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My thoughts on the world around me

Major Changes Depend on Little Details

President Barack Obama knows that if he wants to improve relations between the United States and the Muslim world, he will have to focus on the details. On Day 2 of his presidency, Obama made a statement by visiting the State Department.

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February 1, 2009 Posted by | Barack Obama, Foreign Policy, Obama's First 100 Days, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Project for the First Lady, Michelle Obama

At least in recent years, one of the roles of the first lady has been to increase awareness of certain women’s issues throughout the globe.

While I’m sure that Mrs. Obama already has an agenda for herself, there is an issue that I believe is worthy of her attention: widows in India. In The Forgotten Woman, the documentary tells the story of some of the 20 million Indian widows who are abandoned by their families and forced to live on the streets when their husbands die.

The trailer for “The Forgotten Woman”:

United States’ interests in the region of south Asia, namely India and Pakistan, are only increasing. How those relationships are handled in the coming years is imperative to the success of our foreign policy. Along with Secretary of State designate Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presence, Mrs. Obama’s deft touch, as a woman and as a high-powered intellectual in her own right, may be an effective tool for furthering both women’s rights and U.S.-India relations.

Mrs. Obama, perhaps this issue should be on your agenda.

January 20, 2009 Posted by | Art, Film, Foreign Policy, Politics, Women's Issues | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Redeploying Troops Into Afghanistan a No-Brainer, Right?

Barack Obama has noted that among his foreign policy objectives, he plans on gradually withdrawing troops from Iraq and redeploying them into Afghanistan. Like the Guantánamo Bay prison, the war in Iraq is a legacy he would prefer for President George W. Bush to savor alone.

With no WMD’s or terrorist training sites, Iraq does not currently pose a national security threat to the United States. In Afghanistan, however, the Taliban grows in both strength and boldness, and al-Qaeda continues to lurk along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

So redeploying the troops into Afghanistan is a no-brainer, right?

Not according to Bob Herbert, a New York Times op-ed columnist. In a recent column, Mr. Herbert argues that the time for a prolonged war in Afghanistan has come and gone:

In an analysis in The Times last month, Michael Gordon noted that “Afghanistan presents a unique set of problems: a rural-based insurgency, an enemy sanctuary in neighboring Pakistan, the chronic weakness of the Afghan government, a thriving narcotics trade, poorly developed infrastructure, and forbidding terrain.”

The U.S. military is worn out from years of warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan. The troops are stressed from multiple deployments. Equipment is in disrepair. Budgets are beyond strained. Sending thousands of additional men and women (some to die, some to be horribly wounded) on a fool’s errand in the rural, mountainous guerrilla paradise of Afghanistan would be madness.

The time to go all out in Afghanistan was in the immediate aftermath of the 2001 terror attacks. That time has passed.

Mr. Herbert contends that the prudent move would be to withdraw the troops and live to fight another day:

With no personal military background and a reputation as a liberal, President-elect Obama may feel he has to demonstrate his toughness, and that Afghanistan is the place to do it. What would really show toughness would be an assertion by Mr. Obama as commander in chief that the era of mindless military misadventures is over…

In his article for Newsweek, Mr. [Andrew] Bacevich said: “The chief effect of military operations in Afghanistan so far has been to push radical Islamists across the Pakistani border. As a result, efforts to stabilize Afghanistan are contributing to the destabilization of Pakistan, with potentially devastating implications.

“No country poses a greater potential threat to U.S. national security — today and for the foreseeable future — than Pakistan. To risk the stability of that nuclear-armed state in the vain hope of salvaging Afghanistan would be a terrible mistake.”

Making matters worse, the troops’ negative morale is being overlooked. According to a Yahoo! News article published last month, over 540 active-duty soldiers in the Army have committed suicide since 2003. Redeploying soldiers, sometimes on their 4th or even 5th tour of duty, cannot be the most sensible option right now.

Mr. Obama, there are two things you need to focus on: the economy and on bringing the troops home. Having waged war for seven years, our soldiers now need for us to rally around them. Bring them home, get them psychiatric help, and allow them to decompress.

If the troops are redeployed, Mr. Obama will owe the country an explanation. As Mr. Herbert notes:

He will owe that to the public because he will own the conflict at that point. It will be Barack Obama’s war.

January 18, 2009 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Obama’s Vision for US Foreign Policy

President-Elect Obama’s inauguration is now just 11 days away. The dilemmas that await him are by now well-documented. I would, however, like to revisit Obama’s thoughts on what the United States’ foreign policy ought to be in the years to come. Here is the July/August 2007 issue of Foreign Affairs, in which Obama wrote a piece titled, “Renewing American Leadership.”

Here is a summary:

After Iraq, we may be tempted to turn inward. That would be a mistake. The American moment is not over, but it must be seized anew. We must bring the war to a responsible end and then renew our leadership — military, diplomatic, moral — to confront new threats and capitalize on new opportunities. America cannot meet this century’s challenges alone; the world cannot meet them without America.

January 9, 2009 Posted by | Economics, Foreign Policy, Politics | , , , , , | Leave a comment

American Progress or American Dilemma?

The theme of the day (I commented on this subject, to a certain degree, in “The Washington Post’s Ann Telnaes’ Cartoon“) appears to be that the United States, at least with respect to its interaction with foreign governments, has a tendency to impose its value system.

In Fareed Zakaria’s most recent article, he notes some of the late Samuel P. Huntington’s most important work: “the most important political distinction among countries concerns not their form of government but their degree of government.” Of Huntington’s findings, Zakaria goes on to say that “American-style progress – more political participation or faster economic growth – actually created more problems than it solved.”

From Vietnam to Afghanistan, from Iraq to Pakistan, the United States’ foreign policy has been fatally flawed. The self-proclaimed notion that the United States is a liberator, and that it is in every country’s best interest to follow its Protestant Work Ethic, is not only a fallacy, but the very reason why its foreign policy has failed to adapt over the past 50 years.

We are a secular, capitalist society. Such principles work for us. That does not mean, though, that those same ideals would function under varying political landscapes, religious beliefs, and socioeconomic structures. As Zakaria states, Huntington, on tours to Vietnam in 1967 and 1968, observed that the Vietnamese people felt “secure within effective communities structured around religious or ethnic ties.” The United States viewed such sources of authority as “backward,” and took a different route. We now know how well the military campaign in Vietnam turned out.

In two months, it will be the 7th anniversary of the United States’ invasion of Iraq. After nearly seven long years, where do we stand? The number of recent fatalities due to suicide or car bombings are mind-numbing. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban grow stronger in the areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. But fret not, Americans. Our soldiers, who are already on their fourth or fifth tour of duty, will likely be re-deployed to Afghanistan.

Are these examples of American progress or an American dilemma? Samuel P. Huntington warned us of these flaws decades ago. Empires throughout history have fallen because of such short sightedness.

Only time will tell what the United States’ legacy will be.

January 5, 2009 Posted by | Economics, Foreign Policy, Politics, Travel | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Israel, Watch Your Step

According to this NY Times article, Israel is facing a political quagmire: how far should it take this military campaign against Hamas?

Israel’s main concern is addressing the rockets being fired into southern Israel. So the question becomes: can the rockets be stopped for any length of time while Hamas remains in power? If not, then is the operation to remove Hamas entirely, at any cost?

In 2006, Israel was unable to defeat Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, and the terrorist organization was legitimized. Here, it seems that Israel is facing a very similar problem. Aluf Benn, a political analyst for Haaretz, contends that if the war ends in a draw, then Hamas will be legitimized and grow stronger.

Most people, including many Israelis, would prefer that a truce be brokered. Any potential truce would likely have to include an end to the economic boycott that Israel has imposed on Gaza. However, such a result would build up Hamas. If the boycott remains in place, though, 1.5 million Gazans will remain living in poverty.

The article goes on to say that Israel can only achieve victory if it were to once again occupy Gaza.

As several political insiders point out, though, removing Hamas would be unrealistic. Hamas won a democratic majority four years ago, and the group has 15,000-20,000 armed men.

What about the Fatah party? Couldn’t it just take the place of Hamas, as it once did? The article points out that Fatah is likely too disorganized to take over. Complicating this matter further, the longer Israel retains a military presence in Gaza, the weaker Fatah becomes. In the minds of Gazans, it would appear as though Fatah were collaborating with Israel.

Ultimately, the article notes that the destruction of Hamas’ infrastructure would likely result in chaos. With no influx of capital, and no political party to maintain order, Gazans won’t know which way is north.

If Israel’s goal is to reach a peaceful accord with its surrounding enemies, it had better calculate its moves very, very carefully.

January 3, 2009 Posted by | Economics, Law, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment