By Matthew Rothschild on June 23, 2011

Our war president promised more war. While he trumpeted his big Afghanistan speech as the first step in ending that war, Barack Obama essentially told the American people that tens of thousands of our soldiers would still be fighting there for at least three more years.

A year from now, Obama said all the additional “surge” troops will be back home. But the U.S. will still have close to 70,000 troops in Afghanistan, twice the number that were there when Obama took office.

Only “by 2014,” he said, will the Afghan people “be responsible for their own security.”

And even then, Obama appears to have left himself an out. “We’ll have to do the hard work of keeping the gains that we made,” he said. But what if those “gains” aren’t kept? Would he reverse course and keep more troops there?

He also said the United States would “build a partnership with the Afghan people that endures.” Beware a euphemism for permanent military bases.

The president’s rhetoric, overall, was hideous. “The tide of war is receding,” he said, and he repeated the “tide” metaphor a little later on. But war is not a fact of nature, like an ocean. It is a rash act of rulers.

Obama all but claimed to be clairvoyant, saying, “The light of a secure peace can be seen in the distance.” I’m not sure what telescope he’s using, but I wouldn’t rely on that, either in Iraq or in Afghanistan.

Then, when he decided to draw the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama fed the American superiority complex. “We must embrace America’s singular role in the course of human events,” he said. He told us not to succumb to isolationism—a spiel that echoed George W. Bush. The only difference was that Obama stressed the need to be “pragmatic” about the way the United States responds, arguing that often “we need not deploy large armies overseas” or act alone.

So, in an act of chutzpah, he held up Libya as an example of how the United States ought to intervene in the future. This was odd because, in the very next sentence, he said, “What sets America apart is not solely our power; it is the principles upon which our union was founded.”

One of those key principles is abiding by the rule of law and by the Constitution, which gives Congress the sole power to declare war. Obama has violated the Constitution in his war on Libya and violated the War Powers Act, too.

He said, “We’re a nation that brings our enemies to justice while adhering to the rule of law.”

This use of the term “justice” is offensive (and Bushian again), because summary execution (of bin Laden, and of others by drone) is not in accordance with international law.

He said, “We stand not for empire, but for self-determination.”

That’s a joke.

Just ask the people of Gaza, who, when they exercised self- determination and voted for a government Washington didn’t like, got slapped with an embargo.

Or just ask the people of Bahrain, who had to suffer repression not only from their own government (a big U.S. ally) but also from an invasion by Saudi Arabia (a bigger U.S. ally).

When the United States has troops in 150 countries, it’s hard to maintain the assertion that we’re not an empire.

But Obama refused to come clean, choosing once more simply to play the role he’s carved out for himself: a more reasonable-sounding steward of a foreign policy that for more than a century has been awash in national delusions and has served the interests not of the American people but of the tiny slice at the top.

If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story "Don’t Rely on a Rigged Judiciary."

Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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