Monday, May 18, 2009

On moral issues of war, seeking consensus falls short

Although Barack Obama is barely four months into his freshman year as president, he's already proven to be a political leader of eloquence, reason and considerable adeptness.

America is still mired in a deep recession yet the near panic that seemed to mark its inception has receded. There are signs in some of the hardest-hit markets that housing prices have turned or at least hit bottom. And we've weathered to first round of swine flu without succumbing to the media hysteria that marked its onset.

"No drama, Obama" has set a tone of reasonable discourse, whether the topic be health care or abortion, which he took on at a graduation speech this week at the University of Notre Dame, calling for common ground in efforts to tackle abortion's root causes.

Yet there are signs that the calm and largely transparent course that the Obama Administration has set could be heading toward a squall on an issue that has shipwrecked more than one American presidency. Ironically, it's the very issue that first thrust him to prominence: War.
And his fiercest opposition could come from his strongest, earliest supporters: the Left.

One by one, the president has slowly backed away from positions he articulated during his campaign and even at the outset of his presidency. He extended his deadline for extricating American troops from Iraq. He reversed his position on ending military tribunals for Guantanamo detainees. And now he's backed away from a promise to release damning pictures of American abuse of prisoners.

Barack Obama has said repeatedly that he wants to look forward. Yet the Iraq War and the escalating conflict in Aghanistan continue to pull him backwards. He says he does not want to be mired in recrimination and investigation of the Bush years. Yet by failing to investigate and reveal American violation of international law and fundamental norms of moral behavior, he is assuring that these transgressions continue to drip out, leaving him buffeted by attacks and counterattacks between left and right.

Rep. John Lewis, the Civil Rights leader and Georgia Democrat, said at Emerson's graduation dinner last night that Congress is growing restless over the open-ended cost of the Iraq war. It surpassed $1 trillion this month and it's drives America further into unsustainable debt as services to America's poor, its unemployed and its vulnerable stagger under the growing weight of recession.

This contradiction in expenditures cannot be sustained for four more years -- perhaps not even for one. I believe it has has become untenable to send desparately needed tax dollars overseas to fund a war effort that will never succeed and can at best allow us to save face by withdrawing gracefully.

If Obama seems to be waffling on his commitment to end the Iraq War, he also walking a wobbly line on his promise to bring "change you can believe in" to government in its War on Terror.

After eight years of watching the principles on which the United States of America was founded erode in the post 9/11 era, liberal Democrats quite rightly see no compromise on issues of Civil Liberties and torture.

The Obama presidency began by offering transparency on the issue of torture but rebuffed calls for accountability of those responsible. Now, it is showing signs of retreating on its promise of transparency, too.

Like most Americans, I genuinely like our president. He seems a fundamentally decent and highly intelligent man. But my support, like many others, won't sustain itself through another administration of war without end and without principles. It won't stand for another administration that equivocates on torture or once again twists5 the principles of democracy in the name of democracy. Certain issues cannot be resolved through compromise. This is one.

Perhaps we can learn from the truth commissions established in South Africa after apartheid.
They did not seek retribution, just honest disclosure. America needs at least as much.
It is time for President Obama to appoint a special commission to look at where and how the Bush Administration violated laws that are the basis of our Constitution. If such a commission were set up not to build evidence for prosecution but to provide the world and the American people with both a basis for apology and commitment to change, it could do much more to move this country forward than simply allowing the wounds of the past to ooze.

South Africa emerged stronger from its self-exploration.The United State would do the same.

Poison can't be allowed to fester in the corpse of our politics. Showing our ugly self-inflicted wounds in the War on Terror will cause pain. No country likes to admit that it broke the law. But airing the truth in the clear air of open disclosure is also the only way for the United States government and we, the people, to heal.

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