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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 5/28/14

How Neocons Constrain Obama's Message

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Even newspaper columnists are supposed to connect their writings to reality once in a while. But I guess since the likes of Hiatt, Diehl and Friedman advocated the gross violation of international law that was the Iraq War, got their facts wrong, and paid no career price for doing so, they have little reason to think that they should change their approach now.

During my four-decade-plus career in journalism, I have seen reporters take on tough stories and do so with high professional standards, yet still have their careers ruined because some influential people accused them of some minor misstep, the case of Gary Webb and his Contra-cocaine series being one tragic example. [See's "The Warning in Gary Webb's Death."]

In contrast, Hiatt, Diehl and Friedman can provide false propaganda to justify an illegal war that gets hundreds of thousands of people killed while squandering about $1 trillion in taxpayers' money, yet they faced no consequences. So, today, they are still able to frame new trouble spots like Syria, Libya and Ukraine and cramp President Obama's sense of how far he can go in charting a less violent foreign policy.

Obama's Timid Speech

Even though Obama did oppose the Iraq invasion last decade, he has been sucked into the same barren rhetoric about American "exceptionalism"; he makes similar hyperbolic denunciations of American "enemies"; and he plays into new false narratives like those that paved the way to hell in Iraq.

On Wednesday in addressing the graduating class at West Point, Obama had what might be his last real chance to shatter this phony frame of propaganda, but instead he delivered a pedestrian speech that tried to talk tough about crises in Ukraine and Syria as a defense against neocon critics who will predictably accuse him of weakness.

In Obama's speech, the United States is still "the one indispensable nation," so "when a typhoon hits the Philippines, or schoolgirls are kidnapped in Nigeria, or masked men occupy a building in Ukraine, it is America that the world looks to for help." By the way, his reference to the "masked men" occupying a building in Ukraine wasn't a reference to the masked neo-Nazi militias who seized buildings during the Feb. 22 coup against Yanukovych, but rather a shot at eastern Ukrainians who have resisted the coup.

Again, staying safely within Official Washington's "group think," Obama also lamented "Russia's aggression toward former Soviet states" and said that "unnerves capitals in Europe." But he expressed no concern for the Russian alarm over NATO enveloping Russia's western borders. Obama also took a slap at China.

Obama said, "Regional aggression that goes unchecked -- whether in southern Ukraine or the South China Sea, or anywhere else in the world -- will ultimately impact our allies and could draw in our military. We can't ignore what happens beyond our boundaries." (Is Obama really suggesting that the United States might go to war with nuclear-armed Russia and China over Ukraine and the South China Sea?)

The President also slid into familiar hyperbole about Russia's agreement to accept Crimea back into the Russian federation after a post-coup referendum there found overwhelming support among Crimean voters to break away from the failed Ukrainian state. Instead of noting that popular will -- and the reality that Russian troops were already in Crimea as part of a basing agreement for Sevastopol -- Obama conjured up images of an old-style invasion.

"In Ukraine, Russia's recent actions recall the days when Soviet tanks rolled into Eastern Europe," Obama said, claiming that this latest "aggression" was countered with U.S. public diplomacy. "This mobilization of world opinion and international institutions served as a counterweight to Russian propaganda and Russian troops on the border and armed militias in ski masks," he said.

Yet, while using this tough-guy rhetoric, Obama did reject endless warfare and endless occupations, saying:

"Since World War II, some of our most costly mistakes came not from our restraint, but from our willingness to rush into military adventures without thinking through the consequences -- without building international support and legitimacy for our action; without leveling with the American people about the sacrifices required.

"Tough talk often draws headlines, but war rarely conforms to slogans. As General [Dwight] Eisenhower, someone with hard-earned knowledge on this subject, said at this ceremony in 1947: 'War is mankind's most tragic and stupid folly; to seek or advise its deliberate provocation is a black crime against all men.'"

And, in possibly the speech's best line, Obama added: "Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail."

Yet, despite such reasonable observations, Obama kept sliding back into super-patriotic rhetoric, including assertions that sounded at best hypocritical if not ludicrous:

"I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being. But what makes us exceptional is not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law; it is our willingness to affirm them through our actions. And that's why I will continue to push to close Gitmo -- because American values and legal traditions do not permit the indefinite detention of people beyond our borders. That's why we're putting in place new restrictions on how America collects and uses intelligence -- because we will have fewer partners and be less effective if a perception takes hold that we're conducting surveillance against ordinary citizens.

"America does not simply stand for stability or the absence of conflict, no matter what the cost. We stand for the more lasting peace that can only come through opportunity and freedom for people everywhere."

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at It's also available at

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