Open Letter to President Obama

27 02 2009

Dear Mr. President Barack Hussein Obama,

Congratulations on your recent inauguration and making history by becoming the first African American President of the United States of America. You have brought hope to our nation and the world in a way many have never seen before. The previous administration led by George W. Bush has been blamed for much of the trouble we are now in. For example, our relations with many other countries have deteriorated, particularly in the Muslim world, due to our foreign policy. However, even though you do not share the religious beliefs of a Muslim, you are in a unique situation to mend relations because you came from a Muslim family and lived for some time in the country with the largest Muslim population in the world. More importantly, you present a new paradigm in which you are willing to listen as opposed to dictate and start “a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect” as stated in your inauguration. It will not be easy to repair the damage but as we start this new era of diplomacy, I would like to suggest a project plan towards redressing our wrongs and establishing a new partnership with the Muslim world.

Since March 2003, we have been fighting, what many Americans as well as people for around the world believe, in an unjust war with Iraq. We invaded most based on the premise that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) of which none were ever found. In the process, thousands of innocent lives were taken and we also suffered significant casualties on our side. In Iraq, the U.S. has become bogged down in an occupation that is not accomplishing its goals, not improving American security and not contributing to a stable Middle East. While the end of Saddam Hussein’s regime is not mourned, neither coalition forces nor the new Iraqi government have been able to provide Iraqis with an environment conducive to securing the basic rights of safety and liberty. The first plan of action is to develop an exit strategy and bring our troops home and transition Iraq’s control back to Iraqi forces. I would rely on data from top American commanders to access the ground situation and slowly withdraw troops per a timetable. This involves deploying units in areas which are relatively secure as well as areas in which there is confidence in well-trained Iraqi troops. The forecast based on a trend would release most of the troops by June 2010. There will still be critical units which will remain for training purposes that would be rotated based on yearly contracts. With more peace and democracy in Iraq, Afghanistan has become the deadliest place for US soldiers as well as the greatest military challenge for the US. Withdrawing resources from Iraq will allow us to focus more on Afghanistan and weaken the powerful Al-Qaeda organization which is said to have recruited more members due to families destroyed by our military campaigns.

In Iraq, our image was tarnished due to several unfortunate events such as accounts of abuse, torture, sodomy and homicide of prisoners held in the Abu Ghraib prison came to public attention in 2004. In addition, we are widely criticized for the detention camp in Guantanamo Bay which violates international law under the Geneva Convention. There are many cases like that of Murat Kurnaz who became a detainee in 2001. In 60 Minutes, he described how he was held underwater, shocked and suspended from the ceiling. Finally, in August 2006, he was released with acknowledgment of his innocence. We need to condemn torture and those responsible and explain it is not consistent with American values. We need to close down Guantanamo within a year. On a case by case basis, using a forward pass approach, each detainee’s record will be reviewed and dealt with accordingly. Those against we have no evidence of any wrong doing shall be released immediately. Although we can never give back what was taken from them, we should compensate them proportional to the time that they spent as a detainee. We may also establish a program that will aid in integrating them into American society.

Yet another pain point for people around the world including Muslims is the Israel-Palestine conflict. The current situation in Gaza due to the Israel onslaught has resulted in civilian casualties reaching in the hundreds. Bombing of or around U.N. headquarters, schools, hospitals, residences, and media outlets show that innocent civilian lives are being lost and humanitarian aid is not being reached where it is needed most. The activities in Gaza show crisis and breaching of international laws by the Israeli Defense Force. America cannot be quiet when hundreds of innocent civilian lives are being lost and international war crimes are being committed. On Sunday, January 25, CBS 60 Minutes aired an amazing segment exposing Israel’s apartheid against Palestinians. The piece is by Senior CBS Foreign Correspondent Bob Simon, who is Jewish living outside Tel-Aviv and produced by Robert G, Anderson. We can’t ignore the humanitarian crisis occurring in Gaza and the first step is to condemn the attacks on innocent civilians in Gaza, just as we would do for innocent lives in America and elsewhere in the world. Second, we need to stop giving weapons, for free or for profit, to Israel to use for genocide. Last year we gave 2.4 billion dollars to Israel, more than any other country in the world, for weapons that were mostly made in the USA. We cannot have this blood on our hands. Forecasting the future, we should veto any bill that extends more tax dollars towards this cause. As you have stated, we should send a qualified official to negotiate and broker a peace agreement by listening to both sides and with justice.

Unfortunately, due to several reasons I have already discussed, we have an uphill battle to change the tarnished image of the United States as a just world leader. On February 15, 2003, millions of people in approximately 800 cities around the world protested in unison against the U.S invasion of Iraq. This event was listed by the 2004 Guinness Book of Records as the largest protest in human history. In January of 2009, the top CIA Station Chief in Algeria was accused of raping at least two Muslim women. News like this is not widely published in American media however the rest of the world is well aware such incidents and do not forget them easily. What is required now is a massive public relations campaign headed by our Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to condemn incidents like this and speak out against injustice. We should distribute foreign aid in the form of rebuilding infrastructure and not in the form of weapons. The agenda should include visiting with officials from Muslim countries around the world on a regular basis. Secondly, we need to hold all of our officials accountable for their actions and deliver swift consequences for breaking the law. Finally, transparency in government needs to be implemented to ensure ethical decisions are being made. Towards this end, there should be ample press conferences and information available on the official white house website. Too often the media promotes propaganda and efforts should be made to make sure it promotes truthful and unbiased new to the general public.

In conclusion, in order to improve our foreign relations we need to create foreign policy that is fair and level. Just as terrorist groups like Hamas and Al-Qaida have hijacked the religion of Islam and have perverted interpretations of scripture to justify the killing of innocent human life; other groups have also wrongly justified the killing of innocent life in the name of preemption or self-defense. I believe America can help attain peace and security by being even in our judgments and decisions towards policy specifically in the Middle East. I want safety and security for our nation as well as for the rest of the world. I do not feel that we will be secure or that we will be able to attain lasting peace without fairness and justice. America is clearly the leader of the world. It has achieved that status by strong fundamental foundations of honesty, integrity, loyalty and hard work; qualities that we need to sustain generation after generation. As the leader of the free world, we have influence over our friends and enemies. Please make sure that influence is done in a fair and just manner.

Respectfully,

Fahim Bhatty

References:

1. CBS 60 Minutes for Exposing Israeli Apartheid

2. Who Gets U.S. Foreign Aid

3. Exclusive: CIA Station Chief in Algeria Accused of Rapes

4. President Barack Obama’s inaugural address

5. Five Years of My Life: An Innocent Man in Guantanamo

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