Tag Archives: secular

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Obama Destroyed Libya

Barack Obama destroyed Libya.

What he did to Libya is as bad as what Bush did to Iraq and Afghanistan. He doesn’t deserve a historical pass.

When Obama took office in 2009, Libya was under the clutches of longtime dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. But things were looking up.

Bush and Gaddafi had cut a deal to lift Western trade sanctions in exchange for Libya acknowledging and paying restitution for its role in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. In a rare triumph for Bush, Libya also agreed to give up its nuclear weapons research program. Libyan and Western analysts anticipated that Gaddafi’s dictatorship would be forced to accept liberal reforms, perhaps even free elections and rival political parties, in order to attract Western investment.

Libya in 2009 was prosperous. As citizens of a major oil- and natural gas-exporting nation, Libyans enjoyed high salaries, low living expenses, generous social benefits, not to mention law and order. It seems like a mirage today.

Looking back, many Libyans miss their former tyrant. “Muammar Gaddafi inherited one of the poorest nations in Africa,” notes Garikai Chengu of the Du Bois Institute for African Research at Harvard University. “However, by the time he was assassinated, Libya was unquestionably Africa’s most prosperous nation. Libya had the highest GDP per capita and life expectancy in Africa and less people lived below the poverty line than in the Netherlands.”

As a dictator, Gaddafi was guilty of horrendous human rights abuses. But life was better then than now. Women enjoyed more rights in Libya than in any other Arab country, particularly after the United States overthrew Saddam Hussein in Iraq. By regional standards, Libya was a relatively sweet place to live.

In February 2011, militant Islamists based in the eastern city of Benghazi launched an armed insurgency against Gaddafi’s central government in the capital of Tripoli. The rebels were linked in the imaginations of American newsmedia and U.S. foreign policy officials to the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt’s Tahrir Square. But the Benghazi-based rebels, with close ties to Al Qaeda, were ideologically closer to the Free Syrian Army fighters who eventually metastasized into ISIS.

Within the CIA and Defense Departments, no one was sure who the insurgents were or what they wanted. Nonetheless the Obama administration covertly supplied them with at least $1 billion in cash and weapons. CIA agents and U.S. Special Forces served as “boots on the ground,” training opposition fighters how to use sophisticated new weapons.

Obama threw Gaddafi, whose regime was secular and by all accounts had been cooperative and held up his end of the deals with U.S., under the bus.

American forces jammed Libyan military communications. The U.S. fired missiles to intercept Libyan missiles fired at rebel targets. The U.S. led numerous airstrikes against units loyal to Gaddafi. U.S. intervention turned the tide in favor of the Benghazi-based rebels.

In October 2011, one of Obama’s killer robot drones participated in Gaddafi’s assassination. Game over.

Before invading Iraq, then Secretary of State Colin Powell warned Bush about his “Pottery Barn rule“: if you break it, you own it.

Obama has broken the hell out of Libya.

The New York Times describes Libya as “veer[ing] toward complete chaos.”

In 2015, the UK Guardian reports, Libya is in danger of meeting the official international definition of a failed state: “Libya is wracked by violence, factionalism and political polarization – and by the growing menace of jihadi extremism. Two rival governments, parliaments, prime ministers and military forces claim legitimacy. One side is the Islamist-dominated Libya Dawn coalition in Tripoli, the capital. The other camp, Dignity, which is recognized internationally, is based in Tobruk and Bayda. Hundreds of rival militias exist across the country. In recent months the homegrown fighters of Ansar al-Sharia have been challenged by Islamic State (Isis), who released a video showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians. Oil production, the source of most state revenues, has declined massively. Cash is running out and basic services are facing collapse as the financial situation deteriorates. Hopes for change generated by the Arab spring and the demise of Gaddafi’s dictatorship have faded into despair and dysfunction.”

“Libya is falling apart. Politically, financially, the economic situation is disastrous,” says UN envoy Bernardino León.

To Obama’s credit, he admits that he screwed up in Libya. Unfortunately, he drew the wrong lesson. In 2014, he told an interviewer that a large ground invasion force might have helped Libya’s post-Gaddafi government succeed. Because that worked so well in Iraq and Afghanistan. But if he really believes that, why doesn’t he order in the troops?

Obama’s real mistake was to depose a secular socialist autocrat and allow him to be replaced by a bunch of crazy religious fundamentalist militias whose factionalism ensured they’d never be able to govern.

Bush committed this error in Iraq. Obama made it in Libya. And now he’s doing it again in Syria.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

Now Let’s Turn to Politics

After decades of Republican aggression and Democratic passivity, the 50-yard line of American politics has shifted so far to the right that what passes for the debate takes place only between the far right and the even further right.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: The War of Christmas

Time to Take Religion Out of the Calendar

We are a secular nation. We enjoy the constitutional right to exercise any religion—or none whatsoever. So why is Christmas a federal holiday?

The U.S. has no national religion. Yet Christians get special consideration. Aside from Christmas, they also get the quasi-Christian holiday of Thanksgiving. Financial markets are closed on both of those, plus Good Friday.

Devotees of other faiths must ask their employers for time off. Jews aren’t supposed to work on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, the first and second days of Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, Simchat Torah, Shavu’ot, or the first, second, seventh and eighth days of Passover. They have to take up to 13 days off from work each year, more than most employers offer.

The message to Jews and other non-Christians is plain: you are second-class citizens. Separation of church and state is a fraud. You wanna practice your faith? Do it on your own time.

You might think that the government’s official embrace of Christmas is a cultural relic of America’s puritan past. But you’d be mistaken. For nearly 100 years, Christmas was not on the calendar of federal holidays. On December 25, 1789, the first Christmas under the new U.S. constitution, Congress was in session. Ulysses Grant made it a federal holiday in 1870.

At first (and second and third) glance, the Christmas federal holiday seems like a clear violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. In 1999, however, a federal district court judge in Ohio rejected a lawsuit challenging the special status of Christmas. The court ruled that “the establishment of Christmas Day as a legal public holiday does…not have the effect of endorsing religion in general or Christianity in particular.”

Legal reasoning gave way to the simplest calculus: we do stuff because we can.

Right-wing commentators such as Bill O’Reilly have accused liberals of waging a “war on Christmas.” Actually, there’s a war of Christmas: Christians use the holiday as a bludgeon against the rest of us. (Sort of how the “war on terrorism” is really a “war of terror.”) Christmas’ designation as a federal holiday is the most brazen and thus most offensive manifestation of Christian hegemony in America.

The Christian Right’s “war on Christmas” meme would be laughable if it didn’t work; they’re the majority, they’re in charge, but somehow they’re victims. The smallest concession to common decency and sensitivity—e.g. not displaying nativity scenes on government property—is portrayed as an attack on innocent Christians. Not subtle. But clever: the dominant majority gets to claim victimhood. Anything short than total domination isn’t good enough.

This has nothing to do with suppressing Christianity. I am touched, not offended, when a person of faith says that he or she is praying for me, or wishes me a “Merry Christmas.” Individual and/or private displays of religiosity are fine.

Official expressions of a specific religion, however, are disgusting and inherently repressive. Public-school teachers should not wish their students a Merry Christmas. Presidents should not end speeches by saying “God Bless America.” Our currency should not read “In God We Trust.” Courts should not use Bibles to swear in witnesses. Government officials and employees who wear their Christianity on their sleeves reinforce the majority and subjugate the minority. Notice, it’s always Christians. When’s the last time a TSA screener wished you a blessed Ramadan?

A country should live up to its stated principles. Everyone who wants to honor Christmas, whether in its religious or its consumerist contexts, is free to do so. Go to midnight mass. Festoon your roof with plastic Santas. But the government shouldn’t make it easier on Christians to celebrate one of their religious holidays than it does members of other faiths.

There are only two fair courses of action:

First, remove Christmas from the list of federal holidays. But replace it with something secular! Preferably in March or April. There’s a long gap there.

Alternatively, add holidays for other religions. Of course, this could get complicated. How many holidays for each religion? Some faiths are more festive than others. How far down the list of major American religions do we go? The Zoroastrian holiday of Navruz? Shall we make room for new religions like Scientology?

After every sect gets its day in court there might not be a single day left in the year to work.

I say: the more days off, the merrier. Er, better.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2010 TED RALL