Obama’s Last Chance

Exclusive: For six years, President Obama has bent to the will of Official Washington by reneging on promises to the American people for “transparency” and operating instead as an out-of-touch “insider.” Now, the Democratic election debacle offers him a last chance to remember why he was elected, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The Democrats clearly deserved to lose on Tuesday, though the Republicans may not have deserved to win. Indeed, there was almost a yin-yang quality to the Democratic rout/Republican victory in which the Democrats played into almost all the Republican themes, making the outcome feel inevitable.

Most notably, President Barack Obama and the Democrats shelved all the “contentious” issues that might have rallied their “base” to turn out and vote. Immigration reform was put on hold; release of the Senate report on “torture” was postponed; what to do about “global warming” was ignored; the argument about the value of activist government was silenced; etc., etc., etc.

President Barack Obama walks with Senior Advisors on the Colonnade of the White House, Nov. 5, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama walks with Senior Advisors on the Colonnade of the White House, Nov. 5, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

On a personal level, supposedly polarizing “liberal” candidates, such as actor Ashley Judd in Kentucky, were pushed aside in favor of supposedly more “electable” candidates, like Alison Lundergan Grimes. Unwilling to say whether she had voted for President Obama in 2012, Grimes managed to win only 41 percent of the vote against the perennially unpopular Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell.

Obama himself was virtually sidelined from many races in what was an implicit Democratic admission of the Republican theme that Obama was a failure and that he deserved an electoral repudiation. The smell of fear pervaded the Democratic ranks and panic is not the most inspiring of emotions.

In some states, the Democrats seemed enamored with what might be called the “nepotism strategy,” counting on the “magic” of political names and family connections to somehow overcome their lack of message and their image of timidity: Pryor in Arkansas, Grimes in Kentucky, Nunn in Georgia all went down to decisive defeat.

In the bigger picture, the Democratic failure seems part and parcel with the broader weakness of progressivism in the United States. The Right continues to dominate in areas of media and messaging, investing billions upon billions of dollars in a vertically integrated media apparatus, from the older technologies of print, radio and TV to the newer ones around the Internet. The Right also has layers upon layers of think tanks and other propaganda outlets.

By comparison, the Left has never made anything close to a comparable investment. And, even the ostensibly “liberal” network MSNBC and the purportedly “liberal” New York Times fall into line behind neoconservative foreign policy initiatives at nearly every turn, such as the “regime change” campaigns in Syria, Iran and Ukraine. So, too, do many of the supposedly “liberal” think tanks, such as the Brookings Institution and the New America Foundation.

Indeed, a remarkable reality about U.S. policy circles is that six years after the end of George W. Bush’s disastrous neocon-dominated presidency, the neocons continue to dominate America’s foreign policy thinking, albeit sometimes rebranded as “liberal interventionism.”

A ‘Closet Realist’

Though President Obama may be something of a “closet realist” hoping to work quietly with foreign adversaries to resolve international crises he has never taken firm control over his own foreign policy.

Obama apparently thought that neocon holdovers from the Bush years, like Gen. David Petraeus or Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, and Democratic neocons, such as his first Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, would somehow drop their ideological certitudes and cooperate with his approach.

Instead, the neocons and their “liberal interventionist” allies burrowed deep into the foreign policy bureaucracy and pop up periodically to press for their war-mongering agendas. A distracted President Obama always seems outmaneuvered from the 2009 Afghan “surge,” to the 2010 stand-off over Iran’s nuclear program, to the 2011 civil wars in Libya and Syria, to the 2014 Ukrainian coup d’etat.

Arriving late at each new crisis, Obama usually signs off on what the neocons want, although he intermittently pushes for his “realist” approach, such as collaborating with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in avoiding a U.S. war on Syria in 2013 and negotiating a peaceful settlement to Iran’s nuclear program, which could be completed in 2014 if Obama doesn’t lose his nerve.

The big question now is whether the Democrats’ humiliating defeat on Nov. 4 will teach Obama and the party any meaningful lessons or will the Democrats just kid themselves into thinking that “demographics” will save them or that they will prevail in 2016 by avoiding controversial stands and putting up another famous “name,” in Hillary Clinton.

Will Obama finally realize that he has to revert back to his inspiring messages of 2008 on issues such as his promise of government transparency? For the past six years, transparency has worked only one way: the government gets to look into the secrets of citizens while the citizens have no right to know about the government’s secrets.

There is a fundamental disconnect between this image of an intrusive federal government spying on everyone and the progressive concept that an active federal government is necessary to address fundamental problems facing the American people and the world, such as what to do about global warming, income inequality, corporate power, racial injustice, etc.

What I’m hearing from many young progressives is that they are so resentful of government intrusions into their lives that they are veering more toward libertarianism, even though it offers no solutions to most environmental, economic and social problems. If Obama hopes to stanch this flow of progressive youth to the right, he needs to finally recognize that the people need transparency on the government and the government must learn to trust the people.

An obvious first step would be to override CIA objections and release the report on torture during the Bush years. And while Obama is at it, he should make public the secret pages from the 9/11 report relating to Saudi funding for al-Qaeda terrorists.

I’m also told that Obama has information that contradicts his administration’s early claims blaming the Aug. 21, 2013 sarin gas attack on the Syrian government and faulting Russia for the July 17, 2014 shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine. Those two incidents fueled dangerous international confrontations with the United States nearly going to war against the Syrian government in 2013 and starting a new Cold War with Russia in 2014.

If Obama has U.S. intelligence information that points the finger of blame in different directions, he should correct the impressions left by Secretary of State John Kerry and other U.S. officials. The neocons won’t like that and some “liberal interventionists” may have egg on their faces, too but misleading propaganda has no place in a democracy. False information must be removed as quickly as possible.

Similarly, Obama should commit his administration to expediting release of historical secrets. Currently, it takes many years, even decades, to pry loose embarrassing “secrets” from the U.S. government, often allowing false historical narratives to take hold or creating a hot house for conspiracy theories. It’s way past time for the U.S. government to give the American people their history back.

By releasing as much information as possible about important topics, Obama could finally begin to win back the people’s trust, not just in him but in the government. Nothing is as corrosive to democratic governance as a belief by the people that the government doesn’t trust them and that they, in turn, have no reason to trust the government.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

21 comments for “Obama’s Last Chance

  1. blurkel
    November 13, 2014 at 21:24

    The Democratic Party -with Obama’s approval- are attempting to rescue Mary Landrieu’s Senate seat by fast-tracking the XL pipeline. Few Obama supporters want to see this ecological disaster become a reality. What this proves is that Obama once again kicks his supporters to the curb in his obsessive desire to be accepted as the “moderate 1985 Reagan Republican” he claims to be.

    As much as I wanted to see Obama be FDR II, I have no regrets that I never voted for that liar.

  2. JoeyB
    November 8, 2014 at 12:46

    President Obama has failed to oppose the military/corporatist elite and to work toward a open peaceful social society. Should have expected no Hope, and no Change. Why should he sacrifice himself for a people hopelessly ignorant and naïve? Maybe he was never for real, and had been successfully vetted from the beginning.

  3. Joe Tedesky
    November 7, 2014 at 14:14

    Progressives need to reverse the Lewis Powell memo. Please google Powell memo not doctrine, and read it. Justices Powell’s memo was a conservative call to arms. Back in 1971 the conservatives were losing ground, and Powell wrote of what he thought needed to be accomplished in order to change the face of conservative politics…and it got implemented. One, needs only to watch FOX news to see that.

    The other problem is the fund raiser class needs to be brought on board to progressive projects. Have fun with that, but seriously everything depends on the money. Until money is not the driving force behind our political system nothing will change.

    • Abe
      November 7, 2014 at 19:23

      The Powell Memorandum http://reclaimdemocracy.org/powell_memo_lewis/http://reclaimdemocracy.org/powell_memo_lewis/ was a confidential memorandum that described a road map to defend and further the concept of free-enterprise capitalism against perceived socialist, communist, and fascist cultural trends.

      Based in part on his experiences as a corporate lawyer and as a representative for the tobacco industry with the Virginia legislature, Lewis F. Powell (1907 – 1998) wrote the memo to a friend at the US Chamber of Commerce.

      The confidential memo called for corporate America to become more aggressive in molding politics and law in the US and may have sparked the formation of several influential right-wing think tanks and lobbying organizations, such as The Heritage Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council, as well as inspiring the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to become far more politically active.

      On August 23, 1971, prior to accepting President Nixon’s request to become an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Powell sent the “Confidential Memorandum” titled “Attack on the American Free Enterprise System.” He argued, “The most disquieting voices joining the chorus of criticism came from perfectly respectable elements of society: from the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences, and from politicians.”

      In the memorandum, Powell advocated “constant surveillance” of textbook and television content, as well as a purge of left-wing elements. He named consumer advocate Ralph Nader as the chief antagonist of American business.

      This memo foreshadowed a number of Powell’s court opinions, especially First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, which shifted the direction of First Amendment law by declaring that corporate financial influence of elections through independent expenditures should be protected with the same vigor as individual political speech. Much of the future Court opinion in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission relied on the same arguments raised in Bellotti.

      Though written confidentially for Eugene Syndor at the Chamber of Commerce, it was discovered by Washington Post columnist Jack Anderson, who reported on its content a year later (after Powell had joined the Supreme Court). Anderson focused on the efforts of Powell to undermine the democratic process (at least as Anderson saw it); however, in terms of business’s view of itself in relation to government and public interest groups, the memo did little but convey the conventional thinking among members of the business class.

    • Joe Tedesky
      November 8, 2014 at 01:44

      Thanks, Abe. I dig your reporting on almost everything, but appreciate what you wrote here about the Powell Memo, as well as a decent profile of the man.

      If only we could reverse engineer what he necessated to action amongst his own. Nader is no spring chicken, but he is a good equal, maybe. What I am spreaking too, is we need a Powell Memo on the left. Why, I’d settle for the middle. Our country has swung so far right that the old right is now the new left…remember, Reagan protected Social Security!
      Joe Tedesky

  4. TurboKitty
    November 7, 2014 at 12:31

    Across the nation, State Democratic Party leaders told their candidates to distance themselves from the President. Then the Leaders themselves shunned their candidates. I don’t call that leadership, I call that sabotage! Especially when Harry Reid stated he would not support a candidate he knew was going to lose.

  5. Abe
    November 7, 2014 at 06:29

    Another major challenge for Obama is investigation of the shoot down of MH-17 by Ukrainian fighter jets:

    MH-17: The Untold Story

    The United States and the EU used the downing of MH-17 to justify a third round of sanctions against certain sectors of Russia’s economy. Canada, Japan, Australia, Norway, Switzerland and Ukraine also announced expanded sanctions against Russia.

    The Russian government responded in kind, with sanctions against some Canadian and American individuals and, in August 2014, with a total ban on food imports from the European Union, United States, Norway, Canada and Australia.

    Media attention on MH-17 waned as the sanctions regimes were implemented.

    As reported by Spiegel Online on 27 October, Fred Westerbeke, chief investigator with the Dutch National Prosecutors’ Office, will request Russia’s Defense Ministry military monitoring data, which showed a Kiev military jet tracking the MH17 plane shortly before the crash.

    The Dutch investigators are preparing an official request for Moscow’s assistance since Russia is not part of the international investigation team.

    In response to the latest RT video report about MH-17, corporate media recruited its favorite “independent blogger” Eliot Higgins, pseudonym Brown Moses, to deny the obvious physical evidence that MH-17 was struck by 30mm cannon fire. Disinformation source Higgins was thoroughly discredited for his debunked “it was Assad” internet claims about the 2013 sarin attacks in Syria.

  6. Yuliy Nesterenko
    November 7, 2014 at 05:40

    Great analysis, as always…
    However, speaking of torture files, as horrific and disgusting as they are, there are many more skeletons in the US history, many of them brought to light by Robert and his wonderful collaborators…
    This is the NPR Fresh Air program synopsis about Nazis in the US after the World War 2… (interview with Eric Lichtblau.
    Even though many of these facts were well known, at least in Russia, about collaboration between US intelligence services and Nazis (subject of great TV spy drama made in 70’s), to hear this in NPR program was shocking even to me…
    In this light, think about Ukraine and current US neocons’ romantic relationship with Ukraine’s Nazis of today… and having audacity to compare mister Putin with Hitler in this context… In my view the big question is, at what circumstances the governments of powerful countries such as the US can be forced to face their responsibilities for their mistakes or even crimes and finally say – “We are sorry, we did bad, shameful things in the past… But we will do our best to try to do better in the future…”

  7. michael
    November 7, 2014 at 03:29

    Obama is a neo conservative; he will end up with some cushy job with Goldman Sachs or whatever. Obama is even a bigger disappointment than Bush because I didn’t expect anything positive from Bush. The world watched the election of Obama with hope and with tears that finally we have a person that will be a true champion for democracy not the facade we have now! The masses have no one to look after us; the constitution has been brutalized. One quote comes to mind while drinking my wine in the cool of the evening “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” John Adams

  8. Eddie
    November 7, 2014 at 00:00

    Gee Bob Parry, you’ve written a good analysis of Obama’s missed opportunities & miscues (assuming, for the sake of argument, that he WAS actually halfway serious about those intentions, which is a very dubious assumption), but your wish for the future sounds a lot like a ‘battered wife syndrome’, with the wife believing that there’s some underlying good in the guy who beats her every other night when he’s drunk, and they could REALLY have a good marriage if only he would let his true heart/real-self come through, and get a job, etc, etc, yadda-yadda-yadda. After awhile (6 yrs maybe???) it becomes time to give up the ghost, recognize that your husband has ‘problems’ (to put it gently), separate from the situation, and move ahead with your life. Admittedly Obama was the classic ‘lesser of two evils’, and we probably stayed out of a couple of mid-East wars with him in office, which undoubtedly saved 1000s of lives… that’s a positive, especially for the thousands of Arabs who are probably alive because of it. But he’s far from a peace-president, and has enough blood on his hands to keep him from sainthood (but not the Nobel Peace Prize apparently), so lets stop pretending he has any major altruistic ambitions for the presidency.

  9. November 6, 2014 at 23:25

    RE: “Will Obama finally realize that he has to revert back to his inspiring messages of 2008 on issues such as his promise of government transparency?”

    Why? Obama has been an very successful president for his true constituency, the 1%. Pretending to be a frustrated progressive has been a great strategy for him.

  10. F. G. Sanford
    November 6, 2014 at 17:54

    “More than 100 people have died in American custody in Iraq and Afghanistan, “most of them violently,” and a quarter of those deaths were “investigated as possible abuse by U.S. personnel,” according to a 2005 Associated Press story based on government data…
    “The federal law that applies to torture against detainees is 18 U.S.C. 242, which makes it a criminal offense for any public official to willfully deprive a person of any right protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States…
    “Our Bill of Rights and domestic and international laws do not condition the right not to be tortured on citizenship or nationality. All applicable international laws apply to U.S. officials. The prohibition against torture is universal and covers all countries both regarding U.S. citizens and persons of other nationalities…
    “Asking for our trust is an organization of the executive branch that has been found to have destroyed information on their practices of torture, illegally removed equipment from the legislative branch and conducted illegal surveillance of the legislative branch. And now, again in the interest of national security, the executive branch is redacting the Senate’s report and asking citizens to once again “trust them.” The subject report will either exonerate those organizations and individuals responsible for torture or provide an instrument leading to their accountability. Additionally, it will provide truth to citizens about the value of information received from torture. It should be released in its entirety.
    There is nothing that could be more damaging to the fabric of our nation and its principles than pardoning those responsible for the abhorrent acts of torture, regardless of political stature or position. As our chief executive has stated, “nobody is above the law.” There is no justification for torture, or the authorization to commit the act. Terrorism is, indeed, cowardly and against every principle that our nation stands for. And, those committing terrorism should rightly be brought to justice and held accountable — but within the framework of our standing values and principles of jurisprudence.

    Leif H. Hendrickson is a retired brigadier general in the United States Marine Corps.

  11. Lynn Faulkner
    November 6, 2014 at 17:44

    The generally brilliant Robert Parry has disappointed this reader with the absurd notion that Obama can “win back the trust of the American people” after breaking nearly every campaign promise he made. Obama has done more damage than a Republican president ever could because he cynically fooled so many of us, and has gotten away with much that wouldn’t have been tolerated in a Republican. The idea that he ever believed his own script is ridiculous; Obama was crafted by the corrupt DP, as all candidates for major political office are created and presented to a credulous citizenry as a “choice”. Wake up and smell the Duopoly!

    • November 8, 2014 at 17:21

      So disappointing to see Robert Parry falling for for this fictional character.

  12. Gregory Kruse
    November 6, 2014 at 17:16

    Whoever wrote this article is either one of the most brilliant political thinkers in America or he’s just as dumb as I am.

  13. F. G. Sanford
    November 6, 2014 at 15:10

    Good start. Finally, a laundry list, and with enough journalistic encouragement, we might see Mark Udall pull the plug on the dirty little secrets. Americans need to know that genital mutilation and ripping out fingernails was part of the program under retired Colonel Steele. Recent controversy over the torture photographs alluded to the judge requiring photo by photo justification why they should be withheld. It would be a long list: 1. depicts homoerotic sadomasochism 2. depicts rape with foreign object 3. depicts sexual arousal among interrogators 4. depicts unnatural sexual acts, etc. etc. all the way to 2100, which would probably finish off with “depicts psychosexual humiliation”.

    There is a big tradeoff. Now that QE can no longer be rationally or realistically reissued to cover the plummeting drop in productivity camouflaged by Fed financed stock buybacks, the market is going to begin a steady decline. Steady is the optimistic forecast. Without a plausible conflict in Ukraine or Syria or Iraq, it will be hard to blame that on anybody but the bankers, so escalation is definitely “in the cards”. ISIS will be the best candidate, because sooner or later, the Nazis in Ukraine will out themselves with an atrocity. Or somebody in the Netherlands may be overcome by a fit of conscience and leak the shoot down of MH-17 by Ukrainian fighter jets.

    In order to retain loyalty of the military, he’ll probably have to keep the torture stuff secret as long as he can. Even Joni “hogs balls” Ernst would have a hard time feigning pride in what her comrades in boots did over there. But, she’ll still be pushing for escalation in Iraq and Syria. Funny, ISIS is selling $2 million a day in oil, and they are immune to sanctions. Syria got sanctioned. Iraq got sanctioned. Russia got sanctioned. Iran got sanctioned. Libya got sanctioned – BUT ISIS OPERATES LIKE AN OPEC MEMBER WITH NO SANCTIONS! Does anybody suppose our “allies” in the region are responsible? This should test anyone’s credulity.

    The legacy thing is on the line, so he has to remember he has a veto – it worked for Gerry Ford – and the Republicans can’t still can’t muster the 2/3’s needed to beat it. Gridlock would be a good outcome, but the BEST thing, and I’m not kidding, would be an impeachment attempt. They can’t pull it off, and they’ll make fools of themselves trying. But whether or not he can find what it takes to confront them is another story. A good start would be enforcing the JFK Records Act of 1992, with an admonition that the floodgates will open if Mitch McConnell and Ted Cruz don’t behave. Americans would stand behind this guy if he’d give them even a hint of encouragement. So far, Parry has laid out a good plan, BUT IT NEEDS TO BE RAMMED IN, as they say, “Deep, wide and continuous”, just the way the Republicans do it. Time they got some of their own medicine, but I’m not holding my breath.

    • Abe
      November 6, 2014 at 17:12

      Ja genau, stimmt! Speaking of atrocious allies who are immune to sanctions, F.G., let’s not forget ISIS’ not-so-silent doppelgänger:


  14. incontinent reader
    November 6, 2014 at 13:59

    Bob, a truly excellent commentary. Re: the Senate torture report, the Guardian in a rare inspired moment published an article today by Trevor Timm urging release of the report, and suggesting that a Senator read it into the Congressional Record, citing the precedent of Mike Gravel doing the same with the Pentagon Papers. It would take guts, and might (though not necessarily) mean Senate censure, or putting to rest any opportunity of returning to Congress in the future, but it would be the most patriotic act right now that Mark Udall, who is now a lame duck, or one of his colleagues, could perform. (See: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/05/leak-cia-report-torture-redacted-transparency)

  15. Chet Roman
    November 6, 2014 at 13:56

    As usual, an excellent article. My only quibble is about the characterization of Obama as somehow being out maneuvered by the neocons or other players. It was suggested that he needs to “revert back to his inspiring messages of 2008”, unfortunately, Obama has always been a master at rhetoric but a slave to special interests. I believe Obama was compromised very early in his meteoric policitical career by the special interests who groomed him and funded his rise as well as the financial industry that heavily funded his 2008 campaign. Is it any surprise that Obama didn’t prosecute Wall Street fraudsters or fill his administration with insiders. Obama is a perfect example of he control of the “deep state”, which stays hidden but controls the levers of power. Even Obama’s signature legislation, Obamacare, was initially a Republican creation, was a giveaway to the insurance industry and delayed a much needed progressive single payer program for at least a generation.

    • Zacyary Smith
      November 6, 2014 at 15:13

      Unfortunately I’m in complete agreement with what you’ve written.

      And I suspect it’s even worse – BHO’s hero wasn’t Roosevelt, but Reagan.


      Ronald Reagan was the first of the “destroy evil government” types. Among the other things the senile old fool did was to elevate Alan Greenspan to a place where he could do real and lasting damage to the nation. Greenspan was to the nutcase Ayn Rand what Peter was to Jesus – a dedicated disciple.

      Obama has cultivated lawlessness in the Federal Government. Torture is for all intents and purposes now legal in the US from the street level where goonish cops use their fists and clubs and tasers to the very top of the Federal Government.

      BHO was instrumental in giving us his ‘signature’ legislation – the dream situation written for and by Big Insurance.

      And now that he’s finally got the Republican majority he has sought, he’s very likely to finally attain his Grand Compromise. That’s when he destroys what’s left of the Democratic legacy.

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