Weekly Letter to President Obama
Copyright © 2010
ofthisandthat.org. All rights
INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
January 17, 2014
Mr. President: Listening to your news conference on NSA surveillance, one had the
impression that except for tweaks here and there, little changed. The civilian in an
adversarial capacity in court when NSA made surveillance requests has been left
behind. It was also difficult to understand the dismissive attitude to Edward Snowden
when this national conversation -- indeed the press conference -- would not have
occurred without his disclosures. And we would still be bugging Angela Merkel's cell
So far the benefits of bulk spying have been doubtful. In all these years, just one
credible instance which could well have been countered through traditional means.
Fallujah has been in the news. The Maliki government has become so sectarian that
Sunni communities are protesting and taking up arms. While major media report the
Iraqi government line of al-Qaeda linked militants conquering the city, local Fallujah
residents claim it is entirely their effort without outside help. The fact remains Mr.
Maliki is all set to impose a tyranny of the majority (Shia) instead of developing an
inclusive democracy. His is a recipe for long strife, which itself has become a
signature of our recent interventions.
Another legacy in Fallujah has been the steep rise in birth defects and cancer rates.
Why was it necessary to use depleted uranium against a lightly armed enemy during
our conquest of Fallujah?
Does the answer lie in the attitude towards the local population? The Fallujah Project
reports a tactic called 'reconnaissance by fire' where a squad would enter houses
guns blazing to clear it of insurgents; the assumption being only insurgents remained
when in fact fifty to sixty thousand civilians including women and children had nowhere
to go. Kirk Johnson, a U.S. Aid worker, in his book 'To Be a Friend is Fatal' writes he
drew stares when at lunch he sat at a table with Iraqis. Or how he was told to not
bother with their complicated names and 'just call everyone Mohammad or Ahmed'.
Or how he was reprimanded for not wearing his body armor in solidarity with Iraqi
colleagues who were not issued any. The latter who wanted to help build a new Iraq
became targets themselves as the insurgency erupted through U.S. policy when
instead of liberators, the military began to be viewed as occupiers. Kirk Johnson's
efforts have led to asylum for many of the translators receiving death threats; others
were killed by insurgents.
This portrait of the 'ugly American' (or ugly European as a dossier of British war
crimes in Iraq has just been released) has to change in a multi-ethnic, multi-polar
world. China has surpassed the U.S. as the world's largest trading nation. Its total
trade of $4.16 trillion in 2013 easily exceeds the U.S.'s $3.57 trillion reported through
November. For perspective, China's share of world trade was a bare 0.6 percent in
1977; now it is the largest trade partner for 124 countries compared to 76 for the
U.S., and it is awarded the highest number of patents. It is the world's biggest
automobile market, smartphone market, and online user. It is also our biggest
creditor and we are inextricably tied. Thus a gentle tug on the reins to curb Japanese
Prime Minister Abe's right-wing enthusiasm, flag waving and saber rattling would not