I begin this weekly commentary on the World with the United States. Leon Panetta, the US Secretary of Defense, retired. His retirement ceremony was held at Ft. Myer in Washington D.C. He retires after a very distinguished public service career that saw him serve as an Officer in the US Army, a Member of Congress, Chief of Staff to the President of the United States, a Member of Congress, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget and Director of the CIA. His legacy will live up with the Institute that he founded along with his wife at California State University, Monterey.
The story of Leon Panetta, in many ways, is the story of America. His immigrant parents came out to America to make a better life. It has been that drive and the commitment of such men that, in my view, made America what it is today. President Obama, though, has nominated Chuck Hagel to replace him as Defense Secretary. Chuck Hagel is a Vietnam War Veteran who subsequently went on to have a successful business career and thereafter went on to the US Senate before retiring. As I reviewed highlights of his testimony before the US Senate Armed Services Committee, I could not help but laugh or cry.
The opposition to the Hagel nomination was spreadheaded by those die-hearts in the conservative community who somehow took the view that Hagel was against Israel. They also questioned his views on Iran and his stance that direct negotiations made sense. One of the more comical comments was when Lindsay Graham noted that Chuck Hagel left the Republican Party and that his wife's support for Barack Obama made him unqualified. During the hearings, he also asked the President's nominee about who specifically within the US Congress was intimidated by the Jewish Lobby. Unfortunately, Mr. Hagel was not too direct and tried to be deferential. The undue influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and other allied organizations on US Foreign Policy is an absolute fact. Yet, there is no daylight at all within the highest echelon of US Government about US support for Israel. As such, the whole notion that somehow Mr. Hagel's nomination should not be approved was absolutely comical.
I also found a question by the new darling of the tea party, Ted Cruz, to be even more comical. He asked whether Israel has committed war crimes. If he had done his homework, he would have realized that Israel's own Government uncovered evidence of war crimes during the Sabra and Shatila massacres and directly blamed Israel's Defense Minister at the time, Ariel Sharon, in it. What I was especially startled by was John McCain's discussions with Chuck Hagel about Iraq.
Chuck Hagel was one of the brave ones in the Senate to oppose the surge in Iraq. The conventional notion is that the surge in Iraq succeeded. But the reality, unfortunately, is otherwise. By the time the surge was approved and spreaheaded by David Petreaus, the defacto ethical cleansinig of Iraq was in full force. The Kurds had become a defacto Independent State within a State. Shittes and Sunnis had started living in near bunkers. Secterian killings and violence was at an all time high. The reporting done by folks like Nir Rosen and others documented this throughout the years subsequent to the surge. Yet , the conventional wisdom continues to be the order of the day. The comments that Hagel made later on underscored this fact. He noted that a war of choice did not need to be that led to the death of 1200 Americans. Chuck Hagel left the judgement of the surge to history. I am confident that those who opposed the surge will end up being vindicated. John McCain will not be one of those who will be vindicated.
As President Obama gears up for his State of Union, what is clear is that there are clear storms brewing. Although one crisis was averted, there are many crisis ahead. Managing crisis, it seems, is the order of the day. As sequestration looms, no one seems to be in any mood to compromise. The cuts are going to hurt the country immensely. The nature of such cuts are self-evident in Europe right now, where austerity has caused major challenges. The United Kingdom is in danger of entering a triple-dip recession precisely due to this--and David Cameron has gotten into major difficulty as a result of his Government's policies. There is no question that there is a need to control spending. However, this "control" needs to be balanced--and that's key. I am fascinated by some of the President's very interesting second term appointments, though. One of them, Sally Jewel, is the CEO of REI who has been nominated to replace Ken Salazar at the Department of the Interior. Ms. Jewell 's company, REI, is one of the leading outdoor gear providers in the World today. She's also had a broad array of expertise in conservation and industry that should serve her well as she's confirmed.
Beyond the chaotic political scene before, I was frankly saddened about the tragic story of Jesse Jackson Jr. He is the son of the Rev. Jesse Jackson who apparently has signed a plea deal for misuse of campaign funds. It apparently has also involved his wife, a former Chicago City Alderwoman (Councilman) who also resigned. I view it as tragic--although I also wonder what they were thinking and how they allowed themselves to be taken in by the aura of power. It reminded me of the scene in Casino Jack, where Jack Abramahoff's Wife asked Jack (played by Kevin Spacey): Did you ever think of me and the children? Jesse Jackson himself also has had a rapid fall from grace due to his own challenges over the years--including having fathered a child and some of the questionable ways in which he's raised money for his Rainbow/Push Coalition. Just because something was done in such a way does not necessarily mean that it is the right thing to do. I wonder if both of them realized it or not.
I end this week-end retrospective with the Gun Debate. Feburary 9, 2013 saw another funeral for a victim of gun violence. A 15-year young girl was laid to rest in Chicago while she was taking shelter with friends approxmiately one mile from President Obama's home. Michelle Obama attended the funeral. There were calls at the funeral to do something. There are proposals out there to limit the magazines and work on universal background checks. But it appears that not much beyond that is going to happen and the NRA (who has emerged as the key lobbying voice for the Gun Manufacturers) will be able to have their way.
The need to transform the way America is governed is ever more paramount. It appears, though, that the changes will continue to be incremental at best. As the President speaks at his 5th State of the Union, he can look back with a sense of pride in what he has been able to achieve. The question is whether he is able to sustain it or not as the current political leadership strives to live to "build a more perfect union".
Also released to the Daily Outsider's "Outsider Views" @ http://www.outsiderviews.com on 2/9/2013--All rights reserved under Creative Commons License