A [Weak?] Week’s Worth of Work

At the rate these criticisms are mounting, Obama will be lucky if he escapes impeachment in March.  It’s been literally seven days since he took office, and his foreign policy and domestic policy initiatives have been roundly questioned.  Remember folks: Bush fucked things up in 8 years; Obama’s barely had 8 days.  We might have to be a little patient.

The statements seem to grow more ludicrous by the hour.  Take the article under the foreign policy link by Rabbani and Toensing, for example.  Obama has started on a strong footing with trying to mend the Grand Canyon-sized ideological rift between the Muslim world, the Middle East, and the United States from Clinton-era and Bush-era policies.  He’s made calls to national leaders in the Middle East about working together to resolve conflicts, he’s selected George Mitchell as an envoy to help broker a longstanding peace between Israel and Palestine (that’ll hopefully be balanced for both sides — politically-entrenched pro-Israel rhetoric notwithstanding), and he participated a wonderful interview on Al-Arabiya TV that signals a new trend in taking the Muslim and Arab world seriously.  (Video here.)  You know, as opposed to calling them those folks sitting on our oil/eating American babies.

These three determined steps, done in the course of a week, would make most people optimistic, yes?  NO.  To be optimistic about these moves is fatal, apparently:

Virtually everyone who followed these proceedings emerged satisfied, not least because Obama seemed to understand what he was saying and spoke in coherent, complete sentences. For some, his willingness to throw American diplomacy at the Israeli-Palestinian crisis so early in his administration represented a breath of fresh air after eight years of “neglect” under former President George W. Bush. Others suggested Obama seems to have additionally learned from the mistakes of the 1990s, when Washington failed to put forth its own agenda for a permanent settlement until it was too late in the game. Still others, in Arab chanceries, were grateful simply that Obama acknowledged the suffering of Palestinians trapped under Israeli aerial assault and economic blockade.

Many also lauded the choice of Mitchell, whether on account of his prior diplomatic success in Northern Ireland or his previous experience in matters Israeli-Palestinian. But most of all, Obama was praised for signaling a clean break with the catastrophic legacy of his predecessor — one all too evident in the ruins of, most recently, Gaza. Such attitudes, however, represent a leap of faith unwarranted by the history of US policy toward Israel-Palestine and, more to the point, developments on the ground, still smoldering from Israeli bombardments of unprecedented intensity. [Emphasis added.]

So…because President Obama, like most of us, is trapped in the vestiges of linear time, any actions he takes to correct the shitcanning of his predecessor are doomed, no matter how different his burgeoning course appears. Over the span of a week.

But wait!  It apparently isn’t different!

Thus the idea of regime change in Iraq had its roots in the administration of Bush père, and became US policy under President Bill Clinton, long before being pursued by Bush fils. Similarly, Obama’s much-touted withdrawal from Iraq, like his pledge to talk to Iran, continues rather than changes policies introduced during the final years of the second Bush administration. Though one would not know it from the hyperventilation on the American right, even the Bush administration mused once or twice about shutting down the law-free zone at Guantánamo Bay. Where dramatic shifts in US policy do occur, these are, as a rule, responses to momentous events in the region rather than momentous decisions in Washington.

Now I don’t want to be pedantic (okay, I do; but I’ll behave) about this point; but do you think Bush’s attitude might have trended towards Iraq withdrawal because of 1) the increasing likelihood that Obama would win the presidency, partially due to his commitment of drawing down American forces, and 2) Bush’s remarkably low approval ratings, particularly surrounding the Iraq War debacle?  Surely, the last couple of days of the Bush administration would have been an inopportune moment to try another surge.

As far as Bush’s occasional musings to close the prison in Guantánamo Bay, I don’t know if it is even prudent to take any of his chin stroking regarding that issue seriously, considering recent reports.  Unless he was contemplating an equally lawless freedom policy (open the doors and let them run) to remedy his lawless detention policy, Bush closing that prison just wasn’t going to happen.

There are more claims throughout the article that takes Bush’s lackluster initiatives toward peace and transposes them on Obama’s first week, such as pointing out the failures of trying to implement Mitchell’s gradual peace brokering strategy as proposed in the Clinton administration — during the tenure of an unenthusiastic and blatantly pro-Israel Bush administration.  I’m not saying there aren’t matters that aren’t problematic in President Obama’s handling of the Israel/Palestine situation, though it stands to international precedent that any government has the option of not recognizing another government as legitimate.  In the case of Obama and Hamas, that stand-off will not last if any long-term peace agreement between Israel and Palestine is in the works.

But to argue from there that the recognition of Hamas and substantial progress towards peace over the next four years will never happen because of small flaws within seven days’ worth of work is absurd.  I don’t think it is irrational to believe that Obama is willing to commit the time and delicacy needed to mend relationships abroad.  Operative words: time and delicacy.

As far as domestic policy is concerned, I have to admit I felt disappointed with the decision to cut a provision providing $200 million to family planning programs for low-income households and individuals.  The attacks on the provision were as trivial as the Republicans who soundbyted it, and it signals the fear that plagues Democrats about taking the Moral Majority Family Values façade to task.  However, it is still very early, and I think that the entire progressive media-making consortium has to take some responsibility as well.  (Broad indictment, but hear me out.)

The only reason these family values attacks work when it comes to something as fundamental as reproductive autonomy is the discourse on women’s health and reproductive responsibility has not taken the precedence it should have in political discourse.  When McCain can sit and place air quotes around women’s health concerns as if they’re trivial in the grand scheme of political dealings, it is no surprise that nominal funding initiatives that take up .024% of an entire stimulus package can unravel within a few days’ worth of Republiblubber.

The Dems and President Obama aren’t off the hook for tabling the provision now.  We should fully expect to see a new bill in coming months that reintroduces family planning funding and low-cost reproductive health initiatives.  But at the same time, the fight has to continue and strengthen to make our political trending towards center-left a lasting one.  Flogging the hell out of the new President’s first week won’t do that as much as shaping discourse on progressive health care policy.

But back to my original point — can we give the man a couple of months to work before we consider his moves fruitless?  Please?

4 Responses to “A [Weak?] Week’s Worth of Work”

  1. Thank you. I was beginning to feel as though the world were scheduled to end sometime next week.

    Maybe Wednesday…

    Around lunch time…

    Which would work because then I could get out of going to work on that day (I leave for work right after lunch time).

  2. SylviaM says:

    I’d prefer if the world ended tomorrow. A week is enough (the world was created in one, heh heh heh), and I haven’t read for classes tomorrow morning.

  3. Heh, no luck for you, it’s the morning after and the world’s still here.

  4. rawdawg says:

    im with the tv interview – rest is shady

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