Apologists for Obama Make the World Safe for Autocrats

In 2009 Obama went to Prague and stood before an adoring crowd saying, “The United States will help rid the world of Nuclear Weapons.” Under Obama Nuclear Warhead production is greater than under any post-Cold War president. $1 trillion was allocated build more nuclear weapons, delivery systems, and factories than any previous president. He visited Hiroshima on a public relations  campaign, but as a deep act of cynicism. He broke his campaign promise to work with Russia to move nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert.

After winning The Nobel Peace Prize, Obama’s government has bombed 8 Muslim countries – more than President Bush did. He bombed Yemen less than 24 hours after his reelection in 2012.In fact, his supposed opposition to the Iraq War (which he consistently voted to continue funding) was not on the grounds that it was immoral, that it lead to countless civilian casualties, or that it is illegal to go to war without a declaration of war from congress, but on the non-ethical grounds that it was a “tactical blunder.” However, the anti-war movement disappears in America under the Democrats so there was little pushback from the left. Bush and Blair might have managed to take us into Iraq and Afghanistan but they were not given a free pass the way Obama has been. Perhaps that was the only thing that stopped them from extending their War of Terror to Iran which, given the rhetoric at the time (echoed by their allies in Israel) they would have loved to do. Obama sent more troops into Afghanistan after promising to end the war there in 2014, and while he pulled them out of Iraq he handed their duties over to private defense companies at the expense of the taxpayer. Similarly, Clinton was granted a get-out-of-jail-free-card after bombing a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan which was its chief source of medicines and pesticides; and for The Kosovo War, in which more Kosovars were killed by Serbian soldiers after the NATO bombing had commenced than before. (It’s an interesting point of fact that Clinton dispatched the military overseas forty-four times during his eight year presidency, when the U.S. military had only been deployed outside of America only eight times in the previous forty-five years!) The Balkans remained seething with violence and hatred when they left.

Obama once claimed that “Americans fought a revolution in part over the right to be free from unreasonable searches — to ensure that our government could not come knocking in the middle of the night for no reason.” He continued, “We need to find a way forward to make sure we can stop terrorists while protecting the privacy and liberty of innocent Americans.”

In practice his record on the surveillance state and civil liberties has hardly been sterling. The Bush Administration raised eyebrows, and protests, both from the left and the libertarian wing of the right when he signed into action the “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001.” (Patriot Act for Short.) This authorised the indefinite detention of immigrants, and permission for law enforcement to search homes or businesses without the consent (or even knowledge) of owners or occupiers. It gave the FBI the right to search telephone, e-mail, and financial records of businesses without a court order. It also gave law enforcement agencies access to business records. Obama, after taking aim at the Patriot Act on the campaign trail of 2004 for “violating our fundamental notions of privacy,” and telling the Democratic National Convention, “We don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries,”renewed the 2006 version of the USA PATRIOT Act, and then again, the 2011 version.

In 2007 one of Obama’s charismatic speeches pledged: “No more illegal wiretapping of American citizens. No more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime … No more ignoring the law when it is inconvenient.” But his authorisation allowed the use of  wiretaps that follow a target even when they change phone, and the so-called “lone-wolf” provision, which allows for surveillance of individuals with no known ties to a terrorist organization.

In July 2008, seeking to enhance his national security credentials amid a close race for president, Obama voted for the FISA Amendments Act, a law expanding the government’s ability to eavesdrop on communications inside the U.S. without obtaining a specific warrant for each case. It also granted legal immunity to phone companies that participated in the NSA’s wiretapping program. Earlier the same year, a spokesman for Obama had told Talking Points Memo that he would “support a filibuster of any bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies.” Then in 2012 he signed a five-year extension for the same law he once threatened to filibuster as a senator.

A good liberal principle in a democracy is that while government should be authorised to scrutinize individuals only with good reason, citizens should be able to scrutinize government even without good reason. In 2008, Barack Obama promised to preside over the most transparent administration in U.S. history. “No more secrecy,” he said. “That is a commitment that I make to you.” He failed to deliver.

While campaigning Obama claimed that he was going to reform the government’s attitude to whistleblowers. Instead he cracked down on them. He claimed that Bradley Manning’s treatment, called cruel and inhuman by Chief UN Torture rapporteur, was justified even although it included 8 months of torture. In June 5, 2013 NSA Spying Under Obama was exposed, and then the Edward Snowden disclosures began to come out. According to The Guardian, telephone communications records for millions of Americans were “being collected indiscriminately and in bulk — regardless of whether they [were] suspected of any wrongdoing.” The next day The Washington Post reported that the NSA was tapping into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet firms, “extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs.” Obama claimed “a healthy skepticism” about the surveillance programs he inherited as president, but ultimately concluded that they helped prevent terrorist attacks. Echoing the sentiments Bush administration he stated, “it’s important to recognize that you can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience.”

Obama has done little to reverse the scope or damage of the War on Drugs. In May 2008, a campaign spokesman for candidate Obama told the San Francisco Chronicle that he would end DEA raids on medical marijuana suppliers in states with their own laws. These sentiments were echoed in 2009, by his Attorney General, Eric Holder, who said that the DEA would only raid medical marijuana suppliers which violated both state and federal laws. However, by April 2012, the Obama administration exceeded the number of raids the Bush administration carried out on medical marijuana.

Obama broke more campaign promises than most people would care to count. Criticism against his failed pledge to close down Guantanamo Bay, is often met with the defense that he was doing his best while operating within parameters set by the rest of the political establishment in Washington, but given that Obama signed almost 250 executive orders (not quite rivaling Bushes 298) does the excuse really hold up?

Obama also failed to deliver on his promises to eliminate all oil and gas tax loopholes, close loopholes in the corporate tax deductibility of CEO pay, require publicly traded financial partnerships to pay the corporate income tax, expose Special Interest tax breaks to Public Scrutiny, ensure that no family making less than $250,000 will see “any form of tax increase”, end income tax for seniors making less than $50,000, support a tax deduction for artists, direct the Internal Revenue Service to “give taxpayers the option of a pre-filled tax form to verify, sign and return to the IRS or online.”, expand and make refundable the child and dependent care credit, prevent drug companies from blocking generic drugs,  “Allow Americans to buy their medicines from other developed countries if the drugs are safe and prices are lower outside the U.S.”, double federal funding for cancer research, develop an alternative to President Bush’s Military Commissions Act on handling detainees, restore habeas corpus rights for “enemy combatants”,  limit term of director of national intelligence, seek independent watchdog agency to investigate congressional ethics violations, create a public “Contracts and Influence” database, allow five days of public comment before signing bills, toughen-up rules against revolving door for lobbyists and former officials, limit subsidies for agribusiness, strengthen anti-monopoly laws to favor independent farmers, regulate pollution from major livestock operations, establish regulations to secure chemical plants, Restore Superfund program so that polluters pay for clean-ups, provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, increase the supply of affordable housing throughout metropolitan regions, encourage diversity in media ownership, and cut the cost of a typical family’s health insurance premium by up to $2,500 a year.

Obama’s central promise was not to “play the Same Old Washington Game better,” but “change the way the game is played.” He did no such thing, nor even made any effort. The lobbyists still run the place, the donors are in more control than ever. He did the bidding of his own donors including his biggest ones – the banks – whom he bailed out from the public purse, the military industrial complex, the oil companies, and others. So how differently has he played the Same Old Washington Game?

In his final State of the Union address, Obama decried income inequality, but the gap between rich and poor has widened more under Obama than under any other president. One article claims that Obama instituted the ‘Greatest Transfer of Wealth in History’ to the 1%. Some $4.5 trillion was given to Wall Street banks through its Quantitative Easing program according to NY Post columnist and editor, Michael Gray.

Protests continue, “But Obama is only a human being, you can’t expect him to be perfect!” Yes Obama is a human being. No, we cannot expect him to be perfect. But if the average human being had done some of the things that Obama has done they would be in prison and we would be calling them a monster. What gives grace to elected officials to be held to a lower standard under the law than anyone else? What Stockholm Syndrome allows us to excuse their misdeeds and broken promises?  Those in positions of authority ought to be held to the highest standard, and for the very reason that they claim authority over others. They dictate the standards for the rest of the society from the top of the pyramid. America, after all, was founded as a nation of laws rather than of rulers, and it’s rulers should not be exempt from them.

Obama is Commander-in-chief. No one forced him to drone bomb Pakistan, or break any of his campaign promises; or even make them in the first place.  The hypocrisy of his defenders (and by extension, those of any political leader) can be unmasked by a simple thought experiment: Supposing Obama was a business mogul in the private sector. Would they still cry out in his protection, “He did the job he was elected (CEO) to do.”?

Or would be decried as a criminal – as were his right-wing predecessors?

Obama’s apologists give the green light to the future Presidents of the United States to conduct themselves in the same manner. They are making the world safe for autocrats.



Antony Sammeroff

Is a writer and Life Coach from Glasgow living in Edinburgh. He is on The Scottish Libertarian Party’s constitutional committee. He hosts The Scottish Liberty Podcast weekly, with co-host Tom Laird.


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