It has been described as “the most intense, uphill lobbying campaign of the Obama presidency.” Actually, it might outdo any similar push by any U.S. President in history. On Sunday, the New York Times said the Administration “is enlisting virtually every senior official from the president on down.”
It went on: “In addition to members of Congress, it is reaching out to Jewish groups, Arab-Americans, left-leaning think tanks and even officials from the George W. Bush administration, some of whom are acting as surrogates. It is also getting help from the nation’s most powerful pro-Israel group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which is mounting its own campaign for military action.”
A question comes to mind.
What if the White House had, at any point over the past four or so years, mobilized the full force it now deploys for permission to bomb Syria on behalf of a measure to deal with the tenacious joblessness and growing economic insecurity we see around us every day?
“During much of Obama’s first term, black caucus members tried to avoid criticizing the president publicly, even as they disagreed with him, particularly on economic issues,’ Grio Political Editor Perry Bacon, Jr. wrote September 5. “Caucus members argued privately and occasionally publicly that Obama needed to purpose specific politics to reduce black unemployment, which hovered above 13 percent for much of Obama’s first term. Obama and his advisers argued that his broad-based policies actually disproportionately benefited blacks and that race-specific approaches were not politically viable anyway.”
But the “broad-based policies,” haven’t produced much of anything. The American Jobs Act the President unveiled exactly two years ago raised some hope that at least a moderate step would be taken to address the crisis. Despite efforts by some Caucus members, notably Rep. Marcia Fudge (D. Ohio), to resuscitate it, there has been no mobilization behind it from the administration.
Meanwhile, the situation for people seeking work hasn’t gotten any better and for some it’s still getting worse.
Associated Press economic writer Paul Wiseman put it succinctly: “The drop in the unemployment rate in August to a 4½-year low was hardly cause for celebration. The rate fell because more people stopped looking for work.��
“There aren't enough jobs being filled. Employers are hiring about 4.3 million people a month — before layoffs, dismissals and resignations. In 2007, before the Great Recession, they were hiring 5.2 million a month,” Wiseman wrote September 6, adding, “There are three unemployed people, on average, competing for each job opening, compared with 1.8 when the recession officially began in December 2007.”
When the Obama Administration began, 63 percent of adult Americans were employed; now the figure is 59 percent. Quiet as it’s kept, the number of workers in the private sector was reduced by 278,000 in August.
“After the Black unemployment number for July 2013 was the lowest during President Obama’s time in office (12.5 percent), the number has spiked one full point for August,” observed Lauren Victoria Burke at Crew of 42. “As overall unemployment declined, the Black unemployment number rose from 12.5 percent to 13.5 percent — one full point worse. The Black unemployment number was 13.8 percent in August 2012. At no time during the eight years President George W. Bush was in office did Black unemployment rise above 12.1 percent.”
African American youth joblessness dipped from 41.6 percent in July to 38.2 percent in September – exactly where it was a year ago.
Economist Robert Reich wrote last week, “More than four years after the recession officially ended, 11.5 million Americans are unemployed, many of them for years. Nearly 4 million have given up looking for work altogether. If they were actively looking, today's unemployment rate would be 9.5 percent instead of 7.3 percent.”
Rep. Charles Rangel (D. – NY) hit the nail on the head: “We have seen enough killing; we don’t need to increase the casualties, especially at a high cost to America’s taxpayers,” he said. “ For every Tomahawk missile America might use in Syria—at cost estimates ranging from $607,000 to $1.4 million or more, the total costs will likely exceed Libya’s bill of over $1 billion in a ‘limited war,’ or in the billions, according to Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey, for extended operations—consider how we could better use those monies to win hearts and minds abroad or help Americans here at home.”
A recent survey conducted for the Washington Post and ABC News found 40 percent of African Americans support airstrikes against Syria and 56 percent are opposed. For Hispanics, the figure was 31 percent supporting and 63 percent opposed. For whites, it was 38 percent supporting, 58 percent opposed.
“President Obama's domestic agenda is already precarious: implementing the Affordable Care Act, ensuring the Dodd-Frank Act adequately constrains Wall Street, raising the minimum wage, saving Social Security and Medicare from the Republican right, as well as deficit hawks in the Democratic Party, ending the sequester and reviving programs critical to America's poor, rebuilding the nation's infrastructure, and, above all, crafting a strong recovery,” wrote economist Reich September 3. “Time and again we have seen domestic agendas succumb to military adventures abroad – both because the military-industrial-congressional complex drains money that might otherwise be used for domestic goals, and because the public's attention is diverted from urgent problems at home to exigencies elsewhere around the globe.”
In all likelihood should Obama go ahead, against U.S. and world public opinion, and bomb Syria citing Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons, his will not be the first domestic agenda to flounder on the shores of Tripoli.
On Sunday, Times columnist Maureen Dowd noted that the President Obama “first made his mark as an Illinois legislator with a speech in 2002 about Iraq, which he warned would be ‘a rash war, a war based not on reason but on passion,’ a war that would ‘distract’ from our own problems with the economy and poverty” and “Now agitated constituents at town halls across the country are asking why the president wants to distract from our own problems with the economy and poverty.”
The corrosive effect of the threat to bomb Syria on tackling critical and urgent economic problems is evident on the international level as well. “The G-20 summit ended worse than expected on Friday -- with acrimony, division and name-calling over Syria,” wrote Spiegel Online (Germany) correspondent Carsten Volkery. “The conference, which was originally conceived as an economic forum, also failed to deliver results on global recovery.”
Following the President’s failure to line up more than 10 of the heads of state attending the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, the White House released a joint statement backing US action against Syria on behalf of the leaders of Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey and Britain. Not so well publicized were the opposing views expressed by Russia, China, India, Indonesia, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa and Italy.
The “emerging nations” do not support bombing Syria and see the prospect of such as a threat to world peace and their own economic well-being.
Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, called the failure of the U.S. to corral support from more G20 leaders “clear confirmation of the degree to which there is a fundamental difference in geopolitical perspective between developed and emerging powers.” He told Inter Press Service last week “That the BRICS countries voted as a bloc is a sign of how difficult it’s going to be to fashion international consensus as global power continues to diffuse.”
Last Friday, the government of the Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia joined in the call for global community to await the findings of the United Nations investigations, as well as the deliberations of the United Nations Security Council considering military intervention in Syria. “The political and economic consequences of this action will certainly also deepen the current economic turbulence in the world, with very serious consequences for small states like St. Lucia,” it said.
And, don’t be fooled by the impression being fostered that “the French” have suddenly overcome their reticence about going to war in the Middle East. “French public opinion is heavily weighted against any military action in Syria – even one approved by the United Nations Security Council,” reports the UK’s Guardian. According to a recent poll, 59 per cent of French voters oppose French involvement in an air strike in Syria and that United Nations action “would be supported by 55 per cent of French people – so long as the French military does not take part.”
French enthusiasm for intervention in Syria comes from President Francois Hollande, and the country’s economic and political elite, and is a reflection of the fact that France once ran Syria—French colonial troops left the country in 1946—and the elite’s close ties with the Gulf monarchies – particularly Qatar – which are heavily involved in the Syrian civil war.
The French president is not very popular these days; less than a third of his people think he’s doing a good job. For the first time French unemployment rose above 3.0 million this summer. “With France's economy stagnating and unemployment likely to remain high, it could mean that President Hollande's unpopularity will continue to soar as well as he seems to react to events rather than dictate them,” commented La Jeune Politique last week.
The Financial Times said last week that “if Congress gives Mr. Obama a green light,” Hollande’s government is “confident of winning a majority if Mr. Hollande first chooses to hold a similar vote in the National Assembly. But he will be taking on a formidable risk at a time when he is already under huge pressure over France’s underperforming economy.”
Meanwhile, for better or for worse the eyes of the world fixated this week on the U.S. Congress. Make no mistake about there’s a lot of arm-twisting and carrot dangling going on. On MSNBC last Friday, Jane Harmon of Southern California, onetime ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, suggested that some members of Congress could be trading their vote on Syria for support for other measures important to their constituencies. (Talk about a moral obscenity.) This raises the possibility that Administration emissaries to Capitol Hill could be – behind closed doors – trading votes as well, working on some kind of mini “grand bargain” with reluctant legislators.
Meanwhile, people across the nation are – or should be – asking why is it that this monumental lobbying effort can be mounted to get involved in still another foreign war when there’s been no comparable mobilization to confront the plight of the jobless. Or to end the outrageous “sequester” that is spreading insecurity and pain across the nation.
“We are paralyzed at home — as we turn our attention to a potential quagmire abroad,” economist Reich writes. “This is the great tragedy of our time.”
The Black Commentator
Thursday, 12 September 2013