Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Bracing Against A Tipping Point

Of course these are just theoretical propositions, but what happens when:

1) Energy prices jump 10%, 15% or 20% or higher in the span of one month due to a hurricane,

2) Consumers begin to feel a pinch from marked inflation and non-existent wage growth,

3) Feeling this tightening, the housing market suffers a contraction in its fevered pace and with it, a solid source of economic "growth" closes,

4) Throughout all of these phases, a war in Iraq continues without an end in sight on borrowed money.

It may be that the hurricane that has completely devastated the Gulf Coast states won't have as great an impact on energy prices that it currently has, but there is definitely a hint of how much damage the category 5 storm had on the refineries on and off shore in the area. The production and the distribution of gasoline from this area will directly affect the cost of gas as far north as Virginia, and this swath of the United States holds many, many businesses that will be forced to pass along these greater expenses to every consumer.

If such a dramatic spike occurs, consumers may be prompted to save (or in America - spend just a bit less) some money due to the costs of energy hitting the pocketbook. Let us presume that the average price for a gallon of 87 octane gas hits $3.60. A 15 gallon fill costs $54. That will get any consumer's attention, especially if that trip to the pump occurs twice or more a week.

Destabilize consumer confidence, and maybe that purchase of a home for $700,000 can wait a bit longer. Or maybe the idea of inflationary pressures on the economy will cause the same result. Either way, the very idea of Americans not spending money that they don't have might scare those who wish to retire comfortably to K Street after two or three election cycles.

And what of the war? Are there signs that the U.S. and Iraq are turning the corner? Well, no not really. The U. S. Ambassador Khalilzad suggests that the Iraqi Constitution "has not yet been, or the edits have not been, presented yet." It seems that the occupier still has some clout even if the drafting of a supposedly sovereign nation's primary document was completed the week prior. And of course, the 965 (and quite possibly counting) dead on the bridge leading to the Kadhimiya mosque will probably burn in many Iraqi minds that security and control are not part of the language whether it is imposed by American forces or nascent Iraqi ones.

Things are just not changing. Quite possibly, things will get a whole lot worse.

Friday, August 26, 2005

What Would You Do?

What would you, the reader, do to form a better government?

If you had to create a democracy that applied equally to any number of ethnic, regional, or social constituents, what would it look like?

It is easy to point out the deficiencies of one form of government over another. One might suggest polity, democracy, theocracy, or maybe even an aristocracy or oligarchy.

Would a mix of all of these be the best? Why not the selection of one over all others?

Would any prescription based on any percentage ever apply conditionally to any and all people across this earth?

Apparently, this question and the resultant answers are very difficult [sub] issues.

So which form of government to suggest?

First and foremost, does the country wish to participate in democratically elected government? If not, then the following questions need not be answered.

Secondly, a goverment of and by the population at large should not be conceived under duress. It is always better that the populace of the country in question not decide its fate based on future repercussions.

If political views will not break down through a duality of political viewpoints, then possibly a proportional representation of political concerns will work out best.

If disparate groups are involved in negotiating the essential framework for the basis of government, then a simple majority consensus must be abandoned; two-thirds majority should be employed with definitive steps taken for the minority to uphold its viewpoint.

Where cultural or religious concerns are involved, should the government inculcate those attitudes and belief systems into the stucture of the law? If so, why? If not, why not?

Will the governmental order ordain whose rights supercede the rights of others? Will one geographic region have control over another? Will one ethnic group hold court favor at the expense of the next?

Will women and men have an equal voice and equal standing before the law of the land?

And finally, will cultural differences between the state and the rest of the world have sway over the final edition of said Constitution?

What would you hope for if you were the current Administration and your forces were occupying a foreign land? Would that sway your vision of democracy?

Iraqi Constitution as taken from the Guardian Unlimited:

Chapter One

Article One

The Republic of Iraq is an independent state.

Article Two

The political system is republican, parliamentary, democratic and federal.

1. Islam is a main source for legislation.

- a. No law may contradict Islamic standards.

- b. No law may contradict democratic standards.

- c. No law may contradict the essential rights and freedoms mentioned in this constitution.

2. This constitution guarantees the Islamic identity of the Iraqi people and guarantees all religious rights; all persons are free within their ideology and the practice of their ideological practices.

3. Iraq is part of the Islamic world, and the Arabs are part of the Arab nation.


a. Arabic and Kurdish are the two official languages, and Iraqis have the right to teach their sons their mother language like the Turkomen and Assyrian in the government educational institutes.

b. The language used orally in official institutions such as the Parliament and the Cabinet as well as official conventions should be one of the two languages.

c. Recognizing the official documents with the two languages.

d. Opening the schools with two languages.

Article Three

Federal institutions in Kurdistan should use the two languages.

Article Four

The Turkomen and Assyrian languages are the official languages in the Turkomen and Assyrian areas, and each territory or province has the right to use its own official language if residents have approved in a general referendum vote.

Article Five

Power is transferred peacefully through democratic ways.

Article Seven

1. Any organization that follow a racist, terrorist, extremist, sectarian-cleaning ideology or circulates or justifies such beliefs is banned, especially Saddam's Baath Party in Iraq and its symbols under any name. And this should not be part of the political pluralism in Iraq.

2. The government is committed to fighting terrorism in all its forms, and works to protect Iraqi soil from being a center or passage for terrorist activities.


Article 35

- a. Human freedom and dignity are guaranteed.

- b. No person can be detained or interrogated without a judicial order.

- c. All kinds of physical and psychological torture and inhumane treatment are prohibited, and any confession is considered void if it was taken by force, threats and torture. The person who was harmed has the right to ask for compensation for the financial and moral damage he/she suffered.

Article 36

The State guarantees:

1. Freedom of expression by all means.

2. Freedom of the press, printing, advertising and publishing.

Article 37

Freedom to establish political groups and organizations.

Article 39

Iraqis are free to abide in their personal lives according to their religion, sects, beliefs or choice. This should be organized by law.


Article 66

A presidential candidate should:

1. Be Iraqi by birth and the offspring of two Iraqi parents.

2. Be no less than 40 years old.

3. Have a good reputation and political experience, and be known as honest and faithful to the nation.

Article 75

The prime minister should have all the qualifications as the presidential candidate and should have a university degree or its equivalent and should not be less than 35 years old.

Article 104

A general commission should be set up to observe and specify the central (government) revenues, and the commission should be made up of experts from the central government, regions, provinces and representatives.


Article 107

Federal authorities should preserve Iraq's unity, security, independence and sovereignty and its democratic federal system.

Article 109

Oil and gas are the property of all the Iraqi people in regions and provinces.

Article 110

The central government administers oil and gas extracted from current wells, along with governments of the producing regions and provinces, on the condition that revenues are distributed in a way that suits population distribution around the country.


Article 114

1. A region consists of one or more provinces, and two or more regions have the right to create a single region.

2. A province or more has the right to set a region according to a referendum called for in one of two ways:

- a. A demand by one-third of all members of each of the provincial councils that aims to set up a region.

- b. A demand by one-tenth of voters of the provinces that aim to set up a region.

Article 117

A region's legislative authority is made up of one council, named the National Assembly of the region.

Article 118

The National Council of the region drafts the region's constitution and issues laws, which must not contradict this constitution and Iraq's central laws.

Article 120

The executive authority of the region is made up of the president of the region and the region's government.

Article 128

The region's revenues are made up from the specified allotment from the national budget and from the local revenues of the region.

Article 129

The regional government does what is needed to administer the region, especially setting up internal security forces, such as police, security and region guards.

Article 135

This constitution guarantees the administrative, political, cultural and educational rights of different ethnic groups such as Turkomen, Chaldean, Assyrians and other groups.


Article 144

The Iraq Supreme Criminal Court continues its work as a legislative, independent commission to look into the crimes of the former dictatorial regime and its symbols, and the Council of Deputies has the right to annul it after it ends its duties.

Article 145

a. The Supreme National Commission for de-Baathification continues its work as an independent commission, in coordination with the judicial authority and executive institutions and according to laws that organize its work.

b. Parliament has the right to dissolve this commission after it ends its work, with a two-thirds majority.

Article 151

No less than 25 percent of Council of Deputies seats go to women.

Article 153

This law is considered in force after people vote on it in a general referendum and when it is published in the official Gazette and the Council of Deputies is elected according to it.

With statements in a constitution such as the Prime Minister should have, "all the qualifications as the presidential candidate and should have a university degree or its equivalent," maybe Westerners should not have involved themselves at all in the affairs of a foriegn nation, much like President Washington told us not to do.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Country Dissolving via Constitution-Making

An interesting point brought up through David Corn's web log in relation to how the Iraqi draft constitution might work out in terms of Sunni acceptance. In an excerpted interview with Ghassan Atiyyah at NPR, his opinions of what might happen are surprising.

If the Constitution were to be voted down, then everything goes back to square one: parliament is dissolved, another coutry-wide vote is taken to establish a new government and another consitution is drafted. That is a working scenario currently being bandied about, and it is based on the assumption that Sunni Iraqis vote against the constituion in great enough numbers (a 2/3's 'no' vote tally in three separate provinces). It has been thought that fearful Sunnis will get out and register in high enough proportions to cause this to happen.

Enter Atiyyah's nightmarish scenario.

ATIYYAH: [The Sunnis] are faced with a constitution on the basis, 'Take it or leave it.' It's very difficult for them to accept that because there are so many items in it which are very difficult for them to stomach, and they will lose credibility even among the moderate Sunnis. So they have the option now to vote against it in a referendum. Could the Arab Sunni muster two-thirds majority in three provinces, the Sunni provinces, veto the constitution and dissolve the parliament and bring a new election? I doubt that. Most of the Sunni boycotted the election. They didn't just throw their names in the electoral list. So it is for them only one week left to register their names. Then you have to mobilize them and to get them to the polling boxes. At the time when al-Zarqawi and the extremists and the jihadists threatened them by killing them if they go to the vote or the referendum, and so they will find themselves between the fire and the blue sea, and this will play into the hands of the extremists.[emphasis added]

So, there may well be not enough time to turn out enough Sunni voters to register and vote against a Constitution that is seen as directly foiling Sunni ambitions and leanings. If this is the case (a big if of course), then all of the items within the constitution which this populace does not like become the law of the land, and this can only lead to more destabilizing effects within the country.

The United States pushed this process onto the interim goverment, coerced them to come to a final draft on the deadline (August 15th), and now offers the take-it or leave-it position where it will be quite plausible that Sunnis have no option to 'leave it'.

There is almost no end to short-sightedness when it comes to the Administration's handling of the entire war and reconstruction effort. It would almost appear to be a primer for future governments on what not to do when it comes to foreign policy initiatives.

From the article above published by the Christian Science Monitor, the last two paragraphs might give us more insight on what it is that Sunnis are looking for:

Most average Sunnis say all they want from a leader is equal treatment and, when pressed, many say former prime minister Iyad Allawi - a secular Shiite but a former member of the Baath party - is the politician closest to their views.

"We don't look for a leader to be a Sunni to lead us. We want someone like Iyad Allawi. Their ethnicity is not important. [We want someone] who fulfills the dreams of Iraqis, it doesn't matter who he is. Someone to take care of security and electricity," says Yasser Kaha Ibrahim, a Sunni administrative worker.

Maybe the Iraqi Constitution won't deliver every Iraqi's want, but it certainly could cause the entire cauldron to boil over in one fell swoop.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


This is a short entry into a subject which derserves a book-sized exposition, but this week Iraqi leaders are striving to settle their differences in order to present the assembly a final version of what would become an Iraqi Constitution.

Two quick points: the first an unattributed quote from an American official, and the second point is about handling the tough issues.

Point One. This quote caught my attention:
"U.S. officials, pressing for a deal in time for an October referendum, hope a constitution will undermine the revolt among the Sunni Arab minority..."

This mind set that the Sunni population and those tied directly to the insurgent attacks will be hushed by democracy and consitutional government has never proven correct. It is disconcerting that this fallacy continues, that democratizing a people will stop discontent somehow. The wish for this to become a reality is almost wholly derived from the Administration's political hope that Iraq will be what it says it is - a successful foreign policy initiative.

Point Two.

Kicking the wasp-infested-can down the road. Later in the article linked above, this thought emerges:

"'We don't mind the Kurdish region but with the same borders as before the war in 2003. We want to fix everything now, but they don't want to define it, so maybe they can expand in the future. Then there will be a war,' he [Saleh al-Mutlak, a leading Arab nationalist] said.

Kurds can cite the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL), agreed last year, which says the issue of Kirkuk, a disputed city which they want to be included in their region eventually, should be left until later."

When considering a constitution, it should not be viewed as a document that legislates small or local issues or makes permanent solutions to temporary problems. In this case however, Kirkuk may very well be central to the way Iraq is run. The area has great oil reserves, it is made up of Kurds, Arabs, and Turks, and has the potential to light the country on fire with political and civil discontent if handled improperly.

It has the same ignition value that slavery had for the United States. The main idea of autonomy for regions or groups of people and the authority that a central government possesses are being wrangled over. With this in mind, the best that the current Administration in the U.S. can hope for is that everyone loses out equally with the final document complete since one group taking a disproportionate "win" out of the constitution-making process will be viewed with a jealous eye by the "losers".

To that end, this compromise may ensure more violence and hatred among the several groups than relieve it.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Prisoners Of No War In Particular

After listening to an interview of Sabin Willett on the Al Franken Show today, it becomes readily apparent that secrecy and this administration is a terrible mix. Especially if you are an innocent caught up in a terrorist dragnet in Pakistan.

Two detainees in Guantanamo are presently in limbo while a judge reviews his options on where to send them. The Uighur (pronounced WEE' - gar) detainees are Abu Bakker Qassim and A'del Abdu Al-Hakim and their lawyer is the aforementioned Sabin Willett. These two muslim men left China (not known to be particularly open to the muslim faith) around the time of the September terrorist attacks in the U.S. and were apprehended by Pakistan police thereafter. At the time, the United States had a bounty on terrorist suspects of $5,000 a head which was apparently paid for these two detainees. Originally placed in Afghanistan at an American Air Force base, they were then transported to Guantanamo for further interrogation.

After some difficulty finding a translator, interrogators eventually came to the conclusion that these men had no connection to September 11th, the Taliban, or Al Qaida. Upon learning of their plight from a Judge Advocate General in the Army, Willett took on the case for the two men and visited them in Guantanamo. From the article on linked above:

"When he first visited his clients last month, Willett learned that the military had ruled the men weren't combatants. He told the judge that the Bush administration never informed him and had implied in court papers that the detainees were ordinary enemy combatants."

From the radio interview, Willett added that upon finding out they the military had ruled them non-combatants he also learned that such a disclosure was secret. He is their lawyer, his clients are innocent, and he cannot tell anyone. An interesting sense of justice from administration and Pentagon officials. Eventually their innocence was declassified, and Willett has pursued their release at the very least from the military base while the government tries to locate a country that will take them.

These men deserve restitution for being obtained and held in the manner that they were, as well as an immediate release from Guantanamo as an act of good faith by the U.S. government. Their case represent the worst fears of civil liberty champions of the past three years: allowing the government to detain, interrogate, and punish people in secret with no recourse available to the individual.

Additionally, Sabin Willett made a point of saying that JAG lawyers were quite unhappy with the process as it stands now. I can't imagine anyone trained in law would ever be comfortable with military tribunals, secret evidence, and a government allowed to label anyone an enemy combatant.

Why does an open democratic republic condone such practices?

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

On Really Keeping Secrets

If the brush fire over Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove is wearing you down, then there is always the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the two ex-lobbyists who are now indicted.

This case appears to be just as complex as the Rove/Libby/Fleischer(?) leak case. I had heard that there is a slight twist to the leak of classified information that Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman passed on, that a key piece of intelligence was planted in their hands to find out if they would leak said information to intelligence sources in Israel. Federal agents wired Larry Franklin and then fed him information to dish to Rosen and Weissman. From an article which no longer appears on, titled 'Justice Dept. to indict two AIPAC staffers under U.S. Espionage Act' by Nathan Guttman:

"But suspicions against Rosen and Weissman focus on a meeting a year later, on July 12, 2004. Franklin was cooperating by then with the FBI, which had threatened him with an indictment after tracking his earlier meetings with the AIPAC men, discovering the alleged hand-over of secret information. He agreed to take part in a sting operation in which he would give the two information and the investigators would then follow them."

In essence, the information slipped to Rosen and Weissman was that the Iranian government was going to target or capture Israeli civilians who were supposedly working within Kurdistan inside Iraq at the time. What they were supposed to do was nothing. What they did was warn people inside the Israeli embassy in the United States of this information. Hence, blowing the secret information.

It reminds me of the case of Hermant Lakhani who was advanced aggressively as a Homeland Security success story in targeting terrorism. While Lakhani was touted as an arms dealer looking to score, others felt it was more the work of entrapment by U.S. and Russian agents on an unsuspecting middle-man in waiting. Can that really be qualified as a success?

Secret information is critical in making connections for those who are administering complex situations whether they be counter-terrorism operations or international relations. Legally speaking, Rosen and Weissman as well as Larry Franklin will face severe scrutiny for passing on top secret information in such a cavalier way. Yet it is a bit chilling to hear that the government succeeds in some of these cases by forcing the would-be criminal's hand in order to secure the conviction.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Struggling With A New Diction

It is now the "global struggle against violent extremism". And so as not to confuse Americans, it still means war in Iraq and to a lesser extent Afghanistan. How this will apply across the board to other countries and movements is yet to be seen of course, but my question is why now? In July of this year President Bush stated, "The FBI has deployed its personnel across the world, in Iraq and Afghanistan and other fronts in the war on terror," to the FBI Academy. It has been the disingenuous War on Terror for so long that there must have been some groundswell internally to change the label.

Maybe it is the looming withdrawl of thousands of American soldiers in 2006. You cannot rightly have a war launched at terror without keeping the military posted precisely where you say terrorism resides, correct? Actually, withdrawing would pose a momumental threat to the language of the past three years: "We're fighting them there so we don't fight them here," "Iraq is the frontline of terrorism," et cetera. Hence, if it is termed a struggle then the military isn't the only group on the hook to resist violent extremism.

Likewise there could be some backlash to what can rightly be called terrorism when an ally's populace begins to use the tactic. To be certain, Israel will have its hands full when it begins pulling out of portions of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank on August 15th, but this event may portend much worse things to come. A brilliant insight was provided by Juan Cole:

"Note also that this act of terrorism was impelled by the Israeli government merely moving a few thousand citizens out of non-Isreali territory back into Israel proper. Imagine if a foreign power forcibly displaced hundreds of thousands of Israelis into refugee camps. Wouldn't that provoke significant terrorism on the part of the displaced? (Voila, you have the Palestinian radical groups)."

The greater point is that "violent extremism" knows precious little in the way of boundaries, borders, or people. When one group, however large or small, feels threatened and powerless to right some real or imagined wrong, then they will find a way to resist. Terror is one tactic. Non-violent protest is another. I would encourage anyone intersted in protesting a perceived wrong to use the latter, and never the former. Yet tensions run high and death and mayhem are the result. It truly is tragic.

So a global war on terror was not going to do the trick. I think it was quite obvious just months after the Iraq invasion that the United States military was not going to "win" against a foe that did not wear a uniform. Give the military a real military target and one can be assured that the target will not remain standing in 24 hours time. The Army took Baghdad in a matter of weeks. Yet the military isn't a police force, nor a humanitarian force, or for that matter a branch of the State Department trained and versed in Middle East culture and language. These men and women still are in a very real bind there in Iraq and even Afghanistan so something must give.

Turn off the war, and bring on the struggle. Yes it doesn't quite have the same ring to it, but it does seem a bit more applicable to what Americans will be facing in the coming months and years. If it gets the soldiers home sooner, then I'm all for it.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Action and Reaction - What War Does

What will the Iraq War do for America? It was a question that many people sought an answer to before the invasion began. With that step now in the past, the question still remains: Will it make the United States more secure?

I have been reading and listening to many opinions on the matter. Not many have struck me as being insightful or enlightnening, save for a few people. One of them was Gary North's exposition on what Osama bin Laden's motives really were with his then public statements to Americans in October of 2004. North drew the comparison to what bin Laden had done with Saul Alinsky's tactic of making the action directly control the reaction. In other words, the provocation isn't the end goal, but the reaction to the provocation is what is desired.

I may not entirely agree that bin Laden could have known a ferocious attack would have birthed an invasion of a country not directly tied to said attacks, but he could have certainly expected the U.S. to have no choice but to invade Afghanistan and become a political sitting duck in that country. The action was made knowing the reaction would play into the worries and fears of Muslims across the world. The fact that the President and his close staff had wanted to remove President Saddam Hussein would only further these fears.

President Bush is not changing the mantra either. In a brief press appearance, a reporter asked the President what he thought about the latest pronouncement/threat released by Ayman al-Zawahri, the presumed No. 2 man in Al Qaida. The response:

"We will stay on the offense against these people. They're terrorists and they're killers and they will kill innocent people ... so they can impose their dark vision on the world."

Al-Zawahri may not be telling the truth of course about claiming the London bombings as Al Qaida's own, but his threat is still the same: America and the U.K. leave or suffer the consequences. I have no doubt that President Bush is earnest in his declarations, but his solution isn't solving anything. If America is in Afghanistan and Iraq to prevent terrorism, why are they still occurring? If the U.S. wasn't an omnipresent hegemonic power in the region, would our country still be in the crosshairs? If President Bush doesn't even explore this path, then more Marines, Army, and Navy forces will perish in order to fight them "over there" with little to no effect on terrorism. From the article linked above, this is the final quote of Al-Zawahri.

"Our message is clear: you will not be safe until you withdraw from our land, stop stealing our oil and wealth and stop supporting the corrupt rulers."

So now America must contemplate what has come of these unintended consequences of razing a country to allay fears of weapons falling into the wrong hands. An article in this month's issue of The Nation allows four experts to comment on the current political situation. They are Helena Cobban, Juan Cole, Nir Rosen, and Shibley Telhami. A quote from Juan Cole truly hits home after it is proposed that the Bush Administration has championed democracy in the Middle East and that it is working.

"It is a good thing for the US to support democracy in the region, but it has to be done wisely. The main effect of aggressive Bush Administration policy to date has been to spread instability and increase polarization."

The clarity of this view becomes occluded with the current administration no matter what the reality is on the ground.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Rove-Pot Dome Scandal

This is my official effort to stop placing the word 'gate' after anything remotely associated with political skullduggery. In that effort, let us choose another scandal to suffix this one, since we haven't come up with something new in over 30 years. The Tea Pot Dome scandal has a nice ring to it, as opposed to the XYZ Affair which is a bit tougher to plant a 'Rove' or 'Libby' inside.

General perceptions: The Administration has taken a tenous position that it was not damaging to go after government bureacrats no matter what their position, even possible nonofficial cover agents within the CIA. If these people are critical of positions taken by the Administration, then suppressing that opposition is more important than anything else.

At the fore right now is Karl Rove and Irv Lewis Libby placing some talking points before reporters in an effort to discredit Ambassador Joseph Wilson IV. Karl Rove is now known to have handed to Matt Cooper of Time Magazine on "deep background" information that placed Wilson's wife at "the agency" (CIA) and that she worked on WMD. Also included for Cooper's review was the suggestion that Wilson's wife was responsible for his trip to Niger. Officials at the CIA denied the thrust of this contention when Robert Novak asked a spokesman if this was the case.

By the time this is done, it may very well be that Rove won't be indicted on violating Intelligence Identities Protection Act. It may be that none of the officials involved will be taken to task for the action of revealing this information, but be caught on technicalities of testimony before the grand jury.

I do see something more broad coming from this, particularly how the Bush Administration handles its critics. The outward appearance is that if you criticize, you are a political enemy combatant, and there is no civility left when dealing with such criticisms. What is worse is the defenders of this action, namely the national Republicans in Congress, the Republican National Committee, and the conservative media outlets. What purpose does it serve to allow a group of officials open season on anyone connected to critical remarks about their conduct or policies? Where do these defenders and administrative officials draw the line?

More people should question all the powerful players in the world and resist the temptation to defend malfeasance if only to win the argument for one's side.