Thursday, November 30, 2006

Civil-Military Relations - The Meltdown

Check out Part of the Plan, where our intrepid blogger links to a short, very useful article in the May/June journal, Foreign Affairs, that provides an excellent recent historical overview of civil-military relations in the United States. Thankfully, it does not let our military leaders off the hook, completely. It explains the post-Vietnam truce, and how that relationship eroded under President Clinton, and then disintegrated under the Rumsfeld/Cheney/Bush cabal -- and finally explains, satisfactorily in my mind, how it is that Mr. Paul Wolfowitz could have possibly out-maneuvered Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki, and prevail in sending us so ill-prepared into the morass that has become Iraq. Really, it's well worth any one's 10 minutes, I promise, here.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The anticipated "October surprise?"

I've been waiting for something, to which I've become accustomed, to occur in October that would serve as a catalyst to energize the Republicans' rural base. And lo and behold, today's New York Times blares, "G.O.P. Moves Fast to Reignite Issue of Gay Marriage " (based on the N.J. Supreme Court ruling today that gays are people too.)

No surprises here, but with a raging, failing war in Iraq, public corruption at unprecedented levels, a ballooning debt completely out of control, Republican hubris and arrogance that defy believability, and a public that seems to be screaming out for reasons to tune all of this out so that they can vote for the corrupt party that the self-appointed evangelical leadership have told them is the right one to choose according to God, with a blindly clear conscience -- I still find it surreal. It appears that the star in the heavens that guides Karl Rove and his immoral political strategy (and ultimately points to the depths of hell, as he'll discover someday), has shown in the night sky brightly once again. I hope I'm wrong but I fear I'm not. I don't know if it is time to throw in the towel yet or not, but I'm furious, and damn close to doing just that.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Army, Services, meet 2006 recruiting goals

How is it that the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force had all met their respective 2006 recruiting goals, after a disappointing 2005. In the midst of a very unpopular war, which the majority of Americans oppose, and nightly images on the news of still more young American women and men dying in a war about which the president has finally agreed needs some tweaking in "tactics", how is it possible that recruiting of volunteers to possibly make the ultimate sacrifice, is not more difficult than it is? Add to this the facts that we now enjoy low unemployment and a relatively strong economy, on the surface at least, and comprehending this becomes even more difficult.

I have nothing but respect for the organization. It afforded me educational, training and leadership opportunities that would have been otherwise completely outside of my reach. Despite the very serious scandals involving torture and other alleged unforgivable acts, I still believe that the crux of the culture within our military rests on honestly, morality, discipline and selflessness. Still, in this day and age, under the current leadership at the top levels, I could not with a clear conscience advise or recommend to anyone I know and care for that they embark on a military career, or even a term in service, though I know that under normal circumstances, that avenue can open many opportunities that might not otherwise be available to some of them.

This week's Army Times is a reminder of the explanation for meeting the recruiting numbers goal is the result of lowering the standards for enlistment. It also reviews the arguments over why doing so is such a bad (and dangerous) idea on many levels, most of which I've already commented on here, but are worth refreshing. I won't detail them here yet again, and hence repeat myself, but if you have a few minutes, the article, linked above, is worth that short time. Lowering those standards for enlistment is unfair to the enlistees themselves, the troops with whom they'll serve, the commanders in the field, the parents and friends of all those just mentioned, and the Armed Services and their legacies as well.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Say what?

This article is the first official honest statement I've seen issued from our government in six years, and my reaction was shock. How sad that, as a patriot who genuinely loves my country, I should feel and react this way to something that was once just taken for granted. Yes, there's always been spin and selective interpretation offered by our governments that required a healthy dose of skepticism, but six years of a steady stream of continuous and obvious lies has made credulity an unexpected reaction.

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - A senior U.S. diplomat said the United States had shown "arrogance" and "stupidity" in Iraq but was now ready to talk with any group except Al-Qaida in Iraq to facilitate national reconciliation.

Alberto Fernandez, director of public diplomacy in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the State Department offered an unusually candid assessment of America's war in Iraq.

"We tried to do our best but I think there is much room for criticism because, undoubtedly, there was arrogance and there was stupidity from the United States in Iraq," he said.

"We are open to dialogue because we all know that, at the end of the day, the solution to the hell and the killings in Iraq is linked to an effective Iraqi national reconciliation," he said, speaking in Arabic from Washington. "The Iraqi government is convinced of this."

Whether or not you agree with the substance of the statement is not the issue and is subject to legitimate debate, but it is a reasonable and honest assessment, for a change.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The pro-torture act

President Bush signed the legalize torture act today, effectively ending the expectation that we expect adversaries to treat our POWs with certain humane rules that has been our practice for a very long time, and thus, our ability to hold those who violate these norms responsible and accountable. What's remarkable, is the spin and equivocation and manipulation he used to describe the new law, and why it's necessary. The official pronouncements of our government, and the art of disingenousness now on display, makes Orwell's writing look amatuerish.

I can't remember when I've been more disillusioned and disgusted with the whole political process than I have over the past six years. And it just gets worse. If the stakes weren't so high, I'd do my best to just tune it out, but that's not an option.

President Bush Signs Military Commissions Act of 2006 The East Room
President's Remarks

Fact Sheet: The Military Commissions Act of 2006
9:35 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Welcome to the White House on an historic day. It is a rare occasion when a President can sign a bill he knows will save American lives. I have that privilege this morning.
The Military Commissions Act of 2006 is one of the most important pieces of legislation in the war on terror. This bill will allow the Central Intelligence Agency to continue its program for questioning key terrorist leaders and operatives like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the man believed to be the mastermind of the September the 11th, 2001 attacks on our country. This program has been one of the most successful intelligence efforts in American history. It has helped prevent attacks on our country. And the bill I sign today will ensure that we can continue using this vital tool to protect the American people for years to come. The Military Commissions Act will also allow us to prosecute captured terrorists for war crimes through a full and fair trial.
Last month, on the fifth anniversary of 9/11, I stood with Americans who lost family members in New York and Washington and Pennsylvania. I listened to their stories of loved ones they still miss. I told them America would never forget their loss. Today I can tell them something else: With the bill I'm about to sign, the men our intelligence officials believe orchestrated the murder of nearly 3,000 innocent people will face justice.

I want to thank the Vice President for joining me today. Mr. Vice President, appreciate you. Secretary Don Rumsfeld, I appreciate your service to our country. I want to thank Attorney General Al Gonzales; General Mike Hayden, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency; General Pete Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

I appreciate very much Senator John Warner, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Congressman Duncan Hunter, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, for joining us today. I want to thank both of these men for their leadership. I appreciate Senator Lindsey Graham, from South Carolina, joining us; Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee; Congressman Steve Buyer, of Indiana; Congressman Chris Cannon, of Utah. Thank you all for coming.

The bill I sign today helps secure this country, and it sends a clear message: This nation is patient and decent and fair, and we will never back down from the threats to our freedom.
One of the terrorists believed to have planned the 9/11 attacks said he hoped the attacks would be the beginning of the end of America. He didn't get his wish. We are as determined today as we were on the morning of September the 12th, 2001. We'll meet our obligation to protect our people, and no matter how long it takes, justice will be done.

When I proposed this legislation, I explained that I would have one test for the bill Congress produced: Will it allow the CIA program to continue? This bill meets that test. It allows for the clarity our intelligence professionals need to continue questioning terrorists and saving lives. This bill provides legal protections that ensure our military and intelligence personnel will not have to fear lawsuits filed by terrorists simply for doing their jobs.

This bill spells out specific, recognizable offenses that would be considered crimes in the handling of detainees so that our men and women who question captured terrorists can perform their duties to the fullest extent of the law. And this bill complies with both the spirit and the letter of our international obligations. As I've said before, the United States does not torture. It's against our laws and it's against our values.

By allowing the CIA program to go forward, this bill is preserving a tool that has saved American lives. The CIA program helped us gain vital intelligence from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh, two of the men believed to have helped plan and facilitate the 9/11 attacks. The CIA program helped break up a cell of 17 southeastern Asian terrorist operatives who were being groomed for attacks inside the United States. The CIA program helped us uncover key operatives in al Qaeda's biological weapons program, including a cell developing anthrax to be used in terrorist attacks.

The CIA program helped us identify terrorists who were sent to case targets inside the United States, including financial buildings in major cities on the East Coast. And the CIA program helped us stop the planned strike on U.S. Marines in Djibouti, a planned attack on the U.S. consulate in Karachi, and a plot to hijack airplanes and fly them into Heathrow Airport and Canary Wharf in London.

Altogether, information from terrorists in CIA custody has played a role in the capture or questioning of nearly every senior al Qaeda member or associate detained by the United States and its allies since this program began. Put simply, this program has been one of the most vital tools in our war against the terrorists. It's been invaluable both to America and our allies. Were it not for this program, our intelligence community believes that al Qaeda and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland. By allowing our intelligence professionals to continue this vital program, this bill will save American lives. And I look forward to signing it into law.

The bill I'm about to sign also provides a way to deliver justice to the terrorists we have captured. In the months after 9/11, I authorized a system of military commissions to try foreign terrorists accused of war crimes. These commissions were similar to those used for trying enemy combatants in the Revolutionary War and the Civil War and World War II. Yet the legality of the system I established was challenged in the court, and the Supreme Court ruled that the military commissions needed to be explicitly authorized by the United States Congress.
And so I asked Congress for that authority, and they have provided it. With the Military Commission Act, the legislative and executive branches have agreed on a system that meets our national security needs. These military commissions will provide a fair trial, in which the accused are presumed innocent, have access to an attorney, and can hear all the evidence against them. These military commissions are lawful, they are fair, and they are necessary.

When I sign this bill into law, we will use these commissions to bring justice to the men believed to have planned the attacks of September the 11th, 2001. We'll also seek to prosecute those believed responsible for the attack on the USS Cole, which killed 17 American sailors six years ago last week. We will seek to prosecute an operative believed to have been involved in the bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed more than 200 innocent people and wounded 5,000 more. With our actions, we will send a clear message to those who kill Americans: We will find you and we will bring you to justice.

Over the past few months the debate over this bill has been heated, and the questions raised can seem complex. Yet, with the distance of history, the questions will be narrowed and few: Did this generation of Americans take the threat seriously, and did we do what it takes to defeat that threat? Every member of Congress who voted for this bill has helped our nation rise to the task that history has given us. Some voted to support this bill even when the majority of their party voted the other way. I thank the legislators who brought this bill to my desk for their conviction, for their vision, and for their resolve.

There is nothing we can do to bring back the men and women lost on September 11th, 2001. Yet we'll always honor their memory and we will never forget the way they were taken from us. This nation will call evil by its name. We will answer brutal murder with patient justice. Those who kill the innocent will be held to account.

With this bill, America reaffirms our determination to win the war on terror. The passage of time will not dull our memory or sap our nerve. We will fight this war with confidence and with clear purpose. We will protect our country and our people. We will work with our friends and allies across the world to defend our way of life. We will leave behind a freer, safer and more peaceful world for those who follow us.

And now, in memory of the victims of September the 11th, it is my honor to sign the Military Commissions Act of 2006 into law. (Applause.)
(The bill is signed.)
END 9:47 A.M. EDT

Thursday, March 9, 2006

Joy to the world

Don't worry, this isn't another sports post, but it does have a sporting tangent.

Last week I was lamenting the downfall of the Big Ten and pondering how cruel life can be. Today I enjoy the demise of Duke and Gonzaga and think how wonderful life is.

I grew up in a family that couldn't care less about sports. My parents still don't. But I remember the moment when I fell in love with sports - and a side benefit of sports.

I was playing football in with the neighborhood kids in someone's backyard. It was "touch football," but we were playing as though the definition of "touch" was not causing the other guy multiple fractures. The teams were split between the young guys - about 8 and 9 years old - and the old guys who might be 10 years old. The age difference accounted for quite a talent split, and my team was definitely on the short side of talent.

Still, we were determined to not let the big kids beat us and gave it our very best effort, despite being so outmanned. It came down to the end of the game and the football was floating toward the makeshift endzone between the two lawn chair markers. One big kid defender against two little kid receivers. I was one of those receivers and I couldn't catch anything but a cold.

So I did what any talentless, fat little punk would do - I ran into the big kid with everything I had, and as we both crashed to the ground, my fellow receiver caught the ball, safely between the lawn chairs, inside the endzone. Victory over the big kids! I felt like I'd won the Super Bowl.

Sure, the big kids complained that I committed pass interference, and the kid I knocked to the ground did end up pounding me, but we'd won and it felt great.

I forgot to mention - I suffered from stuttering and dyslexia. I was a non-athletic, chubby little kid who sounded funny, had a hard time reading and was a generally social outcast. I was always the last kid chosen for a team in gym class - even after the girls, and not to sound sexist, but as a little boy, that was real hard. I was only invited to play in the game that day because they needed me to round out the numbers for the "little kid" team. This was the first time I'd felt great about anything in months, and years later it still makes me smile and brings a feeling of satisfaction.

That is the beauty of sports, especially at tournament or playoff time. We can tune in to a game and spend time immersed in a sporting duel that will, ultimately, mean nothing when we wake up the next day. Life will go on regardless of the winning or losing status of our beloved teams. But the stress and junk we all deal with simply because we are living can be put on the backburner for a few hours. We can whoop and holler at the TV, radio, or even in the stadium or arena and burn off the anger, stress, embarrassment, or whatever is eating away at us.

You may ask, "Jay, what if I really hate sports? Is there any hope for me to whoop it up and holler?" Good news - yes. No matter how much you hate sports, spend a few minutes yelling at a referee next time you pass a basketball game on the TV or radio. You'll never go wrong with yelling at a referee, and you'll get to enjoy the stress-relief benefits of fandom.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

When truth hurts

While parts of the Middle East and other areas of the Muslim world erupt again, this time over the publication of political cartoons depicting the image of Mohammed, first in Scandinavia and then throughout other parts of Europe, we had our own mini-eruption last week, at least inside the beltway, over a political cartoon published in the Washington Post by my favorite political cartoonist, Tom Toles.

Admittedly, the comparison of the two events ends there. There are no demands here that the Washington Post be punished by our government, or that Toles be fired, rather, the issue is over the intent, content, and propriety of his January 29th cartoon. The caricature came in the immediate aftermath of a report, commissioned by the Pentagon and subsequently leaked to the press, that outlined the sustained damage being done to our Army as a result of the strains placed upon it because of the sustained deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Subsequently, a peeved and defensive Secretary Rumsfeld expressed his disagreement with the conclusions of the study, and rather, pointed out that these experiences had created a different Army; far from on the verge of losing its readiness, the wars had made this Army “battle hardened.”

Toles’ cartoon, linked here , criticizes Rumsfeld’s remarks, and generated a letter of protest from the Pentagon, signed by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the Vice Chairman, and each of the respective service chiefs, arguing that the depiction of a soldier with multiple amputated limbs, makes light of their tremendous personal sacrifice for their country, and was in effect beyond the pale.

I often re-post Tom Toles’ cartoons, because so often, as the proverb says, a picture speaks a thousand words. When I saw the cartoon last week, it made me wince, but the thought that it was disrespectful to seriously injured soldiers never entered my mind. Instead, it forced me to think about the thousands of amputees these wars have produced. In an article some days later in the same paper, unrelated to this controversy, the photo of a young man (maybe 21 years old) walking on his two new prosthetic legs and with his new prosthetic arm, receiving physical therapy at Walter Reed Medical Center, further drove home the reality of this tragedy.

Yesterday, the “letters to the editor” section of the Post dealt with the controversy, with equal numbers of letters deploring the cartoon, as those who supported its principles and message. Mr. Toles himself stated that he had no intention whatsoever of making light of the tremendous pain inflicted upon the soldiers, marines and their families, and one of the letters was from the Director of the Disabled American Veterans Association, also expressing his opinion that he saw nothing insulting or offensive about the sad truth portrayed in the cartoon.

I chose not to re-post that cartoon of Mr. Toles here, because it is quite disturbing, but I think its publication is important, and I linked to it in case you haven’t seen it and wish to judge for yourselves. I absolutely don’t doubt the genuine sincerity that the Joint Chiefs expressed in the unusual letter they sent to the Washington Post, but I don’t agree with their premise. A letter to the editor from yesterday’s paper, reprinted below, best sums up my sentiments. This is a link to all of the letters published yesterday in response to this debate, and they’re all interesting and make valid, intellectually sound arguments, whatever side of the issue they support.

I was a lowly sergeant in the Army, not a member of the Joint Chiefs, which is probably why I get the Tom Toles cartoon showing the Army as an amputee, with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld making the kind of dismissive commentary on military challenges for which he is infamous. The cartoon was tasteless, but it wasn't pointless.

This administration hides the coffins, the rehab wards and the force-readiness statistics to protect itself from criticism of its mismanagement. It would like Americans to be oblivious to the financial and human cost of war.
Whoever wrote the letter for the Joint Chiefs knew that the cartoon wasn't about wounded soldiers. It was about rear-echelon political hacks who dismiss the results of their foolish decisions, who never seem to learn from their mistakes and who don't seem to care that when they write a check, the infantry signs it in blood.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

One of a kind

Andrew Sullivan links to this AP article that discusses some of Bill Clinton's comments before the annual gathering of the world's movers and shakers in Davos, Switzerland, ostensibly because of the humorous retort Mr. Clinton came up with in response to a question concerning advice to future U.S. presidents. The quip is indeed funny, but I suspect that Mr. Sullivan points to the article more so because of the substantive clarity and sensibility of Clinton's remarks, though he won't come right out and say that because he so loathes Bill Clinton.

Mr. Clinton's speech doesn't really contain anything earth-shattering or particularly new, but when you read his comments on global warming, Iran, Hamas, globalization, etc., and then look at the recent approach by the United States, particularly rhetorically, on all of these issues, it becomes very clear how far away from the approach Mr. Clinton advocates we currently are, officially.

I'm an unabashed fan of Bill Clinton, obviously, though I don't agree with everything he says, nor do I pretend that his shortcomings are not as gargantuan as his amazing skills. But when you read an article like this one, which describes the rapt nature of the audience, hanging on his every word, it's difficult to imagine another American leader (or another international personality, for that matter) who has that kind of stature , even (and especially) among those who diametrically oppose much of what he stands for.

It is also a sort of reminder of how close November of 2008 really is, and of the undeniable fact that no one currently on the horizon from either of our two political parties even comes close to capturing the imagination, or being able to articulate a vision for the country and the world the way that President Clinton can.

We can all agree that hopefully, somehow, that will change over the course of the coming months...

Friday, February 10, 2006

The price is right

The former CIA official who coordinated U.S. intelligence on the Middle East until last year has accused the Bush administration of "cherry-picking" intelligence on Iraq to justify a decision it had already reached to go to war, and of ignoring warnings that the country could easily fall into violence and chaos after an invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

Paul R. Pillar, who was the national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005, acknowledges the U.S. intelligence agencies' mistakes in concluding that Hussein's government possessed weapons of mass destruction. But he said those misjudgments did not drive the administration's decision to invade.

"Official intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs was flawed, but even with its flaws, it was not what led to the war," Pillar wrote in the upcoming issue of the journal Foreign Affairs. Instead, he asserted, the administration "went to war without requesting -- and evidently without being influenced by -- any strategic-level intelligence assessments on any aspect of Iraq."
For an administration that refuses to accept responsibility or blame, increasing proportionately as you go up the chain, it seems (seemed) remarkable that shortly after the discovery that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the retired and some would say disgraced former head of the CIA, George Tenet, would receive the nation’s highest medal awarded to a civilian, the Medal of Freedom. Although President Bush spoke of Mr. Tenet in the most glowing terms, there was little doubt that Tenet had resigned to take the fall for the debacle that was the decision to invade Iraq.

I try not to be too cynical, but it becomes harder and harder every day. In the Intelligence Community, the highest substantive authority on regional intelligence issues is the National Intelligence Officer (NIO) for a region. He or she is the person who coordinates all of the analysis from eight or ten separate organizations that independently produce strategic intelligence products (DIA, CIA, NSA, Army, Navy, State, Treasury, etc.) Far from a low-level player, he is the voice who informs the Director and, consequently, the President.

It’s great that the Washington Post featured this article prominently on page one today, because it is VERY important news, and one more (of many) damning pieces of evidence proving that the Bush administration duped the Congress and the American people into invading Iraq.

Sadly, my guess is that this, too, will be old news by tomorrow. So, a Medal of Freedom is the going price for staying quiet and allowing the buck to stop at one’s level, or so the Tenet example would imply. I hope he doesn’t have it mounted near a mirror, where at some point he’d be forced to look at that medal, and himself, at the same moment…