Weekly Letter to the President
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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
April 27, 2018 (posted May 2, 2018)
Mr President: Many have noted, principally the Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner,
that nice people displaying empathy and fairness towards others often reach the top;
once there however, they lose such inhibitions in their exercise of power.
On a macro scale think of our Nobel Peace Laureate president and the upscaling of
the war in Afghanistan, the mushrooming of droning in Pakistan, interference in
Somalia, Yemen, Ukraine, not to mention Syria, and the crowning achievement ... the
rape of Libya, a country that once led Africa in the Human Development Index, was a
Mecca for African economic migrants, and is now a broken hulk known particularly for
exporting refugees to Europe.
Think of Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright and the deaths of over a half-million Iraqi
children at their hands through the sanctions imposed. When questioned, came Ms.
Albright's notorious reply, "The price is worth it." Dennis Halliday the UN Assistant
Secretary General resigned after a 34-year career in development, saying, "I don't
want to administer a program [where] five thousand children are dying every month."
His successor Hans von Sponeck also resigned. Following him two days later was
Jutta Burghardt, the head of the World Food Programme in Iraq. No such problems of
conscience in Ms. Albright, not even a twinge.
On a micro scale we have the repulsive Harvey Weinstein, the smooth Matt Lauer, the
probing Charlie Rose, the imperious Roger Ailes, and so many others ... the big and
the little, the dictators and the martinets.
Consider Kim Jong-un of North Korea. Here is a leader who did not have to be nice
on the way up -- he was already there. And his actions when he assumed power
have been clearly beyond the pale. One can only wonder how one sets about
negotiating with him.
Since becoming leader, he has rapidly dispatched his uncle by firing squad and his
playboy half-brother through lethal poison -- applied to his face in broad daylight at
Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia. His agents flew home forthwith. The
two girls who actually carried out the attack claim they were told it was a prank for a
reality TV show.
Mr. Kim has now met with South Korean president Moon Jae-in at the Peace House in
the demilitarized zone. Amid much handshaking and smiles, and a state dinner, the
two found time to discuss peace and issue a final statement -- the outlines probably
established earlier by representatives.
It has the usual fluff about an end to hostile activities between the two, easing the
reunion of families divided by the border, and joint participation in the Asian games as
they did at the Winter Olympics.
Then comes the crunch: They agreed to advocate three-way talks with the U.S. and
China. Mr. Kim clearly wants China at his back. On the nuclear arms issue, the two
leaders pledged to 'aim for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.' That is a
long way from actual denuclearization.
Will Mr. Kim give up his nuclear weapons? After what happened to Muammar Gaddafi
in Libya and the already faltering Iran deal, will he be willing to trust the U.S.?
Equally important, can the U.S. trust him?
The answer to all these questions, at present, is a disconcerting ... no.