Posts Tagged ‘Barack Obama’

Aboard the Opportunists’ Bandwagon

April 9, 2013

By Zara Zulfiqar
ZoneAsia-Pk

The Syrian opposition bloc has had its eyes on a seat in the Arab League for weeks now, and is likely to push the demand further to the UN and OIC (Organization of Islamic Countries) as the self proclaimed representative of the Syrian people. Since the Arab League distanced itself from Assad, and after failed attempts to reach some mutual political solution, the League asked Assad’s opposition to join the bandwagon. On 27 March 2013, Qatar went another notch ahead by allowing the Syrian opposition to open their embassy.

This weekend events caught pace dramatically. Barack Obama has decided to hold meetings with all the Sunni leaders in the region backing the opposition. These include Turkey, Jordan, Qatar and the UAE. These meetings, to be held over the next few months, starting April 16th, will allow Obama to gauge the varying demands within the opposition and region, and channelize them to gain momentum against Assad’s regime. Disparate political, geographical and religious standpoints have landed these saviors in a critical deadlock. The infighting between the opposition groups has been a major factor for their failure so far. For Obama these meetings will cover more than just dilemma if the Syrian opposition. It will be an opportunity to bring Arab nations on board for the Palestine/Israel issue which is critical to relations between West and Muslim World.

Read more…

Advertisements

Balkanization of USA?

November 16, 2012

By Amanda Holpuch
ZoneAsia-Pk

Texas Nationalists say secession is possible as 77,000 sign petition, despite governor Rick Perry backing the union.

Less than a week after Barack Obama was re-elected president, a slew of petitions have appeared on the White House’s We the People site, asking for states to be granted the right to peacefully withdraw from the union.

On Tuesday, all but one of the 33 states listed were far from reaching the 25,000 signature mark needed to get a response from the White House. Texas, however, had gained more than 77,000 online signatures in three days.

People from other states had signed the Texas petition. Another petition on the website was titled: “Deport everyone that signed a petition to withdraw their state from the United States of America.” It had 3,536 signatures.

The Texas petition reads:

Given that the state of Texas maintains a balanced budget and is the 15th largest economy in the world, it is practically feasible for Texas to withdraw from the union, and to do so would protect it’s citizens’ standard of living and re-secure their rights and liberties in accordance with the original ideas and beliefs of our founding fathers which are no longer being reflected by the federal government.

Activists across the country have advocated for independent statehood since the union was restored after the end of the Civil War in 1865. Texas has been host to some of the most fervent fights for independence.

Daniel Miller is the president of the Texas Nationalist Movement, which supports Texan independence and has its own online petition.

“We want to be able to govern ourselves without having some government a thousand-plus miles away that we have to go ask ‘mother may I’ to,” Miller said. “We want to protect our political, our cultural and our economic identities.”

Miller is not a fan of the word “secession”, because he views it as an over-generalization of what his group hopes to accomplish, but he encourages advocates for Texan independence to show their support when they can, including by signing the White House website petition.

“Given the political, cultural and economic pressures the United States is under, it’s not beyond the pale where one could envision the break up of the United States,” he said. “I don’t look at it as possibility, I look at it as an inevitability.”

Miller has been working for Texas independence for 16 years. He pointed to last week’s federal elections as evidence that a state independence movement is gaining traction. Miller pointed to the legalization of the sale of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, disobeying federal mandate.

Akhil Reed Amar, Sterling professor of law at Yale, said that extreme circumstances would be necessary for a state to be able to secede from the US.

“The simple answer is create a time machine and rewrite the constitution or win the Civil War,” Amar said.

He went on to explain that secession could be achieved legally, with a constitutional amendment, federal statute or treaty – all of which would need majority support from the rest of the country.

“The big point is it can’t occur unilaterally, it would have to be a decision of the whole United States, rather than a part,” Amar said.

Amar believes that people who favor independence would be better off leaving the country on their own.

“If they really want to do it, individuals are allowed to self-deport, and I’m not talking about so-called illegal aliens, I’m talking about people who signed the petition,” said Amar. “They can secede – it’s called immigration – but they can’t take the land or the water with them because these are the common inheritance of all Americans.”

Amar quoted a line from one of Abraham Lincoln’s annual messages to Congress:

These outlets, east, west, and south, are indispensable to the well being of the people inhabiting and to inhabit this vast interior region. Which of the three may be the best is no proper question. All are better than either, and all of right belong to that people and to their successors forever. True to themselves, they will not ask where a line of separation shall be, but will vow rather that there shall be no such line.

A spokeswoman for the governor of Texas, Rick Perry – who in 2009 appeared to suggest that Texas had a right to secede from the union – said the governor was opposed to such a move.

In a statement to the Dallas Morning News, Catherine Frazier, Perry’s press secretary, said: “Governor Perry believes in the greatness of our union and nothing should be done to change it. But he also shares the frustrations many Americans have with our federal government.

“Now more than ever our country needs strong leadership from states like Texas, that are making tough decisions to live within their means, keep taxes low and provide opportunities to job creators so their citizens can provide for their families and prosper.”

The Hard Truth About Going ‘Soft’

October 14, 2011

By Fareed Zakaria

The President got flak for pointing out we’re not on top of our game. He’s right

Barack Obama has apparently committed blasphemy. In an interview in Florida on Sept. 29, he dared to say that America had gotten “soft.” The denunciations have come in fast and furious from the right. Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Eric Cantor and the Wall Street Journal editorial page are all shocked-shocked-that the President could say such a thing. “America is the greatest nation in the world,” Cantor declared. Romney concocted a confusing metaphor about America carrying Obama on its shoulders, but his basic point was the same. Now, if you watch the clip, here’s what the President said: “The way I think about it is, you know, this is a great, great country that had gotten a little soft, and we didn’t have that same competitive edge that we needed over the last couple of decades. We need to get back on track.” Isn’t this self-evidently true? Isn’t this what conservatives have been saying for decades?

The evidence on the topic is pretty clear. The U.S. is slipping, by most measures of global competitiveness. It has dipped slightly in the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) rankings to No. 5, behind Sweden, Singapore, Finland and Switzerland. But the WEF rankings are based, in good measure, on surveys-polls of CEOs and the like. Other studies, using hard data, show America slipping further behind. The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation finds that in category after category-actual venture-capital funding, research and development-the U.S. has dropped well behind countries like Japan, South Korea and Sweden. The foundation measures 44 countries and regions on their efforts to improve their competitiveness over the past decade. The U.S. comes in next to last.

Perhaps the most crucial measure of our ability to compete in a global economy is our educational attainment, especially in science, math and engineering. A generation ago, America had the highest percentage of college graduates in the world. Today we’re ninth and falling. The WEF report ranks the U.S. a stunning 51st in science and math education. If a willingness to study science, math and engineering is an indication of being willing to work at hard stuff, there is no question that we are going soft. In 2004 only 6% of U.S. degrees were awarded in engineering, half the average for rich countries. In Japan it’s 20%, and in Germany it’s 16%. In 2008-09 there were more psychology majors than engineering majors in America and more fitness-studies majors than physical-sciences majors.

The great scholar Daniel Bell once summed up the essence of the Protestant ethic that had spawned industrial civilization: delayed gratification. The ability to save and invest today for a better tomorrow has been at the heart of every society’s leap from poverty to plenty. The U.S. was a country marked by this ethic. In the 1950s, household debt was just 34% of disposable income; today it is 115%. Then, the government made massive investments in research, development, infrastructure and education. Today, spending in all those areas is declining. Infrastructure and R&D spending are each down by a full percentage point of GDP. Federal funding for the physical sciences fell 54% over the 25 years since 1970 and has continued to fall. Tom Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum point out in their new book that 30 years ago, 10% of California’s general revenue went to higher education-and the result was the crown jewel of American public education, the University of California system. Just 3% went to prisons. Today, 11% goes to prisons and 8% to higher education, a number that is dropping fast. There are now about as many Americans who work in the prison business as in auto manufacturing.

Federal, state and local governments now spend less of their money investing for the future. Health care and pensions are devouring budgets everywhere, and whatever their virtues, it is difficult to mark them as producing a more competitive society. The federal government spends $4 on every adult over 65, compared with $1 on every child under 18. That is a statement about our priorities, favoring consumption over investment, the present over the future, ourselves over our children.

Conservatives used to believe in confronting hard truths, not succumbing to comforting fairy tales. Some still do. In a bracing essay in the National Review, Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal and a politically active libertarian, describes how America has, well, gone soft. He notes that median wages have been stagnating for decades and argues that the country’s innovation culture has been corroded by a widespread search for “easy progress” and quick fixes. “In our hearts and minds,” Thiel writes, “we know that desperate optimism will not save us.” So when you hear someone like Eric Cantor recite one of these feel-good mantras (“U.S.A., No. 1!”), think of that well- chosen phrase: desperate optimism.

Quinnipac poll puts pressure on Romney, may be Democrats’ secret weapon!

June 9, 2011

US voters are uncomfortable with the idea of a president who is a Mormon, even as former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, a Mormon, leads the pack of Republican presidential hopefuls, a poll found.


Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney addresses the Faith and Freedom Coalition on June 3, in Washington. US voters are uncomfortable with the idea of a president who is a Mormon, even as former Massachusetts governor Romney, a Mormon, leads the pack of Republican presidential hopefuls, a poll found.

The Quinnipiac University Polling Institute survey however showed that Romney would lose 41-47 percent in a head-to-head election with Barack Obama, contrary to the results of a Washington Post/ABC News poll out Tuesday that showed Romney narrowly defeating the president.

According to the Quinnipiac poll, only 45 percent of registered voters had a favorable view of Mormonism, while 32 percent had an unfavorable view of the faith. Only atheists and Muslims had less support in the survey.

US voters apparently “have many more questions about a Mormon in the White House than they do about followers of other religions,” Peter Brown with the Quinnipiac pollsters.

“And most don’t see much similarity between their religion and Mormonism,” he said.

Many conservative Christians see Mormonism as a cult or a heresy.

The Republican Party’s base includes a strong contingent of conservative evangelical Christians that would presumably vote against a Mormon — yet according to the Quinnipiac poll, the Democrats are least tolerant.

Sixty-eight percent of Republicans surveyed are comfortable with a Mormon president against only 49 percent of Democrats, according to the poll.

Among those who were Republicans or could vote Republican, Romney was ahead in the field with 25 percent support, followed by former Alaska governor Sarah Palin with 15 percent.

Romney announced his candidacy last week, but Palin has not said if she will run.

They were followed by businessman Howard Cain who polled at nine percent; former House speaker Newt Gingrich and Representative Ron Paul, both at eight percent; Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann at six percent; former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty at five percent, and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum at four percent.

The only other Mormon presidential hopeful, Republican Jon Huntsman, has one percent support. Another 20 percent of those Republicans surveyed were undecided.

“The fact that less than half of voters have a favorable view of the religion is likely to be a political issue that Governor Mitt Romney, and should his campaign catch on, Governor Jon Huntsman, will have to deal with as they pursue the White House,” said Brown.

Millionaire businessman Romney lost his party’s presidential nomination to Senator John McCain in 2008.

The May 31-June 6 poll surveyed 1,946 registered voters. The survey has a plus or minus margin of error of 2.2 percentage points, and plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for the Republican primary.

Mormonism originated in the 1820s in western New York state. It is the main religious tradition of the Latter Day Saint movement founded by Joseph Smith, Jr.

Pakistan – USA need to be candid about their interests

May 24, 2011

by Gareth Porter
ZoneAsia-Pk

WASHINGTON – The unilateral U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden created a spike in mutual recriminations between U.S. and Pakistani politicians, but their fundamental conflict of interest over Afghanistan was already driving the two countries toward serious confrontation.

The pivotal event in relations between the Barack Obama administration and Pakistan was the decision by Obama to escalate the war in Afghanistan in 2009, despite the knowledge that Pakistan was committed to supporting the Taliban insurgents as a strategic policy in its conflict with India.

Obama launched a desperate, last-minute effort to get some kind of commitment from the Pakistanis to reduce their support for the Taliban before the decision to escalate the war. But he did not reconsider the decision after that effort had clearly failed.

It was always understood within the Obama administration that any public recognition that Pakistan was committed to supporting the Taliban could be politically dangerous to the war effort. As a result, Obama’s national security team decided early on to deny the complicity of Pakistani Chief of Staff Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and director of the ISI intelligence agency Shuja Pasha, despite the knowledge that they were fully behind the policy.

On Mar. 26, 2009, a story in the New York Times provided the most detailed news media account up to that date of Pakistani assistance to the Taliban. But the story quoted anonymous U.S. officials as blaming “mid-level ISI operatives” and expressing doubt that top Pakistani officials in Islamabad were directly coordinating the clandestine efforts by ISI operatives to assist the Taliban.

That did not reflect the briefing Obama had gotten from George W. Bush’s director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell, after his election. McConnell had learned from communications intercepts that Kayani considered the Haqqani network, which was being targeted as the most serious threat to U.S. troops n Afghanistan, as a “strategic asset”.

As Obama approached a decision on Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s request for another troop increase of as much as 40,000 troops, the Pakistani military’s determination to use the Taliban and the Haqqani network to advance Pakistani interests in Afghanistan was a major issue in the policy debate.

Opponents of the troop surge request, including Vice-President Joe Biden, deputy national security adviser Tom Donilon and Afghanistan War coordinator Douglas Lute, argued that the Pakistanis were not going to change their policy toward Afghanistan, according to Bob Woodward’s account in “Obama’s Wars”.

Biden argued in a meeting on Sep. 13, 2009 that Pakistan was determined to avoid an Afghan government “led by a Pashtun sympathetic to India” – i.e., Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The conclusion was that the Pakistanis would continue to aid the insurgency the U.S. was trying to defeat.

Despite that argument, as the policymaking process was entering its final weeks, Obama tried to exert high-level pressure on Pakistan.

In a Nov. 11, 2009 letter to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, Obama said Pakistan’s use of such “proxy groups” as Haqqani and the Taliban would no longer be tolerated, as Woodward recounts. National Security Adviser James Jones and Counterterrorism adviser John Brennan were sent to Islamabad to deliver the message.

Obama wanted Pakistan to understand that he would take unilateral action against the Taliban and Haqqani safe havens in Pakistan, including accelerated drone strikes and commando raids, unless Pakistani forces attacked them.

That message was clearly received. A Pakistani official told the New York Times, “Jones’s message was if that Pakistani help wasn’t forthcoming, the United States would have to do it themselves.”

The week of Nov. 17, CIA Director Leon Panetta met with Pasha and other top Pakistani officials, and complained about the presence of the Taliban leadership headquarters in Quetta, Baluchistan, according to Woodward’s account. He cited intelligence that bombs were being made there, then “taken across the border and blowing up Americans”.

Panetta proposed joint U.S.-Pakistani operations on the ground aimed at the Quetta Shura, but Kayani refused.

In a response to Obama’s letter late in November, Zardari voiced the Pakistani military’s rationale for Pakistan’s use of Afghan insurgents to protect its interests in Pakistan. He charged that “neighbouring intelligence agencies” – meaning India – “are using Afghan soil to perpetuate violence in Pakistan.”

And Zardari did not give a clear response to Obama’s invitation to plan joint operations against those forces.

When Obama met with his national security team for the final time on Nov. 29, he knew that the pressure tactic had failed. Lute, Obama’s Afghanistan coordinator, warned that Pakistani policy was one of four major, interacting risks of a troop surge policy.

But Obama approved a plan for 30,000 additional troops anyway, suggesting that the decision was driven by the political-bureaucratic momentum of the war rather than by a rational assessment of cost, risk and benefit.

Throughout 2010, the Pakistani military continued to make clear its refusal to compromise on its interests in Afghanistan. In late January, U.S. and Pakistani authorities picked up Mullah Ghani Baradar, the second-ranking official in the Taliban Quetta Shura, in a raid in Karchi – apparently without realising in advance that Baradar was present.

But when the United States sought to extradite Baradar to Afghanistan, the Pakistanis refused. And Baradar and several other members of the Quetta Shura who had been detained by the Pakistanis were reported in October 2010 to have been released.

In a January 2011 interview with Public Broadcasting System’s “Frontline”, Gen. David Petraeus, by then the commander in Afghanistan, was asked about Pakistan’s release of top Taliban leaders. “We’ve actually had a conversation on this very recently,” said Petraeus blandly, “and in fact there has been a request for information….”

Two National Intelligence Estimates on Afghanistan and Pakistan in December 2010 pointed once again to the centrality of Pakistani policy to the outcome of the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan.

The NIE on Afghanistan concluded that the United States was unlikely to succeed in Afghanistan unless Pakistan changed its policy to take military action against insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistan. But the estimate on Pakistan made it clear that no such change in Pakistani policy could be expected.

In mid-December, the Obama administration issued a five-page summary of its December 2010 review of the Afghanistan War, which concluded that the “gains” were “fragile and reversible” and that consolidating those gains “will require that we make more progress with Pakistan to eliminate sanctuaries for violent extremist networks.”

Immediately after that review, the New York Times reported a military proposal for cross-border raids into Pakistan aimed at capturing Taliban commanders for interrogation back in Afghanistan.

Beginning in late 2010, moreover, the U.S. infiltrated hundreds of unilateral intelligence agents into Pakistan, suggesting an intention to carry out further cross-border raids.

Those moves had already alarmed Pakistan’s military leaders well before the U.S. raid against bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad.

And in a classified report sent to Congress in early April, the Obama administration strongly criticised Pakistan’s failure to attack insurgent safe havens in Mohmand in northwest Pakistan for three straight years, as reported by the New York Times Apr. 5.

Moeed Yusuf, director of the South Asia programme at the U.S. Institute of Peace, who has been leading a study of Pakistani elite opinion on relations with the United States, believes the crisis in U.S.-Pakistan relations can be blamed on a failure of both governments to acknowledge explicitly the existence of a fundamental conflict of interests.

“If there is a strategic divergence of interests, I think Pakistan needs to put it on the table,” said Yusuf. Pakistani leaders “need to be very candid about why it’s not in their interests” to do what Washington wants, he said.

If the interests at stake are not brought into the open, Yusuf suggested, “A rupture is possible.”

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, “Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam”, was published in 2006.

The Politics of bin Laden: Obama Aspires to ‘Do Big Things’

May 4, 2011

By MICHAEL SCHERER

Shortly after hearing confirmation on Sunday that Osama bin Laden was dead, President Barack Obama walked down to chief of staff Bill Daley’s West Wing office to discuss what he would say in his address to the nation.

The President had already mapped it out, even if his speechwriter had yet to start typing. The speech would begin by recalling the images of Sept. 11, 2001. It would run through the events of the night. And it would end with a call to American greatness, a celebration of the idea that the U.S. can do anything. In short, he wanted to revisit the refrain from his 2011 State of the Union: “We do big things.”

“Today’s achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people,” he told the world hours later, after going through several revisions of a draft in the Oval Office with his speechwriter. “The cause of securing our country is not complete. But tonight, we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to.”

In that moment, the President was trying to illustrate a larger theme, one beyond the scope of al-Qaeda or the war on terrorism. He was restating the central political message of his nascent re-election campaign, which is centered around the idea that Obama is the person best able to bring the nation out of its decade-long malaise to win the future.

Obama has discussed this thematic connection with his aides in the West Wing, explaining that the death of bin Laden signals something far greater than a national-security accomplishment. “He views this as a demonstration of this country’s capacity to overcome skeptics and do things that people had decided were no longer doable,” explained press secretary Jay Carney in an interview on Monday afternoon. “There is sort of a grit and resolve. And not in a John Wayne way, but in a commitment and focus.”

In his explanation, Carney was seeking more political distance between Obama and his predecessor, George W. Bush, who often evinced a cowboy attitude – Bush once famously said he wanted bin Laden “dead or alive.” Since bin Laden’s death early Monday in Pakistan, White House aides have made a point of noting Obama’s disappointment with the state of the bin Laden manhunt when he took office in 2009. On June 2 of that year, Obama issued a memo calling for a reinvigoration of the hunt for bin Laden. White House aides say that directive led to more equipment, manpower and focus for the effort.

In his speech on bin Laden’s death on Sunday, Obama gave Bush no credit for the key intelligence gathered by his Administration, which paved the way to Abbottabad. Rather, Obama mentioned Bush simply to agree with the former President’s contention that the U.S. is not at war with Islam.

This political positioning comes at a time when Obama is striving to appear above politics. At a previously scheduled bipartisan dinner with congressional leaders on Monday night, Obama said the killing of bin Laden had brought the country together once again. “I think we experienced the same sense of unity that prevailed on 9/11,” he said in brief remarks. “We were reminded again that there is a pride in what this nation stands for, and what we can achieve, that runs far deeper than party, far deeper than politics.”

Obama plans to take that message on the road later in the week, traveling on Thursday to the site of the former World Trade Center to commemorate bin Laden’s death with a remembrance of the Americans who died there. The event is sure to draw further comparisons to Bush, who declared at that site a few days after the 9/11 attacks that “the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.”

In addition to fighting wars and signing budgets, U.S. Presidents are tasked with telling the national story in times of tragedy and victory. For Obama at this moment, the story is about a nation coming out of a long decade of decline and frustration. It is a story of a President leading the country back to greatness, and it is the platform on which Obama’s re-election campaign will be built. Osama bin Laden is now a central figure in that story, playing a major role for a second U.S. President in yet another re-election campaign.

Sleepwalking into the imperial dark

April 21, 2011

America today: What it feels like when a superpower runs off the tracks

BY TOM ENGELHARDT


Michele Bachmann speaks at an Americans for Prosperity “Cut Spending Now,” rally on Capitol Hill.

This can’t end well.

But then, how often do empires end well, really? They live vampirically by feeding off others until, sooner or later, they begin to feed on themselves, to suck their own blood, to hollow themselves out. Sooner or later, they find themselves, as in our case, economically stressed and militarily extended in wars they can’t afford to win or lose.

Historians have certainly written about the dangers of overextended empires and of endless war as a way of life, but there’s something distant and abstract about the patterns of history. It’s quite another thing to take it in when you’re part of it; when, as they used to say in the overheated 1960s, you’re in the belly of the beast.

I don’t know what it felt like to be inside the Roman Empire in the long decades, even centuries, before it collapsed, or to experience the waning years of the Spanish empire, or the twilight of the Qing dynasty, or of Imperial Britain as the sun first began to set, or even of the Soviet Empire before the troops came slinking home from Afghanistan, but at some point it must have seemed at least a little like this — truly strange, like watching a machine losing its parts. It must have seemed as odd and unnerving as it does now to see a formerly mighty power enter a state of semi-paralysis at home even as it staggers on blindly with its war-making abroad.

The United States is, of course, an imperial power, however much we might prefer not to utter the word. We still have our globe-spanning array of semi-client states; our military continues to garrison much of the planet; and we are waging war abroad more continuously than at any time in memory. Yet who doesn’t sense that the sun is now setting on us?

Not so many years ago, we were proud enough of our global strength to regularly refer to ourselves as the Earth’s “sole superpower.” In those years, our president and his top officials dreamed of establishing a worldwide Pax Americana, while making speeches and issuing official documents proclaiming that the United States would be militarily “beyond challenge” by any and all powers for eons to come. So little time has passed and yet who speaks like that today? Who could?

A Country in Need of Prozac

Have you noticed, by the way, how repetitiously our president, various presidential candidates, and others now insist that we are “the greatest nation on Earth” (as they speak of the U.S. military being “the finest fighting force in the history of the world”)? And yet, doesn’t that phrase leave ash in your mouth? Look at this country and its frustrations today and tell me: Does anyone honestly believe that anymore?

It wasn’t a mistake that the fantasy avenger figure of Rambo became immensely popular in the wake of defeat in Vietnam or that, unlike American heroes of earlier decades, he had such a visibly, almost risibly overblown musculature. As eye-candy, it was pure overcompensation for the obvious. Similarly, when the United States was actually “the greatest” on this planet, no one needed to say it over and over again.

Can there be any question that something big is happening here, even if we don’t quite know what it is because, unlike the peoples of past empires, we never took pride in or even were able to think of ourselves as imperial? And if you were indeed in denial that you lived in the belly of a great imperial power, if like most Americans you managed to ignore the fact that we were pouring our treasure into the military or setting up bases in countries that few could have found on a map, then you would naturally experience the empire going down as if through a glass darkly.

Nonetheless, the feelings that should accompany the experience of an imperial power running off the rails aren’t likely to disappear just because analysis is lacking. Disillusionment, depression, and dismay flow ever more strongly through the American bloodstream. Just look at any polling data on whether this country, once the quintessential land of optimists, is heading in “the right direction” or on “the wrong track,” and you’ll find that the “wrong track” numbers are staggering, and growing by the month. On the rare occasions when Americans have been asked by pollsters whether they think the country is “in decline,” the figures have been similarly over the top.

It’s not hard to see why. A loss of faith in the American political system is palpable. For many Americans, it’s no longer “our government” but “the bureaucracy.” Washington is visibly in gridlock and incapable of doing much of significance, while state governments, facing the “steepest decline in state tax receipts on record,” are, along with local governments, staggering under massive deficits and cutting back in areas — education, policing, firefighting — that matter to daily life.

Years ago, in the George W. Bush era, I wanted to put a new word in our domestic political vocabulary: “Republican’ts.” It was my way of expressing the feeling that something basic to this country — a “can do” spirit — was seeping away. I failed, of course, and since then that “can’t do” spirit has visibly spread far beyond the Republican Party. Simply put, we’re a country in need of Prozac.

Facing the challenges of a world at the edge — from Japan to the Greater Middle East, from a shaky global economic system to weather that has become anything but entertainment — the United States looks increasingly incapable of coping. It no longer invests in its young, or plans effectively for the future, or sets off on new paths. It literally can’t do. And this is not just a domestic crisis, but part of imperial decline.

We just don’t treat it as such, tending instead to deal with the foreign and domestic as essentially separate spheres, when the connections between them are so obvious. If you doubt this, just pull into your nearest gas station and fill up the tank. Of course, who doesn’t know that this country, once such a generator of wealth, is now living with unemployment figures not seen since the Great Depression, as well as unheard of levels of debt, that it’s hooked on foreign energy (and like most addicts has next to no capacity for planning how to get off that drug), or that it’s living through the worst period of income inequality in modern history? And who doesn’t know that a crew of financial fabulists, corporate honchos, lobbyists, and politicians have been fattening themselves off the faltering body politic?

And if you don’t think any of this has anything to do with imperial power in decline, ask yourself why the options for our country so often seem to have shrunk to what our military is capable of, or that the only significant part of the government whose budget is still on the rise is the Pentagon. Or why, when something is needed, this administration, like its predecessor, regularly turns to that same military.

Once upon a time, helping other nations in terrible times, for example, would have been an obvious duty of the civil part of the U.S. government. Today, from Haiti to Japan, in such moments it’s the U.S. military that acts. In response to the Japanese triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown, for instance, the Pentagon has mounted a large-scale recovery effort, involving 18,000 people, 20 U.S. Navy ships, and even fuel barges bringing fresh water for reactor-cooling efforts at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex. The effort has been given a military code name, Operation Tomodachi (Japanese for “friend”), and is, among other things, an obvious propaganda campaign meant to promote the usefulness of America’s archipelago of bases in that country.

Similarly, when the administration needs something done in the Middle East, these days it’s as likely to send Secretary of Defense Robert Gates — he recently paid official visits to Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Egypt — as Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. And of course, as is typical, when a grim situation in Libya worsened and something “humanitarian” was called for, the Obama administration (along with NATO) threw air power at it.

Predictably, as in Afghanistan and the Pakistani borderlands, air power failed to bring about speedy success. What’s most striking is not that Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi didn’t instantly fall, or that the Libyan military didn’t collapse when significant parts of its tank and artillery forces were taken out, or that the swift strikes meant to turn the tide have already stretched into more than a month of no-fly zone NATO squabbling and military stalemate (as the no-fly zone version of war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq stretched to 12 years without ultimate success).

Imperially speaking, two things are memorable about the American military effort in Libya. First, Washington doesn’t seem to have the conviction of what’s left of its power, as its strange military dance in (and half-out of) the air over that country indicates. Second, even in the military realm, Washington is increasingly incapable of drawing lessons from its past actions. As a result, its arsenal of potential tactics is made up largely of those that have failed in the recent past. Innovation is no longer part of empire.

The Uses of Fear

From time to time, the U.S. government’s “Intelligence Community” or IC musters its collective savvy and plants its flag in the future in periodic reports that go under the generic rubric of “Global Trends.” The last of these, Global Trends 2025, was prepared for a new administration taking office in January 2009, and it was typical.

In a field once left to utopian or dystopian thinkers, pulp-fiction writers, oddballs, visionaries, and even outright cranks, these compromise bureaucratic documents break little ground and rock no boats, nor do they predict global tsunamis. Better to forecast what the people you brief already believe, and skip the oddballs with their strange hunches, the sorts who might actually have a knack for recognizing the shock of the future lurking in the present.

As group efforts, then, these reports tend to project the trends of the present moment relatively seamlessly and reasonably reassuringly into the future. For example, the last time around they daringly predicted a gradual, 15-year soft landing for a modestly declining America. (“Although the United States is likely to remain the single most powerful actor, [the country’s] relative strength — even in the military realm — will decline and U.S. leverage will become more constrained.”)

Even though it was assumedly being finished amid the global meltdown of 2008, nothing in it would have kept you up at night, sleepless and fretting. More than 15 years into the future, our IC could imagine no wheels falling off the American juggernaut, nothing that would make you wonder if this country could someday topple off the nearest cliff. Twists, unpleasant surprises, unhappy endings? Not for this empire, according to its corps of intelligence analysts.

And the future being what it is, if you read that document now, you’d find none of the more stunning events that have disrupted and radically altered our world since late 2008: no Arab lands boiling with revolt, no Hosni Mubarak under arrest with his sons in jail, no mass demonstrations in Syria, no economies of peripheral European countries imploding down one by one, nor a cluster of nuclear plants in Japan melting down.

You won’t find once subservient semi-client states thumbing their noses at Washington, not even in 2025. You won’t, for example, find the Saudis in, say 2011, openly exploring deeper relations with Russia and China as a screw-you response to Washington’s belated decision that Egyptian autocrat Hosni Mubarak should leave office, or Pakistani demands that the CIA and American special operations forces start scaling back activities on their turf, or American officials practically pleading with an Iraqi government it once helped put in power (and now moving ever closer to Iran) to please, please, please let U.S. troops stay past an agreed-upon withdrawal deadline of December 31, 2011, or Afghan President Hamid Karzai publicly blaming the Americans for the near collapse of his country’s major bank in a cesspool of corruption (in which his own administration was, of course, deeply implicated).

Only two-plus years after “Global Trends 2025” appeared, it doesn’t take the combined powers of the IC to know that American decline looks an awful lot more precipitous and bumpier than imagined. But let’s not just blame our intelligence functionaries for not divining the future we’re already in. After all, they, too, were in the goldfish bowl, and when you’re there, it’s always hard to describe the nearest cats.

Nor should we be surprised that, like so many other Americans, they too were in denial.

After all, our leaders spent years organizing their version of the world around a “Global War on Terror,” when (despite the 9/11 attacks) terror was hardly America’s most obvious challenge. It proved largely a “war” against phantoms and fantasies, or against modest-sized ragtag bands of enemies — even though it resulted in perfectly real conflicts, absolutely genuine new bases abroad, significant numbers of civilian dead, and the expansion of a secret army of operatives inside the U.S. military into a force of 13,000 or more operating in 75 countries.

The spasms of fear that coursed through our society in the near-decade after September 11, 2001, and the enemy, “Islamic terrorism,” to which those spasms were attached are likely to look far different to us in retrospect. Yes, many factors — including the terrifyingly apocalyptic look of 9/11 in New York City — contributed to what happened. There was fear’s usefulness in prosecuting wars in the Greater Middle East that President Bush and his top officials found appealing. There was the way it ensured soaring budgets for the Pentagon and the national security state. There was the way it helped the politicians, lobbyists, and corporations hooked into a developing homeland-security complex. There was the handy-dandy way it glued eyeballs to a one-event-fits-all-sizes version of the world that made the media happy, and there was the way it justified ever increasing powers for our national security managers and ever lessening liberties for Americans.

But think of all that as only the icing on the cake. Looking back, those terror fears coursing through the body politic will undoubtedly seem like Rambo’s muscles: a deflection from the country’s deepest fears. They were, in that sense, consoling. They allowed us to go on with our lives, to visit Disney World, as George W. Bush urged in the wake of 9/11 in order to prove our all-American steadfastness.

Above all, even as our imperial wars in the oil heartlands of the planet went desperately wrong, they allowed us not to think about empire or, until the economy melted down in 2008, decline. They allowed us to focus our fears on “them,” not us. They ensured that, like the other great imperial power of the Cold War era, when things began to spiral out of control we would indeed sleepwalk right into the imperial darkness.

Now that we’re so obviously there, the confusion is greater than ever. Theoretically, none of this should necessarily be considered bad news, not if you don’t love empires and what they do. A post-imperial U.S. could, of course, be open to all sorts of possibilities for change that might be exciting indeed.

Right now, though, it doesn’t feel that way, does it? It makes me wonder: Could this be how it’s always felt inside a great imperial power on the downhill slide? Could this be what it’s like to watch, paralyzed, as a country on autopilot begins to come apart at the seams while still proclaiming itself “the greatest nation on Earth”?

I don’t know. But I do know one thing: this can’t end well.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, “The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s” (Haymarket Books), has just been published.

Pentagon clears McChrystal of wrongdoing

April 21, 2011

AlJazeera

Inquiry questions accuracy of article which cost US commander in Afghanistan his job but Rolling Stone stands by report.


The report said there was no evidence that McChrystal had violated any applicable legal or ethical standards [Reuters]

A Pentagon inquiry into a controversial Rolling Stone magazine profile of General Stanley McChrystal that led to his dismissal as the top US commander in Afghanistan has cleared him of wrongdoing.

The investigation’s results released on Monday also called into question the accuracy of the magazine’s report last June.

The magazine quoted anonymously people around McChrystal making disparaging remarks about members of Barack Obama’s, the US president, national security team, including Joe Biden, the vice president

At the time he dismissed McChrystal, Obama said the general had fallen short of “the standard that should be set by a commanding general”.

However, the defence department inspector general’s report, concluded that available evidence did not support the conclusion that McChrystal had violated any applicable legal or ethical standards.

Last week, the White House tapped McChrystal to head a new advisory board to support military families.

The selection of McChrystal was announced on April 12, four days after the inspector general’s report was finished.

The report’s conclusions were first reported on Monday by The New York Times, which obtained it under a Freedom of Information Act request.

The Pentagon subsequently posted the report on its website.

‘Accurate in every detail’

The inspector general’s report said it had reviewed an unpublished army investigation of the case and interviewed numerous eyewitnesses.

It said McChrystal declined an invitation to provide sworn testimony, saying he had already testified to army investigators.

The general also declined to comment on the inspector general’s conclusions.

The Pentagon inquiry also concluded that not all of the events at issue happened as reported in the Rolling Stone article.

“In some instances, we found no witnesses who acknowledged making or hearing the comments as reported,” the report said.

“In other instances, we confirmed that the general substance of an incident at issue occurred, but not in the exact context described in the article.”

Rolling Stone issued a statement saying it stands behind its story, which it called “accurate in every detail”.

After the magazine article was published, McChrystal was summoned to the White House and dismissed, eventually being replaced by General David Petraeus.

At the time, Obama called the dismissal the right decision for US national security.

He said McChrystal’s conduct represented in the magazine article “undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system.

“And it erodes the trust that’s necessary for our team to work together to achieve our objectives in Afghanistan.”

Pentagon clears McChrystal of wrongdoing

April 21, 2011

AlJazeera

Inquiry questions accuracy of article which cost US commander in Afghanistan his job but Rolling Stone stands by report.


The report said there was no evidence that McChrystal had violated any applicable legal or ethical standards [Reuters]

A Pentagon inquiry into a controversial Rolling Stone magazine profile of General Stanley McChrystal that led to his dismissal as the top US commander in Afghanistan has cleared him of wrongdoing.

The investigation’s results released on Monday also called into question the accuracy of the magazine’s report last June.

The magazine quoted anonymously people around McChrystal making disparaging remarks about members of Barack Obama’s, the US president, national security team, including Joe Biden, the vice president

At the time he dismissed McChrystal, Obama said the general had fallen short of “the standard that should be set by a commanding general”.

However, the defence department inspector general’s report, concluded that available evidence did not support the conclusion that McChrystal had violated any applicable legal or ethical standards.

Last week, the White House tapped McChrystal to head a new advisory board to support military families.

The selection of McChrystal was announced on April 12, four days after the inspector general’s report was finished.

The report’s conclusions were first reported on Monday by The New York Times, which obtained it under a Freedom of Information Act request.

The Pentagon subsequently posted the report on its website.

‘Accurate in every detail’

The inspector general’s report said it had reviewed an unpublished army investigation of the case and interviewed numerous eyewitnesses.

It said McChrystal declined an invitation to provide sworn testimony, saying he had already testified to army investigators.

The general also declined to comment on the inspector general’s conclusions.

The Pentagon inquiry also concluded that not all of the events at issue happened as reported in the Rolling Stone article.

“In some instances, we found no witnesses who acknowledged making or hearing the comments as reported,” the report said.

“In other instances, we confirmed that the general substance of an incident at issue occurred, but not in the exact context described in the article.”

Rolling Stone issued a statement saying it stands behind its story, which it called “accurate in every detail”.

After the magazine article was published, McChrystal was summoned to the White House and dismissed, eventually being replaced by General David Petraeus.

At the time, Obama called the dismissal the right decision for US national security.

He said McChrystal’s conduct represented in the magazine article “undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system.

“And it erodes the trust that’s necessary for our team to work together to achieve our objectives in Afghanistan.”

Netanyahu, the anti-Obama

August 16, 2010

By George F. Will

Two photographs adorn the office of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Together they illuminate a portentous fact: No two leaders of democracies are less alike — in life experiences, temperaments and political philosophies — than Netanyahu, the former commando and fierce nationalist, and Barack Obama, the former professor and post-nationalist.

One photograph is of Theodor Herzl, born 150 years ago. Dismayed by the eruption of anti-Semitism in France during the Dreyfus Affair at the end of the 19th century, Herzl became Zionism’s founding father. Long before the Holocaust, he concluded that Jews could find safety only in a national homeland.

The other photograph is of Winston Churchill, who considered himself “one of the authors” of Britain’s embrace of Zionism. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 stated: “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” Beginning in 1923, Britain would govern Palestine under a League of Nations mandate.

Netanyahu, his focus firmly on Iran, honors Churchill because he did not flinch from facts about gathering storms. Obama returned to the British Embassy in Washington the bust of Churchill that was in the Oval Office when he got there.

Obama’s 2009 speech in Cairo, courting the Arab world, may have had measurable benefits, although the metric proving this remains mysterious. The speech — made during a trip when Obama visited Cairo and Riyadh but not here — certainly subtracted from his standing in Israel. In it, he acknowledged Israel as, in part, a response to Jewish suffering in the Holocaust. Then, with what many Israelis considered a deeply offensive exercise of moral equivalence, he said: “On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people — Muslims and Christians — have suffered in pursuit of a homeland.”

“On the other hand”? “I,” says Moshe Yaalon, “was shocked by the Cairo speech,” which he thinks proved that “this White House is very different.” Yaalon, former head of military intelligence and chief of the general staff, currently strategic affairs minister, tartly asks, “If Palestinians are victims, who are the victimizers?”

The Cairo speech came 10 months after Obama’s Berlin speech, in which he declared himself a “citizen of the world.” That was an oxymoronic boast, given that citizenship connotes allegiance to a particular polity, its laws and political processes. But the boast resonated in Europe.

The European Union was born from the flight of Europe’s elites from what terrifies them — Europeans. The first Thirty Years’ War ended in 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia, which ratified the system of nation-states. The second Thirty Years’ War, which ended in 1945, convinced European elites that the continent’s nearly fatal disease was nationalism, the cure for which must be the steady attenuation of nationalities. Hence the high value placed on “pooling” sovereignty, never mind the cost in diminished self-government.

Israel, with its deep sense of nationhood, is beyond unintelligible to such Europeans; it is a stench in their nostrils. Transnational progressivism is, as much as welfare state social democracy, an element of European politics that American progressives will emulate as much as American politics will permit. It is perverse that the European Union, a semi-fictional political entity, serves — with the United States, the reliably anti-Israel United Nations and Russia — as part of the “quartet” that supposedly will broker peace in our time between Israel and the Palestinians.

Arguably the most left-wing administration in American history is trying to knead and soften the most right-wing coalition in Israel’s history. The former shows no understanding of the latter, which thinks it understands the former all too well.

The prime minister honors Churchill, who spoke of “the confirmed unteachability of mankind.” Nevertheless, a display case in Netanyahu’s office could teach the Obama administration something about this leader. It contains a small signet stone that was part of a ring found near the Western Wall. It is about 2,800 years old — 200 years younger than Jerusalem’s role as the Jewish people’s capital. The ring was the seal of a Jewish official, whose name is inscribed on it: Netanyahu.

No one is less a transnational progressive, less a post-nationalist, than Binyamin Netanyahu, whose first name is that of a son of Jacob, who lived perhaps 4,000 years ago. Netanyahu, whom no one ever called cuddly, once said to a U.S. diplomat 10 words that should warn U.S. policymakers who hope to make Netanyahu malleable: “You live in Chevy Chase. Don’t play with our future.”