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Commentary Last Updated: Feb 27th, 2009 - 02:06:19

Torture, renditions, disastrous wars: Will Obama bring real change to America?
By Michael Payne
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Feb 27, 2009, 00:38

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As with most new presidents, the honeymoon with America is underway. And that will continue for a time as President Obama utilizes his large political capital and his oratorical skills in promoting his goal of transforming America. But, there are serious moral and ethical issues that he will soon have to confront, and how he deals with them will have a huge impact on the success of his administration and the future of our nation.

What will President Obama do about torture and renditions? While he has stated that no one is above the law, his mindset is clearly on looking forward rather than backward. To many, that would seem to indicate that he does not intend to promote the investigation and potential prosecution of anyone and everyone in the Bush administration with regard to war crimes.

Constitutional scholars contend that Obama cannot look the other way because, by his oath of office, he is bound to adhere to the part of the Constitution that states, This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land;� That means he must enforce the Constitution and the law of the land.

Bush and Cheney have made statements in both print and on video apparently admitting that they not only knew about, but approved, new �innovative forms of interrogation,� including methods of torture such as water boarding, that are in violation of the Geneva Convention, the United Nations Convention Against Torture and other international law.

Now, wonder of wonders, various Democratic congressional leaders, including Pelosi and Reid, are speaking out on this issue and indicating that they are in favor of some type of investigation by Congress, a special prosecutor or a commission. That is certainly a massive change of direction as opposed to their previous deadly silence on these matters in the last several years. And by speaking out in this way, these leaders are now making this issue one that seemingly must be addressed.

Their stand may pose a dilemma for Obama but there just might be some behind the scenes strategy going on here. Could it be possible that Obama, shrewd politician that he seems to be, is setting up a process where he will abide by the Constitution by staying above the fray and letting his surrogates in Congress take the responsible actions that this issue demands?

Who knows, but I would venture to say that Obama knows full well that this hot issue is not going to go away soon and that he cannot risk the consequences of a potential backlash from many Americans and the entire world community of nations if he fails to address such a huge moral issue.

Now let�s focus on the Middle East and the fact that after 60 years, ever since the state of Israel was created in 1948, this now heavily nuclear-armed nation has not been able to find any way to deal with its neighboring countries other than by encroachment and use of military force. I am not saying that all other Middle East nations have Israel�s best interests and safety in mind, it�s just that Israel, obviously an extremely paranoid nation, has continuously resisted honest efforts to bring true peace to that area for decades.

How President Obama goes about �bringing change� and doing away with �business as usual� is critical to the future of the Middle East. He must use every means at his disposal, utilizing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and new envoy George Mitchell, to come up with new visions and strategies to bring some kind of mutual cooperation and understanding between all the regional nations. Yes, between all nations, because only with a concentrated mutual effort and diplomatic pressure will anything of substance happen. The old way of simply pushing Israel and Palestine to find common ground is now outdated and obsolete.

If he allows himself to fall into the same old negotiating strategies of the past, he will fail. If he allows himself to come under the compelling spell of Israel�s leaders and the powerful Israeli lobby in Washington, he will completely fail and the Middle East may have seen its last chance at reconciliation disappear forever.

The last issue that will determine the substance and integrity of the Obama administration is that of his stated intention of withdrawal from Iraq and escalation of our military involvement in Afghanistan.

Let�s examine the planned exit from Iraq first. The first great danger to carrying out Obama�s stated objectives is already coming from his secretary of defense, Robert Gates, and the military establishment. The very politically ambitious General Petraeus, together with certain other key Obama advisers, seems to be bent on delaying the process or watering it down. This ominous development could spell very serious problems for Obama. The military, in my estimation, has definite plans to maintain a substantial troop presence in Iraq, as they have been mentally conditioned by the Bush administration to protect America�s special strategic interests in that region -- namely OIL.

To think that America is going to take all its military presence out of Iraq and bring all our troops home is not realistic. The big question is just how many troops will Obama and the military leave in Iraq to prevent chaos and civil war between the Shiites, Sunnis and other factions. If Obama caves in and lets the withdrawal experience delay after delay, or if he allows tens of thousands of troops to stay in outlying bases, then he will fail and the monumental drain on our financial resources will be devastating.

There is talk that Petraeus may be making a power move to take control of this situation, since a group of senior military officers is reported to be preparing to support him by mobilizing public opinion against Obama�s intended withdrawal plan. We may just be looking at a replay of the scenario when, in April 1951, President Harry S. Truman removed General Douglas MacArthur from his command of the United Nations forces in Korea, when that famous World War II general tried to use the press to pressure Truman to agree to bomb Communist Chinese bases north of the Yalu River. Truman wasted no time and fired McArthur, the war hero. Petraeus, hardly of the public stature of McArthur, should read up on this historical incident and decide if he wants to take a risky chance that might make him the modern-day McArthur.

It seems that the best scenario that we can hope for is that Obama is strong and resolute in his objective and does not back down from his timetable, and leaves only minimal troops in Iraq to guard the embassy and to provide training. In such a scenario, it will be very likely that US troops would still maintain a formidable presence in Kuwait, Qatar and other surrounding nations. Whether we like it or not, America is not going to give up its special, strategic interests in the Middle East.

Right now, it is evident that Obama and the military are on the same page when it comes to transferring up to 30,000 combat troops to escalate our military involvement in Afghanistan. They are all in agreement that this will be done and that may well be a fatal mistake for America. Every invading nation since 330 b.c., including the Soviet Union in 1989, has been expelled from that nation. And there is every reason to think that America will experience the same fate.

But not learning from history and the ill-conceived wars of Vietnam and Iraq, our government is on the verge of making yet one more misguided, terribly expensive use of military force.

How will the Obama administration and America be severely damaged if this current direction is taken? Another deep quagmire will probably lead to a tremendous, possibly fatal, monetary drain at the same time we are trying to solve our massive economic problems. Obama will be labeled as a war president just as Nixon and Johnson were with the disastrous Vietnam War. And the chance for America to break with its past mistakes and go into a great new direction will be dealt a deadly blow.

Obama is going to have to tackle each of these moral and ethical issues head on. This will be a critical test of his courage, resolve and sense of justice. How he addresses them will determine if real change comes to America.

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