Monday, July 31, 2006

Seeing the Real Blood and Guts

As the calendar turns from July to August, Washington is in the hot seat both literally – temperatures are to rise above the 100 degree (F) mark – and figuratively in terms of the sudden upsurge in violence in a number of localities.

The most prominent locale is the Hezbollah-Israeli confrontation that has embroiled the shaky democratic institutions in Lebanon. Beirut only recently shed its Syrian overlord after nearly 30 years but now finds itself under air attack everywhere and ground attacks in the 13-mile wide area between the Litani River and the border with Israel. The toll as of July 30, 18 days into the fighting, stood at 750 Lebanese dead, 2,000 wounded, and 800,000 (estimated) displaced. Israel, by contrast, counted 51 military and civilian dead, mostly from unguided rockets fired by Hezbollah into northern Irael

The wide disparity in the number of deaths (15 to 1), Israel’s heavy use of fighter jets dropping bombs and firing air to ground missiles, and the Israeli cabinet's approval for a “wider” war point to even more lives lost on both sides. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) reportedly have concentrated forces along the border pointing west toward the sea while bombing the roads and bridges to the east – toward Syria. The assumption is they will try to trap Hezbollah between the Litani and the border in a squeeze play with the Israeli navy offshore to block escape that way.

Israel may have hoped its 48 hour “pause” in air operations (albeit not a complete pause), in addition to trying to mollify world opinion following the air attack on Qana that killed some 60 Lebanese Sunday, would also give them data on Hezbollah firing points and troop dispositions. But after launching a record 157 rockets into northern Israel Sunday, no rockets were fired Monday – only a few random mortar rounds. For its part, Hezbollah has joined with the Lebanese government in calling for an immediate cease-fire, a call rejected by Tel Aviv and Washington.

The killing – and that in Gaza where Qassam rockets are launched into Israel and Israel’s methodical march through Gaza searching for Corporal Shalit has taken another 110 lives – is guaranteed to continue for another reason: 90 percent of Israels say the government must force Hezbollah to surrender and be disarmed while 87 percent of Lebanon’s population say they approve of Hezbollah’s missile launches. As one might expect, pro-Hezbollah sentiment is stronger in northern Lebanon where the Israeli bombing has been significantly less.

So what will stop the growing carnage, the death and destruction? This is as much a propaganda/information/psychological war as it is a blood and guts one. The trouble is that the blood and guts part is not being seen by the U.S. public although it is definitely being seen by millions of Muslims throughout the region. The U.S. public really has not “seen” war since the Vietnam era – and then the tapes had to be physically flown out of ‘Nam. It's as if we have to be protected from the horror of war so that our nights will be restful – never mind what is happening to those whose nights are spent praying that they will see the morning.

The White House declaration that an early ceasefire would be counter-productive to achieving a “stable peace” is causing the temperature “on the Arab street” to soar. And as it does, the White House will find itself more and more isolated on other issues where allies are critical – such as North Korea’s nucs, Somalia’s government, Darfur, and Sri Lanka.

It’s as if the White House, having asserted that the U.S. Congress gave it a blank check to wage war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, is now issuing its own “blank checks” to whomever it wants.

One wonder’s what the cost will be when the checks are filled in and cashed.

Other statistics:

The Iraq toll as of July 31 stood at 2,578 U.S. dead, 19,038 wounded, 129 coalition dead. In the first six months of 2006, the Iraqi Ministry of Health said 14,338 Iraqi civilians were killed –and the trend is up.

In Afghanistan, U.S. fatalities are 323 and the wounded 795, with allied fatalities standing at 95. So far in 2006, U.S. losses are 64 and allied killed are 30. In July, for the first time, allied fatalities (10) exceeded U.S. fatalities (9), reflecting the gradual move of NATO forces replacing U.S. forces in the volatile south and east.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Cliches That Bite

Washington, St. Petersburg, Rome, Kuala Lumpur – these are the cities where the diplomats, prime ministers, and presidents gathered to talk about peace, development, and economics. Much of their time was spent on war: war in Gaza, war in Lebanon, war in Afghanistan, war in Iraq.

But among those gathered to talk there were notable absences, undoubtedly due to the lack of invitations to some of the countries and groups most directly affected: Israel, the National Palestinian Authority, Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria, Afghanistan, and Iran. Iraq’s Prime Minister Maliki came to Washington only to be criticized for criticizing the disproportionate force used by Israel against Hezbollah and Hamas without noting the indiscriminate rocket fire the latter groups aim at Israel.

Meanwhile, in Gaza, Israel, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, and many other countries, ordinary people have no peace, no development, often no food or clean water. But they have an abundance of death and destruction.

All of which calls to mind a few clichés that just might still have some validity in times such as these.

- Keep your friends close; hold your enemies closest. (Ostensibly, that way they can’t reach for a knife to stab you in the back – assuming you have pinned their arms to their sides.)

- Arrogance diminishes wisdom. (No comment.)

- Judge a man by the reputation of his enemies. (Better yet, who among his “friends” will be more than a fair-weather supporter?)

On the other hand, don’t count on this one:

- The enemy of my enemy is my friend. (It’s a temporary condition, especially for a “super-power.)

Or, as Senator Chuck Hagel (NE) said today: "The pursuit of tactical military victories at the expense of the core strategic objective of Arab-Israeli peace is a hollow victory. The war against Hezbollah and Hamas will not be won on the battlefield."

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Lebanon: Where are the "sanctified" borders?

Columnist Tom Friedman, writing in The New York Times last Friday, observed that many Israelis believe that their country “is facing in Hezbollah an enemy that is unabashedly determined to transform this conflict into a religious war – from a war over territory – and wants to do it in a way that threatens not only Israel but the foundations of global stability.” A few sentences later he identifies those foundations as borders “sanctified by the United Nations” and sovereignty.

Much of what the UN and its affiliated agencies do to help in natural and man-made disasters may be heroic and even saintly, but “sanctifying” international borders isn’t something the UN does. It may examine historical claims and maps and conduct surveys using modern satellites, but in the end the parties to a dispute about borders must accept the findings.

Friedman’s contention does, however, point to the mix of myth and fact that continually feeds the flames of reciprocal war-fighting in the eastern Mediterranean in the area known as the Levant and Palestine. . As the fertile location at which three continents converge, it has been fought over continuously by competing empires and individuals seeking power relative to trade and commerce.


One need go back less than 80 years to set the political-military geography of the current warfare between Lebanon and Israel, the so-called “Blue Line.” The boundaries are based on the borders assigned by Britain and France to Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine in 1923 and reaffirmed as the Armistice Demarcation Line included in the 1949 agreement that ended hostilities triggered by Israel’s declaration of nationhood. The only part of the border undefined is the 14 kilometer long – 2 kilometer wide Shaaba Farms in the Golan which a UN survey assigned to Israel. (That said, things get complicated quickly. As part of the Golan, the area was Syrian territory until Israel captured the entire Golan and then “annexed” most of it – an annexation not recognized by other states or the UN. Syria says it has concluded an agreement with Lebanon that transfers Shaaba Farms to Lebanon, and that it turn is the basis of Lebanon’s current claim to Shaaba – which Israel does not recognize.)

In 1978 and again in 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon in pursuit of Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) which used southern Lebanon as its base for cross-border raids into northern Israel following the PLO’s expulsion from Jordan in 1970-1971. Each time, when the bulk of the Israeli invasion forces were withdrawn, Israeli–sponsored “militias” remained behind in southern Lebanon. In the aftermath of the 1982-85 invasion and occupation, which saw mass killings of refugees in the Sabra and Shatila camps, Israel left behind something it rues today: the beginnings of Hezbollah. What started as a militia dedicated to protecting Lebanon from Israel evolved also into a provider of social services and humanitarian assistance normally carried out by government.

By the 1990s, even the presence of the pro-Israeli South Lebanon Army could not prevent Hezbollah from firing rocket volleys into northern Israel. In 1993 and 1996, Israel mounted sustained attacks as it attempted to disable Hezbollah, but these achieved only short-term results. Finally, in May 2000, the steady trickle of dead and wounded Israeli soldiers proved too much for domestic Israeli politics. Withdrawing all its remaining forces from Lebanon, Israel abandoned the field to Hezbollah.

More significantly, in departing unilaterally on short notice and without allowing Lebanon or the international community time to prepare an alternative, Israel virtually guaranteed that the inevitable power vacuum would be filled by Hezbollah whose arsenal of weapons and training made it a more potent force than the Lebanese army. Within five months of Israel’s 2000 pull-out, Hezbollah ambushed an Israeli patrol along the border, killing three soldiers. Over the next three years, Hezbollah solidified its presence in south Lebanon’s landscape and made itself indispensable to governance in the border areas. Israel, for its part, consistently flew fighter jet and unmanned surveillance drones over Lebanon (Beirut has no air force) and carried out “targeted assassinations” of Hezbollah leaders.


Despite Washington’s public stance, one cannot deal with Lebanon without including Syria. Like Israel, Syria has been a major influence on Lebanon in modern times. A Syrian “empire” stretching from Turkey to the Sinai Desert was created along the eastern Mediterranean after World War I. This was dissolved in 1923 by Britain and France, but the idea of “Greater Syria” remained. In the post-colonial Mediterranean, Syria, as one of Israel’s main opponents, was intent on maintaining a united “northern front” against Israel. In 1970, Syria announced that it intended to “reunite” Lebanon with Syria. Over the ensuing decade, Syrian troop strength in Lebanon grew, ostensibly to counteract the growing civil discord (which Syria encouraged). By 1990, Syrian forces (military and intelligence) in Lebanon numbered about 50,000.

Over the following 15 years, as Lebanon slowly recovered economically from its civil war, Syria gradually came under more and more international pressure to leave Lebanon. After Israeli forces departed in 2000, the pressure increased and was reinforced by new anti-Syrian alliances within Lebanon itself. Then in February 2005, former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated. Immediate suspicion fell on Syrian intelligence. The unrest that followed sparked the “Cedar Revolution” that, with international support, forced Syria to remove all its troops and operatives from Lebanon.

In the south, the only military power left was Hezbollah.


As already noted, in 2000 the UN surveyed the border between Israel and Lebanon to ensure that no Israeli forces were in Lebanon after July 2000. It also surveyed the Shaaba Farms strip and recommended disposition of that dispute to Syrian-Israeli peace talks.

Part of the growing pressure aimed at removing Syrian interference in Lebanon and restoring sovereignty to Beirut led to the adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559 (2004). This directed that all remaining Lebanese militias were to disband, any remaining foreign forces to leave Lebanese territory, and called for the Lebanese army to deploy throughout the country. But the army, itself an amalgamation of confessional militias, was given nothing to help implement the UN resolution against a better trained, better armed, Hezbollah. Moreover, there was (and remains) some question whether the 40 percent of the Lebanese army that is Shi’ite would obey orders to fire upon Hezbollah fighters who are also Shi’ite.

In addition to Hezbollah, Syrian, and Israeli forces, south Lebanon has been home to the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) created in 1978, to verify Israel’s complete withdrawal across the border and to observe and report on activities along the border. This force has always been unarmed (at Israel’s insistence, as I recall) and therefore has not been able even to defend itself when attacked. In Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, the UN outposts were literally overrun by the initial assault. The worst attack occurred in 1996 when Israeli artillery shelled the UN compound near the Lebanese village of Qana. More than 100 Lebanese who had sought safety were killed in what Israel claimed was an error. However, an independent UN inquiry by a general officer from The Netherlands called the shelling deliberate.

Israel has offered the same explanation in the air strike on the UNIFIL outpost that was hit July 25, 2006, killing four UN observers. With the improvements in “precision” munitions over the last decade, many find this explanation implausible since, over the preceding six hours, UNIFIL had contacted the Israel army at least 10 times warning that air and artillery fire by Israel was coming too close to the outpost – to no avail. (At the UN the U.S. blocked a UNSC resolution condemning the attack.)


Israel says – and international law agrees – that it has a right to defend itself when attacked. But despite “common wisdom,” there is some question about the incident on July 12 that started the current combat. Three highly respected news organizations – Associated Press (AP), MSNBC, and Agence France-Presse (AFP) – carried early stories that an Israeli commando force entered Lebanon and was ambushed near the Lebanese village of Aitta al-Chaab. Lebanese police were cited as the source for the AFP account, while the AP reporter referenced anonymous Israeli government officials, explaining that the rapid Israeli reaction was an attempt to prevent “the soldiers’ captors from moving them DEEPER into Lebanon” (emphasis added). The rapid and intense Israeli reaction, compared to the slow (three day) re-occupation of Gaza when Hamas captured one Israeli soldier in late June, does raise questions as to whether the Israelis were purposefully trying to provoke a reaction but – as always happens – had not considered the possibility that two soldiers would be captured. Because Israeli policy is to deny the media access to the front lines, confirmation will have to come from sources other than investigative journalists.

How long the combat will last is anyone’s guess. Israel wants its three soldiers back; Hezbollah and Hamas want a prisoner swap. Israel wants Hezbollah and Hamas destroyed; the U.S. is making sounds about the need for the militias to disband but tolerating their political and social service wings. The real question remains unaddressed by either approach: who controls the border area of south Lebanon and guarantees peace?

Israel doesn’t want to be in Lebanon permanently, but it doesn’t want rockets and mortars raining down either. That suggests some combination of Lebanese and international security forces will be needed up to the Litani River. Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert has talked about clearing a zone one to two miles into Lebanon and then turning that over to the Lebanese army. Presumably, any new international force that is sent to maintain the peace will fill in to the north.

Such considerations, while important, don’t do what is needed most right now: ending the killing by declaring an immediate and mutual cease-fire. Not yet, say Bush and Rice an Olmert. They claim a cease-fire by itself would not help; a framework must be created so that the region will not slip back into the status quo ante. What no one explains is how one gets a regional consensus if all the interested parties – in this case, Syria, Iran, Egypt, and Jordan – are not included or even not asked to discussions?

So the fighting continues, the casualties – civilian and military – and the destruction mount on both sides. Whether indiscriminate rocket and missile fire or highly discriminate artillery and air strikes, innocent civilians, those unable or unwilling to leave their homes as well as those exposed to attacks as they try to navigate bombed-out roads, fall victim most often. At last count, a ten-to-one Lebanese-Israeli fatality rate means that innocent Lebanese civilians pay the price for the bravado of others.

Which brings us back to Tom Friedman’s borders. Just as there are lines on maps and milestones on the ground delineating borders, so too there are borders of decency, proportionality, and restraint that every side has an obligation to respect. If Bush, Rice, and Olmert are looking for a framework, they could do worse than insist on these as status quo ante starting points.

Monday, July 24, 2006

When "I See" Doesn't Mean "I Hear"

I wasn’t born yet when Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke to the nation’s fears and hopes in his radio “fireside chats.” Nor was I old enough to appreciate the influence of the first wave of radio journalists who made their reputations covering World War II and the early post-war years. But I am old enough to remember sitting in front of the radio on Sunday evenings (if I had completed my school homework) listening to “The Green Hornet” and “The Lone Ranger,” among other “action” radio programs.

The operative word in all the above is “listening” – something that we as individuals and a people seem to have trouble doing. True listening is an art – and like all arts, can be learned if one puts effort into the process. And the art of listening, once learned, opens another critical faculty – imagination – that also seems to be in short supply today, both as an adjunct to leisure (e.g., listening to the radio) and as the ability to think beyond the usual paradigms and the trite or conventional categories when confronted with seemingly intractable conundrums.

The “golden age of radio” was all too soon cut short by the “golden age” of television. In terms of television news, the golden age for me was the thirteen years between 1964 and 1977. These were the years Walter Cronkite and Eric Sevareid were at CBS reporting and commenting on world and national events in an era when these were not necessarily the same. These also were the years when trust in government declined perceptibly and the public looked to other sources for facts and interpretation. Thus Cronkite’s 1968 broadcast from Vietnam in which he said that war could not be won is now regarded as the final blow to Lyndon Johnson’s re-election hopes. Perhaps because he did not have Vietnam as his visual backdrop, few today remember that in 1966 Sevareid, just back from a trip to the war zone, said that the war could not be won and a negotiated settlement was the only way out.

I find missing from both radio and television today a single news broadcast that offers this same combination of fact and reflective interpretation that both demanded attention and stimulated imaginative thinking. (This may explain, in part, why John Stewart’s “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central has such a strong viewer base; his interpretations of the major stories of the day usually are quite trenchant and pinpoint the core issues.)

With the incessantly repetitive 24 hour cable news channels blaring their “breaking news,” it is now possible to be where the action is” anywhere in the world and to have “instantaneous” – and frequently incomplete, inconclusive, and inaccurate – interpretation.

There are a handful of programs that provide in-depth, intellectual commentary on current – as opposed to breathtakingly “breaking” – news. One such is Bill Moyers’ latest series on “Faith and Reason” in the U.S. A guest on the program aired July 21 was essayist Richard Rodriguez, a man who, like Sevareid, understands the importance of words and their ability to both incite and to offer insight

In the course of their conversation, Rodriguez, who is planning to retrace an earlier journey he made to the Middle East, noted that survival in the inhospitable terrain of the desert depends on mastering and comprehending the meaning of what one hears in the desert. On the seeming endless expanse that is the open desert, the sun is so blinding that most people unused to desert life cannot keep their eyes open for more than a few minutes at a time. Moreover, in the desert, sight can be fatally deceptive – shimmering heat waves become mirages that lure the unwary and unaware ever deeper into an inhospitable land.

At the same time, however, from this same hostile environment emerge the great personages and teachers of the three great western faith traditions – Abraham, Isaac, Moses, John the Baptist, Jesus, Mohammed. The Hebrews enter Canaan after 40 years in the desert; Jesus fasts 40 days in the desert; mystics seeking physical solitude and spiritual community go into the desert, for in the desert, says Rodriguez, they can hear, interpret, and understand the voice of God as nowhere else.

“As nowhere else” in today’s world, perhaps. I am reminded, however, of John Neihardt’s Black Elk Speaks, the account of the life and times of the Lakota visionary, spiritual interpreter, and healer of the 19th century as told by Black Elk himself. The visions, which began when Black Elk was nine, and his power to heal were invariably tied to the thunder spirits of the west whose presence was heard more than seen. (By the time Neihardt recorded Black Elk’s narrative in the early 1930s, the Lakota no longer heard the spirits from the west, possibly because the spirits no longer heard him.)

Similarly, much if not most of today’s turmoil is caused by an acute insensibility not simply to what others are saying but to the very fact that others are speaking. Invariably, the more inanimate the messaging mode, the more likely the messenger will be cast aside before the message is heard. And with no message, there is no communication, lei alone interpretation, imagination, or innovation.

That is the fearful, seemingly hopeless, world of today in Lebanon-Gaza-Israel-Syria-Iraq-Afghanistan-Iran-U.S. relations. Everyone asserts that they “see” the problem and the “solution,” but this “seeing” is blinkered and thus, like desert vision, unreliable. What the region needs is for everyone to step back simultaneously, to return all the captured and imprisoned, to quiet the deafening roar of guns so that, in the desert’s enveloping silence, each voice can be heard, each message interpreted, and new, more permanent resolutions proposed that do not dissolve like desert mirages.

Friday, July 21, 2006

The Jabberwock in Afghanistan

“And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One two! One two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.”
Lewis Carroll

Four battle-hardened Afghan mujahideen visited my office July 20 ostensibly to discuss how a pluralistic, secular (non-establishment) government interacts with, discerns, harmonizes, and incorporates into its laws the values of the many faiths practiced by its people.

Their visit, long planned, seemed from another world, given the events in Iraq, Gaza, Lebanon, and Israel and the seemingly indifferent attitude of the Bush administration to the carnage being inflicted.

But it also comes at a time when the U.S. press is noting a degree of malaise among the president’s conservative supporters. One gets the sense that conservatives are nostalgic for George H. W. Bush’s presidency and what is remembered as an unambiguously successful U.S. foreign policy. On his watch, the Warsaw Pact dissolved, the Soviet Union imploded, comprehensive reductions in nuclear arsenal were negotiated, the U.S. rallied an unprecedented “coalition of the willing” – including Arab countries – to reverse Iraq’s seizure of Kuwait, and the initiation of what some regard as the most evenhanded, U.S.-brokered discussions cum direct negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.

The world may not have been completely transformed into a U.S. clone, but like the poem declares, much seemed to have been done with minimal effort (two one-two’s) and minimal time. Moreover, the great enemy, the Soviet Jabberwock, was dead.

The reason for today’s nostalgia is simple: Fourteen years after GHWB left the White House and five years after his first electoral “win” for the presidency, son George W. Bush was accused of squandering his father’s achievements through a series of miscalculations – both opportunities passed up and initiatives that misfired.

What makes the current state of affairs so galling to conservatives is that “Bush-43” had the entire country and most of the world ready to help out the U.S. following the destruction of the World Trade Center and part of the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. If there has ever been an international “blank check” openly proffered to a single country, Bush had it then.

But almost immediately, the good-will began to ebb. The first error was to declare “war” (at one point the word “crusade” was used) on those who planned the September 11 attacks, thereby shifting the focus and the resources away from a reinvigorated law enforcement establishment (the FBI in the U.S.) into the Pentagon. Because sorting out Taliban from al-Qaeda from any person, group, or country that might be in league with al-Qaeda would be time-consuming, the administration decided to lump everyone together as “terrorists with a global reach.” Lists of individuals, groups, businesses, and charities were compiled and sanctions – often echoed by other countries and the UN – declared.

Almost unnoticed in the “rockets’ red glare,” the unraveling began in earnest October 8, 2001 with the first bombs that rained down on Afghanistan. One had to be in Europe (where I was) or in Asia to grasp the beginning of the divide separating governments from their publics.

By December the Taliban had been driven from power. Victory, although not proclaimed officially, was simply accepted. There would be congressional hearings on intelligence failures and other shortcomings, but these were destined to be overshadowed by cautiously enthusiastic articles about the political steps taken – election of a president, convening of successive loya jurgas (parliaments), and a constitutional drafting committee. But of some $14.6 billion in promised foreign aid, only $3.5 billion has been received by mid 2006.

In mid-July 2006, the Taliban poses a renewed threat to the government of President Hamid Karzai. According to a visiting Afghan parliamentarian, fully one-third of the 34 provinces in Afghanistan are effectively under the control or significant influence of Taliban fighters or sympathizers. Just days before the Afghan delegation arrived in the U.S., Taliban forces seized and held two towns in southeast Afghanistan along the border with Pakistan until a hastily assembled task force of 1,000 U.S. and Afghan army soldiers recaptured the terrain.

Having been abandoned by the U.S. once in the 1990s, Afghans, especially in the south and east, fear that the same future awaits them today. NATO has already assumed leadership of the UN-approved International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) around Kabul, and, now, non-U.S. NATO soldiers are taking responsibility for security in four of Afghanistan’s southern and eastern provinces as U.S. troops withdraw.

And that gets us back to today.

Listening to our Afghan visitors tell of that which sustains them, one can also detect what it is they fear. Give them equipment to build the security forces, money to rebuild the economy, and time to build a more democratic system of governance under law, they will see to the emergence of a re-formed and reformed Afghanistan – allowing foreign troops to go home. Should U.S. interest be diverted or waiver, or Afghan police and army units not get the training and equipment they need, or enough, sustained international funding not materialize, the upshot may be a defeat for the U.S. and a catastrophic relapse into chaos for the Afghan people.

Meanwhile, deep in the background, one hears the racing Jabberwock heading for his rendezvous with the "vorpal blade. " Only this Jabberwock is us -- the U.S.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Call to Act for Freedom From Fear

In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, the U.S. faced a choice: seek an outlet for immeditae revenge or build the foundation for enduring peace.

U.S. leaders chose to invest in preventive violence and retribution....and the nation has been paying for that choice ever since.

The administration says its top priority is to keep the nation safe. But their choices have not made the U.S. more secure:

• The U.S. military budget has increased by 45 percent—yet more violent groups are planning attacks on the U.S. than immediately after 9/11

• Record budget surpluses have turned to record deficits—yet the U.S. has cut funding for the tools of development and diplomacy that foster world stability

• Civil liberties have been seriously eroded in the name of security— threatening the very democracy this nation has gone to war to protect.

The nation has mortgaged its future to pay for the wrong answers from the administration.
So on this September 11, the fifth anniversary of 9/11, its time to ask Congress to give the nation better responses to the threats to global peace by:

• Ending the conflict in Iraq which has cost nearly half a trillion dollars and made the U.S. less secure as a nation

• Preventing the next wars now by expanding funding for internationally led development programs and diplomacy tools

• Modeling the best of democracy— stopping the erosion of our constitutional rights and freedoms in the name of "security"

Reflect and prepare on Sunday, September 10—and call for change on September 11.

Friends Committee on National Legislation • 245 Second St., NE • Washington, DC 20002 • (800) 630-1330 •

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A Few Items About Other Places

Israel-Lebanon-Gaza have pretty well knocked Iraq off the front page or as lead story in the major U.S. print and broadcast media.

But there is other news in the peace and security fields. Here are a few highlights from Africa and one from Asia.

The attempt to get negotiations started between the Islamist militias that defeated the U.S.-backed secular warlords and the UN-backed provisional government that has yet to get to the country’s capital was effectively derailed when the “government” side cancelled Friday’s meeting. Earlier in the week, the Islamist militias negotiated the turn over of Mogadishu’s ruined port, giving them control of the entire capital.

Further afield, the talks between Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Sudan almost broke down before starting because the LRA representative’s opening remarks were less then positive.

Darfur fighting flared again in early July, although this time it appeared to be among rebel factions trying to get control of territory. More than 80 people died in three days of combat. Meanwhile, the May agreement between the government of Sudan and the Sudan Liberation Army has yet to b e implemented. Reports from Northern Darfur describe the internecine fighting to be as brutal as that between the rebels and Janjuweed

The two-year old peace agreement between the Tamil Tigers and the government o Sri Lanka is coming undone. Since April, more than 800 people have died in renewed clashes, most of them civilians. In late June, the Army’s Deputy Chief of Staff was assassinated. Moreover, when the European Union put the Tigers on its list of terror organizations, the Tigers refused to accept Europeans as part of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission that is suppose to oversee the ceasefire agreement.

There is some good news. The first nation-wide election in four decades is scheduled for the Democratic Republic of Congo on July 31. The UN and African Union are committed to ensuring that this event goes well. In a surprise move, one of the Congo’s rebel hold-outs, the Front of Nationalists and Integrationists, agreed to a peace deal and released the remaining four Nepalese peacekeepers abducted in May.

Friday, July 14, 2006

What in the World is Going on Wih the World?

“I get no respect.” – Rodney Dangerfield

When Dangerfield said those four words, audiences knew a zinger was inbound.

Those same four words, never actually said but unconsciously experienced every day – often repeatedly every day – constitute the underlying psychological mindset of “victimization” that all too easily justifies armed conflict.

Victimization, however, requires the identification and demonization of a credible victimizer. Ideally, of course, the actual power of the oppressor is inferior to the power of the oppressed – or of the usable power of the oppressed. Ironically, when this calculation of usable power is found to be wrong – as with the U.S. in Afghanistan and Iraq and Israel with the Palestinians – those who miscalculated can create (or intensify) the sense of victimization through the manipulative propaganda of fear.

Clearly, after more than 55 months since attacking Afghanistan and 40 months since the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration is under siege – a victim of its own miscalculations and the unintended consequences of the use of military power. Israel too, is on the verge of falling – if it has not already tumbled – into the same type of miscalculation with respect to military efforts to gain the release of the three soldiers captured by Hamas and Hezbollah.

So at the midpoint of July, what are the extant conditions in play?

U.S. and officials in Afghanistan report that in the last two months, 800 Afghans have been killed in insurgent or counterinsurgent operations, with at least 70 of those deaths in two days. Afghan officials say that 600 of the 800 were civilians. Taliban and al Qaeda adherents seem to be much more active, particularly in the south and east.

In the first fourteen days of July, at least 460 Iraqis have died from insurgent or counterinsurgent operations or sectarian violence. Nearly half – 223 – perished in just four days (July 9-12). Moreover, the trend line for the number of attacks per week continued upward during the last reporting quarter (February 11-May 12, 2006), from 560 to more than 600 per week.

In Gaza, and Lebanon, the capture by Hamas and Hezbollah of three Israeli soldiers unleashed a full-scale military assault by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) throughout these two areas. Beirut’s international airport has been attacked repeatedly from the air and by Israeli gunboats; bridges throughout southern Lebanon and power plants in Gaza and Lebanon have been destroyed. Israeli warplanes also struck areas of Beirut where Hezbollah leaders such as Hassan Nasrallah are known to have homes. More than 100 people are dead, mostly Lebanese civilians.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert categorized the Hezbollah “invasion” of Israel as an act of war – and then promptly attacked not only Hezbollah-controlled southern Lebanon but also areas further north. Olmert cited the presence of two Hezbollah party members in the current Lebanese cabinet as “proof” that Beirut was somehow complicit in the cross-border attack by Hezbollah despite protestations by the Lebanese that they knew nothing about Hezbollah operations. Israeli ground forces also re-entered Lebanon but so far have not pushed very far north.

For its part, Hezbollah has acquired what appears to be a longer range (from 12 to 32 miles) 122 millimeter Katyusha rocket. Media reports say that the group fired well over 120 rockets and mortar shells into 20 towns in northern Israel in a 24-hour period, reaching as far south as the Israeli port city of Haifa.

Meanwhile, President Bush’s call for Israel to moderate its response has fallen on deaf ears. Israel is fixated on forcing Hamas and Hezbollah to release the captured soldiers,. Bush is more interested in preventing the collapse of Lebanon and the use of Lebanon’s territory as a new haven for al-Qaeda. s But both Tel Aviv and Washington agree that Syria and Iran are directly responsible – the victimizers – for the outbreak of hostilities.

There is little doubt that Iran strategically supports and champions Hezbollah and, to a lesser extent, Hamas. But at the tactical level, where the decisions for war or peace, harmony or discord, life or death are made, it is more likely that the armed factions of the two groups (each has a political arm and a social services arm) are largely if not completely independent of Damascus and Tehran.

A further complicating feature in play in both sets of circumstances – between the U.S. and Afghanistan and Iraq and between Israel, Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran – is racial/cultural. The first can be detected in the immediate assumption by Washington and Tel Aviv that Syria and Iran were both well informed of and rendered indispensable aid to Hezbollah and Hamas . In other words, Hamas and Hezbollah are incapable of planning, rehearsing, and carrying out bold operations without the direct involvement of nation-state governments. A further manifestation of racism is the use of ethnic slurs or other demeaning characterizations that “transform” opponents into sub-human – and therefore less resourceful, less intelligent -- beings.

Similarly, there is a popular perception among western publics that western science and culture are uniquely and inherently superior. When this turns out not be b e the case – e.g., not anticipating and countering the emergence of improvised explosive devices in Iraq – the fact of failure can engender the typical reaction of the schoolyard bully: redouble the assault on the one who had the temerity to expose the shortcoming. Yet, once more, the “cultured” side manages to turn t itself into the victim, for if one simply played by the tried and time-tested rules that “we” set up, “we” would win.

The immediate victims , as is so often the case in the Middle East, are the ordinary people on both sides. This time it includes the 1.5 million Palestinians trapped in Gaza, the hundreds of Israelis living in villages and towns in northern Israel within reach of rockets fired across the border with Israel, the 1.7 million in Beirut and south to the same border, the three soldiers, and the hundreds if not thousands of Palestinians in Israeli jails who have never been charged with any crime, let alone given a fair trial.

There is only talk of war and more war, yet “behind-the-scenes” deals have been struck before by the Israelis and groups like Hezbollah. But tonight fear and the insecurity that fear creates rules the perceptions of all parties and threatens to transform the perception into a “reality” in which every side sees itself the victim and demonizes the rest as the victimizers.

From here it is but a short, usually bloody step to the I-It paradigm in which there can only be an unequal and therefore unstable superior-subordinate relationship that will repeatedly be challenged until the balance is inverted or – best case – stabilizes near the balance point, at which the I-I paradigm of shared humanity and shared community can develop.

Just how difficult this change will be can be gauged by the following. In 1878, German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck famously noted that the Balkans were “not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier.” In 1994, as recently noted by author Sandy Tolan, an eulogist for Baruch Goldstein, the transplanted American Jew who killed 27 Palestinians as they prayed in the Cave of the Patriarchs said: “One million Arabs are not worth a Jewish fingernail.”

This is not a way of life or a world of sustainable life. Ask any Afghan, Iraqi, Palestinian, Lebanese, Israeli, Syrian, Iranian,…..

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

What About Values?

The Financial Times of London carried the headline: “U.S. Reverses Policy on Military Detainee Protection.”

Not that everyone necessarily agrees with this judgment. White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said “It’s not really a reversal of policy” – adding that the objective now is “to find a way to properly do this in a way consistent with national security.”

Ah yes. When the tides run against the government, look always to the future and what it promises and try to downplay past decisions that return to haunt the policymakers.

Whenever such a policy re-orientation happens, you can be sure that much had been going on beneath the legal and the practical radars of daily life. Some of the more prominent blips on the video monitor that need to be expanded:

Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England signed the memo July 7. It was addressed almost exclusively to the civilian superstructure of the Department. The uniformed recipients were the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Commanders of the five Combatant Commands: Central, Northern, Southern, European, and Pacific. England’s predecessor, Paul Wolfowitz, and other civilians (some departed from the Pentagon) were the driving force in the creation of the Pentagon’s world-wide detention system.

Conveniently, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is traveling in Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Iraq and is therefore generally unavailable for comment.

Also, by breaking the story in Europe, the news is separated from the chief newsmaker – the president – who is spared having to answer questions. He also gets a longer play of the decision before he arrives in Russia for this week’s G-8 summit.

As it is, considering the subject of the memo (“Application of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions to the Treatment of Detainees in the Department of Defense”), one can only marvel that – again – a British paper (Financial Times) broke a story that has profound consequences for the current U.S. administration’s claims to inherent executive authority in the conduct of the “global war on terror.”

Except for the Northern Command, which has as its area of operations the North American continent with its air and sea approaches, these commands operate outside the U.S. These are the warfighters, the ones who – in President Bush’s formulation – the country wants to be “fighting over there so that we won’t have to be fighting here.”

The memo cites the Court’s decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld as setting Common Article 3 as the standard for the treatment of all detainees – including al-Qaeda or pseudo-al-Qaeda – who have come under the control of the Department of Defense anywhere in the world. It does not, however, apply to detainees held by the Central Intelligence Agency or other non-military intelligence or operations units of the U.S. government. (Separately, the administration later said all detainees would have the same standards.)

Common Article 3 requires that in armed conflicts “not of an international character” that noncombatants must be treated humanely and that all such persons will not be subject to “humiliating and degrading treatment.” Moreover, any trials are to be conducted by “a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.” This is a potential minefield of conflicting possible definitions of terminology and the reconciliation of varying practices among “civilized people.”

In the same vein, Military Order 1, while asserting that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to al-Qaeda, did provide that all detainees would be treated humanely “consistent with” military necessity. This presidential directive was then interpreted by the Defense Department’s General Counsel (who has since been nominated to be a judge on the U.S. Appeals Court for the Fourth Circuit) to permit – “may be legally available” – interrogation techniques and practices that most reasonable persons would classify as inhumane or degrading.

The news story on the policy reversal included the tidbit in its last paragraph that the memo had been prepared by Defense Department General Counsel William Haynes. Haynes’ confirmation hearing was in the afternoon of July 11.

The Senate Judiciary Committee held its first hearings on the effects of the Court’s decision on July 11. On July 10, Senator Arlen Specter (PA), the committee chairman, was invited to meet with the President at 12:00 noon on July 11 – right in the middle of the hearing.

And so the “coincidences” go on.

What will Congress do – and when? The latter is unclear. On the first point, options include rewriting laws, modifying current procedures starting from Military Order 1, or starting from the Uniform Code of Military Justice, making minor changes to the implementing Manual for Courts-Marshal that establish a parallel judicial system for detainees. In all the legalese, what I never saw was any reference to values.

More to follow.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Icebergs and Other Musings on Intelligence

July 9 cannot slip into history as if it were simply another Sunday – not after what Representative Peter Hoekstra (MI) said and didn’t say during a television interview on Fox television.

Hoekstra, chairperson of the House Intelligence Committee and a strong supporter of the Bush administration’s approach to the “war on terror,” confirmed a July 8 story in the New York Times that his committee was told of a “significant” intelligence program only after he sent a letter to President Bush pointing out that the administration may have broken the law in not briefing the committee.

Interviews with “other officials” ruled out the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretaps and the Treasury Department’s program tracking financial transactions of suspected terrorists as the “significant” program in question. Hoekstra said he learned of the activity – about which he scrupulously avoided providing any detail – only when an unidentified government employee brought the program’s existence to his attention.

Judging from one comment during the Fox interview, Chairman Hoekstra is not just unhappy; he is furious at the administration’s failure to keep the intelligence committees informed. (Presumably, the Senate Intelligence Committee was also cut out of the information loop.) “I want to set the standard there, that it is not optional for this president or any president or people in the executive community not to keep the intelligence committees fully informed of what they are doing.”

As troubled as Hoekstra is, the public should be more troubled by his use of the plural when he noted that intelligence personnel “brought to my attention some programs that they believed we had not been briefed on.”

Ironically, Hoekstra, who praises the intelligence whistle-blower in this case, has been a very vocal critic of those government employees who leak classified information to the press after trying and failing to get wrongdoing – waste, fraud, abuse, violations of laws, deliberate lying to Congress and to the public – corrected within official channels.

Mark Felt (Deep Throat) and Daniel Ellsberg (The Pentagon Papers) are perhaps the most well known individuals who blew the whistle. Felt, who objected to Richard Nixon’s misuse of and interference with the FBI’s investigation into the Watergate burglary, went public, coaching the Washington Post through the twists and turns of Watergate. Ellsberg, many forget, went to the Senate with the multi-thousand page top secret report about the deception of Congress and the U.S. public in the Vietnam War.

In the post-September 11 atmosphere of fear that the administration seeks to perpetuate, other names come to mind of government employees who have somehow run afoul of the Bush administration’s penchant for classifying everything. Ambassador Joseph Wilson discounted the “Niger yellowcake” story that subsequently was included in the President’s 2003 State of the Union speech. Former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill related that even before September 11, the administration was considering how to “get” Saddam Hussein. Richard Clarke, who ran the White House counterterrorism unit, tried repeatedly to rein in the bogus claims by top administration officials about al-Qaeda-Iraq connections. Some would even include General Eric Shinseki, former Chief of Staff of the Army, in this list for truthfully telling a congressional committee that several hundred thousand troops would be required to occupy Iraq – an answer that contradicted the views of the Pentagon’s civilian leadership. And there is former CIA Employee Mary McCarthy who divulged the existence of secret CIA detention centers in Europe – denied of course by the Director of National Intelligence.

One reason for the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is the belief that a president, (like a monarch) who exercises unconstrained or unlimited power over information will inevitably misuse or overuse such power for private advantage. As pervasive as was the Cold War rationale of “national security” to justify classification in that era, looking back it now seems as light as day compared to the black hole of secrecy into which the country has been plunged since September 1, 2001.

Writing in August 1822 to William Barry, a Kentucky legislator who was on a committee looking at the state’s education system, James Madison said: “A popular Government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.”

In the democracy that Bush likes to triumph, the people, not the president, are sovereign. As such, government is accountable to the public. But it will be accountable only insofar as it is also transparent, that its activities are available to scrutiny by the public. It is this utter lack of transparency, embodies by administration attempts to cloak its actions under “national security” or “sources and method,s” that seems to have triggered Chairman Hoekstra’s harsh comments.

In his 1697 play, “The Mourning Bride," William Congreve wrote: “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.” Three hundred years later, the same may be said of a committee head who believes the executive branch – even when controlled by his party – has deliberately “dissed” him.

Friday, July 07, 2006

On the Cutting Room Floor

It has been a short week with the July 4 holiday and Congress in recess.

Not that the latter precluded shameful – maybe the right word is “shameless” – antics of the kind that prolongs its low place in public esteem. The story first broke in Slate and then was picked up John Dean in his column for Findlaw.

That the Bush administration fabricated or “cherry-picked” much of the intelligence used to persuade the Congress to authorize the president to use military force against Saddam Hussein is indisputable. It is also “rational” from the historical standpoint that in the struggle for dominance between the executive and legislative branches, one or the other will gain temporary ascendancy. But this deception of Congress was perpetrated by two of its own, not only against the Senate but against the judiciary.

Over the last two years, the status and treatment of prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay have been clarified via court rulings, especially two issued by the Supreme Court: Rasul v. Bush in June 2004 and Hamdan v. Rumsfeld in June 2006. Congress also weighed in with “debate” and legislation in the form of the “Detainee Treatment Act” (DTA) signed by President Bush December 30, 2005. The DTA contained, inter alia, the McCain anti-torture amendment opposed by the White House and an amendment originally sponsored by Senators Jon Kyl (AZ) and Lindsey Graham (SC) that proposed restricting the ability of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay to appeal their detention and the conditions of their detention in federal court. The limitations would not only apply to future appeals but also retroactively to cases already accepted by the courts.

The Kyl-Graham amendment was introduced, “debated,” and passed in one afternoon – the day before the Veterans holiday in 2005 – despite objections by Senator Arlen Specter (PA), the Senate Judiciary Committee chair, and many Democrats. When the Senate reconvened, a modified amendment was proposed and supported by Senator Carl Levin (MI). It removed the retroactive feature of the original amendment, and with this removed the modification passed 84-14.on November 14.

The Kyl-Graham-Levin amendment, as it was now called, survived the rough and tumble politics of the conference committee whose results in the form of a single bill and the accompanied conference report emerged December 21 and was approved and sent to the president for signature. Although the committee report is not part of the law, it can be important should the meaning and the intent of Congress in passing the law be a feature of future litigation. The report is included with the approved legislation and any debate on the agreed legislation in the official Congressional Record for each day one or both Houses are in session. When it was issued for December 21, the Senate record contained a rather lengthy exchange between Kyl, Graham, and Senator Sam Brownback (KS) as to the applicability of the law to cases already before the courts. Not only was the discussion’s tenor the exact opposite of what Senator Levin told his colleagues on November 14, the discussion never happened.

Congress-watchers know that Members routinely seek and are allowed to “correct and amend” remarks for the Congressional Record. Many also insert papers, speeches, or other materials that they did not have the opportunity to deliver orally from the floor. But when an insertion of completely new material is made, the Member indicates to the Record’s editors that the material was not originally presented “live” on the floor.

The Kyl-Graham lengthy “explanation” of legislative intent contained no such signal.

But there is more. In February 2006 Kyl and Graham filed an amicus (friend of the court) brief in the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case that had finally reached the Supreme Court. The brief not only effectively disavowed the Levin modification, it also made repeated, specific references to the “discussion” that never occurred and – as with the insertion in the Congressional Record – did not in any way inform the Court that the “debate” never happened. Hamdan’s attorneys made that discovery and informed the Court.

At least publicly, the Supreme Court seems to have decided to let the deceit slide – even though the Senators tried to re-introduce the same brief in the appeals court the following month (another “find” by Slate). John Dean’s view is straightforward: “I have not seen so blatant a ploy, or abuse of power, since Nixon’s reign.”

Yet the country wonders why, every week, new allegations are made accusing U.S. service personnel of war crimes and torture. U.S. officials, particularly those standing for reelection, like to talk about values. They might do better if they talked about facts and practiced their “values.”

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

What Country am I in, Again?

Somewhat overlooked in the hubbub about the six (now seven) missiles launched by North Korea on July4 (and 5) was a New York Times website story concerning pending legislation that could limit the freedom of the press to report certain types of events or classes of information.

That the story attracted so little notice may be due to the fact that the story appeared on July 4th when many in the U.S. were busy commemorating the nation’s birth. Or – more ominous for the health of the republic – it may be that the public has become inured to invasions of freedoms supposedly guaranteed by the Constitution that there is developing a “so what else is new” attitude.

Dangerous though this attitude would be, it would be understandable given the revelations over the last six months: last December’s revelation by the New York Times of the National Security Agency’s routine use of warrantless wiretapping of telephone conversations originating and terminating in the U.S.; the New York Times –Wall Street Journal-Los Angeles Times articles describing the U.S. Treasury Department’s intrusion into (some label it governmental blackmail) portions of bank transaction records maintained by the Belgian-based SWIFT financial consortium; and allegations that surfaced today that the Bush administration approached some U.S. telephone companies seven months before September 11 seeking access to records.

Government spokespersons emphasized that the legislation is not directed primarily at the media but at government officials who mismanage and misreport emergencies. But the language seems to leave open the possibility of official action against anyone involved in “unauthorized” publication of stories that would adversely affect national morale. This could include detailing sudden threats to physical or mental health among large segments of the population or reporting on significant social disturbances in addition to existing “cooperative” understandings on not re-broadcasting in full any interviews of or audio or video tapes by terrorists, showing videos of the aftermath of extreme violence or bloodshed, or even printing still photos of flag-draped caskets.

A very senior administration official pointedly observed that national security was THE most important factor for the media to consider when deciding whether or not to run a story. But the first spokesperson also acknowledged that the government relied on the ability of the media to accurately report instances of corruption in high places and official cover-ups.

In the end, a non-binding, majority-party sponsored resolution was affirmed. It called for “the cooperation of all news media organizations in protecting …lives…and the capability of the government to identify, disrupt and capture terrorists by not disclosing classified intelligence programs.”

Is this the United States of the Founding Fathers or the United States of the Re-Founding 21st century “Fathers”?

It is neither, albeit unfortunately tending more toward the latter until last week’s Hamdan ruling by the Supreme Court. The above is a compilation of three separate stories from the BBC (June 20), the New York Times (June 30), and the Times online. The scary part of this fabrication is the realization that these stories have enough factual convergence that it takes little reworking to “transfer” the non-U.S. elements into a plausible U.S. storyline.

The “government spokesperson” comes from Beijing to Washington and the “pending” legislation is before the Communist Party conference, not the U.S. Congress. But the U.S. House of Representatives actually did “debate” and vote out a non-binding resolution on press cooperation on June 29.

And to complete the disclosure, the “very senior government official” was not Vice-President Cheney or Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld or any other U.S. person. It was President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Lighten Up, America -- It's Your Birthday!

Put together these points:

- Everybody loves to watch fireworks.
- On July 4th, in cities and towns all across the U.S., elaborate fireworks displays are common.
- For a number of weeks, North Korean troops have been busy at that country’s missile launch areas apparently readying a Taepo Dong II missile.
- The U.S. has stationed naval ships off the coast of North Korea to monitor any missile launch and – should a missile’s trajectory take it within the engagement window of an anti-missile missile – try to shoot it down.

Add the accident of timing that saw the space shuttle launched on July 4th – the first time in NASA’s history – after two postponements, and the frequent comments from reporters on the appropriateness of “shuttle fireworks,” and Kim Jong Il’s decision to fire some of North Korea’s missiles is not so sinister.

The U.S. and Japan had warned North Korea that there would be adverse consequences if it went ahead and fired the Taepo Dong II. Hints had been dropped repeatedly that the U.S. might try to destroy the missile in its ascent phase or activate the rudimentary Missile Defense system installed in Alaska and at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

This would explain why six missiles were launched. Kim might have decided to test Bush’s reactions. The first missile would be the “wake-up” event; the second to absorb any attempt to destroy a North Korean missile in flight; the third – if there was no U.S. response – to actually do what Pyongyang wanted, which is to refocus the U.S. and the other four participants in the Six-Party talks on moving the discussions forward.

However, less than 40 seconds into its flight, the Taepo Dong failed. Speculation is that the first stage may not have separated from the upper stages or the second stage failed to ignite. Clearly, North Korea is in no position to be the imminent threat described by the administration. Their missiles are years away from posing any threat.

And that may explain the fourth, fifth, and sixth missiles, which were launched much later than the relatively time-sequenced first three. It was a backward wave of the hand as if to say

“Sorry the real show failed. Anyway, Happy July 4th America!”

Monday, July 03, 2006

Thoughts for the 4th on the 3rd

In preparation for the June 15th “debate” on the Republican-drawn resolution on the Iraq War, the Pentagon – read the civilians running the place – sent what was described as a 73 page briefing paper that “answered” the anticipated positions that the House Democrats would roll out during the debate. As reported by the Associated Press, one such “key” rebuttal to any suggestion of troop withdrawals is to assert that a U.S. departure “before the job is done” would condemn Iraq to “becoming a haven for terrorists, murderers and thugs.”
Now most of the time when Pentagon papers or briefings are provided Congress or when Pentagon officials are called to appear before committees, the Pentagon’s congressional liaison offices go into high gear. However, in this instance, if the liaison offices were involved, they may have violated a provision of the Transportation-Treasury-Housing and Urban Development-Judiciary, District of Columbia and Independent Agencies appropriations bill. Section 921 “continues the provision prohibiting propaganda, publicity and lobbying by executive agency personnel in support or defeat of legislative initiatives.” The last time I looked, the Defense Department was in the executive.
Speaking of the Transportation bill, one of the Independent agencies it funds is the Selective Service System, specifically “Salaries and Expenses” that provides funds for attendance of meetings, training, uniforms, hire of passenger motor vehicles, services authorized by 5 U.S.C. 3109, and official reception and representation expenses. It also prohibits expending any of the $24,000 allocated in “connection with the induction of any person into the Armed Forces of the United States.” In other words, the draft is NOT being funded, although the basic infrastructure is.
A Cautionary Thought

Elsewhere I have drawn some comparisons between the Iraq war and the U.S. Civil War and the War of 1812, fought during the presidency of James Madison.

By coincidence, on July 2, C-Span 2 (Afterword) carried an interview of Professor Gordon Wood about his latest book, Revolutionary Characters, which provides insights into the philosophies of eight of the Founding Fathers.

Wood says he was not consciously drawing any comparisons between the presidencies of Madison and George W. Bush, but there are nonetheless a few intriguing juxtapositions.

For example, Vice-President Cheney and many Republicans in Congress have suggested that not only should government officials who leak classified information be prosecuted, but those who receive such information (reporters) and print or broadcast it (editors and producers) should also be hauled into court. Bush himself strongly condemned the New York Times for printing the story about financial records snooping by Washington, saying the revelation seriously damaged national security – even though the affected financial organizations had already revealed the effort in its own publications. In other contexts and fora, those who support the war have insinuated that anyone ho criticizes the administration’s actions in the “war on terror” is aiding the enemy.

Nearly 195 years ago, Madison was severely criticized for the way he performed during the War of 1812. But unlike today’s politicians, Madison did not threaten or have anyone arrested for criticizing the government or Madison’s conduct of the war.

Madison’s approach to the war infuriated many. Wood notes that Madison effectively privatized the U.S. Navy by that era’s equivalent of “outsourcing”: issuing “letters of marquee” which “authorized” private vessels to attack enemy shipping. Without such letters from the State, a ship and its crew would be considered pirates.

On three occasions, U.S. militia forces invaded Canada with the intent to “liberate” that dominion’s residents from the British crown. Each time the militias were rebuffed by the Canadians, many of whom in fact had come to Canada at the time of the rebellion of 1776. That is to say, they were “loyalists” through and through.

Madison seemed unconcerned when the British marched into Washington and burned the capitol and the White House. Professor Wood believes that Madison’s (and Jefferson’s) implicit faith in the ordinary people of the U.S. overrode and masked his concern over the British actions in Washington. The redcoats could destroy buildings; they could never destroy the patriotic spirit of the country. Only those who believed that the “quality” people – monarchs and politicians – should be in charge could do that.

They are still trying.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Statistics fo July


Today, July 1, 2006, is day 1,200 of the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq.

U.S. military deaths are 2,536; 62 died In June, one has died in July
U.S. wounded, as of last update (June 11), total at 18, 356.

Coalition military deaths are 226; half of these are British

Iraqi civilian deaths are at least 50,000.
Police fatalities in 2005 were 3,578 and for the first half of 2006 were 4,693.

Iraqi government figures for fatalities for May and June 2006 were 1,423 and 1,771, respectively. By comparison, the Iraq Coalition report lists only 1,120 and 868 for these months, respectively.

On July 1, 78 Iraqi civilians and 8 Iraqi police and military died


Tucked in the Transportation-Treasury-Housing and Urban Development-Judiciary, District of Columbia, and Independent Agencies appropriations bill is a congressional pay raise that brings member’s salaries to $168,500. But you won’t find it under “congressional pay raise.”

Look under Section 801. It reads: “The Committee continues the provision requiring pay raises to be funded within appropriated levels in this Act or previous appropriations Acts.”

Then there is Section 940: “The Committee continues a provision, with modification, providing that the adjustment in rates of basic pay for employees under statutory pay systems taking effect in fiscal year 2007 shall be an increase of 2.7 percent.”

The minimum wage still stands at $5.15 an hour – roughly $10,700 a year. It has been at this level for nine years. In that same period, congressional pay has increased $31,000.