Security and Obama’s flip flops

Vice President Dick Cheney speaks to a crowd o...
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Complex social and economic changes in the structure of modern capitalism, of which globalization is the most prominent, have amplified a sense of insecurity and risk and moved a wide range of public issues beyond the review and control of national and popular political processes.  In turn, states and political actors — particularly those on the right — have responded by making security, or the attempt at security, a central motif of their political programs.  This emphasis on security is antipolitical for a variety of reasons: (1) It criminalizes social problems at both the domestic and transnational level, thereby obscuring the underlying relations of power and conflict that underpin a range of social phenomenon; (2) It promotes, under the guise of border control, a hghly exclusionary form of citizenship; and (3) It relocates power away from deliberative and representative assemblies in a wide range of social and economic areas. (139)

The other day I was at Bulldog with my Irish friend, I will call him Mick, and we are talking about Obama’s rightward shift in foreign policy and how it mirrors other Democratic administrations.  This guy sitting with his back to us was clearly eavesdropping and he joined in at this point to dispel our optimism.  The three of us spent hours talking and drinking when Mick and I finally deicded to leave.  The conversation circled around, circled because Mick and I were drinking and the new guy was only marginally exposed to the concepts, the first result of Security as defined by Jayasuriya.  In the end we all agreed that we are disappointed with Obama for selling out some of the leftist portions of his campaign.  But, we are also understanding that Obama never represented a truly liberating potential.

It is telling that the passage was probably written before September 11 (despite the title of the essay and the volume), but the passage is still relevant if only through a widening of ‘the right’ to incorporate what had been the right’s opposition.  Obama may have represented a change in some of our foreign policies but so too did McCain.  The differences between them were not at all about jetisonning the security pre-occupation but instead about changing tactics within the larger strategy of security.  This is the White House’s message of justification as Obama waffles on Guatanamo and military commissions.  Why then are these flip flops occuring?

The easy solution is that Obama learned things being President that he did not know as a candidate, hence his decisions reflect those changes.  This theory is unsatisfactory because it justifies the very occlusion Jayasuriya warns about.  If true then we, as citizens and even legislators, should never question the administration because they have access to information we do not have.  The administration’s impulse would then be to widen the scope of classification and then hide behind that very cloak as justification.  This is exactly Dick Cheney’s message to the world on his current media blitz.

The better theory is one that accounts for political maneuvering and hence casts security concerns as part of a bargaining chip.  Sadly, these are actual lives being horse-traded away as bombings buy political capital.  Some old words, but if you replace ‘Soviet’ with ‘Islamic/terrorist/radical/etc.’ then entirely descriptive:

a new president, generally a Democrat, assumes office.  During this time, the right wing organizes itself around the notion of a Soviet threat, a politically safe issue for them since they are out of power and need not concern themselves with putting new policies into effect.  Pressure from the right makes the newly installed president vulnerable.  If there was equally strong pressure from the left, in favor of programs oriented toward greater equality and a foreign policy permitting smaller defense budgets, the new president would not be forced to lean rightwards.  But without a strong left, Democratic presidents invariably adopt a more aggressive foreign policy as a way of protecting their political base.  This also gives them the appearance of being bold and decisive, which cuts down some of the need to adopt aggressive domestic programs — ones that would antagonize big business and conservative interest groups.  For all these reasons, the structure of domestic political alignments and coalitions comes to have as much to do with an increase in hostile perceptions of Soviet power as any actions taken by the Soviet Union. (Wolfe 1979, 33)

This makes so much sense given the world to-day.  New administration.  Check.  Democrat.  Check.  More aggressive foreign policy.  Check.  Anti big-business Domestic policies.  Possible.  Maybe to earn enough credit to pull off health care reform Obama just needs to go destroy a couple more weddings in the Afghanistan countryside.  I’d say screw the GOP for forcing that kill-to-save calculus but it’s our own damn fault for not building capacity and a true Left.

Jayasuriya, Kanishka.  (2002).  September 11, security, and the new postliberal politics of fear.  In Hershberg & Moore, eds. (2002).  Critical views of September 11.

Wolfe, Alan.  (1979).  The rise and fall of the “Soviet Threat”: Domestic sources of the Cold War consensus.

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