With the presidential elections approaching, there are those who argue, yet again, that whatever problems there are with the Democrats and Obama, the "alternative"—the Republicans—are much worse. So when it's all said and done, the argument goes, people who don't want the "right wing" to take over must fall in line behind Obama and the Democrats.
The reality is that in key ways, Obama as U.S. president has been even worse for the masses of people, in the U.S. and worldwide. This is a fact that can be clearly demonstrated. Here are six main ways that Obama has gone beyond Bush in fascistic, brutal, reactionary moves, in service of the ruling system of capitalism-imperialism.
1. Assassinations on the President's Orders
Before becoming the president and commander-in-chief, Obama opposed the prison set up by George W. Bush at Guantánamo to indefinitely hold hundreds of people without charges, simply based on U.S. accusations of links with terrorism. Obama said then that "a perfectly innocent individual could be held and could not rebut the Government's case and has no way of proving his innocence."
Once in the White House, Obama has not only reaffirmed the policy of indefinite military detentions with the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act last December. He has actually gone further than Bush by claiming, and acting on, a supposed presidential authority to assassinate anyone, including those with U.S. citizenship, anywhere in the world just based on the presidential say-so that those targeted are "terrorists" and a danger to U.S. interests.
The world saw this outrageous policy in action last September when missiles fired from a U.S. drone hit a car driving across a desert in Yemen and killed seven men, including Anwar al-Awlaki. Awlaki, a U.S. citizen, was a spokesman for al-Qaeda. (Another man killed in the attack was also a U.S. citizen.) A few weeks later, another U.S. drone attack took the lives of al-Awlaki's 16-year-old son along with his 17-year-old friend. The U.S. claimed that al-Awlaki had a role in planning and directing al-Qaeda terrorist attacks—but refused to provide any evidence or present actual charges, and there was, of course, no trial. This was simply a cold-blooded "hit" ordered by the leading U.S. imperialist godfather.
According to news reports, there is a secret panel of government officials within the executive, part of the National Security Council, that discusses who to place on the kill list, with the president making the final decision. There is no public record of this process, no laws regulating it, no judicial review. In a March 5 speech, Attorney General Eric Holder made the ludicrous but chillingly fascist claim that this ultra-secret process inside the administration makes this executive assassination policy constitutional. As Leon Panetta, Obama's CIA chief, put it, "[The] President of the United States obviously reviews these cases, reviews the legal justification, and in the end says, go or no go."
For an in-depth analysis of this issue, see "Obama Administration: Judge, Jury, and Executioner."
2. Blaming Youth for Their Own Oppression
In a series of Father's Day speeches since coming into office, and in various other public remarks, Obama has consistently put the onus for the poverty, high prison rates, poor education, and the whole oppressive situation that Black and Latino youth face on the people themselves. Like Bill Cosby, Obama claims that the problem is "personal responsibility"—absentee fathers, youth with sagging pants, too much TV, and so on. Left totally out of this is the reality: how this system has devastated communities of the oppressed; left little "choice" for millions of youth except the underground economy or the military; targeted young men with "stop and frisk" racial profiling and outright police murder; and thrown millions into prisons, many for minor drug violations.
And at the core of this message is the revival and strengthening of the patriarchal family, with the father at the head and acting as "role model." In a sick "joke" at a 2010 White House dinner, Obama combined his reactionary push for patriarchy with the broadening war of drones. Addressing the members of the pop band Jonas Brothers who were in attendance, and referring to his two daughters, Obama said, "Sasha and Malia are huge fans but, boys, don't get any ideas. Two words for you: Predator drones. You will never see it coming."
As Carl Dix said in 2009 on the radio program Democracy Now! about Obama's message: "The people are being blamed—and who better than Barack Obama, the first Black president, to blame Black youth for their plight? If George Bush does it, people would say it's racist. But when the first Black president does it, it actually draws people into it."
3. Threatening Preventive War Against Iran
At a March 4, 2012 speech at AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), Obama made one of his most direct and overt threats of war against Iran. He declared, "Iran's leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And as I have made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests."
As legal commentator Glenn Greenwald notes, "Here we have the Bush administration's most controversial war theory explicitly embraced: that the U.S. has the right not only to attack another country in order to preempt an imminent attack (pre-emptive war), but even to prevent some future, speculative threat (preventive war)."
Obama's adoption of the principle of preventive war against Iran is worse because, for one, the danger of a U.S.-Israeli war against Iran is even greater today. As Revolution writer Larry Everest has pointed out, "Ground is being laid daily in the headlines and statements by politicians of every stripe in mainstream U.S. politics calling for aggression against Iran—all justified by unsubstantiated assertions that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. Whether or not Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons technology (and there is no proof they are), this U.S. imperialist narrative and framework is an outrageous effort to turn reality upside down—the reality of which of the clashing oppressive forces in the region is the dominant threatening oppressor and bully."
And it is also worse because Obama's assertion of the U.S. "right" to launch war on Iran, to prevent alleged attempts to build nuclear weapons, is treated in the current political atmosphere, and by the media and too much of the "left," as perfectly reasonable and normal.
4. An Escalating War with Drones
The attack that targeted al-Awlaki in Yemen (see #1) is part of the huge leap under Obama in the use of pilotless Predator drones by the U.S. military and CIA to kill people. The Washington Post called it "an emerging global apparatus for drone killing" and noted that "no president has ever relied so extensively on the secret killing of individuals to advance the nation's security goals." When Obama took office in 2009, the war by drones was confined to Pakistan, where there were 44 strikes over the previous five years, killing about 400 people. Now, drone attacks have spread, including to Yemen, Afghanistan, East Africa, Libya, and Iran. And the "global apparatus" for murder from the air includes dozens of secret drone facilities in the Middle East, Africa, and Southwest Asia—with the operational hubs within the U.S., thousands of miles away from where the drones actually kill people.
According to a study by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in England (TBIJ), there have been 253 drone attacks in Pakistan alone under Obama as of early August—one about every four days. The U.S., while keeping the drone wars veiled in secrecy, claims that the targets are terrorists and that very few civilians are killed. "Drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties," Obama said this January.
According to the TBIJ, at least 2,347 people have been killed in Pakistan by U.S. drone attacks, and there are "credible news reports" that as many as 781 of those killed were civilians—more than 175 of them children. Another study by the New America Foundation from last May put the figure killed by drone attacks in northwest Pakistan at between 830 and 1,210 individuals, of whom between 180 and 360 were civilians.
But according to Obama—in other words, from the viewpoint of the head of the U.S. empire—these are "not ... a huge number" of human lives.
5. The War on Immigrants
The war on immigrants inside the U.S. borders began before Obama—but Obama has been intensifying this brutal, inhumane offensive to record levels. Last October, the Obama administration released figures showing that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had deported almost 400,000 people in fiscal year 2011. This is the highest yearly number of deportations in the eight years of ICE. More than a million people—overwhelmingly Latinos—have been deported under Obama.
A key part of Obama's war on immigrants is a federal program called "Secure Communities," under which local police send the fingerprints of every person they arrest to the Department of Homeland Security. Those suspected of being undocumented are transferred to ICE detention centers. There is a vast network of immigration detention centers around the U.S., now numbering about 250 and growing. Exposés about these ICE prisons—like the Frontline film Lost in Detention that aired last year on PBS—have revealed widespread brutality, sexual abuse, racist treatment, and other outrages against vulnerable detainees who have no access to lawyers or other help. Secure Communities has expanded under Obama to about 1,600 local police forces, and the administration plans to further expand it to all local jurisdictions by 2013.
Obama officials claim that this anti-immigrant offensive is targeted at people who have committed serious felonies. But the truth is that this has led to mass deportations of people whose only "crime" is to cross the border for work to support themselves and their families. People have been suddenly separated—perhaps forever—from their children and spouses, simply because they were stopped for a minor traffic violation. ICE calls such deportees "collateral"—bringing to mind the civilians the U.S. kills in its wars and drone attacks, and callously dismisses as "collateral damage."
6. Persecuting Whistle-blowers
Before taking office, Obama attacked the Bush administration for fixation with government secrecy and a lack of "transparency," and he expressed support for whistle-blowers—those who leak or publicly come forward to expose various kinds of official crimes, corruption, and wrongdoing. Once in office, Obama has used the Espionage Act to press charges, with potentially very heavy punishment, against people accused of "national security leaks." According to Jane Mayer of the New Yorker magazine, under Obama there have been "more such prosecutions than have occurred in all previous Administrations combined."
And Obama has gone after, with extreme vindictiveness, Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army private accused of passing on to WikiLeaks, the whistleblowing site, hundreds of exposing war reports and diplomatic cables, and the infamous 2007 video showing a U.S. Apache helicopter gunning down civilians on a Baghdad street. After his arrest in May 2010, Manning was subjected to 10 months of intense solitary confinement—basically, physical and psychological torture. He is now under military trial, facing more than 30 charges, including one of "aiding the enemy" that carries a possible death penalty. (Prosecutors are recommending life imprisonment, but military judges have the option of the death sentence.) The persecution of Manning is clearly meant to send a threatening message to whistleblowers within the government and military, as well as to journalists, that they will pay a heavy price for exposing crimes being committed by the U.S.
In April 2011, when confronted by Bradley Manning supporters at a fundraiser, Obama said that Manning "broke the law"—thus declaring a verdict before Manning had even been tried. Contrast this with how Obama has refused to even investigate, let alone prosecute, top officials of the Bush regime who blatantly carried out torture and other crimes under U.S. and international law.
Sources (in alphabetical order by name of article)
"Attorney General Holder defends execution without charges," Glenn Greenwald, salon.com, March 6, 2012
"Cornel West and Carl Dix on Race and Politics in the Age of Obama," July 22, 2009, Democracy Now!
"Drone War Exposed—the complete picture of CIA strikes in Pakistan," Chris Woods, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, August 10, 2011
"Jane Mayer on the Obama war on whistle-blowers," Glenn Greenwald, salon.com, May 16, 2011
"'Lost in Detention': As Obama Admin Deports Record 400,000, Film Explores What Immigrants Face Behind Bars," October 20, 2011, Democracy Now!
"Obama administration reports record number of deportations," Brian Bennett, Los Angeles Times, October 18, 2011
"Obama Administration: Judge, Jury, and Executioner," Revolution online, March 19, 2012
"Obama says military force is option to keep Iran from getting nuclear weapons," Lesley Clark, March 4, 2012, McClatchy Washington Bureau
"Obama, Iran and preventive war," Glenn Greenwald, salon.com, March 5, 2012
"Remarks by the President at AIPAC Policy Conference," March 4, 2012, whitehouse.gov
"The Secret Sharer: Is Thomas Drake an enemy of the state?" Jane Mayer, New Yorker, May 23, 2011
"Under Obama, an emerging global apparatus for drone killing," Greg Miller, Washington Post, December 27, 2011
"The Year of the Drone: An Analysis of U.S. Drone Strikes in Pakistan, 2004-2010," Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann, New American Foundation," February 24, 2010