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  • Technorati: graph / links

    The US conservative regime collapses

    by Sunny on 16th March, 2009 at 1:57 am    

    The Economist reports:

    Since entering office Mr Obama has overturned a number of policies that religious conservatives hold dear, such as a ban on government aid for family-planning groups that promote abortion in poor countries. Plans are also in the works to rescind a regulation enacted in the dying days of the Bush administration that gives health workers a “right of conscience”, protecting them from the sack if they refused to co-operate in certain medical procedures (mainly abortions). Social conservatives are also upset with Eric Holder, the new attorney-general, for confirming that the federal government will no longer take action against medical-marijuana clubs, which are legal in some states.

    None of these reversals is a surprise, but conservatives have been taken aback at the unflinching speed of the changes. Mr Obama may be emboldened by his solid victory—he does not need the support of religious conservatives to govern. And for all the talk of bipartisanship and Mr Obama’s courting of religious voters during his campaign, their voting patterns did not change much at all, so he owes them little.

    Obviously, I’m overjoyed. All those people who said Obama was nasty and bad for reaching out to conservatives and wouldn’t really be liberal-left in power are now eating their words. On domestic policy his record is stellar: pro-union, pro-science, pro-civil rights, pro-civil liberties and pro-feminist. On foreign policy: not so good. As many generals have already said, the new administration has placed a firm emphasis on diplomacy over military action. But not much action has followed. For a start he should have gone further in embracing Cuba. That the neoconservatives will be crying into their cornflakes will be amusing to watch; I also want to know what British neocons, who constantly accused the left of “anti-Americanism”, will say now.

    This also raises some questions about political positioning. Frank Rich thinks the cultural warriors on the right have lost because of the recession. But it’s also undeniable that Obama neutered a lot of criticism by sounding genuinely non-partisan during his campaign. He didn’t make a big song and dance about being on the left or right - he simply laid out what he believed in. Nevertheless, religious conservatives still didn’t really vote for him. What does that say about his pragmatic strategy?

    Added: Interesting…the columnist with the best access to the prez is a conservative, who can neutralise or convince the very audience you need to reach out to while pushing effectively a leftwing agenda. Obama is as smart as I thought he was.

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    16 Comments below   |   Add your own

    1. Verbal_Reciprocity — on 16th March, 2009 at 3:16 am  

      “On foreign policy: not so good. As many generals have already said, the new administration has placed a firm emphasis on diplomacy over military action. But not much action has followed. For a start he should have gone further in embracing Cuba.”

      I seriously doubt there will be any movement on Cuba until Fidel croaks and Raul fully takes over. There is just too much emotion here in the Cuban American community given Fidel’s behavior in the past to ever countenance a such deal as long as he is in power.

      I mean he killed numerous political opponents, many who were relatives of numerous Cuban Americans, to his leadership in the first decade of his reign. Persons found to be “counterrevolutionaries”, “fascists”, or “CIA operatives” were said to be imprisoned in poor conditions without trial. And labor camps established in 1965 to confine “social deviants” (including homosexuals and Jehovah’s Witnesses).

    2. Kathryn — on 16th March, 2009 at 4:07 am  

      I’m still a bit shocked that America finally voted in someone who isn’t a total muppet. I love my president. I have high hopes he’s going to keep his promises as long as he’s not assassinated by some crazy religious/neocon zealot first.

      That the neoconservatives will be crying into their cornflakes will be amusing to watch. Yes, exactly.

    3. Sunny — on 16th March, 2009 at 4:31 am  

      agreed with both of you. I also wanted to add something about letting Chas Freeman fall by the wayside, but its difficult to blame that on Obama.

      The foreign policy outlook is getting worse, especially in Afghanistan/Pakistan - where some radical solutions are needed.

      Kathryn - he’s my president too, I worked to elect him ;)

    4. douglas clark — on 16th March, 2009 at 6:45 am  


      What I really admire about Barak Obama is that he, correctly, imo, identified who Americas’ real enemy was. He has never taken his eye off OBL and Al Quaida. The entire Iraq debacle, which frankly dragged the USA into the gutter, is, I think, seen as a diversion now.

      Pakistan civil society has to be supported in standing up against it’s more militant citizens. But stand up against that sort of lunacy - the howling at the moon tendancy - is what is needed. There may be a few broken eggs on the march towards sanity….

      It is not clear yet which agencies, or any agencies in Pakistan come to that, supported or allowed the Mumbai massacre, is it?

      Hopefully President Obama will be evidence led. Seems to me he is. Y’know, genuine as opposed to twisted evidence. And that will take him where it will.

    5. Letters From A Tory — on 16th March, 2009 at 9:41 am  

      I wouldn’t be so sure that the US conservatives are finished just yet.

      For example, notice that they refused to support Obama’s unbelievably big stimulus package and instead called for tax cuts. Of course, only time will tell who can claim victory in that particular battle, but unlike David Cameron the US conservatives are genuinely desperate to distance themselves from the government and are happy to take a huge risk in doing so.

    6. platinum786 — on 16th March, 2009 at 10:23 am  

      I was going to Mention Chas Freeman.


      That is going to be the real challenge for Obama, countering the strongest lobby in America, one that has gotten everything it wants in the last 8 years at America’s expense.

      Pakistan/Afghanistan are too very different places but the solution is not that hard. The uS does need to show some leniency though, as there is zero trust for the US and anyone who should appear to speak in US interests in the region.

      In Afghanistan you’ll need to strike a peace deal with the Taliban. The majority of their backing is done by the pukhtoon tribes, you need to empower them in free and fair elections, allow them thepower they deserve, otherwise they’ll just wait for the Taliban to take over. That’s all they have to do, wait, America can’t protect the Northern Alliance forever.

      Pakistan is more complicated, you need to keep your beak well out of Pakistan for Pakistan to progress. Pakistan needs help, but no strings attached help. That does not mean endless amounts of cash, but rather, support for the police, fire service, health services, stuff like that. Training, equipment.

      Take a look at this picture;


      See the guy in the helmet, he’s bomb disposal. that’s an educated man, one with bomb disposal training, one of the elite guys in our police service. Can you see how this situation can be helped? Perhaps a bomb disposal suit? Perhaps that little robot used int he uSA and UK to dispose of bombs.

      When the earthquake in kashmir happened thosuands died because we couldn’t rescue them in time, perhaps training courses on disaster recovery, equipment to help in these types of situations etc.

      Cash to Pakistan is a waste. Either the military uses it to it’s needs or the politicans use it for their needs.

      That’s the kind of support that will win you votes in Pakistan. Right now America is and always will be the great Satan in Pakistan. You know why, everyone who is bad for us, works closely with America. Pakistani people are stuck between a rock and a hard place. We can’t live with extremists, that’s not who we are, we don’t want to have to live with the likes of Zardari. You don’t get the name Mr 10% for no reason. The problem in Pakistan is what is the alternative for us?

    7. Anas — on 16th March, 2009 at 10:28 am  

      And for all the talk of bipartisanship and Mr Obama’s courting of religious voters during his campaign, their voting patterns did not change much at all, so he owes them little.

      Very Machiavellian.

    8. Riz — on 16th March, 2009 at 10:32 am  

      Woah, just read an article on Boing Boing, pointing to a Salon piece (linked below) that looks at how some of the Obama’s headline generating announcements on civil liberties are not being met with equally radical action. Three examples are given in the past week alone.


      It’s harder when we all support him so much more than Bush, but we can’t let up on the level of scrutiny.

    9. Jai — on 16th March, 2009 at 12:34 pm  

      Regarding Obama and Pakistan, here’s a good article about the issue:

      “Barack Obama told: Help Pakistan or risk a repeat of 9/11 in America or Britain”:



      Mr Riedel, who served on the NSC under three previous presidents, believes that unless serious action is taken, Pakistan will become a “terrorist university”, posing a far greater threat to the security of the US and Europe than Afghanistan before the September 11 atrocities.

      Recent “apocalyptic” intelligence on the situation in Pakistan has sent shockwaves through the upper echelons of the Obama administration and convinced Mr Riedel’s review team that radicals trained in Pakistan are the greatest threat to Western security.

      One White House aide emerged from an intelligence briefing on Pakistan three days after Mr Obama’s inauguration to exclaim: “Holy s-t!”

      A source who knows the substance of the White House policy review discussions said: “Bruce is on record saying that a failed state in Pakistan is America’s ‘worst nightmare’ in the 21st century.

      “What we’ve been seeing in recent weeks is truly apocalyptic warnings from the analysts, which suggest that that is now a live possibility. The Pakistani government seems unable to control its own military or intelligence people. The tribal areas are already a failed state and a safe haven for terrorists.

      “If that spreads the whole country will become a terrorist university. The chance of a spectacular in the US, or Britain, is exponentially increased. And Pakistan has nuclear weapons.”

      There’s a lot more, but check out the whole article. Thought-provoking reading.

    10. platinum786 — on 16th March, 2009 at 1:12 pm  

      Some of that article is correct. I’d say 7-10 “militants” coould be convinced otherwise. I’d suggest the number is even higher. A lot of the support for the military is simply pukhtoon tribes using them as a proxy to get eventual power in Afghanistan, and Pakistani versions of the same tribes supporting them as a matter of honour. The durand line may have split where these tribes live, but the bloodlines are the same.

      There are also the mercanaries and drugs runners who are involved with militants. You even ahve groups like TNSM who are involved for thier own gain, ie shariah in Swat.

      The bits about the Pakistan army not being equipped to fight this kind of war, is correct. Everyone expects them to have big levels of intelligence on the ground, that is not the case, this wasn’t a threat that was focused on. they now need access to the intelligence the US has, drones, sattelites etc. Money to bribe people is a big issue too. Once they enter battle zones they aren’t trained or equipped to deal with close quaters combat. Radiing and Indian barracks is one thing, as you don’t plan to stay there for weeks and months, holding a small town is another.

      However there is quite a bit of hype about the situation. The Pakistan government is hyping it to get US support, Zardari knows he’s not popular, he needs someone powerful to ensure the army does not back another horse to topple him.

      There is a big problem, what we’ve seen in Swat is evidence of that, but it’s not apocolyptic. Pakistan is drawn into a long war with terrorists, with battles it wins and loses, but the war appears endless, to help end it Pakistan needs support in terms of training and equipment and funds. But again how do you ensure Zardari does not take a cut? How do you ensure that funds for night vission goggles are not spent on artilery units? You provide night vision goggles rather than cash.

      you’d be suprised, in India and Pakistan they have elite units who have access to nearly everything, but the average soldier is still getting bullet proof vests. Night vision goggles is a long way away and you can’t fight a war using just the SAS type unit.

    11. Jai — on 16th March, 2009 at 1:23 pm  

      The following article is partly related to the current ongoing problems with terrorism and extremism in Pakistan; this one is specifically about the Baluchis. Looks like some fall-out from colonial policies is a factor here too.



      Locating Khan Suleman’s kingdom on a map of the world is difficult but, less than a century ago, the Khanate of Kalat was a thriving confederacy of tribes spread across much of what is now western Pakistan, southern Afghanistan and south-eastern Iran.

      Populated by fiercely independent Baluch warriors, Kalat retained much of its independence from the British as the Raj’s political agents spread throughout the sub-continent, toppling, bribing and replacing its regional leaders as they went.

      Regarded as too wild to tame but a useful buffer against Russians, the Baluch were allowed to keep their sovereignty. Although successive treaties chipped away at their territory, the Khans of Kalat remained the region’s most powerful independent rulers.

      As the Partition of India loomed, Khan Suleman’s grandfather, Ahmad Yar Khan, was assured that the Baluch would be allowed to keep their independence. A deal was struck whereby Kalat and the new state of Pakistan would be independent of each other but would share currency, foreign policy and defence equally.

      Yet, after just six months of independence, the Pakistani military stormed in and forced Ahmed Yar Khan to cede his khanate to Pakistan. Forgotten by the West, Baluchi separatists have since fought five insurgencies to try to claw back their independence from Pakistan’s central government, which has responded with massacres, large scale disappearances and torture.

      “The British treated us treacherously and pushed us into a union with Pakistan,” said the Khan as he prepared a traditional Baluchi dish of roast chicken and spicy meat cutlets. “We had no desire to be part of Pakistan but we were ignored and the agreement was eventually forced down our throats. Till the very last moment, they kept us in the dark. All the time we were assured that the Baluch would keep their independent state but instead we were sold down the river.”


      A devout Muslim, the Khan is critical of Islamic radicalism. But he worries that the continued repression of the Baluch, coupled with the de facto silencing of their tribal leaders, is forcing many formerly secular separatists into the arms of the Taliban instead.

      The Taliban have held little sway over the Baluchi tribes other than in and around the provincial capital, Quetta. But Islamic radicalism appears to be spreading through the region. Two weeks ago, the Pakistani Taliban leaders announced the creation of a new group, “Tehreek-e-Taliban Baluchistan”.

      Marooned in his Cardiff semi, The Khan says he desperately wants to halt the radicalisation of the Baluch but no-one, it seems, is willing to listen to a king with no kingdom.

    12. munir — on 16th March, 2009 at 1:41 pm  

      Jai you must be saluted for your highly progressive stance defending the Feudal lords of Baluchistan who have kept their people in ignorance, semi-slavery and servitude while amassing huge wealth and power.

      This is a much better article- it mentions something about Sindh which is also true of Baluchistan

      “William Dalrymple recently claimed in this newspaper that Sindh – Zardari’s home province – was a model of peace and tranquility, and that Sufism – the local brand of mystical Islam – should be recommended as an antidote to the Wahhabi extremism of the frontier. What Dalrymple, and others of similar opinion, do not say is that the tranquility in rural Sindh is achieved through the near total power of feudal landowners who pose as secular parliamentarians by day but punish local dissent with greatest brutality at night. The veneration of saints (pirs) that is fundamental to Sufi Islam is an essential component in this network of oppression as most of these saints are closely linked to the landowners by financial and family ties. It was actually the unwillingness of anybody else to represent the grievances of local tenant populations against such landowners in the south of Punjab that gave a first opening to Sunni sectarian groups widely associated with today’s “Talibanisation”


    13. Jai — on 16th March, 2009 at 2:13 pm  

      Jai you must be saluted for your highly progressive stance defending the Feudal lords of Baluchistan

      Thanks, I really appreciate it.

    14. Jai — on 16th March, 2009 at 2:30 pm  

      Incidentally, for anyone else who’s interested, here’s the link to the Guardian article by William Dalrymple which was mentioned in #13, in relation to Pakistan and the recent attack on Rahman Baba’s shrine:

      “Wahhabi radicals are determined to destroy a gentler, kinder Islam”


      I recommend that people read the whole article, especially as it relates to several topics which many people (myself included have recently been discussing on PP, but here’s one pertinent extract:

      Rahman Baba, “the Nightingale of Peshawar,” was an 18th-century poet and mystic, a sort of North West Frontier version of Julian of Norwich.
      He withdrew from the world and promised his followers that if they also loosened their ties with the world, they could purge their souls of worries and move towards direct experience of God. Rituals and fasting were for the pious, said the saint. What was important was to understand that divinity can best be reached through the gateway of the human heart - that we all have paradise within us, if we know where to look.

      For centuries, Rahman Baba’s shrine at the foot of the Khyber Pass has been a place where musicians and poets have gathered, and his Sufi verses in the Pukhtun language made him the national poet of the Pathans. As a young journalist covering the Soviet-mujahideen conflict I used to visit the shrine to watch Afghan refugee musicians sing their songs to their saint by the light of the moon.

      Then, about 10 years ago, a Saudi-funded Wahhabi madrasa was built at the end of the track leading to the shrine. Soon its students took it on themselves to halt what they saw as unIslamic practices. On my last visit, I talked about the situation with the shrine keeper, Tila Mohammed. He described how young Islamists now came and complained that his shrine was a centre of idolatry and superstition: “My family have been singing here for generations,” said Tila. “But now these Arab madrasa students come here and create trouble.

      “They tell us that what we do is wrong. They ask people who are singing to stop. Sometimes arguments break out - even fist fights. This used to be a place where people came to get peace of mind. Now when they come here they just encounter more problems, so gradually have stopped coming.”

      “Before the Afghan war, there was nothing like this. But then the Saudis came, with their propaganda, to stop us visiting the saints, and to stop us preaching ‘ishq [love]. Now this trouble happens more and more frequently.”

      Behind the violence lies a long theological conflict that has divided the Islamic world for centuries. Rahman Baba believed passionately in the importance of music, poetry and dancing as a path for reaching God, as a way of opening the gates of Paradise. But this use of poetry and music in ritual is one of the many aspects of Sufi practice that has attracted the wrath of modern Islamists. For although there is nothing in the Qur’an that bans music, Islamic tradition has always associated music with dancing girls and immorality, and there is a long tradition of clerical opposition.

      At Attock, not far from the shrine of Rahman Baba, stands the Haqqania, one of the most radical madrasas in South Asia. Much of the Taliban leadership, including its leader, Mullah Omar, were trained here, so I asked the madrasa’s director, Maulana Sami ul-Haq, about what I had heard at Rahman Baba’s tomb. The matter was quite simple.” Music is against Islam,” he said. “Musical instruments lead men astray and are sinful. They are forbidden, and these musicians are wrongdoers.”

      Along with this:

      …..I thought of this conversation, when I heard that the shrine of Rahman Baba had finally been blown up on Thursday, a few hours after the Sri Lankan cricketers were ambushed in Lahore. The rise of Islamic radicalism is often presented in starkly political terms, but what happened in Peshawar this week is a reminder that, at the heart of the current conflict, lie two very different understandings of Islam. Wahhabi fundamentalism has advanced so quickly in Pakistan partly because the Saudis have financed the building of so many madrasas, which have filled the vacuum left by the collapse of state education. These have taught an entire generation to abhor the gentle, syncretic Sufi Islam that has dominated south Asia for centuries, and to embrace instead an imported form of Saudi Wahhabism.

      Sufism is an entirely indigenous Islamic resistance movement to fundamentalism, with its deep roots in South Asian soil. The Pakistani government could finance schools that taught Pakistanis to respect their own religious traditions, rather than buying fleets of American F-16 fighters and handing over education to the Saudis. Instead, every day, it increasingly resembles a tragic clone of Taliban Afghanistan.

    15. Sunny — on 16th March, 2009 at 2:49 pm  

      For example, notice that they refused to support Obama’s unbelievably big stimulus package and instead called for tax cuts

      Ah, but when the stimulus package came to their state, how many actually refused that money??

    16. douglas clark — on 16th March, 2009 at 2:51 pm  

      munir @ 9,

      Fascinating comment. As far as I recall it was Al Quaeda that declared war on the US, not the other way around. (Wikipedia confirms it was in 1996). My sympathies have always been with the civillians in all the conflicts since. I like to think I have been fairly consistent on that. As the overwhelming majority of the deaths - due to the so called War on Terror - have been of Muslim civillians I don’t really know why you’d accuse me of not caring. On the other hand if the whole of Al Quaeda went to hell in a handcart I wouldn’t shed a tear.

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