As the widely anticipated election of Barack Obama to the Presidency of the United States grows closer, the priorities that will shape the early days of his Administration require critical attention.
With the banking system still in crisis and financial markets on a volatile rollercoaster, the pressure will be great for a President Obama to focus on domestic issues. But the new Administration will also be saddled with the increasingly unpopular War on Terror. How will Obama deliver on his promise of change to Americans, as well as those around the world who have greeted his candidacy with such enthusiasm?
The election campaigns have demonstrated Americans are more concerned about their houses, retirement savings, jobs, healthcare and education than they are about international issues, and Obama has successfully distanced himself from the deregulation promoted by the Bush Administration. But it will be critical for Obama to likewise detach his Administration from the disastrous Bush foreign policy.
Three steps could signal a clear break with the past: ending the Afghan war, closing down Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, and prosecuting war crimes.
Senator Obama seems resolved to end the Iraq war quickly. But it appears that he plans to escalate the Afghan war by sending in more American troops. This has the makings of a disaster that could well bog down his Administration in a quagmire.
American, British and Canadian forces have been unable to provide security to Afghans, or stabilize the Karzai regime. Anger is mounting in that country at the ongoing occupation. As a number of top military commanders, including the British Commander, Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, have acknowledged, the Afghan war is militarily un-winnable. The only exit strategy is negotiation with the Taliban for a political solution. The sooner the Obama Administration does this, the quicker the mounting of casualties can be stopped.
Another Obama priority should be the immediate closure of Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and all the secret prisons that the U.S. has set up around the world. The Abu-Ghraib photographs, the graphic testimonies of Moazzam Begg and other British detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, as well as that of the young Canadian, Omar Khadr, all confirm a seemingly cavalier use of torture at these prisons.
The investigation conducted by General Taguba substantiated allegations of torture. In her recent Guggenheim prize-winning book, Jane Mayer of The New Times describes how Vice-President Cheney publicly made the case for going into the âe~dark sideâe(TM) to win the war. One of the most pernicious effects of this war has been the rationalization of torture, and the urgency of closing the prisons cannot be overstated.
While shutting down the prisons would signal Obamaâe(TM)s rejection of attempts to legalize torture, a critical third step that would decisively transform the U.S. role in global politics would be the prosecution of war crimes. The testimony presented at the Winter Soldier Hearings, as well as General Tagubaâe(TM)s report confirm that war crimes have been committed. Attorney Vincent Bugliosi has laid out a case for the prosecution of George Bush in a U.S. Court, arguing not only that Bush knowingly lied about the Iraq war, but that he should be held responsible for the deaths of 4,000-plus American soldiers.
Taking swift action to investigate and prosecute war crimes will be the clearest commitment that an Obama Administration could make towards ending the imperial hubris of the Bush Administration, which tried to make the case that it was above the law. Not only will this reflect a commitment to hold Americans accountable to the rule of law, it will also value the lives of all those killed in the two wars, regardless of whether they were Americans or not. Although it is difficult to get reliable statistics on the civilian death toll, the Opinion Research Business estimated it at approximately one million in January 2008.
There will no doubt be much celebration in the U.S. and around the world for an Obama victory on November 4. But if this victory is to be meaningful, Obama will need to mobilize the American population to transform its relationship to the rest of the world.
Acting quickly and decisively to end two of the arguably most ill conceived wars in American history, end the use of torture, and hold the United States and its citizens accountable to international (and U.S.) law will be change we could all believe in. This would make Obamaâe(TM)s meteoric rise to power a truly transformative moment in modern history.