A President’s Gutless Paean to Courage

ZNet, November 17, 2015

Some news stories just sicken the soul. Here, below, is one that did that for me recently[1]. “News story” may the wrong term for the item that I found so disturbing. It was more like a White House propaganda film inserted into the middle of the evening news. Halfway through the nightly “Newshour” on the “Public” Broadcasting System (the “P” in “PBS” might as well refer to “Presidential” and “Pentagon,” though a case could also be made for “Petroleum”) last Thursday, there appeared without commentary tape from a White House ceremony in which Barack Obama presented the Medal of Honor to U.S. Army Captain Florent (“Flo”) Groberg. Groberg was honored for risking his life by rushing a suicide bomber who tried to kill U.S. and Afghan military commanders three years ago.

After some jocular banter about “Flo’s” musical tastes, sports allegiance,  parents, girlfriend, and high school athletic feats, Obama got down to business on why he was bestowing the nation’s highest military award on Captain Groberg. My apologies for the length of the passage I am about to quote:

“Training. Guts. Teamwork. What made Flo a great runner also made him a great soldier…on an August day three years ago Flo found himself leading a group of American and Afghan soldiers as they escorted their commanders to a meeting with local Afghans….they passed pedestrians, a few cars and bicycles, even some children.  But then they began to approach [a] bridge, and a pair of motorcycles sped toward them from the other side. The Afghan troops shouted at the bikers to stop — and they did, ditching their bikes in the middle of the bridge and running away.”

“And that’s when Flo noticed something to his left — a man, dressed in dark clothing, walking backwards, just some 10 feet away. The man spun around and turned toward them, and that’s when Flo sprinted toward him. He pushed him away from the formation, and as he did, he noticed an object under the man’s clothing — a bomb. The motorcycles had been a diversion.

“And at that moment, Flo did something extraordinary — he grabbed the bomber by his vest and kept pushing him away. And all those years of training on the track, in the classroom, out in the field — all of it came together.  In those few seconds, he had the instincts and the courage to do what was needed. One of Flo’s comrades, Sergeant Andrew Mahoney, had joined in, too, and together they shoved the bomber again and again. And they pushed him so hard he fell to the ground onto his chest. And then the bomb detonated.”

“Ball bearings, debris, dust exploded everywhere.  Flo was thrown some 15 or 20 feet and was knocked unconscious. And moments later, he woke up in the middle of the road in shock.  His eardrum was blown out. His leg was broken and bleeding badly. Still, he realized that if the enemy launched a secondary attack, he’d be a sitting duck. When a comrade found him in the smoke, Flo had his pistol out, dragging his wounded body from the road.”

“…Flo says that day was the worst day of his life. And that is the stark reality behind these Medal of Honor ceremonies — that for all the valor we celebrate, and all the courage that inspires us, these actions were demanded amid some of the most dreadful moments of war…That’s the nature of courage — not being unafraid, but confronting fear and danger and performing in a selfless fashion. He showed his guts, he showed his training; how he would put it all on the line for his teammates. That’s an American we can all be grateful for.  It’s why we honor Captain Florent Groberg today….May God bless all who serve and all who have given their lives to our country.  We are free because of them.  May God bless their families and may God continue to bless the United States of America with heroes such as these.”

What nauseates me most about Obama’s Medal of Honor oration? His false sense of familiarity as a distant imperial commander-in-chief with a soldier on the ground of an illegal and criminal war that was and remains every bit as unjustified and illegal as the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq? His dangerous conflation of God and nationalism and indeed with empire (for the ubiquitous and deadly presence of the U.S. national military in Afghanistan, the Middle East, and indeed around the world more broadly is distinctly imperial)? His nonsensical notions that (a) Americans are “free” (their domestic sociopolitical order is plagued by omnipresent and many-sided plutocracy and the world’s largest mass incarceration system among other and related forms of authoritarian un-freedom) and (b) owe their supposed freedom to military “service” members (the opposite is closer to the truth, for the imperial military and militarism represent deep and longstanding threats to popular self-governance and egalitarian values)? His unquestioning assumption that U.S. troops have legitimate business “serving” in – that is, occupying – Afghanistan or any other purportedly sovereign nation in the world?  His doctrinal lack of respect for the courage of Afghans who risk and give their lives to resist the criminal occupation of their country by the most powerful imperial killing machine history?

Well, all of that and more in Obama’s oration was revolting enough to hear and to see, accompanied as it was by the president’s disingenuous demeanor and arrogantly clipped tone.  But none of that is what got most under my skin in Obama’s talk. The worst part was Obama’s paean to “guts,” “valor,” and “courage” – this when Obama sits in the mass-homicidal drivers’ seat of the most cowardly form of imperial murder in history: the U.S. drone war program of targeted assassinations.

Barack Obama didn’t wait long as U.S. president to make his lethal mark with drones.   As Muhammad Idrees Ahmad noted last July at In These Times:

“On January 23, 2009, his third day in office, President Barack Obama ordered a drone strike on the small village of Gangi Khel in South Waziristan, a semi-autonomous region along Pakistan’s northwestern frontier….Three hours earlier, another drone had struck a village in North Waziristan. The attacks killed up to 25 people, but the administration made no public comment…Obama soon learned…that neither strike had killed its intended target. The ‘compound’ struck by the first drone was the home of 18-year-old student Faheem Qureshi—it killed his cousins and guests, fractured his skull and put out his eye. The second belonged to Malik Gukistan Khan, a pro-government leader of a local peace committee, who perished alongside his nephew and three sons, the youngest aged 3.”

“The president had drawn first blood—and he wasn’t happy. He quickly convened a meeting of the National Security Council to discuss the implications of these blunders. After consulting his advisors, Obama did what most world leaders do when their expectations are confounded: he doubled down.”

“The year ended the way it began: on December 17, 2009, a cruise missile packed with cluster munitions (whose use is proscribed in much of the world) slammed into the small Yemeni village of al-Majalah, killing 59, including 21 children and nine women, five of them pregnant.”

The last attack came seven days after Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize (of all things) from some silly Scandinavians. It was far from the last mass civilian drone murder to be committed by Obama, who insists (unlike his predecessor George W. Bush) on personally overseeing and activating Washington’s Targeted Assassination program and later quipped (to White House staffers) that he’d turned out to be “good at killing people.”  Remote drone warfare quickly became “the Obama administration’s signature approach to military engagement,” Ahmad notes, adding that “Obama would not only sanction assassinations, he would take them to another level….In a clear breach of international humanitarian law, the U.S. would expand the use of ‘signature strikes,’ killing people based on remotely observed ‘patterns of life’ rather than actual intelligence. Worse, they would target funerals and first responders, leading UN special rapporteurs to open war crimes investigations against the U.S.”

Consistent with his self-description, Obama has proven to be a skilled murderer in a wide range of places. While his “cowboy” predecessor George W. Bush has him beat on total body count (thanks to the U.S invasion of Iraq), Obama takes the prize when it comes to geographical kill scope.  According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism last January, “At least 2,464 people have now been killed by US drone strikes outside the country’s declared war zones [Iraq and Afghanistan] since President Barack Obama’s inauguration six years ago.” The preponderant majority of those slaughtered this way have been civilian noncombatants. The Nobel champion’s drones, bombs, missiles, and Special Forces have wreaked havoc in many more Muslim nations than were invaded by Bush’s troops, something that has helped Washington spread and intensify Salafist jihad across a much broader territory (including Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and Syria) in the Age of Obama.

Don’t get me wrong. The “Masters of War” are always cowards.  As Bob Dylan noted, they “hide in their mansions while young people’s blood flows out of their bodies and gets buried in the mud.” They “fasten the triggers for the others to fire and sit back watch while the death count gets higher.” Ozzie Osborne put it well in his classic heavy metal Black Sabbath dirge “War Pigs”:

“Generals gathered in their masses

Just like witches at black masses

Evil minds that plot destruction

Sorcerers of death’s construction.”

“In the fields the bodies burning

As the war machine keeps turning

Death and hatred to mankind

Poisoning their brainwashed minds.”

“Politicians hide themselves away

They only started the war

Why should they go out to fight?

They leave that role to the poor.”

With drone war, however, U.S. war pigs extend their cowardice to the broader U.S. military.  The masters seek through drones to punish foreign enemies of their own making without having to face “homeland” anger over the loss of young American lives to criminal and imperial wars that only serve the rich and powerful. In reality, the vicious and far-flung imperial-mafia hit from the sky program has only fanned and spread the flames of jihad, providing no small part of the background for the rise of the Islamic State.

The price of all the violence falls mainly on innocent civilians in the Muslim world.  Still, some of the people destined to suffer violent deaths and terrible maiming are ordinary people victimized by predictable (and predicted) “blowback” violence in Western nations whose “leaders” participate in the U.S.-led project of bombing and otherwise torturing the oil-rich Middle East (this includes France). The imperial war planners and “intelligence” personnel know this very well.  They are not particularly surprised when Islamist terror attacks occur against defenseless “soft targets” in Paris, London, or New York City. And meanwhile the rich get ever richer in the United States, where the top 1 percent possesses more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. The ever more opulent minority includes the top owners and executives of the giant, super-profitable “defense” (empire) corporations (Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, etc.) that equip the cowardly war on/of terror that makes Western civilians vulnerable to terrorist butchery in their own cities while reducing risk for the military “heroes” upon whose courage and valor Obama cannot heap enough praise while he okays yet another gutless death-from-above drone strike.  He’s just doing his job: keeping the war machine turning and the bodies burning – and the cost-plus “defense” and “security” contracts rolling in.

Paul Street is an author and speaker in the upper Midwest U.S.

[1] And, no, by the way, this essay is not about the Islamic State (IS) terror attacks in Paris two days ago, hideous crimes that I deplore.  I started this essay one day before the Paris atrocities and think it still deserves to be finished.  At the same time, I am (like many observers) struck and disturbed by the at once racialized and politically geo-politicized disconnect between the massive attention and outpouring of concern that the mainstream U.S. media is heaping upon Paris and the comparatively small amount of attention that media gives to the recent terrorist mass murder of Arabs and Russians by Islamist henchman in Lebanon and Egypt – and to numerous other atrocities inflicted on non-Western people, including ones mentioned in the present essay.

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By | 2015-12-23T15:50:50+00:00 December 23rd, 2015|Articles|