This is how democracy dies

A liberal’s long journey away from Barack Obama and the Democratic party

  By Michael Pellegrini

About seven and a half years ago following the 2008 elections, I wrote a blog post titled America: Disgraced then reborn.     I absolutely gushed about how happy I was at the election of Barack Obama. I was dead certain he would right all the wrongs caused by eight years of George Bush, and particularly, that he would make good on his pledge to end all our wars.

To me, implicit in that promise was ending the phony war on terror. A “war” that was nothing but a happy contrivance of the Bush administration.

Looking back to September 2001, George Bush was nine months into what was shaping up to be an uninspired, lackluster, one-term presidency. Then 9/11 happened.

Speaking unscripted in a press conference on September 16, 2001, President Bush said, “This crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while. And the American people must be patient. I’m going to be patient…”

Bush’s advisers craftily seized the opportunity and came up with an absolutely brilliant idea: everyone knows a country will rally behind their leaders in wartime. So rather than simply finding the 9/11 perpetrators and bringing them to justice, instead, they made Bush’s war official and decided to declare a generalized “war on terror.”   This also facilitated other plans they had.

There were many in the Bush administration at that time who had long advocated a regime change in Iraq. So using the providential wave of nationalistic hysteria that swept the nation after 9/11, they sold the public on expanding the scope of Bush’s war into invading Iraq, all to depose Saddam Hussein. Which as we now know, was a war without any just cause.

In the time that’s followed since Bush’s “crusade” pronouncement, his global war on terror has become a reality – a self-fulfilling prophecy, arguably created almost entirely by our presence in the Middle East.

The Muslim world, with long memories dating back to the bloody series of crusades from the 10th through the 15th centuries saw our presence there as just that: the Christian Crusader infidels coming back to the Middle East to “liberate” the holy lands from the Muslims again.

But even discounting a thousand years of contentious history, the American presence in Iraq and Afghanistan was like a lightening rod. It’s a no-brainer: if you invade a country, kill and maim thousands of its citizens, subjugate the population and try to impose an unpopular puppet government, the people will mount an insurgency. That’s just what happens.

And while both wars have officially “ended,” we still have nearly 5,000 troops in Iraq fighting ISIS and about 8,400 in Afghanistan still fighting the Taliban.

Bush created his most valuable ally

George Bush should be fully credited with creating ISIS.

Their genesis dates back to a 2003 Bush administration decision, when Military Governor Paul Bremer banned Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party from public sector jobs and dissolved the Iraqi army. As reported by Christoph Reuter, in Der Spiegel, “Thousands of well-trained Sunni officers were robbed of their livelihood with the stroke of a pen. In doing so, America created its most bitter and intelligent enemies.” and also,

A core group of these highly-motivated Ba’athist officers went on to form the nucleus of what eventually became ISIS, and they built it into the formidable opponent we’re fighting today.

Without ISIS and our continued presence in the Middle-East, the global war on terror would have been won years ago.

But instead of making good his campaign promises, Barack Obama simply continued and in some cases actually expanded the scope of the wars he inherited from George Bush. An example of an expansion would be the war in Syria.

And making things even worse, where the Bush administration had sparingly used drone attacks to kill enemies, the Obama administration has vastly expanded the program and made drones their go-to solution. This is not only in the war zones of Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, but also has spread to Libya, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen – all Muslim countries. Since 2009, drone strikes have killed between 2,372 and 2,581 “combatants” including 4 Americans. The number of innocent civilian collateral deaths is widely debated, with numbers ranging from a low of 64 to a high of over 1,000.

Innocent civilian deaths overall in the Iraq war run between an estimated 110,000 to over 600,000 lives.

But these continuing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, and the undimmed war on terror weren’t the only factors that turned me away from Obama and the Democratic party.

Two watershed events

I can remember very clearly thinking when the WikiLeaks case came out and Chelsea Manning’s alleged part became known, thank God we have a progressive Democrat in the White House. I figured Obama would welcome the disclosure of US transgressions in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and use that to clean house and set everything straight. Perhaps he wouldn’t welcome Manning with open arms, but at least he would acknowledge the exposé of what amounted to war crimes was a good thing.   This is America, after all. We play fair.

Instead Manning was arrested and persecuted; by some accounts even tortured.

This same sort of scenario played out with the Edward Snowden disclosures on the NSA, where we learned that the government is basically hoovering up all our phone conversations, emails, text messages and everything else – all in the name of protecting us from terrorists.   And much of it in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.

But instead of admitting mistakes, and using that opportunity to get our democracy back on track, the Obama administration circled wagons and used the lame excuse of the war on terror as exigent circumstances warranting the loss of our civil rights under the Constitution.

That’s simply not tolerable. As Benjamin Franklin said,” Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

The Snowden-NSA disclosures, as well as they way they were handled, greatly affected me and were instrumental in turning me – a lifelong, liberal Democrat – against the Obama administration.

I felt that the picture the NSA disclosures painted of America was horrific. I’ve read Orwell. This was not the America that I know and love, that indiscriminately spies on every aspect of its citizens; that uses exigent circumstances as an excuse to abridge constitutional rights, particularly when the circumstances are based entirely on a phony premise – the war on terror.

Edward Snowden showed us that our country had been transformed into an Orwellian sort of America, the likes of which I never would have believed was possible. Like Orwell’s world, where Oceania has always been at war with EastAsia, the United States appears to have entered into its own endless war and now monitors every move of its citizens.

People blame George Bush and he did start much of this, but Barack Obama has truly made the war on terror and the total surveillance state his very own.

After I came to this realization, I started to question the reasons why this came about.

Wars are really good for business

What I found is that when it comes down to it, the obvious answer is very simple: the reason we’re still at war is because war is good for business. As a gross example, Dick Cheney’s company Halliburton made close to $40 billion just off the Iraq war. In 2013, USA Today wrote that in 2011 alone, arms manufacturers sold $410 billion in arms and services. War is great for business, so it must continue.

This sort of corporate-driven foreign policy wasn’t exactly unlooked for.

It was Dwight Eisenhower who gave the initial warning about the powers of the military-industrial complex in his farewell speech in 1961, where he said, “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military–industrial complex…”

All those rockets, bombs, bullets, vehicles and other military paraphernalia used in war are very profitable for the arms and equipment manufacturers. Obviously they have a vested interest to make sure that we keep using the matériel so they get paid for making more.

The same is true for companies like Halliburton involved in rebuilding the infrastructure of war-torn countries. War creates a very unique business opportunity for companies like Halliburton to come in and rebuild everything.   And at a nice, tidy profit!

Looking at war holistically, it’s quite a good deal really – the US has both sides of the equation. The military at the behest of the arms manufacturers tears the country down; then Halliburton and infrastructure companies come in and rebuild it. Total service. Cost is no object.

Add to the allure of war, the potential for stealing the countries’ natural resources, which in the Middle East, is most particularly oil, and you have what must be an excruciatingly compelling business opportunity for US and multinational corporations.

So to keep the good times rolling along, these same corporations reinvest millions of their hard-earned dollars, dumping them back into the pockets of the politicians. The politicians, not wanting the gravy train to end, vote in favor of whatever their corporate benefactors dictate. The circle is complete. It’s self-perpetuating.

The situation Eisenhower warned us about has come to pass. But actually it’s much worse than he ever imagined because it is not just the military-industrial complex that’s taken over our country. It’s big money generally. From within and without our borders.

The oligarchy of the United States

Early in the 19th century, Thomas Jefferson foresaw this problem when he wrote, “I hope we shall crush… in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”

Sadly the corporations won out.

As Pres. Jimmy Carter recently observed, speaking of the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision, “It violates the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now it’s just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president. And the same thing applies to governors and U.S. senators and congress members. So now we’ve just seen a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect and sometimes get favors for themselves after the election’s over.”

And rhetoric aside, it was Barack Obama who stood idly by and let this happen. Although, the oligarch’s takeover is not yet fully complete.

The pièce de résistance of the oligarchs and the crown jewel of Obama’s presidency would be the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Ostensibly a trade agreement, in reality the TPP is nothing more than a corporate Bill of Rights that would be the final nail in the coffin of the U.S. Constitution.

The TPP provides corporations sovereign rights above and beyond those of the signatory nations. It puts corporate profits above everything, so that if a local law was found to somehow negatively impact corporate profits, the local law could be found illegal in a corporate tribunal and thrown out, and the citizens could be sued for loss of profits. And better yet, these decisions could not be challenged in court. This is where Obama would lead us.

Our country is in the process of being taken over.

In a relatively short period of time, we’ve gone from being a beacon of light in the world to where now, we’re everyone’s most hated bully, with our civil rights severely impaired and our country’s most important decisions being made by corporate aristocrats.

Looking at in context, the truth of the matter is that I haven’t journeyed away from the Democratic party so much as the party’s morphed into something unrecognizable to a Democrat from earlier years. Franklin Roosevelt and even John Kennedy wouldn’t recognize the Democratic party of today.

Many supposed liberals will scoff at this analysis.   President Obama’s supporters would have you believe that he’s done many good things that offset any possible negatives. They will list the Affordable Care Act, LGBTQ rights, gender equality, transgender bathrooms, a healthy economy with a lower jobless rate than when he came to office, plus that he supported other legislation favoring women and minorities.

These certainly are good things, but they’re mere bones to placate the populace. Bread and circuses.

On the big things, the really important things like corporate rights, Barack Obama is squarely in the corner of big business.   Even at the expense of the people who elected him.

These negatives vastly eclipse any good things he may have done. All those good things are just trifling tidbits in comparison to the loss of our civil rights and the prospect of endless war at the behest of the corporate aristocracy.

This brave new dystopian world was all brought to you courtesy of Barack Obama, who should go down in history as the president who could not or would not stand up to the corporate oligarchs.

We are now at the tipping point. If the oligarchs win out and Fast-Track passes and the TPP becomes law, we’ll soon enter a Corporate Renaissance. All those lovely bones that the Obama administration has thrown us will mean nothing. Because any time and every time when corporate and citizen’s rights collide, it will be the citizens who lose out. Every time.

And then after a short interval, we’ll pass from the Information Age into the era of post-industrial feudalism. We will truly become serfs. And the endless war will continue unabated, because war’s good for business.

And as the war on terror churns along, the oligarch’s corporate media will proclaim yet another victory, while soft-pedaling any problems, and diverting people’s attention from the truth by blaming others.

A great example of the corporate media’s attempts at misdirection is playing out right now with the Democratic National Committee email scandal. They’re trying hard to shift the focus onto Russia, all with the notion that the Russian hackers are somehow subverting our election process. What they’re really trying to do is obfuscate the real issue, which is that the DNC itself was caught red-handed trying to subvert the election process.

The lesson I get from that is that it’s okay for our own politicians to lie, cheat and subvert elections, but if the Russians do the same, it’s wrong. Amazingly, people actually do seem to be buying this premise.

That’s a sad commentary on the American people.   But by and large, the public has proved to be very gullible and easily manipulated by the corporate media. The current supposed liberal base of Obama and Clinton seems more hung up on extraneous and superficial factors, like his race and her sex, but completely ignores the larger issues, like the pervasive problems of bribery in politics, the loss of civil rights, the phony war on terror, and our new endless war.

These good people’s myopic vision, where they’ve allowed themselves to be led by the nose is an important part of why we’re where we are today.

Look around you. This is how democracy dies, with thunderous applause.

Wake up, America! Before it’s too late.