At one point Barack Obama accused Mitt Romney of taking an airbrush to history. At another point, he said the 1980s called and wanted its foreign policy back. Obama was quick to come to such expressions, being the most valued customer at the airbrush counter and the greatest upholder of U.S. militarism since Reagan, which has seen such strong continuity in the foreign policies of all U.S. presidents since Reagan’s time that there is hardly any room for debate among the contenders chosen by the establishment. They were at such a loss to find a reason to debate, that when I exited for fresh air I returned to hear them debating about “education,” and at another point, “food stamps”.
Tonight they got together to essentially review and discuss, not debate, how Americans would go about ruling the rest of us. The first job when “fact checking” a debate is to establish the fact of whether or not there was a debate. Many in the U.S. media, with their prompt little assessments ready at hand for the first minute after the live telecast concludes, miss this most basic, first step. U.S. foreign policy will not change, regardless of who is elected. Obama, however, whose behaviour in these debates has swung from total indifference to bullying, did an effective job of manifesting the personal characteristics that make him one of the most sinister and odious U.S. leaders in a very long time. Romney…smiled too much. Had Romney sided with some of his fellow Republicans in Congress, he could have turned Libya into a plastic bag, put it over Obama’s head, and quickly sealed it off with duct tape around Obama’s neck, then sit back and ask us to enjoy the show. Instead, Romney allowed Obama to breathe in more deeply than ever, so much so that all the oxygen was sucked out of the room and Romney was left gasping to find any point of entry, having already failed to nail Obama to the wall for the obvious failings in Libya: a dead ambassador, bizarre U.S. assumptions about the gratefulness of locals that resulted in no special security arrangements, then outright lying for weeks about the cause of the attack. So let’s review some of Romney’s missed chances (even if he had stuck to lines of argument voiced by leading Republicans themselves), Obama’s (unsurprising) complete fabrications, and what this means for the rest of us. Needless to say, this cannot be a complete review, which would require a level of interest and excitement beyond the scope of this author’s disdain.
- Libya–Islamic extremism: Romney could very easily have attacked Obama for a war that involved collusion with precisely the extremist elements that Gaddafi had resolutely combated since well before the U.S. announced its so-called “war on terror”. These groups benefited from access to heavy weapons and increased local power that they never had before, and it was thanks to U.S. intervention under Obama.
- Libya–Regime change: Obama repeatedly emphasized in the “debate” that his primary goal was in getting Gaddafi out of power and seeing to it that he was captured. That flies in the face of all of Obama’s early statements, leading up to the start of the U.S. war, that the protection of civilians was the primary goal. Romney should have asked Obama why he lied to Americans’ faces.
- Libya–Lies about Gaddafi: Obama was stating that Gaddafi had used military jets and helicopters against unarmed, peaceful demonstrators almost a month after his own generals and Secretary of Defense testified that they had no such confirmation of that, and indeed, no evidence was ever provided. That Obama could proclaim, “Moammar Gadhafi had more American blood on his hands than any individual other than Osama bin Laden,” is such an absurd and stupid claim that Romney should have pounced. However, that would require an understanding, like that of most serious analysts, of the bogus nature of the Lockerbie charges, for which Libya was wrongly accused.
- Libya–Rush to war, not planning for the aftermath: Obama had signed an executive order putting the CIA and special forces on the ground in Libya within the first two weeks after the first street protests, and more than a month before the formal start of the aerial bombing campaign. This was a rush to war that by very far exceeded Bush’s rush to war in Iraq. The U.S also manifested complete indifference for the consequences of its war with respect to the aftermath which Libyans continue to suffer, including at present the siege and shelling of Bani Walid.
- Libya–Violating the War Powers Act, 2008 promises: In complete violation of his own campaign promises in 2008, and in stark violation of U.S. laws, Obama tossed aside the War Powers Act, turned Congress against him in a series of votes, and also violated U.S. laws against the assassination of foreign heads of state.
- Al Qaeda–A Great New Training Ground: That groups alleged to be Al Qaeda affiliates have fanned out in North Africa, as a direct result of the war in Libya, and claimed a section of Mali the size of France, while gaining ground in Libya, was an easy target for Romney. That Al Qaeda has not only penetrated Syria, but seen a dramatic revitalization of its forces in Iraq, hardly paints a picture of “victory” for Obama.
- Iraq–Who wanted to leave? If Obama was so keen to pull all U.S. forces out of Iraq, he would not have sought (and failed) to obtain a new Status of Forces of Agreement. That Obama can accuse Romney of wanting U.S. forces to remain in Iraq, as if he did not, makes for absurd comedy.
- Afghanistan–So now it’s all about “transition”? Until this year, Obama was not preaching “transition”–which means transition out of Afghanistan. He was firmly committed to nation-building, to the Afghan elections, and to counterinsurgency. There is no rush for the exits, his administration repeatedly insisted. But now there is. What Obama does by now speaking of transition is to effectively admit failure and defeat. General Stanley McChrystal’s and David Petraeus’ blueprints for Afghanistan have been torn to pieces. Likewise, elements of counterinsurgency, such as the U.S. Army’s Human Terrain System, equally stand condemned as failures–not that this comes as a surprise to any of us who criticized the program’s stated ambitions and sales pitches. What Romney could and should have done is demand an acknowledgment of failure from Obama.
- China is an adversary or an ally? Obama pointedly declared China to be an “adversary”. In that case, why is the U.S. doing business with China and why does the U.S. government go to it for loans?
- Iran–crippling sanctions: After the Iranian elections of 2009, Obama was gushing with his professed love, admiration, and encouragement for “the Iranian people”. How does he then justify what he repeatedly called “crippling sanctions,” and his obvious pride in seeing Iran’s “economy in a shambles,” when this is such an obvious form of collective punishment? Both parties to the “debate” remain clearly committed to launching a war against Iran should their demands not be met. And how exactly do “crippling sanctions” work to improve the image of the U.S. and win new friends? Neither party even seems to be aware of the question.
- Did Europe vanish? Romney mentions Spain and Greece in his debates. He does not, however, ask Obama what the economic meltdown of the Eurozone portends for the U.S.
- Military Spending: Romney could have easily reverse engineered the works of Catherine Lutz and Chalmers Johnson to argue that precisely because the U.S. military is such a large part of the U.S. economy, and the single largest employer in the U.S., that diminishing military spending would have an obvious social and economic impact on many communities at home. Instead, Romney let Obama get away with the accusation that Romney wants more military spending, “that the military hasn’t even asked for.” What Obama does is to reveal that the U.S. military is an active part of policy-making in the U.S. (which is only a surprise if you believed U.S. military propagandists that they “just follow orders”). So if the military asked for more spending, would Obama obey? Who is in charge of that house? Romney did, however, get Obama on the fact that his own Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, called Obama’s very insignificant and quite illusory “cuts” to military spending, “devastating.” Panetta was exaggerating for effect, providing cover for the fact that Obama’s military budgets are vastly larger than those under George W. Bush. Panetta wants voters to believe something is being done to scale back excessive military spending, but in doing so he provided grist for Romney’s mill.
Stupid questions: Bob Schieffer’s question about what would you do if you got a call from Israel saying “our bombers are on the way to Iran” would not even be acceptable as a script for a B-grade sci-fi flick. It is so dumb that one has to ask how a “seasoned” and “veteran” “journalist” could have come up with such tripe. The notion that the U.S. finds out about such large-scale international military movements, not from intelligence, not from sources within the Israeli government, not from satellite surveillance, etc., but from a phone call, mid-way through an attack, is too stupid to fathom. However, it is yet another lesson on the kind of stupidity that the U.S. mainstream media regularly feeds its audience, expertly marshalled by gullible fools.
Neither side in the contest won or lost the “debate,” that is the very first thing we should understand. They both promise continuity, with some minor and almost inconsequential bickering about how best to manage U.S. imperialism under adverse circumstances. For the rest of us–and this is the second point we must understand–the U.S. is committed to exercising dominance, which means that it remains our task to undermine, subvert, isolate, boycott, and do whatever else we can to take down this empire. The third point to take away from this, for those who have not already done so, is that U.S. “democracy” is an elaborate process of exclusion, that works to limit choices to what is already deemed acceptable to those who wield real power, that actively marginalizes alternatives, and that turns elections into capitalist spectacle. The basic premise that is revealed, however, is thus a tremendous fear of the broad mass of the population and an eventual day of reckoning. For now, many Americans, including serious and otherwise intelligent ones, are still too busy admiring those who reciprocate with indifference or contempt. As they say: “Good luck with that.”