Representatives from student groups met for a casual forum to discuss Barack Obama’s administration’s next moves. A little over a dozen students filed in to Humanities Hall 252 last Thursday to observe the spokespeople respond to prepared questions about the economy, ending the Iraq war and America’s future under Obama’s watch.
Andrea De La Riva, a fifth-year sociology major and member of the Worker-Student Alliance (WSA) at UC Irvine, moderated the event, asking each of the four panelists questions before opening the discussion to audience members.
Responding to De La Riva’s first question about when the Iraq War will end, Edwin Ohanian, President of the College Republicans, noted the similarity of Obama’s stance with Senator John McCain’s position.
“Obama in the first place said he wanted to remove troops immediately, and then as he ran for president it changed to 12 months, and now that he’s President-elect he’s changed [the timetable] to 16 months. So really, nothing much is going to change. They’re wrapping up in Iraq and [closing marine bases],” Ohanian said.
Fernando Chirino, a third-year sociology Ph. D. candidate and panel representative of WSA had similar concerns.
“There’s no reason to assume that the United States is going to get out of Iraq and Obama is going to be the one to get us out. It reminds me of Nixon who said, ‘I have a secret plan to take care of Vietnam,'” said Chirino, referring to Nixon’s plan to expand the Vietnam War into neighboring Southeast Asian countries.
Chirino went on to emphasize Obama’s statements to expand the war, saying that “[Obama is] literally saying he wants to expand the war. It’s imperialism. He’s only saying out loud what Nixon didn’t say about Cambodia and Laos.”
Ilgiz Khisamov, a fourth-year English major and panel representative for the Muslim Student Union, agreed with Chirino’s suggestions of expansionist motives behind the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The only reason the war is in Afghanistan is because it’s a central region in the crossroads between China, India, Pakistan and Iran and right smack in the middle of one of the richest oil regions in the world,” Khisamov said. “[Americans] will be able to expand their influence on all sides.”
When asked if Obama’s election will positively influence the economy, Hui-Ling Malone, a second-year international studies major and chair of the Afrikan Student Union said, “I’m guessing that it’s going to go down before it goes up.”
The other representatives criticized Obama’s promise to bail out the large corporations and banks suffering under the economic crisis.
“What stresses most of us is that the economic stimulus package did not bail out the people that were becoming bankrupt and losing their homes,” Khisamov said. “I don’t think he’ll have much to do with the economy.”
Ohainan predicted that Obama’s presidency, which was heavily sponsored by Wall Street will widen the gap between the rich and poor due to little immigration reform, which will preserve the illegal immigrant working class that will create competition with blacks and other minorities.
Khisamov countered that argument by stating that to allow more illegal immigrants to become citizens would permit them to demand better wages and working rights, improving conditions for all workers.
Further questions detailed Obama’s possible cabinet picks and his push for universal health care.
Malone spoke in favor of universal health care, citing the large amounts of government funds infused into war efforts that could be put to better use in the public interest, while others cited the financial crisis as a major obstacle.
“I don’t think it’s possible. In less than a week, congress spent $700 billion on bailouts for companies that did very bad things, who shouldn’t have been bailed out,” Ohainan said. “It’s very unfeasible to have a national health care plan.”
The representatives also discussed the possible solutions to the economic crisis.
“The way to get out of this depression is through a massive war. Historically, that’s what we’ve seen. Whenever a world cap is exposed to crisis, then a major war development happens. It has to happen. That’s going to be the way out of it. If you have to invest, invest in [General Motors] or anyone that’s going to make tanks or bombs,” Chirino said.
De La Riva and other members of WSA began organizing the event on Monday, hastily assembling representatives of student organizations and promoting the event.
“We had a big turnout,” De La Riva said. “There was a nice dialog between the groups. We would definitely do it again.”
“It went well. This kind of dialog in a democratic society is a positive thing,” said Dennis Lopez, a graduate student in English. “I would’ve liked more audience interaction. It would’ve been better to ask questions [during the panel] instead of waiting until the end.”