Obama closes Guantanamo


Obama’s executive order to close Guantanamo was deeply symbolic. It amounted to a repudiation of the Bush administration’s claim to untrammeled executive authority and the restoration of the rule of law. It was a return to the democratic values of the United States and an appeal for a continued political role for the US internationally.

This achievement was not purely Obama’s, but expressed the repugnance of the majority of US citizens with Bush’s departure from constitutional legitimacy.

However, this return to democratic ideals is not the same thing as reversing the extreme social inequality that has built up within the US over the last 30 years, nor does it resolve the social disruption related to globalization that has created desperation among the poorest and most downtrodden throughout the world.

Its effects include the “network” which Obama pledged the US to continue fighting. In Afghanistan and Gaza the US is looking to set up “states” it can negotiate with and which will discipline and channel the desperation of the peoples there. But it is unlikely that the US, or any power, can create a state from outside of these societies. The US wants a European form of representative state ; but the only legitimacy that has arisen there is a decidedly unsecular “Islamic” or tribal law. This turn to traditionalism does not have a single cause, but underlying it is social uncertainty and loss of resources, together with the history of Western intervention in these areas.

Whatever his intentions, Obama is constrained by the fact that the US is today inextricably connected to the global economy. He has not been in office long enough to show if he will channel the desire of people for change into social change, or to understand the role of the US from the viewpoint of particular struggles in the developing world.

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2 Comments

Filed under inauguration, political analysis, US policy

2 responses to “Obama closes Guantanamo

  1. Ms. Harriet

    Colonel D.–While I agree with you that ‘this return to democratic ideals is not the same thing as reversing the extreme social inequality that has built up within the US over the last 30 years’, commentators seem to overlook that the repudiation of torture is a repudiation of the state as an instrument of terror. Such terror takes many forms, of which the torture room is but one.

    I would argue that Bush’s doctrine of preemptive war is another form of this terror which is being rejected in Obama’s no-nonsense approach to stop the torture buck. Obama’s rejection of the Bush doctrine denies the legitimacy of the doctrine of preemptive assault (through which Israel and the U.S. have pursued their aggressive and some may say murderous courses–in Iraq over 1, 000,000 people have died, in the latest Israel strike, over 1,000.) This is a major step in restoring rule of law as the guiding principle of the United States, and those violating treaties, laws, and conventions, like Israel, will really have no cover for their actions. For if anything, Bush’s doctrine was the supra-bully, gun-toting, Napalm wielding, bomb detonating rationale that has unhinged Iraq and delivers daily hell to the Palestinians. That is about to be challenged by Mr. Obama.

    And while those of us in the United States do not see this hell day in and out, it takes its toll on the entire population. Our collective expression as Americans was to end the hell of Guantanamo, and the illegality and immorality of torture, and we want an end to wars that are just as debilitating to the body politic. That’s why we elected Obama. In the restoration of the rule of law we find our strength as a people. We the people. And the affirmation of that strength will help us address the other challenges you have outlined for Mr. Obama in your post.

  2. tompainesghost

    Ms. Harriet – Thank you very much for your comment. I appreciate your interesting argument: however, while Obama has rejected the legality of state-sanctioned torture, I question whether Obama has also rejected the coercive role of states internationally, or for that matter, domestically.
    It remains to be seen exactly what will happen in Iraq and Afghanistan, but perhaps it is worth suggesting that what drove the US to intervene in these countries is more than neoconservative hubris. I suspect it is related to an overwhelming need to dominate areas of strategic economic importance; and this need itself stems from a decline in the competitive position of the US in relation to other nations. If my suspicion is true, then Obama will have a hard time reversing Bush policies, no matter the extent of his political will, since the problems of the US economy are structural rather than political.
    On the domestic front, it is surely soon enough to judge the direction that Obama’s administration is taking. It is clearer now that the social shift that elected Obama was a powerful populist movement and, while Obama is attuned to it, he is having a hard time hanging onto this movement while he is also in charge of a state committed to bailing out failing banks.
    Many have drawn attention to the conservative nature of Obama’s appointments: now it appears that “the Obama administration’s new plan to bail out the nation’s banks was fashioned after a spirited internal debate that pitted the Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, against some of the president’s top political hands. In the end, Mr. Geithner largely prevailed in opposing tougher conditions on financial institutions that were sought by presidential aides …And for all of its boldness, the plan largely repeats the Bush administration’s approach of deferring to many of the same companies and executives who had peddled risky loans and investments at the heart of the crisis and failed to foresee many of the problems plaguing the markets.” (NY Times, 2/11/09)
    Obama calls the credit market “the lifeblood of our economy”; but this is merely one side of the crisis. The other side is the decline of manufacturing which means a reduction in aggregate incomes and therefore demand. Obama’s strategy for increasing demand is to encourage more debt, at a time when consumers cannot handle the debt obligations they already have. The government’s approach to the source of their incomes contrasts starkly with its treatment of bankers. The NY Times reports: “Because G.M. is using taxpayer money to avoid having to file for bankruptcy protection, it must bring payments to departing workers more in line with what is typical of companies in other industries. Starting May 1, most salaried workers in the United States will receive what G.M. characterized as a temporary pay cut. The reductions range from 10 percent for executives to 3 to 7 percent for other employees” (ibid).
    These conditions on manufacturers indicate that wages and living conditions are going to be the casualties of bailouts – unless you’re a banker friend of Timothy Geithner.

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