Thursday, March 30, 2006

Supreme Court Hears Vienna Convention Case

According to the New York Times, yesterday the US Supreme Court heard arguments in a case involving the Vienna Convention, which grants access by home country consular officials to people arrested in a foreign country. When I was a US consular officer in Brazil, I considered this the best guarantee against mistreatment, even possible torture, of arrested American citizens.

The virtue of this convention for Americans is not so much what it does for foreigners in the US, but the protections it affords Americans overseas. Similarly, the virtue of the Geneva Conventions is not so much the restrictions against torture that it places on American soldiers (although why the American government should embrace torture is beyond me), but rather that adhering to the Convention is a protection against torture for American soldiers captured by foreigners.

The report in the Times indicates that the Supreme Court may not find that any enforceable rights are created in US courts by the Vienna Convention, but the very idea that the issue made it to the Supreme Court, and that the Court may encourage local police and defense lawyers to notify the appropriate consuls is progress.

From the Supreme Court calendar, these cases, one from Oregon and one from Virginia, appear to be Sanchez-Llamas v. Oregon and Bustillo v. Johnson. A more legalistic report of the case is on the Northwestern University web site.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Problems with Non-American American Diplomats

American Ambassador to Iraq Khalilzad wins high praise for his work in trying to bring a stable government to Iraq and end the religious strife (or civil war, depending on your viewpoint) there. As an American from a family that has been in America for several generations, I always thought that the US should give some sort of favoritism to native-born Americans, because immigrants or first generation Americans often have an advantage in that they know the language and culture of their country of origin well, which is important. But it is also important to know the US well. I worry that intimate knowledge of the US is something that is does not show up as well in testing as language proficiency does. In addition, most immigrants left their home countries for some reason, which means that they do not share some important values with the citizens of their home country who did not leave. This was often on view during the Cold War, when many of the most virulently anti-Russian policymakers were of Russian extraction.

Born in Afghanistan, Khalilzad is, according to Juan Cole (who was just on PBS), "an Afghan Pushtun of Sunni extraction." I think that because of this, he may be viewed with suspicion by Shiite Muslims, who are the leaders in forming a new government in Iraq. In looking for confirmation that Khalilzad is of Sunni extraction, I found a somewhat questionable website says that Khalilzad's wife, Cheryl Benard, is an Austrian who works for the Rand Corporation, whom he met at the University of Chicago while they were studying under leading neo-con Albert Wohlstetter.

The fact that Khalilzad was born a Sunni Muslim, but that one of the main influences on his thinking was Wohlstetter, a Jew at Chicago who influenced many of the Jewish neo-cons, including Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, has got to be confusing. Maybe it shows religion doesn't matter. Or maybe it shows that there is nobody as radical as a convert to a new religion (or a new political philosophy).

Israeli Election Implications for AIPAC

It will be interesting to see what effect yesterday's Israel elections have on American politicians' good buddies in AIPAC. According to CNN and other sources, Likud under Netanyahu did poorly. However, Likud has been the party of ethnic hatred and warfare (mainly against the Palestinians, but also against Arabs and Muslims in general) that has endeared itself to AIPAC, to many American Jews, and through AIPAC (with help from some Christian Armageddon theorists) to American politicians (Republican and Democratic). Will they become more dovish if Israel becomes more dovish? Or will the US, which started a holy war in Iraq, continue to implement Likud's policies after they have been rejected by Israel?

Monday, March 27, 2006

US-India Deal Encounters Problems with NSG

The Financial Times reports that the US-India nuclear deal has encountered problems being approved by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). The NSG was largely a creation of the US to enforce non-proliferation export controls by developed countries. We have over the years been the main country pressing for stricter controls. Now we want looser controls, and the rest of the developed world says, "Hey, wait a minute."

US policy on non-proliferation has turned 180 degrees. But the US is likely to get what it wants eventually, because most other countries have been more interested in selling than in controlling nuclear equipment and technology. For them the NSG was sort of a fig leaf that let them say, "We looked at the proliferation impact of this sale, and it's okay; so, the sale is going forward." For the US, the NSG was a way to keep potentially dangerous sales to a minimum, by actually blocking some sales. Now the US is leading the pack, saying, "Let's sell." The others, particularly nuclear vendors like the French and the Germans, for example, will probably quickly join us. Some smaller countries that truly worry about proliferation, perhaps Sweden and Switzerland, may drag their feet. It will probably mean the end of the NSG as an effective deterrent to proliferation. Every time another country wants to make a sale that we don't like, they'll say, "What about your deal with India?" And the sale will go forward.

One of the first tests may well be Russian sales of nuclear equipment to Iran.

When I was Science Counselor at the American Embassy in Warsaw, Poland, I worked with Polish Ambassador Strulak, who was Poland's main NSG expert, on NSG issues.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

More on Israeli Lobby Article

The Christian Science Monitor has an update on Israeli response to the previously mentioned article on the amazing influence of the Israeli Lobby on US foreign policy. It says that while most Israeli and American Jewish commentators have condemned it, some have said that it is a wake-up call that requires discussion.

The Wall Street Journal has had two editorials condemning the article. Interestingly, the article names the WSJ as a newspaper strongly favorable to Israel, which the second editorial, "The Israel Conspiracy" in today's edition, confirms. The earlier op-ed, "Israel Lobby" by Ruth Wisse, a professor of Yiddish literature at Harvard, appeared in the March 22 edition. She implies that the authors are anti-Semitic. She says that a comparison of their article with an 1879 German one "might highlight some American refinements on the European model, such as the anti-Semitic lie that 'Israeli citizenship is based on the principle of blood kinship.' In fact, unlike neighboring Arab countries, Israeli citizenship is not conditional on religion or race." She concludes, "Their insistence that American support for Israel is bought and paid for by the Lobby heaps scorn on American judgment and values."

Today's editorial by Bret Stephens says:

The authors are at pains to note that the Israel Lobby is by no means exclusively Jewish, and that not every American Jew is a part of it. Fair enough. But has there ever been an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that does not share its basic features? Dual loyalty, disloyalty, manipulation of the media, financial manipulation of the political system, duping the goyim (gentiles) and getting them to fight their wars, sponsoring and covering up acts of gratuitous cruelty against an innocent people -- every canard ever alleged of the Jews is here made about the Israel Lobby and its cause.
Both editorials condemn the article by noting that ex-Ku Klux Klansman David Duke has praised it, thus implying guilt by association.

These editorials demonstrate that you cannot criticize Israel or the Israel Lobby without being branded as "anti-Semitic." What if this issue is not about race, but about genuine political and foreign policy matters? The "anti-Semitic" sobriquet is in today's world equivalent to Senator McCarthy's "communist" name-calling in his day.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Mid-East Policy in Shambles

I want to give kudos to Mid-East special envoy (or whatever he is) James Wolfensohn. He has been a voice in the wilderness calling for something to be done about the Palestinian situation, as reported by the Washington Post. Administration officials seem to be immobilized by the election of Hamas and Ariel Sharon's incapacitation. But the Iraq invasion was supposed (in retrospect, after WMD failed to show) to be about bringing peace to the Middle East through the creation of democratic institutions. As Wolfensohn has pointed out, things are in danger of spinning out of control, into chaos if not into greater armed conflict.

I have not been a fan of Wolfensohn. I thought his appointment was bad because he was Jewish and would be too favorable to Israel to do his job. But he has turned out to be a friend of the Palestinians in this crisis, and I congratulate him for it. He probably thinks that ultimately Israel will benefit if a peaceful solution can be found, but that's fine, and I compliment him for that, too.

Orange Revolution Fading in Ukraine

After the euphoria of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine last year, the country appears on the verge of returning to its old eastward-looking, Russian policies. As the BBC reports, upcoming elections seem likely to return the russophiles to power.

American news networks don't seem interested, and neither does the American government. It doesn't need any more bad news on top of the bad news from Iraq. Condi Rice is supposed to be a Russian specialist; where is she? Meanwhile, the elections in Belarus seem to have maintained in power the party that favors Russia. And, Putin and Hu sign a big energy deal. In the old cold war days, a Russian-Chinese alliance would have worried everybody in the West. Things have changed, but have they changed enough so that we don't have to worry about this? There are rumors that the US is preparing to somehow support Taiwanese claims of independence. What if Russia, with all its old, cold-war nuclear missiles, sides with China in such a dispute?

Does America Put Israel's Interests Above Its Own?

The Christian Science Monitor and others have called attention to a new study by two professors arguing that due to the influence of the Israeli lobby in the United States, America puts Israel's interests ahead of its own.

This encourages me to think that I'm not paranoid and not anti-Semitic. There really is something to worry about. This comes on the heels of the criminal investigation of spying activities by AIPAC. The AIPAC scandal involves Iran, and it's well known that Israel wants the US to be tough on Iran.

For the record, here is the full text of the article on the Harvard web site.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

What will Sen. Saxby Chambliss Do to Tammy Duckworth?

I have still not recovered from what Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss did to former Democratic Senator Max Cleland. Chambliss called Cleland, a triple amputee Vietnam veteran, soft on defense because he opposed certain portions of the homeland defense bill (which has turned out to be a mess).

Tammy Duckworth, who is running for a House seat as a Democrat in Illinois, is a double amputee, wounded in Iraq, just the sort of person Chambliss hates. I don't know why Georgians would elect a Senator who hates people wounded while fighting for America, but Chambliss fits the bill. I don't know why Republicans would give him, a man who despises military veterans, a position having anything to do with defense, but they made him a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, a sign of why things are going so badly in Iraq.

There is no mention in Chambliss' Senate biography that he ever served in the military, although he was the right age to have been drafted at the peak of the Vietnam war, graduating from college in 1966 and completing law school in 1968. I graduated from college in 1967 and was drafted after my first year of law school (at the University of Georgia) in 1968. How did Chambliss avoid the same fate?

I hope Tammy Duckworth gets elected and one day kicks Chambliss in the rear end with one of her prosthetic feet. She is probably too nice to do that, but Chambliss deserves it for what he did to Cleland.

Friday, March 10, 2006

What about the Ships?

Everybody in Congress is happy because Dubai has ceased trying to manage US ports, as reported by the Washington Post, for example.

But what about the ships that dock in the US ports, now to be managed by an American entity? Most of the ships plying the oceans fly flags of convenience. They are registered in foreign countries and thus are under the jurisdiction of some of the world's most unreliable countries, Liberia, for example. They do this to escape the regulation of more advanced, civilized countries.

So what's the point of making sure the managers of American ports are American, when almost all of the ships are foreign, and are regulated by some of the most lenient, undiscriminating countries in the world? They are flagged in these countries, because of more lenient regulation, just as most large American companies incorporate in Delaware, because it is more "friendly."

The bottom line is that the Dubai/P&O port management fiasco, is just that. The US will be no safer, because Congress is not really serious about making ports safer, by for example, inspecting more containers arriving on these unregulated, foreign flagged ships.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Brazil Ready to Start Uranium Enrichment

The Mercury News reports a Knight Ridder story that Brazil is about to start up its own uranium enrichment plant, probably putting it ahead of Iran in this technology. Having spent two years, twenty years ago, trying to discourage Brazil from doing this, I am somewhat disappointed. The good news is that Brazil, unlike Iran, is cooperating closely with the IAEA. Then, there are the lessons we could learn from Brazil's nuclear program.

For me, it's that you have to be a reliable supplier and work closely with countries that have nuclear reactors. I've described it earlier, but Brazil had no intention of developing the full nuclear fuel cycle when it purchased its first nuclear reactor from Westinghouse in the US in the 1970s, mainly as a hedge against the oil shortages gripping the world then. Just as the reactor was about to go on line, the US refused to sell fuel for it, as the Arabs were refusing to sell oil then. Senator John Glenn passed a law requiring "full scope safeguards" (equivalent to NPT membership) on all nuclear activities in a country before the US could sell nuclear fuel to it. Brazil said this was changing the terms of the agreement after the agreement had already been concluded and after Brazil had spent about a billion dollars on its reactor. Brazil got so mad that it has spent the last 30 years developing a fuel cycle, so that its nuclear reactor supplied power will not be subject to the whims of the US and its allies.

Beating people (like Iran and North Korea) about the head and shoulders is likely to be counterproductive, as it was in Brazil, unless we are willing to back up our demands with military force, as we did in Iraq. The poor planning and execution in Iraq, however, may have taught protential proliferators a lesson that to counter US pressure you need to develop a bomb. This may be the lesson of Bush's current trip to India, which seems to have gotten a "get out of jail free" card from Bush after developing nuclear weapons. See this briefing on how Clinton viewed the Glenn amendment for his trip to India.

Another project that Brazil started during the 1970s oil crisis, developing ethanol automobile fuel from sugar cane, has also been successful, putting Brazil far ahead of the US in this technology, which Bush just recently indentified as important (30 years after Brazil).