June 17, 2013


My new op-ed at Al Jazeera English, "Obama's crackpot realism and the real crime of Edward Snowden" argues that C. Wright Mill's concept of 'crackpot realism' helps explain and define Obama's continuity with George Bush's policies. The op-ed starts like this:

On June 8, Juan Cole, one of the few true Middle East experts in the US, posted a short entry on his Informed Comment blog. The title said it all: "We misunderstood Barack: He only wanted the domestic surveillance to be made legal, not to end it".

But domestic surveillance was far from the only Bush policy that Obama has wanted to continue, despite giving supporters the opposite impression. The continued - if reduced - use of indefinite detention is one example, the continued - vastly expanded - use of drones is another, and underlying them all is the continued self-defeating policy of fighting a global "war on terrorism" - but debranding it, because the term "war on terror" has become toxic, and renaming it makes it harder to oppose.

Foreign policy is not the only area in which Obama has turned out to be far more conservative than his 2008 campaign supporters had reason to believe, and there's surely a variety of different factors involved. But in the overlapping realms of foreign policy and national security highlighted by the revelations of Edward Snowden, one factor in particular deserves our attention: what the radical sociologist C. Wright Mills described over half a century ago as "crackpot realism".

In his 1956 book, The Power Elite, Mills wrote: "For the first time in American history, men in authority are talking about an 'emergency' without a foreseeable end... such men as these are crackpot realists: in the name of realism they have constructed a paranoid reality all their own."

Read the whole op-ed here.

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