The President Has Two Faces
There’s a disconnect with President Obama.
On one hand my pants are charmed right off when I see him giggle or flirt with Michelle or call Kanye a jackass. And yet this endearing, intelligent man is causing unnecessary horror. I’m talking about his use of drone attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan among other places (but I could also be talking about the detention of Bradley Manning without trial, or his decision to break his election promise and keep the Azkabanian Guantanamo Bay prison open). These drones, a controversial form of warfare which Obama has embraced more eagerly than George W Bush did, have been intentionally killing innocent civilians including children, rescuers, mourners and wedding parties.
Predator drones are essentially autopiloted missiles/planes that the US can guide to their targets from the comfort of a US base. Because of the distance between the killer and killee, there is a great chance for inaccuracies and innocent civilian deaths. Because there is no risk to American lives, drones have been unleashed with reckless abandon. And because there is no risk to American lives, drones have not attracted much interest from mainstream media. The enormous risk to Pakistani or Afghan lives does not sell newspapers. In short, we now have a form of warfare where you can cause enourmous destruction and feel none of the consequences.
The problem I wish to highlight, is not that there is a disconnect between President Obama’s glowing image and monstrous acts. It’s the fact that his glowing image is being used to conceal his monstrous acts. And he is doing it so effectively. I know he is causing unspeakable suffering to innocent people somewhere far away (in another country, in a detention cell, in a torture chamber) but right in front of me, all I can see is him singing Al Green, asking Betty White for her birth certificate, and calling Kanye a jackass (again).
It feels like a form of sensory deprivation, but this time used for the opposite of torture. All my senses are being overloaded with fun images of pop culture and toothy grins, which making it so much easier to crowd out the images of unimaginable suffering - images I could never even get my head around in the first place and we’d all, frankly (and wrongly), rather ignore.
Actually, I say there’s a disconnect, but there was one brief moment in 2010 when Obama’s penchant for pop culture and his penchant for predator drones intersected. The president joked at the 2010 White House Correspondence Dinner that if the Jonas brothers ever tried anything with his daughters (Malia and Sasha are big Jonas fans) he’d unleash the predator drones. On a night of jokes, this joke stood out, attracting a lot of attention and criticism. Maybe because it was one of the rare moments that Obama publicly acknowledged his drones program. Or maybe it is because it was strangely telling of what a lot of evidence is already pointing at - there is a casualness, or recklessness, with which Obama treats his deployment of predator drones. Either way, he has probably learned now to keep his pop identity and drone identity distinct. The intersection of the two raises questions. The disconnect serves a more useful purpose.