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STOP the MADNESS.
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Peace, Propaganda & The Promised Land

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US Aid: The Lifeblood of Occupation
By: Matt Bowles, www.wrmea.com/html/usaidtoisrael0001.htm

Israel has maintained an illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip (Palestinian territories) for 35 years, entrenching an apartheid regime that looks remarkably like the former South African regime.

Palestinians into small, noncontiguous bantustans, imposing closures and curfews to control where they go and when, while maintaining control over the natural resources, exploiting Palestinian labor, and prohibiting indigenous economic development.

The Israeli military (IDF)—the third or forth most powerful army in the world—routinely uses tanks, Apache helicopter gunships, and F-16 fighter jets (all subsidized by the U.S.) against a population that has no military and none of the protective institutions of a modern state.

All of this, Israel tells its citizens and the international community, is for "Israeli security." The reality, not surprisingly, is that these policies have resulted in a drastic increase in attacks on Israel. These attacks are then used as a pretext for further Israeli incursions into Palestinian areas and more violations of Palestinian human rights which makes Israeli civilians more secure; all of which further entrenches Israelÿs colonial apartheid regime. Most Americans do not realize the extent to which this is all funded by U.S. aid, nor do they understand the specific economic relationship the U.S. has with Israel and how that differs from other countries.
The aid pipeline

There are at least three ways in which aid to Israel is different from that of any other country. First, since 1982, U.S. aid to Israel has been transferred in one lump sum at the beginning of each fiscal year, which immediately begins to collect interest in U.S. banks. Aid that goes to other countries is disbursed throughout the year in quarterly installments.

Second, Israel is not required to account for specific purchases. Most countries receive aid for very specific purposes and must account for how it is spent. Israel is allowed to place US aid into its general fund, effectively eliminating any distinctions between types of aid. Therefore, U.S. tax-payers are helping to fund an illegal occupation, the expansion of colonial-settlement projects, and gross human rights violations against the Palestinian civilian population.

A third difference is the sheer amount of aid the U.S. gives to Israel, unparalleled in the history of U.S. foreign policy. Israel usually receives roughly one third of the entire foreign aid budget, despite the fact that Israel comprises less than .001 of the world’s population and already has one of the world’s higher per capita incomes. In other words, Israel, a country of approximately 6 million people, is currently receiving more U.S. aid than all of Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean combined when you take out Egypt and Colombia.

This year, the U.S. Congress approved .76 billion in its annual aid package for Israel. The total amount of direct U.S. aid to Israel has been constant, at around billion (usually 60% military and 40% economic) per year for the last quarter century. A new plan was recently implemented to phase out all economic aid and provide corresponding increases in military aid by 2008. This year Israel is receiving .04 billion in military aid and 0 million in economic aid there is only military aid.

In addition to nearly billion in direct aid, Israel usually gets another billion or so in indirect aid: military support from the defense budget, forgiven loans, and special grants. While some of the indirect aid is difficult to measure precisely, it is safe to say that Israel’s total aid (direct and indirect) amounts to at least five billion dollars annually.

On top of all of this aid, a team from Israel’s finance ministry is slated to meet with U.S. government officials this month about an additional 0 million aid package which the Clinton administration promised Israel (and the Bush administration later froze) as compensation for the costs of its withdrawal from Lebanon. The U.S. also managed to find another million in the 2001 Pentagon budget to give Israel to purchase "counter terrorism equipment."

According to the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise (AICE), from 1949-2001 the U.S. has given Israel a total of ,966,300,000. The direct and indirect aid from this year should put the total U.S. aid to Israel since 1949 at over one hundred billion dollars. What is not widely known, however, is that most of this aid violates American laws. The Arms Export Control Act stipulates that US-supplied weapons be used only for "legitimate self-defense."

Moreover, the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act prohibits military assistance to any country "which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights." The Proxmire amendment bans military assistance to any government that refuses to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and to allow inspection of its nuclear facilities, which Israel refuses to do. To understand why the U.S. spends this much money funding the brutal repression of a colonized people, it is necessary to examine the benefits for weapons manufacturers and, particularly, the role that Israel plays in the expansion and maintenance of U.S. imperialism.

A very special relationship

In the fall of 1993, when many were supporting what they hoped would become a viable peace process, 78 senators wrote to former President Bill Clinton insisting that aid to Israel remain at current levels. Their reasons were the "massive procurement of sophisticated arms by Arab states." Yet the letter neglected to mention that 80 percent of those arms to Arab countries came from the U.S. itself.

Stephen Zunes has argued that the Aerospace Industry Association (AIA), which promotes these massive arms shipments, is even more influential in determining U.S. policy towards Israel than the notorious AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) lobby. AIA has given two times more money to campaigns than all of the pro-Israel groups combined. Zunes asserts that the general thrust of U.S. policy would be pretty much the same even if AIPAC didn’t exist: "We didn’t need a pro-Indonesia lobby to support Indonesia in its savage repression of East Timor all these years."

The "special relationship" between the U.S. and Israel must be understood within the overall American imperialist project and the quest for global hegemony, beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s. For example, 99% of all U.S. aid to Israel came after 1967, despite the fact that Israel was relatively more vulnerable in earlier years (from 1948-1967). Not coincidentally, it was in 1967 that Israel won the Six Day War against several Arab countries, establishing itself as a regional superpower. Also, in the late 1960s and particularly in the early 1970s (this was around the time of the Nixon Doctrine), the U.S. was looking to establish "spheres of influence"-regional superpowers in each significant area of the world to help the U.S. police them.

The primary U.S. interest in the Middle East is, and has always been, to maintain control of the oil in the region, primarily because this is the source of energy that supplies the industrial economies of Europe and Japan. The U.S. goal has been to insure that there is no indigenous threat to their domination of these energy resources. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the U.S. made the strategic decision to ally itself with Israel and Iran, which were referred to as "our two eyes in the middle east" and the "guardians of the gulf." It was at this point that aid increased drastically, from million in 1967 (before the war), to 4 million in 1971, to a staggering .6 billion in 1974, where it has remained relatively consistent ever since.

Israel was to be a military stronghold, a client state, and a proxy army, protecting U.S. interests in the Middle East and throughout the world. Subsidized by the CIA, Israel served U.S. interests well beyond the immediate region, setting up dependable client regimes (usually military-based dictatorships) to control local societies. Noam Chomsky has documented this extensively: Israel was the main force that established the Mobutu dictatorship in Zaire, for example. They also supported Idi Amin in Uganda, early on, as well as Haile Selasse in Ethopia, and Emperor Bokassa in the Central African Republic.

Israel became especially useful when the U.S. came under popular human rights pressure in the 1970s to stop supporting death squads and dictatorships in Latin America. The U.S. began to use Israel as a surrogate to continue its support. Chomsky documents how Israel established close relations with the neo-Nazi and military regimes of Argentina and Chile. Israel also supported genocidal attacks on the indigenous population of Guatemala, and sent arms to El Salvador and Honduras to support the contras. This was all a secondary role, however.

The primary role for Israel was to be the Sparta of the Middle East. During the Cold War, the U.S. especially needed Israel as a proxy army because direct intervention in the region was too dangerous, as the Soviets were allied with neighboring states. Over the last thirty years, the U.S. has pursued a two-track approach to dominating the region and its resources: It has turned Israel into a military outpost (now probably the most militarized society in the world) that is economically dependent on the U.S. while propping up corrupt Arab dictatorships such as those in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. These regimes are afraid of their own people and, thus, are very insecure. Therefore, they are inclined to collaborate with the U.S. at any cost.

Prospects for activism

Since the end of the Cold War, the nuclear threat associated with direct intervention in the Middle East has disappeared and the U.S. has started a gradual and direct militarization of the region. This began with the Gulf War—putting U.S. military bases in Saudi Arabia (the primary source of oil), among other places—and has continued through the current ‘war on terrorism.’

Although U.S. aid has not decreased yet, there have been other observable shifts. The first obvious one is the mainstream media reporting on the conflict. Although there is still, of course, an anti-Palestinian bias, the coverage has shifted significantly in comparison to ten years ago. This has been noticeable in both journalistic accounts of Israeli human rights abuses and the publication of pro-Palestinian op-eds in major papers such as the Washington Post and the Boston Globe.

There are also some stirrings in the U.S. Congress. Representative John Conyers (D-MI) requested that President Bush investigate whether Israel’s use of American F-16s is violating the Arms Export Control Act. Further, Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) recently complained about giving aid without conditions: "There are no strings on the money. There is no requirement that the bloodshed abate before the funding is released." Other elected representatives are slowly starting to open up to the issue as well, but there is a long way to go on Capital Hill.

The most important development, however, has been the rising tide of concern and activism around the Palestinian issue in the US left. The desperate plight of the Palestinians is gaining increasing prominence in the movement against Bush’s "war on terrorism," and it is gradually entering into the movement against corporate globalization.

For years the Palestinian cause was marginalized by the left in America. Since this intifada broke out 17 months ago, that began to shift significantly and has moved even further since September 11. With the new "anti-war" movement, there has come a deeper understanding of U.S. policy in the Middle East and how the question of Palestine fits into progressive organizing.

In Durban, South Africa last September, at the UN Global Conference Against Racism, one of the most pressing issues on the global agenda was the Palestinian struggle against Israel’s racist policies. 30,000 people from South Africa and around the world demonstrated against Zionism, branding it as a form of apartheid no different than the system that blacks suffered through in South Africa. Shortly after, the U.S. and Israel stormed out of the conference.

In Europe and America, a range of organizations have risen in opposition to Israeli apartheid and in support of Palestinian human rights and self-determination. Just over the last year or two, organizations such as Students for Justice in Palestine, based at the University of California at Berkeley, have begun organizing a divestment campaign, modeled after the campaign that helped bring down South African apartheid. SUSTAIN (Stop U.S. Tax-funded Aid to Israel Now!) chapters in a number of cities have focused their efforts on stopping U.S. aid to Israel, which is the lifeblood of Israeli occupation and continued abuses of Palestinian rights.

Many Jewish organizations have emerged as well, such as Not in My Name, which counters the popular media assertion that all Jewish people blindly support the policies of the state of Israel. Jews Against the Occupation is another organization, which has taken a stand not only against the occupation, but also in support of the right of Palestinian refugees to return. These movements, and particularly their newfound connection with the larger anti-war, anti-imperialist, and anti-corporate globalization movements, are where the possibilities lie to advance the Palestinian struggle.

The hope for Palestine is in the internationalization of the struggle. The building of a massive, international movement against Israeli apartheid seems to be the most effective and promising form of resistance at this time. The demands must be that Israel comply with international law and implement the relevant UN resolutions. Specifically, it must recognize that all Palestinian refugees have the right to return, immediately end the occupation, and give all citizens of Israel equal treatment under the law.

We must demand that all U.S. aid to Israel be stopped until Israel complies with these demands. Only when the Palestinians are afforded their rights under international law, and are respected as human beings, can a genuine process of conflict resolution and healing begin. For all the hype over peace camps and dialogue initiatives, until the structural inequalities are dealt with, there will be no justice for Palestinians and, thus, no peace for Israel.

Matt Bowles is a member of SUSTAIN—Stop US Tax Funded Aid to Israel Now.

(The above article was originally published in the March/April issue of Left Turn magazine.)

——————————————————————————————————————–

Israel’s fait accompli in Gaza
By: Eric S. Margolis, Al Jazeera
UPDATED ON: Monday, January 05, 2009, 12:43 Mecca time, 09:43 GMT
There are two completely different versions of what is currently happening in Gaza.

In the Israeli and North American press version, Hamas – ‘Islamic terrorists’ backed by Iran – have in an unprovoked attack fired deadly rockets on innocent Israel with the intent of destroying the Jewish state. North American politicians and the media say Israel "has the right to defend itself".

True enough. No Israeli government can tolerate rockets hitting its towns, even though the casualty totals have been less than the car crash fatalities registered during a single holiday weekend on Israel’s roads.

The firing of the feeble, home-made al-Qassam rockets by Palestinians is both useless and counter-productive.

It damages their image as an oppressed people and gives right-wing Israeli extremists a perfect reason to launch more attacks on the Arabs and refuse to discuss peace.

Israel’s supporters insist it has the absolute right to drop hundreds of tonnes of bombs on ‘Hamas targets’ inside the 360sq km Gaza Strip to ‘take out the terrorists’.

Civilians suffer, says Israel, because the cowardly Hamas hide among them.

Actually, it is more like shooting fish in a barrel.

Omitting facts

As usual, this cartoon-like version of events omits a great deal of nuance and background. While firing rockets at civilians is a crime so, too, is the Israeli blockade of Gaza, which is an egregious violation of international law and the Geneva Conventions. According to the UN, most of Gaza’s 1.5 million Palestinian refugees subsist near the edge of hunger. Seventy per cent of Palestinian children in Gaza suffer from severe malnutrition and psychological trauma. Medical facilities are critically short of doctors, personnel, equipment, and drugs. Gaza has quite literally become a human garbage dump for all the Arabs that Israel does not want. Gaza is one of the world’s most-densely populated places, a vast outdoor prison camp filled with desperate people. In the past, they threw stones at their Israeli occupiers; now they launch home-made rockets. Call it a prison riot, writ large.

Eyeing the elections

When the so-called truce between Tel Aviv and Hamas expired on December 19, Israeli politicians were in the throes of preparing for the February 10 national elections. Israeli politics are playing a key role in this crisis. Ehud Barak, the defence minister and leader of the Labour party, and Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister and leader of the Kadima party, are trying to prove themselves tougher than Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-line Likud party – and one another. Israel’s elections are only six weeks away, and Likud was leading until the air raids on Gaza began. Kadima and Labour are now up in the polls. The heavy attacks on Gaza are also designed to intimidate Israel’s Arab neighbours, and make up for Israel’s humiliating 2006 defeat in Lebanon, which still haunts the country’s politicians and generals.

A fait accompli

When the air raids on Gaza began, Barak said: "We have totally changed the rules of the game." He was right. By blitzing Hamas-run Gaza, Barak presented the incoming US administration with a fait accompli, and neatly checkmated the newest player in the Middle East Great Game – Barack Obama, the US president-elect – before he could even take a seat at the table.

The Israeli offensive into Gaza now looks likely to short-circuit any plans Obama might have had to press Israel into withdrawing to its pre-1967 borders and sharing Jerusalem.

This has pleased Israel’s supporters in North America who have been cheering the war in Gaza and have been backing away from their earlier tentative support for a land-for-peace deal.

Israel’s successes in having Western media portray the Gaza offensive as an ‘anti-terrorist operation’ will also diminish hopes of peace talks any time soon.

Obama inherits this mess in a few weeks. During the elections, Obama bowed to the Israel lobby, offering a new US carte blanche to Israel and even accepting Israel’s permanent monopoly of all of Jerusalem.

As he concludes forming his cabinet, his Middle East team looks like it may be top-heavy with friends of Israel’s Labour party.

Obama keeps saying he must remain silent on policy issues until George Bush, the outgoing US president, leaves office, but his staff appear happy to avoid having to make statements about Gaza that would antagonise Israel’s American supporters.

Obama will take office facing a Middle East up in arms over Gaza and the entire Muslim world blaming the US for the carnage in Gaza.

Unless he moves swiftly to distance himself from the policies of the Bush administration, he will soon find himself facing the same problems and anger as the Bush White House.

Photo: jaffa48 -"Ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in Hebron"

Arab deal killed

Israel’s Gaza offensive is also likely to torpedo the current Saudi-sponsored peace plan, which had been backed by all members of the Arab League.

The plan, now likely defunct, had called for Israel to withdraw to its 1967 borders and share Jerusalem in exchange for full recognition and normalised relations with the Muslim world.

Arab governments will now be unable to sell the deal as they face a storm of criticism from their own people over their powerlessness to help the Palestinians of Gaza.

Egypt, in particular, is being widely accused of collaborating with Israel in further sealing off and isolating Gaza. It seems highly unlikely they will be able to advance a peace plan with Israel for now.

This is a bonus for right-wing Israelis, who have always been dead set against any withdrawal and strongly supported the attack on Gaza.

Other Israeli factions who were always lukewarm about the Saudi peace plan are now unlikely to reconsider it.

Israel’s security establishment is committed to preventing the creation of a viable Palestinian state, and refuses to negotiate with Hamas. Unable to kill all of Hamas’ men, Israel is slowly destroying Gaza’s infrastructure around them, as it did to Yasser Arafat’s PLO.

Israel’s hardliners point to Gaza and claim that any Palestinian state on the West Bank would threaten their nation’s security by firing rockets into Israel’s heartland.
Mighty information machine

Israel is confident that its mighty information machine will allow it to weather the storm of worldwide outrage over its Biblical punishment of Gaza. Who remembers Israel’s flattening of parts of the Palestinian city of Jenin, or the US destruction in Falluja, Iraq, or the Sabra and Shatilla massacres in Beirut?

Though the torment of Gaza is seen across the horrified Muslim world as a modern version of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising by Jews against the Nazis during World War Two, Western governments still appear bent on taking no action.

Though Israel’s use of American weapons against Gaza violates the US Arms Export Control and Foreign Assistance Acts, the docile US Congress will remain mute.

Israel’s assault on Gaza was clearly timed for America’s interregnum between administrations and the year-end holidays, a well-used Israeli tactic.

Hamas refuses to recognise Israel as long as Israel refuses to recognise Hamas and the rights of millions of homeless Palestinian refugees.

It calls for a non-religious state to be created in Palestine, meaning an end to Zionism. Ironically, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder and late leader of Hamas, had spoken of a compromise with Tel Aviv shortly before he was assassinated by Israel in 2004.

An inherited mess

Israel’s hopes that it can bomb Gazans into rejecting Hamas are as ill-conceived as its failed attempt in 2006 to blast Lebanon into rejecting Hezbollah.

The Fatah regime on the West Bank installed by the US and Israel after Yasser Arafat’s suspicious death will be further discredited, leaving the militants of Hamas as the sole authentic voice of Palestinian nationalism.

Hamas, the militant but still democratically elected government of Gaza, is even less likely to compromise.

The Muslim world is in a rage. But so what? Stalin liked to say "the dogs bark, and the caravan moves on," and as long as the US gives Israel carte blanche, it can do just about anything it wants.

The tragedy of Palestine will thus continue to poison US relations with the Muslim world.

Those Americans who still do not understand why their nation was attacked on 9/11 need only look to Gaza, for which the US is now being blamed as much as Israel.

Unless Israel can make 5 to 7 million Palestinians disappear, it must find some way to co-exist with them. Israeli leaders on the centre and right continue to avoid facing this fact.
The brutal collective punishment inflicted on Gaza will likely strengthen Hamas and reverse any hopes of a Middle East peace in the coming years.

Eric S. Margolis is an author, syndicated foreign affairs columnist, broadcaster, and veteran war correspondent. His latest book is American Raj: America and the Muslim world.

‘The election of Obama would, at a stroke, refresh our country’s spirit’
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Image by Renegade98
OPINION

Guardian.co.uk | The Observer

November 2, 2008

‘The election of Obama would, at a stroke, refresh our country’s spirit’
It has been an epic campaign for the American Presidency and one which has been scrutinised at close quarters by the US’s finest writers on the New Yorker magazine – the country’s leading journal of politics and culture. Here, in their leader column ahead of the election, the editors of the magazine offer a brilliant analysis of the choice facing America, deconstruct the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates and finish with a powerful endorsement of Barack Obama as the man best suited to answer the grave challenges facing the next President

Never in living memory has an election been more critical than the one fast approaching – that’s the quadrennial cliché, as expected as the balloons and the bombast. And yet when has it ever felt so urgently true? When have so many Americans had so clear a sense that a presidency has – at the levels of competence, vision and integrity – undermined the country and its ideals?

The incumbent administration has distinguished itself for the ages. The presidency of George W Bush is the worst since Reconstruction, so there is no mystery about why the Republican party – which has held dominion over the executive branch of the federal government for the past eight years and the legislative branch for most of that time – has little desire to defend its record, domestic or foreign. The only speaker at the convention in St Paul who uttered more than a sentence or two in support of the President was his wife, Laura. Meanwhile, the nominee, John McCain, played the part of a vaudeville illusionist, asking to be regarded as an apostle of change after years of embracing the essentials of the Bush agenda with ever-increasing ardour.

The Republican disaster begins at home. Even before taking into account whatever fantastically expensive plan eventually emerges to help rescue the financial system from Wall Street’s long-running pyramid schemes, the economic and fiscal picture is bleak. During the Bush administration, the national debt, now approaching trillion, has nearly doubled. Next year’s federal budget is projected to run a 0bn deficit, a precipitous fall from the 0bn surplus that was projected when Bill Clinton left office. Private-sector job creation has been a sixth of what it was under President Clinton. Five million people have fallen into poverty. The number of Americans without health insurance has grown by seven million, while average premiums have nearly doubled. Meanwhile, the principal domestic achievement of the Bush administration has been to shift the relative burden of taxation from the rich to the rest. For the top 1 per cent of us, the Bush tax cuts are worth, on average, about a thousand dollars a week; for the bottom fifth, about a dollar and a half. The unfairness will only increase if the painful, yet necessary, effort to rescue the credit markets ends up preventing the rescue of our healthcare system, our environment and our physical, educational and industrial infrastructure.

At the same time, 150,000 American troops are in Iraq and 33,000 are in Afghanistan. There is still disagreement about the wisdom of overthrowing Saddam Hussein and his horrific regime, but there is no longer the slightest doubt that the Bush administration manipulated, bullied and lied the American public into this war and then mismanaged its prosecution in nearly every aspect. The direct costs, besides an expenditure of more than 0bn, have included the loss of more than 4,000 Americans, the wounding of 30,000, the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis and the displacement of four and a half million men, women and children. Only now, after American forces have been fighting for a year longer than they did in the Second World War, is there a glimmer of hope that the conflict in Iraq has entered a stage of fragile stability.

The indirect costs, both of the war in particular and of the administration’s unilateralist approach to foreign policy in general, have also been immense. The torture of prisoners, authorised at the highest level, has been an ethical and a public diplomacy catastrophe. At a moment when the global environment, the global economy and global stability all demand a transition to new sources of energy, the United States has been a global retrograde, wasteful in its consumption and heedless in its policy. Strategically and morally, the Bush administration has squandered the American capacity to counter the example and the swagger of its rivals. China, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and other illiberal states have concluded, each in its own way, that democratic principles and human rights need not be components of a stable, prosperous future. At recent meetings of the United Nations, emboldened despots like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran came to town sneering at our predicament and hailing the ‘end of the American era’.

The election of 2008 is the first in more than half a century in which no incumbent President or Vice-President is on the ballot. There is, however, an incumbent party and that party has been lucky enough to find itself, apparently against the wishes of its ‘base’, with a nominee who evidently disliked George W Bush before it became fashionable to do so. In South Carolina, in 2000, Bush crushed John McCain with a sub rosa primary campaign of such viciousness that McCain lashed out memorably against Bush’s Christian Right allies. So profound was McCain’s anger that in 2004 he flirted with the possibility of joining the Democratic ticket under John Kerry. Bush, who took office as a ‘compassionate conservative’, governed immediately as a rightist ideologue. During that first term, McCain bolstered his reputation, sometimes deserved, as a ‘maverick’ willing to work with Democrats on such issues as normalising relations with Vietnam, campaign finance reform and immigration reform. He co-sponsored, with John Edwards and Edward Kennedy, a patients’ bill of rights. In 2001 and 2003 he voted against the Bush tax cuts. With John Kerry, he co-sponsored a bill raising auto fuel efficiency standards and, with Joseph Lieberman, a cap-and-trade regime on carbon emissions. He was one of a minority of Republicans opposed to unlimited drilling for oil and gas off America’s shores.

Since the 2004 election, however, McCain has moved remorselessly rightwards in his quest for the Republican nomination. He paid obeisance to Jerry Falwell and preachers of his ilk. He abandoned immigration reform, eventually coming out against his own bill. Most shockingly, McCain, who had repeatedly denounced torture under all circumstances, voted in February against a ban on the very techniques of ‘enhanced interrogation’ that he himself once endured in Vietnam – as long as the torturers were civilians employed by the CIA.

On almost every issue, McCain and the Democratic party’s nominee, Barack Obama, speak the generalised language of ‘reform’, but only Obama has provided a convincing, rational and fully developed vision. McCain has abandoned his opposition to the Bush-era tax cuts and has taken up the demagogic call – in the midst of recession and Wall Street calamity, with looming crises in social security, Medicare and Medicaid – for more tax cuts. Bush’s expire in 2011. If McCain, as he has proposed, cuts taxes for corporations and estates, the benefits once more would go disproportionately to the wealthy.

In Washington the craze for pure market triumphalism is over. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson arrived in town (via Goldman Sachs) a Republican, but it seems that he will leave a Democrat. In other words, he has come to see that the abuses that led to the current financial crisis – not least, excessive speculation on borrowed capital – can be fixed only with government regulation and oversight. McCain, who has never evinced much interest in, or knowledge of, economic questions, has had little of substance to say about the crisis. His most notable gesture of concern – a melodramatic call to suspend his campaign and postpone the first presidential debate until the government bail-out plan was ready – soon revealed itself as an empty diversionary tactic.

By contrast, Obama has made a serious study of the mechanics and the history of this economic disaster and of the possibilities of stimulating a recovery. Last March, in New York, in a speech notable for its depth, balance and foresight, he said: ‘A complete disdain for pay-as-you-go budgeting, coupled with a generally scornful attitude towards oversight and enforcement, allowed far too many to put short-term gain ahead of long-term consequences.’ Obama is committed to reforms that value not only the restoration of stability but also the protection of the vast majority of the population, which did not partake of the fruits of the binge years. He has called for greater and more programmatic regulation of the financial system; the creation of a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank, which would help reverse the decay of our roads, bridges and mass-transit systems and create millions of jobs; and a major investment in the green-energy sector.

On energy and global warming, Obama offers a set of forceful proposals. He supports a cap-and-trade programme to reduce America’s carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 – an enormously ambitious goal, but one that many climate scientists say must be met if atmospheric carbon dioxide is to be kept below disastrous levels. Large emitters, such as utilities, would acquire carbon allowances and those which emit less carbon dioxide than their allotment could sell the resulting credits to those which emit more; over time, the available allowances would decline. Significantly, Obama wants to auction off the allowances; this would provide bn a year for developing alternative energy sources and creating job-training programmes in green technologies. He also wants to raise federal fuel-economy standards and to require that 10 per cent of America’s electricity be generated from renewable sources by 2012. Taken together, his proposals represent the most coherent and far-sighted strategy ever offered by a presidential candidate for reducing the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels.

There was once reason to hope that McCain and Obama would have a sensible debate about energy and climate policy. McCain was one of the first Republicans in the Senate to support federal limits on carbon dioxide and he has touted his own support for a less ambitious cap-and-trade programme as evidence of his independence from the White House. But, as polls showed Americans growing jittery about gasoline prices, McCain apparently found it expedient in this area, too, to shift course. He took a dubious idea – lifting the federal moratorium on offshore oil drilling – and placed it at the centre of his campaign. Opening up America’s coastal waters to drilling would have no impact on gasoline prices in the short term and, even over the long term, the effect, according to a recent analysis by the Department of Energy, would be ‘insignificant’. Such inconvenient facts, however, are waved away by a campaign that finally found its voice with the slogan ‘Drill, baby, drill!’

The contrast between the candidates is even sharper with respect to the third branch of government. A tense equipoise currently prevails among the justices of the Supreme Court, where four hardcore conservatives face off against four moderate liberals. Anthony M Kennedy is the swing vote, determining the outcome of case after case.

McCain cites Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, two reliable conservatives, as models for his own prospective appointments. If he means what he says, and if he replaces even one moderate on the current Supreme Court, then Roe v Wade will be reversed and states will again be allowed to impose absolute bans on abortion. McCain’s views have hardened on this issue. In 1999 he said he opposed overturning Roe; by 2006 he was saying that its demise ‘wouldn’t bother me any’; by 2008 he no longer supported adding rape and incest as exceptions to his party’s platform opposing abortion.

But scrapping Roe – which, after all, would leave states as free to permit abortion as to criminalise it – would be just the beginning. Given the ideological agenda that the existing conservative bloc has pursued, it’s safe to predict that affirmative action of all kinds would likely be outlawed by a McCain court. Efforts to expand executive power, which in recent years certain justices have nobly tried to resist, would be likely to increase. Barriers between church and state would fall; executions would soar; legal checks on corporate power would wither – all with just one new conservative nominee on the court. And the next President is likely to make three appointments.

Obama, who taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago, voted against confirming not only Roberts and Alito but also several unqualified lower-court nominees. As an Illinois state senator, he won the support of prosecutors and police organisations for new protections against convicting the innocent in capital cases. While McCain voted to continue to deny habeas corpus rights to detainees, perpetuating the Bush administration’s regime of state-sponsored extra-legal detention, Obama took the opposite side, pushing to restore the right of all US-held prisoners to a hearing. The judicial future would be safe in his care.

In the shorthand of political commentary, the Iraq war seems to leave McCain and Obama roughly even. Opposing it before the invasion, Obama had the prescience to warn of a costly and indefinite occupation and rising anti-American radicalism around the world; supporting it, McCain foresaw none of this. More recently, in early 2007, McCain risked his presidential prospects on the proposition that five additional combat brigades could salvage a war that by then appeared hopeless. Obama, along with most of the country, had decided that it was time to cut American losses. Neither candidate’s calculations on Iraq have been as cheaply political as McCain’s repeated assertion that Obama values his career over his country; both men based their positions, right or wrong, on judgment and principle.

President Bush’s successor will inherit two wars and the realities of limited resources, flagging popular will and the dwindling possibilities of what can be achieved by American power. McCain’s views on these subjects range from the simplistic to the unknown. In Iraq, he seeks ‘victory’ – a word that General David Petraeus refuses to use, and one that fundamentally misrepresents the messy, open-ended nature of the conflict. As for Afghanistan, on the rare occasions when McCain mentions it he implies that the surge can be transferred directly from Iraq, which suggests that his grasp of counterinsurgency is not as firm as he insisted it was during the first presidential debate. McCain always displays more faith in force than interest in its strategic consequences. Unlike Obama, McCain has no political strategy for either war, only the dubious hope that greater security will allow things to work out. Obama has long warned of deterioration along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and has a considered grasp of its vital importance. His strategy for both Afghanistan and Iraq shows an understanding of the role that internal politics, economics, corruption and regional diplomacy play in wars where there is no battlefield victory.

Unimaginably painful personal experience taught McCain that war is above all a test of honour: maintain the will to fight on, be prepared to risk everything and you will prevail. Asked during the first debate to outline ‘the lessons of Iraq’, McCain said: ‘I think the lessons of Iraq are very clear: that you cannot have a failed strategy that will then cause you to nearly lose a conflict.’ A soldier’s answer – but a statesman must have a broader view of war and peace. The years ahead will demand not only determination but also diplomacy, flexibility, patience, judiciousness and intellectual engagement. These are no more McCain’s strong suit than the current President’s. Obama, for his part, seems to know that more will be required than will power and force to extract some advantage from the wreckage of the Bush years.

Obama is also better suited for the task of renewing the bedrock foundations of American influence. An American restoration in foreign affairs will require a commitment not only to international co-operation but also to international institutions that can address global warming, the dislocations of what will likely be a deepening global economic crisis, disease epidemics, nuclear proliferation, terrorism and other, more traditional security challenges. Many of the Cold War-era vehicles for engagement and negotiation – the United Nations, the World Bank, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty regime, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation – are moribund, tattered, or outdated. Obama has the generational outlook that will be required to revive or reinvent these compacts. He would be the first postwar American President unencumbered by the legacies of either Munich or Vietnam.

The next President must also restore American moral credibility. Closing Guantánamo, banning all torture and ending the Iraq war as responsibly as possible will provide a start, but only that. The modern presidency is as much a vehicle for communication as for decision-making and the relevant audiences are global. Obama has inspired many Americans in part because he holds up a mirror to their own idealism. His election would do no less – and likely more – overseas.

What most distinguishes the candidates, however, is character – and here, contrary to conventional wisdom, Obama is clearly the stronger of the two. Not long ago, Rick Davis, McCain’s campaign manager, said: ‘This election is not about issues. This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates.’ The view that this election is about personalities leaves out policy, complexity and accountability. Even so, there’s some truth in what Davis said – but it hardly points to the conclusion that he intended.

Echoing Obama, McCain has made ‘change’ one of his campaign mantras. But the change he has provided has been in himself and it is not just a matter of altering his positions. A willingness to pander and even lie has come to define his presidential campaign and its televised advertisements. A contemptuous duplicity, a meanness, has entered his talk on the stump – so much so that it seems obvious that, in the drive for victory, he is willing to replicate some of the same underhanded methods that defeated him eight years ago in South Carolina.

Perhaps nothing revealed McCain’s cynicism more than his choice of Sarah Palin, the former mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, who had been governor of that state for 21 months, as the Republican nominee for Vice-President. In the interviews she has given since her nomination, she has had difficulty uttering coherent unscripted responses about the most basic issues of the day. We are watching a candidate for Vice-President cram for her ongoing exam in elementary domestic and foreign policy. This is funny as a Tina Fey routine on Saturday Night Live, but as a vision of the political future it’s deeply unsettling. Palin has no business being the back-up to a President of any age, much less to one who is 72 and in imperfect health. In choosing her, McCain committed an act of breathtaking heedlessness and irresponsibility. Obama’s choice, Joe Biden, is not without imperfections. His tongue sometimes runs in advance of his mind, providing his own fodder for late-night comedians, but there is no comparison with Palin. His deep experience in foreign affairs, the judiciary and social policy makes him an assuring and complementary partner for Obama.

The longer the campaign goes on, the more the issues of personality and character have reflected badly on McCain. Unless appearances are very deceptive, he is impulsive, impatient, self-dramatising, erratic and a compulsive risk-taker. These qualities may have contributed to his usefulness as a ‘maverick’ senator. But in a President they would be a menace.

By contrast, Obama’s transformative message is accompanied by a sense of pragmatic calm. A tropism for unity is an essential part of his character and of his campaign. It is part of what allowed him to overcome a Democratic opponent who entered the race with tremendous advantages. It is what helped him forge a political career relying both on the liberals of Hyde Park and on the political regulars of downtown Chicago. His policy preferences are distinctly liberal, but he is determined to speak to a broad range of Americans who do not necessarily share his every value or opinion. For some who oppose him, his equanimity even under the ugliest attack seems like hauteur; for some who support him, his reluctance to counterattack in the same vein seems like self-defeating detachment.

Yet it is Obama’s temperament – and not McCain’s – that seems appropriate for the office both men seek and for the volatile and dangerous era in which we live. Those who dismiss his centredness as self-centredness or his composure as indifference are as wrong as those who mistook Eisenhower’s stolidity for denseness or Lincoln’s humour for lack of seriousness.

Nowadays almost every politician who thinks about running for President arranges to become an author. Obama’s books are different: he wrote them. The Audacity of Hope (2006) is a set of policy disquisitions loosely structured around an account of his freshman year in the United States Senate.

Though a campaign manifesto of sorts, it is superior to that genre’s usual blowsy pastiche of ghostwritten speeches. But it is Obama’s first book, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance (1995), that offers an unprecedented glimpse into the mind and heart of a potential President. Obama began writing it in his early thirties, before he was a candidate for anything. Not since Theodore Roosevelt has an American politician this close to the pinnacle of power produced such a sustained, highly personal work of literary merit before being definitively swept up by the tides of political ambition.

A presidential election is not the awarding of a Pulitzer prize: we elect a politician and, we hope, a statesman, not an author. But Obama’s first book is valuable in the way that it reveals his fundamental attitudes of mind and spirit. Dreams from My Father is an illuminating memoir not only in the substance of Obama’s own peculiarly American story but also in the qualities he brings to the telling: a formidable intelligence, emotional empathy, self-reflection, balance and a remarkable ability to see life and the world through the eyes of people very different from himself. In common with nearly all other senators and governors of his generation, Obama does not count military service as part of his biography. But his life has been full of tests – personal, spiritual, racial, political – that bear on his preparation for great responsibility.

It is perfectly legitimate to call attention, as McCain has done, to Obama’s lack of conventional national and international policy-making experience. We, too, wish he had more of it. But office-holding is not the only kind of experience relevant to the task of leading a wildly variegated nation. Obama’s immersion in diverse human environments (Hawaii’s racial rainbow, Chicago’s racial cauldron, countercultural New York, middle-class Kansas, predominantly Muslim Indonesia), his years of organising among the poor, his taste of corporate law and his grounding in public-interest and constitutional law – these, too, are experiences. And his books show that he has wrung from them every drop of insight and breadth of perspective they contained.

The exhaustingly, sometimes infuriatingly, long campaign of 2008 (and 2007) has had at least one virtue: it has demonstrated that Obama’s intelligence and steady temperament are not just figments of the writer’s craft. He has made mistakes, to be sure. (His failure to accept McCain’s imaginative proposal for a series of unmediated joint appearances was among them.) But, on the whole, his campaign has been marked by patience, planning, discipline, organisation, technological proficiency and strategic astuteness. Obama has often looked two or three moves ahead, relatively impervious to the permanent hysteria of the hourly news cycle and the cable news shouters. And when crisis has struck, as it did when the divisive antics of his ex-pastor threatened to bring down his campaign, he has proved equal to the moment, rescuing himself with a speech that not only drew the poison but also demonstrated a profound respect for the electorate.

Although his opponents have tried to attack him as a man of ‘mere’ words, Obama has returned eloquence to its essential place in American politics. The choice between experience and eloquence is a false one – something that Lincoln, out of office after a single term in Congress, proved in his own campaign of political and national renewal. Obama’s ‘mere’ speeches on everything from the economy and foreign affairs to race have been at the centre of his campaign and its success; if he wins, his eloquence will be central to his ability to govern.

We cannot expect one man to heal every wound, to solve every major crisis of policy. So much of the presidency, as they say, is a matter of waking up in the morning and trying to drink from a fire hydrant. In the quiet of the Oval Office, the noise of immediate demands can be deafening. And yet Obama has precisely the temperament to shut out the noise when necessary and concentrate on the essential.

The election of Obama – a man of mixed ethnicity, at once comfortable in the world and utterly representative of 21st-century America – would, at a stroke, reverse our country’s image abroad and refresh its spirit at home. His ascendance to the presidency would be a symbolic culmination of the civil- and voting – rights acts of the 1960s and the century-long struggles for equality that preceded them. It could not help but say something encouraging, even exhilarating, about the country, about its dedication to tolerance and inclusiveness, about its fidelity, after all, to the values it proclaims in its textbooks. At a moment of economic calamity, international perplexity, political failure and battered morale, America needs both uplift and realism, both change and steadiness. It needs a leader temperamentally, intellectually and emotionally attuned to the complexities of our troubled globe. That leader’s name is Barack Obama.

www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/nov/02/elections-obama-mcca…

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