The major newspaper endorsements indicate the makeover American superpower received when President Barack Obama was elected in 2008 worked. There is unanimous consensus among the top twenty newspapers that endorsed Obama that Obama repaired the image of America that was damaged by two terms of President George W. Bush.
The Plain-Dealer wrote, “Obama has shown that he favors engagement over bluster, and practical solutions over easy bromides. That’s what the country needs.” The Detroit Free Press declared, “Not since the fall of the Berlin Wall have the nation’s geopolitical fortunes improved so markedly.”
Bin Laden is Dead
The Obama/Biden 2012 campaign’s message on the killing of Osama bin Laden was heard. The New York Times praised Obama for being “resolute in attacking Al Qaeda’s leadership, including the killing of Osama bin Laden.” The Chicago Tribune applauded the fact that he “approved the perilous mission that killed Osama bin Laden.” “Osama bin Laden and at least 14 other al-Qaida leaders are dead, and their terrorist network is in tatters,” the Detroit Free Press wrote. The Philly Inquirer suggested, “Obama deserves more than the grudging credit Republicans are giving him for being the commander in chief who finally got Osama bin Laden. America is safer as a result of that.”
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette jingoistically trumpeted the reality that Bin Laden was now a corpse: “America’s enemies would not agree with Mitt Romney’s criticism that the nation has begun to look weak. That fiction can be refuted in a few words: Osama bin Laden is dead.”
With the exception of one newspaper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the policy of targeted assassination embraced by Obama in his first term was a positive development. The Boston Globe contended, “Obama has turned nations like Yemen into partners against Al Qaeda; the terrorist network has lost more than half its leadership on his watch, and the United States is vastly safer,” a statement that ignored the likelihood and probability that blowback will occur in the future if the current policy of killing and not capturing is maintained.
As a study by clinics at the universities of Stanford and NYU detailed in an extensive report, “Living Under Drones”:
…The central justification for US drone strikes is that they are necessary to make the US safer by disrupting militant activity. Proponents argue that they are an effective, accurate, and precise tool to that end. However, serious questions have been raised about the accuracy and efficacy of strikes, and the publicly available evidence that they have made the US safer overall is ambiguous at best. Considerable costs also have been documented. The under-accounted-for harm to civilians–injuries, killings, and broad impacts on daily life, education, and mental health–was analyzed in detail above, and must be factored as a severe cost of the US program. In addition, it is clear that US strikes in Pakistan foster anti-American sentiment and undermine US credibility not only in Pakistan but throughout the region. There is strong evidence to suggest that US drone strikes have facilitated recruitment to violent non-state armed groups, and motivate attacks against both US military and civilian targets. Further, current US targeted killing and drone strike practices may set dangerous global legal precedents, erode the rule of law, and facilitate recourse to lethal force…
Yet, the Chicago Tribune actually wrote, “Obama, in sum, has been careful about projecting military power overseas.” Presumably, they mean there have been no large-scale military occupations started in any countries in the Middle East like Bush did and permit the Obama administration to pretend the constant drone attacks in Pakistan, Somalia or Yemen are not part of wars in those countries.
Also, despite the fact that there has been a severe weakening of Al Qaeda and its networks, at no point did any of the papers bring up the ongoing War on Terror and whether it might ever come to an end. Establishment newspapers have accepted that this battle has become entrenched in US foreign policy and military operations. And, the effect and impact on American society goes ignored with little attention paid to the wartime loss of civil liberties that will continue to steadily take place so long as America remains in state of permanent war.
Withdrawal from Iraq
Each paper praised Obama for ending the Iraq War. The Chicago Tribune suggested, “He set and stuck to a withdrawal schedule for U.S. troops in Iraq.” Actually, in 2008, George W. Bush negotiated the withdrawal schedule. It also must be noted the Pentagon wanted to keep 10,000 to 20,000 troops in Iraq as “trainers” and “anti-terrorism forces. They lowered the figure to around 3,000. The Pentagon, along with the Obama administration pressed for immunity for any US troops that would remain in the country. That was met with opposition and, when immunity could not be ensured, the withdrawal officially began.
The US presence did not completely end though. According to the State Department, 16,000 to 17,000 US personnel would remain in the country along with about 5,500 military contractors. The US occupation would also leave behind the world’s largest embassy in Baghdad.
How did Obama mark the end of the war? Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick in their book, The Untold History of the United States, gave it proper treatment:
…Obama welcomed the troops home at Fort Bragg. But instead of honestly treating the Iraq War as the unmitigated disaster it had been for the United States, drawing some poignant lessons, and thanking those gathered for their sacrifice, Obama felt compelled to cloak the war’s end in the kind of patriotic drivel that conjured up the powerfully haunting words of Rudyard Kipling, the erstwhile proponent of empire, who had convinced his son to enlist in the First World War, only to have him die his first day of combat. In his “Epitaphs of the War,” Kipling wrote, “If any question why we died / Tell them, because our fathers lied.” Obama’s lies would sear just as deeply and painfully. “We’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people,” he told the troops, praising their “extraordinary achievement.” The “most important lesson,” he declared, was “about our national character…that there’s nothing we Americans can’t do when we stick together…And that why the United States military is the most respected institution in our land.” He commended their willingness to sacrifice “so much for a people that you had never met,” which, he insisted, was “part of what makes us special as Americans. Unlike the old empires, we don’t make these sacrifices for territory or for resources. We do it because it’s right. There can be no fuller expression of America’s support for self-determination than our leaving Iraq to its people. That says something about who we are.”…
On the continued war in Afghanistan, the Chicago Tribune said Obama’s surge gave the “nation time to mature” so the war could likely end in 2014. The Tampa Bay Times wrote, “The president’s temporary troop surge in Afghanistan stabilized the country and checked the Taliban’s momentum. Yet the president recognizes Americans have no appetite for a never-ending war for diminishing returns. He pledges to pull combat forces out of Afghanistan in 2014.”
None of the endorsements reflected on the president’s ultimate decision to surge in Afghanistan. US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry had warned, “The last time we sent substantial additional forces—a deployment of 33,000 in 2008-2009—overall violence and instability in Afghanistan intensified.” Nothing about the night raids that Afghanis hated just as much as Pakistanis resent drones because they tend to target innocent civilians was mentioned nor was there any coverage of the impact the conflict is having on women.
Obama actually met with advisors including chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and said on November 25, 2009, ahead of a speech on the surge. He wanted to give a speech where he said, “You know what? The American people are sick of this war, and we’re going to put in 10,000 trainers because that’s how we’re going to get out of there.” But he did not have the courage to stand up to the military industrial-complex. Colin Powell told him, “You don’t have to put up with this…You’re the commander-in-chief. Because they’re unanimous in their advice doesn’t make it right. There are other generals. There’s only one commander-in-chief.” Except, he did not have the moral fortitude. The United States was plunged into deeper war in Afghanistan with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria reacting, “If Al Qaeda is down to 100 men there at the most [as reports had indicated], why are we fighting a major war?”
Though, perhaps, this is not surprising. “During the first ten months of 2009, opinion columns in the New York Times and Washington Post on the Afghanistan War were examined and Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) found antiwar opinions were marginalized. War supporters wrote five times as many columns as opponents.
The New York Times celebrated sanctions on Iran. Iranian-American journalist Hooman Majd wrote in an op-ed on March 3, 2012, “Western sanctions, once “targeted” and now blanket, are turning into a form of collective punishment. They are designed, we are told, to force the Islamic government to return to the nuclear negotiating table. Western politicians also seem to believe that punishing the Iranian people might lead them to blame their own government for their misery and take it upon themselves to force a change in the regime’s behavior, or even a change in the regime itself. But as the old British maxim recognized, deprivation in Iran is a recipe for the status quo.”
The Times also concluded, “Mr. Obama gathered international backing for airstrikes during the Libyan uprising, and kept American military forces in a background role. It was smart policy.” It was a conclusion that ignored the fact that Obama had used presidential power in way that expanded the imperial presidency. He had refused to seek approval or a declaration of war from Congress to intervene in Libya.
From Stone and Kuznick’s Untold History of the United States:
…In 2011, Obama defied his top lawyers, insisting that he did not need congressional approval under the War Powers Resolution to continue military activities in Libya beyond the sixty-day limits inscribed in the resolution. Offering a bizarre, some would say Orwellian, interpretation reminiscent of George W. Bush’s definition of “torture” and Bill Clinton’s definition of “sex,” Obama insisted that the US military engagement was outside the legal definition of “hostilities.” Even hawkish House Speaker John Boehner was taken aback by Obama’s assertion that the prolonged bombing of Libya as part of an effort to assassinate Muammar Gaddafi and overthrow his regime didn’t constitute “hostilities.” “The White House says there are no hostilities taking place,” Boehner commented. “Yet we’ve got drone attacks under way. We’re spending $10 million a day. We’re part of an effort to drop bombs on Qaddafi’s compounds. It just doesn’t pass the straight-face test, in my view, that we’re not in the midst of hostilities.” Obama had rejected the views of Pentagon general counsel Jeremiah Johnson and acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel Caroline Krass. Disregarding opinion of the Office of Legal Counsel in such affairs was almost unprecedented…
Also, as Rep. Dennis Kucinich said during a hearing after the Benghazi attack, “We bombed Libya. We destroyed their army. We obliterated their police stations lacking any civil authority or armed brigades to control security. Al Qaeda expanded its presence. Weapons are everywhere. Thousands of shoulder-to-air missiles are on the loose. Our military intervention led to greater instability in Libya. Many of us, Democrats and Republicans alike, made that argument to try to stop the war. It’s not surprising, given the inflated threat and the grandiose expectations inherent in our nation-building in Libya, that the State Department was not able to adequately protect our diplomats from this predictable threat. It’s not surprising and it’s also not acceptable.”
The Arab Spring
Finally, the consensus on Obama is that he handled the Arab Spring quite well. Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald appeared on “Democracy Now!” in October 2011. What he said calls into question whether Obama handled the Arab Spring well:
…[R]ight now his administration is actively supporting and arming the regime in Bahrain, which is oppressing its people at least as cruelly as Gaddafi ever did. He announced recently, after a phone call with the Saudi prince, that the U.S.-Saudi cooperative relationship is stronger than ever. He continues to heap praise on the Yemeni president as he slaughters his citizens in his street. And, of course, the Obama administration stood by the Mubarak regime and continues to support military repression in that country, as well. American citizens, to some degree, aren’t aware of these conflicts between his message and his actions, but people in that part of the world are well aware of them. And, of course, we had a long and cooperative relationship with Gaddafi, as well….
There was no better example of the gap between the message and actions than when Egyptians during the uprising in Tahrir Square began to find they were being attacked with tear gas that was made in the United States. Had he handled the Arab Spring well, Obama would have completely confessed to the horrid acts of the United States in the past decades. Instead, the Obama only had high-flying rhetoric on freedom and democracy. The details were left to WikiLeaks, which released US State Embassy cables showing how much the State Department had known about corruption in Tunisia, Egypt and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
What one can see in the endorsements of Obama is how the editorial boards of top newspapers regard the actions of the US empire over the last four years. Like many Americans, they’ve grown tired with US military occupations. That may be because the national security state and military industrial-complex is shifting to the use of Special Forces and remote control warfare. Whatever the reason, they appreciate how Obama has rebranded America’s role in the world and continued operations in various countries that are supposed to be curbing terrorism. They are comfortable with four more years because, to them, Obama will be smart and measured in the projection of American power.
The papers’ editors stayed on message, mostly accepting the best talking points from the Obama/Biden re-election campaign. Like the campaign’s slogan, “Forward,” they omitted the parts of Obama’s first term that are inconvenient in their truth. Very little that would force Americans to pause was highlighted. After Election Day, the empire can press on.