continues to escalate wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, if he continues his obfuscation in the face of popular protest in the Middle East and elsewhere, I will spend my mornings, noons and nights during 2012 doing what I can for a progressive, anti-war, pro-democracy candidate who isn’t Obama.  I will knock on doors, I will stand on street-corners, I will shamelessly harangue everyone I know.  I will do so whether the candidate in question is a contender or a spoiler, because the massive violence perpetrated by wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, the more secretive interventions in Somali and Yemen, and the brutality that is allowed to pass by acquiescence to dictators in Egypt and elsewhere should not go un-rebuked.

Some people would point to this as a manifestation of the supposedly self-destructive nature of progressivism in the United States.  I’d just call it my “Don’t vote for liars and hypocrites” rule.  And I hope that other progressives, Democrats or otherwise, feel the same way and will act accordingly in 2012.


  1. Do you really think Yo O! is going to work? As the Professor said, you should call the White House, the operator will take down what you have to say, and she'll tell the President. Between 9am and 5pm (There must be a budgetary reason for this 40 hour telephone week)

  2. That's a corrollary to the 180* voting for republicans rule? In light of events on friday, don't you think this post is a little short sighted? We don't know what went on behind the scenes but, I think the administration went from supporting Mubarak to applauding his ouster in about 3 weeks, and was almost assuredly working behind the scenes to get him to leave.

  3. I think that the administration was a mess. There's a good article in today's NYT which identifies different players in the administration who were totally at odds with one another, but also points out the President's essential conservatism. The relevant quote might be "Despite the fervor on the streets of Cairo, and Mr. Obama’s occasional tough language, the president always took a pragmatic view of how to use America’s limited influence over change in Egypt. He was not in disagreement with the positions of Mr. Wisner and Mrs. Clinton about how long transition would take. But he apparently feared that saying so openly would reveal that the United States was not in total sync with the protesters, and was indeed putting its strategic interests first. Making that too clear would not only anger the crowds, it could give Mr. Mubarak a reason to cling to power and a pretext to crush the revolution". This suggests to me that Obama was essentially sympathetic to the perceived need to maintain the regime, but realised that backing a dictator was politically problematic.
    It's not enough to work behind the scenes. And it's not really about Mubarak. So what if they applaud his ouster while trying to promote someone who presided over institutionalised torture and rendition as his successor? I also don't think that Obama had anything to do with events on Friday. Unless indirectly, in the sense that the Egyptian military, which he arms, made it clear that it is the institution that calls the shots in the country. I think that Mubarak's resignation is inspiring, but if anything Egypt is further from democracy now that it's under military rule.