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No Change to Believe In Tonight

December 1, 2009

By the time President Obama delivered his address to West Point cadets and the nation tonight there was little doubt about what he was going to say. A couple of weeks ago I had concluded that his message, in essence, would be, ‘I’m sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. When the Afghans stand up, we will stand down—and that is likely to take three to seven years.’

This turned out to be fairly close, though I was proven too optimistic on a timeframe. The president made only the flimsiest of commitments to an end game. His only pledge was to begin a drawdown of U.S. forces in July 2011. He said nothing about how rapidly a withdrawal would proceed or how long it would take. He said explicitly, in fact, that it would depend not on any timetable but on “conditions on the ground.” This sounds an awful lot like President Bush’s position on Iraq—until, that is, the pressure of Iraqi nationalism and mounting opposition to the war in the U.S. forced the Bush administration to agree to the complete withdrawal of U.S. forces by the end of 2011.

Quite a lot of President Obama’s speech, in fact, looked and sounded like vintage President Bush. There was the West Point venue and the audience of uniformed cadets, there was once again the vivid invocation of 9/11, and there was the soaring closing recitation of American virtues and values that, with the inclusion of Lincoln’s “of the people, by the people, and for the people” threatened to veer off course into burlesque.

No New Partnership with the Muslim World

This would be disturbing enough, but what was most disturbing about the president’s speech tonight was his statement that “we have forged a new beginning between America and the Muslim world.” This is demonstrably false. It is true that the president has repeatedly announced a new partnership with the Muslim world, based on “mutual interest and mutual respect,” and he did so again tonight, but he has not achieved a new relationship. In fact, his failures to date have if anything deepened skepticism about the U.S. in Muslim countries.

One member of Congress who recently visited Pakistan related an encounter with a 15 or 16 year old boy in Pakistan’s Swat valley: the boy politely welcomed the visitor and said he was glad that he had come, but, he wanted the congressman to know, “American is our enemy, because you favor India over Pakistan, and you favor Israel over Palestine. As long as you do, you will be our enemy.”

President Obama has retreated from efforts to persuade Israel to freeze settlement construction and restart Middle East peace talks. The U.S. has just pushed through a resolution censuring Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency that threatens to send U.S.-Iran relations into a tailspin. The president missed a golden opportunity tonight to press Iran to respond positively to the U.S. when he failed to mention the military and diplomatic assistance Iran provided to the U.S. in the wake of 9/11 in Afghanistan. That would have been good instruction for the U.S. public and a powerful signal to Iranians that the U.S. was serious about engagement. There is as yet no new partnership between the U.S. and the Muslim world, and that more than anything else is what is needed to stabilize Afghanistan and counter the threat of violent extremism to the United States.

8 Comments
  1. December 3, 2009 4:50 pm

    War is not the answer! War is ridiculous. Our children and our citizens are hurting, and too many of them will have scars for life because the president and other people in high office do not care about them. We must change things around this coutry for the betterment of the people, not the corporations.

  2. Don and Roberta Thurstin Timmerman permalink
    December 3, 2009 4:52 pm

    Dear President Obama,
    We are disappointed by the continuation of the military occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq.
    For the third year in a row I submitted a resolution at the annual conference of the Episcopal Diocese of Eau Claire WI. It was soundly defeated. The resolution called for the Diocese to take a stand against the invasions and occupations of the U.S. military and for each parish to begin teaching nonviolent conflict resolution. It called for us all to teach the main message of Christ to love one’s enemy, and do good to those who harm us and to instruct the consciences of our young that it is not Christian to fight, no matter how noble a reason may be given to them by the state. Some of the delegates said that to pass such a resolution would be a rebuke to their sons and daughters who have chosen to go to Iraq and Afghanistan with weapons to occupy these countries. They said such a resolution would weaken their resolve to fight which may lead to their deaths. They said that these young need to be praised and honored for their bravery and selfless willingness to protect us from harm. My response is that if our young entered the military putting themselves under the control of the military state and agreed to maim or kill the enemy of the state we have not done our duty as Christians to instruct the consciences of our young on what it means to be a Christian, a follower of Christ. Christ instructed us not to harm anyone, including those considered enemies of the state. He told us that our Kingdom is not that of this world. Our Kingdom is within. It is the Kingdom of God, of love. Our young need to be instructed that our only protection is carrying out the will of God to love one another, and do good to others. They need to be told to put away the sword (weapons) because “those who live by the sword will die by the sword.” We have an obligation to protect our young from the propaganda of the U.S. military that convinces them that they are doing good by maiming, killing and causing pain to others deemed to be enemies of the state. We should not be telling our young that they are risking their lives just as Christ risked His life to save us since this would be blasphemy. A soldier dies in an attempt to maim or kill the enemy. Christ did not die trying to maim or kill anyone. Christians never praise or thank our young for fighting. We need to be working to bring our young home, and show them Christ’s way of protecting and helping others.
    I believe there is a need to demilitarize the church and not continue to glorify the military as “our savior.” Christ alone is our Savior in that He has shown us how to be happy and be at peace. I believe it is necessary to educate our people on the military’s unnecessary size (700 bases), its bloated budget (over $1 trillion), its inefficiency (cannot account for $1.1 trillion ), its merchants-of-death contractors, its murderous mercenaries, its weapons of mass destruction, its unconstitutional mission, its torture tactics, its indefinite detaining of people in prison without charging them with a crime, its foreign interventions and occupation and its constant propaganda aimed at our children in school. The church needs to stand up to this worldly kingdom. Christ was never in favor of war as a means of correcting wrongs. If He was, He certainly would have advocated that His followers pick up weapons against the Romans who were torturing, persecuting and killing His own people, the Jews. He did not do this because He taught that there are better ways of defeating the enemy. He taught that love, not weapons, overcomes the enemy. He taught that we must make our enemies our friends by doing good to them. Love is the most powerful weapon we have. True Christians are not recognized by what they wear, where they go to church or by what human institutional laws they follow. Christians are recognized by their love for others. If we love only those who love us, what good is that? Everybody does that. A Christian loves all, including those who hate them. Christ, the Prince of Peace, whose birthday we will soon celebrate, taught us the secret to happiness and peace. All we have to do is practice it, to live as nonviolently as He lived. Hopefully, some day the whole church will decide to teach the love message of the Prince of Peace by living it before others. —Don Timmerman
    “For the last 1700 years, the church has failed. One only has to read the gruesome history of some of the “holy wars” in the history of Christendom, where torture, genocide and merciless killing of women and children and the destruction of their homeland’s infrastructure is glossed-over by the church…..Interestingly, the Christian pacifism of the early church did prove to be practical and successful. Enmity was rejected and non-retaliation was the norm, so the professed enemies of the nonviolent communities of faith were not provoked to persist in their violence. Rather, enemies were prayed for, fed, nourished and embraced as potential friends who needed understanding and mercy, and the church survived and thrived……The world would have been better off – perhaps it would even be at peace – if the leaders of the Christian nations of the world would have, quite centuries ago, making irrational demands or appeals to their deities with their “Gott Mit Uns” and “God Bless America” slogans and instead would have put away their swords, dropped to their knees and prayed to the holy spirit of love: Gott Helfen Sie Uns. “—-Gary G. Kohls, MD

  3. Mike Monahan permalink
    December 3, 2009 5:19 pm

    Thank you so much for ‘hanging in there’ and continuing to patiently and persistently prod, prod, prod. You are true diplomats for peace. I appreciate it. I for one am discouraged and depressed by the lack of progress and the continued victories for the military – industrial complex. They just seem so overwhelmingly huge and powerful. Will you be our David with your stone and sling [oops, perhaps a little too agressive?]

  4. Barbara Leonard permalink
    December 3, 2009 9:34 pm

    Thank you for your insightful comments about President Obama’s speech. I heard similar remarks on Democracy Now by Neil Rosen, concerning a need to address the problems with Israel and Palestine. Andrew Baseovich also made some insightful comments on the President’s remarks.

    It is so refreshing to hear the truth.

    Thank you again.

  5. Leona Heitsch permalink
    December 3, 2009 10:07 pm

    What if the U.S. Government learned from Greg Mortenson, a better
    approach to Afghanistan. Would it hurt us to educate any Taliban who
    wanted to know…how to construct energy sources, solar or wind, to
    prosper the whole country? Every living soul we crush with weapons
    incites a spiral of hate. Mortenson started out living in his CAR,
    yet he has built HOW MANY SCHOOLS?

  6. Christine S. permalink
    December 4, 2009 12:07 am

    I didn’t read the speech but am disappointed in the following:
    1) Lack of concrete End Game Planning for the War in Afghanistan.
    2) Am also disappointed that he didn’t specify a commission to develop Concrete Guide Posts to show that the Karzai govt. is successfully Eliminating Bribery & Corruption. (Admittedly, this is very prevalent all over Asia, based on my travels & living there and very hard to eradicate.)
    3) Am also very confused by his lack of the definition of the term ‘Counter Insurgency Effort’ as opposed to ‘Nation Building’ or ‘Counter Terrorism.’
    My concerns about the Taliban are as follows:
    1) They will reestablish themselves in all/part of Afghanistan & rebuilding w/the proceeds from the heroin trade in which they’re involved.
    2)Their stated objectives include funding terrorism efforts in Europe and, maybe, in America.
    3)They also support the establishment of strict Sharya Law, which includes eliminating education for girls, any laws that would make rape & ‘honor killings’ illegal, and cultural symbols of any other religion.
    It would be nice if the Obama regime pressed the Karzai regime to get the Pashtuns, from which the Taliban arise, to set up legitimate political parties to take part in the government.
    This would allow the political parties to talk to them to see if they favor Taliban policies and possibly allow the Afghanis to vote on these rules if enacted into law. (At present it is very hard to talk to the Taliban.)

  7. Bob Ranney permalink
    December 4, 2009 1:22 pm

    Mortenson started out living in his CAR,
    yet he has built HOW MANY SCHOOLS?

    Mortenson is a wonderful example, but he also ran into a great deal of trouble from the Taliban and has not been successful in dealing directly with them. I strongly agree that we cannot win over the Muslim world as long as we arbitrarily support Israel over Palestine and India over Pakistan (primarily the former.), but I also believe that having fractured Afghanistan as we did and supported Karzai’s corruption as we have, we can and must make reparations there as well. At this point, I don’t see a non-military way to achieve that because stability is essential to the process.

    For most of Mr. Obama’s presidency, I have taken the progressive position that he was selling us out and argued that we should not tolerate his snail’s pace, but closely watching this situation, I have become a supporter of this latest initiative, only because I have come to view him as possessing an incisive understanding of the long-term strategies necessary to unify American political thinking and come to grips with the horrible mess he inherited.

    BTW, I think part of his strategy is to try and involve non-combatant Taliban in the local political process as Christine S. wishes he would. This man might be the new JFK or better (Read Jim Douglass), and to abandon him now would be hugely premature.

  8. Amber permalink
    December 7, 2009 5:59 am

    I know of people on peace mission in Afganistan now. The elders there understand and appreciate that the U.S troops are there, they see the Taliban being lessened, even as their own homes and families are in danger and being hurt. So to take one little boys statement which has been put in his head by his parents is rather premature. Iraq was a mistake. Afganistan has been involved in this war prior to 911. The media only releases what it wants Americans to see and hear. I felt for the cadets, as they will be going, our military is diminished and we need to pull out of Iraq. It is the UN’s job to debate and bring peace to so many countries. This does not all fall on the shoulders of our President. He was left with a mess in Washington and w/other countries. He at least is trying to figure out solutions, which is more than Bust ever did. If you don’t see much support for our troops when they return home. Maybe that could be a topic for discussion as that is happening and they are in need of help, more than what they are getting now and are a reality of war too.
    May peace come to our world, we have to make this happen…one man alone can’t do that.
    With respect as to your opinion,
    Amber

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