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Disarming America: The Obama Administration in the Shadow of 9/11
07 September 2009
A well-known modern French historian once stated: "History may be divided into three movements: what moves rapidly, what moves slowly and what appears not to move at all." Events are the building blocks of fast-moving history, but the study of slow-moving history over long spans of time can be remarkably valuable in monitoring the development of institutional attitudes. The 9/11 Commission, which adopted this approach, stated that in "any study of the U.S. government some of the most important characters are institutions." Accordingly, we should carefully consider the impact of President Obama's ideas and attitudes both on individuals and governmental institutions, because over the long-term these factors ultimately shape policy.
A country's view of its place in the world is a matter of major significance, because it is the first premise of its foreign policy. Since Barack Obama has made a point of publicly repudiating the policies of his predecessor, George W. Bush, it is particularly important to understand the new assumptions and ideas behind President Obama's new policies.
How does the Obama administration's view of America's place in the world differ from that of its predecessor? Our answer to this question should not draw too sharp a distinction between domestic and foreign policy, because the two are linked. For example, candidate Obama repeatedly asserted that America's intervention abroad and its foreign aid program had misdirected national resources.Dr. Joel Fishman is a Fellow of a research center in Jerusalem.
During the election campaign, candidate Obama conveyed several basic messages. The Bush administration had failed miserably both in foreign and domestic policy. It was wrong for America to act as a super-power and it should not have waged an unjust aggressive war in Iraq. According to Obama, it would have been better to deal with America's domestic needs, which include social justice. Although he did not spell it out, his audience clearly understood what he meant. America's leaders, in his view, should give more attention to engaging its adversaries in dialogue and make greater use of persuasion and consensus building.
The defining moment at the start of the twenty-first century was 9/11. The manner in which Bush and Obama view this catastrophe reveals their different perspectives. The Bush administration stated that it was necessary to protect the American homeland from external threats and declared a war against terror. Although the 9/11 Commission Report, published in July 2004, covered the subject at considerable length, the Bush administration formally took notice of the deep hatred which the Islamic world felt for the modern West and for America in particular. In addition to its decision to defend democracy at home, the Bush administration decided that America must defeat terrorism abroad -- sometimes by using preemptive measures-- and bring about a process of transformation in the Arab world. It also resolved to spread democracy where possible. While this policy and its implementation had definite shortcomings, many believed that it effectively contributed to America's security.
While the new administration may have discretely continued some of the policies and practices, which it publicly condemned, President Obama's public repudiation of President Bush's policies became central to his program. The Obama administration, considered the consequences of 9/11 to be a type of inconvenience which did not fit in with its ideology. Thus, it recently declared an end to the war on terror, without any evidence that America's enemies consider this war to be over. To the surprise of many, it also recommended that Americans commemorate the anniversary of 9\11 with acts of community work, which is a form of penitence. The view of the new administration is that the current commemorations represent an asset for the Republicans and therefore must be changed.
The basis for the response of the Bush administration to the challenge of Islamic terror is the strong belief that America is an exceptional country, the product of a successful experiment dating back to the eighteenth century, and that America enjoys God's grace. Furthermore, American exceptionalism means that America has a special mission in the world -- to lead and spread democracy. While this ideal may be imperfectly attained, it is valid just the same. Similarly, according to the vision of American exceptionalism, America is a land where hope, opportunity, and justice are accessible to all citizens on an equal basis. John Fonte of the Hudson Institute wrote that Americans "… combined strong religious and patriotic beliefs with dynamic, restless entrepreneurial energy that emphasized equality of individual opportunity and eschewed hierarchical and ascriptive group affiliations." This widely shared outlook has found expression in America's great sense of self -confidence, courage, and, ruthlessness -- when needed.
President Obama's view of America's place in the world represents the antithesis to the American tradition and clearly draws on the teachings of his spiritual guide, Reverend Jeremiah Wright. It denies the ideal of exceptionalism both at home and abroad. Instead, it fosters attitudes of shame, self-hatred, and inaction. Examples of this outlook may be found in a series of groveling apologies accepting guilt for supposed American misdeeds and "crimes." Obama has apologized for: America's responsibility for the current economic crisis, its failure to recognize Europe's leading role in the world, dictating solutions to others (except in the case of Israel), the "legacies of slavery and segregation, past treatment of native Americans," Guantanamo, the mistakes of the CIA, and, indirectly, the bombings of Dresden, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. Such apologies are costly because they place the United States in the same category as real criminal states. It is in the context of this new value system that one must understand the harmful consequences of Attorney General Holder's investigation of CIA interrogation practices. The result of his endeavor will be a demoralization which could undermine the ability of America's defense agencies to protect the lives of its citizens. A gratuitous acceptance of guilt not only destroys self-esteem but also brings about a paralysis of national will.
The next logical question is: what is the real meaning of this misguided assault on national pride? Although one cannot foresee the outcome at this point, it is possible to know where it leads. Over time, the new policy will create the objective conditions of confusion and disorder which will facilitate the seizure of dictatorial power and the opportunity to implement a program of revolutionary change. During the First World War, Lenin explained this in brutal simplicity, "A revolutionary class in a reactionary war cannot but desire the defeat of its government….Revolutionary action in wartime against one's own government undoubtedly and incontrovertibly means not only desiring its defeat, but really facilitating such defeat…." (Defeat of One's Own Government in the Imperialist War, August, 1915, as cited by Stefan T. Possony).
During the late 1950s, the KGB refined and repackaged this approach. Its new division, Section D for "Disinformation and Decomposition," developed the sophisticated, gradual but less obvious tactic of "decomposition," a program for bringing defeat from within. Its goal was "by all conceivable means to undermine the faith of Western peoples in their own institutions and governments." In his study of the radicals of the sixties, The Riotmakers, Eugene Methvin described the propagandist's goal:
To undermine his [the citizen's] faith in the values of his culture and the justice of his society and government, and thus to destroy his allegiance to the established order [italics in original]. In the last analysis, all that holds a government or a society together is the conviction, usually partly subliminal and wholly unspoken, that it is a just order, or at least the best attainable at present, and certainly preferably to anarchy and violent upheaval. The propagandist who undermines this conviction prepares the way for revolutionary change…." (Riotmakers, 243).
It is clear that the Obama administration's statements and policies belong to the category of "decomposition." They are part of a gradual conditioning process whose purpose is to erode Americans' faith in their own government and to curry favor abroad. Despite the occasional exceptions and contradictions, the key to understanding the new administration's intentions may be found in the examination of "slow-moving history' which includes the propagation of negative views of America and its place in the world.
By rejecting the principle of American exceptionalism, the Obama administration has made a radical departure from the past. A fundamental disrespect for historical precedents, tradition, and factual accuracy characterizes Obama's radical political method. The practical problem is that this new policy leaves the country vulnerable to domestic and foreign terror, a danger which remains constant and unabated. Given the facts stated above, one must ask if the Obama administration, for its own reasons, has decided to leave the United States vulnerable to another strategic surprise and possible defeat.
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