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Short of an ongoing hot war, the imbroglio over the proposed bombing of Syria has occupied the precious time of President Obama, and therefore the mass media, unlike anything else on his plate. Moreover, it portends absorbing much more of his time and political capital in the coming weeks.
Our country’s misguided foreign policy has caused our president to spend enormous time and influence enlisting allies, members of Congress, and figuring out the many risks of another protracted unlawful war-quagmire in the Middle East. Imagine how much time our president could spend on our country’s many domestic problems.
Let’s take the easy ones first. Mr. Obama was scheduled to fly to California to address the largest annual convention of the AFL-CIO and its member unions. Chief Labor Leader Richard Trumka – an Obama loyalist – was unveiling a bold new plan to expand labor’s big tent to include groups such as Working America (representing non-union workers), the Sierra Club, the NAACP, La Raza and student groups. Keynoter Barack Obama had to cancel his appearance. Reason: Absorption with Syria.
After waiting for months for a meeting with their President, the Congressional Black Caucus finally got their White House Invitation. Did their political hero engage them over the domestic issues Caucus members wanted to discuss?
As noted by a disappointed Rep. André Carson (D-Indiana), Black Caucus members wanted to focus on programs targeted for the African-American community – “summer jobs,” “helping to empower small business, women-owned businesses,” helping to “improve the health of our public school systems,” along with the civil rights and voting issues in the news. Sorry. Barack Obama spent his hour trying to persuade them to support bombing Syria!
Taking Mr. Obama at his often repeated words that “the safety of the American people” is his top priority, the trajectory of that commitment is strangely skewed. Drone attacks or other techniques of wiping out stateless terrorists overseas, alleged suspects, and an occasional American citizen, produce blowback and in the long run force our country to spend more on “guns than butter.”
But whether campaigning or presiding, candidate and President Barack Obama seems to seriously undervalue policies that would prevent over 300,000 American lives lost each year, and many more injuries and illnesses, from having a prominent place on his timetable.
If you were a relative or close friend of any one of the nearly 60,000 American workers who die every year, according to OSHA, from “work-place-related diseases and trauma”, you might wonder what is our president doing about occupational health and safety problems? Well, he was preventing OSHA and its director, Dr. David Michaels during the 2012 campaign from issuing long-overdue life-saving regulations.
If you were close to any one of the 65,000 annual victims of long-term air pollution, you can be dismayed that the situation in Damascus and other ongoing foreign military adventures command vastly more of your president’s time and worry.
If you hear about the 100,000 Americans who never leave the hospital alive due to “medical errors” or “malpractice,” (2,000 a week), be patient, Mr. Obama may some day mention options to prevent this avoidable death toll.
The Centers for Disease Control reports that between 200 and 250 Americans die every day from hospital-induced infections. These deaths are very preventable and some local progress is even being made simply by medical personnel washing their hands more frequently. Have you heard, since 2009, Mr. Obama mention 1,500 Americans a week being sent to their graves because of hospital infections as often as he has mentioned the name of Bashar Assad and the civil war in Syria in the past two months?
Come back home, Mr. President. Go to work and use your muscle toward protecting the safety of Americans by reducing the loss of life and injuries and illnesses stemming from preventable causes. The mass media will follow your activities, your activist “bully pulpit.”
At the same time, other necessities of Americans invite presidential leadership. There are the 30 million American workers who are laboring full-time with a frozen minimum wage that is less than workers made 45 years ago, inflation adjusted. The eyes of Obama are not on them; they’re glaring at Bashar Assad.
There are city mayors begging Obama to get out of these foreign, draining, boomeranging wars of choice and instead apply these taxpayer dollars to American public works – repairing bridges, highways, public buildings, mass transit systems, libraries, clinics, and water and sewage facilities that are crumbling but could be repaired with good local jobs that can’t be exported. Instead, Obama is Commander-in-Chief of drones and special forces blowing apart suspected targets, including “oh, so sorry” civilians in Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan and yes, even still in war-torn Iraq.
Obama’s legally-challenged NSA has admitted to spying on all Americans and giving your private, domestic, telephone and email conversations to foreign governments, including Israel. Obama stiffens and says to give him proof of any harm. The NSA is leading with unconstitutional abandon, while Obama fiddles with whom he is going to bomb next. Veterans would like his personal attention to go toward reducing the huge backlog of the Veterans Administration.
His foreign policy of brute force or the threat of such increasingly prevents our country from becoming, at far lesser cost, a life-saving, economically and environmentally productive humanitarian superpower. That would be truly exceptional, including for national security.
People close to and working with Obama have marveled at his interest and detailed grasp of the shadowy military operations he approves weekly. He seems to really enjoy these tasks.
A true leader should embrace the details of leading the way to applying, or at least facilitating the application of, the many available solutions to so many neglected problems and deprivations in our country. Shouldn’t it make sense that President Obama would enjoy spending more time addressing rising child poverty and restoring taxes on the rich and corporations than ordering self-defeating metastasizing military operations?
Those priorities would make him “credible” where it counts.
Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition.