Posts Tagged Afghanistan

Mitt Romney: Do as I say, not as I do

map of the Middle EastI was finally able to vent my near-homicidal rage against television journalists and concentrate on the issues (imagine that!) in the final presidential debate Monday night. As usual, I was left wondering if Mitt Romney actually hears the words that come out of his mouth.

Twice, the former Massachusetts Governor told President Obama that, “Criticizing me is not a foreign policy.” That seems like a noble statement, except Romney spent almost the entire debate criticizing the President while offering only a vague phantasm of what he would actually do if he wins on November 6.

Romney criticized nearly every aspect of Obama’s foreign policy, from the drone strikes that killed al Qaeda’s leadership, to his use of economic sanctions on Iran, to when he “skipped Israel” during a trip to the Middle East.

Obviously, debates are all about criticism, but if Romney wanted the President to say something constructive instead of just attacking, why didn’t he?

Instead, Romney went for semantics. He said he would put tougher sanctions on Iran, and label China a “currency manipulator,” which is apparently more severe than actually prosecuting China for trade violations, as Obama has done.

When asked what he would do if Israel decided to attack Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities, Romney begged off saying he wouldn’t answer a hypothetical question like that. Instead, he used the time to attack Obama… again.

Perhaps it was because Romney didn’t know how long it would take Israeli planes to reach Iran: earlier in the debate, he said Syria was an important ally for Iran because it gave the latter access to the sea. Iran has its own coastline, and the two countries do not share a border (Iraq is in between).

So much for building a foreign policy on ideas instead of criticism. Obama, on the other hand, gave specifics, as he always does. He outlined the aforementioned cases against China, and reminded Americans who was responsible for eliminating their arch enemy, and a dictator that even the Republicans’ favorite president, Ronald Reagan couldn’t take down.

With regards to Iran, Obama, said he would put every option on the table. That sounds a lot more presidential than Romney’s “answer.”

Conservatives probably have their own criticisms regarding Obama’s policies, but what I want to emphasize here is Romney’s “do as I say, not as I do” mentality. If attacking your opponent doesn’t help build a foreign policy, then stop wasting time attacking your opponent. It goes both ways.

Romney doesn’t seem to think the laws of language apply to him; he thinks that he can say one thing and have it mean something else. That is one of many reasons why he is unfit to be our president.

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An outrage deficit

On Tuesday, the New York Times was full of disturbing headlines. A couple dealt with Rep. Todd Akin’s remarks on “legitimate rape” and the Republican’s somewhat nonsensical decision to announce an anti-abortion platform plank as they denounced Akin. Another was a grim milestone: the death of 2,000 Americans in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, there’s only so much outrage one person can muster.

If you take the time to find out what is going on in the world, it’s hard to know what to do next. This would be an appropriate time for remarks about how Americans forget the wars they send other people to fight and how we should “support the troops,” but how?

I think, now that Osama bin Laden is dead and Al Qaeda is no longer a threat to the United States, we should extricate ourselves from Afghanistan. President Obama thinks likewise; he’s said on multiple occasions that he is working on getting our troops out. Unless your name is John Rambo, it’s hard to speed up the process.

By the same token, should one pay less attention to the abortion debate, especially when one party makes a major political move, because it is less important than one of the nation’s longest wars? Regardless of how you feel about abortion, if you feel strongly about it, it’s hard to ignore something like Akin’s comment, or the Republican anti-abortion plank.

I can see why some people don’t bother voting. In November, the Republicans will either be rebuked or confirmed, and both sides will be reminded about Afghanistan, but what do we do until then? Argue amongst ourselves?

These issues are much larger than any individual, but that can be pretty overwhelming for said individual.

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The Republicans’ worst enemy

Nixon portrait by Norman RockwellEvery political party has members that it is ashamed of. The Democrats have Lyndon Baines Johnson and, to some extent, Jimmy Carter. The Republicans have that incompetent oaf William Howard Taft. However, the GOP’s biggest political bogeyman is Richard Milhous Nixon, and not just for the obvious reasons. Republicans could probably excuse Watergate, but they could never excuse Nixon’s love of big government.

Today’s Republican Party is obsessed with small government, but few presidents have done as much to expand government power as Nixon. Like any power-hungry leader, his foreign policy was a one man show. Nixon made many controversial decisions, such as the Christmas Bombings and the invasion of Cambodia near the end of the Vietnam War, unilaterally. “Tricky Dick” was also pathologically secretive. He sent Henry Kissinger to negotiate secretly with China, a move that would surely be out of line in a party that believes the president shouldn’t even raise taxes.

When President Obama authorized air and cruise missile strikes against Qaddafi loyalists in Libya, the right wing decried his actions. They said Obama was overstepping his authority by authorizing military action without consulting Congress, and accused the President of dragging America into another war. Those are valid points, but Obama didn’t do anything Nixon wouldn’t have done. American troops did not invade Libya, but they did invade Cambodia.

Nixon was also a fan of big government in domestic policy. He may have thought everyone under the age of 30 was a filthy hippie, but he also created the Environmental Protection Agency and approved the Clean Air Act. Most Republicans believe the government should spend less, but Nixon authorized massive agricultural subsides, so you can thank America’s 37th President for all the high-fructose corn syrup in your food.

In a stump speech, Newt Gingrich implied that all African-Americans are lazy, and the conservative backlash against birth control made the Republican Party seem a tad misogynist. In that context, the current frontrunners would be appalled by Nixon’s platform. In 1970, Nixon implemented the Philadelphia plan, the first major federal affirmative action program. While he was not exactly a feminist, he also supported the Equal Rights Amendment.

Clearly, a lot has changed since 1974. Today, Republican candidates are encouraged to take a more absolutist view, saying “yes” to tax cuts, “no” to health care reform, and leaving it at that. Nixon, who ran on a “Southern Strategy” meant to play on whites’ opposition to the Civil Rights movement, but also supported affirmative action, seems much more rational and nuanced than his successors. How could that be?

Many people shudder every time Newt Gingrich talks about the biased liberal media, or when Rick Santorum talks about religion or family values, but they were nothing compared to “Tricky Dick.” This was, after all, a man who kept a list of enemies. Nixon cut his teeth politically in the “Red Scare” days of he 1950s, and thought he could convince North Vietnam to sign a peace treaty by dropping more bombs. There was that whole Watergate thing, too.

The Republican Party of 2012 is very ideological; its members adhere to certain ideas and believe they are non-negotiable. Nixon was the same way, which is what drove him to act unilaterally. He sent Kissinger to meet with Chinese premier Zhou Enlai in secret because he did not want to deal with opposition from Congress and the media.

Nixon could be just as stubborn as any current Republican candidate, but he was also more interested in holding onto power. Anyone in 1968 could tell that supporting peace in Vietnam would garner a significant number of votes, so that’s what Nixon did. In office, he supported liberal policies because he knew it would give him political credibility beyond the Republican base. In other words, Nixon was a real politician.

That level of activity is in stark contrast to the current Republican strategy, where members of Congress stall debates and candidates spend more time talking about what they disagree with than what they actually plan on doing. When Richard Nixon starts looking like a big government liberal in comparison, America is in a very scary place.

Nixon’s abuse of power was a clear demonstration of how badly things can go when a Commander-in-Chief shuts out the voice of opposition. Yet Nixon was able to acknowledge that opposition, at least for his own selfish political reasons. Even that is too much compromise for today’s Republican party.

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The post-post-9/11 world

The past week was a trip a trip back in time, but not a pleasant one. Ten years ago, I came home from my second day of eighth grade to watch videos of the Twin Towers falling, played in an endless loop on television. In the run up to Sunday’s anniversary, people began asking “Where were you?” again, and the same witnesses were trotted out for interviews. After ten years, maybe it’s time to stop reenacting the trauma and start moving on.

People say 9/11 irrevocably changed America, but do we really want to give the people who attacked us that much credit? It was certainly an unprecedented event; it made Americans feel vulnerable in a way they never previously had. Nonetheless, the United States had been attacked before, by enemies foreign (al Qaeda’s botched 1994 attack on the World Trade Center) and domestic (Timothy McVeigh’s bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building). The 1979 Iranian Revolution made the United States aware of the threat of radical Islam, and, of course, Americans have known war since the country’s founding.

Still, 9/11 hit the average American closer to home: a symbol of American strength was destroyed and thousands died at the hands of men who killed indiscriminately. That explains why people will always remember where they were that Tuesday, but it does not explain the country’s subsequent reaction.

President George W. Bush told people to go shopping while one percent of the country fought a two-front “War on Terror” to make America safe. The changes wrought by 9/11 are real for them, for the victims’ families, and for the rescue workers that ran into the burning buildings when everyone else was running out. For everyone else, virtually nothing changed.

Maybe that’s why people insist on saying that 9/11 changed everything: they know it was a traumatic event, but there was nothing for them to do about it except put an American flag decal on their car. There was no all-out mobilization, like in World War II, no concerted effort to get the man responsible. We couldn’t even agree to help our wounded veterans and first responders.

People have tried to make sense of 9/11, but the fact that it did not visibly impact their lives makes that difficult. They are convinced that 9/11 changed their country, and by thinking that they have made it so. However, dwelling on the events of that day will only make things worse.

Americans may be stuck in a post-9/11 mentality, but the country is moving on. Osama bin Laden is dead. American troops are on their way out of Afghanistan and Iraq and, while defeating terrorism as an idea is impossible, we are prepared to deal with future threats. Now, the United States has other problems.

The economy is stagnant, many people are out of work, and politicians don’t seem interested in getting anything done. Americans need to turn their full attention to rebuilding their country. It is not an impossible task; if the United States was able to rebuild after the Civil War or World War II, it can now. It is time to stop looking back to 9/11, and start looking ahead to America’s future.

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