by Gary Olson
Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar represents Minnesota’s 5th District, one of the most liberal in the country where no Republican has been elected since 1962. A Muslim woman born in Africa, she was eight years old when her family fled their native Somalia during the Somali Civil War in 1991. They spent four years in a Kenyan refugee camp and in 1995 were approved for resettlement as refugees in the United States, eventually settling in Minneapolis in 1997. Omar was elected to Congress in 2018.
In a recent interview in Politico Magazine, parts of which were published in Omar’s local newspaper, the Star-Tribune, Omar criticized former President Obama for being a “pretty face” who “got away with murder.” It is instructive to read the “Comments” from readers in the Star-Tribune. While some readers praised her position, here are a dozen typical snippets from the vast majority of negative responses:
“I have no patience for traitors, Reckless slander, Most black women know to keep their heads down, She has terrible political instincts, She should be primaried, Omar is dangerous and doesn’t represent our interests, Doesn’t take instruction well, I was a big fan but no more, Obama was a lawfully-elected president, Talk about biting the hand that feeds you, Omar is a trash human being, No way she could possibly be talking for herself.” (Minneapolis Star-Tribune, March 9, 2019).
What is missing here, of course, is any attempt to refute Omar’s statements and it is no wonder because the record is clear. Obama ran for the presidency in 2008 as an anti-war, liberal Democrat. But after taking office he only fulfilled the “liberal Democrat” half of his promise by becoming Bush’s mirror image in terms of foreign policy. He was a ruling class wet dream as he proceeded to wage wars every single day of his two terms.
Despite his previous pledge, Obama failed to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, maintained troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, sold a record $30 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia, increased the US nuclear arsenal, tried to help the Islamic State overthrow Syrian president Bashar Assad, built secret military bases in Africa, supported Israel’s attacks on the Palestinians, backed the crushing repression of Arab Spring and claimed that the United States was the world’s “one indispensable nation.” He accepted the Nobel Peace Prize just as he was about to send 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan.
In Libya, Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, created a failed state which soon hosted a jihadist stronghold. And due to the conditions he fostered, untold thousands of desperate refugees drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. Today, in what remains of Libya, people are selling other human beings as slaves while rape and kidnapping are rampant.
In a bloody end to his two terms in office, in 2016, Obama dropped 26,171 bombs on Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, and Libya. He ordered 500+ “special” drone strikes on Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan compared to 57 under Bush and increased global special operations a massive 130% over the Bush period.
During Obama’s presidency, the anti-war segment within the Democratic Party largely remained silent. However, Rep. Omar’s allegations provides them an opportunity to make a bold statement. Instead of kvetching and lobbing ad hominem attacks against Omar, why not cut to the chase and present a reality-based defense, not only of Obama but for U.S. foreign policy in general? In that spirit I magnanimously suggest the kernel of a rebuttal they might consider which goes as follows:
First, the facts regarding Obama are not in dispute and his behavior wasn’t an error in judgement, a blunder, a tragedy or the result of faulty intelligence reports. You must understand that facts, divorced from motives and contexts are misleading and even dangerous.
During World War II, American strategists knew the United States would emerge as the post-war superpower and they planned accordingly. Several decades ago, Noam Chomsky alerted many of his readers to a concise, lucid statement outlining future U.S. foreign policy. Its author was Cold War strategist and scholar George Kennan who led the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff during this time. In the Top Secret document (PPS23), Kennan didn’t mince words about the fundamental thinking that would guide U.S. foreign policy from that point forward. It is succinctly summarized in the following paragraph:
We have about 50 percent of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3 of its population…In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity…We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford the luxury of altruism and world benefaction…We should cease to talk about vague and unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.
Chomsky reminds us that this Top Secret document was intended for internal consumption. It was also written by one of the “most dovish, liberal and humane” officials in government but there was no mistaking its intent.
Second, something you may have not heard in Econ 101 is that Obama, like all his predecessors, operated under a strict, unforgiving imperative: The capitalist system requires the endless accumulation of wealth on the one hand and violence, suffering and impoverishment on the other. Maintaining the economic disparity that Kennan wrote about in1948 mandates the suppression of any radical efforts to reduce it. Given this context, we might think of these efforts as not only salutary but from one perspective, ethically justified.
Third, Obama knew that incalculably grotesque violence — so many killings — had preceded his time in office. Understandably, many surviving family members and friends felt aggrieved. Regrettably, they didn’t grasp that some lives matter slightly less than others. In any event, these resentful people posed both an imminent and long-term threat to our Shining City on a Hill.
Fourth and closely related, although it is not (yet) a topic in polite conversation, Obama was steadfast in adhering to a higher law. So before carping from the sidelines, Rep. Omar might have heeded Dr. Henry Kissinger’s sage advice that “We must learn to distinguish morality from moralizing.” Once one assumes the awesome responsibilities of the presidency, many options are simply off the table. For example, Rep. Omar accused Obama of “droning countries around the world.” However, when he was forced to vaporize children in the Middle East with his Hellfire missile-armed Reaper drones, he was abiding by a different moral calculus and there is no reason to be squeamish about it. Let us be honest. The deaths of those babies were usually mercifully swift and also a necessary prophylactic measure. Adopting a page from the Zionist playbook, we know that a certain percentage of them would have grown up to be terrorists.
Fifth, let us stop pussy-footing around and say straight out that our exceptional country was built on land secured by genocide, African slavery and remitting barbarism toward Third World peoples. The world is a nasty place and “might actually does make right.” Embrace it. Own it. And then perhaps quietly at first, celebrate it. Sooner than you think you will be liberated from those nagging guilt pangs that are only residue from an obsolete moral code that was itself only someone’s entirely subjective value judgment.
Finally, on the assumption that all of the above is what our government should be doing for us, there is just one additional consideration. As a character in Wallace Shawn’s play, “Aunt Dan and Lemon” confides, “…we’re living a certain way of life — we’re actually living — due to the existence of certain other people who are willing to take the job of killing others on their backs, and it is not a bad thing every once in a while to admit that is the way we are living and, even to give to those certain people a tiny, fractional crumb of thanks.” And really, should there not be some sort of alternate Nobel Prize for those who do what is erroneously called the “dirty work” that continues to guarantee and safeguard the nonpareil economic system devised in human history?
Gary Olson is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Moravian College, Bethlehem, PA. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.