Wednesday, November 26, 2008


I had intended to take tonight and Friday off in observance of Thanksgiving, But I must at least make mention of the carnage visited on Mumbai, India. So far, 80 are dead -- and couting.

Monday, November 24, 2008

On Protocol III of the CCW

Late this past September the Senate did something unusual. With very little debate and no fanfare, it ratified three protocols to the “Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May be Deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects” – the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) for short.

The Convention, together with three protocols, was completed in October 1980 and went to the Senate for ratification in March 1995. But in his letter of transmittal to the Senate, President Bill Clinton recommended that the Senate not ratify Protocol III – the Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Incendiary Weapons. (The two other protocols that were ratified in 1995 deal with “Non-Detectable Fragments” – Protocol 1 – and “Mines, Booby-Traps, and Other Devices” – Protocol 2.)

Incendiaries are defined as weapons whose primary purpose is to destroy by heat/fire. Such weapons were used in World War II when German, Japanese, and British cities were attacked. In Vietnam, napalm – a wide-area (and therefore indiscriminate) very fine jet fuel mist was used extensively. When dropped by jet aircraft, the fuel oxidizes and is then ignited. Not only does the mist incinerate whatever it touches, it also consumes all oxygen in the area of the explosion, killing any who were not burned to death.

But it was not the horrendous suffering of those who might be caught in an incendiary attack that was of concern to the Pentagon – and hence the president’s opposition to Protocol III. Remember the context: this is the period in which the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) is in Iraq looking for and destroying all of Saddam Hussein’s ballistic missile and nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons that they found. The Pentagon did not want to relinquish incendiaries because these were the only weapons capable of destroying – again by the very high temperatures generated when the mist was ignited – biological toxins. And despite the fact that no biological weapons program had been uncovered in the previous four years of UN inspections, the Pentagon was still convinced that Iraq was working on biological weapons.

This past September, the Senate took up the ratification of Protocol III and two new protocols: “Blinding Laser Weapons” (Protocol IV) and “Explosive Remnants of War” (Protocol V). But while the two new protocols went forward with no reservations, once again Protocol III, even though formally ratified, was effectively gutted by a “reservation” – the legislative equivalent of a presidential signing statement.

Under the Senate action, the U.S. claims the right to use incendiaries against military targets located in areas of civilian concentrations if the commander believes that there will be fewer civilian deaths using the incendiaries rather than other means of attack. The supposition here is that if a commander is forced to use only high explosive precision munitions he will kill more civilians in trying to destroy the military target than would be killed by incendiaries.

Back in 1980, the Pentagon didn’t have precision weapons. Thus to destroy military targets that purposefully had been located in built-up civilian areas (a violation of the law of land warfare) would require large quantities of dumb bombs that more likely than not would cause high civilian casualties (not to mention repeatedly putting U.S. pilots at risk).

But this is 2008. The Pentagon boasts of the pinpoint accuracy of its precision missiles and bombs. In this day and age, incendiaries can be presumed from the start to cause more civilian casualties when used in civilian areas. If this isn’t true, one must then wonder just how precise these “precision weapons” really are.

Friday, November 21, 2008


“An army marches on its stomach
Napoleon Bonaparte

“I don't know what the hell this ‘logistics’ is that Marshall is always
talking about, but I want some of it.”
Admiral E. J. King, U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander World War II

“Battles are decided by the quartermasters before the first shot is fired.”
Erwin Rommel “The Desert Fox”

Upon first glance at the news headline –“Pakistan truck halt threatens U.S. supply line” -- Napoleon’s famous observation sprang immediately to mind, quickly followed by the second.

Napoleon’s invasion of Russia failed in large measure because the retreating armies carried out a scorched earth program that denied the French army local sustenance. The deeper Napoleon went, the longer – and therefore the more vulnerable to attack – his logistics train became. The unusually harsh winter sealed the Corsican’s fate.

Admiral King was appointed as Commander U.S. Pacific Fleet shortly after Pearl Harbor. Almost immediately, however, the scope of his area of responsibility was curtailed by the March 18, 1942 appointment of General Douglas MacArthur as Commander of the Southwest Pacific Theater. This set off a competition for resources sent to the “greater” Pacific Theater. King was intent on getting everything he could from Washington where General George Marshall was advising President Roosevelt.

If the press reports are correct, it appears that the Taliban, either alone or in conjunction with local tribes, have finally tumbled to the fact that convoys on the U.S.-NATO main supply route from the Pakistani port of Karachi through the Khyber Pass to Kabul, Afghanistan are vulnerable to ambush. This is particularly true in the 30-mile long storied Khyber Pass where the narrow twisting road cannot be traversed quickly.

The frequency of the ambushes is classified, but Taliban sources claim there is one every day on average. That may not seem to be a huge number, but it is clearly enough to make truck drivers think twice – even with the high salaries being offered.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

"It's a Dangerous World" -- NIC

The Washington Times carried a page one “above-the-fold” story today about a soon-to-be-released quadrennial report entitled “Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World.” Of the various conclusions reached in this assessment, the Times highlights two: by 2025 the current U.S. economic and military dominance will be in the past; and as a consequence (or perhaps as a catalyst), the combination of the elements of national power will create a multi-polar, balance-of-power context for the conduct of international relations.

One must go back to the first two decades of the 20th century to find – better yet, a further 30 years to 1870 to find the beginning of the last realignment of European countries to accommodate a multi-polar, balance-of-power alignment. That was the year in which the last two independent cities (Venice and Rome) on the Italian peninsula were incorporated into a single country. On January 2, 1871, the victorious Germanic princes, having just defeated Napoleon III in the Franco-Prussian War and occupied Versailles, elected Wilhelm of Prussia Kaiser (emperor) of a united Germany. While both countries naturally concentrated on consolidating their newly achieved sovereignty in Europe, Germany under the direction of its chancellor, Otto von Bismarck almost as quickly turned its attention to acquiring colonies, without which they would never be regarded as being in the “same league” as Britain or (eventually) a resurgent France or even the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal all of which had extensive colonial holdings.

Why all the history? Add to the countries already named the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Russian Empire, the Ottoman Empire in general and Turkey in particular, and Imperial Japan (which emerged as an international player when it defeated Russia in the Russo-Japanese War (1905), throw in the two sets of interlocking security guarantees that passed for a stabilizing balance-of-military-power arrangement, and the only ingredient needed to bring the whole edifice crashing to the ground is the sharp report of gunfire in the Balkans in early summer 1914.

The 1882 Triple Alliance of Germany, Austro-Hungary, and Italy, an
agreement designed to offset the combined power of France and Russia,
was the basis for the wartime alliance of the Central Powers (Germany,
Austro-Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey (Ottoman Empire).

The 1904 Entente Cordiale between France and Britain, designed to check Germany’s colonial ambitions, became the 1907 Triple Entente with the addition of Russia.

What I take from the Times story is a sense that the NIC foresees the possibility that a new set of interlocking security guarantees (including economic ones) may have evolved by 2025 and that, unlike the early 20th century, the U.S. will be part of one such grouping. But how the various rising powers will align themselves is unclear. The NIC did provide some details: by 2025

Korea will be united under a non-communist form of government;

China will be the second largest economy but will fall behind India as the most populous country;

Russia will have the world’s fifth largest economy;

Indonesia, Turkey, and a “post-clerical” Iran will be significant players;

terrorism, though much reduced, will not disappear; and

the dollar may lose its position as the world’s reserve currency.

Even so, there is the final disclaimer by the NIC: the report is not predictive. Any one or more events or conditions may never occur. But as president, if they do, don’t come back and complain you were not foewarned.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Supertanker Piracy

In A Beginner’s Guide to Small Arms Proliferation, published by OneWorld in March 2006, I wrote the following in the opening of the book’s Prologue:

“Life in prehistoric times was anything but a fairy tale. Yet
somewhere within this “once upon a time” hunter-gatherers
learned that hurling ordinary objects such as stones and
pieces of trees could stun or even kill outright the animals
and fish that were their food.

“They also learned that the same objects could be used to kill
other hunter-gatherers.”

The rest of the written and – where it had been captured – oral accounts of the exploits of a society’s leaders and heroes against powerful, sometimes even supernatural opponents through the aid and advice of friendly spirits, a talisman, special potions, and above all else, simply out-thinking and out-maneuvering any and all who stood in the way of the society’s advancement.

As technology extended the range, rapidity, and overall destructiveness of the weaponry employed in warfighting, military leaders and theorists adapted the manner in which troops moved both in battle and in travelling to encounter or to retreat from the prospect of a set-piece battle. Unfortunately, this also meant that they also forgot that the previous “best” weapons were still in existence, were “standard issue” in the armies of developing countries, and might also be in the hands of criminal syndicates, operating from ungoverned parts of failed states,
that are capable of holding hostage other countries if not the globe.

That is where the United States, the United Nations, and a number of other countries with warships in and around the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Aden are presently trying to figure out how to recover a Saudi Arabian supertanker seized by fast speedboat- equipped pirates off the coast of Somalia –significantly off the coast. The world’s best navies are reduced to watching as what appears to be a non-political, non-ideological, straight-forward act of 21st-century piracy unfolds.

The warships dare not fire at the supertanker for fear of blowing it up. But that is not the only risk. One should expect that these same navies would be able to identify how the pirates were able to get aboard the supertanker in the first place. Similarly, there is at least the same if not a greater probability that the pirates have taken steps to avoid being surprised themselves by a boarding party from one or more coalition navies in an attempt to free the crew and cargo – another scenario
in which disaster occurs.

As of now, the pirates are moving the fully loaded supertanker closer to the Somali coast, a dangerous maneuver if there is no pilot on board who knows the both the depth of the coastal waters and the displacement caused by a fully loaded supertanker. Indications are that the pirates will demand money for the crew and money for the oil.

Beyond the normal distaste for negotiating with criminals while having no intention of paying ransom (the U.S. preferred position), there is always the danger of military-mission creep: that anti-piracy will become just another responsibility of forces engaged in the “global war on terror.” Yes, armed ships are needed to fight modern pirates just as they were needed in the 19 century in the Caribbean and along the Barbary Coast. But today this mission is within the purview of a Coast Guard as a law-enforcement challenge, just as the events of September 11, 2001 were mass murder and not a cause for military retaliation.

Maybe the Obama administration will get it right.

Friday, November 14, 2008

An American Vet in Ireland

I had a query from a Vietnam Vet living in Ireland about a piece I wrote for Counterpunch on November 11th. In it I spoke about the need to create some kind of substitute for war that would make people pause before plunging into armed conflict. What follows is an expansion of that Counterpunch article and of my reply to her.

The intent of my suggestion has less to do with a particular substantive issue and more with finding an issue that would energize a large number of people across the U.S. -- a mass movement that could tap existing organizations with a military connection.

Why the military? Because with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq still ongoing and at best a further 16-months in Iraq, the consequences of war on individual veterans will require continuing and growing budgets for the Veterans Administration. As these expenditures grow, they will in turn generate a higher media profile for specific problems facing veterans such as homelessness, PTSD, higher suicide rates, etc.

I have not investigated the existence or absence of an accurate centralized record of the dead from the wars that were fought on U.S. territory: the Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War, and the Indian Campaigns.( The Battlefield Monuments Commission may have such a record.) But I do know that there are many small cemeteries and monuments across the U.S. where veterans who lived through war and returned to "live and die"at home might not be noted for having served -- as would those who marched off to war but did not march home again.

If all the graves of veterans could be identified, the repeated act of laying flowers on these graves or at war memorials erected to honor their service, done with the solemnity that befits a day of Remembrance, might suffice to warn future leaders of the terrible waste of war.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

An Immoderate Proposal

Nothing is more ludicrous to observe nor more pitiable
to hear than the gait and the quack of the proverbial lame

A mere eight days ago voters in the United States elected Illinois Senator Barack Obama to be the nation’s 44th president. He assumes that title and responsibility on January 20th, 2009 at 12:00 pm when, as specified in the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, he takes the oath of office.

In this interval of approximately 90 days, a new president normally would select and announce members of the incoming White House staff not previously identified, secretaries and other senior members of the various departments that constitute the president’s cabinet, and the heads of the various federal regulatory agencies created by Congress. In the normal course of the calendar, once named the individuals would fill out financial disclosure statements and provide other information required under ethics legislation and the intelligence agencies would conduct background checks for security clearances. Then in early January, the new Congress would reconvene and the Senate would begin confirmation hearings on the nominees designated by the president-elect even though the outgoing president remains in power until noon on January 20th.

Well, no one needs to tell the American public that this transition from George W. Bush to Barack Obama is “normal.” As President Bush himself noted, this will be the first transition of presidential power to occur while the nation is at war since 1968 when Richard Nixon succeeded Lyndon Johnson. Moreover, since September of this year, the U.S. economic picture has suddenly dimmed – and dimmed considerably – as measured across a wide array of indicators.

- The housing and mortgage markets are in disarray and are being buoyed by the U.S. Treasury.

- Wall Street firms that took on high risk obligations have failed or have had to seek “bailouts” from the Treasury to keep their doors open. Only in the last two weeks have credit markets started to operate again – again because of massive Treasury Department intervention.

- Financial experts now are resigned to a lengthy and deep recession. Consumer spending, which had powered the economy of the last decade, has slowed, which in turn has cut corporate earnings. In turn, the economy has been shedding jobs at an enormous pace – 1.2 million over the last ten months. Public opinion surveys confirm that the country has fallen into an uncharacteristically negative psychological state that used to be called a “funk” – defined as a severe state of depression or panic.

And then there are the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. More foreign troops – including U.S. soldiers, and dying every month than are dying in Iraq. But Iraqis are still dying in car bombings, suicide bombings (31 on November 10th), and roadside improvised explosive devices.

The current administration seems to have “frozen” over what to do next in Iraq and Afghanistan. During the just completed presidential campaign, Senator Obama proposed changes in the Bush policy – specifically beginning to pull U.S. forces out of Iraq and reinforce – along with NATO allies, the troops now in Afghanistan. This certainly is not an optimum or even a preferred alternative, but without restoring a sense of security among the majority of the Afghan population, it will become increasing impossible for the provincial reconstruction and development teams to make any headway in helping Afghanistan rebuild itself.

Given the time needed to implement remedial programs for the economy or to end the wars, to allow the normal lame duck political drift would be unconscionable. Why not borrow a current practice – confirmation hearings by the new Senate in January while the outgoing president is still in office – and have the outgoing Senate start the process in December with confirmation hearings on the most important positions (e.g., State, Defense, Justice, Treasury, Homeland Security ) in the new administration. With more (or all) of these positions voted on either by the old or the new Senate committees, the way would be clear for President Obama to formally send the nominations to the new full Senate immediately after he takes the oath of office and have that body vote up or down before the inauguration day parties begin.

As far as I can determine, there is no Constitutional barrier to the outgoing Senate to hold hearings on the nominees for the new administration. If the outgoing Congress can legislate on other matters, surely in times of dire need it can at least hold all committee hearings and take all votes up to the final one confirming key members of the new administration.

Having these confirmed and ready to go before the full Senate on January 20th would provide much needed momentum for the incoming Obama team. The nation doesn’t have the time for “business as usual” Nor does the rest of the world.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Quaker Marine

November `10th, the day before Veterans Day (originally Armistice Day) is observed as the birthday of the United States Marine Corps.

This might seem an odd topic for “The Quakers’ Colonel, given the prominent place and the practice of the “peace testimony” in the development of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). But it is precisely because war and peace are a touchstone of Quaker belief and practice that it is rare that a member of the Society achieves distinction as a participant in war. Samuel Nicholas was one who did as the first commissioned officer of the Continental Marines – today’s Commandant.

November 1775 was to be a significant month for what was to become the United States Marine Corps. With tensions high since Lexington and Concord, the Continental Congress directed its Naval Committee to secure the services of enough officers and seamen to man four warships. Within days, “agreements” had been reached for the services of a commander of naval forces and for a captain and lieutenant of naval infantry. On November 28, the Continental Congress confirmed in writing the commission of Samuel Nicholas of Philadelphia as Captain of Marines. The commission, still in existence, was signed by John Hancock as president of the Congress.

Before the Revolutionary War ended, Nicholas received his commission as a Major, the highest rank in the Corps. His men ferried Washington’s troops across the Delaware River on December 26, 1776 when the Continental army surprised the Hessians at Trenton.

Nicholas died in 1790 at a relatively early age of 46. For decades the Marine Corps lost track of where Nicholas was buried (Quakers do not use headstones); all that could be said was that he was buried in the Quaker cemetery at Arch Street. Finally, in the 1920s, a former Marine Officer, Louis Estell Fagan, set about tracking down information about Samuel Nicholas, and in 1933 published the results of his work in the Marine Corps Gazette.

What Fagan could not relate – either for Nicholas or for other Quakers who took up arms against the Redcoats in the War for American Independence – is what motivated them to choose war over peace. In fact, most members of the Society either remained neutral or supported the crown. Those who took up arms were often expelled from their “meeting” until – after the war ended – they “repented.”

That Samuel Nicholas lies in the Quaker cemetery in Philadelphia indicates that he too, among those who took up arms, was received back into his meeting.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Secretary Gates at Carnegie

On October 28 of this year, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited the Carnegie Endowment For International Peace to speak on the subject of “Nuclear Weapons and Deterrence in the 21st Century.” The speech broke no new policy ground nor did it propose new programs. What was noticeable was his repeated call for the next Congress to fund completion of a study by the RAND Corporation on the proposed Reliable Replacement Warhead program. .

But the Q and A that followed – this is where the real person emerges if he (or she) is to step forward at such gatherings at all. Two such answers follow.

“I’m not sure how successful we were, at least in the early SALT and START agreements, in terms of actual reductions of arms in the strategic arena; but one of the things I believe very strongly is that the arms control process itself contributed to a safer world; that it was, in essence a quarter-century seminar between the United States and the Soviet Union on how each thought about nuclear weapon, nuclear war, strategic planning, how they intended to use these weapons. We learned a great deal.

“I can tell you that the story involving General Trusov at the very beginning of the S ALT talks, when General Trusov, the senior military guy on the Soviet delegation, came to Gerry Smith, the head of our delegation, and said, “You guys cannot talk about our nuclear capabilities in front of our delegation because they’re not cleared for it” – it’s a true story.”

“I have spent 30 years in the search for the elusive Iranian moderate….I was with Zbig [National Security Advisor Brzezinski] when he was at the 25th anniversary of the Algerian revolution. And we got word that the Iranian leadership wanted to meet with him. This was October 1979. And Zbig got permission to do this. So we met with the prime minister, the defense minister, and the foreign minister of the new Iranian revolutionary government. I think it was the first senior-level meeting with the Iranian leadership since the revolution.
“And Brzezinski laid it all out. He said we will sell you the weapons that we had contracted to sell the shah. We will recognize your revolution. We will work with you because we have a common enemy to your north, the Soviet Union. And he laid it all out in strategic terms for them. They said “Give us the shah. “ It went back and forth like that for about two hours. And finally Brzezinski got up, turned to them and said “To give you the shah would be a violation of our national honor. “ That ended the meeting. Three days later they seized the embassy. And two weeks later all three of those guys were out of power. Thus began the American attempt to reach out to the revolutionary regime in Iran.”

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Guest Bloggers on the 2008 Election

I've invited my colleagues at the Friends Committee on National Legislation to join me in responding to the 2008 election. In the next few posts you'll hear from

I Am a Hoosier

Kathy Guthrie
Field Program Secretary, FCNL
Guest Blogger

I am a Hoosier, born in Terre Haute, Indiana. I learned to demonstrate for social justice and sing "We shall overcome" when I was at Indiana University in 1964. I carried a sign protesting George Wallace's sweep through Indiana, the state where the KKK had a very healthy existence. I feared that my grandfather would see my face on the TV news from Indianapolis. Though I loved him, he was the most bigoted person I knew. I gained my equilibrium by discussing civil rights and doing the right thing with my Quaker great aunt, who named her daughter, my closest cousin, after Susan B Anthony. Yesterday, three generations of my aunt's family voted in Indiana, repudiating the racist attitudes that are still very much alive in my home state.

As I watched the beautiful African American family on the TV screen last night, I could only remember the faces I saw on television of those who linked arms and sang "We shall overcome" in the spring of 1965. I feel lucky to live in such a time.

When I recall of the words of Dr. King, I think of my two biracial children and 4 African American grandchildren. Their mother voted for the first time yesterday. She was so excited about Pennsylvania that she sent me a text message saying, "I guess it pays to vote."

Why am I looking forward to the future? Our new president-elect has said that a lesson of his election is "what we can achieve to put [our] hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day." In memory of my aunt, and in honor of all of my grandchildren, I sincerely hope we will work together to bend that arc.

Why I Am Excited To Go To Parent-Teacher Conferences?

Tommy Bobo
Development Associate, FCNL
Guest Blogger

First things first I am not a parent nor do I have any immediate aspirations to have a child. Though some time from now, I will be sitting in a much too small chair and talking to teacher about my child. This room will probably look similar to my third grade classroom. There will be drawings and poems on the walls; multiplication tables and a list of prepositions to each side of the chalkboard; and the flag of the United States of America on the wall. These things do not concern me today. What concerns me is the row of pictures above the board.

For the vast majority of my grammar school education 41 to 42 white faces stared down at me from above the chalk board. They watched me learn how to add, subtract, and multiply. Today there are 43 faces staring down at school children across the United States of America. Soon there will be one more face added, Barack Obama. His portrait will be a line of demarcation separating what was the highest glass ceiling in our society. His portrait will soon be joined by women and people of all colors and creeds.

Today all of the pundits are talking about how our first African-American President will change the here and now, and a few of them have touched on the how President Obama will change the office. I am most excited about how his image and all of those to follow will change the perception of what our children believe about their world and possibilities for their own lives.

The First Lady

Lauren Bladen-White
Business Manager, FCNL
Guest Blogger

I was excited to come to work today because when I woke up this morning, and saw our future first lady on television, I realized that I know her. She is my mother, she is my cousin, she is my college roommate and she is the fellow parishioner on the pew next to me at church on Sundays.

As a 32-year-old African-American woman, who was born and raised in Richmond,Va, I can honestly say that I was not sure if this day would come in my lifetime. For the first time, I feel like the country in which I live embraces who I am and what I represent. Our future first lady, is young, well-educated, and unapologetically African-American. She is the woman who many young women in this country will now aspire to be.

For the first time in my life, I feel like I am a part of a country that values me as a citizen. I have a renewed sense of purpose, and a commitment to the work that we do at FCNL. I know that what we are doing today will help build a more peaceful world for all of the young African-American women who can now dream of being President tomorrow.

Change Can Happen Fast

Ruth Flower

Associate Executive Secretary for Legislative Program, FCNL
Guest Blogger

There was a little African American boy in the bank the other day – couldn’t have been more than 5 years old – he pointed to the television which was tuned to CNN, and tugged on his mother’s coat. “Look Mommy,” he said. “Barack Obama.”

Now no one can ever tell that little boy that he can’t be president of the United States.

That’s why I’m glad to be here today – because change is possible. And it can happen quicker than we think.

Only Opposed to Dumb Wars?

Sam Garman
Grants Manager, FCNL
Guest Blogger

I have two reactions to the results of the 2008 elections. One is personal, and one has to do with my work at FCNL.

On a personal level, I was delighted to see a man named Barack Obama from the South Side of Chicago elected President of the U.S. The political pundit Fareed Zakaria said it best: “I have a 9-year-old son named Omar. I firmly believe that he will be able to do absolutely anything he wants in this country when he grows up. But I admit that I will feel more confident about his future if a man named Barack Obama became president of the United States.” The U.S. has a history of institutionalized racial and ethnic bigotry, but also a history of people working to end bigotry. The election of Barack Hussein Obama by a convincing margin represents the latter impulse at glorious work.

But on a professional level, I am more circumspect. Obama famously said, on the eve of the Iraq war, “I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.”

At FCNL, it is our position that all wars are dumb wars. President-elect Obama does not agree with our position, and believes that expanding U.S. military operations in Central Asia will bring greater security to the U.S. and the world. There is reason to hope that the new administration will be more open to alternatives to violent conflict as a way of influencing the world. But it will take some persuasion. At FCNL, we are in the persuasion business, and over the next four years we will continue to have our work cut out for us.

A Sense of Responsbility

Alex Martin
Publications Manager, FCNL
Guest Blogger

Throughout Washington, DC on the day after the election, horns were honking and people were running down the street with banners, exchanging cheers and smiles with everyone they passed. Young people and African Americans make up the majority of the population in this city, which voted 93 percent for our new president-elect. For whichever candidate one voted, however, the new blood rushing into our democratic process is undeniable.

This morning I come to work at FCNL with a great sense of responsibility. Everywhere, and from many new quarters, the energy and desire to rebuild this country and reconnect it to the rest of the world is palpable. Millions of people who felt alienated by or just indifferent to politics, in the sense of our common civic project, have been connected to it by the two-year drama that has just concluded. Suddenly, they feel they have a stake. For a time, anyway, we feel like a people. How will we harness this energy? How will we keep people engaged in solving the tremendous problems we confront?

I also feel great privilege, because I work for an organization dedicated to precisely this purpose. FCNL has never been more relevant. Never has there been greater need for our work: to show people ways to remain involved with their government, and to continually remind our new leaders of the causes of peace, justice, and stewardship, so that together we may build the world we seek.

This morning, outside Union Station, a solo saxophonist improvised variations on the national anthem as we walked up to our work on the Hill.

Turning Campaign Energy into Governing Energy

Alicia McBride
Director for Communications
Guest Blogger

On Election Day I stood in a line with my husband and 2-year-old daughter for nearly 90 minutes. The line snaked halfway around my local elementary school. The sight of all those people wanting to make their voice heard about the direction our country is headed was awe-inspiring. That experience makes me excited to come to work today, because FCNL helps sustain that kind of passion and activism past the election season and into the governing season. I hope that many of those people I stood in line with yesterday will keep making their voices heard and agitating for their vision for this country.

FCNL’s Annual Meeting, which starts next week, emphasizes a quote from Franklin Delano Roosevelt –"You’ve elected me, now organize a movement to make me do what you want." President-Elect Barack Obama will face many competing priorities and challenges when he takes office, as he acknowledged in his victory speech. His administration -- and Congress -- need to keep hearing from the people in this country, whether they voted for Obama or not, so that the president hears what the people want him to do now that he is in office.

(Shameless plug now for FCNL!) I’m lucky enough to work for an organization that has the tools to help people communicate with the administration and Congress – learning how to lobby (PDF), finding out how to communicate with Congress (PDF) , and contacting their elected officials directly – and push for what they are passionate about.

Why am I excited to come to work today? Because there’s more work to do to harness what this campaign has generated and turn it into a government that people can feel excited about.

What this Election Means

Bridget Moix
Legislative Secretary, Peaceful Prevention of Deadly Conflict
Guest Blogger

Let's see, I think I'm suppose to write something particularly insightful about all the policy opportunities ahead for our peaceful prevention of deadly conflict work. And of course there is that. After all, the platform (PDF) of our new president-elect includes:

  • Engaging diplomatically with friends and foes
  • Creating a rapid response fund for societies in transition
  • Increasing the State Department's capacity to prevent and respond to conflict
  • Strengthening the UN and regional organizations to prevent and respond to deadly violence
  • Doubling foreign assistance
…wait, has he been reading our stuff? Now the incoming administration needs to be challenged to live up to these platform ideals.

But what really brought tears to my eyes and has an unstoppable smile plastered on my face today was living this election as part of a majority African-American neighborhood. The 2 1/2 hour line I waited in to vote was filled with under-30 African-American men and women, many first time voters, who were excited about the possible future of their country. And later that night, when fireworks went off and shouts of joy filled our street I realized the depth of meaning this election had for so many people.

And what it means for my family too. After all, if an African-American with a father from Kenya and the name Barack Obama can become president maybe by the time my son turns 35 a Mexican-American with a father from Mexico City and the name Pablo Fernandez Moix can too!

Is It Monday Yet?

Joe Volk
Joe Volk
Executive Secretary, FCNL
Guest blogger

8 AM Election Day: "What's the question?!" the guy yelled at me as I pedaled my recumbent bike past him on the Pentagon City sidewalk. Due to traffic, I couldn't stop, turn around, and reply. That was ok, though, because his question was probably rhetorical.

He'd seen my "War Is Not the Answer" flag. If war is not the answer, then, he wanted to know what the question is. I live in the Pentagon neighborhood, and most of my neighbors work on the business of war, both civilians and military. I get that question a lot. The questioner usually thinks that "what's the question?!" is a clever retort to my "War Is Not the Answer" statement, a stumper.

If I could have stopped to chat with him, as I have with others, I'd say, "On the humorous side, 'what's for breakfast?' War is not the answer. 'What would you like in your coffee?' War is not the answer. On the serious side, 'What should we do about Saddam Hussein in Iraq?' War is not the answer. 'What should we do about North Korea's nuclear weapons program?' War is not the answer. 'When you kid comes home and says Johnny bullied him on the playground and he asks, 'what should I do, daddy?' War is not the answer. The only question for which "war" is the right answer is: what does 'w,' 'a,' 'r' spell?"

An interesting thing about people in my neighborhood is that so many, military and civilians, see my "War Is Not the Answer" flag and say, "You got that right."

Congress doesn't yet have it right. Both Democrats and Republicans still have a faith-based commitment to war as the answer to difficult problems. They want to increase military spending, build up U.S. military force levels, escalate the war in Afghanistan, threaten Iran with "the military option," and "win the global war on terror."

I'm excited to go to work every day, because I get to talk directly with members of Congress and congressional staff about the practical alternatives to the failed war system, peaceful prevention of deadly conflict.

We work in a historic moment. W.E.B. Dubois remarked that, in the 20th Century, civilization had two big tasks: 1. eliminate racism, and 2. eliminate war. We passed into the 21st Century not having checked off those two important tasks on our "to do" list. We shouldn't pass that job on to our grandchildren; we should get it done now.

At the end of the first decade of the 21st Century, whether you are grieving or celebrating today, you can see that our country just took a big step away from racism. An African-American has been elected president. That work to end racism is not yet done, but we've come a long way toward addressing racism. The norm has been set: that racism is not the answer is widely accepted.

We have further to go for peace, because the norm has not yet been set: that war is not the answer … to any question. Progress is possible. FCNL will work on national legislation for the dignity of every human being and to replace war with a real security system based on peaceful means. I can't wait to go to work. Is it Monday yet?

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Obama Optimism

It is a truism that no man (or woman) can be everything to everyone all the time -- or for that matter even part of the time.

That is the danger in the Obama win -- that the priorities he might want, the priorities those who elected him might feel he needs to address first, are not the priorities that events will allow him to focus on in the first three to six months of his presidency.

Joe Biden, vice-president -elect, has already forecast that the Obama White House will be challenged in foreign affairs within the first 180 days of assuming power. But according to the political commentators, the first situation the new president will confront -- and needs to confront -- is the U.S. economy and by extension the world economy. Yet he comes to office with deficits running over $450 billion a year, a $700 billion bailout of financial and other corporations, a Pentagon that is used to a $500 million base budget and another $120 billion for the "war on terror." And that doesn't address entitlements -- Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and unemployment benefits.

The message for the public is two-fold. They must exhibit a great deal of patience, for which in return the new administration must be transparently accountable. The public must also remain engaged -- for which in return the new administration and the Congress must pay attention to what the people are saying and who is speaking.

The people have elected a new leader. Now they must create and sustain a movement that will "speak to power" and by this continuing involvement transition the promises of the campaign into the programs for the country's future.

Tha, really, is what democracy in the end is -- the people in action.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Red Lines

The Washington Times for November 3 has an article by Nicholas Kralev (“U.S. weighs U.N. option to stay in Iraq”) detailing the latest moves by Washington and Baghdad over the status of forces agreement (SOFA) for U.S. troops in Iraq after December 31, 2008.

The Bush administration has been in discussions with the Iraqi regime headed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki since March. Ostensibly, what the White House presented to the Iraqi’s was an amendable “draft” agreement specifying what the U.S. expected a “grateful” Iraqi people, through “their” representatives, to endorse.

Whether Iraqis have been “grateful” I leave to others. But they have refused to play permanent second fiddle as Washington tries to orchestrate a full-fledged U.S. military presence in the Gulf’s future, a presence that largely ignores Iraq’s sovereignty. Had al-Maliki simply accepted the main White House demands – the right to launch attacks from Iraq against Iraq’s neighbors; to conduct operations within Iraq without preapproval by Iraqi authorities, to detain without a warrant any Iraqi encountered during a U.S. operation, and to exclude all U.S. persons in Iraq from compliance with the Iraqi justice system –Iraq would have been little more than a medieval vassal state.

What I find of almost equal interest as the continuing rejection by the Iraqis of Washington’s demands are the comments by right-wing pundits that Baghdad is in danger of overplaying its hand, that in fact the U.S. has the option – regardless of who wins tomorrow’s election – of withdrawing troops and leaving al-Maliki “twisting slowly slowly in the wind.” If the government in Baghdad is that vulnerable, then one has to question the veracity of the reports from field commanders about the proficiency of the Iraqi army and police.

As time runs out on the December 31, 2008 dead line, there is a sense of growing indecision in the White House as to what course to pursue. And as time begins to run out, the rhetoric becomes more strident. There are “red lines” the U.S. has drawn that the Iraqis cannot step over without dire consequences – e.g., the Americans can simply pick up their troops and leave al-Maliki and Iraq to their fates. (One can appreciate why the White House was not amused when one version of the draft sent to the U.S. side carried the title “Agreement on Complete U.S. Withdrawal from Iraq.”)

The lesson for the world as it watches this process play out is that they no longer have t0 meekly assume the role that “assigns” to others, often with little thought except for U.S. goals and U.S. “red lines.” “Lines in the sand” are notorious for disappearing, either obliterated by the throngs that pass through or by the next high tide. Either way, with all traces gone, there is no direction, no order, no process. Better to put up a red stop sign, as the Iraqis are doing, and challenge the future that someone else has projected before it arrives, leaving little choice but a great deal of chaos.