Today is the moment of truth for the Obama presidency so far as prominent supporters like filmmaker Michael Moore are concerned. If, as expected, the president announces that America is sending another 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, he will burn his boats with many who campaigned on his behalf.
Obama has come under tremendous public pressure from the joint chiefs of staff to despatch tens of thousands of more soldiers and marines. The head of US forces in Afghanistan, Gen Stanley McChrystal, has ignored political protocol and gone public with his demands.
Tonight Obama will use the dramatic backdrop of the West Point military academy to accede to most of McChrystal’s demands. This, according to award-winning Moore, will make him the new "war president". In an open letter to the president, the creator of films like Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11 warns Obama:
“With just one speech … you will turn a multitude of young people who were the backbone of your campaign into disillusioned cynics. You will teach them what they've always heard is true – that all politicians are alike.”
Moore accuses Obama of “throwing bones” to the Republicans and warns that his corporate backers will abandon him “as soon as it is clear you are a one-term president and that the nation will be safely back in the hands of the usual idiots who do their bidding. That could be Wednesday morning.”
Moore’s anguish about the direction of the Obama presidency is heartfelt and reflects a growing disenchantment with a government that, while not as authoritarian as the Bush administration, defers to the same vested interests that always own and run America – whoever is in the White House: the banks, insurance companies and the “military-industrial complex”. This term was first coined by President Dwight Eisenhower, himself a former general. In his farewell address in 1961, he warned:
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defence with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together.”
Well, the subsequent wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate who pulls the strings in America. Afghanistan alone has cost about $250 billion so far and Obama’s decision – in defiance of polls which show a clear majority against the war – will add another $35 billion a year – that’s about a million dollars a soldier.
While the unemployed from Chicago will die on a foreign field, others will reap the profits. Millions more will lose their jobs and homes as the recession turns to slump. Better to give the unemployed something to do, even if it is killing Afghans in the name of the neo-colonial aim of “nation building”.
Moore doesn’t say what Americans should do next when Obama – whose opposition to the Iraq war was a key reason for his 2008 victory – sells his soul to the generals. No surprise there. What we are perhaps witnessing is the death of liberal America, which has always pinned its hopes on the Democratic Party as an easy option to building an alternative to the two capitalist parties. The end of the cosy, partisan political system would be no bad thing if the opportunity is seized to build a movement that will truly transform American society and put an end to the military-industrial complex once and for all.