Leaping into the Crocodile Cage

One wonders, looking at America after eight years of George W. Bush’s destructive policies and actions, why anyone would want to go through the struggle to win the presidency. A quick survey of the United States among the world’s nations should be enough to discourage anyone from wanting to wade through the cesspool of a presidential campaign only to find a congregation of crocodiles waiting at its end.

From its high point shortly after the 9/11 attacks, when the sympathy of the civilized world was with us, America’s image around the world has been systematically shredded by Bush and his cabal of neocons, along with other assorted right-wing policymakers.

There is no nation worth mentioning that has a favorable opinion of us as a country. Although other countries still admire us as a people, and long for the same freedoms we have had, thanks to Bush’s policies we are stuck with the vision of America as an arrogant bully, throwing our military weight around, seeking to vanquish any small country that dares to defy us. Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo have become America’s brand names around the world.

Our leaders have refused to discuss anything at all with countries we consider to be misbehaving. Iran is most likely pursuing nuclear weapons, although it vehemently denies it. We have given political support and money to Israel to plunder and destroy its neighbors, and we have invaded and occupied Iraq, with the result that the entire Middle East has become more unstable than ever. Bush’s war in Iraq has negatively affected millions of people inside Iraq with the resulting ethnic hatreds that have been stirred there, causing the movement of millions either to other parts of Iraq, or to Syria and Jordan, where more than two and a half million Iraqis have sought to escape the violence brought about by our invasion. As a footnote, we have taken in fewer than 1,000 Iraqi refugees.

Domestically, as everyone knows, our economy has completely tanked, leaving millions of elderly people who once had adequate retirement savings looking for jobs, something not easy to do at their age. The same is true for families who had been saving for their children’s college. Before the economy dealt everyone a blow, I had been saying, "I wonder what else George Bush could do before he leaves office?"

Now we know.

The president’s policy of tax cuts for the super-rich, always supported by cowardly Democrats in Congress, caused a massive shift of money from the middle class to giant corporations and rich individuals. His attitude toward regulation of the financial markets, again supported by congressional Democrats, brought about the massive bank failures we have recently witnessed, largely because these giants were allowed to operate without any regulation whatever. They bought subprime mortgages without thinking, packaged them and sold them to investors, along with worthless insurance policies, which they ingeniously called "credit default swaps." When investors could no longer collect on the mortgages with rapidly increasing interest rates, those holdings slid into bankruptcy. The giant banks and brokerages then begged the U.S. government for a socialist remedy–”that is, for the government to buy shares of their stock in exchange for a "bailout."

During all this, Bush was as invisible as he was during the first hours of the 9/11 attack, leaving the front work to be done by his Treasury secretary, Henry Paulson.

Domestic Challenges

Added to all this is the work that must be done on America’s crumbling infrastructure, such as the nation’s bridges, roads and other public fixtures. One issue that most politicians are loath to discuss is the crucial need for a national railway passenger system. Most likely, political leaders are silent because they are beholden to the airline industry and the highway lobby.

It’s hard to explain how Europe can afford national health care for all its citizens, as well as efficient rail transportation, and we cannot. Perhaps it’s because Europeans, since WWII, have been intelligent enough to stay out of costly wars when we have not.

On occasion, American political leaders will stumble over one or two solutions to what is going to be a major energy crisis by chanting, "drill, baby, drill." But with only 3 percent of the world’s energy here in America, and with us using 24 percent of that same energy, the only real solution that Barack Obama will have to come up with is to develop, in a big hurry, all the alternative sources of energy he talked about during his campaign. But in order to use less oil, reduce pollution, provide public service jobs to put the nation back to work, he will have to promote a national rail system similar to those in Europe and in Japan. They are shining examples of what a nation can do when the need for transportation arises. For the money to fund a rail system, we could easily use the $10 billion a month that is currently being spent on the destruction of Iraq.

Such a system has been blocked here due to cries of "socialism," a cry that has worked so well so far that we have been deprived of a rail system, not to mention national health care. Interestingly, the complaints about socialism are now drowned out by the giant banks’ begging and pleading for government money to save their own necks.

Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize-winning economist, has estimated that before we are finished in Iraq, the total cost to the American taxpayer will be around $3 trillion. That’s enough for a couple of national rail systems.

Calming the Warhawks

Obama will also be required to calm the warhawks in our society by opening negotiations with Iran and Syria. And he must, first of all, tell the Israelis that if they intend to invade Iran, they will get no support from America. It’s fairly easy to see what the Israelis are up to there–”they want to start something militarily with Iran, expecting America to come to their aid when Iran starts to retaliate. That, of course, would be an even bigger mistake than invading Iraq, and we can only hope Obama sees it that way.

Our new president could take up Syria and Iran on their offer to make the Middle East a nuclear weapons-free zone, which would mean that Israel would have to destroy its more than 200 nuclear warheads. With that, Obama could end the Middle East arms race in one fell swoop.

He could also get serious about making peace between Israel and the Palestinians, unlike the phony peace efforts both Bill Clinton and George Bush embarked upon, knowing they would be without success.

The problem is that during the campaign Obama kowtowed so deeply to the Israel Lobby that we can’t be certain he would be very insistent that Israel actually get serious about a peace deal. Looking at his campaign advisers doesn’t give much reason for hope in that area. According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, three dozen or so Zionists joined both the McCain and Obama campaigns.

I tend to think Obama is up to the task of repairing all the destruction brought about in a mere eight years by George Bush. But, as we always must ask, does he have the political will to do so?

To avoid being eaten by the crocodiles, he will have to use some fancy footwork–but, as we saw during his campaign, he apparently knows how.