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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Towards a better future

Too much power has been ascribed to the Office of the President since Bush took over.

Bush has succeeded in expanding the authority of Presidency. Constitutional boundaries on the office have been permanently breached--future Presidents might abuse these powers. Like the planetary representatives from throughout the Empire in Star Wars' Revenge of the Sith, Congress has empowered the President, sent him on a meteoritic rise to the status of some kind of super-powerful overlord.

Younger Americans might not be familiar with external limits imposed on the use of Presidential power, nor the exercise of restrained. Power unused is power wasted, some might think from how Bush has ruled.

I constantly forget that an entire generation has grown up with Bush at the wheel. The way in which the media portrays the exercise of power has been exemplified by Bush's style of governing: the opposite of compromise, prone to one-liners, jeers, frowns, and frat boy behavior. Hardly much of a role model.

Americans growing up under Bush know little about the exercise of dignity, class, or competence in executing the duties of the Presidency. Most young people voted for Obama, so they must've sensed there was more to a Presidency than what George Bush has done. They must have sensed leadership lacking, because of the wars, response to environmental threats, or plenty of other reasons both logical and emotional.

The way Bush has governed has created a great deal of anti-authoritarianism since clearly to oppose Bush has meant resisting the establishment. These critical tendencies will carry over to Obama, so it's natural to hear talk of a betrayal, though I was hoping it might not come so soon after the election. At least wait until he's sworn in.

Why can't the old regime get thrown out the night of the Election? Way things are going, the villagers might be tempted to run up the Jolly Roger, charge the White House with their pitch forks and throw the bums out.

Unfortunately such a long transition period could damage the country as the outgoing President has lost whatever limited authority he's wielded as a lame duck yet no one has come in to replace him. With the economy in recession, it's clear the public's general anxiety will persist until the new President gets sworn in.

* * *

What follows comes from a comment I made on OpEdNews in response to a Sean Fenley, author of the article "Team Democrats takes over the WH..."

Fenley has some talent--I wouldn't have commented if he didn't--yet comes to us from the anti-establishment side, which is hardly surprising considering what's been going on. Here's what I had to say:
...Do we have a government that's responsive to the needs of the governed? Absolutely not.
Is the simple act of voting for Obama going to bring change? No, but Obama will make a difference on a number of fronts. Like speaking in complete sentences. Are you going to tell me you didn't miss that?
Obama presented himself as a bringer of change--what that means is up to personal definition or preference.
It's way too early to say what Obama has in store. Yes he's bringing back Clinton-era people, but this doesn't mean his administration doesn't represent change from the status quo and I don't mean in terms of his being the first black President, either.
Results will be not only a product of Obama's efforts, but those of everyone who wants to bring change. He will not be able to accomplish change itself, not without our help. You could quote John F. Kennedy, "ask not what your nation can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."
We need to exercise a level of faith here and now. Obama will need our help to achieve great things. We will need to participate going forward, perhaps equally or more than we did in opposing Bush. Tearing down is easier than building up. Going on--with our distaste for how Washington does business--represents more of the same, if we are content to criticize and choose to carry our resentment about Bush over to Obama. We progressives can't play sore losers, at least not until we've given the man a chance."

Fenley's point is that rather than change from conservative to liberal, we're changing from one team to another. Both parties are little different, they would have you believe.

Changes in our Foreign Policy?

Some will want an end to neoconservative foreign policy. We haven't seen any change on that so far.

I posted the following comment on an OpEdNews article by Heather Wokusch. She'd been talking about how Obama's Cabinet picks may be signaling that he's not as progressive as we were led to believe.

She had brought up a comment by Joe Biden about how Obama should make foreign policy decisions based not on their popularity, but how unpopular they are. Here is how I responded:

"My read on the Biden comment that if decisions are unpopular, they are unsound is more a reflection of how effective ultranationalism and jingoism have been in American society. Fact is most wars are popular regardless of their legitimacy. People rally around the flag and the President. I hope we can count on Obama to restrain the temptation to wag the dog and see his popularity skyrocket overnight. Reagan had his Grenada (just after the Beirut bombings in '83), Clinton had his Somali aspirin factory, etc.. (I recommend Norm Solomon's How Presidents keep spinning us to death, which became a documentary narrated by Sean Penn.)"

Wokusch goes on to bring up the scary rhetoric Obama has used in reference to those who seek to acquire nuclear weapons. Iran has been villified on this account, despite the fact it claims it has a right to pursue nuclear power as a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

It's worth noting that Obama has said he'd be willing to sit down, unconditionally, and talk with the Iranians. So this represents progress from where we are now, which isn't saying much other than that Obama is an improvement over our current policies.

I said in my post how those seeking nukes are a threat only if they aren't sought by our friends. This is a double standard clear for the world to see: if we like you, you can go after nuclear power, but watch out if you don't. India, who hasn't signed the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty has been the recipient of much US nuclear technology while Iran, a signatory, gets maligned.

Under Bush, our foreign policy has devolved into a instrument to achieve our narrow self-interests. In the process of trying to bend the rest of the world to our will, our foreign policy has lost its credibility. We need to remember that we are the world's leader, and need to behave as such, not just some country trying to make others do their bidding, like some big bully.

As the Guantanamo kangaroo trials proceed, our global leadership position has been lost. So, compared to where we are now, our foreign policy will regain some of its credibility.

At some point Bush grew confused over the difference between wielding power and showing restraint by not wielding power. Gross displays of authority tend to alienate other nations. We don't need to show how strong we are to be strong, nor do we have to demonstrate our power to prove it's there. International politics aren't a wrestling match, bravado does nothing. And even the exercise of power can end up making us look weak, like a paper tiger, as recent counterinsurgencies show.

Wokusch criticizes Obama's hard stance and willingness to use nuclear force. Obama does follow a pattern of using blunt threats to describe those who would do us harm. His Grant Park acceptance speech spoke plainly of a foreign policy that would go after the bad guys. This aggression towards our enemies--whoever they might be--is a sign of a different age, one of terrorists, anthrax, and whatever other boogeymen the imagination can dream up. Teddy Roosevelt didn't have to contend with suitcase nukes when he said, "speak softly and carry a big stick." To kill a flea, embedded in a hostile population, wielding the stick is hardly a solution, yet Obama believes Afghanistan can be won.

Needless to say, I don't think any terrorists doubts that the Muslim world would be accused of harboring any terrorists who might set off a nuke or biological/chemical attack. I'm sure al Qaeda or some similar terrorist organization could be created in the aftermath of such an attack if for no other reason to strike back at Muslims for their perceived role in terrorism.
Already the Muslim world knows that Teheran would be the first recipient of a nuclear counterstrike should the Israelis be hit. As a result of this very predictable and commonly known reaction, no Muslim terrorist organization--surprise--would use nukes. Biological/chemical weapons would receive "strongest possible response" in retaliation, a phrase used by President Bush the First in advance of the 1991 Gulf war.

A Council on Foreign Relations article explains that Bush 41 had "privately decided to rule out the use of nuclear weapons." Still, the post-9/11 world has lowered the threshold for using nuclear weapons, at least according to nuclear posture reviews issued under Bush 43.

Growing up under a policy of Mutual Assured Destruction has been somewhat reassuring. It's no wonder that our government would like to prevent a NBC attack through a retaliatory posture, but finding the culprits would be a mammoth task.

The predictability of the nuclear reaction would deter any nation-state from attacking the US or any of its myriad bases, so the question becomes who hates the Iranians enough to pin the attack on them? Even if we could trace the attack back to its country of origin, how would destroying Pakistan, for instance, prevent the attack from coming from a group from inside Pakistan, like one who might want the Pakistani state destroyed?

Nuclear destruction seems no way to prevent nuclear destruction now that we've left the Cold War. Things were simpler then. Obama can't count on the fury of a spectacular reaction. He'll have to channel intelligence to preempt an attack, then use extreme caution in ordering a nuclear reaction.

Back to my comments on the Wokusch article:
"The selection of Obama administration people reflects negatively on his transition from a traditional antiwar position, but he has said he'll get us out of Iraq. If alQaeda--or whoever the government says is alQaeda--is really a threat, we have to find them wherever they are. Until we can investigate 9-11, the official line will be that they did it, acting alone, which should have focused the anti-terrorist effort not on Iraq but Pakistan and Afghanistan (however ineffective the State terror inflicted by cross-border missile attacks may be in resolving what is essentially a law enforcement matter.)"

Iraq will be a change. Obama has always made his position on Afghanistan clear. If, well, we didn't like it, we could have voted for McCain. So therefore pacifists, anti-interventionists have no real choice of candidates.

That said, at least Obama will wield our military resources more efficiently. Rather than pouring out vast sums in a broad effort to bring democracy to the Middle East--and make the military industrial complex rich--Obama will focus on the Taliban, which likely means he'll build up the Afghan nation. We tried this in South Vietnam.

Criticism towards Obama's foreign policy are warranted, but he's not yet sworn in. His advisers could be more hawkish than antiwar people want, but we know that major foreign policy changes are forthcoming.

I don't know how much value criticism has at this point. I think Obama will choose his advisers to the best of his ability, and we need to have faith in his decision-making skills. There will be time to have our voice heard later, should he not deliver on campaign promises.


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