The moral bankruptcy of Barack Obama

Who would have thought that two years after George W Bush’s departure from the White House we could look back and say: there was a man with greater integrity and moral stature than the current occupant.

Believe me, that is not a compliment to Bush. It is an expression of utter contempt for Barack Obama and his inability to take a stand and speak unequivocally with moral clarity (a virtue the neocons insisted they owned yet never convincingly displayed).

This is what happened today in Bahrain on one of the streets approaching Pearl Roundabout. No commentary or explanation is required.

This is how the Al Khalifa royal family handles non-violent political dissent.

And this is Obama’s response:

I am deeply concerned by reports of violence in Bahrain, Libya and Yemen.

The United States condemns the use of violence by governments against peaceful protesters in those countries and wherever else it may occur. We express our condolences to the family and friends of those who have been killed during the demonstrations.

Wherever they are, people have certain universal rights including the right to peaceful assembly.

The United States urges the governments of Bahrain, Libya and Yemen to show restraint in responding to peaceful protests, and to respect the rights of their people.

The United States is deeply indebted to the Al Khalifa family for being so gracious as to host the US Fifth Fleet. It would be impolite to do anything more than urge them to show restraint. After all, if — God forbid — in the near future they were all to end strung up through a swift application of justice as Bahrain came under Shia majority rule, then the strategic implications for the United States would be unthinkable.

So, a strong but carefully tempered presidential condemnation was in order. But note that America’s “model partner” did not get singled out. The rebuke was dished out collectively and universally as an observation about behavior that the United States condemns without consequence.

And this is what the world has come to see as Obama’s signature: empty words from a hollow man.

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25 thoughts on “The moral bankruptcy of Barack Obama

  1. Paul Woodward

    On a day that the Obama administration cast its first veto in the UN blocking a resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction, it’s hard to believe that this president has any conception of what it means to take a stand. As for how he deals with Bahrain, we will see in the coming days. Condemnations come ten a penny. Will the US actually throw some weight behind Bahrain’s democracy movement? That probably depends on which way the wind is blowing. If the rule of the Al Khalifa family becomes untenable, then the democracy movement will no doubt then enjoy full US support. But if through armed assaults, arrests and torture, the rulers are able to reassert their authority then “stability” will be the order of the day.

  2. bobs

    giovanna: I have to disagree with you on both counts. In Wisconsin, Obama is just being a Democratic politician: do you think he could openly side against the Democratic party there? It’s just politics. On Bahrain, his words are hollow, not strong. He talks the talk because he has to: What Western leader is going to say? “Oh yeah, we’re cool with mowing down peaceful protestors.” But the words are empty because they are not being followed by any meaningful action. Strong words lead to strong actions: empty words lead to… more empty words. As in Egypt earlier, Obama is playing the game-theoretic card. What can I do to minimize the worst possible outcome for me? Not piss off the protestors too much in case they win; not antagonize the leaders in case they win. He’s being a realist SOB. Fine. But then let’s be spared the lofty rhetoric about freedom, democracy, blah blah… And let’s not be so naive and gullible to see in Obama’s posture anything but cynical power politics.

  3. Colm O' Toole

    Strong words but true words.

    I remember in 2008 ranting endlessly to friends/family about how great Obama was going to be. New dawn and all that.

    Nothing Obama says in speeches has any bearing to reality. Look at his comments on Iraq, on NAFTA, on the Economy, on healthcare and compare to what he actually delievered.

  4. Vince J.

    Watch in Al Jaseera the dog Susan Rice about veto the UN resolution calling the israeli setlements illegal:

    “Middle East

    US vetoes UN vote on settlements ”
    Moral bankruptcy is not an atribute to Obama alone. It is a USA atribute.

  5. bobs

    Just to be clear, I am not saying Obama does not care about freedom and human rights. I am sure he does. But most imperialists do. That’s not the point. The point is that there are other things they care MORE about. In this case, liberty for the Arabs is less important to Obama than US hegemony and his reelection. That’s why leaders should not be judged by their professed values but by their priorities and actions.

  6. Scott

    My opinion of Barack Obama was quite high at one point, but has rapidly plunged towards absolute zero, and I think few have articulated this as well as you have (and ‘bobs’ as well).

    Amazingly, I might actually agree that Bush may have possessed more moral content in his person. Who knows what went on inside that small mind, but it seems to have at least been based on some conviction, even if it arose from a horribly confused view of the world.

  7. Renfro

    Every word Paul wrote about Obama is true.

    A lot of people wasted a lot of time trying to figure out Obama until we finally realized there is nothing there to figure….he’s a vacant lot.
    He came out of nowhere, made great speeches about cleaning out and opening
    up government for the people and has done the exact opposite.
    He appointed old DC hacks, big campaign donors, neocons and neo liberals,
    Wall Street tycoons and lobbyist as advisors and administration and agency
    Every time some event occurs we learn more about how little is there in
    During the Egypt revolt for instance, it was revealed that Bush (under the
    influence of his father and James Baker) during his second term had
    increased what they call diplomatic aid to pro democracy opposition groups
    in Egypt .
    Obama cut that pro democracy aid to opposition parties in Egypt despite his
    lofty Cairo speech.

    Having given lie to everything he said he would be and do during his campaign, Obama now plays the only role he has left out of everything he promised and
    said – –the bipartisanship role.
    He has no ideology, no goals, no principles he believes in or cohesive plan for
    anything…his job as he sees it is doling out 6 presidential jelly beans
    to one side and 6 presidential jelly beans to the other side on every single
    issue– mindful of one thing –those donors he and the party need for re election.
    With every other President there has been something there at least, some meat on the bones for us to gnaw over, for one to admire or despise according to one’s politics, but with Obama, he’s a ghost, a wisp of fog, not a man–he’s not even there.

  8. scott

    The Scott above is not me.
    I don’t know how anyone was fooled by Obama. If you listened to his speeches, he never offered anything, he hedged. I grew up with lawyers, I hear caveats and weasel words more clearly than many, I suppose. Obama’s speeches are uncanny in their ability to allow people to imagine what they want to. I voted for Ron Paul. I haven’t voted for a GOP/Dem since Clinton.

    The policy changes we’d like to see relative to foreign policy can’t be done without clear powerful advocacy in the media. Sadly, there’s no forum for those discussions currently. A Presidential candidate could do this, but he will have to confront many serious obstacles–the largest being getting coverage in the main stream press. The sensible policy changes we want are considered ridiculous, non-starters and fringe by the talking heads, think tanks and powers that be.

    In fact, we had, in my estimation four candidates that I really wanted to see get more attention, I liked Mike Gravel, Dennis Kuccinnich, Ralph Nader and Ron Paul. They argued that we reconsider our military posture yet were totally ignored. I don’t know what it will take. I was rather discouraged by the conversation in the threads over news of the possible US support of the Pal’s UN bill. The vast depth of support for Israel, the utter ignorance of the American people is legion. The pro-Israel arguments are effective on this vast well of ignorance.

    For those sailors out there, the winds are shifting and we’ve been riding this run for a long while now, we are about to jibe, (throwing our mast across the boat to the other side, this can be a violent swing) Our leaders, I think, are preparing to move on, but they can’t yet, they can’t even bring in the sheet–minimize the range and violence of the swing. When that mast comes swings around, once the wind shifts, it can literally knock-off some heads. So, is the “captain” who steers us through this shifting wind gonna loose his head? or might that be the US generally? or our First Mate Israel? One doesn’t often accidentally jibe, but if you were on a run and the rocky shore was pressing us on one side, this could happen.

  9. delia ruhe

    I don’t disagree with any of this criticism, but as a typical Canadian — i.e., fond of the American nation, fearful of the American state — I think that Obama is just unlucky enough to be in the White House at the moment when all of America’s chickens are coming home to roost. I don’t find his words or his actions (or non-actions) any more or less sleazy than any president before him, right back to Nixon. In fact, I think the only American president I didn’t feel queasy about was Ike, but probably because I was only just coming to political consciousness back then.

    But that veto in the UNSC yesterday was especially galling, and Rice’s statement only made it worse. Of the whole string of presidents who’ve kissed Zionist ass, Obama just happens to be the most transparent. But that has more to do with the times than with Obama himself, I think.

    It seems to me that the best analysis I’ve read so far on Obama’s performance since this Middle East revolution began is Aaron David Miller’s piece at *Foreign Policy*. It doesn’t let Obama entirely off the hook but does help to explain why, on the question of the Middle East, virtually all presidents have been cookie-cutter men.

  10. Paul Woodward

    What distinguishes Obama from most of his predecessors — at least in my mind — was that he rode into office on a wave of idealism and the expectation that he was going to redeem American from one of the darkest periods in its history. He helped mobilize a new generation of voters and is now in the process of helping shape a new generation of cynics. Even if “hope” and “change” were rather transparent campaign gimmicks, they gained traction because among many Americans there was a genuine hope for change. This is how he built a grassroots campaign.

    There won’t be any idealism in his 2012 campaign — thus his need to raise a billion dollars.

  11. La vérité

    Never did I once think when I voted for him for President that I was voting for a person who was lacking in honesty, integrity and courage of conviction.

  12. Christopher Hoare

    Well folks, what’s the difference between American weaponry in the hands or Bahraini goon squads mowing down protesting civilians in Manama and American missiles launched from American drones that murder sleeping innocents in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia?

    Right. There is no difference. America has been producing and distributing weapons to intimidate, murder, and rule the people of every country it fancies to since Eisenhower (who was no innocent). The innocents were those who imagined Obama would be different, and believed the speeches instead of the betting form.

    I admit to being half innocent, but from the start of the campaign I designated him as an Othello — a minority figure in authority who would be destroyed by those who played him. Sad, but expected. The important decision is when to cut him loose. I’d say his defeat in 2012 will change little in American actions, but at least keep the progressives from sinking with him.

  13. chris m

    I voted for Kucinich in the Primary and voted for Obama in the presidential election out of lack of choice rather than “hope and “change”. To me, his “hope and change” campaign came across too “calculated” and his speeches lacked sincerity and were singularly empty.

    Obama is not occupying the office to govern, but is occupying the office to get reelected. His every speech, every press release and every inactions/actions are calculated to nth degree to maximize his political fortune – reelection in 2012. He will not do anything or say anything to jeopardize this objective even ever so slightly. He is “moral” or “principled” only when it is politically expedient. I suppose this makes him a very successful politician, but also an extremely disgusting one – at least to me.

  14. Norman

    Does anyone find it interesting that “O” grew up privileged, that he hasn’t the foggiest idea of what it’s like to go with out? His sermons in Chicago ‘s poor areas didn’t teach him a thing other than how to manipulate the crowds. That he’s beholden to the money people should have been the tip off from the beginning. even after 2 years of his selling out those that bought his rhetoric, there are many who still cling to him as having some grand design in the picture. When he stands there talking, but either doesn’t know how to or refuses to walk the walk for the whole of the American people, then like all the rest of the “KABUKI” players in Washington D.C., one has to question exactly whose side he’s on. I’m not a constitutional scholar, but the action this administration & the Congress verge on treason in which they are out to destroy the very fabric of what made this country a once great land, all so the plutocracy can continue their erosion of everyday life.

  15. BillVZ


    As you know there is hardly any insight or political, foreign policy opinion from you I could ever take exception to; this is certainly true as regards your recent thoughts on President Obama.

    “And this is what the world has come to see as Obama’s signature: empty words from a hollow man.”

    This is applicable not only in these recent events but as regards the unfolding of his whole administration. For those readers who forget what we seemed to have been offered:

    and what we have received- meaningless words, weak deeds and many omissions from a mercurial man. It is all so hard to accept from what we wanted to so much believe.How tragic!

  16. Isaac

    Why so focused on Obama? He is a label-man. There are men behind him who do actually say what is and will be, help to expose those if possible.

  17. Paul Woodward

    Isaac — I don’t think I’d flatter men like Dennis Ross by suggesting that they are part of a cabal. Obama as a “label-man” as you call him exemplifies the technocrat who strips government of its power to act as a socially constructive force. I believe he fully owns his impotence — as opposed to simply serving as an instrument to a hidden yet coherent power.

  18. rosemerry

    I find the strong words true. At least we knew what W would be like, and he did not accept quite the humiliation from the Israeli PM as Obama did. I find the complete lack of any human feelings, or any passion about anything, the unnerving aspect of Obama. Why did he ever want to be POTUS, when he gives up on every issue he ever claims to care about or champion? He has no power at all- he hands it to anyone else- competent,venal, dishonest,whatever- and talks.

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