Whitewashing Defeat: Obama’s Indecisiveness Defines His Presidency

He may still possess the poise of a confident leader and an eloquent intellectual, but the presidency of Barack Obama is now suffering its most difficult phase to date.

Certainly, Obama cannot solely be blamed for all the factors that have stifled his country’s chances of recovery from the failures of the Bush era. But the man who promised the moon has now extended the abhorrent and morally unjustifiable tax cuts for America’s wealthiest class. The “sweeping” $858 billion tax bill was signed into law on December 17. It includes an $801 billion package of tax cuts, extending Bush’s tax break for the rich for two more years – at a time when the majority of Americans are reeling under the weight of a failing economy and persistently high unemployment.

Still, the tax bill was presented by the self-assured president as “real money that’s going to make a real difference in people’s lives.” The cuts will help stimulate an ailing economy, he claims, despite it being the rich who gambled with American wealth to increase their own, stimulating a market crash that led to millions losing their small investments and savings. All we know for sure is that the cuts will add a gigantic chunk to an already impossible deficit of $1.3 trillion, another Obama battle that is likely to be lost to the Republicans early next year.

But this concession, and its presentation as a victory for America’s middle classes says more about Obama’s style than the weakening of the Democrats since the mid-term elections. Even in his foreign policy management, Obama’s approach seems to teeter between giving face-lifts to ugly realities and postponing urgently needed action. The agent of change has become the quintessential American politician, who is more consumed with his chances of reelection than with bringing about the kind of long-term change that can really benefit his country, and the world at large.

Obama’s handling of the shortly-lived peace talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel’s right wing government is another example of a striking failure followed by whitewash. Although he adamantly demanded a halt to Israel’s construction of illegal settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, Obama soon began capitulating before an obstinate Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli leader, supported by much of the US Congress and backed by a strong Israel lobby in Washington, finally forced Obama into a humiliating retreat. Even a generous bribe to win a limited Israeli moratorium on settlement construction failed. Obama administration officials finally declared that the US would abandon its efforts to halt Israeli settlement expansion, effectively signaling an American exit from the ‘peace process.’

Instead of laying the blame squarely on Israel, the Obama administration delved into the same long-discredited rhetoric that only Palestinians and Israelis are capable of accomplishing peace without any outside intervention. That was the core message of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who argued that it was up to Israel and the Palestinian leadership to “settle their conflict”. It signaled a complete shift in US foreign policy, which Israel has naturally welcomed, for the US-financed military occupier prefers to be left to its own devices in this very unbalanced conflict.

Afghanistan is another example. The eagerly anticipated strategy assessment of the war in Afghanistan was released on December 16, with illusory talk of “gains” and warnings of al-Qaeda threats. It suggests that the US will continue to fight a pointless war for years to come, with no clear goals or end in sight.

“The unclassified version of the secret review said U.S. military operations have disrupted the Pakistan-based al-Qaida terrorist network over the last year and halted the momentum of the Taliban insurgency in southern Afghanistan,” reported the Kansas City Star.

What the review and much of the media fail to report is that the war on Afghanistan hardly concerns al-Qaeda, which is more widespread and mobile than ever. Its future operation does not hinge on the ongoing battles in Afghanistan either. One must also remain skeptical of the “gains” reportedly made in the south. Taliban is known for avoiding open warfare, a style they have mastered after nine years of practice. The recoil – if that is even the case – of the Taliban is probably temporary, and a spring resurgence is assured by past experiences. But what is most important to note is that the action of NATO and US soldiers, government corruption and the brutality of local militias have allowed the Taliban to extend its presence to northern provinces, including Kunduz and Takhar, which were, until recently, uncharted territories for the strong and resourceful Pashtun fighters.

According to an editorial in the Lebanese Daily Star, “Obama’s long-awaited Afghanistan strategy review amounts to little more than a whitewash of the seemingly intractable problems that have trapped the mighty American military in a quagmire.” Worse, this crisis is likely to be compounded. “The failures of General Stanley McChrystal, who resigned in June, and Richard Holbrooke, who died suddenly this week, are symbolic of the crumbling of the twin pillars, both military and civilian, of Barack Obama’s counterinsurgency strategy. The US has now…entered a violent stalemate,” wrote James Denselow in the British Guardian.

Obama’s response was yet another attempt to distance himself from the looming, if not ongoing, failure. US priority, he said, is “not to defeat every last threat to the security of Afghanistan, because, ultimately, it is Afghans who must secure their country. And it’s not nation-building, because it is Afghans who must build their nation.”

One would agree with the president were it not for the fact that the US invasion was what has impeded the security of Afghanistan, destroyed any chance of nation-building and installed a corrupt government. But Obama will not accept responsibility. His cautious assessments are emblematic of his overall political style: avoiding or perpetuating the problem, and distancing himself from it once failure is assured. This is as true of his domestic policy as of his foreign policy.

It is easy to see why Obama’s popularity has plummeted among those who once believed in his ability to bring change to a scarred and traumatized country. And his irresolute leadership has also empowered his political opponents, who will not cease to demand more from a feeble and ever-willing president.

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books. His latest is These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons (Clarity Press). Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs, Istanbul Zaim University (IZU). Read other articles by Ramzy, or visit Ramzy's website.

18 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on December 23rd, 2010 at 10:21am #

    “Certainly, Obama cannot solely be blamed for all the factors that have stifled his country’s chances of recovery from the failures of the Bush era.”
    failures of the bush era???
    i do not think that anything u.s had done ’01-09 shld be deemed “failures”.
    some of u.s actions –such as iraq, palestina–were actually extreme criminal behavior.
    some of its acts were brilliant successes. eg, rich got richer than ever. freedoms have been curtailed; torture legalized and approbated by about 99% of americans.

    no country can come even close to such tremendous achievements!! new wars are threatened.
    and what happens next election? another 99% vote for same people!?
    i know, boroud might say, I don’t mean that! but why cherrypick data? tnx

  2. bozh said on December 23rd, 2010 at 10:33am #

    anent u.s yet another ‘failure’ in palestina, i do not call it a failure, but a design and regardless whether ‘jews’ partly or to any degree control u.s policy or not.
    for such a control wld be allowed by 99% of americans and wld be a constitutional demand and not just an ok.

    and regardless how ‘jews’ took control of u.s policies! if method had been used by them, then look for it!
    have ‘jews’ deceived judiciary which solely interpret constitution and other laws? if so, how? tnx

  3. Deadbeat said on December 23rd, 2010 at 11:41am #

    Bozh you suck up a lot of bandwidth with your diversionary tactics offering a lot of bromides and cliches to shift focus away from ‘jews’ by posing rhetorical questions. Why don’t you confront the growing power of Zionism in Canada. Your comments mimics the same OSTRICH-LIKE qualities of the pseudo-Left who minimized and deflected any attempts to confront and counteract Jewish Zionism.

    You writes …

    and what happens next election? another 99% vote for same people!?

    Such a rhetorical question as if you are ignorant to the American electoral process. In my remarks about what happened to Nader in 2004 it was all off-topic and tangential crap. You write the following…

    i also believe that there is no Left in u.s. there r a few socialists in u.s; however, few r allowed even to post on most internet sites. i am not allowed to post on many sites, as well. i do not think that calling asocialists “pseudo-leftists” explains the situation. antiwar movement in u.s is not socialistic; i.e., left, but center or even right wing.

    Yeah right perhaps you don’t WANT to believe that the pseudo-Left played the PRIMARY role of PREVENTING the Green Party from becoming a VIABLE 3rd Party in the U.S in 2004 which would have made them a VIABLE PROGRESSIVE alternative to the Democrats. That was the GOAL. Yet you find in perfectly OK to criticize 99% of the American voters who are faced with only two bourgeois alternatives and not provide any analysis whatsoever as to why that is so and how the role the pseudo-Left played in MAINTAINING the status-quo.

    Your rhetoric is no different from those great pseudo-Leftist such as Chomsky and Mickey Z. Mickey Z especially likes to BLAME “us”. This shit is anti-intellectualism and feed into stereotypes. Perhaps that is why you couldn’t offer any real analysis to Petras latest article. It only illustrates your IGNORANCE.

  4. RichardKanePA said on December 23rd, 2010 at 12:45pm #

    From Greece to France and Germany people are complaining of their governments being partial toward the rich amidst these hard times. Yet Obama discussions act as if Obama is an unrelated discussion. Being less partial toward the rich then them is somehow irrelevant. Over a year ago many well off people bristled at his mild reforms and somewhat class oriented comments, pouring money into Republican candidates. Warren Buffet and 44comments by like-minded millionaires supporting increasing taxes on the well off would have been prudent for progressive sites to spread widely.

    Obama got the rich off his neck, he got the Start Treaty passed which wouldn’t have happened if he had a fighting demeanor. Obama always craved the image as an unbiased arbitrator. However, if one is friends with a marriage counselor or a relative of a teacher’s friend, and when they are needed as a mediator, and you constantly agreed to every compromise proposal, while the other side kept holding back. You might conclude that the mediator is partial to strangers.

    My dream was that Bernie and Nancy would hold firm and whether or not anything passed. That way Obama’s image as an unbiased mediator would apply to his future efforts. I wrote “Democrats saying ‘no’would be good news if”, but progressives instead of quietly saying “no” act\ like a little child saying “I hate you, you are the worst parents a kid could eve have” when not quietly doing what he is told.

    Anyway I’m glad didn’t lay on the hate but perhaps you could realize as well that Obama has a job to do and we do to, and our job doesn’t consist of listing to him more that his antagonists do.

  5. bozh said on December 23rd, 2010 at 12:50pm #

    deadbeat wld even die if he cldn’t be allowed to get personal. and even that does not suffice for him; for he not so subtly deters free speech. and always call names not only a person but what person says.
    he behaves just like, say, palin, and other supremacists, by demanding one must agree with his conclusions!

    if i am “ignorant” of american electoral [what hapepned to selectoral?] process, i am only too glad that i don’t study it!
    in add’n, only dems and repubs dwell on electoral process. when it is on, u’d think new and huge habitable planet or even a continent had been discovered and claimed for onepercenters. tnx

  6. bozh said on December 23rd, 2010 at 1:14pm #

    nader does not, as far as i know, lead a governmental party. he leads a movement.
    greens appear as a party.
    if a governmental party, it cannot have room for any org or movement. i do not know what happened between greens and pseudo-left [or even nader]

    what deadbeat is saying about greens-nader-pseudoleft split is aside from anything i said about it.
    DB shld have pointed out that fact.
    to repeat, the Left in u.s and canada differs from Left in many lands. it, as far as i know, differs a lot from Left in korea, vietnam, cuba, china, and elsewhere.
    so, let’s stop generalizng, please. tnx

  7. Mulga Mumblebrain said on December 23rd, 2010 at 10:38pm #

    Obama is operating precisely as programed. He is the great confidence-trickster, and he will act to further the Rightwing, neo-feudal, global empire agenda of the US ruling caste and its Israeli controllers exactly as required. That is precisely why he was identified, recruited, financed and promoted by Chicago Zionists. You even forgot his steady encirclement of China, the egging on of the sub-fascist South Korean regime, the terrorist war against Iran, the ousting of a Japanese PM who forgot who was boss and who the flunky over Okinawa and his deliberate sabotage of Copenhagen climate talks. And his role is not to win re-election-it is to pose as the impotent lame duck for two years as the far Right Republican psychopaths run amok, then lose disastrously, as millions of ‘Hope Fiend’ suckers stay home, delivering the White House and Congress back to the Republicans. Then, having burnished his CV, he can retire to the real business of being paid off for services rendered, like the despicable Tony Blair.

  8. Max Shields said on December 24th, 2010 at 6:09am #

    Obama is just a word we play with like a cat with a ball of yarn, like the word zionism and the word wikileaks and the word within the word….

    He is presiding over the great unraveling…in the meantime we’ll have to put up with MSM blowing up tiny bits of legislation into WINS for the PRESIDENT.


  9. Deadbeat said on December 24th, 2010 at 10:43pm #

    Max Shields writes …

    Obama is just a word we play with like a cat with a ball of yarn, like the word zionism and the word wikileaks and the word within the word….

    Words have meaning and power which is why you’d rather ignore certain words that bring attention and focus areas that you’d like to see ignored.

  10. shabnam said on December 25th, 2010 at 12:12pm #

    {He may still possess the poise of a confident leader and an eloquent intellectual, but the presidency of Barack Obama is now suffering its most difficult phase to date.}

    I am afraid, Mr. Baroud, you give too much credits to Obama. He has been installed at the WH by the Wall Street Zionists to protect the interest of both Israel and US elite.
    You also gave Edrogan too much credits for his empty slogans against Israel. Edrogan is playing a game to expand Turkey’s interest using Palestinian Card while serving Evil Empire. Have you read that Edrogan normalizing relations with ISRAEL accepting a fake APPOLOGY only to cover his lias?

    {Turkey’s foreign minister on Saturday said the country wants improved ties with Israel but it must apologize and offer compensation for its deadly raid on a Gaza Strip-bound aid flotilla.}


    ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey’s foreign minister on Saturday said the country wants improved ties with Israel but it must apologize and offer compensation for its deadly raid on a Gaza Strip-bound aid flotilla.

    The U.S. and the European Union have called on Turkey and Israel to overcome tensions and renew close links to help with peace efforts in the Middle East.

    “We have the intention of making peace with Israel,” the state-run Anatolia news agency quoted Ahmet Davutoglu as saying during a meeting with a group of journalists in Istanbul. “We are for peace with all countries.”

  11. mary said on December 25th, 2010 at 3:09pm #

    Shall we call Obomber this Christmas’s Hypocrite of All Hypocrites?

    He had just condemned the suicide bomb that killed in Pakistan yet he is sending in drones by the hundred and killing hundreds.

    CIA drone strikes: a legal war?
    Thursday 23 December 2010

    A UN senior official tells Channel 4 News if CIA personnel are operating drone strikes in Pakistan, they could be prosecuted for murder and war crimes if humanitarian laws are violated. The controversial drone policy has significantly increased under Barack Obama’s administration. It marks a foreign policy shift from the Bush administration, which relied heavily on rendition and detaining suspected militants in Guantanamo Bay.

    A Channel 4 News investigation has examined 113 reported drone strikes this year in Pakistan’s tribal territories on the border with Afghanistan, an area considered by the US as a haven for Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters and reported figures suggest 500 to 900 militants have been killed. The number of attacks is double the number conducted last year and by far exceeds the number of drone strikes conducted under the Bush regime.

    Local people in Waziristan and a Pakistan-based expert from the Campaign for Innocent Victims of Conflict have told Channel 4 News that on top of the 500 to 900 “militant” deaths thought to have been caused by the drone strikes, the number of civilian deaths is likely much higher.

    The legality of drone strikes in Pakistan and the alleged role of the CIA has been brought into sharp focus after it was reported that Jonathan Banks, the CIA’s station chief in Islamabad, was pulled out of Pakistan after his cover was blown by tribesmen from North Waziristan who are taking legal action, blaming him for the deaths of their relatives in drone strikes.

    25 December 2010 Last updated at 21:25
    US President Obama condemns Pakistan suicide bombing

    US President Barack Obama has condemned as “outrageous” Saturday’s deadly suicide bomb attack on a town in north-western Pakistan. A female bomber killed at least 43 people in the attack on a large crowd receiving food aid in Khar in the Bajaur region. The town is in tribal areas close to the Afghan border – a Taliban and al-Qaeda stronghold.

    People displaced by fighting had been getting food at a distribution centre.
    Saturday’s bombing was the latest in a string of recent attacks in Pakistan’s north-west.

    “I strongly condemn the outrageous terrorist attack in Khar, Pakistan,” President Obama said. “Killing innocent civilians outside a World Food Programme distribution point is an affront to the people of Pakistan, and to all humanity. The United States stands with the people of Pakistan in this difficult time, and will strongly support Pakistan’s efforts to ensure greater peace, security and justice for its people.”

    The UK government has also condemned the attack, along with the Pakistani government. UK Minister for South Asia Alistair Burt said: “This appalling attack on innocent refugees is a cruel reminder of the indiscriminate aims of the terrorist and an example of why the world must work together to do all we can to confront a menace without boundaries.”

    Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said those responsible had no regard for humanity or religion, and that the fight against militants would continue. Pakistan’s Taliban said they ordered the attack on the distribution centre, which is used by the World Food Programme and other aid agencies.

    They said the rebels had targeted the local people – displaced members of the Salarzai tribe – because of their support for the Pakistani military.

    An estimated 300 people were queuing for food at the time of the blast, with reports saying at least 100 people were injured in the bombing.

    The tribal district of Bajaur, where the attack took place, has seen several military operations to clear it of insurgents.

    The army had previously declared the operations a success and the area safe for the displaced to return to.

    The attack also came as Pakistan’s military took action against militants in Mohmand, an adjacent tribal region, killing an estimated 40 rebels.

  12. Max Shields said on December 25th, 2010 at 5:17pm #

    Deadbeat you are misusing my point. Obama represents a system. He did not create the system. Is is of it, and was elected to represent (and to some extent lead it). He is a hypocrite because he lies and lying is what a president does, particularly about war. His name could be McCain, or Clinton. That’s what I mean. These are interchangeable names in a system that dictates the rules of engagement.

    As far a zionism is a catch word that solves nothing.

  13. Max Shields said on December 25th, 2010 at 5:59pm #

    Words mean something when they are not spouted as ill-defined labels. Care with words need to be given before one can claim their importance in describing or defining a situation.

    Zionism is such a loaded term that it defies nearly clarity when used to vent on blogs, and so is used as a means to simply accuse. Terrorism is much the same. When used as they are frequently here, they are not meant to bring intelligence to the conversation. And then when we come up with terms such as pseudo-leftist we are not advancing the discussion, but once again, shoving everything into a meaningless box, a conundrum.

  14. Deadbeat said on December 25th, 2010 at 6:23pm #

    Max Sheilds writes …

    Zionism is such a loaded term that it defies nearly clarity when used to vent on blogs, and so is used as a means to simply accuse.

    That is what YOU say Max but Zionism is a WELL DEFINED term for over a century and a program and a vision that makes real the basis of Jewish racism. Those are the words Max that YOU want to minimize. That’s unfortunately the goals of the pseudo-Left and why the pseudo-Left has embedded themselves on the Left since challenging racism is part of what the Left does. The role of the pseudo-Left is to divert attention and to intercept any linkages to Zionism and racism.

  15. bozh said on December 25th, 2010 at 7:03pm #

    i also say that many labels subsume traits. and if the person does not reveal all or most salient traits a label stands for, i quickly lose interest in what else such a writer says in hisher piece.
    Labels such as zionism, capitalism, pseudo-leftist, democracy, fascism, socialism, just to mention some of them, are labels or symbolism.

    and all symbols stand for actualities. however, most people- -if they ever list characteristics that a label represents- -list only those that tend to support their, likes, views, hopes, demands, assumptions, etc.

    if one wld list even some traits that the symbol “zionism” stands for, one wld [or i do; i don’t care who does not] include following of its traits: arrogance, ignorance, superiority, theft, murder, expulsion, expansionism, racism, hatred, intolerance, belligerence, domineering, lying, deceiving.
    ok! but doesn’t americanism or imperialism subsume all of those traits also?

    now, the point is that i have listed these traits and u be the judge of them. i am not demanding that they all or any must be accepted [few ‘jews’ wld].
    but do please list own; lay ur cards on the table so that i can see the four aces u claim to have. that’s all, folks! tnx

  16. Deadbeat said on December 25th, 2010 at 7:55pm #

    bozh you seem to have your own set of LABELS but unfortunately is a label that OBSCURES rather than clarifies.

    You state …

    now, the point is that i have listed these traits and u be the judge of them

    It not only about traits bozh. It’s also about POLITICS and your bogus bandwidth is an attempt to OBSCURE that.

  17. Deadbeat said on December 25th, 2010 at 10:24pm #

    This rhetoric of “anti-labels” by both bozh and Shields is not only a crock but a canard. Here’s some thoughtful remarks about the language of ideology …

    Decoding Economic Ideology by Michael Perelman

    As people become accustomed to their language, it restructures their brains as well as their manner of thinking. Sometimes only a little thought is required to see the language shapes our thought patterns. For example, the US press judges other governments’ actions according to whether or not they displease the “international community.” Of course, the international community consists of only those countries that support US economic policy. Through repetition, this phrase helps make uncritical support of US government policy become instinctive.

  18. Mulga Mumblebrain said on December 26th, 2010 at 3:28pm #

    Well said mary! I almost choked on my Christmas pudding when I heard that vile hypocrisy. But you can be certain that the vermin of the ‘mainstream media’ will not dare mention it. In my opinion Obama is about the most florid psychopath, albeit of the more dangerous ‘charming’ sub-set, that I’ve seen at least since Tony Blair. But that’s what the Zionazis are looking for as they recruit their Sabbat Goy operatives. Charmless oiks like Harper, Gillard and Brown are less useful, no matter how enthusiastically they seek to please their masters. And shabnam, don’t worry about Turkey getting an apology from Israel. It was never likely, unless fraudulent and insincere, but I see that the sub-fascist, hominid, thug Avigdor Lieberman has just expectorated right into the Turks’ faces, as one could confidently have expected.