I give the Obama administration credit for trying to learn from the past. But I wonder if the right lessons are being learned.
As Garry Wills discusses in the New York Review of Books, the new President and his principal advisers have largely adopted the methods and strategies of the Bush administration, which Obama campaigned strongly against. Wills explains this as the adjustment a President makes when he learns what any informed citizen would already know, namely the vast extent of the American empire.
Now a new president quickly becomes aware of the vast empire that is largely invisible to the citizenry. The United States maintains an estimated one thousand military bases in other countries. I say “estimated” because the exact number, location, and size of the bases are either partly or entirely cloaked in secrecy, among other things to protect nuclear installations. The secrecy involved is such that during the Cuban Missile Crisis, President Kennedy did not even know, at first, that we had nuclear missiles stationed in Turkey.
An example of this imperial system is the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia. In the 1960s, to secure a military outpost without fear of any interference from indigenous peoples, the two thousand Chagossian inhabitants were forcibly expelled, deprived of their native land, and sent a thousand miles away. (It is the same ploy we had used in removing native peoples from the Bikini and Enewetak atolls and Lib Island, so that we could conduct our sixty-eight atomic and hydrogen bomb tests there.) Though technically Diego Garcia is leased from the British, it is entirely run by the United States. It was the United States that expelled the Chagossians and confiscated their property. Diego Garcia has become a vast armory, as well as a storage and staging area and harbor and launch site, from which supplies and air strikes are fanned out over the Middle East, especially to the Persian Gulf and the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. No journalists are allowed to visit it. It was funded on a vast scale by various deceptions of Congress. Even the leasing terms with Great Britain were kept secret, to avoid congressional oversight.
So far the man whose campaign told us that we were the ones to make those changes we’d been waiting for has made very little in the way of substantial change. Certainly the tone is different, and it’s pleasing to see the President appear as the adult in a group of squabbling politicians. It’s even possible that Obama will have the guts to make a popular decision and reduce the commitment to Afghanistan now that Gen. McChrystal has supposedly projected a need for half a million troops to stabilize that country.
Right now the omens are muddy. Consider for example the administration’s recent statements about Iran and the traditional media’s reaction.
Mr. Obama’s disclosure of Iran’s uranium enrichment facility, hidden deep inside a mountain, was a calculated move by the United States and its European allies to gain leverage over Tehran, by exposing it as dishonest. It was a far cry from Mr. Obama’s warm New Year’s greeting to the Iranian people early in his presidency.
When Obama says that “Iran is breaking rules that all nations must follow”, he knows that his statement is, as Scott Ritter says, “technically and legally wrong.” In fact Iran has followed its commitments to the letter. The United States, on the other hand, has consistently and blatantly violated its stated commitments in the NPT, as have the other nuclear nations. No one’s fooled any longer about the real purpose of the NPT: to restrict the number of nations who can act as they choose without fear of retaliation. No one’s fooled, that is, except for American citizens, whose religion of paranoia waxes in strength as the empire wanes. “I have described the triumph of barbarism and religion”, Gibbon wrote, and history folds back on itself.
In fact, as Ritter describes in detail, Iran itself brought the new facility that Obama’s complaining about to the attention of the IAEA. The US knew about the facility but had hidden that knowledge from the world body. As a result, when the IAEA learned of it and said so, the US had to react publicly.
Obama’s first response was to talk about harsh sanctions alongside Britain and France. Perhaps he’s upping the ante on the negative side while offering, in his weekly Saturday address, “a serious, meaningful dialog” on the positive. We can hope; but so far Obama has proven more adept at the classic political maneuver of kicking the can down the road than at bringing about the kind of change his supporters expected.
For me, on the other hand, his foreign policies have been a tad better than I expected. He canceled that moronic missile-defense bullshit, though I expect that was at least in part a strategic move aimed at appeasing Russia in expectation of future conflicts over resources. His domestic policies have differed from Bush’s only slightly less than I predicted. So on the whole, I’m far from pleased but happier than I expected.