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Obama on the Brink | The Nation

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Obama on the Brink

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Robert Scheer is editor of Truthdig, where this article originally appeared. His latest book is The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America(Twelve).

About the Author

Robert Scheer
Robert Scheer, a contributing editor to The Nation, is editor of Truthdig.com and author of The Great American Stickup...

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Clinton is using Edward Snowden as a punching bag to shore up her hawkish bona fides. 

But will they apply the same logic to the NSA’s massive surveillance dragnet?

Barack Obama is betraying his promise of change and is in danger of becoming just another political hack.

Yes, just like former maverick John McCain, who has refashioned himself as a mindless rubber stamp for the most inane policies of the miserably failed Bush administration. Both candidates are embracing, rather than challenging, the fundamental irrationality of Bush's "war on terror," which substitutes hysteria for rational analysis in appraising the dangers the country faces.

Terrorism is a social pathology that needs to be excised with the surgical precision of detective work, inspired by a high level of international cooperation--the very opposite of the unilateral war metaphor that recruits new generations of terrorists in the wake of the massive armies we dispatch. At a time when we desperately need a president to remind us we have nothing to fear but fear itself, we are increasingly being treated to a presidential campaign driven by fear.

Both candidates supported the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which has everything to do with violating the basic freedoms of our citizens and nothing to do with making them safer. There was no shortage of alarming intelligence warning the Bush Administration of the impending 9/11 attacks, but rather an utter lack of competence in evaluating the abundance of evidence.

To use the failure of the President to pay attention to his daily-briefing warning of an impending attack as an excuse for shredding the fundamental rights of our citizens is appallingly illogical. Providing legal protection to the government and the telecommunications giants for unfettered spying on the people does not represent the change we desperately need.

Nor does the battle of the war-mongers that has dominated the discussion of foreign policy in the past week. Obama has one-upped McCain's bluff to win in Iraq by raising the prospect of an even more deadly quagmire in Afghanistan. If his goal was to remind us that Democrats have been more often the party of irrational wars than the Republicans, he has succeeded all too well.

Whereas Dwight Eisenhower refused to wage war against Vietnam and Cuba, it was John Kennedy, that charmer of change, who launched both of those military disasters. And then there was that crafty "progressive," Lyndon Baines Johnson, who, in order to defeat Barry Goldwater, the right-wing menace of his day, lied about a nonexistent attack in the Gulf of Tonkin to justify escalating a war that killed almost 59,000 Americans and 3.4 million Indochinese.

Even less noticed is the responsibility of Democrats for the mess in Afghanistan, which provided the incubator for the 9/11 attacks. It was under Jimmy Carter, highly admired as an ex-president, that the specter of modern Islamic fanaticism erupted, largely as a monster of our own creation when we supported Muslim fanatics in Afghanistan against the Soviets.

Carter's national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, when asked in a January 1998 interview with the French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur whether he regretted "having given arms and advice to future terrorists," replied: "What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?"

I was reminded of that horrid stain on the record of Democratic stewardship of our foreign policy while cleaning out my garage last week. I came across a 1996 press release from the publisher of From the Shadows--The Ultimate Insider's Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War, written by current Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, the ultimate insider, who was on Carter's National Security Council staff. The publisher's book promo boasts that thanks to Gates, who ran the CIA for many years, we learn of "Carter's never-before-revealed covert support to Afghan mujahedeen--six months before the Soviets invaded."

In short, the Democratic President baldly lied to us when he justified support for the Muslim fanatics in Afghanistan who were battling the secular government in Kabul as a necessary Cold War response to a Soviet invasion. That Gates's account is accurate was affirmed in a blurb for the book by none other than Brzezinski, hailing it as "a most impressive achievement ... especially pertaining to the U.S. policy on Afghanistan."

It is hardly reassuring that Brzezinski has resurfaced in presidential politics, this time as an occasional adviser to Barack Obama, or that there is talk that Obama, in a burst of bipartisan enthusiasm, might ask Gates to stay on as defense secretary.

At this point, I throw up my hands and plead with the candidate who I hoped would be that much-needed agent of change: Please prove me wrong.

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