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My thoughts on the world around me

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.

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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

America, Be Not Afraid to Look Behind You

Appearing in a New York Times op-ed column, Slate Magazine’s Dahlia Lithwick says Americans would rather turn the page than prosecute top Bush officials for war crimes and other atrocities. The crux of her argument is that this hope of “rebooting” the government, of preferring to recover, is not found in the language of law. There is no legal justification for not investigating or prosecuting senior officials who have authorized torture and warrant-less surveillance.

Americans want to focus on the brighter future that hopefully lies ahead, not dwell on our dark past. As Ms. Lithwick notes, however, that would be a mistake:

Nobody is looking for a series of public floggings. The blueprints for government accountability look nothing like witch hunts. They look like legal processes that have served us for centuries. And, as the Armed Services Committee report makes clear, we already know an enormous amount about what happened to take us down the road to torture and eavesdropping. The military has commissioned at least three investigative reports about the descent into abusive interrogation. Michael Ratner, the president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, has compiled what he believes to be sufficient evidence to try senior Bush administration officials for war crimes…

It’s not a witch hunt simply because political actors are under investigation. The process of investigating and prosecuting crimes makes up the bricks and mortar of our prosecutorial system. We don’t immunize drug dealers, pickpockets or car thieves because holding them to account is uncomfortable, difficult or divisive. We don’t protest that “it’s all behind us now” when a bank robber is brought to trial.

And America tends to survive the ugliness of public reckonings, from Nixon to Whitewater to the impeachment hearings, because for all our cheerful optimism, Americans fundamentally understand that nobody should be above the law. As the chief prosecutor for the United States at the Nuremberg trials, Robert Jackson, warned: “Law shall not stop with the punishment of petty crimes by little people. It must also reach men who possess themselves of great power.”

At the Senate confirmation hearing, Eric Holder said that “waterboarding is torture.” Is Holder and the Obama administration prepared to bring these people to justice? Can the American people stomach the potentially difficult process? We must all remember that, as Mr. Holder said at his confirmation hearing, “no one is above the law.” To not investigate or prosecute these officials to the full extent of the law is to establish a dangerous precedent.

There is no immunity for war crimes, even when allegedly done for the sake of national security.

January 15, 2009 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Law, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Slavery in the 21st Century

New York Times op-ed columnist, Nicholas Kristof, traveled to Cambodia to report on the sex trafficking of girls into brothels.

Reading the article, I was reminded of a feature documentary film that will be coming out — “Call + Response.”

Here’s a fact: In 2007, slave traders made more money than Google, Nike and Starbucks combined.

Toward the end of Mr. Kristof’s article, he notes that President-Elect Obama will have a new tool to combat traffickers: the Wilbeforce Act. Just passed by Congress, the Act strengthens sanctions on countries that allow sex slavery to take place within their borders. For details on the Wilbeforce Act, please see this detailed summary.

As Mr. Kristof’s article states, Mr. Obama, an African-American, ought to be at the forefront of this abolitionist movement toward ending all 21st century forms of slavery. In doing so, he truly would become a transformative figure, a modern day Frederick Douglas.

“Never forget, justice is what love looks like in public.” — Dr. Cornel West

January 4, 2009 Posted by | Art, Film, Law, Media, Politics, Protests, 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