Note, for those who don't know, my translation of Uthis Haememool's Lap Lae, Kaeng Khoi, now titled The Brotherhood of Kaeng Khoi, is out and available in Asia Books and on their website.
The reason I'm writing right now is that an old friend asked me for a quick opine on the final US presidential debate of this campaign, which ended a few hours ago. I wrote a very quick take, and figured, well, why not share it with ya all, as well. Maybe it will stir up some more thought. I've already sent in my absentee ballot, and of course it was for Obama. The thoughts I pecked out for my friend in a very few minutes explain a little of this. Here they are (note that he had asked about US policy on Cuba, and suggested a foreign policy debate run by foreigners, as well):
The foreign debate was predictably on safe ground, as both candidates knew these matters were not first on the minds of the electorate. That’s why both of them kept steering the topic back to the economy. I think Obama made the most of his position as president, showing he could see the "b" in "subtleties" of foreign diplomacy, and was stronger on the topic generally. Romney, though he has throughout the campaign taken the stance of a bullying foreign policy, painted himself as a moderate this time, and kept agreeing with the president. I don’t think he got many points for that, as 1) his base won’t like it, and 2) it gave Obama plenty of opportunities to point out his inconsistencies with his own statements as recently as last week. Maybe some people were fooled, because Romney can indeed put on the face of a reasonable man, one of his many masks. But I thought it was clear the President was stronger and much more confident on this turf.
However, as I said, they didn’t get very deep into things.
The reason the US is so unreasonable about Cuba, and about many other things, is because the electorate is so uninformed and emotional about world affairs. Politicians of both parties have beaten the war drums so long, and pandered to belligerent constituencies for so long, that the pattern is nearly impossible to break. A break will come sometime, though. I never thought I’d see the Berlin Wall fall in my lifetime, either, but it sure happened, and it all happened very quickly, too. I never thought I’d be able to travel to China, but in 1983 I worked on a cruise ship that sailed there. They welcomed us with flowers.
Politicians – and at least in the last few decades it’s been clearly more on the Republican side – often beat the war drums not because it’s the best way to solve international problems, but because whipping up people’s emotions creates enthusiastic constituencies for their election. This has always gone on. Every country. Mitt Romney wanted to do more of it tonight, but Obama left him very little wiggle room. I think the drones, and the attacks against whistleblowers everywhere, and the support for the so-called “Patriot Act,” are policies he supports for pretty obviously political reasons. Without them he would be very vulnerable to the attacks of the warmongers. I don’t support those policies in the least, but I do understand the reasons for them. Politics is a dirty business. I think it can be made cleaner, but the introduction of unlimited money from secret donors, many of whom are not even based in the U.S., has made it much dirtier.
No matter who wins, the country will need serious course correction from the course steered. But I think if the Republicans win, esp. if they have both executive and legislative branches in their control – which would clearly also soon extend to the judicial branch – we are in for frightening times indeed.
I like your idea of having foreigners – carefully chosen for their intelligence and knowledge – ask questions in a debate is a good one. But I think it would get shot down in a minute as un-American, whatever the hell that is. “Un-American,” what a stupid concept.