The horse has left the barn

I’ve already noted that the U.S. elite seem to have gone over the edge, that they now rule by coercion rather than through legitimacy.[1] The U.S. and U.K. governments’ reactions in the cases of Julian Assange,[2] Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning,[3] and Edward Snowden[4] have displayed not measured policy making but rather a furious and hysterical effort to dominate that has, in all probability, repeatedly violated international norms and laws as well as human rights, civil liberties, and notions of basic human decency.[5] Further, in granting immunity to the Bush administration for crimes it has embraced and extended,[6] the Obama administration removes any doubt about its expectation that, as Jonathan Turley wrote of administration policy on Syria, “[t]he world must obey our commands and we are not to be mocked.”[7] Long imperious, the United States can no longer be considered a participant—perhaps first among equals—on the world stage but rather an extremely dangerous rogue superpower, a bully armed with a vast arsenal of nuclear weapons[8] and the world’s most expensive—by far—military,[9] determined to get its way.

More than merely dominate, the American superpower now seeks to control history. Such cosmic ambition is accompanied by an equally vast sense of entitlement, of special dispensation to pursue its aims. That entitlement stems partly from historic claims to special democratic virtue, but has much to do with an embrace of technological power translated into military terms. That is, a superpower—the world’s only superpower—is entitled to dominate and control precisely because it is a superpower.[10]

In short, not only international law but the facts of any situation, according to the United States, are nothing more and nothing less than what the United States, or more precisely, its president, says they are.

One might have hoped that after asserting that nothing less than the country’s credibility was at stake in an attack on Syria,[11] that after the British parliament refused to endorse the attack,[12] that Obama’s acquiescence to a Congressional vote authorizing such an attack[13] might be an opportunity to pause, to allow the issue to drop from the headlines and the front pages, perhaps even to think again. Such hope would have been short-lived.

Norman Solomon noted that “a careful reading of Obama’s Rose Garden announcement on Saturday verifies that he never quite said he will abide by the decision of Congress if it refuses to approve an attack on Syria.”[14]

“Obama hasn’t got a chance to win this vote if he can’t win the majority of his own party, and I doubt he can,” Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a leading Republican, said in an interview. “Democrats have been conspicuously silent. Just about his only support is coming from Republicans. He is a war president without a war party.” . . .

Still, White House officials indicated that Mr. Obama might still authorize force even if Congress rejected it.[15]

As an erstwhile communication scholar, what I notice is a confusion between presidential credibility and the country’s credibility, a confounding of Barack Obama with the United States itself. This is not about U.S. credibility but rather about Obama’s. It is not about a threat to the national security of the U.S.—nothing could be more laughable—but about a threat to Obama’s standing. But this horse left the barn years ago; Obama’s credibility has long existed nowhere other than in his own head. What we may be seeing instead is the dawning of this revelation upon himself.

  1. [1]David Benfell, “Big brother wants you to be afraid,” August 19, 2013,
  2. [2]Juan Cole, “Ayatollah Cameron Threatens to invade Ecuador Embassy re: Assange (or, Whitewashing Iran for the US National Security State),” Informed Comment, August 16, 2013, Ayatollah Cameron Threatens to invade Ecuador Embassy re: Assange (or, Whitewashing Iran for the US National Security State); Philip Dorling, “Revealed: US plans to charge Assange,” Sydney Morning Herald, February 29, 2012,; Philip Dorling, “US senator calls to prosecute Assange,” Sydney Morning Herald, July 2, 2012,; Philip Dorling, “US calls Assange ‘enemy of state’,” Sydney Morning Herald, September 27, 2012,; Tony Eastley, “Pilger says the US wants Assange,” Australian Broadcasting Corporation, October 8, 2012,; Rosa Prince, “FCO ‘risks breaching international law’ over Assange embassy crisis,” Telegraph, August 16, 2012,; Kim Sengupta, “Assange could face espionage trial in US,” Independent, December 8, 2010,
  3. [3]Jacob Chamberlain, “Manning’s Right to a Speedy Trial Not Violated After 1,000 Days, Judge Rules,” Common Dreams, February 26, 2013,; MercoPress, “Wikileaks suspect suffered “cruel and degrading” treatment, says UN rapporteur on torture,” March 5, 2012,; Kevin Gosztola, “Defense Motion Details Horrific Conditions Bradley Manning Was Subjected to at Quantico,” Firedoglake, August 10, 2012,; Ed Pilkington, “Bradley Manning’s treatment was cruel and inhuman, UN torture chief rules,” Guardian, March 12, 2012,; Ed Pilkington, “Bradley Manning lawyer alleges slow trial is ‘an absolute mockery’ of rights,” Guardian, September 27, 2012,; Ed Pilkington, “Bradley Manning judge rules length of soldier’s detention ‘reasonable’,” Guardian, February 26, 2013,; Ed Pilkington, “Bradley Manning WikiLeaks trial ‘dangerous’ for civil liberties – experts,” Guardian, June 2, 2013,; Daniel Politi, “Judge: Bradley Manning Detention Conditions Were ‘Excessive’,” Slate, January 8, 2013,
  4. [4]British Broadcasting Corporation, “Mercosur ‘to recall’ envoys over Bolivia Snowden plane row,” July 12, 2013,; Jamil Dakwar and Chandra Bhatnagar, “U.S. Actions in Snowden Case Threaten Right to Seek Asylum,” American Civil Liberties Union, July 11, 2013,; Doug Stanglin, “Ecuador nixes U.S. trade pact, ‘blackmail’ over Snowden,” USA Today, June 27, 2013,; Trevor Timm, “Snowden cannot receive a fair trial here,” Salon, August 15, 2013,; Shaun Walker and Heather Saul, “Edward Snowden saga: Bolivia accuses Europe of ‘kidnapping’ Bolivian president in forcing Evo Morales’ plane to land in Vienna,” Independent, July 3, 2013,; Fred Weir, “Putin acknowledges Snowden is ‘trapped’ in Russia,” Christian Science Monitor, July 15, 2013,
  5. [5]David Benfell, “Moral Bankruptcy,” July 4, 2013,; David Benfell, “Time to leave the Airport,” July 10, 2013,
  6. [6]Glenn Greenwald, “Obama’s justice department grants final immunity to Bush’s CIA torturers,” Guardian, August 31, 2012,
  7. [7]Jonathan Turley, “What If We Gave A War And No One Came? English Parliament Rejects Move To War,” August 30, 2013,
  8. [8]Robert S. Norris and Hans M. Kristensen, “Global nuclear weapons inventories, 1945–2010,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 66, no. 4 (2010): 77-83, doi: 10.2968/066004008,
  9. [9]Chris Hellman and Mattea Kramer, “War Pay: The Nearly $1 Trillion National Security Budget,” TomDispatch, May 22, 2012,; Aaron B. O’Connell, “The Permanent Militarization of America,” New York Times, November 4, 2012,
  10. [10]Robert Jay Lifton, Superpower Syndrome: America’s Apocalyptic Confrontation with the World (New York: Thunder’s Mouth, 2003), 3.
  11. [11]Mark Mazzetti and Michael R. Gordon, “Support Slipping, U.S. Defends Plan for Syria Attack,” New York Times, August 30, 2013,
  12. [12]Steven Erlanger and Stephen Castle, “Britain Rules Out Military Strike on Syria,” New York Times, August 29, 2013,
  13. [13]Ben Geman, “Obama to seek congressional approval for Syrian strike,” Hill, August 31, 2013,; Barack Obama, “Statement by the President on Syria,” White House, August 31, 2013,
  14. [14]Norman Solomon, “Obama Will Launch a Huge Propaganda Blitz — and May Attack Syria Even If He Loses the Vote in Congress,” Huffington Post, September 1, 2013,
  15. [15]Peter Baker and Jonathan Weisman, “Obama Seeks Approval by Congress for Strike in Syria,” New York Times, August 31, 2013,

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