The BBC and The Obamessiah: The Veil Lifts Ever So Slightly

Something very interesting happened the other day: BBC News Online allowed through an article that was slightly critical of the President, and even pointed out His escalation of Bush’s war policies. Because the BBC is generally relentless in their positive coverage, support, and plain old propaganda on behalf of the White House, I thought it was important to give credit where it’s due, even if there are a couple of problems with the piece. If it wasn’t such a rare event, it wouldn’t seem so remarkable. But it is.

Andrew North is actually allowed to frown, if only gently, at the fact that a Noble Peace Prize winner was the deciding vote in starting yet another war. Even the sub-editor tasked with writing the headline gets into the act.

Libya: Barack Obama’s step from Nobel winner to warrior

Why it took Andrew North to do this and not the BBC North America editor, Mark Mardell, I have no idea. Mardell is the one who is supposed to be giving his insight on these things, explaining the issues to us, helping create that rapport with the US the BBC wants you to have.

North begins by outlining the current wars He’s running:

It probably wasn’t what the Nobel committee had in mind when it awarded the Peace Prize to President Barack Obama two years ago.

Two months later he ramped up the war in Afghanistan, sending in 30,000 extra US troops.

Now he has ordered massive air strikes on Libya – with United Nations backing, but still with the United States in the lead.

Judged by his actions, this supposedly anti-war president looks almost as warlike as President George W Bush.

If you include Mr Obama’s increased use of drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, he’s got the US involved in more conflicts than his much-criticised predecessor.

I have to say I’m impressed. This is the first time I’ve seen this presented in a BBC report. There have been others mentioning various elements individually, but no one has put it together like this and actually point the finger at the Nobel laureate this way. Of course, it’s a bit silly to say that the current President is “almost as warlike” as His predecessor when the very next sentence contradicts it by saying that He is involved in even more conflicts, but I’ll let that slide. After all, one can’t expect a believer to abandon his faith all in one go.

Then we get the obligatory defense:

Judged by Mr Obama’s words though, he is in plenty of internal conflict over his decisions.

Far from beating the drums of war, he keeps highlighting the risks and promising US action on Libya will last “days not weeks”.

He is conflicted, alright. He ran on a platform of shrinking the US’s position in the world (whether one likes it or not, that’s what it amounts to), and allowed the media to define His foreign policy goals as being dialogue and smart diplomacy above all else. President Teddy Roosevelt used to say that a good policy was to “speak softly, and carry a big stick.” (He didn’t originally use it in regards to military action, but it came to be used that way later.) The current President, however, wanted to speak softly and carry not a stick but a big carrot.

One can imagine how difficult it must have been for Him, then, when the world asked Him to bring out the big stick of US military force. He must hate it. North’s analysis of the hows and whys, though, seems to misunderstand what’s really going on.

Take a glance at the opinion polls and you can see why.

Less than a week since the first cruise missiles were launched, the clock is already ticking on how long Americans will back him.

Polls by Gallup, CBS and CNN since the attack show Mr Obama’s approval ratings hovering around 50%.

Now, I can find a couple of other polls which show His approval ratings even lower, but it’s only a few percentage points, and not not worth splitting hairs over. We all know this is more or less where His ratings have been for some time, even dipping a couple points below 50% here and there, which is key to North’s goal here. What he’s trying to do is point out how odd it is that His approval ratings are still so low.

Hardly encouraging, when the start of a military campaign is usually the high point of public support.

This is where North’s analysis goes off the rails. The public isn’t displeased with the fact that He’s started a military campaign, per se, but with the way he dithered deliberated for weeks while the rest of the world (including the Secretary of State and other officials) was wondering if there was anyone at home. North then makes an astonishing comparison:

Surveys gave President Bush 90% approval ratings when he went into Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks.

Even for the early stages of the 2003 Iraq invasion, his ratings were over 60%. They went downhill from then on.

Now, I don’t believe that North thinks that we United Statesians are such warmongers, always calling for what Mardell described as an “unapologetically aggressive America storming ahead”, full stop, regardless of the circumstances. So when the President starts yet another war, North doesn’t expect us to foam at the mouth and wave the flag and worship our leader, just because we’re happy for another bit of the old ultra-violence. It’s very clumsy, but North is setting up the reader to understand that, while the public had a reason to be overwhelmingly in favor of invading Afghanistan, there is no such motivation this time.

Alternatively, it might be that many in the country have been unhappy with the way He’s acted for the last month and more. Contrary to Mardell’s belief that we’re mostly a bunch of knuckle-dragging warmongers, “obsessed with the notion of American decline”, many of us wanted the President to lead when asked to do so by the Libyans themselves, as well as by the UN. As I’ve said before, it seems a bit silly to claim that only extremists want their country to have a strong international position (which, please, let’s not define as merely blowing up and occupying whatever we want, whenever we want, but rather something more prosaic and diplomatic). Standing with Muslims hoping for freedom is exactly the kind of thing He promised in that infamous Cairo speech, and of course He never expected to have to actually do it.

But that would only explain part of why His approval numbers are not in the stratosphere. North invites us to “dig deeper”, and notice that only 47% of the public actually approve of the military action against Libya.

North earns more points in my book by actually pointing out the hypocrisy contradiction between the words of Candidate Obamessiah and His incarnation as President:

“We need better judgment when we decide to send our young men and women into war,” said one of the candidates in the 2008 White House race.

He listed three key benchmarks: “an imminent threat”, protecting “American interests” and a “plan to succeed and to exit”.

That candidate of course was Barack Obama. Does President Obama meet his own benchmarks in going into Libya?

North goes on to point out that only 40% of us think Libya is important in this way, and many more are unsure. It’s fair to say that this is a bipartisan thing. Lots of people on both sides of the political spectrum don’t think it’s necessarily a priority for us. Militarily, strategically, it really isn’t. But there’s more to geopolitical strategy than where one puts the troops. There is also the notion that the US could have put our money where our mouth is and taken the lead – like everyone was asking us to – in helping Muslims gain the freedom and independence they were asking for. If we had started this no-fly zone stuff a month ago, things would be very different now. Ghaddafi wouldn’t have been emboldened so much, wouldn’t have had time to strengthen his military position, wouldn’t have watched us blink and felt like he could go the distance. The US military could have done the exact same thing they’ve done in the last few days, and then backed off and handed the reins over to NATO or Cowboy Dave or whomever, and the President would have looked like a star.

But that’s not what happened at all. Instead, the President made us look weak, and made Himself look feckless. To everyone except Mark Mardell, of course, who was recently trying to tell us He was a genius and the only reason the stupid United Statesians were upset is because He made the UN relevant again. He’s still defending the President on his blog now, but that’s a matter for another time. Back to Andrew North:

Leading that charge is the Republican House Speaker John Boehner, but rumblings of discontent are being heard from the Democratic side too.

Rumblings, eh? Too bad North didn’t find space to mention all those Democrat Congressmen calling for His impeachment, or the anger of Michael Moore, or – *gasp* – St. Jon Stewart.

The President is not looking good to very many people these days. And it’s not just because He’s doing something some people don’t like. It’s because of a total lack of leadership, communication, and capability in this situation. People on both sides have seen it and commented on it, yet North only focuses on the fact that many people don’t think we should be going after Ghaddafi as the reason why His approval numbers aren’t up. That’s only part of the story, and certainly not the real lesson to be learned here.

Still, though, I want to give Andrew North and his boss credit for even daring to point out that the President has escalated Bush’s wars, killed more people with drones, and started yet another military action, all in the face of the Nobel prize.

And to his credit, North even emailed the Nobel committee asking for comment. No surprise that they didn’t respond.

So, is this a sign that the veil is being lifted ever so slightly? Is it dawning on the Beeboids that He isn’t everything they thought He was? I’m not sure, as this piece is mostly about how the public simply don’t approve of the war on Libya, and not about how He handled the situation for the previous six weeks or so. But it’s pretty clear that there’s a separation between what North is saying here and the Narrative we keep hearing from Mardell and others. The agenda has not been forced all the way through. So there may yet be hope.

It’s a rare occasion, so I think it’s worth noting.

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7 Responses to The BBC and The Obamessiah: The Veil Lifts Ever So Slightly

  1. George R says:

    Not on Mardell’s viewing list:

    ‘U.S. Foreign Policy: Obama’s friends and enemies’


  2. Umbongo says:

    Interesting post DP.  My take on the article was of a disappointment by North that the American public is not wholly behind Him in his latest policy decision concerning Libya.  There’s also a palpable sense of disappointment by North in his (ie North’s) expectations and hitherto unthinking approval of the Peace Prize award.  So I guess North is conflicted: wanting – per the Mardell “doctrine” – to laud His perfection but admitting indirectly that the American public’s current lukewarm response to Obama may have some justification.

    I think you nailed the source of the public’s relative disenchantment: it’s not the involvement in Libya itself but rather “it’s because of a total lack of leadership, communication, and capability in this situation”.  North’s article doesn’t touch on this failing which, IMHO, is the fundamental problem with Obama’s presidency.  This problem was predictable in light of His executive inexperience together with His background in the poisonous and endemically corrupt but essentially closed world of Chicago politics.  Moreover, it’s not as if even his “experience” in Chicago politics could prove useful to Him as President.  He was never a “player” in Chicago: He never got His hands on the levers of the machine: He was a recipient (or arranged for His wife to be a recipient) of favours for good and faithful work as a “community organiser” ie getting out the vote.  The real decisions were made elsewhere.  This headless chicken is coming home to roost and the American public is watching its flapping with a mixture of fear and contempt.


    • David Preiser (USA) says:

      My primary goal here was to give credit to Andrew North and the BBC for at last frowning at their beloved Obamessiah and pointing out the stark contradiction between the image of Him that’s been forced down our throats for three years and what He’s actually been doing.  This kind of thing ought to be coming from the North America editor and not a Washington correspondent, but I’ll take what I can get.

      North is disappointed, sure, but at least he’s admitting there’s a problem and not just shifting blame.  He doesn’t want to acknowledge just how much the President has been angering both sides, but there is at last some acknowledgment from the BBC that the Dems aren’t happy either.  It’s not just His enemies making noise any more.

      It’s too bad, though, North didn’t think the concerns about His poor leadership were important.  As for His lack of administrative experience (and I’m on record here from before the election saying that this was going to be a problem), remember how the BBC and defenders of the indefensible told us that He had more experience than Sarah Palin because He ran such a great election campaign?

      There was one moment of clarity from Justin Webb, of all people, but that was long ago, before the convention, and he went all moist and started acting like Mr. Sulu after getting zapped by Landru’s minioins in that Star Trek episode.


      • Umbongo says:

        Well I hope that North’s reassessment of – or, at least, “frown” at – Him is a straw in the wind.  However, I take your point that, with the BBC, you take what you get.  Even so, North’s article would (in a mature and impartial news organisation) be simply part of the small change of political comment not the cause of a pleasant surprise concerning a minute crack in the monolith of Obamalove.


    • Span Ows says:

      Umbogo: “This problem was predictable in light of His executive inexperience… …essentially closed world of Chicago politics.  Moreover… He was never a “player” in Chicago: He never got His hands on the levers of the machine…”

      Check out his rise. has anyone gone from mildly successful bit part to POTUS in such a short time? That’s the problem, he isn’t fit for office, nearly everyone knew it, everyone knows it. The whole “we can do it” thing, it was a charade that now even his supporters see through.


  3. john says:

    O/T, but I was so surprised at the craven PCness of BBC News I just have to post this. A few minutes ago. at 18:10, on the BBC evening news bulletin a regular contributor, one of their Middle East experts whose name I didn’t catch, was giving his take on the violence in Syria today. During the interview he was sat alongside the newsreader behind a desk. All fine so far, but at the end of the interview a seperate camera was cut to for a split second so that it could be revealed that the Middle East expert was wheel chair bound.

    How pathetic. I thought the whole thing about equality for people with disabilities was that they should be treated equally, not paraded before us as a token cripple to demonstrate that the BBC is an equal opportunities employer.

    (Apologies if the word “cripple” is now on the proscribed list)


  4. Craig says:

    Given that the BBC won’t give us any Obama jokes, here are a few culled from an American website:

    Q. What is the difference between Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama?
    A. Jimmy is the worst President in the 20th Century.
    Q. Why won’t Obama laugh at himself?
    A. Because it would be racist.
    President Obama decided to do one of his public addresses against the backdrop of an American farm, but the ceremony couldn’t get started because of all the flies buzzing around his head. Obama demanded to know why the flies wouldn’t leave, so the farmer explained to him, “Well, those are called circle flies. They always circle around the back end of horses.” Obama angrily replied, “Hey, are you saying that I’m a horse’s ass?” The farmer answered, “No Sir, Mister President. I would never call someone a horse’s ass. It’s hard to fool them flies though.”
    Obama has decided to change the name of “Air Force One,” the Presidential jet. He’s going to rename it “Air Force The One.” 
    Strange Lincoln – Obama Coincidences
    1) Lincoln was elected in 1860, Obama was elected in 2008, nearly 150 years later.
    2) Lincoln eliminated involuntary servitude. Obama eliminated private sector jobs.
    3) Lincoln was hit in the head from behind. Obama hid his head up his behind.
    4) Lincoln was shot in Ford’s Theater. Obama shot up while riding in a Lincoln made by Ford.
    5) Both men had vice-presidents who were illiterate Democrat senators.
    6) Andrew Johnson nearly lived to the age of 67. Joe Biden nearly had an IQ of 67.
    7) Lincoln was born in KENtucky, Obama was born in KENya – before both moved to Illinois.
    8) LincOln and Obama each had a single letter “O” in their last name.
    9) Andrew Johnson had no middle name. Joseph Robinette Biden had a silly one.
    10) JOHN W. BOOTH and BILL C. AYERS each has 10 letters.
    11) Neither Lincoln nor Obama ever wrote a book.
    12) Abraham Lincoln had no middle name. You’re not allowed to say Barack Obama’s middle name.
    If Barack Obama had been the Commander in Chief of the Sioux and the Cheyenne, General Custer would have died of old age.
    And marine biologists have spotted the deepest living fish ever, near the ocean floor at the Earth’s lowest point. They’re calling it, the Barack Obama Approval Ratings Fish.