First published on the Future of Freedom Foundation.
Libertarians never had any hope, of course, that Barack Obama would dismantle any aspect of the welfare state. As a died-in-the-wool liberal, his commitment to socialism, regulation, and economic interventionism is unwavering. When, for example, he addressed the healthcare crisis brought on my Medicare, Medicaid, regulation, and interventionism by foisting Obamacare onto the American people, we libertarians were not surprised.
Where libertarians (and lots of liberals) had hope was that Obama would change the direction that the George W. Bush administration had set for America with respect to foreign policy and civil liberties.
After all, Obama had made a big deal of having opposed Bush’s war on Iraq. On the campaign trail he also emphasized his supposed deep commitment to civil liberties, especially given his legal understanding of constitutional principles.
Alas, no change. Obama’s eight years turned out to be nothing more than a continuation of Bush’s eight years, which, like Obama’s, consisted of waste, death, and destruction.
What a shame. Obama had the opportunity to go down in history as having had an extraordinary presidency, one that brought an end to foreign empire and foreign interventionism, brought all the troops home and discharged them, ended Bush’s “war on terrorism” (and war on Muslims), and dismantled the extraordinary totalitarian powers that Bush had unilaterally adopted and that were supposed to be only “temporary.”
Today, U.S. troops are still fighting, killing, and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan, with no end in sight. Many Americans have no hope that they will ever be ended. They have both become America’s forever wars.
Americans today continue to live under a regime that has the omnipotent power to assassinate them, put them into concentration camps, torture them, and secretly spy on them. How in the world are such totalitarian-like powers reconcilable with the principles of a free society?
Unfortunately, that’ s not all. Obama also initiated one of the national-security state’s classic regime-change operations, this one in Libya. Like all the others, the result is chaos, crisis, civil war, violence, death, and destruction.
It’s no different, of course, in Syria, another target of a U.S. regime-change operation — this one against a ruler, Bashar al-Assad, who once served as a torture-rendition partner in the U.S. war on terrorism. Just ask Canadian citizen Mahar Arar, who the CIA kidnapped at Dulles Airport and renditioned to Syria under a torture agreement that is still so secret that the American people are not permitted to know its terms. It bears mentioning that Arar, after suffering a year of brutal torture in Syria because of the CIA, turned out to be a totally innocent man.
The result of the U.S. government’s regime-change operations in Syria? Ongoing death, destruction, and misery, just like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya.
Let’s also not forget the massive refugee crisis in Europe produced by all this U.S-produced mayhem.
The news media is reporting that Obama’s forces dropped more than 26,000 bombs in the Middle East in 2016 alone. That obviously begs a question: How many bombs did they drop in the previous 7 years? It has to be a lot. And as everyone knows, when bombs are dropped, the results include death and destruction.
Indeed, after eight years as president, Obama didn’t even succeed in closing the Pentagon’s and CIA’s prison and torture center in Cuba. He had, of course, promised to do that when he was running for president eight years ago.
On top of all that, Obama succeeded in igniting a new Cold War against Russia, especially by breaking the U.S. promise to Russia to keep NATO in check. Instead, breaking the promise, NATO began gobbling up former Warsaw Pact countries and moving NATO forces (which include German soldiers) and missiles inexorably closer and closer to Russia’s borders.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that those moves, along with the U.S.-supported coup in Ukraine, would produce a crisis with Russia with respect to Crimea and Ukraine. After all, what would the U.S. national-security state do if Russia started sending troops and missiles to, say, Cuba or Mexico? We all know that U.S. officials would go ballistic, just like Russian officials did when they ordered the takeover in Crimea in response to what the U.S.-run NATO was doing.
Meanwhile, during his eight years in office, Obama went after government whistleblowers with a passion and a fierceness that defies credulity. After all, whistleblowers ordinarily disclose government wrongdoing. Isn’t that something good? Apparently not to Obama, notwithstanding his very late commutation of the draconian sentence meted out to military whistleblower Chelsea Manning, who committed the cardinal sin of disclosing grave wrongdoing on the part of the U.S. military.
What gives? Why did Obama end up continuing and expanding the Bush legacy? What happened to the hope and change?
Those are fascinating questions, ones that unfortunately the mainstream press isn’t asking.
My hunch is that Obama simply lacked the power and the fortitude to overcome the segment of the federal government that is really running the show — the national-security establishment — i.e., the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA.
I recommend reading the excellent book National Security and Double Government by Michael J. Glennon, a professor at Tufts University. Glennon hits the nail on the head. He shows that it’s the national-security establishment that is really in charge of the federal government. It permits the other three sections — the president, the Congress, and the judiciary — to maintain the appearance that they are in charge.
In my opinion, that’s why Gitmo is still open. I think the Pentagon and the CIA wouldn’t permit it to be closed and mobilized their forces in Congress to ensure that it wouldn’t be closed. I think that’s why the U.S. is still in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East and in Afghanistan. That’s why there is a Cold War II with Russia. That’s why American warships have “pivoted” to the South China Sea, where they can gin up crises with China. Indeed, I think that’s why U.S. forces are being sent to Poland in the last week of the Obama presidency.
I could, of course, be wrong. It’s entirely possible that Barack Obama suddenly decided, for some unknown reason, to abandon his pre-election promises and principles and shift course by using his presidency to mimic the legacy of George W. Bush. I just think that my explanation — that Obama found himself unable to stand up to and oppose the overwhelming power of what President Eisenhower called the “military-industrial complex” — makes more sense.
After all, let’s not forget who has been the beneficiary of sixteen continuous years of death and destruction and loss of liberty and prosperity — the national security establishment.
Will the next four years be any different from the last 16 years? We will soon find out.