Monday, January 30, 2006

Do Elections Equate To Freedom And Then Democracy?

The recent elections by the Palestinians was the news of the week - no one was predicting such a lop-sided outcome, nor did many foresee the awkward nature of the results in terms of the United States position towards Hamas.

The immediate result was that there would be no talks with elected government of and by Hamas, as well as a suspension of aid to the Palestinian government.
"The United States is not prepared to fund an organization that advocates the destruction of Israel, that advocates violence and that refuses its obligations," under an international framework for eventual Mideast peace, Rice said.

In essence, the people voted to oust the old and place in power the new, and in so doing the United States would lead the way in retaliating.

Freedom on the march, indeed.

President George W. Bush made a speech in March of 2005 where he said:
"Today, people in a long-troubled part of the world are standing up for their freedom. In the last few months, we've witnessed successful elections in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Palestinian Territories; peaceful demonstrations on the streets of Beirut, and steps toward democratic reform in places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The trend is clear: Freedom is on the march. Freedom is the birthright and deep desire of every human soul, and spreading freedom's blessings is the calling of our time. And when freedom and democracy take root in the Middle East, America and the world will be safer and more peaceful."

So the process as the President understands it is that the people must have the freedom to vote, and then when they gain this freedom, they get to fully participate in democracy. And when the results don't match a superpower's wishes, as is the case in Iraq's Parliamentary election on December 15th, or in Iran with the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or the strong showing of the Muslim Brotherhood in Parliament elections in Egypt, the superpower may reserve the right to break off talks or support for the state in question.

It might help if the United States just didn't meddle in the process in the first place. Inducing radical change to a region (toppling a dictatorship that quashed freedom as well sectarian divisions ripe for exploitation by opposing sides) or egineering one side against another under the guise of national security interests is a proven recipe for political mud or much worse: results which actually contradict security interests. Neutrality some times has its advantages.

Hamas has obvious negatives: it supported suicide bombings and guerilla warfare and as is mentioned in every public statement or popular media report, the destruction of Israel. Or rather, the unification of Palestine and Israeli lands under one Islamic state. Is also has positives that undoubtedly influenced the electorate such as Article 21 of the Hamas Convenant. "Mutual social responsibility means extending assistance, financial or moral, to all those who are in need and joining in the execution of some of the work."

Maybe this was the time to bring Hamas into the greater fold of working towards the peaceful resolution of a decades long conflict. Now that the group has the responsibility and interests of the electorate to consider, moderation may become a necessary next step.

Unfortunately, the reward for winning an election is an overly strong rebuke from the United States and the European Union. Thus when you don't like who wins, be certain to marginalize and quite possibly further radicalize the government any way you can. This is not how to reward freedom nor encourage democracy.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Senator Clinton's Picking Political Cotton

Over the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday, many grand speeches were put forward remembering the man and the message of the adored civil rights leader. And then there were folks already on the campaign trail for 2008.

Al Gore delivered a fiery speech that tried to tie-in King's many encounters with an over-arching government poised to spy and track his words and movements to the current furor over the National Security Agency's roving warrantless wiretaps. It may well go along side the announcement by Representative Jack Murtha as one of the few times the Democrats actually went on record as being distinctly and vociferously against the current Administration and were not apologetic in saying so.

And then there was the address given by Senator Hillary Clinton at a Harlem church. There seemed to be too much jockeying in the stances that the junior Senator is taking as of late, and this "plantation" remark was yet another drop in the bucket for the 2008 race. Certainly a politician running for reelection in 2006 is given a wide berth for politicking, but the latest efforts by Sen. Clinton just smack of too much polling, too much shifting for an elusive center position that will win her the Presidency.

Molly Ivins, a syndicated columnist, had a humorous but truthful assessment of such strategies by quasi-liberal candidates running for office. In "Not Backing Hillary", Ms. Ivins makes some prescient if not plain observations on the state of affairs within the Democratic party. Her statements amount to, "people want what the Democrats should be standing up for on issue after issue, so make a stand on it for crying out loud." When Sen. Clinton talks about the Iraq conflict, she without hesistation clamors for the most hawkish pro-military platform that a Republican could want in a vein effort to paint herself as strong in foreign affairs. And so continues the key wedge issue for 2006, 2008, and into the forseeable future.

Coincidentally, Molly Ivins had this rebuke for the war cheerleaders:

Bush, Cheney and Co. will continue to play the patriotic bully card just as long as you let them. I’ve said it before: War brings out the patriotic bullies. In World War I, they went around kicking dachshunds on the grounds that dachshunds were “German dogs.” They did not, however, go around kicking German shepherds. The minute someone impugns your patriotism for opposing this war, turn on them like a snarling dog and explain what loving your country really means. That, or you could just piss on them elegantly, as Rep. John Murtha did. Or eviscerate them with wit (look up Mark Twain on the war in the Philippines). Or point out the latest in the endless “string of bad news.”

To expand on the suggestion of Ivins, Mark Twain did have reservations about America's imperial designs on the Phillipines, and a quick search turned up "The War Prayer" by the satirist. Certainly, there is plenty to read about, hence this link to search on the subject, "Mark Twain on the Philippines". Many of the sentiments might well be applied to the current tango that the United States has ongoing with Iraq.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Bolton And Wolfowitz: Separated At Birth?

While John Bolton's leadership style was seriously questioned during his Senate confirmation hearings (and further still after his recess appointment), there was very little said about Paul Wolfowitz's managerial skills before his accension to the World Bank.

Apparently there are grumblings amidst those career employees at the World Bank with the new team installed at the behest of Wolfowitz. From Steve Clemon's The Washington Note, the following quote comes forward:

According to one senior insider who feels as if Wolfowitz is gut-punching the most talented teams at the bank and indicated that morale is plummeting, "Wolfowitz just does not talk to his Vice Presidents. He speaks to a few close advisors -- Kevin Kellems, Robin Cleveland, Karl Jackson, some others -- but a lot of very good people are leaving."

There must be a spirit that dominates the Bush Administration that one who listens to others not of sufficient conservative lineage ought not to be included in the first place.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Being Mindful Of An Iranian Misstep

A recent article by Sami Moubayed (thanks to Joshua Landis's post and link) titled "Iran and the art of crisis management" makes many fine points regarding the Western world's reaction to Iran's resumption of nuclear activities. The counter-balance that Moubayed's insight brings is well-timed given the imminent escalation of the matter to the United Nations Security Council led by the United States.

In essence, the article maintains that Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's purpose in all of this is not to become the next Stalin, but rather to reinforce his position as a popular leader within his own borders. While he maintains the leadership position within his country, he is not a dictator in the image of Saddam Hussein; Ahmadinejad must answer to many powers within Iran much like the U.S. President must answer before Congress.

By proclaiming the Holocaust never occurred and that Israel must be wiped off the map, Ahmadinejad makes good with those that voted him into power. It also establishes the reflex reaction by the American government which, while not directly related to the comments, will want to crack down on the country and its nuclear intentions. It allows the Iranian President to look tough when he faces up to these verbal challenges.

From the article:
Ahmadinejad, by being so controversial, believes he can survive the storm with Washington. If a showdown with the West arises, he would welcome it and not shy away from confrontation, seeing it as a golden opportunity to make history and secure for himself a legacy as the man who fought the US.

Let us not forget that this man's idols are Nasser and Khomeini, not Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Gandhi. Confrontation that would not break him would actually make him stronger inside Iran. If Washington ignored Ahmadinejad, the results would be much more rewarding for the US. The Americans must accept the reality that sooner or later, as long as they are weak in the Middle East and defeated in Iraq, Iran will develop its nuclear program.

It has the power, money and intention to do so. If Iran does achieve this power, the US should find creative ways to persuade Iran, by diplomacy rather than confrontation, not to use these weapons for war purposes. One way is to remember that Iran has no direct conflict with Israel. It is at war with the Zionist state because Israel is at war with the Palestinians. If a fair Palestinian-Israeli peace deal were reached under US auspices, then Iran would have no reason to be at war with Israel.

Many of these issues that surround the Middle East political climate are wrapped up in histories that are centuries old, if not millenia. When the Western powers (with the U.S. at the helm) make the strategic move of drawing a line from Point A to Point B, it is more than likely to miscalculate the outcome in the long-term. Witness Iraq's current struggle just to maintain a viable state entity.

A military solution is a guaranteed failure and it is unfortunate that Iran already knows this.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Will Murtha Be Right After All?

Representative Jack Murtha called for the withdrawal of U.S. forces out of Iraq late last year, which sent the conservatives in Congress and the media flying into spastic rage with insults and epithets aplenty. All that for proposing an idea in a democracy. It truly was an embarassing day for the Republicans.

At this moment Vice President Cheney is meeting with Arab leaders on his tour of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Oman. From a UPI article (thanks to Juan Cole for spotting this) titled "U.S. seeking Arab peacekeepers in Iraq", it is put forward that the Administration is trying to talk other Arab nations to sponsor troops in Iraq, giving the United States an open invitation to leave.

Get ready Republican backbenchers in Congress to let loose with "cut and run", "cowardice", and "dishonor" on the floor come Tuesday.

Additionally in the article, it is noted that Vice President Cheney's last visit to Egypt came in the barnstorming tour of the Middle East in 2002 to drum up support for the scheduled military adventure in Iraq. At the time, Juan Cole's web log summed up the meetings with this excerpt:
In Egypt, at a news conference at Sharm El Sheikh, President Hosni Mubarak "voiced opposition to any U.S. plan to topple Iraq's Saddam Hussein". He added, "It is of vital importance to maintain the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq. This is a must for preserving regional stability," The words "very unwise" keep popping up in the press reports, following the VP like signature line in a stand up routine.

How likely will it be that these countries, which opposed the invasion in the first place or at least had strong misgivings, will take the lead in occupying the powder keg that is America's Iraq?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Close To Home

Recently a reporter was abducted in Iraq which typically is not that shocking in regards to news (it gives one perspective on how Iraq is doing currently), except there was a direct connection to the town I live in. In the local weekly paper, the lead story is about Jill Carroll and her abduction. I had heard about it on the news around January 8, but hadn't thought much of it.

Seeing the newspaper headline and visiting the Christian Science Monitor web site, for some strange reason it struck me as close. Ms. Carroll attended college in Amherst as a journalism student, and from the glimpse that the both papers offered, she truly treasured her work.

I cannot imagine what it would be like to have a loved one placed in harm's way in Iraq, much less learning of a fate such as this. It makes Iraq look like nothing more than sheer tragedy.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Next Eleven Months Of Scandal

There will be an election in November for the entire House of Representatives and one third of the Senate. This mid-term election will turn on how corrupt both bodies have become under the leadership of the Republican party.

Republicans will run on a plank of immigration reform in order to set up the Democrats for being weak on border security. Quite possibly the House and Senate leadership will also state that they are for Lobbying Reform as well, headed up by the former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich playing the pied piper.

It will not work.

The greater issue will no doubt be the interminable conflict in the Iraq. As Iraq goes, so goes the country's mood. More deaths, more instability, and no end in sight with regards to cost may leave voters in an overall negative mood.

Add the corruption. Before too long, the phrase "K-Street Project" will be on the minds of millions of citizens. How bad could it get for the Republicans? It all depends on how many names Abramoff gives up, and in turn how much heat is placed on aides, press secretaries and legislators who were in the know. Tom DeLay had many favors to call-in on his associates and received many contributions to his PACs and charitable organizations. Names such as Rep. Bob Ney, Adam Kidan, David Safavian and Ralph Reed will be common for the first round of scandalous expositions, but there will be more.

What should be understood is that this is specifically not a bipartisan foible. It is a Republican bred colossus. With the 1994 election of Republicans to Congress came a notion that this control could be cemented, if not made very efficient for their ends. The K-Street Project was a way to encourage lobbying firms to only hire those men and women that the Republicans agreed with politically. As Elizabeth Drew noted in her article linked above:
The Republican purge of K Street is a more thorough, ruthless, vindictive, and effective attack on Democratic lobbyists and other Democrats who represent businesses and other organizations than anything Washington has seen before. The Republicans don't simply want to take care of their friends and former aides by getting them high-paying jobs: they want the lobbyists they helped place in these jobs and other corporate representatives to arrange lavish trips for themselves and their wives; to invite them to watch sports events from skyboxes; and, most important, to provide a steady flow of campaign contributions.

If the public is willing to learn more and the popular media continue to keep digging, there is more than enough corruption to be identified before November 2, 2006.

It is amazing to think that there was a time in American history when legislators deemed it beneath themselves to campaign for office. Elections are now paid for and legislation is the currency.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Politics Two Thousand Five

This was not the most perfect year for the President or for Congress. The tally of political footballs fumbled is almost too long to count, but if one is to learn from the mistakes what not to do, then a review is in order.

First and foremost, the national election of 2004 did not earn the President any political treasure which would last beyond two weeks. President George W. Bush expended his energies after the inauguration rambling about the country in front of pre-screened friendly audiences about the need for his version of Social Security reform. This was a plank that was little mentioned in the last three months of his campaign for reelection, and if it was mentioned there was miniscule details presented on how he would go about an overhaul.

To be blunt, the system does face structural funding issues that might come to bear on future retirees depending on the economic cycles and forecasts used. An honest debate on how to address these issues would have served the nation well, but at the outset the Administration's position of the SSA facing an $11 trillion shortfall for the indefinite future made clear that 'honesty' was not going to be a central theme in the debate. Without honesty, the Democrats in Congress essentially waged open war on the proposal (it should be noted that there never was an official piece of legislation put forward by the Administration during these debates; it would cause the President to negotiate with himself which he said many times). The public became more skeptical of the plan of the President the more they learned about it, and when it became clear that after the sixty city tour had laid an egg, the drive for Social Security reform died during the summer.

Lesson: Reforming a major entitlement program requires a serious discussion based on facts agreeable to both sides, and an open ear to compromises and concessions in order for an agreement to be reached. Pretty simple, yes?

Iraq has been the proverbial pair of concrete shoes for the Bush presidency. With each successive election or accomplishment of the new Iraqi government the U.S. Administration touts the good news as worthy of celebration. However each and every day there comes the bad news. A stampede on a bridge to a mosque killed in excess of 800 Iraqis in one day. Car bombs and ethnic assassinations and retaliations continue. Ground forces are encountering somewhere in the neighborhood of 2.3 KIAs a day. The institutions being formed and the government being birthed in Iraq is listing towards a fundamentalist state day by day. With that as an ongoing backdrop, the President continually reported a sunny optimism to the progress of Iraqis. Military experts called before Congress insisted the training of local forces was going well while conceding that the amount of fully independent divisions ready to fight on their own had DROPPED. All the while, billions upon billions of dollars is flung at the affair with painfully little oversight as to its distribution or value received. National Guard and Reserve forces are almost fully a third of active soldiers in the field. To say that there are a few problems in the country would be a severe understatement.

While many Democrats were muttering about how poorly things were going, they did not find a cohesive voice throughout most of the year. That was until John Murtha spoke directly to the public and to the President about what was going on. Representative Murtha's call for an immediate withdrawal of American forces out of direct combat in Iraq caused a national dialogue on the pivotal issue of this decade. This lasted for about two weeks. The Republican leadership in the House thought it a great gift to make Democrats vote for (as they called it) "cutting and running" from the boondoggle that is Bush's war. By the end of December, most on the left were still vacillating on what tack to take when communicating with the general public on what course of action to pursue in Iraq. The moment passed and the Administration putting more sugary coats on the progress to date, the year ended with no foreseeable conclusion to the civil war beginning in Iraq.

Legislatively, there were any number of poor calculations and miscues. Life support for the brain-damaged, stem cell funding at the federal level, and a litany of legislation not passed all had times in the spotlight of the major media outlets. At the center of these bad calls was Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. A doctor by training, and a politician by desire, the Senate Leader had his foibles this year in terms of political standing, and has yet to come to terms with a stock trade in his supposedly blind trust fund that was timed oh-so-correctly to coincide with the plummeting value of HCA. Yes that HCA, which his father and brother founded. The probe into this may come to fruition in full view of the 2006 election cycle. Some contend that his votes on the Senate floor reflect a keen interest on being kind to large insurance companies like HCA. Let's keep to the political shenanigans though.

Frist found himself at the center of a media storm over the removal of life-support to one Terri Schiavo. Medically listed as brain dead since the 1990s, her husband had gone to court with Terri's family to have the feeding tube removed and to let her pass away. On the surface it sounds ghoulish, but the feeding tube was the one item that was sustaining the body of a woman whose life shown no sign of returning whatsoever. Republicans in Congress were appalled that the state courts of Florida had agreed continually with the legal arguments of Terri's husband, and when the final challenge fell, there was nothing but an aggressive Congress to protect her. The good doctor Frist became involved, adding his professional diagnosis that there was brain function apparent in Terri and that she should continue on life-support. Unfortunately for him, the diagnosis came from selected video which, when taken out of context of her full condition (vegetative state twenty-four hours a day), made her appear as somewhat conscious. Cue the ill-fated overreach of the Republicans to prevent the removal of the feeding tube. Curiously, the White House and Congressional leadership stopped their efforts once it became apparent through polls of the American public that it intensely disliked such maneuvering.

Senator Bill Frist found a change of heart on the matter of using federal monies to aid in the study of embryonic stem cells. It was an unexpected shift in his pro-life credentials which he will need if he pushes along in a Presidential bid for 2008. While offering up what amounted to a sincere stance on the issue on the Senate floor, it added to a sense that there was a lack of control within the leadership position.

The Nuclear Option (as coined by Sen. Trent Lott) was another instance where Majority Leader Frist looked to be playing the part of leader while others went about solving the problem. When a handful of judges were reappointed by President Bush for seats on the bench, Frist was going to make sure that no Democrat could filibuster the nomination, so out goes the rules and in goes an approval of a lifetime judge based on a simple majority vote. When the so-called Gang of 14 broke with the leader and offered up a compromise, the appearance that Frist was in control gently wafted out the window.

Where to begin on the bills which he mangled. The P.A.T.R.I.O.T Act was going to be passed the way the Administration wanted come hell or high water. It was filibustered, and Frist couldn't get four Republican members from jumping ship to kill the filibuster. This resulted in the short extension passed by both houses. He along with Senator Stevens of Alaska could not get the full Senate to ever approve of tacked on legislation allowing for drilling in the Artic National Wildlife Reserve. The last attempt was to include this in the Defense Authorization bill. This was quite similar to the Gun Manufacturers' Liability Law (note, it would have removed the liability part) that took a higher precedence over a Defense authorization bill, which would have included a ban on torture, quickly placed on the calendar before the August recess. And of course, John Bolton's failed nomination in the Senate was nothing to gloat about.

Not a very good year. The lesson here must be that the majority should locate and elect a competent leader who knows how to operate in a legislative body. Preferably one who is not running for President in two years.

Overall, 2005 was the year that the aura was finally scrubbed off the Administration. Secrecy, torture, war, and incompetence. Maybe 2006 will be better for us all.