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
March 1, 2013
Mr. President: Here we are at the fiscal cliff demonstrating to the world that our
politics is the art of the impossible. Some refuse to look at shovel-sized tax loopholes
through which trough loads of cash are extracted from the country's revenues to feed
unwholesome appetites in the most unequal economy in the developed world; very
few would restrain the military juggernaut spending more than the next dozen
countries combined in a world where our opponents fight (successfully!) with
home-made bombs and assault rifles; and none would fetter the financial giants
continuing to bleed future generations through the Fed. So, we will live continuing
resolution by continuing resolution while the hatchet cuts damage institutions and
programs, and while some folks suffer through unpaid furloughs and funding
interruption. We have lived through it before, in the nineties, when I remember a
friend wondering how he would meet mortgage obligations.
Not so long ago, when the Martin Luther King bible was used at the inauguration,
Professor Cornel West was 'upset' because to him the policies espoused by the
administration were in stark contrast to King's ideals (although shaded by rhetoric into
an arresting enough chiaroscuro, to make a Caravaggio proud). To others, it was
appropriate homage by a black President. For some reason, King's frequently used
sentence, 'The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice', came to
mind. The original quote from a mid-nineteenth century abolitionist (deftly shortened
for late twentieth century ears by King) imagined a time horizon beyond what the eye
could see, and thus in our context to presidential legacy.
Bradley Manning has already pleaded guilty to leaking secret documents. Must he be
prosecuted for aiding al-Qaeda when, clearly, that was not his intention? The pattern
of prosecution in this country has its vagaries. If the intent is to set an example, why
haven't any too-big-to-fail bankers been brought to trial? -- a question Senator
Elizabeth Warren posed to regulators at a hearing recently. Fining them an amount
just a fraction of profits from aberrant behavior is hardly a deterrent, she observed,
and any rational person would agree.
Nick Turse's new book, "Kill Everything that Moves" guides us through the horrors of
the Vietnam war and the violent ethos forced upon the common soldier by misguided
policy. The lesson for Afghanistan, or any other guerrilla war we may be tempted to
engage in or initiate, is clear: guerrilla warfare has a far more complex ecology than
we have been prepared to admit or accept. There is really nothing new in the
counter-insurgency strategies (offered with a fresh coat of varnish) that has not been
tried in the last century -- from the 'water cure' in early twentieth century Philippines
now 'water-boarding', to arming ethnic locals, the Hmong, for example, during
Vietnam. Paying insurgents not to attack you, then leaving with your tail between
your legs is hardly a successful strategy, particularly when the insurgency is never
resolved -- bombings in Iraq continue; there were two this past week.
Perhaps, the two percent solution is new. Observers have noted only two percent of
people killed through drone strikes in Pakistan are Taliban leaders. Whether we label
the rest as terrorist or civilian in a constantly malleable language of war, matters little
to the vengeful relatives forced into the arms of the Taliban. The same sort of
violence inflicted by the Special Forces has obliged Mr. Karzai to order them out of
the Southeastern province after the latest egregious killings.
Exactly how this mayhem facilitates our departure next year (and a peaceful
Afghanistan) is difficult to fathom. Maybe, the only way to leave an unfinished war is
to leave. More killing simply leaves behind more enemies, and more pointless dead
... on both sides.