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The Cost of Victory

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While reading The Wall Street Journal Online Edition today, I was struck by the end of an opinion piece about Obama and his potential Iraq War policy:

Mr. Obama has inherited a victory in Iraq that he can’t afford to squander.

For many, calling the Iraq War a “victory” is ludicrous. After all, such an expensive project (in both lives and resources) that has produced only a mediocre suppression of violence can be nothing but a failure. Right?

Perhaps not. Cost aside, the war in Iraq has produced a resource-rich new democracy that has the potential to become the Unites States’ most valuable Middle Eastern Arab ally. If the upcoming regional elections go well, the continuing normalization of affairs in the country could allow Iraq to blossom into some more than it could have ever under Sadaam Hussein.

Understandably, the possibility of real success in Iraq is hard to swallow for the majority of Americans, who have come to hate the war and the man most associated to it – the outgoing President George W. Bush. They are angry about the sacrifices Americans have had to make to carry out Bush’s War, and they resent the damage the war has done to America’s international credibility. The American public seems to desire a hasty withdrawal out of Iraq.

This anger should not push the Obama administration to spoil what can still be done in Iraq. With a tempered withdrawal, U.S. forces can withdraw safely from Iraq within the next few years. A hasty withdrawal will do nothing but make certain that billions of dollars and thousands of American lives were spent in vain.

Anger cannot blind America this time. The ills of the past 6 years of the war should not be taken into account when considering the course of action that should be taken. The politicians of the Democratic majority will attempt to make good on their campaign promises and withdraw from Iraq with haste and without thought – they must be stopped. This important foreign policy decision should be made by level heads without considering their re-election bids in 2010 and 2012.

The strongest rebuke of the Slow Withdrawal argument is the high price of the war (estimated at $8-$12 billion per month, or roughly $120 billion per year). To refute that argument, one merely has to point a finger at the sloppily-executed $700 billion bailout passed before the end of President Bush’s term and the $300+ billion stimulus package that looks to pass through the Congress and Senate, both of which are still enthralled by the inspiring new President. Instead of giving the government $700 billion more to allocate poorly, why not just cut taxes to alleviate the burden on the average American and continue to spend for the next couple of years on Iraq? This alternative will save the United States money while boosting both its domestic and foreign profile.

Let the soldiers finish their job without an arbitrary deadline hanging over their head. The U.S. does not plan to (and does not want to) stay in Iraq for 100 years, as oft quoted; the Slow Withdrawal plan should be completed by the next presidential election (how convenient). The wrongs America has done to the Iraqi people will be multiplied if after all this struggle, Iraq remains a chaotic autocracy. America owes Iraq peace. American needs to finish its job first, then exit with grace and leave Iraq for its citizens to build into whatever it is destined to become.

Written by acs2008

January 27, 2009 at 3:02 pm

ANALYSIS: President Obama’s Inaugural Address

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It is only natural that President Barack Obama would deliver an inaugural address so similar to that of the man he is often compared to – the late President John F. Kennedy. (Two of Kennedy’s former speechwriters helped Obama craft his address).

Firstly, and most importantly, the world in 2008, as it did in 1961, finds itself torn in a struggle between two dominant ideologies that threatens to tear apart the very fibers that bind humanity together. In 1961, the great battle being waged was the one between two economic systems – Capitalism and Communism. In 2008, the battle at hand is a struggle between two sets of values – Western vs. Islam.

In his inaugural, Kennedy reached out to the other side, offering “To those nations who would make themselves our adversary…not a pledge but a request: that both sides begin anew the quest for peace, before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction.” Obama does roughly the same, with some pre-condition: “To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West – know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.”

Obama addresses the poor people of the world, as Kennedy did, saying that Americans “can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders…the world has changed, and we must change with it.” Perhaps the Obama Administration’s seeming embrace of diplomacy and foreign aid will help fulfill Kennedy’s promise: “to those peoples in the huts and villages across the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required.”

Both Presidents acknowledged the major part America would play in future generations. While Obama offers nothing in his speech as quotable and powerful as Kennedy’s classic line – “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country’ – Obama nonetheless makes it clear that a new sense of unity will be needed to tackle the world’s problems. “What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility,” said Obama, “a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.”

Truthfully, Obama offers no phrase as succinct yet beautifully poetic as Kennedy’s “Trumpet Summon” phrase – a phrase that captures both the austere quality of the challenges facing humanity and the defiant hope of Kennedy and the American people. Yet, Obama offers something as powerful, if not as poetic, when he celebrates the diversity of America:

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

Even this, Obama’s salute to the diversity and promise of America – the qualities that made his presidency possible – recalls Kennedy, who broke a boundary himself as the first Catholic President.

Obama’s Inaugural Address might have lacked the poetic quotability of Kennedy’s, but it did not lack the substance. The ambitious vision of a better America and a peaceful world delivered by Obama is strikingly similar to the one Kennedy outlined in his own speech, 48 years prior.

We’ll have to wait and see if Obama can carry out his vision.

Written by acs2008

January 26, 2009 at 2:02 pm

Conservative Christmas Comes

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Within hours, possibly minutes, of CNN’s projection that Barack Obama had captured the presidency of the United States of America, the “alternative” (a.k.a. conservative) media began their offensive on the new President-elect. On Rush Limbaugh’s website at this very moment are the following headlines: “‘Creepy’ Obama Leaks His Thug Version of the Meeting With Bush,” “Drive-Bys Create Obamamania,” “The Obama Recession: Capitalism to be Removed from Auto Industry,” etc. Less outspoken conservative media people have followed suit, perhaps in a more subdued manner, such as Sean Hannity.

Although it might espouse that the world is coming to an end, the truth is that alternative media outlets can be nothing but overjoyed at the election of the liberal, Democratic President-elect Obama. These outlets barely scrape by when the Republicans are in power, because there is simply less for them to criticize. But conservative media bodies come alive during Democratic administrations – if you will recall, the venerable conservative channel, FOX News, was launched in 1996, during the administration of Democratic President Bill Clinton.

The next four years will be like a perpetual field day for these outlets. Obama has marketed himself so far as being fairly liberal, which means FOX News and the like will have more to debate and criticize in the coming years of the Obama administration. Conservatives and liberals alike will flock to these bodies – the conservatives because they will love what is being said, the liberals because they can’t wait to hate what they will say next (the Howard Stern/Bill O’Reilly Syndrome). Media, after all, is a business, and for the next few years it is likely that conservative media will boom.

I can almost imagine Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdock in a backroom, secretly toasting President Barack Obama – with new, solid-gold goblets.

A New America

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A New America

Twenty-two months ago, on the very steps on which one great president and Illinois legislator announced his candidacy, another Illinois legislator – the audacious first-term United States senator from Chicago – turned some heads and drew some laughter by announcing his own bid for the presidency of the United States of America. On November 4, 2008, what started as a distant dream in Springfield, Illinois has become veritable fact. Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill) will become the 44th president of the United States of America.

Obama’s victory, which was once unthinkable but seemingly inevitable as the campaign drew to a close, sent shockwaves throughout the world. People in places as far removed as Hong Kong, Sydney, and a little village in Kenya rejoiced when the news broke. World leaders as diverse as French president Nicolas Sarkozy and Iranian leader Mahmoud Amhadinejad sent words of congratulations.

The joy felt around the world was ten-fold in the United States. When the major news networks delivered the projection of Obama’s victory, men, women, and children across the land burst into exuberant celebration. Tears fell from even the eyes of grown men – the image of civil rights champion, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, with tears streaming down his face will endure as one of the most touching images of the 21st century.

Politics is by its very nature melodramatic – a political victory usually means much less than it made out to. The election of Barack Obama is an exception, like the election of Nelson Mandela as the president of South Africa (and the future election of a female American president). Any way you slice it, electing an African American to the most powerful office in a land where they were once legally enslaved is significant. The tears of the Rev. Jesse Jackson said it all.

But the great thing about Barack Obama is that he cannot simply be pegged as the black candidate. A greater percentage of white voters chose Obama than the white Democratic nominees in past years, such as Al Gore, John Kerry, and even Bill Clinton in 1992. Being black helped Obama win, but it was not the main reason, and it will not define his presidency.

Obama didn’t win because of the color of his skin, or because of where he is from; honestly, he didn’t entirely win because of the issues. His charisma and oratorical skills certainly helped, as did the false steps of the McCain campaign, including the unconscionable blunder of choosing Sarah Palin as the Republican vice presidential nominee. These reasons, however, do not tell the whole story.

Obama won because Americans of all ideologies – liberal, moderate, conservative, apathetic – saw something in Obama they yearned to find within themselves again: hope. They saw in Obama the promise of a better tomorrow, a better America.

Perhaps such cliché sentiments should not decide the outcome of political contests. But they did. The conditions of the American political and economic atmosphere were ideal for someone like Obama – an unpopular president, a long overseas conflict, a sagging economy, historically low political efficacy.

Now, an inexperienced, untested chief executive inhabits the most powerful office in the land. Obama remains an enigma, despite almost two years in the political spotlight – no one really knows what to expect from the Obama presidency. America has chosen a leader it seems to know little about.

Despite this, it is clear that Barack Obama has the capacity to become a great president. Only a leader of great potential can enthrall a nation as he has. One of the most important qualities of a leader is their ability to inspire those they seek to lead. It is impossible to say that Obama has not inspired America. People from all walks of life – old, young, rich, poor – have fought for Obama in perhaps the most massive political campaign in the history of mankind, in terms of organization, manpower, and money. People believe in Obama more than any politician of our generation.

Obama has promised to lead America wisely. His promise to exercise tact before tactical missiles will be a welcome change from the imprudently aggressive foreign policy of past Republican and Democratic presidents. His promise to promote diplomacy will help restore America’s image in the world arena. His promise to help the poor and disenfranchised, as he did when he was a community organizer in the slums of Chicago, will restore the faith in government of the average American. If Obama keeps his promises to America, great things will happen.

However, promises are just promises. The truth is that the difficult situation at home and abroad, the unpopularity of the Bush administration, and the high rhetoric of the campaign has leveled unbelievable amounts of expectation on the shoulders of President-elect Barack Obama. Everyone expects everything of him – it will be difficult for him to live up to the expectations. Obama will sometimes say the wrong thing, make errors, or fail. Such is the life of any person, whether they are a president or a store clerk.

Expectations and conditions have crushed leaders of great hope in the past. The ouster of Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos and the democratic election of President Corazon Aquino was a time of great hope for the Filipino people. Filipinos around the world flocked home, hoping that their new leader would turn the Philippines into a first-class country. Despite her best efforts, Aquino failed. More than twenty years after her election, the Philippines is still impoverished and corrupt.

The true test for Obama will be whether he can overcome the adversity he will surely face and continue to lead efficiently and virtuously. Obama has the skills necessary to succeed – the charisma of Kennedy, the eloquence of Lincoln, a strong intellect and seemingly sound judgment. He also has a brilliant, experienced second-in-command in Vice President-elect Joe Biden who will be a great asset for him.

What is audacious about hope is the fact that hope is considered audacious at all. Hundreds of millions of hopeful Americans have elected a young President who represents the hope they wish to feel, the change they wish to make. The election of President Barack Obama is not an end, but simply a means. As Obama said in his acceptance speech, “this victory alone is not the change we seek – it is only the chance to make that change.” The capacity for change, and greatness, is there, but the result remains unseen. President Obama has so much yet to prove.

The only certainty is that from this moment on, for better or for worse, this is a new America.

Proposition 102: Useless, Unconstitutional

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I know this isn’t presidential politics, but I just had to comment.

Arizona Proposition 102 aims to define marriage as “one man and one woman” in the Arizona Constitution, despite the fact that the Arizona Constitution already bans same-sex marriage (Arizona Revised Statute 25-101(C): “Marriage between persons of the same sex is void and prohibited.”). A very similar bill, Proposition 107, was already rejected by Arizona voters two years ago. The Arizona Legislature also voted “no” on this bill twice, according to Paula Aboud of the Tucson Citizen. This bill holds no actual relevance to upholding the law – it’s merely an exercise of religiousity at the polls.

Prop. 102 brings up the bigger problem – the unconstitutionality of ARS 25-101(C). When looking at such a ban through objective eyes, putting moral values aside and concentrating on the correct interpretation of law, it is clearly illegal. In the words of the Connecticut Supreme Court in Kerrigan v. Commissioner of Public Health, which recently struck down a law banning gay marriage in Connecticut – “our conventional understanding of marriage must yield to a more contemporary appreciation of the rights entitled to constitutional protection.”

Banning gay marriage is a violation of the inherent rights given by the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution: “No state shall…deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” By holding heterosexual and homosexual marriages to different standards, the Arizona Constitution violates this inviolable tenet of the Constitution. It can even be argued that banning same-sex marriage but allowing civil unions is still unconstitutional, for it creates a separate, but equal institution, for different people, which was deemed unconstitutional by Brown v. The Board of Education.

Conservative religious groups can attempt to assail this logic all they want, but they will fail. The California Supreme Court struck down a same-sex marriage ban in its state by a majority of conservative judges appointed by Republican governors. Despite what personal views they might hold concerning the sanctity of marriage, they realized that the aforementioned law was fundamentally against the laws of the land they were sworn to uphold. These actions are not “activist,” but rather an adherence to strict constitutional interpretation.

Prediction: the question of same-sex marriage will go to the United States Supreme Court within the next 5 years.

Rep. Bachmann Calls for Hunt of “Un-American”

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Below is an excerpt from Hardball with Chris Matthews, in which Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minnesota) calls for a full media investigation into which members of Congress are “anti-American.” She also hits Obama hard on his Ayers association.

It is truly a sight to behold.

Then, watch the reaction from The Nation editor Katrina Vanden Heuven and MSNBC commentator Pat Buchanan immediately after.

Written by acs2008

October 18, 2008 at 11:36 pm

100,000 Strong for Obama

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//www.huffingtonpost.com

Barack Obama draws an estimated 100,000 supporters at a late October rally in St. Louis, Missouri - a former Republican safe state now being hotly fought over by Obama and McCain. Photo courtesy of http://www.huffingtonpost.com

What a picture! I especially enjoy how that building in the background looks conspicuously like the White House. Good call by the Obama campaign on the location, I suppose.

Written by acs2008

October 18, 2008 at 9:18 pm