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The Obama Doctrine: Kill civilians to save them from ‘terrorism’

President interrupted by Code Pink co-founder, pressed on Guantanamo prison
Commentary by Dave Schneider |
May 29, 2013
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Washington, DC - On May 23, U.S. President Barack Obama delivered a speech at the National Defense University, supposedly outlining changes to the ‘counter-terrorism’ policy of the U.S. While the U.S. media hailed the speech as a significant change from the War on Terror policies of the Bush administration that carried into Obama’s first term, the president’s speech mostly doubled-down on the drone strikes and military actions that have brought death and destruction to people in the Middle East.

The Boston Marathon bombing last month, along with the Congressional Republicans’ probe into the U.S. Embassy attack in Benghazi, Libya last year, almost certainly motivated the president’s speech. More pressing was the May 22 admission by Attorney General Eric Holder that drone strikes killed four U.S. citizens, including three civilians, since Obama took office in 2009.

Putting Obama’s speech in this context is important because it reveals an administration desperate to justify its violent military actions to the U.S. people, who overwhelmingly oppose the government’s policy of perpetual war and occupation. Despite saber-rattling against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the Syrian Arab Republic, a New York Times/CBS poll found nearly 77% of people in the U.S. oppose U.S. military action against the DPRK and about 62% feel the U.S. should not intervene in Syria.

The Obama Doctrine

Obama’s speech included a full-throated defense of drone strikes. Disturbingly, the speech all but wrote off the hundreds – if not thousands – of civilians who died from U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and other nations. Obama claimed that as president, he “must weigh these heartbreaking tragedies [civilian causalities from drone strikes] against the alternatives.” He followed this assertion with the equally bizarre justification, “Let us remember that the terrorists we are after target civilians.” This is the Barack Doctrine: To save the civilians who would die in terrorist attacks, we need to kill them before the terrorists do.

Although the U.S. media already clamors over the very minor changes to the president’s drone program – the Los Angeles Times called it “throttling back on drones” – these changes will do little to nothing in reducing civilian casualties. The president calls for tougher standards when deciding to launch drone strikes. This requires “a near certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured,” according to White House staff.

However, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) classifies all military-age male casualties of drone strikes as ‘militants’ unless they find evidence to the contrary after their death, according to a 2012 report by the Stanford International Human Rights & Conflict Resolution Clinic called Living With Drones. The Brookings Institution estimated in a 2009 report that drone strikes killed nearly ten civilians for every one militant, but the CIA’s deceptive method of reporting deaths masks the real horrors committed on everyday people in countries like Pakistan. By not acknowledging the full scope of civilian death or the bad reporting methods on drone casualties, Obama implies no reason to expect an end to the slaughter of innocent people.

For his part, Obama suggested a return to the pre-9/11 counter-terrorism policies that marked Bill Clinton’s administration. This should provide scant comfort for anyone who opposes the U.S. policy of war and occupation. President Clinton’s foreign policy was marked with the death of nearly a million Iraqi children as a result of the brutal sanctions infamously defended by then-Secretary of State Madeline Albright. Under Clinton, the U.S. launched military strikes in Sudan and Afghanistan and sent U.S. troops into Somalia. Clinton’s administration oversaw the dismemberment of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, culminating in the 1999 NATO bombing of Bosnia with civilian deaths mounting to 5700, according to Human Rights Watch. Clinton worked with the brutal monarchy in Saudi Arabia to place more military bases in the Persian Gulf and tighten the U.S. grip on the Middle East’s oil. Despite tactical differences, the Clinton and Bush presidencies oversaw the deaths of nearly a million Iraqis each.

Obama’s speech included support for the French invasion and occupation of Mali, but it made no mention of the U.S.-orchestrated NATO bombing of Libya in 2011. Facing continued investigation by the House Republicans for the U.S. Embassy attack in Benghazi, the president wants to avoid touting his full-fledged support for the so-called Libyan ‘rebellion,’ which was led largely by al-Qaeda affiliates who later carried out the embassy attack.

With the stroke of a speechwriter’s pen, the President revised history on national television with his claim, “unrest in the Arab World has also allowed extremists to gain a foothold in countries like Libya and Syria.” Of course, he avoids mentioning the most damning fact of all: the U.S. funded and armed this ‘unrest’ in Libya and continues supporting the ‘rebels’ in Syria, in alliance with the Israeli government and the Saudi monarchy.

Code Pink interrupts Obama’s speech

Near the end of his speech, the president attempted to blame Congress for his broken campaign promise to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. At this point, Medea Benjamin, the co-founder of the anti-war organization Code Pink, interrupted President Obama and pointed out his broken campaign promise to close Guantanamo Bay. Benjamin also criticized his administration’s use of drone strikes. The U.S. media lashed out at Benjamin for interrupting Obama and ignored the fact that her points were correct.

While Congress has blocked the president’s ability to transfer prisoners to the U.S. – a move that Obama supported by signing the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) – Obama has the ability to release the 86 prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, which effectively closes the facility. Of course, prior to the NDAA, Obama could have closed Guantanamo Bay like he pledged to do early in his first term. As Benjamin pointed out during her pointed exchange with the president, Obama has shown a willingness and enthusiasm for the indefinite detention policies of the Bush administration – the same policies he decried during his run for the White House in 2008.

After the speech, Benjamin said this in an interview with Common Dreams: “While I have received a deluge of support, there are others, including journalists, who have called me ‘rude.’ But terrorizing villages with Hellfire missiles that vaporize innocent people is rude.” She continued, “Violating the sovereignty of nations like Pakistan is rude. Keeping 86 prisoners in Guantanamo long after they have been cleared for release is rude. Shoving feeding tubes down prisoners' throats instead of giving them justice is certainly rude.” The latter is a reference to the Obama administration’s forced end to a hunger strike launched by Guantanamo Bay prisoners.

Plenty of commentators in the U.S. corporate media praised Obama’s speech and blasted Benjamin’s courageous stand against drone strikes. However, all of the president’s rhetoric does not change the fundamentally violent nature of the U.S. imperialist system. Well into his second term, Obama has no excuses remaining to explain his full-embrace of the Bush era policies, and the anti-war movement is beckoning for answers.

 

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