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Celebrating our "Warrior President"

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The Democratic case for Obama's foreign policy greatness is most significant for what it blissfully ignores


(updated below -- Update II)

Peter Bergen, the Director of National Security Studies at the Democratic-Party-supportive New America Foundation, has a long Op-Ed in The New York Times today glorifying President Obama as a valiant and steadfast "warrior President"; it begins this way:

THE president who won the Nobel Peace Prize less than nine months after his inauguration has turned out to be one of the most militarily aggressive American leaders in decades.

Just ponder that: not only the Democratic Party, but also its progressive faction, is wildly enamored of "one of the most militarily aggressive American leaders in decades." That's quite revealing on multiple levels. Bergen does note that irony: he recalls that Obama used his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech to defend the justifications for war and points out: "if those on the left were listening, they didn't seem to care." He adds that "the left, which had loudly condemned George W. Bush for waterboarding and due process violations at Guantánamo, was relatively quiet when the Obama administration, acting as judge and executioner, ordered more than 250 drone strikes in Pakistan since 2009, during which at least 1,400 lives were lost."

To explain the behavior of "the left," Bergen offers this theory: "From both the right and left, there has been a continuing, dramatic cognitive disconnect between Mr. Obama's record and the public perception of his leadership: despite his demonstrated willingness to use force, neither side regards him as the warrior president he is." In other words, progressives are slavishly supportive of "one of the most militarily aggressive American leaders in decades" because they have deluded themselves into denying this reality and continue to pretend he's some sort of anti-war figure.

That's not unreasonable speculation, but I ultimately don't believe that's true. Leaving aside Bergen's over-generalization -- some factions on "the left" have been quite vocal in condemning Obama's actions in these areas -- most Democrats are perfectly aware of Obama's military aggression. They don't support him despite that, but rather, that's one of the things they love about him. After years of being mocked by the Right as Terrorist-coddling weaklings, Obama -- strutting around touting his own strength -- lets them feel strong and powerful in exactly the way that Bush and Cheney's swaggering let conservatives prance around as tough-guy, play-acting warriors. Rather than ignore this aggression, Democratic think tanks point with beaming pride to the corpses piled up by the Democratic Commander-in-Chief to argue that he's been such a resounding foreign policy "success," while Democratic pundits celebrate and defend the political value of his majestic kills.

Yesterday on his MSNBC morning show, Chris Hayes conducted an excellent, two-part discussion of Obama's escalated civilian-killing drone attacks, with a heavy emphasis on the innocent people, including numerous children, who have been killed. He showed a harrowing video clip of a Yemeni man's anguish as he described the pregnant women and children killed by Obama's 2009 cluster bomb strike; featured the U.S. drone killing of 16-year-old American citizen Abdulrahman Awlaki in Yemen; and interviewed human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, who described the 16-year-old Pakistani boy he met at a meeting to discuss civilian drone deaths and who, a mere three days later, had his own life ended by an American drone.

Later that day, Hayes tweeted this: "A bit taken aback by the ugliness that drone conversation seems to bring out in some people." What he meant was the avalanche of angry Twitter attacks from steadfast Obama loyalists who gleefully defended the drone program, mocked concerns over civilian deaths, and insisted that he should not be covering such matters because they may harm Obama in an election year (of course, it's not only the President's followers, but, as Hayes noted, the President himself who is quite adept at finding humor in his drone attacks).

Contrary to Bergen's generous belief that progressives are deluding themselves about Obama's militarism, many are fully aware of it and, because it's a Democrat doing it, have become aggressively supportive of it. That, without a doubt, will be one of Obama's most enduring legacies: transforming these policies of excessive militarism, rampant secrecy and civil liberties assaults from right-wing radicalism into robust bipartisan consensus (try though they might, not even progressives will be able to turn around and credibly pretend to object to such things the next time there is a GOP President).

Now, there is one element of delusion to Democratic support for Obama's militarism, and it plagues not only his most ardent supporters but also Bergen's Op-Ed. Most Democratic praise for "Obama's foreign policy successes" fails even to acknowledge, let alone condemn, the thousands of innocent people whose lives have been extinguished by his militarism. These deaths simply do not exist in their world. When you force them to address it, they'll simply dismiss it away with the military terminology first popularized by Timothy McVeigh (that's just "collateral damage") and then quickly return to the Bush-era mantra of mindlessly invoking the word "Terrorism" to justify whatever violence the U.S. Government commits. They see themselves, and especially their leader, as so righteous and noble that incidents like this and this and so many others are blissfully kept far away from their consciousness because the reality of what they support cannot be reconciled with their self-perception; that, more than anything, is what explains the bitterness directed at Hayes yesterday: he publicized facts which they desperately prefer be hidden, not just from others but from themselves.

Read this entire article at Salon.

 

For the past 10 years, I was a litigator in NYC specializing in First Amendment challenges, civil rights cases, and corporate and securities fraud matters. I am the author of the New York Times Best-Selling book, How Would A Patriot (more...)
 

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