18 January 2010

Obama: The People's War President?

Last week, I received news that an old friend—the son of a former Libertarian congressional candidate—had become a conscientious objector in his Army unit following an action that killed noncombatants. This was Wayne's first tour of duty, but there is no doubt that he was well-practiced in the fieldcraft and personal discipline required for good soldiering.

He grew up in a close-knit Christian family that homeschooled their children on a fifty acre plot of woods in the wiregrass region of lower Alabama. Wayne grew up reading, hunting, fishing, shooting guns, and playing paintball with his brother and sister. While working with the Libertarian Party of Alabama, I visited their home on several occasions between 2002 and 2004, and I remember Wayne as a respectful young teenager with an expansive vocabulary and his father's knack for computer games.

Around five years after the last time I saw him, Wayne's infantry unit deployed to Iraq. Having been in the Army for a couple of years already, his father reports that he was "gung-ho" about the Army life, even in a combat zone. Wayne's unit assaulted a building thought to contain "insurgents," and air support was called in from an AC-130 gunship and an AH-64 Apache helicopter. After the target was bombarded from the air with 105 mm shells and strafed with 30 mm cannon-fire, the structure was cleared, and only lifeless women and children were found inside.

After returning stateside, Wayne determined that his conscience would not allow him to kill for the United States government again. Despite ridicule and worse from his "battle buddies," Wayne, now facing another Iraq deployment, has begun openly speaking his conscience and declaring that participation in the Iraq War is participation in murder.

Barack Obama was held out by many as the most radical voice for peace among the viable Democratic presidential candidates in 2008. What a disappointment to those who voted accordingly! The peace president has broadly expanded the Afghanistan campaign, begun bombing runs in Yemen, and still maintains tens of thousands of combat troops, albeit at reduced levels, in Iraq (although my friend reports that private military contractor usage has been amped up to compensate). There have been rumblings about stepping up U.S. efforts to "stabilize" Somalia, and Xe (formerly Blackwater) mercenaries are already on the ground there. The Obama administration has also worked to move more troops into the murderous anti-coca campaign in Colombia, where "false positives" (anti-narco-gestapo-speak for "murdered civilians") continue to mount.

Fear of American operations into Colombia's neighbors has made political hay for South American political oppressors, as the socialists in power in Venezuela and Ecuador have effectively used the American regime as a foil in their own democratic socialist melodramas, working to clamp down on dissenting media outlets and otherwise centralizing control of those economies into state hands.

In total, the United States has around 394,000 troops deployed on foreign soil. In comparison, the rest of the world's governments combined have fewer than 150,000 of their military personnel on international deployment.

Like his war-hawk predecessor, the current president is pursuing a policy of perpetual war for perpetual peace. And like the Bush government, Obama's administration has moved to cover-up evidence of torture and other crimes committed by U.S. personnel.

Glenn Greenwald pointed out in a recent Salon column that this should come as no surprise to those who remember that in 2008 Obama's current head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Cass Sunstein, advocated government operations to actively infiltrate and disrupt groups that openly questioned the truthfulness of the federal government's various organs. Sunstein pitched such actions as means for promoting public faith in the government.

Administration figures have also been up to no good in domestic policy debates, with the undisclosed bankrolling of soi disant "independent" experts like Jonathan Gruber. The MIT professor took federal money to promote the president's healthcare agenda in the media, but forgot to mention this rather substantial conflict of interests when grandstanding for his government employer. Greenwald correctly concluded that such official deception is symptomatic of yet another administration's narcissistic self-assuredness and disdain for honest debate.

If anyone doubts that government propaganda kills, look at the eighteen year-old kids who join the military because they believe they will be "protecting freedom" by serving as emissaries of the leviathan state that once used atomic weapons against civilians and which imprisons a higher percentage of its own citizens than any other modern democracy.

Rather than sending naive, trusting young people like my friend Wayne to risk life and limb committing mayhem in the name of "regional stability" and other nebulous trump cards, Obama should bring American troops home now. But he will not do so. He will simply put new window dressing on the tired old political barbarism of high-time preference foreign policy and spending for spending's sake, and will continue to show the same disregard for the individual lives irreparably harmed as a result. Where's the hope?

(Also published in the January 2010 issue of Dicta, the Suffolk Law Paper.)

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