Point of View Columns

Time to Give Peace a Chance

This week President Obama is scheduled to present his timetable for the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. He is being consistent with statements made when he committed additional troops to that quagmire last year at which time a withdrawal schedule was promised.

As is the case when the military becomes involved with policy instead of being confined to strategic plans to achieve policy, there are voices within the Pentagon that are counseling against any significant reduction of troops in a country that has been called, for good reason, the Graveyard of Empires. Minimal troop withdrawal has been urged by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, among others, the argument being that a rapid withdrawal of troops would result in the evaporation of military “gains” that have been made during the past year.

Presumably these “gains” don’t include the continued pillaging of the Afghan treasury by the notoriously corrupt Karzai regime. These “gains” can’t possibly refer to the spectacular ineptitude of the Afghan military and security forces after almost a decade of American training and billions of dollars of aid. And these “gains” cannot refer to the continued reluctance of the Afghan government to bring its people into the 19th century, let alone the 21st century.

Of course I am referring to the thankless and endless task of nation building in a nation that clearly is resistant to the concept. The military reasons for invading Afghanistan are long gone. The Taliban, which was never a threat to American security, remains in Afghanistan and will continue to be a force in that country no matter how long American troops remain. Al Qaeda, to the extent it exists at all in Afghanistan is crippled, eviscerated and with the death of Osama bin Laden, decapitated.

If the reason for continuing to keep American troops in Afghanistan relates to nation building and the instilling of democratic values, American troops will remain for decades. If the reason to keep American troops in Afghanistan relates to American national security, then that mission is already accomplished and it is past time to withdraw from the bloody quicksand that has an endless appetite for American blood and treasure.

Of course the political ramifications of President Obama’s Afghanistan policy are never too far from center stage. The G.O.Tea Party clamors for smaller government and less involvement in foreign affairs, yet they also clamor for the continuation of the dance of death in Iraq and Afghanistan which has already gone on for a decade.

Meanwhile, the original supporters of the Obama candidacy were drawn to the incandescent flame of his quest for the presidency by his opposition to the war in Iraq and have been disheartened by his “doubling down” in Afghanistan. If there was ever a time for President Obama to demonstrate his continued kinship with Candidate Obama, it is now.

Billions of dollars are being spent in Afghanistan and Iraq every week. Every month American troops are killed, maimed and crippled by combat fatigue. While the advocates of war sit comfortably in their homes and Feng Shui designed offices, too many American troops as well as Afghan and Iraqi citizens are dying.

We watch the vitriol-laced charade of budget debates that are meant to disguise a drive to dismantle the entire federal apparatus that created modern society and all the while millions of dollars are lost daily like water poured onto the desert sand. And we have to wonder when common sense and logic will catch up to the madness and insanity that values war over peace and destruction over development.

When President Obama stands before the country this week he will have a unique opportunity to validate the change that his candidacy promised three impossibly long years ago. I am speaking not only about a change in the current American military policy in Afghanistan, and by extension Iraq. I believe that he has the opportunity to fundamentally change the nature of American policy when it comes to resolving international issues and concerns.

With the death of Osama bin Laden and the generally acknowledged demolition of the Al Qaeda apparatus in Afghanistan, there are no more military reasons for the United States to be there. There were never any military reasons for American troops to be in Iraq. And now would be the time to acknowledge the limits of military answers to international challenges by announcing the accelerated withdrawal of troops from these two theaters of death.

In the process of bringing peace and relief to hundreds of thousands of American families President Obama could establish the framework for introducing the war “savings” into the budget debate. This would, of course, require the G.O.Tea Party budget hawks to explain that the debate is not simply about dollars and cents but about fundamentally withdrawing the American government from protecting and developing the environment, educational resources, health care and the financial services industry.

There is a lot that President Obama can accomplish with this one speech. It is clearly time for him to seize the opportunity.

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – October 1, 2010

And just like that it’s October! It’s as if the year is in a hurry to be gone, and we are already anticipating that 2011 will be better, if only because it is not 2010. Today’s Weekend Edition deals with the death penalty, the disconnected military and true stories of Republican obstructionism. Also, recommended reading for this weekend is an article by Steven Thrasher from this week’s Village Voice in an effort to explain the madness – http://www.villagevoice.com/2010-09-29/news/white-america-has-lost-its-mind/ – the title is (intentionally) provocative, but the analysis is serious:

Irony

Recent news reports indicate that a nationwide shortage of anesthetics, especially thiopental sodium is postponing state executions. There is some irony in the notion that state-sponsored deaths are being delayed by manufacturing issues.

It may be only a matter of time before firing squads and the hangman are back in business. The right wing of the right wing in states with bulging death rows like Texas; this may be seen as a way to decrease unemployment.

Disconnect

Earlier this week Defense Secretary Robert Gates spoke of the growing disconnect between most Americans and the military, leading most Americans and their political leaders to view military service – and war – as an abstraction. Secretary Gates mentioned, and has been noted in prior Point of View columns, less than 1% of the American population (2.4 million) is on active duty or in the military reserves.

A generous extrapolation of extended family members and friends would result in an estimated 10% of this country’s population being related to members of the military. With no draft and wars being fought on a national debit card, it has been very easy for armchair generals to be bellicose and grandiose. The result has been two mindless wars that are seemingly without end.

This disconnect is truly dangerous for this country and for the planet.

Manufactured Failure

Soon after President Obama was inaugurated, Rush Limbaugh, that indefatigable blowhard, was quoted as saying that he hoped Barack Obama would fail.

It was a statement struck many as bizarre (even for Limbaugh) and stunningly unpatriotic. Clearly if President Obama failed, this country (and the people in it) would suffer. I know that I dismissed Limbaugh’s uttering as just more howling and caterwauling from the right wing of the right wing.

Little did I suspect that Limbaugh was articulating the Republican strategy for the next two years. Case in point – as this column is being written not one penny of the $1.15 billion in aid promised to Haiti after the January 12th earthquake has been spent. Not one penny. The reason is that Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma has simply held up passage of the bill (every senator has the right and power to do so) and so, to date, the United States has failed in its commitment to the beleaguered and long suffering people of Haiti.

Case in point – in April of this year President Obama negotiated an historic nuclear disarmament treaty with Russia, a new and important step in avoided the abyss of nuclear warfare. The Congressional ratification of this treaty has been held up by a very few Republicans resulting in there being no nuclear disarmament treaty in effect between the United States and Russia for the first time in decades.

Case in point – President Obama nominated 23 judges for the federal bench and 16 of them were unanimously approved by the bipartisan Senate Judiciary Committee. All sixteen appointments have been held up, some for as long as six months, by the threat of filibuster by, you guessed it, Republicans in the Senate.

The Republican Party has been transformed into the Party of No. Not just No to President Obama, but No to anything and everything that might represent compassion, progress or the simple functioning of government. Presumably the end game is to present President Obama’s record as one of failure.

Fortunately for those of us who have to live our lives every day, there is no reasonable analysis which could conclude that President Obama has failed. Healthcare, steering this country away from the brink of financial ruin, equal pay for women, rescue of the auto industry and the restoration of this country’s international stature only begin to define his successes to date.
But, of course, that will not deter the G.O.Tea Party, the Party of No, from trying to make President Obama fail, no matter what harm might result.

I guess you can call the rest of us collateral damage.

Have a great weekend!

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – August 27, 2010

The last weekend in the month of August has arrived and in this era of the 24 hour news cycle it is clear that there is something happening here, there and everywhere all of the time. This past week is no exception to this nerve-shredding rule:

The Son Also Rises……
Having written two novels, I have wrestled with editors and my literary agent over what flights of fancy are implausible, even within the realm of fiction. And then I follow the news and realize that truth will always be stranger than fiction.

It was 22 years ago that Dan Quayle was elected Vice President of the United States and continued his successful quest to be perceived as some sort of national joke. His lack of knowledge of even elementary facts, his deer in the headlights look at press conferences, his public failure at spelling “potato” in front of a first grade class……the list goes on. Thankfully President George Herbert Walker Bush was a healthy man and, at the end of his one term, Dan Quayle faded into the obscurity that he (and we) so richly deserved.

And now? Someone named Benjamin Quayle (there’s that name again) appears in a congressional race in Arizona. And this someone is the son of Dan Quayle. And Benjamin Quayle proves that stupidity can be inherited as he took inanity to a new low in winning the Republican primary.

His campaign slogan is eight words (by his count), “Barack Obama is the worst President in history”. It should be noted that in 19 months President Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize, appointed two women to the Supreme Court, passed the most comprehensive health care legislation in American history and brought the country back from the precipice of financial ruin.

The invisibility of James Buchanan, the corruption of Warren G. Harding and the dogged persistence of George W. Bush to steal a presidential election, deceive this country into a war in Iraq that should never have been waged and nearly collapsing the national economy all come to mind when I think of worst presidents.

Clearly Benjamin Quayle is as good at comparative history as his father was at spelling.

Mano a Mano?
This week the outgoing commandant of the United States Marines, General James Conway, stated that “an overwhelming majority (of Marines) would like not be roomed with a person who is openly homosexual”. A stunning statement in a year of stunning statements, although to his credit, General Conway opined that Marines were “pretty macho”, inferring that since they are willing to fight and die for their country they could probably summon the courage to share a dormitory with someone with a different sexual preference.

One wonders if General Conway is confusing cross-dressing with homosexuality as it is not clear how someone is “openly homosexual” during the course of performing military duties and tasks. I shudder to think that this country is being protected by macho Marines who would cringe at being in the same dormitory with someone with a different gender practice, keeping in mind that sexual activity – heterosexual or homosexual – is prohibited conduct in military dormitories.

And, this statement should be taken within the context of Defense Secretary Robert Gates having ordered a survey of active duty and reserve troops regarding a proposed change in policy that will permit gay men and women to serve in the military without having to misrepresent or lie about their gender preference. The new policy would be, in effect, the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell”.

And once again we are witness to the determination of the rights of a minority by pursuant to the perceived will of the majority. The very first Secretary of Defense was James Forrestal, who appointed in 1947. In 1948 Secretary Forrestal was called upon to carry out President Harry Truman’s Executive Order 9841 which eliminated racial segregation in the military.

Even a dimly informed student of American history (Benjamin Quayle anyone?) knows that in 1948 segregation was the law of much of this land known as the United States. Lynching of black Americans was commonplace and any “survey” of the military of the American public or the military would have resulted in a resounding roar of disapproval of such a policy. But President Truman did what was right.

Decisions of morality or constitutionality cannot be subject to a voice vote, because the naysayers will always be the loudest ones and the voice of justice may be muted if not extinguished.

We should wish General Conway all the best for his years of service to this country. We can only hope that, whatever the results of Secretary Gates’ survey, this Administration will do the right thing when it comes to the rights of gay men and women in the military.

It Hurts So Bad
So President and Mrs. Obama went out to dinner during their vacation in Martha’s Vineyard. So Michelle Obama wore a colorful print shift. As is the case with her every public moment, photographs of her latest attire flew around the internet. And then the knives came out – again.

On some level I can understand that some people are compelled to give voice to their inner fashionista and let the world know their opinion on every garment worn by every person of note. I can even understand that some people might care.

What I cannot understand or countenance is the venom and anger and pure vitriol directed at the First Lady because of her choice of clothing. I am forced to think that the source of the venom and anger and vitriol has nothing to do with fashion and everything to do with hatred and envy and ignorance. And that is truly a sad commentary on an aspect of what passes for public discourse in these United States.

Have a great weekend!

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