ASK ME A POLITICAL QUESTION -- WHAT'S THE WORST THAT CAN COME FROM IT? Do you have a question about politics? You know you do. Everybody does. I've been involved in politics for a little while, now. Why not ask me? I'll do my best, though I make no guarantees you'll love the answer. Email me at bkirby816 AT yahoo DOT com.
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Dear Spencerian Editors:
I admit that I am basically politically ignorant. Much of what I hear comes from Bill Maher and Keith Olbermann. I realize that there is more “commentary” than actual questions, and I expect that much of the commentary might have to be excluded, but these are honest questions.
When the country elected Obama, in large part (as I understand it) because he was against the “immoral, mismanaged war started on false pretenses in Iraq ”, why, after more than a year later, are we still fighting? Really, can’t the US just pack up and leave Iraq , or has Obama decided that this war is worth fighting after all? Don’t tell me that we can’t leave a weak government in turmoil because a lot of people would die. If it was immoral to interfere with Saddam Hussein who had been killing his own people for years, what’s the problem with leaving Iraq and letting the cards fall where they may, so to speak, allowing a new government to emerge on its own?
President Obama said that America has been arrogant. I couldn’t agree more. Who are we to think that we can save the world and keep our standard of living? I think that the epitome of arrogance (and pride) is giving away tax dollars that we don’t have. The US has come under a lot of criticism both from within and from without for the way we’ve tried to help the rest of the world since, say WWII. We were never really fair about it and often had ulterior motives. We will always have tragedies, both natural and man made, and we can’t fix them all, or even most of them, so let’s not try anymore. No more tax dollars for tragedies like Haiti. If the American people want to help, let them donate all they want, but no more tax dollars. Let the other countries carry the burden for a while. (OK, one possible exception. The government could pledge any remaining war debts owed to the US to help other countries in natural disasters. I understand that only Finland actually paid off its’ WWI debts and there still might be some outstanding WWII debts unless Clinton forgave them all.) But I digress. What would happen if the US became isolationists again? No more foreign aid or military intervention and only defense military spending. We have to have some military spending because, after all, we don’t want to be another Kuwait. (To paraphrase an old bumper sticker, I think that Kuwait had great schools but the military had to hold bake sales for their bombers.)
What is being done by the US concerning Iran and North Korea's weapons of mass destruction? If we actually kept to ourselves, would we have to worry about weather Iran and North Korea have nuclear weapons?
I was disappointed that Proposition 8 passed in California. However, the Mormons virtually took all the heat. If I became aware that a proposition that was clearly “wrong, discriminating and immoral” (as I understand the opponents of Proposition 8 describe it) was going to be on the ballot for a vote in my state, I wouldn’t be campaigning against the proposition, per se, I would be shouting from the rooftops, “Who is responsible for something so wrong and immoral getting on the ballot in the first place, and how do I stop it before it ever goes to a vote?” Bill Maher says that the American people are as dumb as his dog. When those dumb Mormons saw it on the ballot, they actually thought they had a choice! (Some stupid notion of democracy in action, I suppose.) Why hasn’t a single critic of proposition 8 (as far as I know) ever put the blame for this” injustice” on the people or the system that allowed the proposition to get on the ballot in the first place?
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Congratulations, Scott -- you win the prize for the most thorough and all-over-the-map questions I've ever gotten! Also, I hope you don't mind, I left your email in its entirety, because I thought it served a good purpose: to set the stage for your actual questions, which I've left bolded as you have.
First of all, you could do a lot worse than to get your political information from Bill Maher and Keith Olbermann. That being said, you seem like a smart guy with an interest in a wide range of issues -- expand your horizons! Start with the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Huffingtonpost. Also, be sure to check out my blogroll to the left. Surf around and see what people are saying.
Don't limit yourself to liberal voices, either. You'll thank me later if you can think through both sides of an argument. It's a skill worth having in politics.
Alright. On to the questions!
I couldn't agree more on your question with respect to leaving Iraq -- and so it's good new that that's exactly what we're doing!
A major transformation is underway in Iraq. Each day U.S. forces hand over more responsibility for security to the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police. As this moves along, the number of U.S. forces in Iraq will shrink to no more than 50,000 by August 2010 from approximately 132,000 now. Further, as directed by President Barack Obama, all U.S. forces will be out of Iraq by the end of December 2011. As we proceed with this drawdown, the role of U.S. forces in Iraq will transition to primarily focus on advising Iraqi forces instead of fighting terrorism directly.
[Bold mine.] Wow, troop levels down to almost a third of what they were in June of last year. Sounds like we're leaving, right, Scott?
Okay, I'll be intellectually honest with you -- I know what you're saying: why can't we just get all our troops out of there and bring them home (I know this because you allude to this notion in a later question we'll get to in a second). The short answer is, because as much as we might want it to, ending war simply doesn't work that way. You just don't put 132,000 men and women in a bunch of boats and a bunch of airplanes and bring them home. It requires a lot of planning, a lot of transition work, and a lot of time and -- ironically -- people and resources. This, by way of example, is the work of the 15th Sustainment Brigade.
I'm leaving your secondary questions in that paragraph about Iraq for the time being -- we'll get to that next.
The answer to the question -- "What would happen if the U.S. became isolationist again?" -- is complete and utter global disaster. In most definitions regarding American isolationism, you'll find references to George Washington's Farewell Address, and Thomas Paine's Common Sense.
Hey, who could make a better argument for isolationism than those guys, right?
Except, Scott, times have changed, whether you or I or George or Thomas like it or not. America is -- by a factor of a lot -- the richest country in the world. Now, we can talk about American imperialism all day, but to specifically address your question, let's focus on that what it means to be the richest country in the world and what our moral obligations are as such. And what the consequences might be for not fulfilling our obligations.
You say that we have never been fair with our foreign aid. Maybe. Maybe not. Do we fix Haiti? Is it worth it? Do we fix Chile? Is it worth it? What about failed states like Somalia? Is it worth it? What about states that are close to failing, like Yemen? Is it worth it?
What about other places we haven't even mentioned yet? Where do we go? Where do we not go?
My personal position is that it is the moral obligation of all Americans to go to countries where our help is needed and wanted -- and to intervene in countries in which we have a moral obligation to do so, but our help may not be wanted (Somalia may be a good example, and so would Bosnia in the 1990s). You don't exist as a country as rich with resources as we are not to help sustain other civilizations around the globe -- you exist as a country as rich as we are in order to help our global neighbors. Otherwise, what's the point?
One last point here, and that is the spending. I'm linking you to a Numbers Game post I did a few days ago on this issue. Remember, the vast bulk of our spending is on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment help, and a whole raft of domestic programs and agencies. You may still say the roughly 20% or so we spend on Defense and Homeland Security is way, way too much. You won't get a disagreement from me, necessarily. But what I will say is, let's not just chop the whole thing down -- we can go through it in a sort of surgical way and figure out what we need and what we don't.
Your next question is a good follow-up to this, and I'll start by saying that I'm not only not a foreign policy expert, I know precious little about the situations in Iran and North Korea. What I do know scares the crap out of me. To directly answer your question about "keeping to ourselves," I'd say these two instances are exactly why we shouldn't.
What about an insane despot having a nuclear weapon would lead us to believe that keeping to ourselves would be a good idea? Yes, Iran pretty much wants to nuke Israel, and you could retort by saying, Well, if we didn't care so much about Israel, then it wouldn't matter, right? Except for addressing massive scale of human loss, we should intervene with Iran because we do care about Israel for a host of reasons you can either agree with or disagree with. With respect to North Korea, there's almost no question that they would nuke South Korea if they had the chance, and maybe even Japan.
No country with any level of resources that has even a slight moral center can let this pass.
With respect to Proposition 8 in California, I regret to tell you, Scott, that I don't know that much about it. Like you, I was disappointed it passed. I will tell you that I think it's stupid, and I think it's bad politics. To get to your question, and to be fair, I have seen a number of arguments against "the system that allowed the proposition to get on the ballot in the first place." Time Magazine had a piece on California's broken system here. The Merced Sun-Star called the system "out of control." There are other examples out there of folks decrying a busted system. I'll let you find them, Scott.
Scott, these are all tough questions. And in tough times, it's easy to say let's withdraw -- let's focus internally for a little bit. I think we should, but I think we need to not forget the problems around the globe. America is not the world's policeman, and we need to be careful how we proceed. But this is why we elected Barack Obama in large part -- to make these kinds of thoughtful, well-balanced decisions.
The lesson we learned globally under George W. Bush is the same one the California ballot initiative fiasco, is teaching us: sometimes you just need a new way of doing business.
Thanks for the questions, Scott.
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I'M NOT AS DUMB AS I LOOK -- GIVE ME A POLITICAL QUESTION: Ask whatever political question you want.
Just email me: bkirby816 AT yahoo DOT com