Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Running to Stand Still

I wanted to revisit an article that I wrote back in January. It was my wishlist for the Obama administration. I know this is probably premature, but I think that as the year draws to an end, it's a valid exercise to see if we have made any progress toward fulfilling those goals.

Let's start with the "war":

"My first issue for the Obama administration is Afghanistan. Concurrent with our withdrawal from Iraq, the President has already said that he will be increasing our presence in Afghanistan. The issue that I have with the war in Afghanistan is the same one I had with Iraq. There is no real definition of "victory". We are essentially fighting a guerrilla war against small bands of terrorists across a vast stretch of land. I really would like to know what our ultimate goal is in Afghanistan. Is the goal to wipe out the Taliban and all the terrorists in the area? If so, that seems to be an unreasonable goal. Is the goal to set up a government that is capable of withstanding the challenges from the Taliban or a similar terrorist group? That also seems unreasonable... A long term occupation of a country in the Middle East only leads to the breeding of more extremists. Without an exit strategy, we risk a never ending war and the creation of a new generation of people who are dedicated to our downfall."

As we now know, the Obama administration will be sending an additional American troops to Afghanistan, along with asking for increased participation from our NATO allies. My question still is, what is the goal? If the goal is to train the Afghan forces and build up their defenses, then I don't understand why that would require so many additional troops. Does it require over 100,000 American troops to train soldiers? How long will it take to get that job done? When are our troops coming home? How many more trillions can we afford to spend on an unwinable war, when we have so many problems at home? Are we making ourselves safer or are we just creating a new generation of people who are bent on our destruction? I guess tonight the President will give us his vision of what the future holds for us in Afghanistan. I will be looking for some answers and hopefully we'll get some because we haven't heard anything from this administration so far that makes me think that we are any closer to bringing our troops home.

"The second issue on my list is health care... It seems almost inconceivable to me that this country, which is still the richest on the planet by far, would allow it's citizens to die needlessly because they can't afford a visit to the doctor or dentist. How can any of us sleep at night knowing that there are children who will die needlessly because of simple infections? How can we allow people to be saddled with mountainous debts because the treatment that saved their lives, wasn't covered by their insurance? How can we continue to make people chose between debt and death? ... The lobbyists for the drug companies, the lobbyists for the medical profession, the lobbyists from the insurance companies, are all going to be applying as much pressure as possible to make sure that this gravy train keeps on rolling. The human cost in lives lost and lives destroyed is never taken into account."

Obviously there have been thousands of words written on this blog and on many of our friends blogs on this issue. As we know the Democrats gave up the idea of single payer without a fight. The administration has been on the defensive from the beginning and they continue to fight it out with members of their own party over just how much the health insurance companies will be allowed to get away with. I personally think the whole debate was handled badly by the administration. They gave up their best bargaining chip before the game even started. They have negotiated from a point of weakness and allowed the foes of reform to lead the debate. That being said, we might actually be on the verge of an historic first step in health coverage. It won't be everything that it's supposed to be, but it's a hell of a lot better than nothing. And as someone said, every great journey begins with a single step.

"My next issue is education. President Obama is an example of what a superior education can produce. Unfortunately, our public schools, are for the most part, incapable of producing such a person. We have allowed our public schools to fall into such a state of disrepair that practically every parent who can afford an alternative takes it. The teachers in our public schools are underpaid and overwhelmed. The facilities are crumbling and pushed to their limits. The textbooks are as outdated as the technology. We put programs in place to try and improve performance, but they are not adequately funded. No child left behind is a great idea, but if there is no follow through, then there are many who are left behind. The election of President Obama will give our children hope that they can become anything they want, but our public education system will give them their first taste of reality. Something must be done and done quickly. We are losing generations of kids to crime, to drug addiction, to hopelessness. Obama is in the best position of any President of modern times to address this situation. He has the ability to inspire, but more importantly, the children of this country need more than inspiration, they need a better system. The kids are willing to meet the system half way, but we cannot ask them to do it all themselves."

Literally nothing has been done. I haven't even heard the words "education reform" from the lips of a major player in the Obama administration. Having the President tell kids to stay in school is nice, but the problems that the kids have to deal with still remain. Why are spending trillions of dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan when we have all but ignored the education of our own children? What will it take until and administration takes public school education reform seriously? Why don't we make all of our elected Representatives have to send their children to public school? And not one of the magnet schools either. I think everyone elected to Congress, presidency or named to the cabinet should have to put their kids in one of the local schools in Washington DC. I'm sure that public education would get some attention then. I've asked this question about the health care debate before but, why don't our publicly elected officials care about the people who elected them? Is it so hard to ask them to actually attend to the needs of their constituents. I'm sure the Republicans and Democrats would have different approaches to reform, but if it affected their kids, at least they would have an approach. The lack of attention is shameful.

"The last issue for today is probably the most important and that is having an Executive branch that acts in accordance with and respects the Constitution...President Obama said in his inauguration speech that the choice between safety and our ideals is a false one. I can only hope that he will live up to that statement...It will be tempting to hold on to some of the measures that were put in place under the previous administration, but the President cannot allow us anything less than a complete repudiation of those methods and measures that are counter to our Constitution. This country was founded on the ideals of freedom and transparency, let us hope that we are seeing a return to what made us great."

Well, this hope went out the window pretty quickly. The Attorney General has huffed and puffed, but there are still no real investigations into the transgressions of the previous administration. If the President says that he wants to "look forward not backward" one more time, I might spontaneously combust. Some of the prisoners at Gitmo will actually get a trial, but some innocent detainees had to be sent to a distant island nation, because no one would have them, even though they had done nothing. There are still others at Gitmo (and at prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan) that will never see the light of day. We won't know who they are or what they supposedly did, but they will be detained (apparently in perpetuity) in our name. This administration hasn't quite been the open book that they said they would be and at times have been downright paranoid (like when they refused to release the names of people who had visited the White House). The air of secrecy that surrounded the Bush White House seems to have infected the Obama White House as well (having an active fight with the Fox "news" Network seems childish and the kind of thing the Bush administration would have been crucified for by those of us on the Left). I wrote an article back in April about what Constitutional rights actually remain, so I won't go over that ground again. Let's just suffice it to say that it hasn't gotten any better under this administration.

That's about it. One out of four. I guess at this pace, we might actually get some real change over four years. I'm generally kind of pessimistic by nature, but I'm still willing to give the Obama administration the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they have a master plan to tackle all the issues that matter to Progressives and Liberals alike. Perhaps we need to be more patient. Perhaps time will make all of this criticism seem silly. Perhaps, but it's hard to tell a starving man to wait his turn. We've been starving for so long, that I guess we may seem a little greedy. I can wait my turn, but I can't wait forever.


Manifesto Joe said...

Yellow Dog of Blue in the Bluegrass outlined an unhappy parallel: Obama as the new LBJ. The Afghanistan thing is looking more and more like Vietnam with mountains and sand. I would bet that, privately, Obama wants a way out but fears the political fallout if the Taliban retake Kabul. He probably won't order a complete withdrawal as long as he still has to stand for re-election.

Mycue23 said...

It's actually worse than Vietnam, because at least that was a real country. I doubt more than half of the population of Afghanistan would even consider themselves part of a country. Trying to force one on these people is like trying to drink water with a fork. This a quagmire waiting to happen. I have no idea why the recent Russian example seems to carry no weight. Have we forgotten the past so quickly that we are now doomed to repeat it?

MadMike said...

The comparisons between Afghanistan and Vietnam are mostly without merit, and I say that with all respect. The two theaters of operation have (had) nothing in common. In Vietnam 58,000 American troopers, men and women, died. By comparison, allied deaths in the entire Middle East, including Iraq, are only a handful in comparison and once again I don't say that with disrespect. One life lost is one too many, but when young men and women enlist they have to expect that someday they may make the ultimate sacrifice.

There are literally dozens of other differences between the two conflicts, and I was in Vietnam, so I know from whence I speak, but time is short.

I am going to give the president the benefit of the doubt here. We elected him to lead not bend under political pressure, either from the Right or the Left Let's give him a chance to lead. Good post by the way.

SJ said...

@Mad Mike,
I don't know that MyCue23 is making absolute apples-to-apples identifications between Vietnam and Afghanistan (or Iraq) in this post, -but for my part, having written about this all just yesterday in the preceding post, I think we have to concede that the dangers of holding onto a military engagement; specifically a conflict authored hastily by a previous administration are relevant here.

I will never have my love of country tested as you did Mad Mike. Your ongoing testimony as a living witness to that war isn't something I would ever diminish or ignore in these conversations. I certainly understand your perspective from an intellectual and an emotional standpoint although I can't claim any of your first hand experience, but I would suggest to you that just because these conflicts that you rightfully and correctly identify as out-of-scale with one another, -that appear profoundly dissimilar, doesn't mean they can't end up the same way.

Mycue23 said...

Mike, Thanks for the comment, as always. We were actually in a war in Vietnam as opposed to the, ah,(manhunt, nation building, police action, clusterf*cuk) whatever we are involved in currently. You are correct, that the wars are not alike, but then this is what "war" looks like today. A limited (although still just as tragic)commitment of troops with no defined objective.

Manifesto Joe said...

Of course there are many differences, Mike, but I think it's mainly in the realm of scale. Yes, there were as many as 2,000 Americans who died in a single battle in Vietnam. But historically there are a few strong parallels:

--We're fighting seasoned guerrillas who have fought multiple foes, generationally, and prevailed because of the simple fact that they wouldn't quit. It became too expensive for the invaders to sustain their effort.

--It's a place that has been historically unviable for any occupiers, all the way back to Alexander the Great.

--The Karzai "government" bears more than a passing resemblance to the corrupt General Thieu regime in South Vietnam. With friends like that, it was harder to fight the enemy.

There are others, but as with you, time limits me. With respect for your service, we must agree to disagree.

Will "take no prisoners" Hart said...

I'm with you completely on Afghanistan. The foolheartiness and futility of this strategy are absolutely palpable. On the Constitutional issues, though, I must admit, I'm considerably more ambivalent here. The President has a heavy burden and he is literally damned whatever he does. I agree, torture and rendition are absoluely out. But the retaining of certain combatants, I don't know - I definitely don't want to be in the President's shoes. I mean, think about it. If one of these low-lifes gets released and later floods a dirty bomb somewhere. Yikes. Like I say, I don't know.

MadMike said...

Joe I have to give you that, at least in principle. Thanks!

Mycue: Actually Vietnam was considered a "police action" for years, which hampered combat pay and all sorts of benefit that soldiers deployed there would receive. Afghanistan is considered a war. I doubt America will make that mistake twice.

SJ: I was part of a military intelligence group and I was privileged to know more than most about the conflict. I wish I weren't so "privileged." I couldn't wait to get the hell out of that place.

Gwendolyn H. Barry said...

Michael... it reads like a 'whxtry whxtry' exposition. We agree on many points. Great read... I like this post. Though, the President has been so overwhelmed by the shitestorm he walked into, it's not valid to me to review more than what's been on the plate ... so to speak... yet, I give him time.

Have you noticed, though, how time seems faster these days?

Mycue23 said...

I know that we haven't officially been in a war since WWII, but Vietnam, like Korea before it (both police actions) was conducted as a full scale engagement against an identifiable target.