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Obama and the change the world demands

[Kavita Krishnan will be a featured guest at the World at a Crossroads conference, to be held in Sydney, Australia, on April 10-12, 2009, organised by the Democratic Socialist Perspective, Resistance and Green Left Weekly. Visit for full agenda and to book your tickets.]

By Kavita Krishnan

The United States – and the world – has just witnessed Bush's exit from and Barack Obama's entry into the White House. The mood at Obama's inauguration – an event replete with symbolic resonances, situating the Obama presidency in the history of the civil rights movement against racism in the US – indicates the endurance of that groundswell of popular hope in the US which powered Obama's election campaign. For a US people reeling from financial crisis and the highly unpopular Bush presidency, Obama has offered a promise of ``change''.

Obama is quite aware of this crisis of confidence – domestic as well as global – in the hegemony of the US empire. He began his inaugural speech by acknowledging the economy weakened by greed, the lost jobs and homes, expensive healthcare and schools that fail many, and tried to address the "sapping of confidence … a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable". Clearly, for Obama, ``change'' must mean a restoration of the deeply damaged credibility of the US. At the same time, for the people of the US, and much of the world too, it is clear that their hopes rest on a more thoroughgoing definition of change – a break with the long history of imperialist war-mongering and aggression and capitalist hubris.

More continuity than change

While wholeheartedly reiterating the immense significance of a popular victory of an African American in a US presidential election, and the understandable vesting of hope in him by people bruised by two terms of the Bush presidency, it must be said that Obama's inaugural speech took care to indicate more continuity than change with the policies of empire.

Obama's bland declaration that the debate over whether the market is a force of good or evil is irrelevant, and his reassurance that "[the market's] power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched", rather than indicating confidence, inadvertently perhaps let slip the anxieties about the widespread doubts being raised worldwide about the character of capitalism as a system, in the wake of the global financial crisis. He made it a point to establish continuity with the legacy of how "earlier generations faced down fascism and communism ... with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions". Again, this reference reveals something about the renewed ideological challenge of communism and socialism for the US establishment. Obama's words suggest equal opposition to both fascism and communism. But in the Second World War, it was the USSR that bore the main brunt of and played the main role in defeating fascism. Since then the US has never hesitated in condoning and even sponsoring fascist and dictatorial regimes to combat and contain communist regimes. Most of Washington's Cold War alliances were with brutal dictatorships – Pinochet, Suharto, the Shah (Iran), killer regimes in Guatemala and El Salvador – as well as with forces like the Taliban in Afghanistan.   

Obama's offer of mutual respect and peace to the "Muslim world" carried little conviction, coming as it did alongside a resounding silence on the US-approved assault by Israel on Gaza. In an oblique reference, perhaps, to the likes of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, Obama declared that leaders who tried to blame the West for their ills ought to remember that "your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy". To authoritarian regimes that silence dissent, he said, "we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist". No doubt Obama will be reminded by the world's people that it is the US which has destroyed so much of what others have built – be it Allende's Chile, Mossadegh's Iran or the cradle of world civilisation, Iraq.

It is a neocon apologist for the US empire who observed approvingly that, "The hidden hand of the market cannot work without the hidden fist." For the world's people, the "change we need" can happen only if the US, which has throughout its history used its military might to "make the world safe for" its corporations and commercial interests, were to "unclench its fist" and end the occupation of Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan.

Even as Obama echoes his immediate predecessor in his declaration that, "We will not apologise for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defence", we may recall the words of Martin Luther King Jr, who spoke ``truth to power'' four decades ago to what he called "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government" (April 4, 1967).

Powerful mandate

The US people have given a powerful mandate against Bush and his policies; the US people will now see how Obama delivers. Likewise, it is now time for the Indian people to deliver a powerful message in the coming elections – against the blatantly pro-US course followed by the Indian government and its consequences: the disturbing growth of US intervention in our internal matters and the regional affairs of South Asia.

In Indian ruling circles, there is some anxiety about Obama's pronouncements (echoed more provocatively by the British Foreign Secretary David Miliband on his recent visit to India) on Kashmir. While Indian rulers may be chary of a US-brokered Kashmir solution, they are nevertheless doing all they can to facilitate increased US presence in the region. The US FBI has virtually taken over the investigation into the Mumbai terror attacks; recently, it was even audacious enough to whisk away an eyewitness – a woman from Mumbai's fishing community – to the US for "interrogation"!

The US has also intensified its efforts to entangle India further in its military misadventures. Recently, the Indian army chief even hinted that India ought to send troops to Afghanistan as a strategic counter to Pakistan, pointing out that India has already been providing "soft assistance" there, but adding that it was up to the political leadership to take such a decision. There was no reprimand by India's UPA government for such irresponsible foreign policy statements by the army chief.        

The pragmatic corporate discourse which has discovered in Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi (chief sponsor of the 2002 massacre of thousands of Muslims) the greatest icon of Indo-US relations, as though it was just a business deal – outsourcing benefits, technological assistance and US admonition and arm twisting of Pakistan. The economic crisis and terrorist threat exposes the utter hollowness of this approach and the huge costs Indians are paying for the mirage of perceived benefits.

The time is ripe for India to say, "Yes we can" to change in the grievously harmful "strategic partnership" of the Indian ruling class with US imperialism, and to forcefully demand a de-linking of Indian foreign and economic policy from the grand US design.

[This article is an editorial from the forthcoming February issue of Liberation, the central organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation.]


Obama airstrikes kill 22 people including children in Pakistan

Obama airstrikes kill 22 people including children in Pakistan:

The airstrikes were authorised under a covert programme approved by Obama, according to a senior US official

Obama's Torture Ban That Doesn't Ban Torture

Counterpunch, January 26, 2009
How Obama's New Rules Keep Intact
The Torture Ban That Doesn't Ban Torture


If you're lying on the slab still breathing, with your torturer hanging
over you, you don't much care if he is an American or a mere United
States - sponsored trainee.

When President Obama declared flatly this week that "the United States
will not torture" many people wrongly believed that he'd shut the
practice down, when in fact he'd merely repositioned it.

Obama's Executive Order bans some -- not all -- US officials from
torturing but it does not ban any of them, himself included, from
sponsoring torture overseas.

Indeed, his policy change affects only a slight percentage of
US-culpable tortures and could be completely consistent with an increase
in US-backed torture worldwide.

The catch lies in the fact that since Vietnam, when US forces often
tortured directly, the US has mainly seen its torture done for it by
proxy -- paying, arming, training and guiding foreigners doing it, but
usually being careful to keep Americans at least one discreet step removed.

That is, the US tended to do it that way until Bush and Cheney changed
protocol, and had many Americans laying on hands, and sometimes taking
digital photos.

The result was a public relations fiasco that enraged the US
establishment since by exposing US techniques to the world it diminished
US power.

But despite the outrage, the fact of the matter was that the Bush/Cheney
tortures being done by Americans were a negligible percentage of all of
the tortures being done by US clients.

For every torment inflicted directly by Americans in Iraq, Afghanistan,
Guantanamo and the secret prisons, there were many times more being
meted out by US-sponsored foreign forces.

Those forces were and are operating with US military, intelligence,
financial or other backing in Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia,
Pakistan, Jordan, Indonesia, Thailand, Uzbekistan, Colombia, Nigeria,
and the Philippines, to name some places, not to mention the tortures
sans-American-hands by the US-backed Iraqis and Afghans.

What the Obama dictum ostensibly knocks off is that small percentage of
torture now done by Americans while retaining the overwhelming bulk of
the system's torture, which is done by foreigners under US patronage.

Obama could stop backing foreign forces that torture, but he has chosen
not to do so.

His Executive Order instead merely pertains to treatment of "
individual in the custody or under the effective control of an officer,
employee, or other agent of the United States Government, or detained
within a facility owned, operated, or controlled by a department or
agency of the United States, in any armed conflict..." which means that
it doesn't even prohibit direct torture by Americans outside
environments of "armed conflict," which is where much torture happens
anyway since many repressive regimes aren't in armed conflict.

And even if, as Obama says, "the United States will not torture," it can
still pay, train, equip and guide foreign torturers, and see to it that
they, and their US patrons, don't face local or international justice.

This is a return to the status quo ante, the torture regime of Ford
through Clinton, which, year by year, often produced more US-backed
strapped-down agony than was produced during the Bush/Cheney years.

Under the old -- now new again -- proxy regime Americans would, say,
teach interrogation/torture, then stand in the next room as the victims
screamed, feeding questions to their foreign pupils. That's the way the
US did it in El Salvador under JFK through Bush Sr. (For details see my
"Behind the Death Squads: An exclusive report on the U.S. role in El
Salvador’s official terror," The Progressive, May, 1984 ; the US Senate
Intelligence Committee report that piece sparked is still classified,
but the feeding of questions was confirmed to me by Intelligence
Committee Senators. See also my "Confessions of a Death Squad Officer,"
The Progressive, March, 1986, and my "Comment," The New Yorker, Oct. 15,
1990,[regarding law, the US, and El Salvador]).

In Guatemala under Bush Sr. and Clinton (Obama's foreign policy mentors)
the US backed the army's G-2 death squad which kept comprehensive files
on dissidents and then electroshocked them or cut off their hands. (The
file/ surveillance system was launched for them in the '60s and '70s by
CIA/ State/ AID/ special forces; for the history see "Behind the Death
Squads," cited above, and the books of Prof. Michael McClintock).

The Americans on the ground in the Guatemalan operation, some of whom I
encountered and named, effectively helped to run the G-2 but,
themselves, tiptoed around its torture chambers. (See my "C.I.A. Death
Squad," The Nation [US], April 17, 1995, "The Country Team," The Nation
[US], June 5, 1995, letter exchange with US Ambassador Stroock, The
Nation [US], May 29, 1995, and Allan Nairn and Jean-Marie Simon,
"Bureaucracy of Death," The New Republic, June 30, 1986).

It was a similar story in Bush Sr. and Clinton's Haiti -- an operation
run by today's Obama people -- where the DIA (Defense Intelligence
Agency) helped launch the terrorist group FRAPH, the CIA paid its
leader, and FRAPH itsef laid the machetes on Haitian civilians,
torturing and killing as US proxies. (See my "Behind Haiti's
paramilitaries: our man in FRAPH," The Nation [US], Oct 24, 1994, and
"He's our S.O.B.," The Nation [US], Oct. 31, 1994; the story was later
confirmed on ABC TV's "This Week" by US Secretary of State Warren

In today's Thailand -- a country that hardly comes to mind when most
people think of torture -- special police and militaries get US gear and
training for things like "target selection" and then go out and torture
Thai Malay Muslms in the rebel deep south, and also sometimes (mainly
Buddhist) Burmese refugees and exploited northern and west coast workers.

Not long ago I visited a key Thai interrogator who spoke frankly about
army/ police/ intel torture and then closed our discussion by saying
"Look at this," and invited me into his back room.

It was an up to date museum of plaques, photos and awards from US and
Western intelligence, including commendations from the CIA
counter-terrorism center (then run by people now staffing Obama),
one-on-one photos with high US figures, including George W. Bush, a
medal from Bush, various US intel/ FBI/ military training certificates,
a photo of him with an Israeli colleague beside a tank in the Occupied
Territories, and Mossad, Shin Bet, Singaporean, and other interrogation
implements and mementos.

On my way out, the Thai intel man remarked that he was due to re-visit
Langley soon.

His role is typical. There are thousands like him worldwide. US proxy
torture dwarfs that at Guantanamo.

Many Americans, to their credit, hate torture. The Bush/Cheney escapade
exposed that.

But to stop it they must get the facts and see that Obama's ban does not
stop it, and indeed could even accord with an increase in US-sponsored
torture crime.

In lieu of action, the system will grind on tonight. More shocks,
suffocations, deep burns. And the convergence of thousands of complex
minds on one simple thought: 'Please, let me die.'

Allan Nairn writes the blog News and Comment at

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