Obama the booster

by Alexander Cockburn

Obama is by nature a booster — like the first stage of the missile lofting its payload into the upper atmosphere. A huge bang, a mighty whoosh and then a few miles up, a fizzle as the Obamabooster burns out and drops back to earth. Who knows what happened to the payload? He doesn’t seem to have much stamina or even strategy for getting useful things done. No wonder he leaped on the “secret Iranian nuclear facility.” It was a perfect setup for a booster.

Half-close our eyes and we could have been back in Bush time, amid the ripest hours of the propaganda barrage for the US-led onslaught on Iraq. (Though this time, the venue was the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh not the UN General Assembly since Obama wanted to reserve that for a message of uplift.) Theme: disclosure of fresh, chilling evidence of the duplicity of a pariah nation and of the threat it poses to the civilized world. Then it was GW Bush’s Secretary of State, Colin Powell, obediently dispensing lies and blatant forgeries about Iraq’s WMD. Last week, it was President Barack Obama flanked by his Euro-puppets, rolling out alarms that were relayed to the world by a compliant press, albeit sometimes with sidebars puncturing the essential claims. Within minutes of Obama’s Pittsburgh ambush, the White House’s scenario about a terrifying new nuke factory near Qom began to crumble; a few days later, it was rubble.

US intelligence knew about the mountainside site back in Bush time. Former CIA officer Bob Baer says the site was noted in a 2008 national intelligence estimate. Work had started on it, then stopped. Obama was briefed about it during the transition. Last spring, US surveillance — from satellites and maybe from spies on the ground — concluded a speed-up in the plant’s construction was under way. US intelligence then supposedly learned that the Iranians knew the plant was under US observation. Of course they did. Who doesn’t know about American eyes in the skies?

Both Iran and the US were planning a disclosure schedule matching their political needs. Iran’s letter of notification to the IEAA was probably timed to strengthen the theocracy’s domestic political position; also, Iran’s hand in the upcoming Geneva summit. Claims that Iran violated its obligations under the non-proliferation treaty and the treaty’s subsequent annexes are questionable at best and will give international legal experts plump incomes for decades. One of the US’s tactics has been to rearrange the legal requirements of the treaty, then to insist that each new arrogant stipulation is retroactive. Iran naturally enough objects to this and responds with dense legal barrages, some depending on whether or not the Iranian parliament ratified the successive amendments to the treaty. Their case is pretty good — certainly a hundred times stronger than Obama’swild accusations, dutifully echoed by his equerries, Sarkozy and Brown.(The most persuasive outline of the legal issues comes from LosAngeles-based Muhammad Sahimi, on the anti-theocracy site Frontline:Tehran Bureau.)

Inreality, the public disclosure of something the US knew about years ago— knowledge it shared with its prime NATO allies and Israel — changesnothing. The consensus of US intelligence remains that there is no hardevidence that Iran is actively seeking to manufacture nuclear weapons.Iran has agreed to inspection of the plant at some appropriate point.

Ina larger perspective, there’s the absurdity of Obama thundering againstIran, which signed the nuclear nonproliferation treaty and has allowedinspections, while remaining entirely silent about Israel. This countryhas refused to sign the nonproliferation treaty and has an arsenal ofsomewhere between 200 and 300 nuclear weapons about which it has beenserially deceptive for nearly half a century and has adamantly refusedall inspections. Behind Obama, discoursing on nuclear responsibility,were Sarkozy and Brown, whose nuclear subs recently collided in theAtlantic Ocean.

Obama’s policy remains tightly in sync with that of his predecessor in the White House.

Spasmsof ferocious bluster toward Iran raise public anxiety. Stories aboutimminent Israel raids on Iran are balanced by leaks to the effect thatthe White House is keeping Israel on a leash. Then sanctions aretightened on Iran. These strengthen the political hand of thetheocracy, which can put extra muscle into its repression on thegrounds that the country is under siege. What other effect do theyhave? Professor RT Naylor of McGill University, who has written Economic Warfare, abook on sanctions, tells me: “Iran, of course, has had US sanctionsagainst it before, without any sign much happened. Of its exports tothe US, the main thing was always the profits US firms earned oncorrupt contracts, so this was a classic case of the US shooting itselfin the foot in those early sanctions. Also, Iran stopped putting itsoil surpluses in US banks.” California is growing more pistachios,caviar comes from Russia and a lot of other countries are knocking offIranian styles and patterns in carpets.

Meanwhile,this supposedly rational president is already having to pay thepolitical bills for his reckless boosterism during his campaign, of awider war in Afghanistan. Anyone wanting to understand how JFK plungedinto the Vietnamese quagmire, and how LBJ got in even deeper, has onlyto follow the current fight over Afghan policy. Insanity effortlesslytrumps common sense.

Bycommon agreement, the situation in Afghanistan from the U.S. point ofview is rapidly getting worse. In terms of military advantage, theTaliban have been doing very well, helped by America’s bizarre policyof trying to assassinate the Taliban’s high command by drones, thusallowing vigorous young Taliban commanders to step into seniorpositions.

Alas,we have a booster president who turns out to have painfully few fixedprinciples but an enthusiasm for news management that gave him highratings last week, but which leaves more and more sensible peoplewondering if he has any constructive long-term strategy to lowertensions and reduce the likely prospect of savage bloodletting acrossthe Middle East. The passing months have been brutally unkind to suchexpectations..

Alexander Cockburn is co-editor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the book Dime’s Worth of Difference:

Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils, available through find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by othercolumnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at

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