Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Obama's Downfall?

All this talk of Obama's impending demise brings me back to blog entry I wrote early last year shortly after his election victory.  I think it's relevant now...

I had a nightmare last night.  It was gruesome.  I was somewhere in the U.S., in some non-descript city, walking along on a busy street.  There didn't seem to be anything particularly out of sorts, except the people walking past me all had a certain stoicism in their expressions, a solidity as if they were impregnable to both happiness and despair.  Then suddenly I caught something large crashing onto the street out of the corner of my eye.  I looked over and in horror saw the body of Barack Obama lying mangled in the middle of the road.  No one else took any notice.  Cars just carried on, running him over, crushing him beyond recognition.  The people on the sidewalk didn't even look over, their expressions stayed as stolid as if they were machines, like they didn't have the capacity to feel anymore.  Then another body came hurtling down from the heavens.  Smash! It hit the pavement directly in front of me.  Again, it was Obama, a look of despair on his frozen face.  People walked oblviously along, stepping around, over and sometimes even on the body.  

Another body fell, this time behind me. I could hear the crunch of bones colliding with solid concrete but I didn't look back.  I didn't have to - bodies started raining down on this non-descript American city, all Obamas, all with that look of depair carved onto their faces.  And no one cared.   

I woke up this morning with two thoughts running through my head: are we doing it again? Are we falling into the classic trap, the one in which we pin all of our hopes on a single individual only to have them come crashing down around us when we inevitably discover that this is just a man, a great man indeed, but in the end, a human being with all the frailties and limitations that go along with being human.  Then I thought what if the Republicans planned this all along?  Of course, this is going to sound like conspiracy theory but I don't doubt that there are some Republicans in Washington, especially neo-cons, kicking back and smiling now that the burden of America has been lifted from their shoulders.  Someone else has to deal with the next 5 years, arguably the most difficult 5 years America will face in at least a generation.  Did the Republicans intentionally pass up the presidency knowing that no administration is going to be able to fix America, knowing full well that things are going to get worse before they get any better?  People around the world pin prophetic hopes on Obama but what happens when we all realize that he can't save the world?  Will we abandon him?  Will the American people turn their backs on what ultimately is an experiment in American politics?  

Will they run back into the waiting arms of the Republicans in 2013?

I hate conspiracy theories.  They lead to dangerous thoughts, to misguided teleologies.  Like why did McCain choose Sarah Palin as his running mate?  Before that disasterous decision, he still had a chance; it was an uphill battle but the prize was still within reach.  Choosing Sarah-barracuda was political suicide.  Was it, in fact, suicide?

Who knows.  I leave that conspiracy theory in the hands of much more adept conspirators than myself.  But I can't ignore the message in my nightmare.  I look forward to the Obama years but I will not place the burden of salvation on his shoulders.  If I do, then his despair, the one carved into all of those faces lying crumpled on the streets of that non-descript U.S. city, will be the despair of the entire world.  

Friday, December 18, 2009

Back in the Game

Okay, so I sidelined myself for a while from the Pakistan action.  No excuses except we all need a break sometimes and in my case, desperately would be an accurate description.  So to Nepal I went to detox and imbibe an atmosphere less inclined toward distrust and paranoia, to breathe the sweet alpine air instead of exhaust fumes and listen to the sound of birdsong rather than car horns.  Much needed and much enjoyed.

But now I'm back and the paranoia is back and the horns and fumes along with everything else that goes with working and living in a dysfunctional country.  I'm not complaining, just setting the scene.  The world I've re-entered has taken another interesting turn - the much anticipated axing of the National Reconciliation Ordinance.  The NRO, many Pakistanis will tell you, was a thinly-veiled attempt by Pakistan's former General Pervez Musharraf to create a space for his political ambitions.  It basically swept clean in one miraculous sweep all the dirt and grime from decades of political corruption, freeing up men like Pakistan's current President, Asif Ali Zardari and Interior Minister Rehman Malik for another run in the vaunted halls of power.  The cases against them have been resurrected, which of course is a good thing.

Nonetheless, there is a downside.  Or rather, there is the reality: Pakistan is struggling toward a responsible democracy but it is doing this in a time of war.  The judiciary is enjoying more freedom than at any other time in its history.  It is at the forefront of the housecleaning.  But the army and security services are still powerful, too powerful for a democratic system to function properly.  The political playing field is still dominated by self-interested elite who place their own interests ahead of the national interest.  So when the judiciary tightens one string, it loosens another.  In this case, the army, which has been at odds with the ruling government, is the winner.  As the dirty laundry of Pakistan's politicians is hung out for all to see, the people will naturally retreat back into the protective embrace of the army.  As corrupt politicians are replaced by more corrupt politicians, the people's trust in the system will again erode.

So is the death of the NRO a good thing?  It is, I think, but only if the cases against the men and women accused of corruption proceed openly and honestly.  If this turns into a witch hunt, if Pakistan's opposition politicians try to turn this into political capital, the system will suffer, the progress toward a real, functioning democracy will be lost.  The PML-N, the largest opposition to the ruling PPP is already demanding the resignation of Zardari.  This is not the way it works.  The cases against him were re-opened yesterday.  They remain allegations and must be proven in a court of law.

The alternative is the endless repetition of Pakistan's political history, where one corrupt party is replaced by another in what can best be described as a keystone cops parody of democracy punctuated by the periodic imposition of military rule.  Pakistan has the opportunity to break that destructive cycle.  But is it up to the task?

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