Friday, August 29, 2008

Two Weeks in Politics -- Take 1

Well, Bill Clinton had the most memorable line of the Democratic Convention: we do best with the power of our example and not with the example of our power.

That seems to be a direct hit at the McCain “bomb bomb Iran” and 100 more years in Iraq. It looks as if no matter who wins in November here that all troops – not just combat troops, will be out of Iraq by the end of 2011.

That will still leave Afghanistan – but if we kill enough noncombatants there (like to 90 last week), 2011 might see us out of that country too.

As for the Republicans this week, John McCain had the most surprising announcement of the Democrat’s week by naming Alaska’s first term governor, Sarah Palin, as his running mate and the first women to run for vice president on the Republican ticket.

Hurricane Gustav is closing in on the Gulf Coast and will have greater repercussions than anything the Democrats do on the Republican Convention even though the venue for the convention is Minneapolis-St Paul.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Hillary at the Convention

If you didn’t hear Hillary deliver her remarks at the Convention Tuesday night, you missed what used to be called a “stem-winder” of a speech.

As a former speech writer, I was impressed not only by the organization of the speech and the word choice but with its rhythm and the way she wove the key elements of her message. She started with an endorsement of Senator Obama as the party nominee and then returned to that point almost as the touchstone of her message to the 18 million who voted for her in the primaries.

I say “almost,” for the real touchstone was the power of women in society – past with the feminists who gathered in Seneca Falls and Harriet Tubman who organized the Underground Railway, present with the women she met and spoke with during this campaign, future with the daughters of those women who will “keep on going” regardless of the obstacles that others will throw in their path.

Some commentators pointed out that she said nothing about Obama as commander in chief and only once referred to ending the war in Iraq responsibly. I count that as a strong plus, for the president is supposed to be, first and foremost, the chief executive of the people, not the commander in chief of the people.

When the roll call of states is called, Hillary will find a not insignificant number of votes cast for her as the party’s presidential standard bearer. After the vote, the usual call for unanimity will be made, seconded, and declared “passed” by acclamation.

Last night, the Convention was hers by acclamation. Don't be surprised if in eight years, assuming the Democrats win this November, that same motion for unanimity by acclamation is for Hillary as the nominee as well as for speaker.

Monday, August 25, 2008


The games are over! Let the games begin.

I’m speaking of the Olympics, of course. I watched the closing ceremonies Sunday. More retrained than the opening, but that’s no problem as I have already ordered by DVD of all four hours of that extravaganza. All told, as many as a million Chinese are said to have participated in the vast “machine” that was the 29th Olympiad. The dollar cost is said to have reached $40 billion.

I had forgotten that the Greek flag is raised at each Olympic gathering as if to remind us of the ancient Greeks who “invented” the games. The tradition was no fighting during the games – unfortunately a tradition violated by the Republic of Georgia.

Tonight (Monday) the History channel did a feature on Sparta. In light of the two conventions that are to run virtually back to back over the next two weeks, I think a little more history is the most sane option. – and the one that will impart more knowledge.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Public Financing of Campaigns

With the political conventions of the two major parties looming, I received in the snail mail a non-partisan appeal to support public financing of congressional campaigns. The “fact sheet” section of the mailing noted that in 1976, successful candidates for seats in the House of Representatives spent an average of $87,000 on their campaigns – in 2006 dollars that comes to $306,000. In the 2006 House races, the average expenditures for successful candidates was $1.5 million.

Curious, I checked the Statistical Abstract of the United States to see what successful presidential candidates had received in public money for their campaigns. In 1980, Carter received $29.4 million and Reagan $29.2 million. Eight years later, Bush 41 and Dukakis each received $46.1 million. In 1992, Bush and Clinton received $55.2 million while Clinton and Dole received $61.8 million in 1996. In the next two presidential races, Gore and Bush 43 received $67.6 million each in 2000 while in 2004 Bush and Kerry each received $74.6 million. This year McCain will get about $81 million while Obama has opted out of public financing.

Back to Congress for a moment, the last time the House of Representatives was in session for more than 300 days was 1981-82, the 97th Congress. And the 98th Congress was the last in which members introduced more than 10,000 bills for consideration.

In 2007, of the 9,227 bills and resolutions introduced, 1.5% became law.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Bit More on EO12333

Two or three weeks ago I mentioned in passing that the president had issued a revised Executive Order 12333 dealing with the organization and structure of the intelligence community – or as one wag put it, the forged birth certificate of a non-community with little intelligence.

Every president sooner or later gets around to amending EO12333, but usually not so late in the term of office. But then, I don’t recall any other modern presidency that has publicly harbored such utter contempt for the intelligence profession as the current one. This White House on more than one occasion not only pressured analysts to shade their conclusions but also to downplay or even ignore information that, had it been given due weight, would have driven the analysis and the conclusions away from – not toward – consensus with the Bush-Cheney coterie. President Bush, hosting the Israeli prime minister last December, went so far as to label a leaked National Intelligence Estimate – the premier publication of the Intelligence Community – whose subject was Iran’s 2003 decision to halt work on developing a nuclear weapon – as nothing more than another “opinion.” Bush was not trying to smooth an unexpected rough patch with an ally No, Bush had convinced himself that everything from the intelligence world that didn’t fit his preconceived ideas was wrong.

The last big change in EO12333 came in 2004 when the Executive had to spell out the details and operational relationships between the newly created position of Director of National Intelligence and the Pentagon’s intelligence agencies (with 80 per cent of the intelligence budget and 80 percent of the people). In true fashion – at least in the world of spy v. spy fiction – Bush initially could not find anyone willing to take on the job. Bush offered it to former Director of Central Intelligence and CIA chief Robert Gates who is currently Secretary of Defense, but Gates said no.

What is also revealing is that all of the principals in the current set-up other than Gates – the current undersecretary of defense for intelligence, the current CIA director, and the second and current incumbent in the post of DNI – all came from the Pentagon’s intelligence world. One is left wondering how relationships might have been altered had fewer retired generals and admirals been drafted into these positions.

Little wonder that, when it comes to intelligence, Secretary Gates is smiling.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The 2008 Democratic Platform

If you haven’t received your personalized copy of the 2008 Democratic Party Platform, it’s probably not coming. Of course, you could go on the Internet and go to the convention website or the Democratic Platform Committee website and download all 94 pages. That would save some trees to be sure, but something else would end up being consumed to generate the electric power needed to run your computer.

All in all, you probably would not get much to cheer about – and everyone would tell you that once the conventions are over, no candidate bothers about the “planks” in the platform. The categorical imperative for the remainder of the campaigns is to win.

The platform carries the Democratic campaign theme of change in its title: “Renewing America’s Promise.” I of course was interested in what the platform drafters had to say about national security and national defense (always keeping in mind that the latter is a subset of the former).

On trying to open the webpage to the security section, I missed by one page and ended on “fiscal responsibility.” Skimming rapidly and catching only isolated words left the impression that, facing a $4 trillion debt means that the price of health care has to be “brought down.” And while there was a reference to “pay-as-you-go” spending on Iraq and ending the war “responsibly,” the lack of any reference to reducing the Pentagon’s base budget was not a good omen.

And so it proved to be. “This century’s threats are as least as dangerous as…those we have confronted in the past.” In terms of military threats, this is not true as the number of nuclear warheads owned by Russia and the US have not gone up. When the platform speaks of “the emergence of new powers like China, India, Russia, and a united Europe,” one wonders what the old powers are.

The platform then promises the party will the candidate will provide leadership to:

(1) End the Iraq war responsibly;
(2) Defeat al-Qaeda and other violent extremists;
(3) Securing nuclear weapons materials from terrorists;
(4) Revitalize and support the U.S. military;
(5) Renew common security partnerships;
(6) Advance democracy and development; and
(7) Achieve energy security and combat climate change.

I had to stop there because if these are in priority sequence – and there is no indication that they are not, the platform has the sequence inverted in terms of what needs to take a new president’s time and energy – slow climate change, end petroleum dependency , initiate sustainability.

As for Iraq, tell the Joint Chiefs to get everybody out by year’s end and tell Interpol that al-Qaeda is their responsibility to catch. The U.S. is not making new nuclear weapons, so the people who know how to disassemble weapons have the time to do this and to design ways to secure the materials.

Finally, cut the army by at least a third and build a larger navy that, with the navies of other nations, will secure the sea lanes and do humanitarian support as directed by the president. The U.S. has traditionally been suspicious of maintaining a standing army because of the habit of armies to always follow orders – which too often saw the military being used to suppress civil liberties. Navy officers seem to have a broader horizon.

What is your security platform?

Friday, August 15, 2008

On turning a certain age

Two things at least can be counted on in life. No they are not death (after which there is, according to western religious belief,supernatural existence and in some eastern religions re-incarnatioin) and taxes (the government cannot collect on what it doesn't know of.

The two things I have in mind are:

(1)when something goes terribly wrong as has happened this past week in the Georgian Republic, the one most responsible for the catastrophe will place the responsibility right where it belongs: on everyone else; and (2) if you live long enough you will turn 65 -- which I have done today.

So tonight I will let the politics of war play out. I have "gone fishin'."

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

What to do about Georgia

What to do about Georgia

First. Don’t send any new military personnel to Georgia.

Second, get all U.S. military trainers out of the country.

Third. If the Bush administration wants to deliver humanitarian supplies, contract out for commercial aircraft to fly in the relief or shipping companies to sail into a port. Given all the contracts the Pentagon issued in Iraq, there should be no shortage of people eager for another chance to do right.

Fourth. Let the EU take the diplomatic lead. They will be more directly affected in terms of interruptions to fuel supplies from Russia should things get nasty after the current fighting ends.

Fifth. Things are nasty now. .

Sixth. Don't send any warships into the Black Sea outside of those that might be expected based on historical data.

Seventh. Convince the current president of Georgia to resign and hold new elections after Russian troops withdraw (assuming they do). In the interim, ask for UN assistance.

Eighth. Russian troops leave Georgia and take with them the so-called South Ossetia military that are looting Gori.

Ninth. NATO should rethink carefully whether to bring Georgia (and the Ukraine) into the alliance. Remember, NATO is a mutual security pact.
Would the U.S. go to war for Georgia?

Tenth. Don’t tweak the Bear’s tail gratuitously

Monday, August 11, 2008

No Entry

Ophthalmologist appointment today and it is still hard to read the screen. Back on cue Wednesday

Friday, August 08, 2008

Conflagration Rekindled

The Summer Olympics officially opened today in Beijing with the lighting of the Olympic torch that will remain aflame throughout the games. Ironically, about 3,650 miles away in the Caucasus, the Republic of Georgia lit its own fire by attacking its break-away region of South Ossetia.

This is not a new dispute. As the former Soviet Union imploded in the early 1990’s, the republics in the Caucasus – always an area of unrest and concern to the rulers in Moscow, whether tsar or communist – began to fracture. Georgia had hardly declared itself free of Moscow when South Ossetia, an interior region in Georgia that borders the ethnically similar Russian region of North Ossetia, declared its autonomy from Georgia. Troops from Georgia were sent to force South Ossetia back into the fold, but they were frustrated in that effort by Russian forces sent by Moscow. Fighting trailed off in 1994, a ceasefire was arranged and a “peacekeeping force” made up of Russian, Georgian, and Ossetian soldiers was formed.

But South Ossetia was not alone. Also in the early 1990s the larger region of Abkhazia, which has an extended coastline on the Black Sea, declared it intended to seek independence from Tbilitsi. And then there was Chechnya – part of the Russian Federation but also seeking independence. Under Boris Yeltsin’s presidency, the Russian army was pulled from Chehnya in 1994. Continued lawlessness in Chechnya and a series of terror bombings in Moscow led Yeltsin to pour in 100,000 troops to retake the province. Grozny, the capitol, was leveled, and eventually the armed insurgents fled first to the mountains and then dissolved.

The U.S. and European Union gave called on Moscow to pull its ground forces back from Georgian territory and to halt the bombing of Tbilitsi. Western countries are concerned because a major oil pipeline that transports much of Europe’s oil from the Caspian region to the Mediterranean passes close to the fighting in Georgia and is quite vulnerable to accident or deliberate sabotage. Georgia has 2,000 troops serving in Iraq; the government has called these troops back to Georgia and requested the U.S. provide airlift.

Despite western calls for the Russians to pull back, there is little the west can do. And Russia may see this “uprising” against Tbilitsi as pay-back for the West’s insistence that the predominantly ethnic Albanian and Islamic population of Kosovo be recognized as a separate country from Orthodox Christian Serbia.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The 2008 National Defense Strategy

This Year’s “National Defense Strategy” prints out at 28 pages, but if you are meticulous or just want to save trees), you quickly discover that only 23 pages (including the front and back covers), have text on them. Others have noted the “hand of [Secretary of Defense Robert] Gates” in this document. In fact, although I do not have a copy at hand, there are strong echoes of a speech by Gates in western Kansas in which he pitched for more direct involvement and for longer stretches of time of State Department Foreign Service Officers and other federal civilian positions so as to better balance Defense and non-defense expertise overseas.

Gates is quite insistent on the need to develop better balance in foreign relations/affairs and military relations with host country armed forces. But one also gets a feeling that some of the underlying assumptions of the new strategy have simply been redrafted with no real change.

One example: On page 1is the following: “Beyond our shores, America shoulders additional responsibilities on behalf of the word….The United States, our allies, and our partners face a spectrum of challenges including…extremist networks, hostile states…rising regional powers…and a growing competition for resources.”

Where is the traditional notion that sees “challenges” – whose connotations tend to be more negative (i.e., an obstruction) than positive – as opportunities to throw off outmoded assumptions and go after circumstances that need to be resolved?

North Korea and Iran seem to be the last two of the Reagan-era rogue states and merit no mention of any positive steps such as North Korea’s destruction of the cooling tower associated with its nuclear reactor. China is mentioned as an “ascendant state with the potential for competing” with the U.S. As it stands, that statement is totally negative. At one time – and to listen to President Bush today – competition is good; it is what the free market is all about.

The 2008 NDS, while better than its predecessors, still has a way to go to get even a balanced tone – something that, if achieved, might change some assumptions.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Uncovering the Cover-up

When is a war not a war?

If you are President Harry Truman and it is 1950, Korea is not a war but a police action Truman could not afford to let his opponents win the “label” contest and link the “W” word with the fighting in Korea. Following on the fall of China to Mao’s communist army, Truman could ill afford another Asian country – South Korea – falling under the sway of “the reds” and providing more ammunition to Senator Joe McCarthy’s witch hunt.

Truman was helped by the fact that a 14 year-long “real” war had ended in Asia only 58 months earlier. The U.S. public was tired of war and more interested in getting back to “normalcy.” That helped make his case, as did the appeal by the UN Security Council for member states to provide troops to repel the North’s invasion of South Korea. (Russia’s representative had walked out of the Security Council discussions, badly miscalculating the effect his absence would have –which was zero. With Taiwan then occupying China’s seat on the Security Council, the threat of a veto of the resolution calling for troops disappeared.)

When is a violent criminal act not a violent criminal act?

If you are President George Bush (also known as “W” to some of his friends) in 2001, it’s when you learn that 19 civilian foreigners have hijacked four U.S. civilian airliners and crashed three of them into the World Trade Center towers and the west–facing side of the Pentagon while the fourth crashed in rural Pennsylvania. More than 2,950 people were killed in the aircraft, the trade center towers, the Pentagon, and among those who tried to rescue others.

“W” seemed unable – indeed, remains unable today – to differentiate between a spectacular and coordinated mass murder such as occurred September 11, 2001 and an act of war. Under Article 51 of the UN Charter, a country may take preemptive military action if it is in imminent danger of being attacked by another country. But there is no provision for preemptive military action against a group of individuals planning to kill as .many people as possible – which is a conspiratorial criminal act

History has judged Truman’s “police action” to have been a “war”; battle deaths were 33,686, with another 2,830 in-theatre deaths from non-hostile incidents. In then-year dollars, the monetary cost was $30 billion. Updated to Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 currency values, fighting the Korean War today would cost $320 billion, a ten-fold increase.

What prompts this digression back into history?

After 2 ½ years investigating allegations that U.S. airplanes deliberately bombed, strafed, and machine gunned unarmed South Koreans fleeing to escape the North Korean invasion, a South Korean Truth and Reconciliation Commission has found the allegations credible and has asked for compensation from the U.S. for the survivors and dependents of those killed. The initial findings were released July 26, the 58th anniversary of the shooting of fleeing civilians by U.S. ground forces and then aircraft at No Gun Ri. What is worse – shades of “a few bad apples” a la Abu Ghraib – the U.S. commanders knew and made no effort to stop the troops on the front lines that were killing non-combatants simply because the western soldiers could not distinguish friend from foe.

So it is today. How will history deal with "W's" war?

Listen: can you not hear echoes of those killings – and for the same reasons as were given 58 years ago – in Afghanistan today?

Friday, August 01, 2008

EO12333 Changes Published

Today’s “Secrecy News” from the Federation of American Scientists notes the publication of changes to Executive Order 12333 which deals with the U.S. intelligence community.

The entry comments – after noting some positive changes o the original EO 12333 issued in 1981 – that “To criticize (or praise) the provisions of the new executive order is to presume its status as a controlling document and a definitive source on intelligence policy. But a more troubling question is how much the order actually matters."

That is not only a troubling question but the key question. And unfortunately, the answer depends on the integrity of the person in the Oval Office.

Nothing more need be said.