. Obama’s 2015 State of the Union Address: “That’s Not Who we Are” | London Progressive Journal
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Obama’s 2015 State of the Union Address: “That’s Not Who we Are”

Fri 13th Feb 2015

Borrowing from Hollywood-themed awards ceremonies, political theatre was taken to new lows with Obama’s sixth State of the Union speech to the US Congress on January 20th, 2015. It was another in a series of emotive, nation-unifying pep talks. His slick delivery designed to convince a misinformed people that everything is fine. There were canyon-sized gaps of information left out in his update of the current political/military environment in Afghanistan and Iraq. But overall, things are looking up, though to regain the moral high ground, there would have to be some changes. Drone attacks needed to be ‘constrained’ and the closure of Gitmo was now more necessary than ever, and this is the key point—because the American people needed to know that after all-- “that’s not who we are”.

The US president continued the tradition usually associated with Bush Jr. of using anecdotal feel-good stories to highlight his domestic agenda. The cast of national heroes seated and showcased in the gallery were positioned close to Michele Obama to produce the maximum emotionally-soppy effect. The story of ‘Rebekah’ and husband—“They were young and in love in America, and it doesn’t get much better than that”-- representing hard working middle America, retraining for new careers and buying their first home, with homeownership impossible for young people burdened by student loans in the ten of thousands of dollars. Her ‘tight-knit’ family representing the larger family of America. Beyond satire. As the Americans like to say: ‘You couldn’t make up this shit’.

But made up nevertheless. Homelessness. Racial strife.

Part-time jobs included in statistics that claim a steady reduction in unemployment. The militarisation of society when joining the military is considered a ‘job’. And on the macro-economic level, “…deficits cut by two-thirds…”, not specified and which couldn’t possibly refer to the overall debt topping eighteen trillion dollars owed by the greatest debtor nation on the planet, about to be orbited by middle-aged Scott Kelly spending a year on the International Space Station. And like the US military in the Middle East and South Asia, with air bases built for a more permanent presence, Obama gushing optimistic about a US Space Program, “…pushing out into the Solar System not just to visit, but to stay.”

The propaganda as self-aggrandisement laid on thick and syrupy for American consumption. Obama could hardly finish his sentences at the beginning of his speech, cut short by more interrupting applause than Bush Jr. ever received. Obama the better man.

“Will we allow ourselves to be sorted into factions and turned against one another—or will we recapture the sense of common purpose that has always propelled American forward?”

Again, the narrative of competing Parties, Democrat and Republican, with opposing ideological outlooks grinding down the gears of government to ‘gridlock’. A term about as dramatically exciting as the constant numbspeak about ‘tax cuts’ that the average debt-ridden American knows always amounts to a drop in the bucket. When the only two political parties available to the American public are funded by the same corporate interests of oil, insurance, the arms industry, the banking sector. No, no factionalisms for America, though America employs a disproportionate number of White police on the streets where Black Americans are targeted in city after city. No, America will rise above it. Become one happy ‘tight knit family’ again.

Factionalisms are rampant between Pashtun and Non-Pashtun, Sunni and Shiite, Pro-Assad government forces battling rebel groups associated with jihadist groups also fighting amongst themselves. Pakistani Taliban fighting the Pakistani military, the Afghani Taliban fighting for control of Kabul--factionalisms armed like never before. Factions okay for them.

Obama’s script reading generally: If the Hawkish Republicans start wars, the dovish Democrats in the form of a ‘liberal’ Clinton and ‘new hope’ Obama bring the Nation back to peace, ending and downsizing US military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. Appearing to clean up after the militant Republicans. Not our fault. The Democrats appearing to wrap up Republican Wars, but going along with them for the most part like sheep, as Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid has pointed out in the case of Hillary Clinton consistently backing the strategies and viewpoints of US generals in Afghanistan (Rashid, p. 92)

But left behind, a trail of chaos. Hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties, internecine warfare between religious and tribal groupings, millions of refugees, infrastructural destruction to town and countryside. Chaos the accepted geopolitical scenario when absolute US control cannot be achieved.

And now America is reducing its ‘dependence on foreign oil’, becoming energy independent, and a more direct partnership is being formed with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States to glut the oil market, reducing per barrel costs that hurt Russia, Iran, Venezuela. And while further US oil production may be temporarily stymied as well in terms of investment, oil prices at the pump have hit record lows. The dive in per barrel costs is hitting the targeted countries more dramatically and in a shorter space of time than Sanctions on these same countries. Libyan and Syrian is oil off the market altogether; the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council firmly in control of OPEC.

Meanwhile, things are looking up for America. ‘Hope’ is still on its way. “Middle-class economics works”. New ideas on the table that are old ideas in the Social Democracies of Europe. Watered-down versions of workers’ rights: with paid sick leave (up to seven days!), ‘affordable child care’, ‘a higher minimum wage’ etc. The proposal for free community college brought up when IMF ‘austerity programs’ dismantle free university education for countries caught in the trap of ‘debt restructuring’, and not a possibility in any case with a Republican-controlled Congress. And despite some gains for the poorest in America with ObamaCare, healthcare is still unobtainable for tens of millions with exorbitant monthly ‘premiums’ for those who can pay with ‘deductables’ that are so high that insurance companies don’t cover medical costs until several thousand dollars are paid out first; the scam left intact when insurance companies continue to yield power in making political contributions to both Parties.

But just in case Obama became too edgy transforming himself from a ‘Liberal’ to a ‘Socialist’ with his new social welfare pet projects, he had to reassure the Conservatives, the hardline Finance Capitalists, of both Parties that he was not overstepping boundaries: “These ideas won’t make everybody rich, or relieve every hardship.

That’s not the job of government.” But it is the job of government to bail out the Wall Street banks in 2008 to the tune of $2 trillion, when millions were losing their homes to foreclosures.

“And as a new generation of veterans comes home, we owe them every opportunity to live the American Dream they helped defend.”

Which ‘American Dream’ is that exactly? The American Dream to own a home? The American Economy? Must have been a slip of the computer keys by Obama’s speech writers with that line. Since when did America’s invasions and wars take place to defend the American Dream? A term unspecified but apparently meant to entail anything and everything. And if the dream of ‘democracy’ was meant, did that take into consideration the erosion of ‘freedoms’ in a surveillance state—the fight for ‘transparency’ and ‘privacy’ due to Assange and Snowden who were then subsequently made enemies of the State-- or the ‘democracy’ fired from the belly of a drone to bomb-crater the idea into people’s minds in South Asia, the Middle East?

Statement after statement reassuring the military-industrial complex that US imperialism will continue to ignore national sovereignty and borders, US Congressional approval, or international law and conventions…..’the right to act unilaterally’.

“Of course, if there’s one thing this new century has taught us, it’s that we cannot separate our work at home from challenges beyond our shores.”

“…..the question is not whether America leads in the world, but how.”

“We will continue to hunt down terrorists and dismantle their networks, and we reserve the right to act unilaterally…..” (e.g. invading Iraq in undeclared wars; invading Syria and Pakistan’s airspace; killing more civilians than terrorists with drone attacks repeatedly in Afghanistan and Pakistan, using NATO to enclose in on Russia)

“Leading—always—with the example of our values. That’s what makes us exceptional. That’s what keeps us strong. And that’s why we must keep striving to hold ourselves to the highest of standards—our own.”

Obama promising a return to a morally robust America, a return to rational thinking after the Republicans have gone mad with their wars abroad:

“When we make rash decisions, reacting to the headlines instead of using our heads; when the first response to a challenge is to send in our military—then we risk getting drawn into unnecessary conflicts, and neglect the broader strategy we need for a safer, more prosperous world.”

Really, ‘rash decisions’? When US military budgets soar to new heights and hundreds of US military bases dot the planet, the largest (e.g. Bagram in Afghanistan; Joint Base Balad, Al Asad Airfield in Iraq) constructed in the countries invaded. Massive troop deployments; Afghanistan deemed strategically pivotal to a continued US military presence near China, Russia, Iran, despite the troop drawdown. Air bases proliferate. NATO encircles Russia. Long term military, geostrategic planning beyond party politics.

And the key word here is ‘prosperous’, since US military interventions are always motivated by the need to expand Capital, to create environments that are investment friendly to the IMF and multinational corporations. The ‘promotion of democracy’ and ‘humanitarian interventions’ acting as smokescreens to intervention.

Nothing ‘rash’ about it.

The need for a robust US military is greater than ever, and by association its military budget, in ‘partnering with nations from South Asia to North Africa to deny safe haven to terrorists who threaten America.” But forget the splintering off of groups emanating from Saudi/US funded ‘madrassas’ and a strategic partnership with Pakistan; its ISI fostering and allying with the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban. In 1997, Taliban reps met with oil corporation UNOCAL in Houston (in mainstream media photos) about a pipeline originating in Turkmenistan, traversing Afghanistan for the destination of Pakistan. In 2000, the Taliban leadership was once again in Washington D.C. on similar business. Now forgotten. A past relationship with the Taliban never brought up. In any case, talks with the Taliban now prioritised when several years back former Afghanistan Prime Minister Hamid Karzai and US envoy Richard Holbrooke had repeatedly advocated the same course.

The point being that alliances between proxies and nation states are not just a thing of the past that we’ve moved on from, but are ongoing and evolving constantly. Al Qaeda branches off to form ISIL, which in turn branches off to form IS; US economic and political ally Saudi Arabia funnels equipment and training to jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq, as seen in photo shots of long convoys of fighters crossing the desert in Japanese pickups, and better armed than the Kurdish fighters. The other ally of the US, Turkey, allows ISIS fighters to cross its border into Syria to battle Kurdish defensive forces in Kobane. The Lebanese-American journalist Serena Shim, working for Iran’s Press TV, reported on streams of fighters packing aid trucks crossing Turkey into Syria; this same journalist was killed in a collision with a large truck in a Turkish border town under suspicious circumstances.

Shady associations with proxy jihadist armies (e.g. Al Nusra, ISIL to IS) said to be running amok, but growing in strength at such an exponential rate and covering such vast areas in Iraq and Syria and in such coordinated, unprecedented numbers that one is baffled by the speed of developments. Once again, as with the Libyan anti-Gaddafi forces, captured or home-made weapons make good drama but are not practical when weapons and training must be provided en masse to wage protracted war. Such funding and logistical aid either is directly supplied by governments or with tacit approval.

But the good news from Obama’s State of the Union address is that once again the US is taking the lead in forming another ‘coalition’ of nations, this time in fighting ‘terrorism’ where the origins of certain organisations are buried by the sands of new narratives. And always, “Looking to the future instead of the past”, as Obama put it and keeping tradition alive in the States where a prime goal of the NeoCons in re-setting the ideological program for the First Gulf War was to overcome the “Vietnam Syndrome”. Protracted war erased from the memory banks, only to be repeated again by new versions of the same in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Some deviations from the norm were noted in the speech with Obama pushing back against the Republican Hawks who want to further increase the Sanctions on Iran; Obama defended the course of further negotiations. But the narrative is still intact of a threatened Israel whose security must be guaranteed, when Iran has been a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) for at least forty years and has allowed UN inspectors to inspect its nuclear facilities numerous times, as opposed to Israel which has never signed the Treaty nor ever allowed inspectors, nor ever admitted to its arsenal of an estimated two-hundred nuclear weapons; maintaining ‘ambiguity’ so that international norms and institutions regarding nuclear proliferation can be ignored. In such a situation there are any number of definitions for the word ‘threat’. Pick the one that suits you best and ignore the rest.

Obviously, Obama’s speech, like other State of the Union addresses, was designed for a US audience eager to leave bad news behind in terms of the economy and America’s wars and occupations abroad.

“The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong.”

But to the people of the Middle East and South Asia where US occupations have led to fragmentation and perpetual war, simplifications and distortions of history spewing from the mouths of US politicians is nothing new. The Americans, like children, live only in the present. They are encouraged to do so when the ‘auto industry’ is ‘booming’, so that pickup trucks the size of small fishing boats can be churned out when gas prices hit record lows.

More than Clinton, Obama has cultivated the image of a savvy politician with a good heart, playing a hawk to undermine the Republican role, while pushing through dovish, ‘progressive’ policies, including mending relations with Cuba and ending the embargo.

But the overall goals remain the same: geopolitical penetration for the purpose of creating an environment conducive to the invasion of Finance Capitalism. In the case of Cuba and Latin America, ending Socialism is the ultimate goal. The Cuban leadership is well aware of this. Russia, Syria, Iran and Libya made targets precisely because they act as barriers to America’s “exceptionalism” and "unilaterism”, which can also be read as expansionism and adventurism that bypasses international law and conventions in its project of domination—in the continuing efforts to establish a New World Order serving International Finance Capitalism and its debt regime.

Small and large scale atrocities are erased from memory, from the historic record. Tortures at Abu Ghraib and long term incarcerations at Gitmo, urban warfare, war in the countryside and destruction of villages, and unconstrained drone attacks on civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan—all in the past now. Rising above it.

The message comforting and redemptive in its simplicity.

“That’s not who we are.”

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References:

“President Obama’s 2015 State of the Union Address: Full Transcript/ http://www.mediaite.com/online/president-obamas-2015-state-of-the-union-address-full-transcript/

Corbin, Cristina; “Family Suspects foul play in death of US journalist in Turkey”, Fox News, November 7, 2014/ http://www.foxnews.com/world/2014/11/07/mystery-surrounds-death-us-citizen-and-journalist-serena-shim-in-turkey/

Froomkin, Dan; “U.S. to Hand Over Iraq Bases, Equipment Worth Billions”; Huff Post Politics, February 9, 2015/ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/26/iraq-withdrawal-us-bases-equipment_n_975463.html

Madsen, Wayne; “Afghanistan, the Taliban and the Bush Oil Team”, Jan. 2002 {Centre for Research on Globalisation (CRG)}/ http://globalresearch.ca/articles/MAD201A.html

Rashid, Ahmed; Pakistan on the Brink: The Future of America, Pakistan and the Taliban, Penguin Books, 2012


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