Obama's anti-terrorism speech: Making perfect enemy of good

Obama national security

Pieces like Glenn Greenwald's long-winded dismissal of President Obama's anti-terrorism speech explain to me why a substantial section of the left is not yet fit to govern, or to lead majorities of Americans; why some feet are firmly planted in mid-air.

His recent Guardian article "Obama's terrorism speech: seeing what you want to see" reminds me a bit of my 21-month old granddaughter's disdain of broccoli and love of mac and cheese. Her dislike of broccoli - even seeing it - is so fierce, she won't even touch the mac and cheese until the broccoli is removed from her plate.

Total disarmament is Greenwald's mac and cheese and like my granddaughter, he won't touch anything else: unless Obama removes all else from the plate and in this case an immediate ceasing of all imperial entanglements.

Greenwald couches his dismissal in terms of the gap between the president's words and deeds: "But whatever else is true, what should be beyond dispute at this point is that Obama's speeches have very little to do with Obama's actions, except to the extent that they often signal what he intends not to do."

Thus Obama's speech is just an effort to fool us. There is no mac and cheese, and perhaps only the illusion of broccoli.

Likewise, I have been reading Carl Sandburg's "Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and The War Years" and note the volumes of calumny heaped - by not a few anti-slavery forces - upon that president's tireless attention to dividing the secessionists and grasping the threads that could unravel the powerful Southern combinations of disunion and slavery.

Even so, the price of victory - otherwise highly in doubt had the border states and Northern Democrats not been neutralized from aligning with the Confederacy - was 650,000 American lives.

In hindsight, how do we judge Lincoln's choices of "moderate" forces supporting the Union and opposing the extension of slavery like Montgomery Blair, Edward Bates, etc., who sat in his cabinet, over outright abolitionists Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner? I reckon it was the right decision - but is it the kind of strategic and tactical thinking that modern left forces can embrace?

Perhaps ideological debate, like much else in nature, must also follow some bell-shaped curve.

Maybe, there must always be fringes where the perfect remains the enemy of the good; where an olive-branch on ending the war on terror - a high risk proposition, politically, for Obama - is rejected as an enemy conspiracy rather than seized on and developed for all its worth; where Obamacare - the only doorway to universal coverage in our nation's  history - is rejected by some because of its inferiority to Medicare for all.

On the other hand, the tendency "to make the perfect the enemy of the good", while a often a fatal weakness when putting together a sufficiently powerful political coalition to actually make change, may still have some value.

It's true that "the good" must always be open to inspection. Is it really "good"? Can the "good" be made better? Valid questions. Still, the big challenge for the left in the U.S. is to get out of the bleachers and on to the field, out of marginalization and in power, out of the far end of the bell curve of working-class politics.

Photo: President Barack Obama holds a National Security Council meeting in the Situation Room of the White House, April 5. (White House/Pete Souza)


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  • Who's in the bleachers?
    We're in the graveyards, penitentiaries, sweatshops, hot tenement slums, homeless shelters, ruined projects,
    crime, brutal police infested cities, on bankrupted farms, in halfway houses, impoverished, unsanitary run-down nursing homes, sick-houses, poorhouses, and soon to be closed down schools. We are on the field-and not only this-we are on the battlefield.
    We can't afford a ticket to the game, not even the bleacher seats, and because of this, we are fighting to collectively own the whole ball park, and run it for "our good".
    The communist and working class movement is not a question of niceties, philosophies, or high sounding theories.
    Wait-perhaps it is, but only as the brutal realities of the condition of the working class are fully explored and engaged-and organized for our increasingly international working class to own and control.
    Our class is ready for change. It is more a question of need than will, or even the extremely important class consciousness, for we already know we choke from carbon, and that the soil is poisoned, the earth hot and getting hotter, with tsunamis, fire, earthquakes, and hurricanes.
    President Obama and his administration does not know that we mean business, that we are working that literally millions will hit the streets, shops, public and "private" places and spaces for jobs, free health care, free schools, and free care for the elderly, to OCCUPY.
    We want that the world would stop- to meet what we demand for ourselves and for future and past generations. We want to be busy like our Tubman, Douglas, Stevens and Sumner did in their day(while tolerant of Lincoln, Bates and Blair, but not Jefferson Davis, Booth, Brooks or Blair).
    We know we are fit to do this-no anti-communist, no capitalist, no imperialist, or for that matter no"communist" will convince us otherwise. Our gifts are simply too vast, our talents are simply too varied, our souls are simply too deep for it to be otherwise, our suffering flatly too great and long.
    Let's work.

    Posted by , 05/31/2013 10:28am (3 years ago)

  • I don't disagree with John's excellent essay but must note that the devil is always in the details.

    The great trap for the CP-USA is the lesser evil paradigm. Following that paradigm, the party becomes a mere occupant in the fan bleachers of the Democratic Party. This is making the good the enemy of the perfect.

    To get out of the bleachers and on to the field as John puts it is indeed the goal, and it is surprisingly easy in principle to do, but it is SLOW. It will take time. The Russian Revolution was perhaps the worst thing that ever happened to world socialism. It was quick and decisive and became the paradigm for socialist movements everywhere. There was a "the revolution just around the corner" feeling in everybody in the first five decades of the last century. Nobody wanted to contemplate a slow struggle that would take generations to reach fruition, but that is the reality.

    Posted by Michael Sweney, 05/30/2013 1:33pm (3 years ago)

  • With only four + years in Office, we in the bleachers don't have the benefit of history or even short term hindsight...in order to determine whether Obama will be regarded as a Lincoln.

    but: so far, it's not looking good.

    My guess is that, looking back (and with the benefit of retrospectives from insiders who can write and speak freely once that Administration is out of office), we'll find that Obama was through-and-through a 'conservative democrat' or a 'liberal republican' (small d's, and small r's, of course) who had no intention of moving--incrementally or otherwise--to either single payer or to any kind of "disarmament."

    My guess is that the person more than likely to be right in his predictions about Obama's long range strategies is Greenwald.

    Posted by trudy, 05/30/2013 1:17pm (3 years ago)

  • This is an extremely confusing article!

    If the author is defending Obama's "good," then what is it? Which part of U.S. "imperial entanglements" do we now consider "good?" Is the use of drones, that are killing innocents that are "good?" Is the continued attacks on the Cuban revolution "good, keeping that nation, the single most anti-terrorist nation an earth on the US so-called "terrorist list," along with continuing failed attempts to isolate that struggling nation. Does Obama's attempts to subvert and destroy progressive/revolutionary governments in Latin America constitute another "good?" The ridiculous war against Libyia surely is not a "good" in the authors mind, at least I hope not. The continued intervention in the middle east? The continued US military budget, larger than the next 13 nations, a "good?"

    There have been, I think, some attempted steps in an independent directions, mostly blocked by the massive military/industrial/financial complex. These have including trying to develop some independent direction in the middle east, the winding down of the war in Iraq. As a whole, however, I certainly do not see US foreign policy as fitting into any synario that could be called "good!"

    Rather than attempting a "sound bite" here, in an attempt to marginalize opponents of US imperial policy, I'd very honestly have appreciated some discussion of what the author sees as "good" and "perfect."

    Posted by bruce bostick, 05/30/2013 10:33am (3 years ago)

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