Obama and the measure of Lincoln

In yet another insightful interview with Radio Open Source, Yale professor David Bromich analyzes the political failings of the US president Barack Obama. He observes:

David Bromwich

At a time of crisis you hope for something more than proficiency of maneuver. You hope for consistency of explanation and the kind of reassurance that can come to people in a democracy from actually learning from somebody who is leading them where they are headed. … It’s not beyond a capable president actually to give a lesson in history. What real leadership comes from is finding the principle and the action that goes with it on which people could agree though they don’t yet realize that they would agree, what they most care about it even though it hasn’t yet found words, what their longterm interests, not their present opinions are… [Leadership comes from] deciding what the commitments are, standing to them, and then repeating, phrase by phrase and precept by precept, what it is you believe and how B follows A and C follows B.

Obama’s Foreign Policy and the End of the American Era

Steve Walt, co-author of the ground-breaking The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, gave a keynote address on “Obama’s Foreign Policy and the End of the American Era” at an event is co-hosted by the IIEA and UCD’s Clinton Institute for American Studies. You can download the Post Event Notes from this event here.

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David Bromwich on Obama’s Middle East Rhetoric

David Bromwich, one of PULSE’s top 10 intellectuals for 2010, is a highly astute political analyst, with an extraordinary capacity for parsing the nuances of language and character. He has must-read essay in the New York Review of Books on the gap between Obama’s Middle East rhetoric and reality.

Charles Dharapak/AP Photo

President Barack Obama meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in the Oval Office at the White House, Friday, May 20, 2011.

Being president of the world has sometimes seemed a job more agreeable to Barack Obama than being president of the United States. The Cairo speech of June 2009 was his first performance in that role, and he said many things surprising to hear from an American leader—among them, the statement that “it is time for [Israeli] settlements to stop.” But as is now widely understood, the aftermath of Cairo was not properly planned for. Though Obama had called on Benjamin Netanyahu to halt the expansion of settlements, he never backed his demand with a specific sanction or the threat of a loss of favor. His contact with peaceful dissidents in the Arab world remained invisible and was clearly not a major concern of his foreign policy. Soon after the Cairo speech, the Afghan war and drone attacks in the Pakistani tribal regions took center stage.

Yet Obama has always preferred the symbolic authority of the grand utterance to the actual authority of a directed policy—a policy fought for in particulars, carefully sustained, and traceable to his own intentions. The command to kill or capture Osama bin Laden and the attempt to assassinate Anwar al-Awlaki in a drone strike, which closely followed the bin Laden success, are the exceptions that prove the rule: actions of a moment, decided and triggered by the president alone. His new Middle East speech, at the State Department on May 19, was in this sense a return to a favorite genre.

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Mr Netanyahu goes to Washington…and Washington quails

Former Ambassador Chas Freeman on AIPAC’s campaign against Barack Obama, despite the latter’s extraordinary efforts to appease the lobby group.

John Mearsheimer thinks that Obama is doomed to disappoint.

Barack Obama gave a major speech on the Middle East on Thursday, May 19, and it is clear from the subsequent commentary that he impressed few people. The main reason for this is that he did not say much new or indicate that there would be any serious changes in US policy in the region. It was essentially more of the same with some tweaking here and there. Nevertheless, he did manage to anger some people. For example, Israel’s hard-line supporters were outraged that he said: “Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” For them, the 1967 borders are “Auschwitz borders” and thus can never serve as a basis for negotiations.

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United we stand

by Brenda Heard

News during the last couple of weeks has rumbled in to shake an already rickety balance of world order.   Perhaps one of the most disturbing images accompanying those headlines, though, was not that of more bruised and bulleted bodies.  Rather, the image was of what the Associated Press termed a ‘jubilant crowd’.   As though they had just won the World Cup Final, Americans waved flags as they sang and chanted their patriotic celebration.

Osama Bin Laden, they had just been told, had been shot dead.  After nearly a decade-long manhunt, he had finally been pounced upon in Pakistan.  The crowd cheered.  And when President Obama made the official announcement, he coaxed the nation to cheer the same; he concluded by quoting the American pledge of allegiance:

Let us remember that we can do these things not just because of wealth or power, but because of who we are: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all’.

‘Indivisible’.  In this one word lies the notion that has fed American policy for many, many years:  united we stand—divided they fall.

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Ecuador expels U.S. ambassador

Heather Hodges

The following press release is from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). Mark Weisbrot is co-writer with Tariq Ali of the Oliver Stone film “South of the Border“.

A declaration by the Ecuadorian government that U.S. Ambassador Heather Hodges is “persona non grata” and must leave Ecuador as soon as possible should not come as a surprise, Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, said today. Weisbrot noted that the expulsion follows recent troubling revelations in cables released by Wikileaks that describe U.S. government co-ordination with Colombia over a public relations strategy to attempt to link Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa to the Colombian guerrillas the FARC.

“The Obama Administration doesn’t seem to know how to have normal diplomatic relations with democratic, left-of-center governments in the hemisphere,” Weisbrot said. He noted that there was a trend – well documented through U.S. government cables, funding disclosures, and other information – of attempts to undermine governments in Bolivia, Brazil, Honduras, Venezuela, and other countries.
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US wavers on Middle East

Barack Obama, who even today was lecturing Iran in the obnoxious school-masterly tone which American presidents feel obliged to adopt in their declamations, once again turns a blind eye when the violence is pepetrated by a friendly despot.

The US and president Barack Obama continue to waver in their position regarding the unrest sweeping through the Middle East. The country says it will not dictate events in the region. But Obama has criticised the Iranian government’s violent response to protests there, while at the same time maintaining a more neutral tone with Bahrain. Many find the US’s response disappointing, and some feel the White House will only react strongly to those governments it does not have a stake in.

Al Jazeera’s Patty Culhane reports.

And this is the kind of violence that is being wrought by this ‘reliable ally.’

Reflections on Nuclear Power

October 1979: Riot police stand behind the blockaded front gate of Seabrook, NH nuclear plant during an anti-nuclear protest by the Coalition for Direct Action (Photo: Ken Kelley)

by Ken Kelley

It seems unimaginable, several decades after accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, to hear people like President Obama tout nuclear power as a clean source of energy. Obama announced $8 billion in taxpayer subsidies last year to build two reactors in Georgia, despite the fact that—from the mining of uranium to the unresolved issue of disposal of highly toxic radioactive waste—nuclear power is the most environmentally dangerous way of generating electricity.

While the Georgia reactors will be the first built in the U.S. since the 1970s, there are over 60 new nuclear plants under construction worldwide, mostly in Asian countries like China, India, and South Korea. Talk of a “nuclear renaissance”as if it were some kind of cultural reawakening—has brought me back to the heyday of the anti-nuclear movement in the late 1970s, when it seemed that the industry was on the ropes and that nuclear power would soon be a thing of the past, leaving only its toxic legacy for future generations to deal with.

I remember one late afternoon on a hot spring day in 1977, as I waited with other members of the Clamshell Alliance to be arrested for the third occupation of the construction site at the Seabrook nuclear power plant in New Hampshire.  At dusk, a state trooper led me on to a school bus, packed with chanting protestors.

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Obama, Inc.

Obama's teleprompter

In an earlier essay, David Bromwich noted that whereas other presidents’ have been judged for their performance, Obama is unique in so far as his performance is measured mainly in terms of his oratory. Following the shootings in Tucson, Arizona, Obama garnered much praise for peroration at the memorial service. For many it was the return of the yes-we-can, inspirational preacher politician. The same style — what Bromwich calls ‘a mostly fact-free summons to a new era of striving and achievement, and a solemn cheer to raise our spirits as we try to get there’ — also carried over into his 2011 State of the Union speech (video at bottom). In this excellent piece, Bromwich — one of PULSE’s Top 10 Thinkers of 2010, and one of the most astute observers of Washington politics — once again subjects Obama to his extraordinarily perceptive analysis.

Barack Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address was an organized sprawl of good intentions—a mostly fact-free summons to a new era of striving and achievement, and a solemn cheer to raise our spirits as we try to get there. And it did not fail to celebrate the American Dream.

In short, it resembled most State of the Union addresses since Ronald Reagan’s first in 1982. Perhaps its most notable feature was an omission. With applause lines given to shunning the very idea of government spending, and a gratuitous promise to extend a freeze on domestic spending from three years to five, there was only the briefest mention of the American war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The situation in each country was summarized and dismissed in three sentences, and the sentences took misleading care to name only enemies with familiar names: the Taliban, al-Qaeda. But these wars, too, cost money, and as surely as the lost jobs in de-industrialized cities they carry a cost in human suffering.

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FDA Prepares to Unleash Genetically Engineered Salmon on World

by Ken Kelley

GE salmon vs. Atlantic salmon (Photo: AP)

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is now reviewing a proposal by a Massachusetts company, AquaBounty Technologies, to sell genetically engineered salmon, which grow twice as fast as wild fish.   If approved, it would be the first transgenic animal to be allowed into the human food supply.

The fish, called AquAdvantage Salmon, were developed at AquaBounty’s hatchery in Prince Edward Island, Canada.  They are Atlantic salmon with an added growth hormone from the faster growing Chinook salmon. Engineers additionally inserted a gene from an eel-like fish called the ocean pout into the salmon, which activates the growth hormone and keeps the fish growing all year long.

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