To be honest, Obama, you lost me when you voted for the PATRIOT Act reauthorization in 2006. You lost me again when you voted for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) amendment in 2008. And you lost me every single time you voted for yet more war funding.
Don’t even get me started on your vote for the $700 billion Wall Street bailout.
I cast a ballot for you in November, but I just can’t share in this moment of collective euphoria over your election.
So, if your transition team really wants feedback on “where President-Elect Obama should lead this country,” here’s a Top Five list:
1. Dump the Bush Doctrine and don’t start more wars
You’ve made it clear that the US has to “take out Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants if we have them in our sights” and you’ve argued for “more resources and more troops to finish the fight against the terrorists who actually attacked us on 9/11.”
What exactly does that mean?
Take troops out of Iraq and shove them into Afghanistan? Further destabilize Pakistan?
The whole idea of preemptive war (a.k.a. the Bush Doctrine) has no place in a civilized society and must be laid to rest, along with those sacrificed in Bush’s military adventurism these past eight years
Yet your approach to preemptive war, Mr. Obama, is nuanced at best.
During the January 2008 Democratic presidential debate, you said that if the US had “actionable intelligence” and Pakistan didn’t “take on Al Qaida in their territory,” then “I would strike.” You added, “And that’s the flaw of the Bush doctrine. It wasn’t that he went after those who attacked America. It was that he went after those who didn’t.”
No, the flaw of the Bush Doctrine is that it’s just plain wrong. We’ve learned that the hard way.
2. Ditch the warmongers
What’s with all of the hawks in your new administration?
You presented yourself as a peace candidate and then chose Joe Biden as your VP. Yes, he brought in the white male vote, but he also backed the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Just last month Biden warned that if you were elected, there would be “an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy.” He said that you would make some “incredibly tough decisions” that could alienate the Democratic base, because if decisions are “popular, they’re probably not sound.”
In other words, a popular decision, one that the majority of the people wants, is probably not a good decision. Democracy to Biden…
And then there’s Robert Gates, widely rumored to be staying on as your Defense Secretary. Questions about Gates’ role in Iran-Contra, not to mention his skewing of intelligence about Russia, still linger.
But especially disturbing is his recent push for beefing up the US nuclear arsenal: “As long as other nations have or seek nuclear weapons – and can potentially threaten us, our allies and friends – then we must have a deterrent capacity that makes it clear that challenging the United States in the nuclear arena, or with weapons of mass destruction, could result in an overwhelming, catastrophic response.”
Let’s get this straight: if other nations are even imagined to “seek” nuclear weapons, that “could result in an overwhelming, catastrophic response” from the US.
Obama, you’ve often insisted on taking “no options off the table” in dealing with Iran. How does Gates’ proposal for the preemptive use of nuclear weapons factor in there?
While we’re on the topic of warmongers in your midst… Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff? Yet another hawk, hell-bent on attacking Iran and enamored with nuclear weapons.
And now we’ve got Clinton as Secretary of State.
Why is it that none of the 23 senators and 133 House Reps who voted against the war in Iraq are even on a short-list for these critical posts?
3. Close Guantanamo – and the whole system of secret prisons
Shutting down Gitmo is reportedly a priority for your new administration. Terrific.
But what about Bagram? What about the other CIA “black site” secret prisons set up in Afghanistan, Thailand, Eastern Europe and elsewhere? What about the CIA torture flights? Will those end too?
Closing Gitmo also raises questions over how “high value” defendants will be handled. Your administration is reportedly considering setting up an alternative court system to deal with sensitive cases. But what safeguards will be in place to be sure that this new system won’t degenerate into kangaroo courts, like Bush’s military commissions?
It’s a disturbing signal that you’ve appointed John Brennan, who has supported extraordinary rendition and warrantless wiretapping, to help review intelligence agencies for your administration. As former CIA and State Department analyst Mel Goodman noted, Brennan “sat there at [former CIA Director George] Tenet’s knee when they passed judgment on torture and abuse, on extraordinary renditions, on black sites, on secret prisons. He was part of all of that decision making.”
And this is who will help lead us out of this mess?
You’ve criticized the use of torture, yet reportedly will not bring criminal charges against those who authorized or conducted torture during the Bush years. Your administration doesn’t see it as politically expedient, and Bush might give “preemptive” pardons anyway.
But can we really end this dark chapter in our nation’s history without even an investigation? A Truth Commission, perhaps? Providing blanket immunity to all low-level and senior government officials won’t prevent possible war crimes from happening again. Quite the opposite.
4. Expose Bush & Co., and ditch the national surveillance state
Speaking of war crimes, how about Bush, Cheney and the rest? You’ll soon be given access to Bush-era secret orders and opinions authorizing everything from surveillance to detention. You’ll no doubt rescind many, to great fanfare, but what about sharing this evidence of Bush-year excesses with the public?
Yes, Bush could file a lawsuit and invoke executive privilege, but it’s worth the fight. The only other option is shielding Bush & Co., similar to how you will reportedly shield those government officials involved in torture. But the public deserves to know. And if Bush administration officials violated the law, they should be prosecuted.
Now, back to your vote for both the PATRIOT Act reauthorization in 2006 and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act amendment in 2008. These and other rollbacks in domestic civil liberties under Bush are inexcusable and must be addressed. We’ll be waiting for you to do that.
5. Choose Main Street (not Wall Street)
Just this month you promised Americans that they can “turn the page on policies that have put the greed and irresponsibility of Wall Street before the hard work and sacrifice of folks on Main Street.”
Yet, as Bloomberg notes, “almost half the people” on your Transition Economic Advisory Board “have held fiduciary positions at companies that, to one degree or another, either fried their financial statements, helped send the world into an economic tailspin, or both.”
This includes, for example, Anne Mulcahy and Richard Parsons, both of whom were Fannie Mae directors when the company fudged accounting rules. Ditto for another of your team members, William Daley.
Mulcahy and Parsons additionally held executive posts when their companies (Xerox Corp. and Time Warner Inc., respectively) got busted for accounting fraud by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Also on your team is Robert Rubin, who as Bloomberg notes, was “chairman of Citigroup Inc.’s executive committee when the bank pushed bogus analyst research, helped Enron Corp. cook its books, and got caught baking its own. He was a director from 2000 to 2006 at Ford Motor Co., which also committed accounting fouls and now is begging Uncle Sam for Citigroup- style bailout cash.”
The list of questionable appointees to your Transitional Economic Advisory Board goes on and on, begging the question: Is this really the best you could come up with? How about Joseph Stiglitz, Sheila Bair, Nouriel Roubini or James K. Galbraith, for starters? Someone who represents labor?
Meanwhile, we’re stuck with this nasty bailout bill – which you voted for.
Others, such as Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), realized the bill’s problems and voted against. Feingold said that the Wall Street bailout legislation, “fails to reform the flawed regulatory structure that permitted this crisis to arise in the first place. And it doesn’t do enough to address the root cause of the credit market collapse, namely the housing crisis. Taxpayers deserve a plan that puts their concerns ahead of those who got us into this mess.”
Feingold was right.
In short, Mr. President-elect, you promised “Change we can believe in,” but across the board it’s looking a lot more like “Business as usual.”