Barack Obama came to office with great promise by Roland Watson

U.S. Policy on Burma: More Stick (1 link to article), Less Carrot analyses the many different events surrounding Burma in the last few months, including the visit of Ban Ki-moon, celebrity activism, the Kang Nam 1, and the comments of Hillary Clinton.)

President Obama’s approval rating by the American people is on the decline. According to some polls, it has fallen below 60%. A number of analysts are saying that this is natural, given the depth of the economic recession. I believe, though, that there is another explanation for the decline.

Barack Obama came to office with great promise. As the first African-American President, his election was nothing short of a revolutionary event. Further, and unlike his predecessor George Bush, he is clearly a man of extraordinary ability.

President Obama additionally made specific promises during his campaign, which taken together suggested that his government would bring a period of real change. Translated, this meant – domestically – that the paranoid secrecy of the Bush Administration would be reversed and that the government openness appropriate to democracy would be reestablished; and that the corporate-lobbying fueled corruption of Washington, D.C., would be cleared out and the government would once again serve the American people. Internationally, the Administration would conclude the Iraq misadventure, and restore a positive reputation for the United States. While the President has taken many steps to reverse Bush policy, particularly, and welcomely, on environmental issues, the main reason his rating is falling is that he is not living up to the set of expectations that he himself created. Americans wanted a bold, innovative leader. Many of Obama’s initial actions, though, reflect an acceptance of the D.C. paradigm that the general public appropriately detests.

Obama promised openness, yet he is unwilling to investigate the Bush Administration’s illegal intelligence activities, including its espionage of American citizens. Americans want non-usurious access to health insurance (in many countries health care is viewed as a right), yet bowing to the insurance, pharmaceutical and physician lobbies, the Administration is backing away from its pledge to reduce if not eliminate the ranks of the uninsured, much less take the opportune step of implementing a single-payer system that by default would cover everyone. And, perhaps most importantly, Americans want a return to economic normality, where they can work hard to advance their lives without fear of losing their jobs or homes. Yet, and as I explained in my book, What Really Happened – The Financial Crisis Guide ( ), this can only be accomplished if Wall Street is properly regulated – if clearly criminal acts are treated as such; and if short-term speculation in all markets (stock, energy, other commodities, etc.) is eliminated, thus allowing the markets to return to an investment character (to serve as an orderly mechanism for the transfer of savings from individuals to companies – a key foundation of capitalism). But again, due to pressure from financial industry lobbyists, proposals to regulate the industry, including to end market speculation, are under assault.

There has been no justice whatsoever for the people of the world for the crimes committed by the executives of Wall Street. Indeed, because of the lobbying the Government has refused to designate as criminal blatant market manipulation and consumer fraud.

In addition, the recently announced profits of Goldman Sachs, which were due to “rapid-fire” trading programs, the shortest-term speculation of all, are being viewed as a positive sign that things are returning to normal. However, while the bankers at Goldman and other Wall Street firms may once again make billions, this speculation ensures, just as with the current speculation-fueled spike in oil prices, that the overall economy and ordinary people will remain under great pressure.

It is on the international front, though, that the Administration’s actions have been most disturbing. The election of a black man, of a member of a group that was formerly enslaved, has given great hope to all the peoples of the world who are still the subjects of slavery and repression. Obama’s election (as he eloquently made clear in his acceptance speech) signaled that anything was possible. Perhaps they might be able to win their freedom as well.

The election of Barack Obama vindicates the determination – and sacrifice
– of Abraham Lincoln. The President has fulfilled Lincoln’s enormous and costly decision to free the American slaves. The United States Civil War was the first war in history specifically fought to secure human rights for a group subject to discrimination. It was, though, a purely domestic action.

President Obama is now faced with the choice of whether or not to extend Lincoln’s precedent, to dedicate America to organizing global pressure – if need be military pressure – to help free other people around the world.
If he does this, if he presents this course as clear United States policy and then works without compromise to achieve it, he will have repaid Lincoln and everyone else in the Civil War and following years who gave their lives so that America would be a free and just society. The entire world, not only America, can be a free and just society. If, on the other hand, he does not follow this course, while he may become a good President, he will never be great. Also, while economic growth may resume, the world – the human family and the natural ecology of which we are stewards – will remain crippled by the tyranny that continues to prosper.

It is therefore extremely unsettling that the President appears to be de-emphasizing freedom and democracy. The Bush Administration regularly spoke up for democracy, but its words were insincere. Behind the scenes the United States maintained close relations with many authoritarian regimes. Now, Obama is discarding even the pretense of supporting democracy and is openly allying with or otherwise backing the interests of dictators.

The Administration has refused to speak up on behalf of the people of Iran, whose recent vote was stolen by the government. It is taking a one-sided perspective on the events in Honduras, in support of the tyrant Chavez of Venezuela and his Honduran disciple Zeleya. Human rights concerns are no longer an issue with China, even though the Communist Party continues its sixty-year reign of terror over the Chinese people, and also the people of Tibet and East Turkestan. And, the Administration has announced a policy review for Burma, which the military junta of the country immediately recognized as an actual policy change, and then promptly arrested democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

The President has said that his first foreign policy objective is to stop nuclear proliferation – not to promote freedom. But he is acting as if the nuclear issue is somehow de-linked from human rights. This ignores the fact that it is the worst human rights abusers – North Korea, China, Burma, Iran and Russia – that comprise the basic proliferation threat. As with the crippling effects of dictatorship on global economic development and environmental protection, we cannot escape the nuclear threat until all these nations are democratic.

The Administration has only been in office for six months. There are still three and a half years to go in its term. With the tumult of getting organized, and in such a challenging environment, it is easy for the President to be distracted and to lose touch with fundamental democratic principles and American traditions. The opportunity still exists, though, to reset the nation’s direction. The American people will applaud this, and the President’s ratings will once again rise. But, the longer Obama allows the country to stay off course, the more difficult it will be to correct.
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