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September 15, 2016

Thoughts on American presidential election - 2016

By Habib Siddiqui

American politics, as expected, has heated up since the Labor Day. In less than two months the American voters will choose between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and casino- and real estate mogul Donald Trump for the highest political post in the land. 

After five years of questioning President Barack Obama’s citizenship, Trump said last Friday morning, “President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period.” As usual, he offered no apology. Instead, he shifted the blame on his rival. “Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy,” he said, which is a lie. “I finished it. I finished it, you know what I mean.” He added, “Now, we all want to get back to making America strong and great again.”

Trump’s announcement comes as the polls are narrowing; his campaign advisers have advised that he act more diplomatically and that he can’t win unless he can reach out to Afro-American voters. But a few words on the subject can’t erase years of just asking questions to the delight of white American racists.His incendiary remarks about immigrants have already resulted in deaths of some Muslims and arson of mosques.

Hours later, Black lawmakers said that Trump's years-long campaign challenging Obama's birthplace was rooted in racism, bigotry and the centuries-old effort by certain white voices to suppress the success of blacks. "Donald Trump is nothing more than a two-bit racial arsonist, who for decades has done nothing but fan the flames of bigotry and hatred," Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said during a press briefing outside the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington D.C. "He owes an apology to President Barack Obama,[and] he owes an apology to the African-American community."Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), head of the Congressional Black Caucus, similarly said, “By any definition, Donald Trump is a disgusting fraud.”

Rep. Jim Clyburn (S.C.), the third-ranking House Democratic, said Trump's long-standing effort to question Obama's citizenship transcends the 2016 presidential race. Rather, it's part of a much broader campaign to "delegitimize" the accomplishments of the country's first black president –– and African Americans more generally."This man on a mission to heap as much insult on this president to do as much as he possibly can to delegitimize his presidency and to play into a narrative that has been floated in this country for over 200 years," Clyburn said. "This is not just about the contest for the presidency."

The same day the First Lady Michelle Obama used her debut appearance on the campaign trail to cast Trump as unprepared to succeed her husband in the White House, saying: “Being president isn’t anything like reality TV.”Speaking at George Mason University in Virginia, Mrs. Obama described the election as a choice between “one of the most qualified people who has ever endeavored to become president” and someone who did not “take the job seriously”. She also reminded her audience, “A candidate is not going to suddenly change when they get into office – it’s the opposite. Because the minute that individual takes that oath, they are under the hottest, harshest light there is.” She pleaded for voting for Ms. Clinton, “Listen to this: right now we have an opportunity to elect one of the most qualified people who has ever endeavored to become president.”

Hillary Clinton may be the most qualified person contesting to become president of the USA (the first ever for a woman), however, she remains the least trusted politician. Even her explanation for the recent bout with pneumonia was rejected by most voters. Trump has branded her ‘crooked Hillary’ following a series of scandals from her time as US Secretary of State under President Barack Obama.

Americans deserve real solutions for the plethora of economic, social and environmental crises they face. But the broken political system is only making things worse. The neocons and the drum-beaters of the Armageddon are still alive and kicking. They prefer perennial wars over genuine peace, regional stability and global security.

Rather than sobering the U.S. politicians, the longest-running wars in the post-9/11 era seemingly have only emboldened many. Many of the lawmakers of the major political parties are in the payroll of ‘military industrial complex’. The pro-Israeli ‘Amen Corner’ continues to control the Capitol Hill who want to open a new war front opened against Iran.

Last week, the Obama administration authorized military aid of $38 billion to Israel- the largest aid package ever by the USA to any state. When millions of American jobs are getting outsourced, one wonders why the Jewish state, with its booming economy, would need such an American charity!This aid is criminal given the fact that a newly leaked Colin Powell email, dated from 2015, offers new insight into Israel’s always nebulous nuclear weapons arsenal, referring to the nation as having 200 nuclear weapons, モall targeted on Tehran.ヤ[Even then, Israel-firsters like Senator Lindsey Graham (R – SC) says he intends to introduce a $1.5 billion additional aid deal for Israel just for this year, suggesting that Congress would be free to keep throwing similar “emergency supplementals” at Israel every year if they want to, and saying he believes there’s a lot of support for it.]

With such friends in the Capitol Hill, Israel can continue to murder anyone it deems endangering its people!Thisgargantuan aid package once again underscores the fact that the US foreign policy is dictated by the 'Amen Corner', and essentially it is the Israeli leaders who are holding the leash of control.

It is no surprise that the same Israel-firsters have tried to block a $1.15 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, which the kingdom would be paying in cash. Four senators — two from each party — have offered a resolution that would force a Senate vote on the deal. Sixty-four members of the House of Representatives have signed a letter warning that the deal would have “a deeply troubling effect on civilians” in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia is conducting a fierce military campaign. The United Nations has estimated that the Saudi-led coalition bombing Yemen is responsible for “twice as many civilian casualties as all other forces put together.” Yet the Obama administration wants to sell the Saudis 153 battle tanks made by General Dynamics, some of which are to be used in Yemen, as well as machine guns, grenade launchers, and other weapons.  “There is an American imprint on every civilian life lost in Yemen,” said Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat who is a cosponsor of the resolution to block the deal. Another cosponsor, Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, called the deal “a recipe for disaster and an escalation of an ongoing arms race in the region.”

Well, all such concerns about Yemen are right and appear genuine on the surface. But my question to US lawmakers is: why do you have a different standard for Israel, which has been committing no less serious crimes in Lebanon and against the Palestinians living inside Gaza? Can they deny: “There was an American imprint on every civilian life lost in Lebanon and Gaza?”So, whom are the US lawmakers trying to fool with their shedding of crocodile tears for the people of Yemen?  What about the civilian victims of Obama’s drone attacks there?

Thus, no one should be fooled by such moves by the US lawmakers to block the Saudi sale of arms. It is worth noting here that since taking office in 2009, Obama has made 42 arms deals with Saudi Arabia, worth a staggering $115 billion. It is logical to think that the latest $1.15 billion sales ban won’t have made abig dent in that civil war. While I am against arms race and war, I am not amused with the clear case of double standard I see in matters relating to the Middle East! I wish the Congress was mindful of stopping all those previous sales and military aid packages to Israel. What the region needs is peace and not arms package – sold or gifted.

Chaos, war and confusion gives themilitary industrial complex the opportunity to sell their deadly weapons. The US government and the Congress have become willing partners to these merchants and profiteers of war. As I have noted elsewhere, Washington think tanks are only part of the matrix that promotes the American weapons industry.

Stephen Kinzer (a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University) noted in a recent article in the Boston Globe that the roughly 50 companies that make up the industry shower members of Congress with millions of dollars in campaign contributions. They also parcel out contracts across the country, in order to employ people in as many congressional districts as possible. Components for the F-35, for example, are being made in 46 states. “This practice is fiendishly effective in assuring that members of Congress continue to support new weapons projects, no matter how ill conceived.”

The United States Institute for Peace gives a bad name to the word ‘peace’, and has been guilty of promoting wars since at least the time of George W. Bush. It is run by Stephen Hadley, a former national security adviser who also earns hundreds of thousands of dollars each year for his service on the board of Raytheon, a leading arms maker. Another arms maker, Lockheed Martin, which has just sold Poland an air-to-surface missile system and wants to sell more, has given the institute $1 million. “It’s been a good investment. The Institute of Peace wants European countries to double their military spending and also favors sending more weapons into the Ukraine powder keg,” Kinzer writes. “The US Committee on NATO was founded by a former Lockheed executive and pushed successfully to expand the NATO alliance onto Russia’s doorstep. That sharply increased tension in Europe, which produces a handsome profit for the arms industry. Another influential think tank, the Atlantic Council, is funded by Raytheon and Lockheed. It faithfully produces articles with headlines like ‘Why Peace is Impossible With Putin’, and urges the United States and European countries to ‘commit to greater defense spending’ and confront ‘a revanchist Russia’.”

As both Trump and Clinton talk tough against Iran, it is important for voters to reflect that the total U.S. budgetary cost of war since 2001 is $4.79 trillion, according to a report released this week from Brown University’s Watson Institute. Neta Crawford of Boston University, the author of the report, included interest on borrowing, future veteran-needs, and the cost of homeland security in her calculations.The amount of $4.79 trillion, “so large as to be almost incomprehensible,” she writes, adds up like this:

  • The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, and other overseas operations already cost $1.7 trillion between 2001 and August 2016 with $103 billion more requested for 2017
  • Homeland Security terrorism prevention costs from 2001 to 2016 were $548 billion.
  • The estimated DOD base budget was $733 billion and veterans spending was $213 billion.
  • Interest incurred on borrowing for wars was $453 billion.
  • Estimated future costs for veterans’ medical needs until the year 2053 is $1 trillion.
  • And the amounts the DOD, State Department, and Homeland Security have requested for 2017 ($103 billion).
  • [Note: Crawford carried out a similar study in June 2014 that estimated the cost of war at $4.4 trillion. Her methodology mirrors that of the 2008 bookThe Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Costs of the Iraq Conflict by Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz.There are even more costs of war that Crawford does not include, for instance, state and local government expenses related to medical care of veterans and homeland security, the macro-economic costs of war for the U.S. economy. She also notes that she does not add the cost of war for other countries, nor try to put a dollar figures on the cost in human lives.]

The USA can ill-afford another major war. It is high time to build a people's movement against war, and to end unemployment and poverty; avert climate catastrophe; build a sustainable, just economy; and recognize the dignity and human rights of every person everywhere. Towards creating lasting peace in a highly connected globe that we live in the U.S. president must –establish a foreign policy based on diplomacy, international law, and human rights; end the wars and drone attacks, cut military spending by at least 50% and close the 700+ foreign military bases that are turning the USA into a bankrupt empire; stop U.S. support and arms sales to human rights abusers; and lead on global nuclear disarmament.

As recent terrorist acts by non-state criminals have repeatedly shown it would be foolish to localize or compartmentalize this global menace. What’s needed, instead, is a comprehensive solution that addresses the root causes to defeat terrorism. The US president and lawmakers ought to know that their Global War on Terror and prisons like the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay (with indefinite detentions without any charges) have only helped to breed more terrorists and not less. Only a fool can afford to ignore the writings on the walls!

It is high time for Americans to wake up and make a difference for better. But the sad reality is that they have to choose between two hawks; the Libertarian and Green Party candidates have not been able to excite the American voters to make any difference in this upcoming election. So while the coming presidential election is one of the most crucial ones in America’s history, the voters are left with no good choices!

Dr. Habib Siddiqui has authored 11 books, five of which are now available through His latest book - Devotional Stories is published by A.S. Noordeen, Malaysia. Dr. Siddiqui is an alumnus of the prestigious University of  Southern California, Los Angeles, where he earned his Ph.D.