Posts Tagged ‘ Obama ’

The Empire Strikes Back

The partisan rhetoric about Syria speaks as much as anything to the deep ideological and illogical divide in American politics. President Trump and most Republican members of Congress have blasted President Obama’s handling of Syria as “weakness” and repeatedly asserting vaguely that the President was somehow to blame for the whole mess of the Syrian war and its undesirable outcome on the world stage.

To be sure, Obama–typically measured and striving for prudence–did not want to get involved in Syria. It was a classic debacle in the making. Even our limited support for anti-Assad forces has come back to haunt us as material support meant to weaken the repressive Syrian regime has ended up in the hands of ISIS, the most repellant ideological blight of the twenty-first century. But the coverage in the media towing the Trump-Republican line that the current president is “breaking” with the last belies the real, muddled history of Obama’s almost-intervention in Syria.

Let us not forget that when chemical weapons were last used in this civil war, breaking Obama’s “red line,” the president did call for a vote authorizing military action in Syria, one that never came. Instead, Russia brokered a deal to stave off American intervention in Syria, saving us from direct involvement in this quagmire and preventing us from the unenviable position of weakening the Assad regime and, as a consequence, strengthening ISIS.

Though his political opponents have spun this moment as one demonstrating Obama’s weakness, in actuality it is a testament to American strength and shows how the threat, if not promise, of American military action changed the behavior of other state actors to abide by international law.

No, it was far from an ideal outcome, but in Syria, there are no ideals.

Now, in 2017, the landscape in Syria has changed considerably. ISIS is wrecked and, hopefully, doomed. But on the other hand, the Assad regime has pulled itself back from the brink and in the past weeks, most everyone has acknowledged that that regime would remain in power whenever this horrible war was finally resolved–whether through peace talks or exhaustion.

Which is why it is so galling that Assad would authorize a chemical weapon attack now. Clearly a completely cynical demonstration of naked aggression against any domestic forces who would oppose him, it is difficult to conceive of Assad’s reasoning. The war is all but won. Why now? Part of that answer must surely be that Assad and his enabler-in-chief Putin must have believed that Trump would indeed “break” with Obama and not deliver on the previous threat of American military action.

Trump, after all, has said that Assad’s ouster is no longer in the cards and has praised Putin’s “strength,” while urging for less American engagement when our interests weren’t directly served, promising to put “America First,” in a sickening echo of the American isolationists and Nazi sympathizers who argued for keeping us out of WWII. So it seems likely that it is their perception of Trump’s weakness, not Obama’s that led to the chemical weapon attack, assuming an American president who would buy their obvious lies about the nerve agent being released by the rebels or at the very least, triggered accidentally by an attack on rebel-held positions.

Assad and Putin may also have done the math and calculated that America has nothing to gain from striking Syria now. There is little chance of dislodging Assad as a key regional ally for Putin and Iran. From a real politik stand point, there is nothing to argue in favor of American involvement now. Assad and Putin played nice through Obama’s tenure, avoiding American wrath, so they might have guessed the coast was clear for Assad to send a harsh message to his enemies without having to worry about the short-term fallout in the international community. Trump, after all, had absolutely nothing to gain by attacking now.

And that’s why I think it may have been the best thing for us to do.

Intellectually, I still lean toward Obama’s reticence, and away from involving ourselves any further in a messy–very messy–civil war. But if Obama was still in office and this attack had happened, this is clearly what he would have done. By the accounts now coming out, it appears that Trump’s team consulted with our allies and even warned the Russians, balancing out the concerns about this being merely “lashing out” by an irrational and unpredictable president out of his depth.

There are plenty of critiques to be leveled at President Trump at this hour–many point out that his sudden sympathy for the Syrian people should also lead him to reverse his policies on refugees and still others suggest a wag-the-dog distraction from Russiagate. Only history, as it unfolds in the next few days and over the course of the next several years, will be able to judge whether this action turns out to be bold or simply brash, but in this difficult hour, we may owe this wildly ineffectual president the benefit of the doubt and accept that maybe, just maybe, in response to a horrible human atrocity, the President of the United States made the difficult decision to seek justice for the innocent victims of a war crime.

The Obama Doctrine

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The partisan attack dogs are pouncing once more. Obama foolishly admitted that no strategy is yet in place to deal with ISIS’s continued cancerous growth in what was once called Iraq. (And he dares to tell us this wearing a tan suit!)

As tired as one becomes of seeing this same politically motived theater (should I add, “barely veiled racist innuendo?”), it is also quite wearying that President Obama has still–after all these years–found no way to rise above the tediousness of it all.

In short, Mr. President, is this the best you’ve got to lead us past these yipping mongrels on the Right? Hope. Choice. Forward.

How, exactly?

Beyond the simple fact of his ethnicity, history is ultimately unlikely to remember Obama as a consequential president–as it must surely acknowledge that his predecessor, for better or worse (much, much worse in this case), was.

What has plagued him most is his desire to pacify all sides, to steer a middle course through every calamity, every controversy. He might as well have come out swinging, fought ruthlessly for a single-payer system, paid a state visit to Tehran, dismantled the Bush education apparatus of NCLB.

His accomplishments seem few and far between, and though that appearance is somewhat deceptive, appearances tend to matter in history’s judgements.

What will his steps to repair America’s reputation abroad matter when the long view of his presidency sees it ending with Iraq in flames, Syria a shambles, and Ukraine on the carving block?

Likewise, will his great stride forward (well, meager and long-overdue step, at least) in health care reform stand out amidst the epic gridlock of an entrenched and recalcitrant Republican majority in the House?

Even now, the “victory” of putting down the terrorist mastermind of 9/11 is forgotten and surely history will think little of this sweeping up act following Bush. Meanwhile, the nasty and brutish extremism that spawned that terrible day festers like an open wound in the very spot where the U.S. of A. was supposed to demonstrate its nation building prowess, creating a quasi-democratic and unquestionably capitalist playground for American interests in the region.

What was Obama to do with so many problems, so many messes not of his making?

One can hardly answer with any certainty now. That, after all, is the kind of question only a great leader can answer.

We seem to be short in that category of late.

What Obama Should Say Tuesday

Here’s what I wish Obama would say this week:

We have given the American people a government that responds more to special interest dollars and cares more about drawing battle lines over ideology than it takes up the real challenges of the day or engages in honest debate about, not what each side wants, but about what is truly best–objectively, rationally, empirically–for the American people.

2013 was a year of failure of government. Government–my government, our government–failed to deliver the promise for a smooth transition to a more just and more humane healthcare system. There were glitches. There were inconveniences. There were failed pledges.

2013 was a year that the government was so deeply divided, that for a time, we could not even find enough common ground to continue running the government and without funding, we allowed our government to shutdown.

It was a bleak year for government.

Now, at the beginning of 2014, our Republican friends have come together with the Democratic party to choose a new direction. We have struck a bipartisan budget deal that will prevent any such shutdowns for the next year by continuously funding our government.

But we should not congratulate ourselves too much on this step. No, we should not be patting ourselves on the back and shouting, “See, we can get things done.” Let us remember that this is merely the absolute, bare minimum that our roles as elected representatives of the people require.

The American people did not send us here for just that. We must do more.

The government shutdown and the problems with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act exchanges prove something very important, though.

They prove that government is an important part of our society.

We know that our Republican friends have been very vocal these last few years, voicing their opinion that government is too big, and that smaller is better. And we can agree with them on that basic idea. That government is best which governs least–so long as it gets the job done.

But we need our Republican friends to understand that it is a very large and very complex country we have been sent here to govern. We need them to accept what our Founders discovered after the experiment in minimal government called the Articles of the Confederation–that hardly any government at all will not keep this nation great.

We must find the balance between a lean government and one that serves the interests of the American people.

The American people deserve a government that does not waste their hard earned tax dollars or obstruct their pursuit of happiness.

But they also deserve a government which promotes the common good by promoting a strong economy, by protecting them from skyrocketing healthcare costs, and by investing in the future through education and research.

That is what we are here to do–in this chamber, in this city.

I know that our Republican friends have brought some citizens with them as guests tonight who have not bee fully served by the Affordable Care Act. And I am glad. We designed the law to improve conditions in our healthcare system. We want it to do that for all Americans. If there are citizens poorly served by it, then we should seek ways to fix the law to help them. We want our Republican friends to help us do that. Not to move backwards and sacrifice all the important gains we have made in controlling healthcare costs and in protecting Americans’ rights to coverage. But move forward, together.

To Make Things Better for America!

So let us continue the march forward begun with the bipartisan budget deal and work together to make life better for Americans and for the world. Come together with us and let’s solve the problems America sent us here to solve.

Yes, that’s what I wish he would say in the State of the Union.

What if Obama Were Mandela?

iz1q3t9ZeJvgI used to wonder as a young man what the world would have been like if Martin Luther King Jr. had not been struck down by an assassin’s bullet–if he had been able to continue as the face of the Civil Rights Movement and extend the campaign against poverty that took him to Memphis that fateful April day.

Would King, so visible a symbol of progress in America, have had a chance to become the country’s first African-American president? If so, what kind of president would he have been? We cannot know, obviously, but we can certainly say that he would have been unlike any politician we have seen since. So possessed by compassion for the downtrodden, what might his term have been like?

Last night, President Obama–America’s actual first African-American president–made remarks about Nelson Mandela’s passing and the example of the South African revolutionary’s leadership after his long imprisonment. I often think that King and Mandela were cut from the same cloth. I hear a resonant synchronicity when Mandela tells us that, “People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart,” and when King agrees that, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Obama spoke, with his usual eloquence, about the impact of Mandela’s life on the world, and on his journey. I wonder about the American president in the wake of the passing of the South African leader because, while I have supported President Obama by and large, he is not the president I hoped for in 2008. I wonder now what might have been if Obama had truly modeled his presidency upon Mandela’s example.

What if he had visited Tea Party rallies to placate the fearful, paranoid right-wingers so terrified by his ascension to the Oval Office? What if he had approached the intransigent and entrenched Republicans in Congress with the determination to break through with constant negotiations like those that made Lyndon Johnson the master of the Senate–dealing and wheeling and talking and talking more, until his opponents just couldn’t stand to disagree with him anymore.

What if?

What if he was the revolutionary? An iconoclast constantly fighting against the money in politics? Against the inequality that plagues our society? For love, instead of power?

But it was not meant to be. Instead we got a carefully calculated pageant of political showmanship essentially defending the status-quo. No bold new direction. A slight course correction at best.

Upon Mandela’s passing, the Onion lambasted our popular view of politicians, eulogizing the South African as the “first politician to be missed.” It was a misnomer, though. Mandela was no politician. He was a visionary, a paragon. 

Obama on the other hand, is a politician. A politician who, in maintaining his predecessor’s declared war against an emotional state, has dropped drone-carried bombs on Pakistan, not to keep America safe–if anything, our drone war in Asia prolongs the struggle with Al Quaeda–but to preserve political capital, to deny Republicans their common line of attack against Democrats, that they are weak on foreign policy.

Taking human lives as part of a political calculation, Obama has to show he’s strong and has balls enough to kill people thousands of miles away.

But he should have turned to Mandela’s example, who showed the world he was strong by reaching out his arm to his enemy, to the very people who had oppressed him, who had locked him away for demanding that his own government respect his inalienable rights.

That was strength.

Obama has pledged to think about Mandela’s example every day.

Well, sir, I have to say you’ve got a lot of thinking to do on that score.

The Impossible Presidency

Jim Young

It seems like poor President Obama can do no right these days. His poll numbers are way down. The Republicans are preparing for a battle over the budget, again. The target this time? Same one as last time: Obamacare. Now, they want to use the budget fight to “defund” the Affordable Health Care Act. Seriously, how many times do these schmucks want to fight this battle?

The twist this time, though, is that polls show that more Americans are coming to view Obamacare negatively. Recently, I heard a piece on the radio about how a conservative think tank’s latest study shows the law will raise insurance premiums for some elderly people in their 60s.

What’s this? But Obamacare was supposed to lower health care costs?!? How could this be?

Disengenous reporting, that’s how this could be. It was designed to lower actual healthcare costs. Yes, some premiums may go up, but overall healthcare costs will go down. In fact, they already have.

Yet, America is starting to buy the malarkey. And who knows, the Republicans may just succeed in destroying the crowning achievement (other than putting one through Bin Laden’s brainpan) of Obama’s first term and, in the process, set back the struggle for decent, affordable health care in this country by decades.

It’s clear now that the lens through which Obama’s presidency is evaluated is so warped  that it’s become farcical.

Take Syria as an example.

CNN today boasts that Putin has had a major “diplomatic victory” by thwarting (hopefully) the deployment of American military might in Syria. Sure, I’ll grant you that. Putin’s gain, though, is not necessarily Obama’s–or America’s loss.

One of the main reasons everyone who has been saying that America must act in Syria has given is simply that American credibility is on the line (which sounds kind of like a juvenile pissing contest, but I won’t elaborate on that because John Stewart has already  illustrated that point too brilliantly for me to want to retread it).

So if Russia coaxes Syria into giving up its inventory of chemical weapons, not only are we spared the awful responsibility of causing loss of life in Syria with our own hands, but we get to keep our precious “credibility” to boot.

Win-win.

Yet if you listen to the blowhards at Fox News and other punditry mills, this is some kind of setback for Obama. The accusations are flying fast and furious (and predictably) from the television proxy of the Republican party. Obama’s been “played” they say. Keep in mind these people were, of course, criticizing Obama the day before for wanting to intervene at all. Now they’re going to slam him for finding a way not to have to.

Let’s just make this crystal clear:

Obama says the use of chemical weapons is a “red line” and when they are used, he goes to the American people and Congress to argue that we must act to uphold “international norms.” When Secretary of State Kerry is asked how high the Syrians would have to jump to avoid military action, he offers up what he thinks to be so far fetched a suggestion that they would never comply. But lo and behold, Russia gets out the meter stick and holds it up for Syria to do the jump.

Essentially, our threat of military force worked so well that Syria is willing to do exactly what we said we want them to do (even when what we said was really kind of a joke) and that is somehow a black mark on Obama’s record?!?

If this deal goes through, then it’s Obama’s win. But as with every other issue since 2008, expect the right-wing propaganda machine to grind on and on–as it did with Obamacare–until nobody in this country knows which way is up and which is down and suddenly Syria becomes yet another failure for this president.

I ask, in all sincerity, what other president has had to put up with this absurdly partisan opposition? I mean, they hated Clinton, but it was nothing like this. Nothing.

But go ahead, tell me again how it has nothing to do with him being black.

You Don’t Say?

 

President Obama made an interesting declaration today.

He said that he intended to “use every minute of the remaining 1,276 days of my term to make this country work for working Americans again.” What’s more, he declared that the growing inequality in the distribution of wealth in this country was “morally wrong.”

That’s right. He’s admitted that the ridiculous disparity our system is propagating is morally wrong.

Wow. I’m taken aback. Shocked, even.

This is exactly the kind of bold, progressive vision that we needed to hear from President Obama…five years ago!

1,276 days, eh?

Well, Mr. President, I don’t know how much we can really expect from you during that time. Saddled with the most do-nothing Congress in all of American history, your hands are pretty much tied, which is precisely what the racist establishment of the conservative base wants for any Democratic president, but especially the first black president.

So, no, Mr. President, I don’t really blame you. I know you fought some good fights on a lot of fronts. I know you picked your battles in the hopes that you could win on a few of them. I know you tried. I know it.

But ultimately, history’s judgements can be harsh. Your record will say that you effected less change than Bush Jr. and that, at best, you held back the tide of corporatocratic hegemony rising against the American people at large for just a little while longer.

On the ranking scale of presidential greatness, that’s going to land you somewhat closer to Jimmy Carter than your idol Abraham Lincoln.

Elizabeth Warren 2016

Courtesy of the Coffee Party

Enlivened by a principled, charismatic one term Senator, in 2008 America elected a one-term Senator to inaugurate a bold, new era of progressive government to remedy eight years of Republican cronyism, corporate favoritism, and “endless” warmongering against an emotional state.

What we got, of course, wasn’t quite what many of us expected. Instead of staking out progressive territory and then finding middle ground with an increasingly intransigent and arguably racist right wing, President Obama went to the middle as a starting position and then was forced further right for even modest legislative and policy goals.

In short, with a compromiser-in-cheif we got a deadlocked government.

So, I firmly believe that in 2016 we need to elect another one term senator. One who has already proven herself to be as much the anti-Obama as Obama was the anti-Bush.

Senator Warren (hot damn, that feels good to say) has, not just supporters, but fans. That base of support for her ceaseless championing of the American consumer has earned her a place on the Senate Banking Committee, where she has asked the questions nobody else dared to during the financial crisis. For her, the enormous crime committed against the American people by our economic and political leaders is not just a piece of unfortunate history. She recognizes that the actors and set-pieces for this tragedy are still around, and we can still rewrite the script before there’s a repeat performance.

Now, she has sponsored legislation to take President Obama’s move to cut out the middlemen for college loans one further. She has proposed extending the lowest interest rates–the kinds the Fed gives to, you know, banks–to students.

The logic of Warren’s plan is astonishing only in that we, as a society, have been so conditioned to the capitalist status quo that we hadn’t all thought of it before. If economic activity is important enough to our society that we must foster it by offering lean interest rates to the banks, then the same must be true about education for our future leaders–surely that is as important as short term economic stimulus?

Elizabeth Warren cuts through the smoke of our current breed of capitalism. She calls it like it is and, more importantly, points to real action that would improve our system. When I first explained to my son why I once voted for the Green Party and their 2000 candidate Ralph Nader’s lifetime of work advocating consumer rights and calling for fairness and transparency in the government and economy, he said right away, “Well, that sounds like somebody we would actually want to be president.”

Yes, son, that’s right.

We do want somebody like that to be president.