War and Civil Liberties Under Obama

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Much of what energized the left’s critique of Bush concerned his despotic record on war and civil liberties. Amerians from across the spectrum, in fact, came to see foreign policy as the most important issue in the 2006 mid-term elections. Many of us in the libertarian community hoped (not with blind optimisim, but at least we hoped) that Obama would indeed signal a decline in the neocon doctrines of preventive war, preventive detentions and eviscerations of the Bill of Rights in the name of national security. I will discuss his promises broken this Saturday in Monterrey (details below).

Obama gave us some reason to hope, when his lips were moving. He said he opposed the Iraq war and wanted to get out. He said he’d restore habeas corpus. He said he’d oppose warrantless wiretapping. He promised a transparent government, on these and other questions.

Instead, only five months into his administration, he has betrayed more campaign promises this early in his term than any president in recent memory. He had gone beyond the Bush doctrine of circumventing the law to detain people without habeas corpus and has explicitly embraced the principle of “prolonged detention” – as in, indefinite detention. He has used state secrets and sovereign immunity privileges to cover up torture, wiretapping, and renditioning. He has stalled on Guantanamo and, in any event, indicated that even with Gitmo’s closure, he would maintain prison camps abroad, beyond the reach of U.S. law. He has issued abusive signing statements. He has expanded the war in Afghanistan, equivocated on Iraq, and bombed Pakistan, contributing to a humanitarian disaster there of unspeakable proportions.

As for transparency, aside from the state secrets nonsense, his domestic policy of expansive government at home has been done without anything remotely resembling the several days of public discussion he had vowed. Even on economics, many on the more intellectually honest left have conceded that he has continued and accelerated the corporatism of the Bush regime, robbing from all of us to bailout the biggest firms and interests.

There are other betrayals from a leftist perspective, on gay issues, health care and the like, all the while he has advanced corporate socialism at a staggering pace. He might destroy the dollar, while doing nothing to ratchet back the Bush state. Maybe only by destroying the dollar will he end the empire, inadvertently, but I daresay that’s not what Obama hopefuls had in mind.

Those in the Monterey, CA, area on Saturday can come see me discuss these and other issues. I’m speaking at 2PM, Saturday, June 20, at the Peace Resource Center at 1364 Fremont Blvd. in Seaside. It’s free to the public. For the rest of you, I hope to have an article version of my talk up at some point soon.

1:13 pm on June 18, 2009