Friday, December 07, 2007

The Romney Sermon

If there was a reason why the Constitution of the United States was important, the speech delivered by Presidential aspirant Mitt Romney on December 6th provided the reason behind the founding text and the need for the very first amendment under the Bill of Rights. Whereas John F. Kennedy needed to assure the American public that his religion would not interfere with his political judgment and acumen, Romney could not help himself in pleasing the Religious Right that he is certainly religious enough to make his pious distinctions a part of public policy.

Heaven help us.

Read the full transcript of Romney's epiphany.

To put it succinctly, Gov. Romney needs Evangelical Christians to vote for him and this speech was presented to mollify their concerns about a Mormon. In effect, it was his bid to promise that he will really hammer away at keeping religion in government and it will be something approximating what they believe in - the correct religion if you will.

Some of the more confounding quotes from his speech:
"Radical violent Islam seeks to destroy us."
There was once a country named the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. They did not destroy the United States, even armed with the most abundant military power the world could muster throughout most of the mid- to late-20th century. Does Mitt Romney really think 1,000 would be attackers could destroy America? Is that not unstable thinking, unreasoned and illogical through and through? The speech-writers must know this sounds appropriately scary to most citizens and puts them in the right emotional mindset to think that Romney will stop "them", but what he is propagating with those words is the myth that a religion is out to get the U.S. Why does that not ring as plain old silly?

Oh there is more:
"Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone."
There has been so much written on this claptrap already that it almost needs no clarification. Almost. From what we can gather of Romney's esteemed opinion, freedom from tyranny, freedom from oppression, freedom of individual choice just cannot come to be unless there is some form of religion backing it up. One must have God on her or his side in order to obtain freedom. Yes, that form of freedom that came directly from the Age of Enlightenment could only come about from the bishops, imams, and rabbis scattered throughout the world. Disregard the names of Voltaire, Rousseau, Hume, Jefferson, et al. It is almost too difficult to write how absurd a proposition that statement is and was. Many, many organized religions saw to it (and still see to it) that treatment of women was to be subject of the whims and wishes of the father or the husband. Freedom indeed.
"There are some for whom these commitments are not enough. They would prefer it if I would simply distance myself from my religion, say that it's more a tradition than my personal conviction, or disavow one or another of its precepts. That I will not do. I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it."
Who specifically is asking him to distance himself from Mormonism? We need names here to back up this claim. Someone close to his campaign staff? Fellow former Governors? Joe Lieberman? Sure these offerings are meant in jest, but otherwise this is a standard ploy by politicians, most notably President Bush. "Some people say Muslims aren't decent enough to have democracy. (pregnant pause) And I reject that." You can make up any ill-thought-out claim and stand up and be on record as against it, but it adds zero to the discussion.
"The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square. We are a nation "under God" and in God, we do indeed trust."
Atheists and agnostics, please sew a badge on your clothing so that you may more easily be rounded up and removed from society. Polytheistic religious believers should also narrow down their scope of deities to a more uniform 'one' in accord with this new vision of religious tolerance in America. So there shall be no state religion, but you must believe in God since everyone does.

It goes on and on like this.
"Americans acknowledge that liberty is a gift of God, not an indulgence of government."
"Any believer in religious freedom, any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me."
Ending on this note:
"And in that spirit, let us give thanks to the divine "author of liberty." And together, let us pray that this land may always be blessed, "with freedom's holy light.""
Governor Romney's view of religious freedom is certainly his free right of expression, but let us pray that he never makes it any where near the White House that he may act on those expressions which the First Amendment equitably allows him to hold and espouse.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Russians Are Coming

Vladimir Putin is at it again. Challenging the American hegemony in Western (and Eastern) Europe.

Putin's remarks preceding the summit regarding missile defense deployment made for some rather uncomfortable delegation members, including U.S. Secretary of State Rice. After postponing his appearance for some forty minutes President Putin appeared before the gathered press and made light of the defenses that the U.S. hopes to install along Russia's border.

All this leading to the summation by Defense Secretary Gates that Russia is saying, "We are back."

Had they ever really left? Well, throughout the 1990s there was a hiatus, but the nuclear arsenal never disappeared.

What Russia is doing does not occur in a vacuum. There are reasons aplenty why Putin has dared insult the United States in the manner that he has done. An ever-increasing NATO bloc that serves little in the way of United States security interests, a bold (and rather hamstrung)
missile defense system, and the addition of instability in the Middle East which includes vital partners to Russia; why wouldn't this be a foreign policy concern of Putin?

In the past seven years of the Bush Administration, there have been many mis-fires on the diplomatic front. As Jonathan Landay of McClatchy reports:
"Bush's strategy on Russia assumed that Russian President Vladimir Putin embraced democracy, wanted integration with the West and sought a "strategic partnership" in which Moscow would acquiesce to U.S. policies such as NATO expansion. Feuds could be resolved through the close personal relationship that Bush believed he had with his Russian counterpart.

Instead, fueled by record oil and natural gas prices and resentment of what he lambasted in February as Bush's "almost uncontained hyper use of force," Putin has led global opposition to the U.S. war in Iraq, hosted Palestinians on the U.S. list of terrorist groups, sold anti-aircraft missiles and other arms to Iran and stymied Bush's drive to tighten U.N. sanctions on the Islamic republic for refusing to suspend uranium enrichment."

Fortunately for America, there can only be one more year and a few months of fouled political decisions from Washington when it comes to relations with the Russian state. However, that is plenty of time to further deteriorate the strained connection, especially if any militaristic action is taken with Iran.

Friday, August 24, 2007

PM Nouri al-Maliki

How long will he last? That is the question for the week of August 20th, as pot-shots and verbal barbs passed back and forth between the Iraqi Prime Minister and officials stateside.

Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois spoke out first, albeit tepidly, by saying that his opinion on the matter of political progress within Iraq was rather dim.
"While we believe that the “surge” is having measurable results, and has provided a degree of “breathing space” for Iraqi politicians to make the political compromises which are essential for a political solution in Iraq, we are not optimistic about the prospects for those compromises. We were in Iraq both during the recent initial meeting of the Iraq Presidency Council, the Prime Minister and the President of the Kurdish region and during the immediately following expanded meeting, which were intended to reach political compromises. We would like to be optimistic that those meetings will lead to substantive progress, however -- given the performance of the Iraqi political leadership to date -- we remain extremely cautious in our expectations..."
Which was followed by the White House issuing statements reiterating that yes indeed, the President did stand by the government of PM al-Maliki. "Prime Minister Maliki's a good guy, good man with a difficult job and I support him," said Bush.

Senator Clinton asked that al-Maliki be removed by the Iraqi Parliament as well.
"During his trip to Iraq last week, Senator Carl Levin, the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee on which I serve, confirmed that the Iraqi Government’s failures have reinforced the widely held view that the Maliki government is nonfunctional and cannot produce a political settlement, because it is too beholden to religious and sectarian leaders. I share Senator Levin’s hope that the Iraqi parliament will replace Prime Minister Maliki with a less divisive and more unifying figure when it returns in a few weeks."
It wasn't the best of weeks for the embattled Prime Minister. Adding a bit of an edge to this story is the push to place Ayad Allawi to first in line for the PM position provided that al-Maliki gets the proverbial (and not the physical) axe. This action coming through a long-standing Republican lobbying firm. A carnival ride for sure, and these are only the items that the press has found out so far - there could still yet be more plays to be revealed.

Just the same, the PM had had quite enough of U.S. politicians predicting his demise. Onto the offensive, he spoke on Sunday with a tongue-lashing for those that oppose his tenure. At his press conference he quipped:
"There are American officials who consider Iraq as if it were one of their villages, for example Hillary Clinton and Carl Levin. They should come to their senses."
He also listed plenty more grievances towards the American occupational forces which are sure to play well to his Shiite base inside Iraq. PM al-Maliki still does not have a majority in Parliament by which to rule, so what does this situation get him?

Given that the American presence in Iraq is now opposed by a large majority of Iraqis, it might be helpful for him to be seen as a leader who is willing to stand up and denounce the Occupiers. He does not appear to be in a position of strength among many Iraqis, but he surely must be seen as more favorable then someone such as Allawi who has incredibly suspicious ties to the United States through his years with the CIA which helped fund his group the Iraqi National Accord.

So American politicians calling for Nouri al-Maliki's ouster may in turn yield a blip of support for the Prime Minister provided he can deftly handle the situation to his favor. But what of the Senators and pundits who ascribe the failings of the Iraqi experiment solely at the feet of al-Maliki? Is there someone better waiting in the wing that doesn't have a tainted background or direct sectarian albatross dangling around their neck?

Those pols in Iraq are few and far between, and it may be that no one person in Iraq exists that can keep the country together in the near or distant future. Those are the breaks when you induce civil war.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Remember The Surge

If the White House and General Petraeus are in agreement, then the report to Congress to be delivered on September 15, 2oo7, may cite that the surge in troop levels is working just as expected. That is not a very large 'if'; both President Bush and General Petraeus have a large stake in assuring the public that their actions are finally having the intended effect as opposed to all prior actions and shortfalls experienced in the previous four years. It is not even surprising that instead of a detailed report coming straight from the military, the West Wing will cobble together the relevant details Congress may need.

But at least they will be able to speak directly, frankly, and publicly with the architect of the escalation in occupational forces.

Well, maybe not.

From the Washinton Post article above by Jonathan Weisman and Karen DeYoung from August 16:

"Senior congressional aides said yesterday that the White House has proposed limiting the much-anticipated appearance on Capitol Hill next month of Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker to a private congressional briefing, suggesting instead that the Bush administration's progress report on the Iraq war should be delivered to Congress by the secretaries of state and defense.

White House officials did not deny making the proposal in informal talks with Congress, but they said yesterday that they will not shield the commanding general in Iraq and the senior U.S. diplomat there from public congressional testimony required by the war-funding legislation President Bush signed in May. "The administration plans to follow the requirements of the legislation," National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in response to questions yesterday."

Even if there is something positive to be had from there reports and interviews, why limit it to private conversations? With this issue being the most prominent point on the public mind in America, wouldn't it serve the interest of the public to have the most forthright report possible out of the commanders themselves, and have it delivered to the country in an open forum where concerns and worries of the people can be expressed through the conduit of Representatives and Senators?

Maybe there could be answers to questions such as what Iraq and the U.S. will do for cities like Basra, which at one point were calm and secure but now are finding in-fighting among the various factions a serious destabilizing effect. Ben Lando of UPI notes that this oil-rich region is almost the sole source of Iraq's revenues currently, and that stability there means that Iraq still has the chance to tread water for the time being while the northern pipelines continue to suffer attacks and disruptions.

In a telling passage, Lando writes how three Shiite factions have set themselves up to establish control over this vital region:

"In Basra, three Shiite parties, powerful in their varied own right, swap allegiances and gunfire and jockey for position: the Fadhila Party, the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (formerly the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq), and the Sadr Movement, led by cleric Moqtada Sadr.

The Fadhila Party gained control of the province in the 2005 elections, but only with 21 of 41 seats, and with a coalition of other parties and independents. SCIRI took the rest. Sadr has no official seats but loyalists.

All three began their power play, infiltrating the police and the bureaucracy. The Fadhila Party grabbed control of the oil facilities protection service, which put it “in a position to really control how much is or is not smuggled,” said Ken Katzman, Middle East expert at the Congressional Research Service. “You can do whatever you want … it’s control over the proceeds of the smuggling.” "
That isn't the strong arm of Iran working, that is outright factional dissension seeded by a toothless central Iraqi government that has little control over the country at large. It wouldn't be fair to target the troop increase as a fault for the instability in Basra, but it is worth mentioning that when one area becomes more secure, there are many other areas in Iraq that are quite susceptible to civil war and terrorist acts. The incredibly massive attacks against the Yazidi people in Nineveh province on August 14th is another example.

As a last ditch effort, the U.S. military surge may probably be viewed as a stalemate. It can lock down neighborhoods, it can sweep villages for suspects with dubious results, but it will not make a civil war go by the wayside. A strong-arm military occupation cannot even produce real political results in the Iraqi Parliament. To the extent that Prime Minister al-Maliki had to form a new coalition in Parliament that doesn't even comprise a majority in the body lends credence to the mixed results of a show of force in Iraq this late in the game.

Occupations aren't won by military tactics. The people and the government of the occupied country either boot out the occupier or come to terms with themselves and grow a sustainable country whereby the occupier is no longer needed. In terms of Iraq, there is little if any chance that a duly elected government containing all of the various fractious elements inside the country can produce a sustainable government - anyone could have seen that coming nine years prior to the invasion. If that is the case, then what is left is a country which will be severely damaged for many years to come with or without the help of American soldiers and Marines.

Expect the surge to be polished nicely come mid-September, but do not expect the news to be any better for a very long time.

Monday, July 09, 2007

I. Lewis Libby - Free At Last, Free At Last

After months and months of withholding comment due to an on-going investigation, President Bush finally stepped forward to commute the sentence of I. Lewis Libby after his conviction and loss on appeal of his sentencing to thirty months in prison. When speaking of the commuting of the sentence of the former chief of staff for Vice President Cheney, Bush said that while the conviction would stand, the sentence by the judge was too harsh for the crime.

This from a former Governor of Texas who saw fit to allow Betty Lou Beets to be executed - a 62 year-old great-grandmother. Thirty months in prison to harsh a sentence?

It would be highly embarrassing if there was a case similar to Libby's in the press at about the same time which might cast doubt on whether or not the sentence was too harsh. Enter Victor Rita, who was challenging his sentence to 33 months in prison for a perjury charge. The Supreme Court rejected that appeal and Mr. Rita will be placed in federal prison to serve his time. No word from the Executive Mansion about whether he will have his sentence commuted or not.

So it is that this saga closes. Or does it?

An interesting point occurred to some in the press that at about the time when Libby was going to be placing before the court his defense, including calling several key witnesses such as Karl Rove and the Vice President himself, his defense team suddenly reversed course and summarily wrapped up its case without so much as a statement by the defendant. At the time it was presumed that either the defense did not need to place Libby and other officials on the stand or that it was too much of a risk to place them on the stand. As Andrew Cohen summarized it:
"Any way you slice it -- at least any way I see it sliced -- today's news bodes ill for the defense. I have been surprised before in cases like this, and good defense attorneys often have a knack for knowing when less is more. But I just don't see it."

If the defense might have known that the President was considering a commutation or a pardon, the theory goes that Libby and the others involved in this affair would have more than enough reason to stay silent. Libby would be at no further disadvantage - he was going to be convicted for telling FBI officials and the grand jury that he did not disseminate Wilson's identity but only heard it from Tim Russert (who then testified to the exact opposite of that alibi) - and the protection of further releases of information for those currently within the Administration would be maintained as well.

But fair is fair, the President has the power of the pardon and that is just the way the Constitutional cookie crumbles, correct? Not exactly. That would be tampering with justice, and very much in line with a cover-up if events followed that path. Naturally Congress would wish to do a bit of sleuthing in order to ensure that all of this transpired quite the opposite way as outlined above. All one would need to do is ask that I. Lewis Libby testify before Congress and then have him, a convicted liar, explain that everything was above the board and that would be that. Here is where the commutation comes in. Libby still must serve the probationary period of his sentence (even though Judge Walton was not so certain of this at the time of the President's actions) which in effect means that he is still serving time in a way. If only he had a full pardon from the President, then his fine ($250,400) and his probation would have been wiped clean and a call before Congress might likely mean he would have no reason to plead the 5th. This is by far the worst of stretches to entertain though, as any deal made behind the scenes between the White House and Libby's defense team would almost certainly have illegal implications providing for an extremely good use of one's 5th amendment right to avoid self-incrimination.

Yet this President and Vice President have played pretty rough with legalities over the course of six years. It would be worth a cursory look by the House and Senate just to make sure that nothing untoward occurred during the months of January and February 2007 that cut short jury and the court's ability to mete out justice.

Until that point, Libby's bank account is presumably smaller, and Victor Rita is doing time.

There was so much hand wringing by defenders of the Bush decision that it became rather humorous to see where people would go to defend the commuting of the Libby sentence. One of the less enlightening comments was from David Brooks on July 3rd, and one of the more artful parries came in David Corn's response to Brooks' article. Sometimes the truth can be a weapon.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

David Hicks In The Hands Of The United States

Many times when perusing stories of how the United States is pursuing terrorists abroad, it becomes very simple to disconnect from the "terrorists" since they are faceless, nameless for the most part, and are seeking to do us harm here. At least, that is the essence of most reports where the Administration talking points are concerned. As long as the enemy combatants are anonymous, then things are not all that bad.

Then examples pile up of those that are less than anonymous, and slowly the process employed to detain and interrogate the "terrorists" is revealed to the public. Jose Padilla, Yaser Hamdi, and David Hicks have shed some of that missing light on the way in which America handles this new threat.

And it has become apparent for some time that the threat is handled via grotesque methods. Glenn Greenwald's post today regarding the Hicks case jumps off from the U.S. Air Force Col. Morris D. Davis's op-ed in the New York Times defending the process. Colonel Davis cited the admission by Hicks that his treatment was fine, and that he was guilty of what the government said he was guilty of. From his opinion piece:
"Critics liken Guantánamo Bay to Soviet gulags, but reality does not match their hyperbole. The supporters of David Hicks, the detainee popularly known as the "Australian Taliban," asserted that Mr. Hicks was mistreated and wasting away. But at his March trial, where he pleaded guilty to providing material support to a terrorist organization, he and his defense team stipulated he was treated properly. Mr. Hicks even thanked service members,..."

Contrast that with statements by Hicks to his family members and other detainees before the government was forced to drop its charges and bring new charges after the Hamdan decision.
"In an interview with ABC TV's Four Corners program, Hicks's father Terry has detailed allegations of physical and sexual abuse of his son by American soldiers.

"He said he had a bag over his head and he said, 'Oh look, I know their accents - they're definitely American' - some pretty horrific things that were done to him," he said.

David Hicks also told his father he was given injections by the Americans and then anally penetrated with various objects.

Another detainee says David Hicks told him of being flown by helicopter off a warship to an undisclosed location where he was spat on and beaten before being brought back to the ship."

So why would Hicks sign a deal with the U.S. military and why was such a deal proffered to him, a terrorist?

From the thorough articles by Jo Becker and Barton Gellman on the Vice President in the Washington Post:
"Air Force Two touched down in Sydney this past Feb. 24. Cheney had come to discuss Iraq. Prime Minister John Howard brought the conversation around to an Australian citizen who had unexpectedly become a political threat.

Under pressure at home, Howard said he told Cheney that there must be a trial "with no further delay" for David Hicks, 31, who was beginning his sixth year at the U.S. naval prison at Guantanamo Bay. Five days later, Hicks was indicted as a war criminal. On March 26, he pleaded guilty to providing "material support" for terrorism.

At every stage since his capture, as he changed taxis at the Afghan-Pakistan border, Hicks had crossed a legal landscape that Cheney did more than anyone to reshape. He was Detainee 002 at Guantanamo Bay, arriving on opening day at an asserted no man's land beyond the reach of sovereign law. Interrogators questioned him under guidelines that gave legal cover to the infliction of pain and fear -- and, according to an affidavit filed by British lawyer Steven Grosz, Hicks was subjected to beatings, sodomy with a foreign object, sensory deprivation, disorienting drugs and prolonged shackling in painful positions.

The U.S. government denied those claims, and before accepting Hicks's guilty plea it required him to affirm that he had "never been illegally treated." But the tribunal's rules, written under principles Cheney advanced, would have allowed the Australian's conviction with evidence obtained entirely by "cruel, inhuman or degrading" techniques.

Shortly after Cheney returned from Australia, the Hicks case died with a whimper. The U.S. government abruptly shifted its stance in plea negotiations, dropping the sentence it offered from 20 years in prison to nine months if Hicks would say that he was guilty.

Only the dramatic shift to lenience, said Joshua Dratel, one of three defense lawyers, resolved the case in time to return Hicks to Australia before Howard faces reelection late this year. The deal, negotiated without the knowledge of the chief prosecutor, Air Force Col. Morris Davis, was supervised by Susan J. Crawford, the convening authority over military commissions. Crawford received her three previous government jobs from then-Defense Secretary Cheney -- she was appointed as his special adviser, Pentagon inspector general and then judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.

Emphasis not in the original article.

So Hicks was marched through quickly to help out the Prime Minister of Australia. And his admission that he was treated fairly had absolutely nothing to do with his enduring five years of imprisonment with no knowledge of when or if he would ever see freedom or whether charges would keep appearing before him, holding him in limbo. It is also incredibly curious to find a plea deal where one must acknowledge the style of treatment one has received up to that point. "We will let you go only if you sign a statement saying how good you were treated, otherwise if you do not sign said paper we will keep you here." From Greenwald's post, he linked to this article on which expands on the plea deal.

Does anyone put forward that this sounds even remotely approximate to justice? Place the person in a cell and throw away the key? Even worse, interrogate the individual with disturbing techniques that likely provide little in the way of intelligence? To those in the West Wing it seems alright.

It used to be unthinkable that a high official within the United States could ever be tried for war crimes. I don't think that is so far-fetched any more, and that is truly sad.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Why Iraq Is Not A Divided Korea

Several allusions have been made in recent weeks by the Administration that a long-term outlook for the Iraqi occupation can be modeled on the country of Korea and its fifty-plus years of division. That this is being seriously stated as a path forward for a country torn three different ways by civil war is as far removed from reality as one can desire. From a White House press briefing:

MR. SNOW: Here is -- what the President means by that is that at some point you want to get to a situation in which the Iraqis have the capability to go ahead and handle the fundamental matters of security. You have the United States there in what has been described as an over-the-horizon support role so that if you need the ability to react quickly to major challenges or crises, you can be there, but the Iraqis are conducting the lion's share of the business -- as we have in South Korea, where for many years there have been American forces stationed there as a way of maintaining stability and assurance on the part of the South Korean people against a North Korean neighbor that is a menace.

In this particular case, what you want to be able to do -- and I'm now not trying to draw comparisons with any of the neighbors of Iraq, but instead, simply taking a look at the situation within Iraq proper. You get yourself into a position where you do have security in places like Baghdad and at the provincial level, and then you provide security as long as seems reasonable to the Iraqi people who are, after all, your hosts and the ones making the invitations.

Q For 50 years?

Q Now, the Korean model, you've got thousands of U.S. troops there for some 50 years. I mean, how is that comparison and vision in that --

MR. SNOW: Wendell just asked the same question. I don't think -- again, that's not strictly comparable because what you have is a North Korea that continues to be a threat, I mean as we've seen with the development of nuclear weapons. We're hoping that the Iraqis, in fact, are going to have the kind of security and stability they need so that what you're really dealing with is the internal security of Iraq, rather than trying to provide reassurance against an external foe.

How long will the United States be obligated to protect and occupy the capital in Iraq? For how long will the U.S. be responsible for the security and stability of Tikrit should that area erupt in violence in 2009 or 2010?

And not to be a partisan, are all of the Democratic candidates calling for a full withdrawal of troops from the theater or are they just for pulling back 2/3's of the forces and leaving behind a Korean-model of their own? As was noted by Ted Koppel on an opinion piece on NPR recently, Senator Clinton does not define how many American forces would be removed when she makes campaign statements to that effect, leaving Koppel to comment that all the candidates are going to feel the pressure to leave behind some force presence inside Iraqi borders.

It would appear that very few in Washington will support a complete withdrawal of armed American forces from the country on any time table that the public would desire. With a Democratic presidential thought process that mirrors what the Administration has fed the media lately, it may be that the United States will not bring the international community in, through the U.N. and border countries, to alleviate part of the strife and remove the occupation mindset from Iraq. Alas, the model of 50,000 or more soldiers and Marines cycling in and out of a foreign country may be too attractive for this President and future Presidents to resist.

And what a shame that would be. The first President, George Washington, was quite a sage when he said in his farewell address to his country:
In offering to you, my countrymen, these counsels of an old and affectionate friend, I dare not hope they will make the strong and lasting impression I could wish; ... if I may even flatter myself that they may be productive of some partial benefit, some occasional good; that they may now and then recur to moderate the fury of party spirit, to warn against the mischiefs of foreign intrigue, to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism; this hope will be a full recompense for the solicitude for your welfare, by which they have been dictated.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

What Is The U.S. Doing?

How best can one describe what the United States of America has embarked upon in the Middle East. To be certain, the war and following occupation was not completely supported by the American public at its outset and throughout its course, but by in large most voters were satisfied enough with the job that President Bush was doing at the time of his re-election in November of 2004 to bear some responsibility for the policies of his administration. Hence this review of where things stand.

What the U.S. has done is roil tensions within the region at large to a breaking point. Countless actions and decisions have foisted upon those in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Israel (to name just a few) an unrest that was, during 2000, a very distant possibility. The Palestinian issue in the West Bank and Gaza Strip certainly was not calm and peaceful by any means, but to the extent that there was hope for some negotiable resolution seemed closer rather than further away. Saddam Hussein was president of Iraq by sheer brute force and the country was held fast by his rule, save for the Kurdish north. The Taliban with its strict adherence to Islamic law (of the Sunni strain) enabled Osama bin Laden to develop and train al Qaeda but remained in conflict with Iran to its south. Turkey had been wary of the Kurds within its own borders but felt relatively safe from a breakaway faction of its own population with the Kurds in northern Iraq who still were not an independent entity. Syria's dominance over Lebanon's independence was about to change, but that too would bring about the ethnic problems within Lebanon which were the causes of its very own civil war from 1975 - 1990.

On and on the various factions go prior to 2002. Many of the states involved served to be counterweights to other states yielding marginal stability, but stability nonetheless.

Enter the Bush Administration and the summer of 2002 (post "Axis of Evil" speech). With forces now routing the Taliban from power (and eliminating an adversary to Iran's east) the country found the policy-makers fixated on Iraq as an incredible threat to America. A country with a power structure almost entirely made up of minority Sunnis pitted against the majority Shia who have been suppressed for decades will be the target of an invading force half the size of the one used more than ten years prior to oust and secure Kuwait. On August 26th, Vice President Cheney spoke before the VFW National Convention and laid out the groundwork for invasion. Chemical weapons and a supposed desire for nuclear capabilities directed at the U.S. tied together with a flimsy rope that Hussein would hand these weapons over to al Qaeda. The speech and subsequent expositions by various individuals from the President on down continued the theme which would have been convincing had the facts supported their collective statements.

Unfortunately, this would not come to pass for most if not all of the conjectures laid forth.

Through the clouded lens, the United States would invade a country of 24 million with a force of 300,900 with little if any discussion of post-war activities (and in some circles without the use of the word 'occupation' at all). Again, the one identifiable beneficiary of a Hussein-less Iraq would be a theocratic Shiite Iran to the east and the Shiite population within the country. The faltering Iraq would inspire more angst among close neighbors such as Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. However if the rhetoric prior to the invasion was to be taken seriously, the United States would be in and out and leave behind a strong freely elected government at little cost to the taxpayers back half a world away and everything would be better.

(A large aside here: it is obvious that the weapons turned out not to exist, and that this is the main reason why Senators, opinion writers, and the like say that they would not have supported the invasion had they known this. That view must come to terms with several intelligence estimates that put forth the conjecture that even if Saddam Hussein had access to such weapons, he was quite unlikely to use them save on an invading force, and would be incredibly resistant to giving away such munitions to bands of unwieldy terrorists who might in turn use them against him. The larger point that launching a war of aggression against a country that was not posing a direct threat against the U.S. as being completely indefensible appears to be lost in the cacophony of rejoinders such as "we were lied into war." Preventative war has much the same consequences as preventative arrests of individuals by the state - it will yield worse outcomes then what it desires to prevent.)

Now several years have passed since this rosy scenario was swept off the drawing board and the U.S. presence has become one of holding this Shiite death squad away from that Sunni band of insurgents. Or vice versa; or shooting at both. The civil war that has grown since 2003 and 2004 has clearly moved beyond the control of Army and Marine commanders on the ground, and moreover has eclipsed the understanding of many in Washington, D.C., to the extent that it has yet to be officially recognized by the President as actually existing.

With the horizon looking fairly bleak on the Iraqi front, the American public is treated to new threats from its own government. An encounter with Iran.

Why is the Administration pulling out all the stops to make it appear that Iran is doing something insidious inside Iraq to the detriment of American interests? And why is the fear-baiting logic based on the proposition that Iran is meddling in the affairs of another country; did not America do this first by invading and occupying the land itself? Noam Chomsky makes the connection that this whole situation would be absolutely unacceptable to Americans if the debate were reversed: Iran has invaded Canada and Mexico and now dares the U.S. to further confrontation.
"It is, however, useful to ask how we would act if Iran had invaded and occupied Canada and Mexico and was arresting U.S. government representatives there on the grounds that they were resisting the Iranian occupation (called "liberation," of course). Imagine as well that Iran was deploying massive naval forces in the Caribbean and issuing credible threats to launch a wave of attacks against a vast range of sites -- nuclear and otherwise -- in the United States, if the U.S. government did not immediately terminate all its nuclear energy programs (and, naturally, dismantle all its nuclear weapons). Suppose that all of this happened after Iran had overthrown the government of the U.S. and installed a vicious tyrant (as the US did to Iran in 1953), then later supported a Russian invasion of the U.S. that killed millions of people (just as the U.S. supported Saddam Hussein's invasion of Iran in 1980, killing hundreds of thousands of Iranians, a figure comparable to millions of Americans). Would we watch quietly?"
That is not a rhetorical question. The answer is an emphatic 'No'. This does not excuse Iran from its own daredevil diplomacy, but the greater context of what our actions have wrought should never be left behind to debate the merits of Iran's statements and actions in a political vacuum.

So Iran is next, while Iraq and Afghanistan are by any measuring stick trundling towards failed states with America's over-indulgent help. Is that what the United States wants?

The choice seems somewhat clear: leave Iraq. It is imperative that the American forces quickly depart the field. It may be even more imperative that the United States acknowledge its own shortcomings and failures with regards to the invasion and post-invasion plans and to quickly convene a long-term solution with all the neighbors regardless of whether they are currently viewed as friend or foe. To leave behind nothing in the wake of departing military personnel would probably be catastrophic to not only the country but the region as a whole. The connection of the entire region (as best can be established and as difficult as that will be) to the outcome may serve to lighten the slaughter but there can really be no definitive statement on what the departure of the Americans will mean in terms of lives lost or saved. Yet something must be tried other than brute force by the occupier. Even if that worked for Saddam Hussein, it is not the option America needs with which to tarnish itself.

What the United States has done to Iraq will most certainly be a most dark spot in our history. Sure there will be some who debate even this point, but there are always those get left behind as the real world labors on. What the U.S. needs to do from this point forward is extricate itself from foreign entanglements already ongoing, and resist the urge to gin up news one for further misadventures. All the while actually engaging in real dialog with nations within the region to ensure actual cooperation that benefits more than just one side.

Sadly, this Administration may not heed said advice.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Regulation 635-200, Chapter 5-13

A very interesting article came out through The Nation magazine titled, "How Specialist Town Lost His Benefits" by Joshua Kors. Within the article the reader learns how Specialist Town was discharged from the Army after several months recuperating from a near fatal run-in with a rocket in Ramadi, Iraq. Three years pass by and both the Army and Jon Town realize that he will not be making his way back to active duty. One would presume that suffering great physical harm from a rocket attack would logically need some form of medical disability or benefits from the military, but that is where the story changes.

Enter Regulation 635-200 of the United States Army, Chapter 5 section 13 (PDF link, page 66 of the PDF | page 52 in the manual). That section follows:
5–13. Separation because of personality disorder Under the guidance in chapter 1, section II, a soldier may be separated for personality disorder (not amounting to disability (see AR 635–40)) that interferes with assignment or with performance of duty, when so disposed as indicated in a, below.
a. This condition is a deeply ingrained maladaptive pattern of behavior of long duration that interferes with the soldier’s ability to perform duty. (Exceptions: combat exhaustion and other acute situational maladjustments.) The diagnosis of personality disorder must have been established by a psychiatrist or doctoral-level clinical psychologist with necessary and appropriate professional credentials who is privileged to conduct mental health evaluations for the DOD components. It is described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV) of Mental Disorders, 4th edition.
b. Commanders will not take action prescribed in this chapter in lieu of disciplinary action solely to spare a soldier who may have committed serious acts of misconduct for which harsher penalties may be imposed under the UCMJ.
c. Separation because of personality disorder is authorized only if the diagnosis concludes that the disorder is so severe that the soldier’s ability to function effectively in the military environment is significantly impaired. Separation for personality disorder is not appropriate when separation is warranted under chapters 4, 5, 7, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15, or 18 of this regulation; AR 380–67; or AR 635–40.
d. Nothing in this paragraph precludes separation of a soldier who has such a condition for other reasons authorized by this regulation.
e. Separation processing may not be initiated under this paragraph until the soldier has been counseled formally concerning deficiencies and has been afforded ample opportunity to overcome those deficiencies as reflected in appropriate counseling or personnel records. (See para 1–16.)
f. When it has been determined that separation under this paragraph is appropriate, the unit commander will take the actions specified in the notification procedure. (See chap 2, sec I.)
g. For separation authority, see paragraph 1–19.
h. The service of a soldier separated per this paragraph will be characterized as honorable unless an entry-level separation is required under chapter 3, section III. Characterization of service under honorable conditions may be awarded to a soldier who has been convicted of an offense by general court-martial or who has been convicted by more than one special court-martial in the current enlistment, period of obligated service, or any extension thereof.

The premise is that if the soldier has a mental disorder unrelated to injuries sustained in combat then the Army need not follow through with medical benefits and treatment, but may discharge the individual nonetheless on said disorder. By the article, the way this regulation is being presented to wounded veterans is as follows: A doctor tells the veteran, "You can get out of the service if we discharge you on a personality disorder. You'll keep your benefits and keep the signing bonus, too. It is just quicker this way." If that were true and documented, that in itself is an epic tragedy to the wounded soldier as they do not keep VA medical benefits with such a discharge, and some face the prospect of owing the Army money because they will have to return a portion of a signing bonus based on time served in the Army.

From the article:
"In the last six years the Army has diagnosed and discharged more than 5,600 soldiers because of personality disorder, according to the Defense Department. And the numbers keep rising: 805 cases in 2001, 980 cases in 2003, 1,086 from January to November 2006. "It's getting worse and worse every day," says the official who handles discharge papers. "At my office the numbers started out normal. Now it's up to three or four soldiers each day. It's like, suddenly everybody has a personality disorder." "

And across all armed forces, 22,500 soldiers have been discharged in this manner. While there are certainly cases to find where the individual soldier, sailor, or marine had a real disorder which could be cause for the 5-13 discharge, it appears there are going to be several cases where veterans are being whisked out of service to save benefit costs to the Department of Defense.

If one is not for the quagmire in Iraq, it takes little intelligence or humanity to understand that those who dedicate themselves to the military need better treatment and care than this. There was the obvious case of neglect at Walter Reed Hospital which was quickly seized upon by the national media outlets, but something innocuous such as this might not make the headlines. It is imperative that further investigations be conducted into the matter to ensure that the Administration is honoring the promises of those it sends into harm's way.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Scandals Until 2009 And Beyond

While the President fought vigorously to hold on to the reigns of power in 2004 and succeeded, it may have been a better plan to exit after just one term and avoid the nearly daily barrage of new charges, whistle blowers, and scandalous revelations that now fill the press. Many of these scuttlebutts which were only hinted at during the latter part of the first term are now open to the public.

Contorted pre-invasion intelligence; perverted reconstruction contracts and oversight in Iraq; revisions of scientific information; abuse of civil liberties on the basis of extra security; breaching a CIA agent's cover for political retribution; secret illegal wire-tapping; the FBI and National Security Letters; and the firing of 8 U.S. Attorneys for political motives. All of these might have been swept under the rug or not have happened had President Bush lost. Yet now they all sit in a pile on the desk at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue awaiting a Congressional investigation, of which there are many coming.

Of the recent two-term Presidents, all have had their most serious issues in the second term (which makes sense, since if a President has their worst issue during the first term, they are more than likely not to be rewarded with a second 4-year term). Reagan, Clinton, and Nixon, took severe bruisings and suffered humiliation while presiding over the last four years and obviously in the case of Nixon, not seeing the last years at all. On the surface with President George W. Bush, the tight seal that the Administration kept on all political and operational details prevented the public and Congress from knowing what it was doing. As the lid has come off (most recently with the I. Lewis Libby trial, the Justice Department's rebuke of the FBI's handling of National Security Letters, and Justice's own dilemma with the firing of non-compliant attorneys) the White House must concentrate more and more effort on defending itself and less time from actually accomplishing political goals.

If this near-term history is a measuring stick, the modern President who successfully claims a second term has at most five years of time to move the national debate - beyond that there is little room left to breathe before the subpoenas come strolling in. This President should see a fair share of them quite soon.

Friday, March 09, 2007

NSL - (Not To Be Confused With SNL)

Glenn Greenwald has yet another excellent post regarding the National Security Letters the Federal Bureau of Investigations have been issuing since the Patriot Act's inception. With the report from the Justice Department investigation it appears the FBI has been playing a little bit loose with the rules regarding the issuance of said NSLs.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Putin's Remarks In Munich

President Vladimir Putin addressed the Munich Conference on Security Policy February 10, 2007 with a rather forceful reproval of American policies. Such an outburst of criticism was summarily trounced in most press accounts as a bellicose loosening of the tongue on the part of the Russian leader.

Two opinions contrary to those rebukes come from Ivan Eland and Patrick Buchanan.

In Buchanan's opinion piece he suggests that there are more than just a few grievances that Russia could have with the U.S. in terms of international relations:

"When the Cold War ended, we seized upon our "unipolar moment" as the lone superpower to seek geopolitical advantage at Russia's expense.

Though the Red Army had picked up and gone home from Eastern Europe voluntarily, and Moscow felt it had an understanding we would not move NATO eastward, we exploited our moment. Not only did we bring Poland into NATO, we brought in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, and virtually the whole Warsaw Pact, planting NATO right on Mother Russia's front porch. Now, there is a scheme afoot to bring in Ukraine and Georgia in the Caucasus, the birthplace of Stalin.

Second, America backed a pipeline to deliver Caspian Sea oil from Azerbaijan through Georgia to Turkey, to bypass Russia.

Third, though Putin gave us a green light to use bases in the old Soviet republics for the liberation of Afghanistan, we now seem hell-bent on making those bases in Central Asia permanent.

Fourth, though Bush sold missile defense as directed at rogue states like North Korea, we now learn we are going to put anti-missile systems into Eastern Europe. And against whom are they directed?"

Buchanan goes on to name more, but the point is stated fairly well just with these four; that the U.S. has been camping in the backyard of so many issues close to Russia's interest would make any policy maker take notice and wonder if some of these initiatives aren't a bit too far-reaching.

Eland comes to many of the same conclusions that Buchanan does, but concentrates on the adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan to restate that the aggressive militarism promoted by the Bush Administration has served world security quite poorly, and (if one looks beyond the tragedy that is modern day Iraq) has damaged the United States acutely. He goes on to write in his concluding paragraph:

In his most astute criticism of the lone superpower's foreign policy, Putin noted that the power amassed by a global power "destroys it from within." Alluding to the aggressive, militaristic U.S. foreign policy, Putin noted correctly that, "it has nothing in common with democracy, of course." Surprisingly, Putin, a domestic autocrat himself, seems to see what the U.S. Founders knew, but what the occupants of the post-World War II imperial presidency have not been able to fathom. During the Roman Republic, the concentration of power associated with a militarized foreign policy led to the disintegration of the republic itself. The same thing is happening in the United States now. Thus, to safeguard one of the greatest domestic systems in the world, U.S. citizens and policymakers should drop the Tarzan foreign policy and return to the Founders' policy of minimal interference in the affairs of other nations.

Pay special attention to the phrase "destroys it from within." So long as America willfully engages in active armed conflict without a definable national security interest, the country will slowly tear itself down without the help of a foreign power lifting a proverbial finger.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Non-Binding Resolutions From The 109th

During the ongoing debate on President Bush's force escalation being hosted in the House of Representatives, many have claimed that since the debate is over a non-binding resolution the whole affair is meaningless.

John Boehner, Republican Representative from Ohio, said that the debate was "a political charade lacking both the seriousness and the gravity of the issue that it's meant to represent."

It would appear that non-binding resolutions are not unusual in Congresses past and present. Two quick examples come from the 109th - H Res 861 pledged support to the President and called for no timetables for withdrawal from Iraq. A then majority member of the House was quoted as saying: "Retreat is not an option in Iraq,'' declared House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. "Achieving victory is our only option, for the American people and our kids." At the time it was not a charade to pass such legislation.

Then there was the pro-Israel, anti-Hizbullah non-binding resolution passed in July of 2006 that supported the military effort of the IDF. It placed on record 410 members in favor of Israel's tactics while only 8 voted against the measure.

So what is wrong with Congress putting something on record? It would seem that both parties enjoy using the procedure to generate debate and coverage of political issues while avoiding the full force of law by their actions. It is a tactic to an end, and it only matters for which side the tactic is used before it can be judged right or wrong.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Likely Results From A Surge In Troop Numbers In Baghdad

President Bush made public his plans to increase troop presence in the city of Baghdad on Wednesday, January 10, 2007. What are the likely outcomes for such an increase?

The hoped for outcome by the Administration of more soldiers and marines is that violence within the city will be quelled, and that the political process can continue towards making progress in peacefully settling the struggles between the Sunnis and the Shiites in Iraq. With that intervention resolved, then the Iraqi government can take on the responsibility of rebuilding physical infrastructure and communities (through 10 billion dollars of its own money, not American funds). There was no time limit set to the 20,000+ increase in troop deployments but it would be presumed that once all of these successes come to pass, that a gradual phase down would follow in keeping with the slogan, "U.S. troops will stand down as Iraqi troops stand up."

From what the American experience has shown thus far in the occupation in Iraq (the occupation beginning on or around May 1, 2003 with the announcement that major military operations were complete), there is little evidence to lend to the above conclusions with regards to a major troop increase in a specific geographic area of Iraq. Fallujah, Samarra, Haditha, and more towns and cities in Iraq have displayed the inadequate nature of immediate deployments and intense fighting followed by the relative calm - the military flushes the insurgents out, but eventually the fighting leaves behind a brutalized town and the irregular fighting force off to another town to fight another day. An article linked over at Juan Cole's web log hinted that the regular forces of the Mahdi Army already were shape-shifting into the background of Iraqi life in Baghdad in advance of the surge. From the article, "Mahdi Army militiamen say that while they remain undercover now, they are simply waiting for the security plan to end." Encouraging that a simple change of plans will go to subvert this major new strategy of the President's.

Furthermore, the increase in military numbers provides an increase in live targets for a city of millions. IED's and sniper attacks have not gone out of fashion to date, and more patrols with Iraqi units will most likely increase the rate of attacks for months to come. It would be quite likely as well that Iraqi police units will be specific targets if the military patrols are deemed to dangerous to attack. Police headquarters and sign-up stations have been relentlessly attacked during the entire occupation, so it may not be noticeable over a period of time if they increase or decrease minimally.

And what is to be said about the general populations' view on the heightened security measures? Some may certainly welcome the perceived increase in security on the streets of Baghdad, but many will also view this increase as a reminder of an occupying nation taking up residence in their capital. Imagine an armored personnel carrier rolling down your street with an armed machine gunner atop the vehicle and ask yourself if you feel safe or scared at the sight.

Increasing the numbers will probably also yield one or two mishaps on the part of U.S. military units engaging enemies and civilians alike in street-level fighting. More raids and further insults to Islamic traditions and sensitivities can only add to the recruiting strategy of insurgents and sectarian divisions making the long-term goals more remote.

Some or maybe all of these instances may never come to fruition but this is the glum prediction of Iraq, and history has shown that the more dire prognostications have come true more often than the rosy ones. The Administration has constantly relied on brute force to fix Iraq, and there are few if any tangible results from said policies. The rhetoric of the President is fixed on success, but the jargon of his policy is set on destruction.

Breaking Baghdad even further is not the solution.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

How One Acts Like A Hypocrite

The Democrats are just about to take control of the House and the Senate, thus removing from power the Republicans and their twelve year rule. With it, the leadership of the House will now become the respectful minority and as such, they will need to yield to the rules laid down by the Democratic leadership.

Understanding this reversal, three Congressmen felt obliged to request that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi honor her proposition of 2004 to establish a minority bill of rights. Insisting that Democrats, "respect customary and regular order in considering legislation, and establishing that the rights of the minority party will be respected."

Hypocrisy is professing one set of beliefs for others while not adhering to said set of beliefs when applied to you. The House was a well-documented bastion of aggressive rules designed to all but excuse the minority members from participation when under Republican reigns since 1994, and now three members beseech the new leader to understand the importance of fair rules in the House.

Of course there should be no reason whatsoever for the Speaker to not change the rules so as to allow the minority to have a voice in the institution. It is the right thing to do and will no doubt reflect highly on the body as a whole that the Democrats encourage open debate. Yet to take a stand which is blatantly and unabashedly hypocritical will no doubt let many voters feel satisfied with their collective decisions on November 7, 2006.