on a fateful day, in 2007 I quite vividly recall listening to a teacher at my school tell the class of her happiness at the fact that America had chosen, to her mind, the correct president in the person of Barrack Obama and had avoided four more years of the same under a McCain presidency. The four more years of the same she referred to in this was the torturous primacy of George W Bush who in his time did his level best during his time in office to steer his country away from the enlightened vision of its forefathers towards a nation with nothing short of a Stalinist embrace of its citizens and its enemies. I would openly confess that at that point in time I too felt a very similar emotion to my teacher, having always maintained an interest in world affairs I genuinely believed that with Bush gone and Obama in office that what we would see in his presidency would be a refreshingly new approach to politics. How naive I was. Albeit, my country has never been bombed by the US or had US agents destabilise/overthrow my government so it always remained easier for me to accept that the USA could be a force for good than it would be for an Iraqi refugee or Palestinian trapped in the warzones of Gaza, but none the less I was naive in assuming that all it would take to change the destructive imperialist agenda that the USA has followed since the times of Jefferson was one man. This being said, I will openly suggest that I feel that none of us could have predicted how far from the tree this particular apple would fall. Considering the rhetoric of the campaign I feel we have never before seen such a betrayal of principles by any individual who has walked the gilded halls of Washington. In this post I intend to cover the key issues which are often cited for why George Bush’s presidency was maligned by people all over the world and then I aim to compare it to that of Obama and arguably show how little has changed for the better and that actually in many ways things have only gotten worse.
First on the list of George W Bush’s crimes during his time in office would inevitably be his two ill-informed and disastrous invasions of Afghanistan and later Iraq. Two more short-sighted examples of foreign policy I cannot think of unless pushed hard on the topic. To be fair to the planners of these acts, in both cases the invasions in a strictly military sense were a success but then it seems the planning for any eventuality went out the window. Like a football team who scores two early goals in every match they play but then concede fifteen the USA and its allies in both cases found themselves fighting a running battle against a variety of forces that they were too ill equipped and too ill informed to ever win against. For example in Iraq after the initial invasion had ended and just as the occupation was getting under way, large crowds looted and torched much of the former Baathist government’s ministry buildings and no effort was made to prevent this riotous behaviour. Oh wait, some effort was made – but only to prevent any damage happening to any of the ministry buildings that were related in any way to the production of oil. In allowing this destruction of much of Baghdad’s infrastructure the coalition authorities demonstrated in a quite blatant manner their utter disregard for the safety and livelihood of Iraqi civilians. In coming years who knows how many lives that were lost to a Cholera epidemic in 2007 could have been saved if armed gangs had not been allowed to loot and burn down the health ministries. Ultimately both the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and the 2003 invasion of Iraq had far more negative outcomes than positive ones for them to ever be recorded in a entirely positive light and it is largely due to GW Bush and his administration that both of these invasions were such catastrophic failures with each invasion focussing on the minutiae of capturing one figurehead individual while neglecting to ensure that the populations of the countries US forces were riding roughshod over were happy with what was being done in their name.
Next on the list of crimes that were committed with oversight by GW Bush was the massive infringement of civil liberties conducted by US intelligience agencies in the name of the War on Terror. As Glenn Greenwald at the guardian says in an article discussing the civil liberties records of US presidents:
Bush seized on the 9/11 attack to usher in radical new surveillance and detention powers in the PATRIOT ACT, spied for years on the communications of US citizens without the warrants required by law, and claimed the power to indefinitely imprison even US citizens without charges in military brigs.
Such a concerted effort to eradicate civil liberties that the founding fathers strove to define and enshrine in the constitution at the time shocked and horrified many commentators and with good reason really. The programme of extraordinary rendition through which people suspected of terrorism were kidnapped and tortured in nations friendly with the US was one of the most flagrant abuses of international norms and law that I can conceive of. The same can be said about the willingness with which the Bush administration accepted the daily abuses of privacy that were abetted by the Patriot Act in the wake of 9/11. Surely the greatest show of strength in the fact of hatred that the US could have demonstrated in the wake of the single worst terrorist attack in history would have been to show that even in possibly the nations lowest moment that the government were still unwilling to violate the principles of personal privacy. But ultimately, the Bush administration danced according to the tune of the terrorists and reacted by demonstrating just how contemptible Western democracies can be in times of crisis putting the lie to their claims of superiority over the theocracies and autocracies of the developing world.
The third charge that would likely also stick were it to be levelled at George W Bush in a court of law would be the use of torture in an attempt to extract confessions and intelligence from those who had already been treated illegally in either being kidnapped and illegally rendered across international borders or as a result of detention on often highly dubious grounds for endless amounts of time. That the victims of torture in Bagram, Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib were already victims of crimes committed by US forces does not however remove the later stain on the US of subjecting these individuals to torture. Such behaviour and the frequency with which it was committed by the supposed “leaders of the free world” demonstrates how hollow such a title is and how much respect it should actually command in hindsight. To kill an innocent in a war is certainly an objective evil, but there is an argument to be heard that suggests torture is worse as the innocent must then live with the harrowing memory of being made to fear for their physical and mental health for the rest of their lives. And I genuinely feel that this argument holds some weight in light of the fact that often torturers simply extract lies from their victims who in sheer desperation will put their name to anything they are told to in an effort to stop their suffering and this is commonly known. It does take a special time of criminal to authorise such behaviour with the full knowledge that the likely outcomes will be of no use, and Bush certainly fits the mould. The exact same point about it taking a special kind of criminal to commit these crimes, can be raised about Bush’s rolling back of personal liberty and his invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan too.
The reality, however, is that in reality the current president of the USA, Barrack Obama is guilty of two of the exact same crimes his predecesor, Bush, and arguably guilty of a worse third crime than Bush which would on the surface suggest that actually the Nobel Peace Prize winner is worse than Bush. Who would have though it ?
The first crime of launching questionable military interventions is certainly one Obama is guilty of, and much like Bush the end result doesn’t look very promising with the paint (metaphorically speaking) likely to run a little further before setting. The intervention which Obama championed was the lending of NATO air support to the Libyan rebels to help oust Muammar Gadaffi from power. Seemingly caught up by public and political sentiment that something should be done to support at least one nation in the “Arab Spring” uprisings and not wanting to overthrow one of his own Middle Eastern pawns considering the amount of money that has been poured into their pockets over the year, Libya was the unlucky nation to suffer the consequences of America’s attention. Much the same as in the case of the Afghanistan invasion , and almost identically to the Iraq invasion, the end result of intervention was demonstrably not thought out. The result being that a once relatively isolated/isolationist African nation is now a lawless war zone in which Islamist militias have monopolized power and control large swathes of the country and perhaps more alarmingly also hold large stockpiles of arms and munitions which if history repeats itself, as it is wont to do, will end up in the hands of whoever we fight in ten to fifteen years time. Of course, things might turn out just fine in Libya but the conflict has been officially over for more than a year and there is no end in sight of the lawlessness which grips much of the country and the parallels between the state of Afghanistan after its civil war and Libya as things stand is notable. So, on the first charge Bush’s crime will rank in the annals of history as the worst being as he went all out and invaded two countries as opposed to Obama’s one although there are the best part of three and half years left yet for Obama to fuck that one up.
On the second charge of restricting right and civil liberties within the USA itself, Obama, for a candidate who preached at length about open transparent government in his early campaigns and ultimately was carried to the white house on the back of the successes of the Civil Rights movement has a lot to answer for. While the getting involved in military interventions in another countries civil war struck me as a betrayal of all the Obama claimed to stand for during his election campaign, it is his attack on the rights that most people consider inalienable that must surprise most of all. The first demonstrable way in which Obama has betrayed those who voted for him is his failure to close Guantanamo Bay and end the abuses of human rights that have taken place daily there since its inception under Bush. Amongst the crimes that Guantanamo represents are torture and detention without anything like sufficient proof of guilt and often not even credible suspicion. The legacy of that site was one of the biggest blots on the Bush administration legacy and Obama’s inability or unwillingness to close down the facility there will certainly form one of the biggest blots on his presidential story. A further violation of the campaign rhetoric of open government would be the unfolding drama of the NSA’s massive spying operation in which seemingly almost every american has been spied upon and monitored without specific warrants which I won’t comment on much more than this as the depth of this crime is still only partly apparent as things stand. Needless to say that a crime of such scale really is Stalinist in its style and
The third and final charge which I think really is the deal breaker in demonstrating how Obama is measurably worse than Bush is his use of drone warfare both as means of repression both against american citizens in the wrong place at the wrong time and against poor brown people seemingly wherever he can find them. The move away from “boots on the ground” was something that Obama promised and so on that front, if literally no other, credit is due. However at no point in his run up to election did he ever make it clear that his intention was to remove one deadly force only to replace it with another equally deadly force which if possible is even less indiscriminate in its killing of non-combatants. The usage of drones which while not as directly comparable as the infringement of civil liberties and invasions of other countries was worth my raising as an issue for one reason. namely, that since taking office, Obama has already had more people extra-judicially executed with these weapons than were ever tortured under Bush’s orders during his entire presidency. This fact in itself is frightening when you take into account the tremendously positive light in which Obama is portrayed by comparison to the presentation of Bush jr throughout his presidency. However when you consider that Obama is not a full year into his second term yet, then the cogs should really start to whirr with the thought of how many more will likely die in later years. It must also be taken into account that many of the grievances that are often cited by the self same “islamic” terrorists that drones are supposedly utilised against involve grievances with the US army and its practices in the Middle East. While there are many reasons for grievances to be raised against the US armed forces, there are on balance probably several redeeming features which members of the armed forces have, Drones however can surely never have a redeeming feature as they simply kill and so the question must be asked as to simply how long it will be before this chicken comes home to roost and whenever that does happen we can already establish a chain of causation that leads directly to Obama’s trigger finger.