Tuesday, October 13, 2009

#167 Obama and Nixon

Fact is ... I like Obama. I really, really like him. So glad he won the Presidency AND the Nobel Peace Prize--the latter not least because it validates his identity as a World Leader on our pathway toward true globalization, toward that "international fraternity" that is a goal and condition of the award. (It certainly was a guilty pleasure, too, watching the heads of xenophobic neocons explode.) And, as I've mentioned before, he bears a passing resemblance to my fourth son. But as is the case for any wayward child, you've got to apply some "tough love" upon occasion.

Problem is ... we now learn there's been a "stealth-surge" in the number of troops Obama is actually sending to the AfPak War. As reported yesterday in the Washington Post, an additional 13,000 "support forces"--engineers, medical personnel, intelligence experts, military police--will be or already are being sent (who knows?) to aid the 21,000 "combat" troops authorized in March. As if we couldn't do the math--more than half again the original number--and as if these folk wouldn't be in danger of their lives.

Barely was the cyber-ink dry on my last post, than Obama pulled a Nixon. Yes, I'll stretch the parallel to the secret bombing of Cambodia a bit, but let's be clear about this: Can there be any doubt that, when the brainy young President made his decision last March to escalate the AfPak War, Obama knew EXACTLY the number of Americans he would be placing in the line of fire? In fact, it's easy to imagine the kind of dialogue that took place with his Pentagon guys--Obama meanwhile realizing how momentous his first war-time decision would be for all his supporters past and present. It might have gone something like this:

--Okay, 21,000 combat. But what's the overall TOTAL? The American people will want to hear that, and I know there has to be some service personnel going along. How many would that be?
--13,000, Mr President.
--Holy xxxx! [expletive deleted]
--Well, Sir, the accepted formula is about 2500 support troops per each combat brigade of 4000 [true].
--But that's over half the number doing the real fighting in the xxx xxxx War! You realize that overall figure puts us over Bush's total in Iraq and Afghanistan after he started all that "surging"?
--Yes, but everybody knows there needs to be support personnel. It's just a fact of war.
--You mean we could go with the combat figure, without mentioning the additional ...
--It's understood, Sir.

Maybe I'm being too hard on Obama, because the expectations were too high. After all, Bush dumped a war on him that never should have been fought, and he never said he would not take the war to Afghanistan in earnest after elected. Quite the contrary. It was that kind of forthrightness that put him in office. But strong words need to be spoken. People are getting killed over there, needlessly. Okay, if he didn't read the clear signals correctly that any military action in the Middle East is doomed to failure and gotten out of there immediately, then we can at least expect him be more forthright about just what's going on--meanwhile hoping he'll come to his senses soon. He pledged a greater TRANSPARENCY under his administration. Let the glasnost begin here. Lest he acquire a "Tricky" next to his first name, or worse.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

#166 BHO and LBJ III

Our week runneth over. The President of late-nite talk, David Letterman, confesses to past sexual adventures shortly after his interview with fellow-sportsman President Clinton; President Obama recognizes the sixtieth anniversary of Red China, while ignoring the ninth anniversary of the Afghan War; college students demonstrate against that war right here in Raleigh; and several old gentlemen in Oslo, Norway try to manipulate world-affairs by giving a Swedish peace-prize to the leader of the most powerful, and lately the most bellicose, country on earth.

Will their devious plan work? I hope so, but there has been so much unexpected and disheartening "Bush-speak" coming out of the White House lately--"Troop-reduction in Afghanistan is extremely unlikely" ... "Draw-down is effectively off-the-table" etc. Whence all this uncharacteristic arrogance? ... I'd like to know.

I'll put my money on student protesters, and lately on the American people--60% are now anti-war--to turn the heads of the power-brokers in Washington. And let's hope, too, that the students make their demonstrations more than an anniversary event. At the height of the Vietnam War they were out there every day on Pennsylvania Avenue, and everywhere else across the country on a regular basis. It got deadly at Kent State U. on May 4, 1970, as the Pulitzer-Prize-winning news-photo above most famously shows. Student groups organized a huge publicity campaign calling for a national one-day boycott of classes for the very next week to commemorate the event. I was a Teaching Fellow at Vanderbilt at the time. About half the regular faculty took attendance on that day; half didn't. A small "radical" percentage made it clear that their classes were canceled. Pretty much a microcosm of the mood of the country at the time. No surprise: the student-teacher hybrids, like me, supported the boycott almost to a man and woman--we either took no attendance in our classes ... or took off altogether to the picket line.

The boiling point was reached in May 1970 because of CAMBODIA = Obama's PAKISTAN. The only real difference is that Nixon had kept his aerial incursion into a "neutral" country secret. Once he revealed the fact that the over-the-border bombing had been going on for months--in the face of all his pre- and post-election lies about "a plan to end the war"--the college campuses exploded. And so, tragically, did the Ohio National Guard, in the case above.

Look at these parallel configurations, too ominous to ignore:

THREE COUNTRIES--first Vietnam, then the invasion of Laos, then the carpet bombing of Cambodia. But the Ho Chi Min Trail with its tributaries and tunnels led everywhere, anywhere, and underwhere--analogous to the caves and crannies of Afghanistan. And the supply of people to man them grew daily, no matter how many bombs were dropped--in fact: the more bombs = the more people. Newsflash: we didn't win that war.

THREE COUNTRIES--forth and back in Iraq, to and fro in Afghanistan, and then the drone-bombing in Pakistan, which has intensified. Gen. William McCrystal, speaking for the ghost of Gen.William Westmoreland, asks for 40,000 more troops, on top of the 21,000 Obama has already deployed. Where is all this cannon-fodder destined to go? Into Pakistan, of course. That smacks of a slippery-slope fallacy, I know, but I'll let it stand. For there really is no Afghan/Pakistan "border" anyway, at least for those straddling it. Just as it was in Southeast Asia, tribal and ethnic boundaries in the Middle East are more important. In the case of Afghan/Pakistan, the fearsome Pashtuns call the vast and forbidding territory overlapping both nations their ancestral home, and they don't need no stinkin' badges.

The more combat troops, the more piloted air-strikes, the more drone-bombing--no matter--all the more virulent and widespread the insurgency will become. And all the more looking like Vietnam. Get out while you can Obama; don't give college students the opportunity make up nasty LBJ-like chants about a Nobel laureate. So uncool.

Friday, October 9, 2009

#165 Barack Obama and Alfred Nobel

Well ... those do-gooder Scandinavians have tossed a laurel wreath into the works today--they awarded President Obama the Nobel Prize for Peace. So let me briefly interrupt this series to examine its implications. There are some wonderful ironies. I'll get back to the Afghan/Vietnam saga "post" haste in the next one.

First--and the irony here will be lost on nobody, certainly not, a fortiori, on the brainy Obama--he's been given a PEACE prize while conducting a WAR on several fronts in the Middle East. He's at this very moment considering escalating that war, or not. Did the deliberations in Oslo involve a hidden agenda?--to influence Obama's deliberations in Washington? Otherwise, I'm not sure that the original intent of the award quite fits. In his famous Will, Alfred Nobel--his death-mask is above--designated that the Peace Prize

... be given to the person or society that renders the greatest service to the cause of international fraternity, IN THE SUPPRESSION OR REDUCTION OF STANDING ARMIES, or in the establishment or furtherance of peace congresses.

Umm ... You see the problem ... in capital letters. The official press release from the Nobel Committee avoids the second and third clauses altogether, but rather speaks exclusively and expansively to Obama's commitment to the first one--adding to the "international fraternity" thing, for instance, his work toward nuclear-arms reduction. The Committee could quibble, however, if they wanted to. It's a technicality, but there's no mention in the original about armies of occupation ... only standing ones, and Obama hasn't had to increase the numbers of the Bush forces significantly (yet), in order to fuel his war of aggression in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Notwithstanding, the award-qualifications are cast in "or- clauses" anyway--the Committee would be grammatically free to choose any one, or all. A dicey thing, at best.

Second--there's such a terrible load of historical baggage attached to Alfred and his famous prize. Enough to put Obama's award under an ironically cringe-worthy pall. As we all know, Alfred Nobel invented dynamite. It was designed to "safely" blow up things. And people. To rationalize, the inventor tried throughout his life, laughably in retrospect, to convince people that, well, this was actually humane. The more efficiently you can blow up people--in contrast to the slow, hit-or-miss homicide of firearm or cannonade, I suppose--the more quickly wars would be over, thereby saving lives in the long run. This feeble justification for making millions off his product probably couldn't persuade even Nobel himself. Why else would he leave to the Prizes almost all of those accumulated millions but to assuage his guilt?

What's our President been up to lately? (You saw this coming.) HE'S BEEN BLOWING-UP PEOPLE. With dynamite. Okay, not exactly, but essentially. Nobel laid down the technology for all non-nuclear, "conventional" explosive weaponry--TNT etc.--that followed his innovations. It was Nobel's hellish offspring that blew apart those human beings in the Afghan province of Farah (last post)--not to mention .... Well, enough said. You get the picture.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

#164 BHO and LBJ II

Yesterday, fortuitously for this post, marked the eighth anniversary of the Afghanistan War, and what did my wearied eyes behold on the local news but STUDENT PROTESTERS! Yes, there they were: earnest youngsters from the University of of North Carolina from nearby Chapel Hill on the State House grounds in Raleigh. They declaimed against our occupation of that despoiled country with picket signs and angry voices reminiscent--finally--of the Vietnam protests of long ago. Did that do my old heart good? Most would agree, in fact, that college students deserve the the credit for initially stirring up the conscience of America and getting the anti-Vietnam ball rolling. Of course they had an added incentive for protesting in those days: THE DRAFT. Selfish motives aside though, their ball would be passed to the rest of America, until virtually universal opposition to our involvement in Vietnam eventually brought it to a close. It couldn't last, after all, once the MOTHERS joined in.

In the late 60's when student-protests got under way across the nation's campuses, I was there. By that time my draft card had already by-passed the student deferment and was comfortably "3A" status--married with kid(s)--virtually impervious to induction. I was there, though, during those years on those very quads of "student unrest" as teacher and sympathetic observer and occasional TV commentator. Well, just once. Shortly after I arrived at my first full-time teaching job at a small southern college, and sporting a bit of "hippie" hair barely over my ears, I was put on the spot by a local newsman covering OUR little anti-war demonstration going on in the video background behind us: "As a teacher at this institution, what do you think of ... etc, etc?" I don't think my response ever got on the air, probably because it was far from "Bomb the Cong!" My students congratulated me, anyway. That was a good thing.

Yesterday, the Chapel Hill kids didn't directly attack Obama, giving him a pass at this point, no doubt thinking as most do that he inherited the bulk of the problem from the former administration. The picket signs were thus generic like "No More Troops!" and "Stop the War!" Sorry, but sad to say Obama's only other definitive accomplishment--besides The Stimulus (and Bush started that)--since taking office has been to expand The War. Health care, etc? Not yet. But lots of blood. (See my "Report Card" posts and earlier.) He's got his own record now to answer for.

No My Lai massacre yet, though, you say. Perhaps not the March '68 premeditated murder pictured above right, but not far from it. Aye, there's the rub--Obama's massacre's are "far from it." Conducted from far above in piloted air-strikes, or from far away on a remote-control, robot-missile computer-screen in New Mexico, the killing of innocent civilians has gone on unabated since Inauguration Day. Here's what was discovered last May:

... the bodies of dozens, perhaps well over a hundred, women, children and men , their corpses blown to bits of human flesh by iron fragmentation bombs dropped by U.S. warplanes in a village in the western province of Farah ... Afghan survivors carted some two dozen corpses from their villages to the provincial capital in trucks this week to publicly denounce the carnage. [Chris Hedges, Truthdig 5/11, via Red Cross reports]

This "My Lai" happened BEFORE the President sent in his fresh 21,000 troops to do even more killing. And more accompanying air-strikes. And more robot-bombs for Pakistan.

Ell-Bee-Jay, Ell-Bee-Jay ... How many kids have you killed today?
Ell-Bee-Jay, Ell-Bee-Jay ... How many kids have you killed today?
(Repeat, repeat, repeat ..............)

The students drove LBJ crazy with that one ... and out of office. Hasn't come to that point yet for BHO, but it might. He's weighing his options as I write. A wrong decision might conceivably result in Bee-Aytch-Oh, Bee-Aytch-Oh ... Don't kill no kids no mo'! OR, Obama, Obama ... Please don't murder their mama! OR, maybe the students will come up with something better. (more)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

#163 BHO and LBJ

Here was the Gen. Stanley McChrystal of the Vietnam era: Gen. William Childs Westmoreland, called affectionately by his friends Johnson and Nixon, "Westy." Not counting McNamara (DM #126), he was the smiling FACE of that war, amiably failing at every turn, most notably TET, but kept under hire by two successive Presidents of two different Parties. As I implied in last posts, the thrill, the "rush," that Presidents seem to get in killing foreigners crosses all political boundaries. Westy's mantra was always and forever the Mad-Hatterish "More troops ... MORE TROOPS"--so he could kill even more little "gooks" for his bosses. He stuck to it till his dying day--he was devilishly long-lived (91) like McNamara, but unlike the latter, he never once admitted his mistakes. If only he had more troops he could have reached that "light at the end of the tunnel"--his overused phrase, which entered history, infamously. (I think this is why, to digress a moment, we can't use the popular little metaphor with its original optimistic intent, as it was mocked and ridiculed so roundly then as the The War dragged on and on. Add to this the literal "tunnels" of the insurgents that were notorious death-traps for our troops. Because of its close association with Vietnam, the phrase is most often used ironically today. )

So ... now we have our Gen. McChrystal channeling the dead general and Vietnam--"More troops ... MORE TROOPS" (40,000 to be exact, on top of Obama's 21,000 already)--evidently moonlighting it to the press, and reportedly doing so outside the proper chain of command. Obama might have to pull a "Truman/McArthur" here, if Gen. Loose-Lips doesn't watch out. Because at this very moment, according to reports, Obama is weighing his options for Afghanistan. When and if McCrystal meets with the President, he daren't use "light at the end of the tunnel." For surely Obama will pay heed, like the old VFW guy in last post, to the lessons of Vietnam.

I take a special interest in Westmoreland because, as a distinguished son of South Carolina where I spent thirty years, he was forever defending himself on the local news, if not national, during his Johnson-Nixon tenure and after--even unto the famous Westmoreland v. CBS lawsuit--and beyond. In that case, Mike Wallace had accused him of deliberately and persistently suppressing actual enemy troop-strength in Vietnam, such that, with our far greater numbers--which he said he needed more of every day--the light at the end of the tunnel would always seem reachable. He sued; he lost. Poor guy, he had to come up with something--the war that he and two successive White Houses were fighting was unwinnable, at least the way they were fighting it.

After the Citadel (SC) and West Point--he became Superintendent later, and chose to be buried there rather than Arlington), the appropriately-nicknamed "Westy" had an outstanding military career as an artillery and then general commander in WWII and Korea. He came out a winner from the former, and should have learned something from the latter. Mao had already schooled the North in guerrilla tactics by that time, and only Eisenhower could bring an end to it with the threat of a nuclear bomb. We were still fighting WWII style in Korea. And that's what Westmoreland brought to Vietnam, where we had no business being in the first place. Along with Sir Michael Rose (DM #60) I'll say it again: we've never won an "insurgency war," and never will. Yet as late as 1998 the old WWII general was still complaining in a George magazine interview that MORE TROOPS would have turned the tide. Never admitting defeat, he rationalized: "By virtue of Vietnam, the U.S. held the line for 10 years, and stopped the dominoes from falling." Great consolation for the loved-ones of 50,000+ American dead. (more)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

#162 An Obama Report Card III

"Barry" Obama, as he was known in 1971--even then, the trademark ears!--has already killed more foreigners than Clinton killed in his eight years as President. Since he was elected, Commander-and-Chief Barack Hussein Obama has "presided" over not only the deaths of 300+ American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan (and hundreds more maimed and mangled), but also double or triple that of "enemy" combatants, in addition to about 10,000 non-combatant civilians. He promised Dave Letterman last week that combat troops (wiggle word) would be out of the Middle East sometime in 2011. Well and good, but do the math. Two years from now = many more thousands dead. Even if his "timetable"proves to be correct. They always are, of course. Obama campaigned for awhile promising a target-date of late 2009. Grade = F

Grossly unfair to the new President, you say. Well, he's not new anymore. Moreover, he missed his chance the moment he was inaugurated. We're not a parliamentary system like the Brits, but we became one, virtually, when Obama was elected our prime minister, presiding over a majority of his party in both legislative assemblies. On Jan 20, in other words, all bets were off. As Commander-in-Chief, he could have unilaterally--the very next day--started the withdrawal HIS troops from the entire area of conflict, or as President-in-Chief have begun working with HIS congress to pass a bill to get them out as soon as possible. He did neither. Grade = F.

He did keep the campaign promise--a bad one--to concentrate the war-effort on Afghanistan. I was heartened last week to hear on the local news--while incredulous at what I was hearing--from an old VFW guy talking about Obama's expansion of the war. It was at a Veteran of Foreign Wars rally in Fayetteville NC, home of Fort Bragg, altogether the least likely of venues to hear the "Q-word"--No, no ... it sounds a lot like Vietnam to me. Lot of comparisons there. I think we're getting into a QUAGMIRE, just like Vietnam, and it's not good for our troops. Wow. And this from grizzled war-veteran. He'll probably be asked to turn in his medals. Not to mention his funny hat. C'mon Obama, this old VFW warrior is probably farther to the right in his politics than Mussolini, but he knows the score. And he's given you an F.

BHO, you don't want to be remembered as an LBJ. President Johnson took over a war from his predecessor, like you. He expanded it to apocalyptic proportions, and it ruined a presidency that was otherwise the most successful one on the domestic front since FDR. (I owe him my Medicare.) Common knowledge. Let's try to surpass your Democratic predecessor, Clinton, who was called by Tony Morrison "our first black President"--half-ironically. You're the real thing, and starting out in politics, as you did, on the social-welfare front as a community-organizer, you know you can accomplish a lot more here at home--starting with what Clinton failed at: health-care reform--if you weren't hampered by overseas adventurism.

Stop killing foreigners. It's pulling your grades way down.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

#161 An Obama Report Card II

William Jefferson Blythe III, as he was known in 1950--even then, the trademark shock of hair!--didn't KILL as many people when he was in office as Barack Hussein Obama has killed already in his brief tenure as President. And I'm not even grading them on the thousands who still suffer and die under our execrable system of health care in this country. Obama, not yet--he's still trying to correct it, just as Clinton did in his first term, but failed to do so, through not too much fault of his own. The venal forces against reform were just too strong then, and the will of the people just too weak, to overcome the status quo ante of his day. U.S. health care was just as bad then, as now, but the public consciousness of the problem was low, and the Republicans controlled Congress. Not now, though. The Democrats are in, so Obama's progress in reforming health care will weigh heavily on his final grade.

In other areas of domestic policy our last Democratic President before Obama gets the highest marks. Clinton presided over the greatest period of "peace-time" economic expansion in the country's history. We even had a Treasury surplus in the hundreds of billions, before Bush took over. And we all know what happened next. Clinton was also responsible for major welfare reform, family and medical leave for employees, lower taxes for the poor, higher taxes for the rich, free-trade legislation, and the line-item veto (finally).

Perhaps President Clinton's greatest accomplishment, however, was simply not letting us get into a whole lot of trouble here at home. Except for health-care reform, he couldn't be called an overly activist President. Like Eisenhower--our last bi-partisan President, by the bye, most often unfairly underrated today--Clinton let America pretty much go her own way. We had a strong, smart man in charge, whom we could count to step in when things threatened to get out of hand. (Ike's most notable interventions were in the civil-rights debacles of the 50's.) But nothing much did for Clinton. We just didn't have all that to worry about with Bill in charge. His lack of "comportment" in sexual matters are not of conseqence in my grading system.

Unfortunately, though, Clinton killed a lot of people. Not nearly as many as LBJ, of course, nor as many as the hundreds of thousands that Bush was about to kill over his eight long years ... but enough. And for this, his grades suffer. What is it about American Presidents, Democrat or Republican, that seems to drive them to kill foreigners? For little or no reason at all. Ike was the exception. He'd killed enough of them already, in a just cause. Once he got into office, in fact, he disliked the idea of killing foreigners so much, that, rather than killing one more North Korean, he threatened total nuclear annihilation for the whole lot of them, if they didn't stop their "insurgency." Armistice ensued. (China didn't have The Bomb yet.)

So we had, under Clinton, undeclared foreign wars all over the Eastern Hemisphere (we forget), taking the lives of hundreds our troops, and theirs, and untold thousands of innocent civilians. The Somalian intervention was the most embarrassing. The Battle of Mogadishu, with its "Black Hawk Down" humiliation, has become infamous. But Clinton went right ahead later, under the guise of NATO, to involve us in the bloody civil wars of the former Yugoslavia. That ended only when there was virtually nobody left to kill. And it was he who set the precedent for long-distance missile strikes on Muslim terrorists, bombing sites in Sudan and Afghanistan after Al Quaeda had attacked our embassies in East Africa. And Iraq? Even before Bush took over with a vengeance, Clinton was bombing "strategic" targets in that despoiled country for the entire last two years of his administration. (more)

Friday, October 2, 2009

#160 An Obama Report Card

Dave Letterman hosted two Presidents last week, on two successive nights. Quite a coup, and the security, over which much was comedically made, was tight. More so for sitting President Obama, who had all three segments before the usual guest-musician close. Less so the next night for former President Clinton, a frequent guest, who had only two segments, and was followed anti-climactically with basketballer LeBron James before the close. Maybe the difference was deferential--ceremonial protocol of sorts. Whatever, Obama has got to get his grades up--it's almost "midterm"--especially when compared against head-of-the-class Clinton.

But can you beat either one for what in my day was called "comportment"? ( I always flunked that non-academic category.) Two well-behaved fellows indeed--about the most human, honest, intelligent, and nice-guy-est Presidents since Carter. They truly embody the "wouldn't-mind-having-a-beer-with-him" cliche'--in fact, Obama allowed just that to happen literally in "The Professor and the Cop" show he put on just a few weeks ago.

And ingratiatingly entertaining. Clinton bragged on how well his wife is doing in her new job, and downplayed his recently successful "damsel-in-distress" mission in North Korea--a genuienly heroic effort in the Carter tradition--and was more content to make fun with Dave about their mutual cardiac-pathologies. Amazing! It's been five years since your surgery? ... Yes, Dave, but you know when we reach our age, everyday is genetic roulette. And on "smarts"--It's always such a pleasure having you on, Bill, but I just wish, I don't know, that I was smarter ... You're always saying that, Dave, but you're a lot richer than me. And on Social Action: much of the ex-President's air-time was spent on his Global Initiative, which has raised billions in foreign aid of one kind or another. But he deflects graciously and skillfully when Dave expresses regrets that HE hasn't done enough in that area--You've got a five-year old, right? Listen, anybody who can raise a five-year-old is doing all the social good we need.

Daddy Dave got right to the kids with Obama, as he does with his guests more than ever of late--How they were holding up under the spotlight; How they spent their summer vacation. Well, we thought about summer camp and such things, but basically they just goofed off ... [long pause for the punchline] ... which I couldn't do. Much laughter and clapping followed, acknowledging the allusion to Obama's Summer of Hell on the domestic front. Picking up on that, Letterman brought up the subject of angry tea-baggers and raucous Town Hall meetings via Jimmy Carter. He mentioned that the ex-President had speculated that a lot of this animosity and unsavory behavior is rooted in racism. Obama had a grabber ready--First, it's important to remember that I was black before the the election ... Which, after the laughs and appreciative applause, put Dave in the same Steve-Martinesque mode --Just how long have you been a black man?

Inevitably casting a unfortunate pall over all this warm and fuzzy by-play about fathers and kids and family was, however, THE WAR. For all of 30 seconds at the end of the Obama interview. We'll have all of the combat troops out of Afghanistan by 2011. Well and good maybe, but how many soldiers will be killed, wives widowed, children orphaned ... in the meantime. Not to mention the horrendous civilian casualties. How well has Obama been doing after all? What kind of grade has our fledgling President earned so far? (more)