Game Over: A Good Neighbor in the Gulf?

The third and final debate again went to Obama in the instant polls done by organizations such as CNN. Independents told CNN they generally thought Obama won. CNN’s real-time tracking of opinion among viewers in its studio showed that independents especially disliked the smear tactic of attempting to link Obama to prominent Chicago educator Bill Ayers, who had had a radical youth but long since had become a mainstream figure. McCain came across as sarcastic and mean-spirited, though he was more animated and more coherent than in the earlier debates.

He especially lost points, as Rachel Maddow pointed out, by dismissing concerns about the health of the mother in the decision to end a pregnancy. In that stance he sounded like Sarah Palin, who wants to make women bear their rapist’s child. As I pointed out in Salon, the current McCain-Palin stance on abortion is identical to that in fundamentalist regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Obama was calm, cool, collected, gracious and cautious. He knows that he is ahead by some 10 points or more, and that the race is now his to lose. He sought to avoid being combative or making mistakes. He even praised Sarah Palin, knowing that it looks bad to beat up on a woman. (Bush senior debated Geraldine Ferraro aggressively in 1984, at one point condescendingly saying, ‘let me help you with that, Mrs. Ferraro.’ After the debate, Bush’s people tried to play Joe Six-Pack, putting out the word that he had ‘kicked ass,’– not realizing that working class men would not use that phrase for a contest with a woman. Senior Bush’s ticket went on to win, but he was not at the top of the ticket then and he made a bad impression. Obama avoided that embarrassment at the cost of speaking unrealistically and not really answering the question on Palin’s preparedness to be president.)

There is no room for complacency. This is a strange election in a strange time, and polls are notoriously untrustworthy more than a day or two out. People need to come out and vote, and to mobilize their friends to do so.

But it is now not crazy to say that the likelihood is that Obama will win and that he will have a strong majority in the House and 57 or so in the Senate, so that the Republicans will find it difficult to block his policies (he will need three or four liberal Republican senators for important votes unless it really is a landslide.)

Obama said repeatedly that the U.S. faces the most dire economic crisis since the Great Depression. That may be so, but it is not a depression yet. There has not been a run on the banks (though there easily could have been), and unemployment has not skyrocketed to 25 percent (except in Flint, Michigan but that is an older story). The market is behaving erratically and a lot of people will likely have to postpone retirement (assuming that they don’t lose their jobs). Something like ten percent of mortgages were in danger before the big credit crisis hit. I hesitate to think what it must be now.

It seems pretty obvious that Obama will need a New New Deal, but more focused on mortgages and liquidity than on state-supplied jobs.

The major foreign policy initiative undertaken by FDR in his first term, the Good Neighbor Policy, was to withdraw from heavy-handed intervention in Latin America, which reversed earlier policies of sending expeditionary forces and knee-jerk support for rightwing local elites. The Roosevelt administration got out of Haiti and openly spoke of the illegitimacy of interloping into the domestic affairs of other sovereign states.

Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy, write Tom Barry, Laura Carlsen, and John Gershman

‘ specifically renounced most previous justifications for U.S. military interventions—including preemptive strikes to ensure political stability, occupations to force payment of foreign debts, retaliation for expropriation of U.S. investments, and the promotion of democracy. He ordered the withdrawal of all remaining U.S. troops in the Caribbean Basin, ending the long and shameful history of military interventions and occupations there. Speaking at a regional conference in Montevideo, Uruguay, in December 1933, Secretary of State Hull said that one of the core principles of the Good Neighbor Policy was nonintervention: “No state has the right to intervene in the internal or external affairs of another.”

A year later Roosevelt reassured the still-skeptical nations of Latin America and the Caribbean by saying, “The definite policy of the United States from now on is one opposed to armed intervention.” ‘

A president Obama will withdraw from Iraq, perhaps faster than the timeline that the that Bush and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki have just agreed to (2011 at the latest). It seems obvious that Obama and al-Maliki will work very smoothly together.

This move could be a step toward a new Good Neighbor policy in the Middle East. Obviously, Iraq is only one piece of the puzzle. But Obama’s willingness to talk to all the regimes in the region where it is called for (and he never said he wouldn’t do preparation for such negotiations) could lead to other breakthroughs.

Given the world’s increasing energy crisis and the consequent ever closer entanglement of the US with the region, an Obama Good Neighbor Policy in the Middle East may be as important for the destiny of our country as the domestic economic initiatives he launches.

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