Commentary: Obama summons ghosts of American history

January 21, 2009

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Very eloquent piece that I came across on CNN.com – worth taking the time to read over…
– FlashAddict

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By Paul Begala
CNN Contributor

Editor’s note: Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor, was a political consultant for Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign in 1992 and was counselor to Clinton in the White House.

Paul Begala says Obama embodies the American dream, and our fate is now tied to his fate.

Paul Begala says Obama embodies the American dream, and our fate is now tied to his fate.

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Sometimes pictures tell a story better than words. On Inauguration Day, we saw Barack Obama, strong and certain, striding purposefully into the presidency.

And we saw Dick Cheney, once one of the most powerful people on Earth, reduced to being wheeled out of the White House.

Of course, we all wish good health for the former vice president, but the contrasting images were stark.

Barack Obama’s inaugural address was a bracing, brave break with the past.

“On this day,” he said, “we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.” He sternly scolded the “greed and irresponsibility” of our current era, and called for “action, bold and swift.”

Take that, George W. Bush, whose false promises and worn-out dogmas have turned so much of the nation against him.

Barack Obama’s story is unique in its particulars, but it is universal in its appeal. One grandfather a Kenyan goat herder who opposed colonial rule, the other a Kansas farm boy who joined Patton’s army to fight the Nazis.

His parents’ marriage was illegal in 16 states, and his mother struggled, turning to food stamps to keep body and soul together, and waking young Barry up at 4:30 in the morning to nourish his brain.

He understands and appreciates the American Dream because he is its living embodiment. His story is our story. And now his fate and ours are inextricably intertwined.

As a speechwriter, I know you say a lot in the quotations you choose. President Barack Obama chose two and he chose wisely. First, St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians in which he exhorts the people of Corinth to, in effect, grow up.

“When I was a child,” Paul wrote, “I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, and reasoned like a child. But when I became a man I put aside childish things.”

The new president used that ancient letter to deliver a badly needed message after eight years of anything goes: Put your big-boy pants on, America.

The president closed by quoting the words from Tom Paine that Gen. Washington ordered read aloud at Valley Forge. “Let it be told to the future world,” Washington said, “that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive… that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it].”

The quote shows Obama’s belief in unflinching courage, unblinking realism and an unrelenting faith that by coming together we Americans can bend history to our will.

Of course, even as Washington words echoed, other ghosts of American history were milling about. Abe Lincoln prowled the Mall. FDR, his ever-present cigarette holder clenched in his smiling teeth, cheered zestily. Dr. King called out from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and John F. Kennedy called back to him from the steps of the Capitol.

When Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963, President Kennedy watched it on TV from the White House. As King concluded, Kennedy said, “He’s good. He’s damn good.” I like to think that as Barack Obama concluded his inaugural address, Dr. King turned to President Kennedy and said, “This young man’s pretty damn good, too.”

http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/01/21/begala.obama/index.html


Today is the dawn of a brand new day…

January 20, 2009

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I think this image says it all – capturing such a beautiful moment and showing the admiration of a young girl for her father…
– FlashAddict

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“President Barack Obama, right, is congratulated by daughter Sasha, lower left, as first lady Michelle Obama looks on after taking the oath of office.”

Barack Obama is sworn into office and delivers his inauguration speech.

Yes, he must: coughing up Canadian-made BlackBerry a bitter pill for Obama

January 13, 2009

This is definitely a perplexing notion – how does one exist in the world today without being able to use email?!?!?
– FlashAddict

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By Lee-Anne Goodman, The Canadian Press

WASHINGTON – He’s been seen cradling it and gazing upon it almost as frequently as he’s cooed at babies and promised to bring change to Washington.

Barack Obama has a deep and abiding affection for his made-in-Canada BlackBerry, and yet the gods are conspiring against him – despite his best efforts, Obama will almost certainly be forced to dump his beloved Berry after his inauguration on Tuesday.

It’s a breakup the president-elect has long been dreading.

“I’m still clinging to my BlackBerry,” he said in a recent interview with CNBC. “They’re going to pry it out of my hands.”

Canada’s Research in Motion (TSX:RIM), the inventor and manufacturer of the BlackBerry, is adamant that its devices and security network protect all data passing through them. Officials for the company won’t comment on Obama’s fondness for their device – or his impending heartache.

But most technology experts say that no security systems – either at RIM or any other company – can ever be entirely safe from hackers, spies, snoops and trouble-makers, and point out that allowing Obama to keep his BlackBerry could pose a serious security risk.

White House security agencies and lawyers have not only insisted Obama abandon the BlackBerry, but email in general as well.

In addition to the security risk, they say, all presidential communications can be made public due to the Freedom of Information Act and the Presidential Records Act of 1978 – something that makes political strategists queasy.

Nonetheless, the notion of having to forego email and hand-held devices might seem inhumane and unimaginable to anyone under the age of 50, for whom emailing and texting has evolved into a primary mode of communication over the past 15 years.

The idea of an offline president seems equally bizarre.

“It just doesn’t seem right to me,” said Karen Daniel, a television producer from Knoxville, Tenn., who nurses her own hard-core Berry addiction. “He’s a man of his generation and this is how his generation communicates.”

Daniel’s not alone, according to the results of a survey conducted this week by the San Francisco Chronicle.

The newspaper asked its readers: “Should president-elect Barack Obama have to give up his BlackBerry?”

As of midday Tuesday, 50 per cent or respondents had said no, while only 18 per cent – clearly unfamiliar with how ubiquitous electronic communications have become – said he’ll be too busy with other matters to bother with checking email.

Nine per cent, however, said Obama should give up the BlackBerry to avoid creating a record of presidential doings, while 24 per cent argued the very opposite: he should keep it in order to create a record of presidential doings.

Daniel said she agrees that holding onto his BlackBerry will only help to keep Obama honest.

“It makes him more transparent,” said Daniel, who recently went through withdrawal symptoms of her own when her Berry went on the blink for days, leaving her in a communications no-man’s land while vacationing in New York.

“If he doesn’t mind that people will be able to read his exchanges in years to come, then why can’t he hold onto it?”

Former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, who delivered a luncheon speech Tuesday in Toronto as part of an international speaking tour, agreed that losing the BlackBerry would be more than just an inconvenience for his one-time boss.

“It’s an important way for him to operate with his colleagues, but also it’s very important for him to stay in touch with … his friends and his family,” Plouffe said.

“It’s something he’s really struggling with.”

Obama’s not the first president to have to give up the conveniences of modern communication.

While Bill Clinton sent only two email messages as president and has reportedly never warmed to the habit, George W. Bush expressed sadness when he was forced to stop emailing in January 2001.

He even said recently he’s looking forward to emailing “my buddies” when he returns to Texas from Washington.

But for Obama, losing his Berry is a particularly bitter irony considering his historic campaign for the presidency was largely launched on technological battle fronts – on Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Twitter and via emails and text messages.

He emailed friends and family and even actress Scarlett Johansson with the device. He kept his eye on it while attending his daughters’ soccer games in Chicago. He was ridiculed for carrying it in a holster on his belt – something of a fashion faux pas among technology snobs.

“It’s not just the flow of information,” a mournful Obama said last week.

“What it has to do with is having mechanisms where you are interacting with people who are outside of the White House in a meaningful way. And I’ve got to look for every opportunity to do that – ways that aren’t scripted, ways that aren’t controlled … ways of staying grounded.”

There might be a solution on the horizon for Obama, however.

Some hand-held devices have been approved as secure enough to handle even classified documents, email and Web browsing, raising the possibility that perhaps Obama might be allowed some sort of Berry-ish gadget.

The General Dynamics’ Sectera Edge is a combination phone-PDA that retails for a pricey US$3,350. It’s been certified by the National Security Agency as being acceptable for top secret voice communications, e-mail and Web sites, and it’s sturdy – able to withstand numerous four-foot drops onto concrete.

There was no immediate word from Obama’s transition team about whether the phone might be an option for the president-elect.

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/s/capress/090113/world/inauguration_obama_blackberry


Commentary: How Bush botched war on terror – by Peter Bergen

January 9, 2009
I found this commentary a very compelling read given the fact that Peter Bergen has personally interviewed Osama Bin Laden – if anyone were to have an insight into the method behind his madness, it would be Bergen…
– FlashAddict
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By Peter Bergen
CNN National Security Analyst

Editor’s note: Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst and a fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington and at New York University’s Center on Law and Security. His most recent book is “The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al Qaeda’s Leader.”

Peter Bergen says it's crucial to correctly frame the nature of a war before beginning it.

Peter Bergen says it’s crucial to correctly frame the nature of a war before beginning it.

WASHINGTON (CNN) — President-elect Barack Obama and his foreign policy advisers and speechwriters are wrestling with one of the most important speeches of his presidency, his inaugural address.

One of their toughest conceptual challenges is how to describe and recast what the Bush administration has consistently termed the “war on terror.”

The dean of military strategists, Carl von Clausewitz, explains the importance of this decision-making in his treatise “On War”: “The first, the supreme, the most decisive act of judgment that the statesman and commander have to make is to establish…the kind of war on which they are embarking; neither mistaking it for, nor trying to turn it into something that is alien to its nature.”

Clausewitz’s excellent advice about the absolute necessity of properly defining the war upon which a nation is about to embark was ignored by Bush administration officials who instead declared an open-ended and ambiguous “war on terror” after the United States was attacked on September 11, 2001.

Bush took the nation to war against a tactic, rather than a war against a specific enemy, which was obviously al Qaeda and anyone allied to it. When the United States went to war against the Nazis and the Japanese during World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt and his congressional supporters did not declare war against U-boats and kamikaze pilots, but on the Nazi state and Imperial Japan.

The war on terror, sometimes known as the “Global War on Terror” or by the clunky acronym GWOT, became the lens through which the Bush administration judged almost all of its foreign policy decisions. That proved to be dangerously counterproductive on several levels.

The GWOT framework propelled the Bush administration into its disastrous entanglement in Iraq. It had nothing to do with 9/11 but was launched under the rubric of the war on terror and the erroneous claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

The theory was that he might give such weapons to terrorists, including al Qaeda to whom he was supposedly allied, and that he therefore threatened American interests. None of this, of course, turned out to be true.

The Bush administration’s approach to the war on terror collided badly with another of its doctrines, spreading democracy in the Middle East as a panacea to reduce radicalism.

It pushed for elections in the Palestinian territories in which, in early 2006, the more radical Hamas won a resounding victory, propelled to power on a wave of popular revulsion for the incompetence and corruption of the Fatah party that had dominated Palestinian politics since the 1960s.

Imprisoned by its war on terror framework, the Bush administration supported Israel in a disastrous war against Hezbollah in Lebanon in the summer of 2006. Hezbollah is not only a terrorist group but is also part of the rickety Lebanese government and runs social welfare services across the country, yet for the Bush administration its involvement in terrorism was all that mattered.

As is now widely understood in Israel, the war against Hezbollah was a moral and tactical defeat for the Israeli military and government. Events in the current Israeli incursion in Gaza will determine whether history repeats itself.

Under the banner of the war on terror, the Bush administration also tied itself in conceptual knots conflating the threat from al Qaeda with Shiite groups like Hezbollah and the ayatollahs in Iran.

In 2006, for instance, President Bush claimed that “the Sunni and Shiite extremist represent different faces of the same threat.” In reality, Sunni and Shiite extremists have been killing each other in large numbers for years in countries from Pakistan to Iraq. The groups have differing attitudes toward the United States, which Sunni extremists attacked in 1993 and again on 9/11, while Shiite militants have never done so.

So, how to reconceptualize the GWOT?

Contrary to a common view among Europeans, who have lived through the bombing campaigns of various nationalist and leftist terror groups for decades, al Qaeda is not just another criminal/terrorist group that can be dealt with by police action and law enforcement alone.

After all, a terrorist organization like the Irish Republican Army would call in warnings before its attacks and its single largest massacre killed 29 people. By contrast, al Qaeda has declared war on the United States repeatedly — as it did for the first time to a Western audience during Osama bin Laden’s 1997 interview with CNN.

Following that declaration of war, the terror group attacked American embassies, a U.S. warship, the Pentagon and the financial heart of the United States, killing thousands of civilians without warning; acts of war by any standard.

Al Qaeda is obviously at war with the United States and so to respond by simply recasting the GWOT as the GPAT, the Global Police Action Against Terrorists, would be foolish and dangerous.

What kind of war then should the United States fight against al Qaeda? For that we should learn some lessons from the conceptual errors of the Bush administration.

Nine days after 9/11, Bush addressed Congress in a speech watched live by tens of millions of Americans in which he said that al Qaeda followed in the footsteps “of the murderous ideologies of the 20th century…They follow in the path of fascism, Nazism and totalitarianism,” implying that the fight against al Qaeda would be similar to World War II or the Cold War.

For the Bush administration, painting the conflict in such existential terms had the benefit of casting the president as the heroic reincarnation of Winston Churchill and anyone who had the temerity to question him as the reincarnation of Hitler’s arch-appeaser, Neville Chamberlain.

But this portrayal of the war on terror was massively overwrought. The Nazis occupied and subjugated most of Europe and instigated a global conflict that killed tens of millions. And when the United States fought the Nazis, the country spent 40 percent of its gross domestic product to do so and fielded millions of soldiers.

In his inaugural address, Obama should say that the United States is indeed at “war against al Qaeda and its allies,” but that as Roosevelt said in his inaugural address in 1933, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. If Americans are not terrorized by terrorists, then the U.S. has won against them.

Al Qaeda and its allies are threats to the United States and Americans living and working overseas, but they are far from all-powerful. Barring an exceptional event like September 11, 2001, in any given year Americans are more likely to die of snake bites or lightning strikes than a terrorist attack.

Despite the hyperventilating rhetoric of Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda’s amateur investigations into weapons of mass destruction do not compare to the very real possibility of nuclear conflagration that we faced during the Cold War. There are relatively few adherents of Binladen-ism in the West today, while there were tens of millions of devotees of communism and fascism.

Obama should also make it clear that instead of the Bush formulation of “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists,” the Obama administration doctrine will be, “Anyone who is against the terrorists is with us.”

After all it is only al Qaeda and its several affiliates in countries like Iraq, Lebanon and Algeria and allied groups such as the Taliban that kill U.S. soldiers and civilians and attack American interests around the globe.

Everyone else in the world is a potential or actual ally in the fight against al Qaeda and its affiliates, because those organizations threaten almost every category of institution, government and ethnic grouping.

This is the first of two commentaries on the war on terror. Read the second piece, Peter Bergen’s commentary on what principles Barack Obama should follow in waging war against al Qaeda and its allies, Friday, January 9 on CNN.com

http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/meast/01/07/bergen.war.terror/index.html