United States

Osama, Obama and Bush: Apt Comparisons, Missed Opportunities

By Bruce A. Dixon

Who says there’s no difference between Republicans and Democrats in the White House? Imagine for a moment that the announcement of Osama Bin Laden’s death had come four years earlier, while George W. Bush was still president.

Having already used the top-gun carrier landing stunt for his 2003 “mission accomplished” speech, president Bush might have had himself lowered to the announcement scene by cable from a helicopter at one of the more than one thousand U.S. military bases worldwide. With Vice President Dick Cheney hovering at some undisclosed location the president, Bush, would declare yet another battlefield victory in the global war on terror. Bin Laden’s body, the president might say, was promptly buried at sea within hours of his death in accordance with Muslim tradition. Minister of Fear Tom Ridge would elevate the national alert level to pale orange. Military and intelligence officials would insist that the killing of Bin Laden proves that “torture works.” At the Pentagon Secretary of War Robert Gates, in consultation with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice might advise withholding any photographs of the corpse, and security would be increased at U.S. embassies and installations around the world.

Instead Barack Obama made the announcement solemnly, sternly and alone at the White House. There were no references to “smokin’ him out” or “mission accomplished,” no ridiculous color-coded alerts, nor references to a “war on terror.” Speaking from an undisclosed location, former vice president Dick Cheney congratulated President Obama, who announced that Bin Laden’s body had been buried at sea shortly after his death, according to Muslim tradition. While Republicans in Congress tweet that “torture works,” military and intelligence officials, who ordered and supervised torture such as General Petreaus, are quietly promoted. At the Pentagon, Secretary of War Robert Gates, consulting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reportedly decline to release photographs of the corpse. Security was increased at U.S. embassies and installations around the world.

The real difference between Republicans and Democrats in a case like this isn’t in how the White House would act. The difference is how rank and file Democrats, the so-called antiwar movement chooses to react. If this were 2006 or 2007, many would recall the widespread news reports of Bin Laden’s death back in December of 2001, and the fact that Bin Laden audio or video tapes had a habit of emerging at incredibly convenient times for the Bush administration, like the eve of the 2004 election. Why should a government and military establishment, antiwar activists would wonder aloud, that told hundreds of well-documented lies to get us into Iraq alone be trusted to tell the truth now?

The difference is, those are questions that don’t get asked with a Democrat in the White House. Democrat Barack Obama doesn’t just start with a clean slate. Thanks to the president’s bipartisan and visionary policy of “looking forward, not back,” atrocities and crimes of administrations past are forgiven and forgotten, and all the excuses offered for them enshrined as unquestioned historical fact. The Pentagon says they killed Bin Laden in a weekend firefight, won’t show pictures and dumped the body at sea. That’s it and that’s all. Unless another courageous soldier like Bradley Manning comes forth, we’ll never know any different, end of story.

Assuming the official story is mostly true, could Bin Laden have been captured alive and put on trial? Not likely. No matter who was in the White House, the U.S. never had any intention of capturing Bin Laden alive and bringing him to trial. Afghan authorities in the fall of 2001 offered to apprehend and turn Bin Laden in to U.S. officials, if only they were provided with some actual proof he was responsible for 9-11. Bush spurned the offer, preferring to invade and install a new Afghan “government” of feudal warlords, drug smugglers and aid profiteers. The team allegedly sent to kill Bin Laden was not instructed to capture him alive, but to do just what it did. To kill him.

The Afghan war is not going well, even with a quarter million military, contractors, U.S. officials, and mercenaries on the ground spending upwards of $2 billion-a-week. The American public, especially Democrats, don’t support it, and even General Petreaus concedes it cannot be won. If President Obama were the courageous, transformative and visionary leader his worshippers would like to believe, Bin Laden’s reported death would be an opportunity to declare victory and leave. But transformation and courageous vision have never been Barack Obama’s strong suit. This president has already blown many such opportunities.

Remember when the White House controlled, with no congressional oversight whatsoever, the global research, financial resources and manufacturing plants of General Motors? Obama could have ordered it to produce electric cars and trucks, and ordered the Post Office and federal agencies to buy them. He could have made GM produce high-speed railcars, or building materials that conserve energy, a real “green jobs” program. Instead, he bailed out the investors, stuck the workers with responsibility for their own pensions, and let GM go back to making the same things the same ways they were making before.

Then there was healthcare, where Obama in 2005 told audiences first we (Democrats) take the House and Senate, then we take the White House, and then we get single-payer health care. Instead we got bailouts for big pharma and private health insurance. There was the reconfiguration of NAFTA and the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act to enable workers to form unions, both of which Obama endorsed in front of key audiences, and flipped on once in office. Whether it’s been Wall Street, “clean coal,” “safe nukes,” a path to citizenship for the undocumented, an answer to black joblessness and foreclosures, or offshore drilling and the Gulf cleanup, the only courage Barack Obama has found is the courage to betray Democratic voters, who will vote for him anyway because he’s not Michelle Bachman.

The killing of Bin Laden, if that’s what it was, and the celebrations around it only ratify and affirm the lies that war, torture and empire are good and necessary, especially when carried out by Democrats.

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and based in Marietta GA. He’s one of the principals of a technology and consulting firm and a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. Contact him

Black Agenda Report, May 5, 2011