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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