Monday, December 31, 2007

Casualties Round-up December 2007

Once again the fatalities, both civilian a military, fell in December 2007. That is the finding by B’Teslem, an Israeli human rights organization operating chiefly in the West Bank.

For all of 2007, B’Teslem determined that Palestinians killed 13 Israelis – seven civilians and six military. That’s the lowest annual total since 2000 and compares to 17 Israeli fatalities in 2006. B’Teslem also found that Israelis killed 373 Palestinians in 2007, of whom more than one-third – 131 – were not involved in any military action against Israelis.

Fatalities from violence are mounting elsewhere around the globe. In Kenya, the dramatic “turn-around” in the overnight ballot count Thursday, December 27, sparked riots in many areas, including the capitol Nairobi, the port of Mombasa, and Kisumu, a stronghold of challenger Raila Odinga. Late Sunday, according to media reports, the Kenyan Election Commission suspended vote counting because of reports of unrest and accusations of corruption.

When the vote count stopped, Odinga was said to be one million votes ahead of the incumbent, Mwai Kibaki (BBC). By dawn Monday, December 31, Odinga’s lead had become a deficit. The Election Commission quickly declared Kibaki re-elected. Violence broke out, and by the end of December 31, more than 135 people had died either in ethnic clashes, riots, or encounters with police.

Pakistan remains tense in the aftermath of the burial of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto December 27. Should either Pakistan’s election commission or President Pervez Musharraf delay the January 8, 2008 election for a new parliament, already delayed twice, there undoubtedly will be renewed violence between members of Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party and the army.

Iraqi civilian fatalities for December were also down to 462 with another 72 deaths among the Iraq security forces. This is the lowest total since April 2005 when 537 Iraqis were reported killed.

Among the coalition forces, U.S. fatalities for December 2007 were 21 – the lowest total for any month of the Iraq War except for February 2004, when just 20 U.S. troops died. Nonetheless, 2007 saw 899 U.S. military women and men assigned to the Iraq theater or in support of the theater perish and pushed total U.S. dead to over 3,900 on December 26 and, at year’s end, to 3,902. DoD counts among these dead 132 suicides. U.S. wounded in Iraq total 28,661.

Other coalition countries have suffered 307 fatalities in Iraq.

In Afghanistan, U.S. losses for 2007 total 116 and other coalition losses came to 115. Total deaths among U.S. forces since the start of operations in October 2001 are 474 and among other coalition countries 274.

Somalia, Darfur, Chad, Sri Lanka, Colombia – the dead pile up in uncounted numbers. Enough.

May you all have a Happy New Year – one that is more peaceful than 2007.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Bush Veto and the Economy

For the second time since George W. Bush became president, members of the U.S. military who were captured by Iraqi forces before the military onslaught nicknamed “Desert Storm” (January- February 1991) destroyed Saddam Hussein’s army, are about to be denied their day in court. A number of those captured have been trying to get civil suits through the U.S. judicial system alleging mistreatment (could they really have been tortured?) by the Iraqis in contravention of the Geneva Convention and the UN Convention Against Torture.

They will be denied this right because President Bush has acceded to Baghdad’s objection to allowing the suits to proceed because the regime of Nouri al-Maliki might be found liable for the mistreatment as the successor to Saddam Hussein. Specifically, al-Maliki threatened to remove $25 billion in Iraqi funds from U.S. banks to preclude seizure of the assets in the event of an adverse judgment in a trial.

Does not this cave-in by the White House bespeak something else – the precarious state of the U.S. economy? In a $13 Trillion economy, $25 million is chump-change.

What is the Treasury, the Federal Reserve, the Bush administration hiding?

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Blaming the U.S.

Some Americans may wonder why Iraqis are blaming the U.S. occupation forces for the deaths of 10 Sunnis killed when a Shi'a suicide bomber blew himself up in Baquba during a funeral.

According to Iraqis, U.S. troops opened fire on a father and son who, as part of the new U.S.-backed and financed Sunni local militias, were carrying weapons when they encountered the U.S. troops the previous day. The multi-national force headquarters did not comment on the claim, only noting that two Iraqis had been killed.

In the inevitable way that unintended consequences ply out when war is the setting, on December 25th, two deaths suddenly become 12.

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Christmas Comment

Kris Kringle, St. Nicholas or St. Nick, Santa Claus, Father Christmas -- all terms for the same phenomenon that today is more often associatred with gifts for children than the original figure who is associated with adult feasting. According to on-line resources, a recognizable "image" of Father Christmas is found as early as Ben Jonson's "Christmas his Masque" (1616). But the popular image that dominates the English speaking world is based on the illustration of the Ghost of Christmas Present in Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" (1843).

But it is the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come that reveals what lies ahead -- want, poverty, illess, ignorance -- if people do not learn how to "live for" rather than only learn how to "die for." The latter is easy, but often does nothing to make life better for those who remain and experience those "Yet to Come" days.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Troop Reduction Promises?

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said this week that should the reduced levels of violence in Iraq be sustained into the first half of 2008, he would entertain the idea to bring back from Iraq an additional five combat brigades and support troops.

Right now, Gates and General David Petraeus, the overall U.S. commander in Iraq, envision being able to reduce troop strength in Iraq back to the “steady state” level of 130,000 to 132,000 by June 2008 – put another way, from the current 20 combat brigades back to 15. Gates’ “best scenario” would remove an additional 5 combat brigades by the end of 2008 for an overall reduction from today’s 162,000 to about 60,000.

Interestingly, on Wednesday Democratic presidential candidate Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton said that as president, she would bring about 100,000 troops home by the end of her first year in office. This is a variation on a debate statement that her goal would be to have all troops out of Iraq by the end of her first term.

Presidential politics of course add even more unreality to the political scene that is standard in Washington. This response by Senator Clinton was immediately termed a “major change” by some of her rivals for the Democratic Party’s nomination. I don’t think anyone actually called it a “flip-flop,” but that was the subtext.

Call it what they will, whoever wins the nominations for the two main parties ought to be ready to commit to not only pulling out 100,000 but all 162,000 that are there right now. The only way to leave is to leave completely. If this is not the commitment and is not a public commitment, it will never happen.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Omnibus Appropriations 2008

One might be forgiven for confusing fantasy with reality when reading headlines in the major newspapers this morning. Of course, the fact that Christmas is less than a week away contributed to the misapprehension.

USATODAY carried a story on the volume of letters that children around the world write to Santa Claus. There is a real North Pole, Alaska – population 1,500 – whose inhabitants undertake each year to answer every letter arriving at its post office. According to the U.S. Postal service, some one million letters enter the postal stream, a quantity that, so far, has held relatively steady in the face of email and instant messaging.

But the U.S. does not generate the most mail to Santa. The UN, which serves as a “link” among 20 national postal systems, ranks France first in letters to Santa with 1.22 million in 2006 while Canada took second place with 1.06 million. Finland receives the most foreign letters, and replies go to 150 countries. But the U.S. does hold the record for answering Santa mail longer than any other country – 95 years.

Then there were the headlines that George Bush must have thought were fantasies – or at least an early Christmas courtesy of the Congress. Yesterday the Senate passed a $555 billion Omnibus Appropriations bill funding the federal government (except Defense Department appropriations which – other than the Iraq and Afghanistan wars – was approved earlier in separate legislation) for the remaining nine months of Fiscal Year 2008.

The House voted earlier to provide $30 billion for just the Afghanistan war as part of the Omnibus Appropriations. This was really the only attempt by the Congress to maintain any hold over the conduct of combat in these two war zones. Other efforts to require a withdrawal timetable or even just express the “sense of Congress” that the White House draw up a plan for a drawn down of U.S. forces were either dropped or were defeated.

When the legislation reached the Senate, that chamber could not hold the line on the $30 billion. In the end, the Senate voted 70-25 to give the President $70 billion to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That change sent the legislation back to the House, which is expected to concur on the dollars for warfare, which will then send the funding measure to the White House with no restrictions or constraints on the president.

Some Senate fiscal conservatives of both parties tried to hold out for offsets in reduced spending on other programs, including a separate bill to “patch” the alternative minimum tax, but nothing was passed to lower the cost to the Treasury.

I did suggest that the symmetry between the number of Senators (70) voting in favor of giving the president $70 billion for warfare offered an obvious solution for the source of the offset: charge each state whose senators – one or both – voted for the measure a billion dollars. So as not to but a state’s population in too deep a hole, the cost would not be doubled if both voted for the measure.

Such a deal – as good as it gets with this president and Congress.

Monday, December 17, 2007


Just completed the annual World at War snapshot, so I am tuckered.
And what is next on the agenda? -- the Omnibus Spending Bill.

The long version of the "World at War and Organizing for Peace" will come up on the FCNL website in January 2008.

Friday, December 14, 2007


Ever wonder how editors decide on the sequencing of stories for either electronic or “hard copy” publications?

Or how bloggers make the same decision?

A basic rule for the news as a business is to present up front stories that affect individuals in the community, either as individuals or because of identification with a recognizable group. People will listen when they think the story is about them or about a group with which they associate themselves formally as a “dues-paying” or “card-carrying” member.

They will also listen if the subject is connected to their socio-economic status, particularly should disposable income be sharply reduced relative to the expenditures needed to sustain the life style one lives.

Less often, the choices will rest on a determination by the news “gate-keepers” that the public needs or has an inherent right to be informed about something that normally does not stand-out or draw much attention. Most often these are the issues of national-international affairs that have little or no immediate consequences but, left unattended year after year, gain a type of degenerative exponentially growing momentum that someday might well turn human life as we know it upside down.

And then there are the items that, in themselves, do nothing more than speak to the quality of the lives we have. Here are the pastimes of entertainment, of sports, of the arts – especially narrative (story-telling), poetry, painting, dance, and voice and instrumental music.

And this brings me to the point. We are in the Western world rapidly approaching the Christmas holiday, the observance of which includes what may be the largest repertoire of “specialized” or “seasonal” music.

But as you listen to and enjoy it – and one need not be “Christian” to do so – do not forget that Sunday is the anniversary of the birth of one of the Occident’s (and arguably one of the world’s) greatest composers, Ludwig Beethoven.

Were Charles Schulz still alive, one could be sure that Sunday’s “Peanuts” would somehow feature Schroeder – who has the musician’s soul – and possibly Lucy – who is interested only in how music and everything else in life can benefit or “profit” her.

So pause a moment – actually as many as 40 minutes worth of moments – this Sunday and listen to some Beethoven simply because it is Beethoven. You won’t “profit” in Lucy’s sense, but you might in Schroeder’s.

After all, it should not be news that some things in life are by their very nature worth experiencing.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Restoring the National Guard

Rebirth of Constitutional Federalism?

Quis custodiet Ipsos Custodes?

The question is as old as the Republic: When can – and when is it appropriate for – the President of the United States to federalize the National Guard in response to a domestic disaster?

Fifteen months ago, Senator Patrick Leahy (VT) raised this issue as the Senate considered the John Warner Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year (FY) 2007 – what eventually became Public Law PL 109-364. This law conferred on the president the exclusive power to federalize the National Guard units of states hit by natural disasters.

The spurs for this action were clear from its inception: finding a scapegoat for the added disaster caused by the uncoordinated federal response to the disaster that was Hurricane Katrina; and portraying the White House’s reach for even more power as the best way to “rectify” the inefficiencies inherent in the Constitution’s division of responsibilities and prerogatives through its system of checks and balances.

For a number of reasons – including past modifications to the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act, changes to the Insurrection Act of 1807, and provisions of the USAPATRIOT Act – PL 109-364 potentially stripped state governors of any say as to the use of their National Guard units in cases of domestic disaster, natural or human-induced.

The experiences of the Revolution through which the Founding Fathers had so recently passed had to be foremost in their consciousnesses as they considered provisions of Articles I and II of the Constitution pertaining to the militias and their use. Their ongoing concern that the power of the federal executive be adequate but also circumscribed contributed to passage of the Second and Tenth Amendments (right to bear arms and reserving unenumerated powers to the states and the people, respectively). So in 2006, when Congress gave the president the power to call up the National Guard for federal service without obtaining the concurrence of the governors of affected states, it in effect attacking the foundation of federalism that the Founders had taken great pains to enshrine in the Constitution,

(See my November 2006 essay titled “Usurpation of Power” at
for an in-depth analysis of Constitutional provisions, the Insurrection Act of 1807 and related statutes, and PL 109-364 and its implications for state vs. federal power and for individual rights, particularly habeas corpus.)

Before addressing what is happening in the 110th Congress, it is worth quickly recapping how the 109th Congress gave away the store – again – to the executive branch.

The Senate version of the 2006 Defense Authorization Act (H.R.5122) went to conference with a section intended to strengthen the independence of the National Guard by raising its bureaucratic profile, requiring the Pentagon to provide more and better equipment, and emphasizing the Guard’s role in responding to domestic disasters. When the Senate-House conference ended, the legislation not only had been stripped entirely of these proposals, in their place, according to Senator Leahy, were revisions “making it easier to usurp the Governors’ control and making it more likely that the President will take control of the Guard and the active military operating in the states.” If a president invokes the Insurrection Act with its tie to “rebellion” under which habeas corpus can be suspended, he can override state objections and authority and use federal forces or federalized forces (National Guard) for purposes of “enforcing the laws of the United States.”

Senator Leahy saw the changes as “payback” by the administration for the refusal of the Louisiana governor to cede control of post-Katrina recovery efforts to Washington. That may be true, but given the penchant of the Bush administration to pull political power into the Oval Office, Katrina may simply have been the disaster that was available. Indeed, the pre-Katrina title for Section 1076 of PL 109-364 suggests that the then Republican-controlled Congress was intent on expanding presidential power – “Use of the Armed Forces in Major Public Emergencies.” As the law stands now, the Insurrection Act permits the president to use “the armed forces, including the National Guard in Federal service, to restore public order” in circumstances that now include “terrorist attack or incident, or other condition in any State or possession of the United States, [should] the President determine” that state authorities cannot “maintain public order” because of “domestic violence.”

The Fiscal Year 2008 Defense Authorization legislation (H.R. 1585) has finally emerged from conference committee and should be considered by the full House and full Senate this week or next. Two “cosmetic” changes affecting the Guard and two substantive changes survived the conference.

Under the “cosmetic” rubric, this year’s conference agreed (Section 533) to raise the profile of the National Guard Bureau in the Pentagon by designating the position of Chief of the National Guard Bureau a four star billet (currently the Chief is a three star general.) Presumably, the Directors of the Army National Guard and Air National Guard will move from two stars to three. (The Navy and Marine Corps do not have a “National Guard.”) Another “profile” change (Section 1802) designates the National Guard as a “joint activity,” which is in keeping with its dual-service make-up.

Substantively, the legislation (Section 1807) requires the Chief of the National Guard Bureau to certify that equipment designated by Congress for the Guard actually arrives in the unit. This is particularly important today given the demands for personnel and equipment for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the extensive wear on equipment that the Guard units need when called out by governors when domestic disasters occur – transport helicopters, cargo/personnel fixed wing aircraft, trucks, HMVEES, radios. In past years, administrations of both parties often did not request funds for National Guard equipment needs knowing full well that when the Defense Appropriations bill emerged from conference, the conferees would have added money for at least some of the more pressing equipment needs.

Most importantly, this year’s Defense Authorization conference committee action reverses (Section 1022) the provision in PL 109-364 (FY2007 Defense Authorization Act) allowing the president to federalize the National Guard without agreement from the governors of the affected states in emergencies or domestic disasters.

Bush insists that his first responsibility is to safeguard the American public. But as we have learned -- I hope -- over the last seven years, those of us who are “safeguarded” had better be on our guard to ensure our guardians do not become our masters. And that, in case you are wondering, is the translation of the above Latin maxim by Juvenal.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Farewell the Union Jack

Another shoe dropped in Iraq.

On an unannounced visit to Baghdad for talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and to see the 5,000 British troops located at the Basra airport, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that security in Basra province would become the responsibility of the Iraqi security apparatus within the next two weeks. By the end of 2007, the UK’s contingent will have contracted from 46,000 during the March 2003 invasion to 2,500 – and these in turn will be out by June 2008.

This is but one more indication that the Bush administration is encountering increasing resistance from “allies” for sustaining the occupation. In fact, the evidence is mounting that the U.S. president and the Iraq prime minster have agreed to request that the UN Security Council renew the Chapter VII mandate authorizing the continued presence of the occupying forces for a “final” 12 months. Moreover, during this next year, the U.S. and Iraqi administrations are to wok out the details specifying the “status” of the U.S. military forces expected to be retained in Iraq until at least 2010.

The Government Accountability Agency noted in May 2007 (GAO-07-627T) that only 25 of the original 48 countries—of which 38 contributed 24,000 troops for the invasion force – were still contributing troops to the “coalition of the willing.”But the number had fallen to 12,600.

Those numbers, both the number of countries contributing forces and the number of troops, will fall in 2008. The Australians and the Poles, with new governments, have already declared they will be out by the end of 2008.

And in case the question comes up, the U.S. is picking up the cost of troop deployments to Iraq by some of the “willing” coalition countries still in Iraq.

Friday, December 07, 2007

By the Numbers

After being gone for a quick vacation four days earlier this week, I returned to the office and was reminded of an “off site” day long planning session looking ahead to the last 12 months of the current administration.

First Number: 410 days -- what's left of Bush's second term.

Second Number: In 2005, the CIA confirmed that it destroyed 2 video tapes of the processes and “methods of interrogation” used on two high-ranking al-Qaeda commanders. The Agency asserts the tapes were made by top-flight interrogators as “training videos” for new interrogators. But, with a looming Freedom of Information Act request, the Agency’s General Counsel is said to have advised destruction of the tapes to preserve the identities of the professionals. Unanswered is the question of why no one -- NO ONE --in Congress, even those with the highest security clearances, was told about the tapes.

Third Number: As in the Tripartite Axis of Evil. If one is keeping score, it is plus one for the administration (Iraq regime change), plus one for the axis (Iran after the latest National Intelligence Estimate); and one undecided (North Korea) but becoming more accessible.

Fourth Number: 24,000, the number of international peacekeepers authorized by the UN Security Council to oversee the security of refugees and internally displaced persons who fled their homes and livelihoods in Sudan’s Darfur region and the border areas of Chad, Central Africa Republic, and Sudan. The 7,000 African Union peacekeepers that are part of the intervention force are on the ground because the AU originally tried to monitor events and stop the bloodshed. The other 17,000, to come from countries outside Africa, are missing in action; they never materialized.

Fifth Number: 200 billion dollars. This is the U.S. Army’s estimate of the cost of fielding the latest military equipment for the forces after the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan return home. It may be a long wait.

And at no cost, simply a reminder that 66 years ago today Japan attacked Pearl Harbour, an act that was the official trigger for President Roosevelt‘s request to Congress to declare war.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Gone Ice Fishing

Not really -- just that it's going to be cold this week in Washington -- not only the weather but Congress is back, and there will be many a cold-shoulder turned by Members to other Members and from one end of Pennylania Avenue to the other.

But what is true is that I will be gone, so there will not be a blog posting Monay Dec 3 and possibly not Wednesday Dec 5.