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Obama unleashed a rhetorical onslaught last night in a speech aimed at garnering support for the ten-day-old intervention in Libya. With rhetorical flourishes, self-assurance, and swagger seen infrequently if at all since his campaign presentations, he let forth a verbal barrage of no inconsiderable force. He figured the United States as the protector of the world’s hostages to tyranny, the protector of the innocent victims to potential genocide, the rescuer of the hapless from imminent slaughter.
This was the intent of the speech delivered, and, although it may have worked on a segment of the target audience, it could not but have failed on a majority. This audience includes not only those believers who accept prima facie Obama’s benevolence and largesse as a matter of unambiguous fact. It also includes the right-wing for whom no invasion by a Democrat could ever be grand enough, be aimed at the right enemy, or succeed at killing enough putative villains. But it also includes the left-leaning members of his party, however weak and ineffectual their putative opposition, as well as an understandably cynical mass of American citizens weary of war and tired of funding massacres while they face financial woes and insecurities unmatched since the Great Depression. Most of this latter contingent has tuned out in advance, and will hear nothing but clips, if that. Obama’s confidence may translate into their acquiescence, but it isn’t as if they have any say in the matter in any case.
Given that the U.S. citizenry has no choice but to fund a third major war in the Middle East and Africa, without Congressional approval let alone their own approbation, one has to wonder just why Obama addressed the nation at all. Such speeches as Obama gave last night, and Bush had given in during his tenure, are rationalizations of foregone conclusions.
And thus we are led to wonder just who Obama may have hoped most to persuade and encourage. This is the U.S. military itself, which explains, in part, why Obama chose to present his speech at the National Defense University, rather than in the White House Oval Office, and early enough (7:30 EST) so that it wouldn’t pre-empt prime-time television. That is, the speech was a pro forma exercise where the vast majority is concerned, and an obsequious ingratiation in terms of the military audience, a military whose utter disillusionment and sense of absurdity has precipitated a series of heinous barbarities and crimes against humanity.
The audience thus includes members of the military who have lost faith in its imperialist expeditions. These are completely unsure who the enemy is and why they are fighting them, in whatever theatre they may find themselves.
And when the military is brought to mind, who could fail to think of the "American values" that recently came to light in Afghanistan, where a "kill team" of soldiers, under the indifference if not complicity of their military commanders, murdered helpless and innocent farmers and other civilians without remorse, posed and toyed with their dead corpses, and used their fingers as chips in poker games?
When Obama, in apparent horror, spoke of the alleged rape of a Libyan by Gaddafi’s troops, who could fail to remember the images from Abu Ghraib, where sexual assault and humiliation of Iraqis on a grand scale by the U.S. military was the order of the day?
When Obama spoke of protecting Libyan citizens from murder by Qaddafi, evidence for which supposed pogroms has failed to be presented, who could fail to be reminded of the drone bombings in Pakistan that have killed unnumbered civilians, or the indiscriminate killings in Afghanistan, where NATO (US) forces just three days ago bombed a car, "accidentally" killing seven civilians: two men, two women and three children?
Thus, when Obama used the terms "interests and values," we know that the nebulous "values" is an utterly empty signifier used to complement the overcharged and unexplained term "interests." That is, when Obama spoke of American "values and interests," one can safely drop the "values," because U.S. imperialism has none. That leaves U.S. "interests" alone.
Acknowledging critics who "argue that there are many places in the world where innocent civilians face brutal violence at the hands of their government, and America should not be expected to police the world," Obama suggested that while Washington cannot intervene "wherever repression occurs, we must always measure our interests against the need for action." This is the closest Obama came to explaining the rationale for yet another unprovoked war. Certainly U.S. complicity and support of regimes in Yemen, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, not to mention Israel, give the lie to any claim that the U.S. is the world watchdog and protector of human rights.
And what are the U.S. interests in Libya? Obama hinted at this as well, with his mention of the "challenges that threaten our common humanity and common security – responding to natural disasters, for example; or preventing genocide and keeping the peace; ensuring regional security, and maintaining the flow of commerce." This choice of words, in particular the word "flow," leads one to believe that the speech writers committed a Freudian slip,or that an anti-war activist infiltrated their number, or that the word was meant to signal to a particular audience segment. In any case, "flow" certainly brings to mind the key word that Obama never uttered once during the entire twenty-plus minute speech: oil.
Qaddafi, although a close ally of Washington during the Bush and now the Obama regime, has proven to be an unreliable ally. The U.S. and European powers had come to regard with increasing concern the signs that both Russia and China were establishing connections with Libya--in terms of oil deals, infrastructure projects and arms contracts, which threatened US and European interests in the Mediterranean and North Africa. France, Great Britain and the United States heretofore have been the primary controlling recipients of oil in the region. New evidence has come to light that French intelligence officials have had some role in fomenting the rebellion and destabilizing the regime. The object for all three powers is to install a more compliant regime in Libya. Those are the "interests" that Obama alluded to.
Despite the gaping holes in Obama’s story, one would have been right to expect the "liberal-left” press to go along for the ride, once again. And in fact, that is the case. The New York Times editorial explains that "President Obama made the right, albeit belated, decision to join with allies and try to stop Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi from slaughtering thousands of Libyans," reserving criticism for his timing and strategy: "But he has been far too slow to explain that decision, or his long-term strategy, to Congress and the American people." We can expect more cheerleading and apologetics from the "liberal-left" media as the war wears on, even as the cost for the intervention mounts, estimated at 600 million for the first week alone.
The apologetics for imperialism given by the Times and other media mouthpieces of the Democratic Party has nothing to do with any anti-war, "humanitarian" principles. Rather, it has everything to do with putting a better face on naked imperial aggression, one that the "liberal-left" Democrats can live with and sleep soundly under. Thus such supposed "leftists" as Rachel Maddow on GE-owned MSNBC consistently back the war adventures undertaken by Obama, noting with precious sentiment his "reluctance" to commit troops to illegal wars. But as Maddow has made clearer than intended, only the "narrative" for these wars has changed, not the wars themselves. These apologists sense the necessity for war under a flagging imperialist economy that must continue to deliver profits to its shareholders.
In the conclusion to his speech, Obama laid out the conditions under which, during his presidency, American troops would be called up for military intervention. These include occasions "when necessary to defend our people, our homeland, our allies, and our core interests." But it also includes "times, though, when our safety is not directly threatened, but our interests and values are. Sometimes, the course of history poses challenges that threaten our common humanity and common security – responding to natural disasters, for example; or preventing genocide and keeping the peace; ensuring regional security, and maintaining the flow of commerce."
Here Obama has made clear that the pretext for invasion of sovereign nations will not be limited to protecting Americans from "terrorism" and "weapons of mass destruction" as after 9/11 under Bush. Pre-emptive action will also be taken against threats to "values" and commerce. That is, Obama has expanded the Bush doctrine to include cases wherein U.S. commercial interests are at stake, not only its supposed safety. Of course, this is precisely what the Bush doctrine was meant to include, but Obama has expressed this fact even more nakedly than Bush himself.
This rhetorical shift is necessary to cover for the increasing role of the U.S. military throughout the world, which becomes more not less necessary as the ruling financial, corporate and military elite grow more desperate to secure profits within a capitalist system in a continual crisis that will see no remission.
Michael Rectenwald, Ph.D. --Michael Rectenwald is the Founder and Chief Editorialist of Citizens For Legitimate Government, www.legitgov.org.