The Rage of the Dispossessed

Manchester Memorial
Mourners gather in Manchester’s St. Ann’s Square to pay respects to the 22 people killed when a suicide bomber detonated an explosive device outside an Ariana Grande concert, on May 22, in Manchester, England.

Pop-star, Ariana Grande is correct:

There are, simply, no words—of comfort, consolation or condolence—to offer the families of the young victims following the horrific explosion outside Grande’s concert in Manchester, England last week. The fact that the 22 people killed were mostly children and teenage girls makes the terrorist attack especially heinous.

Concerts should be a place for leisurely escapism from the mind-numbing monotony of work and school—if not even a more meaningful form of musical transcendence. (I suspect Grande embodies more of the former.) They should not be a venue of fear and repulsive violence.

Following an attack such as the one in Manchester, politicians inevitably single out the Muslim community, calling for the moderate Muslims to “isolate” and “report on” their more radical counterparts, in the hope of preventing similar terrorist attacks. (“If you see something, say something!”)

This was the crux of Donald Trump’s lecturing (and completely unoriginal) speech in Saudi Arabia. “A better future [for the Middle East] is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and extremists, Trump said. “Drive. Them. Out.”

Trump went on:

“Drive them out of your places of worship. Drive them out of your communities. Drive them out of your holy land. And drive them out of this earth.”

Yet, in the 16-years that the U.S. and its allies have waged the so-called “war on terror,” when has a similar call ever been made to Christian communities? When have politicians or world leaders exhorted “moderate” Christians to “isolate” and “weed out” the radical members in their ranks? Nor has any effort been made to curb the growing influence of Zionist, pro-Israeli Jews–particularly those who falsely mischaracterize the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement as “anti-Semitic.”

Indeed, by all assessments Americans face a far greater threat from right-wing, nationalist and Christian extremist groups than from what Trump insists on calling “radical Islam.” This home-grown, quasi-fascist threat has grown exponentially since Trump’s election. And the discrepancy in rhetoric proves the utter hollowness of presidents’ assurances—from George W. Bush to Barack Obama to Trump—that the U.S. is not “at war with Islam.”

No doubt, our decades-long war on Islam is almost certainly what motivated the Libyan-born suicide bomber, Salman Abedi to commit this heinous act. Abedi targeted the wrong people, to be certain. His victims were innocent and completely undeserving of having their young lives cut so short in such a brutal fashion.

But the inchoate rage and hostility Abedi felt toward England and the West in general is legitimate. Our nations must understand this if we are to have any hope of truly ridding the world of terrorism.

“We have engineered the rage of the dispossessed,” author and Truthdig columnist, Chris Hedges, wrote in the wake of the 2015 Paris attack on the satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo.

The evil of predatory global capitalism and empire has spawned the evil of terrorism. And rather than understand the roots of that rage and attempt to ameliorate it, we have built sophisticated mechanisms of security and surveillance, passed laws that permit the targeted assassinations and torture of the weak, and amassed modern armies and the machines of industrial warfare to dominate the world by force.

Libya was a thriving and affluent country before the U.S.-NATO military campaign deposed Col. Muammar Gaddafi and decimated the nation. Then-Secretary of State Hillary “Queen of Chaos” Clinton oversaw the bombing, which left more than 30,000 Libyan civilians dead, and over 50,000 injured in the ensuing civil war.

Clinton later gloated over Gaddafi’s death on CBS News, laughing that, “We came. We saw. He died.”

Thus it is perfectly rationale that someone like Abedi, after witnessing the destruction of his home-country, might have some animosity toward the global West.

And Libya is just one example. The scope of the ill-conceived “war on terror” (a nebulous conflict which, by design, can never end) has expanded tenfold under President Obama. The U.S. is currently engaged in military strikes in Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Somalia, and Afghanistan, in addition to Libya. Indeed, the war in Afghanistan is now the longest war in U.S. history.

And make no mistake about it: These bombing campaigns—what investigative journalist, Jeremy Scahill calls “dirty wars”—would have continued, likely with greater efficiency and professional expertise, had Clinton prevailed in last year’s presidential election.

The left must revive the beleaguered anti-war movement which has been largely dormant for the last eight years. While the recent opposition to Trump’s racist travel ban (the so-called “airport protests”) was certainly encouraging, I lament the left’s failure to connect the refugee crisis to the larger issue of war and imperialism.

As it is, those airport protests have largely subsided—along with much of the initial activism that greeted the first days of Trump’s presidency. Liberals seem content to merely sit back and trust that the courts will, again, strike down Trump’s revised travel ban. But as The Guardian‘s Rob Hunter points out, investing our hopes in the bourgeois legal system, without the necessary pressure of protests in the streets, would be a grave mistake.

Likewise, the thousands of voters who were understandably inspired by Bernie Sanders’ social-democratic presidential campaign failed to truly challenge the Vermont U.S. Senator on his hawkish foreign policy positions. When I attempted to point out Sanders’ “blind spot” on foreign policy—including his Zionist, pro-Israel record—I was promptly dismissed as a rigid “ultra-leftist.”

This, again, speaks to the contemporary left’s overall detachment from matters of war and peace. Attend an anti-war protest today, and you are unlikely to find anybody under the age of 50. And many of these Baby Boomer protesters formed their anti-war politics after having served (whether they were drafted or voluntarily enlisted) in combat themselves.

But I fear that, for millennials my age, war is very much an abstraction.

This is not to suggest young people on the left do not care about militarism. Quite the reverse, in fact. Merely, that most working-class millennials’ lack of direct experience in military combat makes it less of a priority (behind more immediately pressing issues like student debt, affordable housing, health care, and free college education) in activist struggle.

But none of these domestic concerns can ever be addressed (let alone, funded) if we continue to ignore the Pentagon’s giant “pot of gold,” as longtime anti-war activist and blogger, Bruce Gagnon calls it. Fifty-seven percent of our federal income tax dollars go to the bloated, wasteful military-spending budget. And the GOP’s baseless mantra that Obama “depleted” the military of funding should be roundly dismissed as the phony propaganda it is.

Thus, the U.S. war-machine is not a “secondary” issue as many Sanders supporters argued. It is the issue.

“These terrorist attacks are not confined to Europe,” Tariq Ali said on a recent appearance of Democracy Now! “They take place every single day in Iraq, in Syria, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, and Yemen, Bahrain.”

… We all deplore the loss of lives of innocent people. … Everyone does. But we can’t have double standards, in which we say that someone killed in Europe, their lives are more valuable than the lives being taken in large parts of the Muslim world. And unless the West understands that these double standards provoke and anger more people, it will carry on.

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If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!

From Hope to Hopeless: Reflections on Obama’s Legacy of Corporatism and Militarism

barack-obama

Barack Obama’s farewell address last Tuesday highlighted, one last time, the conflicting disparity between the president’s rhetoric and the actual policies he has pursued throughout the last eight years.

It was, as always, a rousing speech–even if it was completely detached from the material reality working-class Americans endure. (Say what you will about the president, but the man remains an impressive orator. George W. Bush, on the other hand, struggled just to correctly pronounce the word “nuclear.”)

Obama assumed office just as the 2008 Great Recession, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, was unfolding. He handily defeated Republican John McCain, on a marketing-savvy (if, ultimately, vacuous) platform of “hope” and “change.” And congressional Democrats rode Obama’s campaign coattails to victory, enlarging their already solid majority in the House and Senate.

The message from voters was clear: Americans were fed up with eight years of Bush’s unpopular wars, shredding of constitutional liberties, torture and spying programs, and the ever widening gap between the wealthy one percent and the working class. President Obama and the Democrats had a clear mandate to enact sweeping progressive changes on the level of FDR’s New Deal.

Eight years later, those unpopular wars have not only continued but been expanded. The NSA’s surveillance program is far more widespread than we originally imagined. The U.S. no longer tortures its enemies–it murders them, without charge, warrant or trial, via unmanned predator drones. The once discredited Republican Party has retaken control of Congress and the White House along with 67 state legislatures.

And the economy remains stagnant–the much lauded “economic recovery,” a cruel joke. Wall Street not only weathered the recession, but emerged richer and more influential than when taxpayers were forced to bail out the floundering Lehman Brothers and AIG at the height of the recession.

What the hell happened…?

For starters, Obama’s roughly $800 billion stimulus fell far short of the type of robust stimulus package many economists–including New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman–believed was necessary. (Krugman would later reveal the true limits to his supposed Keynesian economic populism in his intense opposition to democratic socialist, Bernie Sanders during the 2016 Democratic presidential primary.)

In fact, the stimulus contained limited money for job-creation and, according to the Socialist Worker‘s Lance Selfa, “explicitly ruled out direct government jobs programs modeled on the 1930s-era Works Progress Administration. It dedicated upwards of 40 percent of the stimulus bill to tax cuts and credits to individuals and business that were useless in creating jobs.”

But then, it seems that Obama–who described himself on the campaign trail as a “free-market guy,” and cited Ronald Reagan as a political inspiration–was always more committed to serving Wall Street than Main Street.

Investigative journalist, Ron Suskind, in his book, The Confidence Men, reported on a March 27, 2009 meeting between the president and a group of the most influential Wall Street CEOs. Despite Obama’s warning the billionaires that, “My administration is the only thing standing between you and the pitchforks,” he and then-Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner nonetheless assured them they would not interfere with business-as-usual in Wall Street.

Suskind quotes one of the attending CEOs:

The sense of everyone after the big meeting was relief… The president had as us at a moment of real vulnerability. At that point, he could have ordered us to do just about anything, and we would have rolled over. But he didn’t. He mostly wanted to help us out, to quell the mob.

The list of botched opportunities and unfulfilled promises goes on.

The health insurance giveaway known as the Affordable Care Act is based on a right-wing proposal and is a far cry from the single-payer, universal health care program left activists have long called for. The former community organizer who frequently invokes the language and rhetoric of nonviolent civil disobedience used the brute force of the NYPD to violently crush Occupy Wall Street.

Obama has deported more immigrants than any other president in history. (And you thought Trump’s xenophobia was bad!) He has, likewise, created a repressive, chilling atmosphere toward journalists, prosecuting more whistleblowers under the Espionage Act than all other previous administrations combined.

And, while the historic significance of a nation founded and built on slavery electing its first African American president should not be undermined, Obama did precious little to address the deeply-embedded, institutional racism that remains a pernicious presence in our supposedly “post-racial” country. Indeed, black Americans have lost ground in every economic category during the last eight years.

By the 2010 midterm elections, liberal voters were understandably underwhelmed and unimpressed. They stayed home on Election Day, allowing the conservative Tea Party “movement” to sweep Republicans back into the House of Representatives. The Democrats barely hung on to their majority in the Senate–a situation which would eventually by reversed after the GOP won big gains in the 2014 and 2016 elections.

As Selfa writes of Obama’s first two years in office, “This was a time when Obama and the Democrats held almost all the levers of political power in Washington. And they squandered it.”

He later adds,

“Obama’s penchant to reach for compromise and ‘bipartisanship’ was exactly the opposite of what the dire situation he inherited required–and what the American populace was ready for.”

But I think the biggest gap between President Obama’s rhetoric and his actions is demonstrated in the area of foreign policy, where the Nobel Peace Prize winner has proved himself to be a greater warmonger than Bush.

Obama ramped-up the nebulous war in Afghanistan, making it the longest war in U.S. history. He has dropped bombs on Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, Syria, and Somalia. In fact, according to anti-war activist and Code Pink co-founder, Medea Benjamin, the U.S. dropped 26,171 bombs in 2016 alone. And the U.S. maintains a military presence in Iraq, a nation both Bush and Obama have all but ravaged, paving the way for the massive refugee crisis and the creation of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

“What does the administration have to show for eight years of fighting on so many fronts?” writes Benjamin. “Terrorism has spread, no wars have been ‘won’ and the Middle East is consumed by more chaos and divisions than when candidate Barack Obama declared his opposition to the invasion of Iraq.”

Additionally, Obama has codified and normalized the use of unmanned predator drones. Contrary to his insistence, these robotic death machines do not allow for more selective, precisely targeted killings. Obama is also the first sitting president to claim for himself the right to assassinate, at will, any person based on the slightest suspicion of connections to terrorism. Targets are selected for assassination based on Obama’s secret “kill list”—a list which includes American citizens.

And on Jan. 20—five days from this writing—Donald Trump will inherit all of this awesome, unprecedented military power and extrajudicial authority. Yeah, I’m fucking scared, too.

To that end, perhaps Obama’s greatest achievement has been his ability to get progressives to passively go along with policies they never would have supported under a Republican president.

Glenn Greenwald observed this phenomenon during Congress’s debate in 2011 on raising the federal debt-ceiling in order to avoid a government shutdown. As part of Obama’s “Grand Bargain” with the Republicans he offered up deep cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, the crown jewels of New Deal liberalism.

As Greenwald wrote in The Guardian at the time:

Therein lies one of the most enduring attributes of Obama’s legacy: in many crucial areas, he has done more to subvert and weaken the left’s political agenda than a GOP president could have dreamed of achieving. So potent, so overarching, are tribal loyalties in American politics that partisans will support, or at least tolerate, any and all policies their party’s leader endorses–even if those policies are ones they long claimed to loathe.

In the end, Obama’s true legacy may be that he was not the “lesser evil,” but in the words of Black Agenda Report’s Glen Ford, the more “effective evil.”

Going forward, as Obama exits the White House and we look down the barrel of Trump’s administration of swamp monsters, it is worth remembering a quote from left-wing historian, Howard Zinn.

“What matters most is not who is sitting in the White House,” Zinn wrote in A People’s History of the United States, “but who is ‘sitting in’–and who is marching outside the White House, pushing for change.”

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