Friday, 24 May 2013

Is Obama the Manchurian Candidate?

Obama was in full damage control mode yesterday on a variety of fronts, and that is a good thing. While much of the scandalmongering from the GOP head-case caucus is delusional, there are truly dangerous precedents being set. The barrage of criticism, even the tendentious variety over Benghazi and the IRS, is preventing Obama from doing any further damage.

The news conference acknowledging deaths of Americans in overseas drone strikes was remarkable in that it took this long to pry the official facts out of them. We already knew them because Mr. Down-With-Traitorous-Leaks had had his people spill the triumphant beans ages ago. But despite the carefully massaged talking points on display, the explanations left the situation pretty much right where it was.

Does the U.S. have the legal authority to target individuals in countries with which we are not at war and assassinating them? Does this authority include only foreigners or American citizens, too? Is there any limit on the assassination power such as, um, for example, requiring that evidence of their evil-doing be presented to a court? How often should we dispense with courts entirely and have the commander-in-chief review the evidence and issue the death pentalty independently?

Holder said that one assassinated public enemy, Anwar Awlaki, was involved in terrorist plots, such as that of the ‘underwear bomber’ of Christmas, 2009. How do we know this? Because Eric Holder said so and disseminated this assertion through the nation’s news media. Then they killed him. This is supposed to make us feel secure.

So let’s review: our leaders, charged with the duty to uphold the laws, say they have tons of secret dirt on people, but it’s too dangerous to reveal and far too troublesome, tiresome and slow to use in court. Therefore, they can proceed with vaporization.

Remember that absurd Tom Cruise sci-fi movie from a few years ago, Minority Report, with the weird clairvoyants floating in ponds who could tell who was going to commit a crime in advance? Who knew they would be in charge of the Justice Department?

On drone killings, further assassinations and targeting of U.S. citizens on U.S. soil, Obama’s statements sound conciliatory at first until one looks for anything substantial. Time after time, weasel words and caveats appear that guarantee the powers already seized by Obama and by Bush before him will remain intact. Any decision not to use them in response to criticism or opposition will be exactly that—a decision, not a restriction on the powers themselves.

As Juan Cole pointed out, the shift of the drone program out of the CIA over to the Pentagon is a minor victory given that it enables Congress to exercise oversight over their use. That assumes, of course, some degree of willingness or desire in Congress to do so. Ditto for the facile use of the phrase ‘due process’ for the accused assassination targets, as if such a thing were possible within a closed process at which self-appointed judges rule on secret ‘evidence’. The whole disussion is farcical.

It’s business as usual on Guantánamo, too. Here, Obama insults our intelligence with promises that will kick in ‘once we commit to a process of closing Gitmo’. Who is he kidding with this meaningless tripe? If he isn’t willing to take unilateral action and stand up to the howls of demagogic outrage about coddling terrorists, nothing will change. Obama looks set to preside over eight years of grotesque abuse of every principle of the rule of law and to hand over the sorry mess to the next guy.

It’s amazing how tough Obama can look when he wants to order death from the sky or persecute whistleblowers, then see him lie down like a pussycat at the feet of reactionary wackos like Saxby Chambliss. Chambliss promptly called Obama’s bland statements a ‘victory for terrorists’. Awaiting cooperation from these psychos is itself delusional.

A lot of people insist that Obama is no dummy, and I have no reason to doubt it. So are we to conclude that he has painted himself into precisely the corner that he wishes to occupy? It’s frightening to think that Mitt Romney might have had more balls. I suspect it will take a Republican president to put an end to this disgrace.

Meanwhile, our only hope for counter-pressure to this now permanent threat of state-sanctioned killing is the rickety free press, also a tender object of frustrated desire by the current crew. Fresh from letting his enforcers go fishing in reporters’ phone records and thereby terrifying their sources within the government, Obama gave no guarantees to journalists that the harassment and prosecution will stop. So prepare for further snooping and more espionage prosecutions.

Here was Obama at his most unctuous, calling for a new media ‘shield’ law to prevent people like him from doing what he did. Why not say it was wrong and promise to stop? Adding pious phrases about the holy ‘commitment to protect classified information’ is so much crap—Obama’s people spill secret stuff all the time to make him look good. He’s just pissed about things that do the opposite.

In summary, Obama’s performance was all hat, no cattle. He’s doing exactly what he wants and setting up the security state to operate completely outside any illusion of oversight or democratic control. His legacy will be frightening.

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