Thursday, June 11, 2020

The Shrewd Savagery of Obama

The Shrewd Savagery of Obama
Peter Schultz

[In the following, all references are to Spiral: Trapped in the Forever War, by Mark Danner]

            Obama practiced savagery while disguising it. He said, regarding holding those who justified or practiced torture that it was best to “look forward as opposed to looking backward.” [p. 111] But without “looking backward” the past controls the present because there will be no accountability and without accountability it is impossible “to enter the realm of justice and legality.” [p. 110] And, of course, it was precisely the realm of justice and legality that the Bush administration abandoned – willingly and even enthusiastically – in response to 9/11. By refusing to look backward, Obama legitimized, even embraced the Bush administration’s savage response to 9/11, including the destruction of Iraq. For a forever war must be savage.

            Once this is seen, it is less than surprising that “Rather than ending the state of exception, the Obama administration normalized it. Unlike George W. Bush, who often grounded his secret actions on his own authority as president, Obama and his team . . . worked hard to inscribe his predecessor’s improvisations into law and to make them permanent. And even as Obama [took] to warning that the country must not remain ‘on a perpetual war-time footing,’ he seemed trapped in a prison of his own making, perpetuating the very policies he demand[ed] must end.” [p. 89-90]

            Whether Obama was “trapped” or whether he was exactly where he wanted to be is an interesting question. But given his actions, it would seem he was very much at home where he was. His embrace of “targeted killings” led him to multiply the number of drone attacks throughout the world far beyond the number of such killings made by George Bush. This clearly indicates that Obama was “all in” on a virtually endless worldwide war on terror. As one commentator observed, Obama claimed “the unreviewable power to kill any person, anywhere on earth, at any time, based on information that is secret and has been collected and evaluated according to secret criteria by anonymous individuals in a secret procedure.” [p. 125]

            And of course Obama’s embrace of an endless war on terror had the added benefit of shielding him Republican attacks. As Danner summarizes: “Obama had taken a position so strongly in favor of quiet and unremitting military violence that he left his Republican rival [Mitt Romney] . . . no place to stand.” Because the Democrats in the White House “proved relentless in hunting down terrorists, and those who may look like terrorists, and killing them by the thousands,” because Obama did not “prosecute CIA officers for torture,” because he did not “abandon Bush’s indefinite detention policy,” because he did not close Guantanamo, there was almost no discussion of any of these policies during the 2012 presidential campaign. When Romney was asked in the second presidential debate about drone killings, he said, “that he ‘supported them entirely.’” [p.125]  
Savagery – torture and the killing of civilians, including children – had been normalized, thanks to Obama. As Danner put it: “If Obama made himself largely invulnerable to the politics of fear it is because he shielded himself from it by his cool and ruthless methods and left little political space for discussion. . . The politics of fear had been embodied in the country’s permanent policies, largely without comment or objection by its citizens. The politics of fear had won.” [p. 126]

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