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Obama, Jefferson, slaves, murder, Nobel prizes

By Jeff Schubert - posted Thursday, 13 December 2012

Gideon Rachman of the "Financial Times" ("America's drone war is out of control", December 10, 2012) wrote that "the use of drone strikes to kill suspected terrorists has become a trademark of the Obama administration". This often involves "killing somebody whose name you don't even know because his pattern of behaviour suggests to you that he is a terrorist".

"Yet while Guantánamo attracted worldwide condemnation, the use of drones is much less discussed. It is hard to avoid the impression that Barack Obama is forgiven for a remarkably ruthless antiterrorism policy simply because his public image is so positive. He won the Nobel Peace Prize for goodness sake!"

"America argues that even signature strikes are precisely targeted and that civilian casualties are minimal. But that is disputed. A recent study by Stanford and New York University law schools endorsed the claim that between 474 and 881 civilians, including almost 200 children, have been killed by drone strikes in Pakistan. One case – in which a meeting of tribal elders called to discuss a mining dispute was hit, killing 42 people – is now the subject of legal action in Pakistan and Britain. (The British are accused of providing intelligence to the US.)"


Paul Finkelman ("New York Times", November 30, 2012, article headed "The Monster of Monticello") wrote that when looking at the life of Thomas Jefferson, "we seem unable to reconcile the rhetoric of liberty in his writing with the reality of his slave owning and his lifetime support for slavery. Time and again, we play down the latter in favor of the former, or write off the paradox as somehow indicative of his complex depths."

The reality is simpler! Obama does not have "complex depths", and I suspect that neither did Jefferson. For both Obama and Jefferson, words have the most meaning if they sound good to other people and the words suit their own purposes. Yet, they get away with so much cruelty because – in Gideon Rachman's words – their "public image is so positive".

This raised several possible questions:

  1. Would Jefferson have received the Nobel Prize if it had existed in his day;
  2. Would Barack Obama have been a slave owner if he had been a white man in the same era as Jefferson?

While highly intelligent, Obama lacks real empathy and an interest in the "feelings" that drive the behavior – and personalities – of human beings.

Jodi Kantor wrote ("New York Times", "Obama Now a Chance to Catch Up to His Epochal Vision", November 7, 2012) that "from the first time Barack Obama summoned the country's leading presidential historians to dinner, they saw that ….though Mr. Obama knew many of his predecessors' stories cold, he was no history buff: he showed little curiosity about their personalities and almost no interest in the founding fathers. His goal, the historians realized, was more strategic. He wanted to apply the lessons of past presidential triumphs and failures to his own urgent project of setting the country on a new path."


Obama is only interested in his "good" intellectual aims – almost like a Lenin!

And, when it comes to Obama's consideration of human beings outside his US-centric "in-group", this may help:

In 1950, Gustave Gilbert, the US prison psychologist at the Nuremberg Trials wrote that "white, American-born Protestants" can patriotically defend the humane "American way" in defiance of dictatorship, while feeling no concern over the mistreatment of racial minorities at their own back door." "Many Germans and many Americans, when confronted with these inconsistencies in their professed behavior as decent citizens, recognise the inconsistency intellectually, but still find it difficult to modify their behavior. Insight is not sufficient to overcome the deeply rooted social conditioning of feelings. ... As a general principle …. the normal social process of group identification and hostility-reaction brings about a selective constriction of empathy, which, in addition to the semi-conscious suppression of insight, enables normal people to condone or participate in the most sadistic social aggression without feeling it or realising it."

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About the Author

Jeff Schubert is an economist, business consultant and writer. He is author of Dictatorial CEOs and their Lieutenants: Inside the Executive Suites of Napoleon, Stalin, Ataturk, Mussolini, Hitler and Mao. He is a regular commentator on Russian affairs and now lives in Moscow. Jeff is also the creator of The Little Pink Ant. His websites are: and The also blogs about Russia at

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