How John McCain brought down terrorism

Barack Obama’s election will confirm in a multitude of ways that we have entered a new Zeitgeist. But even though the passage of an era can most clearly be discerned with historical perspective, in this case as soon as the election returns are in we should be able to deduce something right away. We will know whether America has learned how to view terrorism with a critical eye instead of a fearful heart.

For the last eight years, Bush-Cheney and the GOP have played the terrorism card in a very conventional way. They have presented terrorism as a national security issue and then presented voters with a choice between Republican strength and Democratic weakness.

The McCain campaign, in an act of sheer desperation, has done something different. Instead of presenting their opponent as weak on terrorism they have insinuated that he is in league with terrorists. By making a ludicrous claim, they have exposed their political charade to all but the most gullible of voters.

The game is up. Instead of being led like suckers down an associative path that turns Obama into a dark and sinister force, Americans are now getting wise to the fact that “terrorist” is a political word. It manipulates more than it describes.

The McCain campaign shouts: “Watch out for the terrorist!” And the indignant response is: “Say what? Don’t treat me like I’m an idiot.”

There remains no shortage of idiots, but more and more people are inclined to look askance when the t-word gets tossed around. They see that instead of signaling a danger it just as likely signals an agenda.

Might Palin or McCain risk inciting a rightwing lunatic to commit some hideous act of violence? Will someone view the Palin doctrine — we make no distinction between the terrorists and those who pal around with them — as a command?

Possibly, but major risks are inherent to this job. Obama like any president or presidential candidate can become a magnet for hatred. That’s why there’s a Secret Service.

Timothy Garton Ash frets and writes:

Where were you when Obama was shot? The line we pray we will never have to say. A line that I have hesitated even to write, as if the mere inscribing of the words could invite calamity. Yet the fear preys on the back of our minds, as we see Barack Obama plunging into those crowds. I have now watched weeks of election coverage on the 24/7 television news channels in the United States, in the course of which every tiniest feature of the campaign has been examined to exhaustion, but not once have I heard this mentioned. Yet almost every day I have a private conversation in which the subject comes up, especially when talking to journalists.

The fear is real, yet its basis at this juncture has I suspect less to do with the risks inherent in Palin and McCain’s reckless rhetoric than it has to do with the fact that we are tantalizingly close to the reality of an Obama presidency.

By the end of the primaries the inspirational candidate had lost much of his glow. Then Palin came along and knocked the campaign further off balance. And then miraculously it got rescued by an economic catastrophe.

Now as the final day approaches all of that is behind us and we see the makings of breathtaking transition.

An intellectually impoverished president, reviled by much of the nation, prepares to leave office, while one of extraordinary talent and in whom a mountain of expectations has been invested gets ready to take his place. Hope and dread interfuse as we ask ourselves, is this really about to happen? Simultaneously we hold our breath, fearing that some calamity might intervene. 12 days left!

Why Barack Obama is winning

General David Petraeus deployed overwhelming force when he briefed Barack Obama and two other Senators in Baghdad last July. He knew Obama favored a 16-month timetable for the withdrawal of most U.S. troops from Iraq, and he wanted to make the strongest possible case against it. And so, after he had presented an array of maps and charts and PowerPoint slides describing the current situation on the ground in great detail, Petraeus closed with a vigorous plea for “maximum flexibility” going forward.

Obama had a choice at that moment. He could thank Petraeus for the briefing and promise to take his views “under advisement.” Or he could tell Petraeus what he really thought, a potentially contentious course of action — especially with a general not used to being confronted. Obama chose to speak his mind. “You know, if I were in your shoes, I would be making the exact same argument,” he began. “Your job is to succeed in Iraq on as favorable terms as we can get. But my job as a potential Commander in Chief is to view your counsel and interests through the prism of our overall national security.” Obama talked about the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, the financial costs of the occupation of Iraq, the stress it was putting on the military.

A “spirited” conversation ensued, one person who was in the room told me. “It wasn’t a perfunctory recitation of talking points. They were arguing their respective positions, in a respectful way.” The other two Senators — Chuck Hagel and Jack Reed — told Petraeus they agreed with Obama. According to both Obama and Petraeus, the meeting — which lasted twice as long as the usual congressional briefing — ended agreeably. Petraeus said he understood that Obama’s perspective was, necessarily, going to be more strategic. Obama said that the timetable obviously would have to be flexible. But the Senator from Illinois had laid down his marker: if elected President, he would be in charge. Unlike George W. Bush, who had given Petraeus complete authority over the war — an unprecedented abdication of presidential responsibility (and unlike John McCain, whose hero worship of Petraeus bordered on the unseemly) — Obama would insist on a rigorous chain of command. [continued…]

October rural poll shows break for Obama

A new survey, taken over three tumultuous weeks in October, shows Barack Obama catching up with John McCain among rural voters in battleground states.

Rural voters put George W. Bush over the top and into the White House in 2000 and 2004, but according to a new survey, they may not confer the presidency on this year’s Republican candidate, Sen. John McCain.

An October poll in thirteen battleground states shows Democrat Barack Obama slightly ahead of McCain among likely rural voters. Obama led McCain 46% to 45% in the survey, commissioned by the Center for Rural Strategies and the National Rural Assembly. In September, a poll of likely rural voters in these same competitive states showed McCain leading by 10%. [continued…]

Rebranding the U.S. with Obama

We’re beginning to get a sense of how Barack Obama’s political success could change global perceptions of the United States, redefining the American “brand” to be less about Guantánamo and more about equality. This change in perceptions would help rebuild American political capital in the way that the Marshall Plan did in the 1950s or that John Kennedy’s presidency did in the early 1960s.

In his endorsement of Mr. Obama, Colin Powell noted that “the new president is going to have to fix the reputation that we’ve left with the rest of the world.” That’s not because we crave admiration, but because cooperation is essential to address 21st-century challenges; you can’t fire cruise missiles at the global financial crisis.

In his endorsement, Mr. Powell added that an Obama election “will also not only electrify our country, I think it’ll electrify the world.” You can already see that. A 22-nation survey by the BBC found that voters abroad preferred Mr. Obama to Mr. McCain in every single country — by four to one over all. Nearly half of those in the BBC poll said that the election of Mr. Obama, an African-American, would “fundamentally change” their perceptions of the United States.

Europe is particularly intoxicated by the possibility of restoring amity with America in an Obama presidency. As The Economist put it: “Across the Continent, Bush hatred has been replaced by Obama-mania.” [continued…]

In Sadr City, a repressed but growing rage

Outside the tan, high-walled house, Shiite militiamen stood guard. Inside, men sat on a red carpet, their backs against a wall adorned with images of Shiite saints, their anger rising with each sentence. Hashim Naseer, a tribal leader, remembered how Iraqi soldiers arrested his brother early this month at a nearby park along with other Shiite fighters of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

“We thought this government was for Shiites, but now they have become worse than Saddam Hussein’s regime,” said Naseer, 40. “We placed much faith in the Iraqi security forces, but they are taking advantage of us.”

Seven months after intense clashes with U.S. and Iraqi government forces rocked Baghdad’s Sadr City enclave, a sense of betrayal and frustration flows through its sprawling expanse. Iraqi army units, backed by U.S. forces, are launching pre-dawn raids and arresting dozens of suspected militiamen, despite a deal between Sadr and Iraq’s government. Residents, once fearful of the Mahdi Army militia, have become informants, and senior Sadrist leaders have been assassinated.

Yet the enclave, Sadr’s largest popular base in the capital, has remained relatively calm. In interviews, Mahdi Army fighters insist they are shackling their rage and complying with Sadr’s cease-fire, issued last year.

“Sayyid Moqtada al-Sadr told us: ‘If they arrest you, do not do anything. If someone does bad things to you, don’t retaliate,’ ” said Ahmed Abu Zahara, 37, a Mahdi Army commander, using an honorific for Sadr. “We are still obeying the Sayyid.”

American and Iraqi officials have described Sadr’s cease-fire as a key reason for Iraq’s sharp drop in violence. They also cite the “surge” of 30,000 U.S. troops and the rise of the Awakening forces, made up mostly of Sunni former insurgents, who allied with U.S. forces for money and position.

Now, the surge troops have left. And concerns are growing that many Awakening fighters could rejoin the insurgency, as the Shiite-led government, long suspicious of the former fighters, takes control of the movement.

In places like Sadr City, Sadr’s cease-fire is the main difference between war and peace, reflecting the tenuousness of the decrease in violence. [continued…]

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