Illinois Senator, and presidential candidate, Barack Obama outlined his plan for Iraq today, as well as for a timetable for withdrawing the troops in an editorial for The New York Times. Obama says he is working on a "phased redeployment of combat troops," and removing all but a "residual force" by summer, 2010.
And, as we now know, President Kennedy also had a plan, an exit strategy that included the withdrawal of 1,000 advisors in December, 1963, and a complete withdrawal of ground forces in Vietnam by the end of 1965.
Kennedy not only had a plan, he had a vision. What is the difference between a plan and a vision? Those who have a plan see a fence and try to find a way to climb over it. Those with vision see over the fence to the other side.
There can be no question, from his State of the Union Address in January, 1963, that JFK had a vision: "Our commitment to national safety is not a commitment to expand our military establishment indefinitely. We do not dismiss disarmament as merely an idle dream. For we believe that, in the end, it is the only way to assure the security of all without impairing the interest of any. Nor do we mistake honorable negotiation for appeasement. While we shall never weary in the defense of freedom, neither shall we ever abandon the pursuit of peace."
Senator Obama now says his plan for ending the Iraq war is "essential" in order to accomplish "broader strategic goals" in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan. We gather from this that he doesn't plan to end the "war on terror," merely the war on Iraq. He would simply move the estimated 140,000 troops, over time, from the battlefield in Iraq to Afghanistan without ever addressing "the multiplication of awesome weapons beyond all rational need" about which JFK warned, or Kennedy's calls for "new checks on surprise or accidental attack, and, ultimately, general and complete disarmament."
Indeed, there are some who might say that JFK had a vision, and Barack Obama has a plan. There are some who call themselves progressives, and condemn the Illinois senator for his flexibility, and willingness to adjust his plans depending on conditions on the ground. But, what would they say were they to learn that President Kennedy, who also had a plan for phased withdrawal from Vietnam by the end of 1965, which was not publicized, was, like Obama's, subject to conditions on the ground.
An exit strategy in Vietnam was only one thing JFK envisoned. Weeks before he was assassinated, should he, and we, have had the good fortune to see his second term, Kennedy was laying the groundwork for an end to the Cold War--by approaching John K. Galbraith to serve as ambassador to Russia, and working toward ending the trade embargo on Cuba.
But, there are others who might think of themselves as visionaries, too, but who are militarists, and would have us believe that a strong defense is in the best interest of national security, those like President George W. Bush, and Sen. McCain, who have all but abandoned Kennedy's dream of "complete and total disarmament," and "pursuit of peace" in favor of a missile defense shield infrastructure in Europe. Yes, those who would agree with the Arizona senator, and former First Lady, Hillary Clinton, that Obama is "naive" for thinking he can dialogue with our adversaries rather than drive them into bomb shelters. But, beware of those who come to the table with only a fist and a dare.
Ostensibly, Sen. McCain isn't familiar with the findings of a scientific group, back in 2004, that multibillion dollar anti-ballistic military shields are "incapable of shooting down any incoming warheads," and are little more than placebos against perceived threats from Iran, and North Korea which could only provoke more hubris from commanders-in-chief who think they're impervious from harm.
Sen. McCain, and other interested parties, might wish to note that Barack Obama isn't only willing to talk--he's willing to talk to us, the people. What was the last op-ed piece you read by Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, or Dick Cheney? Do we want four more years of a glorified covert operation, or transparency --the kind of transparency that will figure out a way to resurrect the thousands, arguably millions, of conveniently disappeared White House e-mails that, when revealed, will doubtless incriminate those highest in command.
Without question, JFK would prefer Obama's plan to contain any threat from Tehran using diplomacy and tighter economic sanctions to a continuation of the Defense heavy foreign policy of the Bush years. After all, last week's signing of a pact that will use the Czech Republic as a construction site for part of a missile shield has only elicited the threat of military response from Russia, and if McCain prevails in his quest for the presidency, the Bush legacy may well be a return to the days of the Cold War.
Kennedy had vision---he wanted to be the first to land a man on the moon, live in a world in which global competition didn't lead to global danger and, more importantly, he wanted us to turn our energies "to the great unfinished tasks of our own people." But, over the past forty-five years, we've seen that being a visionary is not necessarily a good thing. There are nightmare visions, not just honorific ones.
We, as a nation, are still struggling to survive the dark vision of Richard Nixon whose efforts to sabotage our republic, and our elections, have been born again in the administration of George W. Bush, a presidency that puts immunity from prosecution for contractors, and service members, in Iraq on the table as a bargaining chip in negotiations for troop withdrawal, and one that has managed to get Congress to go along with giving retroactive immunity to telecommunication companies who broke privacy laws by warrantless surveillance of our phone calls and e-mails. We have seen unprecedented subrogation of the separation of powers.
And there have been other "visionaries," or glorified strategists, like Newt Gingrich whose "Contract for America" was a blueprint for the divisiveness, and economic inequities, we experience today, and still others like Oliver North, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and now John McCain, who think that they have a divine right to infest us with their neo-Conservative agenda, and who would lead us to the brink of nuclear disaster, all the while telling us it's a war against Islamo-fascism, when we know too well that theirs is a war on diversity and dissent. Save us from these so-called visionaries who use the American flag as a prophylactic, who operate in secrecy while working to divest us of our voice, and our future.
So, to have a senator who envisons a country that does not consist of red states and blue states, but one that is united, who strives to articulate a specific course after eight years of an orgy of abstractions, one who wants to form a coalition of those on opposite sides of an issue may not work for some designer progressives, but may, after all, work for the country.
And, to those who warn about a unitary executive, and abuse of power, consider that we are the ones who vest, and imbue, the president with supernatural powers, and then complain when the executive branch, like a runaway train, attempts to secede from government. We are the ones who can't get enough of Camelot, and celebrity presidencies, while stripping the vision like an abandoned Ford Explorer.
In the end, a president is only as effective, or powerful, as Congress and the Supreme Court allows him to be. If we have a White House on steroids, we have only ourselves to blame for failing to collaborate on governing.