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Barack Obama’s Presidency: From “Yes we can” to “No we won’t”

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Many people who were Barack Obama’s most enthusiastic supporters a year ago have grown disillusioned and angry. Alan Maass looks at the differences between President Obama and Candidate Obama — and where the hope for real change lies.


by Alan Maass

AS THE first year of Barack Obama’s presidency drew to a close, one event symbolized the gap between the promise he represented to so many people and the frustrating reality: A war president accepting the Nobel Peace Prize.

Here was the man who owed his electoral success, at least during the Democratic primaries, to the perception that he was the main antiwar candidate — and he accepted the Nobel in Oslo a week after announcing he would escalate the already-eight-year-old U.S. war on Afghanistan, with a second troop surge that brought to more than 50,000 the total number of soldiers he had committed to the war since taking office.

Sure, Obama’s Nobel speech started with the usual claims of “great humility” to be receiving such an honour — right before he delivered as ugly an example of American imperial arrogance as anything George W. Bush could have managed:

Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: the United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea.

Underwritten global security? Tell it to the relatives of the innocent Afghans torn to pieces by U.S. bombs dropped on wedding parties. Promoted peace and prosperity? Ask the people of East Timor trying to rebuild a ruined nation after a quarter century of a U.S.-sanctioned occupation and genocide by Indonesia. Blood of our citizens? An Iraqi could tell you about the blood of their citizens, spilled to protect the U.S. government’s control of Middle East oil.

If Obama’s goal was to win the approval of right-wing Republicans–the ones who accuse him of “paling around with terrorists” and pander to the crazies who think Obama was born in Kenya — he did succeed on that count. “I liked what he said,” Sarah Palin chirped. Newt Gingrich praised “a very historic speech.”

Walter Russell Mead — whose title of Henry Kissinger senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations tells you everything you need to know about him — couldn’t contain his delight:

There are no flies on our President. He could sell shoes to a snake.

Barack Obama’s acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize was a carefully reasoned defense of a foreign policy that differs very little from George Bush’s. He is winding down one war, escalating a second, and stepping up the pressure on Iran. He is asserting America’s sovereign right to unilateral action in self-defense, while expressing the hope that this right will not need to be exercised.

If Bush had said these things, the world would be filled with violent denunciations. When Obama says them, people purr. That is fine by me… I’ve waxed lyrical about Obama’s ability to sell our foreign policy to the world. He didn’t just put lipstick on the pig; he gave it a makeover and sent it to charm school.

Meanwhile, among the people who actually wanted Barack Obama to become president, there was bitter disappointment. As author Garry Wills wrote:

Although he talked of a larger commitment to Afghanistan during his campaign, he has now officially adopted his very own war, one with all the disqualifications that he attacked in the Iraq engagement… I cannot vote for any Republican. But Obama will not get another penny from me, or another word of praise, after this betrayal.

Obama’s surge to Afghanistan was a turning point for others who supported him in 2008. But it’s worth noting that many leading liberals weren’t nearly as put off as Wills. Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel, speaking to National Public Radio, claimed that Obama’s Nobel speech–the very same one admired by Sarah Palin–“had a humility and grace while confronting the paradoxes.”

When Obama announced his Afghanistan escalation a week earlier, the liberal antiwar group urged its members not to protest Obama, but to call on Congress to support “a binding military exit strategy and firm benchmarks so we can bring our troops home safely and quickly.”

So the president of the United States doubles the number of U.S. troops committed to a war that even some conservatives now considered a disaster, and all could ask for was “benchmarks”? That tepid response goes a long way in explaining why the Obama administration wasn’t concerned about an antiwar backlash when it approved the Pentagon’s proposal for a further surge.

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Written by thecanadianheadlines

December 28, 2009 at 12:32 am

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