Writing in Crikey today, Guy Rundle looks at the way Barack Obama, like a good dialectician, has both incorporated and transformed Bush’s agenda, no doubt gaining significant political credit along the way:
Obama will identify himself with targeted, well-planned operations, success, modest claims and real achievement. By contrast, the Bush era will increasingly be seen as the era of sprawling, badly executed disasters, failure, bombastic declarations and geopolitical fantasy.
Thus, the remnants of the Bush era will be subsumed into Obama’s agenda. Quite likely that will involve a simultaneous push against al-Qaeda outposts, a deal with the Taliban and an announcement of a substantial Afghanistan withdrawal.
The post-territorial nature of the anti-al-Qaeda offensive will be presented as a new form of liberal projection of power?—?modular, efficient, franchised, low cost in American lives. Essentially, it’s a type of postwar that can be sold to conservatives and much of Obama’s liberal base.
Conservatives will like the unilateral projection of power, and the assertion that the US remains a special case that can breach others’ sovereignty at will, in protection of its own.
Liberals will like the absence of swagger, the creation of a type of “smart” postwar that applies all the features of the world in which liberals live?—?networked solutions, abstract project management, minimal environmental impact?—?which will make it appear natural to many of them.
The involvement in Libya, rather then being the third in a series of neocon wars, is really the first in these series of postwars, incursions more limited even than Clinton’s Balkans campaigns.
There is, of course, at least one more thread in common in the tapestry Bush and Obama have woven – the extra-legal nature of the projection of violent state power. (And that, incidentally, is why the attempt to articulate the Libya intervention to a juridical framework is so important for lefties, who mostly are left to do the liberals’ job for them these days).
Bush practiced a Schmittian politics of friends and enemies – “sovereign is he who decides on the objection”, as the German jurist, political theorist and Nazi sympathiser Carl Schmitt wrote. The constraints on power law imposes, the Rechtsstaat Schmitt was reacting against, are but a range of occasionally invoked shields for the nakedness of power. It’s significant, in this context, that Obama has seen no real need to provide a legal justification for the form that the killing of Osama Bin Laden took – thoroughly eliding justice as desert and justice as due process.
At the same time, the “rule of law” has tended to disappear as one of the elements of the ‘values’ discourse that serves to mark us out from “not like us”, except as an idol to which an occasional bow is rendered. Guantanamo, ‘collateral damage’ from drone attacks, torture; all are still in the mix. So the domestic ‘netroots’ response to Obama disillusion concentrates on the same critique levelled against Bush, allowing for the neoliberal side of the Democratic equation to be obscured.
Obama’s actual achievement may, just may, have been to find a way to calibrate power more closely to the declining powers of America. Yet, too, in the occlusion of neoconservative fantasy which accompanied Bushism, the ‘pragmatic’ discourse he enunciates is stripped of its ideological content, and more clearly appears as national self interest (“USA!”) and nothing much else. The illusory, but high sounding, rhetoric of freedom and justice disappears, and sovereignty – extra-territorial and global in its reach – remains.
That, too, is very dangerous.
It is dangerous firstly because with the removal of law as a symbol of unity, American nationalism becomes far more closely attuned to something not too far removed from an ethnos, even as Obama’s own trajectory shows that it is not just coloured White any more. “With us or against us” is now very arbitrary, organising itself around support for American power rather than justification of that power. Secondly, when support for killing and the celebratory release it provides is preferred to caution about – at the very least – the need to justify action legally, we are sailing in very choppy waters indeed.
The non-event of Osama Bin Laden’s potential trial is as important, perhaps more important, than the event of his death.
NB: Previous discussion of Bin Laden’s death on LP is here.