Posted tagged ‘President Barack Obama’

Intelligence Is Overrated

October 29, 2009

The Coen Brothers, a multi-Oscar winning pair of neurotic and irreverent Hollywood filmmakers, made a so-so film in 2008 called “Burn After Reading” where the tagline was “Intelligence is Relative.”

The film deals with a CIA agent played by John Malkovich whose personal memoirs contained in a disk are accidentally discovered by two dimwitted gym trainers played by Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt. Though the film itself lacks the usual panache we have come to expect from Joel and Ethan Coen, the story is supposed to satirize the U.S. intelligence community and how everyday idiots can become bigger threats to national security than terrorists.

This film and Steven Soderbergh’s 2009 film “The Informant!” are both spoofs of the ineptitude of government agents and the people who are in power in our country. One would think the smartest people in our society would be the ones in power, but that is not always the case.

The general American public would argue that our previous president, George W. Bush, was not the brightest bulb in the drawer despite reaching the office of President of the United States. He only became Commander in Chief because of his family name (his pappy was once the Prez as well) and the very nice Supreme Court who ruled controversial ballots in his favor over his challenger, Al Gore.

In our current administration, several Obama cabinet and lower cabinet members had trouble paying their taxes. This is especially ironic considering Democrats are traditionally the ones who favor higher taxes over lower ones. This goes to show that everyone is capable of either being stupid or ignoring the law.

But indeed it does make one wonder who really is in charge of our country. Do we actually have the smartest people in high public offices; or do we have bumbling idiots whom enough folks were gullible enough to vote for?

Then again, sometimes you had no choice who to vote for. I don’t think too many Americans were enthusiastic about either Bush or Gore, or even John Kerry for that matter. This past election, where we had a choice between a charismatic African American and a well-respected Vietnam War veteran, was one of the first elections in a while where the person, not the party, counted more.

All this shows that perhaps the best people aren’t the ones who are in positions of power. Politics and the art of governing a country are often times two very different monsters. Politics is show, theatre, intrigue, social networking. Governing a country is an intellectual task that requires knowledge of history, economics, mathematics, political theory, and multi-cultural understanding.

Those who want to enter politics are often in it for a variety of reasons. Some want to genuinely change the country (or city, or county, or state) for the better, others are in it for the fame/money/reputation, and some people might be in it for no other reason other than it seems like the right thing to do.

Those who get elected aren’t necessarily the ones with the best ideas. They are the ones who seem the most trustworthy, kind, patriotic, charismatic, and/or partisan. If you live in a hardcore red or blue state, you better feed the base or you will have no chance of collecting votes.

I have always believed that the real people who are qualified to be president, or senator, or any high public office, are usually in academia. They are law professors, college professors, or political scientists working for a think tank. They could even be journalists who have studied politics for a long length of time. Either way, people who understand politics, international relations, and history at a deeper level.

This is not to say that our current elected leaders do not have that expertise. Barack Obama was a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School. Most of our other leaders have university degrees in political science, international studies, or law. I am not implying that Washington D.C. is full of nothing but power hungry dunderheads, though sometimes that assumption is tempting to make.

But there is somewhat of a backlash against intellectualism. Obama and Hillary Clinton were accused of being “elitists” who couldn’t relate to the everyday working man or woman. This explains why Obama tried to go bowling (and failed miserably) and Hillary was seen at a tavern chasing down brewskis. Republicans already have the “good old boy” reputation down solid, so it’s the Dems who need “work” in that area.

Some people think politicians who are overtly smart and intelligent are prone to ignore the everyday “Joe Six Pack” and their common problems. Others feel we need the best and brightest running our country, not those who can best identify with the little people.

Intelligence may be relative, but there will always be a place for smart people. Smart people assist in improving technology, science, medicine, the arts, and any other kind of research that helps society become better. When it comes to running a country, that might be a whole other story.

How much of politics is scientific and how much of it is an art? That might come down to whether you value book or street smarts more. There might be something said for the classic debate between intelligence and wisdom. A wise person is not necessarily the smartest one in the room. They are the ones with the most insight, sensitivity, life experience, and observational power. Intelligence is something that cannot be learned.

But can wisdom be learned? Or does it come more natural to some people compared to others? We assume that wise people make the best decisions in life, but what about intelligent folks? How, for example, did the Kennedy administration get us into the colossal blunder that was the Vietnam War when everyday military grunts on the ground knew all along this would be a mistake? There must be something said for proximity to the problem.

 All these questions can boggle the mind. Maybe we need intelligent people to answer them.

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Sins of Foreign Policy Are Always Clearer in Hindsight

July 11, 2009
Robert S. McNamara remains one of the most controversial political figures in U.S. history.

Robert S. McNamara remains one of the most controversial political figures in U.S. history.

Things are always easier in hindsight. Ask George W. Bush. Ask FDR. Ask John F. Kennedy. Ask former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara. Decisions that seemed so right at the time can later be proven to be so gravely wrong. And you’ll never figure this out until it’s all over. What a shame.

McNamara’s recent death has brought about a rebirth of decades-old debates about foreign policy, the Cold War, and the disastrous American adventure in Vietnam. One cannot help but to think about Donald Rumsfeld or Dick Cheney when McNamara’s name is mentioned. All three men were hated in their day. They misled the American people, lied to them, and told them their decisions would protect them from evil. One lie followed another.

The Kennedy White House believed in the “Domino Theory,” a theoretical prediction that if one nation were to fall to Communism, their neighbors would do the same. If South Vietnam were to fall under Soviet influence; Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, South Korea, and Japan would soon follow. Then Greece, France, West Germany, Nicaragua, and Afghanistan. Then eventually the whole Western world. Then us.

Historians have debated whether the Domino Theory was a plausible reality or just a product of irrational fear of losing American hegemony. And even if all of Southeast Asia were to fall to Communism, what would happen then? Would tyranny, poverty, despotism, and institutionalized atheism overcome our way of life? Would our national security come into serious jeopardy? All these possibilities were considered by the Kennedy administration.

But it is unfair to paint Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, McNamara, and Dean Rusk as the only ones who thought this way. The infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy thought the infiltration of Communism onto American soil wasn’t just a theory, but reality. His Communist witch hunts of the 1950s destroyed many people’s lives and blinded us to believing that the enemies were at our gates, when such fears proved to be nothing but just that: fear.

Much talk has come up about how such smart, intelligent, and enlightened men like Kennedy, McNamara, and Rusk got us so close to nuclear war and later architected a war in Vietnam that would take the lives of 58,000 U.S. troops and close to 2 million Vietnamese. People have argued that they were nothing but a bunch of liberal fascists, much like how Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Condoleezza Rice are considered right winged fascists.

But maybe all these accusations are a little off. Consider the Cuban Missile Crisis, an event that I believe played a very significant role in beginning the Vietnam War. For thirteen days in October of 1962, the Soviet Union and United States went on the brink of total annihilation. Thanks to “mutual assured destruction,” or MAD for short, both sides had the ability and will to completely obliterate the other side. If one side launched their missiles and destroyed most of their enemy’s homeland, that side had the ability to return the favor. Thanks to B-52 bombers and nuclear submarines, this can happen.

Then Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev didn’t think Kennedy had the guts to kill more people than Adolph Hitler. Hitler had a whole war to slaughter millions. Kennedy just had one simple phone call to make. I hope you shudder when you think about this.

Kennedy later estimated that there was a 33%, or a one in three, chance of nuclear war breaking out at that moment. Rusk believed the odds were much lower. Either way, it was close. The presence of nuclear weapons in Cuba was intolerable. Fidel Castro could not have been trusted to not use them. The Soviets didn’t like our missiles in Turkey, a country just in their backyard. We compromised, mutually agreed to remove our missiles from both sites, and total annihilation was averted. Whew.

But we should not forget the impact of the Cuban Missile Crisis on the thinking of McNamara and Lyndon Johnson, who would later become president after Kennedy’s assassination. If the Domino Theory were to actually happen and all of East Asia were to fall to the Communist bloc, who is to say all of Asia wouldn’t become nuclear? Who is to say mass slaughter like what happened in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge regime wouldn’t become the norm? No one could know for sure.

Let’s now wind the clock ahead forty years and think about 9/11 and the “War on Terror.” Think of the Cuban Missile Crisis as the catastrophic 9/11 that never happened. Political analysts have said that our country has changed its opinion on national defense and foreign policy ever since the Sept. 11 attacks. That might be true to some extent. Bush administration officials have defended their questionable practices of torture, invading two Middle Eastern countries, and domestic spying that these measures are necessary to protect our country from our enemies. Similar measures were done in the 1960s and 70s (and during World War II, the so-called “Good War”) under similar justifications.

I am in no way excusing Bush and his team for approving of torture, the horrors at Guantanamo Bay, and invading Iraq. These were decisions that were motivated by anger, greed, revenge, and pride. But then again, we said the same about Nixon when he increased bombing campaigns over North Vietnam and Cambodia. We said this when President Johnson increased our troop presence in a war that was “unwinnable.” Times might change, but mistakes do not.

But this is all easy to say in hindsight. They say hindsight is 20/20 because we know the outcomes and can accurately judge the wisdom of our decisions. But let us consider the fact that we were this close to total destruction in October 1962. Let us consider that from the comfort of our armchairs in the safety of our living rooms, politics and history seem like a piece of cake. Decisions are simple. Don’t escalate the Vietnam War. Don’t bomb Cambodia. Don’t support Saddam Hussein in his fight against Iran. Don’t approve of the Patriot Act. Don’t allow U.S. interrogators to use waterboarding to get information out of terror suspects. These decisions might seem easy and very straightforward 40 years after the fact, but they did not at the moment.

Robert S. McNamara came from a business background, as he was in charge of the Ford Motor Company before becoming Secretary of Defense. In his world, he was a number cruncher. His world was based on facts, figures, theories, and already proven models of success. That is how the business world operates. In foreign policy, there are also rules. We had just defeated fascism in Europe and the Pacific and were now moving on to defeat the Soviet empire. If it worked before, why can’t it work again?

That is why McNamara thought sending hundreds of thousands of more troops to Vietnam would win the war. That is how we defeated Hitler. The D-Day invasion was a large ground assault that aimed at pushing back our enemies till they gave up. Nixon thought bombing the Viet Cong would force them to surrender. That much ridiculed strategy made sense in Japan, when heavy bombing campaigns, ending in the atomic blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, broke their will to fight and made them accept unconditional surrender. Nixon and Johnson thought if it worked in the 1940s, why couldn’t it work in the 1960s?

Bush might have thought the same when he invaded Iraq in 2003. He probably figured it would be a short war and that military occupation wouldn’t be such a big deal. We occupied West Germany and Japan after WWII and look at where they are now. They are now first world democracies. Iraq could have a similar future if they would just get their act together.

President Obama is being criticized by his own supporters of not doing enough to reverse Bush-era policies relating to anti-terrorism. Instead of drawing back our forces in the Middle East, he is increasing them by sending 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. The scheduled June 30 pullout of U.S. troops from Iraqi cities was a timetable agreed to by Bush, not Obama. Had McCain won the election, that pullout would have still happened.

Obama has not been the anti-war president that many of his peace loving liberal supporters have hoped for. He will completely withdraw from Iraq on the Iraqi government’s terms, not his own. He will increase our troop strength in Afghanistan, a country that is becoming very weary of our continued presence there. Meanwhile, back at home, people are getting tired of war. We voted for Obama to change things, not for them to remain the same. I suppose that’s how politics work. They make promises, and they later break them.

But Obama isn’t completely breaking his lofty campaign promises. He is shutting down Guantanamo Bay, but it’s moving a lot slower than some people expected. He promised to shut down military tribunals of terrorist suspects, but he has recently re-approved of them. What does this all mean? Simply put, the world is a lot simpler from the campaign trail. Once you get to the White House, read those daily memos, listen to important people in the Joint Chiefs, Pentagon, CIA, and State Department, the world becomes a little more complex. Just ask Kennedy, or McNamara, or even Bill Clinton.

Our current president is realizing that the world is a little more difficult to handle than he had previously thought. He criticized Bush for making bad decisions that further endangered the American people, but now he realizes that you can’t solve the world’s problems with a push of a button. You have to make tough decisions. Even decisions that are unpopular.

I am not saying that Bush did the right thing to protect us from further terrorist attacks. I am not saying that Robert S. McNamara shouldn’t be critiqued for getting us involved in Vietnam when we had no business of being there. Nor am I saying that Henry Kissinger’s “Realpolitik” Cold War strategy was a good idea. Killing others to save others is never that easy of a concept. We should never consider a war to be our only option to solve our problems. We should be more pragmatic in our approach and realize that our actions do have consequences, despite what we may think at the time.

But, regardless, we should not stick our nose at them and believe we wouldn’t make the same choices if we were in their position. If you had a 50-50 chance of destroying your country and other people’s countries, if falling dominoes were more of a reality than a theory, if your country were just attacked by 19 hijackers, your perspective would change. You wouldn’t look at the world the same way. If you had the weight of the world on your shoulders, those so-called “easy decisions” to do the right thing suddenly becomes much more difficult.

This is not to say that people cannot make the right choice. What one can say is that we should be careful to play the accusatory card before really understanding the circumstances behind the decisions made by important people. We should judge their actions, but we should do it in a spirit of humility, perceptiveness, and intelligence. Without that, we become full of “retrospective snobbery,” where we feel free to condemn the sins of the past before thinking about whether we would truly have done things differently.

We may never get the chance to start a war, but we can certainly talk about what we would do if we could. But we should do this remembering that all actions, both horrible and honorable, are a product of its time. And those of us with the gift of knowing how the future unfolds should always keep in mind that years from now, maybe after we’re dead, our actions will be judged by later generations. If we weren’t too kind to our predecessors, who is to say ours will be kind to us?

Sonia Sotomayor, Racism, and the Problems with Liberals and Conservatives in America

June 11, 2009
Sonia Sotomayor has unfairly become a rallying cry for race-related debate by liberals and conservatives.

Sonia Sotomayor has unfairly become a rallying cry for race-related debate by liberals and conservatives.

There’s that dreaded subject again. Race. Race, racism, racial progress, racial prejudice, racial tolerance, it all boils down to one thing: controversy.

Race is a painful, taboo topic of discussion that always seems to turn its ugly head again and again. Especially in these United States, with our long history of racial injustice, talking about race can be an activity that makes people either run away or hide under their desks. That was true fifty years ago, it’s still true today.

The election of Barack Obama to the presidency last fall seemed like a step in the right direction. America had finally elected its first African American president. A country with a long history of slavery, race-inspired lynching, and segregation can partially bury its demons from the past with this historic election. Race will still be a problem in this country, but one memorable election certainly couldn’t hurt.

But the recent nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court by President Obama has stirred race-related discussions that expose two hard hitting facts about race in America: Some people cannot let go of the past and some people cannot embrace a new future.

Supporters of Sotomayor argue it is important for the Supreme Court to have a Latino woman on the bench. The Supreme Court, historically dominated by old white men, is the highest court in the nation. They determine the supreme law of the land. They decide how Americans can and cannot live. This is indeed a big deal.

Most of the discussion surrounding Sotomayor has nothing to do with her judicial beliefs or legal philosophy. Seen by a few Constitutional law experts as a center-left justice cut from the same cloth as the soon-to-retire David Souter, if confirmed, she will most likely make decisions that appease Obama’s liberal base while occasionally deciding in favor of conservatives.

Instead, talk about Sotomayor in the media mostly revolves around her ethnicity and a controversial statement she made on a few occasions, but most famously at a 2001 speech to the University of California, Berkley, School of Law entitled “A Latina Judge’s Voice.” Her quote is as follows:

“First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

Conservatives argue this line of thinking implies that her ethnicity and cultural background alone qualifies her to serve on the bench. They fear her rulings will be biased toward racial minorities and that she will marginalized Caucasians if a race-related case comes before the Court. They also argue this statement is “reverse racist” because she implies her race and background is superior to that of a white man.

Former Speaker of the House and possible 2012 presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and outspoken radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh both called this statement racist and called Sotomayor a racist. Interestingly, Gingrich has since apologized for his condemnation of Sotomayor while Limbaugh has said he may support her confirmation. This proves one’s gut reaction should not be said publicly until you’ve had time to talk about it.

Ideally, a judge should be impartial, unbiased, and completely fair toward all people in court. In Harper Lee’s famous 1960 novel “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Atticus Finch tells Scout that “The one place where a man ought to get a square deal is in a courtroom, be he any color of the rainbow.” Liberals argue Sotomayor’s Latina background will give her a better perspective when dealing with cases involving the common people, minorities, and women. Conservatives argue that that’s the problem. Her perspective should be objective and removed from outside influences, not unapologetically formulated by it.

What this debate illustrates is that liberals, or at least politically-minded liberals, cannot let go of the past. To them, every sin of the past must be made up by progressives of the present and future. Remember segregation? We must elect a black man to the presidency to cleanse us of those sins. Remember how we denied women the right to vote, have an abortion, and get paid equally to men in the workplace? We need to support a woman to join the Supreme Court if we are to let go of that dreadful past.

This, of course, is not how all liberals feel. Just those who have this perception that they have some guilt to relieve. Liberal bloggers and political pundits see the negative reaction to Sotomayor’s statement as signs that racism still exists in this country. Indeed it does, but perhaps they are ignoring the larger picture of equality. The fact that Sotomayor’s past life is coming back to haunt her is proof that women, to a certain degree, have made huge strides in becoming equal to men.

All politicians have dirt on them. All lawyers have dirt on them (there are a million lawyer jokes to back me up on this). When John Roberts and Samuel Alito were being confirmed to the Court during the Bush era, liberals were harsh on them and grilled them for hours before a congressional confirmation panel. Every memo, every paper, every legal statement they made were put under a microscope and analyzed to death. This happens when you are deciding whether to confirm someone to a life long appointment on the nation’s highest bench.

Liberals should not be surprised that such a statement would be considered controversial. Even a few left-leaning political columnists agree that she may have been a tad unwise to say something so controversial. Saying anything about “a white male who hasn’t lived that life” is guaranteed to turn heads. If Sotomayor had known she would later in life to considered for the Supreme Court, it can be guaranteed that she would have said something different.

However, the anger pouring out against her is proof that even though she is a minority woman, she will not get a free pass at attaining high positions of power. She will have to earn it. And in order to earn it, she has to explain herself and justify her beliefs. Roberts and Alito had to justify their beliefs before a skeptical congressional panel. The fact that Sotomayor has to do the same thing proves a certain degree of equality has been attained.

Assuming every attack on Sotomayor, or even skeptical remark, is fueled by racism is a way to silence critics and assure her confirmation. Not everything is related to race. Maybe I am less perceptive than other people, but most white Americans in 21st century America don’t look at a minority as just a minority. That might be part of their internal social mental description, but that is certainly not everything. Not everything is about race.

Conservatives become defensive about race because they feel liberals hark on them about it all the time. Conservatives and Republicans definitely did not help in ending slavery or Jim Crow laws. Ultra-right winged radicals were the ones who lynched blacks in the South and most recently murdered abortionist doctor George Tiller. While this is all true, conservatives fear threatened that every time they criticize someone of color, they will automatically be branded a racist. This is why Republicans are cautious to criticize Obama’s policies. They don’t want to be known as a “hater” and be voted out in the next election.

One of the reasons why racism still exists is because there are people who refuse to let it go. They dwell in the past instead of living in the present. I believe that every schoolchild should learn about America’s horrific past with racism. The history of slavery, abolitionism, segregation, and the Civil Rights movement should be taught to every child in the United States. But after that, we should learn from the past so that we don’t commit the same crimes in the future. Continuously returning to the past and unburying the skeletons in the closet will only further alienate people from the discussion and make them bitter. Real progress cannot happen if people insist on dwelling on the sins of those long gone.

Conservatives, on the other hand, fear for the future. They are guilty of fearing what a diverse and egalitarian America will look like. They fear that having women in positions of power will strip down the “old boys club” and make it that their wives, girlfriends, mothers, and daughters can have authority over them. Such a horrible thought.

It is no mystery that conservatives value tradition and keeping things the way they are. Hence, they want to “conserve” the status quo. But if that means maintaining a system where rich white men have all the control, then we have a problem. Women and minorities deserve a chance at making it big. They deserve to have their voices heard and their needs considered. That is why we live in a democratic system. We are government of the people, for the people, and by the people. And women and minorities are people.

Perhaps conservatives fear that a pseudo “melting pot” America will destroy what it means to be “American.” Instead of having a clean cut white Christian family be the face of America, it might be a black Muslim family. Or a Buddhist Chinese family. Or an atheistic Latino family. Or a gay family. Such thoughts keep conservatives up at night.

Once again, I say “conservatives” to mean those who are far to the right, like a Rush Limbaugh or a Bill O’Reilly. Most normal or moderate conservatives have no fear of white men sharing power. They just fear Big Government and socialized healthcare. But that is a whole other sack of potatoes.

For conservatives, talking about “race” is all about how evil conservatism is and how Big Government should be authorized to tell people how to live, work, and interact. What they don’t understand is that most moderate liberals think of race in terms of improving society, not demonizing the white man. Only the radicals are bent on destroying the system. Moderates/pragmatists just want to live in peace.

In short, this is the conclusions one can make regarding how race is discussed and viewed in America. One can go on for hours about the little nuances of race-related issues, but that is for later. What Sonia Sotomayor represents is a larger discussion about how women and minorities are treated in this country. And that is not fair to her. She is an individual who should be treated as an individual. She is smart, independent, and her own woman. Framing her as “a sign of progress” dehumanizes her and makes her a symbol of “equality.”

If I can fault both liberals and conservatives about one thing, it’s that most of this discussion should be about Sotomayor’s qualifications as a judge, not her race or gender. For liberals to make her a rallying point for egalitarianism and for conservatives to make her an example of “reverse racial discrimination” devalues her as a human being and forces her to be a battleground for an age old war that she does not deserve to be a part of.

Please, those on the left and right, focus on her judicial philosophy and not your own race-related social agenda. This should be about deciding who gets to determine our country’s laws, not about your own personal biases. Sonia Sotomayor, though she is a Latina woman, should be treated as a human being, not a political symbol.

If you cannot do that, then you should take a long look at yourself in the mirror and reconsider what you really value in life.

North Korea’s Swan Song

May 27, 2009

North Korea’s recent underground nuclear test on Monday seems to be their swan song. It has to be. The repressive Communist regime doesn’t have much time left in their existence and they know it. Kim Jong-Il’s hold on power is slipping and so they pull off stunts like this to try and extend their existence as long as possible.

I say this because it makes no sense for the North Koreans to launch their second nuclear test in three years other than to ease their way into legitimacy. Becoming a nuclear power puts you into a very exclusive club. And with that membership comes respect. Nations will not necessarily respect your leadership or what you stand for, but they will definitely respect your technological ability to wipe a country off the face of the map. It makes you legitimate. And military legitimacy is what Kim Jong-Il is seeking at this moment.

North Korea’s government continues to hold its firm grasp on power only because they have successfully kept their people afraid of outside influences. Marxism’s suspicion of bourgeois elitism makes the entire global capitalist world seem like one giant threat to North Korea’s existence.

Everybody is out to get them, as Kim would like his people to think. Those vicious Americans, Japan: its mortal enemy, their unfortunate anti-proletariat South Korean brethren, and even China, a Communist nation in name only. Kim justifies spending more money on military and nuclear might than food, education, and infrastructure because what is the point of any of those things after the Americans obliterate them from the face of the planet?

Bush used tough language against the North Koreans after an unsuccessful nuclear test in 2006 and a long range missile test in 2007. Last April a supposed satellite launch was conducted in order to test the young Obama administration’s foreign policy savvy. The language used by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been less harsh but stern nevertheless.

News has just come in that North Korea has launched an additional three missiles off their east coast on Tuesday, May 26. Japan has now talked about preparing for a pre-emptive attack against North Korea, despite a clause in their constitution prohibiting offensive military action. When a nation starts to prepare for a war that they are not allowed to conduct, that is when you know things are getting serious. As world leaders scramble to come up with a response to these disturbing developments, it is becoming evident that the global community will not stand idly by any longer.

North Korea owns more than 200 Nodong missiles that have the capability to strike either Japan or South Korea. The Japanese and the Americans fear Kim will use these missiles to transport a nuclear warhead someday. Though their ability to make a working nuclear missile is in doubt, there is obviously enough fear within U.S. intelligence to develop an anti-missile defense system in Japan with the purpose of shooting down any incoming aerial attack.

Which brings up the obvious question: why would North Korea pull such a stunt? A nuclear North Korea can only result in one thing: war. No matter how occupied the U.S. is in the Middle East, any kind of military action short of a full-out invasion is definitely on the table. And if a full-out invasion were to happen, one can assume it would consist of a coalition of nations other than the United States. A nuclear North Korea will not be tolerated by the global community.

Naval blockades, economic sanctions, and condemnation from the outside world is not enough to convince Kim to halt his nuclear proliferation program. He kicked out United Nations weapons inspectors and has made no effort to draw down anytime soon. The only logical explanation to explain Kim’s actions is that he wants to start a war.

Excuse me? He wants to start a war? How crazy is that? Who in their right mind would want the global community to start a war against you? I am no psychologist, but I think I know what is going through Kim Jong-Il’s insane mind. Just bear with me.

Kim knows his grip on power will not last forever. His own health is in question and no strong successor seems ready to take up his mantle. Communism as a system died out in 1991 and China is becoming more and more capitalistic. China will soon become one of the world’s largest economic powers, if they are not there already. Russia, one of North Korea’s strongest allies, has turned their back on them. The Kremlin wants to strengthen their hold on global power, so allying themselves with a poverty-stricken Communist nation would not be the way to do that.

Speaking of poverty, North Korea has one of the worst standards of living in the world. As I mentioned before, they spend more money on military and defense spending than anything else. The international community has to give them food in order to prevent a humanitarian crisis. How can you expect to protect your people when you can’t even adequately feed them?

A coup hasn’t happened yet because Kim has convinced the people that the current government is needed to protect them from dangerous outsiders. But I think people are seeing that the only thing that’s endangering North Korea’s national security is Kim Jong-Il, not the U.S., Japan, South Korea, or Europe. His reckless actions are making his enemies more likely to attack them than anything else.

That said, it makes sense that Kim would want an invasion, even if it’s small like a naval attack or an air strike, because it would convince his people that the current government is needed to protect the motherland. If Kim were to either successfully drive out a foreign invading force or survive an attack intact (similar to what Hezbollah achieved after Israel’s bombardment of them in the summer of 2006), it would strengthen their hold on power and further keep his people dependent on him. Kim is yet to show what his military can do. He needs a chance to prove to people that all his military spending is justified. A foreign invasion would do just the trick.

If the international community continues to take no action and North Korea’s economy continues to sink further into the toilet, the people will lose their confidence in the government and demand that something else take its place. Wait, a militaristic government’s reckless actions resulting in the people wanting change? Sounds familiar.

Thus explains why I believe this recent nuclear experiment is North Korea’s swan song. North Korea as we know it is coming to an end. Kim’s repressive regime will take either one of two directions: it will implode internally, resulting in a coup or an abdication of power, or a foreign invasion will come in and create a “regime change” similar to what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan. Either way, this small Communist country’s days are now numbered. And Kim knows it.

I predict North Korea will change governments, open up to the global community, and even consider reuniting with the South (though that is a very distant dream) within 15 to 20 years. Maybe that day will come even sooner. What happens as a result of this recent feat will determine what the future of Northeast Asia will look like. In other words, the Obama administration can single handedly affect what happens to the Korean peninsula in the next decade. Hillary Clinton should pick her battles wisely.

And so should Kim. If wants to prepare for a war, he should literally prepare for a war. Any additional nuclear proliferation in his country will not go on deaf ears. The United States may not have found weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq, but they will definitely find some in Kim’s lap if he does anything else foolish.

And knowing his track record, that is not hard to imagine.

The Supreme Court “American Idol” style

May 24, 2009

Barack Obama’s nominee to fill the soon-to-be vacant seat on the Supreme Court should be chosen “American Idol” style. Disregard political views, academic law dissertations, job qualifications, or “liberal” or “conservative” biases. Don’t even consider gender, race, religion, or creed. Consider what Simon Cowell might think.

If democracy is a popularity contest, then let the most popular judge win. Or lawyer, or law professor, or politician. The Supreme Court is a really big deal, after all. Those nine robe-wearing justices decide what’s legal or illegal in this country. That is no small task.

Americans are divided about how they view issues like abortion, assisted suicide, presidential war powers, and free speech. Should a woman have the right to terminate the life of her unborn child? Should non-heterosexual people have the same rights to marry as their straight counterparts? How should the federal government handle gun rights? Did the Founding Fathers intend every American to own an M16 assault rifle that they can bring with them to school and public parks? People want answers to these questions.

If the law is supposed to protect the rights of the people, then it is logical that the people should be able to choose who writes these laws. And besides, who wouldn’t want to watch Clarence Thomas and Sandra Day O’Connor sing a duet from “Les Misérables?” Forget Kris Allen or even that underdog Brit Susan Boyle. The real surprise talent all come from the Judicial branch of the government.

People in the western world value their freedom. It is a hallmark of Americana. Our Constitution is imbedded with the assumption that all men (and women, as we have later discovered) are created equal and are endowed with certain inalienable rights that have been given to them by their Creator (or any other theistic or non-theistic deity of your choosing). When we value freedom, we value our lives. And this is why the next member of the Supreme Court should not be chosen by the president. It should be chosen by any Joe Six Pack in the good old U.S.A.

And already the names are pouring in. Advocacy groups want Obama to choose either a racial minority or a woman to replace the soon-to-retire David Souter. He can be fancy and choose a minority woman. That’s right. A “Two-fer” because that’s two for the price of one. We are living in more progressive, hope-filled times, are we not?

Former President George W. Bush was so lame to choose two middle aged white guys to the Court when he was in office. Chief Justice John Roberts looks like the guy next door whose hosting a barbeque that he’s invited your family to attend. Justice Samuel Alito looks like a guy you’d see teaching your daughter’s cello lessons or coaching your son’s soccer team. In other words, these guys so are boring! Obama, the hip young dude that he is, should know better.

Names being thrown around as possible replacements for Souter are U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan, federal appeals judges Diane Wood and Sonia Sotomayor, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Choosing either a woman or a Hispanic American seems to be the trend right now.

After all, this is America, right? If people want either a woman or a racial minority on the Court, they should get it. We should have a system where people can call in to choose who they want and have Ryan Seacrest announce it on television. That is reality TV that I’d be willing to watch.

But instead Obama is saying that he will not pay attention to demographics when making his choice. Oh great! The 44th President even had the nerve to say on a C-SPAN interview:

“I think in any given pick, my job is to just find somebody who I think is going to make a difference on the courts and look after the interest of the American people. And so, I don’t feel weighed down by having to choose a Supreme Court justice based on demographics. I certainly think that ultimately we want a Supreme Court that is reflective of the incredible variety of the American people.”

Wait a minute! Picking a Supreme Court justice who reflects the interests of the American people? You mean someone who’s actually qualified to look after the law? Someone who knows how legal decisions affect the lives of everyday people? Someone who isn’t tied down to a certain political ideology? What a concept. A justice whose views, values, and integrity are more important than their gender or skin color? How un-American. How weird. How unpatriotic.

Okay, now I’ll try to be serious for a moment.

I am all for having women and minorities in positions of political power in our country. I am a minority myself, in case you didn’t know that. But all the talk from advocacy groups commanding Obama who to pick harkens back to the days when Washington lobbyists owned U.S. senators in their pockets. Wait a minute, that’s still going on.

I think it is important that the Supreme Court have more gender and racial diversity. Justices Thomas and Ruth Bader Ginsburg seem awfully lonely up there. We need more diverse voices in order to make our laws truly reflect our country’s values. But more important than that is a judge who will uphold our constitutional laws and make sure our nations doesn’t condone horrendous actions like torture, waterboarding, and unwarranted domestic spying. Integrity is more important than the demographic one belongs to.

Advocacy groups pressuring Obama to be “progressive” and choose a woman or a minority disrespects the institution that is the U.S. Supreme Court. Our laws are more important than fulfilling white guilt (though Obama is black) obligations. Feminist or minority lobbyists making decisions of who should go on the Supreme Court is like “American Idol” viewers deciding who is talented enough to win a recording contract. These decisions should be made by people who are smart, deliberate, and wise, not those who are blind warriors for “equality.”

If Obama picks a woman, great. If he picks a Hispanic, African, or Asian American, great. But I hopes he picks someone who is intelligent, thoughtful, knowledgeable, and not ideologically driven. That is the direction our country needs to go in right now.

But seeing John Paul Stevens singing and dancing would be pretty funny.

The Dog Days of Terrorism

May 9, 2009

Al Qaeda is like that annoying stray dog that pees on your lawn and you try to get rid of but keeps on coming back. No matter what you do to make sure the dog goes away for good, it always seems to find a way to survive and keep urinating on your grass. The Taliban, too.

President Obama met with President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan at the White House on Wednesday, May 6 to discuss the deteriorating situation in the region. Since the U.S.-led invasion in December 2001 to topple the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and root out the al Qaeda presence there, things have not significantly improved.

Women are still oppressed, tribal regions are still lawless, terrorists continue to thrive, and fear continues to drive Afghan and Pakistani politics. There seems to be no end in sight to the war and to bring home U.S. and coalition troops. The war Bush started might not end with Obama. It might take his successor to finally declare victory.

Obama’s promise to send 17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan sounded like a great idea to stop the bleeding. It still does. But now it has become evident that the war has shifted fronts. Sending troops to Afghanistan is not enough. Something has to be done in Pakistan. This is where the Taliban is strongest. This is where intelligence experts believe Osama bin Laden (remember that guy?) and his lieutenants are hiding.

A recent U.S. air strike inside Afghanistan killed dozens of civilians, a move that will further radicalize Islamic fundamentalists around the world. As American popularity in the region continues to decline, winning this “War on Terror” is becoming more difficult than previously imagined. This might truly be a multigenerational conflict. Remember when Bush declared “mission accomplished” in Iraq? That seems like ages ago.

Maybe a whole new strategy is necessary to stamp out terrorism for good. Maybe the stray dog chooses to come back because he has needs that need to be fulfilled. If you address the problem instead of the symptoms, we might actually get somewhere. Like what Obama promised during his presidential campaign, it might be time to forget the ways of old and embrace new ideas for the future.

Defeating Islamic terrorism and Jihad might require tactics outside the traditional realm of military force. One could even argue terrorism in this part of the world isn’t motivated by religious extremism. It could be argued that this war is more about power than pleasing Allah. Whether it’s political or social, holding and asserting power is what motivates these people to carry out suicide bombings and kill innocent civilians.

Power is the primary motivation behind all wars. Nations invade other nations in order to take control of something. It could be natural resources like oil, gold, or diamonds; control over land and territories; or control over a people group. Either way, wars are fought to restore some sort of balance of power. The Spanish conquistadors invaded the New World for “God, gold, and glory,” but not necessarily in that order. The Nazis invaded Europe because of a militant and racist “manifest destiny” agenda. The Allied Powers invaded the Nazis and Japanese to restore the balance of power away from fascism/national socialism. The entire Cold War was about power leverage. You get the idea.

The “War on Terror” is also about power. The U.S. doesn’t want violent radicals to gain control of Afghan and Pakistani politics. That would cause further destabilization in the area; especially given the fact that Pakistan is a nuclear power. India is watching this war with extreme interest.

Al Qaeda’s mission is to undermine American power in the Middle East. Osama bin Laden infamously said he carried out the 9/11 attacks to protest the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia. His other goal was to subvert America’s military support for Israel, a nation seemingly at war with everyone in the Arab world. In other words, America’s wars in the Middle East should be seen in terms of a struggle for political power instead of petty things like oil, religion, democracy, or “freedom.”

President Obama understands that losing the war in Afghanistan would destroy America’s military credibility across the world. A similar fear persisted during the latter years of the Vietnam War. President Nixon was afraid that losing both South Vietnam and Cambodia to Communism would lead to a domino effect of other countries falling to Marxism across Southeast Asia and Latin America. This explains how Henry Kissinger can convince Nixon to execute the controversial Christmas bombing of 1972 against the North Vietnamese. Kissinger escalated the war in order to end it. Obama is doing the same thing with his “surge.”

But that might not be enough. This is not a war of ideology, as has been discussed before. This is a war for power. And how is power gained or lost? Through political credibility. The U.S. needs to convince the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan that extremism is not the way to run a country in the 21st century. American capitalism may not be the best alternative, but it’s a start. This involves winning the “hearts and minds” of the people, as cliché as that sounds. But the difficulty of this is that it’s very difficult to win over people’s hearts and minds when you’re bombing them into submission. Once again, we need to think outside the box.

How do we do that, exactly? How do we convince skeptical Muslims to trust the West? That is a question that I might not be able to answer. That’s right. I don’t have all the answers. I wish I did, though. The debate between war and peace is a delicate one. It’s very nuanced and all theoretical. For now, it’s important to remember that kicking the dog off your lawn will not make it go away. Dogs are not robots (just don’t tell that to Michael Vick). They have needs and desires just like human beings. Once we figure out what those needs are, we might be able to make progress where we can all live happily.

And who doesn’t want that?

Obama, Cheney, the CIA, and the Waterboard Scandal

May 2, 2009

President Obama is walking a tight rope when he decided to release previously secret Bush administration documents exposing the truths about torture of suspected terrorists.

As if this should come to a surprise to anyone, early during the Iraq War and the “War on Terror” the Central Intelligence Agency used the method of “waterboarding” to get information out of prisoners who might have knowledge of terrorist activity or an impending terror attack against the U.S.

Bush, but I suspect Dick Cheney more so, authorized these controversial methods in the name of national security. Information regarding secret CIA detention centers in Europe caused controversy, as well as stories of abuses at military prisons in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. These events, while shocking and appalling in their own right, are nothing new.

The reason why this story is so significant is because America gets to see straight from the CIA’s playbook the methods used to torture prisoners. This isn’t revealed through a secret leak or an anonymous source. These memos were released via executive decision. Obama thought these are dark secrets from our not-too-distant past that the people need to know. In order to start national healing and reconciliation, we must have the truth exposed. Besides, the administration received heat from a pending ACLU lawsuit that argues the memos should be released under the Freedom of Information Act. So, its time had come.

Public outcry has poured out following Obama’s decision. Some criticize him for revealing government secrets, some criticize his promises not to prosecute those responsible for drafting the torture manifesto into law, and others criticize whether this will cause strain between the White House and CIA.

Mostly, people are criticizing the methods of torture itself and the fact that Bush hired a legal team instructed to write them into law. The attorneys responsible for justifying torture are Jay Bybee, John Yoo, and Steven Bradbury, who all worked in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. These people are responsibility for creating our laws. If these are the precedents being established in our legal system, watch out.

These developments should upset Americans everywhere. We should be a country that treats its prisoners with compassion, not like dogs. It has been said that a nation should not be judged by how they treat their law-abiding citizens, but how they treat their prisoners. How we treat our enemies tells us more about who we are than anything else. Waterboarding terror suspects, where the victim goes through a simulated drowning experience, has no place in a first world democracy like ours.

Those defending the memos argue the CIA and Justice Department were living under the fear brought about after 9/11. Their embarrassment over letting 19 Saudi terrorists come into our country and kill nearly 3,000 people explains why they would draft torture into law. Cheney argues that valuable intelligence has come out of waterboarding. He says attacks similar to 9/11 were prevented because of these methods. He says that. But is that actually true?

Regardless, in the future, we should not let fear rule our lives. We should remember that we are just as safe today as we were on September 10, 2001. We have a new president and a seemingly new outlook on U.S. foreign policy. I hope this is a lesson we can all learn from. When we let ourselves become scared of terrorists, we become terrorists. We do things that we would never have done before.

I am glad that we no longer torture our enemies. Now we just bomb them. If we want to achieve anything resembling world peace, it all starts with our laws. Just laws create just societies. If we allow torture to enter into our law books again, no one knows what sorts of tyranny will follow then. I hope I am not alive to see that.

The media and the American people need to be more watchful in the future. We need to make sure our lawmakers create laws that uphold democratic values, not pervert them. This goes for the current administration as well. The fact that President Obama is popular right now should mean nothing. We should pay attention to his policies just as much as we would if Bush were still in office. As it has been said before, vigilance is the price of freedom.

So please, be vigilant.