“State of Denial”

[This post was originally posted in The Dragon and The Eagle on 10 October 2006]

Another controversy, yet not completely new in nature, has struck the U.S. in these days following the publication of State of Denial: Bush At War, Part III. The book was written by Bob Woodward, himself with Carl Bernstein were gained much ‘popularity’ with their All the President’s Men in the 1970s. State of Denial reveals that for the last three years, the Bush administration has not been honest with the American public about the Iraqi war. What follows in italics are modified excerpts of Woodward’s interview in CBS (‘Bob Woodward: Bush Misleads on Iraq’, CBS News, October 1, 2006).

Woodward says that “It is the oldest story of the coverage of government: the failure to tell the truth.” A major example of this, Woodward claims, is the level of violence that is over any expectation. Attacks on American soldiers, about four in an hour (!), have been his foremost concern, not to mention that the administration were concealing this fact to justify the presence of the U.S. in Iraq.

Things are getting worse in Iraq, but Bush wouldn’t admit that. John Negroponte, former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and currently the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, shares the view that the U.S. has gone wrong in Iraq. General John Abizaid, the U.S. commander in the Middle East, had even believed that the U.S. should have withdrawn its troops from Iraq ‘as soon as practical’. Note that a military man, a general, have said that!

However, Bush wouldn’t listen to Abizaid for that he still has Don Rumsfeld in his cabinet. Rumsfeld, whom many believe is one of the architects of the war, has been backed up by the likes of Dick Cheney (who fears that he may lost his position should Rumsfeld be out) and Henry Kissinger. Kissinger was even suggesting Bush that ‘victory is the only meaningful exit strategy.’ Bush even won’t listen to his wife Laura, who doesn’t like Rumsfeld as he ‘was hurting my husband’, and his father, who thinks that his son was wrong invading Iraq. Bush will definitely stick to it, saying that ‘his war has Iraq and America on the right path.’ He is reportedly said, ‘I will not withdrawn even if Laura and Barney are the only ones supporting me.’ Barney is Bush’s dog.

Day after day, violence is escalating in Iraq. This country has been becoming apart further and further from even a piece of peace. Well, Bush might not think about it when he started the war three years ago, but I’m definitely sure that despite his ‘confidence on winning’, he is starting to seriously think about those miserable things happen in Iraq. Not be re-elected he might be, but he for sure wouldn’t like to be remembered as ‘the president of war’ (or would he?)

U.S. policy in Iraq is a complete disgrace. I’m sick of people who support war, whatever the reason, for war causes nothing but troubles and troubles. Even though I haven’t read State of Denial, I couldn’t agree more with Woodward. Who knows, State of Denial could push the way for Bush to resign, like All the President’s Men did to Nixon!

No Life, No Liberty, and the Pursuit of Unhappiness

[This post was originally posted in The Dragon and The Eagle on 29 April 2007]

If we are to talk about human rights, then Americans, theoretically, are perhaps the luckiest nation in the world. Those who study the history of the United States will find that the above statement has a strong base to argue. Whilst stating that “all Men are created equal”, The Declaration of Independence also stress that every person shall be entitled unalienable rights of “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness”. These two creeds make the Americans arguably be ‘the best example’ in modern history in the implementation of human rights and democracy. Nevertheless, Americans today are getting farther and farther from the so-called ‘equality’ and rights to decide the best for themselves.

Are Americans today entitled wholly their rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”? What Cho Seung-hui did two weeks ago proved that life in America is simply dangerous. A very tragic incident it was, yet it was nothing but another display of ‘American rigidity’. Once again, Americans were in mourning: they were very angry, depressed, and confused – but nothing fundamental has changed. The Second Amendment, a legacy of American Revolution, still stands to clearly say that no limitations shall be imposed upon Americans’ right to have a gun. If Americans feel safer in their life by having a gun, let them do that. So far, every effort to amend this Amendment fails to gain much support from Congress. The Republicans, at least presidential candidate Senator John McCain, were among those who support this Amendment. Dubya even sees no importance in debating the Amendment.

Americans are free to do (almost) anything to make the best of their life. But in Virginia Tech case as were in similar previous cases, it seems that you couldn’t live in peace, you couldn’t make use of your liberty, and you wouldn’t feel happy, unless you could defend yourself with a gun. Let me ask you Americans, what kind of society is this? What does being ‘a society of freedom’ mean if you have to be ready anytime to protect that liberty with weapons?

Interestingly, American politicians are not only ‘rigid’, but they are also controversial – as they always be. TEMPO magazine in its 22 April edition writes that another ‘terrorist’ has attacked many states in the U.S.: obesity. According to Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least 25% of population of 17 states in 2005 had obesity problems. CDC also finds out that until 2006, obesity has killed at least 400.000 Americans annually. It has exceeded smoking as No. 1 killer in the U.S. So shocking and frightening this fact to Americans, Indiana and Iowa implemented quite successfully some programs to make their citizen slimmer. California, New York, and Washington have been discussing bills which will impose tax on junk food and soft drink, so that people will reduce their consumption on those unhealthy foods. However, other states like Hawaii, Massachusetts, Arkansas, New Mexico, Colorado and New Jersey have not arranged similar ‘dietary’ programs yet, due to limited support in their respective Houses.

Americans view possessing a gun and consuming unhealthy foods as a matter of personal choice. As they are entitled the rights of ‘life’ and ‘liberty’, they are allowed to do almost everything they feel necessary to make them ‘happy’. There seems nothing wrong with this until we put those choices into a wider, bigger society safety and welfare – and we find controversial arguments. Argument one: using a gun unexpectedly may cause fewer victims than consuming unhealthy foods. Argument two: making one’s life healthy is valued more than keeping one safe. Argument three: regulations are not necessary for personal choice; otherwise they are breaking the very basic of American rights.

Poor Americans, life is not getting easier for them. Two cases above have showed that for a significant part of Americans, what they have are simply ‘no life’, ‘no liberty’, and ‘the pursuit of unhappiness’. For most U.S. politicians, let me say this: ‘unlimited freedom will kill you’.

Keeping promises is not easy, Mr. President …

[This post was originally posted in The Dragon and The Eagle on 25 January 2009]

This week a big event, a remarkable achievement was recorded in history. Barack Hussein Obama took oath as the 44th president of the United States, in an inauguration ceremony witnessed directly by no less than two million people and another hundreds of millions of television viewers. On Tuesday, 20 January 2009 Obama, the first African-American leader of ‘the Free World’, was a brilliant star. He looked like a magnet that attracted attention from either supporters and opponents. Obama’s success means a lot domestically and internationally; indeed, it is a case that deserves to be – accompanied with various expectations.

Obama’s victory over his rival in last year’s presidential election was all because he promised changes. He promised changes for the people who have been suffering from the economic crisis that culminate in recession, which nobody could know exactly for its end. He also promised changes to a country whose international image was badly damaged during the eight year period of the previous administration. It was this ‘changes’ mantra that brought him the victory and undoubtedly is serving as a powerful ammunition for his call to ‘remake America’, as he mentioned in his inauguration speech that Tuesday.

In the first days of his leadership, Obama soon won many people’s hearts when he ordered the immediate closure of Guantanamo Bay (but, see also Four Reasons Obama Won’t Close Gitmo Soon). Nevertheless, hopes were already ruined when Obama reportedly asked Hamas to stop its rocket attacks against Israel to end the war and humanitarian crisis in Gaza. In this last case there are many who hold pessimistic view to Obama, an acceptable attitude if we are to consider carefully Obama’s long-standing position on Israel-Palestine relations (see my previous posting ‘A New, Changed America’? – Don’t get too excited …). True it is still too early to assess Obama’s presidency, but a track record on his campaign promises and their implementation should start from now.

I argue this is, among others, behind the reason for St. Petersburg Times, a Florida media, creating a website entitled The Obameter: Tracking Obama’s Campaign Promises. At the same time with this posting is written, the site records that from his 509 campaign promises, Obama has met 5 promises and compromised 1 promise, while 14 promises are still in working and 1 promise stalled. This is a very good way to assess what Obama’s administration has been working to meet his mantra of ‘changes’. If Obama would look forward to continuing his leadership for the second time, he certainly should strive to minimise the broken promise and increase the number of promises that he can fulfill.

Obama is a smart person, so we probably will not smile or laugh quite often again when we learn his reaction to many issues, as we did when we found out Dubya’s ‘ignorance’ during his eight-year presidency. The former Texas governor will always be memorable not only because his warring tendency, but also for he had produced many scores of Bushisms, ‘ridiculous’ quotes of his speeches or comments. Take these for examples: “You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test.” (Townsend, Tenn., 21 February 2001); “You know, one of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror.” – Interview with CBS News’ Katie Couric, 6 September 2006); and “I’m telling you there’s an enemy that would like to attack America, Americans, again. There just is. That’s the reality of the world. And I wish him all the very best.” (Washington, D.C., 12 January 2009). Oh, I don’t know about you, but I will miss these Bushisms as perhaps the only ‘positive’, amusing thing from his time.

The Bush era has ended, the era of change has arrived. To become the president of the most powerful country in the world at the time of crisis is very difficult indeed. For that, we need to give credits for Obama’s courage to take up this challenge. Although the road is still long and full of uncertainty, but I am certain that Obama wants to be recorded as a president with SUCCESSES, be them domestic or international. The world has changed very quickly and the United States is no doubt one of the determinant actors. However, if its jingoism won’t fade out, we can expect that The Obameter would record negative results, particularly in the context of America’s international role and position. A ‘dictum’ I heard from my former American politics lecturer quite a long time ago – the U.S. will be more likely to take the road of war and conflict to settle international problems if led by a Republican – will face a difficult test during Obama’s time.