President Obama campaigned and won the last presidential election on the key promise of bringing change to Washington, D.C. That was the slogan his whole campaign was built around. But he has continued many of the same policies as George W. Bush: Obama’s Timothy Geithner (himself selected by W. as the head of the New York Fed before Obama made him his Treasury Secretary) worked with W’s Paulson to put together the Tarp bailouts that gave more than $2 trillion to Wall St. and major banks. Obama, moreover, as Glenn Greenwald convincingly argues over at his blog, has continued the Bush policies on forced renditions, state secrets and the host of issues surrounding torture. Obama too has kept on W’s Defense Secretary and promoted most of W’s generals including Gen. McCrystal who was at the heart of the Pat Tillman scandal and who presided over US torture camps in Afghanistan and Iraq.
It is true that Obama campaigned on expanding the U.S. role in Afghanistan. But as Josh Gerstein writes in an excellent article over at Politico, Obama has exceeded his promises in this area:
In major foreign policy speeches in August 2007 and July 2008, Obama did talk of sending “at least two” more U.S. combat brigades — made up of between three thousand and four thousand troops each — to Afghanistan. However, the 21,000 troops he has already sent far exceed any troop increase he discussed publicly before the election, even before the 30,000 or so more he’s expected to announce he’ll add to that number in Tuesday’s speech.
So we have the oddity of a Democratic President, who otherwise posed and postured as a peace alternative, now keeping and exceeding one of the few campaign promises he not broken: escalating a war in Afghanistan, where the war has already dragged on for more than eight years. Too bad Obama didn’t abort this promise instead of, say, his pledge to fight against telecom immunity (FISA) which he broke even as votes came in during election night. That Obama has chosen to keep this promise and not others made on his social and economic platform (like bringing change; like bringing new faces to Washington; like action on DOMA and DADT) tells reams about Obama.
Indeed, it looks increasingly like Obama was selected and supported by the power elite in this country to be the salesman for causes unpopular with the electorate at large: like the bailouts; like an unpopular and unwinnable war in Afghanistan; like the failure to go after the excesses of the Bush administration and instead "look forward and not backward." Evidence for this was provided long ago right here at Firedoglake in an article on The Hamilton Project, a Brookings Institution supported, Goldman Sachs funded initiative to support unfettered free trade (and cut entitlements like Social Security). Toss "Obama" and "Hamilton Project" into Google and you’ll come across an insightful diary at Firedoglake that includes Obama’s address, he was a Senator then, for the opening ceremonies of the Hamilton Project (for your convenience, the link to this article is provided above). Senator Obama tipped his hat to his "friend Bob" [Rubin, head of Goldman Sachs] who was also present. Anyone who reads Obama’s speech (from about 4 years ago) will be struck that Obama really lied when he promised the nation during the campaign to renegotiate NAFTA, since his speech was all about the need for unchecked free trade. It’s also obvious why so many ex-Goldman people (including Timothy Geithner) are in the Obama administration.
It appears that Obama, with that wonderful smile and an ability to fashion pretty but vague speeches, was thus chosen to be the salesman for some very unpopular programs. It was clear to corporate America that W. and his Republicans could no longer "sell it" to America. So we now have Obama who has not only sold the bailouts, not only sold the infusion of billions to Goldman Sachs and other predator banks, but will now sell an escalation of war in Afghanistan that far exceeds any "promise" he made during the election. Put it another way: had Obama campaigned in Iowa and New Hampshire on the program that he has carried out since his election, he never would have won the Democratic nomination for the Presidency. He had to be the "stealth candidate" with hidden agendas on the war, on the economy, on fake health care reform (he calls it "insurance reform") and a host of other issues.
So it appears that what we are seeing now in Obama is not so much failed campaign promises as the emergence of his real agenda prior to being chosen as a candidate. It is clear that the platform that Obama ran on has been completely expendable to him. Glenn Greenwald in a lengthy recent blog post suggests much the same: that Obama’s abandonment of progressive policies may not so much be policy shifts as they are evidence that Obama merely used progressive themes to get elected. Here’s Greenwald on this (please read his entire blog on this issue; emphasis added below):
But it’s hardly unreasonable to object when someone runs for high political office based on clear and repeated promises that they have squarely violated. Whatever else is true, watching Obama embrace extremist policies can still be "disappointing" even if one isn’t surprised that he’s doing it. I could understand and accept a lot more easily this blithe acquiescence to Obama’s record if it weren’t for the fact that progressives and Democrats spent so many years screaming bloody murder over Bush’s use of indefinite detention, military commissions, state secrets, renditions, and extreme secrecy — policies Obama has largely and/or completely adopted as his own. One can’t help but wonder, at least in some cases, how genuine those objections were, as opposed to their just having been effective tools to discredit a Republican president for partisan and political gain.
Returning to the theme of Obama as salesman, it is interesting that the Josh Gerstein-Politico article I referred to earlier has this title: "President Obama must sell war to anti-war base." Exactly right! Obama is little more than a super salesman for the war and other unpopular initiatives that do not benefit the people but do benefit Goldman Sachs and Wall St. From Gerstein:
"In his speech to the nation on Tuesday, President Barack Obama must persuade supporters who thought they’d voted for an anti-war president to back a plan expected to roughly double the number of troops in Afghanistan from when he took office.
…As Obama prepares to unveil his Afghan strategy to a military audience at West Point on Tuesday, it’s his most loyal political supporters who need the most convincing.
A USA Today/Gallup Poll released Wednesday showed slightly more Americans supporting an escalation of the war than supporting a decrease in troop levels. But the survey also shows support for sending more troops comes largely from Obama’s political opponents, while those who voted for him and who will be critical to reelecting Democrats in Congress next year are deeply skeptical.
The new poll found 57 percent of Democrats favor beginning a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, while just half as many, 29 percent, favored a hike in troop levels. Republicans were far more likely to back Obama’s expected call for 30,000 or so additional troops, with 72 percent backing some increase, while just 17 percent want to start pulling out.
The White House has concluded that making a troop increase more palatable to Democrats means framing it in terms liberals are more comfortable with, as just one part of a much bigger strategy involving diplomatic, multi-national and civilian aid efforts. At the same time, he has to reassure Democrats who worry that the war, now entering its ninth year, will or has become a quagmire."
In other words, it’s not a quagmire because super-salesman Obama will tell the nation otherwise. It’s not an open-ended war with "no light at the end of the tunnel" because Obama, who could be selling an unpopular brand of soap just as well, tells us it isn’t. It’s a "good war" because Obama tells us (and has already told us) that. The tragedy of American politics and society is, a lot of people will believe this nonsense rather than questioning both it and its salesman.
But there are some rays of light. Madison’s Capital Times (online) in an excellent editorial today, questions both Obama’s strategy and even indicates that Obama often lies (has to be "translated"):
President Obama plans to announce on December 1 his decision for a request from some of his more ambitious generals for a troop surge in Afghanistan. But indications are that the President who was elected to select a new course for the nation when it comes to foreign policy will instead "stay the course" set by his quagmire-prone predecessor. Obama announced Tuesday that he intends to "finish the job" in Afghanistan, and there is a growing consensus that he will agree to dispatch at least 34,000 U.S. troops to that country.
The President says he will use his December 1 speech to signal "resolve to the allies while not sending open-ended commitment to the American people."
Translation: There will be talk of an exit strategy–with reassuring references to "benchmarks" and "off ramps"–but no exit strategy."
It’s good to see that some journalists at least have not turned off their bullshit detectors when it comes to analyzing what Obama is actually doing and what he is saying. The Cap Times also quotes Congressman David Obey of Wisconsin (who is proposing a tax to actually pay for the war’s escalation) who rightly points out:
Surging more troops into Afghanistan "will wipe out every initiative we have to rebuild our own economy," says Obey, who explains if Obama goes for an expanded war: "There ain’t gonna be no money for nothing if we pour it all into Afghanistan."
That really is the choice that Obama WILL NOT TALK about as he drapes himself in the flag at West Point: the choice between guns and butter. History has proven that wars always kill off reform. But perhaps that is what Obama’s real handlers intended all along since we have seen little or no reform from this man who ran as the change candidate.