Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Best Reasons to Vote For and Against Obama

If SWNID votes for Obama, it's likely to be for one reason: that his presidency could provide the impetus to break the sad dysfunctionality--to be sure, a legacy of the racism that justified slavery and Jim Crow and continues to fuel "the soft bigotry of low expectations"--that plagues a disproportionate segment of the African-American community. From the Oval Office's bully pulpit (a phrase coined by civil-rights advocate TR, of course), President Obama could enshrine the civic virtues of family stability, self-discipline and self-help like no one since Booker T. Washington and smartly combine that advocacy with targeted compensatory and corrective government action of the kind championed by W. E. B. DuBois, modulated for present realities. His speech to the NAACP is Exhibit A in making that case.

If SWNID votes against Obama, it's likely to be for one reason: we don't know what in the world he'll do in the present, unresolved struggle with Islamism. His ever-evolving position now seems to imply that he might redeploy American forces to attack Pakistan, a position whose only discernible point of contact with his now-obsolete opposition to the Iraq War is that it involves war someplace--anyplace--outside Iraq. That's an interesting idea from a man who says he also wants to improve American relations with our allies.*

How far afield Obama's position on Islamism remains, despite his recent rush to the center, is nowhere better demonstrated than in today's WSJ opinion piece by the formidable Frederick Kagan, Kimberly Kagan and Jack Keane, early advocates of the anti-insurgency "surge" strategy that has worked so brilliantly. These folks know that the heart of Al Qaida and of American interest are now not in the hinterlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan, needful of attention as those regions are, but in Iraq, where the US has shown itself able to inflict a most humiliating defeat on the Islamists, who are as handicapped by their ideology as they are driven by it.

We wish we could depend on Obama to listen to the Kagans and Keane. But we can't. Lacking both a consistent position on the war and a record by which voters can gauge his judgment, he offers no assurance that his ear would turn to the best voices. The specter of failure in the Middle East, when success is so very close, is for us too great a risk.

Obama's presidency is almost worth that risk for the benefit his influence could have over one of the most pressing and seemingly intractable problems in our Republic, a problem 400 years in the making: the problem of race.


*McCain's better on this one: don't send Americans to Pakistan, whose very presence would fuel resistance, but cooperate with tribal leaders willing to fight the Islamists while pressing with American forces in Afghanistan. The difference with Obama is substantial: both know that the mountain insurgents need attention, but McCain instinctively knows how to address the issue while Obama searches for a position that will placate the left, appear consistent with earlier statements, and not fuel the impression that he is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the pacifist left.


John Maszka said...

In the 1950s, in the wake of Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” plan, Pakistan obtained a 125 megawatt heavy-water reactor from Canada. After India’s first atomic test in May 1974, Pakistan immediately sought to catch up by attempting to purchase a reprocessing plant from France. After France declined due to U.S. resistance, Pakistan began to assemble a uranium enrichment plant via materials from the black market and technology smuggled through A.Q. Khan. In 1976 and 1977, two amendments to the Foreign Assistance Act were passed, prohibiting American aid to countries pursuing either reprocessing or enrichment capabilities for nuclear weapons programs.

These two, the Symington and Glenn Amendments, were passed in response to Pakistan’s efforts to achieve nuclear weapons capability; but to little avail. Washington’s cool relations with Islamabad soon improved. During the Reagan administration, the US turned a blind eye to Pakistan’s nuclear weapon’s program. In return for Pakistan’s cooperation and assistance in the mujahideen’s war against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the Reagan administration awarded Pakistan with the third largest economic and military aid package after Israel and Egypt. Despite the Pressler Amendment, which made US aid contingent upon the Reagan administration’s annual confirmation that Pakistan was not pursuing nuclear weapons capability, Reagan’s “laissez-faire” approach to Pakistan’s nuclear program seriously aided the proliferation issues that we face today.

Not only did Pakistan continue to develop its own nuclear weapons program, but A.Q. Khan was instrumental in proliferating nuclear technology to other countries as well. Further, Pakistan’s progress toward nuclear capability led to India’s return to its own pursuit of nuclear weapons, an endeavor it had given up after its initial test in 1974. In 1998, both countries had tested nuclear weapons. A uranium-based nuclear device in Pakistan; and a plutonium-based device in India
Over the years of America's on again off again support of Pakistan, Musharraf continues to be skeptical of his American allies. In 2002 he is reported to have told a British official that his “great concern is that one day the United States is going to desert me. They always desert their friends.” Musharraf was referring to Viet Nam, Lebanon, Somalia ... etc., etc., etc.,

Taking the war to Pakistan is perhaps the most foolish thing America can do. Obama is not the first to suggest it, and we already have sufficient evidence of the potentially negative repercussions of such an action. On January 13, 2006, the United States launched a missile strike on the village of Damadola, Pakistan. Rather than kill the targeted Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s deputy leader, the strike instead slaughtered 17 locals. This only served to further weaken the Musharraf government and further destabilize the entire area. In a nuclear state like Pakistan, this was not only unfortunate, it was outright stupid. Pakistan has 160 million Arabs (better than half of the population of the entire Arab world). Pakistan also has the support of China and a nuclear arsenal.

I predict that America’s military action in the Middle East will enter the canons of history alongside Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the Holocaust, in kind if not in degree. The Bush administration’s war on terror marks the age in which America has again crossed a line that many argue should never be crossed. Call it preemption, preventive war, the war on terror, or whatever you like; there is a sense that we have again unleashed a force that, like a boom-a-rang, at some point has to come back to us. The Bush administration argues that American military intervention in the Middle East is purely in self-defense. Others argue that it is pure aggression. The consensus is equally as torn over its impact on international terrorism. Is America truly deterring future terrorists with its actions? Or is it, in fact, aiding the recruitment of more terrorists?

The last thing the United States should do at this point and time is to violate yet another state’s sovereignty.

Jon A. Alfred E. Michael J. Wile E. SWNID said...

Welcome to the blog, Mr. Maszka. We hope you sell lots of books.

For one so informed about the history of United States' relations with Pakistan, we are puzzled at your willingness to reduce the larger issue to aggression versus self-defense or to lump together Truman's bombings of Imperial Japanese cities with Hitler's Final Solution. We guess that Mr. Bush is not the only one who doesn't do nuance.

For thoughtful leaders of military powers, both action and inaction are fraught with dangers. How can one so glibly predict that military action in the Islamic world will breed more terrorists in the long run and simultaneously decry Truman's calculation that dropping the bomb would save American and Japanese lives in the long run? Our sense of the former is that the tide has turned in terrorist recruitment and of the latter than history has vindicated Truman.

But you're free to guess otherwise, in the absence of accurate and objective measures of either calculation.

Jim Shoes said...

Mr. Maszka's book is published through a self-publishing company. For those unfamiliar with the term, self-publishing companies (sometimes disparagingly termed "vanity presses") agree to publish just about any book if the author is willing to pay the cost of publishing. Most companies do that by demanding a fee up front. Mr. Maszka's book comes from a company that makes its dough by requiring that the author buy a lot of books at a high price.

I guess that makes him welcome on this blog: SWNID edited a book that was published by Wipf & Stock, which is at the respectable end of the self-publishing spectrum.

At any rate, this blog is not yet of a profile that mainstream publishers are targeting it to market their stuff. Maszka must be blog-searching for "Pakistan" in hopes of unloading his basement full of books.

Guy named Courtney said...

Mr. Maszka sounds awfully a lot like a book I just read, Desecent into Chaos. On the U.S.'s failure on country building in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Islamabad has continued to support the taliban, if not AQ for these last number of years. If not the government outright, the military and their version of the FBI has still supported the Tali.

If we are to be succesful in Afghanistan we must have the support of Pakistan, but an outright attack of a nuclear country would be foolish because of the political situation at the time. Senator Obama visiting Bagram (recently seen in the movie Iron Man) will do little towards his view and as most assume is nothing more than an expensive photo op (can you say mission accomplished?)

What is needed, in my mind, is a much larger U.S. footprint (I forget, did the surge work?) and a much larger (and productive) cival affairs approach. Without local support the Taliban will fail. As we have learned in Iraq, when you capture their minds, you've got them by the balls.

Jon A. Alfred E. Michael J. Wile E. SWNID said...

Nice reversal of Coulson's famous pre-conversion motto in the Nixon WH, Courtney!