Change you can belive in, yes indeed! We are at the end of a week in which continuity, not change, was the name of the Obama game. Continuity in war and in war crimes, that is.
Firsdt, we had the high-profile quarrel about general McChristal, ending in his dismissal as commander of the Western troops in Afghanistan. The general and his aides had made a number of unflattering remarks about president Obama and high civilian officials in his administration. Rolling Stone magazine published them in a profile of the general, written with his cooperation. This was – so the liberal commentarocracy commented – insubordination, contempt for civilian elected leadership, and so on and on. The general had to go.
Of course, this is hardly cause for relief. There goes the general, but the war remains. And the president insisted: there will not be a change in strategy. “This is a change in personnel, not in policy. We will not miss a beat because of the change of command in the Afghan theatre.” Thus spoke the President of Change. The new Afghan commander? General Petraeus, (in)famous for his presumed ‘successes’ in the Iraq ‘theatre’, ‘successes’ on which Juan Cole has some interesting observations. By the way, you see, war is played out in ‘theatres’, these days. There is no bloodier busines than this bloody show business.
Yes, much more can be said about the fall of the general. It says something about relationship between civilian and military authorities, about the way power is working in high circles, and about the impasse in which America’s war inm Afghanistan has landed. But that is for another place and time. For now, I’ll just quote Arthur Silber, from one of his perceptive pieces on his weblog: “I don’t give a glimmer of a shadow of the faintest damn about the outcome of incidents of this kind, because the major participants are all war criminals.” The whole article, in which he explains why he is saying this, is well worth reading.
The poor general had barely left the scene when another highly symbolic announcement attracted some attention. Guantanamo Bay wil stay, for much longer than Obama promised. Remember the promise? He would close that concentration camp, that symbol of the horrors of the so-calles War on Terror, that place with cages for human beings, from which stories of mistreatment and outright torture dripped like blood from the bodies of its prisoners.
Within a few mothns after becoming president, Obama let go of his own deadline, after resistance from Congress. And now, we read in the New York Times: “Stymied by political opposition and focused on other priorities, the Obama administration has sidelined efforts to close the Guantanamo prison, making it unlikely that President Obama will fulfill his promise to close it before his term ends in 2013.” THe NY Times bases this conclusion on what priminent senators, presumably with inside knowledge, are saying.
Changing priorities, resistance age against policies, that is the story. Let’s just say this. Committing new and continuing crimes seems to be a much higher priority for Obama than ending earlier, but still ongoing, crimes. Where’s the change in that?