Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Criminal Obama

Obama has not disappointed me; I never expected much from him. It was clear from the outset that he would govern from the center-right, just as Bill Clinton did and as Hillary Clinton would have had she become President. I didn’t even vote for him; living in a “safe” state and in a country with grotesquely undemocratic electoral institutions, it seemed infinitesimally more expressive to vote, yet again, for Ralph Nader. That’s why, unlike so many others, I’m not disappointed; but I am surprised.

I’m surprised that the Clintonite Restoration he promised was implemented without even cosmetic changes. I’m surprised, even so, that he would turn economic recovery efforts over to the perpetrators of the present crisis, and that he would stay the course as they line the pockets of Wall Street bankers at the taxpayer’s expense. I’m surprised that, having beaten his eponymous Clintonite rival by running against the Iraq War, that he would backtrack so blatantly. I’m even surprised that he’s so determined to escalate the Afghanistan War into a genuine quagmire and breeding ground for terrorists – notwithstanding all he said about the “importance” of that doomed effort during the campaign. I’m not surprised that his health care plan would continue to subsidize private insurance companies and the pharmacy industry – after all, he campaigned on that plan – but I am a little surprised at how zealously he has tried to marginalize the not-for-profit, single payer alternative, the one real solution to America’s healthcare woes. I’m not surprised that he would continue to pander to the military and the intelligence community (most recently, the CIA) or to the Israel lobby (even to the dismay of African Americans in Congress, who wanted the United States to participate in the second “Durban Conference” on racism). I must say, though, that letting the Chas Freeman appointment go because neo-con bloggers and Charles Schumer wanted it that way was over the top. I’m not surprised either that he refuses to take on the NRA at this point; that may even be a shrewd move. But I am surprised that it fell to Hillary Clinton, not Obama, to state the obvious: that the lack of an assault rifle ban in the United States is a major factor contributing to the drug wars in Mexico and to their overflow back into the United States. The list goes on. On style, Obama gets an A+; on substance, he’s just what one would have expected – only worse.

BUT if he makes good on his declared intention not to prosecute CIA torturers and the war criminals who advised them, not to mention the higher ups who gave the orders the torturers followed, then under both American and international law, he too is a criminal – an obvious point confirmed just yesterday by Manfred Nowak, the UN rapporteur on torture. “Looking forward” (only), as Obama calls it, is worse than implementing center-right policies with more than the usual zeal. It’s an affront to justice. It crosses the line from dreadful politics to outright criminality.

This is so obvious that even right-wing Democrats, like Diane Feinstein, can’t help but see it, and speak out about it. How ironic that the agent of “change” is turning out to be worse than Diane Feinstein. But that’s what’s happening. It is still possible, though, to parse Obama’s words – and Rahm Emanuel’s – Clinton style, with a view to finding wiggle room for the administration to appoint a special prosecutor. That’s precisely what should happen. Now is the time for everyone committed to the rule of law to force Obama to do this; to force him to back away from the threshold of criminality – saving him from his forgiving, “bipartisan,” centrist self. Will we be up to the task?

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