Archive for March 2007

Alberto – Will He Go?

March 31, 2007

It is difficult to recognize how significant the firing of 7 US Attorneys will be when you think in the context of (1) they were originally political appointees so they should have some small bias already build in and (2) at their time of appointment, I would guess no one suspected Representative Cunningham or Representative Gary Lewis or Dusty Fogo of wrong doings.  It could not have been the founding fathers idea that the President could on a whim block or impede legitimate investigations simple to fulfill his prerogative of hiring and firing US Attorneys.

Some observations:

1. The Bush Administration has shown almost no concern for the leadership and administrative skills in the hundreds of political appointees they have made.  Remember good old Brownie (“You’re doing a heck of a job”).  Why would they suddenly feel it necessary to delve into the Justice Department when there was no smoke?

2. Kyle Sampson and Monica Goodling, both with little or no real prosecurial experience were highly involved with the 7 US Attorneys dismissal process.  Kyle was the “chief of staff” for Gonzales and Goodling was a lower level “liaison” between Justice and the White House.  Both were a bit thin on experience for these jobs at such a high level and importance.  Perspective and experience, rather than ideological leanings should be a prerequisite.

3. An added tidbit with Ms Goodling is that she is one of 150 graduates from Regent University working in the Bush Administration.  The hand of Pat Robertson may not be far away.

4. No one should dispute the right of the President to replace any or all the US Attorneys.  Each US Attorney heads a staff of as many as 100 Attorneys who are more or less shielded from abritrary firings.  A simple statement at the outset saying, as poorly as it may have sounded, “the President simply has exercised his prerogative and replaced 7 US Attorneys.”  There is no need to provide a reason.  But when you hear one day it is for cause and the next day, it is for political reasons, you think you are looking at a little boy who has been caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

5. Could the poor handling of the US Attorney/Gonzales affair represent a deeper problem in the White House?  Are they part way in the bunker?  The Iraq situation is a mess and the Congress is not going to go away.  Do they fear that when eventually they must change course and commit to taking Troops out, that will simply give license to the Congress to ask the really revealing questions about how we ever got into this mess in the first place.

6. When you think about this administrations view of individual rights to privacy, habeas corpus, trail by jury with all evidence presented, and humane interrogation methods, it should not be a surprise that they would place little importance on the prosecurial correctness and more on political correctness.

National Policy

March 30, 2007

It was always my notion that the President and his staff selected policies that were premised on what’s best for our “national interests”.  If the government selected a policy around farming, for example, they would stress why this was good for America and not say something like, “they gave a lot of money to my Party last year and so now it is pay back time”.  We might question the justification and whether it was good policy, and we might argue that the method of pursuing the policy might be flawed, but never the less the policy was premised on the national best interests.

Congress and the White House are now poised to fight each other over the Emergency War Funding Request, ringing in at $120 million.  The Congress’ view is that the funds are attached with a provision saying the Troops must begin coming home now.  The President adamantly says that we must give victory a chance and no way, no how will he accept an Emergency bill with these types of restrictions.  What is absent with both sides is a statement about what the “national policy” is and why it is in America’s best interest.

For sure this is a complicated subject.  The Middle Eastern world does not speak with one voice and is compromised with religious differences within one religion.  It is also compromised with haves and have nots and looking across the Middle East, it will be a snowy day in July before you see any examples of democracy.  Hoping to establish democracy in Iraq was noble and idealistic if that was our goal, but perfectly ridiculous to have expected as the outcome of regime change.  The Iraq War was never really in America’s best interest and certainly is not today.  When you are in a hole, the first rule is stop digging.

I do not know what the National Policy should be.  But here is one idea.  “Extremist around the world pose a threat to modern countries including the US.  The American government will maintain global intelligence activities including cooperation with other like minded countries.  We will use a full range of political, economic, and security measures to thwart any extremist plans.  We will use military force in selected situation but only with the approval of the UN security counsel.”  I would also add a policy statement on the Middle East. “It is in America’s best interest to promote and support efforts leading to peace and stability for all countries and peoples of the Middle East.  America’s role is as an honest broker and while assuring the existance of Israel, will not favor any party in the settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Further, America will not impose or dictate any particular form of government on Middle Eastern countries but will be free to use non-military means to combat countries whose human rights abuses are documented by the UN.”

These suggestion are probably not macho enough or would endanger unstated goals of certain American private interest groups.  Tough talk makes better sound bites and if we are not there, it is harder for Exxon and Chevron to get the oil, and Haliburton to sell them the equipment.

No Swiss Watch

March 29, 2007

John McCain continues to speak strongly in favor of supporting the surge.  He sees the Democratic Party majority in the House and Senate that passed the emergency war appropriation bill with provisions calling for US Troop withdrawal as wrong and simply “a plan for defeat”.  What has John been smoking?  Does he consider our current position “winning”?

This may be a valuable lesson for all of us.  George the Bush brought with him a team of advisers that could have handled the Grenada invasion.  Cheney and Rumsfeld brought outdated world views and management styles long banished from modern work places.  Rice was another person locked in the past.  She was an expert on the cold war, one where there was one good guy and one bad guy and nobody wore grey hats.  Powell was a disappointment to the degree that he did not resign when it became clear his voice of reason would not be heard.  John McCain seems to fit right in with this crew.

John carries two large warning flags; first his view that military victory is possible, and second, his inability to state clearly a value and then not back down.  John was initially outraged at Abu Ghraib but did not pursue the smoking gun to the tone at the top and the Administration top leaders including the President.  He was against the secret interrogation methods and yet found room for compromise.  For some issues there should be no compromise. 

The world is much more complex than the cold war days and even though the US remains as the only super power, there are significant limits on what America’s military power can accomplish.  The future will be about a much more balanced power base of diplomatic, national prestige (how others think of us as a model), economic strength, and a cost effective military arm to enforce policy (not to make it) when all else fails.  Not to be overlooked will be how we invest in the future.  Our strength today was generated by generations before us.  We might have a chance of extending our status of world leader providing we invest wisely.  Our future leaders must show us a balanced view.  Global warming, affordable and quality health care for all, education and employment opportunities, advancement of scientific thought, infrastructure repair and maintenance, and significant decrease in dependence on fossil fuels are a few starters.  

Iran and Trigger Fingers

March 28, 2007

Yesterday we saw reports of a two aircraft carrier naval “training” operation off the shores of Iran.  The coincidence with the recent Iranian capture of British sailors and marines is eerie.  While it appears the Iranians entered Iraqi waters to make the capture, it is just a diplomatically embarassing event.  With a little time this will be resolved with behind the scenes discussions.

I would dismiss this situation were it not for the corner Bush has painted himself into and will be shortly faced with a war funding bill with provisions to begin the withdrawal.  Bush’s rhetoric still maintains “no way”… we must give victory a chance.  But I think the country has reached the tipping point with Bush and his war.  Republicans who must run for reelection in 2008, for the most part, want some way to distance themselves from this failed policy.  Has he heard the message?

I worry also because Darth Vader still lurks in the background.  Darth Vader Cheney would see a tactical strike on Iran as a way to escalate things and take some heat off Iraq withdrawal.  I can here him say, “the Iranians have been agitating in Iraq and causing many of the deaths of US servicemen.  It is just fortunate that US troops are positioned so close that we can provide help to our coalition partner”.

If Colonel Rummy were still at DOD, I would take odds on some sort of incursion.  Fortunately, there is now Robert Gates who seems wise enough and secure enough to stand his ground.  Saber rattling is one thing (if well and carefully done) but an incursion is Iraq all over again.

It is time for Bush to call for a bipartisan discussion to formulate a real change in Iraq policy and to establish a comprehensive Middle East policy.  This would be an act of courage.  The surge may be making some things better in Baghdad but US soldiers are just dying someplace else, and the Iraq is no more stable, nor is the Middle East any more secure. 

Bush’s Legacy

March 27, 2007

The 1990’s brought us a lot of new rich people whose personal wealth rose on the top of the bubble economy.  The dotcom’s, the new traders (Enron), the new conglomerates (Tyco) and the new acquirers (MCI, Adelphia) where earnings growth seemed to come quarter after quarter with no end in sight.  A little cooking the books here and there helped smooth the earnings growth curve… until the day of reckoning.  Then they all imploded.

This same new economy thinking was ushered into Washington with Bush and his team.  Rumsfeld knew what to do with Defense and was absolutely confident that advanced weapons systems, rapidly deployed would overcome any hot spot around the globe.  Cheney, who from experience, should have known better seemed to show  hubris based upon the belief that there was no other country in the world that could contest a position taken by the US.  In Cheney’s mind this was the time to press the advantage.

Bush, of course, was in way over his head.  He could not understand the future potential ramifications of any government policies under discussion and was not interested in even trying to understand.  (Got to chop wood in Crawford or ride his bike staying fit for all those pictures.)  Like many of the boom to bust CEO’s, he passed on to his senior subordinates the responsibility of implementation.  How else could you get abrogation of the ABM treaty, outright rejection of Kyoto protocol, no child left behind with no funding, tax reductions leading to huge unbalanced budgets, and the cake topper, the war of choice in Iraq. 

When the country woke up to realize that the “mission was not accomplished” as had been said, we first began to sense that our troops might not be coming home soon.  We were told that Abu Ghraib resulted from “bad apples” and not reflection of the “tone at the top”.  The country was promised that the US was winning the war and it was for a good cause.  Soon we experienced the mind blowing government failure in response to Huricane Katrina.  It is hard to imagine a government so inept.  But that was not all.

The Administration began overseeing (and correcting) scientific findings by the FDA, EPA, and NASA.  What is particularly incredible is that there is complete agreement within the scientific community (peer reviewed papers) about the link between burning fossil fuels and global climate change.  Yet the Administration knew better.  They preferred administrators who were political aligned with the administration and simply did not want the word “science” to interfer.

Just as with the CEO’s mentioned earlier whose world imploded, so is the dream world of George the Bush.  You can see in Robert Gates the quality of character to know what is good American values and what is not.  He has immediately questioned Guantanamo and made clear his views that it will continue to damage America’s reputation as long as we allow it to exist.  He acted decisively on the Walter Reed incident and heads rolled.  Contrast that to Attorney General Gonzales and his indecisiveness on what happened with the 8 fired US Attorneys.  Gonzales is clearly a Bush type of guy but Gates is made from real timber.  How did he get into the team?

So, over the next year and a half we will witness the wheels coming off the bus.  The Bush Administration has done so many mean spirited, foolish, and plain wrong headed things that the surprises that may occur will all be disappointments.   

Tipping Point – Regaining the Center

March 26, 2007

What does “Regaining the Center” suppose to mean?  Clearly it means refocusing the Government from heavy diet of religious fundamentalism, neoconservatism, and love of all other narrow right wing interests as long as it keeps the Republicans in power.  If we think about the policies of Government somewhat like a pendulum, it is clearly pegged to the right today.  Regaining the Center does not mean let’s peg it to the left.

Unfortunately the natural reaction to 8 years of ultra right policies will be a strong tendency to counter it with strong, extreme even, liberal or progressive ideas.  This ultra left world will be, in different ways, as unsuitable as what we have seen with Bush and could even hasten a quick resurgence of conservatives.  The only defense to this oscillation is keeping as many issues as possible “in the Center” where balanced and fact based discussions can debate sensible government policy.

We should expect conservatives of all stripes to champion a strong national defense (read sizable Department of Defense budgets).  On the contrary, the sentiment that “all wars are bad” or “we must feed the poor first” while noble in purpose, are not totally practical.  We must have centrist Government policies that accept the principle that war is bad and should be avoided and entered only as a last resort.  We must have centrist Government policies that recognizes the dignity and humanity of all people and seek ways to provide health care, education, and housing in an affordable and fair manner.  This is truely the “we want guns and butter” approach but with the public debate “in the Center” and not in some column of the right wind, neoconsevative Weekly Standard, we will have a chance of finding ways to make progress. 

There could be sitting out there a tipping point for the Bush reign.  With the likes of Rove, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, coupled with the incredibly weak mental discipline (read he’s not smart and is lazy) of George the Bush, I just have a feeling there are all sorts of documents and recollections of cover ups, lies, and intentional misinformation that originated within the senior levels of Bush’s staff and most of which George was fully informed and chose not to stop, just waiting to be discovered.  If this happens it will be like a dam bursting. 

Democratic Party leadership will be measured in such an occasion on how statesmanlike they act or whether they try to get as much of the spoils as possible.  There are very serious issues facing the US that will require both creative and comprehensive policies.  Restoring global manufacturing competitiveness will need its place if we expect to produce honest, fair paying jobs to enable the poor to pull their way out of their current situation.  Education, health care, and affordable housing all have a place.  We must have other policies that allow the US to eliminate its dependence on foreign oil and at the same time sharply reduce the generation of CO2.  All of these objectives are important and we will need discussion and national debate on constructive paths forward. 

Regaining the Center will provide a place for this dialog.

Friends of a Feather…

March 25, 2007

Another slow news weekend.  Sort of like the quiet before the storm.  So I checked out the Weekly Standard’s web site to see what the voice of neoconservatives was saying.  Two reports that I noticed were “Wrong on the Timetable” and “Al Gore’s Fevered Imagination”.  I could have been listening to Tony Snow, George the Bush, or any of the Administration’s supporters.

First, William Kristol and Frederick Kagen co-authored the piece “Wrong on the Timetable” and as you would guess, it takes the position that Congressional Democrats who favor constraints including withdrawal from Iraq, simply do not understand what is going on today in Iraq.  This is “the surge is working” argument, so therefore victory will follow.  I somewhat agree with the Weekly Standard that Democrats have not addressed head on the real purpose of their proposals.

What is unfolding in Congress is the process of changing a failed and foolish Government policy that justifies preemptive military action in the name of “terrorist” control.  Nobody is speaking about Afghanistan and suggesting withdrawal or other interim measures.  The entire Democratic Party focus is on Bush’s “war of choice” which falls both short of justification under international law and plain common sense.  The whimsical hope that the US could topple a government and install a working democracy in a country absent any experience in democracy and in a region where there is violent political actions based upon religious beliefs seems hard to imagine anyone suggesting, much less doing.  (Of course there is the cynical possibility that the great thinkers behind this strategy never expected a true democracy and simply wanted a government that we would prop up and control.)

The American voters clearly voted to change the US Iraq policy in the last elections.  Unfortunately the rules of the Senate will allow Republicans to filibuster any measures the thin Democratic majority in the Senate would try to pass.  So in effect, barring any surprise Republican defections, Bush should be able to maintain his policies through the remainder of his term.  But it will be a messy process.

We do not have a crystal ball or the ability to see what will happen in Iraq over the next period of time.  The surge is aimed at Baghdad and to make it safe but just how safe is not defined.  We should not be surprised that if there is progress in Baghdad, the Administration will ask for even more “reinforcements” to apply the Baghdad surge tactics elsewhere in Iraq.  But for what end?  Where is the evidence that this is in the US’ best interest at all.

Second, Duncan Currie reported on former Vice President Gore’s global warming testimony.  The article slants the report again in a way to cast doubt on the connection of CO2 generation and global climate change.  While there should always be skeptics, objections to what Gore was reporting is akin to the annual report from the “flat earth society”.  Again the Weekly Standard report is in lock step with Bush policy… or is it possible that Bush is in lock step with the Weekly Standard?    

Ending the Iraq War – Changing Government Policy

March 24, 2007

Yesterday the House of Representatives voted pretty much along Party lines to supply funding for the Iraq War but with conditions that the Troops be withdrawn by April 2008.  President Bush along with his chorus of supporters whined that this bill was outrageous and its timing couldn’t be worse.  “With signs that the surge was working, victory could still be achieved.”  The bill actually has only a small chance of surviving the Senate and almost no chance of surviving a Presidential veto.  Never-the-less there is much to observe and learn from this.

1. As always “victory” and what it would look like are not defined.  Nor was the time that would be necessary to achieve this illusionary target.  We must remind ourselves constantly that the Administration’s goal is to remain in Iraq indefinitly and use the US presence to influence (read control) the Iraqi government while obtaining a preferential position in developing Iraqi oil.  With these goals, the surge can take a long time and the Administration would not be disturbed.

2. The Administration spokespeople decry the meddling with the efforts of the Generals.  Micromanaging was the word used to describe the House bill.  Excuse me!  The Generals are there for one reason and that is to achieve US government policy.  Period.  Generals do not make policy and they do not get to choose which policy they like and which one they do not.  The House bill is in effect a statement by a majority of American citizens that we need a change in Administration policy and need to bring home the troops.  The only trouble is that the Administration is not listening.  The House bill is not about micromanaging, it is about changing policy.

3. If the Bush Administration would recognize that a policy change is inevitable, they would use this moment to work an interim bi-partisan policy.  Physically bringing home the troops will represent a logistical feat and most likely insurgent elements will try to hamper the withdrawal for maximum propaganda value.  I would guess that withdrawal will require 2-3 years to complete.

4. John McCain and others are certain that as the last American Serviceman leaves Iraq, on the next boat or plane will be Al Qaeda.  “They will follow us home”.  This is rediculous on it surface.  There are already enough Al Qaeda training camps in Pakistan with Somalia and Sudan ready with plenty of land to support the launching of US based attacks.  But having training camps is not enough.  These terrorist groups need a “purpose” or “grievance to right”, and they need financial support.  Without purpose and money, there is no staying power for radical groups.  If we remain in the Middle East with a physical presence, we provide radical groups with a purpose and with all the oil there, there is no lack of funding.

5. What is not being said now is that military victory is not going to happen.  But bringing a stable government into existence is possible if and only if (1) it is negotiated with all the key Middle East countries and (2) the US assumes an even hand with Israel and there is substantive progress with a Palestinian settlement. 

This final point # 5 is generally outside the Bush Administration’s demonstrated capacity for thought.  It is however key to any hope of getting our Troops out of Iraq.   

How Did Gates Get His Job?

March 23, 2007

There was a report today that shortly after Robert Gates began his duties as Secretary of Defense, he recommended to the President that Guantanamo be closed.  He reasoned that any trials conducted there would be painted with prejudice of world opinion.  He was backed by Secretary Rice but opposed by Darth Vader Cheney and Attorney General Gonzales.  If there was any question that Gonzales is in over his head as Attorney General, here is one more reason why you should not depend on him defending your freedoms.

The Guantanamo proceedings provide the prisoners with no right to see all the evidence, no legal counsel or representation, and no right to participate in the entire hearing (part of the process is in secret).  How anyone can consider that fair and the American way, I do not know.  What this process does do is keep people locked up indefinently, surpresses any public disclosure of illegal acts by US authorities (if they had taken place), and sets a very low third world standard for the rest of the world to measure American Justice.

By stepping up to this issue, Mr. Gates showed that you can still be fundamentally conservative, fully Republican, and still be a decent, ethical, moral, and pragmatic person.  In rejecting Gates’ recommendation, Bush (read Karl Rove), Cheney, and Gonzales are simply trying to keep a lid on the rotting, stinking, ready to explode, sorry state of affairs called the Bush legacy.

Support the Troops?

March 22, 2007

Today was a bad news day.  The House of Representatives is readying a spending bill with a “date certain” withdrawal specified.  As expected, President Bush said he would veto it and it would send the wrong message to our troops and allies.  Tony Snow, when not answering questions about the potential subpoenas for Rove and Meyers, claimed there were signs that the surge was working and we needed to be patient.  But what really hurt was to hear Democrats divided among themselves on specifying a “date certain”.  They are so divided that there might not be even a simple majority.

I will admit this is a difficult situation the US finds itself in.  When you have the commander-in-chief absolutely committed to continuing the war, how do we get him to adopt an alternative strategy?  Today there is probably not a veto proof majority in either house, and in the Senate, it is almost equally divided.  So as long as George the Bush wants more of the same, we will get it.  But let’s not kid ourselves that the surge is supporting the troops either, they are still dying.

Our military units (and thanks a million times to the reservists) have performed very well under very extraordinary conditions.  They did their best to implement the Government’s policy.  The fact that Iraq is broken has everything to do with the US Government’s policy and almost nothing to do with the military.  We must remember that George Bush’s war was based upon imminent danger stemming from WMD, Al Qaeda active connections, and the “yellow cake” road to nuclear devices.  None of these conditions were true and so there was no imminent danger.  This war is illegal in international eyes.

George the Bush promised that Iraq would become a model democracy in the Middle East.  The freedom loving Iraqi people would come forward and embrace the modern ways of free competition, claimed White House officials.  Other Middle Eastern countries would take notice of what democracy can do and would gradually open their countries to more democratic rule.  What were they thinking?

I continue to believe that we need to focus on George’s war as (1) illegal under international law and (2) a particularly foolish undertaking (thinking that Iraq would do in months what every other countries needs decades or centuries to do).  In addition the war is immoral, tragic, and wasteful of our resources.  The lost opportunity cost of the Iraq War is potentially huge.  I say potentially because you can not be sure that the Bush administration would have applied itself to any good purpose had it not gotten bogged down in Iraq.

So my advice to the Democrats in Congress, forget these symbolic votes.  Investigate and help us all learn about the decisions that got us into the war.  Hold the Administration accountable for what progress has been made against their objectives.  Use the power of public hearings with Congressional Committees to paint the picture of what has happened these past 7 years.  The truth will be so strong that even if we have to wait until 2008, there will be much better understanding that you can support the troops and bring them home.