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Beyond the World news headlines

from FaithWorld:

Obama evokes church/state divide at National Prayer Breakfast

Religion's role in U.S. politics was on full display on Thursday as President Barack Obama spoke and prayed at the annual National Prayer Breakfast.

Obama, an adult convert to Christianity, used the occasion to announce that he will be establishing a White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. This will replace or be an extension of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives established by former President George W. Bush, who was strongly supported by conservative Christians.

Some of Obama's remarks about the new office are sure to raise eyebrows in those conservative Christian circles. For example:

"The goal of this office will not be to favor one religious group over another – or even religious groups over secular groups.  It will simply be to work on behalf of those organizations that want to work on behalf of our communities, and to do so without blurring the line that our founders wisely drew between church and state."

Afghanistan and the surge skeptics

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For months U.S. commanders in Afghanistan have been asking for more troops and Washington has been increasingly receptive. Today, we turned the spotlight on the skeptics in this story.

How much heed should President Barack Obama pay to their concerns? As a presidential candidate, he promised to send more troops to Afghanistan and he has made the war there the top U.S. military priority. But are more U.S. forces the answer to Afghanistan’s worsening violence? If so, how many more?

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

India-U.S: advancing a transformed relationship

In the space of a decade, the United States and India have travelled far in a relationship clouded by the  Cold War when they were on opposite sides.

From U.S sanctions on India for its nuclear tests in 1998 to a civilian nuclear energy deal that opens access to international nuclear technology and finance, while allowing New Delhi to retain its nuclear weapons programme is a stunning reversal of policy and one that decisively transforms ties.

Gaza war – Early test for Obama?

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The slow pace of talks between Hamas and Egyptian mediators on Cairo’s proposal for a Gaza ceasefire is raising speculation in Israel over whether the Islamist group is playing for time, hoping to get a better deal once Barack Obama is sworn in as U.S. president on Tuesday.

Israel also has been in no rush to call off the offensive it began on Dec. 27 with the declared aim of ending Hamas rocket attacks on its southern towns.

Half-baked men, hooligans and other insults from North Korea

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By Jon Herskovitz

The end of the Bush administration will likely bring an end to one of my favourite guilty pleasures of reporting on North Korea, which is the verbal battle between Washington and Pyongyang. Prickly North Korea will undoubtedly fire rhetorical volleys at Barack Obama’s team but it may be hard to match the vitriolic language it has levelled at the administration of outgoing President George W. Bush, which in North Korean parlance is “a bunch of tricksters and political imbeciles who are the center of a plot breeding fraud and swindle”.

The Bush administration came into office pledging to take a tough line toward Pyongyang to force it to end its nuclear weapons programme, stop threatening its neighbours with ballistic missiles and halt human rights abuses that are regarded as some of the worst in the world. North Korea bristles at any criticism of its leaders or its communist system. It unleashed its first insults directed at Bush weeks into his presidency in 2001, after his team labelled the North a dangerous state.   

from Tales from the Trail:

To salute or not to salute, that’s Obama’s question

Barack Obama went to a gym at a military base in Hawaii the other day and did something positively Reaganesque -- he returned a Marine's salute.
 
In so doing, he wandered directly into the middle of a thorny debate: Should U.S. presidents return military salutes or not?
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Longstanding tradition requires members of the military to salute the president. The practice of presidents returning that salute is more recent -- Ronald Reagan started it in 1981.
 
Reagan's decision raised eyebrows at the time. Dwight Eisenhower, a former five-star general, did not return military salutes while president. Nor had other presidents.
 
John Kline, then Reagan's military aide and now a Minnesota congressman, advised him that it went against military protocol for presidents to return salutes.
 
Kline said in a 2004 op-ed piece in The Hill that Reagan ultimately took up the issue with Gen. Robert Barrow, then commandant of the Marine Corps.
 
Barrow told Reagan that as commander in chief of the armed forces, he was entitled to offer a salute -- or any sign of respect he wished -- to anyone he wished, Kline wrote, adding he was glad for the change.
 
Every president since Reagan has followed that practice, even those with no military experience. President Bill Clinton's saluting skills were roundly criticized after he took office, but the consensus was he eventually got better.
 
The debate over saluting has persisted, with some arguing against it for protocol reasons, others saying it represents an increasing militarization of the civilian presidency.
 
"The gesture is of course quite wrong: Such a salute has always required the wearing of a uniform," author and historian John Lukacs wrote in The New York Times in 2003.
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"But there is more to this than a decline in military manners," he added. "There is something puerile in the Reagan (and now Bush) salute. It is the joyful gesture of someone who likes playing soldier. It also represents an exaggeration of the president's military role."
 
Garry Wills, the author and Northwestern University professor, echoed those remarks in the Times in 2007.
 
"The glorification of the president as a war leader is registered in numerous and substantial executive aggrandizements; but it is symbolized in other ways that, while small in themselves, dispose the citizenry to accept those aggrandizements," he wrote.
 
"We are reminded, for instance, of the expanded commander in chief status every time a modern president gets off the White House helicopter and returns the salute of Marines."
 
What do you think? Is returning a salute a common courtesy? Or should Obama reconsider the practice?
 
For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Hugh Gentry (Obama waves after leaving a gym at a Marine Corps base in Hawaii Dec. 23); Reuters/Pool (Bush salutes at a ceremony in New York Nov. 11)

from FaithWorld:

Lots of advice for Obama on dealing with Muslims and Islam

President-elect Barack Obama has been getting a lot of advice these days on how to deal with Muslims and Islam. He invited it by saying during his campaign that he either wanted to convene a conference with leaders of Muslim countries or deliver a major speech in a Muslim country "to reboot America’s image around the world and also in the Muslim world in particular”. But where? when? why? how? Early this month, I chimed in with a pitch for a speech in Turkey or Indonesia.  Some quite interesting comments have come in since then. (Photo: Obama image in Jakarta, 25 Oct 2008/Dadang Tri)

Two French academics, Islam expert Olivier Roy and political scientist Justin Vaisse argued in a New York Times op-ed piece on Sunday that Obama's premise of trying to reconcile the West and Islam is flawed:

from FaithWorld:

Obama wants to address the Muslim world — but from where?

Now here's an interesting question. The New York Times reports that President-elect Barack Obama wants to make "a major foreign policy speech from an Islamic capital during his first 100 days in office." But from which one? As NYT staffer Helene Cooper explains, it's a question that's fraught with diplomatic, religious and personal complications. After a day of calling around Washington, she found a consensus:

It’s got to be Cairo. Egypt is perfect. It’s certainly Muslim enough, populous enough and relevant enough. It’s an American ally, but there are enough tensions in the relationship that the choice will feel bold. The country has plenty of democracy problems, so Mr. Obama can speak directly to the need for a better democratic model there. It has got the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist organization that has been embraced by a wide spectrum of the Islamic world, including the disenfranchised and the disaffected.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Mumbai attack and Obama’s plans for Afghanistan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As if the challenge facing President-elect Barack Obama of stabilising Afghanistan was not difficult enough, it may have just got much, much harder after the Mumbai attacks soured relations between India and Pakistan -- undermining hopes of finding a regional solution to the Afghan war.

As discussed in an earlier post, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has blamed a group outside India for the attacks which killed at least 121 people. The coordinated attacks bore the hallmarks of Pakistani-based Kashmiri militant groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which India says was set up by Pakistan's spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI.

from FaithWorld:

U.S. ideology stable, “culture trench warfare” ahead?

The U.S. Democratic Party has gained a larger following over the past two decades but America's ideological landscape has remained largely unchanged over the past two decades, according to a new report by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. You can see the analysis here.

What is of interest for readers of this blog may be the implications of this "cultural trench warfare" -- with neither side gaining much ground from the other -- for red-hot social issues such as abortion rights and the future prospects for both the Republicans and the Democrats.

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