Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Young candidate's luxury

Once upon a time a rather longshot Senate candidate proposed:
Let's fight to make sure our so-called allies in the Middle East, the Saudis and the Egyptians, stop oppressing their own people, and suppressing dissent, and tolerating corruption and inequality, and mismanaging their economies so that their youth grow up without education, without prospects, without hope, the ready recruits of terrorist cells.

That was Barack Obama on Oct. 2, 2002.  The passage began with a rhetorical question: "You want a fight, President Bush?" It was part of a litany of proposals begun with that same refrain, each offered as a "fight" more profitable than an invasion of Iraq:  finishing off al Qaeda; securing loose nukes; weaning ourselves off foreign oil.

By the time President Obama took up those fights in January 2009, U.S. prospects had been set back by seven years of under-resourced effort in Afghanistan, massive loss of U.S. prestige stemming from the Bush torture regime and botched occupation of Iraq, massive deficits stemming from continuous war, unfunded mandates, and the tax cuts Bush was halfway through when Obama spoke, and a financial implosion enabled by multi-front regulatory failure, much of which could be laid at the doorstep of the Clinton as well as the Bush administration.

Progress, then, has been modest, or difficult to assess. Al Qaeda, mingled with the Taliban, has access to a huge network of camps and safe havens in the tribal regions of Pakistan, though perhaps less strike capability than pre-9/11. Securing of loose nukes got a boost, or at least averted a setback,  through passage of the New START treaty. As to foreign oil dependence, the administration has been forced to go the regulatory route after failure of cap-and-trade legislation (which may not be a bad thing, given the malfunctions of energy credit markets in Europe), along with nascent alternative energy investment in the stimulus package.

Then there's that one fight that "so-called allies" just took up on their own...

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