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"To describe Obama as chastened by defeat would be an exaggeration, since it might suggest that before the election he had been engaged in an aggressive campaign against his opponents. He was low-key, conciliatory and, above all, prostrate before corporate America, whose servant he is."
US President Barack Obama was interviewed for nearly half an hour on the CBS News program “60 Minutes,” broadcast Sunday night. The discussion with correspondent Steve Kroft was conducted on Thursday, November 4, and was the only extended public interview with Obama since the rout of the Democrats in last Tuesday’s congressional election.
These circumstances make the content of the discussion that much more remarkable. Obama has given no accounting of the debacle for the Democrats. He has not explained how his administration managed to restore the political standing of an ultra-right Republican Party that was totally discredited only two years ago. Nor has he warned his former supporters of the dangers to jobs, living standards and democratic rights from a newly empowered right-wing majority in the House of Representatives.
Instead, he went on national television to conciliate big business and embrace the concerns of the Tea Party right wing, declaring them politically legitimate.
To describe Obama as chastened by defeat would be an exaggeration, since it might suggest that before the election he had been engaged in an aggressive campaign against his opponents. He was low-key, conciliatory and, above all, prostrate before corporate America, whose servant he is.
While liberal apologists for Obama like the Nation magazine treat him as a “progressive” who has unaccountably gone astray, or lost his voice, the man interviewed on “60 Minutes” was a deeply conventional, conservative politician without a trace of radicalism in his thinking.
Right at the start, Obama was at pains to disavow any connection between his political philosophy and traditional 20th century liberalism. He had been forced to bail out the banks and the auto companies, he said, not because he wanted to expand the role of government in the economy, but because of the Wall Street crash of September 2008 and the ensuing plunge in the US and world economy.
These were forced responses to an economic emergency, he argued, but as a result, “Republicans were able to paint my governing philosophy as a classic, traditional, big government liberal. And that’s not something that the American people want. I mean, you know, particularly independents in this country.”
Given public opinion polls that strongly favor government spending to create jobs and to sustain programs like Social Security and Medicare, Obama’s claims about what “the American people want” are rather dubious. But he was appealing to a ruling class audience, as well as seeking to appease the right-wing elements mobilized in the successful Republican election campaign.
He continued, “I think it is fair to say that, you know, the American people don't want to see some massive expansion of government. And I think the good thing is that having gotten through this emergency, I think what people will see over the next two years is probably a better reflection of the kinds of long-term priorities that I want to set for the country.”
In other words, Obama is committed to slashing spending on social programs along the lines demanded by the incoming Republican majority in the House of Representatives.
He also explained that his health care reform program was not an expansion of “big government,” but an effort to reduce government spending in the long run. “Medical care across the board,” he said, “that is the single thing that is going to be driving the expansion of the federal government over the next several years.”
He continued, “I started looking at the budget and it turned out that if we continued on the same trajectory in terms of Medicare costs going up, that there was no possibility of ever balancing this budget without massive tax hikes. Because the population's getting older. We use more and more medical services. And we were going to have to control those costs.”
This spells out the reactionary nature of the entire health care reform enterprise, which was fundamentally an effort to cut costs, using the supposed expansion of insurance to the uninsured as a fig leaf. Millions of elderly people saw the health care legislation as a threat to Medicare―understandably, since the Obama administration proposed to finance half the $1 trillion cost through cost savings in that program.
Obama claimed that the bank bailout and the stimulus package had forestalled “the danger of us tipping into a great depression,” although the world economy is more disordered today than even in the midst of the financial crisis of September 2008.
Asked about the ultra-right Tea Party movement, Obama was conciliatory, claiming that their “concern that government spends too much money” was “as American as apple pie.” He added that the real test would be whether Tea Party supporters would be for cutting spending on “things that people really think are important,” like Social Security and Medicare. “We’re going to have to tackle some big issues like entitlements,” he said.
Less than a month from now the bipartisan commission appointed by Obama is to report back to the White House and Congress with plans to cut the federal deficit, primarily by slashing spending on Social Security and Medicare. This will be the central domestic project of the next two years of the Obama administration.
In a final olive branch to big business, Obama noted that his administration wanted to work with Wall Street on implementing the financial reform bill, and with the health care industry on health care reform.
“I think that it is entirely legitimate that in the banking sector, it’s very important for us to write these rules in collaboration with interested parties so that they can start knowing how things are going to work. When it comes to health care, we need to be consulting with the insurance industry to make sure they know how things are going to work.”
In other words, the financial swindlers who wrecked the US and world economy and have suffered no penalty―on the contrary, profits and bonuses are back to record levels on Wall Street―will get to write the regulations for the banks and money markets.
The insurance companies, perhaps the most hated corporations in America, responsible for denying coverage, not only to 50 million uninsured, but to millions more who pay premiums and lose coverage when they get sick, will write the regulations for health care.
These extraordinary declarations confirm the assessment of Obama made by the World Socialist Web Site even before he entered the White House. Obama was selected and packaged by a section of the financial aristocracy to continue the bailout of the banks begun by Bush, and he has conducted himself throughout his two years in office as a loyal defender of the profit [and debt slavery] system.
Remember what Vice-President Biden told Jonathan Alter in The Promise?
At the conclusion of an interview in his West Wing office, Biden was adamant. "In July of 2011 you're going to see a whole lot of people moving out. Bet on it," Biden said as he wheeled to leave the room, late for lunch with the president. He turned at the door and said once more, "Bet. On. It."
Let's hope for Alter's sake he didn't put any serious money down on Biden's wager. Because that "Promise" is starting to look pretty shaky.
The Obama administration has decided to begin publicly walking away from what it once touted as key deadlines in the war in Afghanistan in an effort to de-emphasize President Barack Obama's pledge that he'd begin withdrawing U.S. forces in July 2011, administration and military officials have told McClatchy.
Why is this happening, according to McClatchy Several reasons are cited.
"U.S. officials realized that conditions in Afghanistan were unlikely to allow a speedy withdrawal." "During our assessments, we looked at if we continue to move forward at this pace, how long before we can fully transition to the Afghans? And we found that we cannot fully transition to the Afghans by July 2011," said one senior administration official.
On the face of it, this statement does not make sense. First of all, according to previous, repeated statements of US officials, including President Obama and Defense Secretary Gates, the date was not supposed to be conditions-based. The pace of the drawdown was supposed to be conditions based. So, if the McClatchy story is true, this is a big reversal of an Obama promise.
Second, the longstanding publicly stated policy that the Obama Administration is, according to McClatchy, about to publicly walk away from, did not include a promise of a "speedy withdrawal." So what these US officials are really telling McClatchy is not "we realized that conditions don't permit a speedy withdrawal," since these officials were never intending to carry out a "speedy withdrawal," but that according to them, conditions do not permit any meaningful withdrawal at all that starts in July 2011. Third, it was never US policy to "fully transition to the Afghans" by July 2011; no human being on planet Earth, that I am aware of, ever stated or believed that that was going to happen. July 2011 was supposed to mark the beginning of the transition. So this statement is like saying, "During our assessments, we realized that it is sometimes cold in parts of Alaska." Instead, what these officials are saying is: according to our assessments, we won't be able to transition to Afghan control by next summer to a sufficient degree to withdraw enough troops to plausibly call it a meaningful withdrawal.
What can we conclude from this?
First, the "surge" was a military failure. This should be openly acknowledged by everyone. Every US general and laptop bombadier pundit should have to write it on the blackboard 100 times: "The surge was a military failure."
But more importantly, the political policy in which the "surge" was embedded was a political failure. By coupling his capitulation to the military on the surge with his insistence on a date to begin troop withdrawals, we were told, Obama had politically outfoxed the military. Regardless of whether the surge succeeded or failed militarily, the troops would begin to come home anyway, and the military had signed off on that. If the McClatchy report is true, this was all hot air and rationalization. The surge failed militarily, and the conclusion being drawn is that the troops have to stay.
A second reason is cited:
Pakistanis had concluded wrongly that July 2011 would mark the beginning of the end of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan. That perception, one Pentagon adviser said, has convinced Pakistan's military - which is key to preventing Taliban sympathizers from infiltrating Afghanistan - to continue to press for a political settlement instead of military action.
This is striking. Indeed, the Obama Administration's announcement that US troops would begin withdrawing next summer has been widely credited with pushing forward efforts to achieve a political settlement. What is striking about this is that the Pentagon is explicitly saying that from the Pentagon's point of view, a political settlement must be prevented and therefore the timetable to begin withdrawal is bad because it was pushing forward prospects for a political settlement.
It's not shocking that Pentagon officials think this; it's shocking that they say it openly. It imitates Robert Mankoff 's recent New Yorkercartoon in which a general says:
"Well, I'm an optimist - I still think peace can be avoided."
A third reason is cited:
Last week's midterm elections also have eased pressure on the Obama administration to begin an early withdrawal. Earlier this year, some Democrats in Congress pressed to cut off funding for Afghanistan operations. With Republicans in control of the House of Representatives beginning in January, however, there'll be less push for a drawdown. The incoming House Armed Services chairman, Rep.
Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., told Reuters last week that he opposed setting the date.
It is beyond dispute that Republican control of the House is a big setback for pressure to withdraw troops. But several things should be noted.
First, Rep. McKeon did indeed tell Reuters that he opposed setting the date. But he alsotold Reuters that he saw the date as a done deal and wouldn't press to change it:
Reuters: But the actual deadline itself, you're not going to press for that to be changed? McKeon: No. I think that's installed.
So, using Rep. McKeon's statement to Reuters as an excuse to throw away the drawdown date is pretty weak.
Second, while leadership of the House and House committees is obviously a very big deal, the actual composition of the House with respect to opinions on the war in Afghanistan hasn't changed all that much. As I noted last week, 12 Democratic incumbents defeated last week were supporters of the McGovern amendment which would have required the President to establish a timetable for military withdrawal from Afghanistan. 39 Democratic incumbents defeated last week voted against the McGovern Amendment. The overwhelming majority of the 153 Democrats in the House who wanted a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan are still in the House or were replaced by Democrats, joined by a new group of Republicans, some of whom - it's not clear yet how many - may be skeptics on the war.
Third, Democrats still control the Senate, and Armed Services chair Senator Levin has been a strong supporter of the July 2011 date, which he has said is needed to put pressure on the Afghan government. Senator-Elect Rand Paul recently stated that the Senate and the House need to debate the Afghanistan war, and that the arguments and authorization of force from ten years ago cannot justify U.S. policy today. He has also said that military spending has to be on the table for cuts, and that the wars have to be part of that discussion.
Finally, there is a wild card. If you were going to draw up a list of five things that President Obama could do that would be likely to draw a primary challenge in 2012, throwing the Afghanistan drawdown in the trash would surely be on that list. From the point of view of the White House political people, that's a real political threat, even if they see Obama's re-nomination as a done deal: they don't want to see some Eugene McCarthy candidate take a third of the Democratic primary vote in New Hampshire or Iowa.
So, publicly walking away from the July 2011 drawdown is a "very big deal," and the White House political people should be screaming.
US prepares permanent Iraq occupation
by Bill Van Auken
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates signaled Tuesday that the US is preparing to scrap a 2011 deadline for withdrawal of all US troops from Iraq, setting the stage for a permanent military occupation of the oil-rich country.
“We’ll stand by,” Gates told reporters. “We’re ready to have that discussion if and when they want to raise it with us.” The defense secretary, a holdover from the Bush administration, reiterated Washington’s formal position that while the “initiative clearly needs to come from the Iraqis; we are open to discussing it.”
The reality is that the Obama administration is presently exerting intense political pressure aimed at breaking an eight-month-old deadlock in the formation of a new Iraqi government so that it can have a US client regime capable of taking the “initiative” of asking American troops to stay.
US efforts have intensified in the aftermath of the midterm elections as part of a broad further turn to the right in both US foreign and domestic policies.
Last August, the Obama administration had celebrated the withdrawal of a single Stryker brigade from Iraq, proclaiming that its members were the last combat troops deployed in the country and that the US combat mission had ended.
The reality is that nearly 50,000 US troops remain in Iraq, the bulk of them with the same combat capabilities as the brigades that have been withdrawn. The US Air Force remains in control of Iraqi airspace and the US Navy controls its coastlines.
Obama sought to exploit the drawdown of US forces from their peak of 170,000—many of them redeployed to the “surge” in Afghanistan—for political purposes, claiming in the run-up to the elections that the Democratic president had fulfilled his campaign promise to end the war in Iraq.
This was a patent fraud. The timetable for the troop drawdown and the December 2011 final withdrawal was set not by Obama, but rather by a Status of Forces Agreement negotiated between the Bush administration and the US puppet government of Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad.
The Obama administration is now moving to abrogate this Bush era treaty in order to secure an indefinite US military grip over Iraq.
The immediate impediment to this plan is the absence of a government in Baghdad to sign a new agreement. Eight months after the election last March, the country’s rival political factions have been unable to cobble together a viable coalition.
The principal political factions convened a meeting Monday in the northern Kurdish capital of Irbil to discuss a power-sharing arrangement, but no deal was immediately forthcoming. Both Maliki and his principal challenger, the former prime minister and CIA asset Iyad Allawi, reiterated their claims to the prime minister’s office.
Iraqi political sources reported that Washington has demanded that a deal be worked out quickly. “We’ve been under tremendous pressure by the Americans … in clearly asking President [Jalala] Talibani to step down,” a Kurdish official told Jane Araf of the Christian Science Monitor. Both Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have personally called in recent days to demand the resignation, he said.
The aim is to allow Allawi to assume the presidency and Maliki to remain as prime minister in a national unity government. Thus far, however, the Kurdish parties have shown no desire to surrender the office, which they see as an instrument for blocking any incursion on their semi-autonomous control of the north of the country.
Iraq has faced growing violence, posing the threat of a new eruption of sectarian civil war. Bombings Monday claimed the lives of at least 22 people in the Shia holy cities of Najaf and Karbala. The killings come little more than a week after the massacre of 58 Iraqi Christians killed in the storming of the church where they had been taken hostage and a series of bombings in Baghdad’s Shiite areas that killed at least 70.
As the political stalemate drags on, the discussion within the US military and foreign policy establishment has increasingly pointed toward the continuation of the US occupation.
The State Department last week released an audit warning that Iraq would continue to need the deployment of US troops to maintain stability after 2011 and warning that it would be too dangerous to turn over the defense of US interests in the country to civilians. According to the Associated Press, the State Department document echoed warnings by defense analysts and former diplomats that “hard-won security gains could crumble if US forces leave on schedule.”
The report cast doubt on the ability of State Department personnel—in the absence of US military occupation forces—“to conduct their work in an environment in which 95 percent of the Iraqi population holds unfavorable or ambivalent views of the United States.”
Ryan Crocker, the US ambassador to Iraq from 2007 to 2009, spoke along similar lines last week, declaring: “I worry that what we’re seeing is a transition from a military lead to no lead. Simply put, the capacity does not exist on the civilian side to take on the vast array of roles and missions that the military has so ably performed in Iraq.”
While preparing to extend the US military occupation of Iraq indefinitely, the Obama administration is also expected to issue a review of its Afghanistan policy next month that will prescribe “staying the course” in the current military surge that has driven up both civilian casualties and the death toll among US troops.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell last week reiterated the position of the military and of the White House that the July 2011 deadline that Obama announced for beginning the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan would not spell even the beginning of the end of the US war there.
The date, he said, would only mean that US commanders would assess in what parts of the country they could “begin to transition increasing security responsibility” to Afghan puppet forces. These would not include the provinces where US troops are now doing the most killing and dying, such as Helmand, Kandahar and Kunar, the spokesman said.
Brought into office thanks in large measure to a wave of antiwar sentiment in the American population, Obama is continuing the wars and occupations that he inherited from the Bush administration, while ratcheting up US military threats against Iran, increasing the danger of a new and potentially far more catastrophic war.
This policy reflects the consensus position within the American ruling elite in support of using military force as a means of offsetting the crisis and decline of American capitalism through wars of aggression aimed at securing US hegemony over the energy rich Persian Gulf and Central Asia.
Reactionary and unpopular measures already planned, but held back until after the election, are being put into motion, preparing an escalation of the carnage caused by American militarism. The Republicans winning control of the House of Representatives has only served to drive the administration’s policies, both foreign and domestic, even further to the right.
The struggle to end the ongoing US occupations and wars, and to prevent the outbreak of a far bloodier conflagration, can be waged only by the working class mobilizing its independent political strength against both major parties, the Obama administration and the profit system that they defend.