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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 1/19/09

Of Davids and Goliaths: Letter to Barack Obama

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Dear Barack,

I haven’t seen your name linked to its Hebrew meaning: blessed, or its meaning in some Arab cultures: lucky.  But you can capitalize that felicitous association to implement the change your supporters are counting on.

As you take office, beyond the unique financial crisis you have to overcome, two problems stand out, but they are rarely recognized to be linked.

The first is the proposed increase in troop levels and therefore of military engagement, in Afghanistan, a country that eight years ago was run by the Taliban, who gave cover to Al Queda, which attacked the U.S.  The second is the shameful position of the American people with respect to health care.  We are the only citizens of a developed society not to enjoy some form of single payer universal health care.

There appears to be a disturbing consensus in your circle of the need to continue using military means to bring Afghanistan into the twenty-first century, not-withstanding the failed efforts of the British Empire and the Soviet Union to dominate and modernize this rough tribal culture.  Similarly, you appear to take for granted that we cannot move from a for-profit system of health care to one which makes health a right, other than gradually, over time.

Why should the health insurance industry be more willing to convert to other types of activity, or areas of insurance, ten or twenty years from now than today?  The implication that they would sounds tragically like an evasion.

You can put these two challenges together.  Investing in health instead of military solutions to global chaos would bring double dividends. 

The problem in Afghanistan - or for that matter Pakistan - is no longer that they harbor Al Queda. At this point, it’s irrelevant whether Bin Lande continues to live in a cave somewhere: the horses are out of the barn.  The problem is that Taliban-like movements continue to exert influence because tribal leaders live in an ancient world.  Not having been been brought up in a modern culture, their only window into the 21st century is a military one.  They still believe that girls should not go to school, and that women are possessions.

The crisis with Islam is less with Sunni as opposed to Shia doctrine (evidenced by the cooperation between a Shia Hezbollah and a Sunni Hamas), as it is with modernity as opposed to solidarity.  Islam is about solidarity, and the confabulation of religion and politics stems from the fact the God commands solidarity.  Capitalist modernity is about competition, a mainstay of profit that keeps the notion of equality of outcomes at arms’ length - as in the provision of health care.

It’s essentially because of equality that the problems in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan are linked to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict via the notion of an equal right to statehood. Israel, supported by the United States is now Goliath, while both branches of Islam are Davids fighting its superior forces. Confident in its power, Israel fails to recognize that Shia Hezbolla and Sunni Hamas cooperate not out of some passing tactical agreement, but because they share the fundamental basis of Islam: solidarity vis a vis their respective peoples.  Israeli disinformation would have the world focus on the militants’ use of terror, while Arabs focus on their financial probity and efforts to build hospitals and schools. Similarly, American cold war propaganda focused on the lack of intellectual and travel freedom in the Communist countries, condemning efforts toward economic equality, which many in Eastern Europe miss today.

Barack, if you want to lead meaningful change in America, you must recognize the fundamental conflict between profit and solidarity.  References to a middle class that includes as many lower class families as it does comfortably off families is an obfuscation that you should discard.  You can continue to recognize the role of profit and competition in society, but you must enlarge the area of solidarity created by Franklin Roosevelt.  Only then will you be heard by Muslims across the world, whose culture rests on that principle.   

With that premise, you will be able to invest in Afghan and Pakistani education and development instead of fighting the Taliban.  An army that builds roads, schools and hospitals, while agricultural programs replace poppies with foodstuffs, would be a two-fer. The money saved by changing the nature of  the Afghan mission could be used to compensate the health insurance industry for whatever losses it might experience (once deduction is made of funds used for lobbying and advertisements), and finance a reorganization of health care that is not limited to electronic records.

Health care reform limited to saving money by computerizing records will not suffice to buy out the insurance industry.  But real change in our southwest Asian  policy will.   Closing the other hundred plus bases around the world would enable  us to get the economy rolling again.  It would affect people everywhere, whether they read the name Barack as blessed or lucky.

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Born in Phila, I spent most of my adolescent and adult years in Europe, resulting over time in several unique books, my latest being Russia's Americans.

CUBA: Diary of a Revolution, Inside the Cuban Revolution with Fidel, Raul, Che, and Celia Sanchez

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