“We must not only end war but the mindset of war.” — President Barack Obama, 2008
Instead of revealing President Barack Obama as a weak and inadequate Commander-in-Chief, it appears that former Secretary of War Robert Gates‘ new book, “Memoirs of a Secretary of War,” indicts an elite warrior culture that despises democracy. Revealing a disgust for President Obama and his administration, for wanting to bring an end to the unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and bring U.S. troops home, Gates also showed a disgust for Congressional hearings and oversight committees, committees consisting of freely elected citizens who questioned the Pentagon’s real war strategies and purposes.
According to Gates, President Obama as well doubted the wars and missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, believing they were not his own but inherited from the Bush Administration, and that it was a “matter of conscience.” He also accused the Obama Administration of attempting to control the Pentagon and military. But according to the U.S. Constitution, the purpose of an elected president and his administration is to have “civilian control” over the military. And with a large majority of Americans opposing the wars, is not President Obama actually displaying a popular and democratic conscience?
Another criticism leveled at President Obama was politicizing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet in a democratic system, where the ideal citizen is to participate in the politics (polis) of a city and nation-state, and where the people (demos) rule (cratis), shouldn’t wars be politicized, especially preemptive ones and military misadventures that cost enormous amounts of human lives and material resources? At the same time, shouldn’t domestic policies guide, even determine, wars? In other words, and where wars drive domestic and foreign policies, there is no democracy but a military junta.
Sometime ago President Obama’s spirited engagement with a protester over immigration and deportation was thought to be a sign of weakness and cowardice. But can true democracy exist where there is not direct conversation between the ruler and his subjects? The exchange occurred when a young man, a graduate student from San Francisco, interrupted President Obama by shouting, “You have a power to stop deportation for all.” President Obama responded by explaining how it was Congress that legislated immigration laws, and how it was important for a nation to follow the rule of law.
“And what I’m proposing,” continued President Obama, “is a harder path, which is to use our democratic processes to achieve the same goal that you want to achieve.” If democracy is about participating in self-government, which requires a supportive culture, equal access to representatives, the ability to openly debate, and an adherence that nurtures equality, cooperation and freedom, the vigorous exchange between the young man and President Obama was a superb example it. President Obama even stopped security from trying to remove the young man in order to listen to him.
President Obama provided an open and supportive culture for the young man to display initiative and self-governance. It was, to say the least, compassionate and reciprocal democracy in action. Consider also how his actions in wanting to make affordable healthcare more accessible, and his open and extended gestures towards Iran and Cuba, have been met with condemnation, cynicism, and sabotage. Sadly, President Obama’s anti-democratic critics might even be deceiving themselves, not realizing they are destroying democratic institutions, deporting the ideals of liberty and transparency.
Regarding Gate’s soon to be published book, recall that President Obama’s predecessors repeatedly lied about the preemptive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, needlessly killing tens of thousands of people while creating millions of refugees. Half-truths were told about lengthy military occupations, surges, and the extent of civilian casualties. Concerted efforts to cover up secret rendition sites and torture were common. Those challenging such undemocratic policies were banned from rallies. A few who managed to slip through stringent security were laughed at, derided, shouted down, and brutally arrested.
Not only does lying always deform democracies by deceiving “sovereign people,” it treats them as the enemy. Also, a government that lies and does not allow open debate or access is, by its nature, distanced from its people. Instead of representing the people, an elite cadre re-presents life and death policies to the people. They, and them alone, then decide who lives and who dies. Democracy becomes dangerously empty, taking on the forms of blind patriotism, demagoguery, and misrepresentation. Meanwhile, a closed and lying administration wants the unreal to be accepted, including a delusional democracy.
At least President Obama is trying to prevent the last remnants of democracy from being deported. Perhaps this explains the problems surrounding the Affordable Care Act and upsurge in economic inequality. Since democracy requires trust, he unknowingly placed confidence in corrupt individuals and institutions. Instead of bringing about a “greater good for all,” they were caught up in their own culture of deliberate misrepresentation. Their absolute thinking and undemocratic behaviors were so distorted that they could not comprehend the timeless values and principles of a free and democratic society.
Nations that have constantly been told war is peace, that are heavily dependent on the manufacturing and exporting of weaponries, and that are culturally addicted to the maintenance of a large professional standing army, get former secretaries of war steeped in Nixonian ideologies, like Gates, writing anti-democratic books. They are memoirs immersed in militarism, ever so militantly biased and undemocratic. It is no wonder, then, that President Obama has been viciously attacked for negotiating with Iran over nuclear enrichment and for his transparent handshake with Cuba’s President Raul Castro.
Undemocratic societies, with their militant, fascist-like subcultures, do not only separate families and tear them apart, but they also shed innocent blood while shredding democratic values which are necessary in maintaining a free and transparent society. “For those of you who are committed to getting this done,” President Obama said in reference to the debate over immigration with the student, “I am going to march with you and fight with you every step of the way.” Fortunately, he is marching away from the unpopular and anti-democratic wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Will we the people do the same?