Saturday, August 11, 2012

The American President

August 8, 2012
By Saeed Qureshi
Perhaps the most vigorous yet most vulnerable office is that of the President of the United States of America. The American Presidency is the most awesome of all the presidencies in the world, because the president presides over the most powerful country of the world which, of late, has also donned the mantle of a sole super power. Yet paradoxically, American President is both weak and strong.
A bill in America becomes a law for implementation after the signatures of the President. He can declare war against any country, start even star war, spur space exploration and offer aid of any volume to any country. He is the commander- in-chief of the armed forces. He is authorized to declare a country as a friend or an enemy. American president can place any country under embargoes and lift those already imposed.
The American President is the chief custodian of the country’ interests. No lapse in this regard is expected of him. Be it welfare of the people, the indigenous prosperity, the defense, the resources, the agricultural production or the scientific or the technological exploration: America reigns supreme.
In strong economy, high per capita income and near invincibility in defense, America wields unparalleled influence over the world. America dictates its decisions that carry more weight and command more compliance than the United Nations. So it is the one country equal to about 180 countries and still heavier than them.
Although there are many checks and restraints on the functioning of the President, yet despite this he unquestionably enjoys a vast array of powers. But the checks on him primarily relate to his internal policies, upright behavior and moral standards. By declaring war against any country in the name of security, patriotism and national honor, he can rally the nation behind him. After all Americans are as patriotic as others are.
But they are more sensitive about their identity and security. For this reason American citizens, cannot be prosecuted abroad for any crime or illegality. It is the American government, which will take action against their own citizens, and not the country on whose soil any minor or major crime is committed by an American citizen.
On the other hand a national or citizen of any other country, whom US thinks should be tried for criminal activities against American interests or security, will have to be handed over to the US government. Such are the norms and patterns of the disparities between mightier and the weaker nations.
An American President is perennially sitting in a glass house being carefully and closely watched for every move, action and decision that he takes and every word that he utters. In American history four presidents were killed while attempts on the lives of some others were made, the latest being President Ronald Reagan.
The American President is the most protected person yet occasionally he is exposed to attacks. While the assassins of Abraham Lincoln was identified that of J.F. Kennedy remains shrouded in mystery. Although an individual named Lee Oswald was named as the shooter, yet before he could be put to a rigorous investigation, he too was killed.
The building where President Kennedy was killed is like a holy shrine, visited by both Americans and foreigners in droves every day. The Elm Street has assumed an historical significance and anyone who comes to Dallas must also visit the J.F.K. Museum now set up in the same building from whose window Oswald fired at President Kennedy.
As already mentioned, the American Presidency is not a bed of roses but a thorny throne, on which he has to sit with extreme care and vigilance. The moment he vacillates, wavers, is inattentive, is forgetful, makes a mistake or resorts to a slip of tongue, he is checked at once and then a sordid process of incrimination, vilification, reprimands and censure starts.
It is seldom that he can get out of such a tirade with flying colors. Multifarious lobbies, including the special interest groups and the rival political party are always on the look out to take to task an errant president and subject him to severe probe and rigorous censure. In case of prosecution or enquiry, there is no escape and no reprieve for a president. The judicial process takes its own course and there is no easy way to get out of it unless one is proven not guilty.
As for the choice of their President is concerned, the American people tend to be idealist. Nothing short of an angle in the garb of a human is the prerequisite of the people to be a President. This is the image that the Americans nurture about their president, a faultless and flawless individual. The society may be afflicted with serious moral lapses, but a president is supposed to be an icon of virtues .He should be the paragon of all qualities that can be attributed to a human being.
A President’s past is thoroughly scanned and dug out to ensure that he did not break the law and was not involved in major or minor crimes such as driving under intoxication, tax evasion or concealing his actual income. Briefly an American president ought to be a kind of Jesus Christ re-incarnate or an embodiment of rectitude and absolute ethics.
This is why every President during elections and after assuming the presidency remains under the microscopic observation of the people. The people may still ignore his minor human lapses that don’t impinge upon his performance in national affairs.  Yet the interest lobbies and strong pressure groups that may still be antagonized for one reason or another pounce upon him like birds of prey.
They rest and recoil only when either the President is removed disgracefully or surrenders before the interest lobbies or else makes compromises with his antagonists. Invariably, there are reasons or motives behind the smear campaign against a president, otherwise big holes in the moral fabric of a president are sometimes ignored or concealed.
The press and media is America is always ready to analyze and lay bare the personal character of a president or merits and demerits of his policies. The American press has its bias and slants for or against a president. Such a bias comes out of the tilts either towards the Republican or the Democratic Party.
This tendency of the press is healthy in a way that both sides investigate and analyze threadbare the personality and policies of the high-ups including the president. The panelists, analysts and commentators freely discuss and debate with blistering critique against or for a person depending upon the sympathy or inclination of a media person.
Once a president is out of office or he is forced out of office, he falls into oblivion. He is back to the status of an ordinary person who has to eke out his living with pension or by taking up some job or assignment like business, lecturing or teaching, a consultancy or at best writing his auto-biography. If he is already a businessman, he may fall back upon his previous business forgetting that he was once the occupant of a strikingly glorious and most coveted status of the president of the mighty United States.
One may occasionally peep into the life, health or other accounts of the former presidents, although in their days of splendor, they were always on the front pages of the newspapers or the prime topic of the discussions for the electronic media. They won’t have time for interviews to the press. For instance, of late and among living presidents, President Jimmy Carter is back to his peanut business and Clinton is trotting the globe giving lectures.
President Ronald Reagan (Republican), one of the successful presidents in whose tenure the Soviet Union disintegrated, sustained on his pension, until his death. In contrast, in the third world countries, the former heads of states, aristocrats and bureaucrats, lead luxurious lives after their retirement because they amass huge money through unfair means during their incumbency and stash it abroad.
Those who would fall from grace but had marveled during their stay in the Presidency were among others, President Richard Nixon followed by President Bill Clinton. These are the recent examples but otherwise every President had to suffer some sort of disparagement, censure, pressure, scrutiny or a trial for mishaps or mal-practices depending upon the nature of their follies. President Nixon‘s Watergate Scandal initiated by the press was excessively publicized and grossly blown out of proportion by Democrats.
President Nixon (Republican Party) was one of the most outstanding and brilliant presidents after the World War II. It was he who started the process of retrieving US from the quagmire of Viet Nam war, which had deal serious setbacks to the U.S. militarily. Despite the use of most advanced and sophisticated weapons, the US had to finally negotiate for withdrawal .He was the President who also opened dialogue and established link for the first time with the hated China.
The policy of appeasement and overtures for co-existence with communist China was not liked by a fanatically anti-communist lobby in US. Moreover, with peace in many parts of the world, how could the arms industry in America flourish? He had to resign despite the fact that the evidence about his personal involvement in the Watergate scandal was not stronger.
But some strong moral ground and a high sounding pretext had to be made out to oust President Nixon from the office and that too with humiliation. His misfortune was that a journalist initiated the case of misconduct so the press community on the whole turned against him. As such he received a biased and totally negative publicity.
The succeeding president Gerald Ford pardoned him and thus the campaign of diatribe and character assassination against him came to an end. It is very seldom that President Nixon, who rescued US’s prestige from complete sinking, was thus removed from the political scene and forgotten .He is still not liked by most of the Americans who think that he was a criminal and a crook.
What an accountability but certainly it was tinged with ulterior motives! The nation failed to distinguish between the good and the bad deeds of President Nixon. There is no pardon in US law for offenders. There is no second chance for the violators, no matter how meritorious their past services would have been.
Let us look at Bill Clinton’s case. President Clinton (Democratic Party) despite his human and personal shortcomings and obsession for sex had been an outstanding President .In his 8 years’ stint in the presidency; he gave a monumental fillip to the U.S. economy. The surplus money in Clinton presidency ran into billions of dollars. The jobs were plentiful; the industrial sector making great strides, the business class was all delighted. The American people were and are still fond of him.
But perhaps somewhere there was an uncanny lobby which disapproved his Middle East Peace Process. In the hindsight one would wonder to see the Late Israeli Prime Minister Ralph Rabin standing by Yasser Arafat, the PLO chief and shaking hands with him. President Clinton was there in between with a broad smile on his face exuding his triumph and sense of achievement of a feat, which looked impossible otherwise.
It was an historic moment both for the Palestinians and the Israel to agree to co-habitat. Immediately afterwards one of the signatories to the Oslo Accord( Sept. 1993), Yitzhak Rabin was killed by an extremist Israel youth, while Clinton dragged into an extremely embarrassing moral imbroglio which ended with a nerve shattering investigation .For quite some time his fate hung in balance: to  stay in that exalted office or disgracefully removed.
If impeached, he would have gone down in history as a condemned and immoral person. He may have made compromises here and there but the whole episode speaks for the ascendency and vibrancy of a civil and free society adored with the hallmarks of strict accountability and unassailable system of checks and balances.
 The episode of Mona Lewinski although is the episode of an average American, yet it was splashed beyond limits as it involved a president. The nation weighed his purely private forays in sex with his outstanding achievements in the national service making the former as the only issue and overlooking his marvelous feats.
One of his outstanding achievements was not only to rehabilitate the battered US economy after the Middle East’s military adventure( Desert Storm) launched by his predecessor President George H. W. Bush, but filling of the national exchequer beyond expectations.
Clinton’s was one the most prosperous periods in the American history. The poignant reason is that he opted for and worked for peace around the world. Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan were involved with Russians in Afghanistan, while the senior Bush’s main penchant was Middle East and to reverse the Iraq’s uncalled-for invasion of Kuwait.
Those were chaotic and turbulent times as both the cold war and the hot war had mingled with each other. But Clinton remained away from such upheavals. G.W. Bush a successful governor but an ambitious crusader against the terrorists with a knack to take snapshot decisions. He embarked upon a calamitous course of wars, although it was not of his making but born out of the unexpected and harrowing events of 9/11. During his presidential tenure (2001-2009), he remained riveted on two wars: one in Afghanistan and the other in Iraq.
 His ruinous slogan of dividing the world “you are with us or not with us,” kept the world in perpetual turmoil and unremitting tension. His penchant for war mongering not only depleted the coffers of American wealth but weakened the moral grandeur, the strident integrity and sublime stature of the United States around the world. Internally it brought about a colossal economic collapse that had rudely shaken every household and business upside down.
Resultantly, the Republicans suffered defeat at the hands of a brilliant black democrat. The American people gave their unprecedented historic verdict to Democratic Barack Obama which speaks for the sparkling beauty, exquisite strength and glorious spirit of American democratic culture. The American people are the real masters and arbiters of America and their empowerment is derived from its adorable democratic system.
With no transparent policy or clear vision on the Middle East and with the murky Afghanistan situation at hand, the U.S. economy sinks and buoys up in a pool of uncertainties. In an unbridled and uncertain situation overshadowed by distant wars, the economy moves backward and forward alternately. A leadership quality called statesmanship is missing in US policy on the Middle East, which is to bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
But despite this pro-Israel partisanship, various American governments have not been totally blind or unmindful of the ground realities in the Middle East. They would occasionally talk sense and emphasize the necessity of peace via negotiations between the inveterate adversaries. Nevertheless; the present leadership has failed to bring about thaw and a meaningful breakthrough in the stalemated crisis and to disengage the combatants.
The M.E. plan of President Bush did not throw up a successful modus operandi for an end to the deep bitterness and chronic hostility between Israel and the Palestinians. It does not give the Palestinians what has been promised to them in the Oslo accord.
Mediocrity spoils even the brightest chances of success .It is another matters if U.S. wants to keep the inferno of the Middle East blazing. But if the intention is to make peace then exhortations of any sort should be for both the sides and outpourings of condemnation should not be exclusively heaped on one side only. Similarly, the flames of war in Iraq and Afghanistan need to be doused and withdrawal of American troops must be accomplished sooner than later.
America at present has serious balance of payment problems. The costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have brought American economy under unprecedented strain and burgeoning pressures. The Iraq war has not only eroded the concept of the invincibility of American military, but gave it an image of an unprovoked aggressor. The wars in Iraq and for that matter in Afghanistan did not have any moral or other legitimate justification as to prompt President Bush and his cabal of war mongers triggering these mindlessly and without exhausting diplomatic avenues.
The world looks at these wars as a manifestation of neo-colonialism which may contradict the American ideals of democracy freedom, equality, peace, respect for territorial integrity of other countries and the norm of equal status of all the members of the United Nations. If at all Iraq was involved in criminal activities such as making of biological or chemical weapons, then it should have been the combined headache of the entire world community and not that of US alone. Yet later that pretext also proved to be fallacious and forged.
The outgoing President G. W. Bush at the outset considered to be as one of the most popular Presidents, finished as the most derided, failed and reviled president of the United States. The history will pass a very harsh judgment on President Bush for his grave wrong doings, involving this magnificent country in futile wars, sullying its image and plunging it into the worst economic morass. But once the chickens come home, the United States has the potential and resilience to rebound once again as a formidable economic power, maintain its super power status and its hallmark as an enviable welfare society.
Barack Obama is neither rash nor temperamental or whimsical. He is a pacifist and believes the efficacy of parleys and dialogue even with the worst enemies of the United States. He looks sober which is just the opposite trait of G. W. Bush who was in the habit of talking tough and was cast in a mould of belligerent. At a critical and demoralizing juncture of American nation, president Barrack Obama is the one who seems to be the right choice because of his composure and professed sincerity and vivid action plans to restore America its prestige and economic strength.
During all these four heady years in office, he has been exposed to formidable and poignant challenges that were bequeathed to him from the former administration. Obama received a shipwrecked vessel to steer it to towards the safe shores. The overhauling of the massive damage to American soci-economic fabric and its body politic is a gigantic task that he is trying to address, to the best of ability. This president is conscious of the arduous path he is treading.
He has been cautious, cool, sagacious, discreet and absolutely focused on the vital undertaking of damage control and crisis management. With his team he is engaged in straightening the unwieldy state of affairs. But deep scars inflicted by an erstwhile rash and irresponsible administration would not be healed so soon.
The four years of Obama’s first term may not be enough to bridal the galloping drift that have deeply caved into the American society. He deserves and so does America need, that he should return to the presidency for another four years to bring to fruition his indispensible task of rebuilding America.

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