Monday, September 29, 2008

Posse Comitatus

December 14, 2003. Looking back from today’s perspective, that is almost ancient history – or so it seems. This was the day that soldiers under the command of Major General Raymond Odierno captured Saddam Hussein.

Nearly nine months before – March 20 – George Bush had launched U.S. ground and air forces into Iraq to find and destroy Saddam Hussein’s “known” stockpiles of nuclear and chemical weapons and – if not biological agents –mobile biological laboratories. This attack was possible because the administration decided to let Afghanistan take care of itself – and by extension, Osama bin Laden..

The White House, playing off public fears of another attack by extremists, presented a number of proposals they said would improve security at home and overseas. The mantra that gradually came to dominate the administration’s rhetoric was “we must fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them here.” And by this time the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and Saddam had been lumped together into the “them.”

That being so, would someone in the administration – and specifically in the Pentagon – care to explain why an active duty brigade combat team will come under the operational control of the Commanding General of Northern Command whose headquarters is “here” in Colorado and not “over there”? Northern Command’s responsibilities, at least as these were delineated when the new command was created in 2004, are to coordinate the DoD contribution to civilian-led recovery and reconstitution of areas after a disaster.

The command is also charged with integrating information from long-range (out to 500 miles) military radars, with other technical sensors and with human intelligence reports to create a comprehensive air and sea early warning system on all shorelines. This is reminiscent of the Cold War era North America Air Defense (NORAD) command whose mission, using designated Air National Guard and Air Reserve units, were “oriented” outward to prevent an enemy from penetrating U.S. airspace.

But in the aftermath of Reconstruction in post-Civil War America, the Posse Comitatus Act (1878) removed federal troops from any role in re-establishing and maintaining domestic tranquility within a state except in instances of insurrection that exceeded the capability of a state’s National Guard and state militia.

To give the Commanding Officer Northern Command operational control of an active duty brigade combat team – like those fighting in Iraq today – is to completely ignore one of the more objectionable practices of the British army in the years before and during the American Revolution: that of “stationing troops among the colonial settlements. The Founders saw this as an attempt to coerce and intimidate the citizenry. Union troops stationed in the former states of the Confederacy during Reconstruction were seen in the same light.

How is this proposal, which takes effect October 1, any different? Bush, right after September 11, 2001, tried to get authority to move troops around the U.S. in response to what he saw as threats. This was one time Congress, bolstered by the state governors, held their ground. Yet here we are about to hand over piecemeal what the executive branch failed to get by frontal assault in 2001-2002. It seems that the president will win another round from Congress after all.

In 2003, General Odierno’s division was seen as too overbearing in its dealings with Iraqis. Well, Odierno is back as the commander of all ground forces in Iraq – and at a time when Iraqis are becoming restless about the continuing U.S. military presence.

I would hazard a guess that the Pentagon has about nine months left in Iraq.

And we wonder why militarism is the dominate philosophy today?

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Politics of Financial Collapse

Politicians are a strange breed. They vie for votes among the electorate by claiming some variation on “send me to Washington (or Wichita) and I will (1) reform government (process and tone – e.g., restore congressional collegiality); (2) be the good steward of the people’s resources (eliminate all the fraud, the secrecy, and the wasteful spending by other Members; and (3) ensure the Pentagon is properly resourced so as to dominate the rest of the world (and ensure that businesses in the district/state get military contracts and that I get credit for creating jobs).

Now I cannot imagine anyone – incumbent, challenger, and voters – who would not affirm these three principles of national and international governance.

Unfortunately, those elected to represent the people – “to do the people’s business – seem less and less capable of moving from the “in principle” to the “in action” stage. The result has been legislative gridlock on a massive scale with the federal government having to operate through continuing resolutions and Omnibus Appropriations legislation that Members neither read nor debate and have no idea what they are enacting until staffs get copies – sometimes not until after adjournment.

This chronic failure has produced two further aberrations. Congress more and more is enacting legislation that effectively transfers its responsibilities under the Constitution to the executive. As a result, the tendency of the executive to draw power to itself is reinforced, and under the current president has reached an unprecedented level in the history of the republic. The second aberration is governance by regulatory agency and secret and not so secret presidential edicts and signing statements.

The upshot of all this is governance by negation – no laws that might place limits on presidential powers or options, no oversight of regulatory agencies because Congress has become a “cheerleader" for the unregulated market instead of an interrogator of that market. But it seems to have no slack for individuals with mortgages they can no longer manage.

It is often pointed out that some institutions – and seemingly most are in the financial sector – are so large that the government cannot afford to let them fail (hence the buy-outs).

Well, I think the American public as a class is too big – and perhaps too angry – for Congress to fail to devise a principled program of action –and to act.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Politics of Financial Collapse

Senator John McCain, saying that party politics need to be put aside at this time of unprecedented financial troubles, has declared his willingness to suspend campaigning, to postpone this Friday’s presidential debate, and come to Washington to help spur a bi-partisan attempt to craft a solution to the financial woes of the nation.

The pundits seem to believe that McCain, by going public first with a proposal to “set politics aside” until a rescue plan is agreed between the Congress and the White House, has scored points on his opponent who, as of this morning, had a 9% lead over the Arizona senator in polling on who is better prepared to handle problems with the economy. The pundits also believe that Obama will reject any delay in the scheduled debate this Friday but may well agree to suspend other campaign activities.

For my part, I would like to have the debate go as scheduled. But instead of being on foreign policy and foreign relations, it should address the financial woes so that the country can hear and judge what each nominee is prepared to do should he be elected president.

One of them, starting January 20, 2009, will be facing the consequences of the financial meltdown. The problem that will be most vexing is not so much finding a technical correction to a technical set of circumstances for which there is one or more sets of technical corrections or “fixes” that can be applied. The real challenge is finding the right balance between conceding the seriousness of the problem without undermining further “consumer confidence” in whatever remedies are finally agreed and in the fairness of the final agreement.

What is most important now is to hear the candidates – their ideas, their grasp of the problem, their proposed solutions. Rebuilding the public’s confidence is a long-term effort; the sooner it begins, the better.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Tommy Smothers' Emmy

My wife and I don’t normally watch the annual Emmy Awards presentation – or the Oscars or Golden Globes, for that matter. Since we watch little television outside of the news, weather and analysis, there is little point in taking time to watch actors and actresses who we do not know receive awards for portraying characters whose identities are equally obtuse but who are meant to represent real people. We, like deities everywhere, are “privileged” to watch television honor those who entertain us in Prime Time.

I must say I had not realized that the 28 televised awards covered only Prime Time programs. I did know that the more technical Emmys (e.g., for stage set, wardrobe, lighting, sound mixing) were distributed at a dinner held the week before the televised awards presentation.

Those who watched the program know that the producers decided to highlight comedy. In large measure, they did this by bringing back performers from some of the very best comic variety and comic sketch shows of an earlier era. Among these was Tom Smothers who shared the spotlight with his brother Dick in “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” and who made significant contributions to writing the shows. But Tom was such a lightning rod because of his anti-Vietnam War stance that, when the show’s writers learned they were among the writing teams nominated for an Emmy, Tom refused to be listed lest he damage the chances of the others.

Well, last night Tommy Smothers final received his Emmy. Ever the contrarian (usually with good reason), Tom made two statements that may have been overlooked in the telling the story of the writers’ Emmy.

Truth, he reminded his audience, is the comedian’s stock in trade. What makes a sketch humorous – a pinprick that deflates an expanded ego – and, at the same time, saves it from descending into the worst ad hominem excess, is the art of finding and emphasizing that bit of truth.

The other point Tom made was that the freedom to speak one’s mind and the freedom to assemble – attacked as they were during the latter 1960s and the first half of the 1970s – are incomplete (and indeed may be useless) without the freedom to hear.

In terms of the physics of speech comprehension, this is immediately recognized as true. But I also think Tom Smothers had something else in mind: only when each of us approaches the challenges of living with others with a commitment to keep our minds open – ready to hear both that something is being said and to try to comprehend the intellectual and emotional content of what is said – will the human race have a real chance to move beyond war and peace.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Politics and Philosophy

I spent about 90 minutes today at the Center for American Progress’ noon-time discussion on “The Role of Philosophy in Modern Politics.”

The discussants were Michael Boylan whose most recent book is “The Good, the True, and the Beautiful,” and Susan Neiman, whose most recent book is “Moral Clarity: A Guide for Grown-up Idealists.” The invitation included a framing statement that read: “At a time when political discourse is seemingly consumed with trivial matters, [the authors]…remind us of the moral and ethical questions that once informed our politics and how they can help move us forward today.”

The last clause in the above paragraph ties the discussion to the current presidential campaign. And unfortunately, at least as I listened to the discussion, it also unduly limited the exchanges to economic events – particularly the economic crisis that has been unfolding over the last year or two (that is, the sub-prime mortgage bubble).

Granted, neither of the authors is a political economist. Neither am I. What I think was missing in the discussion and in the questions from the audience was a willingness to look beyond distinctions between “traditional” value systems – those that spring from the community and its relationships and experiences – and value systems that are based on the primacy of individuals. (In modern western philosophy, the latter most often looks to the consequences for society of individual acts (utilitarianism) or to conformity to an a priori set of universal “duties” or motivations for actions such as Kant’s categorical imperative.

The audience seemed to want both a set of moral norms that would be enforceable by and within society but, at the same time, would not become immutable principles. One example might be the medical profession’s “do no harm” universalized to apply to all human interactions. “Help others” is another – a principle that generally holds but does not necessitate action every day or week.

The dilemma, of course, comes when a choice must be made between conflicting norms. Most often, we try to assess the outcome of each choice and pick the course that does the least damage – that is, we look to consequences. But that does not resolve the question of the criterion on which the assessment is made – that is, the “least damage to me, to my confidants, to society or to a segment of society?”

Despite the fact that religion – the freedom to practice religion, specifically – motivated many who came to America, the values that informed the deliberations of the American Founding Fathers did not emerge from religion but from the political principles that were fundamental to the Enlightenment. Put another way, politics – the art of retaining civility in the various interactions between individuals and communities – served as the repository of the underlying values on which actions (or the lack of action) were to be judged. That systemic division predominated into the latter half of the 20th century. When the “Moral Majority” coalesced into an organized political movement that effectively captured the Republican Party, it substituted rigid communitarian absolutism for individual conscience as the basis for societal values.

It is probably too much to claim that rigid codes applied religiously in a political context contribute to the creation of pro forma value systems in which everything can be justified. On the other hand, most ethicists hold that the exercise of individual conscience in determining “good” and “evil” leads to the development of a coherent set of principles for action that, in the long run, are conducive to a more just than unjust society.

One can only hope they are correct.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Firing Fire in Afghanistan

I had a query from a British reporter about a man-portable U.S. weapon system, the M202A1 FLASH – the acronym stands for Flame Assisted Shoulder weapon. It was used in the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, although at first the Pentagon denied it had used napalm during the fighting. (Technically, the Pentagon was correct: it did not use napalm, which was the question that was asked. But not until August did it concede the reply was misleading, for the napalm that used to be an ingredient of the weapon had been replaced by a “more efficient” – i.e., more lethal – ingredient. Look at the result in either case and you had the same effect: deep, often fatal burns.)

The reporter wanted some comment on the use of the weapon. As far as I know, the M202A1, like other flame weapons, does not per se contravene Protocol III of the Convention Against Certain Conventional Weapons
(Incendiary Weapons) dated October 10, 1980. The problem with the Protocol is that the legality of the use depends on the intention of the user – as long as the weapon is claimed to be directed toward military objectives, it remains a permissible weapon of war.

To change the status quo, which I find abhorrent, the Protocol needs to be revised to outlaw the manufacture, storage, sale, any other transfer, or employment in battle of all forms of incendiary weapons. The basis for banning the M202A1 and other similar weapons should not be the intent of the side using the weapon but the same criteria that U.S. field commanders now use in their weapons selection: what is the effect on the target? Commanders are less interested in what weapon is used than what the results on the ground will be. Under this criterion, the M202A1 would be banned because like other "flame" weapons such as napalm and white phosphorous, the suffering inflicted on either military or civilian personnel is unnecessarily excessive.

It is no accident that in both literature and history, the descriptions of death from flames are always the most gruesome. They are undoubtedly the most painful and agonizing.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Arms and the Candidates

For the last two weeks, the press has been reporting that defense industries are not looking on John McCain as their preferred winner of the presidential sweepstakes currently be contested. The reason cited is that McCain knows too much about how the military-industrial-congressional-intelligence conglomerate functions, understands not only the “gold-plating” that goes on but also (and perhaps most importantly), what questions to ask the senior admirals and generals and the civilians in charge of overseeing the military acquisition process, Barack Obama, so this line of reasoning goes, doesn’t understand the intricacies of the military acquisition system or how industry and elected officials “play the game” – and thus can be “rolled.”

What is left out of this analysis are McCain’s ties to the military itself, ties which he never misses a chance to highlight and of which he is proud. Already in this long campaign season he has – semi-jokingly – suggested that the U.S. could stay in Iraq for a hundred years if necessary to win. And he is adamant that the U.S. must “win.” As for Obama, the consensus view associated with stories highlighting his lack of military service (which opponents suggest might translate into indecision or “lack of resolve in a crunch,” ignore the fact that no modern president has lacked for top-notch advisors. (What modern presidents seem to have less of these days is top-notch advice from their top-notch advisors.)

That the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth presidents ( in office for the 28 years between 1801 and 1829) were each also secretary of state in a preceding administration offered them the opportunity to formulate and propose to the incumbent president the particulars of U.S. foreign policy that, as president himself, he had to implement. These four – Jefferson and the Louisiana Purchase; Madison and the War of 1812 over freedom of navigation on the high seas; Monroe and the “Monroe Doctrine” asserting America’s special position as the “guardian of democracy in the Western Hemisphere; and John Quincy Adams, called the “consolidator of the American Revolution” by William Seward, set the course that has been ours to traverse to the present day.

These were not perfect men by any stretch, but they all were men who, having lived through and in some way participated in the American Revolution, rejected war as a “natural” way to settle disputes. But then, they were not encumbered with a “war industry” such as we have had since World War II – one that is so important to the county’s economic health that the current administration seems willing to sell as many weapons as it can to foreign nations.

How much? With Fiscal Year 2008 almost over, the total value of the agreements concluded is $32 billion – a jump of $20 billion from Fiscal Year 2005. And what rationale does the Bush White House give to justify this increase. Why “consolidating alliances” and “making the world more secure.”

Friday, September 12, 2008

War in September

When doing a time line of important events connected to World War II, September seems to stand out as a month of many beginnings and endings.

Western Europeans are apt to recall with little effort that September 1, 1939 was the date Hitler sent tanks and aircraft streaming across the German-Polish border. Two days later France and Britain declared war on Germany, and two weeks after these declarations the Soviet Union invaded Poland from the east. The following September (September 16 to be exact) brought an important war milestone for the United States: the start of U.S. conscription under the Selective Service Act.

But there were to be more endings than beginnings in following Septembers. On September 3, 1943, British troops ended “Fortress Europe” with their invasion of (southern) mainland Italy. Five days later, before the first Americans went ashore at Salerno, Italy capitulated to the allies. September 8, 1944 marked the day the first U.S. soldiers penetrated the Siegfried Line into Germany proper. Almost a year later, September 2, 1945, the war formally ended as Japanese envoys signed the terms of surrender aboard the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

When it comes to war, the generals and admirals can count as a “good war” one that they win. World War II was “good” because, in spite of the deaths of more than 61 million individuals (military and civilian), the allies prevented the subjugation of countries with key resources (petroleum in Dutch East Indies, in Romania, the Caucasus and possibly Iran; natural rubber in Indochina) that the allied powers themselves needed and would want sometime in the future.

Well, this week we learned of the intelligence community’s “Global Trends 2025” which predicts that one, if not the most common, cause for war in the next 17 years will be a shortage of key resources and the refusal of nations to work out “sharing" agreements. These shortages are in the basics: clean water, clean energy, food, perhaps clothing or shelter, according to the chief writer of the report, Thomas Fingar.

The other bit of news from Fingar is that U.S. dominance in economic, diplomatic, military, and even cultural fields will decrease significantly except for the one area where being the dominant power will mean relatively little: military affairs. But what struck me about the media report of Fingar’s forecasts was the insistence on describing the relative position the United States will still have in all these other fields as “dominance.”

It was exactly this mindset among the triumphant Washington politicians that led to the post-Cold War “death spiral” of higher military spending for ever-older equipment operated by troops with ever-lower hours of training. Administrations became locked into asking for and of successive congresses funding, without enforcing proper oversight and review, what defense industries were selling to the Pentagon (all the "bells and whistles" they could develop) in the name of not merely "superiority" but "dominance." And it wasn’t enough to dominate every other country; the U.S. had to dominate all other countries combined.

Other than being September again, what connects the beginnings and endings of a war that, for the U.S., started 67 years ago and ended 3¾ years later?

The simplest expression I can give is that World War II, not infrequently referred to as the 20th century’s “good war” from the perspective of the allied powers, was at bottom the first modern “resource” war. A mere four years before the first German bullet was fired into Poland, President Franklin Roosevelt and King Ibn Saud, whose family ruled Saudi Arabia, struck an “oil for security” deal. That began to wither in the early 1970s as the Arab countries used the “oil card” against the U.S. for Washington’s unremitting support of Israel.

The undisputable victory by the U.S.-led coalition that ousted the Iraqis from Kuwait first Gulf War (1990-1991), coming so quickly after the eight-year-long Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), should have reaffirmed the Saudi-U.S. relationship. But for the next decade, a series of policy miscues (particularly affecting Palestine-Israel relations) and cultural insensitivities (e.g., sending gender-mixed military units to defend the kingdom of the two Holy Mosques) created and sustained a reservoir of ill-will that found expression in the events of September 11, 2001.

Ironically, September 11 at first generated extremely wide empathy for the United States and for the other countries whose citizens died that day. But true to form, another Washington administration quickly squandered this collective good-will by launching a war against a poor and resource deprived country on the basis that its government harbored the terror group responsible for 9/11.

Seven years after the U.S. attacked Afghanistan, George Bush is sending more U.S. troops to fight a resurgent Taliban movement. He – and the U.S. field commanders in Iraq – is betting that the coming integration of the Iraqi Sunni “Sons of Iraq” movement into the Shi’a dominated army and police will not find the Sunnis suddenly victimized by the more numerous Shi’a who will constitute 80% of the security forces. Should that happen, all bets are off on Iraq remaining “stable” enough to shift U.S. troops to Afghanistan, thereby allowing George Bush to end his second term on a "positive" note: "victory" in Iraq.

In the same vein, it is noteworthy that Bush, in a September 9, 2008 speech at the National Defense University, mentioned “victory” only once – this from a president who assured the American public in 2001 and every year until now that victory in the war on terror was assured if only the nation persisted. This war has lasted twice as long as World War II and its monetary costs persist at $12 billion per month. We no longer can afford such a costly “victory.”

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Tale of Two Occupied Countries

Yesterday about High Noon President Bush was at the National Defense University at Fort McNair, Washington DC. Before a captive audience of senior colonels, generals, and admirals assigned to the University, Bush spun the impending departure from Iraq of troop contingents from most of the remaining 21 (out of an original 42) countries that still have a presence in Iraq.

(I will not go down the road of comparing the mental torture that some officers at NDU must have experienced listening to Bush with the mental and physical torture endured by U.S. troops and pilots taken prisoner during the Korean War and Vietnam. Korea comes to mind because the media has been asking insistently " Where is North Korea's Kim Jong Il and what is his physical condition? " Vietnam is a topic at least until November 5, the day after the U.S. presidential election.)

The reason for the sudden rush to the Iraq exits is the impending expiration (on December 31) of the UN resolution authorizing the presence of foreign troops, with the consent of the Iraqi government, to assist in bringing security to all parts of Iraq. Bush mentioned that in the past five years, allies had sent 142,000 soldiers to Iraq to help the U.S. and the Iraqis. What he didn’t say was that only 7,330 allied troops remain, and of these more than half – about 4,000, are British. Even the remaining Polish contingent of 900 is expected to leave before the end of the year.

Bush packaged the flight of allies as an event made possible by the defeat of the insurgents and al-Qaeda-in-Iraq by U.S., Iraqi, and allied forces. He coupled this assertion with the announcement that 8,000 U.S. soldiers and Marines would also depart Iraq by February 2009, a plan which had the approval of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. One suspects that the Joint Chiefs “approved” of what is really a very small U.S. drawdown because they could not get the president to order a larger pull-out. The opposition to taking more troops out os Iraq undoubtedly came from the field commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, the soon-to-be Commanding General of Central Command and Bush's favorite flag-rank officer, General David Petraeus.

The evidence for that came today at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee when the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mike Mullen, told the committee that the U.S. was running out of time in Afghanistan. The link, of course, is that the additional troops necessary to form an “Afghanistan surge” that would stymie and roll back the increased violence attributed to a resurgent Taliban have to come from diverting units currently destined for Iraq. In fact, Bush did announce that a Marine battalion (800-1,000 Marines) scheduled to go into Iraq in November would be diverted to Afghanistan and an Army combat brigade (about 3,500 strong) also will be diverted in January 2009.

One other tidbit revealed by Bush is the level to which U.S and coalition troops in Afghanistan have already been augmented. Two years ago there were fewer than 21,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and the other coalition countries had committed another 20,000. Today, coalition military strength in Afghanistan stands at 62,000, half of whom are Americans.

One wonders when Marine and Army units scheduled for duty in either Iraq or Afghanistan will be diverted to – that is, remain at – their home bases.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Beware: Congress is Back

Congress returns to Washington this week for another three weeks of trying to pass funding bills whose contents have been scrutinized by subcommittees and committees instead of the usual fare of late: the Pentagon aside, Congress throws everything into a massive omnibus funding bill that no members have read, that no member will take the time to read, and therefore will vote into law provisions that are detrimental to the country as a whole.

Even separate pieces of harmful legislation that address policy issues can get introduced and start down the process of enactment. Hector. 362 which would authorize the president to impose a blockade on Iran, is a case in point. The proposed legislation, if enacted, would be the equivalent of a declaration of war. Yet more than a clear majority of the House of Representatives signed on as co-sponsors before because they simply did not read the legislation.

But while our democracy seems to be inoperative, the Iraqi parliament is steaming ahead full tilt to keep the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki honest and transparent. Newspaper reports that a deal was almost in the bag on U.S. security guarantees and the status of US troops in Iraq after December 31, 2008 apparently were accurate. Secretary of State Rice flew into Baghdad to seal the deal, only to find al-Maliki back-peddling about the conditions and length of time US forces could stay – hence the2011 date for all foreign troops out.

It’s a bit ironic that the teacher who “gave” democracy to Iraq now can’t match the student’s accomplishments.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Countdowns: Fundraising and Pakistan

Clocks are ticking in different parts of the world, and how their alarms go off – or don’t go off – could shape future policy in Afghanistan.

First, of course, is the clock measuring the days – 60 – to the presidential election. The trial runs are over; the tickets are sold, the starting gates are already open and the candidates in full stride. CNN noted that in the 24 hours between Governor Palin’s speech Wednesday and Senator McCain’s speech Thursday, the Democratic ticket took in $10 million – a one day record.

In his acceptance speech, McCain said that as president he would not give US taxpayer dollars to countries that are unfriendly or oppose US policies. Should he be successful in his quest, one of the first countries (beside North Korea) that will test McCain’s promise is Pakistan.

Last March it looked as if Pakistan would finally escape its political morass as a newly elected coalition of the two largest parties took control. But it was not to be. Pakistan has been thrown into turmoil again during the past two to three weeks. First the coalition government fell in mid August when Nawaz Sharif’s PLM-N party quit the five-month old ruling coalition that had forced President Pervez Musharraf to resign or face impeachment. Sharif accuses his rival, Asif Ali Zardari, Benezir Bhutto’s widower and successor as leader of the Pakistan People’s Party, of failing to fulfill a promise to re-instate judges fired earlier by Musharraf. Zardari’s PPP is expected to form a new coalition with other smaller parties, after which Zardan is expected to become the new president.

All this has played out against congressional efforts to block foreign military aid of $230 million the Bush administration wants to release to Islamabad to upgrade its counter-terrorist capabilities. The aid is earmarked for F-16 upgrades, but those in Congress opposing the aid suspect that the Pakistanis will use the money to upgrade capabilities that offset India’s air force rather than terrorist strengths. This is the second time since 1990 that deals involving Pakistan’s F-16 acquisition programs have come under fire – then it was for continuing its quest for nuclear weapons. The Congress cannot force a halt to the sale, but if Bush goes ahead with the purchase, it would get McCain off a potentially early hot spot;

No word from the other camp – perhaps because they hope the Pakistanis will get back on track between now an November 4th.

Whoever wins, however, will have to deal with Islamabad as it is key to what happens in Afghanistan, whether we count it as friend or foe.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Two Weeks in Politics -- Take II

As more information leaks to the press about the Republican Party’s – make that John McCain’s – choice for vice-president, the more apparent it becomes that the choice of Alaska’s first term governor was a bolt from the blue for most of the party as well as for many advisors to McCain.

That Governor Palin was also surprised seems evident from the heavy schedule she has been following. She has travelled and campaigned with McCain for significant periods of time trying to build rapport with the Republican base, with independents, and with the reputed tens of thousands of disgruntled pro-Clinton Democrats. When not campaigning since she was selected to complete the national Republican ticket, Palin has been sequestered with top McCain policy experts reading, listening, and – in a word – cramming like the proverbial popular college sports jock who doesn’t crack a book until the last night before finals and still expects to pass.

She is quite probably a fast study, and with the Teleprompters used by all candidates, I expect she will do well tonight.

The more interesting point for the moment, however, still comes back to “Why Palin?” In 2000, George W. Bush picked Dick Cheney as the vice-presidential candidate because (so we have been told) the two men were comfortable working with each other. (As a side bar, Wyoming, Cheney’s legal state of residence, has only two Electoral College votes while Alaska has three, so the “electoral college vote” consideration again doesn’t apply in 2008 for the Republicans. But don’t overlook the fact that Senator Joe Biden, the Democrat’s number two on the 2008 ticket, is from Delaware, which also has only two Electoral College votes.)

I think the explanation lies deeper and has more to do with McCain’s first impressions of the people he meets who eventually turn up in his entourage. Remember, John McCain was one of George W. Bush’s main rivals in the 2000 GOP presidential sweepstakes. That means that the Republican National Committee (RNC) has been in the hands of Bush adherents for the last eight years. They were not pleased when McCain jumped into the 2008 campaign and started criticizing administration policies. (And I doubt the RNC was very forgiving when McCain’s position on the Iraq war aligned with the generals’ and – eventually – with Bush’s.

I would venture that many RNC members were unenthusiastic when McCain effectively won the GOP nomination for president in February. Deservedly or not, McCain won on the basis of his reputation as a maverick, as a reformer, and as a fiscal conservative.

These are the attributes that were stressed about Governor Palin when she was introduced by McCain last Friday. McCain reportedly had met Palin only once until last week. Her name had been on the list of possible vice-presidential candidates for some time and background checks had been run – although just how intense and probing they were remains in dispute. Most revealing is the fact that the chief of the McCain campaign’s vice-presidential search team did not meet with Palin until a few hours before McCain himself had a more-than-say-howdy meeting with Palin on Wednesday, two days before he announced she would be the vice-presidential candidate.

Going into this selection process, I think the RNC would have been content to let McCain stumble on the vice-presidential pick, forcing him to turn to them for help at the convention and putting McCain in political debt to the “old guard” of the Grand Old Party. Although it is too soon to know, McCain may have eluded a political minefield set, not by the Democrats, but by fellow Republicans.

Ain’t ‘merican politics won’erful?

Monday, September 01, 2008


No entry today -- resting from my labors