Dear Leader: The 2009 version.
Many ancient societies were ruled by a figure regarded as a divine emperor-king, a transcendent figure whose goodness and power not only protected his subjects from harm, but also made the rains descend, the fields fertile, and the kingdom prosperous.
Modern Americans are too sophisticated for such primitive nonsense. Rather than a divine emperor-king, they have a "Commander-in-Chief" who holds the teeming terrorist masses at bay, labors to "heal the planet," and dispenses wealth in great compassionate abundance on desperate, otherwise hopeless people.
See? Those are two completely different concepts.
Dear Leader: The 2003 version.
Whatever the powers attributed to him by his minions and worshipers, Barack Obama is the first politician to be seriously recognized as the "President of Planet Earth." In any case, that's the title given to him by Howard Fineman in a Newsweek column that was less a work of opinion journalism than the printed equivalent of a prolonged fit of public rectal osculation.
"Obama isn't going to be sworn in as planetary president. But it doesn't matter; in his mind, he already is," grovels Fineman, who -- it must be clear -- offered that view approvingly. "In office for a mere nine months, Obama is now a full-blown `ism.'"
As defined by Fineman, "Obamaism" is " the idea that there must be shared global responsibility for virtually every problem we face." By his reckoning, the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Obama was less an individual commendation as it was a ratification of the "ism" Obama supposedly embodies.
A more rational definition of "Obamaism" would describe it as a pathology, rather than an ideology. It is an alloy of impervious credulity and militant leader-worship that reveals itself in the tendency to invest one's hopes in a figure who supposedly embodies hope and change.
Obama isn't the first ruler coughed up by a dying imperial power to be embraced as this kind of transcendent global figure: That distinction goes to a previous Nobel Peace Prize winner, Mikhail Gorbachev.
As part of a "press gaggle" that interviewed Gorbachev prior to a speech at the Appleton, Wisconsin Performing Arts Center several years ago, I was struck by what an utterly unremarkable individual he is. That apparently wasn't a majority opinion. As he introduced Gorbachev prior to his long, tedious, and forgettable address, Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle -- an Irish Catholic-- gushed that meeting Gorbachev was a greater honor than being presented to the Pope.
The lasting impression I took away was that Gorby had all the charisma and eloquence of a minor municipal bureaucrat -- or, perhaps, an otherwise insignificant foundation-funded "community organizer" deprived of his teleprompter and the trappings of "institutionalized awe."
It's worth remembering that when Gorbachev was first embraced as a species of savior by the international bien-pensant class, he -- like Obama -- was presiding over a brutal and senseless military occupation of Afghanistan.
Rather than pulling Soviet troops out of Afghanistan, the Soviet regime under Gorbachev actually escalated the conflict, to the point (some believe) of assassinating the leader of neighboring Pakistan, Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, who had collaborated with the CIA in arming and supporting the Afghan rebels. By delaying Soviet withdrawal until January 1989, Gorbachev's government managed to kill tens of thousands of people -- Afghan and Pakistani, as well as Russians and troops provided as part of Moscow's "coalition of the willing" -- in what amounts to nothing more than a futile attempt to save face.
The oligarchy fronted by Obama is pursuing a similar course in a much bloodier fashion. After Obama inherited the imperial purple last January, Washington radically expanded the use of unmanned Predator drones to attack suspected terrorists in Pakistan.
Jane Meyer of The New Yorker magazine, who recently published an account of Washington's "remote-control war" in Pakistan, cheerfully reports that those strikes, carried out on Obama's instructions, have "killed more than half of the twenty most wanted Al Qaeda terrorist suspects"; that's the "good news." The bad news is that this escalation has "also killed hundreds of civilians" -- a remarkably high level of "collateral damage" in exchange for perhaps a dozen successful strikes against suspected terrorists, who (let's not forget) were themselves the subject of execution by presidential decree.
Despite her talents as a reporter, Meyer is unmistakably a product of the imperial capital's journalistic culture. Thus while she expresses sympathy for the battle trauma suffered by button-pushing executioners who kill people in Pakistan from the comfort of an office in Langley, Virginia, she spares little sympathy for the victims. Her only candidly expressed worry is that the deaths of innocent Pakistanis might present a strategic complication for imperial war-planners.
"What is astonishing about [Meyer's remarks]," comments the indispensable Chris Floyd, is the absence of anything resembling "a roar of outrage from Mayer and her interviewer: `They've killed hundreds of civilians!' Hundreds of Pakistani civilians, men, women and children with no involvement whatsoever in war or terrorism; just ordinary people living their lives as best they can -- just like your neighbor, just like your mother, just like you...or just like the people killed on September 11, whose deaths are used as an eternal justification for war and bloodshed on a global scale by the American state."
"But these drone-murdered Pakistanis -- these human beings, these fathers and mothers, these grandparents, these toddlers, these brothers and sisters -- their lives are just statistics to be coldly weighed in the calibrations of imperial policy," summarizes Floyd. "The `bad news' about their deaths is not that they were murdered, not that these utterly defenseless men, women and children were blown to shreds without warning, without the slightest chance of escape, by flying robots controlled by unseen hands a world away; no, the `bad news' is that these that these killing might possibly hamper America's "counterinsurgency program...."
Nor is this the only way that Obama the Blessed is escalating the war.
The CIA is not the only agency being permitted to liquidate "terrorist suspects" with extreme prejudice; the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Agency's diseased sibling, has gotten into the act as well.
Some fifty "nexus figures" described as Afghan drug traffickers are among the 367 people on the regime's "kill or capture list," reports the New York Times. This probably explains why three DEA agents were among the casualties when a U.S. helicopter went down following a firefight in a village in Afghanistan's Qadis district.
So, as Obama and his handlers escalate the war(s) in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where is the putatively anti-war Left?
Well, many of them can be found hurling jingoistic invective at those who dare criticize the "Commander-in-Chief" during a "time of war."
For its part, the nationalist Right is desperately clinging to the fiction that Obama is a "pacifist" of some variety, and that there's nothing wrong with the war(s) in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and elsewhere that a military putsch at home couldn't cure. Accordingly, we can expect to see Obama's supporters defending everything he does -- no matter how bellicose or bloody -- as a tactical necessity to protect him from the militaristic "hardliners" who seek to depose him.
Such are the quasi-Soviet politics of the American Imperium as it approaches its terminal phase.
A useful reminder: The bold and principled Dr. Katherine Albrecht, a full-spectrum freedom activist, brings up a much-neglected fact during a peace protest just prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Russian-born Canadian citizen Nikolai Lanine, who served in Afghanista, can see tragic continuities between the Soviet Empire's futile occupation of that country and the one undertaken by Imperial Washington. Canadians are well-represented among the victims of Washington's war in Afghanistan, and Lanine can't help but be reminded of his own experiences in Moscow's "noble" war to "liberate" the Afghans.
"I went to Afghanistan believing in `fighting terrorism' and 'liberating Afghans,'" wrote Lanine in the Toronto Globe and Mail a couple of years ago. "In my mind, our presence was `helping Afghans,' particularly with educating women and children. My combat unit participated in `humanitarian aid' -- accompanying doctors and delivering food, fuel, clothing, and school and other supplies to Afghan villages. It was only later that I began to wonder: Did that aid justify our aggression?"
Lanine recalls how Moscow's servants, like those sent on Washington's killing errand, dehumanized the victims of military aggression:
"It is hard to kill people without demonizing them. In 1988, my unit accidentally hit an Afghan wedding party. My friend, whose mortar shell had killed innocent people, was shocked when he learned of it. Some soldiers, however, were indifferent. `That village supports the resistance, anyway,' they said. Like NATO now, we didn't count `their' casualties. As another friend, Alexander, would later write: `We thought that all of them -- old and young -- were insurgents.'"
By the time the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, the implosion of Moscow's empire was underway. Freed from the distraction of a pointless war, the Soviet nomenklatura focused on a more important task: Setting itself up as the permanent economic ruling class. By the time the Hammer and Sickle was furled in December 1991, everything of value in Russia and its "near abroad" was firmly in the hands of the oligarchs.
Scenes from Obama's America: Riot police at the Pittsburgh G-20 summit deploy the Long-Range Acoustic Device (LRAD), a crowd-control weapon first used as part of the Iraq occupation.
Exactly the same process is underway here in the united State.
Appropriately enough, the consolidation of economic power in the hands of our ruling oligarchy began with a March 2008 meeting in Moscow between Commissar Hank Paulson and the Goldman Sachs board of directors. Shortly thereafter, the controlled demolition of the financial sector began, with secretive and powerful interests deliberately clearing the way for an unprecedented consolidation of political and economic power -- and profiting handsomely from the carnage.
Winsome and appealing as many find him, Obama is the willing and witting figurehead of this insatiable oligarchy -- a ruling elite at least as depraved and bloody-handed as its Soviet predecessors. He is indecently eager to do its bidding, whether that entails murdering hundreds of innocent Pakistanis through Predator strikes, or unleashing paramilitary violence against peaceful demonstrators (and pedestrians) in Pittsburgh during the recent G-20 summit.
Among the few principled commentators on the left who see Obama for what he is can be found former war correspondent Chris Hedges, who has consistently condemned the warfare state under both Republican and Democratic management.
"The right-wing accusations against Barack Obama are true," writes Hedges. "He is a socialist, although he practices socialism for corporations. He is squandering the country’s future with deficits that can never be repaid. He has retained and even bolstered our surveillance state to spy on Americans. He is forcing us to buy into a health care system that will enrich corporations and expand the abuse of our for-profit medical care. He will not stanch unemployment. He will not end our wars. He will not rebuild the nation. He is a tool of the corporate state." (Emphasis added.)
Yes, they can use them at home, too: Bush the Dumber inspects a Predator Drone -- the same robot aircraft used to kill suspected terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan -- used by the Department of Homeland Security to patrol the U.S. border.
Another honorable voice of opposition comes from commentator/cartoonist Ted Rall, who points out that Obama has not repudiated the central tenet of the Bush-Cheney doctrine of executive power -- namely, the claim that a president can order the detention, torture, or summary execution of anyone, anywhere, for any reason.
"Obama has ramped up the assassination of political opponents of the U.S. and the U.S.-aligned authoritarian regime in Pakistan, deploying more Predator drone attacks than Bush," Rall points out to the Dear Leader's leftist worshipers. "But that's just for now. Obama could still personally order a government agency to murder you. Which is weird. But not nearly as weird as the fact that you probably don't care enough to do something about it."
Actually, Obama's constituency -- call it the "Predator Left" -- is delighted that its Dear Leader controls the machinery of arbitrary mass murder. After all, there are "reactionary" eggs to be cracked and progressive omelets to be made, and how can that be done unless the world's largest egg-beater is firmly held by politically correct hands?
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Dum spiro, pugno!