Obama’s Fractured State of the Union: Part II

In his State of the Union speech, President Barack Obama had nothing critical to say about Iraq, nor has he had much to say in a critical vein about Iraq since becoming president. A relative critical silence about one of the greatest blunders of the United States is an extreme disservice to the nation, as we should be forewarned about repeating this tragic course of action. The section on Iraq in this blog is by far the longest devoted to one topic and that is because we need to know how damaging the invasion of Iraq has been to that nation and to the United States.

Iraq – The last combat troops left Iraq on December 17, 2011, nominally ending a war that was started by President George W. Bush in March 2003, almost nine years ago — “nominally” because the war continues in many real ways for all Iraqis, especially for some 3.5 million who are either internally displaced in Iraq or refugees in another country. According to the Bloomberg-John Hopkins survey, using well-established survey methodology, a mean average of 600,000 plus Iraqis were killed in the war — since that survey was taken several years ago, the current number would be much higher. Moreover, the war has left a ruined country that was formerly one of the most advanced in the Middle East in terms of health and education:

* Up to 70 percent lack access to clean water

* Up to 80 percent lack access to sanitation

* Half of the doctors are either dead or have emigrated

* Average electricity availability is 14.6 hours per day.

The political situation in Iraq is also complicated and dangerous. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki recently accused Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi of running a hit squad five years ago. He is also pursuing a vote of no-confidence against Sunni Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlag. More broadly, al-Maliki has threatened to fire all nine of the cabinet ministers belonging to a grouping put together by Ayad Allawi, a former prime minister. Allawi’s grouping (Iraqiya) is boycotting all cabinet and parliamentary meetings, because even though Iraqiya won the most seats in the last parliamentary election, it feels it has been pushed out of a meaningful role in the governance of the country.

And in the United States, direct expenditures to date exceed $800 billion and there have been some 4,500 U.S. combat deaths, over 1,000 U.S. troop suicides and over 30,000 wounded. The $800 billion will grow substantially, despite the war’s nominal end, because as a nation we must keep our commitment to care for the veterans of the war.

The U.S. is maintaining a substantial presence in Iraq, with the largest embassy in the world and an army of mercenaries hired to guard the Americans working and living in that “embassy.”

This war was a moral, humanitarian, financial and foreign policy disaster for the United States and its ramifications will continue fro many decades.

Afghanistan – In his State of the Union speech, President Obama claimed that the Taliban’s “momentum has been broken, a statement that is at odds with the assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies that Afghanistan “is mired in stalemate” and security gains have been cut.

Iran – President once again said that all options are on the table if Iran refuses to end what the U.S. considers its attempts to acquire a nuclear weapons capability. One of the options is the use of nuclear warheads to destroy Iran’s deeply dug-in nuclear facilities. There is a computer model which calculates that three million people could die if the U.S. uses nuclear warheads on Iran.

Not only could the loss of life be horrendous, but Iran warns of closing the Strait of Hormuz to oil shipments and Iran has the capability to do other types of damage to U.S. interests.

Both ABC News and the Washington Post have done fact-checking on Obama’s State of the Union claims. Both media outlets dispute Obama’s jobs lost and gained figures. Using Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, ABC News claims that Obama over-estimated the job lost figures under President Bush and over-estimated by almost a million the jobs created by his administration during its first three years. The Washington Post claimed that Obama had been inaccurate about the time periods in which jobs were lost or created.

ABC News raises doubts about Obama’s claim that he has doubled the number of trade cases brought by Bush against China: Bush brought seven cases to the World Trade Organization; Obama has filed three.

ABC News fact-checkers also challenge Obama’s proposal to use half of the money saved by reducing U.S. war-fighting costs to pay down the debt and half to do nation-building here at home. The fact-checkers point out that all of the money to fight wars was borrowed and there is no new money available to finance Obama’s proposal.

The Washington Post zeros in on Obama’s boast that domestic oil production is at its highest level in eight years. The Post regards this boast as meaningless since U.S. oil production has remained relatively steady for those eight years.

When President Obama said that the health care law “relies on  a reformed private market, not a government program,” he omitted the crucial fact that about half of the 34 million now uninsured who will receive coverage, will be placed in Medicaid. States are sharply reducing Medicaid coverage and lowered reimbursement rates are reducing the number of doctors who will take Medicaid recipients.

A Pew Research Center poll taken in May 2011 throws cold water on Obama’s claim that foreign opinions of the United States are at the highest levels in years. Pew found that among two of our closest allies, Turkey and Jordan, confidence in Obama has dropped sharply: from 33 percent in 2009 to 11 percent in 2011 in Turkey, and from 25 percent in 2009 to 13 percent in 2011 in Jordan. Obama’s confidence percentages have also fallen in Indonesia, part of the Asian theater where Obama wants to augment U.S. military pressure.

Instead of starting and ending his State of the Union speech with glorification of the military, at some point in his presidency Obama should have addressed the awful fact that widespread torture was approved through the entire chain of command of the armed forces. Among the acts of compassion and kindness shown to the citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan  there have been acts of disrespect and crimes committed against the peoples of these two countries. The U.S. president must provide a more balanced assessment of how the U.S. armed forces perform in foreign lands.

Finally, what would have been illuminating is for President Obama to have given a ballpark figure on how much additional spending his proposals would cost and how much additional revenue he proposes to raise. Notable here is that Obama’s 12-year plan calls for only $1 trillion in additional revenue to achieve a $4 trillion reduction in the accumulated debt.


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