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Conversation with Daniel Ellsberg: Evaluating Obama So Far

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Daniel Ellsberg is definitely a name out of our national past. Baby Boomers immediately conjure up images of the Vietnam War and the Pentagon Papers. For the younger set, or those whose recollections have faded, there's a brand new documentary about Ellsberg and his historic actions. The Most Dangerous Man in America opened in theaters across the country this past weekend and is guaranteed to bring you up to speed. In it, whistleblower and activist Ellsberg is both star and narrator. Welcome to OpEdNews, Dan. If you don't mind, we'll come back to the documentary later. I'd like to hear your take on current events. We are now officially one year into this new administration. Are we on the way to achieving the change that the voters were so eager for?

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On Afghanistan, there is change: for the worse, much worse.

Not just a tripling of the American troop presence, though that's bad enough. I believe that's just the start of an open-ended, indefinitely prolonged fighting occupation.

Some of my friends and a large part of the public, perhaps most, believe that he's committed himself to put a ceiling on the American troop presence of about 100,000. They realize that his officials quickly backed away from his talk in December of beginning to withdraw then, but they think he won't go above the level reached by this "one-time" deployment (which will be closer to 40,000 than his announced 30,000).

I believe that's mistaken. I expect that no later than his 18-24-month "deadline" and probably much earlier than that, General McChrystal will be asking for a lot more troops. And I now expect Obama to give them to him (if and when troops become available from Iraq, and perhaps elsewhere as necessary).

A president who didn't say "No" to this recent request--the best chance he'll ever have to do so, when he could still blame a hopeless situation on the last eight years under his predecessor and "reluctantly" name a date for total withdrawal--will find it even harder to do after wasting more lives in coming months. The odds are very high, I believe, that Obama's War will last as long as he's in the White House--whether four or eight years--and beyond.

Pakistan: his expanded drone campaign. Change for the worse. Those civilian-killing violations of sovereignty and pressures on Pakistan to go on offensives they don't want to do against the various Talibans in their country seem recklessly destabilizing of that dangerous regime.

Iraq: I flatly do not believe that he has ever had any intention to give up permanent bases, manned by tens of thousands of US troops and mercenaries. Nor do I expect an end to Iraqi efforts to dislodge them, meaning continued dying and especially killing--mainly from the air--by US troops, indefinitely. If and when he reduces up to a hundred thousand of our troops in Iraq, I expect them to go to Afghanistan, after a visit home with their families.

On repairing the erosion of the Constitution over the last eight years, undoing the executive coup under Bush/Cheney? No change. Rendition (kidnapping "suspects" to torture states), state secrets privilege invoked on the same grounds and as frequently as before, no more transparency (yet: there's still talk of it, but I'm not holding my breath); warrantless wiretapping and surveillance untrammeled, with telephone companies as immune to accountability as NSA, assertion of right and intention of indefinite detention without charges or trial (continuing the Bush Administration's rejection of the Magna Carta).

I didn't really expect a president to eschew powers bequeathed to him by his predecessor, without Congressional pressure (which he wasn't likely to get from a Congress dominated by his own party: and he hasn't). But the use all year of the same briefs used by the Bush DOJ mocking the Constitution! We have to remember that John Yoo was (and is) a teacher of constitutional law, too; that doesn't seem to do much for us. And for a guy who recited the presidential oath of office twice, I was struck that he misstated in Sweden what it was he had sworn to.

His excuse for accepting a Peace Prize while he was conducting four wars (including covert wars in Yemen and Pakistan: and Somalia? Iran?) was that unlike Martin Luther King and Gandhi he lived in the real world (not the bubble of the Birmingham Jail or the Salt March) and that he had "sworn to defend his nation." Actually, he hadn't. Like all presidents, he had sworn to protect, preserve and defend "the Constitution of the United States" against "all enemies foreign and domestic." He hasn't done a very good job of that, failing to reverse or even investigate the effective assaults on it of his predecessors Bush and Cheney, fairly described, I believe, as domestic enemies of the Constitution.

Obama has the chutzpah to assert that "I closed Guantanamo"--when he hasn't! And if and when he does, he intends to move the lawless detention regime to Illinois. In the same sentence he claimed that he's ended torture: when there are credible accounts of torture still going on at JSOC sites at Bagram and elsewhere.

Meanwhile he has, in effect, decriminalized torture, by refusing to indict, prosecute or even investigate the blatant policy of it under his predecessor. He says he's stopped it, but his refusal to regard it as something to be investigated and prosecuted (which is his legal obligation to do under a treaty: i.e., he's in violation of this) identifies it as something other than a crime, which it is under both domestic and international law. In other words, not only his successors but he himself could turn to it next month if "new" circumstances changed his judgment of its necessity as an instrument of policy. And as Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, for Obama to take this position makes it a bipartisan consensus (like the other constitutional atrocities mentioned above), giving it a seal of legitimacy and status from now on as an available "option" for the Executive branch.

The economy? Health? He has sought and achieved all the change that Wall Street and the health industry will accept and applaud.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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