The long Iraq war. The bungled Hurricane Katrina response. The credit crunch. A quick look at the newspapers will give many voters reason to doubt the wisdom of America’s political leaders. Unfortunately, Americans are doing little to educate themselves about their leaders and their policies, says bestselling author and George Mason University historian Rick Shenkman in his new book Just How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth About the American Voter. Shenkman cites some damning facts to make his case that Americans are ill-prepared to guide the world’s most powerful democracy. Only 2 of 5 voters can name the three branches of the federal government. And 49 percent of Americans think the president has the authority to suspend the Constitution. But, for Shenkman, the severity of the problem snapped into focus after Sept. 11, 2001, when polls showed that a large number of Americans knew little about the attacks and the Iraq war that followed. He blames some of the public’s misunderstanding on the White House message machine, but he argues that Americans did little to seek the truth. “As became irrefutably clear in scientific polls undertaken after 9/11…millions of Americans simply cannot fathom the twists and turns that complicated debates take,” Shenkman writes. Shenkman spoke to U.S. News about the competence of the American voter.
Also, see the Just How Stupid Are We? blog.
Is Barack Obama too naive to be president?
On Tuesday, hours before Obama clinched the Democratic nomination, McCain, signaling the start of the general election, told a crowd in New Orleans, “Americans ought to be concerned about the judgment of a presidential candidate who says he’s ready to talk, in person and without conditions, with tyrants from Havana to Pyongyang.”
And so it’s worth taking a look at what Obama actually said during that July 23 debate. Here is his full reply:
I would [be willing to meet with those leaders], and the reason is this: The notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them—which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration—is ridiculous. … [Ronald Reagan and John Kennedy talked with Soviet leaders because] they understood that we may not trust them, and they may pose an extraordinary threat to us, but we have the obligation to find areas where we can potentially move forward.
Obama added, referring to the countries that the questioner listed, “It is a disgrace that we have not spoken with them.” For instance, he said, we need to talk with Iran and Syria, if only about Iraq, “because if Iraq collapses, they’re going to have responsibilities.”
I would submit there is nothing wrong with any of this. Obama might have done well to focus more intently, at the time, on the phrase “without preconditions”—to parse its meaning and to distinguish the lack of preconditions from the lack of preparations—but, taken in full, and in the context of the question, his reply was the acme of common sense.
Obama already mired on Middle East road
Senator Barack Obama has finally clinched the Democratic party’s nomination for the United States presidency, and already the intense pressures on him to tame broad calls for “change” in the US’s domestic and external policies have chewed away a good deal of his initial sound and fury, already making him look like a business-as-usual candidate.
Obama walks fine line at major pro-Israel meet
Obama’s speech in many ways marked a shift in the usual approach, as it seemed the Illinois senator was encouraging the AIPAC faithful to support his positions, rather than submitting to what the group’s policy agenda otherwise suggested.
“His speech was remarkably different in tone and substance from any other speaker that you heard at the conference,” said Trita Parsi, who heads the National Iranian American Council. “Instead of staying away from the issue, he made a strong case, he didn’t back down from the fact that diplomacy would not only be valuable to U.S. interests, but is also good for Israel’s security.”
Obama and Dean team up to recast the political map
Sixteen months after he launched his campaign for the White House, Sen. Barack Obama may, just now, be entering his campaign’s most perilous stage. Facing a rift of sorts within the Democratic Party and concerns over the scope of his political base, the Illinois Democrat is pursuing an unconventional path to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave: unlike those before him, he has pledged to redraw the electoral map by putting new, traditionally Republican states in play.
Secret plan to keep Iraq under US control
A secret deal being negotiated in Baghdad would perpetuate the American military occupation of Iraq indefinitely, regardless of the outcome of the US presidential election in November.
The terms of the impending deal, details of which have been leaked to The Independent, are likely to have an explosive political effect in Iraq. Iraqi officials fear that the accord, under which US troops would occupy permanent bases, conduct military operations, arrest Iraqis and enjoy immunity from Iraqi law, will destabilise Iraq’s position in the Middle East and lay the basis for unending conflict in their country.
But the accord also threatens to provoke a political crisis in the US. President Bush wants to push it through by the end of next month so he can declare a military victory and claim his 2003 invasion has been vindicated. But by perpetuating the US presence in Iraq, the long-term settlement would undercut pledges by the Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama, to withdraw US troops if he is elected president in November.
This raises huge questions over our independence
In 1930 the Anglo-Iraqi treaty was signed as a prelude to Iraq gaining full independence. Britain had occupied Iraq after defeating the Turks in the First World War, and was granted a mandate over the country. The treaty gave Britain military and economic privileges in exchange for Britain’s promise to end its mandate. The treaty was ratified by a docile Iraqi parliament, but was bitterly resented by nationalists. Iraq’s dependency on Britain poisoned Iraqi politics for the next quarter of a century. Riots, civil disturbances, uprisings and coups were all a feature of Iraq’s political landscape, prompted in no small measure by the bitter disputations over the treaty with Britain.
Iraq is now faced with a reprise of that treaty, but this time with the US, rather than Britain, as the dominant foreign partner. The US is pushing for the enactment of a “strategic alliance” with Iraq, partly as a precondition for supporting Iraq’s removal from its sanctioned status under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. It is a treaty under any other name. It has been structured as an alliance partly to avoid subjecting its terms to the approval of the US Senate, and partly to obfuscate its significance. Although the draft has not been circulated outside official circles, the leaks raise serious alarm about its long-term significance for Iraq’s sovereignty and independence. Of course the terms of the alliance for Iraq will be sweetened with promises of military and economic aid, but these are no different in essence from the commitments made in Iraq’s previous disastrous treaty entanglements.
Smells of Gaza
Like most people who read and watch a lot of news, I’ve seen a fair share of photographs and television footage of the Gaza strip in my life. And unlike some of the places I’ve worked — like Goz Beida in eastern Chad or El Zapote in Guatemala — Gaza is actually a place that many people can locate on a world map, or describe to you on the basis of the images they’ve seen. I’d been expecting the stark contrast between the modern high-rise buildings and the rubble of demolished houses — the bullet holes on both a constant reminders of the ongoing violence between the Israeli military and Palestinian armed groups. So I can’t say it’s the landscapes of Gaza that caught me off guard when I first arrived in the city after crossing the sandy piece of no man’s land between Israel and the Gaza strip. More than anything, it was the smells.
Occupation has cost Israel dear, says report
Israel’s occupied territories and conflict with the Palestinians has undermined the country’s economic growth and has cost at least an extra 36.6bn shekels (£5.7bn) in defence spending over the past two decades, according to an Israeli thinktank.
Calculations by the Adva Centre, an independent policy centre in Tel Aviv, suggest Israel’s economy has been held back, inequality within the country has grown and there have been significant government budget cuts to pay for mounting defence spending.
Iran fumes as Syria nods to Arab world
The strings pulled by Qatar, which helped end the stand-off in Lebanon last May, are now working to orchestrate a rapprochement between Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who meet King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia last weekend in Jeddah, told the Qataris he does not mind mending relations with Damascus, but wants first to see a soothing of tension between the Syrians and Riyadh.
Tension between Damascus and Cairo, after all, had stemmed from sour relations between the Syrians and Riyadh, with regard to Lebanon, and led to the no-show of both Mubarak and Abdullah at the Arab summit in Damascus held in March. Both countries accused the Syrians of prolonging the presidential crisis in Beirut and preventing the election of Michel Suleiman as president. That is now history.
It’s time to talk to Syria
After Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1991, President George H.W. Bush did the improbable and convinced Syrian President Hafez Assad to join an American-led coalition against a fellow Baathist regime.
Today, these leaders’ sons have another chance for a diplomatic breakthrough that could redefine the strategic landscape in the Middle East.
The recent announcement of peace negotiations between Israel and Syria through Turkey, and the agreement between the Lebanese factions in Qatar – both apparently without meaningful U.S. involvement – should serve as a wake-up call that our policy of nonengagement has isolated us more than the Syrians. These developments also help create new opportunities and increased leverage that we can only exploit through substantive dialogue with Syria.