Obama’s Free Ride?

First, some pretty pictures… or things that look like pictures…

From Nasty Nicky B, a shameless uber-geek:

From The Other Ray:

Speaking of President Jesus, EK Hornbeck points out some interesting ways in which the new President has dragged the White House kicking and screaming into the late 1990s. First up is the new President’s weekly web video address!

And next is the White House blog… complete with its own RSS feed!

Bartholomew O’Bama has certainly been busy in his first few days in office, doing such progressive things as “reclaiming the moral high ground” by re-examining the travesty that is the military prison in Guantanamo. Good for him. Close that bloody place, already!

Now, he is an American President, which means he’s reflexively going to be pro-war, pro-Israel and irrationally pro-American (the latter being his job, after all); one just hopes he will be less of those things than his rabid predecessor was.

That having been said, it’s funny to watch his detractors scurry to prove how much easier of a ride the press has been giving him than they did Bush. This suggestion, by the way, is the very worst in historic revisionism. Anyone who was sentient during the 3 years after 9/11 surely remembers how the American press bent over and presented its hindquarters for Bush to penetrate, as any criticism of President-in-Chimp’s policies, however minor, was painted as traitorous by a rabid right wing punditocracy. There may be unabashed love of Obama today by some in the press class, but back then there was palpable terror of Bush. Love is far more conducive to a functioning democracy than fear ever will be.

The current favourite example is the launching of predator drones by US forces onto Pakistani terroritory earlier today. This is touted as evidence that Obama is just as hawkish as Bush, and has started his own war against another country, yet suffers none of the bad press that Bush did after the invasion of Iraq.

Where do I begin with this?

First, upon the invasion of Iraq, Bush suffered no bad press in mainstream America. The foreign press attacked him, the alternative American press was incensed, and Americans by the millions marched and protested his actions. But the mainstream press was pretty much silent, preferring to just “report the news” rather than to take a stand on the fragility of Bush’s evidence for war.

Please, let us not forget ever that George Bush rode his manufactured state of war-induced forced patriotism into war-without-end, effectively immunizing himself against media criticism by milking the “must support the President during wartime” sentiment. It wasn’t until the campaign leading up to the 2004 election that any mainstream American journalists, like Dan Rather, found enough of their balls to begin to speak out against Bush’s policies. Dan Rather was a buffoon who did it clumsily and with weak evidence, but he did speak up… and was ripped to tatters for it.

That fate befell lesser crtics, as well. Bill Maher, a lousy comedian, for Pete’s sake, was relegated to the tundra of cable TV after his poorly timed anti-Bush remarks. Veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas was banned from Bush’s first post-invasion press conference because she had had the nerve to criticize the retarded boy king.

Do not let your recollection of events be revised by those wishing to re-tell the history of Bush’s legacy! That legacy includes a profound and almost criminal failure of American journalism to do its job. This LA Times article from 2004 discusses this phenomenon, as does this 2003 article from the New York Press. Living in Washington, DC, at the time, I was starved for any critical coverage of Bush shenanigans. In the heart of the American imperial capital, I had to turn to Canadian and British news to get any balanced coverage at all!

Second, the Obama administration did not launch these attacks anew. This is not new policy. They simply decided not to stop the ongoing, extant missile launches into Pakistan. The US, under Bush, had been launching missiles into Pakistan since at least November of last year. This is not a new offensive. The only thing different about today’s launches is that they are the first ones since Obama officially became President.

In terms of evidence of Obama’s hawkishness or of media bias towards him, these launches are about as newsworthy as any ongoing actions in Afghanistan or Iraq. Those actions were going on before Obama took office, and they continue now that he is in office. In short, these are Bush military policies and plans that were hot and underway during the Bush days, and continue on now during the Obama days.

Yes, Obama could have chosen to halt the missiles. He chose not to. So today’s military actions are Obama actions. “Obama actions” include the missile strikes in Pakistan and every last little skirmish in Afghanistan and Iraq –none of which made front page news, since skirmishes are no longer newsworthy. But this is all in keeping with his campaign promises. He promised he would slowly disengage from Iraq and rapidly re-engage in the Afghanistan-South Asia region.

Personally, I don’t like the idea of escalating in South Asia. But remember that Obama was elected on specific promises to vacate the Middle East and to re-engage in South Asia. He also specifically mentioned his willingness to attack targets in Pakistan; it was a major topic in the debates with John McCain.

So why are people not howling for Obama’s head? Because he’s doing what he promised to do, and what an overwhelming majority of Americans voted him to do. This is not a matter of me or other anti-Bushites supporting Obama’s hawkish moves –I do not!– but rather a matter of recognizing that there is no duplicity or surprise here. With Bush, such attacks would have been couched in secrecy and duplicity —Bush had earned the public’s distrust and disdain with the manner in which he suppressed dissent and ignored the very loud pacifist pleas that were inconvenient to his philosophies.

Third, if we’re going to compare media responses to Bush and Obama and claim that somehow Obama gets a free ride on his military decisions, let’s recall that when Bush began his missile assaults against Pakistan… no one in America noticed. It was reported in the world media, but I certainly don’t recall it being discussed on prime time US network news. CNN mentioned it because they have 24 hours to fill, but that was about it. In fact, the missiles of today (well, yesterday now) are headline news simply because they happened on Obama’s watch. So once again, I call both revisionism and analytical shenanigans.

Fourth, and last, is the complicated reasoning behind objections to the missile attacks. They are illegal violations of a foreign nation’s sovereignty, which is especially troubling since this particular foreign nation is a close US ally on the “War on Terror”. The problem, as we all know, is that while the Pakistani government might be a US ally in this war, senior elements in the Pakistani intelligence and defence sectors are sympathetic towards Taliban interests, thus hindering them in prosecuting the war the way the Americans would like.

So was this simply a matter of the US finally getting fed up with Pakistani dithering and taking matters into their own hands? I doubt it. Knowing what I know of the weirdness and duplicity of South Asian governments, I’m convinced that the current Pakistani government gave tacit sanction to this attack (and to the attacks during Bush’s watch), and probably even provided the intelligence necessary to prosecute the strikes accurately. This allows them to win cooperation points with the US, to take out some pesky thorns in their backyard, and to be able to simultaneously play the hypocritical, wounded anti-imperialist victims in their own media.

Thus, while I detest these attacks for their killing of civilians (the ultimate cowardly act, if you think about it: unmanned drone launched from thousands of miles away, killing a handful bad guys and a bunch of poor villagers), given their likely launch with approval of Pakistan, they probably do not consitute the truly offensive global crime that had come to define George Bush.

In short, Obama is not judged as harshly as we would have judged Bush because he did nothing nearly approaching the depravity, arrogance and criminality of Bush’s regular, reflexive actions. This is hardly “bias” on the part of either the media or the publc. Rather, it’s rational human behaviour.