What the Democrats and the Left need to learn – Lesson 1

This is the first part of what I imagine will be a few blog posts on this topic.

Do not put Obama on a pedestal. President Obama did some things right while he was in office, but there are other things he got wrong, really wrong. Right now I’m hearing a lot of people on the left practically idolising the man as though he had no faults. Even though we may be vehemently opposed to Trump and all that he stands for, we cannot overlook Obama’s faults or we won’t learn from his mistakes.

On the positive side, Obama re-opened diplomatic relations with Cuba, which should have been done long ago. He repealed don’t ask, don’t tell, making life far easier for gays in the military. He closed CIA black sites, where suspected terrorists were detained and tortured. He implemented the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, which despite having increased healthcare costs overall, has enabled millions more Americans to get health insurance coverage that they were previously denied. Obama also signed the Paris Accord on Climate Change, as part of a world effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and control global warming. And just before leaving office, Obama commuted the prison sentences of 330 people including whistleblower Chelsea Manning and Puerto Rican independence activist, Oscar Lopez-Rivera.

On the negative side, Obama failed to fulfil his campaign promise to close the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, which means that numerous terror suspects are still being held indefinitely and without trial at this facility in violation of their Constitutional rights to due process, and in violation of international law.

Obama was intent on pushing through the secret free trade agreement called the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) which would have given US corporations tremendous rights, including the right to sue any government that is party to the agreement in a secret trade court if that corporation claimed that any of that nation’s laws cut into its corporate profits. So in other words, if Congress or any state passed a law to protect the environment and not allow for example, fracking, to take place on its land, a corporation that fracks would have the right to sue the US government or the state. The trial would then take place in a secret trade court with corporate lawyers acting as judges. You can see where this would lead. How can people say that Obama was acting in the best interests of the American people when he supported this agreement? Quite simply he wasn’t, he was acting in the corporate interest.

Disturbingly, he pursued a vigorous anti-whistleblower/leaker policy and prosecuted more people under the 1917 Espionage Act than all previous presidents combined. There is a great article in the Guardian detailing how top level officials who have leaked information, such as General Patraeus who passed on multiple top secret documents to his lover, have gotten off practically scot-free, while low level officials, such as John Kiriakou, who leaked details of the CIA’s use of torture, face years in prison. Even more disturbing about Kiriakou’s case is the fact ‘that he is the only person to be prosecuted for any aspect of the CIA’s use of torture, including waterboarding, […] while the torture itself has gone unpunished.’[1] Another person prosecuted and charged under the Espionage Act is Stephen Kim, a mid-level analyst specialising in North Korea. Even though the news report attributed to a leak by Kim does not reveal anything that wasn’t already being talked about or speculated in the public arena, and there is no proof that Kim actually did reveal any classified information to the Fox News reporter, Kim was singled out as an easy target. Furthermore, Kim’s defence lawyer found out that a number of other high-ranking government officials had also been in contact with the same reporter, though none of these individuals were ever questioned or prosecuted. The prosecution of Stephen Kim has destroyed his career and his marriage. It has strained his family relations and drained his and his family’s bank accounts. It has also left him severely depressed and suicidal.[2] How can Obama supporters overlook this? How can they say that he was a great president when he went against his promise of having a more transparent administration and used the Espionage Act to ruthlessly go after all sort of people who were only revealing the truth of American misconduct and illegal acts to their fellow citizens, while those who’ve sanctioned or carried out these acts have not been prosecuted or even investigated? This is moral idiocy!

Another major fault of Obama is that he significantly increased drone strikes during his time in office. The Intercept has written a detailed report on these drone strikes, entitled The Drone Papers, after receiving leaked documents from an anonymous government intelligence officer who wants Americans to know the truth about what their government is doing, who wants Americans to speak out against these secret assassinations. These leaked documents reveal upsetting facts about the drone strikes carried out in Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia between 2011 and 2013. Among other things, they show that rather than being precise strikes that kill only those who are going to carry out an imminent attack on Americans, far more innocent civilians have been killed than the intended Taliban, al Qaeda or al-Shabaab targets. Ninety percent of those killed by drones have not been the intended target and no one in the US knows who these people were or whether they constituted any imminent threat at all. Obama also tried to cover up the number of innocent civilians who were killed by drones, by classifying all men who are of military-age in a strike zone as combatants; in other words he deemed that they were guilty by association. We know that drone strikes have also targeted American citizens, such as Anwar al-Awlaki. Assassinations by drones are not only being carried out in the three countries mentioned above, but also in Pakistan, Iraq and Syria and there is concern that they will spread to other countries as well. It’s not just bypassing the option of capturing and trying suspected terrorists or of killing potentially innocent bystanders who happen to be in the same vicinity as the so-called ‘intended target’ that we should be concerned about, mistakes have been made too whereby the completely wrong group was attacked and killed. In 2013, a wedding party in Yemen was struck killing 14 and injuring 22, some severely.[3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11]

These drone strikes, the stated purpose for which has been to kill suspected terrorists with the aim of making Americans safer, have only increased hatred of America throughout the Muslim world and thereby compromised Americans’ safety. If anything, drone strikes have added to Islamic radicalisation. Furthermore, they call into question all sorts of moral and legal questions. What gives the American government the right to kill at will anyone they don’t like anywhere in the world at any time? Why is the American government carrying out assassinations in countries with which they are not at war and getting into other states’ domestic battles? Shouldn’t American citizens be allowed due process and a fair trial or is this only the law for non-Muslims? Is the US War on Terror that the drone strikes are a part of in violation of the United Nations Article 51? How does killing remotely affect those soldiers who fly the drones? How would Americans feel if the situation were reversed and they were the ones living in fear of a drone strike by a foreign power based solely upon where they happen to live? How are the ideals of democracy and freedom affected by drone strikes?

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/mar/16/whistleblowers-double-standard-obama-david-petraeus-chelsea-manning

[2] https://theintercept.com/2015/02/18/destroyed-by-the-espionage-act/

[3] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/civilian-deaths-drone-strikes_us_561fafe2e4b028dd7ea6c4ff

[4] http://edition.cnn.com/2013/12/12/world/meast/yemen-u-s-drone-wedding/

[5] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/31/naming-the-dead_n_6082954.html

[6] https://theintercept.com/drone-papers/the-assassination-complex/

[7] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jul/01/obama-drones-strikes-civilian-deaths

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drone_strikes_in_Pakistan

[9] https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/12/president-obamas-weak-defense-of-his-record-on-drone-strikes/511454/

[10] https://theintercept.com/2016/03/08/nobody-knows-the-identity-of-the-150-people-killed-by-u-s-in-somalia-but-most-are-certain-they-deserved-it/

[11] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/10/world/middleeast/anwar-al-awlaki-a-us-citizen-in-americas-cross-hairs.html?hp

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