By Robert Scheer
So, let’s now heed the words of our new president and set aside childish things. Presumably that includes the $450 worth of designer Obama T-shirts that I got in return for a campaign contribution made two days before the election in a sudden panic that he yet might lose. That battle has been won, and the sight of the disgraced Dick Cheney being wheeled off the stage of history as Obama recommitted America to the vision of the Founders, who, “faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man,” was nothing short of thrilling.
Tuesday was welcome theater, as profound as it gets, particularly in the unity of race demonstrated so visibly to ourselves as well as the rest of the world. In that sense the presidency of Barack Obama will always be marked as an enormous winner, even when things, as he predicted, at times go wrong. But today, as Obama has declared, begins a new era of responsibility and accountability, and it is time for this columnist to get back to work.
My concern is with the nation’s two most serious flashpoints—the economic bailout and the war in Afghanistan—and on both the early actions of the Obama team have been far from reassuring. Instead of signaling a sharp break from the failures of the Bush administration in these two areas, the early indication from Obama is more of the same.
“Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some,” he said. But why then has he backed a bailout program that rewards the greediest of bankers while ignoring struggling homeowners?
“Accountability for the Troubled Asset Relief Program” is the title of the second report of the Congressional Oversight Panel (COP), which Congress created to monitor the disbursement of $700 billion in bailout funds. That report concludes: “The panel still does not know what the banks are doing with taxpayer money.”
This is because of what the panel of experts called “significant gaps in Treasury’s monitoring of taxpayer money e.g. asking financial institutions to account for what they have done with taxpayer funds.” As the panel noted: “For Treasury to take no steps to use any of this money to alleviate the foreclosure crisis raises questions about whether Treasury has complied with Congress’s intent that Treasury develop a ‘plan that seeks to maximize assistance for homeowners.’ ” Yet Obama successfully lobbied for a quick payout of the second installment.
Obamaniacs should take to their crackberries to demand that something be done for homeowners before the last dollar of TARP evaporates. As Obama said in his inauguration speech, “a nation cannot prosper long when it only favors the prosperous,” but that is what the bailout, which Treasury secretary nominee Timothy Geithner helped craft, has been all about.
On the foreign policy front, similar vigilance is called for, particularly regarding the determination of the new administration to sink deeper into what surely is a quagmire in Afghanistan. Obama already has committed to a major increase in U.S. troops on the battle front, where our main role has been to prop up the enormously corrupt and ineffectual government in Kabul. The only justification for entering even more aggressively into the civil war in that country is the simplistic identification of the Taliban with the remnants of Osama bin Laden’s gang. The drawing of that link was never accurate: The Taliban is an outgrowth of an indigenous movement, originally stocked with CIA arms and cash, and even when bin Laden had the support of the Afghan group he was getting most of his money from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which along with Pakistan made up the nations that granted the Taliban diplomatic recognition. Why make the Taliban our permanent enemy while coddling the state players who sponsored it?
In language that echoed the hysteria of the Bush-era neoconservatives, Obama stated on Tuesday, “Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred.” Nope, as Obama has acknowledged on other occasions, it’s far more complex than that. Yesterday’s enemy can be tomorrow’s ally, as demonstrated by the fact that our economic solvency is now in the hands of the Chinese Communist government that was once our most feared enemy.
The good news is that we have a big-brain president. The question is: Will he use it? I will not deny that I shed some tears watching the inauguration. It was mostly wonderful, incredibly so, but now in the morning after, and as Obama requested, it’s responsibility that we should be looking for.