Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ignore the chickenhawks pushing for an Iran coup

Ignore the chickenhawks pushing for an Iran coup


MUCH has been said and written in recent days about the way the demonstrators in Tehran have been utilising new kinds of 'social media' to challenge the Iranian theocratic regime. Protestors blog, post to Facebook, and most intriguing, coordinate their protests on Twitter, the messaging service.

On Twitter, young Iranians and their supporters post reports and links to photos from demonstrations along with accounts of street fighting and casualties around the country. So will this revolution be twitted?

Perhaps. But in any case, with all the attention focused on Tehran's Twitter Revolutionaries, we shouldn't forget the other impressive group of revolutionaries that has emerged in Washington just as the media started reporting on allegations about a rigged Iranian presidential election and angry protesters were gathering in Teheran.

I'm referring here to the many brave US lawmakers, op-ed columnists, television talking-heads, think-tankers and bloggers who are angry that President Barack Obama has refused to punish the Ayatollahs in Iran by, say, bombing Iran into the stone age or doing a regime change in Tehran. Hence Republican Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain - thank God for small mercies - is now criticising the man who beat him last November for not talking tough with the Iranians like - I kid you not! - former President George W Bush.

'Look, these people are bad people and I know that it was unpopular to call them part of an axis of evil or whatever it was, but we just showed again that an oppressive regime will not allow democratic elections, free and democratic elections,' Mr McCain told reporters last week.

Yep. President Obama should follow the footsteps of his predecessor who certainly knew how to talk tough ('Bring them on') to Osama Bin Laden (and then let him get away to Pakistan) and to Saddam Hussein (and then generating a military fiasco in Iraq) and to Iran (and then helping it emerge as a regional power).

So Mr McCain, who during the campaign entertained an audience while singing Bomb, Bomb Iran to the tune of an old Beach Boys hit, is now advising President Obama on doing his version of the 'right thing' in Iran.

Mr McCain is at least a war veteran. Most of the other critics of Mr Obama's policy of maintaining a distance from the political upheaval in Iran are veterans of the battles of the blogs that took place before and during the Iraq War. They are so-called chicken-hawks who continue to protect such neoconservative bastions as the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the Weekly Standard, and who not long ago were promising us that the Iraq War would be a 'cake walk', and that Iraqis would greet Americans as liberators with garlands and sweets.

Now after that Iraqi Mission Not-Really Accomplished, they seem to be coming back to life, showing up once again on all the televisions news shows and authoring new op-eds for prestigious publications, despite the fact that much of their foreign policy agenda has been bankrupted and is now lying ruined on the sands of Mesopotamia.

Well . . . never mind. Now they suggest that America should exert all its power to lend a helping hand to former prime minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi as he and his supporters attempt to challenge the presidential election results, a move that will only play into the hands of the ruling Ayatollahs and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who hope to portray Mr Mousavi and the protesters as American stooges.

Ironically, these same American critics who now depict Mr Mousavi as Iran's Gorbachev were warning on the eve of the Iran election that even if Mr Mousavi would win, the Americans would have no choice but to confront Iran over its nuclear military programme and consider giving Israel a green light to strike that country's nuclear facilities.

But now they explain that Mr Mousavi's election will ignite a democratic revolution in Iran and mark the start of a new era in US-Iran relationship. Trying to make sense of that kind of intellectual gibberish that passes for foreign policy analysis in Washington these days, I recalled Twiddle-dee and Twiddle-dum, those two silly characters from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland.

The two were known for talking nonsense all the time: 'This must be Thursday. Never could get the hand of Thursdays, though on a whole, Thursdays have been pretty good'. Their names derived from the expression 'twiddling my thumbs' which is to say they had nothing to do, like: 'Oh, I'm doing nothing, but twiddling my thumbs'.

So let's forget about Twitter. When it comes to the revived chickenhawks of Washington, the revolution will be twiddled.

Copyright © 2007 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved.

Obama using political wealth for health reform

Business Times - 24 Jun 2009

Obama using political wealth for health reform

The President is intent on getting the healthcare legislation passed by Congress this year


IT'S beginning to feel as though the American political system is reverting to an election campaign mode. Is President Barack Obama running for re-election?

That was at least the impression of journalists who were covering Mr Obama's announcement on Monday that he was going to use all the weapons in his political arsenal to win the coming fight in Congress and around the country over his plan to reform the nation's ailing healthcare system.

It was clearly one of the major opening shots in what are expected to be long and costly political and legislative battles over health care.

'Yes we can,' Mr Obama told reporters at the White House as he discussed the decision by the drug companies to put a price ceiling on prescription drug coverage for the elderly that is offered through the federal government programme Medicare.

'We are going to get this done,' he said, referring to his healthcare programme, suggesting that the agreement by the pharmaceutical companies could serve as a model for similar cooperation between government and the medical industry on reducing healthcare costs.

'This is a significant breakthrough on the road to healthcare reform,' Mr Obama said, 'one that will make a difference in the lives of many older Americans.'

The launch of the White House's campaign for healthcare reform is taking place at a time when Mr Obama is beginning to slip in the public opinion polls and as both Democrats and the media are becoming more sceptical of his policies.

While most opinion polls suggest that Mr Obama continues to enjoy wide public backing for his leadership, Americans seem to be much less supportive of his key policy initiatives, including the effort to save General Motors and Chrysler, and are worried about the increasing fiscal costs of his programmes to fix the American economy. Hence concerns over the growing budget deficit seem to be rising to the top of the public's agenda.

In that context, while most Americans are in favour of ensuring that every citizen has access to health care, they are much less enthusiastic about the notion that reforming the system could require new and huge government spending.

In fact, leading Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill are worried that Mr Obama may not be able to win approval on Capitol Hill despite the fact that his party now controls both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

'To be candid with you, I don't know that he has the votes right now,' Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California said on CNN on Sunday. 'I think there's a lot of concern in the Democratic caucus.'

Which explains why Mr Obama is trying to revive some of the passion exhibited by his supporters during the presidential campaign which helped get him elected last November.

Mr Obama explained during the 2008 election campaign that, taking into consideration the strong political opposition, he would not propose a single-payer system like the one that operates across the border in Canada.

In fact, the Obama administration has not put forward a very specific healthcare plan. Instead, it is proposing a general direction for reform and leaving the details of the plan up to Congress where debate over the issue is expected to begin this week.

According to the broad parameters of Mr Obama's plan, the current private insurance programme will continue to exist with the government exerting more regulation over their operations by imposing practice guidelines on providers.

Coverage would be mandated for employers and individuals and a government-run plan would be set up in competition with private insurers.

Americans would be able to choose either private insurance or the public plan, but the private insurance would face a host of new regulations that are expected, among other things, to prohibit pricing premiums on the basis of risk.

And on the top of all of that, the government would offer financial aid to low-income people to purchase insurance.

Most experts agree that the rising cost of health care in the United States poses a long-term threat to the country's fiscal health. And critics of Mr Obama's ideas for reform argue that it will not bring down the cost of health care and, if anything, could end up costing more than US$1 trillion over the next 10 years (according to estimates by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office).

This burden will probably fall mostly on the middle class through direct and indirect taxes.

Moreover, many lawmakers are worried that the government-backed healthcare programme would force private insurers to raise their premiums and make them less competitive.

Mr Obama and his aides have indicated that they are ready to work together with Congress to reach a compromise on the healthcare legislation.

But as Mr Obama made it clear on Monday, he was intent on getting the legislation this year when the White House still has quite a lot of political capital to spend and before Washington starts getting ready for the midterm Congressional elections next year when the incumbent party could start losing Congressional seats, making it even less likely that Congress would support reforming health care.

Mr Obama was clearly encouraged by data in a New York Times report that showed strong public support for a government-run insurance plan that would compete against today's private plans.

Similarly, a Wall Street Journal-NBC poll found that more than half of respondents support the Obama approach and 62 per cent said they would support a requirement that every American have insurance.

Indeed, aides to the President insist that he is ready to take advantage of his personal popularity and to use the Internet and other new media to go directly to the American people - in the same way he did during the election campaign - and ask them to press the reluctant Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill to pass a healthcare reform bill.

Who knows? We may start seeing the cool Obama losing his temper for a change.

Copyright © 2007 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved.