Opinion

The Great Debate

Obama and the wrong side of history

By Bernd Debusmann
May 21, 2009

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate—Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.—

Ringing words, smoothly delivered: “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Did that memorable line from President Barack Obama’s inaugural address on January 20 mean his administration would break with a long American tradition of paying lip service to democracy and human rights while supporting authoritarian rulers friendly to Washington? Too early to say for sure, but probably not.

Four months into his presidency, Obama and his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, lean towards pragmatism over ideology and principle, closer in foreign policy outlook to Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger than to George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice.

On her first official visit to China, Clinton said concern over human rights must not “interfere” with cooperation on the global financial crisis, climate change and security issues such as North Korea’s nuclear arms programme.

As for those on the wrong side of history, one leader who fits Obama’s description is President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, from where the U.S. president is scheduled to make a high-profile speech to the Muslim world early in June.

A long-time U.S. ally, Mubarak has been in power since 1981. He won uncontested elections four times. The fifth and latest, in 2005, featured charges of vote-rigging and the arrest of his main opponent.

The U.S. Department of State, which issues annual reports on human rights, gives Egypt poor grades and notes “the government’s respect for freedoms of press, association and religion declined during the year (2008).” No unclenched fist here.

To boot, Mubarak has played host and acted as a sponsor to Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for war crimes in Darfur. The court issued a warrant for Bashir’s arrest in March.

At the height of the Bush administration’s “freedom agenda,” the second-term drive for “democracy promotion,” Washington publicly scolded Mubarak. Rice, during a visit to Cairo, announced a break with the past:

“For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in the region. And we achieved neither. Now we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of the people.”

TARNISHED IMAGE

By 2005, when Rice made her democratic aspirations speech, the U.S. image in the Arab world was so badly tarnished by the war in Iraq, the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and Guantanamo that few Arabs were inclined to believe anything the Bush administration said.

Her remark stood out for its bluntness and its venue but the idea was not new. Support for democracy against dictatorships has been a key theme of American foreign policy since the U.S. rose to big power status at the turn of the 20th century.

That did not keep the U.S. from overthrowing democratically-elected leaders it did not like (Chile’s Salvador Allende, Guatemala’s Jacobo Arbenz) and propping up dictators it did (the Shah of Iran, Congo’s Mobutu Sese Seko, Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines). Saying one thing and doing another earned the U.S. an enduring reputation for hypocrisy.

The Bush administration’s enthusiasm for democracy promotion in the Middle East fizzled rapidly after the Islamist group Hamas, shunned as a terrorist group by the West, won a resounding electoral victory in Gaza in 2006. Since then, part of the American foreign policy establishment has framed the alternatives in the region as Islamists or authoritarians.

If there were free elections today in Egypt, many experts predict that the Muslim Brotherhood, whose aim is the establishment of an Islamic state, would win easily, an uncomfortable prospect for Washington.

To push an Arab peace plan Obama wants to make part of an effort to create a Palestinian state side-by-side with Israel, Mubarak is clearly a better partner even though he may be on the wrong side of history. The plan offers Israel normal relations with all Arab states in return for withdrawing from territory it seized in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

The plan was first floated by Saudi Arabia, another staunch U.S. ally far from democracy and prone to silence dissent.

How (and whether) Obama intends to persuade countries on the wrong side of history to switch to the right side should become clear in his speech to the Muslim world. It could be a turning point in America’s relations with a fifth of the world’s population, but there is a lot that could go wrong, even for a president with Obama’s charisma and outstanding political skills. Not to mention a middle name that resonates: Hussein.

The goal he set himself for the speech, spelt out before he took office, is ambitious: “Reboot America’s image” in the Muslim world. Words alone won’t do it, but they are a start.

Comments
176 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

So you can’t get past your personal issues, unfortunate but not uncommon. I ask what need does an innocent person have to use the 5th amendment now? Just because you don’t understand the system doesn’t make it illogical. Your ideas that ignorance of the law should be a defense is illogical, expecting a legal system that needs to deal with the real world could be easily grasped by everyone is illogical. Thinking the the “dinosaur” system is going to change anytime soon is illogical. Good luck getting that MRI tech in a courtroom, I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you waiting for any major changes.
I guess the ability to post on the internet doesn’t correlate with logic or common sense. You’d think I’d have learned that already, but I try to hope.

Posted by Edward M. Blake | Report as abusive
 

Ed! you make it too easy for me

ed said
“Your ideas that ignorance of the law should be a defense is illogical,”

One, if you READ, you will realize I never said that ignorance of the law should be used as a defense.
I said the system is idiotic saying that “Ignorance of the law is not excuse for breaking the law”, and yet, their are so many laws on books, no ONE PERSON, Judge or Lawyer, knows all the laws. The Tax code alone is so complex people have to specialize in it, and it alone.
Imagine how easy it could all be if you could just ask someone if they cheated on their taxes and discover the truth with the MRI?

Ed said
“expecting a legal system that needs to deal with the real world could be easily grasped by everyone is illogical.”

You know, I really want a legal system that deals Wonderland, or Never-Never land, and most certainly not a legal system that deals with the “REAL WORLD” that everyone can understand. That would be asking too much wouldn’t it?

Posted by C.D. Walker | Report as abusive
 

Benny,

what do you mean? I mean its not a very in depth analysis.
What “Socialism?” and Why?

If I used the exact same approach to capitalism I could similarly say:

Under capitalism the bourgeoisie controls production and appropriates society’s wealth for itself.

Except my sentence is more specific and less hazy in general. Even so, it means nothing. Talking like this is throwing out conclusions without arguments.

I could ask; what “Socialism,” how does it control the money, why does dole it out and what people does it consider qualified and why?

Unfortunately, shallow generalizations will get stuck at this point.

There is no such thing as a shallow, general Socialism. If you are discussing the USSR, then cover the historical and economic conditions of the USSR.

If you are talking Marx’s conception, analyze the historical content of Marx’s writings,

If you are talking about the ravings of televangelists and businessmen then explain the historical impressions and pressures around them that are underneath this idea of a shallow, general “Socialism”

I’ve defined for you here what being a Socialist is i.e. a historical materialist, and that is how a Socialist would begin to approach Socialism, not through shadowy impressions and abstract generalizations or regurgitation of “analysts” who employ the same means.

Posted by Roy Fairbank | Report as abusive
 

Hello Edward, C.D.

Here are couple questions that I guess you didn’t have to answer for long time.
How do you see the purpose of Law and Legal system?
How do you measure effectiveness of legal system?

Posted by Sergey | Report as abusive
 

Roy,

Thank you. You’ve given me something to consider.

I’m attempting to be broad because I’m trying to speak to a wide variety of individual experience. The more specific one becomes, the easier it is to point to specific examples and generalize the implications across a wide variety of individual lives.

That is to say, that if I speak of autoworkers as a specific group and give my perception of the general trend that that group is following, it’s quite easy for some one else to say that this or that particular person in a similar circumstance had a different outcome, and therefore the whole original assertion is invalid.

You can see examples of this throughout these posts. It’s the nature of debate.

I’m getting (or at least feebly trying), to get to the root cause of the general economic problem.

I have identified this problem as being an over valuation of currency against the undervaluation of human capitol. I really don’t care what label anyone wants to put on it. The problem is still there just the same.

Currency is the means to exchange things that have real value for us. As a means of exchange the federal reserve/treasury operate on the principle of limiting the amount of currency in the system and setting its value according to its own criteria.

Profit is the accumulation of this limited resource which results in a debt somewhere else in the system. Look around you if you need proof. Now we go to “quantitative easing”. Just printing money. The whole time all of this is going on, people are loosing their homes. Others die because of lack of insurance. This list of human suffering is long.

And some how we are supposed to accept the idea, that a failure in a system revolving around fake wealth is supposed to translate into human suffering. This idea is absurd when viewed from this perspective.

I don’t care about the details of socialism vs any ism. The ism is not the problem at all. The problem is in the idea of holding a resource which is dependent upon us for its value, as being superior to its human creators.

This principle underlies every current attempt at remedy we’ve so far seen. The idea of putting the citizen first is only lip service. The results speak for themselves. This economy will get much worse. The United States is becoming weak, and the Chinese are becoming hungry to assert their presence.

 

Here’s an article on this site that speaks to the root cause of suffering I’ve identified in these forums. All I did was go to the main page.

http://www.reuters.com/article/domesticN ews/idUSN2754905920090528

 

Benny-

“That is to say, that if I speak of autoworkers as a specific group and give my perception of the general trend that that group is following, it’s quite easy for some one else to say that this or that particular person in a similar circumstance had a different outcome, and therefore the whole original assertion is invalid”

That is an awful lot of words that don’t say much.

Kinda like some people who i have worked with- They move around a lot, but don’t do much, BUT, expect to get paid as much as someone who works their ass off.

You put a lot of words out there, without saying much.

Now instead of speaking your points clearly, you reference another Web page.

Posted by C.D. Walker | Report as abusive
 

Sergey-

“How do you see the purpose of Law and Legal system?
How do you measure effectiveness of legal system?”

Fantastic questions. The purpose of any Code of Laws is to ensure Justice is meted out with fairness to every sect of society.

The effectiveness of a legal system is extremely tricky to gauge. If a Code of Laws is unfairly biased towards a section of society (like business), that section of society believes that the Code of Laws is very effective (for them of course), while everyone else within the Code of Laws believes it is very ineffective.
The effectiveness of a Legal System is a purely a point of view. O.J. Simpson I’m sure LOVED the legal system when he got off. Of course now, I’m sure he believes it is unfair.

Business always hails the Justice of the Legal system when the win, and denounces it when they lose. Go figure.
Of course Business has the Deep Pockets with which to pay Lawyers to constantly file motions, and other legal terms to push court dates back and back. Look at Chevron and their 15 year court case in South America.

Chevron, I’m sure, Loves the legal system since they have pushed court dates into the future. While those pursuing Chevron denounce the system.
I ask you, in whose favor does this system benefit more?
Those with money enough to pay for YEARS of litigation, or the poor, who without money, cannot PAY FOR JUSTICE.

you decide.

Posted by C.D. Walker | Report as abusive
 

True justice is when the law of the day is applied to the facts. No more, no less.

The legal system is designed to be fair, to the point of brutality. Fair does not mean the parties have a 50-50 chance of victory. It means both parties are treated the same, even if they enter on an unequal footing.

Subjective justice is what people think they deserve from the court. And what people may think they deserve has no bearing on how the law is applied.

Posted by Anon. | Report as abusive
 

anon, love all the anon

“The legal system is designed to be fair, to the point of brutality. Fair does not mean the parties have a 50-50 chance of victory. It means both parties are treated the same, even if they enter on an unequal footing”

When can an individual ever enter a courtroom on equal footing with a “MULTINATIONAL”?
How much to the Good Lawyers cost? Hmmmmmm
Who can pay those rates? hmmmmmm

Nope, the system is in no way slanted towards those who have money.
nope.

Posted by C.D. Walker | Report as abusive
 

Anon

AND when two “Multinationals” go at it, for how many YEARS do those things go on?

Lawyers i bet drool with anticipation, and about kill each other to get their hands on a TEN year fight like that, MY GOD how much an hour? For ten years!?!?!?!

Posted by C. D. Walker | Report as abusive
 

As I said before, the four factors of production determine productivity. Not just for the economy itself, but for the individual.

Take the humble farmer. He posesses a farm (Land). He works that farm (Labour). He purchases grain, machinery or animals as an investment(Capital). And he uses those three resources in order to profit (Enterprise).

Money is not a resource in itself. It is a currency used for the exchange of resources.

If people have resources to sell, then they get money.

To believe that you can simply take profit and GDP and scatter it around is error. It is artificial and has nothing to do with the economic system.

Regardless of what anyone may say, profit is what drives the economy. Even if some regulation in the right areas may help keep it on an even keel.

If you disagree, that is fine. As long as your disagreement is based on at least a high school level understanding of economics.

Posted by Anon. | Report as abusive
 

How many times has a farmer ripped you off?

Posted by C.D. Walker | Report as abusive
 

Whatever.

The fact that you can’t even understand the true duties of a judge and jury speaks volumes.

It is obvious that you have bitter preconceived notions about lawyers(and politicians, businessmen, investors and anyone richer or more powerful then you). It is not my business to try and change your mind. From your posts, I doubt you ever will.

When people get on the soapbox and preach anti-elitist ideas, they show their own ignorance more then anything else. And while they may not care, others can see it quite clearly.

Aside from that, there is little more to be said.

Posted by Anon. | Report as abusive
 

“Money is not a resource in itself. It is a currency used for the exchange of resources. ”

What does it say then, about “Business” and “Banks” in general when they know this “Currency” needs to flow, and they purposely create the economic, social, political, and judicial situation where the “Credit” wont flow?

If i wanted to grab as much land as I could, i would try to get as many people in “Homes” that were “WAY TO EXPENSIVE” for them, on purpose,ON CREDIT, “KNOWING” they couldn’t pay eventually, (Especially if i got my OIL buddies AT THE SAME TIME to inflate the value of OIL, CUTTING INTO THE POCKETS OF AMERICANS)and it would be only a matter of time before they would default, foreclose, and who then holds the DEEDs? Communist banks supported by the FEDERAL RESERVE (who sets inflation, making property more and more expensive) get to take as much “PRIVATE PROPERTY” as the could scam out of the Public, and the OIL DICKS got to rake in “Record Breaking Profits”, Now the bailouts go to WHOM!!!

How is that for High School
ass.

Posted by C.D. Walker | Report as abusive
 

Come gather round, listen to my story
about our flag nicknamed “Old Glory”
What is a flag but canvas and thread?
She means more to my heart and head.
Blue of Royalty, now stands for Nobility
a certainty white stands for OUR Purity
We Free the world with the Red blood we bleed
For honor she stands, the red white and blue
she stands for the common man, me and you
The foundation of the worlds Justice
She no longer stands for Just US
Tyrants tremble at the mention of her name
To them she forever brings great shame
I tremble at her sight, thinking of all those who’ve died
Protecting what’s right, for her sons, America has cried
I dream a dream of better things
of places and deeds of greater needs
We fight for the right
by GODS sight
See how evil has been diminished?
We won’t stop until it is finished.
I am proud to walk Americas free land
I pledge the flag with heart under hand
I promise soldiers long past
OUR FREEDOM WILL LAST
They died holding on to duty and honor
I HONOR them every time my eyes fall on her
OLD GLORY!
OUR flag of canvas and thread
Don’t you dare on her tread
Time grows short, this my story soon ends
Look at OLD GLORY, see how in the wind she bends?
Only by some sorry twist of fate
Our flag of FREEDOM will never Break!

By

C. D. Walker

Posted by C.D. Walker | Report as abusive
 

Self proclaimed prophet,
Wishes to preach so badly,
He fails to listen.

Posted by YouKnowWho | Report as abusive
 

Interesting, ignorance is still on parade, now joined by jealousy, bitterness and paranoia. I guess bad poetry and typing in ALL CAPS passes for intelligent debate on the internet.
The great thing about that is you don’t even need to say anything to make someone like that look foolish, they do it for you. There’s a bit of advice I often give to these people, it’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt. Thanks for removing the doubt.

Posted by Edward M. Blake | Report as abusive
 

We yet to collect Ed’s opinion on purpose of Law and Justice.
But so far C.D. & Anon opinion/observation that Law & Justice is all about “Sniff out crime and brush it away”. That what we see in US.
US/Russia go head to head in % population in prison US ~0.7% Russia ~0.6% (China ~0.1%).

While number of lawyers more than in the rest of the world combined.

“Sniff out crime and brush it away” – that was the order that Tzar Ivan ‘the Terrible’ gave his guards in XV century.

Most of civilize world use Law & Justice system the identify troublemakers and steer them back to society while US/China/Russia see Law & Justice in light of XV century.

I am not a big prison advocate. But numbers speak for themselves.
System also fails in big business Cases when Judge & lawyers end up in bazaar bargains while crooks ALWAYS walk away.

I was in Small Courts at least 10 times all over NY/NJ/PA fighting speeding tickets :) ). I was paying my ‘speed taxes’ and had my chance to see justice at work.

I was really surprise always to see Prosecutors & Judges go really long way to help people AVOID heavy penalties. In most cases even moderate penalties would ruin someone live beyond repair. Prosecutors & Judges always look like really moral persons, but it was dead clear that they can strike at will.

Here is one of my favorite quotes:
Prosecutor:
“We and State police troopers realize that traffic law is quite unreasonable, so if somebody would like plea guilty and trade 2 points for $xxx please see me…”.

Posted by Sergey | Report as abusive
 

To C.D.,
I respect your feeling and glad that there are some people around who type in CAPS when it comes to the Flag and History of their country. That what make the backbone of the Nation. Countries without nation quickly sink into bloody bath of civil wars just look around the globe.

But when you are wrong when you talk about greedy bankers vs. ‘old good days’.
Because there were very few ‘old good days’. Life always was tough here in US and more tough abroad. This is human nature that when we write stories about everyday tough life we mentions only bright spots. Even with greedy bankers and faulty law US moves forward getting more and more prosperous.America seams to be able reinvent herself in times of crises. But we all afraid of fine print ‘Past performance doesn’t guarantee future results’.

Posted by Serey | Report as abusive
 

Sergey-

“Sniff out crime and brush it away” That might have been for a Tzar,

But here in America, when we “Sniff out Crime”, we make the criminal pay a penance, we don’t “Brush it Away”

Posted by C.D. Walker | Report as abusive
 

It’s funny I can’t remember the last time I thought about the purpose of the Law. I think I would summarize the purpose of the law is to order society in a just manner, to protect the innocent, punish the guilty and provide means other than brute force to decide disputes.
How do I rate a system, well I would see how it treats the weak against the strong. Certainly, our system fails on that basis for many reasons. Money certainly provides an unfair advantage, but as long as their are differences in people’s wealth, that will sadly be the case. Can our system be improved, certainly, does that mean we need brain scans or to eliminate lawyers, no.

Posted by Edward M. Blake | Report as abusive
 

Thank you Ed,

I certainly don’t want see the Law without lawyers.
I also don’t like to see someone case being decided by MRI based lie-detector. I used to design medical imaging equipment before I sold my sole to finance :) .

We all seam to agree that Law is hostage to people who supposed to serve the Law (Judges and lawyers). The lawyer’s service is prohibiting expensive that give rich and corporates unfair advantage. Judges and lawyers also make most people who write the Law of this land. It It means that all changes to legal system come from inside and all system have really hard time to evolve from inside.

Ed, what do you think about codified law like in most European countries?
AFAIK US common Law relies on endless precedents. They tend to stay the same while World around changes ever faster :) .

Posted by Sergey | Report as abusive
 

Anon

“To believe that you can simply take profit and GDP and scatter it around is error. It is artificial and has nothing to do with the economic system.

Regardless of what anyone may say, profit is what drives the economy. Even if some regulation in the right areas may help keep it on an even keel.

If you disagree, that is fine. As long as your disagreement is based on at least a high school level understanding of economics.”

I can point to the free open software movement and the principles that drive the innovation found there. I can point to its success, and come to the logical conclusion that if the principle applies to code, then it applies to currency because currency occupies a similar place.

Equal distribution of GDP does not represent some two dimensional idea of the government simply pumping money into undeserving hands.

The government is responsible for protecting the boarders, establishing and enforcing our system of law, and providing for the general defense, (please forgive me if I missed anything).

The government regularly takes in more money than it needs to fulfill these goals. The rest should be equally divided across the population. This provides a much better safety net than any of the programs currently available for that very purpose.

Get rid of funding for medicaid, medicare, education, etc… and instead keep the government agencies that oversee these programs in place as sector regulators.

For example. Stop using the us department of education to finance public schools. Instead, divert the money used (inefficiently)by the board of education directly into the pockets of citizens. This way people can choose their own schools.

The same principle can be applied to government health programs, and all other non-essential programs.

Aside from that it would still be business as usual. The steady stream of GDP returning to the pockets of the average citizen means that people aren’t trapped in jobs they hate, and businesses aren’t held at the mercy of unions because each individual already has their own safety net to fall back on.

This allows people to take more risks and be more creative, which in turn leads to innovation and increased productivity.
And with new industries come new tax revenues, which in turn strengthen the safety net and we have sustainable growth.

Please explain to me where you find cause to object, and by what argument you justify your claim that “To believe that you can simply take profit and GDP and scatter it around is error. It is artificial and has nothing to do with the economic system.”

 

Benny Acosta:

“I can point to the free open software movement and the principles that drive the innovation found there. I can point to its success, and come to the logical conclusion that if the principle applies to code, then it applies to currency because currency occupies a similar place.”

Do you know what are you talking about?

1. Most people in open source community don’t make living from open source. They collect salaries at main job while doing open source for fun.

2. From people who contribute to open source full time most people paid by IBM, Sun and universities.

3. Most major projects in open source are ‘leftovers’ from failed companies and their ideas. Starting with linux that has build on unix ideas rather that being reinvented from scratch. Open source was just way around licensing. Even you should understand that real challenge are research and ideas. Implementation (coding) done by code monkeys.

4. Very few companies do business by providing services around open source. This is only possible because huge implicit ‘investment’ from n.1 n.2. n.3

=====================================

Open source concept is close to original ideas of utopia communism. The only time it was somewhat successfully implemented in Israel kibbutzes movement. That today fail competition with real farms. Needless to say that kibbutzes fall short from anything but self sustain communities.

Posted by Serey | Report as abusive
 

Well, here the thing that makes your idea problematic, it’s this thing that many theorists and thinkers forget, it’s called reality. I don’t disagree with your theory, but please explain to me how it’s going to be implemented. I mean the nuts and bolts of the system and more importantly how you are going to convince people to go along with what is, no matter how you want to couch it communism.

Posted by Edwaed M. Blake | Report as abusive
 

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