Posts Tagged ‘iraq’

So the US is preparing to attack Syria because the Syrian government, which is supported by the Russians, used chemical weapons on the rebels, except that as it turns out it was the Syrian rebels who used chemical weapons, but accidentally not on the government, because they didn’t know how they worked when they were provided to them by the Saudis, who are one of the US’ few allies in this, just like France, who are determined to be on the non-surrendering side of a conflict for once, but are therefore opposed by Britain, which supported the US in Afghanistan and Iraq and therefore pissed off the Iranians, who are really more looking for an excuse to attack Israel than anything else, and in the meantime North Korea is wondering why suddenly nobody’s paying any attention to it any more, not having realised that in the classroom of world politics North Korea is the kid in the corner who has found something unexpectedly wonderful in his own nose.

So if anyone was still unclear on the giant Rube Goldberg machine which is foreign relations, it should all make sense to you now and you can decide who to support in the firm and comfortable knowledge that you’re right. You’re welcome.

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Perhaps the only silver lining to the twin catastrophes of Ike and Lehman is that the media dust is finally settling on McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin for running mate. With that in mind, I’m going to try to look at both tickets with as strong a hype-filter as I can muster.

First of all, I should say that McCain made a risky but brilliant move in picking Palin, for a variety of reasons: she’s young and fresh; she’s attractive and charismatic; and she’s a member of a “minority demographic”. These three things collectively neutralize a massive piece of Obama’s media advantage, while also giving McCain some much-needed credibility with the less moderate elements of his base. Many of the nation’s “likely Republican voters” care about a candidate’s views on only three things: guns, gays and God. To which Palin gives them a longed-for yes, no, and hallelujah.

Obama, in choosing Biden, has made a sensible choice, but one which is too safe, too pedestrian, to fire the imagination of today’s news junkies. Living as we do in the era of the ever-shortening news cycle and 24-hour coverage, Obama’s choice still barely made a splash compared to the hype preceding it. Joe Biden has strong economic and foreign policy credentials, both areas in which Obama needed bolstering, but he still went with what is being perceived as a boring option. After the weeks of “will they, won’t they” regarding an Obama/Clinton ticket – the suspense almost reaching Mulder and Scully levels – the press were rather more disillusioned than they would have been with Clinton, Kaine or Sebelius.

McCain has, with his choice, largely abnegated his own attacks on Obama’s lack of experience. Obama, with his, has severely damaged the credibility of his message of overthrowing the Washington establishment. With both of these central thrusts rendered impotent, it is hardly surprising that of the two now-completed tickets, the favorable coverage has predominantly been on the more audacious – and more glamorous.

Of course, none of the above even begins to address the question of anyone’s fitness for the position to which they aspire. Swiftboating aside, there are of course pros and cons to both of them.

The Vice-Presidency of the United States has in many cases been a position of great prestige and little actual responsibility. The President has a chief of staff, a communications department, a wide-ranging and experienced Cabinet, an Attorney General, a Surgeon General, the Joint Chiefs and the various intelligence agency heads from whom to draw information. Amongst all of this, the opinion of a single person, even a Vice-President, does not necessarily carry much weight. Historically the role has often been to perform largely ceremonial duties, staying out of the way while the actual governing gets done. These have been Vice-Presidents whose sole purpose has been to continue sucking air longer than the President, should the need arise. However, it is this last function which is perhaps the most terrifying of all; it is simply flabbergasting to think of some of these people being thrust into the position of running the country should that “heartbeat’s distance” abruptly shorten. I imagine that very few people were thrilled with the notion of a President Quayle, and I confess to great trepidation regarding the possibility of a President Cheney.

While other Vice-Presidents have executed their offices laudably and very much to the nation’s benefit, I would not wish to lose sight of the fact that the primary duty of a Vice-President must be to step in and fulfil the constitutionally appointed duties if the worst should befall a President. A Vice-President should be someone solid, reliable, just as much “ready to lead from day one” as the President; what happens if on January 19th, as the President-elect jets into DC, the plane has an accident? I, for one, have to trust that at any moment, the second-billed actor in the great play will be in the starting gate and ready to run the same race. Mixed metaphors aside, I believe that Biden would be the more capable President of the two VP candidates, were anything to happen to Obama. Given the continued existence of white supremacist movements in this country and others, this possibility cannot and must not be ruled out, sickening though it seems to civilized people. In a crisis of such magnitude, America needs someone with the experience to act as the nation’s guiding hand. A fresh face still finding her expensively-shod feet would be a catastrophic backup should McCain’s advancing age get the better of him, saddening though that prospect is.

So with the question of the Vice-Presidency taken care of, who would make the better President? As I mention above, I believe that the vice-presidential choices ultimately put a point in Obama’s column, but that is merely one point among a great many. How do they stack up?

There are a number of deciding factors which will make or break the election for a candidate. The American public’s willingness to vote based on race or gender alone is a worrying one; a reading of online political forums quite clearly shows that there is a small but vocal subset of the population who intend to do just that, regardless of the issues. This, however, cannot be gainsaid by any words or actions by the candidates, and I can only hope that these particular groups cancel each other out enough to leave the rest of the playing field level. The deciding issues, I believe, will be Iraq (and the broader “war on terror”), the economy, and religion.

Yes, religion. Let us admit here and now that the idea of separating church from state is a myth. The new President will be sworn in on a Bible, the Pledge of Allegiance he speaks will refer to “one nation under God”, and it is inevitable that the very convictions that have shaped his views for much of his life will carry over into his actions as President. It will take at least another generation for there to be a paradigm shift of such magnitude that a candidate will be elected without any scrutiny of his or her religious beliefs, and many of the voting public want to know that the country’s top dog believes in their God just as ardently as they do themselves, in order to be able to put any trust in his decision-making. And this is what will guide any talk of same-sex marriage, of abortion, of any of the political issues where we are splintered by religion. Republicans have an edge here, since the more “conservative” positions tend to be better aligned with the Christian viewpoints. But there is a broader issue here: typically, those of us who are non-religious simply roll our eyes and try to logic our way through questions of religion. Those of us who are religious stand firm in the sure knowledge that Holy Scripture has already provided the answers. It is not hard to see that the latter angle inspires more passion in its adherents. At most, the former resent the intrusion of religion into their political arena, but the latter fear its removal from theirs – a much more powerful motivator. Many of these people will vote for the candidate who appears to most closely follow the guidance of the Divine, and this is a sufficiently large group as to significantly benefit McCain.

On Iraq, the candidates will inevitably be pigeonholed into the “bring ’em home” and “stay the course” boxes. The soundbite-driven news outlets will not allow any room for nuance and subtlety. As such, this part of the vote will come down to the gap between those who believe we are doing more good than harm in the Middle East and vice versa. The debates will allow them to say more, of course, but even those will be restricted to mini-speeches of pre-determined length and content rather than a frank and equal exchange of ideas; there’s no such thing as a real political debate any longer, merely a fencing match between two advertisers. However, short of a major event in the war on terror, I believe Obama has the edge here. A lot of us are sick of this war. Sick of hearing about it, sick of paying for it, sick of their country being viewed with suspicion and contempt by other nations. Truman once used the metaphorical line “Don’t spit in the soup, boys – we all have to eat.” America has been spitting in the international soup for too long now, and I believe Obama will be considered less likely to continue the spitting.

Discussion of the war, and the resulting drain on the US Treasury, will bring us to the economy. This is of course among the most complex issues that anyone faces; there are three hundred million people in this country who want their government to do more for them but still leave more cash in their wallets. This dichotomy is the core around which such phrases as “big government” and “fiscal conservative” orbit at breakneck speeds. Ultimately, though, despite the plethora of small things which make up economic policy, the intricacies of the federal budget and appropriations processes, this will boil down to which candidate does the best job of selling their policy: the one who’s trying to give you bang for your buck, or the one who’s trying to reduce the buck in the first place. Generally I would say that McCain would have an edge here, but Obama has a convenient Republican administration to blame for a national debt spiraling out of control and for gross budget deficits, and that accusation may stick.

On the whole, then, I think Obama has what it takes to make it through. Not necessarily in the landslide which some Democrats have optimistically predicted, but without having to worry too much about hanging chads.

Is he, however, the better man for the job? From what I’ve seen, I don’t think he’s perfect by any stretch, but I do believe that America needs the kind of change he purports to stand for, and I do think he can pull it off. I have a fair amount of respect for McCain (certainly more than for certain other noteworthy Republicans), but I can’t bring myself to trust in him as much as I can Obama.

You’ll notice that I left health care and education out of the big-issue list. These are important issues, but I personally believe that they will be more in the nature of tie-breakers when Super Tuesday rolls around.

I’m sure I can find more to say on all of the above, but I think I have at this point been loquacious enough to get at least an implicit “tl;dr” from pretty much all of you, so I’ll stop here. 🙂

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On the first anniversary of the American incursion into Vietnam, a handful of college professors and radical beatniks started to make a little noise, but were dismissed as nuts.

At two years a few more had joined the movement, largely still members of the same “nut” crowd.

At three years, with the introduction of the hippies into the fray, thousands started to show up to demonstrate.

At four years, there were hundreds of thousands.

On the fifth anniversary, millions of protesters took to the streets! The resounding voice of the American public spoke, and the United States withdrew from a quagmire in which there was no hope of victory.

Flash forward.

Prior to the start of the Iraq invasion, millions marched in protest worldwide; half a million in Florence, Italy, 1.5 million in Rome, 1 million in London, half a million in New York City, 200,000 in San Francisco. Almost every large community had some form of protest. Entire cities were shut down.

Marking the one year anniversary the numbers of demonstrators were large (still in the hundreds of thousands) but probably half that prior to the invasion.

Two years after, the numbers were down to tens of thousands.

Three years after, a few hundred showed up.

This year, four years after the invasion, more people were killed in one week in car bombs in Iraq than showed up to protest. And the quagmire continues.

Have we given up? Have we all been cowed into submission by the Evil Empire?

Many of us are posting in blogs, or talking about how terrible it all is while we drink our Starbucks. Some of us sit and seethe while watching the TV news, then flick over to American Idol. A lot of people are counting down the last 18 months of Bush’s presidency in the mindset that it can’t possibly get any worse.

It can get worse, and probably will.

Bush’s Attorney General, Alberto Gonzalez, testifying under oath, claimed 73 times not to be able to recall crucial details of conversations with other senior-level administration officials. He also claimed that the Constitution did not automatically grant the right of habeas corpus, which is completely incorrect.

Gonzalez is either incompetent to perform the duties of his office or perjuring himself and obstructing justice, both of which are grounds for removal from office. In either case, the Bush administration have been protected by his actions.

The declarations of executive privilege, under which the Bush administration have ducked a vast number of Congressional subpoenas, have undermined Congressional process entirely.

The assertion that Vice-President Cheney is not required to comply with regulations on the executive or legislative branches of Government, citing allegiance to whichever branch allows him to evade regulations, has undermined process in all three branches of Government.

The Bush administration, under the most recent version of their Continuity Of Government plan, has the option to declare martial law when there is a catastrophic event. The power to define a catastrophic event, for these purposes, lies with… the Bush administration.

This gives the administration the power to suspend elections and prolong Bush’s presidency indefinitely. A terrifying prospect, if ever I heard one.

The mountains of evidence are overwhelming. The violations of the once-sacrosanct Constitution and other American laws abound, and the Bush administration lurch in their ineptitude from the disastrous to the catastrophic with nary a thought for G.I. Joe, never mind Average Joe.

The calls for impeachment grow ever louder outside the hallowed halls of Congress, a veritable sea of noise which threatens to drown out any voice calling for more moderate approaches or bipartisan cooperation.

Why is it, then, that impeachment has been off the table for so long? Why is the very notion considered anathema?

It is hardly that there have been no high crimes or misdemeanors. It is not even a simple case of the Democratic Party being “chicken”.

Bush, Cheney and their assorted friends and minions, however, do still have substantial “pull” in this country. Impeachment proceedings would effectively turn Bush and Cheney into martyrs, taking a hit for taking a stand in the name of their party, their country and their God. These men would become a rallying point around which the Republican base could mobilize. Anyone with any dislike for or unease about the Democrats would finally have somewhere to take a stand, despite the relative weakness of the current crop of Republican candidates.

In short, impeaching Bush might result in a moral victory for the Democrats but would place them at huge risk for an electoral defeat.

Any senior Democrat involved in the proceedings would also see a probable end to their chances of assuming higher office themselves further down the line, since they could easily be challenged over the impeachment issue by their opponents.

Allowing the Bush crowd to run out their final year and a half in power, however, gives the Democrats further opportunities to point at the ongoing shambles, strengthening their own relative virtues in the public perception.

Perhaps in February 2009, a newly-minted Democratic President will have the opportunity to arraign many members of the current administration on charges of war crimes, falsification of intelligence, obstruction of justice, leaking classified information and a host of other infractions. The people responsible for these illegal acts can be tried and convicted with much less of the political circus which would otherwise be inherent in the process, thus allowing the new administration to get on with running the country and salvaging its reputation as a bastion of real freedom and democracy.

Despite some efforts, the Constitution has yet to be dealt a killing blow. Another eighteen months of Bushism may be a small price to pay for restoring it to its former glory in years to come.

But then… once martial law is imposed, impeachment proceedings can be shut down as quickly as they can be initiated. Maybe there wouldn’t BE a Democratic President in 2009. It would hardly be sensible for an administration to issue decrees which protect their own power at the expense of the Constitution and then willingly hand over the reins to someone who would use those decrees against them.

Some have suggested that later this year Cheney will step down, citing health concerns, and a more moderate (supposedly) Vice-President appointed, to boost the GOP’s chances of winning in 2008 and keeping the tyrannical, totalitarian streak alive.

Others have suggested that there will be another attack on a U.S. target, probably blamed on Iran, to fire up the public so that they won’t rebel when martial law is declared.

Who can say what further rabbits are to be pulled from the Bush hat?

So… to impeach, or not to impeach? That is the question. If we’re lucky, we have 18 months to answer it.

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Well done, Iraq

This weekend, Iraq’s national soccer team won the Asian Cup, largely due to the efforts of their three-man strike team of one Sunni, one Shiite and one Kurd.

People of all three sects set aside their conflict and celebrated together as brothers, if only for a short time.

The next time I’m obsessing about soccer when talking to Americans and they make some disparaging comment about the relevance of the sport, I will have something to point to.

The NBA doesn’t do this. The Super Bowl doesn’t do this. Even the World Series doesn’t do this.

So congratulations to the Iraqi team for an achievement on the pitch which reverberates well outside the stadium.

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