Copyrighted material


by Alexander Cockburn

Honeymoans from the Left

Barack Obama's cabinet is drawing praise for all the wrong reasons, starting with the mad-dog right -- like Anne Coulter, who says she can't fault it, or Karl Rove, who heaped praise on Obama's economic team in a Wall Street Journal column. Move to the corporate mainstream and there's measured congratulation for the respectability of Obama's team -- pro-biz, pragmatic and, whether proximately from the Bush or Clinton administrations, often at source from Harvard.

So far as the progressive Obama base is concerned, it's been one bitter pill after another, starting with Rahm Emanuel (the only man in the Illinois congressional delegation to vote yes to the war on Iraq), moving on to Hillary Clinton (another yes on the war), Robert Gates, and the whole economic team. There was a brief ray of hope when Larry Summers didn't return to Treasury. Then he bobbed up as director of Obama's economic recovery team, formally known as the National Economic Council, based in the White House.

What is Obama's progressive base getting by way of reward? The pickings are very slim. Nowhere has business-as-usual more glaringly been given the green light than at the Department of Defense. Anyone looking for change in America's political economy has to take on the Pentagon, a vast and steadily widening crater of corruption and Augean waste. Obama has simply kept on Robert Gates, who first made his name faking intelligence estimates at the CIA in Bush Sr.'s day, exaggerating Soviet military strength and aggressive intentions. Nominated as Gates' No. 2, presumptively as Gates' successor, is William Lynn. Appointed by Clinton as a Pentagon reformer in '98, Lynn -- in the words of famed Pentagon employee/assailant Chuck Spinney -- "managed to construct a logically inconsistent and morally indefensible strategy to protect the unworkable status quo."

Dashed by the disasters at State and Treasury, the progressives looked for comfort at the Departments of Agriculture and Interior, which supervise vast slabs of the homeland. At Ag they got the former governor of Iowa, Tom Vilsack, who would opposed Obama in the primaries and who is best known as being a fanatic lobbyist for genetically engineered biocrops and ethanol. He's Monsanto's pinup boy and comes factory guaranteed as a will-do guy for the agrochemical complex. For a moment, hope glowed from the transition team's office in Chicago as the panel listened attentively to those lobbying for Raul Grijalva, a U.S. representative from Arizona who is first-rate and has done more than anyone in recent years to root out scandal in Bush's scandal-sodden sojourn as custodian of the nation's forests, energy reserves and public waters.

In the end, Interior went to Colorado's senior senator, Ken Salazar. He's a born heel-clicker to the Money Power, always hatching deals with the coal industry and big ranching interests.

Are there any encouraging Obama picks? Her role may be to tell the unions that card-check reform is a non-starter with Obama, but certainly California Rep. Hilda Solis is a promising pick as Labor secretary. Solis is the daughter of poor Latin American immigrants: Her father, a Mexican, was a shop steward with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in Mexico, and her mother, a Nicaraguan, was a former assembly-line worker.

At the Justice Department, now destined to be ruled virtually 100 percent by graduates of the Harvard Law School, the Office of Legal Counsel has been given to Dawn Johnsen, most recently at the University of Indiana Law School, Bloomington. This was the position held by the execrable John Yoo, friend of the thumbscrew and the water board. Johnsen has been a fierce assailant of Yoo's constitutional abuses. Johnsen has also attacked the Cheney-style "theory of a unified executive," otherwise known as untrammeled presidential power.

He's no radical, but the choice of Leon Panetta as CIA chief seems good, Panetta may turn out to be a good pick along the same lines as Stansfield Turner, back in Carter time. The other national security appointments are bad. Towering at Obama's other elbow from Emanuel looms National Security Adviser Jim Jones, a Marine, mustard keen on NATO expansion. As his special assistant on the Middle East, Obama has selected Dan Kurtzer, ambassador to Egypt under Clinton and Israel under George Bush Jr. Kurtzer allegedly helped write Obama's notorious piece of groveling before the Israeli lobbying organization AIPAC in June 2008.

As National Intelligence director, we're scheduled to get Admiral Dennis Blair, recently exposed on the CounterPunch site as abetting the Indonesian generals in the infamous butchery known as the Church Killings in East Timor. After he retired from the Navy, Blair joined the board of directors of the EDO, he was serving as head of a Pentagon board -- the Institute for Defense Analyses -- which was evaluating the F-22 contract, and endorsed another three years of subsidies for the program. Blair did not disclose his board membership and got publicly reprimanded by the Pentagon's inspector general.

At almost every level, Obama's choices have been calibrated to appease the establishment, from the financial markets (or what's left of them) and the press (or what's left of it) to the think tanks and lobbyists of Washington (as strong as ever). As an agent of change -- we do not even mention hope -- the age of Obama seems wan, unless worsening economic circumstances force Obama into uncharted territory.

© Creators Syndicate

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor   January 18, 2009   (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to use in any format.