By Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, The New Statesman
"Suddenly, a season of peace seems to be warming the world," the New York Times exulted on the last day of July 1988. Protracted and bloody wars were ending in
In December 1988, the Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, declared the cold war over. "The use or threat of force no longer can or must be an instrument of foreign policy," he said. "This applies above all to nuclear arms."
He proposed cutting offensive strategic arms in half, jointly safeguarding the environment, banning weapons in outer space, ending exploitation of the third world and canceling third world debt payments. He called for a UN-brokered ceasefire in
Still, he was not finished. He held out an olive branch to the incoming administration of George H W Bush, offering a "joint effort to put an end to an era of wars".
The New York Times described Gorbachev's riveting, hour-long speech as the greatest act of statesmanship since Roosevelt and Churchill's Atlantic Charter in 1941. The Washington Post called it "a speech as remarkable as any ever delivered at the United Nations".
Gorbachev saw this as a new beginning for
In September 1990, Michael Mandelbaum, then director of east-west studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, rejoiced that "for the first time in 40 years we can conduct military operations in the
Buzzsaw of opposition
Fast-forward to 2008, when Barack Obama swept to office on a wave of popular euphoria, mesmerising supporters with his inspiring biography, lofty and exhilarating rhetoric, welcome rejection of unilateralism and strong opposition to the
Bush and his empire-building advisers - the sorriest crew ever to run this country - had saddled him and the American people with an incredible mess. After two long and disastrous wars, trillions of dollars in military spending, torture and abuse of prisoners on several continents, an economic collapse and near-depression at home, disparities between rich and poor unheard of in an advanced industrial country, government surveillance on an unprecedented scale, collapsing infrastructure and a global reputation left in tatters, the US did not look all that attractive.
Obama has taken a bad situation and, in many ways, made it worse. He got off to a good start, immediately taking steps to reverse some of Bush's most outlandish policies - pledging to end torture and close the detention facility at
But he ran into a buzzsaw of opposition from opportunistic Republicans and conservative Democrats over these and other progressive measures and has been in retreat ever since. As a result, his first two years in office have been a disappointment.
Instead of modelling himself after Gorbachev and boldly championing deeply felt convictions and transformative policies, Obama has taken a page from the Bill (and Hillary)
Surrounding himself with Wall Street-friendly advisers and military hawks, he has sent more than 30,000 additional troops to
Obama has also endorsed a military/security budget that continues to balloon. Recent accounting by Christopher Hellman of the National Priorities Project found that the US spends over $1.2trn out of its $3trn annual budget on "national security", when all related expenses are factored in.
Despite such blather, the
Whatever good may have been done by Obama's
Nor can anyone take seriously the
He should look to John F Kennedy for precedent. After two nearly disastrous years in office, Kennedy underwent a stunning reversal, repudiating the reckless cold war militarism that defined his early presidency. The Kennedy who was tragically assassinated in November 1963 was looking to end not only the
We know from Bob Woodward that during policy discussions regarding
There are many ways in which Obama can begin overseeing the end of the American empire and the insane militarism that undergirds it. He has been urged to do so by none other than Mikhail Gorbachev, who has pressed Obama to stiffen his spine and pursue bold initiatives. "
The former Soviet leader's solutions included restructuring the economy to eliminate the kind of unregulated free-market policies that caused the current global economic downturn and perpetuate the unconscionable gap between the world's rich and poor.
But, Gorbachev warned, the
Obama, having wrapped himself even more tightly of late in his cocoon of Wall Street- and empire-friendly advisers, has shown no inclination to heed Gorbachev's advice. He would be wise to do so, because the older man oversaw the dismantling of the
If Obama would seize the opportunity for peace that the Bushes and
© 2011 The New Statesman
Filmmaker Oliver Stone and historian Peter Kuznick, Professor of History and Director of the Nuclear Studies Institute at American University, along with teacher Matt Graham, are finishing a 12-hour documentary "The Forgotten History of the United States," covering the period from 1900 to 2010. This will be premiered later this year in the
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs