Waiting for change

Patrick Miner

As the first month of Obama’s presidency comes to a close, many of his supporters and detractors are assessing his first actions as head of state.
Perhaps the first two dents in Obama’s administration came with the scandals surrounding now Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner and Health and Human Services nominee Tom Daschle.
Geithner failed to pay tens of thousands of dollars in taxes to the IRS, an agency he now controls.
Jan. 26, the Senate confirmed Geithner by a vote of 60 to 34. His main task now is to appropriate $350 billion of last fall’s $700 billion Wall Street bailout. Hopefully he can manage these funds more honestly and accurately than the $30,000-plus he owed the IRS.
Despite Obama’s claim to keep lobbyists and special interests out of his administration, a large portion of his nominees and cabinet members were registered lobbyists within the last few years.
Daschle, a former lobbyist for the Atlanta law firm Alston & Bird, also shares some common ground with Geithner in that he too has “tweaked” his taxes. In January, he paid $140,167 in overdue taxes and fees, but further controversy over his use of a business partner’s limo along with questions about his character ultimately led him to withdraw his nomination status.
One of Obama’s first announcements was his intention to close Guantanamo Bay within a year. This timeframe is outrageous. As Vincent Warren from the Center for Constitutional Rights put it, “It only took days to put these men in Guantanamo; it shouldn’t take a year to get them out.”
Furthermore, it’s unclear what will become of the detainees upon their release. Many have been imprisoned for five or six years.
Obama has also continued the Bush administration policy of claiming protection of “state secrets” in order to hinder litigation on accusations of state torture and warrantless surveillance.
Under the Bush administration, air strikes on settlements in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border were commonplace. These attacks on alleged al-Qaeda targets inside Pakistan have killed at least two hundred people, including women and children. Jan. 23, U.S. Predator drones bombarded homes in the region. This act of aggression, the first military action approved by President Obama, killed over twenty people, including at least three children.
At a Feb. 9 press conference, President Obama explained that he doesn’t have a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan and in fact plans to double the number of U.S. troops there. Meanwhile, Vice President Biden predicts an increase in American casualties in Afghanistan: “I hate to say it, but yes, I think there will be. There will be an uptick.”
Back in July, Obama said, “My first day in office, I will bring the Joint Chiefs of Staff in, and I will give them a new mission. That is to end this war, responsibly, deliberately but decisively.”
Thus far he has had no such meeting and the White House is currently considering moving from his original 16-month withdrawal plan to a 23-month plan.
Of course, only “combat troops” will be removed in either case. Non-combat brigades will remain in Iraq for an uncertain time. As the weeks tick by while we wait for Obama to announce his withdrawal strategy, casualties in Iraq are only growing, as are the expectations of a tired people.