Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – April 1, 2011

The weekend begins with April Fool’s Day and, incredibly enough, more birther madness. Barack Obama has been President of the United States for two years and 2 ½ months and there are still some people who just can’t let it go – “this must be a mistake” is their line of reasoning.

Meanwhile we continue to try to make sense of the Libyan conundrum and the slippery slope to which it leads even as the fiscal conservatives on the right wing of the right wing are notably silent about the cost of this venture.

Birther Madness —Really??

This week we were subjected to the renowned genealogical expert Donald Trump proclaiming that there are “serious questions” regarding the location of Barack Obama’s birth. He falsely stated that President Obama’s birth certificate has not been made available to the public (it has been online for three years).

Presumably, on the Planet Trump “reasonable people” have a right to question Barack Obama’s place of birth without a shred of evidence to support that question – and presumably these “reasonable people” can also question legitimacy of his presidency rather than consider the policies and accomplishments of his Administration.

Interestingly enough, Mr. Trump brought his own birth certificate to one of his endless series of television appearances. Interestingly enough, the document that he brought was not an official birth certificate – he brought a document that stated that he was born at Jamaica Hospital in New York, but an OFFICIAL birth certificate in New York City can only be issued by the New York City Health Department – and he did not bring that birth certificate.

Perhaps The Donald is laying the groundwork for a new television show, “The Secret Alien”.

The Libyan Conundrum

At the beginning of the week President Obama addressed the nation to explain the policy underlying American military intervention in Libya. The president was eloquent and factual and referred to the prevention of a human tragedy in Libya if the United States had not intervened, working in concert with its NATO allies.

Barack Obama was elected to make the hard decisions that few of us would aspire to consider, much less make. The commitment of military personnel and resources should never be taken lightly. The Defense Department estimates that $600 million dollars has been spent so far and that the upcoming tab will be in the neighborhood of $40 million per day.

There are CIA operatives in Libya now and sadly, it seems that it will only be a matter of time before there are American casualties to add to the mounting number of Libyan dead and wounded.

Accepting President Obama’s sliding scale for applying military solutions, it is still not clear as to what this country should do in Syria where there is a revolt brewing at this very moment and the Assad family that rules the government shows no signs of leaving.

And what about Egypt, where revolt is simmering again as the promise of revolution has not been realized with the departure of Hosni Mubarak?

And, as we have noted before, what about Cote d’Ivoire where the head of state, the loser of an election in November has simply refused to leave, precipitating a civil war with civilian deaths being recorded every day? And what about Zimbabwe and Yemen?

This is the slippery slope that beckons. We can only hope that the president treads carefully.

Budget Mystery

As the Libyan conflict has played out there has been little, if any concern expressed by the right wing of the right wing regarding the cost of this expedition.

As noted, over $600 million has been spent to date with no ceiling or final price tag.
Nevertheless, the same fiscal conservatives who have proposed to defund Head Start and food stamp programs along with NPR have expressed no criticism of President Obama spending hundreds of millions of dollars without explicit Congressional approval for a military purpose.

The irony is certainly self-evident. Enough said.

Have a great weekend!

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Point of View Columns

Beware of the Slippery Slope

President Obama was absolutely correct in resisting being hurried into committing American military forces to what is rapidly becoming a cauldron of combat and unrest in the Middle East and North Africa.

I am hoping that he is in some way correct in ordering U.S. forces to bomb and strafe Libya as part of a coalition of countries that was formed to protect the insurgents who are battling Muammar Gaddafi.
Military geniuses like Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman flailed away at President Obama for “standing by” while Gaddafi “attacked his own people”. Senator John Kerry and others implored him to “do something”. And now he has done something.

American missiles and bombers are now raining death and destruction upon the forces of Colonel Gaddafi. And there have been “unavoidable civilian casualties”. We are told to blame Gaddafi for interspersing his military assets in civilian areas but you can be certain that many people will see Americans killing Muslim men, women and children in Libya, just as this country has done in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen have acknowledged that regime change is not the goal of this mission. We are asked to see the natural justice in protecting the Libyan insurgents in Benghazi and Misrata who Gaddafi had virtually promised to massacre. And there is no doubt that preventing slaughter is a noble cause. But where does it stop?

As this column is being written over fifty people, killed over the weekend by Yemeni government troops, are being buried. Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh ordered the bloody crackdown against “his own people”. His people were, it should be noted, demanding his ouster.

It gets even more complicated, of course. President Saleh has been supported by the United States and Yemen is a strategically positioned country. Is it time to unleash some more Tomahawk and Cruise missiles on Yemen to prevent fratricide from becoming genocide?

In Damascus, Syria, President Bashar Assad ordered his police to fire on thousands of “his own people” who were protesting the multiple decades of rule by the Assad family. Several Syrians have already died and it would seem to be virtually guaranteed that there will be more bloodshed unless President Assad decides to leave for Geneva to audit his Swiss bank accounts.

King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa of Bahrain ordered his troops to fire on “his own people”, wounding and killing scores of protestors. While much is murky, it is very clear that this story is far from over and much more blood will be spilled in the very near future in Bahrain.

If the standard for American military intervention is going to involve preventing governments from punishing and killing its own people we are moving towards a very slippery slope from which there is no turning back.

In addition to Yemen and Syria, which are very much in the news, there are indigenous government forces abusing and torturing and killing citizens in Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zimbabwe. The military rulers of Myanmar are infamous for their cruelty and violence in maintaining their power and the list goes on.

The United States simply cannot be the policeman for the planet. Aside from the questionable commitment of the lives of men and women of the U.S. military one has to wonder about the long term impact of these incursions, even in the name of truth, justice and the American way.

As in Egypt and Tunisia, no one knows the philosophy, ideology or allegiance of the insurgents in Libya. We certainly don’t know what the insurgents and protestors in Yemen, Bahrain and Syria are looking for in the future. We simply don’t know if we are trading the devil we know for the demon that we will come to fear. And all the while we are creating recruitment photo ops and propaganda videos for Al Qaeda and other real enemies of this country.

The lessons of Vietnam, if they are not remembered, will be relearned at a terrible cost. Many should remember that, from the American perspective, the Vietnam War began with a few troops with the limited mission of providing training and technical assistance to the South Vietnamese so that they could fight the communists. Then it was necessary to protect the trainers. And then those troops started getting killed and there was a need for more troops. And then Vietnam became a charnel house for American troops and the Vietnamese people.

We are all familiar with the George Santayana quote, “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. Perhaps we should recall another of his less famous quotes, “Habit is stronger than reason”.

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – March 18, 2011

The weekend begins with breaking news as Jean-Bertrand Aristide returns to Haiti less than 48 hours before the election, accompanied by……Danny Glover (and what could Mr. Glover be thinking?). Meanwhile the critics of President Obama continue to unite over anything and everything that he might do. And what on earth could be the reason for hurling insults at Japan as it endures the combination of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster?

Finally, you are invited to visit the “Be My Guest” feature of Point of View to read a column by Professor Pamela Newkirk regarding her absolutely fascinating book “Between the Lines – The Power of African American Letters”. You will be doing yourself a great favor by taking the time to read it.

Really Danny Glover? Really?

The tragic aspects of Haitian history are well known. Haiti’s recent history has been marked by challenges of almost biblical proportions.

It is a testament to the good will of many Haitians, both in Haiti and in the diaspora, that elections will be held on March 20th that hold the promise of being free and fair. The presidential candidates, Michel Martelly and Mirlande Manigat, have engaged in a vigorous contest right until the final day.

As the fragile tendrils of democracy and transparency try to take root in Haiti, it is incomprehensible that Danny Glover, the famous actor, activist and humanitarian, would take it upon himself to escort former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristede back to Port Au Prince today.

Both presidential candidates and President Obama have asked that Mr. Aristede delay his return until after the election for concern that his presence at this point could destabilize a very fragile democratic process.

Since Mr. Aristede has not participated in any part of the elections and is not supporting either candidate, there would seem to be reason enough for him to agree to wait in South Africa where he has lived in luxury for the past six years (the source of that luxury is another story for another time).

Instead, Danny Glover has seen fit to bring a torch to gasoline refinery. Given the tragedy and pain and suffering that the Haitian people have suffered historically and recently, it is just wrong for Mr. Glover to participate in this potentially destabilizing event. His prior relief work and support of reconstruction is laudable and it makes his current actions baffling.

If Mr. Aristede wishes to distract and disturb the electoral process he must ultimately answer to the Haitian people for any disruption that takes place on March 20th. But to whom will Mr. Glover answer as he jets back to the United States, not having to live with the consequences of his high profile escort of Mr. Aristede?

Hopefully the elections will be fair and free of the intervention of negative forces. But there is simply no reason to increase the degree of difficulty at this point in the history of Haiti.

Critics of Obama Unite!

Since he was inaugurated, President Obama has had to accept the reality that, for some people, whatever he chose to do would be considered wrong.

The latest example of this is related to the turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East. As encrusted oligarchies in Tunisia and Egypt tumbled President Obama was critiqued for the timing of his support for agents of change in these countries even though his measured support resulted in the desired regime change and accompanying good will throughout the region.

Libya has proven to be a very different situation as the entrenched dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, has shown no inclination to leave and seems to be prepared to immolate his entire country.

In the face of this mindless strategy critics of the president have contended that he should show more “leadership” by establishing a “no-fly zone” and even providing supplies and troops to support the Libyan insurgents.

The commitment of troops and treasure cannot be the first response of this country as there are too many places on this earth with the same fact pattern – right now that would include Cote d’Ivoire, Bahrain, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zimbabwe. Would these critics – most recently David Gergen and Senator Lindsay Graham, among others – have President Obama send troops and jets and materiel all over the world to fight injustice and tyranny everywhere at the same time like some latter day Superman?

Fortunately the United Nations Security Council has approved a resolution calling for a joint military effort in Libya and the wisdom of measured response has been demonstrated once more.

Mr. Gergen and Senator Graham seem to actually believe in Superman. Thankfully President Obama does not.

Insult to Injury

Since the triple tragedy in Japan the global response has been compassionate and tangible. Assistance has flowed to this island nation from all over the world.

But some knuckleheads are determined to show their stupidity by opening their raincoats of fame and flashing their miniscule intellects. Several celebrities including the noted blowhard Rush Limbaugh and the famous philosopher Fifty Cent have been quoted as stating that the people of Japan deserved the tragedies that they are suffering.

Some mish-mosh thought process linking Pearl Harbor to economic success to advocating environmental protection has resulted in this awful stew of hate and misinformation.

Of course Rush and Fitty just don’t care. But the rest of us should.

Have a great weekend!

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