Sunday, May 31, 2009

What Obama is Doing Right

I didn’t vote for Barack Obama. I don’t agree with most of his policies. In fact, I feel that most of his policies are dangerous to the United States, both economically and militarily. However, I do feel that there are some things that President Obama has done that are good things. Just as I criticize when Obama does something wrong, it is only fair to support him when he does something right. Call it positive reinforcement. In the interest of fairness and bipartisanship, here are the things that I believe that President Obama has done right.

First, he quickly abandoned his campaign promise for a hasty withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. Although President Obama has never fully conceded that he was wrong to oppose President Bush’s surge strategy, it is hard to argue with the results. The security situation in Iraq has improved dramatically over the last two years.

This improved security situation makes it possible for President Obama to negotiate a longer timeline for the withdrawal of American forces. This longer timeline will give the democratically elected government of the Republic of Iraq to have Iraqi security forces maintain safety and order in their country. A rapid and unilateral withdrawal as originally proposed by Senator Obama, and without the success of President Bush’s surge, would have likely resulted in a bloodbath for Iraqi civilians and the deterioration of Iraq into a terrorist state controlled by either al Qaeda or Iran.

President Obama does tacitly pay homage to President Bush’s strategy in his own proposals for a surge of troops in Afghanistan. While the situation in Iraq has improved, Afghanistan has deteriorated as Taliban forces strike Afghanistan’s rural provinces from bases in Pakistan. Additionally, Taliban forces have made gains in Pakistan as well. The government of Pakistan even conceded control of the Swat Valley to the Taliban in return for a truce.

President Obama’s decision to step up the war in Afghanistan is a good thing. A withdrawal from Afghanistan would allow the Taliban step up their efforts to return to power. If a resurgent Taliban again took control of Afghanistan, they would most likely set up terrorist training camps as they did in the 1990s. It would also provide Pakistani militants with safe havens from which to strike into Pakistan. Currently, the Pakistani government is taking the war to the Islamic militants who violated the truce.

A third good thing that Obama has done is to continue to fight the court-mandated release of “torture” photos of detainees. These photos would do nothing to resolve any of the questions about torture currently being debated, because they were not taken at the direction of US commanders. The abuse (many photos were taken at Abu Ghraib) was the action of rogue soldiers, many of whom were prosecuted during the Bush Administration.

President Obama realizes that the release of these photos would do nothing to bring the country together. On the other hand, they would only assist in bringing out more anti-Americanism, both at home and abroad. They would be used as a recruiting tool by our enemies and would ultimately cost the lives of American soldiers as well as making those of us here at home less safe.

President Obama also is doing well to return to the Bush-era military tribunals to try detainees. Some detainees, such as those captured on US soil or those with US citizenship, may be entitled to trials in our court system. Most do not.

Most detainees were captured on foreign soil. They were taken under arms even though they were not part of a recognized military. This entitles them to very few rights under the Geneva Conventions. We would probably be within our rights to summarily execute them as spies and saboteurs. In no case are these foreign fighters entitled to the protections of the US Constitution.

Detainees are illegal combatants that simply do not fit into our criminal court system. Much of the evidence against them is sensitive to national security. Allowing them to face their accusers would undermine intelligence gathering. Whether at Guantanamo or elsewhere, we should prepare ourselves to hold many of these detainees until they are no longer a threat. In most cases, that will probably be until the radical Islamic jihadist movement collapses and the War on Terror (or overseas contingency operations, if you prefer) is over. Regardless of whether they are held on US or not (although preferably not), their status under the constitution should not change. Their situation is closer to the German and Italian POWs detained in American prison camps during WWII than to prisoners in the criminal justice system.

Finally, I agree with President Obama’s decision not to pursue criminal prosecution of the architects of President Bush’s anti-terror policies. In addition to the fact that there are no grounds upon which to base such a prosecution, it would have been unnecessarily divisive for the country.

There has been much less to like about President Obama’s domestic policy. The one undisputedly good thing that he has done is to allow the passage of an amendment to the Credit Card Reform Act that would allow citizens to carry weapons in national parks. This amendment, sponsored by Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, allows states to set the standard for concealed carry. National parks will match state law.

Media outlets have predicted that families will be harassed by AK-47 toting gun nuts and that killings in national parks will increase. Statistics do not bear this out. In many cases, concealed carry laws actually reduce violent crime. Concealed permit holders are normally law-abiding people. Only a tiny fraction of permit holders commit crimes.

The credit card reform act may also be a good thing. Admittedly, it does have some good features and attempts to address some real problems within the credit card industry. However, under the law of unintended consequences, it may make the credit situation worse for many Americans. Restrictions may make it unprofitable to lend to poor credit risks. Therefore, many Americans may find themselves without credit. Conversely, those with good credit may find their interest rates and fees increasing to subsidize those with poor credit.

While President Obama did allow this bill to pass without a veto, I have no illusions about his views on gun control. He has a long voting record that is not friendly to second amendment civil rights. While this amendment extending the freedom and right to keep and bear arms has become law, it is only because President Obama did not want to veto the entire Credit Card Reform Act and did not have the votes to remove it. At some point, when the Democrats feel that they have the votes to pass more restrictive legislation, they will do so.

I am gratified to see that President Obama is not the mindless party man that I had feared. These recent policy changes have shown that he can be practical and that he can be reasoned with. I believe that, to some extent at least, he does realize the danger that Islamic terror poses to this country and to the world. I am cautiously hopeful that he may also see the light regarding some of his disastrous economic policies.

In summary, there are very few absolutes in this world. Even a staunch conservative can find something to like about President Obama. Many of his good moves have met with stiff opposition from his leftwing base. Therefore, I salute him for standing strong amid this criticism. I also challenge my Democratic readers to look within themselves and see if they can find something positive to say about Republican leaders such as President Bush.


Newark NJ

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