Obama is a greater enemy of freedom than Bush ever was. So why aren’t we angry?
Barak Obama was elected on a simple message of Hope and Change. Two simple but emotive words into which a generation of Americans could read what they wanted to read.
Obama and his team concocted a heady image. Obama was young, handsome, charismatic, mixed race, in touch with the young and endorsed by celebrities… everything the Republican candidate was not. Foreign wars and a Fortress America attitude to security were draining Americans of their hitherto inexhaustible optimism. Americans wanted to feel good about themselves again. Obama was going to let them. It was almost a homage to the tales of the American West; Obama was the reluctant hero, riding into town on a white horse to chase out the corrupt, vicious, hated posse.
In short, Obama was the Good Guy. And the media on both sides of the Atlantic lapped it up.
But five years on there are three glaring dents in Obama’s halo which are getting nowhere near the attention they deserve.
The last five years have seen huge advances in the abilities of UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) or ‘drones’ as they are collectively known. First used for reconnaissance, drones have become an invaluable asset in the national security tool kit of the developed nations. Where the US differs from most other drone using powers however, is in the use of drones as weapons. At the time of writing, the US had launched 366 drone strikes in Pakistan alone, with 314 of them being authorised by Obama. This chilling graphic puts it into perspective.
-Over 3,000 people have been killed in Pakistan by US drones
-Less than 2 percent are thought to have been high profile targets
-The US seldom seeks permission from its ally Pakistan to launch a strike
-If the US decrees a country to be a conflict zone, its sovereignty can be violated and its citizens killed with impunity
US drones have been used over Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Mali, Iran and possibly Syria. The appeal of drones is obvious; Western publics quickly get squeamish when soldiers start coming home in body bags. Drones enable a nation’s enemies to be dispatched quickly, cheaply, and above all quietly. But drones used for assassinations, especially on the scale the Obama administration has adopted, raises worrying questions. Are we really comfortable with the idea that one man in the White House can authorise the deaths of hundreds, anywhere in the world with no judicial oversight?
Obama’s advocates put much stock in his 2009 commitment to close Guantanamo Bay detention facility on the US base in Cuba. The base had become a totem for everything that was wrong with the War on Terror. Civil liberties campaigners in the US and Europe devoted many a column inch to its inhumanity and illegality. But five years on:
-The base is on course to receive a $150 million refurbishment
-86 of the 166 prisoners have been cleared for release, but still remain
-Some prisoners have been there eleven years without being charged
-At the time of writing, 11 hunger strikers are being force fed and refused water
Yet despite the broken promise, there are no wailing Guardian editorials. The likes of Owen Jones and Polly Tonybee seem to have forgotten Guantanamo exists.
Within the US itself, the Obama administration has signed off on perhaps the most authoritarian piece of legislation ever seen in a Western nation during peace time. The National Defence Authorisation Act of 2012 gives sweeping new powers what were already uncomfortably powerful security agencies. The act allows:
-The armed forces of the US to kidnap and detain any American citizen, anywhere in the world, and detain them, indefinitely, without charge
-Civilians to be tried in military courts
-Hapeus corpus can be ignored on a whim
-Security agencies the right to presume guilt rather than innocence
-An associated bill makes its a crime to protest in a manner that disrupts any government process
The act violates international law as it does not limit itself to people captured during armed conflict.
A subsequent, lesser known act continued where the NDAA left off. The no less sinister sounding National Defence Resources Preparedness Executive Order of March 16th 2012 states that the President and his Secretaries have the authority to commandeer all U.S. domestic resources, including food and water, as well as seize all energy and transportation infrastructure inside the borders of the United States. The Government can also forcibly draft U.S. citizens into the military and force U.S. citizens to fulfil “labour requirements” for the purposes of “national defence.” No Congressional oversight allowed, only briefings.
This is martial law. The legal framework is now in place for a perpetual State of Emergency. The Obama administration has put the government above the law, all in the name of security. When the Bush administration brought us the Patriot Act, it was called fascism. Why isn’t the Obama administration getting the same flak?
Swathes of the British Left still can’t bring themselves to speak out against their hero across the sea.
Defenders of Obama will no doubt point to the above as evidence that Obama is committed to security of Americans, that he is not ‘soft’ on defence. This may well be true. And it’s important to remember that there’s no reason to believe that McCain or Romney would have done any differently, or indeed been even worse.
But what cannot be denied is that for liberty lovers, these are deeply worrying developments. Yet too many people are loathed to criticise Obama’s policies for fear of being accused of simply criticising Obama the man.