Amid Summer Crises, Here’s What Obama Can Do

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Courtesy Business Insider and Reuters.

You must have had your head stuck in thick, cold sand to be unaware of the horrific tragedies dominating the headlines during the last couple of weeks. Ukrainian separatists suspected of downing a Malaysian jet with a Russian-made missile, killing all 298 aboard. Israel launching attacks in the Gaza Strip to defend itself from Hamas rocket attacks. Thousands of children crossing the southern U.S. border, often alone and defenseless, hoping for refugee status. Our government has reeled, as have we personally, from the shock and horror of these events. I wonder if out of this chaos our leaders have an opportunity to re-examine our nation’s policies.

The Catholic writer, poet and social activist Thomas Merton wrote:

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The one truth that would help us begin to solve our ethical and political problems is that we are all more or less at fault, all limited and obstructed by our mixed motives, our self-deception, our greed, our self-righteousness and our tendency to aggression and hypocrisy.

President Obama has correctly called for an independent investigation of the downing of the aircraft. But anyone who believes the investigation will be independent and unbiased probably believes the Warren Commission eliminated any doubts about who was responsible for the assassination of JFK.

Courtesy Business Insider and Reuters.
Courtesy Business Insider and Reuters.

But what if Obama and other thoughtful leaders used this senseless tragedy to examine America’s own role in arming rebels in countries where they later turn them on civilians, or on American soldiers — places like Afghanistan and Iraq? This time, Russia and Vladimir Putin must shoulder the blame. Next time it could fall squarely on us.

Obama could say that he can’t change the past. He could say that the U.S. will no longer supply weapons or ammunition to any insurgent group, or country, that gives or sells what we sell them to rebels, insurgents, or whatever you want to call them. He could call on our allies to do the same. Obama could prohibit American companies from selling arms or ammunition to anyone other than our military. That’s the type of leadership we expected of him when we elected him, and it would go a long way toward reducing escalating conflicts all over the world.

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Have I gone too far with this suggestion, perhaps? That it’s unrealistic to think the military-industrial complex would ever allow such restrictions? You’re probably right. But maybe, just maybe, we can start from there. Maybe we can work back to a position that doesn’t compromise the nation’s security. Maybe we can work back to restricting arms sales, rather than selling rocket launchers to every rebel with or without a cause.

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Look at those children crossing our borders. Merton is right: we are all more or less at fault. We have been so focused on our thirst for cheap gas that we have allowed all of our attention to be directed towards the Middle East, Afghanistan and Eastern Europe, neglecting our neighbors to the south.

Courtesy Jude Joffe-Block, Frontierasdesk.org
Courtesy Jude Joffe-Block, via Fronteras

The children of Central America didn’t create the economic crisis and political instability in their countries. They are not to blame for the conditions that caused their parents to risk their children’s lives on a journey to America, knowing they may never see them again. We have adopted trade policies with the countries to our south that favor big business at the expense of cheap labor. We have failed to anticipate the influx of people who can’t make a decent living in their own countries and are terrified of all-powerful gangs and criminals.

More than 10 million individuals live undocumented in the U.S., afraid they’ll be booted out any day. Defenseless children are pouring over our borders. These people aren’t criminals. We have a real crisis, and we need thoughtful, intelligent leaders, not Rick Perry.

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And the crisis at our borders will only get worse — the perpetual excuse that we have to wait until the next election cycle is over no longer washes. Our leadership must focus their attention now to what is happening in the Americas for a change. Recognize we are at least partially to blame for what is happening, and begin  to address each and every aspect of a solution, whether it is tighter borders, economic aid to our neighbors, modification of our trade laws or amnesty or a citizenship pathway for those who are here. Those who offer simple solutions, such as building higher walls, insult the national intelligence.

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Opportunity can come from tragedy, but only if we, and our leaders, develop the will to make it so.

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