IT WAS A moment to savour when a helicopter whisked George W Bush away from Washington in early 2009. On the ground beneath him, Barack and Michelle Obama waved gracefully. Millions of us felt that some of the world’s problems would disappear into that serene sky.
We were wrong.
Over the past four years, Obama has extended the war against Afghanistan, started another one in Libya, and threatened to attack Iran. He has ordered drone strikes against Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. He has increased military aid to Israel. He has kept Guantanamo Bay open. He has incarcerated Bradley Manning for spreading the truth about America’s crimes. He has supported a coup in Honduras and a dictatorship in Egypt. He has approved weapons sales to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. He has refused to act decisively against global warming or the power of Goldman Sachs.
Has he done anything positive? Apart from supporting the right to gay marriage and ushering in minor improvements to the health insurance system, I am struggling to think of examples. His withdrawal of troops from Iraq is hardly praiseworthy, considering the devastation inflicted on that country. And please don’t ask me to endorse the execution of Osama bin Laden. It is never excusable to kill an unarmed suspect, who could have been apprehended and put on trial.
Worse than Bush
Obama has in some respects been worse than his predecessor. Bush lied about Saddam’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction. But there was a general honesty to Bush’s aggression. Bush never purported to be anything other than a vulgar oil merchant, who referred to the captains of industry as “my base” and patently didn’t care about black folk left homeless in New Orleans. Obama had worked with deprived communities in Chicago and befriended the Palestinian intellectual Edward Said. Even if he was no radical, he still offered the prospect of change – or so we believed.
Every time I hear Europeans talk about how important it is that Obama gets re-elected, I want to scream. The question of whether the Democrats or the Republicans are in power matters to some Americans. Democrats tend to be marginally smarter and less inclined to say offensive things about rape victims than Republicans. Democrats do not tend to give as many tax breaks to the super-rich as Republicans do. In that sense, it might be preferable to have Obama running the show, instead of Mitt Romney.
On this side of the Atlantic – and in most of the world – it makes little difference who sits in the Oval Office. Both of the main candidates are beholden to corporate donors. Both think that the US may intervene in other nations’ affairs whenever it sees fit. Both are believers in American supremacy, an ideology as toxic as any that deems one group of people to be more important than another.
Makes no difference
Whichever man wins, he will hear the same advice from the CIA and the State Department. The Pentagon will still see NATO as a vehicle for projecting US power. The International Monetary Fund – an institution largely controlled by the US – will continue to demand that Ireland scraps its minimum wage and Greece robs its pensioners.
The European Union will still be expected to act as a lapdog for an imperial leviathan. Belgium will continue to store some of America’s nuclear weapons. The US Air Force will still operate in Italy. Germany will retain the dubious honour of hosting the US command for Africa.
The granting of the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU doesn’t alter reality. Some of us thought that Barack Obama might behave slightly less belligerently after he picked up that same award.
Change does not come from the top. It comes from gatherings in town halls and city squares. It comes from the Occupy movement. It comes from the protests against the Keystone XL pipeline and the tar sands that neighbouring Canada hopes to use in accelerating climate change. It comes from Codepink and Students for Justice in Palestine. It comes from the nuns who fought the poverty-increasing budget championed by Paul Ryan. It comes from trade union activists in Wisconsin and Illinois.
Sure, you can quibble with the list I have just compiled. You can point to how those hardy souls who camped out near Wall Street this time last year are now tucked up in warm beds. You can argue that DIY placards are worthless when confronted with the tasers and pepper spray of the police.
But dissent is seldom futile. Declassified papers show that Lyndon Johnson ruled out a nuclear strike on Vietnam because he was petrified of the public outrage it would engender. Why has Obama tried to keep reams of information about today’s wars secret? The only plausible explanation is that he is too cowardly to incur the wrath of his people.
Rather than trying to decide the outcome of the election on Facebook, the best thing us Europeans can do is to build alliances with the decent Americans struggling for real change. Regardless of what happens on polling day, America will be the world’s only superpower for some time to come. If you think handing the White House to the guy you like better makes the US any less dangerous, then please reflect on something all of us should have been learned over the past four years. We were wrong.
David Cronin is an Irish journalist and political activist based in Brussels. He is the author of Europe’s Alliance With Israel: Aiding the Occupation (Pluto Press, 2011). His next book Corporate Europe: How Big Business sets Policies on Food, Climate and War will be published in June 2013. His website is www.dvcronin.blogspot.com