Posted tagged ‘Iraq’

Feinstein’s Last Hurrah

December 9, 2014

Senator Diane Feinstein, Chair Person of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is set to release a committee report on alleged CIA abuses committed in the years following 9/11. The report is said to contain incidents involving water boarding as well as other “enhanced interrogation” methods. Hmmm.

Evidence obtained by these methods is considered suspect by most interrogators and is inadmissible in both the Military Commissions and US civilian courts. Hmmm.

Why release the report and why now?

Who knows what Feinstein’s real reasons are. Pragmatically, her term as committee chair ends with this Congress in December. Since the GOP is dead against the report’s release, it is now or never.

There will be certainly nothing in the report that has not been practiced by hundreds of nations before. For some it might be comforting to know that these enhanced interrogation methods will put the US in the same company as the Catholic Church’s inquisitions, Hitler’s Gestapo, and North Korea’s brain washing techniques. Of course no one will acknowledge that association. Instead we will hear about being a patriot and protecting our country.

If the world was fair, there would have been human rights and/or war crime trials following the revelation of these enhanced interrogation methods. The buck stopped with former President George W Bush but the coterie that promulgated the ideas of ends justify means was Vice President Dick Cheney and his circle of neoconservatives. While this group always spoke of protecting America, there were in fact undermining the Constitution and the many treaties adopted over the years aimed at curbing inhumane actions by governments.

In all probability, had the Bush Administration followed the Army Code of Conduct, the Iraq invasion and occupation probably would not have taken place. Once, however, an Administration sees itself as above the Constitution, existing treaties, or simple human decency, the Government ceases to operate within the traditional checks and balances. Bad things can and usually do happen.

It is very questionable whether anything new will be revealed today. Leaks have already outlined the scope of past CIA transgressions. The inability to bring to trial the likes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed speaks volumes about the short sightedness of the policy. Bringing it back to the public’s attention in a partisan manner may not serve the higher purpose the information could have brought.

The Bush era “neoconservative crowd” remains hidden in the shadows even today. These righteous Americans see the needs of the country from a personal best interest perspective. They are bright and intelligent, and very driven people.

The cleverly imperfect American system of government, however, allows for the change of leadership every four years and limits the President to a maximum of 8 years. Bush and Cheney were done in 2008. America is still cleaning up their mess and unfortunately will for years to come.

I am not sure whether this report will help but it is difficult to see how it will hurt.

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Short Term Memories?

August 23, 2014

Do you have the feeling you are reliving the George W Bush years? At least the part that deals with the “war on terror”?

This past week has witnessed some of the dumbest and patently out of touch with reality statements by senior Administration officials (as well as leading politicians) since the Bush hubris years.

In this swirl of bogus statements, the likes of John McCain and Lindsay Graham can relax and smile in the “I told you so” glow of misrepresented facts.

First we saw the “rebuilt” and “retrained” Iraqi Army collapse, drop their weapons, and run from advancing ISIS troops. The sky was falling. A new force had suddenly emerged and the Middle East was about to be conquered. Hmmm.

Then, ISIS released a video in which they cold bloodedly decapitate an American journalist. This was proof positive, we were told, that this new fighting force is a threat to the US mainland. Hmmm.

Does anyone remember al Qaeda? How about the Taliban and the equally ruthless murder of Daniel Pearl? Hmmm.

News reporters are asking questions like, “is the US prepared to invade Syria and attack ISIS at its roots”? And, “How are we going to protect our homeland when these trained, American passport carrying extremists come home”? What are people thinking?

There is no problem right now using air assets to attack any insurgent group in Syria. As evidence, the Administration let slip an attempt to free James Foley which involved overflight as well as a ground landing well within Syrian boarders.

With respect to recruited Americans, this is just a fact of life now. Americans who choose to become extremists can go to Pakistan, Afghanistan, and much of Africa as well as Syria if they wish to improve their terrorism skills.

Hot pursuit (chasing ISIS assets from Iraq into Syria) and targeted rescue missions seem both justified and within our current capabilities. Thinking about ramping up our deployed resources seems foolish as well as unnecessary.

With regards to extremists returning to the US, what is all these measures American travelers, like grandma and grandpa, must endure traveling in our airports about?  And with a gun in every home and on the hip of many Americans, I wonder what is the greater risk.

Americans must be vigilant during times like this. Vigilant, not just about crazies doing harm in America but the danger of over zealous public officials. Well meaning public officials are prone to brandish our swords without thinking where or when they are necessary.

The news media must stand tall and resist the urge to manufacture “the story”. Ask the hard questions of government officials like who are these ISIS people, where do they get their funding, and where are the leaders located?

If these American officials do not know, ask Mossad.

Shameful And Irresponsible

July 29, 2014

This week we may see Congress step up and hit a single. To be clear, the bi-partisan VA fix bill is not a home run but in a Congress where rhetoric trumps commonsense or logic, the VA compromise bill has elements that make total sense, and at least count as a base hit..

What could have been so hard in finding this path forward?

The winning words, by Senator Bernie Sanders, were “I don’t care about the VA, I care about our veterans”.

Ever since President George W Bush sent American soldiers in Iraq (and thereby extended the stay in Afghanistan), the fundamental responsibilities a government has to its soldiers has been disregarded. Equipment inadequacies, shortages, and multiple/extended tours are incompatible with wars of choice.

Topping the list, however, was the decision to hold pat with the VA staffing, funding, and facilities even though Iraq and Afghanistan were sending home thousands of new patients. Both the Bush and the Obama Administrations have stood silently by as one VA horror story after another has come to light.

Congress has done no better and arguably worse. Where was oversight? Wasting time on Benghazi while Veterans waited for an appointments. Hmmm.

Fixes to the VA shortage problem has been well known. The problem was how to fund the large spending increase necessary.

Shamefully, the GOP blocked all solutions unless offsetting cuts could be identified. Irresponsibly, Democrats did not embrace the notion that government spending can be cut through retirement of unneeded programs or retooling existing spending programs and extracting greater efficiency at lower expenditure levels.

A government that spends about $3 trillion each year must have ample opportunities to cut spending and then reinvest this money in new initiatives.

Regrettably, our Congress members have been more concerned about their supporters (read defense contractors, farm owners, and those receiving social safety net benefits). Veterans just weren’t high enough on the food chain to count.

It is unlikely the VA emergency fix will initiate a fundamental change in Congressional attitudes.  We must, instead, be satisfied with the good news that, at least for a while, Veterans will receive attention they deserve.

What Makes People Do Such Things?

July 21, 2014

Why would any country supply irregular troops with high powered, sophisticated missiles? Why would anyone possessing such missiles fire them indiscriminately at a flying object some 35,000 feet above? Why would these irregulars, once the plane shot down had been confirmed to be a civilian, non-combatant carrying about 300, not have stood down and allowed international aide workers to humanly collect the remains?

Why would a country bristle at the notion they were using disproportionate force in trying to stop missile attacks? Why would that nation act indignantly even though the death toll was running about 500 of them to 2 of us? Why would a country allow itself to get “suckered” in so that any response, no matter how justified, was likely to kill non-combatants?

Why would one religious sect wreak havoc upon another, all in the name of Allah? Why would the political establishment insist upon no realignment of government ministries, assuring a continuation of violence? Why would anyone send another to self detonate a massive bomb in hopes of killing an many innocents as possible?

Power and wealth offer as good as any explanation. If you have what you consider too small a share or maybe you have been cut out entirely, one can understand efforts, within certain bounds, of trying to correct the imbalance. Money and the personal power to get money can usually be attributed to most conflicts.

This weekend in Philadelphia, the Catholic Archdiocese made all in order in the Cathedral. The occasion was the visit of a relic, a two once sample of Pope John Paul’s blood. The faithful were invited to worship in front of the blood sample and use the occasion to seek divine intercession. Hmmm.

Besides creating the allusion of vampires and other blood suckers, why would any foist such a thing on others hoping for something better in life?

All of these events, in one way or another, defy rational explanation. They do reveal the lengths man is capable of going while at the same time offering what he purports to be a rational explanation.

What makes people do such things?

Learning From Recent History

April 30, 2014

The usual Congressional suspects are exercising their vocal cords again. These darlings of the Sunday talk shows are denouncing President Obama for lack of action in the Middle East and the Ukraine. Besides “leading from behind”, President Obama has simply been too tepid in his support of supposedly western leaning forces in these hot spots, they say. When asked to be specific, other than supplying arms to “our friends”, these critics have no response.

Hmmm.

Syria is Iraq all over again. Were the US to get militarily involved, we should expect to be stepping into a totally amorphous situation. Everyone involved in the Syrian conflict is in it for themselves. The Syrian insurrection is not about ideals like the rule of law, or human rights. Rather it is about which political group can control which source of State revenue and benefit more than the others.

Israel and the Palestinians feel better off at the point of each other’s dagger than finding difficult sharing compromises. For the Palestinian Authority, this means continued employment and ready made excuses when the average Palestinian complains about the low standard of living. For Israel, no peace agreement allows the internal political process to avoid dealing with religious extremists. On the BBC evening news last night, a Jewish Hebron settler said that he was in Hebron because god wanted Jews living there. A peace agreement would undercut to this crazy thinking.

Egypt has also prompted criticism. When the US called for “democracy” with free and open elections, they got their wish. The only problem, the Muslim Brotherhood won. Under the Brotherhood’s leadership, the Constitution was redrawn changing the rules of the game (a no no in a Democratic society). Now with the military back in charge, believe it or not, there are Congress Members calling for change again.

The Ukraine is the latest conflict zone. Again American’s sense of fair play has been injured. While the theater of the absurd plays out in Eastern Ukraine, it should be clear that at best there is ambivalence within the Ukraine residents over its central government. Ukraine has no rich history of capitalism and democratic rule There is, instead, a longing for dependable handouts from the government. The Ukraine will be a financial drain on who ever becomes its rich uncle.

So, it rang true the other day when President Obama wondered out loud what people were thinking when they advocated getting tough with Russia? He asked whether they had learned anything after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan?

It is true that these are all complex and complicated situations. Direct sustained intervention was wrong and costly in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  It would be even a greater mistake now.  For enlightenment to return to these lands, it will take a century or longer.

Arguably the US should exert light pressure in the direction of capitalism and democracy in order to guide the nations forward. Light pressure, however, is not the hallmark of the military.

Bluff Called?

February 25, 2014

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced yesterday deep cuts to the Army.  The cuts were characterized as reducing the size of the Army to 440,000 or pre-WWII size.  Hagel said that the Country could not afford to maintain its technological edge, and still keep so many Americans under arms.  I guess he was saying its guns and butter again.

There are several logical arguments to support Hagel’s recommendations.  New technology can do a lot more but it also costs a lot.  While no one can be sure of the next war, the last two (Afghanistan and Iraq) were wasteful uses of traditionally supported ground troops.  Special Operations, on the other hand, have demonstrated much usefulness as an adjunct to diplomacy.

Exactly how our future military should be structured, such as numbers of ships and types, planes, or tanks, is a matter for our Joint Chiefs.  Entering wasteful wars like Iraq and Afghanistan is the providence of Congress, and ultimately the American voters.  So, here comes the bluff.

The GOP has been on a one handed deficit death march by cutting only government spending.  Economists can debate whether the deficit needs to be zero or just some small number, but running at current levels north of $500 billion is unacceptable and dangerous.

The danger arises because the deficit is not the result of a deliberative process, that is a conscious decision to spend in excess of tax revenues.  The deficit represents a dysfunctional governance process.

In the best of light, Congress is divided over whether to balance the budget by reforming entitlements (like Medicare and Medicaid), or to cut all spending while increasing tax revenues.  In the poorest of light, Congress is divided by which tactics will benefit which party at the next election and has nothing to due with true deficit reduction.

Defense spending is a cornucopia for all Congress members.  A little or a lot (of government dollars) goes to each district.  The mere idea of reigning in Defense spending sends chills down the backs of our blustery Congress members.  How can they remain tough on spending and still find ways to puff up the military?

The next few weeks should be a treat if your fancy is political double speak.  We will hear more about unnamed enemies and geopolitical threats.  And, once again, Republican Chuck Hagel will be castigated by his former colleagues.  How could Hagel be so irresponsible?

Using only Medicare and Medicaid cuts to reduce government spending has been a bluff in hopes of maybe getting cuts or at the least, a “grand bargain” which includes large reforms and a few new taxes.  This bluff comes off the tracks if Hagel’s recommendations are shot down.  In the process of advocating no military cuts, those “bluffers” will be exposed for what they are.

 

Middle East Puzzle

October 24, 2013

There’s an old baseball story about a manager trying to defend one of his decisions.  It seems the game was tied with runners of first and second, one out.  The manager asks the gathered reporters what should the short stop do if the ball was hit to his right?  Should the short stop throw to third base for one out, or to second trying for a double play, or to first base for a sure single out?  About one third of the reporters picked “throw to third”, one third picked “throw to second” and one third picked “throw to first”.  There you have it said the manager, regardless of my choice, two thirds of you will find it wrong.

The story bears a more than slight resemblance to the Middle East.  What course should the Obama Administration being following?  As with this baseball story, what ever course the Administration picks, more than half of the Middle East players will be against the US choice.

Looking at Syria, it should be clear that the insurgents will be as bad a nightmare or worse than the current Assad regime.  They are unfit to rule.

Should Iran agree to certain concessions, and the Western powers accept these concessions and reduce the sanctions, you can be sure Israel and Saudi Arabia will be opposing any reductions in sanctions.

The clearest case for opposing an Iran compromise comes from the Saudis.  While the Saudis are Sunnis, they are first and foremost a regime that demands stability and status quo.  The Saudis are not in favor of popular vote (in the Middle East that exists today).  invading Iraq, aiding the Syrian insurgents, and encouraging the Muslim Brotherhood.  There were all actions the Saudis saw as very dangerous and totally misguided.

To a large extent, this is also how Israel see the Middle East.  Unfortunately, Israel did lobby for Iraq regime change and so its position is a little manufactured.  Also, the Israeli position versus Iran’s nuclear program is compromised.  Were Israel to say, if Iran gives up (and we can verify) its nuclear programs, we will do the same, there might be a basis for a brighter future.  Such a position would for sure put Israel in a less hypocritical position.  Middle East stability, not democracy, is what Israel thinks is in its best interest.

So that’s the lay of the land.  No matter what the Obama Administrations proposes, there will be a number of countries that object.  Hmmm.

Don’t forget, President Obama “leads from behind”.  In other words, the President tries to “react” to world events rather than precipitating them.  So how should he resolve the Syria uprising, the Iranian nuclear issue, the Palestinian-Israeli peace accords, the Iraq unrest, the Egyptian failed democracy, or pick any country in Africa’s lawlessness?

So, who again is worried about the delayed start-up of the Affordable Care Act web site?