Tag Archives: President Bush

Libya? Really, Libya?

23 Mar

Surprise! We’re back to the Shock and Awe, knock-down-the-door, Tomahawk and JDAM war the US military in general, and Air Force and Navy in particular, like so much. Things are going swimmingly well in Libya because we’re still doing the parts we’re really good at. What comes next? If President Obama knows, he’s not saying, except that we won’t be in charge much longer (turns out the French never really were in charge after all, they just started the war first without talking to everyone). His War Powers Act clock is at 54 days and counting, but more on Obama’s failures in a moment.

Any public discussion of the fiasco in Libya seems to conform to a formula in three parts: two major – the question of whether to intervene, and the handling of the issue by the President – and one minor. Before I get to the major issues, let me dispense with the minor one.

The most insignificant portion of this issue is the hypocrisy watch all observers find themselves under, as the spectre of Iraq still looms, and our national politics are still played under broad Obama|Bush banners. For the record, I was for our action in Bosnia and Kosovo, because genocide was not a potential, but an ongoing horror. I was for intervention in conflicts we never stepped into, such as Rwanda. I was for the “little wars” of Clinton, in Iraq and Afghanistan in 1998, and wanted even more action because trouble seemed on the horizon and violence was escalating (embassy bombings, the USS Cole after, etc). I was for the invasion of Afghanistan at the time, because I was pissed, pro-Iraq War at the start, and pro-Surge as the best possible way to extricate ourselves from a bad situation. But now? A final analysis is complicated, as is inevitable when a war is personalized, and you find yourself invested in a very non-academic way. Lately, I find myself a recovering interventionist.

I say all of that as background to help you judge the following statement: what in God’s name are we doing in Libya? Have we gained no humility about the limits of US power, and learned nothing about picking sides in a tribal war, misunderstanding your enemy or allies, the limits of the capability of no-fly zones, and the grave responsibility of joining a war?

What are we doing in Libya? There is an ideological answer, and a realpolitik one. Both fail to pursuade, though (as is fundamental to its nature) the realpolitik answer is at least more pragmatic.

The ideologues, such as genocide expert and White House staffer Samantha Power, will tell you we must intervene in Libya because the international community can not stand by while a dictator murders his own people. While this sounds nice, it provides few practical specifics and is blatantly untrue. We stand by and watch dictators murder their own people all the time. In fact, we are currently doing so in Yemen, Bahrain, the Ivory Coast, Sudan, Burma, North Korea, Zimbabwe and the Congo, just to name the worst. In each of those cases, far more people have been murdered over far longer of a time. “The International Community” is in a tizzy over a city being without power for a week or two in Libya. In Zimbabwe and the Congo, the slaughter has gone on for decades. In addition, such mushy aims lead to the questions Americans are currently asking: are we trying to kill Qaddafi? Who are the rebels (as a commentator from STRATFOR put it, who knew 6 weeks ago there even was a Libyan opposition)? Are we on their side? What is a civilian? Can we kill civilians to protect civilians? What if the no-fly zone doesn’t stop the conflict? What are our goals? What are the conditions that will allow us to be done? If Obama knows, he’s not telling.

With the ideological answer either wanting or ineffectual, one is left with the realpolitik answer. Here, the water is murkier. Khadafi has been alternatingly an international pariah and our ally strongman. He perpetrated some of the worst terrorist attacks against Europeans and Americans in the 1980’s, but he also was held up as the model of the reformed autocrat in the 2000’s, unilaterally disavowing his nuke program, shrugging off UN sanctions in 2003, and making amends with the Brits, such that they controversially released a Lockerbie conspirator only two years ago. In short, he was a neutral party (and occasional ally against Al Qaeda) much more recently than he was persona non grata.

So why Libya now? Besides the need to secure oil for Western Europe, the unspoken realpolitik answer is Iran. Through the eyes of the international geopolitical chess-player, the recent events in the Middle East and North Africa go something like this. The January immolation and uprising in Tunisia was a genuine cry for help by the “Arab Street.” The events since, however, that were thus set in motion have been pre-planned coups and proxy battles that used the street protests as cover. Mubarak fell because the Egyptian military ousted him, payback for him wanting to install his non-military son in power instead of the next general in line, as the military regime has done for 60 years. Protests in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain are actually battles between Shia and Sunni, with Iran funding and provoking the protestors and Saudi Arabia coming to the aid of the Sunni regimes in power. The US does not condemn the actions in those countries, or establish a no-fly zone over Bahrain, because we are actually opposing Iran, and want the protests in those country’s crushed. Libya is thus another proxy, a convenient way of showing Iran that America can walk and chew gum at the same time, or bomb one country while stuck in a ground war with two others. It also lowers the bar for military intervention, and allows us to potentially act to protect our national interests (read: seize oil fields, violently open the Straits of Hormuz, allow Israel to bomb Iran’s nuke program) in a much more flagrant way.

Under this explanation, President Obama would rightly see Libya as a side-show. Perhaps that explains why he is treating it as such, aloof and seemingly uninvolved. Which brings us to the second major issue – Obama’s disappointment as Commander-in-Chief. Afghanistan is adrift – it has been months since we heard anything consequential on that decade long conflict. Now his eye is off the ball again. Whatever is going on inside his head on the topic of Libya, ideological, realpolitik or political, we do not know because he has not said. Little consultation with Congress other than a cattle round-up conference call. No evening address to the American people. It displays a lack of seriousness with the military task at hand – he has publically spoken about sending our forces into a new war as much as he would about the EPA making a regulatory rule change. 

To say nothing of the utter hypocrisy. Candidate Obama in 2007 said:

The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.

As Commander-in-Chief, the President does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. In instances of self-defense, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent.

What made him change his mind in this case? In fact, what made him change his mind in the last ten days? Two weeks ago mainstream liberals were lampooning “neocons” for trying to drag us into another war, and the prospect of intervention in Libya was laughable. At the end of February his Defense Secretary said he should have his head examined to get into another conflict in the Middle East, and later, on the topic of Libya, said a no-fly zone meant open war (implying it should be avoided, or at least not taken lightly). In a matter of days, Obama had, as David Gergen said today, a “head snapping reversal of policy.”

Bush was criticized for changing his mind about why we invaded Iraq (WMDs to Democracy) after the conflict began. I suppose one way to avoid that charge is to have no position at all. Going to the UN Security Council does not mean he is slow, indecisive or wussy to let the Europeans lead (though, like we said, they aren’t really leading, and now France and Italy are now bickering about who is doing what). Rather, Obama’s issue with going to the UN is that he used it as a substitute for planning or forming a policy. The UN confers precious little legitimacy anyway – a Security Council resolution simply means Russia and China do not have sufficient economic or political interests to interfere if the West wishes to additionally bankrupt itself on another expensive excursion. In this case, a veneer of legality is being substituted for substance.

When Obama returns from South America, we will probably have a policy speech explaining our goals in Libya . . . justification for the bombing after it began. In the meantime, The Daily Show describes the mess well:


Radicalizing a Generation

26 Oct

Earlier this month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, noting the 10th anniversary of the fall of Slobodan Milosevic and the 15th anniversary of the Dayton Peace Accords, meeting with Serb President Boris Tadic, and holding a townhall meeting with Bosnian students in Sarajevo. Clinton wanted to send a message of openness and outreach, pushing Bosnia to join the EU and NATO, and further meld with Europe. The message she got in return, however, was different. Bosnian students fear for the fractured nature of their state, as the new head of Republika Srpska (the Serbian piece of Bosnia) calls his larger state “absurd,” and ethnic tensions, never eradicated, are growing again. Meanwhile, a generation is growing up in Serbia removed from the larger world, and resenting it more with each year. The impetus for the next war is sown in the treatment of the losing side in the previous. A pariah nation for over fifteen years, young Serbians know no other world than an isolated one. Mein Kampf was written in such circumstances, and in Europe, the West is (should be) working hard to avoid that fate a second time.

Not so in other parts of the world. When, as part of my paying job, I teach Counter-Insurgency Theory to the US Army as a government contractor, I like to find the youngest member of the class and ask them what they were doing on 9/11. A typical response: sitting in math class in fifth grade. Meanwhile, another eleven year old may have been starving in Kabul due to food shortages in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Or attending a madrassa in Pakistan where the only reading they were allowed to do was from the Koran. Or running AK-47 magazines to their older cousin, fighting the Northern Alliance near Mazar-i-Sharif. Whatever the history, now those two people will meet, in the Hindu Kush: the fifth grader in math class in Dallas, Texas and the Koran student from Pakistan. And while the American has been spending his time playing XBox, sneaking beers behind the high school football stadium and worrying about the senior prom, that Afghani or Pakistani eleven year old has endured nothing but war for nine years. 

Image courtesy The Boston Globe

A generation can not grow up under constant threat, or isolated from and punished by the larger world, and not become radicalized, ideologically and/or violently. The only way to do the least long term damage to a country’s people is to minimize the amount of time killing, and maximize the amount of time healing and rebuilding. Note the failure of three successive administrations to do that in Afghanistan.

Eastern Afghanistan has been the subject of American attacks since August 1998. Very soon after the ground invasion in October of 2001, the American government and military prided itself on having learned the lessons of the Soviet experience: small footprint, pinpointed attacks, small amount of collateral damage. 90% of any success we had in that war we had in the first 90 days, with the Taliban routed and Al Qaeda demoralized and ostracized as “camels” by the Afghan people. Since the Spring of 2002, however, we have steadily undone that success with each subsequent action we take to consolidate gains. Now we look at Afghanistan through an intellectual fun house mirror: success will be measured by adding additional troops, for a specific (longer) period of time, to accomplish an undetermined goal. At that point, in 2011 or 2012, prior to the American Presidential election and after a longer occupation than the Soviets implemented in the 1980’s, we will leave the same way our Russian counterparts did: after a declaration of victory, in our wake will remain an unpopular, feckless, puppet government, a radicalized generation, and the seeds for the next conflict. The mythos is complete; substitute Predators and Reapers as our Hind helicopters, and IEDs from Iran and Iraq for our Stinger missiles.

President Obama is fighting for the midterm elections, fighting to reintroduce his healthcare legislation, and fighting Republicans on income taxes, but he is not fighting the Afghan War with any regularity, public interest, or discernable strategic end state in mind. A new report on war is not positive, to put it mildly. If I may be so bold, the President has taken his eye off the ball.

Warned of the threat of Al Qaeda, and in an effort to distract from the Monica Lewinski scandal, President Clinton thought a couple cruise missiles would fix both his Afghanistan problem and political troubles. Representing an angry nation, President Bush came closest to a reasonably short and decisive end state, but frittered it away in a Wall Street Bank-esque attempt to leverage his gains. President Obama won an election on opposition to one war, but with few plans for this one, he spent his political capital elsewhere. President Obama is now down to a strategy of drones and timelines, and is relying on voter apathy for ultimate political success. Obama’s policy is as ineffectual as Clinton’s, but the constant harassment is fertilizing the seed of retaliatory violence in an already radicalized generation.

The differences between Afghanistan and Bosnia are a matter of scale, not of type. What lesson is Bosnia and Serbia reteaching? You can’t marginalize and isolate the youth of a nation for the sum of its upbringing. The consequences of President Clinton’s decisions are still echoing in Bosnia and Afghanistan, and History, that elusive author, is not done writing the story of his interventions. Serbia now has a lost generation, and we’re still dropping bombs in Afghanistan and Pakistan, 13 years later.

Like Rats Leaving the Sinking Ship

28 Sep

It has been a bad two weeks for poor Tim Geithner, Secretary of the Treasury. No, the unemployment news has been no worse than normal. And the stock market has not tanked (nor rebounded). Instead, the problem is that he’s running out of work mates – economic team member #4, TARP chief Herb Allison, just announced he was bailing too.

Add Herb’s name to a list that includes Larry Summers, high profile (why?) economic advisor, budgetary wiz Peter Orzag of OMB and Christina Romer. A mere twenty months into Obama’s administration, the chief architects of the President’s #1 policy priority are lining up to leave, to spend more time with their families and pursue other opportunities.

Well, thank goodness! That must mean the job is done, then. That the United States has kicked high unemployment, avoided a double dip recession, is growing well, and things are on the up and up. Oh, wait, they aren’t? I can’t believe such dedicated public servants would ever quit early. Robert Gibbs says they have been working so hard and are burned out. Don’t you feel bad for them? Unemployment benefits currently last more than twice as long (99 weeks) as these officials have been on the job.

And with Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel due out soon to run for Mayor of Chicago, and Political Advisor David Axelrod announcing he is headed back to Chicago as well to start the campaign, what exactly is going on here?

Heaven forefend that I make a positive remark about the previous administration, but like the policies or not, officials saw the process through. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were Bush’s #1 priority, and Secretary Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell, and General Myers all stuck around for four to six years. Where is the stick-to-itiveness of this round of officials? They aren’t even lasting to the midterm elections.

I can see moving on if the goals of the administration have been accomplished, but we are far from there on the economic front. What achievement is so great that Larry Summers can call it a day?

The biggest win is arguably the TARP, which is a Bush program, not an Obama administration initiative (lest we forget the timeline). Many major banks did not go bankrupt, the credit markets exist, money is being lent, and the government is getting its money back (with a profit) – in this case, the absence of an apocalypse must count as success.

President Obama’s initiatives are more mixed. A round of financial regulation reforms have passed, but we won’t know the true impact for years. Just as Clinton was the beneficiary of the Regan tax cuts, and the Dodd/Clinton Fannie Mae loan rule relaxation mess didn’t yield its ugly underwater mortgage fruit until Bush/Obama, we won’t know whether Obama’s finance regulations will bring fiscal sanity, or CDO Swaps 2.0, until many years down the road.

A second Obama initiative, the whimpering stimulus package, is a more obvious failure. The 2010 federal budget deficit ($1.4 trillion), much of it stimulus to get the economy plugging along again, is roughly equal to $100,000 for each unemployed person in this country (14.9 million). What have we bought with our money? Not a “new” economy or a “green” economy. It has not bought us bridge technologies (new natural gas pipelines), or new technologies (next generation batteries, solar arrays, etc). It has purchased some token investment in car batteries, but far more has been spent on asphalt for those cars to drive upon. Obama’s stimulus legacy will be expanded blacktop that will need resurfacing in five years – I could not have set up a more poetic metaphor. Reports say Cash for Clunkers moved demand up but created no more, the housing rebates seem to have had much the same effect, unemployment is still too high and not falling. Are the Keynesians yet humbled?

The economic team is may be the one most visibly leaving, but they are not the most visibly dysfunctional. Bob Woodward’s new book confirms what we have suspected: significant dissention in the foreign policy ranks, widespread derision of national Security Advisor Jim Jones, battles over turf overtaking those over policy, and that VP Biden is a jerk.

What is the unifying factor? It turns out running a campaign is not the same as running a government. Success in one is not a recipe for success for the other. President Obama’s advisors are either quitting or infighting, and neither is good for the country. Where are the Dem’s best and brightest. Where was the deep bench of Democratic officials waiting out their eight years of Bush to return competence to the government? There was a time when functional experts (Michael O’Hanlon at the Brookings Institution being an excellent example) would have come out of the woodwork once there was a party shift of power. Instead, we got Change, and rather than bringing in the Democratic elites, Obama brought his Chicago political insiders. President Obama has from the start been separate from the Democratic Party as whole (watch him sell out Congress for his 2012 re-election). Because of the way he won the nomination, Obama’s public spats with the Clintons kept some of the best and brightest on the sidelines. With Richard Holbrooke as the one notable exception, Obama brought in a Chicago team that is burning out early or fighting too late. Valerie Jerrett’s nearly assured and imminent promotion is a perfect example – what are her qualifications, besides friendship with the President? It is okay for an administration to bring on its insulated team, but didn’t Bush get a lot of flak for moving Texas to the White House?

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An End and a Beginning (Updated)

2 Sep

Operation Iraqi Freedom started on March 20, 2003, in tanks on the Kuwait-Iraq border, in aircraft launching from Saudi and Qatari airfields, and on ships in the Persian Gulf. It ended last night, on August 31st, 2010, in the Oval Office, in a disjointed speech, on national television.

Taking the place of Operation Iraqi Freedom is Operation New Dawn. As more Americans die in Iraq, and as troops stay past the 2011 deadline, and into the 2012 election year, Republicans will rightly ask what is so “new?” President Obama may have handed his opponents a “Mission: Accomplished” banner, which would be unfortunate. Because despite the President’s wish to “turn the page” in Iraq, the country, and our co-mingled troubles, still exist. Note that the excellent Washington Post correspondent, Tom Ricks, in his book “The Gamble” on the Surge, speculated that the major events for which the Iraq War will be known have not yet happened. The war continues, but by a different name.

Still, such a marker is a convenient time to ask how history will judge at least the first act, now that Operation Iraqi Freedom is complete. Here is the opening sentence to the book I would write on the subject:

In an overabundance of caution, and reflecting the vengeful mood of a country still wiping its bloody nose, President Bush ordered an invasion of Iraq, and after meeting only one of the stated goals of the conflict, ended it by staunching the worst of the blood spilt in the civil war he created.

President Obama is not in that sentence because he did not materially contribute in any way to the ability to change the operation’s name last night. It was Bush’s war, for good or ill, and he ended this phase, with the Surge in 2007, a new Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), and the troop draw down starting in 2008. In this example, President Obama is Andrew Johnson, not Richard Nixon. Lincoln ended the war, albeit infinitely more cleanly and decisively, no matter how many Union troops stayed in the South for years afterward. President Obama is due no more, and probably wishes no more, in any event.

My colleague, Alan, wrote a column today on the end of major combat in Iraq, and in it sought to address the run up to the war as the major issue to be discussed today. I respectfully, and overwhelmingly, disagree.

Why? Because America in 2010 is in far more danger of losing a long war in which it is stuck than beginning a new war with mixed evidence. I am more worried about our ability to pacify Afghanistan than our propensity to end up in open armed conflict with Iran or North Korea. Israel may bomb Iran, but we won’t. Afghanistan, however, is another matter. And so the proper topic to discuss today is what actions, by a President, allowed yesterday’s speech to happen, if we wish to see another one cheering our exit from Operation Enduring Freedom.

I understand Alan’s desire to beat the WMD and Neocon Hawk drum. It is effective and popular. Fortunately, I think history will give a more nuanced response. One tiny example; Alan says:

UNMOVIC inspectors under Hans Blix were in Iraq for 111 days, and they never found a single WMD.

United States troops were in Iraq for 2,724 days, and they never found a single WMD.

Alan provides a link for the first and not the second. Why? Because its not factually true. We found lots of chemical Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq [Updated Author Note: misleading reference to all types of WMDs, including bio, radiological and nuclear weapons, removed for the sake of clarity]. We found old nerve agent filled artillery shells in the Kurdish areas, where Saddam committed genocide in the 1980’s and 1990’s. We found weapons caches of empty bombs, mortars and projectiles, with the main chemical agent filler since evaporated, but still plenty dangerous to handle. We found mustard agent filled rounds in roadside bombs, where it was clear that insurgents were not aware of what type of explosive they were using. Soldiers ended up in hospitals with blister agent burns, nerve agent induced nausea, and the Technical Escort Unit, a Army outfit whose job it is to package and transport chemical weapons, stayed plenty busy flying from their hub in Baghdad all over the country. We found WMDs.

What we didn’t find was enough, or of the right type, to justify an invasion, 4500+ Americans lost, 45,000+ injured, and 100,000+ Iraqi’s killed.

But such debates are only relevant today if Secretary Clinton starts war-mongering in the UN about dropping bombs on Iran. The bigger question now is how to find “success” in Afghanistan. The litany of reasons why Afghanistan is a more difficult problem than Iraq is long and well known: it is larger, younger, more divided, less developed, and has a greater history of violence. The Persians, Turks, Brits and Germans (in that order) all recently successfully conquered Iraq. For such a list in Afghanistan, I have to go back several thousand years.

If I look for Hope in President Obama that we will be successful in Afghanistan, I am left with two troubling pieces of evidence from last night:

1) Then-candidate Obama predicted the Surge in Iraq would fail, and he was wrong. Very, very wrong. He predicted the fresh troops would make no difference, and then, when they did, he said military victory with no political reconciliation was no victory at all. Iraq does not have a government – what is different now? He spent too long reformulating the strategy for Afghanistan, only to end up with essentially the same plan he previously derided. The only thing similar between Iraq and Afghanistan is that it is hot in the summer. Just because a Surge was the right strategy for Iraq does not make it right for Afghanistan, especially when the only clear goal I know of for Afghanistan is to start leaving next year.

2) In an Oval Office speech, only the second of his 20 month tenure, on the end of major combat in Iraq, he spent nearly half the time talking not about Iraq, or Afghanistan, or the military, or foreign policy, but the economy and jobs. Either he is “taking his eye off the ball,” or has political ADD, or is pandering for elections. I find all three a problem, and I question his seriousness, and whether he considers fighting our nation’s wars a priority. 

Alan wants a return to the Powell Doctrine. Too late – we’ve already broke it and bought it. And anyway, it was the Powell Doctrine that got us into this mess. Let’s have some new ideas.

Bullets Dodged

1 Dec

Dubai World is a corporate entity run by the Emirate of the same name, and it finds itself in a bit of a debt crisis, which sent markets reeling a bit last week.

Remember how the US was going to outsource its port security to a Dubai World subsidiary? Ha ha! Yeah, that was a great idea.

But it wouldn’t have been all that bad. After all, Dubai World’s port security operation was bought out by an American corporation in 2006.

It was bought out by AIG.

HT Rochester Turning

Oh, How Precious

13 Aug

Cheney’s writing a tell-all.  Evidently, one of the charges he’ll make is that during his second term, Bush went all limpy commie on him.

First Nixon, now Cheney. Two Republican Dicks doing harm to the Republic.

Cheney Wanted Tanks in Lackawanna

25 Jul

Remember the Lackawanna Six?

They’ll be out of jail sooner rather than later, and some of them will end up in the witness protection program for testimony they gave at military commissions in Guantanamo.

But the New York Times reports today that the Bush Administration – specifically former Vice President Dick Cheney – agitated for the government to send the US military to apprehend the suspects and declare them enemy combatants.

Tanks rolling down the streets of Lackawanna.  Troops marching down Ridge Road – not National Guard, but the actual full-time Army.  That would have been quite a sight.  A sight not seen on American soil since the Civil War, and probably violative of the 4th Amendment and the Posse Comitatus Act.

Still, at least one high-level meeting was convened to debate the issue, at which several top Bush aides argued firmly against the proposal to use the military, advanced by Mr. Cheney, his legal adviser David S. Addington and some senior Defense Department officials.

Among those in opposition were Condoleezza Rice, then the national security adviser; John B. Bellinger III, the top lawyer at the National Security Council; Robert S. Mueller III, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Michael Chertoff, then the head of the Justice Department’s criminal division.

“Frankly, it was a bit of a turf war,” said one former senior administration official. “For a number of people, crossing the line of having intelligence or military activities inside the United States was not worth the risk.”

The cooler head of George W. Bush prevailed over Dick Cheney in that instance.

They were arrested in September 2002, just before the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and people’s memories were still vivid and emotions very raw about jihadist terrorism at the time.  I’d go so far as to say that a majority of Americans probably wouldn’t have had a problem with any of this at the time.

But there are a few things I think have happened since that time.  I wouldn’t call it complacency, although some would.  Speaking for myself, living in fear of a terrorist attack hurting me or my family is something I don’t really feel like doing.  If something bad happens, it happens.  But I won’t let it overtake my thoughts or my actions.

Living in fear is a sucky way to live, and it sometimes makes you think and do dumb things.

In addition, I think that the military, law enforcement, and intelligence services have adjusted for this new world in which we live.  I wonder if in the era of the internet we still have spies doing dead drops in obscure Washington Parks or meeting in public places, greeting each other with code phrases.  It was a shift from cold-war era intelligence-gathering to contemporary counter-terrorism intelligence, a lot of which is done online.

But using the military against American citizens on American soil would have been going too far.  Kudos to Bush and those who agreed with him for killing this horribly misguided idea.  But it speaks volumes of Dick Cheney and his vision of a jackbooted America where fear trumps the Constitution and any civil rights violation is acceptable so long as it’s couched in the rhetoric of national security.

Rummy & Bush

18 May

It appears not to have been a very normal working relationship, and yes – the fact that Rumsfeld patronized Bush by adding old Testament quotes on the cover pages of military briefings bothers the hell out of me – not just for their irrelevance, but for the fact that Bush would have responded positively to it, and Rumsfeld was cynical about it.

When We Stop Being Honest, We Stop Being American

21 Apr


There is something happening in America today and it’s troubling, even for a cynical bastard like me.  We’re not willing to even be truthful anymore.  Once upon a time in this nation, there was an objective truth and then there was partisan interpretations of that truth doled out in the battle lines of politics.  Now?  Objective truth is hard to find as the partisan rhetoric and point scoring has clouded what is true and what is false.


On the issue of torture, I find the right wing pundits and politicians to be willfully ignorant and deliberately dishonest about the tactics used, the legalities and whether any crimes were committed.  This is not a political game, this is our national moral compass…a moment for us to measure whether we are the country we say we are.  Instead, torture is just another partisan talking point.

Aside from listening to torture defenders on talk radio and reading blog entries scoffing at those of us interested in the rule of law, this video pretty much sent me over the edge.


Waterboarding is a method of torture.  There is no debate on this issue.  None.

Aside from the Khmer Rouge and various despotic regimes through the course of human history, no legal authority has declared it to be a moral and humane way to treat prisoners.

You know what else is torture?  Extended periods of sleep and sensory deprivation, beatings, sexual humiliation and stress positions used for extended periods of time.  To treat these methods as fodder for morning show jokes is insulting to the human condition and is a marker on this country’s pursuit to join the barbaric while seemingly celebrating the journey in a fit of cognitive dissonance.

Many of you who read this site know that I am a proud veteran of the US Military.  I’m a patriot who loves the ideals upon which this country was founded and I take immense pride that I had the privilege to serve under those who held those ideals as a sacred trust.

Our nation has always been an honorable one.  Leading the nations of the world when it comes to the dignified treatment of combatants, detainees, and prisoners of war.  It has now become crystal clear to this veteran that we are no longer a nation of honor.  We are now a nation that is willing to ignore the international agreements and treaties our forebearers signed.  A nation that is willing to sell out the very values I once swore a duty to protect.

I went through SERE Training and was trained as an intelligence analyst.  During my training these “enhanced interrogation methods” were described to us as torture.  Things that would be done to us in the event of capture by a ruthless and evil enemy.  These were not tactics that would be employed by members of the United States military or affiliated intelligence agencies who worked alongside of us.  Our interrogation methods were non-negotiable and were laid out clearly in the US Army Field Manual on Interrogation (FM 34-52).  If we engaged in torture, we would be prosecuted and held accountable for our actions.

FM 34-52 standardizes interrogation techniques upon those approved by the Geneva Conventions of 1949, particularly, the third convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War.

In times war, we as Americans hold the moral high ground, such as it is in war.  Lowering ourselves to the level of our enemy breeds contempt, inflames opposition, and reduces our ability to rally the world around a flag of righteousness. Torturing those whom we have detained lowers us to the level of the enemy.  Once we cede the moral high ground in battle, we begin down a slippery slope of moral ambiguity that clouds our purpose and allows our enemy to define our standards for us.

We no longer hold that moral high ground and our unwillingness to confront the actions of the previous administration is an affront to those who have honorably served this great nation.  It is a betrayal of this country’s citizens who entrusted us to fight in their name and serve with integrity.

Think of how we would react if it was discovered that an American soldier was waterboarded 183 times in one month.  Would we snicker and make snarky comments about that treatment?

These memos are not a dark chapter of our history which we can simply choose to close as a matter of political convenience, they are a festering wound on the soul of a nation.  We need to stop with the jokes and the offhanded remarks about how these methods are necessary to win the war on terror, they aren’t.

We need to be honest about what has been done in our name, else we cease to be American.

Obama Admin Releases Bush OLC Torture Memos

20 Apr


There was a lot of angst in left wing circles as to whether President Obama would pass a major test of transparency when it came to releasing Bush Administration memos authorizing torture and describing the tactics in full.

Today is the most significant test yet determining the sincerity of Barack Obama’s commitment to restore the Constitution, transparency and the rule of law.  After seeking and obtaining multiple extensions of the deadline, today is the final deadline for the Obama DOJ to respond to the ACLU’s FOIA demand for the release of four key Bush DOJ memos which authorized specific torture techniques that have long been punished (including by the U.S.) as war crimes.  Today, Obama will either (a) disclose these documents to the public or (b) continue to suppress them — either by claiming the right to keep them concealed entirely or, more likely, redacting the most significant parts before releasing them.

Today, Obama passed this test.  He authorized the release of these documents in full (with minimal redactions) to the public.  I haven’t read through all of them as of yet, but it appears that the only redactions were the names of CIA officials and contractors who were mentioned in the report and were operating under the legal guidance of the White House.  The reason for the redactions was outlined in a statement from President Obama.

In releasing these memos, it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution. The men and women of our intelligence community serve courageously on the front lines of a dangerous world. Their accomplishments are unsung and their names unknown, but because of their sacrifices, every single American is safer. We must protect their identities as vigilantly as they protect our security, and we must provide them with the confidence that they can do their jobs.

Immediately after Obama released his statement, Attorney General Eric Holder also released a statement:

Holder also stressed that intelligence community officials who acted reasonably and relied in good faith on authoritative legal advice from the Justice Department that their conduct was lawful, and conformed their conduct to that advice, would not face federal prosecutions for that conduct.

Reading between the lines, the Attorney General is indemnifying officials who acted upon the guidance but have explicitly made no mention as to any legal protections afforded to those who wrote the opinions and/or asked for them to be written.  This is a win for the rule of law.  Those who authorized these tactics should be held accountable if further Congressional investigation reveals they are necessary.

Here are the links to the memos for your download and review.

An 18-page memo [PDF], dated August 1, 2002, from Jay Bybee, Assistant Attorney General, OLC, to John A. Rizzo, General Counsel CIA about torture techniques used on Abu Zubaydah.

A 46-page memo [PDF], dated May 10, 2005, from Steven Bradbury, Acting Assistant Attorney General, OLC, to John A. Rizzo, General Counsel CIA about waterboarding and other techniques.

A 20-page memo [PDF], dated May 10, 2005, from Steven Bradbury, Acting Assistant Attorney General, OLC, to John A. Rizzo, General Counsel CIA describing the techniques that could be used in combination with each other.

A 40-page memo [PDF], dated May 30, 2005, from Steven Bradbury, Acting Assistant Attorney General, OLC, to John A. Rizzo, General Counsel CIA.