Monday, December 29, 2008

Is Obama an Agent of Change or a Broker for the Beltway Elite?

Over the objections of Rwandan Parliament, Rwandan president Paul Kagame appointed Boniface Rucagu - who was listed as one of the architects of the genocide that occurred in 1994, in addition to being identified as a member of the death squads - to govern the Northern Province of Rwanda.

Why would any president, interested in economically and politically transforming his genocide torn country, appoint someone to govern that is suspected of creating this horror? After all, Kagame not only played a major role in stopping the genocide, he engaged himself in the monumental undertaking of reconciling and reconstructing Rwanda, a task, at which the most courageous of men would cringe.

The possible answer, according to Steven Kinzer - author of A Thousand Hills: Rwanda's Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It, who had unprecedented access to Kagame before writing the book, enabling him to conduct extensive interviews - lies in Kagame's pragmatic approach to morality. Paraphrasing him, Kagame told Kinzer: "What good are abstract requirements of morality...isn't morality ensuring a nation's people have enough food to eat, some sense of security, paved roads, electricity..."

In other words, first things first...Kagame had to do whatever it took to secure his nation, especially the Northern Province, as this was the area most vulnerable to future attacks by Hutu rebels because of its shared border with Congo, where the Rwandan horror spilled over. Kagame knew he couldn't safeguard this potential exposure to the onslaught of more carnage alone. Rucagu was the one person who could make this happen and he was right. Not only did Rucagu pacify and secure this crucial area, he became a huge anti-genocide advocate. Although, ideologically, most would oppose Kagame's decision, as it does not seek justice the way we understand it; nevertheless, when in such dire circumstances, justice may be defined as anything that will sustain the people on the most basic level.

"Who Genocide survivors and IBUKA think they are? They think they are so important... They should put their feelings aside. They should find a place where to put them, a cupboard, and lock them inside. They should not be sentimental." -- General Paul Kagame's, (Vice President and Minister of Defense) at the time), response when asked on National Radio on July 1, 1999 about IBUKA's complaints on the government's appointment of genocide suspects to important positions
What does any of this have to do with Obama? Maybe nothing or maybe, there is a method to Obama's "madness" regarding his controversial cabinet choices of mostly centrist to right leaning individuals, who will more than likely try to preserve the status quo, rather than reform what's clearly not working. Many of these appointees are partially responsible for the current economic disaster...the one with no end in sight. On a profoundly, much lesser scale, isn't that like choosing genocide architects to reform post genocide Rwanda?

Then, to make matters even worse, what does Obama do? He chooses anti-gay pastor Rick Warren to say a prayer at his inauguration, insulting the gay community - still recovering from the passage of Prop 8 - apparently, reneging on his campaign promises.

Is this what Obama means when he says that he is an "agent of change"?

From what we've seen so far, President-elect Obama appears to be, not only a pragmatist, but also a strategist who is clearly in driver's seat. Like a skilled chess player, he does not make a move that is not in the best interest of his long-term goals...from his cabinet appointees to his choice of who will say the prayers at his inauguration; Obama appears not to waver from his plan. Like Kagame, he does what he has to do, appoint who he has to appoint, flatter who he has to flatter, in order to make his vision manifest.

The crucial question is, "What is Obama's vision?" and if he is indeed an agent of change, "How do his choices, thus far, factor into actualizing that vision?

Sun-tzu, Chinese general & military strategist(~400 BC) once said, "Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer". Obama may be employing these people to work for him rather than against him. Not only does this pacify the opposition, it provides an opportunity for transformation to occur.

Obama chose smart, experienced, and powerful people. By allying himself with these individuals, he can possibly harness that "energy" to cause change for the better, in the same way Kugame's recruitment of Rucagu served to work in the people's favor..the same people that Rucagu, at one time - allegedly - could have easily wiped out in the blink of an eye.

The impact of ideology on political choice can be detrimental when the stakes are as large as they are for both Obama and Kugame. They cannot afford the luxury of ideology.

Take his choice of Rick Warren, a man who clearly is at odds with the gay community. As insignificant as it may seem, Rick Warren did remove his anti-gay line from his web site. That's not a big deal, however, at the very least, Warren is not escalating anti-gay rhetoric. Warren has not changed his thinking - not yet, and maybe never - but if Obama's gesture assuages the fears and lowers the defenses of the conservative right wing so that he can accomplish something of significance in the long run, rather than battling the neocon's never-ending barrage of obstruction and vilification, then that small gesture was worth it.

If we're not already past the point of no return, Obama will need at least two full terms to renew our country's commitment to the rule of law, the Constitution and Bill of Rights. He will not get that chance if he charges out of the bullpen surrounded by a militant left-winged staff. In addition, choosing someone as liberal as, for example, Rev. Dr. Michael Eric Dyson to say the prayer at his inauguration, other than preaching to the choir, would most likely only serve to stir up the hornet's nest before his first day as President.

You can't throw a corrupt and/or outdated institution in a boiling pot and assume it will stay there...in order to overhaul a corrupt and/or outdated institution, one must gradually bring the pot to a boil so that the corruption and antiquity can be boiled out of existence.

Obama understands what motivates human behavior. In the continuing struggle of "us against them", the struggle that has defined the existence of mankind since the beginning of time, Obama realizes that the more people working for "us"the better. Let's just hope we are the "us" and not the "them".

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