Headline at TPM
Yesterday President Obama called out many of the follies and crimes that have passed for national policy since 9/11. Good for him! I mean that, though I remain mad as hell that he didn't give essentially the same speech on January 21, 2009 when coming into office. I don't believe for a minute this man didn't know then what he obviously knows now: the previous administration ran the country off the rails when offered the opportunity by our post-9/11 hysteria, rage and fear. We put this guy in office to try to turn this unwieldy empire away from that course and he's been a mix of backward, slow, and recalcitrant about the task.
But this speech was progress -- though he still left out part of making the turn that requires investigation and punishment of war crimes. I guess we have to remember that when the powerful are the criminals, getting to justice is a long slog.
Given Obama's track record, it's hard to be confident that he'll actually do anything that genuinely constrains US militarism or his own executive power. I'm sure there will be a lot of parsing and half measures that allow too many abuses to continue. But at least he's on record for dialing down fear and respecting law more than has been the U.S. norm of late.
I've collected some bits from the speech that say what has too often been unspeakable in elite U.S. discourse. Lots of us have been saying this stuff for a long time, but here's Obama saying it.
I'm not waiting for the judgment of history; this country has long made itself a danger to the peoples of the world. It is time to change course. I've listened to this President and I'll be watching.
- First and foremost, the 100+ Guantanamo detainees on hunger strike. They decided they would rather die -- and be tortured by force feeding on the way to death -- than accept that they would rot in a U.S. prison hellhole forever. I assume they are mostly detainees who've been "cleared" as not dangerous for years; hope raised and snatched away without reason can motivate both desperate bravery and despair.
- Outrageous peaceniks like Medea Benjamin of Code Pink who somehow fooled security and was on hand to call out Obama's inaction during the speech. "You are commander-in-chief. You can close Guantanamo today," she yelled. People who have been willing to pull stunts like this have played a large role in forcing our invisible drone war into the public eye.
- More "respectable" peaceniks and civil libertarians who work to explain what those outrageous protesters are yelling about. I think especially of Just Foreign Policy, Peace Action, and even the little grouplet I work with, WarTimes/Tiempo de Guerras. And of course the lawyers who have refused to give up on legality, including the ACLU and many others.
- Finally, I think the majority of citizens deserve some credit for bucking up the Prez to tackle these issues. A significant Pew poll after the Boston Marathon bombing showed that we think "occasional terrorist acts are to be expected" but this perception did not cause our fear of terrorism to spike. Collectively, we're learning to live in a (somewhat) dangerous world and the President could speak to how we aspire to live rather than to our panic.