Thursday, October 13, 2011

Another Congressional Letter

I hope that you saw "Morning Joe" this morning on MSNBC. In case you did not, here is a link:

They discussed Warren Buffett's release of his income tax. It shows he is correct that rich people who make most of their money from investments pay a lower percentage of their income in taxes than much poorer working people do. This country clearly hates people who work for a living, just like it claims to love veterans, but then won't give them a job when they come home from Iraq or Afghanistan. As a Vietnam veteran, I know that anybody who fights for this country for any but the most patriotic reasons is a fool. This country will kiss you on the lips while the TV cameras are on, and then stab you in the back when they go off. No one representing me in Congress is a veteran. When Senator John Kerry ran for President, George W. Bush's huge political apparatus "Swift Boat Veterans" reviled him (and every other Vietnam veteran) because Kerry was a veteran, Bush was not a real veteran. He spent the war getting drunk and becoming an alcoholic in the Alabama National Guard. Then after 9/11 he sent many National Guard troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, despite the fact that the National Guard has been his refuge from combat.

The best part of the "Morning Joe" clip above is the presentation by former Obama automotive czar Steve Rattner, which shows how badly income in the US has skewed toward the rich in the last few years. This is a corrupt government. Democrats and Republicans have betrayed the American people, by selling themselves to the wealthiest one percent. I have not joined the Occupy Wall Street protesters, but I am mad, too. This is a failed government run by cowardly, incompetent or evil people. The corrupt characters in HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" would be right at home in today's Washington.

On veterans again, I am very disappointed that the Army's Walter Reed Hospital has been closed and wounded Army soldiers transferred to Bethesda Naval Hospital. People like you don't understand that the Army and Navy are different. Or you probably don't care. But the Army and Navy have different cultures and traditions. It is truly insensitive to take someone who has spent five or ten years in the Army, and then when he gets badly wounded, to add to his problems by putting him in a Navy environment. No wonder so many of our troops have mental problems. But you don't care; you saved some millionaire ten dollars on his taxes.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Killing American Citizens

The US should only kill an American citizen when he poses an immediate threat of deadly harm and there is no other way to stop him.  I am not sure that these conditions were met in the recent assassinations of American citizens Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan.

According to the press, Awlaki encouraged other Americans to kill their fellow citizens and to oppose the US government, but it's not clear that he personally killed any Americans, or anybody else, for that matter.  He was more an accessory to murder than a murderer.  Secondly, its not clear that there was no other way to stop him than to kill him by remote control drone.  That may have been the easiest way to kill him, but not the only way.

I think there should at least have been an effort to take him prisoner and return him to the US.  I also think we should have tried to capture and return Osama bin Laden.  The problem is that the US legal system is unable to deal with terrorists, because Americans are so afraid of them.  Guantanamo should have been closed years ago, but Americans are afraid of the men there.  There was some talk of a terrorist trial in Kentucky, and Sen. Mitch McConnell almost had a fit he was so scared.  This is a man who refused to fight in Vietnam, and got his patron, Sen. John Sherman Cooper, to help get him out of military service during the war, although officially he got a medical discharge.

These legal niceties are what our troops are supposed to be fighting to protect, but we are afraid to apply them.  In many ways Osama bin Laden won,  because people like Barak Obama and Mitch McConnell are afraid to stand up for them.  Of course, the real cowards were George W. Bush, who spent the Vietnam War becoming a drunkard in the Alabama National Guard, and Dick Cheney, who avoided service by churning out babies.    These are men who liked running the country, but had no concept of what it was to serve the country.  They were missing in action on 9/11.  Bush flew away to Nebraska or somewhere, and Cheney retreated to a spider hole under the White House.

Monday, October 10, 2011

State Slouches Toward Failure in Iraq

Recent articles in the NYT and WP paint a pretty discouraging picture of the State Department's future role in Iraq.  A serving Foreign Service officer has written a book about what a failure State's past activities have been, "We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People."  He also published an op-ed in the NYT, which says, "Iraq is still plagued by corruption, sectarianism and violence. And ... I don’t have much faith that the department can turn things around." 

Meanwhile, the WP reported on the huge undertaking that the State Department is committing itself to by taking over in Iraq where the military is leaving off.  After downsizing from hundreds of thousands of US military troops, about 50,000 remain in Iraq.  Their functions will supposedly soon be taken on by the State Department Foreign Service.  According to Wikipedia, there are about 15,000 Foreign Service officers total, staffing over 200 American embassies and consulates, as well as the State Department in Washington.  Thus, the only way the State Department can even hope to cope with this mess is by hiring tens of thousands of contractors.  The idea that State can manage tens of thousands of contractors, when according to the book mentioned above, it can't even manage the small scale programs it was running with its own officers , is ludicrous.  Hillary Clinton is being the good soldier by taking on the mess left behind by the military, but it is bound to impact negatively on what in other countries is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  State's expertise is political and economic analysis, not program management.  The military managed not to lose in Iraq (at least not yet), but it is leaving a mess.  The op-ed above says:
When my team tried to give away fruit tree seedlings to replant ruined orchards, a farmer spat on the ground and said, “You killed my son and now you are giving me a tree?”       
One Iraqi I met observed that the United States had sponsored expensive art shows in his neighborhood three years in a row, but did nothing about the lack of functioning sewers, electricity and running water. “It is like I am standing naked in a room with a big hat on my head,” he told me. “Everyone comes in and puts ribbons on my hat, but no one seems to notice that I am naked.”      
The WP compares the Iraq undertaking to the Marshall Plan, but after World War II, the US had clearly won.  There was little danger of Americans being assassinated in Paris.  The French and other Western Europeans still had competent bureaucrats to administer the American aid.  Before the war, Western Europe had been more or less on a par with the US politically and economically.  They shared similar cultures.  None of that is true in Iraq. 

It's possible that nobody really expects this to work.  Maybe it's just a cover for the US to pull its military out of Iraq.  But State will be left with egg on its face.  And Iraq will still be a mess. 

I don't think the US is serious about helping Iraq, especially when I look back at my experience in Poland after the fall of Communism.  Newt Gingrich and the Republicans, with the cooperation of Bill Clinton and company, basically told the Poles, "You're on your own, unless there is some money-making deal we can line up an American company to get in on."  Poland came out okay, but I think it's because the EU became Poland's Marshall Plan.  America basically dumped Poland, but Western Europe came through.  Maybe Turkey or China (or Iran) will come through for the Iraqis.