29 May 2009

A Few Days of Dead Air

We're off for a long weekend to celebrate 15 years of happy and faithful married life. I'll return Monday night.


27 May 2009

North Korea Heading Down the Rabbit Hole

The inflamed rhetoric heading out of North Korea continued today with the launch of six missiles over the last 24 hours (both medium and short-range). Additionally, it appears the North Korea has restarted a previously closed nuclear plant, and has begun reprocessing of spent fuel rods. As was reported here, Kim Jong Il's moves to conduct an underground nuclear test over the weekend and frequent missile tests may have several causes, but the reasons behind his actions may prove irrelevant if he continues in this line. To date, it appears that he is using these tests to both strengthen his hand at home (and any successors) while thumbing his nose at Seoul and D.C.

It now seems increasingly clear that North Korea is already proliferating: 'U.S. security studies have identified North Korea as a supplier of missiles and nuclear materials to nations including Syria and Pakistan in exchange for cash.' Of perhaps the greatest concern, are the growing ties between North Korea and Iran. 'North Korea is helping Iran to prepare an underground nuclear test similar to the one Pyongyang carried out last year. Under the terms of a new understanding between the two countries, the North Koreans have agreed to share all the data and information they received from their successful test last October with Teheran's nuclear scientists.' If true, then President Obama won't have his year to see how well Tehran and Pyongyang are going to respond to his overtures. The Telegraph article cited in the previous line continues: 'A senior European defence official told The Daily Telegraph that North Korea had invited a team of Iranian nuclear scientists to study the results of last October's underground test to assist Teheran's preparations to conduct its own — possibly by the end of this year. There were unconfirmed reports at the time of the Korean firing that an Iranian team was present. Iranian military advisers regularly visit North Korea to participate in missile tests. Now the long-standing military co-operation between the countries has been extended to nuclear issues.'

In a 2004 report, Ted Carpenter (VP Defense and Foreign Policy Studies, Cato Institute) laid out the pros and cons of four options for responding to North Korea: bribery (again), preemptive war, tightened economic sanctions, and regional nuclear balance. Certainly, none of the options are all together palatable, and we've been using the first and third options to some degree or another for the last twenty years. There has been talk lately of employing the fourth option (that is, to give Japan, South Korea and Taiwan support in developing their own nuclear programs). Such an option takes time to develop of course, and in the case of Japan, there would be extensive cultural resistance and the need to change its constitution. China would probably vigorously oppose such a solution, no matter how pure its intent. Carpenter concludes that the US should pull its troops out of SE Asia, and allow events to take their own course (but this was before our involvement in Central Asia).

The United Nations, and activists in Japan and South Korea, have advocated a regional 'nuclear-free' zone (who wouldn't?), but this is pie-in-the-sky thinking. It's not a nuclear-free zone, and neither China nor North Korea is going to suddenly give up its weapons. China's program is well-advanced and could serve as a counter-weight to North Korea, but it's difficult to know which direction China's policy toward Pyongyang is going to go. There are extensive ties between the two nations, and China is generally sympathetic toward 'non-interference' policies (since they want no one to poke around their internal policies). On the other hand, China probably doesn't want a nuclear North Korea under the direction of an unstable Kim Jong Il.

In the end, we would have difficulty protecting our allies and assets in the region if we were to either directly engage in a preemptive strike or if we supported one. We also have a military stretched to its limits, and engagement in a third extensive engagement might very well break it. Further regional proliferation would be a long-term proposal, and is fraught with problems, and bribery has repeatedly failed. We may be stuck with containment and trying to wait for Jong Il to die. If we take the 'wait 'em out' approach, we're also going to need to ensure that we have hard blockade to further proliferation (along with the willingness to defend that blockade), and that we beef up the defense capabilities of our allies, and we need to deal with Iran now, rather than waiting a year. Without those secondary actions, we're going to end up in this position again.

26 May 2009

UPDATES: Oooh, Aahhh - Worldwide Condemnation for North Korea

UPDATE 2: Kim Jong Il apparently feels the need to announce his size by launching yet more missiles. One wonders if the only option here is to contain N. Korea, and prevent the sale of arms and weapons, and yet reports have Iran there already in observer status.

UPDATE 1: The President has announced that we will '... work with our allies to stand up to North Korea.' Isn't it great that we're now relying on others to know when, how and why to stand up?

As reported here the other day, North Korea conducted a successful underground nuclear test two days ago, and overnight (EST), the nation launched two missile tests. From the Guardian: 'A defiant North Korea fired two short-range missiles off its east coast today, according to news reports, hours after the UN security council condemned the apparently successful test of a nuclear weapon as powerful as the one that destroyed Hiroshima.' Apparently, and as predicted, North Korea really doesn't care what the US and UN have to say. That's nothing new. North Korea launches a test, we complain to the UN Security Council, the council makes noises, nothing happens. The US and the UN are fairly impotent when it comes to reigning in 'rogue nations,' as witnessed by last week's repeat missile test by Iran.

Of perhaps greater interest is the speculation surrounding why both nations seem to be pushing hard to conduct tests. Of course, it hardly matters when and why when you don't care what the neighbors think, but the potential reasoning in the case of Iran and North Korea may be more relevant than normally. In an article from yesterday, the Guardian raises three likely scenarios for North Korea. 1. Tensions over the possible succession to Kim Jong-Il. 'Signs of internal tensions have continued to grow despite Kim's political resurrection, including a cabinet reshuffle in which about one-third of ministers lost their jobs or were reassigned. A similar shake-up is said to have taken place among the highest ranks of the military.' 2. The normal paranoia under which North Korea operates. 'Jim Hoare, a former British ambassador to North Korea, said a second explanation should be considered: that North Korea was reacting to what it perceived to be threatening and destabilising external events, notably the ending of South Korea's "sunshine policy" that had encouraged deeper engagement.' 3. North Korea is descending into chaos, a situation that the Guardian understates as the 'least palatable' of the three options. '... the possibility that, increasingly, nobody is really in charge in Pyongyang and that the country is beginning literally to run out of control. If North Korea suddenly imploded, the US and South Korea might come in from one side and China from the other, Foster-Carter warned. The danger of history repeating itself was, he said, a "baleful prospect".'

Of course, calls for general 'military action' against North Korea are unrealistic and wildly optimistic, but it's difficult to see what other action might be successful. Clearly shaking our fist doesn't work. It might be helpful if China and Russia would fully cooperate with the US and Japan, presenting a unified face to both North Korea and Japan. It's possible that cutting off access to international funding and complete isolation may eventually bring pressure to bear on the nation. There are three problems with this second option: 1. North Korea may very well lash out in a way we are unprepared to deal with; 2. complete international compliance with such a strategy is impossible to achieve; 3. we'd have to stomach watching North Korea allow its own citizens to starve and suffer. A targeted military response designed to take out missiles and nuclear facilities may be the most feasible option, but of course, it would have to be completely accurate and successful to make it worthwhile. It's unlikely that either the President or Congress have the will to command such a strike, and its unclear if we're capable of it. It's even less likely that the UN would help with logistical support or personnel, leaving the US on its own to conduct such an operation.

Beyond the question of North Korea, Iran may be sharing information with North Korea and is likely to be watching the US and UN response to see how far we're willing to go. More particularly, both nations may be testing President Obama, and perceiving weakness in his determination to operate from international consensus. Additionally, Iran's most recent missile tests, along with its attempts to shut down access to electronic communication (email, social networking sites, etc.) in the lead up to the presidential election, may be more about internal communication. By all accounts, Ahmadinejad is deeply unpopular, having steered Iran's economy into a ditch, but there is also disorganization among the clerics that run the Revolutionary Guards. Ahmadinejad may be trying to win the election by benefiting from appearing strong and by capitalizing on the lack of a clear opposition candidate. A reformist is running, but there has been no clear signal that the Supreme Leader will back him. Ahmadinejad is a canny politician, willing to use a combination of bullying and bribery to win votes and temporary support, and without strong and clear opposition, he may very well win the election in June.

Whatever the reasons behind the actions of both North Korea and Iran, and they are probably multi-faceted, it seems clear the President Obama is going to need to do better than to pledge to 'work with our friends and allies.' Between his deep reluctance to take forceful and unilateral action, and the UN's perpetual unwillingness to take action of any kind, the next year may push the US into the same corner it experienced under President Carter.

25 May 2009

Memorial Day

Memorial Day is always fraught with emotion for me. I come from long lines of service members, men and women, on both sides of my family. Both my parents served (my father for a career in the US Navy and my mother for a short stint in the US Air Force) as did I and my sister (Air Force and Army (NG, Reserves and Active) respectively). On 9/11, friends of mine helped take down the plane in Pennsylvania, family acquaintances were in the Pentagon, and a close friend was working in the north tower in NY. Since then, over 500 service members that I've worked with, served with or been friends with have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Memorial Day is a true holy day (the origin of our word holiday) for me, and my husband and daughter faithfully attend services each year with me. I hope that this year, it is a holy day for you as well. Freedom is not free.

24 May 2009

North Korea Conducts Underground Nuclear Test

Following a localized earthquake, North Korea has followed up on its threat to conduct its first nuclear test since 2006. The US, S. Korea and China have all confirmed that they believe this to be a genuine test, and the S. Korean President and cabinet has entered a closed-door emergency session in response.

Anyone want to bet on what the UN will do? My guess is that it'll sit there holding on to a limp member wondering what's for lunch.

22 May 2009

P^5 and the Politics of National Security

There's an expression you probably know: 'lack of prior planning makes piss-poor performance.' It's corollary is 'your failure to plan is not my problem.' The 'problem' with the second phrase is that when the President of the United States fails to plan (acting on ideology or political expediency or both), it is the country's (and possibly the world's) problem. We saw that with some of the decisions made by President Bush, and we're seeing it again with President Obama. Yesterday's speech did nothing to alleviate concerns in Congress and among the public that there is a concrete plan in place to deal with the detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison. While the President laid out what the categories of prisoners are, and some general ideas for those categories, he made no specific statements of what plan he proposed for them. Indeed, rather than proposing something specific, he kept whining (yes, I used the word - he sounded exactly like my eight-year-old at times) that it's not his fault and that he's inherited a mess from President Bush and that the problem is hard. The Weekly Standard pointed out that President, while talking nicely about not pointing fingers and using divisive language, spent much of his time doing just that. 'While insisting "we need to focus on the future," President Obama devoted much of his speech on terrorist detainees today to denouncing the policies of President Bush's administration. He faulted everyone in Washington for "pointing fingers at one another," yet pointed his own finger frequently, and critically, at the Bush administration. Obama said America's problems won't be solved "unless we solve them together"--in a divisive and partisan speech certain to alienate Republicans and conservatives.' He wound up the speech by again pushing off his responsibility by talking about collective decision-making with Congress. Oversight is important, but Congress typically likes to have a plan of some kind presented to them for debate and modification. The President seems to want someone else to take responsibility and tell him what to do.
On a somewhat smaller, although telling, note, the President evidenced in his speech several internal contradictions (whether they're internal to him alone or to his administration is difficult to tell). During the campaign debates the President made repeated statements about governing pragmatically rather than from idealism. It seems from yesterday's speech that he doesn't quite buy that rhetoric. In one moment he said, "But I believe with every fiber of my being that in the long run we also cannot keep this country safe unless we enlist the power of our most fundamental values. The documents that we hold in this very hall - the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights -are not simply words written into aging parchment. They are the foundation of liberty and justice in this country, and a light that shines for all who seek freedom, fairness, equality and dignity in the world. ... I know that we must never - ever - turn our back on its enduring principles for expedience sake." But in the very next breath, the President went on to say, "We uphold our most cherished values not only because doing so is right, but because it strengthens our country and keeps us safe."

Why should minor moments such at the tension between idealism and pragmatism matter? In part, because the evidence the real difficulty of making national security decisions. Josh Gerstein laid out some of the difficulties in a catchy article on Politico.com yesterday. The opening sentences read: 'During the campaign, it all sounded so simple. Shut down the Guantanamo Bay prison, which critics around the world called a symbol of U.S. disregard for human rights. As president, Barack Obama has found the specifics of closing Gitmo far more complicated.' I was pleased to hear the President abandon the ridiculous language of 'man-caused disasters' and 'overseas-contingency operations,' acknowledging that we are in fact at war (albeit an unconventional war). 'Now let me be clear: we are indeed at war with al Qaeda and its affiliates. We do need to update our institutions to deal with this threat.' However, he seems unwilling to realize that being a Commander-in-Chief during a time of of war means that the president must make decisions and be fully responsible for them, even if those decisions destroy his political power. I'm not trying to make the argument that President Bush was right in all of his decisions, but I am disturbed by President Obama's unwillingness to put forward his own plan and own up to the consequences that would be attendant on it. Instead, while claiming he wants to look forward, he seems stuck in the loop of continually blaming President Bush for everything he doesn't want responsibility for himself.

President Obama's unwillingness to put forward a concrete plan has caused the Congressional leadership to balk at any closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison, and yesterday's address did nothing to alleviate that concern. Quoted in Politico yesterday: 'Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid warned that Obama’s still needed to lay out a detailed plan for closing the detention center. Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, whose home state of New York will be the venue of the first court battle with a Guantanamo detainee, said Democrats would have “patience” for Obama’s plans. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Obama’s speech “changes the contours of the debate,” but said that Democrats had “felt they were in a vulnerable position because they were being asked to defend a policy that they didn’t know.” “We’re all awaiting the details of the plan and the president is going to come up with one,” Reid told reporters, saying it was “important” that Obama laid out a “broad vision” on Thursday. “The problems of Guantanamo came from the previous administration … But we are wanting and willing to work with him to come up with a responsible solution.”' It isn't President Bush's fault that President Obama has yet to persuade his own party that he knows what he's doing and why.

Part of President Obama's difficulty in persuading his party (or anyone else) lies in the fact that he does have an internal contradiction to resolve: when to govern from ideology and when to govern from pragmatism. He does not want to use enhanced interrogation (or torture, depending on perspective) because it would violate the ideals of the country, but he does acknowledge the imprudence of simply letting sworn enemies free. He wants to close Guantanamo, but knows that some of its prisoners are are dangerous and can not be tried under any system. Vice-President Cheney calmly laid out the primary divisions in view and substance in his speech that followed on the heels of President Obamas'. 'Cheney said made no apologies for what he called "the comprehensive strategy" he said the Bush Administration developed "to make certain our nation never again faced such a day of horror." To Obama, that strategy included breaches of America’s core values in the methods of surveillance, interrogation and detention of terror suspects. To Cheney, the policies reflected powers derived from Article II of the Constitution and from the Joint Resolution of Congress authorizing the use of "all necessary and appropriate force" to protect the American people.'

While the back-to-back speeches were frequently over-hyped in the media as a 'duel,' they served as useful contrasts to each other (Cheney's speech was scheduled several weeks before Obama's). The former Vice-President began by laying out the rationale behind the national security policies of the Bush administration, directly rebuking the idea in the President's speech that the prior policies were ad-hoc. 'Nine-eleven caused everyone to take a serious second look at threats that had been gathering for a while, and enemies whose plans were getting bolder and more sophisticated. Throughout the 90s, America had responded to these attacks, if at all, on an ad hoc basis. The first attack on the World Trade Center was treated as a law enforcement problem, with everything handled after the fact - crime scene, arrests, indictments, convictions, prison sentences, case closed. That's how it seemed from a law enforcement perspective, at least - but for the terrorists the case was not closed. For them, it was another offensive strike in their ongoing war against the United States. And it turned their minds to even harder strikes with higher casualties. Nine-eleven made necessary a shift of policy, aimed at a clear strategic threat - what the Congress called "an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States." From that moment forward, instead of merely preparing to round up the suspects and count up the victims after the next attack, we were determined to prevent attacks in the first place.' Cheney then turned to the general decision-making involved post-9/11, and his primary concern with the current policies. 'To make certain our nation country never again faced such a day of horror, we developed a comprehensive strategy, beginning with far greater homeland security to make the United States a harder target. But since wars cannot be won on the defensive, we moved decisively against the terrorists in their hideouts and sanctuaries, and committed to using every asset to take down their networks. ... By presidential decision, last month we saw the selective release of documents relating to enhanced interrogations. This is held up as a bold exercise in open government, honoring the public's right to know. We're informed, as well, that there was much agonizing over this decision. Yet somehow, when the soul-searching was done and the veil was lifted on the policies of the Bush administration, the public was given less than half the truth. The released memos were carefully redacted to leave out references to what our government learned through the methods in question. Other memos, laying out specific terrorist plots that were averted, apparently were not even considered for release. For reasons the administration has yet to explain, they believe the public has a right to know the method of the questions, but not the content of the answers. Over on the left wing of the president's party, there appears to be little curiosity in finding out what was learned from the terrorists.'

One may vigorously agree or disagree with President Bush's decisions and Vice-President Cheney's defense of those policies and his own role in them, but the contrast between President Obama whining about inheriting a mess that's someone else's fault, and Vice-President Cheney taking responsibility for himself and credit for success is a stark one. As a result of the President's failure to date to present concrete plans; for success the war he has now acknowledged we're in as well as how to close Guantanamo Bay, he is beset on all sides as laid out in US Today: 'Congress stands in the way of the Guantanamo shutdown by withholding funds. Conservatives, led by former vice president Dick Cheney, are criticizing Obama's decision to release Bush administration memos approving the interrogation techniques. Liberal groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union are fuming at his refusal to seek prosecutions, release photos and end military tribunals.' The President needs to grow up, stop pointing fingers, and become a leader. Somehow I doubt he's going to do it anytime soon.

21 May 2009

It's a Good Thing that Most Terrorists So Far are Idiots

Fortunately, these clowns (a poorly-conceived attempted bombing of a Jewish center and synagogue and Stinger attack on planes in NY) were no more intelligent than the ones who attempted the car bombings in London last year. From the BBC: 'The men were arrested after buying inactive missiles and inert explosives in an FBI sting operation.'

The question than becomes, how much longer do we think that kind of luck will last? The enemy only has to get lucky once. We better do our best to stay ahead of their learning curve.

16 May 2009

Pelosi's War

The San Francisco Chronicle recently quoted the Speaker of the House as saying that her motto is: "The best preparation for combat is combat." It would seem that Pelosi has acquired herself a war with the last agency on Earth that she should engage: the CIA. After weeks of repeatedly changing her story, Ms. Pelosi came out swinging: 'Pelosi waited for her regular weekly press conference to address the issue, after a trip to Iraq had left unanswered for nearly a week media reports fueled primarily by GOP sources making accusations. "Yes, I am saying that they are misleading - that the CIA was misleading the Congress," Pelosi said. She said she would "be very happy" if the CIA would release the notes from the 2002 briefing so that everyone could see for themselves. She repeated her call for a "truth commission" to air the facts.'

The press conference was almost painful to watch, with the Speaker fidgeting, shuffling her notes, practically wringing her hands and clearly contradicting not only her prior statements but her own statement of a few minutes earlier. The Washington Times article title declared, 'Lady's got ants in her pants.' More interestingly, the article took at look at the kind of defense Pelosi's increasingly desperate press conferences has raised from her own side of the aisle. All except her most partisan supporters seem to be more interested in a self-CYA than in fully backing their Speaker, even if they're not quite ready to throw her off the train. 'Dianne Feinstein, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, attempted to defend the speaker with the argument that what someone said seven years ago must be measured against the temperature of the times in the wake of 9/11, when nearly everyone was terrified of a "second wave" of attacks. But Democrats have to be careful with this line of argument, lest they arouse speculation about just why there has been no "second wave."'

The liberal bastion SLATE Magazine, while expressing apparent admiration for Pelosi's toughness, seemed a little concerned over the tenor and mood of the latest press conference. 'Pelosi is on the attack because she's been on the defensive. Republicans charge that she's a hypocrite. She wants a truth commission to examine the role of Bush officials who authorized enhanced interrogation techniques (some of which amounted to torture), but she was in the loop when those techniques were first discussed and didn't cry foul. ... Pelosi said the CIA account was wrong and then went a step further. She said briefers in that meeting explicitly said water-boarding was not being used. We now know that at the time Abu Zubaydah had been water-boarded 83 times. Pelosi charged the agency with deliberately misleading Congress as part of the larger effort to mislead the nation in the run-up to the Iraq war. [As if that was relevant] ... At some point the president may be asked what his view of the Pelosi matter is. It's a tricky spot. He doesn't want to get in the middle of a he said/she said debate. If he defends Pelosi, he alienates the CIA. That relationship is already tender because Obama released Bush-era torture memos against the wishes of the CIA, whose agents participated in the torture. On the other hand, if Obama defends the CIA, he undermines his leader in the House and angers her liberal supporters.'

Laughing at the Speaker (something increasingly easy these days, alas, although she lends herself to a good soundtrack) is all well and good, but what is the real significance of her almost manic behavior? Does it really matter if she calls the CIA a bunch of liars, and spends yet more precious time ragging on the Bush Administration? Does it matter when she obviously flounders, 'parses' her answers, and blames her aides? Does it matter that the Administration has selectively released memos to make its own case, but refuses to declassify documents that may demonstrate the efficacy of the programs in question? In fact it does. Certainly it matters that the person third-in-line for the Presidency is showing herself up as a hypocrite and a liar. It matters that the day after Pelosi attacked the CIA and declared them to have lied to the Congress (a federal offense), she tried backtracking in response to Leon Panetta (no friend of the Bush Administration) shot back in defense of his agency. The New York Times thinks this is merely a rare stumble in Pelosi's stride. 'Mr. Panetta, a former Democratic congressman from California and a longtime associate of Ms. Pelosi, issued a statement that said the agency’s “contemporaneous records from September 2002 indicate that C.I.A. officers briefed truthfully,” a rebuttal of Ms. Pelosi’s claim on Thursday that intelligence officials had lied to her.The deepening dispute over what Ms. Pelosi was told in September 2002 has challenged her credibility and raised new questions about whether she passed up an early opportunity to expose the Bush administration’s harsh treatment of detainees.'

But an even more significant argument remains, and once again, Charles Krauthammer has nailed the issue. He began his most recent part of this discussion by revisiting the argument that there are exceptions that would allow torture. 'That moral calculus is important. Even John McCain says that in ticking time bomb scenarios you "do what you have to do." The no-torture principle is not inviolable. One therefore has to think about what kind of transgressive interrogation might be permissible in the less pristine circumstance of the high-value terrorist who knows about less imminent attacks.' Krauthammer then advanced his argument with specific regard to Pelosi. 'On the morality of waterboarding and other "torture," Pelosi and other senior and expert members of Congress represented their colleagues, and indeed the entire American people, in rendering the reasonable person verdict. What did they do? They gave tacit approval. In fact, according to Goss, they offered encouragement. Given the existing circumstances, they clearly deemed the interrogations warranted.Moreover, the circle of approval was wider than that. As Slate's Jacob Weisberg points out, those favoring harsh interrogation at the time included Alan Dershowitz, Mark Bowden and Newsweek's Jonathan Alter. In November 2001, Alter suggested we consider "transferring some suspects to our less squeamish allies" (i.e. those that torture). And, as Weisberg notes, these were just the liberals.'

The problem that Krauthammer raises with Pelosi's backpedalling is her attempt to bite the dog she earlier fed. If she had the courage of her convictions, she would have followed the lead of Rep. Jane Harman, and put her name to the protest letter, rather than later claiming 'but I concurred.' Instead, she now pretends that she wasn't willing to go along with whatever it took to ensure there was no further attack. It was the right decision at the time, and she should be willing to stand by it. Instead she's proving herself to be a coward, and in the process, Pelosi and her supporters are contributing to the demoralization and handicapping of the CIA. That won't be helpful in the future as we try to avert other attacks. Of course, that's the optimistic view. The more cynical view is that Pelosi is so incompetent, that she has no idea what she's being briefed on and what her role as Speaker is. Her pretense that she was really accusing the Bush Administration, not the CIA (who does she think developed the intelligence and briefed her on on it), doesn't make it clear which of these views is the more correct.

There's an even greater opportunity looming for the Democratic leadership to stumble over conflicting ethics and party demands; that of what to do with the Guantanamo detainees. Already, certain Congressional members are backing out as fast as their lips can move, as is made clear in the Wall Street Journal article entitled 'Democrats Discover Gitmo's Virtues.' '''We're not going to bring al Qaeda to Big Sky Country. No way, not on my watch," declared Montana Sen. Max Baucus. "I wouldn't want them and I wouldn't take them," insisted Nebraska's Ben Nelson. Not Quantico, piped up Virginia's Mark Warner. After all, it "is in a very populated area in the greater capital region." Look, "Alcatraz is a national park and a tourist attraction, not a functioning prison" for terrorists, said the office of California's Dianne Feinstein.' Hey I don't blame them, I don't want suspected terrorists in my backyard either. But it's foolish and hypocritical to yell and scream about the evils of GITMO, and then refuse to accept and deal with the consequences. 'This was not part of the Obama team's calculation. It figured it would get its bucks and make its calls. Releasing specific plans for where it intends to land these detainees will cause geographic uproars. But six weeks ago, Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions sent the first of two letters to Mr. Holder demanding to know the administration's legal authority for transfers, given that the federal Real ID Act prohibits admission to the U.S. of any alien who has engaged in a terrorist activity. The ranking member of the Judiciary Committee has yet to receive a response.'

President Obama's response to the growing issue over what to do with the detainees seems to be a delaying action; he's reviving the military tribunal system for some of the detainees, much to he dismay of his more liberal supporters. The New York Times reported that the lack of a suitable detainment policy for the Guantanomo prisoners and the revival of the military tribunals (along with the expansion of the action in Afghanistan and Pakistan) is creating a rift within the Democratic party. From the Guardian: 'Defendants will be given the opportunity to pick their own lawyers and be provided with more protection if they do not testify. The decision to persist with the tribunals was immediately attacked by critics. "It's disappointing that Obama is seeking to revive rather than end this failed experiment," said Jonathan Hafetz, a national security lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union. "There's no detainee at Guantánamo who cannot be tried and shouldn't be tried in the regular federal courts system. "Human rights campaigners point out that during last year's presidential campaign Obama called the tribunal system "an enormous failure" and that he vowed to "reject the Military Commissions Act". But the president's aides say he never rejected the possibility of using military commissions altogether, if they could be made fairer.'

The problem with hypocrisy is that it always shows up in the worst way at the worst time. The Democrats are going to have to come to terms with that before they effectively govern.

11 May 2009

Oh, is that all? - a $1.84 trillion deficit

The White House prediction for the deficit is growth to $1.84 trillion. The LA Times reports:
'The projected deficit for 2012 stands at $557 billion in the new report, which still will represent a larger dollar figure than any deficit the former administration projected in setting its own records during the eight years of George W. Bush's presidency. The new record deficit this year -- driven by the federal government's efforts at bailing out financial institutions and automakers, the $787-billion economic stimulus act that Congress approved one month into Obama's term and slumping federal tax revenue -- will amount to 12.9% of the nation's Gross Domestic Product.'

Of course these numbers are significantly higher than originally predicted by the Obama Administration, and much higher than any other administration including the final Bush term. For crying out loud, a deficit equivalent to 12.9% GDP, and they think they'll fix it by the end of the term? What fantasy land are they living in? And of course, these are the rosy predictions by the WH-OMB. Other, somewhat more sober, analyses place the deficit much higher.

The Congressional Budget Office predicts that the economy will not recover at the pace that the OMB predicts, and that the massive growth in spending will consume any recovery that does occur for quite some time. In fact, the CBO's predictions look downright gloomy next to those of the OMB. The CBO Director's blog does a nice job of summarizing their outlook, and is worth reading in full, but the this morning's report ('Budget and Economic Outlook: Fiscal Years 2009 to 2019') gives the full details. A small snapshot encapsulating surplus vs/vs deficit is at right (click to enlarge). Not a pretty picture.

08 May 2009

Nancy Pelosi Can't Keep Her Stories Straight

Most parties involved, except Nancy Pelosi herself, now says that she was thoroughly briefed on the design and employment of enhanced interrogation techniques (or torture if you prefer), and that she should have understood that fact (makes you wonder why she was on the Intelligence Committee if she couldn't understand a briefing by the intelligence community, but that's a separate issue). If she truly believed this to be an immoral action, even if she didn't quite grasp the fact that we had already used waterboarding, she should have objected. It would have been her moral duty as a senior leader. Now she's just burying herself in excuses.

According to ABC: 'ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was briefed on the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” on terrorist suspect Abu Zubaydah in September 2002, according to a report prepared by the Director of National Intelligence’s office and obtained by ABC News. The report, submitted to the Senate Intelligence Committee and other Capitol Hill officials Wednesday, appears to contradict Pelosi’s statement last month that she was never told about the use of waterboarding or other special interrogation tactics. Instead, she has said, she was told only that the Bush administration had legal opinions that would have supported the use of such techniques. The report details a Sept. 4, 2002 meeting between intelligence officials and Pelosi, then-House intelligence committee chairman Porter Goss, and two aides. At the time, Pelosi was the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee.'

The NYT reports that: 'The new chart of briefings, prepared by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the first full listing of briefings, appears to call into question the assertion of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that she was never told that waterboarding and other methods were used, only that the Central Intelligence Agency believed they were legal and could be used.'

I and many others wrote extensively about Porter Goss' editorial in the Washington Post stating clearly that he and others understood the briefings, and that Pelosi was derelict in her duty (or deficient in her comprehension - which is worse I wonder?) in not stating any objections at the time. Will Pelosi own up and take ownership or will she just keep finding excuses? I'm betting on the latter - she has no courage for the first.

03 May 2009

Hypocrisy at its Shining Best

There are times when Charles Krauthammer is at best supercilious and at worst self-absorbed, but his May 1 article, 'Pelosi: Utterly Contemptible' is the Krauthammer at his best. It's a hard-hitting look at the hypocrisy and double-dealing in Congress (particularly within the Speaker's office) over the 'torture memos' and push to investigate those involved.

Did it work? The current evidence is fairly compelling. George Tenet said that the "enhanced interrogation" program alone yielded more information than everything gotten from "the FBI, the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency put together."

Michael Hayden, CIA director after waterboarding had been discontinued, writes (with former Attorney General Michael Mukasey) that "as late as 2006 ... fully half of the government's knowledge about the structure and activities of al-Qaeda came from those interrogations." Even Dennis Blair, Obama's director of national intelligence, concurs that these interrogations yielded "high value information." So much for the lazy, mindless assertion that torture never works. ...

... Today Pelosi protests "we were not -- I repeat -- were not told that waterboarding or any other of these other enhanced interrogation methods were used." She imagines that this distinction between past and present, Clintonian in its parsing, is exonerating.

On the contrary. It is self-indicting. If you are told about torture that has already occurred, you might justify silence on the grounds that what's done is done and you are simply being used in a post-facto exercise to cover the CIA's rear end. The time to protest torture, if you really are as outraged as you now pretend to be, is when the CIA tells you what it is planning to do "in the future."

Krauthammer is dead on the money in this case. Rep. Pelosi is a perfect example of the CYA culture in Washington. The one where all principles are up for sale, even patriotism, and when the fact that they were sold cheap is exposed, blame someone else. I lean toward the argument, expressed in the opening paragraphs of the article, that there are unique exceptions that would permit torture for very specific goals. However, I can respect disagreement on this issue, and wouldn't condemn an opposing view. If one takes that opposing view however, it's important to ensure that one maintains it as a consistent principle. Pelosi sold out, pure and simple. She's been caught with her pants down, and now it's someone else's fault that she didn't understand future possibility versus present (apparently she skipped the lectures in school on verb tense). Krauthammer has the right of it here as well, holding Pelosi responsible for not doing everything she could to stop the CIA and the administration if she believed so strongly that these methods were absolutely and always wrong. Instead, she offered support and greater funding. She's not a liberal - she's simply a sellout.

01 May 2009

A Gentler H1N1 Than First Feared

This is probably good news. Genetic sequencing is complete on the current H1N1 and:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the new virus is "a very unusual" four-way combination of genes from human, bird and pig viruses found in North America, Asia and Europe.

CDC flu chief Dr. Nancy Cox said the good news is "we do not see the markers for virulence that were seen in the 1918 virus." Nor does swine flu virus have the virulence traits found in the H5N1 strain of bird flu seen in recent years in Asia and other parts of the world, she said.

"However we know that there is a great deal that we do not understand about the virulence of the 1918 virus or other influenza viruses," that caused serious illnesses, she said. "So we are continuing to learn."

The relatively slow rate of spread this time around (as compared to the last three H1N1 pandemics for instance), and fairly low mortality, means that this time we may very well avoid the pandemic label. One possibility for this strain is that it will 'recirculate' for several years, much as SARS has. The one danger in that possibility is the availability for the virus to pick up new genetic codes, becoming a stronger more dangerous strain after one or two years of circulation. The really good news with such a scenario is that researchers have plenty of time to study for the virus, and assemble a powerful vaccine. The article concludes on an up-note, comparing virulence with this strain to seasonal flu and previous pandemics.

Another CDC official, Dr. Anne Schuchat, said preliminary studies suggest that in U.S. households with an infected person, about a quarter of other family members are getting sick as well. Generally, for seasonal flu, between 5 percent and 20 percent of those exposed to the virus get sick, depending on the setting.

In some pandemics, the rate has been as high as 35 percent, Cox said.

She noted the CDC has entered the gene information for the new virus into databases that are publicly available.

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