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by Alexander Cockburn

Stronger, Please, Mr. President

So far as I can figure it at this early stage of the game, we elected at least three presidents last November, all of them identified by the name Barack Obama. Unfortunately, the one on duty in the Oval Office most of the time, the First Obama -- the one the elites picked as their man -- is sticking to utterly conventional and catastrophic policies.

Here is a man who has spent a lavish portion of his first hundred days setting the stage for what bids fair to be one of the greatest foreign policy disasters of the postwar epoch, in Afghanistan and Pakistan. To find parallel cases of lunatic misjudgment, you have to go all the way back to 1961 and John F. Kennedy's twin commitments to ratchet up the U.S. intervention in Vietnam and greenlight the attempted invasion of Cuba.

Now Obama is pulling troops out of Iraq (except for the 50,000 he wants to leave installed in long-term garrisons) to send them at a prodigious expense well beyond the present means of penniless Uncle Sam to ignite widening disaster in Afghanistan. With its lethal onslaughts into Pakistan, the United States is in the process of finishing off the tottering Zardari regime, ushering in a military coup directed by Islamic fundamentalists in profound sympathy with the Taliban.

In concert with militarist continuity from the Bush years, Obama's lawyers have told federal judges they are explicitly continuing Bush policies on rendition, indefinite detention, spying and telecom immunity. Obama also echoes Bush in contradicting the National Intelligence Estimate, insisting that Iran is working on nukes.

At home disaster is not impending but upon us. The U.S. Titanic took another huge lurch on the first two trading days of March, as the financial markets looked at the plummeting dividend figures from flagship firms like GE and HSBC; AIG's fourth-quarter loss of $61.7 billion (the largest in U.S. corporate history); and the impending write-down in commercial real estate, which will tear another huge hole in the Titanic's hull.

No budget proposal coming out of the White House should ever be taken seriously. But even if Obama's is properly regarded as merely an advertisement of good intentions, what has there been by way of substantive action in these first crucial days to reverse economic catastrophe? The stimulus package will scarcely deal with the job losses of the past three months. Trillions have been tossed uselessly to the banks, on the recommendation of the bankers and their pitchmen, with whom Obama has surrounded himself.

In sum, the First Obama is doing badly.

The Second Obama is the one who talks a great game, as the Republicans are finding out. Standing in Salt Lake City airport on Monday I caught sight of him introducing Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as his next nominee to run Health and Human Services. You can bathe in the uplifting torrent of Obama's words like a convert at a baptism and come up out of the water believing that true healthcare reform is right around the next corner.

The Third Obama doesn't slip into the Oval Office too often, meaning, of course, that he's the one the progressives staked their hopes on. On the evidence of his modest achievements thus far, he's the one who'll be the object lesson in vindicating the very old-fashioned left idea that it will take forces larger than one good guy in the White House to bring radical change to America.

But last month the Third Obama got something done. As I reported here a couple of weeks ago, two days after Obama's inauguration the Drug Enforcement Agency celebrated the new era by raiding a medical marijuana dispensary run by wheelchair-bound Ken Estes in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. On the campaign trail Obama had explicitly promized that the feds in the Justice Department and the DEA would not try to do an end run round laws in certain states legalizing medical marijuana both for cultivation and sale.

So to the hopeful medical marijuana lobby the DEA raid came like a punch in the nose. But the White House rushed to announce that Obama's commitment to honoring state medical marijuana law would be implemented. And lo! On Feb. 26, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the federal government would no longer raid or prosecute medical marijuana dispensaries in states where they are legal.

As FDR's popularity soared after liquor prohibition ended in 1933, so Obama's popularity has soared for dope smokers, among them those for whom the herb is the best and cheapest line of defense against pain. The Third Obama honored a commitment and thereby no doubt offended the pharmaceutical industry, which correctly sees legal marijuana as representing a potentially huge erosion of its commercial turf.

Give the Third Obama a clap on the back. He needs all the encouragement he can get to sneak into the Oval Office more often. The First and Second Obamas can't hope to stay so high for long in the popularity stakes.

© Creators Syndicate

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Albion Monitor   March 13, 2009   (

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