The illusion of American moral authority

Barack ObamaLast March, Anthony Gregory questioned if Barack Obama was already a worse president than George W. Bush, noting a long list of dubious accomplishments during Bush’s eight-year tenure.  Prior to his election Obama was highly critical of Bush’s policy on torture and the holding of suspected terrorists indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay without trial.  And one of Obama’s first acts after being sworn in as President was also one of his most dramatic: he signed an executive order banning torture and ordering the closure of Gitmo by 2010.  It was hailed as a bold move to restore the country’s shattered image overseas and bring its prosecution of the war on terror in line with its values on respecting human rights.

What a difference a thousand days as Leader of the Free World makes.

During that time Obama has ordered the killing of an American citizen in Yemen, without due process, based on his alleged association with al-Qaeda.  And in March he made an about-face on his promise to close Gitmo, instead reinstating the military tribunals and continuing Bush’s policy of detaining suspects without trial since they “in effect, remain at war with the United States.”

Now the Senate has granted Obama even greater discretion in arresting and indefinitely holding anyone – even U. S. citizens, despite itsGuantanamo Bay prisoners supporters’ claims to the contrary – suspected of terrorist activity, in approving a defense appropriation bill for 2012 that essentially expands the battlefield for the war on terror to anywhere on the planet, including U. S. soil.  (The Senate rejected an amendment sponsored by Colorado Democrat Mark Udall and Kentucky Republican Rand Paul that would have stripped out the authorization for indefinite detention of terrorism suspects.)  It is an unprecedented expansion of power for a president who campaigned on a promise to restore the country’s “moral authority.”  Yet Obama is simply another in a long line of politicians making promises that could never be kept: it is impossible to regain a moral authority the American empire has never possessed.

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