Thursday, November 27, 2008
Actually, the is really about Obama, but Mumbai will be Googled more this week. And don't these people respect Thanksgiving?
Well, what is more valuable, revenge, deserved revenge, or having him there where he might help to stop a filibuster? Obama learned politics in Chicago and one thing you learn is you don't kill someone unless you gain by it. Why do it for free? What's in it for me?
Another is Hillary for Secretary of State. Well, you all remember what happened to Colin Powell. She deserves it. She has it coming. There was some talk of her on the Supreme Court, but I'm hoping for Larry Tribe there.
I got sick every time I saw Madeline Albright with Obama. I could have tolerated Brezynski, but she's the one who said half a million Iraqi deaths a year is worth it.
Well, she's gone.
Using the old Clinton crowd as economic advisors is a problem too, but he actually addressed that. He said he needed people who knew how to get things done, but that He would decide what needs to be done. At least he has been on the streets and knows what is happening of people. He also set up a group of "outsiders" to advise him as a counterweight to the establishment which I assure you is already there. This group owes nothing to anybody as is free to say what they want. Pat Buchanan said that much of what is going on is "EuroSocialism," and that I take as a compliment. We are far below those "EuroSocialist" countries, such as Belgium, in care for the people.
A couple of days ago, I called into a radio talk show. I had been meaning to do this for some time, but privacy, time, and access to a phone at 6 PM on Tuesdays seldom come together for me. Mark Haim, our local activist leader, of whom we should be proud, was conducting the show and he was pleasant enough, as usual, but asked "How do we get our point across to him."
Since I had a touch of Mad Cow disease, I kept talking about other things and never did address the question. Actually, what I intend to do is the same as all along. Each of us has to do what is possible, what they are most talented at, or most capable of doing. Mark and others stand on a corner on Wednesdays asking people to honk their horns to express displeasure at the war. Fine. Sometimes I even drive by to honk. It didn't change Bush a whit, but it was at least something -- somebody must have felt better knowing they weren't alone.
Others fasted and still fast. I'm too hungry for that. I'm no Ghandi, nor was Thoreau from whom Ghandi got his civil Disobedience ideas.
But it all adds up. Even this thing I put up on the net and swell your inboxes with may help. A lot of people, intelligent, open minded people, just don't have the time or access to some of these facts. One such reader once told me he learned alot from this thing, maybe more than he wanted to know, but it was all true.
Amy Goodman, on Democracy Now, makes you feel less isolated and you get some real facts that you may be able to slip in a fact that might influence someone quite sucked in by the Media (as if those who own the government would use their own Media to criticize it). Every little bit counts.
On the site I'm putting up links both to the station that Mark is on and to Democracy Now, in addition to the WhatnowToons that I sometimes use here. Everything helps somehow. Maybe the butterfly effect has a role in politics?
Weapons Come Second
Can Obama Take on the Pentagon?
November 27, 2008 By Frida Berrigan
Frida Berrigan's ZSpace Page
Even saddled with a two-front, budget-busting war and a collapsing economy, President Barack Obama may be able to accomplish a lot. With a friendly Congress and a relieved world, he could make short work of some of the most egregious overreaches of the Bush White House -- from Guantanamo to those Presidential signing statements. For all the rolling up of sleeves and "everything is going to change" exuberance, however, taking on the Pentagon, with its mega-budget and its mega-power, may be the hardest task he faces.
Under President George W. Bush, military spending increased by about 60%, and that's not including spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Eight years ago, as Bush prepared to enter the Oval Office, military spending totaled just over $300 billion. When Obama sets foot in that same office, military spending will total roughly $541 billion, including the Pentagon's basic budget and nuclear warhead work in the Department of Energy.
And remember, that's before the Global War on Terror enters the picture. The Pentagon now estimates that military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan will cost at least $170 billion in 2009, pushing total military spending for Obama's first year to about $711 billion (a number that is mind-bogglingly large and at the same time a relatively conservative estimate that does not, for example, include intelligence funding, veterans' care, or other security costs).
With such numbers, it's no surprise that the United States is, by a multiple of nearly six, the biggest military spender in the world. (China's military budget, the closest competitor, comes in at a "mere" $120 billion.) Still, it can be startling to confront the simple fact that the U.S. alone accounts for nearly half of all global military spending -- to be as exact as possible in such a murky area, 48% according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies. That's more than what the next 45 nations together spend on their militaries on an annual basis.
Again, keep in mind that war spending for 2009 comes on top of the estimated $864 billion that lawmakers have, since 2001, appropriated for the Iraq war and occupation, ongoing military operations in Afghanistan, and other activities associated with the Global War on Terror. In fact, according to an October 2008 report by the Congressional Research Service, total war spending, quite apart from the regular military budget, is already at $922 billion and quickly closing in on the trillion dollar mark.
Common Sense Cuts?
Years late, and with budgets everywhere bleeding red, some in Congress and elsewhere are finally raising questions about whether this level of spending makes any sense. Unfortunately, the questions are not coming from the inner circle of the president-elect.
Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) drew the ire and consternation of hard-line Republicans and military hawks when, in October, he suggested that Congress should consider cutting defense spending by a quarter. That would mean shaving $177 billion, leaving $534 billion for the U.S. defense and war budget and maintaining a significant distance -- $413 billion to be exact -- between United States and our next "peer competitor." Frank told a Massachusetts newspaper editorial board that, in the context of a struggling economy, the Pentagon will have to start choosing among its many weapons programs. "We don't need all these fancy new weapons," he told the staff of the New Bedford Standard Times. Obama did not back him up on that.
Even chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense John Murtha (D-PA), a Congressman who never saw a weapons program he didn't want to buy, warned of tough choices on the horizon. While he did not put a number on it, in a recent interview he did say: "The next president is going to be forced to decrease defense spending in order to respond to neglected domestic priorities. Because of this, the Defense Department is going to have to make tough budget decisions involving trade-offs between personnel, procurement and future weapons spending."
And now, President-elect Obama is hearing a similar message from the Defense Business Board, established in 2001 by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to give advice to the Pentagon. A few weeks ago, in briefing papers prepared for President-elect Obama's transition team, the Board, hardly an outfit unfriendly to the Pentagon, argued that some of the Defense Department's big weapons projects needed to be scrapped as the U.S. entered a "period of fiscal constraint in a tough economy." While not listing the programs they considered knife-worthy, the Board did assert that "business as usual is no longer an option."
Meanwhile, defense executives and industry analysts are predicting the worst. Boeing CEO Jim McNerney wrote in a "note" to employees, "No one really yet knows when or to what extent defense spending could be affected, but it's unrealistic to think there won't be some measure of impact." Michael Farage, Sikorsky's director of Air Force programs, was even more colorful: "With the economy in the proverbial pooper, defense budgets can only go down."
Kevin G. Kroger, president of a company making oil filters for Army trucks, offered a typical reaction: "There's a lot of uncertainty out there. We're not sure where the budgets are going and what's going to get funded. It leaves us nervous."
It's no surprise that, despite eight years of glut financing via the Global War on Terror, weapons manufacturers, like the automotive Big Three, are now looking for their own bailout. For them, however, it should probably be thought of as a bail-up, an assurance of yet more good times. Even though in recent years their companies have enjoyed strong stock prices, have seen major increases in Pentagon contracts, and are still looking at boom-time foreign weapons sales, expect them to push hard for a bottom-line guarantee via their Holy Grail -- a military budget pegged to the gross domestic product.
"We advocate 4 percent of the GDP as a floor for defense spending. No question that has to be front and center for any new president's agenda," says Marion Blakey, president of the Aerospace Industries Association, a trade group representing companies like Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.
Listening to defense industry figures talk, you could get the impression that the Pentagon's larder was empty and that the pinching of pennies and tightening of belts was well underway. While the cuts suggested by the Defense Business Board report got a lot of attention, the Pentagon is already quietly laying the groundwork to lock the future Obama administration into a possibly slightly scaled-down version of the over-the-top military spending of the Bush years.
Business as Usual?
At the beginning of October, the Pentagon's latest five-year projection of budget needs was revealed in the Congressional Quarterly. These preliminary figures -- the full request should be released sometime next month -- indicate that the Pentagon's starting point in its bargaining with the new administration and Congress comes down to one word: more.
The estimates project $450 billion more in spending over those five years than previously suggested figures. Take fiscal year 2010: the Pentagon is evidently calling for a military budget of $584 billion, an increase of $57 billion over what they informed President Bush and Congress they would need just a few months ago.
Unfortunately, when it comes to military spending and defense, the record is reasonably clear -- Obama is not about to go toe-to-toe with the military-industrial-complex.
On the campaign trail, his stump speech included this applause-ready line suggesting that the costs of the war in Iraq are taking away from important domestic priorities: "If we're spending $10 billion a month [in Iraq] over the next four or five years, that's $10 billion a month we're not using to rebuild the U.S., or drawing down our national debt, or making sure that families have health care."
But the "surge" that Obama wants to shift from Iraq to Afghanistan is unlikely to be a bargain. In addition, he has repeatedly argued for a spike in defense spending to "reset" a military force worn out by war. He has also called for the expansion of the size of the Army and the Marines. On that point, he is in complete agreement with Defense Secretary Robert Gates. They even use the same numbers, suggesting that the Army should be augmented by 65,000 new recruits and the Marines by 27,000. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that these manpower increases alone would add about $10 billion a year -- that same campaign trail $10 billion -- to the Pentagon budget over a five-year period.
The word from Wall Street? In a report entitled "Early Thoughts on Obama and Defense," a Morgan Stanley researcher wrote on November 5th, "As we understand it, Obama has been advised and agrees that there is no peace dividend... In addition, we believe, based on discussions with industry sources that Obama has agreed not to cut the defense budget at least until the first 18 months of his term as the national security situation becomes better understood."
In other words: Don't worry about it. President Obama is not about to hand the next secretary of defense a box of brownie mix and order him to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.
Smarter, Not More, Military Spending
Sooner rather than later, the new administration will need to think seriously about how to spend smarter -- and significantly less -- on the military. Our nose-diving economy simply will no longer support ever-climbing defense budgets.
The good news is that the Obama administration won't have to figure it all out alone. The contributors to Foreign Policy In Focus's new Unified Security Budget have done a lot of the heavy lifting to demonstrate that some of the choices that need to be made really aren't so tough. The report makes the case for reductions in military spending on outdated or unproven weapons systems totaling $61 billion. The argument is simple and straightforward: these expensive systems don't keep us safe. Some were designed for a geopolitical moment that is long gone -- like the F-22 meant to counter a Soviet plane that was never built. Others, like the ballistic missile defense program, are clearly meant only to perpetuate insecurity and provoke proliferation.
To cut the military budget more deeply, however, means more than canceling useless, high-tech weapons systems. It means taking on something fundamental and far-reaching: America's place in the world. It means coming to grips with how we garrison the planet, with how we use our military to project influence and power anywhere in the world, with our attitudes towards international treaties and agreements, with our vast passels of real estate in foreign lands, and, of course, with our economic and political relationships with clients and competitors.
As a candidate, Barack Obama stirred our imagination through his calls for a "new era of international cooperation." The United States cannot, however, cooperate with other nations from atop our shining Green Zone on the hill; we cannot cooperate as the world's sole superpower, policeman, cowboy, hyperpower, or whatever the imperial nom du jour turns out to be. Bottom line: we cannot genuinely and effectively cooperate while spending more on what we like to call "security" than the next 45 nations combined.
A new era in Pentagon spending would have to begin with a recognition that enduring security is not attained by threat or fiat, nor is it bought with staggering billions of dollars. It is built with other nations. Weapons come second.
Frida Berrigan is a Senior Program Associate at the New America Foundation's Arms and Security Initiative (ASI). She is a columnist for Foreign Policy in Focus and a contributing editor at In These Times. In early December, ASI will release Weapons at War 2008: Beyond the Bush Legacy, co-authored by Berrigan and William D. Hartung, an examination of U.S. weapons sales and military aid to developing nations, conflict zones, and nations where human rights are not safeguarded. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like a copy of the executive summary. To listen to Berrigan discuss Obama and the Pentagon in an audio interview, click here.
[This article first appeared on Tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news, and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, long time editor in publishing, co-founder of the American Empire Project, author of The End of Victory Culture, and editor of The World According to Tomdispatch: America in the New Age of Empire.]
Friday, November 21, 2008
THE ABSURD TIMES
Now that Bush is going, Obama will need to be held responsible for foreign policy. Fortunately, he can be influenced by progressive forces, but those forces must be there from the outset.
Here are a few articles on the subject. One by an Israeli Journalist, one by a Congressman, and one by Tarik Ali. Ali was right on Viet-Nam, right on Iraq, and is right on Afghanistan.
No illustration this time.
MKs urge legal action as settler violence erupts in Hebron
By Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondent Nov 20, 2008 Tel Aviv, Israel
Violent clashes erupted early Thursday between settler activists and Israeli security forces at a disputed house slated for evacuation in the West Bank city of Hebron, prompting Israeli and Palestinian officials alike to call for legal enforcement.
The High Court on Sunday ordered the settlers to vacate the house, after they forged ownership documents. The settlers were given until noon Wednesday to evacuate voluntarily, a deadline that expired without heed.
The Defense Ministry said it would avoid the use of force in the evacuation and would try to urge the settlers to leave on their own accord.
By late Wednesday, the house was still not evacuated and the settlers' protests grew hotter throughout the city.
During the protests, some settlers began to attack Palestinian locals while others wounded an IDF soldier by spraying turpentine at him as he tried to stop them from throwing stones at Palestinians.
Activists also punctured the tires of police and military jeeps stationed nearby.
The settlers also scribbled graffiti around Hebron, including spraying 'Mohammed Pig' on the walls of a local mosque and on Palestinian homes nearby.
Mouatassem Daana, a Palestinian resident of Hebron, said he saw settlers gathered near the building "writing demeaning graffiti on the wall of the mosque insulting the Prophet Mohammad" and breaking windows.
An IDF spokesman said settlers also vandalized a cemetery near the mosque. Solders were "working to remove the graffiti and repair the damage" to the mosque and a cemetery, the spokesman said.
"We take such incidents seriously," he added.
MK Otniel Schneller, a Kadima lawmaker opposed to the evacuation, said police and security forces must find those in violation of the law and try them as needed.
Meretz lawmakers Zahava Gal-On and Avshalom Vilan called on the defense minister to take action against the violent activists: "The time has come for these settlers to understand that Hebron is not the wild west," said Gal-On.
Hebron's Palestinian governor, Hussein al-Araj, urged Israeli authorities to halt the settler violence and carry out the court decision.
"What happened is unacceptable," he said. "The Israelis have to enforce the law and stop the suffering of the Palestinians who are living next to settlers. They have to take the settlers from this house and protect the Palestinians."
The Judea and Samaria Police Department was to hold consultations on Thursday to determine how best to deal with the settlers' violence.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak was also expected to meet with security officials for consultations on carrying out the evacuation in accordance with the High Court orders.
However, government legal aides said Wednesday that despite the three-day deadline, the Israel Police and Israel Defense Forces actually have more than 30 days to comply with the High Court decision.
Government legal aides are expected to submit their interpretation of the court's ruling Thursday to Barak.
"I call on everybody involved [in the affair] to act responsibly and in accordance with the state's essence and judicial institutions," Barak said Wednesday in an interview with Army Radio. "It's the fundamentals of the country and we will insist on it."
The security establishment originally believed that the court's ruling required it to evacuate the settlers within a month. However, because the occupation of the house began a year ago, it is not deemed as "new" and the state is thereby not required to abide by the law concerning recently discovered squatters that they be vacated within a month's time.
The Defense Minister's bureau said it has begun talks with settler leaders regarding the evacuation of the house despite slim chances of reaching a deal to that effect.
The house, which has come to be known as either the "Peace House," "Beit Hameriva" ("The House of Contention") or "The Brown House," is located near the Worshipers Way, a strategic locale from the settlers' perspective.
The acquisition of additional houses nearby would help settlers strengthen their position in the area.
Hebron has been a flashpoint of Israeli-Palestinian violence in recent years. Some 650 settlers live in fortified enclaves guarded by Israeli troops in the heart of the city of 180,000 Palestinians.
posted 2008-11-16 18:19:37
Tomgram: Tariq Ali, Flight Path to Disaster in Afghanistan
One of the eerier reports on the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan appeared recently in the New York Times. Journalist John Burns visited the Russian ambassador in Kabul, Zamir N. Kabulov, who, back in the 1980s, when the Russians were the Americans in Afghanistan, and the Americans were launching the jihad that would eventually wend its way to the 9/11 attacks… well, you get the idea…
In any case, Kabulov was, in the years of the Soviet occupation, a KGB agent in the same city and, in the 1990s, an adviser to a U.N. peacekeeping envoy during the Afghan civil war that followed. "They've already repeated all of our mistakes," he told Burns, speaking of the American/NATO effort in the country. "Now," he added, "they're making mistakes of their own, ones for which we do not own the copyright." His list of Soviet-style American mistakes included: underestimating "the resistance," an over-reliance on air power, a failure to understand the Afghan "irritative allergy" to foreign occupation, "and thinking that because they swept into Kabul easily, the occupation would be untroubled." Of present occupiers who have stopped by to catch his sorry tale, Kabulov concludes world-wearily, "They listen, but they do not hear."
The question is: Does this experience really have to be repeated to the bitter end -- in the case of the Soviets, a calamitous defeat and retreat from Afghanistan, followed by years of civil war in that wrecked country, and finally the rise of the Pakistani-backed Taliban? The answer is: perhaps. There is no question that the advisers President Obama will be listening to are already exploring more complex strategies in Afghanistan, including possible negotiations with "reconcilable elements" of the Taliban. But these all remain military-plus strategies at whose heart lies the kind of troop surge that candidate Obama called for so vehemently -- and, given the fate of the previous 2007 U.S./NATO "surge" in Afghanistan, this, too, has failure written all over it.
If you want a glimmer of hope when it comes to the spreading Afghan War -- American missile-armed drones have been attacking across the Pakistani border regularly in recent months -- consider that Barack Obama has made ex-CIA official Bruce Reidel a key advisor on the deteriorating Pakistani situation. And Reidel recently reviewed startlingly favorably Tariq Ali's must-read, hard-hitting new book on Pakistan (and so Afghanistan and so American policy), The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power for the Washington Post. ("My employers of the past three decades, the CIA and the Brookings Institution, get their share of blame," Reidel wrote. "So do both of the current presidential candidates…")
Ali believes that there could be a grand, brokered regional solution to the Afghan War, essentially a military-minus strategy. Let's hope Reidel and others are willing to listen to that, too; otherwise it will certainly be "Obama's war," and -- for anyone old enough to remember -- haven't we been through that before? Tom
Operation Enduring DisasterBreaking with Afghan Policy
By Tariq Ali
Afghanistan has been almost continuously at war for 30 years, longer than both World Wars and the American war in Vietnam combined. Each occupation of the country has mimicked its predecessor. A tiny interval between wars saw the imposition of a malignant social order, the Taliban, with the help of the Pakistani military and the late Benazir Bhutto, the prime minister who approved the Taliban takeover in Kabul.
Over the last two years, the U.S./NATO occupation of that country has run into serious military problems. Given a severe global economic crisis and the election of a new American president -- a man separated in style, intellect, and temperament from his predecessor -- the possibility of a serious discussion about an exit strategy from the Afghan disaster hovers on the horizon. The predicament the U.S. and its allies find themselves in is not an inescapable one, but a change in policy, if it is to matter, cannot be of the cosmetic variety.
Washington's hawks will argue that, while bad, the military situation is, in fact, still salvageable. This may be technically accurate, but it would require the carpet-bombing of southern Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan, the destruction of scores of villages and small towns, the killing of untold numbers of Pashtuns and the dispatch to the region of at least 200,000 more troops with all their attendant equipment, air, and logistical support. The political consequences of such a course are so dire that even Dick Cheney, the closest thing to Dr. Strangelove that Washington has yet produced, has been uncharacteristically cautious when it comes to suggesting a military solution to the conflict.
It has, by now, become obvious to the Pentagon that Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his family cannot deliver what is required and yet it is probably far too late to replace him with UN ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. On his part, fighting for his political (and probably physical) existence, Karzai continues to protect his brother Ahmad Wali Karzai, accused of being involved in the country's staggering drug trade, but has belatedly sacked Hamidullah Qadri, his transport minister, for corruption.
Qadri was taking massive kickbacks from a company flying pilgrims to Mecca. Is nothing sacred?
A Deteriorating Situation
Of course, axing one minister is like whistling in the wind, given the levels of corruption reported in Karzai's government, which, in any case, controls little of the country. The Afghan president parries Washington's thrusts by blaming the U.S. military for killing too many civilians from the air. The bombing of the village of Azizabad in Herat province last August, which led to 91 civilian deaths (of which 60 were children), was only the most extreme of such recent acts. Karzai's men, hurriedly dispatched to distribute sweets and supplies to the survivors, were stoned by angry villagers.
Given the thousands of Afghans killed in recent years, small wonder that support for the neo-Taliban is increasing, even in non-Pashtun areas of the country. Many Afghans hostile to the old Taliban still support the resistance simply to make it clear that they are against the helicopters and missile-armed unmanned aerial drones that destroy homes, and to "Big Daddy" who wipes out villages, and to the flames that devour children.
Last February, Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell presented a bleak survey of the situation on the ground to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence:
"Afghan leaders must deal with the endemic corruption and pervasive poppy cultivation and drug trafficking. Ultimately, defeating the insurgency will depend heavily on the government's ability to improve security, deliver services, and expand development for economic opportunity.
"Although the international forces and the Afghan National Army continue to score tactical victories over the Taliban, the security situation has deteriorated in some areas in the south and Taliban forces have expanded their operations into previously peaceful areas of the west and around Kabul. The Taliban insurgency has expanded in scope despite operational disruption caused by the ISAF [NATO forces] and Operation Enduring Freedom operations. The death or capture of three top Taliban leaders last year -- their first high level losses -- does not yet appear to have significantly disrupted insurgent operations."
Since then the situation has only deteriorated further, leading to calls for sending in yet more American and NATO troops -- and creating ever deeper divisions inside NATO itself. In recent months, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, the British Ambassador to Kabul, wrote a French colleague (in a leaked memo) that the war was lost and more troops were not a solution, a view reiterated recently by Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the British Defense Chief, who came out in public against a one-for-one transfer of troops withdrawn from Iraq to Kabul. He put it this way:
"I think we would all take some persuading that there would have to be a much larger British contingent there… So we also have to get ourselves back into balance; it's crucial that we reduce the operational tempo for our armed forces, so it cannot be, even if the situation demanded it, just a one for one transfer from Iraq to Afghanistan, we have to reduce that tempo."
The Spanish government is considering an Afghan withdrawal and there is serious dissent within the German and Norwegian foreign policy elites. The Canadian foreign minister has already announced that his country will not extend its Afghan commitment beyond 2011. And even if the debates in the Pentagon have not been aired in public, it's becoming obvious that, in Washington, too, some see the war as unwinnable.
Enter former Iraq commander General David Petraeus, center stage as the new CentCom commander. Ever since the "success" of "the surge" he oversaw in Iraq (a process designed to create temporary stability in that ravaged land by buying off the opposition and, among other things, the selective use of death squads), Petraeus sounds, and behaves, more and more like Lazarus on returning from the dead -- and before his body could be closely inspected.
The situation in Iraq was so dire that even a modest reduction in casualties was seen as a massive leap forward. With increasing outbreaks of violence in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq, however, the talk of success sounds ever hollower. To launch a new "surge" in Afghanistan now by sending more troops there will simply not work, not even as a public relations triumph. Perhaps some of the 100 advisers that General Petraeus has just appointed will point this out to him in forceful terms.
Flight Path to Disaster
Obama would be foolish to imagine that Petraeus can work a miracle cure in Afghanistan. The cancer has spread too far and is affecting U.S. troops as well. If the American media chose to interview active-duty soldiers in Afghanistan (on promise of anonymity), they might get a more accurate picture of what is happening inside the U.S. Army there.
I learned a great deal from Jules, a 20-year old American soldier I met recently in Canada. He became so disenchanted with the war that he decided to go AWOL, proving -- at least to himself -- that the Afghan situation was not an inescapable predicament. Many of his fellow soldiers, he claims, felt similarly, hating a war that dehumanized both them and the Afghans. "We just couldn't bring ourselves to accept that bombing Afghans was no different from bombing the landscape" was the way he summed up the situation.
Morale inside the Army there is low, he told me. The aggression unleashed against Afghan civilians often hides a deep depression. He does not, however, encourage others to follow in his footsteps. As he sees it, each soldier must make that choice for himself, accepting with it the responsibility that going AWOL permanently entails. Jules was convinced, however, that the war could not be won and did not want to see any more of his friends die. That's why he was wearing an "Obama out of Afghanistan" t-shirt.
Before he revealed his identity, I mistook this young soldier -- a Filipino-American born in southern California -- for an Afghan. His features reminded me of the Hazara tribesmen he must have encountered in Kabul. Trained as a mortar gunner and paratrooper from Fort Benning, Georgia, he was later assigned to the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg. Here is part of the account he offered me:
"I deployed to Southeastern Afghanistan in January 2007. We controlled everything from Jalalabad down to the northernmost areas of Kandahar province in Regional Command East. My unit had the job of pacifying the insurgency in Paktika, Paktia, and Khost provinces -- areas that had received no aid, but had been devastated during the initial invasion. Operation Anaconda [in 2002] was supposed to have wiped out the Taliban. That was the boast of the military leaders, but ridiculed by everyone else with a brain."
He spoke also of how impossible he found it to treat the Afghans as subhumans:
"I swear I could not for a second view these people as anything but human. The best way to fashion a young hard dick like myself -- dick being an acronym for 'dedicated infantry combat killer' -- is simple and the effect of racist indoctrination. Take an empty shell off the streets of L.A. or Brooklyn, or maybe from some Podunk town in Tennessee… and these days America isn't in short supply… I was one of those no-child-left-behind products…
"Anyway, you take this empty vessel and you scare the living shit out of him, break him down to nothing, cultivate a brotherhood and camaraderie with those he suffers with, and fill his head with racist nonsense like all Arabs, Iraqis, Afghans are Hajj. Hajj hates you. Hajj wants to hurt your family. Hajj children are the worst because they beg all the time. Just some of the most hurtful and ridiculous propaganda, but you'd be amazed at how effective it's been in fostering my generation of soldiers."
As this young man spoke to me, I felt he should be testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The effect of the war on those carrying out the orders is leaving scars just as deep as the imprints of previous imperial wars. Change we can believe in must include the end of this, which means, among other things, a withdrawal from Afghanistan.
In my latest book, The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power, I have written of the necessity of involving Afghanistan's neighbors in a political solution that ends the war, preserves the peace, and reconstructs the country. Iran, Russia, India, and China, as well as Pakistan, need to be engaged in the search for a political solution that would sustain a genuine national government for a decade after the withdrawal of the Americans, NATO, and their quisling regime. However, such a solution is not possible within the context of the plans proposed by both present Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and President-elect Barack Obama, which focus on a new surge of American troops in Afghanistan.
The main task at hand should be to create a social infrastructure and thus preserve the peace, something that the West and its horde of attendant non-governmental organizations have failed to do. School buildings constructed, often for outrageous sums, by foreign companies that lack furniture, teachers, and kids are part of the surreal presence of the West, which cannot last.
Whether you are a policymaker in the next administration or an AWOL veteran of the Afghan War in Canada, Operation Enduring Freedom of 2001 has visibly become Operation Enduring Disaster. Less clear is whether an Obama administration can truly break from past policy or will just create a military-plus add-on to it. Only a total break from the catastrophe that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld created in Afghanistan will offer pathways to a viable future.
For this to happen, both external and domestic pressures will probably be needed. China is known to be completely opposed to a NATO presence on, or near, its borders, but while Beijing has proved willing to exert economic pressure to force policy changes in Washington -- as it did when the Bank of China "cut its exposure to agency debt last summer," leaving U.S. Treasury Secretary Paulson with little option but to functionally nationalize the mortgage giants -- it has yet to use its diplomatic muscle in the region.
But don't think that will last forever. Why wait until then? Another external pressure will certainly prove to be the already evident destabilizing effects of the Afghan war on neighboring Pakistan, a country in a precarious economic state, with a military facing growing internal tensions.
Domestic pressure in the U.S. to pull out of Afghanistan remains weak, but could grow rapidly as the extent of the debacle becomes clearer and NATO allies refuse to supply the shock-troops for the future surge.
In the meantime, they're predicting a famine in Afghanistan this winter.
Tariq Ali, writer, journalist, filmmaker, contributes regularly to a range of publications including the Guardian, the Nation, and the London Review of Books. His most recent book, just published, is The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power (Scribner, 2008). In a two-part video, released by TomDispatch.com, he offers critical commentary on Barack Obama's plans for Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as on the tangled U.S.-Pakistani relationship.
Copyright 2008 Tariq Ali
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Illustration: A moron's [Republican Voter's] visualization of the Domestic Terrorists of the 60s and early 70s.
The Absurd Times shirks not from its pursuit of truth. Here, unexpurgated, uncensored, verbatim, are the confessions of a Domestic Terrorist -- yes, the very one that the Republican campaign warned us about. He tells all, including his relationship with Barak Obama, leaving NOTHING out. He was not just a pal, oh no, read on if you dare.
What really went on his his living room between him and Barak? The truth is too frightening for the faint of heart or morons.
What kind of things went on under the evil and vile influence of that matermind and inspiration of the so-called "WEATHER UNDERGROUND"? Yes, I'm talking about the pernicious and evil mesmerizing music of Bob Dylan and other musicians using electronic instruments.
Read on, if you dare, but this is not material for the immature.
Democracy Now! Exclusive (Part 1): Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn on the Weather Underground, the McCain Campaign Attacks, President-Elect Obama and the Antiwar Movement Today
In the late stages of the presidential race, no other name was used more by the McCain-Palin campaign against Barack Obama than Bill Ayers. Ayers is a respected Chicago professor who was a member of the 1960s militant antiwar group the Weather Underground. In their first joint television interview, Ayers and his wife Bernardine Dohrn discuss the McCain campaign attacks, President-elect Obama, the Weather Underground, the legacy of 1960s social justice movements, and more. [includes rush transcript]
Bill Ayers, distinguished professor of education and a senior university scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is the author many books, including his 2001 memoir, Fugitive Days: Memoirs of an Antiwar Activist, which is being reissued this week.
Bernardine Dohrn, Associate Professor of Law at Northwestern University School of Law and the Director of Northwestern’s Children and Family Justice Center.
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AMY GOODMAN: It’s been ten days since Senator Barack Obama won the election, cementing his path to become the country’s forty-fourth president and the first African American president in US history. Over the course of his almost two-year campaign, Obama came under attack on a number of fronts. But in the late stages of the presidential race, no other name was used more by the McCain-Palin campaign against Obama than Bill Ayers.
Bill Ayers is a respected Chicago professor who was a member of the 1960s militant antiwar group the Weather Underground. On Wednesday, more than a week after Obama beat John McCain in the election, Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin again brought up Obama’s alleged ties to Ayers in an interview on CNN.
GOV. SARAH PALIN: Well, I still am concerned about that association with Bill Ayers. And if anybody still wants to talk about it, I will, because this is an unrepentant domestic terrorist who had campaigned to blow up—to destroy our Pentagon and our US Capitol. That’s an association that still bothers me. And I think it’s still fair to talk about it. However, the campaign is over. That chapter is closed. Now is the time to move on and to, again, make sure that all of us are doing all that we can to progress as a nation, keep us secure, get the economy back on the right track. And many of us do have some ideas on how to do that, and hopefully, we’ll be able to put all that wisdom and experience to good use together.
WOLF BLITZER: So, looking back, you don’t regret that tough language during the campaign?
GOV. SARAH PALIN: No, and I do not think that it is off base nor mean-spirited nor negative campaigning to call someone out on their associations and on their record.
AMY GOODMAN: In the closing weeks of the presidential race, Governor Palin repeatedly invoked Bill Ayers on the campaign trail as a line of attack against Obama.
GOV. SARAH PALIN: I’m afraid this is someone who sees America as imperfect enough to work with a former domestic terrorist who had targeted his own country.
There’s no question that Bill Ayers, via his own admittance, was one who sought to destroy our US Capitol and our Pentagon. That is a domestic terrorist.
One of his earliest supporters is a man who, according to the New York Times, was a domestic terrorist and part of a group—part of a group that, quote, “launched a campaign of bombings that would target the Pentagon and the US Capitol.”
AMY GOODMAN: The McCain campaign even put out automated robocalls to voters in swing states to highlight Obama’s alleged links to Bill Ayers.
McCAIN ROBOCALL: Hello, I’m calling for John McCain and the RNC, because you need to know that Barack Obama has worked closely with domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, whose organization bombed the US Capitol, the Pentagon, a judge’s home, and killed Americans. And Democrats will enact an extreme leftist agenda if they take control of Washington. Barack Obama and his Democratic allies lack the judgment to lead our country. This call was paid for by McCain-Palin 2008 and the Republican National Committee.
AMY GOODMAN: On television, an attack ad by the conservative American Issues Project was played in key battleground states linking Obama to Bill Ayers.
AMERICAN ISSUES PROJECT AD: Beyond the speeches, how much do you know about Barack Obama? What does he really believe? Consider this. United 93 never hit the Capitol on 9/11, but the Capitol was bombed thirty years before by an American terrorist group called Weather Underground that declared war on the US, targeting the Capitol, the Pentagon, police stations and more. One of the group’s leaders, William Ayers, admits to the bombings, proudly saying later, “We didn’t do enough.” Some members of the group Ayers founded even went on to kill police. But Barack Obama is friends with Ayers, defending him as, quote, “respectable and mainstream.” Obama’s political career was launched in Ayers’s home, and the two served together on a left-wing board. Why would Barack Obama be friends with someone who bombed the Capitol and is proud of it? Do you know enough to elect Barack Obama? American Issues Project is responsible for the content of this ad.
AMY GOODMAN: On Fox News, Bill O’Reilly made Bill Ayers his drumbeat.
BILL O’REILLY: Hi, I’m Bill O’Reilly. Thanks for watching us tonight. The Factor confronts William Ayers. That is the subject of this evening’s talking points memo. As I said before, the radical Chicago teacher Bill Ayers is Barack Obama’s worst nightmare. Here’s a guy who simply won’t go away, a man most Americans detest, but a legitimate issue in evaluating a potential president’s associations.
One caveat here, The Factor believes the economy and national security are the two most important issues in this campaign by far. We don’t believe William Ayers rises anywhere near those things. However, Ayers is interesting. Here’s a guy who calls himself an anarchist, has admitted committing terrorist acts, even participated in bombing a police station here in New York City. And Barack Obama gave him a blurb for his book in the Chicago Tribune? That, ladies and gentlemen, is no small thing.
Ayers has been hiding out. We watched him for a number of days before Jesse Waters finally caught up with him.
JESSE WATERS: How do you feel about being the centerpiece of this presidential election? What’s your relationship with Barack Obama, Mr. Ayers? Did he write a blurb for your book and sit on a panel with you?
BILL AYERS: This is my property. Would you please leave?
JESSE WATERS: Mr. Ayers, do you want to take this opportunity to apologize for your terrorist acts? Mr. Ayers? Don’t you think it’s time for some repentance? Do you still consider yourself an anarchist?
BILL O’REILLY: Did you notice the red star on his shirt there? You know, here’s the irony. After Jesse’s brief chat with Mr. Ayers, the guy calls the police, the same police he tried to kill back in the ’60s. That is called irony. Well, he police came and escorted Ayers back to his car. Don’t you just love this? When a terrorist guy needs some help, who does he call? The cops. Like everybody else.
Now, some misguided souls feel sorry for Bill Ayers; I don’t. He’s had plenty of time to apologize for trying to hurt fellow Americans. He has never said he’s sorry, most likely because he’s not sorry. I actually think Barack Obama should apologize for hanging with the guy. He should throw him under the bus, just like he did Revered Wright. Look, Senator, everybody makes mistakes. You made one. This is a bad guy. Just say you made a mistake in judgment. Then it goes all away. But Obama has not done that, so poor Jesse had to track Ayers down. That should be the end of the story, but, of course, it won’t be.
AMY GOODMAN: Throughout the entire presidential race, Bill Ayers did not once talk to the media. Today, he and his wife, Bernardine Dohrn, a fellow member of the Weather Underground, are speaking out in their first joint television interview since the controversy began.
Bill Ayers is now a distinguished professor of education and a senior university scholar at the University of Illinois, Chicago. He’s the author of many books, including his 2001 memoir, Fugitive Days: Memoirs of an Antiwar Activist, which is being reissued this week.
Bernardine Dohrn is an associate professor of Law at Northwestern University School of Law and the director of Northwestern’s Children and Family Justice Center.
Well, Democracy Now!’s Juan Gonzalez and I spoke with both of them from a studio in their hometown of Chicago. In a wide-ranging conversation, we discussed the McCain campaign attacks, President-elect Obama, the Weather Underground, their plans for the future and much more.
I began by asking Bill Ayers to respond to the controversy surrounding him in the presidential race.
BILL AYERS: We actually didn’t pay a lot of attention to it. We recognized that there was this cartoon character kind of thrust up on the screen, and I was an unwitting and unwilling part of his presidential campaign. We tried not to watch it, because, pretty much, it was distracting and kind of crazy-producing. On the other hand, as you played those, there’s so much that’s dishonest in it that it’s kind of impossible to kind of know where to enter it.
First of all, the idea that Bill O’Reilly says, you know, that I was in hiding. I wasn’t in hiding. I was teaching and speaking and writing and doing all the things I do. What I wasn’t doing was commenting on the presidential campaign to the media. And I decided not to do that. We decided not to do that when this all began, because we couldn’t figure out a way to interrupt what we took to be a profoundly dishonest narrative that, you know, had no—we had no purchase. We had no way into it.
And what’s dishonest about it, I mean, there are many things. One is, I was not a terrorist. I never was a terrorist. And the idea that the Weather Underground carried out terrorism is nonsense. We never killed or hurt a person. We never intended to. We existed from 1970 to 1976, the last years, the last half-decade of the war in Vietnam. And by contrast, the war in Vietnam really was a terrorist undertaking. The war in Vietnam was terror on a mass scale, with thousands of people every month being murdered, mostly from the air. And we were doing everything we could to stop it. So, again, it’s hard to know where to start to interrupt that narrative.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Bill, for a lot of younger listeners and viewers who may be not familiar with the Weather Underground—I remember back more than forty years ago I was in the Students for a Democratic Society with you and Bernadine—and could you talk a little bit about how the Weather Underground developed and what were its goals?
BILL AYERS: Sure. When I was first arrested opposing the war in Vietnam was the year that the United States built the war up, 1965. And at that time, I was arrested in the draft board with thirty-nine other students trying to disrupt the normal activity of the draft board. You know, one of the things to note about that arrest is, while thirty-nine of us were arrested and while hundreds of students supported us, thousands of students opposed us, because in 1965 the war was popular. Again, in retrospect, it’s hard to remember that.
In ’65, 70 percent of Americans supported the war. By 1968, 70 percent opposed the war. A lot had happened in those years. Certainly, the activism of the student movement was part of it. Perhaps more important was strong elements of the black freedom movement coming out unequivocally against the war. And perhaps most decisive was Vietnam vets coming home and adding energy to the antiwar movement, starting their own antiwar organizations and denouncing the people who had sent them there, telling us, telling all the American people, that the war was immoral, that they were asked to do war crimes on a regular basis as a part of policy, not by accident. And that just, you know, kind of deflated the whole idea of this so-called noble enterprise.
So here was this illegal, immoral war. In 1968, the sitting president announced that he would leave office at the end of his term, rather than run for reelection, in order to end the war. We felt that we had run a great victory when he made that announcement in March of 1968. Four days after that announcement, King was dead. A couple of months later, Kennedy was dead. And a few months after that, it was clear that the war was going to escalate. And the question was, what do you do? It’s 1968, there’s no end point in sight, and thousands of people are being murdered every month. People did many things. Some joined the Democratic Party and tried to organize a peace wing. Some left the country. Others decided to organize in communities. Some built communes. And we decided that we would build an organization that could resist and create a more militant response to the American misdeeds in Vietnam.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, obviously, when you say that the Weathermen was not a terrorist organization, many Americans, who would see that the organization set bombs in government buildings and in other places, would dispute that. Why would you say that it was not a terrorist organization?
BILL AYERS: Because—
BERNADINE DOHRN: No-–
BILL AYERS: Go ahead.
BERNADINE DOHRN: Can I jump in, Juan?
BILL AYERS: Sure.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Sure, Bernadine.
BERNADINE DOHRN: Nothing the Weather Underground did was terrorist. And, you know, we could make lots of choices if we were reliving it. Nothing we did was perfect. But decision was made, after the death of our three comrades in a townhouse, not to hurt people, to engage in direct actions that were symbolic, that were recognizable and understandable to the American people and that protected people. And that kind of restraint was widespread. There were tens of thousands of political bombings over that first three—1970, ’71, ’72, ’73, all across the country, not under anybody’s leadership, but they were overwhelmingly restrained, symbolic.
Now, nobody in today’s world can defend bombings. How could you do that after 9/11, after, you know, Oklahoma City? It’s a new context, in a different context. So you have to go back to the savage and unrestrained terror that the United States was unleashing in the world, in Vietnam, as Bill said, and at home. You remember that the assassinations of black political leaders in the United States was a regular feature of life. And, you know, it seemed—the context of the time has to be understood.
AMY GOODMAN: Bill O’Reilly, Bill Ayers, in the ad said that you admitted to bombing a police station and weren’t sorry about it.
BILL AYERS: What I wrote in my book, Fugitive Days, I wrote about the extraordinary decade in which many of us came of age and committed ourselves to fighting against war and against injustice and for peace. And mostly what we did was nonviolent direct action through that whole latter part of the ’60s. And then we reached a kind of crisis, which is, we had convinced the American people—we and forces—you know, it’s an interesting thing to think about the years ’65, ’68. In three years, the American people swung all the way over to oppose the war. Kind of reminds you of the recent events, where in three years a popular war became massively unpopular.
But in any case, the question was, what do you do? And in no way do I think, or in my book do I rationalize or argue, that what we did was the best thing or the only thing. But what I do say is it was understandable in its own terms. “Is it terrorism?” Juan asked. No, it’s not, because terrorism targets people and intends to intimidate and murder people in order to get a political—its political way. We never did that. We never intended to do it. And no one was hurt or killed. So that’s an important distinction.
AMY GOODMAN: Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn today on Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: We return to our interview with Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn.
JUAN GONZALEZ: The allegations repeatedly raised by folks on the right throughout the country that you helped launch Barack Obama’s career, what were the actual facts, in your perspective, of that relationship with Obama and the event that you held at your house?
BILL AYERS: You know, we, like thousands of other people, we knew Obama, and we knew him as well, probably, as thousands of other people. He was a guy in the neighborhood. He was somebody that was active in civic life, as we are. And so, of course we would meet and see one another at meetings and so on.
The idea that we launched his political career is a myth that was created with the intention of hurting his candidacy. You know, like millions and millions of other people, we wish that we knew him better. I mean, you know, he is an extraordinary person who has accomplished something extraordinary. But did we launch his career? We were asked by our state senator if we would hold a coffee for him some, I don’t know, twelve or fifteen years ago, and we did, which we’ve done for many people and many causes. So it wasn’t anything extraordinary, and it wasn’t anything outside of our normal lives.
AMY GOODMAN: Bill Ayers, we have the clip of Barack Obama in the debate talking about you, in the last debate, saying he was setting the record straight.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Mr. Ayers has become the centerpiece of Senator McCain’s campaign over the last two or three weeks. This has been their primary focus. So let’s get the record straight.
Bill Ayers is a professor of education in Chicago. Forty years ago, when I was eight years old, he engaged in despicable acts with a radical domestic group. I have roundly condemned those acts. Ten years ago, he served and I served on a school reform board that was funded by one of Ronald Reagan’s former ambassadors and close friends, Mr. Annenberg. Other members on that board were the presidents of the University of Illinois, the president of Northwestern University, who happens to be a Republican, the president of the Chicago Tribune, a Republican-leaning newspaper. Mr. Ayers is not involved in my campaign, he has never been involved in this campaign, and he will not advise me in the White House. So that’s Mr. Ayers.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Barack Obama in the last debate. His comment within that quote, he said, “Forty years ago, when I was eight years old, he engaged in despicable acts with a radical domestic group. I have roundly condemned those acts.” Your thoughts on that, Bill?
BILL AYERS: Well, we were a radical domestic group, and he did condemn those acts. You know, I don’t think that what we did was exactly—it certainly wasn’t perfect, and it wasn’t something that I’ve defended in every way. But on the other hand, I don’t expect somebody to today endorse what we did forty years ago or even to understand it. To me, nothing that he said is either, you know, false or wrong or terrible. The other thing I guess I would say about it is, we would disagree on our evaluation of what went on forty years ago, but we disagree on many things, so it’s not surprising.
AMY GOODMAN: Like what do you disagree with?
BILL AYERS: Well, you know, I would say calling those acts despicable forty years ago, I guess I would disagree with. But more to the point is that it’s an irrelevant—it’s an irrelevant issue in this campaign.
And what’s interesting is that it was raised up in an attempt to replay the culture wars. You know, there was this wonderful moment on Stephen Colbert where the word for the night was “the ’60s." And he has a clip of Obama saying, “Can’t we just leave the ’60s behind?” And it comes back to Colbert, in full anger, saying, “No, Senator. We can’t leave it behind. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.”
And frankly, I think the fact that this may be the last time that the ’60s is raised in that kind of cultural warrior-ish way is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, I think it is time to move on, and there’s a new generation. And a lot of the nostalgia for the ’60s, both the hatred of it and the love of it, is misplaced. I think it’s time to look forward. On the other hand, I think that it’s a sad thing that we’ve never really had a truth and reconciliation process about the war in Vietnam, about the black freedom movement and what happened. And that means, among other things, that we haven’t learned the lessons of invasion and occupation. We haven’t learned the lessons of what happens when people get involved in direction action and struggle, and both the advances that can be made and also the limits of those struggles. We haven’t learned the lessons that might make for a more peaceful, more just future. I think that’s the problem.
AMY GOODMAN: Bernadine, I wanted to stay there for a minute, and then, Bernadine, I wanted to get your response, with this clip actually focusing on you. And this is that film that came out a few years ago called Weather Underground. It perhaps gives some context to this. It begins with, well, the Black Panther who was killed soon after this, Fred Hampton.
FRED HAMPTON: So we say—we always say in the Black Panther Party that they can do anything they want to to us. We might not be back. I might be in jail. I might be anywhere. But when I leave, you’ll remember I said, with the last words on my lips, that I am a revolutionary.
WALTER CRONKITE: In Chicago today, two Black Panthers were killed as police raided a Panther stronghold. Police arrived at Fred Hampton’s West Side apartment at 4:45 this morning. They had a search warrant authorizing them to look for illegal weapons. The state’s attorney’s office says that Hampton and another man were killed in the fifteen-minute gun battle which followed.
BLACK PANTHER: The pigs murdered Deputy Chairman Fred Hampton while he lay in bed. Their lies, their oinking to the people won’t—can’t bear up to the evidence that we have that they murdered our deputy chairman in cold blood as he lay in his bed asleep.
BERNADINE DOHRN: The Panther Party organized tours of the apartment that they were in when they were murdered, and I went with a group of people from the SDS national office, which is a couple of blocks away.
BLACK PANTHER TOUR GUIDE: Don’t touch nothing. Don’t move nothing, because we want to keep everything just the way it is.
BERNADINE DOHRN: It was a scene of carnage. It was a scene of war. You see this door ridden with bullets, not little bullet holes, but shattered.
BLACK PANTHER TOUR GUIDE: The room where First Brother Mark Clark was murdered at.
BERNADINE DOHRN: You walk through a living room into the bedroom, and there’s a mattress soaked in his blood, red blood down the floor.
SKIP ANDREW: Anyone who went through that apartment and examined the evidence that was remaining there could come to only one conclusion, and that is that Fred Hampton, twenty-one years old and a member of a militant, well-known militant group, was murdered in his bed probably as he lay asleep.
THOMAS STRIETER: This blatant act of legitimatized murder strips all credibility for law enforcement. In the context of other acts against militant blacks in recent months, it suggests an official policy of systematic repression.
BERNADINE DOHRN: We felt that the murder of Fred required us to be more grave, more serious, more determined to raise the stakes and not just be the white people who wrung their hands when black people were being murdered.
It’s two-and-a-half weeks since Fred Hampton was murdered by the pigs who own this city. And for people to be able to enjoy Christmas time in this country, without remembering and without making a choice about the struggle that’s going on in the world, without taking action about a blatant murder that takes place in the city against a revolutionary black leader, is an obscenity.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Bernadine Dohrn in 1969, just after Fred Hampton was killed. And this is from the documentary The Weather Underground by Sam Green and Bill Siegel. Bernadine Dohrn, take us back then and continue with the context.
BERNADINE DOHRN: Well, the murder of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, as we now know—it’s thoroughly documented and decided by courts, federal courts here in Chicago, in Illinois—was carried out in a conspiracy, in a secret conspiracy, between the FBI and the Chicago Police Department. It was covered up, denied. Lies were told. And it was, you know, one of many targeted assassinations of African American leaders in political life. You know, I think during this election campaign, still the echoes and fears for the safety of African American political leaders echoed, certainly from people in our generation, because of the traumatic experiences with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King’s assassination and so many Panthers targeted and assassinated.
The murder of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark certainly galvanized us and threw us into a level of activity and purposefulness, but so did the Vietnam War. And really, one of the extraordinary things was the merger of those two great rivers of struggle. And they were not separate, the black freedom movement and the war in Vietnam, eventually. So, you know, you had a situation in that era, almost unimaginable now and rarely remembered, where Dr. King, in one of the great talks, speeches of his life at Riverside Church in 1967, said, “The greatest purveyor of violence on this earth is my own country.” That was a painful and agonizing thing for him to say. He said it against the pressures of people around him, the civil rights movement, the labor movement, the Democratic Party. But he said it because he felt that it was true and that it required a certain kind of action. A year later, he was assassinated and dead.
I raise the question when I speak now, is that still true today? Is the greatest purveyor of violence on this earth our own country? Not the only purveyor of violence, but the greatest. If that’s true, we felt then and I still believe, it requires people who are citizens here, who care about the great moral issues of our time, to respond, to not let these crimes and suffering be done in our name. Now, how you respond is a whole other question.
And I think, you know, one of the things that’s interesting about reviving the ’60s, by using Bill as a caricature, as a placeholder during this election to try to make the ’60s seem dangerous and terrifying, is worth examining. In fact, the ’60s was liberatory and exciting and gave birth to a whole progeny of social struggles that transformed American life. Barack Obama could not have been elected president without the great struggles of the civil rights and the black freedom movement; without white people in the United States wrestling with the issue of racism and white supremacy; without the women’s movement; without the veterans’ movement, really, to tell the truth about the Vietnam War and all wars of occupation and conquest; the disabled rights movement; the environmental movement; the green movement; the labor struggles. So these are the part of the ’60s that are being pushed aside, disremembered, and in an attempt to really rewrite the notion that, you know, the issues of our day are defined by what people do.
On the other hand, the exciting thing about today—Bill and I were in Grant Park last week, the day of the—night of the election. And I think one wants to note that many of the tools of the ’60s—the participatory engaged organizing, the door-to-door, the volunteerism, people changing their lives to go listen and talk to people they don’t know about critical issues of our time—this is extremely hopeful. Many of the great tools of the ’60s have been picked up and transformed in the course of this campaign, in the course of these terrible wars we’re involved in, and now in the course of this economic collapse and global peril. So I’m hopeful that we can, not continually rerun the disagreements about the ’60s, but actually recognize that the ’60s were a springboard for this election and for really a historic and momentous milestone that just happened last week. And we can savor that milestone, before we have to critique it and disagree with it and fall to squabbling again.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Bernadine, when you quote Martin Luther King about the greatest purveyor of violence is our own country, that’s not a sentiment that is shared by most political leaders today, certainly not by Barack Obama. And the issue of whether that lesson has been learned or whether the movement that is marshaled behind Obama will perhaps once again be disappointed? As you say, in 1968, you were expecting that the war would be ended, because a majority of the population opposed it. Your concerns about how the political leaders in the United States today deal with the fact of our country being an empire?
BERNADINE DOHRN: Well, I think it’s in our hands, Juan. I think that there is a great peace movement. I think that the people—many of the people who worked in this campaign and were galvanized by this campaign want an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, want no US ongoing military bases in Iraq, want hands off—US hands off Iraqi oil, which I think is the only way that we can begin to repair the incredible harm done to that country and to the displacement of people all over the Middle East. And I think, you know, the same is true for the 160 military bases the US has around the world.
We’re in an incredible historic moment, where the question of the relationship between these issues—let’s just take, for example, war and warming. The global crisis we’re in is related to these wars over oil and control of oil fields. And, you know, we have to connect these issues and to continue to organize independent social struggles.
I think my favorite—our favorite moment of this whole election campaign—and there were certainly, really, many unprecedented and moving moments of the last year and a half—was when, at the height of the primary campaign, Senator—then-Senator Obama was asked, “Who would Martin Luther King support? Would you support you or Senator Clinton?” And without his frequent pauses in thinking, he said, “He wouldn’t support either of us. He’d be out in the street building an independent social justice movement.”
So, as a community—or as an ex-community organizer, he does recognize that social change and really justice comes from below. If we’re going to get universal healthcare, we have to have a movement that insists on universal healthcare. We can do it in stages. It doesn’t have to be all at once. But I think that relationship between social mobilization and participation by large sectors of the population, the whole population, and changing the direction of this country is recognizable and real.
AMY GOODMAN: Bernadine Dohrn and Bill Ayers. If you’d like a copy of today’s show, you can go to our website, democracynow.org. We’ll go back to the interview in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: As we continue with our Democracy Now! exclusive, I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan Gonzalez, in this first joint interview with Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn since the Obama campaign has ended. They joined us from a studio in Chicago. Bill Ayers spoke about being at Grant Park the night Barack Obama was elected president.
BILL AYERS: It was an extraordinary feeling. I’ve been in a lot of large crowds in my life, but I’ve never been in one that didn’t either have an edge of anger or a lot of drunkenness or kind of performance. This was all unity, all love. And what people were celebrating was this milestone, which was sweet and exciting and important. But they were also celebrating—there was—you could kind of cut the relief in people’s feelings with a knife. I mean, it was the sense that we were going to leave behind the era of 9/11 and the era of fear and war without end and repression and constitutional shredding and scapegoating of gay and lesbian people, on and on. And there we were, millions, in the park, representing everybody, hugging, dancing, carrying on right in the spot, forty years ago, where many of us were beaten and dragged to jail. It was an extraordinary feeling.
I don’t think at this moment we should be getting into at all the business of trying to read the mind of the President-elect and see where we, you know, might do this or that. The question is, as Bernadine is saying, how do we build the movement on the ground that demands peace, that demands justice? This is always the question. It’s happening—the question is being raised in a new context. So how do—you know, I often think, thinking historically, Lyndon Johnson wasn’t the civil rights movement, but he was an effective politician who passed civil rights legislation. FDR wasn’t a labor leader. Lincoln didn’t belong to an abolitionist party. They all responded to something going on on the ground. And in a lot of ways, we have to get beyond—progressive people have to get beyond the idea that we’re waiting for a savior. We’re not waiting for a savior. We need to transform ourselves, transform our movements, reach out to one another and build an irresistible social force for change.
BERNADINE DOHRN: I want to add one word about the election last week, because I’m not done with savoring it and being struck by the uniqueness of the moment. One of the things, I’ve been using the word “jubilant” to describe the feeling in Grant Park and in Harlem and in Soweto and in Indonesia and in, you know, India. It was a global celebration of an election. And it was somber at the same time that it was ecstatic. I think people felt that way when they were home with their kids or taking care of their elderly parents or whether they wanted to go out to some public place and just be part of the phenomena.
And it does represent two important things, at least. One of them, it seems to me, is a pretty decisive rejection of the politics of fear, whether it’s fear that there’s some secret cell of domestic terrorists from the ’60s hanging around or fear that our major primary approach to the world and to raising our children should be one of fear. Obviously, life is—includes tragedy and pain and suffering, and that will come along, but approaching the world as five percent of the world’s people now seems possible, adjusting how the United States thinks of itself in the world. That’s, to me, an enormous thing.
Secondly, you want to recognize here that the famous and much talked-about Bradley Effect, the notion that white people cannot leave behind some of the trappings of white supremacy and racism that have been the ugly river beneath all US discourse, is really important. I was struck when you were playing those tapes that the real coded message underneath those tapes that used Bill as a fear proxy is that you don’t know who Barack Obama really is. There was some notion of him being unknowable, exotic, strange, foreign, deceitful. And, you know, strangely enough, we feel like if all they could come up with was that he knew us casually, the guy is pretty clean, is pretty extraordinary. He’s been vetted and vetted and vetted, and there was nothing there to throw at him, except this question of maybe an African American man is not knowable to white people. And it’s worth—we don’t—neither Bill or I think that we’re in a post-racial world, but it is worth noting that that was rejected by almost all sectors of the population, including independent voters.
BILL AYERS: The attack on—
JUAN GONZALEZ: Bill, if I can, I’d like to change tack for a moment—
BILL AYERS: Sure.
JUAN GONZALEZ: —and talk a little bit about how you evolved from the period of Weathermen. Obviously, you were fugitives for awhile, then you came above-ground and settled your problems with the law. You became a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a leader of the reform movement in education in that city. This whole issue of public education and what you see as what needs to be done in public education to revamp our public school system, and what you would hope an Obama presidency would address?
BILL AYERS: You know, I think we’ve suffered so much in the last decades, really, under the wrong way of thinking about education, education reform, foreign policy, the economy, so much of the kind of meta-narrative, or the dominant discourse, is so mistaken and so misplaced. And a lot of what I’m—what I have fought for and what I am struggling for is simply to say, let’s change the frame on education.
I can give you a couple of simple examples. When somebody says, as people said in this campaign, “We really need to get the rotten teachers out of the classroom,” I mean, immediately we all kind of nod dully. But if somebody said, instead of that frame, somebody said, “What we really need is for every child to be in a classroom with a thoughtful, well-educated, caring, intellectual, well-compensated and well-rested teacher,” we’d all nod to that, too.
So, the question is, who gets to set the agenda? To me, the agenda for education in the last couple of decades has been so wrongheaded, because it’s been based on the idea that we do our best with a lot of competition, which is very narrowly conducted and highly supervised and surveilled. That, to me, is the wrong model for democratic education. In fact, the way I think we have to ask the question is, since all of us, no matter—educational leaders, no matter where they are—the old Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, medieval Saudi Arabia—we all agree that the kids should do their homework, not do drugs, be in school, learn the subject matters.
So what makes education in a democracy distinct? And I would argue that what makes education in a democracy distinct is that we don’t educate for obedience and conformity; we educate for initiative and courage. We educate for imagination and hope and possibility. And we recognize that the full development of each person requires the full development of all people. Or another way of saying it is, the full development of all is the condition whereby we can educate each. And that shifting of the frame is so important. And frankly, I’m hopeful that in this period of rising expectations, of rethinking so much, that this is where we can go.
AMY GOODMAN: Bill Ayers, Juan mentioned that course of history, that time when you were fugitives and then when you came, surfaced above ground. But I was wondering if we could go back there, especially because you’ve just re-released your book Fugitive Days: Memoirs of an Antiwar Activist. First of all, why are you releasing it now? Very significantly, it came out on a day that most people would not have noticed it, September 11th, 2001. And can you talk, actually, about what it was like to be underground, and then what happened as you chose, you and Bernadine chose, to resurface, and how you dealt with things from there, how you dealt with the law and then became the two professors that you have become?
BILL AYERS: You’re going to have to help me, I think. But, OK, the release of the book. I mean, the books—I’ve written several books. And the book was released now, because the publisher wanted to release it now, but it’s been in production for a while, this re-release. It was released initially September 11th, 2001. And, of course, like everything else, pretty much we forgot about what else happened on that day, except the terrible tragedy of the World Trade Center and the bombing of the Pentagon. So, the book had a life, and I, at the time, went on a book tour and was very lucky to be on a book tour, actually, because I found myself in independent bookstores all across the country, where there was, in effect, at that time, an ongoing rolling teach-in going on. You remember the months right after 9/11. There was an uncharacteristic questioning and wondering and conversation. And that was a very kind of tragic and also kind of hopeful moment. The book was published in paperback a year later. And then Beacon decided to bring it out again.
I’ll say a couple things about the book. One is that I didn’t want it to come out in the last few months, partly because I thought it would have been lost. I didn’t see how anybody could pick it up and read it when so much else was going on. So, you know, it was—it’s coming out now. But the book is a memoir. That is, it’s a story of one imperfect person set down in a particular historical and social context and how he makes his way, how he makes his choices. It’s not a political manifesto. It’s not a history. It’s one person’s memory of those times. And so, it’s a story about a very privileged kid, myself, going to the University of Michigan in 1963, having my eyes kind of painfully opened and seeing the world in flames, and making choice after choice after choice that—you know, on the kind of side of justice and peace and struggling for those things, and finding myself taking more and more militant positions and actions in order to end the war.
AMY GOODMAN: Bill, a quick question.
BILL AYERS: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Didn’t Dr. King meet with your father? Talk about those years.
BILL AYERS: Sure.
AMY GOODMAN: When Dr. King came to Chicago, he said he felt his life was more in danger there than anywhere else. Ultimately, as he tried to challenge segregation in the North and housing in the North, he was forced out of Chicago. But talk about those early years.
BILL AYERS: Yeah, I think Bernadine was very involved in that, and I want her to say a word about that. But it’s true. When King came north and was leading the movement in Chicago—and he had said this is going to be the hardest nut to crack. Before this, we were fighting feudalism. Now we’re actually taking on power in its own headquarters. And Mayor Daley negotiated with King, and the chief negotiators were two prominent businessmen, one of whom was my father. So my father was negotiating between King and Daley. He was the chairman of Commonwealth Edison at the time. Bernadine was in the streets fighting. I was in a few of those demonstrations. So it was a kind of an odd and interesting time.
BERNADINE DOHRN: I wasn’t fighting. I was being a law student.
BILL AYERS: Well, I know, I know. Well, we wrote a book together, about this and other incidents that’s also coming out this month called Race Course. And the subtitle is Against White Supremacy. Maybe talk a little bit about King and then come back to—and the Chicago days.
BERNADINE DOHRN: You know, one of the great things about both of us being from Chicago and from Hyde Park, you know, is that you have two generations of Daleys and many two-generation stories here: Bill and his father; my mom, who lived with us for the last five years of her life, growing up in an immigrant family here in Chicago. So, the threads are deep.
But for me, as a law student going to work with Dr. King on the West Side of Chicago in 1965, when he moved to Chicago, around the key issues of housing, habitable housing for poor people, and desegregated housing, which was tied to habitable housing, is that, you know, I had that great opportunity, which many law students still do today, of seeing law and justice tied to a social movement. And so, I went around with experienced community organizers from the South with an armband that said “Legal.” I was a second-year law student. I knew practically nothing. But my eyes were opened. I learned, I watched, I listened. And I was able to try to understand, you know, that new left kind of mantra, that the people with the problems are the people with the solutions and that you don’t hand people solutions, you encourage people to take up and remake their own world, a lesson for participatory democracy and community organizers today. So, for me, that relationship between justice and social change was forged right at that moment.
BILL AYERS: And, you know, the other thing about King coming north is that Martin Luther King, who’s mythologized as this person who led a bus boycott, had a dream, gave a speech, won a Nobel, all those things, and then kind of was quiet, misses 1965 to ’68, when King, the angry pilgrim, was becoming more radical every year, every day, as he tried to forge a unity between racial justice, economic justice and global justice.
And frankly, that’s very much what we have to do today. When we said before, you know, it’s the end of the era of 9/11, this vote is a repudiation of the era of war and fear, it’s also an affirmation of possibility. And we’re looking forward to kind of January ’09, rising expectations, new hopes, finding ways to unite movements. One of the things I think we have to do as progressives is get over the idea that we’re somehow a barricaded minority with some precious ideas that don’t fit with the larger vision of democracy and so on, because I think, actually, we are very much—you know, I’m sometimes amused to be called “in the mainstream.” I’m still a political radical. I’m still a progressive. I still consider myself an activist. At the same time, I’ll take it, because, frankly, I think the mainstream includes peace. It includes racial reconciliation. It includes a repudiation of white power. It includes the rights of all human beings for dignity and recognition, including and importantly gay and lesbian and transgendered people, and on and on. I don’t think these are minority positions. It sometimes startles me to read what the Chicago City Council passes as resolutions. They, too, are against the PATRIOT Act. They, too, are against nuclear weapons. So, why do I have to pretend that I’m protecting some precious turf, when actually I should join with everybody, link movements together and build a force for real fundamental social change.
AMY GOODMAN: Bill Ayers, now a distinguished professor of education at University of Illinois, Chicago, speaking along with Bernadine Dohrn, his wife, attorney. She is an associate professor of law at Northwestern. She runs the Northwestern Children and Family Justice Center there. And that does it for part one of our Democracy Now! exclusive. We will bring you the rest of this interview on Monday. Tell your friends.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
posted 2008-11-12 08:34:33
Tomgram: No Breathing Space in Washington
Don't Let Barack Obama Break Your HeartWhy Americans Shouldn't Go Home
By Tom Engelhardt
On the day that Americans turned out in near record numbers to vote, a record was set halfway around the world. In Afghanistan, a U.S. Air Force strike wiped out about 40 people in a wedding party. This represented at least the sixth wedding party eradicated by American air power in Afghanistan and Iraq since December 2001.
American planes have, in fact, taken out two brides in the last seven months. And don't try to bury your dead or mark their deaths ceremonially either, because funerals have been hit as well. Mind you, those planes, which have conducted 31% more air strikes in Afghanistan in support of U.S. troops this year, and the missile-armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) now making almost daily strikes across the border in Pakistan, remain part of George W. Bush's Air Force, but only until January 21, 2009. Then, they -- and all the brides and grooms of Afghanistan and in the Pakistani borderlands who care to have something more than the smallest of private weddings -- officially become the property of President Barack Obama.
That's a sobering thought. He is, in fact, inheriting from the Bush administration a widening war in the region, as well as an exceedingly tenuous situation in devastated, still thoroughly factionalized, sectarian, and increasingly Iranian-influenced Iraq. There, the U.S. is, in actuality, increasingly friendless and ever less powerful. The last allies from the infamous "coalition of the willing" are now rushing for the door. The South Koreans, Hungarians, and Bulgarians -- I'll bet you didn't even know the latter two had a few troops left in Iraq -- are going home this year; the rump British force in the south will probably be out by next summer.
The Iraqis are beginning to truly go their own way (or, more accurately, ways); and yet, in January, when Barack Obama enters office, there will still be more American troops in Iraq than there were in April 2003 when Baghdad fell. Winning an election with an antiwar label, Obama has promised -- kinda -- to end the American war there and bring the troops -- sorta, mostly -- home. But even after his planned 16-month withdrawal of U.S. "combat brigades," which may not be welcomed by his commanders in the field, including former Iraq commander, now Centcom Commander David Petraeus, there are still plenty of combative non-combat forces, which will be labeled "residual" and left behind to fight "al-Qaeda." Then, there are all those "advisors" still there to train Iraqi forces, the guards for the giant bases the Bush administration built in the country, the many thousands of armed private security contractors from companies like Blackwater, and of course, the 1,000 "diplomats" who are to staff the newly opened U.S. embassy in Baghdad's Green Zone, possibly the largest embassy on the planet. Hmmmm.
And while the new president turns to domestic matters, it's quite possible that significant parts of his foreign policy could be left to the oversight of Vice President Joe Biden who, in case anyone has forgotten, proposed a plan for Iraq back in 2007 so filled with imperial hubris that it still startles. In a Caesarian moment, he recommended that the U.S. -- not Iraqis -- functionally divide the country into three parts. Although he preferred to call it a "federal system," it was, for all intents and purposes, a de facto partition plan.
If Iraq remains a sorry tale of American destruction and dysfunction without, as yet, a discernable end in sight, Afghanistan may prove Iraq squared. And there, candidate Obama expressed no desire to wind the war down and withdraw American troops. Quite the opposite, during the election campaign he plunked hard for escalation, something our NATO allies are sure not to be too enthusiastic about. According to the Obama plan, many more American troops (if available, itself an open question) are to be poured into the country in what would essentially be a massive "surge strategy" by yet another occupant of the Oval Office. Assumedly, the new Afghan policy would be aided and abetted by those CIA-run UAVs directed toward Pakistan to hunt down Osama bin Laden and pals, while undoubtedly further destabilizing a shaky ally.
When it comes to rising civilian casualties from U.S. air strikes in their countries, both Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari have already used their congratulatory phone calls to President-elect Obama to plead for an end to the attacks, which produce both a profusion of dead bodies and a profusion of live, vengeful enemies. Both have done the same with the Bush administration, Karzai to the point of tears.
The U.S. military argues that the use of air power is necessary in the face of a spreading, ever more dangerous, Taliban insurgency largely because there are too few boots on the ground. ("If we got more boots on the ground, we would not have to rely as much on airstrikes" was the way Army Brig. Gen. Michael Tucker, deputy commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, put it.) But rest assured, as the boots multiply on increasingly hostile ground, the military will discover it needs more, not less, air power to back more troops in more trouble.
So, after January 20th, expect Obama to take possession of George Bush's disastrous Afghan War; and unless he is far more skilled than Alexander the Great, British empire builders, and the Russians, his war, too, will continue to rage without ever becoming a raging success.
Finally, President-elect Obama accepted the overall framework of a "Global War on Terror" during his presidential campaign. This "war" lies at the heart of the Bush administration's fantasy world of war that has set all-too-real expanses of the planet aflame. Its dangers were further highlighted this week by the New York Times, which revealed that secret orders in the spring of 2004 gave the U.S. military "new authority to attack the Qaeda terrorist network anywhere in the world, and a more sweeping mandate to conduct operations in countries not at war with the United States."
At least twelve such attacks have been carried out since then by Special Operations forces on Pakistan, Somalia, most recently Syria, and other unnamed countries. Signed by Donald Rumsfeld, signed off on by President Bush, built-upon recently by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, these secret orders enshrine the Pentagon's right to ignore international boundaries, or the sovereignty of nations, in an endless global "war" of choice against small, scattered bands of terrorists.
As reporter Jim Lobe pointed out recently, a "series of interlocking grand bargains" in what the neoconservatives used to call "the Greater Middle East" or the "arc of instability" might be available to an Obama administration capable of genuinely new thinking. These, he wrote, would be "backed by the relevant regional players as well as major global powers -- aimed at pacifying Afghanistan; integrating Iran into a new regional security structure; promoting reconciliation in Iraq; and launching a credible process to negotiate a comprehensive peace between Israel and the Arab world."
If, however, Obama accepts a War on Terror framework, as he already seems to have, as well as those "residual" forces in Iraq, while pumping up the war in Afghanistan, he may quickly find himself playing by Rumsfeld rules, whether or not he revokes those specific orders. In fact, left alone in Washington, backed by the normal national security types, he may soon find himself locked into all sorts of unpalatable situations, as once happened to another Democratic president, Lyndon Baines Johnson, who opted to escalate an inherited war when what he most wanted to do was focus on domestic policy.
Previews for a Political Zombie Movie
Domestically, it's clear enough that we are about to leave the age of Bush -- in tone and policy -- but what that leave-taking will consist of is still an open question. This is especially so given a cratering economy and the pot-holed road ahead. It is a moment when Obama has, not surprisingly, begun to emphasize continuity and reassurance alongside his campaign theme of "change we can believe in."
All you had to do was look at that array of Clinton-era economic types and CEOs behind Obama at his first news conference to think: been there, done that. The full photo of his economic team that day offered a striking profile of pre-Bush era Washington and the Washington Consensus, and so a hint of the Democratic world the new president will walk into on January 20, 2009.
How about former Treasury Secretaries Robert Rubin and Larry Summers, those kings of 1990s globalization, or even the towering former Fed chief from the first Bush era, Paul Volcker? Didn't that have the look of previews for a political zombie movie, a line-up of the undead? As head of the New America Foundation Steve Clemons has been writing recently, the economic team looks suspiciously as if it were preparing for a "Clinton 3.0" moment.
You could scan that gathering and not see a genuine rogue thinker in sight; no off-the-reservation figures who might represent a breath of fresh air and fresh thinking (other than, being hopeful, the president-elect himself). Clemons offers an interesting list of just some obvious names left off stage: "Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, Jeffrey Sachs, James Galbraith, Leo Hindery, Clyde Prestowitz, Charlene Barshefsky, C. Fred Bergsten, Adam Posen, Robert Kuttner, Robert Samuelson, Alan Murray, William Bonvillian, Doug & Heidi Rediker, Bernard Schwartz, Tom Gallagher, Sheila Bair, Sherle Schwenninger, and Kevin Phillips."
Mobilizing a largely Clintonista brain trust may look reassuring to some -- an in-gathering of all the Washington wisdom available before Hurricane Bush/Cheney hit town, but unfortunately, we don't happen to be entering a Clinton 3.0 moment. What's globalizing now is American disaster, which threatens to level a vulnerable world.
In a sense, though, domestic policy may, relatively speaking, represent the good news of the coming Obama era. We know, for instance, that those preparing the way for the new president's arrival are thinking hard about how to roll back the worst of Bush cronyism, enrich-yourself-at-the-public-troughism, general lawlessness, and unconstitutionality. As a start, according to Ceci Connolly and R. Jeffrey Smith of the Washington Post, Obama advisers have already been compiling "a list of about 200 Bush administration actions and executive orders that could be swiftly undone to reverse White House policies on climate change, stem cell research, reproductive rights and other issues," including oil drilling in pristine wild lands. In addition, Obama's people are evidently at work on ways to close Guantanamo and try some of its prisoners in U.S. courts.
However, if continuity domestically means rollback to the Clinton era, continuity in the foreign policy sphere -- Guantanamo aside -- may be a somewhat different matter. We won't know the full cast of characters to come until the president-elect makes the necessary announcements or has a national security press conference with a similar line-up behind him. But it's certainly rumored that Robert Gates, a symbol of continuity from both Bush eras, might be kept on as secretary of defense, or a Republican senator like Richard Lugar of Indiana or, more interestingly, retiring Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel might be appointed to the post. Of course, many Clintonistas are sure to be in this line-up, too.
In addition, among the essential cast of characters will be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Michael Mullen, and Centcom Commander David Petraeus, both late Bush appointees, both seemingly flexible military men, both interested in a military-plus approach to the Afghan and Iraq wars. Petraeus, for instance, reportedly recently asked for, and was denied, permission to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
All these figures will represent a turn away from the particular madness of the early Bush years abroad, one that actually began in the final years of his second term. But such a national security line-up is unlikely to include fresh thinkers, who might truly reimagine an imperial world, or anyone who might genuinely buck the power of the Pentagon. What Obama looks to have are custodians and bureaucrats of empire, far more cautious, far more sane, and certainly far more grown-up than the first-term Bush appointees, but not a cast of characters fit for reshaping American policy in a new world of disorder and unraveling economies, not a crew ready to break new ground and cede much old ground on this still American-garrisoned planet of ours.
Breathless in Washington
Let's assume the best: that Barack Obama truly means to bring some form of the people's will, as he imagines it, to Washington after eight years of unconstitutional "commander-in-chief" governance. That -- take my word for it -- he can't do without the people themselves expressing that will.
Of course, even in the Bush era, Americans didn't simply cede the public commons. They turned out, for instance, in staggering numbers to protest the President's invasion of Iraq before it ever happened, and again more recently to work tirelessly to elect Obama president. But -- so it seems to me -- when immediate goals are either disappointingly not achieved, or achieved relatively quickly, most Americans tend to pack their bags and head for home, as so many did in despair after the invasion was launched in 2003, as so many reportedly are doing again, in a far more celebratory mood, now that Obama is elected.
But hard as his election may have been, that was surely the easy part. He is now about to enter the hornet's nest. Entrenched interests. Entrenched ideas. Entrenched ideology. Entrenched profits. Entrenched lobbyists. Entrenched bureaucrats. Entrenched think tanks. An entrenched Pentagon and allied military-industrial complex, both bloated beyond imagining and virtually untouchable, along with a labyrinthine intelligence system of more than 18 agencies, departments, and offices.
Washington remains an imperial capital. How in the world will Barack Obama truly begin to change that without you?
In the Bush years, the special interests, lobbyists, pillagers, and crony corporations not only pitched their tents on the public commons, but with the help of the President's men and women, simply took possession of large hunks of it. That was called "privatization." Now, as Bush & Co. prepare to leave town in a cloud of catastrophe, the feeding frenzy at the public trough only seems to grow.
It's a natural reaction -- and certainly a commonplace media reaction at the moment -- to want to give Barack Obama a "chance." Back off those critical comments, people now say. Fair's fair. Give the President-elect a little "breathing space." After all, the election is barely over, he's not even in office, he hasn't had his first 100 days, and already the criticism has begun.
But those who say this don't understand Washington -- or, in the case of various media figures and pundits, perhaps understand it all too well.
Political Washington is a conspiracy -- in the original sense of the word: "to breathe the same air." In that sense, there is no air in Washington that isn't stale enough to choke a president. Send Obama there alone, give him that "breathing space," don't start demanding the quick ending of wars or anything else, and you're not doing him, or the American people, any favors. Quite the opposite, you're consigning him to suffocation.
Leave Obama to them and he'll break your heart. If you do, then blame yourself, not him; but better than blaming anyone, pitch your own tent on the public commons and make some noise. Let him know that Washington's isn't the only consensus around, that Americans really do want our troops to come home, that we actually are looking for "change we can believe in," which would include a less weaponized, less imperial American world, based on a reinvigorated idea of defense, not aggression, and on the Constitution, not leftover Rumsfeld rules or a bogus Global War on Terror.
Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. He is the author of The End of Victory Culture, a history of the American Age of Denial. The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire (Verso, 2008), a collection of some of the best pieces from his site and an alternative history of the mad Bush years, has recently been published.
[Note for TomDispatch readers: For those who want to follow issues of war and peace, especially in the "arc of instability," I want to recommend four sites that are sure to prove as invaluable in the Obama era as they have been (to me at least) during the Bush years: Juan Cole's never miss-able Informed Comment blog, AntiWar.com (which has recently added Jason Ditz's useful daily summaries of the latest news developments like this Iraqi one), Paul Woodward's sharp-eyed site The War in Context, and the always fascinating and provocative online newspaper, Asia Times. I check in with all of them daily.]
Copyright 2008 Tom Engelhardt