Obama’s Report Card: Quotes from the Second Inaugural

reportcard2006

As a teacher, this is the time of year that I start to evaluate my students and issue some sort of letter grade to their performance in my classroom.

It makes sense then, that I rate this administration also.

As always, I will try to be as neutral as possible.

Today’s grade sheet will look at the Obama Administration’s Foreign Policy, based on his pledges from Monday’s Second Inaugural Address (read the entire transcript here courtesy of The Washington Post).

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Our citizens seared by the memory of those we have lost, know too well the price that is paid for liberty. The knowledge of their sacrifice will keep us forever vigilant against those who would do us harm.

Middle East in general–One blunder that President Obama had, and has gone relatively unnoticed since, was his address at the University of Cairo in 2009. There, Obama gleefully acknowledged a pro-Islamic Brotherhood world by defining the Middle Eastern identity as Islamic rather than Arab. Semantics, I know. But think for a second. What is an Arab?

An Arab is anyone in the Middle East or North Africa, whether they are from Morocco or Syria or Palestine or Saudi Arabia. They can be Christian or Muslim, man or woman, they can even be Jewish Arabs that speak Arabic. Arab is an identity.

Why then address the Middle East as Muslim? His intent, maybe, based on the speech, was to show the people that Americans are Muslim also. I can accept this, but he should have addressed the people as Arabic, and that there are Christian Arabs and Muslim Arabs living happily in the United States. I think there might be something else behind this… Oh well.

In this case, the president seems to have forgotten who “would do us harm.” Of course, it is not all Muslims, and definitely not all Arabs, but there is a certain element within the Muslim faith that wishes America and its allies incredible harm. So, what damage might addressing a crowd in Cairo in 2009 as Muslim rather than Arab inflict? Tacitly, the United States acknowledges what the extreme Muslim groups believe: The Middle East is Muslim. Good luck Israel. Syria? The probability of an anti-American, pro-Brotherhood group replacing the current regime–strong. Worst of all, it puts Iran–Persian, not Arab, and Muslim–in a difficult place where it will need to assert its own will and power.

Grade: D

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America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe. And we will renew those institutions that extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad. For no one has a greater stake in a peaceful world than its most powerful nation. We will support democracy from Asia to Africa, from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom. And we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice.

Obama proclaims America as a supporter of democracy and that we will be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice. Let’s see how well this stands up to the last four years of his administration.

Egypt–As it stands, the hope of democracy in Egypt is waning. President Morsi is aligning himself with a hard-line, Sharia-based government. If the Muslim Brotherhood gains strength, despite Morsi publicly distancing himself from the group by withdrawing his membership, you will see less rights for women or Christians in Egypt.

Syria–For a time, the Obama Administration supported the Syrian National Council in their war against the Assad regime (the administration has broken ties in October 2012). Unbeknownst to most Americans, the SNC was formed by a large faction of the Muslim Brotherhood. Though, on Mar. 25, 2012, the Brotherhood declared its intention to form a civil constitution, full democracy, equality irrespective of ethnicity, gender, or religion, and freedoms of opinion and belief (Muslim Brotherhood, New York Times), this ideal will probably not come to fruition in Syria as the Salafis–ultra-conservative Islamists within the Brotherhood–continue to gain strength. We may be trading one extreme for another.

India–This is a tough one for Obama. 1. India is a nuclear rival of Pakistan, a nation we are peppering with drone missile attacks. 2. India has issues with the U.S. acknowledging the ISI as a representative of foreign state and deserving of immunity. 3. The United States and India are working on resurrecting economic ties. However, all that said, this administration will be called to the mat as “a source of hope to the poor, sick, marginalized, the victims of prejudice” as more and more Indian women step forward, at great risk to themselves and their families, with rape allegations.

Grade: C- (The “C” is for hope in democracy around the world. The minus is for the fact that these democracies balance on the razor’s edge and could easily tip into a nefarious oblivion).

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Together we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play…. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries. We must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality…

Not sure what it was that we “discovered” here. The greatest boom in American ingenuity occurred during the late 1800s, and fair play and competition were the furthest things from reality then. Even the Dot-Com boom of the 1990s had issues with “fair play.”

Hawker-Beechraft–The company was forced to sue the Air Force in order to have “fair play” in the bidding for a government contract which ultimately went to the Brazilian firm Embraer. On the midst bankruptcy now, and almost bought out by a Chinese firm, Beechcraft, as they will now be known, is going to come out of bankruptcy a smaller company. And it still doesn’t have the right to bid on the contract. One issue with Hawker-Beechcraft was that their small business jets (4000, 900x, and 200) are outsold by Bombardier and Gulfstream. They gambled on the market and lost.

“You didn’t build that”–I would dare say that this slip of “fair play” was inserted to counter the campaign assault of the “You Didn’t Build That” despite taken slightly out of context. This administration has made some errors in the business arena–Solyndra, A123, et al–but, so far has been supportive of innovation–Tesla Motors (ignoring that only the 1% can afford one of their cars… yeah, those vilified 1%ers). The jury is still out the impact of ACA on small business and whether they will be able to compete in this new market. Obama’s green energy policy has been a boondoggle–kindly said–or an economic sinkhole for the taxpayer–more blunt. China will continue to dominate this with their connections to European markets and their ability to produce cheaply.

China–the last four years has seen this Administration give way for China to increase its presence in the European market. Individual European nations are courting China for investment dollars. Though Obama has “pivoted” toward China, the Chinese hold the key to whether or not we will be able to maintain our economic vitality.

Grade: C+/B- (though not in ink with ACA outstanding, and four more years of bailouts looming, and China’s growth)

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… nothing…

Okay, not a quote from the speech itself, but a summary of any semblance of a foreign policy. I wasn’t expecting the same rhetoric of GW’s second inaugural, but a bit more than what was said would have been nice.

We are an interdependent world. True, the issues at hand are not as uplifting as the imagery that Obama laced his second inaugural with, but he set out clear, promising objectives for the domestic scene. Where were these for Syria? Iran? Drone bombings?

The President reminded the American people that he took out Osama bin Laden, but this snake has more than one head. AQIM grows in strength in North Africa. Game plan?

I fear that as the U.S. goes forward, our foreign policy will be one of reaction rather than proactive. We will seek out an obscure video vilifying Islam and claim it as the motive behind an attack on the U.S. or its embassies rather than admitting that drone assaults in Somalia or Sudan or Pakistan only infuriate an already angry Islamist group.

Grade: F

Today’s Arabic Cold War (Part II)

the conclusion to “Today’s Arabic Cold War”.  Read part one here

Let’s look specifically at each of the players and their public and perceived agendas in Syria:

SAUDI ARABIA AND QATAR

Gulf Cooperation Council

With the fall of Egypt during the Arab Spring and Iraq after the U.S. invasion, the two superpowers of the Middle East receded into memory leaving a power vacuum that was quickly filled by Riyadh and Doha. These shifts in regional power have had a tremendous impact on places like Yemen and Bahrain. Sunni forces backed by Riyadh and Doha suppressed the majority Shiite population’s demand for greater rights under Bahrain’s Sunni leadership.

Now, the same forces are at play in Syria where Sunni forces are being amassed to overthrow Assad’s regime. Turkey, Iraq, and the Riyadh/Doha coalition are lending aid, weapons, and soldiers for one singular purpose: Establish yet another Sunni regime.

IRAN

Iranian support for the Assad regime has tarnished what little positive reputation Tehran has had in the world. Should Syria fall, Iran would lose its foothold in the Middle East, and its vital staging area for insurgent attacks on Israel. Tehran withdrew support for Hamas after Hamas Prime Minister Ismial Haniya said, “I salute all people of the Arab Spring, or Islamic winter, and I salute the Syrian people who seek freedom, democracy and reform.” Iran was one of Hamas’ largest sources of money and weapons, but clearly, Hamas is pulling for a Sunni-Arab victory in Syria. This leaves Iran with only Hezbollah as an ally in the region, and that relationship is only serving to sour the Arab people against Iran. Should the Sunni’s score yet another victory in Syria, Tehran would need to step up support for Lebanon, Hezbollah’s base of operations against Israel and other Arab states.

Tehran has sent arms, cash, and recently, soldiers to assist Assad. There can only be one reason for this: Iran seeks to maintain some semblance of authority in the Middle East.

Iran is quickly finding itself being backed into a corner in the Middle East. Nothing good comes from backing an angry beast into a no win situation. With pressure from the United States against Iranian nuclear programs, Sunni power growth post the Arab Spring, the rise of Riyadh and Doha as power brokers in the region,and a dwindling base of operations in the Mediterranean, Iran can only come out swinging. It will not be long before the angry hornet’s nest wakes up.

RUSSIA

Russia’s relationship with Islam and the Islamic states makes recent behavior by the United States look sainthood worthy.

One just need look at the Russian-Chechen relationship. Over a century of conquest, subjugation, and extermination have brought Muslims, mainly radical Sunni’s, seeking jihad into the region. Russia faces a ruthless Islamic jihadist movement that culminates in airport attacks and other forms of domestic terrorism. Granted, they brought this onto themselves, none the less, as Russia looks at the conflict in Syria, they only see one thing: The possible birth of yet another Riyadh backed Sunni regime.

The United States government either doesn’t understand, or, worse, care, about the impact of our involvement in Iraq and Libya and how these events upset the tenuous balance in the Middle East. For Russia, it is quite clear what happened.

The United States has left Iraq and Afghanistan a mess. Iraq has seen a Shi’ite government establish itself and link itself with Iran, but it faces staunch opposition from Sunni’s and Kurds. The Iraqi government is also spurned by Gulf Arab states, backed by Riyadh and Doha. A Sunni revolt in Iraq is inevitable, but not before more unrest, violence, and support from Saudi Arabia. For Russia, this mean yet another Sunni incursion.

Assad represents a secular leader standing firm against Islamic barbarians raiding the gates of his empire. Russians must ask themselves, if Syria collapses who or what is there to stop the barbarians from moving north toward the gates of Mother Russia? They’d seen Germanic marches into their nation, and now, the few remain buffer states on their southern border are collapsing, exposing a dangerous flank through which Islamic jihad can exact a terrible revenge on the people of Moscow.

The last thing Russia wants is the United States to support the revolt in Syria and then leave it a mess like it has done with Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, and leaving Saudi Arabia in control. Though relations between Moscow and Riyadh cooled in 2003, with Putin’s return to leadership and Moscow’s uncertainty as to Riyadh’s complete agenda in the Middle East, Russia can ill-afford to allow Assad’s regime to collapse.

ISRAEL

Tel Aviv has been rather quiet on Syria.

Israel has watched from the sidelines as the Arab Spring brought infighting among its neighbors, especially in Egypt. This infighting has strengthened Tel Aviv’s position in the region. Even is a staunchly anti-Israel government is established in Cairo, its ability to inflict damage on Israel has been severely diminished. For Israel, a prolonged conflict in Syria only serves to hinder its enemies and strengthen Israel’s position in the Middle East.

More than that, should Syria collapse into a democratic revolution, Sunni retribution would swiftly cascade upon Hezbollah which has used Damascus as its base of operations. Tel Aviv would rejoice at the ending of the Damascus-Tehran axis of evil.

The real benefit to Assad’s downfall for Israel would be the isolation of Iran in the region. An Arab Cold War would increase Israel’s position in the region as an ideological war festers between Riyadh/Doha and any groups in the newly liberated states that align themselves with Iran.

UNITED STATES

Whether we like it or not, the U.S. has had a “promote democracy” issue since the late 1800s. President Woodrow Wilson created so much chaos in Mexico promoting democracy that he instigated Pancho Villa’s raids into the Southwest.

More recently, the United States has attempted to spread democracy in Serbia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. What these three nations should teach us is that after the U.S. comes in to “spread democracy” we leave just as quickly leaving the nation to sort it out for itself.

In April 2011, the New York Times uncovered the truth behind the “spontaneous” and “indigenous” uprisings that occurred during the Arab Spring: The United States had inspired them.

“A number of the groups and individuals directly involved in the revolts and reforms sweeping the region, including the April 6 Youth Movement in Egypt, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and grass-roots activists like Entsar Qadhi, a youth leader in Yemen, received training and financing from groups like the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute and Freedom House, a nonprofit human rights organization based in Washington.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/15/world/15aid.html?pagewanted=all)

As with all meddling by U.S. foreign policy, our role in the Arab Spring has set into motion something that Washington wasn’t expecting nor can restrain. While the idea of establishing democracies around the world may be noble, what is created may not resemble the democracy we would enjoy working with. Take Egypt for example, where the Muslim Brotherhood is taking control of the government. How does this play into a Pan-Arabian world where Riyadh is the power broker?

Our current administration has not had the best relationship with Russia, and now, we stand at a crossroads between Putin and Obama over Syria. The Russian’s mistrust American goals, and, more, distrust America’s handling of revolution in the Middle East.

The United States has taken a passive, Hamiltonian stance on foreign policy. However, a sit around and wait for things to shake out and react to it will not work. Several nations are taking active roles in the crisis in Syria, and it may be time for the United States to do the same.

Today’s Arabic Cold War (Part I)

English: Map of Arabic-speaking countries.

English: Map of Arabic-speaking countries. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The current crisis in Syria poses a complex global issue. It is one the U.S. is opting to stand by and watch unfold; it is choosing to rely on international organizations to protect our own internal interests.

While this Hamiltonian view of foreign policy may have served George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton well, and “well” may be open for debate, now is not the time for the United States to sit on the sidelines hoping for someone else to step up as either the peace broker or warmonger. It will be interesting to see if the issue of Syria comes up in the Presidential debates, and I will be listening to both candidate’s response.

The humanitarian crisis in Syria goes beyond that of the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011. The players involved in Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt were, for the most part, Tunisians, Libyans and Egyptians attempting to establish democratic changes over authoritarian regimes. Responding to the surprise overthrow of President Zine El-‘Abidine Ben ‘Ali in Tunisia, then Russian President Medvedev said, “I think that what happened in Tunisia was a big lesson for governments all around the world. Governments should not sit on their laurels and settle back in comfy chairs, but need to grow and develop together with society, regardless of where they are: in Europe, Africa, or Latin America” (http://eng.kremlin.ru/news/1684).

Syria presents a completely new wrinkle in what has been dubbed the Arab Cold War.

The initial Arab Cold War of the 1950s and 60s was one primarily of ideology in the midst of two superpowers fighting for supremacy. An ideological fight simmered between “conservative” monarchies like Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and the more “radical” socialist regimes of Egypt and Syria. At debate was whether “Arab” constituted a common language, culture, history, and identity. This nationalism, it was believed by the radicals, should therefore be the basis of a Pan-Arabian identity that superseded the artificial boundaries that the West had imposed on the Middle East. It was important for the leaders of Arab nations to attempt to monopolize the power and interests of all Arabs; these leaders would take to the airwaves and either promote Pan-Arabian interest, as in the case of Egypt’s Gamel Abdel Nassar, or attempt to subdue the rise of radicals within their borders as in the case of Saudi Arabia.

According to Curtis Ryan in “The New Arab Cold War and the Struggle for Syria” the Arab Cold War of the 50s

Many of the same elements — power struggles, ideological and identity conflicts, and proxy wars — are present today. The main difference is that the 2012 version of the Arab cold war does not array revolutionary republics on one side. Over time, the radical republics of the 1950s and 1960s became deep-seated authoritarian states, neither revolutionary nor particularly republican…. On the other hand, the greatest similarity to the earlier cold war is the mobilization of conservative monarchies attempting to block another wave of change across the Arab regional system.

The ideological and identity conflicts rising in the Middle East, and Syria specifically, are the rekindling of tensions between Sunni and Shi’i Muslims. In Syria, the rebels are backed by Riyadh and the new Pan-Arabian power of Doha. Recently, forty-eight Iranians were captured in Damascus. Their presence, Tehran confirmed, was for military support. According to Iran, “What is happening in Syria is not an internal issue but a conflict between the axis of resistance on one hand and regional and global enemies of this axis on the other.”

The better part of the analysis on Syria’s conflict has focused on the conflict be a sectarian Pan-Arabian issue, and this is one possible reason that the Obama administration has remained an outside observer; passively allowing international organizations to attempt peace. However, the crisis in Syria poses an even great threat to international affair, and the players involved could push the crisis into a whole new Cold War.

Tomorrow, I will conclude by looking at the specific players in the new Arabic Cold War.

America’s Next Boogeyman, Part I of II

edit: As I was writing this article, the tragedy at the Wisconsin Sikh temple struck. My thoughts are with the families of everyone involved.

Watching the Olympics got the wheels in my head turning. Not about doping, or if the U.S. will win the most gold medals. Not even the absurdity of having NBA players taking the court under the U.S. banner. Naw. I’m more interested in the fact that our Olympic delegation accomplished the impossible. They were able to bring two polar opposites into my little world–the middle. John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid, along with other key Republican and Democrat leaders united to chastise the decision to dress our Olympians in Ralph Lauren designed, Chinese-made uniforms.

A recent article in The Diplomat written by Minxin Pei explores whether or not it is sound political policy to attack the Chinese as America’s new boogeyman at this time.

These American politicians may think bashing China during hard times in the U.S. before an election is good political strategy. By showing America’s unemployed workers that they feel their pain, they could get their votes in November. In reality, however, the same politicians must know that blaming China for America’s economic woes will not alleviate the suffering of ordinary Americans.

Such gratuitous China-bashing is, needless to say, hypocritical. The loss of blue-collar workers in general, and workers in the textile industry in particular, is caused primarily by technological progress and market forces, and not by China. Even if Team USA’s uniforms were not made in China, they would be made in Vietnam, Indonesia, or India, but not in North Carolina.

If China isn’t our current boogeyman, who is then? Terrorists? With the death of Bin Laden, Al Qaeda has been crippled. Iran? North Korea? Right now, it would appear this administration would prefer to have international organizations handle them rather than assert global hegemony. Our boogeymen are reactionary to U.S. behavior. Iran and North Korea may posture and showboat, but as our new threats they have a way to go.

For America’s next boogeyman, we need only look as far as ourselves.

 The Groups

America has certainly had its share of boogeymen in the past. Some more hostile than others; some external and some homegrown. We’ve had some important trends that we  can certainly glean information from with regard to how the U.S. cultivates its enemies. In order to better understand our real and perceived threats I have created three categories, three groups that define the ways that the world perceives America and its special interests.

The first group is obvious to anyone living today: The Reactionaries. This group consists of a wide swath of people who have been pushed to their limits of tolerance toward the United States, and include the modern-day Jihadist, but also include various Native American tribes and smaller nations like the Philippines and Mexico.

The second group comprises nation-states. The Hegemons are world powers that sought to challenge the United States in global dominance, or attempted to create their own new world orders. Communism, Nazi Germany, and Britain all fall into this category.

The final group is the most frightening of them all. The Nativists.This group could alternately be called the McVieghs, the Browns, or the Klan. The boogeymen in the Nativist grouping all have one thing in common: A firm belief that their view of America, and, more importantly, themselves as true Americans, is the purest definition. They envision slights by the Federal or state government toward their view of America. They find fault in the democratic-capitalism system and seek to amend it. On the whole, this group is born and bred in the United States. They could be your neighbor. They live under the protections of Bill of Rights. And, they are our next boogeyman.

History’s Lessons

Unlike U.S. foreign policy which has had nice ebbs and flows from isolation, to imperialism, to collective security, the exploration of America’s boogeyman is harder to plot on a timeline. There have been periods where the United States has had to deal with more than one (1840-1877 for instance), and there have been quiet lulls. Since our fear-mongering isn’t a cyclical event, we need to look instead at the origins and causes of these various groups.

 The Reactionaries

In simple, broad terms, the Reactionaries are pushing back at an implied or direct threat from the United States. From there, the groups become as diverse as the fabric of America itself.

Our first group of Reactionaries were the people here first, the Native American nations. As colonial migration pressed westward, the tribes felt it necessary to defend their natural homelands. As early as 1622 in Virginia, white settlers feared that which lurked in the woods just beyond the ramparts of their villages. The Native American boogeyman would slip in and out of the collective American consciousness until the Battle at Wounded Knee in 1890 with the last uprising of the Native Americans. Our next set of Reactionaries follow on the heels of ending of the Indian “troubles.” As America finished its Manifest Destiny across the continent, a world beyond the seas awaited us. Driven by what Rudyard Kipling called “the white man’s burden” Americans entered into a brief period of intense imperialism. Pushing back against our interjections of Judeo-Christian beliefs and capitalism/democracy were the Hawaiians, Filipinos, and Mexicans to name a few. Groups like Al Qaeda comprise yet another Reactionary specter. Since the creation of Israel and expansion of western ideals into the Middle East, various incarnations of Islamic terrorists have darkened our thoughts. (Yet, it must not be forgotten that the United States has had a long history of poor relations with Middle Eastern nations harkening back to Thomas Jefferson’s administration and his handling of the Barbary Coast).

 The Hegemons

It cannot be forgotten that America was born through terrorism. As a part of the British Empire, our Founding Fathers knew that they were committing high crimes and treason against the crown. From the viewpoint of the British, the Boston Tea Party could be seen as a terrorist act. Beyond the Revolution, our relationship with Britain was a tenuous one throughout our early history, and earned the British the right to be considered our first hegemonic monster. Germany will take the honor from Britain in both World Wars, and Americans will rally to thwart the Huns in their quest for world domination. However, it isn’t until the fall of Europe in 1945 that the U.S. peers deep into the dark closet to find yet a more frightening creature–Communism. There can be little doubt that the former Soviet Union shook America to its core. All aspects of American life changed because of the red menace. Hollywood came under fire in the 1950s; Dominos were sure to fall in Asia. More wars were fought to stem the perceived encroachment of communist ideologies than all wars America engaged in prior. With the collapse of the Soviet empire in the early 1990s, the United States has been adrift. We needed someone to threaten us. We needed a reason to maintain the military industrial complex. Threats keep people in jobs, kept the economy stimulated. And now, our politicians are looking to shift the red spectrum onto China. This is short-sided at best.

Tomorrow, I will conclude with the final group–The Nativists, a case study of homegrown horror, and my conclusions.