Beware of Obama's Groundhog Day

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One of the
cleverest films I have seen is Groundhog
, in which Bill Murray plays a TV weatherman who finds
himself stuck in time. At first he deludes himself that the same
day and the same people and the same circumstances offer new opportunities.
Finally, his naivety and false hope desert him and he realizes the
truth of his predicament and escapes. Is this a parable for the
age of Obama?

Having campaigned
with “Change you can believe in,” President-elect Barack
Obama has named his A-team. They include Hillary Clinton, who voted
to attack Iraq without reading the intelligence assessment and has
since threatened to “totally obliterate” Iran on behalf
of a foreign power, Israel. During his primary campaign, Obama referred
repeatedly to Clinton’s lies about her political record. When
he appointed her secretary of state, he called her “my dear

slogan is now “continuity.” His secretary of defense will
be Robert Gates, who serves the lawless, blood-soaked Bush regime
as secretary of defense, which means secretary of war (America last
had to defend itself when the British invaded in 1812). Gates wants
no date set for an Iraq withdrawal and “well north of 20,000”
troops to be sent to Afghanistan. He also wants America to build
a completely new nuclear arsenal, including “tactical”
nuclear weapons that blur the distinction with conventional weapons.

Another product
of “continuity” is Obama’s first choice for CIA chief,
John Brennan, who shares responsibility for the systematic kidnapping
and torturing of people, known as “extraordinary rendition.”
Obama has assigned Madeleine Albright to report on how to “strengthen
US leadership in responding to genocide.” Albright, as secretary
of state, was largely responsible for the siege of Iraq in the 1990s,
described by the UN’s Denis Halliday as genocide.

There is more
continuity in Obama’s appointment of officials who will deal
with the economic piracy that brought down Wall Street and impoverished
millions. As in Bill Murray’s nightmare, they are the same
officials who caused it. For example, Lawrence Summers will run
the National Economic Council. As treasury secretary, according
to the New York Times, he “championed the law that deregulated
derivatives, the… instruments — aka toxic assets — that
have spread financial losses [and] refused to heed critics who warned
of dangers to come.”

There is logic
here. Contrary to myth, Obama’s campaign was funded largely
by rapacious capital, such as Citigroup and others responsible for
the sub-prime mortgage scandal, whose victims were mostly African
Americans and other poor people.

Is this a grand
betrayal? Obama has never hidden his record as a man of a system
described by Martin Luther King as “the greatest purveyor of
violence in the world today.” Obama’s dalliance as a soft
critic of the disaster in Iraq was in line with most Establishment
opinion that it was “dumb.” His fans include the war criminals
Tony Blair, who has “hailed” his appointments, and Henry
Kissinger, who describes the appointment of Hillary Clinton as “outstanding.”
One of John McCain’s principal advisers, Max Boot, who is on
the Republican Party’s far right, said: “I am “gobsmacked
by these appointments. [They] could just as easily have come from
a President McCain.”

victory is historic, not only because he will be the first black
president, but because he tapped in to a great popular movement
among America’s minorities and the young outside the Democratic
Party. In 2006 Latinos, the country’s largest minority, took
America by surprise when they poured into the cities to protest
against George W Bush’s draconian immigration laws. They chanted:
“Si, se puede!” (“Yes we can!”), a slogan Obama
later claimed as his own. His secretary for homeland security is
Janet Napolitano who, as governor of Arizona, made her name by stoking
hostility against Latino immigrants. She has militarized her state’s
border with Mexico and supported the building of a hideous wall,
similar to the one dividing occupied Palestine.

election eve, reported Gallup, most Obama supporters were “engaged”
but “deeply pessimistic about the country’s future direction.”
My guess is that many people knew what was coming, but hoped for
the best. In exploiting this hope, Obama has all but neutered the
antiwar movement that is historically allied to the Democrats. After
all, who can argue with the symbol of the first black president
in this country of slavery, regardless of whether he is a warmonger?
As Noam Chomsky has pointed out, Obama is a “brand” like
none other, having won the highest advertising campaign accolade
and attracted unprecedented sums of money. The brand will sell for
a while. He will close Guantanamo Bay, whose inmates represent less
than one per cent of America’s 27,000 “ghost prisoners.”
He will continue to make stirring, platitudinous speeches, but the
tears will dry as people understand that President Obama is the
latest manager of an ideological machine that transcends electoral
power. Asked what his supporters would do when reality intruded,
Stephen Walt, an Obama adviser, said: “They have nowhere else
to go.”

Not yet. If
there is a happy ending to the Groundhog Day of repeated wars and
plunder, it may well be found in the very mass movement whose enthusiasts
registered voters and knocked on doors and brought Obama to power.
Will they now be satisfied as spectators to the cynicism of “continuity”?
In less than three months, millions of angry Americans have been
politicized by the spectacle of billions of dollars of handouts
to Wall Street as they struggle to save their jobs and homes. It’s
as if seeds have begun to sprout beneath the political snow. And
history, like Groundhog Day, can repeat itself. Few predicted the
epoch-making events of the 1960s and the speed with which they happened.
As a beneficiary of that time, Obama should know that when the blinkers
are removed, anything is possible.

12, 2008

was born and educated in Sydney, Australia. He has been
a war correspondent, filmmaker and playwright. Based in London,
he has written from many countries and has twice won British journalism’s
highest award, that of "Journalist of the Year," for his
work in Vietnam and Cambodia. His new book, Tell
Me No Lies: Investigative Journalism and Its Triumphs
, is
published by Jonathan Cape in June.

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