A simple twist of fate has set President Obamaâ€™s second Inaugural Address for January 21, the same day as the Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday.
Obama made no mention of King during the Inauguration four years ago — but since then, in word and deed, the president has done much to distinguish himself from the man who said â€œI have a dream.â€
Obama Has Distorted MLKâ€™s Legacy
After his speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963, King went on to take great risks as a passionate advocate for peace.
After his Inaugural speech in January 2009, Obama has pursued policies that epitomize Kingâ€™s grim warning in 1967: â€œWhen scientific power outruns moral power, we end up with guided missiles and misguided men.â€
But Obama has not ignored Kingâ€™s anti-war legacy. On the contrary, the president has gone out of his way to distort and belittle it.
In his eleventh month as president — while escalating the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan, a process that tripled the American troop levels there — Obama traveled to Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace Prize. In his speech, he cast aspersions on the peace advocacy of another Nobel Peace laureate: Martin Luther King Jr.
The president struck a respectful tone as he whetted the rhetorical knife before twisting. â€œI know there’s nothing weak — nothing passive — nothing naive — in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King,â€ he said, just before swiftly implying that those two advocates of nonviolent direct action were, in fact, passive and naive. â€œI face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people,â€ Obama added.
Moral Virtues of Making War
Moments later, he was straining to justify American warfare: past, present, future. â€œTo say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason,â€ Obama said. â€œI raise this point, I begin with this point because in many countries there is a deep ambivalence about military action today, no matter what the cause. And at times, this is joined by a reflexive suspicion of America, the worldâ€™s sole military superpower.â€
Then came the jingo pitch: â€œWhatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms.â€
Crowing about the moral virtues of making war while accepting a peace prize might seem a bit odd, but Obamaâ€™s rhetoric was in sync with a key dictum from Orwell: â€œWho controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.â€
Laboring to denigrate Kingâ€™s anti-war past while boasting about Uncle Samâ€™s past (albeit acknowledging â€œmistakes,â€ a classic retrospective euphemism for carnage from the vantage point of perpetrators), Obama marshaled his oratory to foreshadow and justify the killing yet to come under his authority.
Two weeks before the start of Obamaâ€™s second term, the British dailyÂ The GuardianÂ noted that â€œU.S. use of drones hasÂ soared during Obamaâ€™s time in office, with the White House authorizing attacks in at least four countries:Â Afghanistan, Pakistan,Â YemenÂ andÂ Somalia. It is estimated that the CIA and theÂ U.S. militaryÂ have undertaken more than 300 drone strikes and killed about 2,500 people.â€
Obama Just as Ruthless as Bush
The newspaperÂ reportedÂ that a former member of Obamaâ€™s â€œcounter-terrorism groupâ€ during the 2008 campaign, Michael Boyle, says the White House is now understating the number of civilian deaths due to the drone strikes, with loosened standards for when and where to attack: â€œThe consequences can be seen in the targeting of mosques or funeral processions that kill non-combatants and tear at the social fabric of the regions where they occur. No one really knows the number of deaths caused by drones in these distant, sometimes ungoverned, lands.â€
Although Obama criticized the Bush-era â€œwar on terrorâ€ several years ago, Boyle points out, President Obama â€œhas been just as ruthless and indifferent to the rule of law as his predecessor.â€
Boyleâ€™s assessment — consistent with the conclusions of many other policy analysts — found the Obama administrationâ€™s use of drones is â€œencouraging a new arms race that will empower current and future rivals and lay the foundations for an international system that is increasingly violent.â€
In recent weeks, more than 50,000 Americans have signed aÂ petition to Ban Weaponized Drones from the World. The petition says that â€œweaponized drones are no more acceptable than land mines, cluster bombs or chemical weapons.â€ It calls for President Obama â€œto abandon the use of weaponized drones, and to abandon his â€˜kill listâ€™ program regardless of the technology employed.â€
Count on lofty rhetoric from the Inaugural podium. The spirit of Dr. King will be elsewhere.Î¦
Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. He co-chairs the Healthcare Not Warfare campaign organized by Progressive Democrats of America. His books include War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He writes the Political Culture 2013 column.