Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Post Iowa and New Hampshire primaries

Republican Politics, American Style
January 17th 2008 in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

First Obama upsets Clinton in Iowa and then Clinton ekes out a narrow win in New Hampshire. Since the Democrats still appear to be split why does this Republican believe Barack Obama possesses the global leadership skills and vision that America and the rest of the world will need if we hope to resolve many of the problems we are currently facing or will soon be confronting? Well, let’s review some of the reasons I have mentioned in previous columns over the past year.
Back in 2002 America was still grieving the victims of al Qaeda’s 9/11 suicide attacks on the two most visible symbols of America’s economic and military supremacy around the globe; the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington D.C. As a nation America was struggling to adjust to being a victim of pseudo-religious political violence on a massive scale. But once Americans had grieved the loss of life and gotten over their shock, the vast majority of Americans also became very angry. Americans wanted to hit back at the terrorists who had so viciously assaulted us and expected the US government to do so.
So the US sought and received a large measure of international support for the 2002 invasion of Afghanistan and its efforts to topple a Taliban regime which was providing a safe haven for Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. The US government’s initial military response involving the use of a small number of Special Forces soldiers in Afghanistan recognized that you can’t attack a network of terrorists like al Qaeda with a field army. Instead, the US military used 11 Special Forces A-teams totalling fewer than 200 troops to topple the Taliban and put al Qaeda on the run.
But this judicious use of a small number of US Special Forces troops didn’t do much to garner the kind of media publicity in America that the Bush administration was looking for. So Bush, Cheney and their neo-conservative allies decided to go after a bigger and much less elusive target, Saddam Hussein. Thus the decision to turn what was a Special Forces counter-terrorism guerrilla operation (which cannot possibly generate much media publicity) into a media heavy conventional war served a purpose but it was not one related to effective counter-terrorism strategies Rather it was an effective political strategy which helped Bush win re-election, but at a huge cost in terms of money, lives and military power.
The Bush administration began by seeking international support for the invasion of Iraq just as they had done in Afghanistan. President Bush and his minions basically manufactured evidence to justify a decision that had nothing whatsoever to do with fighting terrorism. When most other countries in the world questioned the rather dubious evidence and reasoning of Bush and his ideologues, Bush then decided to convince Congress and the American people to allow the US to act unilaterally if he felt it was necessary.
Of the eight major Presidential candidates including Republicans Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney and John McCain as well as Democrats Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Bill Richardson, Barack Obama was the only one to take the politically unpopular stand of publicly and vocally opposing the US invasion of Iraq. Some of Barack Obama’s political advisors believed that he should remain silent because speaking out against a looming invasion that was very popular (because most American’s believed Bush’s fabricated evidence) would hurt his chances of being elected to the US Senate in the upcoming 2004 elections.
But Obama ignored this advice and in 2002 he spoke at an anti-war rally in Chicago and explained why he was against the war saying; “I am not opposed to all wars. I'm opposed to dumb wars. You want a fight, President Bush? Let's finish the fight with Bin Laden and al-Qaeda (in Afghanistan), through effective, coordinated intelligence, and a shutting down of the financial networks that support terrorism, and with a homeland security program that involves more than color-coded warnings.” I believe Obama’s decision to speak out against a politically popular Iraq war was a clear demonstration of his strongly held principles, keen insight and good judgement.
None of the other Presidential candidates with the exception of John McCain have so publicly and repeatedly demonstrated both a commitment to principles and a willingness to tell Americans what they need to hear, rather than what they want to hear. More than anything else that (to me) is the mark of a true leader. America and the world sorely need a true leader to propose and implement complex solutions for complex problems like political terrorism and global climate change.
Obama truly believes in the American proposition: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness under a constitutional democratic government with limited powers. Obama has been quoted as saying “I believe in American exceptionalism, (but not one based on our) military prowess or our economic dominance. Our exceptionalism must be based on our Constitution, our principles, our values and our ideals. We are at our best when we are speaking in a voice that captures the aspirations of people across the globe. We can’t entirely remake the world. What we can do is lead by example.” These are powerful and eloquent words which reflect Obama’s belief in America’s unique capacity to inspire people both in America and around the world.
Someone asked me recently who I believed had been America’s most inspirational Presidential leaders in response to my statement Obama was a once in a generation inspirational leader. I quickly cited Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy as examples, when she stopped me and asked “didn’t they all die in office?” “Yes” I said “and two of them were assassinated.” Hmmm….. What a scary thought. Is that because I had never really thought of it that way before? Regardless, next week I will continue explaining why I think Obama is that once in a generation leader that both America and the world so desperately need.

January 3rd was a very important day

Republican Politics, American Style
January 10th 2008 in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

January 3rd was a very important day. January 3rd was Election Day in America. It was the day that voters in the centre of the country, in the State of Iowa, caucused in churches, schools and public auditoriums to cast ballots in favour of the Republican or Democratic candidates who they believed should be the next President of the United States of America. It marked the beginning of the end of the Presidential nomination and election process which culminates ten months from now on November 4th 2008, when one of these candidates will be chosen to lead the United States (US) for at least the next four and possibly eight years. January 3rd was a very important day.
November 4th 2008 will be the most important day of this coming year. In America and the rest of the world, November 4th 2008 will also be the most important day of this decade and quite possibly the 21st century. I say this with all due respect for those who perished in the US and other parts of the world in spasms of pseudo-religious political violence in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C. on September 11th, 2001, in Bali Indonesia on October 12th 2002, in Madrid Spain on March 11th, 2004 and in London England on July 7th 2005. November 4th 2008 will be the most important day of this year, this decade and yes, maybe even this century, because America stands at an extremely critical turning point in its political history. The direction US citizens choose to take when they vote on Election Day November 4th 2008 will affect the lives of every man, woman and child living on this planet. November 4th 2008 will be the most important day of this coming year.
There are many who may wish to disagree with me regarding the importance of America and the impact its future decisions will have on the rest of the world. Part of this is due to the fact that any hegemonic super-power is bound to stir up resentments among citizens and political leaders in the rest of the world who are jealous of the economic and military supremacy that hegemonic super-power possesses. But America has also disappointed and frustrated many of its own citizens as well as its allies and friends around the world through the injudicious exercise of its economic and military power over the past seven years and its failure to live up to its own moral and political ideals.
So for these and other reasons, I can fully understand why there are so many people around the world who truly believe the world would be much better off if America would just stay at home and mind its own business. Indeed, America’s stewardship in its role as the most powerful economic, military and political force in the world has been far from peaceful and far from perfect during this century. But if America’s many detractors are correct, then what other country or group of countries would you suggest represents a credible alternative to America’s hegemony?
Russia, a quasi-democratic country dominated by organized crime? China, an authoritarian capitalist state which has thus far been unable to cope with the rising income inequalities and environmental consequences of its drive for greater economic growth and power? India, a democracy with simmering violent religious conflicts in Kashmir and other regions, which has likewise been unable to cope with the environmental consequences of its unfettered economic growth? The EU, whose members are constantly squabbling among themselves and are loath to committing their military forces to intervene in conflicts even when they know genocide is being perpetrated? The United Nations, which has been unable to stop genocide in Darfur and other areas of Africa or conflicts in other parts of the world?
What other nation or group of nations would be willing to make the financial and military manpower commitments necessary to maintain a global presence and keep a lid on simmering tensions between long time rivals in Asia and Europe like South Korea, Japan and North Korea, India and Pakistan or Greece and Turkey? Maybe it’s just me or maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t see any other credible alternatives to America in its role as the world’s only remaining super-power. Unfortunately, I’m afraid America’s detractors around the world would only appreciate America’s worth as a stabilizing influence if they actually had to live in a world without it for a time.
Thus I believe the world’s best hope is that America’s voters will choose to elect a President who remains committed to engagement with other nations around the globe on economic, environmental, health, human rights, peace and security concerns and who envisions America taking a leadership role in resolving problems related to these issues. America’s next President will have to work hard to shift the mindset of American citizens away from the current President’s rigid view of the world and foreign policy perspectives which are driven by and based on fear. America’s friends and allies will also have to be patient and stay focused on the big picture while the next President attempts to shift America’s foreign and domestic policies or initiatives in a totally different direction from the current President’s course.
While it pains me to say this, I believe Barack Obama is the only person capable of shifting America and its course of action away from current US policies rooted in the culture of “fear” that President Bush and Congressional Republicans have been cultivating for seven years. Unfortunately only one Republican candidate has called for a shift away from the unilateral, militaristic strategies of the President towards multi-lateral interaction with nations including ones the President calls his “enemies”.
Next week I will discuss why I believe that out of all the presidential candidates, only Barack Obama has the leadership skills and vision America will need to deal with its current and future problems.