As the euphoria that seemed to engulf much of the world following the election of Senator Barack Obama as President of the United States fades into a more cautious optimism, some ominous red flags must not be ignored. There are some significant topics which the president-elect’s gifted rhetoric has either not clearly addressed, or on which he as been largely silent. Two will be discussed here, in no particular order.
Afghanistan. One of the issues of great concern to the voters this past November was the Iraq War, a war build on lies, waged for greed and symbolizing all that is the worst of the United States. Mr. Obama’s verbal opposition to the war was heard early, while he was still in the Illinois State Senate. That that opposition did not translate into votes against continued funding for the war once Mr. Obama became a U.S. senator is perplexing.
But Mr. Obama pledged to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq within sixteen months of his inauguration. While that is far too slow a departure, it is at least better than the current administration, or its clone in the form of a McCain administration, would have done.
Unfortunately, not all of those soldiers will be coming home; tens of thousands will be sent, or as the military prefers to call it, ‘deployed,’ to Afghanistan for reasons that have never been made clear. During one of the debates between Mr. Obama and Senator McCain, the Republican candidate said that he knew how to ‘get’ (capture? kill?) Osama bin laden, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks on the U.S. Surely Mr. Obama is not planning to send thousands more U.S. soldiers to Afghanistan on that fools errand. Bin laden may now be in comfortable retirement in Tahiti for all anyone knows. Mr. Obama’s efforts would be better spent prosecuting the mastermind of six years of terror against the Afghani and Iraqi people.
So one must ask why U.S aggression in Afghanistan will be escalated. If Mr. Obama is willing to forego the oil that Mr. Bush fought so hard to steal from Iraq, why not also leave the Afghani people to determine for themselves how to put their nation back together? As Gore Vidal pointed out in Dreaming War, the conquest of Afghanistan “…was simply a pretext for replacing the Taliban with a relatively stable government that would allow Union Oil of California to lay its pipeline for the profit of, among others, the Cheney-Bush junta.”
While Mr. Obama seems to have a plan for Afghanistan, he has not articulated one that makes any sense. The U.S. invaded that nation ostensibly because the Taliban, who led the country then and for all intents and purposes do now, were allegedly sheltering bin Laden. After all these years, and all the death the U.S. has caused, might not a speedy departure from that nation also make the most sense?
It is not necessary for the U.S. to ‘win’ every war it immorally and obscenely involves itself in. Since both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars were illegal, immoral and totally unjustified, there is honor, not disgrace, in a new president recognizing those facts and ending U.S. involvement.
Israel-Palestine. This issue becomes ever more vital, if not to the so-called national interest of the U.S., but at least to the suffering victims in Gaza.
One wonders why it seems to be so completely off Mr. Obama’s radar screen. Even with the recent atrocities currently being committed against the Palestinian people, he will only say that the U.S. has only one president at a time, and for three more long, hard weeks, that is George Bush. Perhaps this situation has not been a sufficient focus of international attention for Mr. Obama to address, although many of the U.S.’s allies have condemned Israel’s current, horrific bombing campaign.
The U.S. has a long tradition of paying lip-service to the cause of human rights; one would look for and wide to observe more unspeakable human rights violations than Israel is perpetrating on the Palestinian people.
Although this will probably do nothing to prevent allegations of anti-Semitism, this writer wants to state clearly that he fully supports the right of Israel to exist and be secure. He also fully opposes the crimes of Israel against the Palestinian people.
Presently, those people live in what has been described as the world’s largest prison: the Gaza Strip. Even humanitarian aid workers are not guaranteed free access to the people suffering there. Families have been separated, workers are unable to go to their jobs, and students cannot go to school. And today Israel continues a days-long carpet-bombing campaign against those already oppressed peoples. For a nation supported by the military might of the U.S. to continue to kill and terrorize a people with little capacity to be more than an annoyance to it is appalling.
But what is far worse is the continued U.S. role in this horror. For the U.S. to continue its unqualified support of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people focuses on the lies and hypocrisy of the nation that is the self-proclaimed beacon of human rights.
President-elect Obama has named his former opponent, Senator Clinton, as Secretary of State. This is the woman who, as a presidential candidate, said that if Iran attacked Israel during a Hillary Clinton presidency, she would ‘totally obliterate’ Iran. This may have been reassuring to the Jewish constituency, but what, one wonders, does it say about Mrs. Clinton’s thoughts of the millions of Iranians who have little or no say in their government’s policies. Are they all to be ‘obliterated’ because of the actions of their president? On 9/11, approximately 3,000 U.S. citizens died, at least partly due to long-standing policies of the U.S. in the Middle East. Does Mrs. Clinton feel that those deaths were justified, because Presidents Bush, Clinton, Bush, Reagan, Carter, Ford, Nixon, etc. perpetrated crimes against Middle East nations?
In a few short weeks, Mr. Obama will be inaugurated President of the United States. The Democrats will then control both houses of Congress and the White House, as the Republicans did for much of Mr. Bush’s reign of terror. Mr. Obama’s immediate domestic challenges are great: stimulating a fast-imploding economy as he inherits an unprecedented national debt will not be easy. Nor will providing health care to the 47,000,000 citizens without it. But on the world stage there are more concerns than Iraq, despite the fact that ending the war there, or at least U.S. involvement in it, will do much to repair the nation’s tattered and dirty reputation. The U.S. must cease its unqualified for support for nations that blatantly abuse human rights (Israel has been mentioned here, but that is only one nation in a long list) as well as allow individual countries to determine their own forms of government.
President-elect Obama has made history by becoming the first African-American elected president. He has the unique opportunity and potential to be remembered throughout generations as the president who set the United States on a new path, one that respected the rights of its own citizens as well as those of other nations. Whether or not he will be able to achieve that potential remains to be seen.
ROBERT FANTINA is author of ‘Desertion and the American Soldier: 1776–2006.