Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Barack Obama -- Meh.

I had a recent conversation with a new friend that in part focused on Barack Obama and whether he really does represent a new kind of politics and/or a step in the right direction.

Being a bit of a radical malcontent, but with strong pragmatist and idealist roots, I conceded that he might be "the real deal" in that he might mean what he says about new politics and blahedy blah. Certainly, a number of my very astute friends believes he's on the level. I, personally, have my doubts, which I have had some trouble enunciating. I also haven't done extensive research on the man yet, so I can't completely rule him out.

In terms of superficial research, however, I seem to recall that he did say he wouldn't rule out bombing Iran, and also that he did rule out supporting gay marriage. It is my impression -- possibly an incorrect one -- that he was somewhat more bullish on gay marriage until Clinton & others advised him to scale it back a bit, and that he took the more "nuanced" stand of being for civil unions. My chief problems with these two positions he took during his Senate campaign run is that: HE WAS RUNNING AGAINST ALAN KEYES!!!! Alan Keyes couldn't have won that election with the help of God Itself. It seems to me that if you can't stake out controversial views in a no-lose election, then you're just not the person for the job as far as I'm concerned.

Slightly, but only slightly, less superficial research, (that is, Wikipedia without my verifying info in the primary sources listed) gives me similar impressions as my previous ones. If anything, they're slightly sourer. My friend CN feels that, though he disagrees with Obama on a number of issues, from reading his books, CN feels like Obama really is thinking them through and weighing them, and has principled, logical reasons for his stances. I'll have to read it, too, but I have my doubts. My thing is, as a news junkie, I feel like I have an above-average bead on what's going on (though perhaps that's just ego on my part). And Obama's positions do not, in my mind, follow logically from his stated beliefs.

Example A: He talks about bombing Iran and Pakistan if necessary, and the dangers posed to us by a nuclear Iran. Uncontroversial, right? Um, well... if you consider that there's no reasonable explanation for why Iran would attack Israel or the US with nuclear weapons, the idea of starting what would be a bloody and costly conflict against them seems, well, stupid. What do I mean? Simply that: Iranian dictators and religious mullahs are no more completely insane shit-for-brains idiots than the leaders of Soviet Russia, present day Pakistan, or India. Mutually assured destruction (charmingly acronymed MAD) worked and works in those examples -- despite some possibly close calls, neither Russia nor the US launched any nuclear weapons at each other during the Cold War, despite various batshit crazy members in each's government. A more recent example is the acquirement of nuclear weapons in Pakistan and India. A number of commentators within and outside of both countries said, essentially, that this was it, MAD wasn't going to work, because what foreigners didn't appreciate is the sheer amount of enmity between the countries, and that MAD be damned, someone was going to say "Fuck it," and start a nuclear conflagration. While that certainly's still theoretically possible, no one's talking about it right now. Why? MAD *did* work.

The Mullahs & Ahmedinejad are similarly not so batshit crazy as to sign their own death warrants with an attack on the US or Israel. Dangerous rhetoric or not, dictators may be reprehensible, but most of them are somewhat savvy in the ways of keeping power, and know that a) if they bomb the US or Israel or Europe, their country, and likely they themselves, are ash; b) if they explicitly threaten to bomb US or Israel, their country is ash; c) if they give nuclear material to terrorists in order that the terrorists bomb the US, Israel, or Europe, their country and ass are still very much grass. From Afghanistan and Iraq, it's perfectly obvious to anyone to see that the US wouldn't wait for the ocular proof to retaliate, and even the whiff of a hint of an allusion that terrorists got nuclear material from Iran would mean, in a word, DEATH for them. (Besides which, some analysts think loose nukes and US & Russian attack readiness are the biggest threats.)

Obama does get into further nuance, but it seems to me that it's hard to imagine a realistic scenario where bombing Iran makes sense. He talks about a nuclear "domino theory" in the region if Iran gets nukes, but bombing Iran would only be worse. In fact, the single BIGGEST thing he could talk about to make us safe is to go back to nuclear disarmament instead of nonproliferation. The difference is, in the prior, ALL countries -- US included -- agree to continuously destroy and decommission their nuclear stocks. If the US, the 800-lb gorilla in our story, agreed to reduce nuclear stocks, other countries (such as Russia) would be able to realistically consider reducing theirs as well. Instead is making sure our nukes are still ready to fly and making new ones from time to time. The LATTER approach, today's nonproliferation focus, simply says "We don't want any more countries to have nukes. Those of you that do, though, um... for shame! But, we won't do anything, you're too dangerous now." Nonproliferation basically tells a country that the only way to be able to defend yourself from US attack & intervention is to finally GET nukes, because once you get them, you're an irrevocable member of the club. Smoke 'em if you got 'em... Not to mention, the hypocrisy of Israel's open secret of their nukes, which are technically treaty and UN violations as grave as it is when "bad countries" do it. What's it called when you have one standard for yourself and friends and another for other people?

Sigh. That wasn't supposed to be so long. My work break's about up. My other examples were going to be Palestine -- where Obama says no one's suffered like the Palestinians, but that when Israel is threatened, we will always stand with Israel, and that Palestinians need to recognize Israel's right to exist -- with no similar demands made that Israel not threaten Palestine or that Israel formally recognize a Palestinian state's right to exist (they've never formally done that as far as I know). 3 times as many Palestinian civilians have died as Israelis; who's the aggressor now? The nuclear power, or the poorest would-be state in the world? And lastly on gay marriage, his retreat to civil unions. My argument is not that these aren't politically wise moves, but rather than if he's running "a new kind of politics," then he should be aware of and promote disarmament instead of nonproliferation or threatening rogue states; he should stand behind tough love for both Palestine AND Israel, rather than just demands of the former and sympathy for the latter; and he should at least admit that civil unions is an intellectually indefensible compromise on gay marriage. "But maybe he really believes marriage is a religious rite and not an actual right?" you say? Well, last I checked a) a number or religions, including individuals and sects within Christianity and Judaism, allow and will perform gay ceremonies, and b) religious freedom was a national right. So if it's a religious issue, and some religions allow it, how does allowing states to ban it represent an intellectually honest path to civil unions, which would be distinct from marriage legally at least in name? And if it's only in name, then isn't that a shell game?

Again -- his positions are reasonable. Civil unions are a famous example of Bill Clintonian triangulation. Keeping the idea of bombing Iran alive is a genuflection to the idea of looking like a tough guy for prez. Being careful not to even fairly criticize Israel -- a necessity for any American pol. But NEW? Hardly. Bill Clinton called his New Kind the 3rd Way. Bush called his Original New Kind compassionate conservatism. Obama calling his New Kind of Politics the New Kind of Politics doesn't make it true this time, either.

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