By ALEXANDER COCKBURN
"Watch what we do, not what we say,” was the famous advice Nixon’s first Attorney General, John Mitchell, gave the press at the onset of the Nixon presidency in 1969. It’s a handy piece of advice in the Age of Obama too, as we roll towards the end of his first six months in office. There’s the added difficulty that Obama likes to say two different things in the same speech, usually prefaced by his trade-mark “Let me be clear.”
“And let me be clear,” he told the Russians in Moscow, even as he presses forward with the Clinton/Bush policy of NATO expansion, ringing Russia with missile bases, “NATO seeks collaboration with Russia, not confrontation.”
You think “saying” and “doing” are far apart on that one? Try this gem, also delivered in Moscow: “Now let me be clear, America will not seek to impose any system of government on any other country, nor would we presume to choose which party or individual should run a country…. America will never impose a security arrangement on another country.”
The last guy in the White House to be that clear was in fact Nixon, who tossed in “perfectly” as a bonus.
Obama has been perfectly clear on so many pledges, such as restoring constitutional protections such as habeas corpus, respect for international treaties and covenants on torture and the treatment of prisoners, ending eavesdropping and, when you take even a quick glance at what he’s done, he’s been perfectly awful on so many fronts.
He was at his sermonizing worst in Ghana, telling Africans to shape up, a homily aimed at those same folks back home who thrilled to Obama’s strictures on the campaign trail, using Father’s Day a year ago to tell black dads—only black dads—to shape up, an act he just reprised to the NAACP’s 100th convention in New York.
“Africa’s future is up to Africans,” he said in Accra. No it’s not. Africa’s future is to a pervasive extent up to the World Bank, the IMF, international mining and oil companies, the US Congress (which for example votes cotton subsidies to domestic corporate farmers, thus undercutting and laying waste the cotton economies of Burkina Faso, Benin, Mali and Chad).
“No one has written your destiny for you. Your destiny is in your hands,” was his New York message for America’s black youth. Rip the entrails out of America’s manufacturing economy, hock the economy to Goldman Sachs and then tell the kids, if you fail, you’ve only yourself to blame.
What does the Administration say about Iran? At the recent G8 meeting in Italy Obama talked tough. He said Iran has until September to show it is serious about curbing its nuclear weapos program. Remember that the CIA , to the fury of the Bush crowd said in 2006 there was no evidence that any such program is underway.
In Italy Obama talked about an international September summit in Pittsburgh "It provides a time frame. If Iran chooses not to walk through that door, then you have on record the G-8 to begin with, but I think potentially a lot of other countries, that are going to say we need to take further steps."
Watch what we do.
As Afshin Rattanssi wrote on this site on Thursday, it’s too early to tell the reason for the midday plane crash on July 15 in Janat-Abad, northwest of Tehran. All 168 people on board were killed in Qazvin province and there is an inquiry underway. But, even so, the relatives of the 168 that have died today may yet blame the U.S. and Britain for their dead, since sanctions are already creating a spare parts crisis in Iran’s aircraft hangers. Sanctions are what destroy countries, whether it be Nicaragua in the 1980s or Iraq in Clinton-time. As Rattanssi says:
“In the 1990s, Bill Clinton’s U.N. sanctions on Iraq killed hundreds of thousands of children as discovered by its own agency, UNICEF. We now have a man in the White House who trumpets the use of sanctions over the war-war bluster of George W. Bush. President Bush’s continual threats about the use of military force on Iran did nothing but entrench the Iranian people’s support for the theocratic government. If much-mooted September is the date for President Obama’s new sanctions, they look set to kill many more civilians than any threats by his former rival and now secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. Hillary and her husband seem never to have been concerned about the lethal impact of sanctions on developing nations.”
In her election campaign Hillary was always eager to emphasize her willingness to nuke Iran and fry 70 million. Watch what I could do. To ABC’s George Stephanopoulos a few weeks ago she hinted obscurely at a First Strike scenario. Here she is in full spate last week in the new Washington hq of the Council on Foreign Relations:
“We know that refusing to deal with the Islamic Republic has not succeeded in altering the Iranian march toward a nuclear weapon, reducing Iranian support for terror, or improving Iran's treatment of its own citizens… Iran does not have a right to nuclear, military capacity, and we're determined to prevent that. But it does have a right to civil nuclear power if it reestablishes the confidence of the international community that it will use its programs exclusively for peaceful purposes. Iran become a constructive actor in the region if it stops threatening its neighbors and supporting terrorism. It can assume a responsible position in the international community if it fulfills its obligations on human rights. The choice is clear. We remain ready to engage with Iran, but the time for action is now. The opportunity will not remain open indefinitely.”
And then later, in answer to a hawkish question:
“I think part of the attractiveness of engagement -- direct engagement is not only to make our own judgments but also to demonstrate to others that we've done so and to make clear what kind of reaction we've gotten, which I think lays the groundwork for concerted actions and certainly in just the last six months in our efforts in talking with other partners, I've noticed a turn in attitude by some, a recognition that it's not just the United States that should be concerned about what Iran is doing, but that there are implications for others who are much closer than we are to Iran.”
Now you could say that this was just HRC trying to put herself back on the map as a major player in the Obama administration, seeking to quell the snickers that she’s just one more sidelined Secretary of State who can’t even stop the White House from blocking her from hiring Sid Blumenthal. There were slabs of the speech that as wacky as Obama’s shameless fictions about the freedom Africa and black kids in the US to shape their own destinies – unless, that is, you go with Lenin’ bleak remark that Freedom is the recognition of necessity, later translated into song as Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. Try this pearl from our Secretary of State:
“I believe NATO is the greatest alliance in history, but it was built for the Cold War. The new NATO is a democratic community of nearly a billion people, stretching from the Baltics in the east to Alaska in the west. We're working to update its strategic concepts so that it is as effective in this century as it was in the last.”
What the Obama administration most definitely will do is find as many reasons to be “unpersuaded” about the peaceful intent of Iran’s nuclear program as was the Bush administration about evidence that Saddam had got rid of its WMDs. It’s the same game, maybe with the same ending. At the very least they’ll intensify sanctions, ensuring that many will die, starting with the very young and the very old.
Meanwhile the troops and weapons flow towards Afghanistan, with vast, Vietnam-style “sweep” operations under way.
And how is the antiwar movement here dealing with that? Answer, what antiwar movement? We certainly can’t watch what it’s doing, because the answer is nothing. And we can’t hear what it’s saying, because there too the answer is nothing.
Where are the mobilizations, actions, civil disobedience? Antiwar coalitions like United for Peace and Justice and Win Without War (with MoveOn also belatedly adopting this craven posture) don’t say clearly “US troops out now!” They whine about the “absence of a clear mission” (Win Without War), plead futilely for “an exit strategy” (UFPJ). One letter from the UFPJ coalition (which includes Code Pink) to the Congressional Progressive Caucus in May laconically began a sentence with the astounding words, “To defeat the Taliban and stabilize the country, the U.S. must enable the Afghan people…” These pathetic attempts not to lose “credibility” and thus attain political purchase have met with utter failure, as the recent vote on a supplemental appropriation proved. A realistic estimate is that among the Democrats in Congress there are fewer than forty solid antiwar votes.
Ending the “Third Degree”
“Eighty years ago, with the publication of the Wickersham Report on Lawlessness in Law Enforcement, America learned that torture didn’t work…and promptly forgot.
“Debates on the morality and practical efficacy of torture periodically erupt in American politics. Now, the issue has re-emerged with the efforts of ex-Bush administration officials and allies to defend their legacy and their legal impunity against the current administration’s stated desire to move beyond coercive interrogations…”
This is Peter Lee in our latest CounterPunch newsletter, in an enthralling piece of historical excavation about how a commission appointed by Herbert Hoover managed to include a savage expose of torture as practiced by US police departments. Lee shows how exactly the torture techniques of our current era and their rationales mirror those of the practitioners and sponsors of torture in the last century.
Also in this crackerjack issue is Marcus Rediker’s diary of his lectures in Auburn Prison on pirates and how the inmates responded to them.
Only in CounterPunch.
Alexander Cockburn can be reached at email@example.com .