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Obama foreign policy adviser's roundtable

Last Thursday I was invited to attend this roundtable at Arcadia University in Glenside, PA. Senator Obama's campaign was represented by four of his foreign policy advisers, impressive people all: Denis McDonough, Susan Rice, Paul Bucha and Richard Danzig. It re-inspired my strong desire to see Senator Obama become next President of the United States.

There was a limited opportunity for the audience to participate. I had several things I wanted to say and had my hand up to get the microphone the whole time, but never got it. So I'm posting my thoughts here. My ideas are certainly not original or new. Mr Bucha came close to making the first of these points himself on Thursday. The second—perhaps others as well—reflects a position that Senator Obama has already taken. And the third was briefly alluded to in another question asked that day.

(1) War on Terror: I believe one of the biggest mistakes President Bush made after 9/11 was to declare this a "War". For one thing it raises the status of the vile people who committed this heinous act far beyond what they deserve. Al Qaeda is obviously not a nation against whom we can make war. We should be treating them as nothing more than the uncommon criminals that they are.

More importantly, there is no way to define how we will know when this "war" has concluded. If there was thing I thought we had learned from Vietnam, it was that we must have clear and measurable objectives before we go to war. Apparently not.

Mr Bucha made a similar comment about the Iraq War and added that U.S. citizens have not been called upon to make any sacrifices for that war. I disagree. The one thing we have been asked to sacrifice and, unfortunately, seem all too willing to give up, is our civil liberties. Invoking the War on Terror helps make this possible. We'd be far less willing to give up these liberties in the name of catching criminals hidden away in the remote mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

(As a side note, this is the big problem with things like a War on Drugs as far as I'm concerned: they can't be won -- and for that matter we can't even lose and know that we're done with them.)

(2) Nuclear Weapons: It's been almost two decades since the Cold War ended. The U.S. still maintains a stockpile of almost 10,000 nuclear weapons. While this is about half what we had at the end of the Cold War, it's still a huge number. In the same period of time, the Russian stockpile has been cut by more than 90%, from well over 30,000 to a little over 3,000. I'm sure this is a very complicated topic and that an analysis such as mine is overly simplistic.

I also know that Senator Obama would pursue nuclear arms reductions. Nevertheless I would like to hear this receive much more emphasis.

(3) Military Draft: I vividly recall watching on TV as lottery numbers being drawn for the first time while I was attending Occidental College (where my education enabled me to obtain a student deferment). My birthday drew #197, and when I learned from my local draft board that they were only going up to a number slightly lower, I dropped my student deferment at home on Christmas break, becoming 1-A for a few days. A few days later, on January 1st, I was reclassified 1-H—not currently subject to processing for induction—and thus avoided any military service in the Vietnam Era.

One questioner at the roundtable on Thursday alluded to the role the draft played in bringing about the end of the Vietnam War. For decades after Vietnam I opposed any kind of military draft. But during the Bush years I have completely reversed my position. I now believe that a necessary pre-condition for this nation ever going to war should be the institution of a widespread draft with minimal possibilities for obtaining deferments. Doing so would ensure that we, the people, support any such war. And if things get out of hand, as they have in Iraq, an on-going draft would help bring about the kind of pressure to end the war that we saw in the late 60s and early 70s.

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