Friday, February 24, 2006

Bush Is Right on Ports

It's unusual, but I agree with President Bush and David Brooks on approving the sale to the U.A.E. of the P&O company that manages several American ports. Port security is the responsibility of the US government, not the company that runs the ports. Of course, the government has done almost nothing to increase port security, but that's not the U.A.E.'s fault.

In addition, about 20 years ago at the American Embassy in Brasilia, Brazil, I worked with the woman who chairs Treasury's CFIUS committee that approved the sale, Gay Sills. (At that time, while she was married to Bill Hoar, her name was Gay Hoar, a tough moniker, which she carried with aplomb.) I have confidence in her, and think that she would have vetted the sale thoroughly. Of course, she may have based the committee's approval on certain, existing criteria which were met, and the Congress may add extra criteria now. But those new criteria will probably be based on some xenophobic, anti-Arab, racist standard, rather than on an analysis of true security threats, which will be bad for our image in the Middle East, as David Brooks points out.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Bushies Love Torture

The Christian Science Monitor reports that the Navy's general counsel warned against allowing torture. There are responsible voices crying in the wilderness. Good for him!

The draft-dodging Bushies don't understand that refraining from torturing detainees is a protection for American troops. The deal used to be, "If you don't torture my troops, I won't torture your troops." But Bush says he doesn't care if American troops get tortured. He says, "Bring it on. Out troops can take all the torture you can dish out. Cheney and I, of course, won't expose ourselves to the risk of torture, but our mercenaries can take it for us."

More on Politicization of State Department

The Washington Post reports further on the politicization of the State Department's nonproliferation activities. Every administration pushes its own political people into the State Department, but not often into mid-level policy positions dealing with life and death issues. Usually the senior people rely on career staff to at least present them with a range of options, from which they can choose the options in keeping with that administration's policies. But the Bushies are replacing the mid-level staff, which means that they only get options already scrubbed to reflect only the administration's viewpoint. When the future of the world is at stake, this is not a good idea.

It shows that while Condi Rice has been getting favorable reviews from the liberal press as an enlightened leader of the State Department, she is continuing many of the close-minded, right-wing policies she oversaw at the White House.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Split on Bush Presidency to Last 1,000 Years?

Gibbon's discussion of the divisions among historians about the legacy of Constantine makes you wonder whether the current divisions over Bush's legacy will also endure a thousand years. In the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Chapter 18), Gibbon says:

The character of the prince [Constantine] who removed the seat of empire, and introduced such important changes into the civil and religious constitution of his country, has fixed the attention, and divided the opinions of mankind. By the grateful zeal of the Christians the deliverer of the church has been decorated with every attribute of a hero, and even of a saint; while the discontent of the vanquished party has compared Constantine to the most abhorred of those tyrants who, by their vice and weakness, dishonoured the Imperial purple. The same passions have, in some degree, been perpetuated to succeeding generations, and the character of Constantine is considered, even in the present age, as an object of satire or of panegyric.

So both Constantine and Bush are viewed positively by Christians. In Bush's case, make that by evangelical or fundamentalist Christians. Gibbon ends this chapter on the successors to Constantine with the following passage:
The most innocent subjects of the West were exposed to exile and confiscation, to death and torture; and as the timid are always cruel, the mind of Constantius was inaccessible to mercy.
This passage sums up what I think is wrong with the Bush administration: "the timid are always cruel." We have torture, Guantanamo, and Abu Ghraib because the Bushies are cowards. Bush and Cheney both avoided service in Vietnam -- Bush by hiding out in the National Guard. Then, he had the effrontery to call up the National Guard -- his hidey-hole -- to bear much of the fighting in Iraq. As President and Vice President, when the US was attacked on 9/11, Bush disappeared into Louisiana and Nebraska on Air Force One, while Cheney disappeared into the bowels of the earth in his famous undisclosed location. A courageous man would have immediately appeared on national television to assure the national that he was in charge, would repel the invaders, and would care for the victims. Bush did this about three days later, when he was sure it was safe to come out. But he and Cheney are still afraid, hence their resort to torture, and their refusal to comply with international or domestic law where they fear physical threats, such as their illegal use of NSA to intercept domestic calls.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Gibbon on Use of Torture in the Roman Empire

Gibbon relates in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire how the use of torture increased as Roman liberty decreased. Some other parallels to today's United States are noted in my Colorado Confederate blog. About torture in the time of Constantine (Chapter 17), Gibbon says:

The annals of tyranny, from the reign of Tiberius to that of Domitian, circumstantially relate the executions of many innocent victims; but, as long as the faintest remembrance was kept alive of the national freedom and honour, the last hours of a Roman were secure from the danger of ignominious torture. The conduct of the provincial magistrates was not, however, regulated by the practice of the city, or the strict maxims of the civilians.... The acquiescence of the provincials [in Guantanamo?] encouraged their governors to acquire, or perhaps to usurp, a discretionary power of employing the rack, to extort from vagrants or plebeian criminals the confession of their guilt, till they insensibly proceeded to confound the distinctions of rank, and to disregard the privileges of Roman citizens.... But a fatal maxim was introduced into the new jurisprudence of the empire, that in the case of treason [terror], which included every offence that the subtlety of lawyers could derive from an hostile intention towards the prince or republic, all privileges were suspended, and all conditions were reduced to the same ignominious level.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Afghanistan Heads South

An Economist magazine editorial laments the fact that the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating. With all the concern about Iraq, and the general consensus that the war in Afghanistan was much more justified than the war in Iraq, the news that Afghanistan is following Iraq down the tubes is discouraging.

Bad Intelligence on Iraq

It has become so accepted that the Bush administration lied about the intelligence to get us into war in Iraq that one forgets how reprehensible it was. Thousands of people have died because of this decision: 2,000 plus American soldiers, but untold (because the administration won't tell) numbers of Iraqi military and civilians, as well -- probably in the high tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands.

A new article in Foreign Affairs documents the Administration's misuse of intelligence. One must ask, however, if the author was the NIO for the Middle East, why did he stay in his job? Since he did stay in his job during the period when intelligence was being misused, he undercuts his integrity to protest today. That doesn't mean that the facts he reports should be ignored.

The LA Times reports on a new British book that similarly claims that the US and Britain doubted the strength of the information with which they justified their invasion of Iraq.

While there may be some legal questions about whether Bush violated any law, particularly since any relevant law would probably have been international and not domestic, this purposeful misleading of the American people seems like it should be an impeachable offense.

The Foreign Affairs summary of its article is as follows:

Summary: During the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, writes the intelligence community's former senior analyst for the Middle East, the Bush administration disregarded the community's expertise, politicized the intelligence process, and selected unrepresentative raw intelligence to make its public case.

Friday, February 10, 2006

State Dept Dumps Career Weapons Experts

Knight Ridder reports that the State Department is dumping or passing over career Foreign Service and Civil Service weapons experts to hire or promote outsiders who are loyal to the Bush Administration. It appears that at least some of the problems are left over from (now UN Ambassador) John Bolton's reign over arms control policy at State. One of Condi Rice's best moves was to get him out of the State building, but apparently he left some problems behind for a "realist" foreign policy.

Actually, such personnel shake-ups are not unusual. I left the Foreign Service partly because Clinton and Gore wanted to shrink the government payroll any way they could, and pressured people like me, working on non-proliferation issues, to leave. (Remember those good old days when the President actually worried about how much money the government was spending.) Another reason I left was that the Republicans in Congress were blocking US implementation of its nuclear agreement with North Korea through KEDO. My job as the senior diplomatic working on scientific issues at the American Embassy in Rome turned out to require a lot of time begging Italy and other European countries to donate money to makeup for American shortfalls in funding KEDO because Republicans in Congress didn't like it. I thought the US should live up to its treaty obligations.

Also, the personnel issues are not unusual. When I worked for then-Assistant Secretary Richard Clarke (of 9/11 fame) in State's old Politico-Military bureau during the Bush I administration, I got promoted while I was assigned there, based on my performance in my previous job in Brasilia, Brazil. Clarke did not want me to have a supervisory position in his bureau, although my new rank required it. To Clarke's credit, his opposition was not political. He wanted someone who was a more aggressive bureaucratic infighter than I was. Nevertheless, he finally agreed (grudgingly) to allow me to hold a supervisory position on missile proliferation matters.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Data Mining after NSA Phone Surveillance?

This Christian Science Monitor story on data mining outlines the latest threat to individual privacy from the government, following the furor over NSA's monitoring of telephone calls. Of course, this is only what the government is doing. Corporations are already deep into data mining, mainly to figure out what we like and how to sell us stuff, but it could get more nefarious.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

No War on Terror

A war means millions of people in uniform from one country fighting millions of others in uniform from another country. The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were carried out by about 20 people, and even if one counts all the people trained with them in Afghanistan under Osama bin Laden, there are only a few thousand more. There are, of course, wars going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the US invaded with thousands of uniformed troops, and where troops in uniform continue to fight.

Although the attack on the WTC and Pentagon was not the beginning of a war on terror, the Bush administration used it as a basis for starting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Cynically, they decided that going to war was the way to get re-elected, that the American people would not throw out a president who was leading a war. But it wasn’t a war. 9/11 was a terrorist attack by a handful of people from various countries that was wildly successful beyond their expectations. The lack of attacks on the US is not due to great defense by the Bush administration but rather to the lack of military force on the enemy’s side. Bush showed his true colors by failing to prevent the 9/11 attack not by “preventing” subsequent attacks, which would likely not have occurred in any case.

The American invasion of Iraq was not to rid the Middle East of weapons of mass destruction or to bring democracy to Iraq, but rather to get George W. Bush re-elected. If he had not invaded Iraq, he would not have had much of a “war” on terrorism. Iraq made it a real war, not a fake war, albeit not a war on terrorism.