Colonel Kilgore, in Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now,” said he loved the smell of napalm in the morning. By way of contrast, US President Barack Obama, prefers the smell of coffee.
Kilgore liked to go surfing. Barack Obama prefers a leisurely round of golf. (Instead of ‘Charlie don’t surf!” try saying: ‘ISIS don’t putt!’ – It wouldn’t really cut it in the Marines.)
Kilgore liked the music of Richard Wagner, because it “scares the shit out of the slopes.” Obama prefers Marvin Gaye.
Instead of President Macho, we’ve got President Wimp – or so we are led to believe.
Obama’s so-called #LatteSalute has come in for much criticism, a sign that such a man is unfit to lead America into yet another war. If only we had a Colonel Kilgore, John McCain or Mitt Romney in charge – or a modern-day John Wayne! Hell, yeah – he’d kick IS’s butt alright and show those jihadists not to mess with Uncle Sam!
But in many ways, the image of the president with the coffee cup is perfect for what US imperialism needs at present. It’s fully in line with the non-macho, or even wimpish image of Obama, the reluctant warrior, the man who would prefer to spend his time trying to hit birdies on the golf course, or listening to Marvin Gaye on his iPod, rather than getting involved in yet another Middle East conflict.This image counts for quite a lot in selling US foreign policy and getting support for it in Western Europe.
Here we must give credit where its due, even if it’s through gritted teeth: US imperialism has a genius for reinventing itself. After the Bush years, the Empire desperately needed a new kind of front man. The trouble with Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and co was that they were too obvious, too easy to protest against, too similar to Colonel Kilgore in their obvious love of war and conquest.
The hardcore fanatical neo-cons cheered them on, but the more intelligent imperialists realized that they done great damage to the cause of Pax Americana, and that a new kind of president was needed to extend
US global hegemony and take things on to the next stage. One who would talk the language of dialogue and negotiation and stress the need for the US to act multilaterally, someone who would talk of a “new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world,” but who would still, like Bush, carry on with the Permanent War agenda.
I remember the first time I saw Barack Obama on American TV in 2006. It was hard not be impressed. He spoke of his opposition to the Iraq war, maintaining that it was the “wrong war.” He came over as personable, articulate and sophisticated. He was a throwback to the sort of Democrats we had in the 1960s and ’70s. A stark contrast to that clapped-out catastrophe George W. Bush.
Hillary ‘The Hawk’ Clinton was the favorite to beat Obama in the race for the Democratic nomination, but the smart money was on the more “doveish” senator from Illinois.
The great thing about Obama from the viewpoint of the more intelligent US imperialists was that he could regain liberal-left support for Pax Americana, and help reduce the widespread anti-Americanism in the west which had grown in the Bush years to record levels. He would be able to rebuild bridges with Europe.
He was, in short, the sort of president that pro-American western liberal-leftists – who had fallen out of love with the Imperial power in the Bush years – craved. The fact that he had a real chance of becoming America’s first black president, in a country where legalized racial segregation had existed in the not-too distant past and where black people still faced racism, only increased his appeal. The Guardian reported on the enthusiastic reception the presidential hopeful received in Berlin in the summer of 2008:
“Again and again he uttered sentences that could never have come from the mouth of George W. Bush, and Berlin could not have been more grateful.”
Liberals and many progressives were euphoric when Obama made it to the White House, and believed a new era was dawning.
Anyone who predicted amid the euphoria of November 2008 that the self-same Obama, the critic of the Iraq war, would lead Americans into even more military conflicts, would have been dismissed as a hopeless cynic and an “anti-American obsessive.” But so it has proved.
This week’s attacks on Islamic State positions in Syria mean that Obama has bombed no less than seven different countries in six years. All this comes from a man who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009. There’s been a new Cold War too, to go with the hot ones. The man who promised a “reset” in relations with Russia has taken his country and other western nations into a new economic trade war with Moscow after the US engineered, along with the EU, a highly provocative regime change in a country bordering Russia.
Yet still the image persists of a president who is reluctant to go to war, or to cause too much trouble. Part of that is due to Obama’s preference to let others take the front seat on foreign policy.
In Libya, it was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who made the running and who tastelessly gloated over the brutal killing of Muammar Gaddafi when “regime change” was achieved.
In Ukraine, it was the State Department’s Victoria Nuland who handed out the cookies to the Maidan protesters and who discussed who should and shouldn’t be in the government with the US Ambassador.
On Syria, it’s been neocon politicians and pundits and the pro-Israel lobby who have been pushing tirelessly for US military action to remove President Bashar Assad and his government to break the Damascus/Tehran/Hezbollah alliance. When it looked like they were finally going to get what they wanted, last summer Obama backed down on airstrikes after the UK parliament voted ‘No’ and Russia came up with a face-saving plan.
Neocons may call him a ‘wimp’, but The President Who Would Rather Play Golf is exactly what the Empire has needed over the past few years. It has needed a front man who doesn’t appear to like war, but who nevertheless keeps on coming back for more. He’s someone who talks the language of peace and conflict resolution, and not interfering in other nations’ affairs, but who still works, like presidents before him, to enforce “regime change” on governments that the US elite wants toppled. Those who believed
Obama would be radically different to Bush showed a breathtaking naivety regarding the power of the US military-industrial complex and the huge influence that the pro-Israel lobby, Saudi Arabia, and the Arab oil states have on US foreign policy.
Even if he had really wanted to “stop the war,” Obama would have been unable to do so as he’s no more than the pilot of an imperial juggernaut whose controls have already been set, and which purposely has no reverse gear.
As bad as he’s been from an anti-war viewpoint, the really depressing thing is that there were, and are, no better alternatives – as the system simply won’t allow it.
If you’re anti-war, would you really have preferred Mitt Romney to Obama in 2012? Criticism of Obama has been muted because of the sheer awfulness of the alternatives to him. If we didn’t get President Obama in 2008, we’d have had President McCain.And who would also want to line up with those reactionaries who attack Obama on racial grounds, or who peddle the “Barack Osama – he’s a secret Muslim” line?
There’s also the fact that the man, in spite of his foreign policy, still remains hard to dislike on a personal basis. That too helps the Empire, and it wouldn’t have applied had the obnoxious McCain or smarmy Romney got elected.
Those who think things will improve from an anti-war viewpoint post-Obama are likely to be cruelly disappointed. The face and even the gender of the president may change, but the policies will stay more or less the same.
Already the uber-hawks are rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of President Hillary Clinton, who they’re sure will be more outwardly aggressive in foreign policy, and who will push the cause of Israel in the Middle East even more forcefully than Obama. She’ll probably face a pro-war Republican candidate in an election in which the military-industrial complex and big business simply can’t lose because both candidates will do what is required of them if they win. Anyone who might pose a challenge to the system, from either the genuine left, or the antiwar libertarian right, won’t get the required funding from Wall Street, and in any case will be portrayed as a “dangerous extremist” or “fanatic” by establishment gatekeepers.
It’s a sorry state of affairs which tells us much about the lack of genuine democracy in the US in the early 21st century. The election of a man like Gerald Ford, who took over the presidency following Nixon’s impeachment and was hailed as America’s “greatest president” by the leftist antiwar writer Alexander Cockburn, or even Jimmy Carter, is now all but impossible – such figures wouldn’t make it through the filter system that weeds out candidates who won’t do more or less exactly what the military-industrial complex and the powerful lobbies want.
So as the bombs rain down on Syria and Iraq (again), it’s worth bearing in mind that the president with the #LatteSalute is probably the least worst we can get without radical, systemic change of the entire American political system.
Whether the public persona is President Wimp or President Macho, it doesn’t really make too much difference. We get warmongering policies to keep Colonel Kilgore happy, whatever happens.