Archive for April 2007

The Worry List

April 29, 2007

At a time when many Americans are worrying about Iraq, should we leave or should we stay, the real issue is Iraq is wasting our time and money and lives.  Beginning from the false premise that America’s single biggest issue was the infamous “war on terror”, the Bush Administration has lead the country over hill and dale all around Iraq.  Strategically the Middle East is simply not a place to die trying to insert our foreign policy views.  Other than oil, there is little or nothing that any American needs from this part of the world.  And oil is available and always will be available for a price.  That price is a price much lower than the cumulative price America has already paid in Iraq (and we are not close to ending our need to pay) from this unwise and unnecessary war.

The world according to Bush (read Cheney and Rove) changed with 9/11.  America was attacked and there would be no stone left unturned until we rooted out these perpetrators.  Some response was necessary and the invasion of Afghanistan with full UN support seems appropriate even today.  It was targeted and eliminated the open training of terrorists in Afghanistan.  What was also needed was some thoughtful questioning of why al Qaeda felt compelled to fly two planes into the twin towers.  What drove these people to do such an uncivilized act?

We have been told that they “do not like American life style and values” which is akin to me saying “let’s bomb New Delhi because I do not like Indian food”.  There must be some far more basic grievences than our life style and values. 

What about:

1. Perceived unfairness in favoring the Israelis in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

2. Support and protection of the House of Saud (which is probably a grievance that the Saudis have not shared their wealth with the poorer people of the region)

3. Countries practicing capitalism and participating in globalization movements tend to ignore poorer people around the world even while extracting wealth from those people’s lands. 

With the availability of weapons and the ease at recruiting the young and the disadvantaged, there will be these groups who purport to have this grievance or that one for years to come.  From Southeast Asia through the Middle East to Africa and then onto South America, the fires will burn.  How can anyone conceive that the US will hop from country to country putting out these fires of insurgents?

There is no doubt that fixing the Middle East is necessary but it is not the biggest issue facing America.  Here is my worry list

1. American maturation so that we can compete peacefully with China and India over the next 3 decades.  How do we learn to understand the true motives of each country and how to communicate clearly in a transparent manner to people who possess totally different languages, customers, and histories.  How do we compete productively with each country so that we use only our fair share of the world’s limited resources?

2. Regenerate the productive and creative energies of our country and return real growth (not wealth redistribution) to all Americans.  How do we educate and employ Americans in jobs that allow them to partake in the country’s overall wealth appreciation?  How do we avoid the decay of America’s Industrial and Scientific strength?

3. Rebuild the American infrastructure and bring Americans together again.  How do we assure that the social security safety net will be there for all Americans?  How do we provide healthcare to all Americans with fairness and dignity?  How do we find the middle ground to resolve issue where Americans hold strongly held opposing views?

4. Transition rapidly from a fossil fuel dependant nation to one where alternate renewable energy sources dominate and green house gases are dramatically reduced.  How do we reduce our dependence on foreign sourced oil?  How do we introduce energy sources based upon solar and geothermal energy sources?  How do we develop a respect and appreciation for climate change and the potential catastrophic impact it could have?

The travesty of Iraq is first and foremost the lost opportunity cost.  We are fighting a war that never needed to be fought and one that the way out will look ugly and assuredly will please no one.  Instead of dealing with the big box issues that loom just ahead and are themselves extremely difficult to see solutions, we have fiddled as America burns.  I worry that historians will write that America set sail for second class status when the surge was considered a really new and hopeful strategy.

How Long?

April 28, 2007

We started the surge last November and began reporting “progress” in February of this year.  Of course much of the progress was confused with “bad days” and too many road side explosions and suicide bombers.  Even General Pratraus claims there are signs of progress but in the end he sums it up as little or no change.  Now the Administration is saying that they will not measure progress until later this year, probably around November.

There are several realities that must take place if we are to see progress anytime.

1. There must be serious negotiations with all of Iraq’s neighbors with the full respectful acknowledgement of Syria and Iran. 

2. We need to commit to withdrawing all US forces from Iraq and only allow some smaller number stay if this is agreeable to Iraq and all Iraq’s neighbors.

3. We need to pull Israel’s ear and say that we plan to include the Palestinian-Israeli situation in the negotiations with Iraq’s neighbors (augmented with Egypt).  The lack of peace between Israel and Palestinians is not the fault of one side or the other.  The path to peace will not happen, however, if Israel feels no pressure.

4. We need to develop a true “Plan B” that assumes (1) Iraq’s neighbors are not helpful in bringing peace, (2) Iraq, itself, prefers to remain fractured and parts of the country are lawless, and (3) we withdraw our military forces.

Under the conditions just cited, our obligation to fix what we broke in Iraq is ended.  What would remain is the unwanted side effects of free space for radicals to train and ship terrorists to other lands.  This calls for asymmetrical thinking. 

Bush and Cheney are almost linear thinkers.  I use the word “almost” because they are clearly not parallel thinkers, and when they come up with the next step, it is just like more of the same.  What is needed to resolve the Middle East is a comprehensive approach.  Someone like Robert Gates could lead this effort but “cold war” Condi is unlikely to even try.  Little George and Dick are even interested.  And the Generals are not suppose to make policy in the first place.

I wonder whether that means we must wait for the change in Administrations in January of 2009?

Looking Ahead

April 27, 2007

As I watch the dysfunctional Bush Administration play out their last 18 months, I often wonder what it will be like with the next Administration.  Last night we saw 8 shameless Democratic candidates, all standing before an American flag mural, pandering to a NBC TV audience.  I have no idea what they are going to do for the next 12 months.

Despite the sound bites and pat answers to thoughtful questions, I think I saw the future.  There is no doubt in my mind that Iraq will be too heavy a weight for any Republican candidate to carry and win.  So what we saw last night is what we are going to get…  Here’s what I say:

  • I saw President Hillary Clinton.  She was poised and you knew right away she was not going to take crap from anyone.  Hillary is like a two edged sword.  On one side she is bright, organized, and hard working.  She is heads and shoulders more qualified than George the Bush.  On the other side, she can be stubborn and vindictive.  She will benefit from a cabinet that is balanced.
  • Vice President Barrack Obama was standing tall and looking very comfortable in this position.  Barrack will benefit mightily with 4 or maybe 8 years as VP.  He will gain tremendous experience with foreign leaders and the image of him as President will seem natural to the American public as a result.
  • Secretary of State Bill Richardson made a good impression.  While he would have wanted to President, he will make a solid contribution dealing with foreign leaders as Secretary of State.
  • Secretary of Defense Joe Biden would also have preferred to have been Secretary of State if he could not be President.  But Biden is now at an age where the ability to contribute is more important than disappointment in not reaching the top job.  Biden will bring a thoughtful balance to Defense.
  • Attorney General Chris Dodd looks so much more the part of the top US legal official than does Alberto Gonzales.  Chris will be all America’s lawyer.

I also saw

  • Governor John Edwards who try as he may just could not make me feel comfortable with him as President.  With all the top cabinet positions filled, John will seek and win the Governors position in North Carolina.
  • Dennis Kucinich with fleeting images of Harold Stassen and Hubert Humphrey will remain in the House for a few more years.  He will take over the Ralph Nader organization and continue to run for President as the Green Party standard barrier for 20 more years.
  • Mike Gravel will return to private life in Alaska.  He had hoped to become the Secretary of Interior but the call never came.

It is early and my picks do not take into account how each of these people see their options.  I can say that in comparison to the crowd that George Bush surrounded himself with, this beginning of a cabinet would do very well. 

Tone at the Top

April 26, 2007

Most corporations today are concerned about the “tone” (attitudes and actions) of top corporate officers because that is what all the subordinates lower in the organization see and assume is acceptable behavior.  These corporations all have written codes of conduct and if written words were sufficient, there would be no need for any anti-trust or tax evasion activity by the Justice Department.  But corporations are filled with real people who possess varying motives, loyalties, personalities, and behaviors.  The proper tone at the top is no guarentee of avoiding unethical or criminal activity but it is a very positive step in minimizing and subsequently detecting these unwanted actions that are in conflict with laws and regulations.  A tone at the top that reflects looking the other way or openingly endorses activities that flaunt laws and regulations is almost assured to be followed someplace in the organization with unethical or worse behavior. 

By the same token, the US Government is like a very large corporation.  The Presdient is our CEO.  He plus his cabinet leaders are the senior officers and through their behavior and fulfillment of their cabinet duties set the tone for our country.  Co-presidents Bush and Cheney have set a standard that we should all hope is not repeated no matter which party wins the next election.

Bush and Cheney are men who think they are on an important mission and that the ends justify a much wider range of means than has previously been viewed as acceptable.  Cases in point:

1. Convinced that the Middle East needed “regime change” and continued strong long term American influence, they concocted an elaborate fabrication of mis-truths to claim Iraq represented an imminent threat.  Bush and Cheney then lead the country into a war that was both unwise and unnecessary.

2. Possessing only ideological guidance, Bush and Cheney had no interest or ability at setting policies or plans that would assure the winning of the peace following the invasion.  Further since long term presence and control of the Iraqi government was their goal, there was little concern in the White House that the war was dragging on and death and destruction was mounting with Iraqi civilians.  Katrina, the Walter Reed scandal, and the recent student loan kick-backs (no over sight) all flow from the same managerial style.

3. The “war on terror” which is a brilliant political statement.  It fits the conservative fundamentalist view of the world divided into good and evil.  So, the President declared war on evil, whoever that was.  Who could possibly be against that?  Anyone who voiced support or even questioned the targeting of others as “evil” were also branded as an enemy sympathizer.  Whatever happened to due process?  Alberto Gonzales, then President Bush’s personal lawyer was tapped to craft some language that would give a legal standing to denying US citizens as well as anyone found in the war on terror “rights” of a US citizen as well as the Geneva Convention.  Rendition, extraordinary interrogation methods, unlimited detention without charges orrepresentation, Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo are all products of this tone.

4. Fast forward to today.  Attorney General Gonzales has recently testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee and over 70 times used the phrased “to the best of my memory, I can not recall…”  Once or maybe twice might be ok but this many times either represents someone hiding something or someone not up to the task of being the highest US justice official.  In either case, there is only one honorable thing to do and that would be to resign.  It is no surprise that Gonzales has elected to stay and Presidents Bush and Cheney have backed him.

What is most worrisome about this foul “tone at the top” is that it was not evident during Bush’s 2000 campaign.  It was evident fairly early following the election that Bush preferred to use political appointees and leave things to others.  The tragedy of 9/11 let the goblins out of their box (Kristol, Pearl, Wolfowicz, and Feith).  Cheney set the sails and the rest was history.  How can we avoid this in 2008?

I am not sure but would offer these recommendations:

1. Do not accept euphemism like “war on terror”, “clear air act”, “no child left behind”, “sanctity of marriage”, and “victory”.  Instead we should insist that the candidates be specific and describe exactly who and what they are referring to.

2. Be absolutely certain that either party can produce a successful next government and either party can also be a complete bust.  So there should be no room for candidate Rudy Giuliani’s statement that there will be terrorist attacks if the Democrats are elected.  This is shameful and should be repudiated.

3. Monitor the broad spectrum of political opinion including far right and far left.  Truth and practicality will lie way in between.

4. Be very skeptical of regular television news or news/talk shows.  You will see the same faces on these programs and the shows have become extensions of the candidate’s campaign.  It is ok to watch but don’t believe what is said without much more information.

5. This will be an election where the lesser menace of two unknown candidates will probably be the best bet.  Each candidate will have attributes that some group is deeply concerned about (either positive or negative).  Look what the “right to life group” got by supporting Bush; they got two Supreme Court Justices and over 3000 unnecessary deaths of Americans in Iraq coupled with 100’s of thousands Iraqi civilian deaths.  What type of right to life is that?    

Laugh or Cry?

April 25, 2007

Today John McCain made his official official announcement that he will seek the Republican presidential nomination.  He took the opportunity to tell everyone why he is no longer a candidate worthy of serious consideration.  He said that there had been mistakes made in the Iraq War effort, but “now we have changed the strategy and there are signs that the new strategy is working”.  What is good old John smoking?

1. Most voters can see when someone is kissing up.  McCain has always maintained that many more troops are needed and while the surge is more troops, it is not many more.  What is he planning to do, wait and then tell us later that we need even more?

2. One of the most important qualities of any leader is to know when to stop throwing good money after bad.  If McCain can not recognize the current Iraq situation and the President’s policies as losers, then John is not of presidential timber.

3. McCain has lost a marvelous opportunity to announce he favors a redefined role for the military and a significantly stepped up role for the State Department.  A smaller military footprint would still allow the US to chase al Qaeda and put out fires during  “all parties negotiation.”  McCain seems to lack imagination.

Yesterday we had our dear President once again criticize the Congressional Emergency War Appropriations bill with the words that Congress was playing politics and not giving the “generals” what they were asking for.  This is the same message Dick “the attack dog” Cheney also delivered during an impromptu (read tightly planned) news conference yesterday.  There are two points here:

1. The discussion is about policy (Congress wants a policy that brings the troops home) and generals do not make policy, not now, not ever, unless we are looking to live in a dictatorship.

2. The surge is a form of stay the course.  With the surge, we are just putting our soldiers into a different line of fire location.  Bush and Cheney are so narrow  minded and possess such intense 20/20 tunnel vision that they can not conceive of negotiations and military action.  To them you beat your opponent to a pulp and then there is no need for negotiations.

The level of rhetoric seems high and surprisingly pointed.  You are moved to think George and Dick are worried something, but about what?  My guess is the following:

1. The White House already recognizes that this “surge” will not be enough troops.  Catching the insurgents are somewhat like pushing on a balloon, you push in one place and they pop out someplace else.  So, the White House is already figuring they will need to increase troops again in the October time period.  They do not want to be dealing with a resolution that says in October begin taking them home and at the same time Bush wanting to increase the number.

2. Once the national policy is changed and drawing down troops has begun, there will be an emotional hurdle the country will have crossed.  With the realization that we are withdrawing, the country will begin to more seriously ask “why did we go there in the first place”?

3. The king of strategists, Karl Rove, is most likely advising that the Republicans strongest case for 2008 will be to have the war still underway.  While past performance is no guarantee of the future, the Democrats have a propensity to self destruct and maybe TV land’s Fred Thompson could slip in, become President, and squash any embarassing investigations of Bush and Cheney’s 8 year escapade.

Iraq is a Serious Mess

April 24, 2007

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Bush kept up their respective roles in the Theater of the Absurd with each making statements and claims that do not address the real issues in front of us.  It is not about simply exiting or staying the course, it is about a thoughtful policy change.

1. It may not do much good to restate the obvious but Bush allowed the US to enter a war that was neither necessary or wise.  In international terms it is an unjust war.  But Bush went there anyways and “broke” Iraq.  He not only removed the country’s leader but he dismantled the basic fabric of government and military turning these bureaucrats, technicians, and soldiers into the streets without any means of earning a livelihood.  Bush sowed the seeds that we now see as the insurgency, and by all accounts he has raised a fine crop.

2. With Iraq broken, as throughout history (history is probably a subject George and Dick Cheney omitted in their college days), there quickly arose a vacuum.  Into this vacuum came all sorts of extremists some who claim allegiance to al Qaeda.  These extremists will be a huge disrupting force to whomever tries to govern Iraq for a long time.  That happened on our watch and we bare a responsibility.

3. With George’s spin doctors in charge, anyone who voiced a questioning thought was replaced and Iraq policy simply followed what was viewed expedient to US domestic politics (read Karl Rove and Donald Rumsfeld).  No dwelling on deaths or the cost of fighting this war was their motto.  Think about Tillman’s cover-up, no pictures at Dover Airforce Base when caskets are unloaded, no special taxes to help pay the cost of the war, and no time for Cindy Sheehan.

4. And don’t forget that Bush lead the Administration into the gutter.  George’s buddy Alberto crafted some legal mumbo jumbo that prisoners or even private citizens might possess informationso important that the government should use every means possible to extract it, and did not need anyone’s permission.  The hypocrisy that arose following Abu Ghraib is astonishing.  How anyone could say these soldiers were just some bad apples and that they were only acting out policy is closing their eyes and ears to human nature.  The spying on citizens, the secret renditions, the denial of Habeas Corpus and the eye sore of Guantanimo demonstrate just what this administration thinks about human rights and the principles that have guided America as a great country.

5. Our military capability has been stretched too thin and has been disproportionally deployed.  We have no reserve capacity should it be needed.  Equipment is worn out and training time needs to be strengthened.

So the answer to the current debate can not be “stay the course” or “get out now”.  Ideally, we need a regime change and I would settle for any clear thinking Republican to replace Bush and Cheney with the proviso that they could not run for election in 2008.  The successor’s sole role would be to generate a bi-partisan approach to this awful mess.  Robert Gates or Colin Powel would be excellent replacements for Bush (it is hard to conceive of anyone who would not be a better President).

Unfortunately, this idea of Bush and Cheney retiring is unlikely.  So the next best thing is to tighten the funding leash on Bush.  Guide this debate to how Iraq fits into the longer term American national interests, and keep it on the front pages along side of the actual situation on the ground in Iraq.   I would also recommend that Congressional Leaders quietly work with Gates behind the scenes.  He is sane, logical, and a man of honor.  Getting out of Iraq involves both the “stopping the pain” idea as well as “meeting out moral obligation” stemming from “you break it, you own it”.

Running for President

April 23, 2007

While the 2008 Presidential Election is still a long way off, both Republican and Democratic Party hopefuls are very active raising money and positioning themselves as their party’s only logical choice.  In considering who might be the best or preferred candidate we need to consider each person’s strengths on some scale.  I am proposing the scale of 1 to 10 where all candidates begin with 1 and then qualify for more points, or may have points deducted should they commit a faux pas during the course of the campaign.

To add some dimension to the this 1-10 scale, let’s look at our current Presidents.  Your guess is as good as mine whether the real President is Dick Cheney or George Bush.  What is clear is that Bush has the official title but he has been such a lazy place holder who seems to lack the basic leadership skills not to mention he seems to know nothing of value about either domestic or foregn policy.  Cheney, by the positions he has taken, does not know much either and has pick aids who simply excel at getting it wrong.  So, briefly, Bush/Cheney began with 1, received 3 points before 9/11.  Following 9/11, Bush/Cheney received 2 more points and stood at 6 points.  Since 9/11, they have given back more than  10 points but under this system no one can score less than 1 point.  So Bush/Cheney today stand at 1.

Looking at the 4 leading Republican candidates, Rudy stands at 3 largely because he seems far more competent that Bush/Cheney and just as hawkish.  He would have scored more but he has waffled on pro-choice.  John McCain is actually below 1 but as I explained he must receive the minimum score.  John has set the modern day record for waffling and is committed to going down with the Iraq ship.  Mit Romney stands at 2 mainly because he has been so quiet.  And the fourth candidate is Fred Thompson who has 3 points.  Fred would likely have more points if he was a declared candidate.  With his smooth delivery we will never know what he really stands for but most Republicans will smile knowingly and say he’s my man.

On the Democratic side, Hillary and Obama stand also with 3 points.  They both actually had 4 points but had to give one back following there silly antics over fund raising in LA.  John the haircut Edwards has 2 points largely because he has kept his head down and is working the Iowa fields.  It may turn out that this will become a strategic move and boost his candidacy (and more of our points).  Lastly, Bill Richardson rings in with a 2 also.  Bill is still building his persona of a presidential person.  He has loads of real experience and the weeks ahead will tell us if he has the leadership skills and ability to tap enough other capable people to fill out a White House team. 

Bush/Cheney have set a pretty low standard and I see no candidate of either party having trouble doing better.  This will be a long race to the nominations and elections in 2008.  I just hope that the campagn rhetoric does not spend much time with comparison with Bush/Cheney and instead, explains why they have a vision of what America can be and how we can all get there.

In addition to these candidate, I would offer two names and I would give each a 5.  One is Robert Gates and the other is Michael Blumberg.  These two thoughtful and decisive individuals could make a Presidential race that was worthy of the office and did not simply reflect the power of money and spin.