Posts Tagged ‘United States of America’

Do you remember how the 9/11 attacks happened, and then there was an investigation into whether anything could have been done differently to prevent it, and it turned out that the various government agencies hadn’t been sharing intelligence and information very well? And do you remember how George W Bush (“He Kept Us Safe“) fixed all of that, with his Department of Homeland Security and his daily briefings and his general level of awesomeness?

Well, as the Obama administration begins its plans to close Arkham Asylum Guantanamo Bay, it’s discovering just how effectively information is recorded and shared after seven years of Him Keeping Us Safe:


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Those United States just might become a nation of laws:

President Obama on Thursday signed into effect the Executive Order directing the closing of the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  The final Order, containing his signature, is here.

… a plan for, first, a full-scale review of the case of each of the remaining 245 or so prisoners; second, relocation of the prisoners either to the U.S. or to foreign countries with full release for some, and, third, prosecution of some — though not necessarily in regular civilian courts — for terrorist-related crimes.

In the meantime, the Order indicated, the government would extend full protection under all humane treaties on prisoners’ rights for those still at Guantanamo, indicating an end to any harsh treatment in violation of four aspects of the Geneva Convention.

More on the legal steps being taken from JURIST’s Jaclyn Belczyk.

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Mission Accomplished

The worst Presidency ever is finished, and a guy who appears capable of restoring the rule of law and doing some good has been sworn in.

Full text of the inaugural address is here. It was a solid speech – not the most stirring one Obama has delivered, but appropriate for the occasion and the times. My favourite stanza:

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

Oh, and GRAPES SOURED. Seriously, tim, you stayed up through the night just to tell your monkeys that Al Gore is fat and whine about how unfair it is that Obama is popular?

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Daydream Believers: How a Few Grand Ideas Wrecked American Power by Fred Kaplan (Wiley, 2008).

I just finished reading this book last night and posted a review to my weRead app on Facebook; here’s a copy of what I had to say:

(4.5 out of 5)

An excellent examination of the foreign policy ideas that drove the Bush administration into the Iraq quagmire.

What I found most valuable in this book is that Kaplan distinguishes the different viewpoints that existed – pre-9/11 vs post-9/11 Bush; Rumsfeld and Cheney’s belief that displays of America’s military might would prompt a wave of democratic reform; the more “pure” neoconservatism of Wolfowitz and co.; Powell’s multilateralism and Rice’s evolving philosophy.

Yet at the same time, Kaplan argues – convincingly – that a flawed notion unified and motivated this group of people to move largely in the same direction. That notion was that in the post Cold War world, the United States had the capacity to use its power to impose change for the better; that they could do so anywhere and everywhere, and that the more they did so, the easier the task would become.

Kaplan concludes by evaluating the implications of this failed approach for the prospect of future interventions that could achieve genuine humanitarian good. In the context of the current crises in Gaza, Congo, etc. (not to mention Afghanistan and Iraq), and with the Obama administration about to take the reins, the issues he raises are of vital importance.

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Turns out the war is over, after all. Which war? All the ones America is involved in.

That’s the only explanation for John Yoo’s about-face. You see, he used to be a stern critic of executive overreaching, saying things like this:

President Clinton exercised the powers of the imperial presidency to the utmost in the area in which those powers are already at their height — in our dealings with foreign nations. Unfortunately, the record of the administration has not been a happy one, in light of its costs to the Constitution and the American legal system. On a series of different international relations matters, such as war, international institutions, and treaties, President Clinton has accelerated the disturbing trends in foreign policy that undermine notions of democratic accountability and respect for the rule of law.

But then war happened, and war changed everything. Yoo’s opinion was that:

We are used to a peacetime system in which Congress enacts the laws, the president enforces them, and the courts interpret them. In wartime, the gravity shifts to the executive branch.

Gravity – heavy stuff. This is the kind of reasoning that helped Yoo to formulate legal opinions that the Geneva Conventions don’t apply to “unlawful enemy combatants”, making it fine and dandy to torture and otherwise mistreat them. To summarise Yoo’s conclusions: it might be a war, but it’s one without war crimes.

But now Yoo has written an op-ed in the New York Times (pernicious liberal media stifling the voice of reasoned conservatism!) with his good friend (and not at all an unhinged warmongering loon), John Bolton. What is their concern about the Obama administration:

THE Constitution’s Treaty Clause has long been seen, rightly, as a bulwark against presidential inclinations to lock the United States into unwise foreign commitments. The clause will likely be tested by Barack Obama’s administration, as the new president and Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton, led by the legal academics in whose circles they have long traveled, contemplate binding down American power and interests in a dense web of treaties and international bureaucracies.

“Unwise foreign commitments”. Apparently you only get to enter those if you’re a war President.

Still, it’s good to know that the war is over. Does that mean Americans don’t need the PATRIOT Act, the new FISA Act, and all of the other “necessary” executive infringements on their civil liberties any more?

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Dying for a bargain

And then, amongst all the horrific news of deaths due to terrorism and disease, there are these deaths.

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Operation Iraqi Freedom

It is pleasing that the 1,000th post on this blog is about political progress in Iraq (although it’s a dreadful shame that the news is overshadowed by events in India). While today’s achievement is not quite a match for this fictional New York Times headline, it’s still a step in the right direction:

With a substantial majority, the Iraqi Parliament on Thursday ratified a sweeping security agreement that sets the course for an end to the United States’ role in the war and marks the beginning of a new relationship between the countries.

The pact, which still must be approved by Iraq’s three-person presidency council, a move expected in the next few days, sets the end of 2011 as the date by which the last American troops must leave the country.

Apart from anything else, the passage of the agreement demonstrates that achieving political agreement across the sectarian groups in Iraq’s parliament is possible; of course, it remains to be seen whether the spirit of cooperation will apply for issues less unifying than the desire to see the American occupation end.

The New York Times has the full text of the agreement. FP Passport notes that the agreement provides for a referendum to be held by next July, which might see the Iraqi people overrule parliament and reject the agreement if they want American troops gone sooner. In addition to the upcoming referendum, the agreement eliminates immunity for American troops and gives Iraqi courts some jurisdiction over them, so this is a big step forward in terms of granting Iraq autonomy and imposing accountability on the United States for their actions.

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Over at Harvard’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism, Dan Froomkin has written a good analysis of what is missing from the “the surge has worked” perspective on Iraq. Froomkin discusses the argument about the surge made by Peter Galbraith. Some of the key points in Froomkin’s piece:

Certainly the surge has been accompanied by a dramatic and welcome reduction in violence. But Galbraith argues that it wasn’t the surge as much as other factors that led to the reduction in violence; that the main factor was the Sunni Awakening; and that the U.S.’s de facto creation of a Sunni army — led in some cases by the same Baathists the U.S. invaded Iraq to overthrow – has in fact contributed to Iraq’s breakup and set the stage for an intensified civil war between Sunnis and Shiites once the U.S gets out of the way. Whenever that is.

Galbraith thinks journalists are under-reporting certain key aspects of the current Iraqi political situation. Among them:

  • The character of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s  government, which Galbraith says is profoundly anti-Sunni and not likely to make accommodations, regardless of the occasional PR blitz to the contrary. Reporters should also talk to Sunnis and Kurds in the government and ask them how much influence they feel they have. Reporters in Washington should be asking their sources: Do you really see Maliki as someone who is committed to secular democracy?
  • The character of the Sunni Awakening. A hundred thousand Sunni fighters – used to getting paid $300 a month by the United States – are in fact not going to be easily accommodated by the Shiite government. And who knows what they’ll do when the U.S. stops paying them?

The linking of reduced fatalities to the coalition’s prospects for withdrawal is flawed. At least some of the proponents of the surge seem to know that – the Bush administration has committed itself to maintaining troop levels pretty much constant to the end of its term.

What is most important is attempting to ensure conditions that will foster lasting peace – which requires political, social and economic stability. That still hasn’t happened. For four years it seemed like there was little in the way of a coalition strategy toward peace in and withdrawal from Iraq. The surge then became the strategy, when it could only ever serve as one plank in a larger platform.

The debate itself still hasn’t moved. Many of the mouthpieces of the surge talk about Victory! without defining it. What everyone needs to be talking about is how to leave a stable Iraq.

UPDATE: And then there is the argument that the surge is not even responsible for the reduction in violence – such as this analysis, which suggests sectarian violence cleared out the hotspots for conflict.

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Hat-tip to Toaf for pointing me to this video, in which Pepe Escobar discusses the broader context of the South Ossetia conflict. He points to the United States’ foreign policy approach in Eurasia – which he sees continuing along the same lines under either McCain or Obama – as prompting Russia to push back against its growing encirclement by potential threats. It’s well worth watching the entire clip as Escobar traces the development of the situation from the fall of the USSR to the emergence of the “new Cold War”:

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Andrew Bolt continues to ramp up the argument that teh Left is made up of communist sympathisers with love in their hearts for (non-communist) Mother Russia. It’s more straw men and caricatures, and really does nothing more than give his commenters another chance to agree that anyone not organising a march today against Vlad Putin must obviously hate America.

Except that the Right conservatives moderates appear to be exempt from having to act to demonstrate their convictions. Here’s a question – where is the Right on Georgia? If this is, as Bolt and the Boltheads assert, the start of “the new Cold War”; if the current renegade military actions of Russia pose a grave threat to the stability of Europe and the security of democratic states; if the free nations of the world need to send a clear signal to Russia that its ambition to bring down a new Iron Curtain will be resisted forcefully, then why aren’t they out there pressing their government to stand up to Russia?

The fact is, the brand of conservatives who espouse this kind of philosophy see grave threats at every turn. The end result is that:

Perpetually exaggerating threats leads to, well, perpetual exaggerations, whether about a bad guy’s wickedness or a good guy’s virtue. On such faulty edifices are constructed unnecessary wars, those most murderous of foreign policy mistakes.

In a world of black hats and white hats, it’s easy to appear serious and stern – but it is much harder to act that way. So Bolt and his ilk content themselves with sitting back and condemning others for inaction. They don’t even need to worry about whether the actions they propose are going to be effective, practical or even possible.

So where is the Left on Georgia? Well, I’m here. And other people are around, too. We’re trying to take a realistic perspective on the situation and on what can be done, rather than just pontificating about what might be done. What is the Right doing?

ELSEWHERE: Glenn Greenwald points out another factor that contributes to the fact that people have more to say about the United States’ actions:

Whatever one’s views are on the justifiability of each isolated instance, it’s simply a fact that the U.S. invades, bombs, occupies, and interferes in the internal affairs of other countries far more than any other country on the planet. It’s not even a close competition.

UPDATE: Matt Yglesias discusses Welch’s commentary about the hysteria-based foreign policy.

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