Reflecting the increasing Americanization of their continent’s politics , “progressive” European commentators and politicos have been gushing over U.S. Senator Obama’s (D-IL) speech before 200,000 people in Berlin. Never mind that the speech called for increased European commitment to the criminal U.S. attack on Afghanistan – a colonial war most Europeans do not support – and was otherwise loaded with reactionary content.
“HOW THE WORLD MIGHT BE REMADE”
Speaking of Europe in the aftermath of World War Two (WWII), Obama recalled how “the Soviet shadow had swept across Europe, while in the West, America, Britain, and France took stock of their losses and pondered how the world might be remade.”
This comment suggested that the U.S. had wartime losses that could be remotely compared with those of Europe (it didn’t) and that America’s Allied partners had remotely equal influence with the U.S on the postwar world system (they didn’t). It deleted the fact that U.S. imperial architects consciously exploited WWII as a great opportunity for an “American Century.” They made the sure that “the world” was “remade” in such a way as to guarantee U.S. hegemony and built up the supposed Soviet menace to further that agenda. (For what it’s worth, those nasty Soviets did more than any other nation to defeat the Nazis, losing 25 million lives in the struggle with the Third Reich).
Obama made reference in his Berlin speech to “the generosity of the Marshall Plan.” This omitted the fact that the United States’ post-WWII European reconstruction program was designed to serve U.S. corporate and imperial self-interests in numerous ways.
“THE DOORS OF DEMOCRACY” AND “PROSPERITY”
After the collapse of the Berlin Wall (of “communism”), Obama told Berlin, "the doors of democracy were opened. Markets opened too, and the spread of information and technology reduced barriers to opportunity and prosperity."
Not exactly. U.S.-imposed capitalist “shock therapy” devastated Eastern populations, leading to shocking levels of poverty, inequality and corruption in the former Soviet Union and much of the former Eastern bloc. The spread of “markets” meant the expanded reach and power of multinational corporations and capital, forces that are deeply subversive of democracy. Inequality sharpened around the world and at home too, consistent with the anti-egalitarian character of the profits system. Basic social supports and protections were blown away in the formerly socialist world. South Africa got rid of apartheid but fell under the savage yoke of neoliberal capitalism along with much of the rest of the world (see Mike Davis, Planet of Slums [London: Verso, 2006])
THE UNACCEPTABLE NOTION THAT “AMERICA IS PART OF WHAT HAS GONE WRONG IN THE WORLD”
"In Europe,” Obama claimed, “the view that America is part of what has gone wrong in the world....has become all too common."
This supposedly terrible view happens to be accurate on numerous levels. The hyper-consumerist automobile-addicted U.S. is home to 5 percent of world's populations but generates a quarter of the planet’s climate-baking carbon emissions. Add in 720-plus U.S. military bases stationed in nearly country on Earth, the threat and recurrent reality of U.S. military assault, the U.S.-spread mass culture of commodified nothingness and the dedicated U.S. advance of a negative (corporate) globalization model that consigns billions to extreme poverty while the ever richer planetary Few enjoy spectacular opulence (and related political hyper-power) and you begin to get a sense of why many world citizens might think “America is part of what has gone wrong in the world.”
Obama did not merely defend the U.S. against the widespread (and highly understandable) charge that it is the leading source of difficulty in the world. No, he had the nationally narcissistic chutzpah to oppose even the modest notion that America is merely “part of what has gone wrong in the world.”
How could the most powerful and wealthy nation in the world – the one with the greatest power to shape history – not be at least “part of what has gone wrong in the world”?
AMERICA’S “SACRIFICE FOR FREEDOM AROUND THE WORLD”
In praising Europeans for “taking more responsibility in critical parts of the world,” Obama said that “our country still sacrifice[s] greatly for freedom around the globe."
Here is a useful translation for his phrase “taking more responsibility”: “doing more to help the U.S. illegally attack and occupy defenseless sovereign states to otherwise support our self-interested definition of world order.”
Obama is free to pretend that the U.S. has is trying to spread “freedom” to Afghanistan and Iraq, but he knows very well that you cannot export freedom through the barrel of a gun. To make matters worse, the U.S. has undertaken an illegal and significantly oil-driven occupation of Iraq against the wishes of that formerly sovereign state’s populace. It has imposed a bloody Holocaust on that nation, killing as many as 1.2 million civilians (“sacrifice” is relative: the U.S. has lost 4,000 soldiers in Iraq) and displacing many millions more. According to the respected journalist Nir Rosen last December, “Iraq has been killed, never to rise again. The American occupation has been more disastrous than that of the Mongols who sacked Baghdad in the thirteenth century. Only fools talk of solutions now. There is no solution. The only hope is that perhaps the damage can be contained” (Nir Rosen, “The Death of Iraq,” Current History [December 2007], p. 31) .
Meanwhile, the bipartisan U.S. foreign policy elite has no intention of leaving and granting Iraq real sovereignty anytime soon, thanks to the country’s strategically hyper-significant oil riches. This holds for an Obama White House as well as a McCain administration).
U.S.-“liberated” Afghanistan is under the control of religious extremists and warlords and the deadly U.S. Empire and its European allies (see John Pilger, Freedom Next Time: Resisting the Empire [New York: Nation Books, 2007]],pp. 264-313).
Obama’s supposedly “freedom”-spreading government homeland’s power elite has tried to overthrow the democratically elected government of oil-rich, Left-led Venezuela. It is the protector of Israel’s racist occupation of Palestine and of the oil-rich neo-feudal arch-sexist Saudi kingdom, possibly the most reactionary state on Earth.
“OUR COMMON HUMANITY”
Obama said that cooperation across the Atlantic is the only way for the U.S. and Europe “to advance our common humanity." Does Obama think America models “humanity” by murdering, maiming, and uprooting millions in Southwest Asia in the name of “freedom”? A U.S. Senator who has repeatedly voted funds paying for the mass killing of Iraqi and Afghani children and who reflexively defends Israel’s right to bomb civilians and who vows readiness to level any Pakistani village thought to contain top al Qaeda operatives and who refuses to take a first nuclear strike on Iran “off the table” has no business lecturing anyone on “common humanity.” Ask the parents of “liberated” Afghani children who have lost limbs to U.S cluster bombs about American “humanity.”
Earlier this month, the U.S. killed 64 civilians when it bombed a wedding party in the eastern Afghanistan. It’s the fourth wedding party that the U.S.-led “coalition” has blown up in Afghanistan since the beginning of its invasion of that country – a war that Obama badly wants to expand . Obama, who recently told CNN that the U.S. has done nothing in the world that merits apology over the last seven and a half years , should ask the survivors of these wedding attacks what they think of U.S. and British “humanity.”
“THE WALLS...CANNOT STAND”
Obama waxed eloquent in Berlin about how “the walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrants; Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand."
I wonder how many Germans listening to these noble sentiments grasped that “progressive” Obama is a close friend of the Israeli apartheid regime, which has constructed a separation wall to supplement its already oppressive system in occupied Palestine. How many know that Obama supports the ongoing construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border?
Obama joined his fellow militarist John McCain in immediately supporting Israel’s bombing of Lebanon in the summer of 2006 and in reflexively defending Israel’s vicious blockade of Gaza earlier this year. The bombing killed more than 1,200 people, most of whom were Muslims. According to Obama, this butchery and the siege of Gaza were legitimate acts of “self-defense.”
Listen to the American Palestinian activist and author Ali Abunimah on the trip that Obama took to Israel right before coming to Germany:
“He visited the Israelis Holocaust memorial and the Western Wall. He met the full spectrum of Israeli Jewish (though not Israeli Arab) political leaders. He traveled to the Israeli Jewish town of Sdreot, which until last month’s ceasefire, frequently experienced rockets from the Gaza Strip. At every step, Obama warmly professed his support for Israel and condemned Palestinian violence.”
“Other than a cursory 45-minute visit to occupied Ramallah to meet with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinians got little...Obama remained silent on the issue of Jerusalem, after boldly promising the ‘undivided’ city to Israel as its capital in a speech to AIPAC last month...But Obama missed the opportunity to visit Palestinian refugee camps, schools and even shopping malls to witness first-hand the devastation caused by the Israeli army and settlers, or to see how Palestinians cope under what many call ‘apartheid.’ This year alone, almost 500 Palestinians, including over 70 children, have been killed by the Israeli army - exceeding the total for 2007 and dwarfing the two-dozen Israelis killed in conflict-related violence. Obama said nothing about Israel's relentless expansion of colonies on occupied land. Nor did he follow the courageous lead of former President Jimmy Carter and meet with the democratically elected Hamas leaders, even though Israel negotiated a ceasefire with them” (A. Abunimah, ‘What Obama Missed in the Middle East,” ZNet, July 24, 2008).
“NO ONE WELCOMES WAR”
"No one,” Obama intoned in Berlin, “welcomes war."
Wouldn’t that be nice? Sadly, it’s not true: Boeing and Lockheed Martin and Raytheon and Blackwater Worldwide and many other military (so-called “defense”) contractors welcome U.S colonial “war.” Obama’s longstanding campaign finance patron Henry Crown Investments is a leading war profiteer. The oil majors have done very nicely with recent “wars” (the one-sided imperial assaults on Iraq and Afghanistan) and are looking to cash in nicely with Iraqi oil profits gained through "war." There are a large number of evangelical Christian U.S. fascists who crave “war” in the Middle East. There was a whole cabal of strategically placed elites within the George W. Bush administration who welcomed 9/11 as an opportunity to wage a long-sought war of petro-colonial conquest on Iraq and there are still plenty of powerful U.S. neoconservatives (many have collected around the John McCain candidacy) who like “war” a great deal.
Obama appears to have great affection for the U.S. war on Afghanistan, an action that he has repeatedly praised. He also retrospectively welcomes the first U.S. war on Iraq (1991), an especially noxious exercise in one-sided imperial butchery for which Obama has repeatedly stated his admiration.
“WE SHOULD SUPPORT THE MILLIONS OF IRAQIS WHO SEEK TO REBUILD THEIR LIVES”
"We should support the millions of Iraqis,” Obama told Berlin, “who seek to rebuild their lives even as we pass on responsibility to the Iraqi government."
“Rebuild their lives” from exactly what, pray tell? Senator Obama did not elaborate on the two U.S. military attacks, the decade plus of murderous “economic sanctions” (which killed more than half a million children – a cost that the current Obama advisor and supporter Madeline Albright called a “price worth paying”), and the ongoing invasion of Iraq. Obama will continue the occupation as president, as is known by those who care to read between the lines of his populace-pleasing campaign rhetoric.
Here is a word that imperial Obama will never utter for what the U.S. owes Iraq: REPARATIONS. America cannot pass on to devastated Iraq’s government America’s responsibility to do what it can to repair the monumental damage it has arch-criminally inflicted during a falsely “preventive” attack that would have made onetime Berlin resident Adolph Hitler proud.
How many of Obama’s 200,000 German listeners knew that an Obama administration will maintain control over Iraq even if it actually does remove “combat troops” (just half the full U.S. force structure in Iraq) from that country “in sixteen months”? Whether McCain or Obama wins next fall, Superpower will retain permanent military bases in Iraq along with the biggest "embassy" in human history – itself a permanent colonial military installation of no small significance. The Occupier will require favorable oil contracts for the leading U.S. and Western petroleum firms and continue to enforce U.S. suzerainty pver Iraqi air space (the nuclear power Israel must be free to fly over on the way to bomb Iran in the name of “self defense”).
Obama reserves the right to change his squishy “withdrawal” plans in accord with the advice of imperial commanders “on the ground.” He refuses to support legislation that would ban Blackwater and other private security contractors from Iraq, something that suggests he would increase the already massive U.S. mercenary presence in Mesopotamia while he shifts some of the Empire’s soldiers from Iraqi to Afghan killing fields.
“WILL WE WELCOME IMMIGRANTS?”
"Will we welcome immigrants from different lands?” Obama asked Berlin.
He should ask himself the same question, keeping in mind the stupid and offensive wall he supports on the southern border of his “magical” United States.
THE DOCTRINE OF “GOOD INTENTIONS”: IMPERIAL VIOLENCE AS A “MISTAKE”
"We have made our share of mistakes,” Obama told Berlin, “and there are times when our actions around the world have not lived up to our best intentions."
Here Obama was referring to the Vietnam and Iraq (2003 - ?) “wars” (one-sided imperial assaults). He was talking the imperial language of the official “doves” that Noam Chomsky has decoded for us in regard to both illegal "wars.” Obama claims to believe that both were "mistakes," not CRIMES. These terrible “blunders” were the over-zealous outcomes of our GOOD INTENTIONS and not the outcome of our commitment to criminal EMPIRE.
Wrong on both counts! And some "mistakes" indeed: 3 million Indochinese obliterated and Vietnam turned into a “basket case” and 1.3 million Iraqis killed and counting. How many Afghanis civilians have needlessly died in Obama’s “good” and “proper” war on their country? Estimates run well into the tens of thousands.
By the way, in a recent interview, Obama was asked “if there’s anything that’s happened in the last seven and a half years that the U.S. has to apologize for, in terms of foreign policy.” Obama immediately said “No, I don’t really believe in the U.S. apologizing...” He added that “we’ve made some mistakes...as I’ve said, I believe the war in Iraq was a mistake...but hindsight is 20-20…The US has overwhelmingly been a force for good in the world” (see www.cnn.com/video/#/video/politics/2008/07/25/crowley.interview.complete.cnn?iref=videosearch).
Take that, “Progressives for Obama” at home and abroad.
WE ARE SO GOOD
"Our allegiance,” Obama told Berlin, “has never been to any particular tribe or kingdom."
He was speaking of the U.S. Was he right? “Our" public policy at home and abroad has long been dominated by a relatively small corporate elite (the "tribe" of leading capitalists?). “We” have a long at least semi-tribal history of a sort of white Anglo-Protestant rule.
"Every point of view is expressed in our public squares,” Obama told Germany and the world. He was bragging about “freedom of expression” in the U.S.
How true is his boast? “We” don’t have very many public squares anymore. Even though its positions on various issues are widely supported in one American public opinion poll after another, the American Left is essentially inaudible and invisible on National "Public" radio and the “Public” Broadcasting System along with the more explicitly corporate media and pretty much everywhere else in U.S. civil society. In America’s corporate-supervised “managed democracy,” the spectrum of acceptable “mainstream” debate and political contestation is so narrowly business-friendly and imperial as to amount to a kind of “totalitarianism” (Sheldon Wolin’s “Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism” ). Majority public opinion is next to irrelevant in the formation of U.S. policy and party platforms, which stand well to the right of the actual populace.
The U.S. citizenry’s much-ballyhooed freedom of expression amounts to little more than the right to whisper to your neighbor in the front row of a loud movie theater. At the same time, historical free speech traditions and protections in the U.S. have long been a great incentive for corporate and state authorities to invest heavily in the routine practice of thought control, mass disinformation, and propaganda (see Alex Carey, Taking the Risk Out of Democracy: corporate Propaganda Versus Freedom and Liberty [Urbana, IL: 1997], pp. 11-17).
“THE PROMISE OF LIBERTY AND EQUALITY”
“I know my country has not perfected itself,” Obama said in Berlin. “At times,” he added, “we’ve struggled to keep the promise of liberty and equality for all of our people.”
That was a remarkable bit of understatement. The U.S. has the most unequal distribution of wealth in the industrialized world. It is the only modern industrial (formal) “democracy” that does not guarantee health care to all of its citizens. The top 1 percent of Americans owns 40 percent of the nation’s wealth and a larger portion of its politicians and officeholders, including the explicitly corporate-neoliberal Barack (Goldman Sachs-Exelon-UBS-Sidley-Austin-Morgan Stanely) Obama. Median black American household wealth is equivalent to 7 cents on the median white American household dollar.
As for not always keeping liberty and equality alive for “all our people,” yes, there have been some difficulties. The shortcomings include two-and-a half centuries of black chattel slavery (Obama opposed reparations for that supposedly ancient crime), followed by many decades of Jim Crow and black disenfranchisement and a continuing deep and unacknowledged legacy and practice of harsh institutional racism. The supposedly “freedom”-exporting U.S. is the world’s leading mass incarceration state and nearly half of its more than 2 million prisoners are African-American. In Obama’s own Chicago metropolitan area at the peak of the Clinton boom, more than a third of black children lived in poverty, compared to just 5 percent of the white kids. Of Chicago’ 15 poorest neighborhoods, with poverty measures ranging from 32 to 56 percent, all but one was disproportionately black and eleven were at least 94 percent black. Sixteen percent of his home city’s blacks lived in what researchers call “deep poverty” — at less than half of the federal government’s notoriously low and inadequate poverty level. Only a tiny percentage of whites lived at that terrible level of extreme poverty.
Another thing that Obama’s nationally narcissistic formulation left out is that “the promise of liberty and equality” is not unitary or without internal contradiction. The long dominant definition of “liberty” in the U.S. has stressed freedom of private profit and capital accumulation for the possessors of wealth – freedoms that are antithetical to social equality.
"We will not be able to sustain [economic] growth,” Obama told the 200,000, “if it favors the few, and not the many."
Okay but, as Obama has made abundantly clear on numerous occasions, Obama believes strongly in capitalism  and thus in its own particular definition of growth and development. Capitalism is quite explicitly about the concentration of wealth (and power) - the advance of the Few over and against the lower- and working-class Many.
"People of Berlin - people of the world – this,” imperial Obama said, “is our moment. This is our time…let us...remake the world once again."
Nice, but when Obama was writing for the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in Foreign Affairs last year, he argued that "the American moment is not over" but "must be seized anew,” adding that “we must lead the world by deed and by example” and “must not rule out using military force” in pursuit of “our vital interests.” “A strong military,” Obama wrote, “is, more than anything, necessary to sustain peace.” We must “revitalize our military” to foster “peace,” Obama claimed, echoing Orwell, by adding 65,000 soldiers to the Army and 27,000 to the Marines.
Obama’s Foreign Affairs article gave reasons to expect future unilateral and “preemptive” wars and occupations carried out in the name of the “war on terror” by an Obama White House. “We must retain the capacity to swiftly defeat any conventional threat to our country and our vital interests,” Obama pronounced. “But we must also become better prepared to put boots on the ground in order to take on foes that fight asymmetrical and highly adaptive campaigns on a global scale.” Reassuring the more militarist segments of the U.S. power elite that he would not be hamstrung by international law and civilized norms when the control of strategic global energy resources is at stake, Obama added that “I will not hesitate to use force unilaterally, if necessary, to protect the American people or our vital interests wherever we are attacked or imminently threatened.”
“We must also consider using military force in circumstances beyond self-defense,” Obama added, “in order to provide for the common security that underpins global stability” .
In Berlin last week, Obama talked about needing the help of Europe and the world to get things done. But writing in Foreign Affairs and speaking before various elite U.S. foreign policy bodies over the last two years, Obama has emphasized the need for the U.S. to be globally dominant and ready to act unilaterally when it “must.”
Obama’s Berlin’s speech included some worthwhile comments on global warming and the urgent need for the international community to control nuclear weapons. These remarks merit positive attention in light of the messianic militarist arch-plutocrat John McCain’s dangerous advocacy of offshore oil drilling and a new Cold War with Russia and China. Still, Obama’s oration was a monument to deception and denial in the service of empire and inequality and it was sad (if not surprising) to see so many educated Europeans taken in.
The Europeans are understandably behind the curve on seeing the deeply conservative reality behind the “progressive” image of the Obama phenomenon. They are still at the stage that a growing number of Americans have recently begun to transcend – the one where people lacking appropriate institutional expressions for their progressive political sentiments naively project their wishes onto a corporate and imperial candidate who has been expertly marketed and transmitted as a man of the people.
While we should recognize that John McCain is a dangerous extremist and dunderhead, many have recently begun the overdue process of demystifying Obama in the United States. The sooner the Europeans do the same the better for all concerned.
Paul Street (firstname.lastname@example.org) has been demystifying Obama on ZNet since July of 2004. His next book is Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (www.paradigmpublishers.com/Books/BookDetail.aspx?productID=186987)
1. By which I mean a narrowing, business-friendly ideological spectrum (with anti-capitalist working-class struggle and consciousness pushed further and further to the margins of acceptable debate) and the growing elevation of candidate image and marketing over substantive matters of policy and ideology.
2. One wonders what Rosen and knowledgeable Germans would have had to say about the following comment offered by Barack Obama to autoworkers assembled at the General Motors plant in Janesville, Wisconsin on February 13, 2008, just before that state’s Democratic primary: “It's time to stop spending billions of dollars a week trying to put Iraq back together and start spending the money putting America back together” (WIFR Television, CBS 23, Rockford, Illinois, “Obama Speaks at General Motors in Janesville,” February 13, 2008, read at http://www.wifr.com/morningshow/headlines/15618592.html). Yes, “putting Iraq back together.” Though “error” is not quite the word for Obama’s remark, comments like this led an exiled German (Karl Marx) to remark that “To leave error un-refuted is to encourage intellectual immorality.” For those who know the depth and degree of the destruction inflicted on Iraq by two invasions, one ongoing, and more than a decade of deadly economic sanctions (embargo), Obama’s Wisconsin statement was nothing short of obscene.
3. Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope (New York, 2006), pp. 149-150; Barack Obama, “Our Common Stake in America’s Prosperity.,” speech to NASDAQ New York, New York (September 17, 2007); Paul Street, “ ‘Angry John’ Edwards v. KumbayObama,” SleptOn Magazine (December 28, 2007); Paul Street, “Obama’s Audacious Deference to Power,” ZNet Magazine (January 24, 2007), read at http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=11936
3. John Pilger, “Obama, The Prince of Bait and Switch,” The New Statesman (July 26, 2008).
5.Barack Obama, “Renewing American Leadership,” Foreign Affairs (July/August 2007).