Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What Indian politicians SHOULD learn from Bush.

That anybody can learn anything from George Bush is an outrageous suggestion to many today. When "Economist" endorsed Kerry in 2004 the cover was "Incompetent (Bush) Vs Incomprehensible(Kerry)". Without going into justifiable complaints on Bush today I shall focus on a totally different side of Bush.

Ever since Obama and McCain became the presumptive-nominees of their respective parties Bush opened up his administration to establish communications with both. Given the unprecedented economic catastrophe, the 2 wars, a precarious security situation he felt compelled to help "whoever" wins way ahead of the election. He did this in a very non-partisan manner giving equal access to Obama and McCain. Note that during the primaries and even as this was happening Obama was savaging Bush in his stump speeches.

Today New YOrk Times ran an article on how Bush team is not just opening up to Obama but practically doing dry runs with the new team. Especially the homeland security team. Key passages merit a full quote:

"In addition to the White House contingency memorandums, the Department of Homeland Security said it had given crisis training to nearly 100 career officials who may fill in while Mr. Obama’s appointees await Senate confirmation. Starting before the election, those career workers have conducted exercises alongside departing political appointees to test their responses.
The administration has invited members of the Obama agency review teams to observe some of those so-called tabletop exercises between now and the inauguration, on Jan. 20. The Bush team has also invited Obama transition officials to attend a “national level exercise” set for Jan. 12 and 13 that may play out what would happen if the top leadership of the nation were wiped out in a single stroke, officials said.
At the same time, senior counterterrorism officials plan to hold personal briefings for their counterparts on the biggest threats they see. And the White House has drafted as many as three dozen other long-term policy memorandums outlining various pressing issues that will confront the new team and how Mr. Bush’s aides see the status of each of these issues as his presidency comes to a close."

One can argue endlessly about how Bush got us there in the first place but lets give him due appreciation. These are traits that every Indian poitician can learn but they never will because they are not Americans. Only a man who so loves his country above himself can do these, no Indian politician can match the least American on that.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Dissent Iraqi style - Bush and a pair of shoes.

The world of Bush-haters, across the world, had a hearty moment watching him duck a shoe thrown at him by an Iraqi journalist (really, was he one?) during a press conference. Today CNN's Candy Crowley, one of the few objective reporters out there, interviewed Bush and this episode came up. Bush told Crowley, ""First of all, it's got to be one of the most weird moments of my presidency," he said. "Here I am, getting ready to answer questions from a free press in a democratic Iraq, and a guy stands up and throws his shoe. And it was bizarre, and it was an interesting way for a person to express himself".

While everybody jeered at Bush for being so unpopular what was lost in the melee was that the event was historic from a much grander perspective than for that silly theatrics. This was a press conference where journalists in a middle-eastern country stood up and asked questions to not just the American President, the putative leader of the Free World, they also could question their own Prime Minister. No other country in that region can boast of that. Ahmedinejad holds press meet to rant against the Great Satan and of course Israel none can question him, much less throw a shoe and get out alive.

This so called thug in a journalist clothing needs the Saddam treatment that he so loves. Abhu Graib, while shameful on American standards, was picnic compared to Iraqi methods of torture which had acid baths, electrocution, nail pulling, execution of family members and of course no imagination is needed for what was done to women. This thug was escorted out and is being charged in a court. This being Iraq, in a rare show of brotherhood Sunnis AND Shias are rejoicing at this together putting away their own civil war of mutual kidnaps and torture of each other. Now the favorite method of torture amongst them is using mechanized drill bits for drilling at soft spots. If this kind of protest was shown to anybody else in the middle eastern world then the consequences would not be pleasant to the dissenter. For this the dissenters can kiss Bush "thanks".

For those who retort, "oh well Bush killed so many, what do you expect". I tell them "Saddam, Assad, Stalin, Mao all did much worse and with no shred of good intentions and this could not be done to any of them much less live to tell the tale afterward".

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Conversation with A Syrian Muslim

Two days back I had to head to work at Jersey City and as per company policy I hired an executive cab. It was a crisis day at work. I normally strike up a conversation with the drivers, it is often interesting. This driver I learned was a Syrian Muslim and was very chatty. When we the talk veered to elections and eventually Bush he became animated. He let loose a tirade on the Bush years. Talking of 9/11 he repeated well known calumnies, a plot by CIA and Israel, US etc. He then curiously cited Michael Moore's documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11" as offering proof. Moore, a veterate Bush hater, did not do that at all in the documentary. Then the cab driver went into full praise mode of Yasser Arafat. He seemed to be well read for a cabbie. I asked him about Arafat refusing to compromise on Jersusalem during Camp David talks. That was non-negotiable for a muslim he said. Arafat should not have negotiated peace with Rabin (both got a Nobel for that). Saddam had given security to his people compared to today's chaos. I asked him about women voting in elections in Iraq, a first in the entire Islamic middle east. He claimed the US had no right to impose Western style democracy.

This guy had emigrated from Syria in the 80's. It was during that time that Assad, President of Syria, obliterated an entire town of Sunni's killing 30,000 and torturing hundreds more. The tortures would make medieval European menthods appear quaint. Assad was of the Allawi sect. Those killed were Sunni's. The Sunni's, a minority in Iraq, returned the favor to Shia majority, under Saddam, a Sunni. The cabbie, living in US for 22 years, was proud of his business, he loves Bill Clinton, more importantly the prosperous years. Note that in the 90's when money was rolling in executive cabs like he has made a windfall ferrying not just executives but even mid level employees and consultants who stayed late after 8 PM. Remember those were the heady Y2K days when tech consultants laughed their way to the bank clocking devilish hours every day. It was never to be the same again after 9/11.

It is more than ironical that while enjoys the fruits of Western liberal democracy he does not like it being "imposed" elsewhere. Let the people make the choice he said. Kurds made that choice and learnt a bitter lesson in Halabja. By the way nobody tires of mentioning that US armed Saddam. Guess who armed theSyrians. It was Soviet T-62 tanks and MiG fighters that flattened Hama in Syria.

Now, for a moment I thought "well he is a Syrian Muslim, not surprisingly he thought thus". But I remembered books by white Americans, actor Martin Sheen, Professor Ward Churchill, an ex-colleague have all shared various views of this cabbie. His being a Muslim and emigrant lends itself to ready stereo typing but he is not alone.

I am reading Thomas Friedman's masterful "From Beirut to Jerusalem" and it provided some good backdrop of Syria, especially the massacre of the city of Hama by Assad. Many in India lionise Arafat, few know that Arafat was chased by one government after another of his own Muslim countries who saw him as trouble maker. The most famous chasing being from Jordan when the king cracked down on PLO. In fact many Palestinians settled in Jordan viewed him as upsetting a delicate balance and despised his faction ridden corrupt organisation. So much to share, let it wait for another day.

Hubris thy name is Obama

Barack Obama is on a roll these days with Bush being not just a duck but a lameduck as well. The media circus around transition is in full throttle. Being the new-age internet messiah we now have his campaign web site changed to, well what else, which is under the purview of the "office of the President elect" complete with US Presidential seal. Here is the inconvenient truth only government agencies can have websites with a ".gov" suffix, Barack and his team are not yet part of any government and the bigger rub is that there is no such thing as "Office of the President-elect". "President-elect" is only a symbolic title to differentiate one who is elected to be president from the sitting president. There is no "office of the President-elect".

On campign trail he once boasted thus, "I want to solve health care, lets get everybody around the table. Of course I will have the biggest chair as I will be President". During his acceptance speech at Democratic convention the hubris reached a new low point. The press exults in the self-characterisation by the Obama campaign that Obama is "no drama obama". Ofcourse the dig was at the fractious campaigns of McCain and Hillary which were supposed to have dramatic clashes. Mr No-Drama-Obama decided that he needs to be coronated in the backdrop of a Greek Colosseum replete with Grecian columns, then in the speech he delivered a new low-blow admiring his Michelle, "does she not look like a swell first lady". If McCain had delivered the same line the press would be chortling. Then again on his night of victory he swelled with pride telling his daughters "Sasha and Malia, you will get that puppy when we go to the White House". No Presidential candidate in history stooped so low in self-congratulatory tones.

Well this is the guy who during campaign had the arrogance to alter the US Seal of the President and put it in a banner on his table during an event. Many, including his own supporters laughed at the ridiculousness and his campaign blushed that that was meant for just one event and not to be used after.

When he picked Hillary as Secretary of State a reporter asked him to explain his evolution of thought from ridiculing Hillary's foreign policy experience as "having tea with ambassadors". Obama grinned and told the reporters that they are having fun quoting lines from a heated campaign. No further explanations just a disdainful brush. Campbell Brown of CNN pulled him up for that saying he has to "answer" questions not brush them aside. Ah! well if he can get this far without much answering why would he bother now.

Let us all strap on we are in for a ride.