Thursday, July 10, 2008

Who Is Obama, Really?

Some leftward Democrats see Obama as betraying the progressive principles they thought he held. Republicans label him as far too liberal then and now. The media like to talk (the all-news channels ad nauseam) about his flip-flopping. Some think that he is pure pragmatist who wants to win, principles be damned.

Here is my tentative hypothesis: Barack Obama is most comfortable toward the left. His core principles are liberal. But he has promised a new politics that rises above crippling partisanship. This involves making compromises, accepting the better when you cannot get the best. He realizes that politics is the art of the possible. He recognizes the futility of being a martyr for lost causes. In all of this there are elements of of pragmatism and realism -- you cannot exercise power for the good unless you achieve it.

Viewed in this way Obama has been consistent in the deepest sense, although his approach involves adjustments in policy over time that give the surface appearance of flip-flopping. This approach puts him in the best light rather than in the worst as his progressive supporters and his avowed opponents are wont to do.

So far he is doing a good job of finding a proper balance between idealism and realism and between principles and pragmatism. Until compelling evidence renders this judgment null and void, I am sticking to it.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Unpleasant Truths the Next President Won't Tell Us

I earnestly hope Barack Obama is elected president, but neither he or John McCain is likely to tell it like it is, at least not in the form of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Here is a sample of what we probably or surely won't hear from either in 2009:

1. A major reason why so many Muslims in the Middle East are hostile or hateful toward us is not because of our democracy or our values but because of our policies and practices -- invasion of their countries, the presence of foreign troops in Saudi Arabia, where the holiest places in Islam are located, support of repressive governments, and the like. The origins of our present troubles go back as least as far as the complicity of the US and Britain in the 1953 overthrow of the democratically-elected government of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq. Other factors, some of them, internal to Muslim nations and people themselves doubtless are involved, but our actions in and toward them are central.

2. An important factor in this constellation is our one-sided support of Israel. The founding of Israel may have been a mistake. Nevertheless, the nation is there, and their citizens have a right to exist in a secure environment under conditions of justice. Israel is guilty of many past injustices against the Palestinians and continue to oppress them grievously.

3. Oil is not the whole reason behind our actions and errors in Muslim countries, but it it looms large. Because we did not take measures, although President Carter urged us to, decades ago to free ourselves from our dependence on Middle East oil, our national well-being depends on keeping it flowing until we can at last free ourselves from this bondage. As some wag put it, if the main export of Kuwait were broccoli (despised by the then President Bush), would we have intervened to repel Iraq in 1991?

No president will fully acknowledge these truths because it would be politically disastrous to do so, and a proper response would require national repentance and new policies. Nevertheless, they constitute a hard knot of tangled predicaments that took a long to create and will be difficult to resolve even if the our leaders had to courage to do what is needed and if the American people would permit them to do so.

Is there much more to it than this? Of course, there is, but we won't be able to get to the much more unless we at least deal with these three fundamental elements.

The best we can hope for is that Obama, if elected, will be a little better, while if McCain wins, expect a continuation of the same policies that have contributed to the mess we are in.

We have a tiger by the tail in the Middle East. Does anyone know how to get us loose without serious injury to us or the tiger?