The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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- After the worst eight years, the White House needs fumigation

Like billions of people, I too am hoping that the security around Barack Obama is tight and real. This means I am also hoping that the man’s personal security will need to remain effective for at least another four years starting end-January. After the worst eight years, the White House needs radical fumigation. Therefore, Barack Obama’s personal safety is a basic and pressing concern for a whole multitude of us who have no say, not even the sliver of a chad’s worth, in who wins the US presidential election this year. But, just as a person can’t worry too much about the sky falling on his head (it isn’t falling but it is closing in) one can’t lose too much sleep over some calamity befalling the ‘world’ candidate — hopefully those sharp-eyed, hard-headed Secret Service guys around Obama will do their job.

The next stage of anxiety is perhaps more real: they won’t kill him physically, they’ll try to destroy him in other ways. In Berlin a couple of months ago, a friend working for a television company met an American woman the company was trying to film. The woman was a high-level conservative lobbyist operating in Washington. “He looks good now, but just wait and watch,” she said about Obama, “there’s no way they’ll let him win. The dirty tricks will come, but they’ll come at the last moment.” A shiver ran through everyone at our table when we heard this, even though only one of us was an American.

Obama is still looking good and it’s true that the window for dirty tricks is shrinking; the economy has provided an unexpected escort, riding shotgun on Obama’s campaign, and Palin and McCain have done some decent hara-kiri work of their own, but there is still time; there will always be time till the last vote is counted and confirmed, till the last black working-class voter is saved from being disenfranchised, till the last boogie-toggle of the electoral college is laid to bed and locked, till whichever Bible Barack Obama chooses for the swearing-in is actually under his palm at the inauguration.

But let’s go beyond the desired happy ending so many of us want and try and look at what happens after next January. Let’s imagine that Bar-Ob has been in office for a year-and-a-half, say, with a massive Democratic majority in both Congress and Senate. Let us then make two lists, the first a kind of shopping list of what we would want the next president of the United States of America to try and do, and the second a reality check-list of what is actually likely to happen. My shopping list goes something like this: one, before anything, before a single soldier is withdrawn from Iraq, the US needs to manage a massive, radical cut-back on its carbon emissions; without any treaties with the rest of the world, with no regard to what China does or India, the US needs, for once, to act unilaterally in the scaling down of energy consumption and of ecological depredation within its own territory; this has to be a revolutionary event comparable to the New Deal programmes or the war-economy launched after the attack on Pearl Harbour. Two, the plug has to be pulled on Israeli intransigence, pulled intelligently, but in a way that no one can mistake; a real resolution has to be arrived at, even if that means a single state for Jews and Arabs, with every citizen having the same democratic rights.

Three, Iraq has to be cleared of Western troops while some sort of viable peace-framework is installed; not easy either, but it has to be done. Four, all the family-planning programmes the US government has chopped off in the last eight years, all the AIDS funding it has cut in the name of ‘right to life’, the craziness that is endangering millions in Africa and elsewhere, have to be reversed, the money and programmes reinstated and fast. Five, the US also needs to put its shoulder to whatever needs to be done to stop Afghanistan from sliding back into Taliban hands and Pakistan from slipping back to the army or the mullahs. This is a basic international wish-list I’m talking about. Leaving aside the issue of the environment, it doesn’t include what needs to be done inside America itself.

Next to this letter to Santa let us now put the reality check-list. One, radical change of environment policy — chance of a snowflake in hell; Bar-Ob will need to shore up the bleeding tusker of the US economy, he will need to repay all kinds of debts to the people who elect him, he will bring about some change but, once the lobbyists and policy-spinners finish with the legislation, it will be at most maybe 10 per cent of what’s needed. Two, sorting out Israel — no way, Moishe; Republicans might be sending out emails to Jewish voters warning them of a “second holocaust” should Bar-Ob become president, but the man himself has already gifted East Jerusalem to Israel on a permanent basis; whether Israel is run by Livni or Likud, they will play the US presidency as cynically as they always have.

Three, Iraq: tick one, finally; whatever happens ain’t going to be pretty but the US troops should be out of there in the 16 months Obama has promised. Four, AIDS and family planning, tick two, there is reason to believe that the man who John McCain claims is “owned by the Planned Parenthood people” will actually manage to dismantle the evil policies put in place by the Bushvangelists; it won’t help the people already dead from it but anyone alive who is affected by AIDS (read each and every one of us) will dare to hope again. Five, Pakistan-Afghanistan-Kashmir — difficult to say, I would put it at a pure fifty-fifty chance that BHO will succeed in the quagmire, and certainly not within the first two years of taking office; if anyone’s a match for the steeliest and most determined of US administrations it is the wily Afghan and south Asian, whether Mussalman or Hindu; a Bar-Ob administration that carries forward the impasse in Israel-Palestine would be faced here with an ever harder series of knots to unravel.

Nevertheless, having done the pessimistic balancing, one does come back to the same equation: what would a wish-list be for a McCain-Palin administration? It would be just a one-line hope-list “Please stop drilling into all of us!” And what would a reality projection tell us? It doesn’t bear thinking or writing about.

So, at this Diwali and Kali Puja and Thanksgiving, let us join hands inside our souls and pray, pray hard to whatever god or human spirit that we will be delivered from the Bush-whackers without too much further damage, that we will be spared the McCain years (which will probably pale in comparison to the horror of the Palin years) and for a solid victory to brother Bar-Ob after which we can (cautiously) begin to welcome the United States back into the planet, and then, finally, let’s pray for the new American president to continue to have the courage, sense and genuine empathetic curiosity he has displayed so far, for him to grow rather than shrink in possibly the most important job in the world.

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