09 October 2009

Obama for peace

It was suggested that I would have some thoughts on this issue. The Nobel Peace Prize. To Obama. Already.

No. I don't have any thoughts.

Actually I do have some.

1) What the fuck?
2) So what dirty laundry does the current Prime Minister of Zimbabwe have? Morgan Tsvangirai, for those unfamiliar with the details of Sub-Saharan African politics, was at least among the favorites to win the award. I'm not really impressed with the two people listed as the major favorites. Both of them would look pretty much like the Obama award, without the attention. Human rights in Afghanistan is sort of a joke after this last election. And Colombia is a country that is as much a mess as Iraq. Sure it needs peace advocates, but it also needs something like a peace DEAL.

Look, I think most people in the foreign policy department can admire his stance on nuclear weapons. Or his speeches abroad appealing to multilateral efforts. I think it would be fair to say that American diplomacy is at least more engaged and engaging now than it was 8-9 months ago. I am still waiting for it to bring in the harvest however. We're still fighting two wars. One of aggression in my opinion and the other, for no particular reason except.. I'm not sure what the justification for Afghanistan is this week. Maybe we should have ended one of them? Iran is still out there and is a mess, though I think it's getting somewhere as far as the international community's reaction over its nuclear program, if not its internal repression of dissent. We made a lot of mostly reasonable talk about the Israeli peace process. But Netanyahu hasn't budged and I haven't seen what our effective response will be yet (cut off military aid for example?). We ended a regime of torture. But that sort of happened a while ago, and we still have abuses of prisoners to account for (which we are avoiding doing), abuses of civil liberties in progress and in our past to account for (which we are not doing anything in either direction), and some military contractors who committed atrocities abroad (Blackwater) who are still operating abroad, if not in Iraq.

So I decided to make a list of things we did do and things we promised to do
1) We killed some pirates and sent some ships to kill more. Yay us!
2) We made a symbolic amount of progress on climate policy, with the EPA now commanded to regulate CO2 emissions.
3) We settled some Russian misgivings over Eastern Europe by moving our "missile shield" to a mobile system in the Med instead of in Poland somewhere. I guess this has helped Russia back off on clear support for Iran. Some.
4) We caught a terrorist cell this week. (Good luck ever seeing them in court though)
5) We signed a treaty with Russia to cut nuclear arsenals by 25%
6) Overturned Mexico City Resolution
7) Called the police stupid (which I thought was great) and supervised a beer summit on race relations with assistance of the fool.

And then promises
1) International cooperation over climate policy. Good luck. Kyoto was pretty much universally ignored by the Senate. Even Al Gore didn't vote for it. I'm not sure how they think they'll get something through on this. Waxman-Markey, our own internal policy shift, is basically DOA.
2) Some excellent speeches in Egypt and elsewhere relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the schism of the Bush years between his Christian coalition and Islam. Not a whole lot of measurable progress on this front thus far.
3) America as an equal in the game of nations seems to be the public relations spin. But we're still engaged in two wars and debating internally about how to basically run other countries affairs (Iran). I recognize that we have a realism interest in not seeing Iran as a nuclear power. I get that, there's nothing wrong with expressing that position. But we're basically arguing about how to achieve it without involving Iran (sanctions won't work, they'll only solidify the power base around the Revolutionary Guards, Ahmadinejad's right flank). Bombing, by either us or Israel won't help. And nobody apparently trusts the Iranian people to make decisions in the best interest of their own nation (with some justification, seeing that they're apparently not trusted by the Iranian government to vote the way they want). By comparison the decisions in Afghanistan look like a cakewalk.
4) More participation in global poverty funding, etc. I'm not sure that anybody is living up to these self-imposed obligations yet (except maybe China). So this one isn't so much Obama's problem as it is the lack of public will to deal with starving and sick Africans or indigenous peoples in Latin America as compared to unemployed American, Asian, and European peoples.
5) Promised to close Guantanamo. But left open Bagram and other foreign prisons and abandoned a promise to come up with a legal framework for our detention programs and policies relating to terrorism suspects (I'm somewhat ambivalent now about whether we should do this, I think it might be enough to simply try to put people on trial eventually. What a strange notion that is..).
6) Condemned the coup in Honduras. Not much happened after that though.

I think you could look at the length and breadth of the Obama foreign policy proposals and assume that he will work vigorously on it and that this might be worth a Nobel at some point. But this was a bit too soon. The only explanation I might have is that there was a very broad field of candidates (supposedly it was a record number) and nobody else jumped out. It's sort of like in baseball where every team has to send a representative to the All-Star game. And there's always a couple teams that are so terrible they have no good candidates, but somebody has to go. Now it's possible that the team Obama plays for will get better (his own team, the White Sox weren't so good this year for example, they were an aging ball club with lots of dead-weight on the roster). Or maybe you could look at him like a prospect that you draft a bit earlier than you think you should because there aren't any other good looking prospects, as in a weak draft class like last year's NBA draft. So long as he fills out well, it becomes worth it. But from what I've seen so far with his domestic policies (in so far as his ability to deliver his promising agenda), I'm not so sure he will do that much better in foreign policy, where Presidents have a much freer reign.

I compared him favorably with Clinton back when I was looking at Presidential rankings. Clinton was a slightly above average President in my opinion (mostly because he was shrewd politically and made some good calls economically, his foreign policy was a mess of bad and some shreds of decent, and I'm not one to care that much if Presidents get sex from women who are not their wives, or in the eventual future, men who are not their husbands). There's nothing wrong with being average. I like his rhetorical style, his speeches, and some of his politics and agenda, and he seems quite personable with a nice, perhaps even fun, family. But he's also tabled a lot of civil liberties after selling himself as a Constitutional scholar, hasn't vigorously advanced rights for homosexuals, hasn't pursued justice regarding our abuses in the "war on terror", and I've seen several unpleasant economic positions show up in trade issues already. If you toss in his throwing under the bus the killing of the employer health system (a political calculus that may have been necessary, but is the only thing that liberals and libertarians agree must happen), and the inability to fight over the "death panel" issue (one really good idea in the damn bill in the first place, funding living will decisions is the closest thing to a "free lunch" in the thing), the Sotomayor SCOTUS pick being another possible blow to property rights, I'm pretty sure "average" is coming down about where I'd be most comfortable putting him right now with it so early in the term(s). There's potential to go either way is why. For example, I was okay with the GM/Chrysler bailout/bankruptcies because I'd said from the start an arranged bankruptcy was the best option (back when Bush was handing out money). I disagreed with some of the terms, but if they do "what I tell them to" once in a while, I cannot get too upset if some compromises are made in the details (so long as they don't totally alter what was done). I'd like to see more progress on educational policy next (I'm guessing that's after health care and climate issues, though it's been #1 on my agenda for years now, ever since NCLB). The extending of the school year push is a start. I happen to think this is necessary. Perhaps it would be easiest to phase it in, but in the long run there's no reason not to do this. Our ultimate goal in public policies shouldn't be to keep Americans happy, it's really to keep Americans competitive and employable so they can keep themselves happy. The upcoming SCOTUS cases on issues ranging from free speech, the religious establishment clause, to gun control will be a nice test for Justice Sotomayor (and hence Obama's selection of her) even though these cases are likely to be decided without her acting as a key swing vote. There's still room to investigate and prosecute abuses of the anti-terrorism infrastructure, or to dial back our abuses of our own civil liberties (even though we're showing no signs of starting on these paths). So there's some room for improvement and some signs that there could be some in the years to come.

But seriously, giving a guy who has been in office 9 months an award like this one? I've been withholding a lot of judgment and referendum calls on his term simply because it's so early in the game. It's like trying to predict who will win a game in the 1st quarter when both teams are still trying to establish their game plan and mostly being stymied by each other. It is ugly and it is very tricky to find the right signs of hope or defeat. I've had to battle off the dogs calling for his head as a "communist" or a "fascist" or a "Kenyan", and patiently try to explain economics and the politics of our country (which are at the federal level consistently anti-market and pro-business, just as Obama has been). The people who wanted him to have no shot at all and those idiots who cheered when Chicago lost the 2016 Olympics bid basically made up their minds without actually looking for any evidence. Now it's looking like the rest of the world is doing the same.

Update: It looks like Obama at least kept himself in perspective. His immediate reaction speech was pretty good. I'm still going to await some results before I pass judgments, but it sounds like he has had the same "prospect draft pick" explanation that I did. Now the question is will he be Dirk Nowitzki or Robert Traylor.

The onion punk'd us all approach?

As another reaction, I'm noticing the predicted "right-wing" reaction (Greenwald is probably like my reaction, he's a civil libertarian, and definitely not a right-winger, so I will apologize for the lack of appropriate segue) is for him to give back the award. I don't think this is necessary either. Even though I'm skeptical of the choice thus far, there is some potential to do something worth an award (after all, who else would be able to end these two wars other than the American President elected who opposed one of them entirely as a Senator). My complaint would be that usually they give these awards when someone has done something or is in the midst of doing it. Not when they say they're going to and haven't yet accomplished or started doing it.

He was nominated 8 months ago. Not last week. Not after the Cairo speech. That just feels weird to me. Was it that much of an accomplishment to be "not Bush"? Maybe it was. The Bush track record is admittedly very ugly and Obama does have some of it on his plate still to clean up after. But for myself, I have a hard time squaring that with the realities still going on, and often stances adopted completely by the Obama administration that came out of the Bush team, as establishing an atmosphere of peaceful cooperation.
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