Sunday, 1 September 2013

Dear President Obama....

I was one of the many people who felt that the world had become a slightly better place when you were elected President of the USA.  I didn't forget the betrayals of Blair's Labour government in the UK after 14 years of divisive and destructive Thatcherism. Nor did I forget the betrayal of everything the Labour Party had stood for when the Lange government was swept to power in New Zealand in 1984 and Roger Douglas ushered in the 29 years of neo-liberalism that has divided the country of my birth to an extent unknown in my lifetime. But I still hoped you would be different. 

I know that your background, education and profession make you as distant from the lives and concerns of the mass of American poor and the struggling 'middle classes' as George Bush Jnr was, but the emblematic power of your election was enormous. It had profound symbolic meaning, not just to Americans of colour and  to progressive white Americans, but to the whole world - just as it was known it would by the powerful people who backed you.

Sensible people knew that your candidacy was calculated to divert the growing anger of those people whose American Dream has been shattered, but many of us still hoped that you might somehow break your corporate shackles and act to control the destructive forces that dominate American government.  Many people - and not just Americans - desperately want to believe that American democracy and decency exists - that it has just lost its way and is waiting to be liberated. 

It's a hard thing for people reared on the myth of American exceptionalism to confront the fact that most people in the world regard America - not with affection, respect, or approval - but with varying degrees of fear and loathing.  Most see the USA, not as a mature, even-handed, progressive force for good in the world, but the absolute opposite, a country that acts like a paranoid adolescent with a narcissistic personality disorder who has control of a vast arsenal of weapons.  How could any rational person not be frightened of such a country?

When intelligent Americans answer the question 'why is America the best country in the world'  by listing the many reasons why it is not - they have to add the rider, 'but it could be'. They have to do that because so many (maybe most) Americans are incapable of facing the truth - that their country has grown powerful by behaving like a psychopathic bully, stamping its illegal authority all over the world to extend and defend its global interests. 

A large proportion of  Americans, by virtue of their narrow education and a politically compliant and vacuous media, are insular, superstition-ridden and parochial. Through their votes and their inaction, those Americans have not only allowed their government to become the world's bad cop -  on occasion they have demanded it. Most Americans did not care about the USA's carpet bombing of Japanese cities with incendiary bombs, or dropping two nuclear bombs on non-military cities even when the scale of civilian deaths and injuries was made public. Most didn't care about their military raping women and massacring innocents in Vietnam, or the fact that the USA dropped more bombs on that country than had been used in WW2.  A large number feel nothing but pride that no country in history has dropped more bombs on civilian targets than the USA did during WW2 and since.

An outcome of this mindset is that the scales of natural justice for Americans are heavily weighted in their favour. Just under 3000 people (12% of whom were not Americans) died in the September 11th attacks. It was a tragedy and no person of conscience can defend attacks on non-combatants - whatever the cause is  - but, the illegal attacks on Iraq by the USA and its Coalition partners killed twice that number in the two weeks of the USA's 'Shock and Awe' bombardment. Economic sanctions prior to invasion and the ongoing hostilities since the invasion have killed hundreds of thousands of innocents. Hundreds of thousands have died in Afghanistan and in Libya.

In Syria 100,000 have already died. And you want to add to that - to appease the Ranting Right whose sole measure of America's 'greatness' seems to be the numbers of 'enemies' it has killed.

The current tub-thumping and handwringing by politicians and compliant media over the use of chemical weapons in Syria - is the grossest hypocrisy. America stockpiled vast quantities of chemical weapons during WW1 and in 1918 prevailed on the British and French to drop them on German cities - having first whipped up extreme anti-German feeling in the USA. Only the wind direction prevented America becoming the first country to use chemical weapons against civilians. The USA has never got rid of its stockpile of chemical and biological weapons. Why would it keep them unless it either had the intention of using them, or wanted the implied threat that it would use them?

That aside, what was the76,000,000 litres of dioxin contaminated herbicide that was sprayed on farm land and forest in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, if not chemical warfare? An estimated 400,000 people died and 500,000 children have birth defects as a result of its use - numbers that are cynically rejected by the Americans as 'unrealistic'. Attempts by Vietnamese victims to get compensation have been disdainfully dismissed by the US Judiciary.  The budget to clean up contaminated ex-US military bases is insultingly low in light of the profits being made by the principal manufacturers of Agent Orange, Dow and Monsanto - and even more so in light of the fact that the USA spends about $1.3 trillion dollars every year on 'defence' of its global empire. 

Is death by a nerve agent any more horrible than death by bombs containing white phosphorus and petroleum jelly? 

Most Americans neither know nor care about the role their country played in the slaughter of 1.5 million Indonesian communists and socialists by the military and political Islam after the overthrow of Sukarno. That was the first cynical use of political Islam as a reactionary force, and it was so successful it was used again in Afghanistan to suck the USSR into an unwinnable war. The USA has funded, armed and encouraged political Islam, overtly and covertly, and as certain Islamic adherents have been driven into being more and more fundamentalist and reactionary, the monster America created destabilises countries and is the raison d'ĂȘtre for the so-called 'war on terror'.

The list of the USA's war crimes and its internal repression exceeds that of many of the regimes it attacks. The use of torture, kidnapping, spying on its own and others' citizens, the illegality and inhumanity of Guantanamo - are matched by the appalling incarceration rates of American citizens, grossly disproportionate numbers of whom are poor and people of colour. 

From a George Bush or a Ronald Reagan we expect nothing better - but you were supposed to be different. I know it's silly we should have expected that you, simply because your father happened to be Kenyan, would be the president of the USA the bulk of the world's population longs for.  And despite all your betrayals of the trust that was placed in you, I suspect most of us still feel more sadness than anger  - even though your betrayal is arguably worse than the likes of Clinton, Carter and Kennedy. We expected nothing better from the likes of Truman, Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan and the Bush dynasty - but we did of you.