With growing domestic political difficulties – the continued fall-out from Benghazi, the IRS caught targeting political opponents, the increased invocation of the 1917 Espionage Act against troublesome journalists, to name but three issues – US President Barack Obama is probably looking forward to his short June break at Lough Erne. In the meantime, though, take the time to read Glenn Greenwald’s excellent analysis of Obama’s recent ‘war on terror’ speech. From Glenn Greenwald’s post
But whatever else is true, what should be beyond dispute at this point is that Obama’s speeches have very little to do with Obama’s actions, except to the extent that they often signal what he intends not to do. How many times does Obama have to deliver a speech embracing a set of values and polices, only to watch as he then proceeds to do the opposite, before one ceases to view his public proclamations as predictive of his future choices? Speeches, especially presidential ones, can be significant unto themselves in shaping public perceptions and setting the terms of the debate, so Obama’s explicit discussion of the “ultimate” ending of the war on terror can be reasonably viewed as positive.
But it signals nothing about what he actually will do. I’m genuinely amazed that there are still smart people who treat these speeches as though they do. As Esquire’s Tom Junod put it after the speech: “if the Lethal Presidency reminds us of anything, it’s that we should be a long way from judging this president on his rhetoric or his portrayal of himself as a moral actor.” The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf added that Obama “has a long record of broken promises and misleading rhetoric on civil liberties, and it would be naive to assume that he’ll follow through on everything he said on Thursday.”
What Obama has specialized in from the beginning of his presidency is putting pretty packaging on ugly and discredited policies. The cosmopolitan, intellectualized flavor of his advocacy makes coastal elites and blue state progressives instinctively confident in the Goodness of whatever he’s selling, much as George W. Bush’s swaggering, evangelical cowboy routine did for red state conservatives. The CIA presciently recognized this as a valuable asset back in 2008 when they correctly predicted that Obama’s election would stem the tide of growing antiwar sentiment in western Europe by becoming the new, more attractive face of war, thereby converting hordes of his admirers from war opponents into war supporters. This dynamic has repeated itself over and over in other contexts, and has indeed been of great value to the guardians of the status quo in placating growing public discontent about their economic insecurity and increasingly unequal distribution of power and wealth. However bad things might be, we at least have a benevolent, kind-hearted and very thoughtful leader doing everything he can to fix it.
The clear purpose of Obama’s speech was to comfort progressives who are growing progressively more uncomfortable with his extreme secrecy, wars on press freedom, seemingly endless militarism and the like. For the most part, their discomfort is far more about the image being created of the politician they believed was unique and even transcendent than it is any substantive opposition to his policies. No progressive wants to believe that they placed such great trust and adoration in a political figure who is now being depicted as some sort of warped progeny of Richard Nixon and Dick Cheney. That creates internal discomfort and even shame. This speech was designed to allow progressives once again to see Barack Obama as they have always wanted to see him, his policies notwithstanding: as a deeply thoughtful, moral, complex leader who is doing his level best, despite often insurmountable obstacles, to bring about all those Good Things that progressives thought they would be getting when they empowered him.
Read the whole thing.