After the Election: a Preview

Glenn Greenwald at has succinctly made the point about the pending Obama victory, saving me the trouble of writing it out in my own strained syntax:

It certainly seems, by all appearances, that Barack Obama and Joe Biden will win on Tuesday (though anything can happen, don’t assume anything, etc. etc.). For reasons I’ve explained many times before, I consider that to be a good and important outcome (principally due to the need to excise the Right from power for as long as possible). But the virtually complete absence from the presidential campaign of any issues pertaining to the executive power abuses of the last eight years — illegal eavesdropping, torture, rendition, due-process-less detentions, the abolition of habeas corpus, extreme and unprecedented secrecy, general executive lawlessness — reflects how much further work and effort will be required to make progress on these issues no matter what happens on Tuesday.

It doesn’t help that Obama has already voted with the national security fetishists on FISA expanded wiretapping.

On the other hand, Barack Obama came out publicly and strongly against the 2006 Military Commissions Act (which McCain supported). The MCA established the unfair military commissions that allowed evidence obtained by torture, upheld indefinite detention of prisoners, and in general gave a green light to U.S. torture. Yes, Obama spoke out against the MCA, but consider his reasoning:

But politics won today. Politics won. The Administration got its vote, and now it will have its victory lap, and now they will be able to go out on the campaign trail and tell the American people that they were the ones who were tough on the terrorists.

   * And yet, we have a bill that gives the terrorist mastermind of 9/11 his day in court, but not the innocent people we may have accidentally rounded up and mistaken for terrorists – people who may stay in prison for the rest of their lives….

   * And yet, we have Al Qaeda and the Taliban regrouping in Afghanistan while we look the other way. We have a war in Iraq that our own government’s intelligence says is serving as Al Qaeda’s best recruitment tool. And we have recommendations from the bipartisan 9/11 commission that we still refuse to implement five years after the fact.

The problem with this bill is not that it’s too tough on terrorists. The problem with this bill is that it’s sloppy.

Note Obama’s insistence on being even rougher or smarter with the “terrorists” than Bush. He’s repeated this numerous times during the election. He has to know that the Global War on Terror, like its antecedent and policy cousin, the War on Drugs, is a cover for imperialistic control and covert operations by the U.S., including intervention in the sovereign affairs of  other states, often engaging in terrorist actions of our own (assassinations, sabotage, etc.). (Liliana Segura made much the same points in her more extended, and interesting article on “Obama and Torture” last February.)

I don’t think I’ve heard one word in this election about reining in the CIA’s use of torture, or about extraordinary rendition. When Obama was asked during the campaign if he would support the prosecution of Bush administration figures for crimes such as torture, he famously replied:

“If crimes have been committed, they should be investigated,” he said. But he quickly added, “I would not want my first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of the Republicans as a partisan witch hunt, because I think we’ve got too many problems to solve.”

The economic crisis has polished Obama’s liberal credentials, mainly through the popularity of the tax-the-rich, and make jobs/build infrastructure program proposed by the Democratic candidate. But in so many ways, thus far Obama promises little will change in U.S. military policy. Bush’s swagger and bellicosity may soon be gone — and thank god for that! — but the logic of events will continue bring U.S. “interests” into conflict with those of other countries, especially economic interests. At such times, the political elite is fond of reminding us of Clausewitz’s dictum that “War is a continuation of politics (Politik) by other means.”

Perhaps the unfolding of the coming crises in Central and South Asia, Africa, and South America will push the American president to the left. But I wouldn’t count on it. Perhaps it will be the political genius of Barack Obama that he can put off the day of reckoning, in which the thrust of U.S. influence to be supreme around the globe will meet its catastrophic confrontation. Again, though, I think not. Here’s Obama’s own take on projecting national security interests abroad, highlighting the need to

create a more robust capacity to train, equip, and advise foreign security forces, so that local allies are better prepared to confront mutual threats.

The U.S. has actually been doing that for years. The program is called “School of the Americas,” and is based in Fort Benning, Georgia. I don’t hear anyone talking about shutting it down, not even “socialist” Obama.

SOA/ WHINSEC [Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, the “new” name for SOA, since 2001] graduates have included some of the worst and most notorious human rights abusers in Latin American history, and for much of the world, the school, under any name, is synonymous with torture and impunity. SOA graduates have led military coups and are responsible for massacres of hundreds of people. Among the SOA’s more than 60,000 alumni are notorious dictators Manuel Noriega and Omar Torrijos of Panama, Leopoldo Galtieri and Roberto Viola of Argentina, Juan Velasco Alvarado of Peru, Guillermo Rodriguez of Ecuador and Hugo Banzar Suarez of Bolivia. SOA graduates were responsible for the Uraba massacre in Colombia, the El Mozote massacre of 900 civilians in El Salvador, the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero and the massacre of 14-year-old Celina Ramos, her mother Elba Ramos and six Jesuit priests in El Salvador and hundreds of other human rights abuses. Closing the school would send a strong human rights message to Latin America and the world.

It will be an important moment in U.S. history for an African-American to be elected president. But after all the celebrations die down, the same old issues will be there. The political awakening of the U.S. population has barely begun. The forms of struggle against the entrenched power of the national security state and the military-industrial-technological complex that supports it have yet to be worked out.

However you look at it, the defeat of Bush acolyte McCain, and his right-wing populist-cum-demagogue Alaskan running mate, will be a good thing. But much struggle lies ahead, and the election of Obama does not necessarily portend a major change in U.S. foreign or military policy. A President Obama will get his honeymoon, but what comes after remains to be seen.

Also posted at Invictus


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    • Valtin on November 3, 2008 at 6:44 am

    I hope for a renaissance in U.S. political and cultural life, and for that I’m very grateful to Obama and his campaign. But let’s face it: the U.S. will push around whomever it feels it has to. Will Obama repudiate the Global “War on Drugs” or “War on Terror”? Every president since Eisenhower (or perhaps Turman) has been duped by the CIA into supporting covert and military interventions around the world. The world hates us for our policies, not, in the end, because of who has a nicer personality or more affecting biography in the White House. That only lasts so long.

    • Edger on November 3, 2008 at 9:09 am

    I’ve been saying virtually the same thing for a long time as well, that when it comes down to foreign policy the election is really a good cop bad cop false choice, and if there is anything “better” about democrats in this arena it’s that they are much better and slicker at packaging and selling the cover stories and justifications that allow the evils of imperialism and empire to go unchecked. “the thrust of U.S. influence to be supreme around the globe” has already met one catastrophic confrontation with blowback in the form of 9/11. If the policies are not drastically changed it’s bound to meet another, and another.

    They seem intent on creating the “terrorism” they as try to paint themselves as “tough” on.  When will they learn?

  1. Canton, OH.  I once lived 11 miles away, when Canton & Sharon, PA were economic cesspools.

    Guess what?   Canton & Sharon remain cesspools.  Perhaps they are getting what they deserve for having voted GOP over the last 40 years.

    Can’t argue that.  Ohio deserves every goddamn Rethug it now has to suffer through, after voting into office the Rethugs who stole the elections of 2000 and 2004.

    I hope Columbus and Cincinnati are happy with their electoral decisions in 2000 and 2004.

    The Powers-that-Be in Canton, OH are no doubt pleased.  BTW, Canton, have ya sold any of those houses that were for sale in 1979?  Ya know, back when Nixon’s Great Repression killed your economy?  Get any of those good-paying union jobs back yet?  You remember: the ones you had under JFK?  Get any help from the federal government?  You remember: like you got from every Democratic President since FDR?

    Ya see any of that kind of help since, oh, Nixon?

    Didn’t think so.

  2. where we’ll need to keep our eyes open after the election…and where our real work will be.

    I do think there is a “bad” and a “worse” when it comes to foreign policy as Elliot Cohen lays out in this article at truthdig. But if Obama wins, we’ll be dealing with the old “bad” instead of the “worse” neocons.  

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