The Obamanan Empire: SOTU and Sgt. First Class Cory Remsburg
By Dennis Loo (1/31/14)
“Being an imperial power, however, is more than being the most powerful nation or just the most hated one. It means enforcing such order as there is in the world and doing so in the American interest. It means laying down the rules America wants (on everything from markets to weapons of mass destruction) while exempting itself from other rules (the Kyoto Protocol on climate change and the International Criminal Court) that go against its interest.”
– Michael Ignatieff, Director of Harvard’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, writing in The New York Times Magazine, “American Empire: Get Used to It,” January 6, 2003.
This article by Ignatieff was published before the Abu Ghraib Scandal. In this essay – note its title: “American Empire: Get Used to It” - Ignatieff fully and unapologetically embraced the descriptor of “Empire” for the US’s role in the world. This represented a turning point where liberals like Ignatieff - note that his job was as a human rights director – as well as conservatives, who had for years been denying that the US was an Empire, finally dropped the pretense and said that Americans should happily own up to being an Empire and all that that entails. Bandwagons are big enough for hypocritical liberals as much as unabashed right-wingers, after all.
When Ignatieff says that being an Empire means that you choose what rules you demand that others abide by and decide which ones you will exempt yourself from observing if it doesn’t serve your interest, he wasn’t being satirical. Read what he says above again and savor these words of his. We don’t need to be loved and in fact, we need to get used to being the “most hated,” as the US does what it does “in the American interest.” If the Kyoto Protocol on climate change doesn’t suit “American interests,” or if the ICC goes against “American interests,” then screw ‘em.
In a subsequent NYT article, entitled "Lesser Evils" and published on May 2, 2004, Ignatieff, channeling Dick Cheney, explicitly and specifically advocated that the US engage in violations of human rights and international law, including “targeted assassinations,” “pre-emptive war,” and “coercive interrogations,” among other things, because these were the “lesser evil” in comparison to the “greater evil” of another 9/11:
To defeat evil, we may have to traffic in evils: indefinite detention of suspects, coercive interrogations, targeted assassinations, even pre-emptive war. These are evils because each strays from national and international law and because they kill people or deprive them of freedom without due process. They can be justified only because they prevent the greater evil. The question is not whether we should be trafficking in lesser evils but whether we can keep lesser evils under the control of free institutions.
Unstated in his commentary was an explanation of why committing war crimes and crimes against humanity were justified against a country that had nothing to do with 9/11. The fact checkers at The New York Times were apparently on an extended holiday and no one, including Ignatieff and the Times’ staff, thought to ask the obvious question: how can any war crimes and violations of human rights be justified when they’re not even being used against terrorists who were responsible for or connected in any way to 9/11?
But then again, perhaps Ignatieff was being consistent in his argument inasmuch as he explicitly states that Empires get to make their own rules and get to decide what rules others have to abide that the Empire itself does not. That rule that others must abide by but the US Empire does not have to apparently includes having to be logically consistent. If you’re not going to be an upholder of the consistency of the application of laws for everyone, then why should you be consistent in your reasoning? When the Empire says it’s right and you better abide by it or we’ll imprison you, torture or kill you, it does so in its own Interest, get it?
When the Abu Ghraib Scandal broke very shortly after this Ignatieff apologia for war crimes, and some deeply revealing and embarrassing photographs of the US torture of prisoners were released to the world, Ignatieff hurriedly tried to back off from his "lesser evil" argument and tried to dissociate himself from what he had just previously advocated. The visual evidence of exactly what these “lesser evils” looked like was altogether too much for Mr. Human Rights to continue to stand by for so blatantly.
I bring this all up now because it provides a perfect introduction to the SOTU speech of three days ago by Obama. In his SOTUS address, Obama concluded his address by invoking a nearly mortally wounded soldier who has partially and painfully recovered, as an exemplar of the American spirit:
I first met Cory Remsburg, a proud Army Ranger, at Omaha Beach on the 65th anniversary of D-Day. Along with some of his fellow Rangers, he walked me through the program – a strong, impressive young man, with an easy manner, sharp as a tack. We joked around, and took pictures, and I told him to stay in touch.
A few months later, on his tenth deployment, Cory was nearly killed by a massive roadside bomb in Afghanistan. His comrades found him in a canal, face down, underwater, shrapnel in his brain.
For months, he lay in a coma. The next time I met him, in the hospital, he couldn’t speak; he could barely move. Over the years, he’s endured dozens of surgeries and procedures, and hours of grueling rehab every day.
Even now, Cory is still blind in one eye. He still struggles on his left side. But slowly, steadily, with the support of caregivers like his dad Craig, and the community around him, Cory has grown stronger. Day by day, he’s learned to speak again and stand again and walk again – and he’s working toward the day when he can serve his country again.
“My recovery has not been easy,” he says. “Nothing in life that’s worth anything is easy.”
Cory is here tonight. And like the Army he loves, like the America he serves, Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg never gives up, and he does not quit.
This section of the speech provoked a standing ovation lasting two minutes. It was clearly the speech’s emotional high point, a speech that ought to be referred to as “Fanfare for Fools” in which Obama tries to recapture his prior charisma, badly damaged by the Obamacare rollout debacle, his drone assassinations, his bailouts of the big banks, his odious and vindictive persecution of whistleblowers such as Chelsea Manning, and the revelations of NSA spying by Edward Snowden, by waving his hands about and trying to convince an increasingly skeptical public that he really is the “hope” and “change” president who is going to reverse the dramatic slide downhill for most Americans’ living standards, annihilations of civil liberties, his ongoing war occupations, and the ever more obvious signs of global climate disaster.
There is something very perverse about Obama’s invocation of Sgt First Class Cory Remsburg. Remburg has a very obvious bright red scar down the right side of his skull and had to be helped up by his father as he lifted his badly damaged right hand to acknowledge the uncallused clapping hands of Congress, the most exclusive club in the world. Remburg, as Obama himself explicitly states, was nearly killed on his tenth deployment to Iraq.
But beyond the ridiculousness of a tenth tour – the tours themselves would have nearly killed Remburg if the IED hadn’t blown up on him – is the fact that Obama would think it suitable to celebrate this terribly damaged young man as an icon for a durable and irrepressible America.
What Obama is and does as leader of the American Empire is to justify the crimes that Empires commit and try to make Americans feel proud of all of it. The Celebration Of All Things Military (COTM) is the backdrop to the grotesqueness of Obama’s SOTU’s emotional high point. Coat ‘em, coat over the grisly reality of what it means to serve that Empire and its yawning maw as it feeds on the bodies and lives of people and the disintegration of the planet’s biosystems. If this speech weren’t sufficient reason to want to do everything we can to wrest a radically different society and world from the dying, trembling, rapacious hands of the Obamaman Empire and its lying front men, then what is?
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[F]ree market fundamentalism - also known as neoliberalism - makes us not more secure or prosperous: it tears the social fabric and undermines security, leading inevitably to disasters on the individual, regional, and global levels.
Neoliberalism is based on the mantra that market forces should run everything. It aims to eliminate job and income security, the social safety net (including welfare and other social guarantees), unions, pensions, public services, and the governmental regulation of corporations. It consequently undermines the basis for people to voluntarily cooperate with authority as almost everyone is increasingly left by themselves to face gargantuan private interests, with governmental and corporate authority ever more indifferent to the public’s welfare.
Those in charge of our collective fates in government and business personify a heartless system based on profit and plunder. They have been relentlessly instituting profoundly immoral and unjust policies even while they insist that they are doing the opposite. We, on the other hand, stand for and are fighting for a radically different system and set of values than this.
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Defeating the empire is not something that occurs only on the literal battlefield. It is also something that is determined throughout the continuum of battles over many issues, including: ideas; philosophy; forms of organization and leadership in economy, politics, and other realms; ways of arguing; ways of responding to and respecting empirical data; interest in truth as opposed to expedience; how people and the environment should be treated; the nature of relations among people (e.g., between women and men, different races and ethnicities, rich and poor countries, etc.); ways of responding to criticism and ideas that are not your own; ways of handling one’s own errors and those of others; and more, all the way up through how warfare is carried out. The contrast between the methods and goals of the neoliberals and those of us who seek an entirely different world is stark. (Globalization and the Demolition of Society, Pp. 326-7)