NEW YORK — March 19, 2011. Apparently the journey from peace candidate to war president isn’t that long a trip — roughly equivalent to the distance Wall Street traveled in moving from bailout to bonuses.
From Dubya To Libya…by way of Nixon?
During the 2008 presidential campaign Obama was photographed — at a carefully staged photo op — playing basketball with some high school students in Indiana. Candidate Obama was wearing a “USMC” t-shirt. Was Obama ever a member of the Corps? No. Was he ever really a peace candidate? Maybe. However, the campaign rhetoric about ending the Iraq War seems to have been diluted over time. On August 31, 2010, Obama announced that U.S. combat operations in Iraq had ceased. In the same speech he announced that he was sending additional troops to Afghanistan – the good war? – and leaving 50,000 troops in Iraq for “training” purposes. And on March 19, 2011, the eighth anniversary of the Iraq War, Obama attacked Libya. Without consulting Congress, without a declaration of war. Peace candidate? Is this not the man who received a Nobel Peace Prize?
In July of 1972 Time Magazine reported that Senate Republican leader Hugh Scott and Finance Magazine (a monthly publication for bankers) editor Elizabeth MacDonald Manning were “joining forces to nominate Richard Nixon for the [ Nobel Peace ] prize.” Manning had argued that Nixon had turned “an idealistic vision of peace into a more realistic version of working together instead of fighting wars.” Nixon did not join the ranks of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson — or Barack Obama — he never received the Nobel Prize. But in many other respects he was not unlike that other “peace candidate,” the lanky fellow who likes to be photographed in Marine Corps tees.
The Obama Department of Justice has not ushered in a new era of respect for the rule of law and human rights — Gitmo remains open, the FBI continues to profile and entrap, and political prisoners (Green Scare and Muslim alike) are tortured in “Communication Management Units” — a euphemism for sensory deprivation and isolation. Tricky Dick would have little issue with this approach. From his days at HUAC through the Watergate fiasco, Nixon was no champion of civil rights. Nor was he opposed to using military intervention in the quest for peace.
Given that Nixon carpet bombed North Vietnam, secretly bombed Cambodia until the illegal operation was discovered, and doubtless knew of the CIA’s Phoenix Program (assassination of suspected “Viet Cong” by U.S. special forces) can anyone be surprised that Obama would escalate the Afghanistan War, appoint General Stanley McChrystal to run what many called the “Phoenix Program for Afghanistan” (assassination of suspected Taliban leaders) and unilaterally bomb Libya — for peace?
I have heard it said that President George W. Bush made Nixon look like a liberal. Where does this leave Obama — the peace candidate who spoke out against Bush’s policies only to continue them?
On March 19, as protesters gathered in Time Square to demand an end to U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, the NBC news ticker announced that U.S. missiles had hit targets in Libya. Dozens of Tomahawk missiles, costing over a million dollars each, had been fired in an undeclared war.
NY1 covered the protest and one image from their coverage struck this observer as both indelible and archetypal. A protester turned to the NY1 videographer and said, “Yeah that’s a great idea. We’ve got a third war we’ll get ourselves into.”
And so it came to pass, that on the eighth anniversary of Mr. Bush’s war on Iraq, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Barack Obama attacked Libya while continuing two wars he had pledged to end. Perhaps Nixon really should have gotten that peace prize.
It’s always tough to assess the motivations of another person, especially a politician. But the fact that Obama chose March 19 to launch his strikes on Libya invites armchair psychoanalysts to raise questions. In his groundbreaking work, “The Psychopathic God: Adolf Hitler,” Robert G.L. Waite noted that Hitler attacked the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. The date was significant in that 129 years earlier Napoleon had announced his forthcoming attack on Russia on this exact date, reviewing his troops in Poland on the eve of the attack (the Grand Armee mobilized on the 23rd and launched the campaign on the 24th). Obama is not Hitler and Bush was no Napoleon but the choice of March 19 for the Libyan attack was interesting. It could be argued that Obama needed to act within a small window of opportunity but even if this notion is accepted why did he choose this specific anniversary, this exact date? The idea that he didn’t know seems absurd. It’s possible but highly unlikely…
Boys Will Be Boys
Obama’s domestic policies have been less than successful. His signature issue, health care reform, produced a bill that almost no one is excited about — except perhaps the insurance companies. In addition, Obama has been accused of a seemingly endless litany of hallucinatory crimes by oxycodone addicts and hyperbolic paranoids on the far Right (he’s not a U.S. citizen, he’s a socialist, etc.) It must be tempting to turn away from domestic policy issues and the attendant discord and focus on military matters. All of that saluting from Marines, all of the gung-ho rhetoric (“you’re going on the offense, tired of playing defense!“) and appearances before audiences ordered to cheer wildly, must have an appeal. The USMC t-shirt photo op reverberates in this reporter’s sensorium. Clearly Obama is comfortable with at least the trappings of the military. Unfortunately for Barack, Iraq continues to be plagued by sectarian violence and Afghanistan is a long way from anything resembling stability. It’s tough to be a war president when you’re losing two wars.
Perhaps a “limited role” in Libya will get Obama the recognition he seeks – from both Right and Left. Indeed, the PBS Newshour had two senators on the show a few days after the attacks – Democrat Jack Reed and Republican Johnny Isakson appeared on the March 29 episode. Moderator Judy Woodruff continued the Newshour’s tradition of throwing softball pitches and presenting “opposing” points of view that question only how to implement a policy not whether the policy itself is desirable, reasonable or even legal.
Rhode Island’s Reed described Obama’s attack as an “adroitly” executed “initiative” while Georgia’s Isakson said, “I think we have done the right thing but in the wrong way.” Isakson explained that Obama must not yield American “leadership” to NATO – he must not take ground assault off the table. As is typical of the “liberal” media, there was no dissenting voice. No one, not even Woodruff, questioned the sanity of fighting three wars. Perhaps the compliant media and the muted criticism from Republicans is a balm for a weary president – the first positive response to his “bipartisan” appeal. Obama would not be the first U.S. chief executive to seek the solace of being a war president after a succession of domestic policy failures. But he needs to “man up” to pull it off. As social theorist Wilhelm Reich noted, to appeal to an audience fed a diet of militaristic ideology and macho sexual repression, “Only insofar as this leader actually personifies the nation in conformity with the national sentiments of the masses [ i.e. authoritarianism ] does a personal tie to him develop.” (Mass Psychology of Fascism p. 62) And what better way to appeal to emotions than the heroic display of shock and awe? What Reich called the “libidinous mechanism” of martial fanfare. This was not lost on all of the observers — psychohistorian Lloyd DeMause recently referred to the Libyan attack as an example of the “We Are Powerful Group Fantasy.”
No matter who prevails in Libya, Qaddafi or the opposition, one sector of the U.S. will be pleased. Most of the munitions being expended in Libya by government forces are stamped “Made In The USA.” And increasingly the Obama administration is talking up giving weapons to the “rebels.” In a war where American arms traffickers have equipped both sides how can the “defense industry” lose? After all, the weapons will be paid for with tax dollars.