Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Freedom of Speech

I’ll admit, I was a reluctant convert to the notion of complete freedom of speech. I had always believed that some things people said were so vile, so beyond the pale of respectability, that there had to be some boundaries or limitations to the concept of freedom of speech. In fact, once upon a time I did argue that some things were so extreme that they had to be censored. Over time, however, I have come to appreciate what complete freedom of speech entails and what the responsible exercise of this right means for a society.

The reason why freedom of speech is so important is that it directly leads to the broader, and I do believe more fundamentally important, concept of freedom of thought. What this means is that no higher authority indoctrinates those below with uniform notions and ideas; instead, people are free to choose from the marketplace of ideas and develop whatever belief they want based on the strength of evidence. Rational people can (theoretically) listen to the various opinions on some issue and walk away with a new viewpoint. A society grows and flourishes when people can think independently and critically about different viewpoints.

This, in a nutshell, is why freedom of speech is so important. This uniquely Western concept forged during the Enlightenment strengthened the diversity of thought and belief in the Western world. The concept of critical self-reflection became a hallmark of all liberal Western democracies. Freedom of speech has been used by the press to check government abuses. Locke’s Social Contract would have no defender without the freedom of speech. It is the muckraking journalists that expose abuses of power, the ivory-tower academics that document these abuses, and the politicians who have to deal with the fall out of these exposés. Without journalists exposing the horrors of Abu Ghraib, the world would never have know what it means to have America “justice” meted out to (largely innocent) Iraqis. Thus, freedom of speech is inextricably tied to regulating and exposing those in power, but also it allows people to formulate any independent ideas they so desire.

However, even within the domain of Western freedom of speech, sometimes there are ideas that are so offensive that they have become illegal. For example, across much of Europe holocaust denial is a criminal offence fully prosecutable under the law. In fact the historian David Irving was imprisoned in Austria for thirteen months for committing this offence. It was based on this concept that some ideas are so extreme that they must be outlawed, and I vehemently argued against (for more info see my post entitled "Cartoon Controversy") the publication of the cartoons initially published by Danish newspapers that not only depicted the alleged image of the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) (In Islam this is blasphemous), but also portrayed him as a terrorist.

This is where the idea of responsible usage of the freedom of speech comes into play. I think that people should themselves realize the consequences of using this freedom and perhaps sometimes delicately discuss sensitive issues. With that being said and while I believe that it was utterly wrong for those images to be published, I now believe that it was within those people’s rights to publish that material. As morally repugnant as I believe those cartoons were, it becomes a very tricky issue to regulate what can and can’t be said. How far will we be willing to clamp down on freedom of speech to protect people’s sensibilities? Either everything can be said, or else too many limitations will be placed on the freedom of speech and, by extension, freedom of thought. This is unacceptable for a society that wants a vibrant debate of ideas and diversity of opinions.

More often than not, however, many Western nations practice self-censorship to provide either ideological cover for a particular agenda, or to prevent incensing some sub-group of people’s sensibilities. In terms of self-censorship, the way the mainstream corporate media portrayed the destruction of Gaza by the Israelis is an excellent example of how self-censorship works; the brutalization of a helpless people becomes not only justified—because of course Israel is, and always will be, the victim—but the right thing to do, since Israel is a frontline state in the War on Islam (often referred to as the War on Terror, but these two monikers could be interchangeable). This portrayal reinforces the ideological belief of the US government that Israel must be defended and supported, no matter the cost or reality of a situation. The fact that this reinforces established authority rather than questions its actions is a failure in the fight for freedom of speech.

The other type of self-censorship is how to deal with a sensitive issue for a particular sub-group in society. The example of the cartoon controversy can be revisited here. The publishing of these cartoons became a rallying tool used across the Middle East to protest Western ideological imperialism. The consequence of the publications of these cartoons (even though they were published months before) was riots in cities across the Middle East, the burning of embassies, and the deaths of dozens of people. In the West, it provided for an example of how sacrosanct the notion of freedom of speech is, no matter the cost. In the East, it provided the masses a distraction to focus on the external enemy (i.e. the brutal, tyrannical, imperialist West) and deflected focus on the terrible governments that rule over these people.

One important distinction to be made, however, is that I have purposely portrayed the Western concept of freedom of speech as more monolithic than it actually is; the reason I’ve done this is for simplicity sake and that for almost all of the major issues, Western freedom of speech is essentially uniform (i.e. anything can be said as long as isn’t a direct threat to a countries sovereignty—like saying, “I’m planning a revolution in so-and-so country, and this is how I’m going to do it.”) amongst liberal Western democracies. However, I must note that the US notion of freedom of speech is still, by far, the most liberal and complete of any Western democracy. There is very little that you can’t say in America. That being said, you should still watch what you say, since your words and ideas will have direct consequences for you, but that is of course patently obvious.

The concept of freedom of speech has still not penetrated Oriental cultures yet. I don’t want to sound like an Orientalist here (I swear Edward Said, I won’t sell out) but there are some generalizations that can be made of the Oriental mindset. One is that Oriental cultures tend to have more deference for authority, are less willing to forcefully speak out, and are circumspect, rather than direct, in their criticisms. While I do believe in cultural relativism as the only realistic way to deal with cultural differences, I feel like the inability of these peoples to freely speak their minds has prevented them from freely thinking. I mean think about it, Google could NEVER have been created in the intellectually stifling and painfully uniform culture of say China.

This independent thinking, the ability to innovate, has been something that Orientalists have criticized the Orient for. Orientalists argue that this inability to innovate prevented the Orient from evolving and challenging archaic, and possibly wrong, norms and values. For example, the Orientalist Bernard Lewis’ central thesis in What Went Wrong? was that Islamic civilization failed because they lacked the capability to create new ideas. Instead the Dar al-Islam was left to wither away and cheaply imitate Western development, but without absorbing the intrinsic meat of the ideas that allowed for the development of the West. I do believe this argument holds some merit, even though the source is obviously suspect.

The list of failures in Orient because of a lack of freedom of speech is long and damning. To use China as an example, Chinese repression of Tibet and East Turkestan (i.e. the Xingxiang province) is not well documented at all. There is only a small drip of news that reaches the West of the brutal repression of Buddhist monks and the destruction of Muslim villages and mosques. Juxtapose Chinese treatment of Uigher Muslims that they capture (those captured in revolt against China are usually never seen again) and the amount of press coverage the American gulag known as Guantánamo Bay has gotten. Yes Gitmo is a deep stain on America’s reputation and is an ongoing tragedy; but at least we are able to document the abuses that have occurred and perhaps one day fix—in however inadequate of a way—some of the mistakes we have made. Then, hopefully America won’t repeat this travesty. But look at China. It disappears people regularly but doesn’t suffer from media agitation against its brutal policies. Hence it never receives moral opprobrium or pressure to change its unjust actions. It, therefore, never has to learn a lesson and can continue to oppress those that deviate from the mandates of the state. I believe that this is not only wrong but that this will hinder China ideologically in the future, thus preventing it from becoming a benevolent world power. Instead, China is on a path of Soviet-like preeminence in the world, except that it has the economic capacity to maintain its (rapidly growing) informal empire and status in the globe while the Soviets didn’t.

Another Eastern example that has relevance to my current situation is Malaysia. People here are programmed to believe certain concepts from an early age and any deviance from those beliefs is seen as heretical. To be heretical in a collectivist society is to be cast out into the wilderness, without protection, and constantly being in fear of slipping up badly so that the vicious wolves can pounce. So to question inane government actions lands bloggers here in jail. To be opposed to the government line, you may be tarnished with sodomy charges. To hold a protest of more than five people, a permit is required (something like 99.9% of these requests are denied). Malaysia—and basically the rest of the developing world—needs to accept and tolerate different opinions other than the normative ones; if these societies do adopt this liberalism, they will flourish and succeed. If they don’t, they will remain intellectually castrated and unable to evolve to a higher degree of civilization.

So pick up the White Man’s Burden and proselytize the righteousness of freedom of speech. Okay so that’s perhaps a bit tongue-in-cheek. But still, I believe that it is critical for Eastern societies to develop a healthy tolerance for the notion of freedom of speech. This will greatly benefit their societies and allow for innovative thinkers to create new technologies and improve on the stagnant status quo. Free thought allows for the gestation of new ideas. Ideas do matter and hold extreme relevance in an idea-driven world. Marx’s concept of communism—although bastardized by the Soviet Union—affected hundreds of millions of people worldwide; so too, a new idea, a new innovation, could revolutionize human society. Freedom of speech is a necessity that could allow for this. This provides for the flowering of the world of ideas and checks governmental abuses of power. To quote the famous American founding father Patrick Henry, “Give me Liberty, or Give me Death.”

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Pakistan Problem

Pakistan was a nation that was founded based on the radical notion that religion could create a new nation that had never previously existed. Pakistan was the flowering of the dream of a truly pan-Islamic identity. The creation of the country based on religion, as opposed to nationalism, was a truly monumental moment for Muslims internationally. A hope or dream of a country where Islam was the unifying theme, not race, language, or tribe. Alas, this dream has failed.

Pakistan has failed for a myriad of reasons. The country is hindered by extreme poverty, underdevelopment, and misallocation of resources. Add this to the already dominant problems of illiteracy, overpopulation, environmental degradation, internal insurgencies, external threats, terrible political leadership, a shattered economy, a growing domestic Taliban movement and a move towards a more puritanical interpretation of Islam in the public sphere, a selfish middle-class, a still feudal-esque class system and you have a country that is on the brink of disaster.

If one looks objectively at the Musharraf years versus Pakistan’s current situation, there is no doubt that times were better under Musharraf. That’s not to say I endorsed him or his many ridiculous actions—because I did not—but Pakistan was substantively better with him at the reigns than under Zardari. I mean it was under him that the Baluchistan separatist movement grew traction and was brutally suppressed, he took a heavy handed approach to domestic dissidents as was apparent with his sacking of the judiciary, there is the lingering issue of disappeared people from his cooperation with the US in the War on Terror, and a much longer list of failures. But the positives—like consistent economic growth of around 5%, minimal inflation, reducing economic debt, the construction of new highways and other infrastructure, preventing the US from too rapidly expanding the War on Terror into Pakistan—are all things that made Musharraf’s rule tolerable.

Pakistan has always faced cyclical waves of dictatorship followed by democracy. Civilian rule—outside of the first generation of leaders—has always been bad, if not severely unsettling in terms of the country’s best interests. The domestic Pakistani political system is corrupt to the core. The PPP is a feudal party where leadership is dynastic, not democratic. The PML-N ruled over the downward spiral of Pakistan in the late 1990s and Nawaz Sharif continues to unfortunately lead the party. Jamait-e-Islami is a reactionary political force. Imran Khan’s Justice Party has no real following and is still a bourgeois attempt to change the system from within. There is no decent political party that Pakistani’s can vote for; consequently, Pakistan will continue to be led off a cliff by terrible leadership.

On top of all of these problems, Pakistan is increasingly becoming the next theater in the never-ending War on Terror. Many people had hoped that President Obama would try to solve global problems through principled diplomacy; however, as his actions have proven thus far, he is committed to the use of force as a means of achieving peace. President Obama has tried to solve the issue of Pakistan through the use of force. President Bush tried to solve this issue through the ballot box. Bush failed; Obama will fail. President Obama’s actions build upon the failure of the Bush Administration policies and all of these factors taken together paint a bleak picture for Pakistan’s future.

Bush’s Failures
President Bush failed in his approach to dealing with Pakistan. He provided over $10 billion dollars of mostly military aid to Pakistan before having to deal with the ugly aftermath of political trouble that gripped Pakistan in 2008. The crisis in Pakistan during the end of last year exposed both the naivety and fallacy of Bush’s black and white worldview. Bush’s attempts to promote democracy abroad consistently failed and Pakistan was just another in a long-list of foreign policy blunders.

The central problem with Bush’s worldview was that he viewed the world in absolutes. Bush had been a stalwart proponent of exporting democracy; however, his focus had been on promoting procedural democracy where having a round of elections proves that a nation has become ‘democratic’. By promoting procedural over institutional democracy, Bush failed Pakistan and other countries in his grand plan to democratize the world.

In Pakistan, President Bush had pushed hard on former President Pervez Musharraf’s regime to hold free and fair elections. Musharraf, a military general turned statesman, had been forced to accept this Faustian deal last year after facing intense internal dissent over the sacking of judges (some have now been reinstated, including recently the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Iftikhar Chaudhry), heavy handed tactics in the tribal areas, disappearing people, attempts at privatization of state industries such as the Pakistan Steel Mills, and declaring a state of emergency. Bush’s default antidote for these ills was democracy.

The theory was that the Bush Administration would help engineer a new democratic government in Pakistan vis-à-vis a power-sharing agreement between the former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and President Musharraf. After Bhutto was assassinated, her Pakistan Peoples Party was elected to rule the country along with former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League. These two main parties and Musharraf reached a political impasse after several months of political haggling. Eventually Musharraf was run out of town and replaced by the kleptocrat Asif Ali Zardari, the infamously corrupt widower of Bhutto who is derisively known by the moniker Mr. 10%, to try and save Pakistan. However, comparatively speaking, looking at Musharraf’s reign and Zardari’s current position makes it seem that Bush bet (yet again) on the wrong horse.

Since Zardari has taken power, Pakistan has floundered and gone into a great deal of debt. Just to remain solvent, Pakistan has had to request billions of dollars of conditional loans from the IMF and World Bank. The Rupee is facing a strong inflationary trend, the economy is severely contracting, and Pakistan faces the risk of economic collapse. Add to this toxic mix a growing indigenous Taliban movement and constant clashes with Tribesmen in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and you have a recipe for disaster.

Bush’s failure was that he didn’t understand how to deal with Pakistan. He tried to offer largesse to the Pakistani military for as long as it was politically possible and then he switched over to his tried and true method of supporting elections. Of course this is the same Bush who supported democratic elections in countries only to renege on supporting the results of those elections (The most obvious examples that come to mind are in Palestine and in Lebanon—Hamas was ostracized in the international community and Hezbollah was ignored.). The great irony in Bush’s actions is that his support for elections undermined his goals for Pakistan, just as it did in Palestine and Lebanon. His promotion of procedural democracy backfired and his solution for Pakistan failed.

Obama and the Way Forward
With Obama’s decision to expand unmanned aerial bombardment deeper into Pakistani territory, things can only get worse. By bombing Pakistan, Obama is making a huge mistake. Not only are his actions illegal according to international law they add to the violence in the region. By dropping bombs that kill mostly civilians, Obama is creating even greater animosity towards the US. If Obama—the supposed White Knight who is supposed to rescue America from being loathed internationally—continues and expands Bush era policies, America will permanently lose face in the eyes of millions of people in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Obama had the choice to withdraw peaceably from Iraq, gradually withdraw from Afghanistan, and deal with the Pakistan issue through the use of the carrot (i.e. giving development funds for education, for example, is a much more effective use of money than any bomb will ever be); however, he chose to continue the occupation in Iraq until at least the end of 2011, surge the war in Afghanistan, and escalate the War on Terror into Pakistan. Obama has chosen the path of perdition that will not only damn the countries that are on the receiving end of this occupation, but also consign America to lost prestige, power, resource, and efficacy in international affairs. These actions will not address Pakistan’s underlying problems and will fail just as Bush’s attempts at democracy promotion did.

The way forward out of yet another quagmire and possibly a fully failed state is through principled diplomacy and generous developmental funding. Pakistan desperately needs money for basic infrastructure like roads, schools, and hospitals. Pakistan does not need a further militarization of its society and that would be exactly what will happen if Obama continues to attack Pakistan. Pakistan needs stability to attract foreign investment and needs to deal with the crippling illiteracy and poverty that plague the nation. Pakistan received some level of respect in international relations when Musharraf was in power; he helped to improve Pakistan’s economy, built up $15billion dollars worth of cash reserves to insulate the economy (most of these funds have been wasted since he left office), he cooperated in the War on Terror, and did improve Pakistan’s standing in the world. Musharraf is now long gone and Obama has to deal with the kleptocrats that currently rule Pakistan. He needs to offer the carrot to a starving nation that is on the brink of collapse. If there is no radical change soon, Pakistan will fall further into the abyss and the dream of become the leading Islamic country in the world will never be achieved. But if Pakistan fails, the West will deserve some of the blame. Beware a country that has nothing left to lose and Obama must change his approach to Pakistan immediately or else…

Sunday, March 22, 2009


I took a trip to the famous Langkawi Island from January 24th through the 26th. I enjoyed myself thoroughly and below there are some thoughts and reflections on my trip.

General Reflections
My overall impression of the island was that it was nice, but seemed like a tourist trap. The island was quite built-up and the modus operandi appeared to be sucking as much money out of visitors as possible. The island was an escape from what the real Malaysia looks like. In terms of beauty, the beaches were decent but the landscape was fantastic. There were small, lush tree covered hills that were stunning and really put me in awe of nature’s beauty.

The island is worth going to if you want to get a very touristy type of beach experience. Depending on your budget, you could stay at a swanky resort (as some ETAs did) or at some pretty cheap hostels (which I did). Regardless, it’s doubtful that you will spend much time at your place of residence—there are so many things to do on the beach that you will keep yourself very busy. That being said I would only recommend Langkawi to people who want a fully developed tropical island beach vacation; it was definitely not for people who just want a more pristine, underdeveloped island where you can sit back, relax and get in touch with nature (for that type of experience, I would highly recommend Palau Kapas—more on this on some later post).

The one thing that I absolutely loved about Langkawi was the food. There were many different types of foods to choose from—Italian, American, Malay, Thai, Indian, etc.—but I really enjoyed the Indian food. There was an Indian restaurant called the Taj Mahal (go figure) which served some truly authentic Indian dishes. I’m generally a very picky eater but this place had some fantastic dishes. One of the best dishes that I had was the butter chicken—the warm, tender chicken was properly marinated in a thick sauce that was achingly good and made me come back for a repeat visit. It was a great change of pace from all the Nasi-whatever I had been eating and the food did wonders for my famished stomach.

Beware the Seven Wells
On Monday the 26th, I decided that I wanted to head over to the Seven Wells. The Seven Wells is a series of ponds about 200m up a 1200m high mountain. I climbed a series of steep steps up the mountain and reached the scenic top. I arrived at the spot fairly out of breath but normally I wouldn’t have found the climb up so difficult; however, since I was carrying my backpack—that contained all of my travel items and probably weighted about 20lbs.—on my sun-burnt shoulders the climb was a bit of a challenge. The extra weight made the climb up a bit difficult, but the view was worth it.

After enjoying staring out at the scenic vista, we (Neil, Matt, and I) decided to go off on a side-trail. The trail had a sign that said 1000m, so we figured that we didn’t have to go too far. We trekked for fifteen minutes through the jungle, with heavy overgrowth on both sides of trail. We were making a steady climb at about a 40 degree incline up deeper into the jungle. We then saw a sign that said 700m and we were quite confused. We had been walking for quite a while and shouldn’t the distance be decreasing?

At this point, I was starting to feel exhausted. The backpack on top of the sweltering jungle heat was quite taxing. My shirt was completely drenched from sweat and every step I took, little droplets of sweat trickled down my face, passing down my beard, before finally dropping to the ground as I walked further into the jungle. Another fifteen minutes later, we saw another sign that said that there were 500 more meters to go and I was utterly perplexed. Then it finally dawned on me—it wasn’t 500 meters to go, it was 500 meters vertically to the top of the mountain.

So I continued to trudge on in my quest to the top of the mountain. Since I was walking slower, Matt and Neil had walked far ahead of me and I was traveling alone in search of the summit. The further up I went, the steeper the climb. Finally, there was a sign that said the peak was just up another incline. This incline, however, was extremely steep, probably at about a 70 degree angle. There was a rope that you had to use if you wanted to go up to the top. So I started going up and maybe 30m from the top, I saw Matt and Neil coming back down. I asked them what was on the top of the mountain and I was quite disappointed to find out that at the top of the mountain there was only a little sign that said, “Please turn around.” There was no scenic vista, nothing of value at the top, just a little sign telling whatever poor sap had made the journey to turn around. Damn.

So my trip back down the mountain was a race to prevent dehydration. I knew I was on the borderline of exhaustion as my head started feeling light and I had to pull my belt even tighter. I raced to the bottom and ran directly to the small store that offered refreshments. There, I bought three 16oz. bottles of juice, 2 16oz. bottles of water, and then proceeded to drink all of these things in under 10 minutes. The hike had been exhausting, but at least I was able to get my workout in for the day.

I did have a good time in Langkawi—lots of fun in the sun (from which I received my first ever sun-burn), good cuisine, lots of explorations, and some good conversations. Langkawi was a great trip to wrap up my January travels in Malaysia and I was ready to go tackle my “responsibilities” in Kerteh, Kemaman starting Febuary 1. Yay for vacations!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Obama and the Unwinnable Wars

Never in the past three years have I been this disconnected from the news. One of my most diligent habits since my sophomore year of college has been to closely follow the news and know about what’s going on in the world. These past two months I’ve been quite disconnected from the news and world events. However, from what little I’ve heard and read the world seems to be in increasingly in dire straits. I’m not really surprised about this per se because all of the warning signs have been around for years. But the allegorical shit has hit the roof and America is collapsing under the weight of its own internal contradictions.

Now is a time for a dramatic change in how we live in this world and how our leaders respond to crises. Iraq and Afghanistan are conundrums that the Obama Administration has to deal with. Just as the foolish invasion of a country (i.e. Afghanistan) accelerated and eventually became the catalyst for the death of the Soviet Empire, so too will the America Empire find its death in the sands of Iraq and the caves of Afghanistan. America is bogged down in two unwinnable wars that the Obama Administration has fully committed to continue. Afghanistan was already in terrible shape before the US bombed the country back to the Stone Age. Iraq has been a country that has been devastated by years of internal oppression followed by a brutal occupation that has cost the lives of over a million Iraqis and displaced millions of others. We’ve used depleted uranium bullets to kill “terrorists” and civilians alike, leaving behind a trail of death and cancer-causing pollutants that have already devastated these countries and will continue to plague these people for generations to come. We’ve bombed wedding parties in the mistaken attempt to root out terror. We’ve dropped laser-guided missiles on schools, mosques, and houses where “terrorists” hide. We’ve brutalized and tortured prisoners from Bagram to Abu Graib, Guantanamo, and beyond.

So President Obama has made two significant policy pronouncements on both Iraq and Afghanistan. I will begin by briefly commenting on the Afghan issue before I devote the rest of this piece to Obama’s ludicrous policy statement on Iraq.

President Obama announced on February 17, 2009 that he would be sending an additional 17,000 troops to bolster the 36,000 American troops that are already in Afghanistan. Adding more troops to a lost cause will only cost more money, unnecessary death and destruction, and a further deterioration of America’s prestige and image abroad. Obama is lucky to be following the worst President in US history so any action he takes people would like to give him the benefit of the doubt. However, the US has been in Afghanistan for over eight years now and has not substantively accomplished anything. Yes it is true that some roads have been built, schools have been opened, and the US has made an effort to provide some reconstruction funds to Afghanistan. But it is also true that we are the ones who destroyed the country in the first place (okay so Afghanistan was already in shambles before the US annihilated everything that was still standing), killed thousands of innocent civilians, and our actions have also been motivated by geostrategic and resource-related issues. More troops will not solve the problem; only through principled diplomacy with those figures that we loathe (namely the Taliban which has slowly regained control over much of Afghanistan) can we extricate ourselves from this quagmire. Without an exit strategy, Obama will waste more money, more lives, and fail to achieve a long-term just peace. Adding more fuel to the fire will mean that Afghanistan will continue to die a protracted death over the coming years.

President Obama delivered a major policy speech on Febuary 27, 2009 that outlined his plans for the future of Iraq. This policy speech was quite disappointing for those peace advocates who believed that Obama’s election was a mandate to withdraw troops from Iraq. However many of his points were in line with his pre-election statements although he did make changes for the worse in his position. But that is to be expected from any politician, even the messianic type. Obama’s significant electoral victory should have allowed him to make a bold policy change in Iraq. Instead Obama stated in his policy speech that:
As a candidate for President, I made clear my support for a timeline of 16 months to carry out this drawdown, while pledging to consult closely with our military commanders upon taking office to ensure that we preserve the gains we’ve made and protect our troops. Those consultations are now complete, and I have chosen a timeline that will remove our combat brigades over the next 18 months.

Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end.

Obama has decided to expand the time-frame for withdrawal and even after the end of the combat mission, “Security Forces” will be left behind to assist the Iraqis. All of this sounds a lot like President Bush and his “Mission Accomplished” notion and is far from what anti-war advocates had hoped for. This is utterly unacceptable and Obama has broken a key promise of his electoral campaign.

Obama continued his speech and explained that:
After we remove our combat brigades, our mission will change from combat to supporting the Iraqi government and its Security Forces as they take the absolute lead in securing their country. As I have long said, we will retain a transitional force to carry out three distinct functions: training, equipping, and advising Iraqi Security Forces as long as they remain non-sectarian; conducting targeted counter-terrorism missions; and protecting our ongoing civilian and military efforts within Iraq. Initially, this force will likely be made up of 35-50,000 U.S. troops.

Through this period of transition, we will carry out further redeployments. And under the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government, I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. We will complete this transition to Iraqi responsibility, and we will bring our troops home with the honor that they have earned.

Obama does not really want to withdraw from Iraq; he just wants to change the parameters for how we remain in the country. Just as before the escalation of the war in Vietnam with President Lyndon B. Johnson where US troops in Vietnam were seen as merely “advisers”, Obama will be leaving “Security Advisors” in Iraq at least until the end of 2011. This is ludicrous since it has been noted that we can fully withdraw from Iraq within six months. The Iraq War is now Obama’s war and he will have to answer for the money wasted, lives lost, and failure in our perpetual occupation of Iraq.

America is at a cross roads. We can either withdraw immediately from the mess that we have created and provide liberal reconstruction funds to Iraq and Afghanistan, or we can continue down our path of perdition and continue these unwinnable wars. We should remember that,
Politicians, by definition, respond to political pressure. Those who decide that it's best to keep quiet and simply trust in the goodness and just nature of their leader are certain to have their political goals ignored. It's always better -- far better -- for a politician to know that he's being scrutinized closely and will be praised and supported only when his actions warrant that, and will be criticized and opposed when they don't.

Obama is no different. Americans must demand an end to these wars now. We can no longer stand by and wait until America collapses because of its imperial hubris. Without swift action America is doomed to collapse like the Soviet Union. This should not happen. Let us remember the wise words of Abraham Lincoln and hope that we can step back from the precipice:
The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.