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The man’s a dreamer

September 25, 2009

‘I have a dream’, the famous Martin Luther King Jr. speech of Aug., 28, 1963 still reverberates. What Dr. King did was to start something. President Barack Hussein Obama is taking forward what was started then. The dream is being lived by many through Barack Obama. The good news is that the first black president has not stopped dreaming. The man is a romantic. He wants to right the wrong he sees around him. He still remains a politician and does look at his constituency, yet he has persisted with what he believes is right. He started with a presidential order to close Guantanamo Bay prison. He declared with a flourish that America does not torture and that was it.

He promised he would get the troops back from Iraq. The withdrawal has started forthwith. This should be completed by 2012. He said that he would ensure health care for all. The guy may have been rudely heckled but that does not keep him from pushing on with the health care bill. The economy needed a fillip and he had a plan in place. The guy is trying hard.

The president said that his fight is with terrorism and he wants to get down to the bottom of it. His Af-Pak policy talks about not just a military victory but a hearts and minds approach. He wants to give the Afghans and the Pakistan Pashtun’s things that they have never had – education and healthcare. He wanted to ensure a democratic Afghanistan and he went out of the way to make sure the elections took place.

Now a bit of reality check! Guantanamo is a pain. The inmates are such that cannot be housed in regular jails. The Obama administration is in a quandary as to where to send them and how to deal with them. They have ended up making Guantanamo more inmate friendly with markers to show which way lies the Kaaba. They have been given prayer mats and better food and facilities. Guantanamo is not a bad word any more or that is what the administration would like us to believe. Washington is still grappling with the problem that is Guantanamo.

Iraq is another sticking point. A complete withdrawal is not easy at all. There are issues about the safety of oil wells and perhaps more importantly, the unity and integrity of the country as we find it today. The Kurds will feel insecure again. The question as to who should be handed the reign of power is another intractable conundrum that Washington hopes will solve by itself.  A civil war is on the horizon.  And 2012 is not too far away. Iraq may well blow up in the face of the Obama administration unless they have something concrete in place.

The health care plan has seen such resistance that it has ‘humbled’ the president. It is indeed an expensive proposition and may still not cover all Americans but that is better than not having a plan at all. The problem is the resistance from the private insurance companies who are dreading a state option that may marginalize their efforts. They do not want the state to jump in where they have had a sway all these decades. The president has said that he would gladly be a ‘one term president’ were the health plan to pass. But they just don’t budge. Obama was heckled and placards shown in the Senate. He has had a clear climb down from the time he first took office as far as approval ratings go. But then he should have expected such a reaction.

His Af-Pak policy has again been a huge misadventure. Commnader McChrystal has clearly stated that if there is no increase in troops in Afghanistan there is a very real possibility that the war may be lost. The hearts and minds approach is a very long term solution. It is not happening overnight. And Americans and America are just not ready for the kind of sacrifice that such a long term approach demands. The irony of the situation dawns when one hears that the Americans are now planning to rope in warlords with dubious record like Abdul Rashid Dostum to help them fight the Taliban. The one good thing was the elections but even there the rigging of votes was so obvious that it made the whole effort a questionable exercise. Is Afghanistan ready for a western style democracy? The answer is a resounding ‘NO.’! The situation on the ground is very different. It is an intractable situation and Americans are wasting their time and money and putting on line the lives of thousands of their men and women in a hostile environment. The hearts and minds approach is the solution, in this the president has hit the nail right on the head, but such an approach can be pursued sitting in Washington. One does not have to send troops and all the paraphernalia to try and do something that some committed NGO’s can do more effectively. The geo-strategic reasons for a presence in Afghanistan are unclear. If it is to encircle China and have a presence in Russia’s backyard then why was the East European Missile Shield abandoned? I agree that this is one diplomatic victory of sorts in that Moscow has said that they would endorse any sanctions on Iran imposed by the west. But the question of South Ossetia and Abkhazia has seen a weakening of western position and Georgia is feeling more vulnerable than ever. Having said that, I believe that one can do business with Putin’s Russia. The Russians are amenable to proposals and would like better relations with Washington. What they want from the west is a sphere of influence especially in Eastern Europe. This may not gel with the thinking among the hawkish lobby in Washington but were Obama to pursue a policy of confrontation then Iran will have to be dealt differently and I am not sure that will be in the interest of the west especially when there is a war weariness that has set in. The economic down turn has made things more complicated. America cannot afford another war. The hiss from Moscow warning the US against any military action against Tehran was surely in bad taste. The worse thing from the western point of view was that the west seemed to have been silenced into submission with the announcement that the proposed Missile Shield had been scrapped.  There were better ways to go about making the same decision.

Obama was always a liberal. He never posed as a conservative and his announcement about strict compliance to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) should have been expected.  The man is looking at a world free of nuclear weapons. That is a dream that we all have. What use such lethal weapons of mass destruction? But can we wish them away? Is there a way to ensure that all nuclear weapons are destroyed? One might argue that this NPT initiative is Iran and North Korea specific. Neither can Israel nor India afford to do away with nuclear weapons – the kind of neighborhood that both these countries have. It is uncanny the way all the P5 nations endorsed the Obama proposal as regards the NPT. They stand to lose nothing while taking a politically correct stand. France and Britain are staunch allies of the US and their endorsement of the NPT has not come as a surprise. Russia knows they have enough nuclear weapons for strategic leverage. China finds the NPT posture of Obama useful in checking India as a potential threat to its hegemony in Asia. This NPT initiative has undone all that President Bush had initiated with the passage of the Indo-US Civilian Nuclear bill – making India a proxy nuclear weapon state. I doubt India or Israel can be muzzled this way. The dynamics of the region are such that this may just not be possible. But that does not stop Obama from trying to achieve what he believes in. He thinks that nuclear weapons are a threat to mankind. And he is right. Whether it is practicable to go back to an era where there were no nuclear weapons is something I am not too sure about. Neither India nor Israel can afford not to have nuclear options open. Obama must realize the geo-political situation before insisting on either India or Israel to sign the NPT. The other option is to accept both these countries as nuclear weapon state and to induct them into the Security Council as full members making it P7 instead of the P5 that it is at present. I am not sure there will be unanimity on that the way it was for the NPT. I am sure Obama realizes that the US needs to sign the CTBT before he can seriously persuade either India or Israel to sign the NPT. And then what does the SC plan to do about Pakistan, the other nuclear weapon state.

I still admire Obama, for the simple reason that his intentions are noble. He wants to right the wrong. Give health care to all. Nip the scourge of terrorism in the bud. Get the troops out of the deserts of Iraq. Make this a nuclear free world. Ensure that Iran does not go nuclear without firing a single shot. Would I support the man? Perhaps yes. The man is aiming too high. He may achieve something a few notches lower. Yet that will be higher than what many others before him have achieved. My only fear is that he may end up shooting himself in the foot. For his sake and for the sake of the world I just hope he succeeds. Even a partial success will do.

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