By Ed Lewis
A few days ago, Bob Brown said he was looking forward to joining the welcome for US President Barack Obama on his visit to Australia. He said Obama’s visit was “a much happier prospect” than the visit of George W Bush on the eve of the second Iraq war, and he would like to meet Obama.
Bob Brown said Obama would get a great welcome from Australians “and that will include Greens”. Brown should speak for himself on this, as there are plenty of Greens who will not be welcoming Obama. I have worked for the Greens on many election campaigns and in other activities, but I have been politically active for much longer opposing great-power aggression against small nations.
Bob Brown and fellow Greens Senator Kerry Nettle famously protested from the floor when George W Bush addressed a joint sitting of federal politicians in Australia’s Parliament House in October 2003, and attracted an enormous wave of support for themselves and the Greens.
It’s unlikely there will be a similar surge of support for Brown’s stance on Obama.
Perhaps Brown hasn’t been keeping up with international developments, but he’s well out of step with a big majority of Americans when he says he can perceive a substantial difference between Obama and Bush.
A Gallup poll in September showed that a majority of US citizens ranked Obama the same as or worse than George W Bush and other polls, the Pew survey in particular, show that a majority in the US favour withdrawal from Afghanistan.
About the middle of last year, commentators began describing Afghanistan as the US’s longest war, although that’s probably not true as military resistance to the US occupation of the Philippines continued in some form for 14 years. The US war in Afghanistan war has been going on for about 10 years.
Hundreds of thousands, and possibly a million, civilians died in the attempt, between 1899 and 1913, by the US to take over from the Spanish colonisers of the Philippines who had been defeated by a national uprising. Many more civilians were to die between 1964 and 1973 in the attempt by the US to take over Vietnam from the defeated French colonisers.
The US has a well-known, long and bloody record of trying to dominate small nations, and Barack Obama has not broken with that record. Even now, when a majority of US citizens favour withdrawal, he keeps troops in Afghanistan. Almost 94,000 US troops are there now, almost three times the number (about 33,000) at the time of his inauguration.
In 2009, Obama committed an extra 34,000 troops to Afghanistan, and he says they will be withdrawn by the end of next year, but that will still leave 65,000 troops, about twice the number at the time of his inauguration.
Bob Brown has said a number of times that he favours Australian withdrawal from Afghanistan. Obama says he has a withdrawal plan but commits more troops. This looks suspiciously likes the pea and thimble trick. Brown should keep one hand on his wallet if he gets to shake this man’s hand at the end of this week.
Apologists for Obama make a number of arguments.
1. Obama is better than either of the Bushes and Bill Clinton
The US withdrawal from Iraq is often cited in Obama’s favour, but in fact George W Bush began that withdrawal because things were not going at all well for the US occupation. There are still some 30,000 US troops in that country, and the government of Iraq has refused permission for US troops to stay beyond the end of this year. Obama is not responsible for the Iraq pullout.
For a long time, apologists for US policy argued that the US had to “finish what it started” in Iraq and now the same argument is being made about Afghanistan.
The US has installed a government of warlords in Afghanistan and its only plan beyond that seems to be to add Taliban representatives to that government. That’s the best that can be hoped for from the US presence. If that’s fixing things, it would seem to be pretty well mission accomplished.
It’s sometimes said that Obama at least hasn’t started any new wars, but in fact the US under Obama has carried out military activities in more countries than it did under George W Bush. Most notably, it has carried out bombings in Pakistan, Yemen and Libya without the prior approval of the US congress or the governments of those countries.
Bob Brown has repeatedly called for parliamentary debate on Australia’s military commitments, particularly on Afghanistan and the proposal to base US Marines in Darwin. Obama doesn’t support such debates in the US.
In the case of Libya, Obama is sometimes credited with restraint because most of the bombing was carried out by NATO. That was a matter of necessity. The US economy was on its knees already, without more military expenditure. When the opportunity came to settle accounts with an old enemy, Colonel Qaddafi of Libya, the US had to press NATO (really France and Britain) to bear the cost of the bombing raids.
In addition, US meddling has helped to dangerously destabilise Pakistan, and the US under Obama continues to manoeuvre in a dangerous and warlike way with Iran.
The regimes in Iran and Pakistan are repressive, as was the government of Libya, and it is to be hoped the peoples of those countries will achieve more democratic forms of government, but US threats and violations of sovereignty are not contributing to that, just as alliance with the US is not contributing to greater democracy for the people of Saudi Arabia.
2. Obama shut down Guantanamo Bay and stopped CIA torture
In fact, Guantanamo Bay is still being used as a prison and in March Obama lifted the suspension of military trials of prisoners detained on suspicion of terrorism. A trial began a few days ago of a Saudi national suspected of involvement in bombing the USS Cole. The prosecution is seeking the death penalty in this case. Does Bob Brown still want to shake Obama’s hand and is this a reason for Greens to welcome this man’s visit?
Some apologists for Obama argue that he stopped the CIA using torture. In fact, Obama only told the CIA that it should outsource torture through the practice of “rendition”. In 2009 he explicitly authorised the CIA to continue sending prisoners to US-allied countries with governments that do carry out torture. Is this a reason for Greens to welcome Obama? Will Bob Brown congratulate Obama on this if he gets a chance to shake his hand?
Obama is well regarded by some because of his speeches, particularly in Cairo and Moscow, but talk is cheap — the pea and thimble trick again. It’s what goes on behind closed doors that counts and there’s little evidence that, in international policy at least, Obama is any better than Bush I, Bush II and Clinton.
To sum up:
- Obama has committed an extra 60,000-odd troops to the Afghanistan war.
- The Greens and Bob Brown support withdrawal from Afghanistan.
- Obama authorises torture (so long as it’s outsourced).
- The Greens and Bob Brown oppose torture.
- Obama supports capital punishment.
- The Greens and Bob Brown oppose capital punishment.
- Obama wants to permanently station US marines in Darwin.
- The Greens and Bob Brown oppose foreign military bases and troops on Australian soil.
Why does Bob Brown want to welcome Obama?