Correct Overseas, Wrong At Home
by Deacon Blues
"I think we will look back in 10 years' time and say we should not have done this but we did because we forgot the lessons of the past, and that that which is true in the 1930's is true in 2010."
--Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan, February 5, 1999 upon repeal of the Glass-Steagall act
I'll come clean on something right now: I’m growing increasingly skeptical about the divergence between Obama’s judgment on international matters and those here at home. I’ve watched the rollout of his Afghanistan/Pakistan policy review this week, and have confidence in the approach he and his team have taken. It followed a vigorous internal debate about whether America should nation-build (the State Department recommendation) or should be more limited to smashing Al Qaeda and standing up Afghanistan/Pakistan security efforts first (the Biden approach). It's refreshing to see a vigorous internal debate amongst an intelligent group of realists instead of groupthink from ideologues.
Several weeks ago, Richard Holbrooke gave a reassuring summary of where things were headed on the “Charlie Rose” show, and just last night Bruce Reidel gave a full explanation of what’s behind Obama’s policy choices, which were rolled out this week after the completion of a 60-day policy review of our options as the new administration comes into office. No one is wild about sending another 17,000 troops into Afghanistan to slow down and turn back the Taliban, and 4,000 advisors to train the police and army, as part of a much broader campaign to stand up a country that George W. Bush left behind. But as Reidel said clearly last night, our own military and the Karzai government pleaded for this help three years ago, and yet the Bush administration and its all-star foreign policy team couldn’t be bothered.
In truth, the problems facing both Afghanistan and Pakistan started back in the 1990’s when the Clinton administration couldn’t be bothered either. Yet the Bush administration ignored the true import of Al Qaeda and the Taliban for the first eight months they were in office, and ignored Richard Clarke’s plan to deal with Al Qaeda from February until September 2001. And even when 9/11 shamed them into action, they still never snuffed out the Taliban and let Osama Bin Laden escape at Tora Bora.
In contrast, the Obama administration is dealing with Bush’s dereliction of duty within its first 60 days and knows that no matter how unpleasant it is to send troops into battle and billions to re-fight a war that should have been won years ago, its constitutional obligation is to protect the country from the threats George W. Bush enabled. We cannot walk away from these two countries because they both pose a threat to our national security. It’s just another instance where George W. Bush left a problem to his successor, yet in this case, he should have been impeached for it.
While I may have confidence in Obama’s prescriptions for dealing with our immediate challenges overseas, as the days go by I have no similar confidence in Obama’s choices to deal with the economic mess also bequeathed to him by Bush the Charlatan. Both Paul Krugman and William Greider (last night on Bill Moyers' show) correctly point out that Obama is recapitalizing the same failed bad actors that got us into this mess, with trillions of taxpayer dollars, instead of forcing through a better alternative that would finally refocus our efforts to building up regional and local financial institutions, and cutting the corporate welfare demanded of Congress by those who finance their campaigns. (Greider's new book can be purchased through a link on the left side of this site)
Both Tim Geithner and Ben Bernanke were present at the creation of TARP last fall; both knowingly approved of a plan that threw taxpayer money towards bailing out failing companies (Bear Stearns and AIG), so that global favored children like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase would never be harmed from their own bad decisions. Now we are supposed to be comforted to see the same two people (Bernanke and Geithner) tell us that regulation is on the way, and that the Fed should recapitalize Wall Street even further, when these firms and their investors will still never take a real haircut from their bad decisions. Hell, Larry Summers was the Treasury Secretary who was cheerleading the repeal of Glass-Steagall ten years ago, and look where that got us. Perhaps Byron Dorgan, Russ Feingold, and Barney Frank can show some guts and point out how right they were a decade ago and fashion an alternative to the administration’s capitulation to Wall Street.