Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Obama National Security Team: A Look into the Crystal Ball

On Monday, President-Elect Obama went public with his choices for the nation's new national security team, and these choices don't bode very well for those who voted Mr. Obama into office in order to bring about real change - particularly as regards foreign policy. The president-elect's choices include his former presidential race opponent and hawk on the Middle-Eastern affairs Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, the current Secretary of Defense and Bush appointee Robert Gates, and the long-time friend of John McCain and former Marine Corp and NATO Commandant General James L. Jones as National Security Adviser.

There are many who are currently praising Mr. Obama's choices. These include the former Speaker of the House and author of the Contract With America Newt Gingrich, and war criminal Henry Kissinger; these praises come particularly in regard to the appointment of Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State. In the context of the growing threat of world-wide terrorism, these appointments do not bode well for either the reversal of our nation's never-ending quest for empire, or the elimination of the root causes of terrorism and anti-Americanism. "But wait," some have said. "Didn't we experience peace and prosperity during the administration of Bill Clinton?" If so, the reasoning goes, what could possibly be wrong with appointing the knowledgeable Hillary as Secretary of State, and what would be wrong with bringing former members of the Clinton Administration into the new Obama Administration?

The answer to that may lie in the fact that during the 90's, even though we enjoyed the illusion of peace, anti-Americanism and outright anger against us was growing. Perhaps this growing anger was a bit under the radar for awhile, but it should have become evident to us on October 12, 2000 when a suicide bomber attacked the U.S.S. Cole at the Yemeni port of Aden. On that day, 17 Americans were killed and another 39 were injured in the attack. While the Sudanese government was ultimately credited with being liable for the attack, it was Al-Qaeda that carried it out. Clearly, discontent with U.S. policy in the Middle East had become evident at that time.

What specific policies could have brought about this anger? On August 6, 1990 the United Nations, supported by the United States, put an almost total trade and economic embargo against Iraq, which at that time, was under the control of our former ally, Saddam Hussein. The embargo, while originally designed to force Hussein out of Kuwait, was kept in place until after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. During the period after the first Gulf War, and during his entire administration, President Clinton made no effort to remove the embargo or to lessen its effect upon the Iraqi people. The effect of that embargo upon ordinary citizens in Iraqi, particularly children, was horrific. Wikipedia puts it this way:

"The sanctions resulted in high rates of malnutrition, lack of medical supplies, and diseases from lack of clean water. Chlorine, was desperately needed to disinfect water supplies, but it was banned from the country due to the potential that it may be used as part of a chemical weapon. On May 10, 1996, Madeleine Albright (U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations at the time) appeared on 60 Minutes and was confronted with statistics of half a million children under five having died as a result of the sanctions. She replied "we think the price is worth it..."

On March 16, 2003 Rachel Corrie, a young U.S. citizen from Olympia, Washington who had traveled to Gaza as a member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), was run over and killed by a Caterpillar D9 armored bulldozer operated by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) as she sat in its way in order to protest the destruction of Palestinian homes by the Israeli government in the Gaza strip, a practice routinely carried out by the Israeli forces against Palestinians. Before her death Corrie, in a March 14 interview with the Middle East Broadcasting Company said, ""I feel like I'm witnessing the systematic destruction of a people's ability to survive ... Sometimes I sit down to dinner with people and I realize there is a massive military machine surrounding us, trying to kill the people I'm having dinner with."

While the Israeli military and government claimed that Rachel Corrie's death was an accident, ISM eyewitnesses tell a different story. Regardless of the actual circumstances of her death however, e-mails she sent back home tell the story of her grief and total disbelief over the human-rights abuses the Palestinians face in Gaza on a day to day basis - all of this with the full support of the U.S. Government. You can read her e-mails, as published in The Guardian by clicking here and here. Rachel Corrie, bye the way, has been praised by those who knew her as an "extraordinary" person.

In 2005 then Senator Hillary Clinton stood in Palestine and praised the construction of an apartheid wall by the Israeli Government - a project, which was carried out with large amounts of U.S. aid. This wall, which the United Nations World Court has declared as contrary to international law, has in recent weeks, been used to cut off the Palestinian population from shipments of food, fuel for the generation of electricity, and other necessary supplies. None of President-Elect Obama's national security team appointees has ever, to the knowledge of this writer, uttered a single word of protest over Israel's policy of collective punishment against the Palestinian people.

To a fairly large extent, Barak Obama owes his election victory to the anti-war faction of the American public; for it is this segment of the population that has been crying out for change since at least 2001, and more forcibly, since the March 2003 invasion of Iraq on false pretenses. It is this segment of the population that realizes the continued control of another sovereign people in Iraq will only continue to spur resentment and insurgencies against us. It is this segment of the American voting public that sees immorality in the continuation of bombing attacks against entire villages in Afghanistan; this in order to kill one or two terror suspects. Terror is in the eyes of the beholder, and the causing of such widespread death and destruction of a largely innocent civilian population might be considered a form of terrorism in and of itself; particularly, by those most affected by it. Yet, from the appointment of Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff to Joseph Biden as his running mate, and from Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State to the continuation of Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense, Barak Obama is filling his national security team and his cabinet with war hawks; there's not a solitary voice for peace among them.

During his campaign, Mr. Obama often spoke of Martin Luther King and the dreams and aspirations that he presented to the American people. Dr. King however, was not only a civil-rights activist; he cared deeply about the creation of peace and justice for all of humanity as well. On April 4, 1967 Dr. King delivered a speech at a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in New York City. During that address and in referring to U.S. involvement in Vietnam at the time, he put it this way:

" "Each day the war goes on the hatred increases in the heart of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism."

In all fairness to Mr. Obama, he did say that the the buck stops at his desk - that he will be the decision maker. Additionally, the man hasn't even been sworn into office yet and therefore, his actions cannot rightly be judged until he begins setting policy. Still, with the choices made concerning his national security team, at least up to this point, the future doesn't bode very well for any significant change. One only has to look at the terror attacks that took place last week in Mumbai, and the growing potential for war between India and Pakistan as a result of those attacks - two long-time rivals armed with nuclear weapons, to realize the wisdom of Dr. King's words. We can only hope that when Barak Obama becomes president, he will take those words to heart.

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