Archive for the ‘Foreign Affairs & Policy’ Category

No, Bill Maher Is Not Right

February 24th, 2016 1 comment

Bill Maher has been getting a lot of press recently about how “right” he is about what he could just as well be calling “The Muslim Menace.” Even liberal news and opinion outlets have been saying that he is correct in his evaluation about how Islam is a threat, how liberals are giving them a pass, and most recently, how Arab countries are unwilling to take on the forces of Daesh.

The thing is, he’s not right. He’s close on a few things, and hopelessly blind on most others. But not right.

First of all, he’s trying to have it both ways. He blames Islam as a whole for the actions of the extremists, as if it were a problem endemic to the religion and not the fanatics, but at the same time, he denies painting all Muslims with a broad brush. He asked on his show why some people refuse to use “Islamic” and “extremist” in the same sentence. A guest replied that the term “jihadist” is much more appropriate—and they were correct. The question is, why use the term “Islamic” when that term is far broader than what is being discussed? Maher claims that he’s not criticizing Islam as a whole, but gets upset when Islam is not considered the problem.

You can’t have it both ways; either you’re condemning the whole religion, or you’re not. At first I thought he might agree to the idea that the problems are due to the extremists, and there are more of them than we see in other cultures and religions, but each time I hear or read his arguments, I find little support for that point of view. And I have known too many Muslims who are quite kind and loving people to believe that just being a Muslim makes you part of the problem.

Second, he takes liberals to task for “supporting” despicable practices in Islamic states. Strangely, he often mentions female genital mutilation when he brings this up, which is odd because it is not a patently Muslim tradition; it is practiced widely in Christian cultures as well, and not practiced in many Muslim ones. It is, as Reza Aslan pointed out, mostly a Central African problem. This shows up the flaw in Maher’s central focus: he blames Islam for problems that are not really centrally about Islam.

However, what gets my back up is Maher’s virtually right-wing take on this: if liberals are not constantly and stridently calling Muslims barbaric, we must love the worst of their practices. Maher: go frack yourself. It’s a facile claim, one that is no less despicable coming from a Libertarian with liberal leanings than it is from a hard-core right-winger.

Here’s the reason why the claim is bullshit: liberals, as a rule, focus inward, not outward. We focus almost all of our public energies at home, where we can actually make a difference, and we know that huffing and puffing about what Saudi Arabia does will make little difference there. We don’t make any more an issue of Boko Haram than anyone else, or civil rights violations in Southeast Asian countries, or any one of a number of cases where we would vehemently condemn what’s going on—unless America is somehow involved. We don’t make a big deal about what Saudi Arabia does, but we do make a big deal about how the U.S. conveniently overlooks such things when we want a partner in the region. We don’t rise up in protest over Chinese labor practices—we only do when American companies take advantage of them. Hell, we don’t even make a fuss when conservatives in Canada or the U.K. do stuff that we disagree with virtually right next door to us. We simply don’t make noise unless it’s a home-turf issue.

However, just because we don’t make a cause célèbre of loathsome and barbaric practices in Muslim countries when you find it convenient to demand one, it does not, in any way, shape or form, mean that we “support” them, you mindless idiot. I note, by the way, that Maher has not, because he can not, name one accepted liberal spokesperson saying that they “accept” much less “support” crap done in the countries because of “cultural tolerance” or “political correctness.” That’s because none of us actually do that, as much as Maher claims otherwise. The claim is utter bullshit.

Finally, we now have Maher making noise about how Middle Eastern countries don’t take care of Daesh when they vastly outnumber them in military force. Salon backs him up, and Politifact judges his claim “Mostly True.”

This argument of Maher, however, serves as an excellent example of Maher’s shallow thinking, and the general media’s mindless willingness to accept what he says.

Yes, as Politifact points out, his numbers are pretty much correct: Daesh has maybe 20,000 or 30,000 fighters, as opposed to around 5 million troops in 13 countries in the general region.

However, beyond just a simple head count, Maher’s implied thesis is utterly bone-headed. Look, I would love to agree and have local forces take on the task so we don’t have to be involved. There’s just one little problem: it’s a hopeless pipe dream of a desire.

Think about this: what if some insurgency popped up in South Korea, and started wreaking havoc in the region. Would you suggest that Japan, North Korea, China, Taiwan, and Russia form a military coalition to handle it? Such an idea would be laughably absurd; these countries tend to hate each other’s guts.

And what would happen if one of these countries acted alone? Would Japan be okay if China invaded South Korea, or the other way around? And forget North Korea doing anything, or accepting anyone else doing anything.

We’re looking at much the same thing here. Maher’s blind simple-mindedness in which he conflates all Arab and Muslim countries and cultures into one hateful blur ignores the realities of the region. The biggest forces in the region are Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. These nations are hardly close friends. Relations between Turkey and Iran have always been strained, at best. Recent Turkish involvement in Syria have been strongly criticized by Iran. While Turkey and Saudi Arabia get along okay financially, they clash politically and ideologically. And let’s not even talk about how Iran and Saudi Arabia get along. To imagine one capable force moving in and essentially taking over huge swaths of territory within Syria and Iraq is virtually unimaginable. Similar rivalries and factions in various countries tend to preclude any viable force bringing about a successful solution in the region.

To make an alliance that would work better than what exists now is nearly hopeless. Again, I would love to see it, but I am not holding my breath. Beyond this huge obstacle, there are a host of other issues which make such actions highly improbable.

So, yeah, Maher can add. But apparently, his analytical talents end there.

Categories: Foreign Affairs & Policy Tags:

No Matter What

March 24th, 2014 2 comments

Not a shock, I know, to realize that no matter what Obama does, Republicans will castigate him as weak, ineffective, or worse. Republicans even thrashed Obama when he killed Osama bin Laden; if they can’t appreciate that, you know that nothing he does will meet with their approval.

Now, Mitt Romney is calling Obama “naive” for failing to foresee the annexation of Crimea:

During an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday, the former Republican presidential nominee said Obama should have been more proactive prior to the Russia’s annexation — and should have threatened the Russians with the possibility of sanctions before they took action to take over the region.

“There’s no question but that the president’s naiveté with regards to Russia, and his faulty judgment about Russia’s intentions and objectives, has led to a number of foreign policy challenges that we face,” Romney declared. “And unfortunately, not having anticipated Russia’s intentions, the president wasn’t able to shape the kinds of events that may have been able to prevent the kinds of circumstances that you’re seeing in the Ukraine.”

That’s right! Obama was naive because he was not threatening Putin with sanctions right before he invaded Crimea. Like a real leader, John McCain, was saying we should have threatened Russia with sanctions—this just days before Putin made his move against Ukraine:

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) reemphasized his calls for sanctions against the Ukrainian government for the ongoing violence against protesters while criticizing President Obama for his “naiveté” towards the situation.

Oh. Whoops.

Interesting how Obama was “naive” before the Russian invasion for not threatening sanctions against Ukraine, while now he’s naive for not having threatened sanctions against Russia.

Oh, and by the way, Obama was threatening sanctions at the same time Republicans were calling him naive for not threatening sanctions. Nor would the threat of sanctions, before, during, or after, have made any difference.

In the meantime, while the Obama administration did not specifically spell out sanctions against Russia, it hardly failed to take notice; a few days before the invasion, the administration’s rhetoric turned tough against Putin, warning that it would be a “grave mistake” if Putin moved in Crimea.

As for foresight, Bush 41 did not foresee Saddam Hussein invading Kuwait, although there were just as many clues in that regard. Bush 43 did not foresee 9/11, despite getting rather urgent warnings. Nor did Bush foresee Hussein not having WMD (though it could be argued that that was a pretext and therefore there was nothing to foresee), nor did he foresee the Russia’s similar invasion into Georgia. Romney never criticized those failures, of course.

When Russia was moving on Georgia, in fact, Bush expressed “grave concern” towards Russia’s actions. Sounds strangely familiar—and yet, I do not recall Romney saying Bush was “naive.” Nor did Obama.

There’s another small point that needs to be cleared up.

Romney appears to have some swing amongst conservatives on this issue, since in the 2012 election, he named Russia as America’s greatest “geopolitical foe.” His people have been trying to paint him as astute and prescient; “Romney’s analysis of the Russian threat was actually spot on,” noted one of his former advisors.

You have to admit, it does kind of sound like he was on the ball.

However, if you check back, Romney’s actual 2012 statements did not predict Russia would start annexing former satellite states—quite the opposite, in fact:

“There’s no question but that in terms of geopolitics — I’m talking about votes at the United Nations and actions of a geopolitical nature — Russia is the No. 1 adversary in that regard. That doesn’t make them an enemy. It doesn’t make them a combatant. They don’t represent the No. 1 national security threat. The No. 1 national security threat, of course, to our nation is a nuclear Iran. Time continues to pass. They continue to move towards nuclearization. This is more and more disconcerting and dangerous to the world. But Russia — particularly look at a place like Syria. Russia has supported the Assad regime even as it has been attacking its own people. Russia likewise has been slow to move to the kinds of sanctions that have been called for in Iran. Russia is a geopolitical adversary, but it’s not an enemy with, you know, missiles being fired at one another or things of that nature.” [bold emphasis mine]

As you can see, Romney actually thought that Russia would not be a threat militarily, just in their tangential support of nations we wanted to exert control over.

Here’s the thing: if you predict that the roof will spring a leak in the rain, and then it collapses in on you on a sunny day, you do not get to claim prescience. Yes, you predicted something would go wrong with the roof. But you were way off on that prediction.

And that’s a big part of what we’re seeing here: the massive oversimplification of issues like these. If all you needed was some sense of opposition coming from Russia’s direction, you would have been able to handle it completely differently. As if Obama had not been aware of the fact that Putin was aggressive towards us, or that he underestimated Russia any more than Romney did. As if all Obama needed to do was to threaten Putin specifically with sanctions instead of sending grave warnings, and that would have stopped Putin cold. As if we know everything that happened at diplomatic level that the public is not aware of—it’s possible, perhaps even likely, that Obama did threaten Putin with sanctions privately. There is a whole world of activity that happens outside of public view.

In short, Republicans are doing what they do best: trying to pummel Obama and make themselves look good. As usual, it’s all hype and no substance; all politics, and no gravity. It has nothing to do with how well Obama is handling anything. Obama could have kicked Russia’s ass, wrestled Putin to the ground, and then rode home on a Bengal tiger; Republicans would still be bashing him on whatever pretense they could think of.

Not the Best Image Management Ever

March 3rd, 2014 1 comment

Throughout the Olympics, the Russians were rather insistent that their image was being unfairly sullied by the foreign media. It didn’t help much that one Russian representative said he had proof that it was the media’s fault in the form of surveillance cameras in the hotel bedrooms.

But, determined to show exactly how warm and fuzzy they are, just days after closing out the Olympics, Russia invades Ukraine in the Crimea, ironically just a few hundred miles west of Sochi. After a corrupt pro-Russian leader is literally run out of the country by his own people, who were furious that their hopes to create closer ties with Europe were being sabotaged.

So, members of the Olympic Committee: are you still satisfied with your choice?

Categories: Foreign Affairs & Policy Tags:

Benghazi, Part II

November 18th, 2012 1 comment

This seems to be the core outcome of Petraeus’ testimony, at least as far as Republicans are concerned:

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), exiting yesterday from a closed door meeting with Petraeus, said the retired general told the House Homeland Security Committee that the original CIA-drafted talking points named two militant groups — Ansar al-Shariah and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb — but that those references were removed from the version ultimately used by Rice.

King, recounting Petraeus’ testimony, said, “It was a long process, an interagency process and when they came back it had been taken out.”

There was instead only a passing reference to “extremists” in the final draft.

Petraeus reportedly told the lawmakers he wasn’t sure which agency replaced the groups’ names with the word “extremist” in the final draft.

“The fact is, the reference to al-Qaeda was taken out somewhere along the line by someone outside the intelligence community,” King said. “We need to find out who did it and why.”

Ah. So, in an intelligence report which informed the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., the names of groups seen as responsible were scrubbed somewhere along the line.

Let me see, where did we see this before? Oh, wasn’t that is the Bush administration, when Colin Powell went before the U.N. with all that fake info?

Gee, what was Congressman King’s reaction when he discovered that Powell’s information was entirely wrong? Apparently, he was not very concerned and did not call for an investigation. In fact, King was later a vocal supporter of Colin Powell when there was speculation that Powell would Run for Hillary. Instead, King among others is calling Rice incompetent, apparently for reporting what she had been told.

Whatever the case, incorrect information about security affairs was publicly given by the Obama administration. So, should I be condemning them the way I would equally condemn the Bush administration?

Let’s see. Powell’s testimony was slanted, but we now know it was intentionally slanted by those inside the Bush administration. That testimony helped start a war which cost the lives of thousands of U.S. troops, tens or hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens, and helped bankrupt the nation.

There is no outcome in the current case which is even remotely similar. No decade-long ground war in Libya or anywhere else that will begin as a result.

With Powell’s testimony, there was a clear motive for releasing false information. With Rice’s testimony, there was no motive—Obama stood to gain nothing from misrepresenting the cause of the attack. In fact, he may be lauded for not crying terrorism—we recall that Bush, in 2004, did exactly that, inflating claims of imminent terrorism to make people more aware a policy area that favored Bush, just as that exact same policy area now favors Obama. Obama, however, was cautiously quiet, where he would have benefitted to make a big deal out of it. The opposite of a scandal.

In the case of Powell’s testimony, it was clear that the data was intentionally altered in order to promote an agenda of war. In the case of Rice’s testimony, there was no motive for anything; it appears to be nothing more than a bureaucratic or clerical screw-up at least, or some minor intrigue within the intelligence community at most.

We still do not even know how the names were taken from the reports, or even if there was any intent to do so. But even assuming the worst, there is nothing more than a need to fix that cog in the machine.

So King, who overlooked an intentional intelligence scandal when his party was in charge, will likely be trying to invent an equivalent scandal where none exists. As will McCain and the rest of the GOP.

Because, you know, they’re all so bipartisan and stuff. America First. Reaching across the aisle to strangle the opposition.


November 17th, 2012 4 comments

Having heard about an unholy amount of chatter about Benghazi for the umpteenth time, I decided that I’d better inform myself about it. All I knew was that there was some uncertainty after the fact about what the cause had been, that the Obama administration had given mixed signals as to whether it was a planned attack or a spontaneous event triggered by the anti-Muslim video.

I knew that Romney had tried to zing Obama in the debates about whether he had identified it as a terror attack or if he had blamed the video, but that was obviously a trifle. I mean, conservatives are talking about this being worse than Watergate; that rises to a pretty serious level. It suggests that the government did something illegal and, knowing this, Obama tried to have it covered up.

So, what was the illegal action? I had heard people talking about botched security, either a lack of overall preparedness, or a decision at some level to withhold rescue for the diplomats. As far as I can tell, this is pure speculation.

I also heard something about there being two prisoners held at the CIA annex in the consulate, and the attack was a mission to break them out. The CIA denies that such prisoners were held there.

Fox is trying to sell the narrative that the White House dawdled and delayed at the time of the attack, painting a picture of the embassy staff repeatedly pleading for permission to escape or getting military assistance while Obama and his staff coldly told them to sit and wait and did nothing. Reading the article, it appears to be the usual Fox combination of unnamed sources, cherry-picked information, and directed conclusions.

The most central claims, it seems, appear to focus simply on the reporting of the facts by the Obama administration; McCain, for example, called it “a cover-up or the worst kind of incompetence,” and demands investigations—but seems to focus only on how it was reported by Obama and U.N. Ambassador Rice.

The thing is, none of what is being reported rises to the level of an illegal action, so far as I can tell. The mixed messages seem to be the result of scattered intelligence and possibly poor coordination, but that’s not illegal. If prisoners were being held at the CIA complex, was that illegal? I wouldn’t think so, and certainly I don’t hear that being held as the center of the scandal. If the White House failed to react in a timely or effective manner, that might be a black eye for them, but it’s not illegal. And if there is no illegal action, then a “cover-up” is also not illegal.

Who knows. Maybe there is something here, but it sure as heck doesn’t look like it. What it looks like is what we’ve seen several times before: the conservative bubble seeing an event or crisis that could harbor some kind of wrongdoing by the Obama administration, so they immediately claim there is a scandal, while they flail about with any variety of conspiracy theories that, of course, “demand” full investigations with committees and prosecutors and such, while the right-wing media does everything it can to make it appear that there is something actually going on.

Paul Waldman at The American Prospect seems to sum it up best:

So what’s going on here? I can sum it up in two words: scandal envy. Republicans are indescribably frustrated by the fact that Barack Obama, whom they regard as both illegitimate and corrupt, went through an entire term without a major scandal. They tried with “Fast and Furious,” but that turned out to be small potatoes. They tried with Solyndra, but that didn’t produce the criminality they hoped for either. Obama even managed to dole out three-quarters of a trillion dollars in stimulus money without any graft or double-dealing to be found. Nixon had Watergate, Reagan had Iran-Contra, Clinton had Lewinsky, and Barack Obama has gotten off scott-free. This is making them absolutely livid, and they’re going to keep trying to gin up a scandal, even if there’s no there there. Benghazi may not be an actual scandal, but it’s all they have handy.

Republicans Try to Shoot Down START

December 20th, 2010 6 comments

Despite the fact that five former Republican secretaries of state–Powell, Kissinger, Shultz, Baker, and Eagleburger–as well as George H. W. Bush are all on record as saying that the new START treaty is good and will make the world safer, Republicans in the Senate are making sounds about voting down the treaty.

Why? According to Mitch McConnell:

Republican senators are “uneasy” about the treaty, and trying to get a vote before Christmas was not the best way to “get the support of people like me,” McConnell said.

He makes it sound like this was just suddenly thrown at the Senate and they’re flustered about whether or not it’s good enough. Despite having had eight months since the treaty was signed to study the treaty, 18 Senate committee hearings (12 by the Foreign Relations Committee), dozens of witnesses, thousands of questions asked, a National Intelligence Estimate, and a State Department report and analysis all confirming that the treaty is sound and we should sign it. The former Republican president and five Republican secretaries of state endorsing the bill are just the cherry on top.

But Republicans don’t like the timing of how it’s being pitched to them. Bullshit. If they’re not fully briefed on the treaty, then it’s due to their own incompetence. What else?

Their main substantive objection is that the treaty would limit America’s ability to deploy missile defense systems. Ah, well that sounds important, and could be a real sticking point, right? Well, if the objections were based in reality, yes. Of course, they’re not–the Republican claims are thoroughly debunked here.

What Republicans are doing in the Senate smacks of political game-playing. They are trying to get changes made to the preamble of the treaty–which is legally non-binding and would have no effect on our obligations–and other changes that would necessitate going back and renegotiating the treaty with Russia, throwing a rather significant wrench into our nuclear security options.

The fact that the objections are rather transparently false, and the way the Republicans are doing this, suggest pretty clearly that they are not interested in national security so much as they want to deprive Obama of another achievement and create the impression that they were responsible for making the treaty actually work.

“Country First” indeed.

Assange, Censorship, and Impropriety

December 19th, 2010 Comments off

A few interesting points. First, Visa and MasterCard stopped processing payments for WikiLeaks. These companies have taken such steps in the past, such as with Russian sites selling copyrighted music for pennies a song, in which the legality of the company’s actions were in question. Visa makes an interesting case for doing so:

Visa Europe has taken action to suspend Visa payment acceptance on WikiLeaks’ website pending further investigation into the nature of its business and whether it contravenes Visa operating rules

In short, they don’t even know if WikiLeaks is doing anything illegal or not, but they’re shutting down the organization’s ability to collect money–apparently, just in case, or something.

MasterCard was more specific:

MasterCard said it was cutting off payments because WikiLeaks is engaging in illegal activity. “MasterCard rules prohibit customers from directly or indirectly engaging in or facilitating any action that is illegal,” spokesman Chris Monteiro said.

This is interesting, considering that Assange has not been convicted of a crime. As for the leaks themselves, how about the chairman of the House judiciary committee’s opinion of whether or not a crime was committed:

“As an initial matter, there is no doubt that WikiLeaks is very unpopular right now. Many feel that the WikiLeaks publication was offensive,” Conyers said, according to prepared remarks. “But being unpopular is not a crime, and publishing offensive information is not either. And the repeated calls from politicians, journalists, and other so-called experts crying out for criminal prosecutions or other extreme measures make me very uncomfortable.”

Other financial organizations have taken similar bogus stands for cutting off WikiLeaks’ financial grounding. Here’s Bank of America’s rationale:

“Bank of America joins in the actions previously announced by MasterCard, PayPal, Visa Europe and others and will not process transactions of any type that we have reason to believe are intended for WikiLeaks,” the bank said in a statement issued on Friday. “This decision is based upon our reasonable belief that WikiLeaks may be engaged in activities that are, among other things, inconsistent with our internal policies for processing payments.”

Got that? If the bank has “reasonable belief,” based on unspecified evidence, they can cut your legs out from under you. And not just payments directly made to you, but payments that they even suspect might be headed your way, even indirectly–which could potentially include payments to defense funds and the like.

The Swiss postal service has closed Assange’s account on the grounds that he gave “false indications regarding his place of residence,” something which apparently never bothered them before.

PayPal has an interesting take as well:

“PayPal has permanently restricted the account used by WikiLeaks due to a violation of the PayPal Acceptable Use Policy, which states that our payment service cannot be used for any activities that encourage, promote, facilitate or instruct others to engage in illegal activity. We’ve notified the account holder of this action.”

This is a bit more clever, as it refers to the criminality of anything that could be done with the data–and since the government has more or less restricted any of its people from reading any of the documents, the release of the information could be considered “facilitating” illegal activity. The problem is, taken to logical limits, this rationale could be applied to virtually anything you could imagine.

The entire assault on Assange and WikiLeaks is fairly obviously contrived, impelled by the U.S. government’s anger at having its internal communications revealed. However, these actions taken against Assange are troubling to say the least. The rape charges, for instance, whatever their actual truth, are obviously a pretext for reeling Assange in and getting him in a jail cell. If this is not made crystal clear by the timing of the charges, then it should be simply by the fact that international extradition treaties are usually not exercised in various directions so vigorously for similar charges of sexual misconduct. Let’s face it, we all know that if Assange had not released the documents he did he would not be facing the charges at all, nor would there be any calls for extradition. The action on the charges are at the very least opportunistic.

I am of the crowd that believes in more freedom of information release. I agree that releases such as these are more for the public benefit than anything else. While they might be embarrassing politically or diplomatically, they do more good than bad, and shed a light on the inner workings of political systems that are badly in need of light being shed. Too much goes on under cover of secrecy which in the full light of day would be clearly recognized as illicit or illegal.

The fact that Assange and his organization are being persecuted in such indirect and questionable ways only cements the impression that it is the U.S. government, and not Assange, which has acted improperly.

Republicans Try to Kill Nuclear Treaty for No Good Reason

November 20th, 2010 2 comments

The Russians can’t seem to grasp the idea why an American political party, purely to deny their leader an administrative accomplishment, would try to kill an international treaty that makes utmost sense.

Welcome to Right-wing Politics 101. Country Last, Beat Obama First.

A Traitor Several Times over? Of Course Not–Cantor’s a Republican, and IOKIYAR.

November 14th, 2010 25 comments

Remember when Republicans said that an American, while overseas, speaking against the American president was verging on treason, as we saw with the Dixie Chicks? That for an American politician to do so while abroad was traitorous, like Democratic congressmen did before the Iraq War? Or that even just disagreeing with the president’s policies in the U.S. while the president was on foreign soil was anti-American, as the Republicans accused Murtha of when he suggested a withdrawal from Iraq? Or when Daschle criticized Bush while Bush was in Europe? Or with local California Democrats while Bush was in Central America? Or that even criticizing the president at all while our troops were on the ground was tantamount to giving aid and comfort to our enemies? And let’s not forget the idea of members of Congress making policy promises to foreign leaders which oppose the president’s, something the Republicans have scalded Democrats for even coming close to doing, like they did with Nancy Pelosi while in Syria (where not only Republican lawmakers were also visiting, but where Pelosi did not oppose the president).

Would you be even in the least bit surprised were you to discover the Republicans to be utterly hypocritical in attacking Democrats for these things?

Probably not. If you have been watching the news, then you might be aware of the fact that Eric Cantor, current Minority Whip and likely Majority Leader next year, had a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In this meeting with a foreign leader, Cantor expressed his opposition to President Obama’s policies regarding the Middle East, promising to side with the foreign leader against the President of the United States. Cantor’s office later publicly announced what he said in the meeting.

Disagreeing with the president’s foreign policy. In a meeting with a foreign leader. While the president is on foreign soil. While there are troops on the ground. The only one Cantor missed was that he was not on foreign soil at the time–this took place in New York–but Cantor managed to breach every other rule that Republicans claimed were unacceptable for any American to violate.

Now, you might say that it was other Republicans who said these things were unacceptable, and Cantor wasn’t being hypocritical. Except that when Nancy Pelosi went to Syria–even though she made no statements about foreign policy and did not criticize Bush while she was there–Cantor himself wrote an article insinuating the opposite and suggesting she was guilty of a federal felony:

Presenting Assad with “a new Democratic alternative” — code for making President Bush look feckless — Mrs. Pelosi usurped the executive branch’s time-honored foreign-policy authority. Her message to Assad was that congressional Democrats will forbid the president from increasing pressure on Damascus to stop its murderous way. Several leading legal authorities have made the case that her recent diplomatic overtures ran afoul of the Logan Act, which makes it a felony for any American “without authority of the United States” to communicate with a foreign government to influence that government’s behavior on any disputes with the United States.

So, no irony there.

But not to worry–Cantor violated the remaining rule a little over a year ago, criticizing Obama from Israel. Just so you know he has covered all the bases. Just not all at one time–Cantor is only human, you know.

Iran: 1986 Again?

June 17th, 2009 5 comments

Surprisingly, I have not heard much comparison between what is going on in Iran and what happened in the Philippines in 1986–namely, the “People Power Revolution” that threw out the Marcos regime. In both cases, there was a stolen election which led to mass protests which lasted for a few weeks until the regime collapsed. The two cases are hardly identical, but there are some interesting parallels.

One of those parallels is communication. In the Philippines, the government controlled communications, but one channel–Radio Veritas–was in the hands of the opposition. Those involved said that “Without Radio Veritas, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to mobilize millions of people in a matter of hours,” and “Radio Veritas, in fact, was our umbilical cord to whatever else was going on.”

In Iran, Twitter is the modern equivalent; it is being used to maintain communications, organize events, and keep the outside world informed of what’s going on inside Iran–even as the American media virtually ignore what’s happening. Twitter is of such value, in fact, that the U.S. State Department specifically asked Twitter to delay maintenance on their servers that would have caused downtime in Iran.

There are a lot of gun advocates who say that their guns are ultimately the only things which keep an oppressive government at bay; I think that this idea is simplistic and wrong. (In fact, we have seen quite clearly that all to many gun nuts are willing to allow the the dismantling of civil rights, so long as they can keep their guns; the dictator will be welcomed by the armed, not fought by them.) Of the revolutions in the last hundred years that unseated oppressive governments, most–if not almost all–were achieved by an unarmed populace. In fact, I don’t know if there has been a single overthrow of a government using personally-owned firearms in the last century. Armed uprisings that have been successful have probably been armed from the outside, not from mantlepiece firearms.

No, what truly makes the dictator tremble is communications. Communications can make or break an uprising far more surely than any number of firearms.

The uprising in Iran right now may ultimately fail, but if it succeeds, it will owe a lot to a software package with a silly blue bird mascot.

Categories: Foreign Affairs & Policy Tags:

Just Saying

June 14th, 2009 3 comments

With Bush in office, Iran became polarized to the extreme, terror-related Hamas won Palestinian elections, Hezbollah had a controlling coalition in Lebanon.

Obama takes office, and very soon after making a brilliant, hopeful, and conciliatory speech in Cairo, Hezbollah loses a key election in Lebanon and Iran’s Ahmadinejad has to steal an election in order to keep the more pro-Western Mousavi from winning and transforming the country.

Some of this might be coincidence in timing, or representative of changes in progress, but I think it’s very hard, if not impossible, to discount Obama’s impact on this. Bush galvanized people who hate us, and Obama’s talent for words and statesmanship is bringing the Middle East to a more reasonable position.

Not that the wingnut echo chamber would ever recognize this; in a few years, if we’re seeing a recovering economy, a shrinking deficit, and real progress in the Middle East, they’ll give full credit to Bush, and to themselves for “pushing” Obama in the right direction–but to think of Obama as doing any of that, well, their heads would explode.

Despite Obama’s faults in other areas, he’s doing damned well on the diplomacy front, achieving more in five months than Bush did in eight years. Not wholly undoing the damage Bush left behind, but clearly on the right path.

Speaking of Values

May 23rd, 2009 3 comments

In the whole torture debate, I see a parallel to the death penalty debate: we should eliminate or avoid such things simply because they are wrong and we should not do them. As I like to say, it is not who we are.

In an earlier blog post, I outlined my opinions about the death penalty, and the bottom line for me was that, as a society, we should not kill when it is not absolutely necessary. The clear exception is self-defense, although all too often this exception is used as a loophole to escape the moral standard; those who wish to kill indiscriminately or at will simply trump up imagined threats and say that we must do horrible things in self-defense. As we saw the Democrats in Congress fold like a cheap suit this week, such scare tactics–even when they are as insipid and hollow as the Republicans’ terrorists-released-on-our-streets meme–work all too well. 9/11 did a better job of scaring us all, and the war advocates milked that for all it was worth. As a result, war is far too often abused as a tool. In fact, it can be argued that since WWII, no war we have engaged in meets the true self-defense standard.

The death penalty is easier to dismiss on this principle; there is no evidence whatsoever that the death penalty deters crime, we have secure enough prisons that escape and further crimes are not a true threat, and the cost of securing the death sentence is greater than that of incarceration. The only real value in the death penalty is vengeance, and I do not see that as a valid reason for society to kill. In short, the death penalty, like unnecessary war, should be banned simply because it is wrong, it is immoral–it is not who we are, or should be.

Torture just as easily falls under this principle. Torture is better suited for producing false statements, as the person being tortured will say anything to make it stop. (Something which now appears to be what Cheney was looking for–false evidence to prop up his war.) Non-torture interrogation is far more efficient as a means of producing reliable information. Therefore, torture is never appropriate for self-defense. Without that exception, torture is plainly wrong and should never be allowed.

In all three cases–torture, capital punishment, and war–our motivations are unhealthy. We do things things out of fear, anger, and vengeance. We drape these base drives with veils of false legitimacy, claiming self-defense, patriotism, and duty to those who have fallen. But the true reasons are clear to anyone who wishes to look.

In fact, it seems that as a nation, we have simply discarded the moral high ground we once treasured. With the coming of the Iraq War, so many–and not just on the pro-war side–quickly abandoned our long-held prohibition against pre-emptive strikes. We accepted the deaths of tens and even hundreds of thousands of foreign civilians with nothing more than a shrug, caring little even after it was clear that the actions in which they were killed were unnecessary and misled. We actually have debates where a fictional TV show is considered valid evidence of the facility of torture.

Where we once had pride, we now claim self-preservation. Where we once held principle and sacrifice over fear, we now hold fear over principle and sacrifice. In short, we no longer have values. Oh, go ahead and tell me otherwise, but as the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. Show me an action in the past decade that we as a nation have taken in any of these areas which demonstrates true adherence to the values we once held. Even if you can find one, I will be able to show you so enough actions that contradict those values to drown the few, if any, actions which adhere to what we once held sacrosanct.


April 27th, 2009 1 comment

Right-wingers have consistently held that Bush’s war on terror was a ‘success’ based on the sole fact that, aside from 9/11 and the ensuing anthrax attacks, there were no major foreign terrorist attacks within the United States. Bush “kept us safe” for seven years.

Aside from the rather salient point that Clinton had at least as good a record (after the WTC bombing in ’93, there were no major foreign terrorist attacks within the United States until the end of his term also), one has to note that Bush faced no major threats to thwart. (Clinton faced the Millennium threat, and it was thwarted; conservatives go to great lengths to deny Clinton credit for that, despite giving Bush more credit for doing less.)

The lack of an attempt obviously means that al Qaeda didn’t try to attack us at home.

Doesn’t that come across as strange? Certainly they didn’t hold off because our borders are so secure, or Bush’s anti-terror methods were so air-tight; they weren’t. They didn’t hold off because they were so busy killing our troops in Iraq; Bush’s war increased their recruited base so much they could easily have spared the manpower.

Has anyone considered the idea that al Qaeda didn’t attack us because Bush was doing exactly what they wanted him to do? And they didn’t want to interfere with that?

Imagine a World That Likes Us (It’s Easy If You Try)

September 21st, 2008 2 comments

Actually, it might be hard to imagine right now. Though it wasn’t right after 9/11–we had the world standing beside us after that day. Of course, it didn’t take us long to kill that dead. All it took was the Iraq War and the inconceivably idiotic manner of taking anyone who didn’t agree with us and mocking them or calling them cowards, enemies, or worse. Those were the days of freedom fries, and Americans traveling overseas had to start pretending to be Canadians. And McCain is just more of the same; it is doubtful that he’ll instill worldwide confidence in our country again.

Obama, he’s a different story. Look at his reception in Germany. You think McCain could have pulled in that crowd there? Hell, no. That’s why McCain complained; he said the media was giving unfair coverage to Obama because when he had done the same kind of thing, it wasn’t covered so much–except McCain hadn’t done the same kind of thing as Obama–despite all his “experience,” he just doesn’t inspire admiration or confidence in people around the world. McCain couldn’t get those crowds, McCain couldn’t have gotten the Iraqi leader to go along with his hundred-year strategy… but Obama is more in tune with the rest of the world. And the rest of the world loves him. Even here in Japan, it’s “Yes, I love Obama!” and “McCain who? Oh yeah, the other guy.”

Granted, it’s not through understanding of his exact platform; granted, a lot has to do with his race. But that’s more relevant in the rest of the world; one of America’s long-standing icons of arrogant dismissal of the rest of the world has to do with race, with color. That America would vote for a man of color as our leader is far more significant than most Americans understand. It’s a signal to the world that we are truly ready for change. And that idea has excited the world.

Brazil is just one example. Under that country’s election laws, politicians can register under any name they wish. As a result, there are now six Barack Obamas running for various levels of office around the country.

The article didn’t say how many John McCains there are, but it’s a safe bet that there are fewer than six. Maybe five or more fewer.

Call it a matter of race, call it a popularity contest, call it a negative backlash against Bush. But after this administration pissed away the whole world’s good will and trashed it so thoroughly as to be virtually unrecoverable, the ability to recover that good will and once again be respected by the world is no small gain.

Many conservatives, being isolationist and/or nationalistic, might snort and dismiss such an idea. But it is worth an incredible amount to us, and anyone who dismisses it is, shall we simply say, unwise.

Obama’s So Presumptuous to Be Acting Like He’s President, When I’m the Real President Here!

August 14th, 2008 2 comments

After complaining that Obama was “presumptuous” (read: “uppity”) simply to be giving a speech in Berlin, saying that Obama was acting like he was already president, McCain is now acting as if he’s president in terms of his claims and actions in the Georgia crisis, saying that he talks daily with Georgia’s leader, and sending his top surrogates over there to act like McCain White House officials handling the situation. But he’s not being presumptuous! No sirree. He’s just being massively hypocritical, that’s all.

Or maybe he’s just trying as hard as he can to divert attention away from the fact that a top McCain campaign (his chief foreign policy advisor) official is a paid lobbyist for the Georgian government. Tell me, is there any McCain campaign official who is not still currently a paid lobbyist for some party of interest in currently relevant affairs? And when exactly will the media start reporting on this? How many crises have to come up where McCain’s campaign officials are knee-deep in monied conflicts of interest before the press thinks it’s worthwhile reporting that John “Campaign Finance Reform” McCain is neck-deep in lobbyists? Or, for that matter, that McCain is channelling neocon foreign policy?

Sorry, for a second there I was under the impression that the U.S. media had some chance of covering the election with even a pretense of objectivity. My mistake.

We Do Crazy

July 3rd, 2008 Comments off

The story out today:

Iran plays downs talk of attack, says another Mideast war would be ‘crazy’

NEW YORK — Iran’s foreign minister Wednesday dismissed talk of a U.S. or Israeli attack against his country, calling the prospect of another war in the Middle East “craziness.”

Ummm… do they not know who’s running the White House now? Where have they been for the past seven years?

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