As I’m sure you’ve all determined by now, I’m a bit odd. And that was true in my childhood as well.
I was probably the only freshman in high school who would stop off and buy copies of the New York Daily News and New York Times every morning. (Daily News for the sports and local news, NYT for the national and international news.) And Dan Rather’s broadcast was appointment viewing for me every night.
Growing up I was, while not consumed, very mindful of the struggles of black South Africans to secure freedom from apartheid. For most of the 1980s, their struggles dominated the evening news and newspapers. I remember curling my lip in disgust when the Reagan administration pursued “quiet diplomacy” with the racist regime. That told me all I needed to know about Reagan, as if I didn’t know enough already.
Growing up, Nelson Mandela was a mythic figure, the Once and Future King, kept on the isle of Avalon (Robben), awaiting to return to a nation in desperate need of him. And it finally happened in 1990.
The previous President, after the attacks of 9/11, engineered a war with a state which, though abysmal to its own people, had had no direct or indirect link with any terror attack on the United States. It was, if anything, a mortal enemy of the group which carried out the attacks, as that group saw the ruling regime as corrupt and un-Islamic. As the history of that war is being written, the regime sought to stave off war, willing to give the previous President anything he wanted, save for the regime’s destruction. Of course, the regime as it existed stood in the way of the grand plan to remake the Middle East; its destruction, not its containment, was the goal. Anything short of political—and literal—suicide would not suit the ultimate purpose. So the country and the world were lied into a war, which cost nearly 5,000 American lives, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths; a war which was supposed to last a few weeks and pay for itself instead dragged on for nearly a decade, costing over $1 trillion. And the Middle East, far from being remade into a collection of benevolent American satrapies, teetered on the edge of all-out war for the eight years of the George W. Bush administration.
That President, however, was never asked to apologize for the disaster he had wrought. And if ever he had been asked to apologize in a face-to-face interview, he never offered one: no apology for the countless dead, for the treasure wasted, for the lives destroyed. It’s just not the done thing.
Esteemed NBC White House correspondent and political director Chuck Todd caused quite a furor this morning.
Speaking on Morning Joe, he said quite openly what many of us have just assumed to be the truth by virtue of careful observation: that it’s not the media’s job to correct misinformation and falsehoods. He made this comment in relation to the Obamacare debate, saying that the GOP has been better at “messaging”—i.e. getting the media to repeat its lies ad nauseam—while the Obama administration and Democrats have failed to make their case.
Confronted with significant pushback on Twitter, he had this to say:
Somebody decided to troll w/mislding headline: point I actually made was folks shouldn't expect media to do job WH has FAILED to do re: ACA
Oh no! He was “trolled”, because someone—actually, several someones—called into question why he even has the job of “journalist” if he’s saying that it isn’t his job to fulfill a journalist’s prime responsibility, which is to give his readers/viewers/listeners accurate information about the world around them.
Columbine came and went. We mourned, we vowed never again, we resolved to be a better nation. But it wasn’t enough.
Ft. Hood came and went. We mourned, we vowed “Terror won’t win”, we resolved to learn the lessons imparted. But it wasn’t enough.
Gabby Giffords will never be the same, and members from both sides of the aisle heaped praise on her. It wasn’t enough.
Newtown scarred us as nothing had before. Twenty innocent children mowed down in a mix of easy access to weapons of war, mental illness, and a society at war with itself. We wept, we beat our chests, we vowed to honor their memories. It, too, wasn’t enough, the words of resolve as evaporating steam.
Eight thousand have died at the end of a bullet since Newtown. All of them loved by someone, all of them precious to someone’s heart. Their deaths weren’t enough.
And now, another shooting, this time on a military base. And I will say it right here: it won’t be enough.
When we accuse some right-winger of having “Obama Derangement Syndrome”, he will just scoff and point out that the Left was consumed with “Bush Derangement Syndrome” from 2001-2009. And to a certain extent, they’d be somewhat correct. For myself, I could only grudgingly applaud Mr. Bush for such things as AIDS initiatives for Africa, and his support for immigration reform.
But here’s the difference: I could acknowledge his (few) successes. For a Republican, reaching out to Africa and immigrants were things which went against the base, and required a certain bravery. The thing is, however, that the rest of his policies were so disastrous for the country that his few successes were dwarfed by them. From squandering record surpluses to crashing the economy to getting us mired in two mismanaged wars, his administration was a catalog of failure. It was already heading toward failure before 9/11; there was no doubt that he’d be a one term president. When the attacks occurred, he was able to refashion himself as a “war president”—a war he proceeded to prosecute in the most incompetent manner, sullying the nation’s ideals and honor. There was “Bush Derangement Syndrome” because everything he touched turned to lead. He didn’t kill bin Laden; he trapped us in disastrous wars; he oversaw a mass transfer of wealth to the already wealthy. So, while I agree that in some things he did well, they were drowned by his cacophony of failure.
Now let us turn to President Obama’s record. It began by him being the first African American elected president. He was able to pass a stimulus package which stanched the bleeding of the Great Recession. The US economy runs on two pillars: real estate and automobile manufacturing; real estate was on its knees; he saved the auto industry, without which the whole world would have sunk into a depression. He then fulfilled the great Democratic dream, passing comprehensive health reform, which would bring affordable health care to nearly every American. That achievement led to the GOP takeover of the House in 2010 in backlash, because some on the Left had a snit (more on that later). With the GOP in control of one house, he brilliantly conducted actions which stymied their most cherished goals, and preserved his priorities in the budget. Then against all the caterwauling of the media, he won a second term, in a convincing fashion. Then just this weekend, rattling a saber which opponents know he will use, he achieved a diplomatic resolution to Syria’s chemical weapon use, making the Autocrat of All the Russias climb down from his recalcitrant stance. And, of course, we can’t forget his other great triumph, along with Obamacare: healing that great wound in the American psyche by finally bringing Osama bin Laden to justice.
Even if you were stuffing yourself full of the first weekend of college football, by now you know that President Barack Obama conducted one of the most important Rose Garden addresses in the history of the modern Presidency.
Taking the baton from his Secretary of State John Kerry, he again laid out, in forceful, passionate language, the situation as it was in Syria. He explained that the intelligence community had concluded with great certainty that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical attacks in contested areas of Damascus the week before. He passionately argued that American values and national interest dictated that Assad’s regime be punished militarily for the use of those chemical weapons against civilians. He stated that the military had assets in place and was ready to go at any time.
And then he did something no modern president had done. Even though he believed he had the authority to act, he knew that this was a divisive issue, and that the people’s representatives had to join in the decision. He called for Congress to debate and vote on a resolution granting him specific authority to militarily strike Assad for violating international treaties banning the use of chemical weaponry, some of the oldest weapons conventions in international law. He had heard the rumblings from Congress saying that he had to seek approval before any strike, and agreed.
But why did he agree? This is where he pivots beyond what all the pundits and talking heads expected. Just before declaring that he would seek Congressional approval, he reiterated that he believed that he had the authority to conduct the attacks with or without Congressional approval. But such an action, in a region of the world where such action could quickly spiral out of control, needed more than just Barack Obama’s say-so as Commander in Chief. Syria is not Libya. In the Libyan crisis, the President had a UN resolution with which to work. As a signatory to the UN charter, all member nations had a duty to enforce Security Council resolutions. That was all the authorization he needed.
Map released by the White House detailing the Syrian government’s nerve gas attack – more at WH.gov
I am far from sanguine about the inevitable strikes against Syria in retaliation for the government gassing civilians.
The pitfalls to such an action are legion. The UN Security Council is unlikely to give the US (and France) the green light to go ahead and bomb the Assad regime. Any strikes against the regime will likely inflame the Middle East, with Iran going even further in on supporting their co-sectarians in Damascus. A strike may push Hezbollah to strike against Israel in retaliation. And, of course, there’s Russia, the unknown factor. It’s Vladimir Putin’s greatest dream to claw back Russia’s superpower status, lost in 1991. Its interest in the Middle East has nothing to do with resources; Russia has more than enough oil and gas, and delights in upping production when OPEC tamps down its drilling. But what having a client state in Syria allows it to do is to continue to operate in the world’s pre-eminent region for power politics. Going against Western, specifically American, interests in the Middle East allows it to believe it’s still a major world power, able to affect the course of events. The fact that Russia has devolved to basically a kleptocratic, autocratic, quasi-mafia state which is now protecting a regime which has blatantly violated the conventions against the use of chemical weapons hasn’t intruded on its bubble; Putin sees himself as the restorer of Russia’s greatness, of its destiny, and his reaction to a US intervention in Syria is both hard to predict and frightening. In fact, it’s the Russian factor which scares me the most, specifically because of Putin’s megalomania.
But then we come back to the simple fact: Bashar al-Assad has gassed his own people. The evidence of that attack will be released by the Obama Administration. The Syrian regime has violated the oldest convention against the use of weapons of mass destruction in international law.
I don’t remember how old I was; maybe 10 or 11. And I don’t remember what occasioned the discussion; possibly because my social circle was a rainbow coalition of different races, ethnicities, genders. But I remember what my mother told me one day: Yes, you have to fear all black people, because when we had just moved to this country, your father was mugged by a black man. And maybe I’m just imagining my response to her, all these years later, but to my recollection I didn’t let her say that without push-back. I questioned why I should fear an entire group because of the actions of one person. Although now I’m of the opinion that I am my brother’s keeper, I’m also of the opinion that at some point my brother must answer for his own actions. I don’t own them, only what I do and say. Likewise, the African Americans who come into my library shouldn’t have to answer for the bad decisions of another African American. At some point, we all have to stand alone before the world and justify our actions. The hundred are not responsible for the criminality of the one.
My mother has mellowed as she’s grown older. I’d like to think that my brothers and me have helped her see the ludicrousness of her fears. It also helped that her mother, my grandmother, shuffled off her mortal coil two decades ago; her skin was translucent, her eyes blue, and she made it clear that she was superior to anyone whose skin was even a shade darker than hers. She was the motive force of the racism in my family. But something happened at my library which brought that childhood incident back fresh into my mind.