Wednesday, June 29, 2005

More of the same...

Well, I listened to the President's speech last night. I don't know why I expected something different – of course, I didn't get it.

One of the most frustrating things about this administration is its persistent pandering to fear: Yes -- there is a terrorist threat. But our action in Iraq had next-to-nothing to do with that original threat. Are there terrorists there now? Of course -- literally by the thousand.

But we have to ask ourselves -- would all these people who are currently attacking Iraqi's and Coalition forces have joined a terrorist association like Al Qaeda and actively helped the terrorists? I think the logical answer is a resounding "no" ... which means we MUST take some responsibility for the problem we've created there.

I contend that the vast majority of those taking arms against us are Sunni’s, foreign fighters and jihadists that, most likely, harbored distrust – and some even hatred for – the United States. But what percentage of those would have actually taken up arms? Even if you believe a large percentage of them would eventually have you are still coming to the conclusion that our middle east policy, or at least our execution of that policy, has cost coalition forces lives.

But, as so many others have said, we are there now. We’ve broken the country and now its our moral obligation to stay and try to give the Iraqi’s a fighting chance at a democratic government. If it can succeed it will be a great achievement for the people of the country. Will it form the seed of democratic movements in the area? I really don’t know. And in many situations (in Saudi Arabia for instance) I simply cannot see a democratic Iraq having much influence on a population that longs for a Wahabbist based society/government. Seems like a large price to pay for a theory (spreading democracy to the wider middle-east).

What’s the solution… well, one part of it may be setting a time-table for us to get out of there. As is often the case, the President’s argument for not setting a time-table doesn’t really analyze the situation or give the insurgents a credit for being even minimally intelligent.

The President insists that we cannot set a time-table for the withdrawal of our forces since it would send the wrong message and give the insurgents a opportunity to just ‘wait us out’. Presumable they (the insurgents) would increase the level of attacks against the fledgling government after we leave.

But why can’t they adopt that strategy now? They know the majority of our forces will leave eventually. But for now, they provide jihadists and others with a great urban combat training ground.

Maybe they already have adopted this strategy… Even if we “fully train” the Iraqi forces to at least suppress and control (to some degree) the current level of insurgency, why wouldn’t the insurgents step up attacks once the bulk of coalition forces leave?

What do you think?

Friday, June 24, 2005

Delay's 'closest friend' ?

Here's some info on Jack Abramoff -- one of Delay's self admitted "closest friends"... Mr. Abramoff is current under investigation for extortion. The government confiscated some of his emails related to the Indian extortion investigation... This is the kind of person that wields power in our government...

I hate to ask your help with something so silly," Jack Abramoff wrote to his friend Daniel Lapin on September 15, 2000. Abramoff, of course, is the now-disgraced Republican lobbyist who stands accused of defrauding several Indian tribes of millions of dollars and trying to buy off various Republican congressmen. Lapin is a Seattle-based rabbi who is a close friend and spiritual advisor to Abramoff. Now Abramoff, at the time still hustling his way to the top of Washington lobbying, was coming to him for help:

I have been nominated for membership in the Cosmos Club, which is a very distinguished club in Washington, DC, comprised of Nobel Prize winners, etc. Problem for me is that most prospective members have received awards and I have received none. I was wondering if you thought it possible that I could put that I have received an award from Toward Tradition with a sufficiently academic title, perhaps something like Scholar of Talmudic Studies?... Indeed, it would be even better if it were possible that I received these in years past, if you know what I mean. Anyway, I think you see what I am trying to finagle here!

Indeed he did. "Mazel tov, the Cosmos Club is a big deal," Lapin replied. A few days, later the rabbi wrote again:

Let's organize your many prestigious awards so they're ready to 'hang on the wall.'... I just need to know what needs to be produced. Letters? Plaques? Neither?

"Probably just a few clever titles of awards, dates and that's it," Abramoff replied.

It get worse from there. This could be considered a 'personal ethical failing'... but the following points to criminal activity and, at the least, gives you a clear picture of the type of person that "makes it" on K street.

Creative Billing: The focus of yesterday's hearings was on Abramoff's lobbying for the Mississippi-based Choctaw Indians, who became the first of his casino-gaming tribal clients in the mid-'90s. Some of the details the emails provide on the subject are precious.

Take, for instance, Abramoff's attitude towards billing. Emails show that when Abramoff concludes in early 2001 that his staff should be billing more hours to the Choctaw, he instructs one of them to "[a]dd 60 hours for me and pump up Scanlon, Todd and you. Give Amy some hours if you have to" (the names are references to fellow lobbyists at his firm). Later Abramoff asks his colleague, who is still tallying up billable hours, to "tell me how much you need me to cover to get the bill up to around $150,000."

"This is a very bad system that I am very uncomfortable with," the colleague replies.

"Fine," writes Abramoff, without apology.

Quoted from The New Republic.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Iraqi Blowback

The CSM reports that our efforts in Iraq may be furthing the proficiency of terrorists by giving them real-world training before they head off to other parts of the world.

Blowback in Iraq?

CIA report says Iraq is becoming an urban warfare training
ground for terrorists.

By Tom Regan

Iraq may prove to be a better training ground for
terrorists that even Afghanistan was in the early days of Al Qaeda's presence
there, and the result is the "training a new kind of Islamic militant" according
to the BBC. The New York Times reported Wednesday that this assessment, taken
from a new classified CIA report of the situation in Iraq, says that the country
is serving "as a real-world laboratory for urban combat."

The report, which has been circulating this month among top
US government and intelligence officials, "made clear that the war was likely to
produce a dangerous legacy by dispersing to other countries Iraqi and foreign
combatants more adept and better organized than they were before the conflict,"
according to the Times.

What do you think?

Monday, June 20, 2005

Another Blow to Reason from the Administration...

The Christian Science Monitor just published a story on the administrations attempt to remove any 'teeth' from the scientific analysis of more than 8 countries in the G8's statement concerning global warming:

Two weeks ago, the science academies of the G-8 countries (the world's leading industrialized nations: US, Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Russia and Italy - as well as the science academies of Brazil, China and India) issued a joint statement that "called for prompt action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and warned that delays will be costly."

Now, the British newspaper, the Observer reports a draft statement about global warming, prepared for the upcoming G-8 summit in Scotland, was leaked to the British and US media last week. (The New York Times reported the dcument came from a European official close to the talks).

The draft statement shows that the Bush administration is engaged in an "extraordinary effort" to "undermine completely the science of climate change and show that the US position has hardened during the G-8 negotiations. They [the leaked documents] also reveal that the White House has withdrawn from a crucial United Nations commitment to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions."

The documents show that Washington officials:

* Removed all reference to the fact that climate change is a 'serious threat to human health and to ecosystems';

* Deleted any suggestion that global warming has already started;

* Expunged any suggestion that human activity was to blame for climate change.

Among the sentences removed was the following: 'Unless urgent action is taken, there will be a growing risk of adverse effects on economic development, human health and the natural environment, and of irreversible long-term changes to our climate and oceans.'

How can we, as a supposedly informed citizenry, evaluate our leaders when then continue to distort scientific analysis in an attempt to further policy? The media has shown the spotlight on this practice before, but no one is outrages? Why?

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Chalk one up to reason!

House votes to repeal part of USA Patriot Act

Vote may signal that Bush campaign to renew and
extend Act isn't winning over Congress.

By Tom Regan

In a move that may signal a tougher battle ahead, the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted Wednesday to remove the Patriot Act provision that "allows federal agents to examine people's book-reading habits at public libraries andbookstores as part of terrorism investigations."

The vote was 238-187 - 38 Republicans joined 199 Democrats and amendment sponsor Bernie Sanders, (I) of Vermont, in supporting the repeal. The Washington Post reports that the vote was the result of conservative Republicans, worried about government intrusion, who joined with Democratsworried about personal privacy.

Of course the president is threatening a veto -- he wants all of the Patriot Act to be renewed in its entirety. How a free people can sanction undisclosed investigations into people's reading material (terror suspects or not) seems pretty antithetical to a system of government that professes to have a legal system based on the prosecution of criminal activity -- not ideas.


Tuesday, June 14, 2005

With us, against us... or maybe just help us out?

With the latest disclosure of the Defense Department's reluctance to support an independent investigation into the killing of (at least) hundreds of civilians in Uzbekistan we have to ask ourselves if our stated position of "with us or with the terrorists" is real, or just lip-service-as-usual.

With the failure to find WMD in Iraq, the Bush administration has emphasized the need to spread freedom and democracy not only in the region, but throughout the world. Apparently, the credo doesn't involve shinning a spotlight on some of the more authoritarian regimes in the area... especially if they provide bases for US Troops.

The Uzbek government has admitted that 173 people were killed on May 13 in Andijan but independent witnesses and human rights organizations put the number of victims at between 500 and 1,000. Human Rights Watch, for instance, has called the incident a "massacre." Karimov has portrayed the killings as a necessary response to a revolt by Islamic extremists.

At least some in our government are calling for accountability. A group of senators, four Republican and two Democrats, wrote a letter to the administration urging it to reconsider its relationship with the Uzbek’s.

"Particularly after freedom's advances in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan, we believe that the United States must be careful about being too closely associated with a government that has killed hundreds of demonstrators and refused international calls for a transparent investigation," the senators wrote.

The real issue here is, again, this administration's innate ability to get the public to believe in a policy vision that it portrays (i.e. – spreading freedom) while simultaneously pursuing policy that’s antithetical to that vision.

United States has always pursued a foreign policy that served its own ends. This administration (and the Reagan administration – can someone say Iran-Contra?) simply uses these phrases to play on the patriotism and pride of a free citizenry.

Are we becoming mindless puppies? Following, without question, where-ever our leaders go?

The problem I see is that the more the public silently accepts or explains-away these disconnects between stated policy and action, the more that public gives up exercising that freedom. And once you stop ‘acting’ free – you really aren’t free.

Monday, June 13, 2005

The Rich, the Poor and the free market...

There's a good article on the Christian Science Monitor:

Rich-poor gap gaining attention
A remark by Greenspan symbolizes concern that wealth disparities may destabilize the economy.

Give it a read...


Saturday, June 11, 2005

Iraq - Who planned this party anyway

Ok, it’s time for a posting on Iraq.

With the release of the Downing Street Memo there are new (really old) questions about our government’s intentions long before the war was declared inevitable. Discussions focused on that question are going on everywhere on the net and in the media. I’d like to look at not only that question, but the broader one: namely, the competence with which the war, and the reconstruction effort was planned and executed.

We’re there now… and I feel the US has an obligation to stabilize the country if possible. Given the tactics the insurgency uses, I don’t know if that is possible, but we must continue to try: As Colin Powell was reported to quip: “if you break it, you buy it.”

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t hold our leaders accountable for their consequences of their decisions. Giving our elected officials their “performance appraisal” each election cycle is supposed to ensure we have “good leadership”. Just as CEO’s are (supposedly) judged on how well their vision, planning and leadership leads the company to more profitable and prosperous times, we citizens need to evaluate our government. That analysis should be based on “what actually happened” as compared to “what we were told would happen”.

This is something I think partisanship has obscured: there are many people I talk with who are willing to completely ignore the realities of the current situation (often quoting hollow slogans that have little to do with reality) in the name of “the party line”. This simply isn’t good for a system of government where our leaders govern by informed consent. Somehow, informed consent – based on a reasoned performance analysis, has been replaced with a “my team vs your team” attitude.

Back to Iraq: This isn’t a dooms day prediction – I’m not arguing that “nothing good can come of our efforts in Iraq” and that “it was a misktake”. I simply don’t know if the Middle East, in 10 or 20 years, will be better or worse-off for our efforts. I don’t think anyone can make that prediction with a reasonable level of statistical accuracy.

However, we do know the costs of the effort to date: and they are wildly different from the administration’s predictions… both in lives and dollars. Given that reality, its our job to evaluate our leaders based on what we were told would happen vs the actual situation and its costs.

So lets look at the decisions process, planning and actions of the current administration in the run up to war and after. Fortunately for me, I feel someone has already summarized many of the salient points. General Anthony Zinni, former CENTCOM commander (General Tommy Franks’ predecessor) gave a talk last year at the Center for Defense Information in which he did just that.

I’ve extracted some of the General’s relevant points below.

I believe the General has some interesting insights into the situation given the significant amount of time he’s spent in the region (he was even sent back the region as the President’s special envoy several months before the fighting began). He’s worked with many of the neighboring countries’ military and political leaders.

Here’s a link to the entire text of his talk.

Gen. Anthony Zinni, USMC, (Ret.) Remarks at CDI Board of Directors Dinner,
May 12, 2004

[…]I thought I would do tonight is go through the ten crucial mistakes to this point that we've made. Because I think it helps frame what, in fact, has happened over time ... and is going to be the first part of that history. And I will conclude with maybe some thoughts on the way ahead, at least from my point of view.

I think the first mistake that was made was misjudging the success of containment. I heard the president say, not too long ago, I believe it was with the interview with Tim Russert that ... I'm not sure ... but at some point I heard him say that "containment did not work." That's not true.

I was responsible, along with everybody from General Schwarzkopf to his two successors, that were my predecessors, myself, and my successor, General Franks, up until the war, we were responsible for containment. And I would like to explain a little bit about that containment, because I thought we did it pretty well, given the circumstances. […]

It [our military force in the region] was in my view, what we would call in the military, an "economy of force theatre" without these assigned forces. We had no American bases out there. We were sharing bases with allies in the region who provided for us. Any given year, those in the region ponied up $300-500 million to support our presence out there. What we called "assistance in-kind." They provided the fuel, the food, the water, the things we needed. The Saudis built a $240 million housing complex for our troops. Never once when we decided to take action against Saddam, when he violated the sanctions, or the rules by which the inspectors operated under, never once were we denied permission to use bases, or airspace, or to strike from those places. We built a wonderful coalition, without any formal treaties, without any particular arrangement.


So to say containment didn't work, I think is not only wrong from the experiences we had then, but the proof is in the pudding, in what kind of military our troops faced when we went in there. It disintegrated in front of us. […] And I think that will be the first mistake that will be recorded in history, the belief that containment as a policy doesn't work. It certainly worked against the Soviet Union, has worked with North Korea and others. It's not a pleasant thing to have to administer, it requires troops full-time, there are moments when there ... there are periods of violence, but containment is a lot cheaper than the alternative, as we're finding out now.

The second mistake I think history will record is that the strategy was flawed. […]

The idea that we will walk in and be met with open arms. The idea that we will have people that will glom on to democracy overnight. The idea that strategically we will reform, reshape, and change the Middle East by this action -- we've changed it all right.

So we had a basic flawed strategy. All those that believed this was going to be the catalyst for some kind of positive change out there, or some sort of revolutionary change in the region, I think got more than they bargained for, and didn't understand the region, the culture, the situation, and the issues, and the effect that what they were about to do was going to have on those.

The third mistake, I think was one we repeated from Vietnam, we had to create a false rationale for going in to get public support. The books were cooked, in my mind. The intelligence was not there. I testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee one month before the war, and Senator Lugar asked me: "General Zinni, do you feel the threat from Saddam Hussein is imminent?" I said: "No, not at all. It was not an imminent threat. Not even close. Not grave, gathering, imminent, serious, severe, mildly upsetting, none of those."


We failed in number four, to internationalize the effort. To the credit of President Bush 41, he set a standard that held up throughout the post-cold war period up until the Iraq war very well. He went to the United Nations before we undertook the operation to expel Saddam from Kuwait. Tremendous diplomatic effort to get a resolution from the United Nations to authorize the use of force and then a tremendous diplomatic effort on his part to create what I think is one of the most remarkable coalitions, the coalition we had in the Gulf war, where we had Arab countries, Islamic countries, European countries, contributions from the Far East all over the world.


I think the fifth mistake was that we underestimated the task. And I think those of us that knew that region, former commanders in chief, I guess we can't use that term anymore - part of transformation is to change the lexicon - but former combatant commanders of U.S. Central Command, beginning with Gen. Schwarzkopf, have said you don't understand what you're getting into. You are not going to go through Edelman's "cakewalk;" you are not going to go through Chalabi's dancing in the streets to receive you. You are about to go into a problem that you don't know the dimensions and the depth of, and are going to cause you a great deal of pain, time, expenditure of resources and casualties down the road.

I can't understand why there was an underestimation when you look at a country that has never known democracy, that has been in the condition it's been in, that has the natural fault lines that it has, and the issues it has. And to look at the task of reconstructing this country, not only reconstructing it, but the idea of creating Jeffersonian democracy almost overnight, is almost ridiculous, in concept, in the kind of time and effort that was given as an estimate as to what it would take.

The sixth mistake, and maybe the biggest one, was propping up and trusting the exiles, the infamous "Gucci Guerillas" from London. We bought into their intelligence reports. To the credit of the CIA, they didn't buy into it, so I guess the Defense Department created its own boutique intelligence agency to vet them. And we ended up with a group that fed us bad information. That led us to believe that we would be welcomed with flowers in the streets; that led us to believe that this would be a cakewalk.

When I testified before Congress in 1998, after a grilling from Senator McCain and all those wonderful senators supported the Iraqi Liberation Act, and I told them that these guys are not credible and they are going to lead us into something they we will regret. […] These exiles did not have credibility inside the country or in the region. Not only did they not have credibility, it was clear that the information they were providing us many times was not correct and accurate. We believed in them. We also brought them in with us and deemed them into the governing council and the reception by Iraqis has been, to say the least, has not been great.

The seventh problem has been the lack of planning. […] I didn't hear anything that told me that they had the scope of planning for the political reconstruction, the economic reconstruction, social reconstruction, the development of building of infrastructure for that country. And I think that lack of planning, that idea that you can do this by the seat of the pants, reconstruct a country, to make decisions on the fly, to beam in on the side that has to that political, economic, social other parts, just a handful of people at the last minute to be able to do it was patently ridiculous.

In my time at CENTCOM, we actually looked at a plan for reconstruction, and actually developed one at CENTCOM because I though that we, the military, would get stuck with it. In my mind, we needed formidable teams at every provincial level. 18 teams. The size of the CPA was about the size we felt we needed for one province, let alone the entire country of Baghad [sic] (Iraq), to do those other parts.

The eighth problem was the insufficiency of military forces on the ground. There were a lot more troops in my military plan for operations in Iraq. I know when that plan was presented, the secretary of defense said it was "old and stale." It sounded pretty new and fresh to me, and looking back at it, now because there were a hell of a lot more troops. It was more the (Eric) Shinseki model that I think might have been a hell of a lot more effective to freeze the situation. Those extra divisions we had in there were not to defeat the Republican Guard, they were in there to freeze the security situation because we knew the chaos that would result once we uprooted an authoritarian regime like Saddam's.

The ninth problem has been the ad hoc organization we threw in there. No one can tell me the Coalition Provisional Authority had any planning for its structure. 144 bodies scraped from embassies around the world, people that I know, for fact, walked in and were selected and picked and put in the positions. Never quite fully manned-up until well into the operation. Never the kinds of qualifications or the breadth, and scope and depth it needed to work the problems down to the grassroots level. […]

And that ad hoc organization has failed, leading to the tenth mistake, and that's a series of bad decisions on the ground. De-Baathifying down to a point where you've alienated the Sunnis, where you have stopped having qualified people down in the ranks, people who don't have blood on their hands, but know how to make the trains run on time. Business men who I ran into in the region out there in the region, who wanted to re-start their business, get jobs. They were told by the CPA "You can't do business because you were a Baathist!" They said to me, I had to say I was a Baathist. You don't do business in
Iraq under Saddam if you're not a Baathist. Imagine throwing the Communists out of Russia at the end of the war.

Disbanding the Army, this is one I'll never understand because when I arrived at CENTCOM as the commander, there was an on-going program started by my predecessors to run a psychological operations campaign against the regular Army. Every time we struck
Iraq, we dropped leaflets on regular Army formations and garrisons saying "If you don't fight when the time comes, we'll take care of you." We sent messages to them to this affect through people in the region. When I did interviews on Al Jazeera TV and other Arab networks, I would always mention the poor Iraqi soldiers of the regular Army - victims of Saddam. We had always intended if they didn't fight, we'd get rid of the leadership, we'd keep them in tact, we'd provide for some of their training, and we would have the basis for a ready-made force to pick up some of the security requirements. But they were disbanded. And on and on and on, we've had this series of mistakes. […] We have now found ourselves in a position to date for these series of mistakes and many, many more, where we are. Which I think is clearly evident.

I think the General’s comments stand on their own… Give the full article a read, and leave your comments.


Thursday, June 09, 2005

Real conservatism

Here's a link to a great article by Andrew Sullivan.

Another Conservatism: Doubt Vs. Fundamentalism

While I'll don't always agree with his perspective, his thoughts on the evolution of conservatism really resonated with me.

Are conservatives really in control of our government? Conservatism used to stand for governmental fiscal and social restraint. Today and argument can be made that we have neither.

Many would argue that we live in a post-9/11 world. But many of the social initiatives this administration has pushed really have nothing to do with 9/11.

The Reign of Reason

This blog is my cry... my cry for a return to reasoned based argument and discussion in politics and public policy. So much of what we hear, read and see in the media is driven by emotion that facts simply get trampled.

Of course emotion has a role to play in any discussion: but when emotion, ideology and partisanship trump reason we risk the very foundation of our system of government. Why? Because fact-based reasoning is literally the foundation of a democracy.

Theocracy, dictatorship and communism and the like differ from democracy is that the former are all based on a belief in the right of the ruling class to rule (in the case of dictatorship, it may be only the ruler who believes this) while the latter is based on informed consent of those ruled. As the electorate gives up reason -- in favor of an abstract (or religiously based) belief in a leader's "mandate" – we put ourselves on a path of LESS accountability for our leaders.

When we forego reason and analysis we are really giving up democracy. This is really the basis of Thomas Jefferson’s statement: "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism." This statement and countless others by our founding fathers demonstrate that it’s our duty, as citizens of a democracy, to analyze and speak out about how we are being governed.

But today we find ourselves in a very different situation. For a variety of reasons dissent to current policies is labeled un-American. The justification: we have troops in combat; we are fighting a war and need to support our government/troops; our society is loosing its moral compass and we need strong “moral” leadership to restore it; etc. etc.

Of course, this is precisely the time when its important for citizens to critically analyze what their government is doing: Who’s morality is being pushed by the government? Who’s interests are being served by our foreign policy? If we abrogate that responsibility, we are simply on the path to tyranny.

Criticism for its own sake should not be the goal: but criticism based on an informed opinion should be encouraged, not denigrated. But today, we find ourselves in a society that judges ideas based on who (or what group) proposed them instead of on the merits of the idea or criticism itself. We need to return to reason – to a discussion of facts and their implications. Does this leave room for emotion: you bet… but emotion based on critical analysis is a far cry from emotion based on empty labels (liberal, neocon, etc.).

These thoughts form the basis for this blog. From here we can discuss the role of religion in society and government; the media’s role in keeping the public informed of its governments actions; etc.

Let me know what you think…