By: Nausherwan Hafeez
With Senator Barack Obama’s sizeable lead in the polls a deeper analysis of his policies and what they entail is needed before you cast your vote. The goal of this piece is to specifically call out the weaknesses in Obama’s campaign. I recognize that it is very long, but please read it in its entirety. I hope it provides a comprehensive and easily accessible critique of Obama. I strongly encourage you to take this piece and distribute it widely.
“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it's time to pause and reflect.”
Barack Obama has been extensively vetted during the past twenty months of his campaign. During this time, Obama has effectively managed to mobilize a diverse group of supporters ranging from young voters, to African-Americans and liberal professionals. He has steadily gained support through a savvy campaign and charismatic charm. He comes from a diverse ethnic background and purportedly offers a “change we can believe in.” With Election Day just around the corner a close analysis of his policies and track record will indicate what kind of President Obama would actually be. In particular, what would an Obama Presidency mean for American Muslim interests? A close look at his record paints a disturbing picture of a future Obama Presidency.
Before turning to Obama, it is important to understand that the American Muslim community is no monolithic group. The estimated seven-million American Muslims are a diverse community that consists of both an indigenous African-American and immigrant population. American Muslims are an under-represented constituency in political affairs even though the Muslim vote could play a critical role in determining who becomes President. There are large clusters of Muslims in key swing states such as Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. In the 2000 election, Muslims played a critical role in getting George W. Bush elected. Delinda C. Hanley, a News Editor at The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, wrote that:
After surveying the community and making overtures to both Bush and his opponent, Vice President Al Gore, the American Muslim Political Coordinating Council Political Action Committee (AMPCC-PAC), comprising the four major American-Muslim organizations—the American Muslim Alliance (AMA), American Muslim Council (AMC), CAIR, and Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), recommended that its members vote for Bush.
According to CAIR figures, that recommendation resulted in 78 percent of Muslims voting for George W. Bush. In Florida, the most crucial state in the last elections, exit polls showed that 91 percent of the 60,000 Muslim Americans who voted supported Bush.
Muslims were attracted to Bush for his stance on civil liberties, foreign policy, and social values. Muslims turned their support away from Bush after he reneged on his campaign promises and turned out to be a bellicose warmonger. Hanley went on to note that a “June CAIR poll of Muslims who had voted for Bush in 2000 found that 50 percent planned to vote for Kerry, 26 for Nader, only 3 percent for Bush, with the rest not yet sure.” In 2004, the Muslim Electorate Council of America conducted a study that found that there are more than 2 million Muslims eligible to vote in the United States and about 57 percent of them were registered to vote. This election cycle the Muslim vote appears headed towards Obama with the tacit—though not explicit—endorsement by both CAIR and MPAC.
In spite of this, American Muslims need to temper their enthusiasm for Obama. A close look at his record on civil liberties, foreign policy, economic policy, and personal actions indicate that support for Obama is misplaced.
Over the past eight years, civil liberties have rapidly declined and this has been a cause for consternation amongst American Muslims. Issues such as the National Security Agency’s (NSA) illegal warrantless wiretapping program, the Patriot Act, and Faith-Based initiatives have curtailed basic rights. Obama’s stance on these issues has been both highly pernicious and seriously misplaced. Furthermore, he slighted the Muslim community during his March 18, 2008 Speech on Race.
The NSA wiretapping is arguably the most blatant government intrusion on American citizens in a generation. This secretive program was exposed in December 2005 by the New York Times and allowed the Bush Administration through to illegally monitor—without warrants—phone calls, e-mails, Internet activity, text messaging, and other communications involving any party believed by the NSA to be outside the U.S. In May of 2006, the USA Today exposed how the NSA had been secretly collecting the phone records of millions Americans with the help of AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth. This program went above and beyond the legal method to monitor the electronic communication of Americans which was to obtain a warrant from the secret court authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Russel Tice, an NSA whistle-blower, explained:
The FISA court—it’s not very difficult to get something through a FISA court. I kinda liken the FISA court to a monkey with a rubber stamp. The monkey sees a name, the monkey sees a word justification with a block of information. It can’t read the block, but it just stamps “affirmed” on the block, and a banana chip rolls out, and then the next paper rolls in front of the monkey. When you have like 20,000 requests and only, I think, four were turned down, you can’t look at the FISA court as anything different.
So, you have to ask yourself the question: Why would someone want to go around the FISA court in something like this? I would think the answer could be that this thing is a lot bigger than even the President has been told it is, and that ultimately a vacuum cleaner approach may have been used, in which case you don’t get names, and that’s ultimately why you wouldn’t go to the FISA court. And I think that’s something Congress needs to address. They need to find out exactly how this system was operated and ultimately determine whether this was indeed a very focused effort or whether this was a vacuum cleaner-type scenario.
With the government and telecommunications companies involved in an explicitly illegal wiretapping program, this should have been something that was easily opposed. Since listening in on the private conversations of American citizens without warrants is a felony under U.S. law—punishable by up to 5 years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine for each offense—this program should have been opposed and the criminals involved prosecuted. James Bamford, author of several books on the NSA, explained how the program worked:
[The NSA] picks up communications from satellites, it taps undersea and underground fiber-optic cables, it gets information any way it can, and then some of the information is encrypted, and it’s responsible for breaking those codes and then sending the information that it gets from these intercepts to other agencies.
The massive amount of information that the government has obtained illegally is a serious intrusion on all Americans civil liberties. However, Barack Obama opposed prosecution for the criminals involved in this program and, in fact, endorsed the White House’s illegal actions.
So how did Obama do this? After the NSA illegal wiretapping program was exposed, the Bush Administration called for an overhaul of the FISA Act. They temporarily received the fix that they wanted in the Protect America Act, but a permanent fix was more elusive. The two major issues that held up a revised FISA bill were the issue of prosecution for those involved in this program and how the new act should be structured. A spokesman for Barack Obama initially stated on October 24, 2007 that:
“To be clear: Barack will support a filibuster of any bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies.”
This was the right stance to take. Yet when the final FISA bill came to a vote in the Senate—which included retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies—not only did Obama NOT filibuster the bill, he voted in favor of cloture—a technique that closes discussion on a bill and brings it up for vote—and voted in FAVOR of the revised FISA bill. This was a two-part flip-flop by Obama; he sold out both civil rights activists and did the exact opposite of filibuster this flawed act. The New York Times editorialized that:
[This bill would make it] much easier to spy on Americans at home, reduce the courts’ powers and grant immunity to the companies that turned over Americans’ private communications without a warrant.
…The real reason this bill exists is because Mr. Bush decided after 9/11 that he was above the law…
Proponents of the FISA deal say companies should not be “punished” for cooperating with the government. That’s Washington-speak for a cover-up. The purpose of withholding immunity is not to punish but to preserve the only chance of unearthing the details of Mr. Bush’s outlaw eavesdropping. Only a few senators, by the way, know just what those companies did.
So Obama voted for a severely flawed FISA bill that reduces our civil liberties. The major problems with this bill are that the government can tap any communications Americans have with people overseas and that it granted telecommunication companies retroactive immunity. The criminal activities of the telecommunications companies and the government officials will not be prosecuted. Our constitution will be weaker because of this and Obama is both an enabler and complicit in this government cover-up.
The Patriot Act is the infamous law that was passed shortly after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks which radically expanded the government’s domestic law enforcement capabilities. The American Civil Liberties Union noted that the act: “Allows FBI Agents to investigate American citizens for criminal matters without probable cause of crime if they say it is for ‘intelligence purposes.’” Some of the effects of the Patriot Act have been:
• 8,000 Arab and South Asian immigrants have been interrogated because of their religion or ethnic background, not because of actual wrongdoing.
• Thousands of men, mostly of Arab and South Asian origin, have been held in secretive federal custody for weeks and months, sometimes without any charges filed against them. The government has refused to publish their names and whereabouts, even when ordered to do so by the courts.
• New Attorney General Guidelines allow FBI spying on religious and political organizations and individuals without having evidence of wrongdoing.
The Patriot Act was an ill-conceived piece of legislation that was rammed through Congress in the immediate aftermath of a national tragedy. Joe Biden voted for both the initial act and subsequent reauthorizations of it. Obama was not in the Senate when the initial bill passed but was in the Senate for the reauthorization of the act. Obama voted for the reauthorization of the Patriot Act. There have been some courageous individuals who have stood up against this attack on our civil liberties, such as Wisconsin Senator Russell Feingold who was only senator to vote against the initial bill. The American Muslim community’s position against this severely flawed bill directly contradicts both Obama and Biden’s position. Their position is unacceptable and must be revised.
President Bush created this controversial program with the intent to give federal money via the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives to religious organizations for charitable social-service projects. While this sounds good in theory, in practicality much of the funds have gone to just a handful of Christian religious organizations that only serve the interests of their parishioners and not the broader community. By 2005, the program had an annual budget of $2.15 billion dollars and former President Jimmy Carter noted that:
"The policy from the White House has been to allocate funds to religious institutions, even those that channel those funds exclusively to their own particular group of believers in a particular religion. Those things in my opinion are quite disturbing," Carter said. "As a traditional Baptist, I've always believed in separation of church and state and honored that premise when I was president, and so have all other presidents, I might say, except this one."
The separation of church and state is sacrosanct in America and the faith-based initiatives are a dangerous overstep of this boundary. However, Obama has come out in favor of expanding faith-based initiatives. An article in the New York Times noted:
[Obama] thus embraced the heart of a program, established early in the Bush administration, that critics say blurs the constitutional separation of church and state. Mr. Obama made clear, however, that he would work to ensure that charitable groups receiving government funds be carefully monitored to prevent them from using the money to proselytize and to prevent any religion-based discrimination against potential recipients or employees.
In spite of Obama’s stated desire to prevent funds from going towards particular religious groups this program itself is highly questionable. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, commented on faith-based initiatives and said:
“This [program] is basically the Department of Religious Outreach ... it's essentially a public-relations outreach arm for the Bush administration to reach out to the far right of the evangelical Christian movement. That's really all it is.”
The expansion of the faith-based initiative program that Obama has proposed is unacceptable. Our constitution explicitly separates church-and-state and this program should be opposed.
Speech on Race
Obama, in the midst of a controversy over remarks made by his former Pastor Reverend Jeremiah Wright, delivered a Speech on Race that received widespread praise and the New York Times editorialized that, “What is evident, though, is that he not only cleared the air over a particular controversy — he raised the discussion to a higher plane.” I disagree. While Obama did make some encouraging remarks, he clearly slighted Muslims and displayed a callow understanding of America’s policy in the Middle East. Obama may have raised the discussion of race to a different level but he most certainly lowered the conversation on religion.
When Obama discussed Americans’ relationships with their religious advisers, he explicitly mentioned “pastors, priests and rabbis” while leaving out any reference to imams. By framing his discussion in this way, he paints a picture of American that is exclusively Protestant, Roman Catholic, or Jewish. Perhaps leaving out Muslims was unintentional; however, considering Obama’s other remarks and statements it does fit into a pattern. For example, Obama said that:
“But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.” [Emphasis added]
There are two primary problems with this statement. First, he argues that the conflict in the Middle East is caused by “radical Islam” not Israel; this statement shows a perverse understanding of the conflict of the Middle East. His statement is basically blaming the victims not the perpetrator. Last I checked it was Israel who forcibly expelled hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in contravention of international law and has refused the Palestinians unalienable right of return. Obama grossly misunderstands the conflicts in the Middle East and his specific policies will be discussed in length later on in this piece.
The second flaw is that he used the term “radical Islam”. There is no such thing as “radical Islam”. This term impugns the religion of Islam itself rather than the small group of radical Muslims. To use this term is to give credence to the idea that there is something radical about Islam when that is simply not true. There are some individuals who take a skewed interpretation of the religion but Obama is denigrating Islam by using this phrase. Just as there is no such thing as “radical Christianity” or “radical Judaism” there is no such thing as “radical Islam.” Obama must stop using this phrase which is an insult to the religion of Islam.
Obama’s speech was consistent in terms of how he and his campaign have dealt with Muslims. Throughout his twenty months of campaigning, he has spoken at various churches and synagogues but not a single mosque. When a photo emerged of Obama in traditional Somali garb he was quick to denounce Senator Clinton for allegedly distributing the picture. His campaign said that “[Clinton's] campaign has engaged in the most shameful, offensive fear-mongering we’ve seen from either party in this election.” Furthermore his campaign said, “It is unfortunate ... that her campaign would be involved in putting out a photograph that is in its very nature designed to be divisive.” The subtext of these statements is clear: Barack Obama is in no way shape or form a Muslim and that calling him such, or insinuating it, is equivalent to a slur. He even explicitly stated on his website that calling him a Muslim was a slur. His vehement denials of being a Muslim gave off the impression that somehow it is bad to be a Muslim. While its fine that Obama has denied rumors that he is a Muslim, he should respond by asking, “What’s wrong with being a Muslim?” Being called a Muslim has become a slur in American politics that Obama is perpetuating by his vehement denials and inability to say that there is nothing wrong with being a Muslim. His actions make it appear that being a Muslim is something that is abnormal and unacceptable. That is a very bitter pill to offer the seven million Muslims in America today, who constitute as large a community as Jews do in America. Obama has clearly snubbed American Muslims.
With the numerous foreign policy blunders of the Bush Administration one should hope that an Obama would take a different route in international relations. Unfortunately that is not the case. Obama will have to deal with a wide variety of issues such as the military budget, his advisers, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Sudan. In all of these areas, Obama’s policy positions are severely flawed.
Obama is in favor of increasing funding for the military and he wants to add 65,000 troops to the Army and 27,000 to Marines. This is in spite of the fact that Congress has allocated $612 billion for the year 2009, although this cost doesn’t take into account further supplemental funding bills that will be needed to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as military costs that are hidden in other departments. Defense-related spending for fiscal 2008 will exceed $1 trillion for the first time in history and 2009 defense spending will be larger. America already spends more on its military than the rest of the world combined. America cannot afford to continue in this profligate spending. Obama’s position is dead wrong and the military budget must be reduced.
A key indication of how Obama’s foreign policy would look like is by considering his advisers. He initially had the liberal interventionist Samantha Powers as an adviser but after she made some unflattering comments about Hillary Clinton she was dropped from his campaign. The military General James Jones has advised Obama’s campaign and so too has Republican Senator Dick Lugar. The most important adviser, however, is his Vice Presidential running mate Joe Biden.
Joe Biden is a Beltway politician who does have foreign policy experience, just not the right kind. His cheerleading of the war in Iraq, skewed understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and threats of crisis are deeply disturbing.
One cannot over-estimate how critical of a role Biden played in making the Iraq war possible. As Professor Stephen Zunes has noted:
In Washington, by contrast, Biden was insisting that Bush was right and Obama was wrong, falsely claiming that Iraq under Saddam Hussein - severely weakened by UN disarmament efforts and comprehensive international sanctions - somehow constituted both “a long term threat and a short term threat to our national security” and was an “extreme danger to the world.” Despite the absence of any “weapons of mass destruction” or offensive military capabilities, Biden when reminded of those remarks during an interview last year, replied, “That’s right, and I was correct about that.”
…Rather than being a hapless victim of the Bush administration’s lies and manipulation, Biden was calling for a U.S. invasion of Iraq and making false statements regarding Saddam Hussein’s supposed possession of “weapons of mass destruction” years before President George W. Bush even came to office…
…As far back as 1998, Biden was calling for a U.S. invasion of that oil rich country. Even though UN inspectors and the UN-led disarmament process led to the elimination of Iraq’s WMD threat, Biden - in an effort to discredit the world body and make an excuse for war - insisted that UN inspectors could never be trusted to do the job. During Senate hearings on Iraq in September of that year, Biden told Ritter, “As long as Saddam’s at the helm, there is no reasonable prospect you or any other inspector is ever going to be able to guarantee that we have rooted out, root and branch, the entirety of Saddam’s program relative to weapons of mass destruction.”…
…In the face of widespread skepticism over administration claims regarding Iraq’s military capabilities, Biden declared that President Bush was justified in being concerned about Iraq’s alleged pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. Even though Iraq had eliminated its chemical weapons arsenal by the mid-1990s, Biden insisted categorically in the weeks leading up to the Iraq war resolution that Saddam Hussein still had chemical weapons. Even though there is no evidence that Iraq had ever developed deployable biological weapons and its biological weapons program had been eliminated some years earlier, Biden insisted that Saddam had biological weapons, including anthrax and that “he may have a strain” of small pox. And, even though the International Atomic Energy Agency had reported as far back as 1998 that there was no evidence whatsoever that Iraq had any ongoing nuclear program, Biden insisted Saddam was “seeking nuclear weapons.”
Said Biden, “One thing is clear: These weapons must be dislodged from Saddam, or Saddam must be dislodged from power.” He did not believe proof of the existence of any actual weapons to dislodge was necessary, however, insisting that “If we wait for the danger from Saddam to become clear, it could be too late.” He further defended President Bush by falsely claiming that “He did not snub the U.N. or our allies. He did not dismiss a new inspection regime. He did not ignore the Congress. At each pivotal moment, he has chosen a course of moderation and deliberation.”
Biden was clearly wrong on Iraq. His understanding of the Iraq’s capabilities was severely flawed and he helped enable the war to occur. This enabler has also ratcheted up rhetoric against Iran and it would not be at all surprising if he stretched evidence against them as well.
On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict there is no doubt where Biden’s sympathy lies. He has openly declared that, "If I were a Jew, I would be a Zionist. I am a Zionist. You don't have to be a Jew to be a Zionist." During the Vice-Presidential Debate, Biden said, “…no one in the United States Senate has been a better friend to Israel than Joe Biden.” He went on to say:
“I argued against the elections being held for the Palestinian parliament. Who insisted on it? George W. Bush. I predicted that Hamas would win, and they won. Now we've taken a terrorist organization and legitimized it in the eyes of the world -- and why? Because they won an election. It's been a disastrous policy for Israel.”
The two major problems with this statement are that he is opposed to the democratic process in Palestine and that Hamas is an illegitimate terrorist organization. Being opposed to elections just because they don’t turn out the way you want them is highly undemocratic and is a slap down against the pro-democracy movements in the Middle East and the world. Calling Hamas a terrorist organization and refusing to negotiate with them is not a strategy for peace. Hamas’ Prime Minister Ishmael Haniyeh wrote:
We present this clear message: If Israel will not allow Palestinians to live in peace, dignity and national integrity, Israelis themselves will not be able to enjoy those same rights. Meanwhile, our right to defend ourselves from occupying soldiers and aggression is a matter of law, as settled in the Fourth Geneva Convention. If Israel is prepared to negotiate seriously and fairly, and resolve the core 1948 issues, rather than the secondary ones from 1967, a fair and permanent peace is possible. Based on a hudna (comprehensive cessation of hostilities for an agreed time), the Holy Land still has an opportunity to be a peaceful and stable economic powerhouse for all the Semitic people of the region. If Americans only knew the truth, possibility might become reality.
Haniyeh offers both the carrot and the stick. Hamas has to be dealt with therefore it is better to engage with them in negotiations rather than through continued isolation.
Commenting on a possible Israeli strike on Iran, Biden said, “You can't tell Israel not to launch a pre-emptive strike. You can't tell Israel what's in their own interest.” This is a dangerous statement to make because if Israel were to attack Iran we would inevitably be drawn into the conflict. The hawks need to be challenged, not given a free pass to do as they please.
Clearly Biden has thrown overwhelming support behind all of Israel’s action. This is unacceptable since American needs to play a mediating role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not exclusively back the Israeli side. Furthermore, Israel must be prevented from launching a preemptive strike against Iran and instead we should focus on resolving the Iranian nuclear issue.
Finally, Biden made an extremely troubling comment at a fundraiser in Seattle. He said:
“Mark my words, it will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy. The world is looking. We’re about to elect a brilliant 47-year-old senator president of the United States of America. Remember I said it standing here . . . we’re gonna have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy.”
Either Biden knows something that the rest of us don’t, or he believes that a major crisis will begin or be generated soon after Obama takes office. Would this be an expansion of the global War on Terror into Pakistan, an attack on Iran, or perhaps something else? With Biden’s known hawkish tendencies it is quite troubling to think about what would happen if there was another international crisis, whether real or manufactured. Biden has shown poor foreign policy judgment and this reflects ill on an Obama Administration.
Obama’s deep misunderstanding of this conflict has already been briefly touched on. But it was Obama’s speech at AIPAC that truly displayed how wrong he is on the conflict. Before analyzing his speech, it is important to consider Israel’s record.
Israel has instituted a concerted effort of colonization and expulsion in the West Bank. The most visceral example of this is the “apartheid” wall that has been built throughout the West Bank in violation of the International Court of Justice’s ruling that its construction is illegal. Former President Jimmy Carter noted in Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid that, “[The Wall] is projected to be at least three and a half times as long as Israel’s internationally recognized border and already cuts directly through Palestinian villages, divides families from their gardens and farmland, and includes 375,000 Palestinians on the “Israeli” side of the wall, 175,000 of whom are outside Jerusalem.” This land grab has allowed for the de facto creation of bantustans for Palestinian people.
Israel has used the tactic of extrajudicial killings to eliminate those it deems a threat. One of the most heinous of these killings occurred in March of 2004 when an American-supplied Israeli Helicopter gunship bombed and killed the quadriplegic Sheik Ahmed Yassin. The “collateral” damage from this bombing was 9 innocent bystanders, including 6 children. The assassination of alleged criminals is a gross violation to the rule of law.
Israeli policies in Gaza exemplify the idea of collective punishment. Israel has blockaded most imports and exports in Gaza by declaring it a “hostile territory”. Consequently, about 70% of Gaza’s workforce is now unemployed or without pay, according the United Nations, and about 80% of its residents live in harsh poverty. About 1.2 million of them are dependent for their day-to-day survival on food handouts from the UN or other international agencies, without which the population would starve. This deliberate attempt to destroy Gazan livelihood is in direct violation of the Geneva Convention—which Israel is a signatory to—obliges an occupational force to ensure the well-being of the occupied peoples.
Israel has set up over 500 different checkpoints throughout the West Bank. These checkpoints prevent Palestinians from moving freely within their own territory. To add insult to injury, there are numerous “Jew-only” roads throughout the West Bank that the native Palestinians are denied access to. This process of restricting Palestinian movement and access to roads throughout their territory is chillingly reminiscent of Nazi Germany’s policy towards their Jewish population during the early part of the 1930s.
Israel continues to violate of numerous U.N. resolutions. Israel continues to violate the Geneva Conventions regarding settlement of occupied territory, forbidding refugees from returning to their homes, and using collective punishment. Israel continues to violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states:
(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and return to his country.
-- Article 13
(1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.
-- Article 17
These systematic violations of international law leave the Palestinians with little recourse. Palestinians are forced to ask for aid from the international community and Israel often prevents this aid from reaching them.
Consider how Israel treats Nobel Peace Laureates. Israel shoots them, bars them from entry, denounces them as anti-Semitic, or slowly suffocates them. On April 20, 2007, Mairead Maguire was shot in the leg with a rubber bullet by the Israeli army who opened fire at a peaceful demonstration in the West Bank village of Bilin. On November 8, 2006, the Israeli army shelled the Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun which killed 19 Palestinians. The United Nations sent Desmond Tutu on a fact-finding mission to Gaza but he was barred from entry until this year. When he visited Gaza on May 28, he described the Beit Hanoun attack as a "massacre" and he later delivered a full report on this event to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. In 2006, former President Jimmy Carter wrote the book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid in an attempt to shed some light on the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict and encourage debate on the topic. For his efforts, Carter was labeled an “anti-Semite” and roundly attacked by supporters of Israel. Yasser Arafat spent the last years of his life in an Israeli-destroyed compound in Ramallah choked off from the international community until his mysterious death in 2004.
Obama plans to continue this special relationship with Israel. In his AIPAC speech, Obama began by stating, “Friends who share my strong commitment to make sure that the bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable today, tomorrow and forever.” This statement sounded reminiscent of Alabama Governor George Wallace’s 1963 inaugural address in which he stated, “Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” I’m sure that the Palestinians understand this parallel. But it got worse. Obama went on to say:
“That starts with ensuring Israel's qualitative military advantage. I will ensure that Israel can defend itself from any threat — from Gaza to Tehran. Defense cooperation between the United States and Israel is a model of success, and must be deepened. As president, I will implement a Memorandum of Understanding that provides $30 billion in assistance to Israel over the next decade — investments to Israel's security that will not be tied to any other nation. First, we must approve the foreign aid request for 2009. Going forward, we can enhance our cooperation on missile defense. We should export military equipment to our ally Israel under the same guidelines as NATO. And I will always stand up for Israel's right to defend itself in the United Nations and around the world.”
So Obama is in favor of increasing the military aid to a rogue state that has already received hundreds of billions of dollars in aid. He continued and said:
“The long road to peace requires Palestinian partners committed to making the journey. We must isolate Hamas unless and until they renounce terrorism, recognize Israel's right to exist, and abide by past agreements. There is no room at the negotiating table for terrorist organizations. That is why I opposed holding elections in 2006 with Hamas on the ballot. The Israelis and the Palestinian Authority warned us at the time against holding these elections. But this administration pressed ahead, and the result is a Gaza controlled by Hamas, with rockets raining down on Israel.”
Obama is in complete agreement with Biden on this issue. He is opposed to Palestinian democracy. Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar commented on the Palestinian election by writing:
The U.S.-Israeli alliance has sought to negate the results of the January 2006 elections, when the Palestinian people handed our party a mandate to rule. Hundreds of independent monitors, Carter among them, declared this the fairest election ever held in the Arab Middle East. Yet efforts to subvert our democratic experience include the American coup d'etat that created the new sectarian paradigm with Fatah and the continuing warfare against and enforced isolation of Gazans.
In spite of this, Obama refuses to negotiate with Hamas until it meets his preconditions. This is rather ironic because Israel continues to terrorize the Palestinians, doesn’t recognize the Palestinians right to exist (i.e. Palestine should be an independent sovereign state), and doesn’t abide by past agreements. He continues this hypocrisy and states:
“Let me be clear. Israel's security is sacrosanct. It is non-negotiable. The Palestinians need a state that is contiguous and cohesive, and that allows them to prosper — but any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel's identity as a Jewish state, with secure, recognized and defensible borders. Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.”
The fact that Obama later modified his statement on Jerusalem by saying that “Jerusalem is a final status issue, which means it has to be negotiated between the two parties…” doesn’t mitigate the impact of this statement. He knew how contentious an issue of Jerusalem was before he made his speech and by making that statement, he delivered a clear indication that he would support Israel’s illegal annexation of Jerusalem. Furthermore, he argued vehemently for maintaining Israel as a “Jewish” state which is a rather odd idea to defend for an alleged liberal democracy. What about the Muslims in Israel? Are they not to be treated as equal citizens and excluded for not being Jewish? There have been many states in the past that have decided to ensure that their states were homogenous for a particular religion or race and sometimes this has led to disastrous results. Perpetuating the notion of a “Jewish” state is not helpful.
Some say that perhaps Obama does have a deeper understanding of the conflict. These observers point to Obama’s statement that “nobody has suffered more than the Palestinian people.” After coming under pressure from the Israel lobby, he massaged his statement and said, “Nobody has suffered more than the Palestinian people from the failure of the Palestinian leadership to recognize Israel [Emphasis added].” By turning the statement into a condemnation of Palestinian leadership proves that he doesn’t understand the conflict.
Consider how Obama reacted to the situation in Gaza. He came out against a proposed UN Security Council statement that expressed concern over the Israeli blockade. He described Israel’s siege as “forced” by the Palestinian rocket attacks. Obama callously ignored the fact that Israel’s blockade was equivalent to collective punishment on all of Gaza. Collective punishment against civilians is a breach of international law, but Obama doesn’t appear to care about that.
Probably the most appropriate part of Obama’s speech at AIPAC wasn’t anything that he said but what he wore. Earlier in his campaign, Obama had decided to stop wearing the American flag pin because it had become a substitute for “true patriotism.” Obama went back on this statement when he wore an Israeli-American flag-pin at this speech. That symbol really sums up Obama’s belief in the deep American-Israeli alliance. Obama’s rhetoric has allowed him to capture the support of the Jewish vote, with the latest Gallup poll shows Obama with 74% of support among Jews and McCain has 22%. Obama’s policies towards this conflict must be opposed because his policies will only lead to more conflict and suffering.
During the summer 2006 Lebanon War, Israel ruthlessly bombed Lebanon. Israel attacked key infrastructure across the country and reduced much of Beirut to rubble. During this wanton bombing campaign, Obama co-sponsored Senate Resolution 534 [109th] that pledged unqualified support for Israel's bombing campaign. This green light from Congress allowed Israel to continue to bomb Lebanon in one of the grossest display of aerial bombardment since the War in Iraq. Obama should not have supported giving Israel a carte blanche for its attack on Lebanon.
Obama’s policy on Iraq, while somewhat encouraging, is also quite troubling. It is good that he opposed the Iraq War before it began and that he has called for a withdrawal of troops from Iraq, but a closer look at his policies tells a different story.
Obama has been praised for being opposed to the War in Iraq before it began and stated, “I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences.” He nailed this point on the head. However, in that same speech he said:
“Let me begin by saying that although this has been billed as an antiwar rally, I stand before you as someone who is not opposed to war in all circumstances. The Civil War was one of the bloodiest in history, and yet it was only through the crucible of the sword, the sacrifice of multitudes, that we could begin to perfect this union, and drive the scourge of slavery from our soil. I don’t oppose all wars. My grandfather signed up for a war the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, fought in Patton’s Army. He saw the dead and dying across the fields of Europe; he heard the stories of fellow-troops who first entered Auschwitz and Treblinka. He fought in the name of a larger freedom, part of that arsenal of democracy that triumphed over evil, and he did not fight in vain. I don’t oppose all wars.”
He is not opposed to all wars and even speaks in gushing terms about some wars. While it is fine not to be opposed to all wars this statement qualifies his opposition before the War in Iraq. The War in Iraq was not in the best interests of America, hence he opposed it. However, in other cases—such as the nebulous Global War on Terror—he believes that warfare is necessary (see the later discussion on Pakistan). So Obama is no pacifist, he just opposed dumb wars.
His opposition to the war was easier said than actually done. When he came to the Senate, he voted to continue funding the war. His previous opposition to the Iraq War really doesn’t mean as much as his vote to continue to fund the war. His actions speak louder than his words and those actions are quite deleterious.
Obama has laid out a plan for Iraq. He wrote that:
As I’ve said many times, we must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in. We can safely redeploy our combat brigades at a pace that would remove them in 16 months. That would be the summer of 2010 — two years from now, and more than seven years after the war began. After this redeployment, a residual force in Iraq would perform limited missions: going after any remnants of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, protecting American service members and, so long as the Iraqis make political progress, training Iraqi security forces. That would not be a precipitous withdrawal. [Emphasis added]
The sixteen month time-frame seemed to go over well with the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who said, “US presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about sixteen months. That, we think, would be the right time frame for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes.” More recently, Iraq has said that the US should withdraw within 12 months. However, there was a rather large caveat that Obama made. He argued that the US would leave behind a “residual force” in Iraq. So although he says he’s going to withdraw all troops from Iraq, he’s actually going to leave some behind. How big would this residual force be? Obama did not say, but advisers leaked that it could reach 50,000.
This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that has closely followed the war. America has built permanent mega-bases in Iraq and does not appear to be willing to completely withdraw. America will stay in Iraq despite the fact that we are hemorrhaging money at an unsustainable rate to maintain an unpopular occupation of an oil-rich country. The Iraqi’s want us out and Obama arrogantly talks about leaving behind “residual forces.” Furthermore, Obama refuses to rule out the controversial use of contractors in Iraq. Jeremy Scahill, author of the book Blackwater, has said:
The reality is, and Barack Obama knows this very well, his Iraq plan could not be implemented if he was against the use of Blackwater or other private security forces. And the reality is, he’s probably going to have to use these companies for two to three years at a minimum, unless he makes it an aggressive point of trying to shut them down. He might even have to use Blackwater for the first year of his administration.
Blackwater is the infamous mercenary group contracted by the US military to provide security in Iraq and has perpetrated numerous crimes against innocent civilians such as in the Nisour Square Massacre.
Obama’s continued support for funding the war, his plan to leave a residual force, and his probable use of contractors in Iraq is highly suspicious. Obama is not in favor of a unilateral withdrawal in Iraq and he must be pressured to adopt a better Iraq policy.
Arguably the most important issue between Indian-American relations has been the Indian Nuclear Agreement. In 2005, George W. Bush put forward a plan to transfer nuclear technology and materials to India. He wanted to make this deal with India in spite of the fact that India had not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and has an active nuclear weapons program. Bush argued that the deal was needed to strengthen the America’s relationship with India, it will provide a “green” source of energy for India, and that it will provide billions of dollars of trade in nuclear technology. Detractors of this flawed agreement noted that it would increase nuclear proliferation, it would be a disincentive for countries to join or remain party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and that it would spur a nuclear technology race between India and Pakistan. The negatives far outweigh any gains and this agreement should be opposed. When this Indian Nuclear Agreement came before the Senate this October, Obama voted in favor of it. He has basically voted to increase nuclear proliferation and the true irony of this piece of legislation is seen when it comes to the issue of Iran.
Obama’s policies towards Iran are terrible. While he offers to talk with the leaders of Iran with some preconditions, he has resorted to bellicose rhetoric on Iran. He has consistently stated that all options are on the table in dealing with Iran and that America should put more sanctions on the Iranian regime. Why? Because they have a suspected nuclear weapons program.
Of course, all of the evidence points to the fact that Iran is not pursing a nuclear weapons program; rather it is pursing the use of nuclear energy, a right guaranteed to Iran since it is a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE)—a report that represents the consensus view of all 16 American spy agencies—released in December of 2007 states with “high confidence” that Iran is not running a nuclear weapons development program. The International Atomic Energy Agency has said that Iran has made “substantial progress” in addressing the issue of nuclear enrichment. There have already been four UN Security Council resolutions passed against Iran’s nuclear energy program although Iran insists that it is only for peaceful means.
So what is Obama’s position? In his address to AIPAC, Obama said:
The Iranian regime supports violent extremists and challenges us across the region. It pursues a nuclear capability that could spark a dangerous arms race and raise the prospect of a transfer of nuclear know-how to terrorists. Its president denies the Holocaust and threatens to wipe Israel off the map. The danger from Iran is grave, it is real, and my goal will be to eliminate this threat.
There are a number of errors in this statement. As Stephen Zunes noted:
[The President of Iran Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, never actually threatened to “wipe Israel off the map” nor has he demonstrated a newly hostile Iranian posture toward the Jewish state. Not only was this oft-quoted statement a mistranslation – the idiom does not exist in Farsi and the reference was to the dissolution of the regime, not the physical destruction of the nation – the Iranian president was quoting from a statement by Ayatollah Khomeini from over 20 years earlier. In addition, he explicitly told our group on September 26 that there was “no military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” and that it was “not Iran’s intention to destroy Israel.”
Furthermore, Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons technology. What would a handful of nuclear weapons do in comparison to Israel’s 150 or more nuclear weapons? Israel holds an overwhelming nuclear deterrent over Iran, a country which hasn’t attacked anyone in over two hundred years. Why is Israel—which is not a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty—allowed to have nuclear weapons and Iran—which clearly does not have nuclear weapons—receive sanctions for a peaceful nuclear enrichment program? Why does India get American nuclear technology and Iran is isolated for its miniscule attempts in comparison to develop a peaceful nuclear energy program? Obama expanded on his hypocrisy during his AIPAC speech by also stating:
“…We should also pursue other unilateral sanctions that target Iranian banks and assets.
Finally, let there be no doubt: I will always keep the threat of military action on the table to defend our security and our ally Israel. Sometimes there are no alternatives to confrontation. But that only makes diplomacy more important. If we must use military force, we are more likely to succeed, and will have far greater support at home and abroad, if we have exhausted our diplomatic efforts.”
Further sanctions will antagonize Iran and hurt the Iranian people. Obama’s threat against Iran violates Article 2 of the UN Charter that explicitly states that “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state [Emphasis added].” Obama’s sanctimonious policy towards Iran will ensure further tensions in the Persian Gulf, not rapprochement and peace.
Obama’s policy towards Pakistan can be potentially catastrophic. Obama has said, “If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets in Pakistan and the government is unwilling or unable to act, we will do so." This statement flouts the very premise of the international system set up in the aftermath of World War II. That is that state sovereignty is inviolable minus UN approved action. The threat of attacking a country, as seen before, is a violation of international law. The US has already made cross border raids into Pakistan and this strategy is endorsed by Obama. This isn’t the first time that America has decided to attack a neighboring country to deal with an insurgency. President Nixon launched bombing attacks into Cambodia during the Vietnam War to cut off the supply line of the Vietcong. Eventually, the US bombed deeper and deeper into Cambodian territory. In the aftermath of this bombing, a dictator by the name of Pol Pot rose to power and committed one of the most tradgic genocides of the twentieth century. What would an expansion of the War on Terror into Pakistan look like?
Cross border raids into Pakistan is a disastrous policy. Obama appears willing to accept the Bush Doctrine of preventive war and his threat to attack inside Pakistan is a foolish idea. On the most basic level, attacking Pakistan contravenes the UN charter. An attack on Pakistan would be defined as a war of aggression which the Nuremberg trials list as the supreme international crime. Unilateral intervention in Pakistan would mean that Pakistan has the right—under Article 51 of the UN Charter—to “exercise self-defense.” Of course Pakistan doesn’t have the capacity to attack America but this action is a crime nonetheless. Inside Pakistan, militants will be emboldened and strike out against both America and Pakistan. Events such as the Marriot Bombing will increase in frequency and the power of the central government to reign in militants will decrease. Separatist tensions will be stoked further in Baluchistan and the North West Frontier Province will continue to fall to the Talibanization effect. Chaos will reign and Pakistan will be further destabilized. Obama must renounce this policy and end his bellicose rhetoric against foreign countries.
Obama is in favor of expanding the war in Afghanistan to defeat Al Qaeda and the Taliban. This policy has tried and seven years later, it has failed. Obama has promised to send 10,000 more troops to Afghanistan to “win” the war. Looking at Afghanistan right now, Obama’s surge plan looks doomed to fail.
The dramatic increase in US troops in Afghanistan in the past year has not stabilized the situation on the ground. The journalist John Nichols noted that “…US military officials acknowledge that attacks in eastern Afghanistan — the sector of the country where the majority of US forces currently operate — are up by 40 percent so far in 2008.” Activist Sonali Kolhatkar has said:
In fact, things are getting worse and worse. How many of you know about the fact that violence is up 50 percent since last year in Afghanistan? Afghanistan is a country that’s, by the way, 50 percent bigger in size than Iraq, has a population four million more than Iraq. This is not about a hierarchy of oppression; it’s simply for comparison purposes. So, last year, violence up by 50 percent; 140 suicide bombings in a country that had never really seen suicide bombings as a phenomenon before December 2005; over 50,000 NATO troops, of which about half are US soldiers; US soldiers dying at a rate higher than dying in Iraq, that is, per soldier, more US soldiers dying in Afghanistan than in Iraq.
The cycle of violence has intensified. The journalist Nir Rosen noted that:
Officials on the ground in Afghanistan say it is foolhardy to believe that the Americans can prevail where the Russians failed. At the height of the occupation, the Soviets had 120,000 of their own troops in Afghanistan, buttressed by roughly 300,000 Afghan troops. The Americans and their allies, by contrast, have 65,000 troops on the ground, backed up by only 137,000 Afghan security forces - and they face a Taliban who enjoy the support of a well-funded and highly organized network of Islamic extremists. "The end for the Americans will be just like for the Russians," says a former commander who served in the Taliban government. "The Americans will never succeed in containing the conflict. There will be more bleeding. It's coming to the same situation as it did for the communist forces, who found themselves confined to the provincial capitals."
Afghanistan is the graveyard for empires. The Afghans defeated the British in the nineteenth century, the Soviets in the twentieth century, and the Americans in the twenty-first century. One of the central reasons behind the collapse of the Soviet Union was imperial overstretch. America will suffer the same fate if we continue down imperial path of hubris. In Afghanistan, Kabul has become President Hamid Karzai’s fiefdom under the aegis of US-led NATO forces. If Obama expands the war in Afghanistan, collateral damage will increase which will serve as a recruiting tool for Al Qaeda, the conflict will intensify, and the process of reconstruction will be hampered. The only solution to Afghanistan is at the negotiating table. Obama must stop his pugnacious efforts to escalate the war in Afghanistan and begin serious negotiations with all elements of Afghan society.
Obama doesn’t appreciate the complexities of the problems in Sudan. Obama has said that “Genocide is underway in Darfur, Sudan.” He has called for sanctions on Sudan and for more international peacekeepers to be deployed to Darfur. While the 28,000 strong hybrid African Union-United Nations peacekeeping forces have been a positive development for Darfur, the conflict itself cannot be resolved by threatening further sanctions. The conflict can only be resolved through principled diplomacy, as the Second Sudanese Civil War proved. Furthermore, the UN has found that “crimes against humanity” have been committed in Darfur, not genocide. There is an important distinction to be made here, particularly since it is important to emphasize that there is a resource-based conflict between an insurgency and alleged government supported militias. That’s not to take away from the gravity of the situation there; however, the issue of Darfur can be resolved through peaceful means. Hyperbolic language and threats of sanctions will not help. Obama needs to revise his approach to Sudan.
The financial crisis has catapulted economic issues to the top of many people’s minds. What follows is a brief discussion of the weaknesses of Obama’s economic policies as seen by his choice of advisers, views on free trade, green issues, and the Wall Street bailout package.
Obama has picked a variety of economic advisers to help him craft an economic policy. He has advisers such as billionare investor Warren Buffet, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volker, and economist Jason Furman. Of this group, Furman appears to be the weakest pillar, as he has been described as a prominent defender of Wal-Mart and he labeled it a “progressive success story.” Wal-Mart has come under attack for being anti-union, paying low-wages, and becoming a monopoly that has shut down hundreds of mom-and-pop stores. What is more troubling, however, than Furman is Obama’s stance on free trade.
Free trade has come under increasing scrutiny for its deleterious effects on workers’ rights, exporting of jobs abroad, and encouraging a poor environmental record. The major free trade agreement that has put hundreds of thousands of Americans out of their manufacturing jobs is the North American Free Trade Agreement. This agreement was crafted by President Clinton in an effort to create a free trade zone for Mexico, America, and Canada. During the primaries, Obama correctly argued that NAFTA had been “devastating” and “a big mistake” and suggested that he would unilaterally opt-out of it to make the agreement more favorable for workers. Once he had clinched the Democratic nomination for President, Obama backtracked and said, “Sometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified.” This statement, however, fits into his repeated claims that he is a “free trader” and he has backed this position up by voting for a free trade agreement with Peru. Obama should not have changed his position on NAFTA and should demand fair trade agreements. Furthermore, he should oppose the infamous anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act (1947). Obama needs to stand up for workers rights and stop coddling corporate interests.
On a generalized level, Obama has a pretty good approach to green issues. However, his approach to the use of ethanol and nuclear energy is flawed.
Obama has embraced the use of ethanol in spite of its high costs environmental costs. An article in the New York Times noted:
Many economists, consumer advocates, environmental experts and tax groups have been critical of corn ethanol programs as a boondoggle that benefits agribusiness conglomerates more than small farmers. Those complaints have intensified recently as corn prices have risen sharply in tandem with oil prices and corn normally used for food stock has been diverted to ethanol production.
Corn ethanol generates less than two units of energy for every unit of energy used to produce it, while the energy ratio for sugar cane is more than 8 to 1. With lower production costs and cheaper land prices in the tropical countries where it is grown, sugar cane is a more efficient source.
So why does Obama support the energy inefficient ethanol? Because he is from a corn-producing state and believes that it is a good alternative energy source. An article in the Guardian/UK has noted:
…ethanol has been blamed for contributing to the devastating global rise in food prices. The huge demand for corn to feed the 178 US distilleries that now pockmark the mid-west has diverted the supply from food markets and distorted international trade. About a third of American corn is now gobbled up by the industry, and the price of corn more than doubled to a peak of $5 (£3.15) a bushel earlier this year.
Yet Obama has continued to back the $33bn spent by the federal government every year to subsidise ethanol at the pump…
Ethanol is a poor idea in the approach towards finding alternative energy sources. Obama’s ethanol policy needs to be opposed.
Obama has also called for the building of new nuclear power plants to deal with America’s growing energy demand. This idea is severely flawed. Nuclear energy is a bad idea because there has been no solution for how to store nuclear waste, the plants provide a target for terrorist attacks, it is uneconomical in comparison to other sources of energy, and reactors have had problems before (e.g. Chernobyl and Three Mile Island). The Yucca mountain waste storage facility remains in abeyance. The Wall Street Journal has reported that the estimated cost of nuclear reactors has doubled, tripled, or quadrupled in recent years to an average ranging between $5 billion to $12 billion per plant. The opportunity cost of nuclear energy is too high and Obama needs to oppose nuclear energy.
Obama supported the $850 billion dollar Wall Street bailout plan. The initial plan was conceived by the government to buy back toxic securities from banks so that they could continue to function. The plan that was eventually adopted ensured that the government would buy a stake in companies that needed to be rescued. According to one poll, the bailout plan was opposed by 55% of Americans, largely because the perception was that this program bailed out the fat cats on Wall Street and socialized their losses. People opposed this plan because it seemed a little too much like the failed policy of trickle-down economics. Alternatives to this plan existed and some offered to freeze mortgage defaults or help directly to American’s with bad mortgages. Obama decided to stick to the trickle-down approach and the effects are yet to be seen. What is abundantly clear, however, is that Obama was willing to fund Wall Street but has only offered modest funding increases for Main Street. His vote in favor of this bill indicates a willingness to side with corporate interests over those of everyday Americans.
Obama’s personal actions and statements give an insight into his character and how this will reflect on his policy judgments. Obama’s actions towards Reverend Wright, campaign-financing, and political opportunism indicate a defect in his character.
The Reverend Wright issue was a manufactured controversy to attack Obama for guilt by association. Reverend Wright did make some controversial remarks and Obama rightly defended him in saying that old sermon clips don’t mean much. Eventually, he had a Sister Soulja moment and denounced his former pastor. This is the same pastor who had consecrated Obama’s marriage, baptized his children, and been a close friend of Obama’s. In spite of all this, Obama sold him out. Instead of defending Reverend Wright’s right of free expression and explained that he disagreed with him, Obama took the next step and completely renounced him.
The two major issues with this action are that Obama could not stand up to the scrutiny of the right-wing attack dogs and he outright rejected what his pastor was saying even if part of his statements were true.
Obama’s inability to stand up to smear campaign is indicative of how he would act when he has to make tough decisions. Obama has been very incrementalist thus far in his politics, always preferring to avoid controversy (as seen by his FISA and Bailout votes) rather than make a principled stand. If Obama couldn’t stand up for someone who was a close friend of his, how will he treat Muslim Americans who he has quite clearly snubbed?
Also, consider the Reverend Wrights arguments on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Wright was correct to put the onus of blame on the Israeli aggressor, not the Palestinian victim. Obama’s statement on this issue, as discussed before, is clearly flawed. Perhaps Obama should have just defended his friend’s right to freedom of speech rather than selling him out because of political pressure.
Obama’s flip-flop on this issue has spelt the death-knell for campaign finance reform. Obama initially promised to accept public financing for his Presidential election but later reneged on that promise. Consequently, Obama has raised over $600 million for his campaign and has outspent McCain by 4-to-1. The overwhelming majority of his campaign contributions have come from big donors (donations of more than $200). Amy Goodman, the host of DemocracyNow!, wrote that:
Obama's campaign is credited with receiving an unprecedented number of small donations from among its historic 3.1 million donors. Campaign manager David Plouffe says the campaign's average donation is under $100. A Washington Post analysis of Federal Election Commission data shows, though, that only a quarter of this vast number of donors fall into the "small" category (under $200), which is a smaller percentage than that achieved by George Bush in his 2004 run.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit group that tracks campaign contributions, the funds raised in presidential campaigns has skyrocketed. The 1976 campaign, the first campaign that included public financing, saw a total of $171 million raised (about $570 million, adjusted for inflation). The current campaign weighs in at close to $1.6 billion, and the group expects the total to reach $2.4 billion. While donations to candidates are supposed to be limited to $2,300 for the general election (an additional $2,300 is allowed for the primary season, per candidate), huge loopholes exist. Most notable are the "joint fundraising committees," in which the presidential candidate partners with his party to form a fundraising organization. McCain and the Republican National Committee's is called McCain Victory 2008 and can receive donations as high as $70,000, which then get distributed to the presidential campaign, the national party and to key state parties. Obama and the Democratic National Committee created the Obama Victory Fund, to which donors could give $28,500. As The Washington Post just reported, the Democrats found that sum too limiting, so they created the Committee for Change, which allows donors to give up to $65,500. That's a helluva lot of change.
Obama has decided to buy his way into the White House and his big donors expect that their interests will be heard if he becomes President. The ethanol industry and agribusiness clearly hold sway over Obama and he is more than willing to give kickbacks to those who support him, as his $740 million dollars in earmark requests attest to. Every Presidential candidate since 1976 has accepted public financing for their campaigns except for Obama. This forebodes ill for grassroots democracy in America and Obama has set a terrible precedent.
Obama’s opting out of public-financing should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed his political career.
In Obama’s 1996 run for State Senate, he received the support of Alice Palmer who held the seat but had decided to run for Congress. Palmer wasn’t able to pass her primary battle and ended up trying to run for her old seat in the State Senate. Obama was able to get her disqualified from being on the ballot because of invalid petition signatures and ran unopposed in the primary. He then easily won the State Senate seat in a heavily Democratic district.
Obama learned quickly about what greased the wheels in Illinois politics. He viewed his spot in the State Senate as a stepping stone for bigger and better things. A New Yorker article described Obama’s development:
E. J. Dionne, Jr., of the Washington Post, wrote about this transition in a 1999 column after Daley was reëlected. Dionne wrote about a young Barack Obama, who artfully explained how the new pinstripe patronage worked: a politician rewards the law firms, developers, and brokerage houses with contracts, and in return they pay for the new ad campaigns necessary for reëlection. “They do well, and you get a $5 million to $10 million war chest,” Obama told Dionne. It was a classic Obamaism: superficially critical of some unseemly aspect of the political process without necessarily forswearing the practice itself. Obama was learning that one of the greatest skills a politician can possess is candor about the dirty work it takes to get and stay elected.
Obama understood that he could win an election with enough money. After he lost badly while running for Congress, Obama decided to reorder his political strategy. When Democrats took over the Illinois Senate in 2002, Obama moved quickly to gerrymander his Senate district so that he could receive funding and support for his anticipated run for the U.S. Senate. The article continues:
Like every other Democratic legislator who entered the inner sanctum, Obama began working on his “ideal map.” Corrigan remembers two things about the district that he and Obama drew. First, it retained Obama’s Hyde Park base—he had managed to beat Rush in Hyde Park—then swooped upward along the lakefront and toward downtown. By the end of the final redistricting process, his new district bore little resemblance to his old one. Rather than jutting far to the west, like a long thin dagger, into a swath of poor black neighborhoods of bungalow homes, Obama’s map now shot north, encompassing about half of the Loop, whose southern portion was beginning to be transformed by developers like Tony Rezko, and stretched far up Michigan Avenue and into the Gold Coast, covering much of the city’s economic heart, its main retail thoroughfares, and its finest museums, parks, skyscrapers, and lakefront apartment buildings. African-Americans still were a majority, and the map contained some of the poorest sections of Chicago, but Obama’s new district was wealthier, whiter, more Jewish, less blue-collar, and better educated. It also included one of the highest concentrations of Republicans in Chicago.
With the ability to raise lots of money for a Senate race, Obama ran against a tough opponent, Republican Jack Ryan. However, after a sex-scandal destroyed Ryan’s political career, Obama easily won the election. After Obama’s keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, he became the party's rising star. In this election, he has utilized the knowledge of his previous elections—that it is easier to run against a weak candidate and you can win an election with enough money—to run a very smooth campaign. The fact that you can buy your way into political office is an indictment against the American political system. Obama knows how to work the system like a crafty politician to buy an election.
Obama is a politician who does not offer any substantive change; rather he offers more of the same, albeit in a different look. I would finally like to consider the two-party system in this country, considerations for Muslims who are voting, thoughts on Ralph Nader, and some final remarks.
Many people gripe about the two-party system and how both parties are increasingly similar with only some differences. The two-party system has hurt democracy in America and particularly in the Presidential elections. The Electoral College is an antiquated system that needs to be abolished. We did not have direct elections of our senators until the 17th Amendment was passed in 1913. A new amendment is desperately needed so that we can have a direct popular vote decide the President. The late Green Party activist Peter Camejo commented:
“When I ran for governor in the recall, I got seven percent of the vote in San Francisco. We just got 47 percent of the vote last night. And what that means is people are perfectly willing to vote for a Green, and I think they would be perfectly willing to vote for a Dennis Kucinich or any of the candidates that are simply being rejected, but the electoral system doesn’t allow it when you don’t have a runoff system in place, where you don’t have IRV, instant runoff voting, a form through which people can vote. People are forced into trying to calculate their lesser evil choice and throw their support in that direction. Now, the Democrats do have in some states proportional representation, and people will feel free to vote for whoever they want. The electoral system isn’t set up right. That’s one thing that’s hurting those candidates that are expressing a more definitive antiwar view. The truth is, in the debate of the Democrats, it that the major candidates, the Democratic Party leadership, is not against what Bush has done; it’s how he’s done it. They wanted the UN to be the one that invades and takes over Iraq, and they want to share the spoils with Germany and France. They want more international allies when they do their illegal international creations of the empire. And, you know, I think in America we need to debate this. And one of the things, once the primaries are over, is there will be no voice against George Bush unless a Green runs.”
The system needs to be revised so that candidates wouldn’t have to just go to delegate rich states and ignore others. Additionally, third party candidates would have much better shot at winning the Presidency and getting their voices heard. We should demand that this archaic system—designed in the 18th century for 18th century needs—be abolished.
Considerations for Muslims:
Muslims should remember what the great labor union and perennial Presidential candidate Eugene Debs said: “It is better to vote for what you want and not get it - than to vote for what you don't want and get it.” Debs would later remark when asked by a reporter what his biggest regret was: “My greatest regret is that, under our Constitution, the American people can have almost anything they want, but it just seems they don’t want much of anything at all.” We must demand more of our leaders. Believing that Obama will benefit Muslims is wishful thinking.
Those Muslims campaigning for Obama or supporting his candidacy need to understand that if he is elected, it will be a Pyrrhic victory. Those who argue in favor of Obama most often steep their arguments in a negative premise. The argument goes that you have to vote for Obama because his opponent, i.e. McCain, is so much worse. This flawed logic then goes on to say that if you don’t vote for Obama, you are essentially voting for McCain. This is a fallacy perpetuated by those in power who only want to maintain their grip on power. Muslims who vote for Obama are enabling a severely flawed candidate and are voting out of fear. Remember what President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “My fellow Americans we have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Vote for who you believe to be the best candidate for President, NOT who is most electable.
If Obama is elected President, Muslims should demand several things from him. First, Obama should make it eminently clear that there is nothing wrong with being a Muslim. Second, he should ensure there remains a clear separation of church and state. Third, that he revises his foreign policy to a more balanced and less bellicose position. Finally, it might be a bit of a stretch, but it would be nice to see a qualified Muslim be appointed to a cabinet level position.
Clearly the most pro-Muslim candidate out who is running for President is Ralph Nader (although Cynthia McKinney of the Green Party has also been very pro-Muslim). So why vote for Nader? He addresses a whole range of specific issues (e.g. Single payer health insurance, cutting the military budget, no nuclear power rather solar energy and adopting a carbon tax, cracking down on corporate crime and welfare, a rational Middle East policy, etc.) and offers substantive ways for positive change. Furthermore, he has a long history of consumer advocacy, and was instrumental in getting airbags and seatbelts in cars, helping to establish the Environmental Protection Agency, and a wide range of other consumer protections. Learn more about his candidacy at votenader.org.
We should support Nader because he supports us. If we don’t support those who support us, what kind of constituency would we be? We will continue to be ignored, attacked, and marginalized if we don’t show to politicians that they need to earn our vote. We must not give it away to the least bad candidate. We need an electoral revolution like the kind that has swept across Latin America. Revolutionaries founded this nation in the pursuit of liberty. The only way to correct an injustice is to denounce it and not support it.
Nader was on Meet the Press and commented on why he is running for President:
“One feels an obligation, Tim, to try to open the doorways, to try to get better ballot access, to respect dissent in America in the terms of third parties and, and independent candidates; to recognize historically that great issues have come in our history against slavery and women rights to vote and worker and farmer progressives, through little parties that never ran--won any national election. Dissent is the mother of ascent. And in that context, I have decided to run for president.”
He went on to rebut those who argue that he might be a spoiler candidate by stating: “If the Democrats can't landslide the Republicans this year, they ought to just wrap up, close down, emerge in a different form.”
In this election season, we must remember Frederick Douglass famous saying that “Power concedes nothing without demand.” Obama may be a post-race candidate but he most certainly is not a post-prejudice candidate. Obama would most certainly damage Muslim interests. A cult of personality has emerged behind him and this has allowed otherwise rational beings to be swayed by sweet nothingness. The putative success of an Obama Presidency is far from determined. Support someone that supports you. Obama, through a savvy political campaign and by spending hundreds of millions of dollars to gain support, has effectively been able to manufacture consent from a nation grown accustomed to the idea of “the lesser of two evils”. Obama most assuredly does not support Muslim interest and definitely does not deserve the Muslim vote.
Everyone gripes about the corruption of the two-party system and yet tacitly endorse the system by constantly picking the lesser of the two evils. Muslims who vote for Obama are doing a double-disservice by supporting someone person who doesn’t support us and by not supporting those who support us.
There is no doubt that we need change. But are we to be like Judas, selling our ideals short for marginal gain? Are we to be a harlot, selling ourselves out for no real gain? The lesser of two evils is still evil.
A vote for Obama, based on the evidence presented, means the formal acceptance of many flawed policy positions. A vote for Obama hurts your civil liberties. A vote for Obama is a vote to continue unquestioned US support for the Israeli occupation. A vote for Obama is a vote for the continuation of the war in Iraq. A vote for Obama is a vote for an escalation of the war in Afghanistan. A vote for Obama is a vote for the expansion of the Global War on Terror. A vote for Obama is a vote for free trade. A vote for Obama is a vote for the perpetuation of the two party system. Muslims who support Obama are severely delusional.
America is burning. The pillars of sand that this country has been built on are finally being exposed to the wind. America is declining and our imperial escapades have left us overstretched and exposed. The empire must end and be supplanted by a true democracy. America desperately needs a new direction. We need authentic change, not the illusion of change. I would like to thank you for reading this lengthy article and will end by quoting Saul Bellow: “A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.”