In the progressive and left media, numerous commentators have praised President Obama’s talk on Iranian sanctions, threat to veto Keystone XL legislation, his words on climate change, an “ambitious” State of the Union, and most silly of all, having “his mojo” back, which sounds like a line out of an Austin Powers movie. However, this rhetoric disguises the Obama’s neoliberal, pro-corporate, and pro-empire agenda, which has been stated before but reaffirmed in the last two months, an agenda which many pundits on the left have overlooked, ignored or not recognized.
In his recent State of the Union, Obama made many bold statements which people have said were “progressive” and hopeful. These include: his support for paid sick leave for American workers, a pathetic increase of the minimum wage to $10.10, meant to hurt the ‘Fight for $15’ movement; a promise to veto legislation that overturns deficient Wall Street “reform;” support for “affordable” quality childcare; minimal raises in taxes for the wealthy, which isn’t nearly enough; sorta free community college ; supposedly protecting “a free and open Internet,” and so on.
One must remember that these proposals are largely rhetorical, in a speech Ralph Nader called highly contradictory, as they likely won’t pass a Republican-dominated Congress. At the same time, he also declared his support for continued oil & gas drilling to “reduce our dependence on foreign oil and protect our planet,” and put forward number of supposedly “practical, not partisan” budget proposals which reinforced what he called “middle class economics.” 
Obama also made a number of ‘firsts’ by mentioning transgender and lesbian people in his State of the Union, claiming that the United States government protects them (oh really), which seems great but ignores the fact that not only is Obama “a born again” evangelical Christian, but he has, during his presidency, allowed federal money to fund groups that supported the anti-gay bill in Uganda and “conservative faith-based groups affiliated with the Family Research Council, anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers and an entire network of evangelical abstinence-only educators,” according to an exhaustive investigation in The Nation.
It is important to focus on other parts of the speech, often missed by other analysis, which emphasize American exceptionalism , including a section where he hypocritically criticizes Russia for actions that the US has done in the past:
My first duty as Commander-in-Chief is to defend the United States of America. In doing so, the question is not whether America leads in the world, but how … We lead best when we combine military power with strong diplomacy; when we leverage our power with coalition building; when we don’t let our fears blind us to the opportunities that this new century presents …
We will continue to hunt down terrorists and dismantle their networks, and we reserve the right to act unilaterally … In Iraq and Syria, American leadership — including our military power — is stopping ISIL’s advance … I call on this Congress to show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIL. We need that authority …
We’re upholding the principle that bigger nations can’t bully the small — by opposing Russian aggression, and supporting Ukraine’s democracy, and reassuring our NATO allies …
America leads — not with bluster, but with persistent, steady resolve … There are no guarantees that negotiations will succeed, and I keep all options on the table to prevent a nuclear Iran …
No foreign nation, no hacker, should be able to shut down our networks, steal our trade secrets, or invade the privacy of American families.
These parts one could code as traditionally masculine (i.e. aggressive, assertive, stoic), as contrasting with his traditionally feminine (caring, emotional, peaceful) proposals such as support for childcare, diplomacy with Iran instead of bombing it. 
Beyond this exceptional policy was his support for investor-rights agreements like the TPP, TAFTA/TTIP, and TISA, which defies the views of those in his own party, by saying he still supports “fast track” (“trade promotion authority”):
…China wants to write the rules for the world’s fastest-growing region. That would put our workers and our businesses at a disadvantage. … We should write those rules. We should level the playing field. That’s why I’m asking both parties to give me trade promotion authority to protect American workers, with strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe … I’m the first one to admit that past trade deals haven’t always lived up to the hype … But 95 percent of the world’s customers live outside our borders. We can’t close ourselves off from those opportunities.
The themes of exceptionalism and neoliberal policy also made their way into his budget proposals as well. I say this because the almost $4 trillion dollar budget sets aside billions of dollars to “strengthen U.S. cybersecurity defenses after a spate of high-profile hackings,” increase domestic and military spending by seven percent, and not only funding “efforts to support NATO and European allies against Russian aggression,” but also “U.S. efforts to fight Islamic State militants, bolster Iraq’s army and strengthen the “moderate” opposition in Syria.”  This budget is completely in line with the comments by now-former Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, who proposed that more troops will be sent to Iraq.
When it comes to exceptionalism, neither Obama’s budget nor his State of the Union top the most recent declaration of policy from the foreign policy and military establishments: the National Security Strategy. This goes beyond the previous National Security Strategy, which broadly outlined American exceptionalism, by boldly declaring that it “provides a vision for strengthening and sustaining American leadership,” clarifying the “purpose and promise of American power” and asserting the “certainty that American leadership in this century … remains indispensable.”
This is confirmed by National Security Adviser Susan Rice who recently called the document, in a speech to the Brookings Institution, “a strategy to strengthen the foundations of America’s power … and to sustain American leadership in this new century” which will be “strong and sustained,” staking out “a much larger role for America in shaping our world,” and “advancing our core interests” including the “long struggle” against terrorism.
The specifics of the document are, not surprisingly, deeply disturbing to say the least. This is because it declares that it is unquestionable that America “will lead into the future” as a supposed “global force for good” (a bunch of lies). It prioritizes “top security risks” to US interests — that is interests of the entrenched elite — including: a “catastrophic attack” on the US or “critical infrastructure”; threats or attacks against US citizens and “our allies”; a global economic crisis, proliferation of WMDs; infectious disease outbreaks on a global scale; climate change, “major energy market disruptions” and certain consequences that are “associated with weak or failing states.”
While some may say that these priorities are justified, if one reads further in the document, the American exceptionalism of leading with strength, by example, or by using “all the instruments of U.S. power” doesn’t sound too reassuring since the US is, as the document rightly points out, the “world’s leading global power.”
The document also declares that the US will strengthen “national defense” and “homeland security” by paradoxically expanding US military dominance in the cyber, space and intelligence realms, engaging in unilateral action if “demanded” by national interests, engaging in “decisive action” if there is an undefined “imminent threat,” and so on.
The document also says that while the US supports Iran having “peaceful nuclear energy,” a powerful admission in and of itself, that the US government will “retain all options to … prevent … Iran from producing a nuclear weapon.”
Strangely enough the document also proposes “launching a free trade agreement for environmental goods” as a way to combat climate change, an approach which would only benefit big corporations and not limit the effects of the climate catastrophe.
What I’ve quoted so far is only scratching the surface. The document importantly declares that the US government will defend itself “against cyber attacks and impose costs on malicious cyber actors,” a term which is never defined, and help countries take “strong action against threats” that come from their infrastructure. This, I fear, could be used to destroy hacktivist groups, whether you support them or not, and other harmless netizens online who are considered a “threat.”
Unlike the last National Security Strategy, this one even acknowledges US government “space systems,” saying that the US government will enhance “the resiliency of crucial U.S. space capabilities” and continue to, as implied in the document, militarize space.
I could go on and on the specifics of this strategy, but there is something important to note. The document not surprisingly declares, following the “all of the above” energy approach, that “American fossil [fuel] resources” will be developed alongside “cleaner, alternative fuels and vehicles.”
That’s not all. Other than the document’s at times lofty rhetoric, it does interestingly declare that the reason US “trade” agreements are being pushed, at least in their view, is because they would make the US a “production platform of choice and the premier investment destination,” and lead to supposed “economic growth.”
The document also declares in, an open way, support, once again, for the Responsibility to Protect Principle (R2P), by saying that the US will strengthen its “collective efforts to prevent and respond to mass atrocities using all instruments of our national power.”
Even worse is the document’s charge, in line with existing policy, that the US will maintain an anti-China position, one of containment through alliances and “trade” deals like the TPP, and through an ‘Asia pivot’ that will keep the US as a “pacific power.”
Finally, the document says that the US will work with NATO to counter “Russian aggression,” that US corporations will ramp up their investments in Africa (which doesn’t sound good), that the US will “ensure the free flow of energy from the region [Middle East and North Africa] to the world,” and increasing cooperation with countries in the Americas.
In a sense, one should not be surprised by the militaristic and uber-nationalistic proposals in the National Security Strategy, State of the Union, and proposed budget. This is because as Rob Urie noted in CounterPunch, “Mr. Obama is, and has always been, a foil against the public interest … [and] is merely a care taker for the economic interests that he represents.”
Kshama Sawant, Seattle’s socialist city council member, noted in her response to the State of the Union, which strangely didn’t talk about US militarism and took many of Obama’s proposals at face value (which is always dangerous) made a similar comment, noting that “the financial aristocracy that funded Obama’s election campaigns and promoted him to the presidency have their tentacles firmly wedded in to every nook and cranny of the White House.”
What Obama and his administration have reaffirmed since the beginning of 2015 sounds more like the pro-militaristic speech John F. Kennedy didn’t make (because he was shot)  than Martin Luther King’s unfinished speech, written near the end of his life, declaring that “if America does not use her vast resources of wealth to end poverty, to make it possible for all of God’s children to have the basic necessities of life, she too will go to Hell.”
There’s something more. Obama’s new doctrine for American exceptionalism makes sure, as journalist James Risen wrote in his new book, that “the war imperative … war economy, and … war lobby … remain powerful in Washington,” and it continues the war in Afghanistan but under new auspices, as noted by Tim Shorrock in a recent article in The Nation:
… it’s apparent that the US-led war against the Taliban is still in full swing, and that Americans—along with many Afghans—will continue to die … it’s clear that the killings [of private contractors] were a strategic hit by the Taliban on a key element in Obama’s “advisory” war … it’s particularly dangerous for contractors helping the Pentagon with its counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan and assisting US forces with their campaign to help foreign investors exploit Afghanistan’s extensive mineral resources. That is precisely what PSI is doing … True to its imperial name, Praetorian is also involved in a major Pentagon project to convince US and foreign investors and mining companies to develop Afghanistan’s extensive mineral wealth.
There is something just as disturbing, and its not the recent documents showing that the 2011 war in Libya really was, in Obama’s words, “all Secretary Clinton’s matter,” her war. Rather it is the duplicitous approach to the environment by the Obama administration. In a January 26th press briefing, John Podesta, currently the Counselor to the President, who previously worked at the pro-corporate think-tank, Center for American Progress, declared that ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) was being protected from drilling by being designated as wilderness because it is “too precious not to protect.”
While this sounds great and was praised by publications such as Mother Jones, it starts to unravel when Podesta declared that “the administration continues to support oil and gas development, but there are some places, as I said, that are just too precious not to protect.”
The absurdity of this quickly built as Podesta added that the “saving” of ANWR is being done in conjunction with the continuation of an “aggressive leasing program in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska” for oil and gas exploration (and drilling) which is “west of the Coastal Plains of the refuge,” and there will be continued “drilling in Alaska, and … continued exploration in the Arctic on the offshore side.”
This isn’t all. The Obama administration has also declared that it is opening new areas of the Atlantic Ocean for oil and gas drilling, a move which has been opposed by members of his own party since it could cause oil spills and environmental damage in general.
These moves are why Zoe Carpenter of The Nation wrote that Obama’s climate policy doesn’t make sense:
… the Obama administration is offering doublespeak when it comes to energy and the environment … two days later [after saying they would “protect” ANWR] the administration … proposes to open up nearly 80 percent of the nation’s untapped offshore oil and gas reserves by 2022 …
The drilling plan exemplifies Obama’s incoherent policy-making in regards to the climate crisis … But when it comes to energy, Obama’s “all of the above” strategy is in direct conflict with his climate agenda … the proposal for the Arctic leases makes 90 percent of undiscovered technically recoverable resources in the two seas available. …
The fight over KXL is not meaningless, although the irrelevant and interminable congressional wrangling has turned it into something of a joke.
As I close, I am reminded of what Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies write in “Why Do People Hate America”: “the use of violence abroad in order to make the world safe and compliant to the American way has been the history of the last half of the 20th century … this stimulates endless protest and a firm conviction of secondary status among people of the Third World … [something] that American chooses to ignore.”
There is no doubt that this is a relevant concern considering that Obama absurdly declared in his speech to the United Nations in 2013 — despite saying the United States would engage in imperial action to protect “the free flow of energy from the Middle East and North Africa to the world” — that “… the notion of American empire may be useful propaganda, but it isn’t borne out by America’s current policy or by public opinion.”
In the end, the reaffirmed doctrine of hyper-nationalism which necessitates endless war and a bloated military-security establishment has to be stopped, first by listening to the American populace.
Otherwise, in the words of freelance journalist David Mizner, in a wonderful article in Jacobin, “as long as terrorism doesn’t threaten core US interests, American elites are content to allow it—and help it—flourish. They don’t want to win this war. It will go on forever, unless we make them end it.”
 A recent Washington Post article on January 30 (“Why college isn’t always worth it”) noted that
“For some students, the gap can make college a risky investment. It’s no longer a sure thing that graduation happens on time … The investment of a college education is generally better for those who graduate—and on time—from a school with healthier resources.”
A January 9th article in the Washington Post (“There’s a big catch in Obama’s plan for free community college”) noted importantly that “free tuition [for community college], even for two years, is not nearly enough to cover the cost of attending … Obama’s plan also doesn’t cover fees, which schools routinely charge for using labs, campus health centers and computer labs … Some students would still have to borrow to cover any additional living expenses under this plan” and, something that I find problematic as it encourages austerity, “Obama’s plan calls on states to pick up about a quarter of the cost of the program, while the federal government would foot the rest of the bill.”
 According to a January 30th article in the Washington Post (titled “Obama’s plan doesn’t actually help the average middle-class taxpayer”), “U.S. households with average incomes … would on average see an increase of $7 in their tax bill under President Obama’s proposals” and purportedly the main effect of the budget is “to help the poor,” an effect which I don’t think will happen.
Michael Winship additionally argued on Consortium News that despite the “occasional oratory to the contrary, he is tucked well under the corporate wing of his party, mightily beholden to the investment sector he occasionally decries to maintain his credibility.”
I also feel that the idea of “middle class economics” is, to put it in a radical way, bourgeois, as it is focusing on an unidentified group (who is the middle class anyway?) rather than focusing on the suffering populace as a whole. Almost half of population is living paycheck to paycheck, many are uninsured (which is being expanded by Obamacare), many schoolchildren live in poverty, and “as many as 30 million Americans are either out of work or severely underemployed,” a number which doesn’t reflect the official unemployment rate, which is, in the words of Gallup’s CEO, “a Big Lie.”
Additionally, I am reminded of what Oliver Stone said in his controversial TV series, “The Untold History of the United States”: “even democratic presidents … extol the virtues of a free capitalist market place, perpetuate the myth of the universal middle class and trumpet the notion of American exceptionalism.”
 A number of responses to the speech noted this, including Daniel Larso, writing in the right-leaning, but moderate, American Conservative, that “Obama has made it a habit in the last few years to order or threaten military action that isn’t necessary for U.S. or allied security … the U.S. has been dragged into yet another unnecessary conflict in just the last year [against ISIS], and Obama has volunteered the U.S. for new conflicts in the past when he did not have to … Obama is effective at presenting himself as the champion of restraint in his rhetoric, but the pretense doesn’t work very well now that his latest illegal war is entering its sixth month.”
An even harder hitting response came from Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report who argued that “his grab bag of bills and requests for legislation … [includes] put[ting] the imperial war machine back on the offensive … he asks permission from Congress to wage a wider war against the Islamic State … Thousands of U.S. troops now man the machinery of war in Iraq … five years ago … Obama has no plans whatsoever to leave Afghanistan, where about 10,000 U.S. troops, largely Special Forces, remain on indefinite assignment.”
Some, such as James Carden in The Nation, have thought that Obama will cave to the “war lust” of the Establishment over Ukraine.
 This seemed at least somewhat evident to the editor of Consortium News, Robert Perry, who wrote in an introduction to a post about blowback from Russian sanctions that: “Today’s American foreign policy ‘elite’ rarely thinks through the dangerous consequences of its ‘tough-guy’ actions, including its new plan to provoke economic and political chaos in nuclear-armed Russia, a ‘strategy’ that is also spreading pain and disorder to Europe.”
 These quotes comes from a February 2nd Reuters article titled “Obama proposes $3.99 trillion budget, draws scorn from Republicans.”
 While some say that JFK would have ended the Vietnam War, this speech casts doubt on that notion, making those who say it look like fools. In the speech, JFK paradoxically declared that “the United States is a peaceful nation” while supporting the increased “American military might” through the modernization of “strategic nuclear power,” development of “tactical nuclear weapons,” improving the “readiness of our conventional forces,” along with “military and economic assistance, pro-American propaganda by Voice of America.
He later even says, something that Obama echoed: “… America today is stronger than ever before … we have the military, the scientific, and the economic strength to do whatever must be done for the preservation and promotion of freedom.”
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