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President Obama will announce a drawdown of 10,000 U.S.forces fromAfghanistanin a speech tomorrow evening. According to White House officials, the withdrawal will consist of 5,000 troops this summer and another 5,000 troops after the summer fighting season ends. They plan to withdrawal 30,000 troops within 12 months. 

Yesterday, in an interview on CNN, Defense Secretary Robert Gates indicated that the U.S.will continue to have a strong presence in Afghanistan, but conceded that political realities necessitated a beginning of “credible” troop withdrawals. These political realities are a major reason for Gates’ decision to leave his post. “[Frankly] I can’t imagine being part of a nation, part of a government … that’s being forced to dramatically scale back our engagement with the rest of the world.” This startling statement, told to Newsweek writers John Barry and  Tara McKelvey, reflected his concern that economic and political strife have diminished the ability of the United States to continue being the indispensable nation of the world.

 The political pressure on President Obama is coming from both the left and the right. With the economy slowly recovering and an unemployment rate over 9%, both political parties have been arguing that the war is simply too costly. The war cost the U.S. $128 billion dollars last year. It is estimated that the war has a monthly price tag of $8 billion. However, the cost of the war is only one line of attack.

 Isolationism is becoming the hot new trend among Republicans who seem to be pushing their views rightward, closer to Ron Paul’s brand of Libertarianism. This trend has concerned Reagan Republicans like John McCain: “This is isolationism. There’s always been an isolation strain in the Republican Party… but now it seems to have moved more center stage, so to speak.” The GOP presidential hopefuls find themselves opposing everything President Obama stands for, even if it is continuing a war that was started by the last Republican President– George W. Bush. Strangely enough, these GOP presidential hopefuls find themselves in bed with liberals who also oppose the war.

 Liberals oppose the war, too, but this opposition is a vestige of their opposition to Bush’s wars. But now, with a Democratic President in the White House, they have replaced Bush bashing with Obama bashing.  Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com, for example, has spent the last two years equating President Obama with President Bush. Recently, he wrote that President Obama’s legal lawyers were worse than President Bush’s. Much of their complaints are rooted in claims that the President is trying to win a losing battle– a battle with objectives that he has not clearly defined. Today, Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) sent President Obama a letter in which he wrote : “After 10 years and $443 billion, I believe it is time [to] focus our resources on rebuildingAmerica, not on rebuildingAfghanistan… It is time for the Afghan people to decide their destiny and take responsibility for governing themselves. … It is my hope that by redefining the mission inAfghanistan away from nation-building, you will pursue significant troop reductions immediately and end the scope of our current mission well before the 2014 deadline.”

 Both parties feel completely free to attack the President on this issue because the American public has also turned against the war. In a recent Pew Poll, 56% of Americans said that they wanted to bring the troops home, a record number. Only 39% believed that troops should  stay and continue their mission. These sentiments have been reflected in many other polls conducted in the last few months.

 But here is the problem: Americans do not understand the mission inAfghanistan, which is why the American public wants us to leave. This is the fault of Presidents Bush and Obama. But President Obama is doing the right thing by pursuing a responsible withdrawal, rather than a rush to exit. If people would actually study what is happening inAfghanistan, learn the country’s history, and look carefully at what our political and military leaders have said about our mission there, then they would be less eager to see the troop abandonAfghanistanso quickly. As I’ve discussed in previous blog posts, the consequences of leavingAfghanistantoo quickly would be more dangerous than the consequences of theU.S.continuing its mission and pursing a responsible withdrawal. All one has to do is look at the two times that theU.S.abandonedAfghanistan. The first time was just after the Soviets fled Afghanistan, and we left the Afghans to a bloody civil war that resulted in nearly half a million people being killed and created a power vacuum that allowed the Taliban to come to power. The second time was in our rush to invade another country:Iraq. We ignoredAfghanistanand allowed the Taliban to regroup, train, and retake many parts of the country. Unfortunately, Americans are war weary and they do not care about any of this.

 Perhaps they will keep this in mind the next time they decide to rush into war all jacked up on patriotic zeal… but I seriously doubt it.

 

Everyone, take a deep breath.

Chill the fuck out.

I understand the furor over the AIG bonuses. Not only do they go “against our most basic sense of what’s fair, what’s right, it offends our values,” but they also are symptomatic of a system in serious need of fundamental change. And everyone is outraged over them, from the President right on down to the homeless guy out in front of the McDonalds by where I work.

But are we so “outraged” that we are losing sight of the big picture?

Afterall, the bonuses, though outrageous and boneheaded, are really an insignificant piece of the bailout money they’ve recived. The $165 million in bonuses is only one-tenth of one percent of the $180 billion they recieved in bailout money.

Don’t believe me? Well, I’ve never been great at math, but I’m sure that it works out like this:

$165,000,000/$180,000,000,000 = .0009166

The psuedo-populist rage that exists now originated with the Republican party, eager to shift blame onto President Barack Obama. When President Clinton left office, the national debt stood at $5.73 billion; when President Bush left office, the national debt stood at $10.66 billion. Not only did he double the national debt, but he also accumulated more debt than any President in American history. Some analysts predicted before the current fallout that the national debt would rise to as much as $2 trillion dollars. With President Obama’s stimulus packge and soon-to-be budget those figures are going to rise dramatically.

The GOP is trying to take advantage of American’s collective amnesia. So far, unfortunately, it is working. The party that is now screaming at President Obama to be fiscally responsible was the party, over the last eight years, that spent money like it was going out of style. President Bush did not even use his veto-power until the Democrats came into power in 2007. The sage Alan Greenspan, who recently stated that he was wrong to believe that the financial institutions would self-regulate, also famously admitted, in his book Age of Turbulence, that he had been angered by the Republican’s attitude that “deficts don’t matter.” His advice to President Bush, just as it was under President Reagan, to exercise fiscal responsibility was completely ignored. This attitude not only caused him to leave his position as Federal Reserve Chairman, but it also caused him some measure of happiness when the Republicans were swept out of power. To the surprise of many, this long-time Republican wrote that President Clinton (a Democrat) was far more fiscally conservative than any of the six presidents he worked under, and that he appreciated Clinton’s efforts to slash deficits and reduce the national debt.

Now, let’s turn the clock back to 1993…

President Clinton was putting together a budget hat would increase taxes on th rich, spend more money on important programs, and cut the budgets of programs that were not working. So called fiscal conservatives were outraged by President Clinton’s “tax and spend” budget, but what they missed was the fact that he was implementing short-term growth, but he was also preparing for long-term sustainability of that growth. That is exactly what is happening now under President Obama. Yes, he’s having to spend a lot of money, but he is also investing in long-term growth that will raise the American economy out of the depths of this recession.

But I’m geting ahead of myself.

The AIG bonuses have distracted people from the overall picture. The American public, thanks to the GOP and the “Pro-Obama” media, have been worked up into a frenzy over a semi-irritating story.

The reality is that the bonuses were included in the original bailout deal that was worked out in November 2008… wait… who was President in November?

Oh, yeah! Bush!

Within the original bailout agreement, AIG was allowed to payout retention bonuses to its prized employees, which initially totaled $469 milion (according to an SEC filing by AIG). In a November 2008 HuffingtonPost blog by Representative Elijah Cummings (A Bonus by Any Other Name Still Stinks), he wrote that “the company’s executives will be receiving ‘cash awards’ as ‘retention payments.’ AIG can dress this money up in fancy names, but no one is fooled. A bonus by any other name still stinks.” So, clearly, this was not a process that was clandestine or otherwise kept from the public. And, again, this was known before President Obama came into office.

The public, as usual, was not paying attention.

And, again, the public is not paying attention. They are distracted by their own “outrage” over the AIG bonuses. And President Obama is reaping all the blame that belongs to President Bush and the GOP.

Well, maybe he is partly to blame…

In February, as the Stimulis Bill was making its way through congress, an amendment was added to the bill which would allow companies that recieved bailout money to provide bonuses to “valuable” employees. According to Senator Chris Dodd (D-Conn), Treasury officials came to him and insisted that he insert the amendment into the Stimulus bill. Apparently, the move was an effort to prevent lawsuits against the government from employees who were contractually promised bonuses. As Rep. Cummings noted, their bonus is keeping their job.

The President, who may or may not have been aware of the added amendment, has also expressed “outrage,” yet he has urged Americans to keep their eyes on the big picture. The bonuses, he remarked, though distateful, are an unfortunate and neccessary pill to swallow.

Just tonight, in fact, the Congress has passed a bill which places a 90% tax on those individuals that recieved bonuses. President Obama has indicated that he will not sign the bill. Secretary Treasury Tim Geithner has also said that he will deduct $165 million from the already planned additional $30 billion going to AIG.

Hopefully, this story loses its legs soon. Its nothing more than a distraction and an attempt to bring down President Obama’s numbers, which are still high. According to Gallup, President Obama enjoys a 65% approval rating, despite the gloomy economy and the furor over the AIG scandals of late. The American public, despite GOP efforts, still trust President Obama and still have a lot of hope for his presidency.

As President Obama said during his 60 Minutes interview, he is feeling the heat, as many bad choices made over the last few years (before he was President) are forcing him to make decisions that narrow down to “bad and worse”. He, nonetheless, continues to be steady, confident, and eloquent in his ability to convey his message to the American public. In the last week, he spent two days in California– a visit that included a stop on the Jay Leno show. Tonight the 60 Minutes interview airs, and later in the week he will make a televised appeal to the American people in order to rally support for his budget. This generation’s “Great Communicator” has a lot of explaining to do.

We are now at the end of day 12 of the Israeli invasion of Gaza. Remember that the June 1967 war lasted only six days. In that war, Israel was able to defeat Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and a few other Arab states that contributed some troops to the war against Israel. Israel’s quick victory demonstrated to the world, and to the United States in particular, that they were mightier than they were in 1948. The victory not only crushed Arab Nationalism and unity, smashed Nasser’s political relevance, and gained them huge territorial gains, but it also earned them the support of the U.S., who wished to use Israel as a bulwark against any possible Soviet Union incursion into the middle-east. Israel took the Sinai peninsula, the Golan Heights, and they also took control over the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem. This war and the ongoing occupation has continued to influence the conflict in the region.

In the last few days, the violence in Gaza has escalated. An Israeli attack on a school in Gaza where the UN was sheltering about 350 civilians has resulted in the deaths of 40 people, injuring dozens more. This has been the third attack on schools in Gaza in the last twelve days. Most of those killed were civilians, according to paramedics, though Israel maintains that Hamas militants were using the school to fire rockets into Israel. Israel Defense Forces spokesman Brig. General Avi Benayahu said, “We face a very delicate situation where the Hamas is using the citizens of Gaza as a protective vest.” The UN will begin investigations into the school bombing. John Ging, director of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), said that the UN schools were all “clearly marked” with UN flags and that Israel had been given the global positioning coordinates of all school locations. Ging went on to say that, “We’re demanding full accountability in accordance with international law and the duty of care that the parties to the conflict are obliged to adhere to.” He also denied Israeli assertions that Hamas militants were using the school, saying, “So far we’ve not had violations by militants of our facilities.” He insisted that the UN had vetted all civilians requesting shelter.

So far, nearly 600 civilians have been killed and roughly 2,750 have been wounded in this war. There are conflicting reports over whether or not this Israeli operation was given a green-light from the Bush Administration. Vice President Dick Cheney denied the assertion on CBS’s Face the Nation, saying, “They didn’t seek clearance or approval from us, certainly.” An Israeli website– Debkafile.org— however, reports that Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud received a green-light from Presidet Bush, who approved “Israeli air, sea and ground operations against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.” According to the site, Bush also promised Olmert that “the US would veto a resolution condemning Israel at the UN Security Council meeting next Monday.” Bush also reportedly assured Olmert that President-elect Barack Obama was being updated regularly on the ongoing conflict. Texas congressman and politcal rabble-rouser Ron Paul has also expressed his belief that the U.S. provided Israel with a green-light: “Israel depends on us; they depend on us economically, they depend on us for their military power and all their weapons and they really got a green light from our administration.” In another setting, he added, “No matter what they do, it is our money, it is our weapons, and they are not going to do it without us approving it.”

There have also been some reports that Israel has made some crossings into southern Lebanon, sparking fears that Israel might extend its war into Lebanon. There’s speculation that this might be a way of provoking Hezbollah, who has already promised retaliation for Israel’s assassination of a Hamas commander, Imad Mughniyeh. It is doubtful, however, that Israel would want to open a second front with Lebanon during the current conflict. Israel is still smarting from its failed attempt to crush Hezbollah, a radical/militant Shiite group in Lebanon with tremendous influence in the region (and backed by Iran), in July 2006. The incursions into southern Lebanon, more than likely, was Israel’s way of warning Hezbollah to stay out of the fray. Hezbollah, for the most part, has been staging protests against Israel’s invasion, Egypt, and the U.S. The July 2006 invasion of Lebanon was also Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s political Waterloo. He is now being forced out of office and elections are being held this February for a replacement.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, along with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, has again put forward a cease-fire plan, which both men hope Hamas and Israel will take. Though many in the UN applaud this plan, Condoleeza Rice, on behalf of the U.S., has not supported the plan: “We need urgently to conclude a cease-fire that can endure and that can bring real security. This would begin a period of true calm that includes an end to rocket, mortar and other attacks on Israelis and allows for the cessation of Israel’s military offensive,” she said. The current plan, she fears, would lead only to a return to the status-quo. However, after a meeting with Sarkozy, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has announced that Hamas is willing to accept the terms of the truce, saying, “They are ready [to make a deal]. They were ready, they are ready.” The Russian Foreign Ministry has also confirmed that Hamas is willing to agree to a cease-fire, after having met with Hamas’ political leader Khaled Mashaal. According to Mashaal, they would stop the rocket firings if Israel would lift the 18-month blockade that has crippled Gaza’s access to basic neccessities, like food, water, and medical supplies.


Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak meets with Israeli Foreign Minister and PM hopeful Tzipi Livni

However, Egypt, particularly Mubarak, has earned the scorn of Arabs across the region. They view him as someone who has colluded with the enemy at the expense of the Palestinian people. This attitude towards Egypt goes as far back as the U.S. brokered Camp David Accords of 1978, when Egypt and Israel signed a peace agreement. They also are angered by his refusal to open the Egyptian border with Gaza to let refugees out and supplies in. Though he has “slammed” Israel’s invasion of Gaza, he blames the invasion of Israel on the failure of the Hamas government to renew the truce, which expired December 19, 2008. He also criticized groups such as Hezbollah, who, he argues, the “plight of the Palestinian people” for “political capital.” Because Egypt is the only “Arab” (though technically Egypt is in Africa) country to border Gaza, many Arabs feel Egypt has an obligation to protect and support the people of Gaza in this desperate time. They feel that Egypt has failed in that regard.

To complicate matters, the spokesman and deputy chief of Al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, released a ten minute taped message blasting Egypt, the U.S., and President-elect Barack Obama. He attacked Mubarak as a “traitor” and a “partner” in the “siege and killing.” “At the time when Israeli planes drop their bombs from the air, he closes the borders with his forces so that the plan of the killing of believers in Gaza is fulfilled,” al-Zawahiri said of Mubarak. Al-Zawahirir also blamed Barack Obama for the conflict in Gaza, adding that the conflict was a “gift.” He labeled the attacks a “crusade against Islam and Muslims” and blasted Obama for his silence and his inaction. Al-Zawahiri also encouraged Muslims everywhere to strike back at the aggressors “everywhere.” The recording was posted on several militant Islamic websites, along with a picture of him holding a gun. Osama bin Laden, the 9/11 mastermind, has not been heard from in quite some time, prompting some in the intelligence community to wonder about his health, or whether or not he is even alive.

Barack Obama, who is adverse to drama, has had to deal with the Blagojevich scandal and the subsequent attempt to appoint Roland Burris to Obama’s vacant senate seat, the stepping down of Bill Richardson as Obama’s Commerce Secretary nominee, Diane Feinstein’s public criticism of Obama’s selection of Leon Panetta to head the CIA, coming up with a stimulus package, determine his policy on cap-and-trade, plan for tax cuts, and now he has to brace himself for the conflict in Gaza. In the taped recording, al-Zawahiri criticized Obama for his efforts to portray himself as “the savior who will come and change American policy” during the U.S. election but is now “killing your brothers and sisters in Gaza without mercy or even pity.” Obama issued a statement in response to al-Zawahiri: “Starting at the beginning of our administration, we are going to engage effectively and consistently to try to resolve the conflicts that exist in the Middle East.” He also added that he was “deeply concerned” about the loss of life in Gaza. Al-Zawahiri is prematurely blaming Obama for the violence in Gaza, a sign that they did expect Obama to be more proactive when it came to the middle-east. It might seem a bit counter-intuitive, but it could be a sign that the war on terror is going to change as Bush leaves office.

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