Nothing epitomizes the deep disappointment of people of conscience in Barack Obama than his ham-handed invitation to George W. Bush to fly aboard Air Force One to Nelson Mandela’s funeral. Undoubtedly intended as a high-minded gesture of Mandelian forgiveness, the pictures of Barack and George hamming it up on the flight to South Africa instead poured salt on the unhealed wound that Bush and Cheney inflicted on Iraq, America and the world.
While Mandela led South Africa beyond the hatreds and crimes against humanity of apartheid through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Obama thinks he can sweep the hatreds and crimes against humanity unleashed by Bush-Cheney under the plush carpets of Air Force One.
South Africa had a reckoning that enabled forgiveness; America believes it can have forgiveness without having a reckoning. We needed some version of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the United States, but all we’ve gotten was more schlock and sentimentality.
Of course, the immediate crisis Barack Obama faced was the meltdown of the corrupt financial system, caused by the bursting of a housing and mortgage bubble that began during the Clinton Administration and came to a head and popped at the end of the Bush years. For a while it provided a complete diversion from the devastating consequences, at home and abroad, of the Bush-Cheney 9.11 reactionary policies.
But after Obama saved Wall Street and the banks, he agonizingly pivoted toward Afghanistan, finally deciding, wrongly (even against his Vice President’s urging), to literally double down on an already failed counter-insurgency (vs. counter-terrorism) policy. Obama’s moment of truth with regard to Bush’s policies came early, and the die was cast with his speech at West Point on December 1st, 2009, outlining his way ahead (or rather further behind) in Afghanistan.
The use of torture by the Bush-Cheney Administration, often contracted out (like the Iraqi invasion itself to a large degree) at ‘black sites’ beyond the reach of scrutiny and law, was cleverly whitewashed. And so the black boil of Guantanamo continues to fester, despite Obama’s core campaign promise to close it.
As with Afghanistan, Obama retained and increased Bush’s drone and spying policies, the latter exposed by a lone 20-something dribbling out bombshells that both advance and chronicle America’s decline in real time.
Even so, the absence of moral and political leadership by Barack Obama to the Syrian humanitarian crisis is quite astounding. Just as with Bill Clinton’s obstruction of Security Council action on the Rwandan genocide, God, however we conceive him or her, may forgive but will never forget Obama’s pathetic dissipation of American power and influence as the preventable Syrian tragedy unfolded.
Barack Obama could not have changed the course of America, much less the world alone. But he could have given expression to a new course, and was uniquely positioned to do so–if he had taken the risks of genuine leadership rather than political calculation.
However, given the failure of imagination in the man, mirroring America’s, personified by inviting the warmonger Bush to join him on Air Force One to fly to Mandela’s funeral, it isn’t, in retrospect, surprising that ‘the vision thing’ wasn’t Barack’s thing.
The usual excuse provided by progressives of Republican obstructionism just doesn’t wash. By failing to address and initiate a national dialogue, however painful and discordant, on the high crimes and misdemeanors of the Bush-Cheney Administration, but instead essentially continuing with their foreign policies, even the smoothest rollout of if Barack’s signature legislation of Obamacare could not have saved his presidency from mediocrity at a moment of great peril for humanity.
In short, Barack Obama, by stubbornly playing the compromiser always above the fray, played right into the hands of the right-wing extremists of the Republican Party, and his administration has become synonymous with paralysis and ineffectuality.
All this is muddy, fast-moving water under Bill and Hillary Clinton’s crumbling bridge to the future. The question of a new course and true leadership now goes way beyond the ‘indispensable nation’ and JFK model. Yet what we’re getting from leaders all over the world, led by President Obama, is the attitude: The old order is dead; long live the old order.
The games that nation-states play are no longer of paramount significance on the world stage. The inchoate global arena is full of many actors now, and no one, except self-important analysts clanging away in think tinks, gives their jockeyings more than an occasional glance.
So what are seeing and feeling citizens of the new global society to do? The hope that things can go on like this, much less a rationalized resignation that it doesn’t matter, is very foolish.
The collapse is coming, and imagining you can cope with a dystopian future by watching ‘Doomsday Preppers’ is the height of folly. We cannot prevent the collapse of the old order, since rotten timbers must give way, but we have a lot more power as individuals to effect change than we think.
However we first have to fully awaken insight within ourselves, and question together, non-partisanly and creatively, with anyone who isn’t too brain and heart-dead to care about the future of humanity.