I wish I could say differently, but when Obama ran for his first term, I was admittedly enthusiastic. At the time, the center of my political world was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And here was a man who had been introduced to the conflict by none other than Edward Said, a candidate whose photographs lined a wall in Al-Quds University where he is seen smiling with Palestinian professors.
Sure enough, Obama came to Cairo and promised the Arab world a new era of U.S. foreign policy. But what became evident was a trend that would later mark many of Obama’s policies; he would articulate the perfect slogans of change and then revert to familiar U.S. policies.
To its credit, the American left is by no means in agreement about Obama. There is no shortage of activists, commentators, and intellectuals that have spoken loudly about their criticism of the Obama administration.There are, of course, those who have not wavered in their adoration of the president. I am not interested in these people; they are centrists, although they may like to regard themselves as allies of the left.
The concern lies with those who fully acknowledge the Obama administration's crimes and faults but opt to defend him with the colorless "better of two evils" argument. The justification itself has some worthwhile attributes, but proponents of this argument immediately discredited themselves with their refusal to stand up against his more criminal policies after he was put in office. It’s one thing to elect someone to avoid a more dangerous candidate, it’s another to remain silent while the person you elected embarks on an attack against civil liberties, international law, and so on.
It never fails to bewilder me that there are persons who still regard Obama as the anti-war president. In Pakistan alone, Obama has order 313 drone strikes, or more than six times as many strikes as Bush ordered in his entire presidency. The attacks have killed somewhere between 411 to 844 civilians, the estimates being so vague because how Obama determines who is a terrorist is still unclear.
In fact, the administration’s "signature strike" permits the president to target any combatant-age male that happens to be within certain geographic borders. The practice of covert war has been expanded to Yemen, Afghanistan, and Somalia. With the exception of Afghanistan, the U.S. is not at war with any of these countries.
But of course political discourse has been focused on Iran’s potential acquisition of nuclear weapons. Never mind growing frustration in the already nuclear-armed Pakistan, or what the implications of Obama’s policies might be if the understandably resentful population happens to gain political control.
Domestic policy also highlights the discrepancies between what Obama says and how he behaves. Obama has again signed into law the NDAA, or National Defense Authorization Act, which allows for the imprisonment of U.S. citizens indefinitely without due process under section 1021. The bill also authorizes the government to relocate those held to foreign countries.
He has also set a precedent for assassinating U.S. citizens abroad without trial. We may be convinced that these were extraordinary circumstances, but we cannot ignore is that once a precedent has been set it clears the way for Obama’s successors to use the tactic as they see fit.
What is perhaps of most concern is the sharp decline in the anti-war movement after Obama’s election. It seems the presence of a black Democrat in the White House was enough to lull many into a state of inaction. From January to November in 2009, participation in anti-war efforts dropped from 37% to a meager 19%.
I intentionally use this example because this was before the withdrawal from Iraq. The example of the anti-war movement being vacated illuminates a much larger issue. The struggles against segregation, conscription, for women’s suffrage, these were all won on the ground with civil disobedience and protest. And if all it takes today is a Democrat in the executive office to drain essential movements of their support, then I’ll opt for the marginally worse Republican every single time.
The Democratic Party cannot sustain itself without the support of the left. They gamble on the assumption that we will vote for them regardless of their policies, that we are too afraid of the alternative to voice opposition. It is precisely this assumption that the left needs to ruin. It is crucial that a message be sent that until the Democratic Party enacts the ideology they so easily champions with their slogans, the American left will refuse to support them. Only then will Democrats, and the likes of Obama, be forced to give us an authentic alternative to the Republican Party.