“I think those of us who voted for McCain are going to be a lot happier with Obama than the people who voted for him.” - Republican Indiana resident Valerie Schlink, quoted in the New York Times, 1/18/08
January 20, 2009: The least popular, and most overtly criminal, administration in U.S. history is exiting the stage. The nation’s first ever Black president—whose central campaign themes were “hope” and “change”— is entering. For these basic reasons, the swearing in of Barack Obama as the 44th President has generated a level of excitement and optimism in the U.S. , and around the world, that is unprecedented for a presidential inauguration. Millions of Americans who, to the core of their beings, hated the Bush agenda of war, torture, repression, and religious fanaticism are hopeful that the Obama administration will dismantle that agenda.
But will the incoming administration really undo, or even halt the progression of, the Bush program? Or will the new administration continue, in perhaps a slightly different form, that same program? In other words: What is Obama’s inauguration actually ushering in?
Consider the following questions and answers. But don’t just read this passively. Send it on to as many other people as possible —especially progressive folks who genuinely want to end the nightmare of the past 8 years and are counting on Obama to do it for them. Use this for your own ongoing reference, and to open many other eyes to what Obama’s inauguration really does—and doesn’t—mean.
Q1: Obama’s gonna end the war, right?
A: First of all, it depends which war you’re talking about. The U.S. is currently fighting two wars directly—one in Afghanistan, and one in Iraq. Up until a few days ago, it was also, through its close ally Israel, waging a third war against the people of Gaza. And although a cease-fire has been called at the moment, there is the potential for Israeli attacks to resume at any moment. During the past year, the U.S. has also launched frequent missile strikes into Pakistan, which have resulted in civilian deaths.
Let’s look at exactly where Obama stands on all of this…
Throughout his campaign, Obama pledged to send more troops and equipment to Afghanistan, and to intensify the war there. In fact, when Bush announced in September that thousands of additional troops would be sent to Afghanistan during the subsequent few months, Obama criticized Bush’s plan as too soft. “His plan comes up short,” Obama said. “It is not enough troops, and not enough resources, with not enough urgency."
Since winning the election, Obama has hardly changed his tune on this issue. His Web site, change.gov, promises that Obama and Biden “Will increase our troop levels in Afghanistan, [and] press our allies in NATO to do the same.”
In December, Obama’s chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, said the military needed 20,000 to 30,000 additional U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and Obama is expected to oblige that request. A January 8 New York Times article by Elizabeth Bumiller noted, “The Obama administration is expected to send 20,000 to 30,000 more American troops to Afghanistan over the next year.”
And if you think all this is OK because Afghanistan is the “good war,” imagine telling that to the families of the 90 civilians—most of them women and children—murdered during a U.S. airstrike on Azizabad in August. Or the families of the 40 civilians murdered by a U.S. airstrike on a wedding in Kandahar on November 5. Or the family of Dilawar, the Afghan taxi driver who was kidnapped and tortured to death by the U.S. military at Bagram prison in 2002.
For three weeks, Israel pulverized the people of Gaza with bombs and cannons, starved them, bled them, and kept them in darkness. Israel bombed residences, mosques, schools, and even a U.N. building, and blocked humanitarian supplies from entering Gaza. More than 1300 Palestinians were killed, and thousands were wounded. This massacre was carried out with the advanced knowledge, approval, finances, and weaponry of the U.S. government. And, all the while Israel was committing these U.S.–backed war crimes, when Obama could have put tremendous pressure on the Bush Regime and Israel to halt its atrocities, he said nothing more than “There is only one president at a time.”
Obama’s silence alone speaks volumes, and is sufficient to make him complicit in the commission of war crimes. But that silence is hardly the only indication we have of where Obama stands on this issue. Obama brags on his Web site that he co-sponsored a 2006 resolution endorsing the similarly horrific Israeli assault on Lebanon. And Obama gave his very first speech after beating Hilary Clinton in the Democratic primary to the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). “I will bring to the White House an unshakeable commitment to Israel's security,” Obama said during the June 4 address. “That starts with ensuring Israel's qualitative military advantage. I will ensure that Israel can defend itself from any threat — from Gaza to Tehran.”
Obama’s vice-president, Joe Biden, said in 2007. “I am a Zionist. You don’t have to be a Jew to be a Zionist.” Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, left a job on Bill Clinton’s campaign team in 1991 to join the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in the Persian Gulf War. And his secretary of state, Hilary Clinton, infamously threatened to “obliterate” Iran if Iran attacked Israel.
The Iraq War is the only war Obama even pretended to be against. The key “selling point” of his campaign , in fact, was that he was opposed to the Iraq War before it started, which neither Hilary Clinton nor John McCain could claim. Also, he promised repeatedly that, if elected, he would end the Iraq war.
However…As a Senator, Obama voted over and over again to fund the Iraq War. And his timetable for ending the Iraq war is 16 months. Giving something billions of dollars and vowing to continue it for more than a year is a strange way to demonstrate your opposition to it. And these are not just numbers on a page. More than 1 million Iraqis have been killed since the war began, and millions more have been displaced. Continuing the war one more day is utterly immoral, to say nothing of extending it 16 months!
Furthermore… Even when Obama says he’s ending the Iraq War, he’s not really ending it. His own Web site makes this clear. “Under the Obama-Biden plan,” the site explains, “a residual force will remain in Iraq and in the region to conduct targeted counter-terrorism missions against al Qaeda in Iraq and protect American diplomatic and civilian personnel.”
Keep in mind that “targeted counter-terrorism missions” means whatever the U.S. government wants it to mean: after all, “fighting terror” is also what Bush and Cheney claim to be doing in Iraq.
In addition, on December 22, the New York Times pointed out how the U.S. military is using words like “trainer” and adviser” to cover-up plans for a continued, long-term U.S. troop presence in Iraq. “Even though the agreement with the Iraqi government calls for all American combat troops to be out of the cities by the end of June,” the Times noted, “military planners are now quietly acknowledging that many will stay behind as renamed ‘trainers’ and ‘advisers’ in what are effectively combat roles. In other words, they will still be engaged in combat, just called something else.” (emphasis added)
The U.S. launched at least 19 airstrikes against Pakistan between the beginning of August and October 29 alone, according to the New York Times.
In early September, the U.S. launched a ground incursion into Pakistan, which one Pakistani official said resulted in the deaths of as many as 20 people, including women and children.
On August 1 2007, as he campaigned for president, Obama made it clear he reserved the option to attack Pakistan, saying: “If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will.”
More recently, a January 17 New York Times article noted that Obama has retained Douglas Lute, the “war czar” for Iraq and Afghanistan. “General Lute has prescribed a much greater focus on Pakistan and the sanctuary areas along the border, a place Mr. Obama has said he would be willing to send military forces if that is the only way to hunt down members of Al Qaeda and other insurgents.”
That same Times article noted that “On some issues, including that of striking at terrorism targets in Pakistan, he has sometimes been to the right of both Democratic and Republican rivals.”
Q2: Isn’t Obama going to close Guantanamo and stop torture?
A: Indeed, another of Obama’s key campaign promises was to close down Guantanamo, and to stop the United States from torturing. And recent news reports indicate that, perhaps within the first week of being in office, Obama will issue the order to close Guantanamo. While that sounds like cause for celebration, the italicized words in that last sentence—“issue the order” and “Guantanamo”—are crucial.
While Obama may issue the order to close Guantanamo right away, he indicated in an interview earlier this month with ABC News that actually closing the U.S. torture camp within his first 100 days of office would be “a challenge.” In that same interview he said, of closing Guantanamo, “It is a lot more difficult than I think a lot of people realize.” And a January 13 article in the New York Times suggested Guantanamo may remain open for as long as one year after Obama takes office.
In evaluating Obama’s comment and the Times story, let’s remind ourselves for a minute of what the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay is: It is a place where roughly 800 people have been taken after being kidnapped by our government, shackled, hooded, and forced onto a plane. Once at Guantanamo, these detainees have been imprisoned for several years in conditions of extreme isolation, and subjected to various forms of physical and psychological torture. They are denied contact with their families, denied a trial, and denied any timetable for when they might be released. According to an Amnesty International Fact Sheet from December 2008, more than 500 of the roughly 800 detainees who have been held at Guantanamo since 2002 have been released. Only 5 percent of those held at Guantanamo were actually captured by U.S. forces; 86 percent were turned over to the U.S. by Pakistani or Afghani allies, often for a reward of thousands of dollars.
Taken together, these statistics mean that the clear majority of detainees who are held at Guantanamo and subjected to an absolute living hell are people that not even the United States government any longer claims are guilty of anything, and that there is strong reason to doubt that any of the remaining detainees were ever guilty of anything either.
Keeping all this in mind, Obama’s caution that closing Guantanamo will be a long and “difficult” process is reprehensible, and should be extremely alarming to any person of conscience.
Furthermore, two basic questions pose themselves even if Obama does close Guantanamo:
What about other U.S. detention and torture sites throughout the world?
For example, the December 2008 Amnesty International Fact Sheet notes that “Hundreds of people remain detained without charge, trial or judicial review of their detentions at the US air base in Bagram, Afghanistan.” The CIA, of course, also detains and tortures people at secret prisons throughout the world, and, through rendition, sends prisoners to other nations to be tortured.
And then there was this explosive revelation by Time Magazine earlier this month: The U.S. is already building a new Guantanamo— at Bagram. In an article entitled “Another Gitmo Grows in Afghanistan,” reporter Mark Thompson noted: “The U.S. military is building a new prison for what it calls ‘unlawful enemy combatants’ at Bagram that won't be finished until Obama is well settled in the White House.” [emphasis added].
Thompson then went on to quote Tina Foster, executive director of the International Justice Network, who said, "The Obama Administration is inheriting not so much a shrinking Guantanamo as an expanding Bagram.”
A question related to the first one: What is Obama going to do to the roughly 250 detainees still left in Guantanamo?
In addition to the new Gitmo being built in Afghanistan, we already have another indication that, under Obama, the U.S. will continue indefinite detention: Obama’s incoming Attorney General, Eric Holder, said so during his confirmation hearing. During the hearing, Holder was asked if it were possible that the U.S. would continue to hold, without trial, some detainees currently at Guantanamo. “There are possibly many other people who are not going to be able to be tried but who nevertheless are dangerous to this country," Holder said. "We're going to have to try to figure out what we do with them.” Holder suggested that prisoners could be detained for the duration of the “war on terror.” By definition, of course, this war-on-terror has no determined end point. And, as Holder noted, “This is a war that may go on for an extended period of time.”
Holding detainees for a undetermined amount of time without trial = indefinite detention.
Add all this up, and here’s what you get: Obama may quickly issue an order to close Guantanamo, but it will be quite awhile before he actually closes it, if he closes it at all. Meanwhile, the U.S. is already building a new Guantanamo in Afghanistan, while carrying out torture and illegal detention at many other sites throughout the world, about which Obama has said little to nothing. Finally, Obama’s administration has already indicated it plans to continue indefinite detention, including in regards to current Guantanamo detainees.
Q3: Won’t Obama curb the religious fanaticism that we saw under Bush?
A: Well, for starters, Obama chose Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration. To say that’s a bad start would be a colossal understatement. Many people are aware of Rick Warren’s vehement support for Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative that banned gay marriage. But that’s only the beginning when it comes to Warren’s overall Christian fascist program.
Warren is the Pastor of Saddleback Church in Los Angeles. Saddleback teaches that homosexuality is a sin, and does not allow homosexuals to be members. Here is the explanation for that position offered in an audio file on Saddleback’s Web site entitled “What Does the Bible say about Homosexuality?”
God’s ideal, god’s design is for a man and a woman to be together in a committed relationship, in a marriage. That’s so clear in the book of Genesis. It’s also clear throughout the teaching of the Old Testament, but it’s also extremely clear in the teaching of Jesus, for instance in the Sermon on the Mount. So the Bible says real clearly ‘This is God’s design.’ Anything outside of that design is what God calls sexual immorality or sexual sin….Somebody who is actually involved in sexual sin – whether it’s adultery or homosexuality or any other sexual sin- and refuses to say that the Bible teaches that it’s a sin is not a member of Saddleback Church
Another audio clip on Saddleback’s Web site instructs women who have been abused by their spouses not to divorce, but rather to seek “healing” with their abusers. The clip consists of a response to someone who asked “Does the Bible say it’s alright to divorce a spouse who is abusing you?” Excerpts of Saddleback’s response are below:
There’s something in me that wishes there were a Bible verse that says ‘If they abuse you in this and such kind of way, then you have a right to leave them. I wanna tell you the advice that we give in our counseling ministries…and the advice that we give is not divorce but separation. You should not put up with abuse. There’s nothing in the Bible that says you should put up with abuse…We recommend very strongly separation. Why? For healing. It’s the only way… there’s an abusive cycle that’s been set up. Separation, combined with counseling, has proven to provide healing in people’s lives.”
Last month, Warren also compared abortion—i.e. the right of women to control their own wombs— to the Holocaust. The comparison is extremely revealing, not only as a window into Warren’s dangerous lunacy, but also in what it tells us about where Obama’s mantra of “common ground” with religious fanatics will lead. You’ll recall, for instance, that in his DNC acceptance speech in Denver in August, Obama said, “We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country.”
Keep that comment in mind as you read Rick Warren’s response last month when Steven Waldman, the Editor-in-Chief of the religious Web site Beliefnet, asked him if he planned to work with Obama to reduce abortions.
Of course I want to reduce the number of abortions… But to me, it is kind of a charade in that people say ‘We believe abortions should be safe and rare.’ Don’t tell me it should be rare. That’s like saying on the Holocaust, ‘Well, maybe we could save 20 percent of the Jewish people in Poland and Germany and get them out and we should be satisfied with that’… I’m not satisfied with that. I want the Holocaust ended.
Yes, this is the man whom Obama chose to bless his inaugural festivities. And, let’s not forget that the first unofficial debate between Obama and McCain took place at…. Saddleback Church.
But let’s not give Rick Warren all the blame. After all, both Obama and Biden themselves opposed gay marriage during their campaigns, greasing the skids for Proposition 8 to pass. And Obama announced, during his campaign, that he would expand Bush’s faith-based initiative.
Maybe we’re beginning to get a clearer sense of why Christian fanatic Pat Robertson had the following words to say about Obama the day after his election victory:
Obama is absolutely brilliant. I would like to make a prediction. He can be one of the great Presidents of the United States, if he doesn’t get pulled too far off the center and gets over into some of the things the American people don’t want. But if he governs the way he said he is going to, as I say, he has the smarts and the charisma to pull this nation together and simply be an outstanding president.
Q4: Won’t Obama restore our civil liberties?
A: This one’s pretty easy—no. Let’s start with this basic fact: If, after everything that has happened and been exposed for the past 8 years, you are in a position to initiate prosecutions of Bush, Cheney, and other top government officials… and you don’t do so… you have officially forfeited, for eternity, any right to pose as a defender of civil and constitutional liberties.
Throughout its reign, the Bush Regime openly detained prisoners throughout the world with no charge, trial, or ability to see the evidence against them… openly spied on both American and foreign citizens… and openly tortured. At this point, Bush and Cheney themselves have both admitted to approving waterboarding, which Obama and his incoming Attorney General Eric Holder have each acknowledged is torture. Obama could not have been clearer when he told ABC News on January 11: “Vice President Cheney, I think, continues to defend what he calls extraordinary measures or procedures when it comes to interrogations, and from my view, waterboarding is torture.”
Torture is a war crime and a violation of international law. And yet, in the same ABC News interview in which Obama acknowledged that Cheney had tortured, he also suggested it was extremely unlikely that his administration would pursue prosecutions of Bush Regime officials:
Obviously we're going to look at past practices…And I don't believe that anybody is above the law. On the other hand, I also have a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards. And part of my job is to make sure that for example at the CIA, you've got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe. I don't want them to suddenly feel like they've got to spend all their time looking over their shoulders and lawyering up…
So, to review one more time: Obama acknowledges that Bush administration officials tortured, in violation of international law, but says he is not likely to do anything about it because it’s more important to him to protect the “extraordinarily talented” torturers in the CIA. I think we can safely say this is not someone whom we can depend on to restore, protect,and defend civil liberties.
But that’s not all. Obama voted for the FISA Amendments Act in July, which greatly expanded the President's power to spy on the communications of American citizens , and grants immunity to communications companies who carried out this spying in the past. This infuriated many supporters, especially since Obama had repeatedly promised to vote against immunity for telecommunications companies.
Obama also voted to renew the Patriot Act in 2006.
Q5: Isn’t Obama’s victory a huge step in the battle against racism?
A: It is obviously significant that a country whose origins and development are rooted in the murderous subjugation of Black people— from day 1 right up to today— has now elected a Black president. But “post-racial society” ? You’ve got to be kidding.
In the wee hours of January 1, 2009—the first day of what was supposedly America’s first “post-racial” year— two 22-year-old Black men were shot in the back and killed by the police: Adolph Grimes, who was in New Orleans visiting his grandmother, was shot 12 times in the back and 14 times overall , according to the Parish coroner. And, in a much more well-known case in Oakland, Oscar Grant III was executed by a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) officer as he lay face down on the subway platform, in plain sight of other train passengers. Videotape of BART officer Johannes Mehserle pulling out his gun and pumping a bullet into Grant’s back has circulated all over the world.
Obama has not said a word about either of these two police murders of young Black men. Just as, after the acquittal of the three cops who killed Sean Bell, Obama’s response was “we have to respect the verdict.”
Furthermore, now that Barack Obama is president, will 1 in 9 Black males in the U.S. between the ages of 20 and 34 no longer be in prison? Will hundreds of thousands of Black males no longer be subjected to stop and frisks by the NYPD every year on the streets of New York? Will it no longer be true that 3 times as many African-Americans as whites live below 125 percent of the poverty line in the U.S.? Will Black children not be twice as likely as white children to have no health insurance? Will the demolition of housing projects and massive displacement of African-Americans in post-Katrina New Orleans suddenly be undone?
White supremacy has always been an institutional, societal phenomenon. Having a Black man at the head of a white supremacist government doesn’t mean that white supremacy is over!
Q6: What is Obama's stance on immigration?
A: Assuming you believe that no "human being is illegal," his stance is extremely bad.
Obama voted for the "Secure Fence Act of 2006," which approved the construction of an additional 700 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border and called for increased surveillance on all U.S .international borders.
In March of 2008, Obama also voted for the "Immigration Enforcement and Employer Sanctions Amendment," which Project Vote Smart—a non-partisan organization that researches candidates" voting records—summarized this way:
Vote to adopt an amendment that allows the Senate Budget Committee Chairman to raise spending levels to increase border security, expand enforcement of immigration laws, increase penalties against employers who hire undocumented immigrants, deploy National Guard troops to the southern and northern borders of the United States, and identify and deport non-citizen immigrants in prisons, provided that such spending would not increase the budget deficit.
Obama's own Web site proclaims that Obama and Biden’s immigration plan, “supports a system that allows undocumented immigrants who are in good standing to pay a fine, learn English, and go to the back of the line for the opportunity to become citizens."
In other words, Obama supports a system that makes immigrants official second-class citizens" If they’re lucky.
All of the above reveals Obama's platitudes about "keeping immigrant families together" to be just that-platitudes.
Q7: So what does all this mean?
It means that while perhaps making a few cosmetic changes, the newly-minted Obama adminstration —just like the departed Bush administration—will commit unspeakable crimes in your name, in the service of U.S. empire abroad and social order at home. It means that, in the face of this reality, all of us have two basic choices: We can plead ignorance, pretend not to know what Obama stands for and what he will do, and stand passively on the sidelines as we insist that we need to “wait and see.” Or we can act on what we know by resisting the crimes of our government from Day 1 of the Obama administration.
To those who wish to take the second path, we urge you to get involved with World Can’t Wait today.
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today to find out the many different ways you can become involved in a national, grassroots movement that resists the crimes of our government no matter which administration is committing them, and that demands prosecutions of Bush Regime officials.
The words from the founding mission statement of The World Can’t Wait have never been more true: “That which you will not resist and mobilize to stop, you will learn - or be forced - to accept.”
But the opposite is also true: That which you will resist and mobilize to stop, you will learn—and remember—to reject.”
Such is the relationship between political clarity and political action.