One historic night, two Americas

When Barack Obama achieved his historic victory on Tuesday night, the battle was joined between two Americas. Not John Edwards’s two Americas, divided between rich and poor. Not the Americas split by race, gender, party or ideology. What looms instead is an epic showdown between two wildly different visions of the country, from the ground up.

On one side stands Mr. Obama’s resolutely cheerful embrace of the future. His vision is inseparable from his identity, both as a rookie with a slim Washington résumé and as a black American whose triumph was regarded as improbable by voters of all races only months ago. On the other is John McCain’s promise of a wise warrior’s vigilant conservation of the past. His vision, too, is inseparable from his identity — as a government lifer who has spent his entire career in service, whether in the Navy or Washington.

Given the dividing line separating the two Americas of 2008, a ticket uniting Mr. McCain and Hillary Clinton might actually be a better fit than the Obama-Clinton “dream ticket,” despite their differences on the issues. Never was this more evident than Tuesday night, when Mrs. Clinton and Mr. McCain both completely misread a one-of-a-kind historical moment as they tried to cling to the prerogatives of the 20th century’s old guard.

Obama maps a nationwide push in GOP strongholds

Senator Barack Obama’s general election plan calls for broadening the electoral map by challenging Senator John McCain in typically Republican states — from North Carolina to Missouri to Montana — as Mr. Obama seeks to take advantage of voter turnout operations built in nearly 50 states in the long Democratic nomination battle, aides said.

On Monday, Mr. Obama will travel to North Carolina — a state that has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in 32 years — to start a two-week tour of speeches, town hall forums and other appearances intended to highlight differences with Mr. McCain on the economy. From there, he heads to Missouri, which last voted for a Democrat in 1996. His first campaign swing after securing the Democratic presidential nomination last week was to Virginia, which last voted Democratic in 1964.

With Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton now having formally bowed out of the race and thrown her backing to him, Mr. Obama wants to define the faltering economy as the paramount issue facing the country, a task probably made easier by ever-rising gasoline prices and the sharp rise in unemployment the government reported on Friday. Mr. McCain, by contrast, has been emphasizing national security more than any other issue and has made clear that he would like to fight the election primarily on that ground.

Bush’s last-ditch bid to make Iraq a protectorate isn’t fooling anyone

George W. Bush’s efforts to salvage something from the defining project of his presidency, the cynical and disastrous war in Iraq, say much about his motivations in having started it. The lies about weapons of mass destruction have long since been exposed, as have those about the White House wanting “democracy” in the Arab world. Even before the invasion was launched in defiance of the United Nations Security Council in 2003, it was widely argued that what the Bush administration really wanted was fuller access to cheap oil and a new base from which to dominate the Middle East. Now that Washington is in the process of negotiating a “Status Of Forces Agreement” with Baghdad to regulate the US military presence in Iraq, it is becoming clearer than ever that these last two goals have topped the agenda all along and that they might be the only “achievements” (in the imperial sense) still within America’s grasp.

The US must face up to the reality that it has very few friends in Iraq

The conclusion of Iraq’s story is, of course, unwritten, but now that the US has declared that it’s time to write the next chapter – the one that determines the future of the American troop presence there – Washington is finding that it’s own ideas are substantially at odds with those of even key Iraqi allies.

Efforts to negotiate an agreement on the future of US troops in Iraq once the UN mandate for their presence expires at the end of 2008 appear to be floundering, as Iraqi government sources indicate that they see the US proposals as infringing on Iraqi sovereignty.

Although the government of Nouri al-Maliki relies on the US military for its own security, the overwhelming majority of Iraqis support demands that the Americans set a withdrawal date. Maliki finds himself under pressure from quarters as diverse as the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and the moderate Shiite eminence Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, some key Sunni political factions and, indeed, a majority of Iraqi parliamentarians – and, of course, Iran, which has made no secret of its objection to a long-term US presence. Iraqi lawmakers have made clear in a letter to their US counterparts that no deal will pass that does not contain a clear signal of intent to depart Iraq.

Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah warns from uprising against US security pact

Iraq’s senior Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Mohamed al-Modaresy, warned on Sunday that the US-Iraq security pact might cause an uprising in Iraq. Al-Modaresy described the long-term treaty with the US as a “sword directed over the Iraqis necks,” during a meeting with reporters.

“The security pact that should be signed between Iraq and the US requires a deep and a comprehensive vision to the general situation in Iraq,” al-Modaresy told reporters.

He added: “It will deem to failure if kept as it is.”

Where is Raed now?

In 1998, 20-year-old Raed Jarrar watched from the roof of his family’s home in Baghdad as American Tomahawk cruise missiles struck government buildings close by, blowing out the windows and sending him scrambling for cover. Five years later, during Operation Iraqi Freedom, coalition planes targeted the same buildings, as well as the nearby airport and Saddam Hussein’s palace, killing and wounding dozens of people from Jarrar’s middle-class neighborhood.

This year, Jarrar quietly celebrated his 30th birthday outside Pasadena at a retreat he was attending for his job as a consultant for the American Friends Service Committee. He now lives in Washington, D.C., a short metro ride away from the White House, the Pentagon, and the various think tanks where his country’s future has been decided for much of his life. Yet Jarrar’s become something the war’s planners did not anticipate: an Iraqi who’s thwarted their efforts by using the tools of American democracy. Through a peculiar roll of history’s dice, the young exile has helped throw a monkey wrench in the Bush administration’s attempts to lay the groundwork for a permanent American presence in Iraq. “I’m just another small example of how Iraqis would rather end the occupation through talking to U.S. legislators and the public,” Jarrar explains.

What it really means when America goes to war

Troops, when they battle insurgent forces, as in Iraq, or Gaza or Vietnam, are placed in “atrocity producing situations.” Being surrounded by a hostile population makes simple acts, such as going to a store to buy a can of Coke, dangerous. The fear and stress push troops to view everyone around them as the enemy. The hostility is compounded when the enemy, as in Iraq, is elusive, shadowy and hard to find. The rage soldiers feel after a roadside bomb explodes, killing or maiming their comrades, is one that is easily directed, over time, to innocent civilians who are seen to support the insurgents.

Civilians and combatants, in the eyes of the beleaguered troops, merge into one entity. These civilians, who rarely interact with soldiers or Marines, are to most of the occupation troops in Iraq nameless, faceless, and easily turned into abstractions of hate. They are dismissed as less than human. It is a short psychological leap, but a massive moral leap. It is a leap from killing — the shooting of someone who has the capacity to do you harm — to murder — the deadly assault against someone who cannot harm you.

The homegrown young radicals of next-gen jihad

We are fighting the wrong foe. Over the past six years, the nature of the international Islamist terrorist threat to the West has changed dramatically, but Western governments are still fighting the last war — set up to fight an old al-Qaeda that is now largely contained. Unless we understand this sea change, we will not be able to ward off the new menace.

The version of al-Qaeda that Osama bin Laden founded is a fading force. After a week in which five detainees who allegedly planned the Sept. 11, 2001, atrocities were arraigned before a U.S. military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, it’s worth remembering that the terrorists behind 9/11 were mostly young, well-educated middle-class expatriates from Muslim countries who had become radicalized abroad, especially in the West. Such key 9/11 plotters as Mohamed Atta, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ziad Jarrah and Marwan al-Shehhi met and became radicalized as students in Hamburg, then went to Afghanistan looking for al-Qaeda. But over the past six years, most of the professional terrorists who fit this profile have been eliminated during the U.S.-led manhunt for “high-value targets.” The few that remain are huddled in the Afghan-Pakistani border area, struggling to extend their reach beyond Pakistan.

Losing Latin America

Google “neglect,” “Washington,” and “Latin America,” and you will be led to thousands of hand-wringing calls from politicians and pundits for Washington to “pay more attention” to the region. True, Richard Nixon once said that “people don’t give one shit” about the place. And his National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger quipped that Latin America is a “dagger pointed at the heart of Antarctica.” But Kissinger also made that same joke about Chile, Argentina, and New Zealand — and, of the three countries, only the latter didn’t suffer widespread political murder as a result of his policies, a high price to pay for such a reportedly inconsequential place.

Latin America, in fact, has been indispensable in the evolution of U.S. diplomacy. The region is often referred to as America’s “backyard,” but a better metaphor might be Washington’s “strategic reserve,” the place where ascendant foreign-policy coalitions regroup and redraw the outlines of U.S. power, following moments of global crisis.

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