Wednesday, November 27, 2013
TRUST BUT VERIFY
Dear President Obama:
I feel a little guilty that it took me so long to write this. I have been pretty quick to write letters, sign petitions and make phone calls criticizing your actions in the past. When you get something important right, it’s only fair that I take the time to express my support. Besides, I imagine that if all you hear from certain people is negativity, questioning of your motives and cynicism about your actions you might be disinclined to listen to them. I wouldn’t blame you, either.
You deserve credit for avoiding a direct attack on Syria and opening up dialogue with Iran. Cynics claimed that you bumbled your way into the situation, but that doesn’t add up. It seems to me that you have masterfully handled pressure from a Congress in the pockets of the military-industrial complex and blindly obedient to the wishes of the right wing Israeli government of Bibi Netanyahu. Your actions in response to the false flag attack in Syria not only allowed but encouraged a debate in which Americans finally spoke against further American imperialist overreach. Some even entertained the heretical notion that Israel’s interests are not identical to their own. This is a healthy skepticism that I am sure will only become more widespread as Israel’s aim of destabilizing Syria and attacking Iran at any cost becomes ever more nakedly apparent.
Holding our elected officials responsible for their actions may be everyone’s duty, but it’s obvious to me that without the support of the People, a President cannot change a nation that has gone so badly off course. Lincoln didn’t free the slaves until he believed that slavery proponents would not be able to use it to defeat the cause of preserving the Union. When citizens who had doubted him rallied to the cause after a Union Army victory, he took a calculated risk in challenging the property rights of slaveholders with the Emancipation Proclamation. He could not have done the same thing and won the war without political capital. That only comes when the People support the President for doing the right thing.
The way I see it, we are in a similar situation but this time the People must rally around your efforts at waging peace, not war. Just as Lincoln forced a confrontation by challenging the economic interests of slave holders by seeking to limit slavery, your recent actions threaten the enormous investments of corporate war profiteers who would enslave the world in endless war if they could. If you can expect no support from those who would like to believe you mean what you say, it is hard to imagine how you could prevail against a Congress so deeply committed to serving the interests of those whose profits are threatened by the prospect of peace, when half the country will oppose whatever action you take.
I hope that I have been right in calling for patience from people who have demonized you for widening the war in Afghanistan, failing to close Guantanamo, exponentially expanding drone warfare, helping build a domestic spying apparatus so massive it could be the backbone of your jobs plan and insisting that Americans be subject to the same violations of constitutional rights as foreigners have suffered since the outbreak of the War of Terror. While I share their concerns about these and other decisions that threaten freedom in the US and the world, I try never to forget that I am not the one in the office that Kennedy held when he was murdered by the national security state for trying to end the Cold War. As a student of Presidential history, I am sure that you are fully aware of that fact and the implications it has for what you can accomplish without risking the same fate. I don’t feel that I have any right to judge you for what you have or haven’t done. I understand what you meant when, according to former senior CIA analyst Ray McGovern, you told disappointed friends who wanted you to explain your record “Don’t you remember what happened to Martin Luther King, Jr?”
With all this in mind, the world will be watching while you determine whether the cynics or the optimists will be vindicated by your conduct of the negotiations in Geneva. It seems to be a good sign that the long-delayed negotiations on Syria are finally scheduled, despite the opposition of Israel, Saudi Arabia and the terrorist groups they are hoping will topple the Assad government. Since the delay was due to a refusal of the Syrian insurgents to take part, this appears to be tacit recognition that the al Qaeda-led “rebels” are not going to prevail in turning Syria into a failed state, Libya-style. If the negotiations lead to substantive agreement, they will have to take what they can get.
At the same time, I cannot ignore the possibility that both negotiations may be a sham, like the Israeli “peace” negotiations with the illegitimate PA government. Just as there can be no negotiating for peace with a nation that continues to commit international crimes in expanding its colonization of an occupied country, so too can the US government talk peace while doing everything in its power to undermine it. Removing Assad from power as a precondition to peace in Syria is a nonstarter. The government is regularly defeating the terrorists in the field, but pundits and politicians are expressing hope that Iran can be convinced to “help” with negotiations around Syria. If you press Iran to convince Assad to step down, we will know that the negotiations in Tehran are just for show.
If you are serious about wanting peace, you will do everything possible to present an acceptable deal to the Iranians, taking into account that they have hardliners who benefit from politics of confrontation just as right wing hawks in both parties do in the US. It is a delicate balancing act, and anyone with an ounce of understanding of the situation will know why your tough rhetoric and hyperbole is necessary for domestic consumption even if you truly want to bargain fairly. After all, if that is what it takes to get support for a treaty in the Senate, the peoples of both nations will benefit. At the same time, you will have finally declared American independence from the right wing of the Knesset.
I really want to see you do the right thing. I am willing to trust you until I see proof that this move toward peace is insincere, if it is. Some people would rather be right in their cynical assumptions than be embarrassed should you prove them dead wrong, though they will never admit it. I am not one of them. I am not afraid of being embarrassed by having the audacity to still hope that we can be the change that will make you do what is right. If we fail to support you when you need us the most, I am not sure that we could handle democracy if we had one.
Rick Staggenborg, MD
Founder, Soldiers For Peace International