System justification and the 2014 election

I’m trying to remember that Barack Obama ran on a platform that included getting the U.S. off a war footing[1] and that labeled the war in Iraq the “wrong war.”[2] I’m trying to remember that he won the Nobel Peace Prize.[3]

What I actually remember is that he is very, very likely either a war criminal himself or, at the very least, complicit both in the war crimes of his administration and of his predecessor.[4] I remember that we supposedly[5] left Iraq only because Obama didn’t get the Status of Forces Agreement that would guarantee immunity from prosecution for U.S. soldiers.[6] I remember that special operations forces have been deployed and drone attacks have been carried out in ever more countries around the world, possibly now as many as 134.[7] If we left Iraq with our tails between our legs, it can hardly be said we are doing much better in Afghanistan,[8] where another pact meant to prolong the U.S. occupation remains unsigned.[9]

With such a history of folly, it can hardly be surprising that Obama has now led the U.S. back into Iraq and, tidying up a previous failure to get us into war, now into Syria for yet another misadventure.[10] I just shake my head in disgust.

Oh, but Obama might yet pull a rabbit out of the hat. The new enemy has made the mistake of declaring a state, making itself vulnerable. It might collapse of its own accord,[11] allowing the U.S. military to claim an oh-so-impressive victory.

But as we approach midterm elections here in the U.S., I am told I should vote for the Democrats because the Republicans are worse. Really, now: I am supposed to choose one set of war criminals over the other? It’s not like any of them have done anything else to deserve my vote. They are all criminals who have put the human race on course to extinction. They deserve to be shot, not elected.[12] Again, I feel nothing but contempt.

There’s a label for what I now see, even among many of my friends: system justification. It is the idea that the system must be right even if it oppresses me, that I must somehow be wrong, that I must somehow deserve my oppression, and I will work to promote the system even at my own expense. I am being told I should, along with my friends, partake in this delusion, and legitimize the system with my vote.

Hell, no.

  1. [1]Mark Danner, “In the Darkness of Dick Cheney,” review of The World According to Dick Cheney, by R. J. Cutler and Greg Finton, In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir, by Dick Cheney, with Liz Cheney, and Heart: An American Medical Odyssey, by Dick Cheney and Jonathan Reiner, with Liz Cheney, New York Review of Books, March 6, 2014,; Karen J. Greenberg, “The Five Commandments of Barack Obama: How ‘Thou Shalt Not’ Became ‘Thou Shalt’,” Tom Dispatch, February 27, 2014,; Mark Landler, “Obama Defends U.S. Engagement in the Middle East,” New York Times, September 24, 2013,; Barack Obama, “Remarks by President Obama in Address to the United Nations General Assembly,” White House, September 24, 2013,; Michael D. Shear, “Obama Calls for ‘Moral Courage’ at Naval Academy Graduation,” New York Times, May 24, 2013,
  2. [2]Mark Danner, “Rumsfeld’s War and Its Consequences Now,” review of The Unknown Known, by Errol Morris, Known and Unknown: A Memoir, by Donald Rumsfeld, and By His Own Rules: The Ambitions, Successes, and Ultimate Failures of Donald Rumsfeld, by Bradley Graham, New York Review of Books, December 19, 2013,; David E. Sanger, “Rivals Split on U.S. Power, but Ideas Defy Labels,” New York Times, October 22, 2008,
  3. [3]Norwegian Nobel Committee, “The Nobel Peace Prize for 2009,” October 9, 2009,
  4. [4]Amnesty International, “‘Will I be Next?’ US Drone Strikes in Pakistan,” October 22, 2013,; Jon Boone, “US drone strikes could be classed as war crimes, says Amnesty International,” Guardian, October 21, 2013,; Rupert Cornwell, “Pakistani family gives Congress an unprecedented account of effect of CIA drone attacks on their community,” Independent, October 30, 2013,; Gabriel Domínguez, “AI: US military justice system in ‘urgent need of reform’,” Deutschewelle, August 11, 2014,; Gabriel Domínguez, “Amnesty slams US’ ‘poor record’ of probing civilian killings in Afghanistan,” Deutschewelle, August 11, 2014,; Economist, “The Uncompensated,” August 13, 2014,; Thomas Frank, “Cornel West: ‘He posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit. We ended up with a Wall Street presidency, a drone presidency’,” Salon, August 24, 2014,; Glenn Greenwald, “A tribunal in Malaysia applies the Nuremberg Principles to brand the two leaders as war criminals,” Salon, November 23, 2011,; Human Rights Watch, “‘Between a Drone and Al-Qaeda’: The Civilian Cost of US Targeted Killings in Yemen,” October 2013,; Rania Khalek, “Drone Victims Tell Empty US House Their Story; Is America Listening?” Truthout, November 1, 2013,; Mark Schone, “White House admits killing civilians with drone strikes, denies breaking law,” NBC News, October 22, 2013,; Jonathan Turley, “United Nation’s Report Condemns The United States For Human Rights Violations, Including Blocking Prosecution Of Those Responsible For Torture,” March 28, 2014,; Jonathan Turley, “Hayden: Feinstein Too ‘Emotional’ To Discuss The Torture Program,” April 7, 2014,
  5. [5]Justin Elliott, “No, the U.S. is not leaving Iraq,” Salon, December 17, 2011,
  6. [6]Tim Arango and Michael S. Schmidt, “Iraq Denies Legal Immunity to U.S. Troops After 2011,” New York Times, October 4, 2011,; David Martin, “Immunity for troops was Iraq deal breaker,” CBS News, October 21, 2011,
  7. [7]Mark Danner, “In the Darkness of Dick Cheney,” review of The World According to Dick Cheney, by R. J. Cutler and Greg Finton, In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir, by Dick Cheney, with Liz Cheney, and Heart: An American Medical Odyssey, by Dick Cheney and Jonathan Reiner, with Liz Cheney, New York Review of Books, March 6, 2014,; Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe, “U.S. ‘secret war’ expands globally as Special Operations forces take larger role,” Washington Post, June 4, 2012,; Tom Engelhardt, “The Barack Obama Story (Updated): How a Community Organizer and Constitutional Law Professor Became a Robot President,” TomDispatch, December 4, 2012,; Timothy McGrath, “The US is now involved in 134 wars or none, depending on your definition of ‘war’,” Global Post, September 16, 2014,; Andrew O’Hehir, “Obama’s ‘Dirty Wars’ — and a soiled presidency,” Salon, June 9, 2013,; Jeremy Scahill, “Obama’s Expanding Covert Wars,” Nation, June 4, 2010,; Nick Turse, “A Secret War in 120 Countries: The Pentagon’s New Power Elite,” TomDispatch, August 3, 2011,; Nick Turse, “The New Obama Doctrine, A Six-Point Plan for Global War: Special Ops, Drones, Spy Games, Civilian Soldiers, Proxy Fighters, and Cyber Warfare,” TomDispatch, June 14, 2012,; Nick Turse, “America’s Black-Ops Blackout: Unraveling the Secrets of the Military’s Secret Military,” TomDispatch, January 7, 2014,; Nick Turse, “The Special Ops Surge: America’s Secret War in 134 Countries,” TomDispatch, January 16, 2014,
  8. [8]Tom Engelhardt, “Debacle! How Two Wars in the Greater Middle East Revealed the Weakness of the Global Superpower,” TomDispatch, January 3, 2012,; Tom Engelhardt, “The Afghan Syndrome: Vietnam Has Left Town, Say Hello to the New Syndrome on the Block,” TomDispatch, April 10, 2012,,_the_smog_of_war/; Tom Engelhardt, “Overwrought Empire: The Discrediting of U.S. Military Power,” TomDispatch, October 7, 2012,; Tom Engelhardt, “The Fall of the American Empire (Writ Small): History, Farce, and David Petraeus,” TomDispatch, November 20, 2012,; Tom Engelhardt, “And Then There Was One: Delusional Thinking in the Age of the Single Superpower,” TomDispatch, September 3, 2013,; Ann Jones, “Counting Down to 2014 in Afghanistan: Three Lousy Options; Pick One,” TomDispatch, January 27, 2013,; Ann Jones, “The Forgotten War: 12 Years in Afghanistan Down the Memory Hole,” TomDispatch, October 1, 2013,; David E. Sanger, “For Obama, an Evolving Doctrine on Foreign Policy,” New York Times, September 24, 2013,;
  9. [9]Azam Ahmed, “Karzai Says He’ll Wait to Sign Security Pact With U.S. Until Next Year,” New York Times, November 21, 2013,; Azam Ahmed and Matthew Rosenberg, “Karzai Arranged Secret Contacts With the Taliban,” New York Times, February 3, 2014,; Al Jazeera, “Afghanistan divided over security pact with US,” November 19, 2013,; Al Jazeera, “Karzai urges support for US security pact, but delays signing,” November 21, 2013,; Javed Hamim Kakar, “Security pact to be valid for 10 years,” Pajhwok, November 21, 2013,; Mark Landler and Helene Cooper, “Trust Eroded, Obama Looks Beyond Karzai,” New York Times, February 25, 2014,; Rod Nordland, “Elders Back Security Pact That Karzai Won’t Sign,” New York Times, November 24, 2013,; Pajhwok, “Karzai, Kerry at odds over timeframe for deal signing,” November 23, 2013,; Thom Shanker and Rod Nordland, “Pact May Extend U.S. Troops’ Stay in Afghanistan,” New York Times, November 20, 2013,; Jonathan Turley, “Karzai Refuses To Sign Defense Pact With U.S. As He Tries To Establish Alliance With The Taliban,” February 4, 2014,
  10. [10]Zack Beauchamp, “The US is bombing Syria to destroy ISIS. Here’s why that won’t work,” Vox, September 22, 2014,; Peter Van Buren, “Apocalypse Now, Iraq Edition: Fighting in Iraq Until Hell Freezes Over,” TomDispatch, September 23, 2014,; Immanuel Wallerstein, “The United States Heading for a Crash in the Middle East,” Toward Freedom, September 16, 2014,
  11. [11]David Motadel, “The Ancestors of ISIS,” New York Times, September 23, 2014,
  12. [12]David Benfell, “Gleefully profiting from vast misery,” Not Housebroken, September 21, 2014,

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