2007/10/24

Blackwater may have to leave Iraq

From Chapter 12 of Machiavelli's The Prince:

"[Mercenaries] are ready enough to be your soldiers whilst you do not make war, but if war comes they take themselves off or run from the foe; which I should have little trouble to prove, for the ruin of Italy has been caused by nothing else than by resting all her hopes for many years on mercenaries, and although they formerly made some display and appeared valiant amongst themselves, yet when the foreigners came they showed what they were."

And now, with the mercenary/contractor outfit known as Blackwater:

"...the Iraqi government is revoking a CPA-era edict, known as Order 17, immunizing contractors from prosecution in Iraqi courts."
"...if a full revocation succeeds, American companies or individual contractors might simply up and leave Iraq rather than potentially face charges in an immature justice system."

Blackwater personnel are better than the mercenaries of Machiavelli's Renaissance-era Italy as Blackwater personnel have indeed put themselves into harm's way and have indeed suffered casualties. Still, one has to wonder how much has really changed in the last 500-odd years.
And yes, Blackwater personnel have legitimate concerns over how safe they are in dealing with an Iraqi government that doesn't have a very lengthy track record.

A recent assessment by Ambassador Patrick Kennedy found serious problems "with virtually every aspect of the department’s security practices, especially in and around Baghdad, where Blackwater has responsibility," so it's not like the Iraqi government is overreacting. A very major problem with getting rid of the contractors in Iraq is, of course, that "There are now nearly as many private contractors in Iraq as there are U.S. soldiers," meaning that if all of the contractors were to leave, a force of roughly 168,000 soldiers would suddenly find its effective strength cut in half. Contractors mostly perform static or supply convoy guard duties, meaning that if the US recruited more soldiers to fill the gaps, those soldiers would largely not be performing in-the-field combat duties. Still, removing roughly 150,000 trained, armed personnel means that those people have to be replaced somehow or the mission in Iraq must be curtailed. Complete withdrawal might be the only option.

Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week

David Horowitz is running IslamoFascist Awareness Week this week. Talking Points Memo looks at an online conversation that Horowitz has with IslamOnline.net. One point that Horowitz makes is rather interesting.

Ashraf palloor: No godly religion, whether Islam or Christianity can have a merger with the fascist ideology even though fascist movements in Europe were well supported by the church authorities there. Like dumping western nuclear waste into the third world countries, western intelligentia is trying to put all the dirty things they invented into our backyards. Fundamentalism, anti Semitism, fascism, etc. were not created by any eastern thinker. I doubt there will be an Al Qaeda like organization, who authorizes suicide missions, in the muslim world if there was no CIA funded Jihad in Afghanistan.
We, our religious scholars or ordinary people, never approved the totalitarian rulers among us, but you are the one supporting them and protecting them. Can you support us to have freedom of speech or to get back our lands occupied by Israel and America peacefully or to get rid of extremists among us instead of connecting islam with fascim?

David Horowitz: The fascist movements in Europe were supported by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Ba'ath parties in Syria and Iraq, and by the Palestinians and their leader Haj Amin al-Husseini. Fascist ideology -- particularly Jew-hatred -- became integrated with Islamist ideology. If America had not supported the Afghanistan resistance, there would have been two million Muslims slaughtered by the Soviets instead of one million. The United States has rescued millions of Muslims in Somalia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. You don't say what your nationality is but if it is Palestinian, the Israelis have taken no lands that were yours. All the lands bordering on the river Jordan were controlled by the Ottoman Turks for 400 years until 1920. All the states created from these lands -- Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Israel were created out of lands that belonged to the Turks.

Sounds like Horowitz is reciting accurate history, but I wonder if two national groups can't support each other on a few issues regardless of the fact that they might disagree on just about everything else. The US made an alliance with the Muslims that inhabited areas of the former Yugoslavia during the Clinton Administration, but that doesn't mean the US supported Muslims who were living in Palestine, nor did it mean that the US hesitated to send bombers over to Iraq whenever there was a somewhat plausible reason for doing so. Horowitz has not produced any reason to use the term "Islamofascism," I've always considered it an idiot term and still do.

Update: Paul Krugman agrees: "[T]here isn’t actually any such thing as Islamofascism — it’s not an ideology; it’s a figment of the neocon imagination. The term came into vogue only because it was a way for Iraq hawks to gloss over the awkward transition from pursuing Osama bin Laden, who attacked America, to Saddam Hussein, who didn’t."

2007/10/19

Telecoms and FISA immunity

Well, let's see, our local paper ran a piece from the WaPo on Oct 18 (No coverage at all on the 19th) that suggested that Bush's warrantless surveillance of the private communications of American citizens began after 11 Sept 2001, despite the fact that a person from the telecom company Qwest testified that it began in late February 2001. Note that the WaPo reported both stories. The Next Hurrah explains why the rest of the story takes place in the Senate and not the House. The Democrats in the House got rolled by a Republican proposal that tied passage of the new FISA bill with the defeat of al Qaeda. Democrats love the Constitution, but are deathly afraid of being seen as "soft on terror."

Glenn Greenwald tells us how important this issue is:

It would be one thing if we were talking about some sort of radical new policy or measure that is widely considered "extremist." But the opposite is true. We are talking about the basic linchpins of our form of government -- oversight, warrants, the rule of law, core constitutional liberties, what Atrios described earlier as "everything most of us grew imagining this country stood for. . . .what we all thought were American values."

It was looking pretty bad by the mid-day of 18 October, like the Senate was going to pass a "fix" to FISA (Badly damaged by a vote in August that was also passed with the help of hysterical scare tactics) that would have given telecommunications companies amnesty and future immunity from numerous lawsuits that were alleging that the telecom companies violated everyone's privacy by giving too much information to the government.

Senator Chris Dodd stood up and declared he'd put a "hold" on the proposed bill. (Dodd's campaign has pulled in over $150,000 in just the last 24 hours since his announcement.) Gee, ya think Americans are hungry for leadership?

And yes, the White House complied with Senator Jay Rockefeller's longstanding demand for documents as to exactly how telecommunications companies were collaborating with them, but:

Did Rockefeller's crack staff get through the "millions of pages" in three days? Did the White House really produce what was requested or bury its non-compliance in a blizzard of useless documents and duplicates, as it did repeatedly with document dumps on the U.S. attorneys scandal?

Wired explains why Rockefeller supports telecom immunity. Money, essentially. Even though Rockefeller is worth over $100 million, Wired explains why he needs campaign cash. Eye-popping graphs. AmericaBlog explains that "The Democrats have no game plan."

Would Senator Barack Obama stand up and put a "hold" on the vote? Nah, Obama proved to be "all hat and no cattle," (Talks a real good game, but folds at crunch time) though he made a statement in favor of retaining the US Constitution, he was vague about where he'd draw the line. Senator Patrick Leahy in the meantime, makes it clear he's not happy about the proposed telecom immunity. Senator Russ Feingold made it clear that he'd take whatever action was necessary to see to it that a proposal including immunity didn't make it to the floor. Senator Joe Biden joined in and said he'd join Senator Dodd in filibustering a bill.

2007/10/14

Can we vote for a new "Dean of the Press Corps"?

David Broder's latest piece, typically, was an essentially single-sourced piece on health care and how a small minority of Congresspeople endorsed the plan coming from the "Committee for Economic Development (CED), a high-powered business group." Broder's piece was typical for its narrow perspective, a pro-big-business viewpoint that featured only a modest caveat from a government body and that was it.

Broder's was far from a worthless contribution to the health care debate, but Frank Rich of the New York Times made a really marvelous, worthwhile contribution to understanding America and the Iraq War over the past few years. As a DailyKos writer points out, Rich uses links properly. Most traditional reporters don't use links at all.

Rich clearly consulted a wide variety of sources in making his latest report. As a firedoglake writer points out, Rich's record is far from perfect and the traditional media in general engaged far more in active collaboration than it did in just negligent looking-the-other-way.

I did think the following passage was especially worthy of note:

Call me cynical, but when Laura Bush spoke up last week about the human rights atrocities in Burma, it seemed less an act of selfless humanitarianism than another administration maneuver to change the subject from its own abuses. As Mrs. Bush spoke, two women, both Armenian Christians, were gunned down in Baghdad by contractors underwritten by American taxpayers. On this matter, the White House has been silent. That incident followed the Sept. 16 massacre in Baghdad’s Nisour Square, where 17 Iraqis were killed by security forces from Blackwater USA, which had already been implicated in nearly 200 other shooting incidents since 2005. There has been no accountability.

As somebody pointed out a few years ago, the Bush Administration's rhetoric is just fine. Nothing wrong with their rhetoric at all. It's when their rhetoric collides with reality that we get problems.

So can we fire David Broder from his position as "Dean of the Press Corps" and promote Frank Rich to his place? Can we? Pretty please?

2007/10/08

Interrogations & the law

WaPo Headline: "Bush Defends Interrogations," printed in Philly Inquirer as "President Defends harsh interrogation."
WaPo's Dan Froomkin presents various views
My letter on the piece:


There are two, and only two, acceptable and legitimate ways to deal with a law one doesn't like. First, one can obey the law anyway and argue that the law should be changed. Second, one may commit civil disobedience, violate the law in an open manner and accept the consequences for doing so. A subcategory of civil disobedience is the "executive" or "command" decision wherein an executive or commander openly declares that a rule will not be followed in a specific instance.

To decide behind closed doors that a law will not be followed and to then back up that decision with a secret legal memorandum that no one outside the Executive Branch can review is nothing short of a criminal act. The President's declaration that the United States "does not torture people" is absolutely meaningless because the Bush Administration's definition of the word "torture" is classified.

Likewise, the declaration by CIA Director Michael Hayden that "Fewer than 100 hardened terrorists have gone through the program..." is likewise meaningless because no one outside of the Executive Branch has been able to conduct any serious review of "the program." No one who is not under the direct authority of the President can confirm or deny the number of "hardened terrorists" nor that the people detained and interrogated under "the program" were terrorists to begin with.

2007/10/04

Update on Limbaugh & Free Speech

On Sept 26, Rush Limbaugh insulted hundreds of thousands of soldiers and veterans by suggesting that anyone who opposed the Iraq War was a "phony soldier." Since then, the feud between the left blogosphere and Limbaugh has grown in noise and intensity with Melanie Morgag, a talk-show radio host, referring to Greg Sargent's blog "The Horses Mouth" as "The Horses Ass" and otherwise screaming at him; Glenn Beck took off on Limbaugh's selective editing (Limbaugh left out 1 minute & 35 seconds of his comment) of what he had said and lied on the air to soften Limaugh's comments; VoteVets.org has tried to place an ad on Limbaugh's hometown radio station only to be told that Limbaugh's fans wouldn't like that exercise of free speech on their station.
This last incident raises important free speech questions. There's no question that the VoteVets ad is hostile towards Limbaugh and that Limbaugh's listeners might be offended by it, but the speaker in the ad was personally attacked by Limbaugh as being mentally incompetent to have an opinion on the issue he was speaking on. If VoteVets are paying for the ad (They are) and the ad is entirely true (The rejection letter makes no mention of the ad's truthfulness, only that the ad "...would only conflict with the listeners who have chosen to listen to Rush...") then it's not at all clear why the ad is unacceptable in a democracy that purportedly, allegedly takes free speech seriously. Free speech doesn't just mean one gets to say whatever one pleases. It also means that people have a right to respond when attacked. And that's precisely what VoteVets are trying to do.
I searched the Philadelphia Inquirer's news section and the last time the "Inky" mentioned this fight was way back on the 29th. I recommend we write them and ask why.