Sunday, December 27, 2009

#188 Obamacare and the House of Lords II

... because the U.S. Senate as it exists today (continuing from last post) is virtually bankrupt as a deliberative/legislative body. And this is why I can't blame the head of our Executive branch overmuch, and that includes the area of health care. He's fighting a formidable dragon--nay, dinosaur--in the shape of that most exclusive club in America.

First of all, like the old House of Lords left over from the monarchical ancien regime, our Senate can effectively veto or amend out of existence the laws made in the House of Representatives (our "Commons"). Further, the Senate itself is hindered from changing the law or making new ones because of its own obstructionist rules of order like filibuster/cloture--rules that are contrary to the majoritarian principles of the Constitution. The vox populi is thus choked with a double garrote.

The Voice of the People just doesn't seem to penetrate the walls of the Senate chamber. For example, only a handful of our popularly-elected President's judicial and other high-level appointees have been approved by the full Senate; the rest are being tortured on the rack by the star-chamber committees. All it needs is one Republican + convoluted parliamentary tricks to delay things forever. Opposition become obstruction. You surely have noticed lately, when you step back a bit from the fray, that the debate seems to be more about numbers than about ideas.

On another front, the majority of the "Lower House"--that is, Congressmen proportionally representing and doing the voting for more than half the population--PASSED a Climate Change bill. Months ago. The Senate has effectively vetoed this bill by ignoring it. While good things proceeded apace on a global scale in Copenhagen, our parochial little Senate embarrassingly mires this important problem in a parliamentary slough.

As to Health-Care Reform, the "Commoners" are for it. By vast numbers. According to the polls, three-quarters of us would rather NOT see millions of Americans suffer and die and lose half their minds and all of their money under the current system. To help correct it, a majority of us favors some sort of government-run program as an alternative to private insurance. Where have these voices of the people been heard?--the House, of course, logically so, and thankfully. On Nov. 7, H.R. 3962, the Affordable Health Care for Americans Act was passed, restoring those missing words from Obama's speech in August (DM #186). An Exchange will be established, a marketplace of insurance plans, it reads, "including a public health option."

Will the Senate hear the voice of the majority of the electorate speaking through the majority of the House of Representatives. Or hear those other representative voices in support of the House bill like AARP, the Natl. Nurses Union, and, surprisingly, the American Medical Association? Well, the Senate dropped Public Option long ago, and just yesterday Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is threatening to call for the REPEAL of the watered-down, Big-Med-friendly bill the Senate just passed! Arrogant and incorrigible is that most powerful and exclusive good-ol'-boys-club in the land.

No, if you want kill a bill, send to the Senate. Or have it originate there, and watch it die. The Senate works very well if nothing comes to a vote. That's because this modern-day House of Lords favors the status quo ante, no matter who's in the majority--ultimately no better than a minority for either party against the tyranny of obstructive parliamentary rules. Nobody's in charge. Takes sixty Senators to stop a filibuster according to the cloture rule; takes a preposterously arbitrary sixty-seven to CHANGE any rule, including the cloture rule! Totally UN-democratic, and, I would argue, against the spirit of the Constitution. Yet it takes but a handful of small-state Senate Republicans, representing about 5% of the American people, to bring the entire Legislative branch of our government to a halt.

Only solution: a populist hero in the House of Commons, umm ... Representatives, must introduce a bill--again I nominate brave little Dennis Kucinich--to abolish the United States Senate.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

#187 Obamacare and the House of Lords

President Obama's vision for an equitable and effective American health care system by reforming the old one--a vision shared by about three-quarters of the electorate--is probably not in the cards this year or next. Goodness gracious, you ask, Why the hell not? This is a #$@ &%$# DEMOCRACY, for crying out loud. Well, not exactly: our system of government has never been a "direct democracy," on the classical Greek model, otherwise we would have all raised our hands, counted them up, and passed health-care reform long ago.

As a matter of fact, we're just about--take a bow--absolutely unique, in the annals of world history. Give us arbitrary labels like constitutional democracy, republic, representative democracy, etc., and their definitions are bound to be self-reflexive, and applying only to us. The closest to the American political system, the U.K., is only a tiny bit constitutional (Magna Carta/common law-wise), with rare recourse to judicial review, and so overwhelmingly representative as to be tantamount to complete parliamentary sovereignty. No separate Executive powers at all. But of course there used to be. They were called a King. However, even after Parliament installed the figure-head royals William and Mary in 1688, giving the precincts of Westminster absolute rule over the land--Constitutional Monarchy hadn't really worked too well since it's inception with Charles II--a kind of "executive-branch" VETO POWER resided until not so long ago in the House of Lords.

When I briefly touristed and balconied the "Upper" of the two Houses of Parliament--the queue for Commons was way too long--it was a cue for a nice nap. Our Framers modeled the U.S. Senate, as a conservative-compromise measure, on that legislative body of hereditary Peers of the Realm, who are now, however, not only non-hereditary and 100% appointed, but entrusted with primarily insignificant matters of ceremony and protocol. The day I was there in 1973, the heated debate was over something about the proper order of the harboring of boats on the Thames. As for making laws of any national consequence (read: involving money), they have been rendered virtually powerless. Moreover, there's always an annual, populist hue and cry to render them--in Britishese--"redundant" (give 'em the sack) altogether. Right now on the Commons table is legislation to abolish the existing House of Lords, unless it become 100% elected, and its name be changed to the "Senate"! For real. But it wasn't always thus.

As recently as the Parliament Act of 1911, the Lords had the power to reject laws enacted by Commons out of hand, or to amend them at will, even if unacceptable to the "Lower House." No longer. Even though they deal mostly with insignifica, all Lords legislation must, through negotiation, receive the imprimatur of Commons--the power of that popularly elected body being understood as always in the ascendant. Not so in the bicameral Congress of the United States. Our "Upper House" is the House of Lords of old ... (more)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

#186 Obamacare and Obama

The Obamacare we knew and loved last year is simply no longer the same as what its Presidential namesake seems to be embracing now. Big difference?--the PUBLIC OPTION (you saw that coming, of course), or at least what is known by that lately taboo moniker.

Now that both the House and Senate have passed the threshold of passing their respective cobbledydoos, neither passing for real Health-Care Reform--What has happened to the likes of John Q. Public Option, a plan which is only a second-rate alternative for the real thing: Mr. Single Payer? For tax-payer-funded, non-employment-based, private-insurance-free (let 'em eat Life Insurance)--that is, truly universal health care, should have been the enlightened way to go. But even its shadow-self, the Public Option, lives only precariously in the House bill, while being entirely snuffed-out of existence in Senate deliberations fairly early on. Thanks to greedy Big-Med lobbyists and grafty small-state Senators.

Obama's campaign package last year included it. He loudly promised some sort of government-run alternative to private insurance, and furthermore said that in no way could he sign a bill mandating the latter's purchase, lacking a public alternative. Well, Public Option in the Senate bill is out, while Private Health Insurance Mandatory Everybody Must Purchase Policy Or Else ... is in. Yet Obama claims some sort of victory there. Would he break his promise and sign such a bill now, if, after conference-resolution, the Senate version in principle prevails?

As late as July of this year the President was still explicitly for the Public Option. Here's the key sentence from the transcript of his radio address:

Any plan I sign must include an insurance exchange--a one-stop shopping marketplace where you can compare the benefits, costs, and track-records of a variety of plans--INCLUDING A PUBLIC OPTION, to increase competition and keep insurance companies honest.
Strong, unequivocal, oath-like words. Yet one month later, things had changed. He made the same speech in August at historic Broughton H.S. here in Raleigh (DM #134), with a couple of telling exceptions. In the transcript, the first part of the sentence is exactly the same as above, but notice the glaring four-word lacuna in the second half, and the deferential replacement-phrase at the end :

Any plan ... an insurance exchange ... compare the benefits ... a variety of plans [oops here] to increase competition and keep medical costs down.
The Obama shuffle. He's a canny politician who seems to want any kind of WIN here--it would really be his first of real consequence--at any cost. (He's yet to navigate through Congress his AfPak "surge" funding, which, alas, he'll get.) But the President has a chance to redeem himself vis-a-vis Health-Care Reform. The House and Senate still have to negotiate and get their separate bills together as one. Obama swears to be in the thick of things. And he's got the little lever to move the world in the House version of the Public Option. Who knows?--maybe the rather less-than-scrutable guy has been in stealth-mode all along.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

#185 The Middle-East Quagmire--a "Told-You-So" Quote w/o Comment

Headline, McClatchy Newspapers, 12/17/09:

Eikenberry Assures Afghans U.S. Will Stay Beyond 2011

KABUL, Afghanistan--U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry Thursday further signaled that a strong AMERICAN MILITARY PRESENCE WILL REMAIN in Afghanistan LONG AFTER July 2011, when President Obama plans to end his troop surge.

To the Afghan government: "Act with urgency." To the Afghan people: "We will not abandon you."

"After eight years of assistance to Afghanistan, many Americans and many members of Congress are impatient to see results," he said, while assuring that "OUR MILITARY COMMITMENT WILL NOT END OR DECLINE EVEN AS OUR COMBAT FORCES WITHDRAW"

Eikenberry suggested that the JULY 2011 DATE for beginning a U.S. troop drawdown is FLEXIBLE.

"THIS IS NOT A DEADLINE, despite what some people in the United States and Afghanistan have said," Eikenberry said. He added that American WITHDRAWAL in 18 months is "ENTIRELY BASED ON THE CONDITIONS THAT EXIST AT THAT TIME."
I'll let the forlorn soldier in Tom Lea's famed WWII painting, "The Two-Thousand Yard Stare," provide the commentary today.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

#184 "Whither ... the Testicular Fortitude ... ?"

To semi-quote my question from last post. Well, just today, some small amount of ball-age was discovered in the U.S. House of Representatives in the person of--defying human anatomy--Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Speaker. She represents one bicameral half of the Legislative branch of our tripartite Government under the Constitution-- as if you needed to be re-schooled after all the preceding bloggery--that is authorized as a Separate Power to hold the President in "check and balance." In this case, TO PUT A STOP to a BAD WAR.

As reported by McClatchy (on-line):

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday that it's up to President Barack Obama to persuade reluctant Democrats to FUND his Afghanistan troop build-up--his most important foreign policy initiative--because she has no plans to do so herself.
Put in overly-popular parlance ... that's balls. Though not mentioned in the the article, the elevated testosterone level is fully justified by that good ol' Constitutional clause proclaiming Congress's power "To raise and support armies ... [by] appropriation of money ... [etc.]" Stop the funding; stop the war; or, short of that, at least force a penniless White house and Pentagon to adopt different strategies to resolve this exercise in futility, and to get us the hell out. Which is what everybody wants. There are other ways to "win" a war than throwing troops at it. A Bush/Obama "surge" is another step deeper into the quagmire. It's heartening that a Pew poll reports that 51% of the American people are against escalation--to call it by its right name--even after the President's speech last week.

But it'll never happen. First of all, the troops are already on the way, despite the official Jan. 1 start-up date for the increase. In our military-saturated state of North Carolina, the government installations are emptying and deploying--Camp Lejeune disgorged a bunch of Marines last Friday, to a typically-hyped send-off.

Moreover, and crucially, Congress will NEVER stop the funding. It never has in recent history, and never will. Not as long as an Imperial Presidency is in power, and unchecked. Ms. Pelosi's intentions are good, but a funding bill for Obama's first escalation in March--the only one we can possibly forgive him for--passed EASILY through the House. This one maybe not so easily, but it will pass. Ironically, the opposition party, the Republicans, will make it a shoo-in.

Wouldn't it be nice if some wild-eyed, anti-war Representative--I'll nominate brave little Dennis Kucinich--wended himself over to the Supreme Court building and handed the Justices a brief. In it he would ask them simply to declare the undeclared war in Afghanistan unconstitutional ... and save us all a lot of trouble.

But, as the old proverbial exclamation goes, "Balls!" said the Queen, "If I had 'em, I'd be King."

Monday, December 14, 2009

#183 Our Unconstitutional Middle-East Wars III

It's clear that both the letter and spirit of the founding laws of the land relegated the President to a decisively secondary role in matters of War. In that case only, by implication--no provision for a standing army--would Congress raise and regulate the armed forces needed, but would fund them for only two years. Supervenient upon all of this was the war-powers clause of the Constitution: "Congress shall have the power ... To declare war." Then , and only then, could the Commander-in-Chief lead those legislatively funded and regulated troops into battle. If he couldn't get the thing over with in two-years, however, the money would pro forma run out (a modern "sunset law"!). Interestingly, there's no provision for what happens when the money machine stops--because, I believe, the Framers just couldn't imagine any reasonable justification for American troops to be overseas in the first place, and consequently took no thought of an extended stay.

Now, every President swears to uphold the Constitution upon taking the oath of office. Up until mid-last-century that has seemed to work pretty well, at least in matters of war. President Wilson, a true man of peace--with his Nobel to prove it-- never really wanted to send my Granddaddy, Corporal C.A. Edmunds, to the Argonne Forest to get a bullet in his hindquarters, but he had to after the German's reneged on their post-Lusitania promise, and began again their unlimited submarine warfare. Wilson waited, however, for Congress in due course to DECLARE our entrance into the "Great War," before he put any American troops in harm's way "over there." In contrast, President Roosevelt was itching to send my several uncles overseas--not necessarily to lose their legs, as one did--very soon after the Germans were up to it again at the beginning of WWII. (He had been "lend-leasing" war-stuff like crazy to our future allies long before Pearl Harbor.) But FDR waited, nonetheless. Even after the foregone conclusion of the Japanese attack, he needed to make the famous "day-of-infamy" speech before Congress, and ask for its permission to go to war.

So what happened? Well, our Presidents have become Kings--fulfilling the worst fears of our Founding Fathers. Much has been written about the age of the "Imperial Presidency," and whether the imbalance between the separate powers began as early as FDR or as late as Nixon ... so I don't have to. Suffice it that we haven't had a "Silent Cal" in the office of Chief Executive since Coolidge. No, in the last 60 years or more they have led us into one UNDECLARED war after another, with disaster in every one of them. Like European absolute monarchs of old, they have reverted to making unaccountable warfare for illegitimate reasons--"glory, revenge, personal aggrandizement, partisanship," and in sum "to engage in in wars not sanctified by justice, or of the voice and interests of his people"--to reprise John Jay's words of two posts ago.

That's why the Separation of Powers is so important, Constitutionally, especially when it comes to War. That "Commander-in-Chief" moniker is likely to go directly to a President's head, and end up crowning it. John Jay was speaking of the declivities of European kingship; later in the Federalist Papers (#75) Alexander Hamilton (pictured above)--despite being a strong supporter of a strong Chief Executive--identifies the reason why American Presidents, if not held in "check and balance," could morph into Kings:

The history of HUMAN CONDUCT does NOT warrant that exalted opinion of HUMAN VIRTUE which would make it wise in a nation to COMMIT INTERESTS OF SO DELICATE AND MOMENTOUS A KIND, as those which concern its INTERCOURSE WITH THE REST OF THE WORLD TO THE SOLE DISPOSAL OF A MAGISTRATE created and circumstanced as would be a PRESIDENT of the United States.
Or, to translate this grand example of florid and involuted 18th-Century Ciceronian prose into modern idiom: You can't trust 'em. Or, power corrupts, and absolute power ... etc. It's only human nature, in Hamilton's decidedly Hobbesian view. So he tries to reassure his audience that such abuse of power on the part of our "magistrate" concerning "intercourse [love it] with the rest of the world [read: War]" would be impossible under the new Constitution, because such power would simply NOT be there in the first place. In no way would the President's authority be similar to that of an Old World Monarch in matters of War:

... in substance [his would be] much INFERIOR to it. It would amount to NOTHING MORE than the SUPREME COMMAND AND DIRECTION OF THE THE LAND AND NAVAL FORCES ... while that of the British King extends to the declaring of war and to the raising and regulating of fleets and armies; ALL OF WHICH BY THE CONSTITUTION WOULD APPERTAIN TO THE LEGISLATURE.
"Nothing more ... " Alas. Whither has gone the testicular fortitude of the Legislative branch of our Government? Or of the Judicial branch, for that matter? For what's happening today under the Obama administration ex jure, and what has happened forever under the legislative aegis of the "Gulf of Tonkin Resolution " of 1964 (Johnson), or the "War Powers Resolution" of 1973 (Nixon) or the ""Authorization of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution" of 2002 (Bush)--is all of it clearly UNCONSTITUTIONAL. At least as the Founding Fathers would see it.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

#182 Our Unconstitutional Middle-East Wars II

The Founding Fathers, the authors of the Federalist Papers, and the Framers of the Constitution presumed that with its adoption they exempted America from the ever-ongoing warfare that had devastated Europe for centuries. They were pretty much right, for about 150 years (the 1812 thing being an unfortunate Revolutionary leftover). Excellent work, by any standard. It was only in the cause of self-defense that we had to fight the two World Wars, but they violated the letter of the Constitution nary a jot nor tittle. Congress declared; the President warfared--in each case, and in that order.

And the letter of Ur-Constitutional law is strict! More so in matters of war than the chicken-hawks in Congress would want to acknowledge, even as they self-servingly cry out for "original intent" in most matters of Constitutionality. The BlogMan is no Constitutional scholar, but he can point out the words, and it turns out that the wily old Signatories of our founding document (pictured above) had the President pretty much hog-tied when it came to War--by what they said, and didn't say. Whether one calls it "strict construction" or "original intent" or something else, a close reading of the relevant passages makes one wonder how in the world Iraq and Afghanistan could be happening, or that Vietnam ever did.

For there are two other "clauses" touching on War, while never saying it, in that gang of eighteen under Section 8 of Article I--entitled "Congress shall have the power ..."--in addition to #11: "To declare WAR ...." One of the others is this: "To raise and support ARMIES, but no appropriation of MONEY for that use shall be for a longer term than TWO YEARS." For troops and materiel of any kind and anywhere. And for, to repeat, only two years. That's about right. If we count, over the last few decades, only the ludicrous invasion of little Grenada, and the even more risible, "rock-n-roll" occupation of Panama.

And who will be in charge of these two-year wonders? Why, the Commander-in-Chief, of course. Nope. Congress. For further down the list (there's no real logical order to the thing) comes the third clause: "To MAKE RULES for the GOVERNMENT of the LAND AND NAVAL FORCES." In other words, the Legislative branch would seem to be in complete charge of who and what and where they are. The whole megilla. Moreover, when you put all three clauses together, it appears that those venerable Constitutional Conventioneers (my heroes more than ever), meeting in Philadelphia long ago, intended for the Congress, in times of both War and Peace--insofar as any federal Armed Forces were concerned--to be in charge, while not necessarily leading one.

That would fall to the President and Commander-in-Chief, as per the next Article of the Constitution, "Executive Power." Right? Well, so it may be inferred. For this Executive role is far from clearly defined, and far down the list of relative importance--nay, if anything it seems to be little more than a ceremonial appointment. Again, it's not awarded a whole Section, and this time not even a whole Clause. Here's Article II, Section 2, Clause 1, "Command of military; Opinions of cabinet secretaries; Pardons"--

The President shall be COMMANDER IN CHIEF of the ARMY and NAVY of the United States, and of the MILITIA of the several States, when called into the actual SERVICE of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principle Officer in each of the executive Departments ... [etc.]; and he shall have power to grant Reprieves and Pardons ... [etc.].
Notice that the post of warrior-chieftain has about equal status with committee chairman and pardoner ... to overstate. But notice too: nothing about the Army and Navy at war, as if the Framers were somehow reserving that term for Congress, for its powers back in Article I. And they didn't envision a standing army, anyway, so the appointment would be a relatively empty one. It would be Congress actually running the military, remember, and furthermore the Framers truly didn't envision any future wars, on their own soil or any others' --a state of mind totally and sadly lost to us today.

Much less would they have predicted some future military-garbed Commander-in Chief-manque' who might parade around a carrier-deck in foreign waters with a "Mission Accomplished" sign behind him. Nor would they have envisioned the President sending the "Militia" of the several states to some overseas desert-outpost, either. The military "Service" they had in mind in that second half-sentence for what is now the National Guard would be to fight the Redcoats if they had the temerity to come back (they did) ... but mainly to put down riots. Which ... if there were a major one today ... would be a major problem, since all the soldiers of our state militias are out-of-state by about 10,000 miles. (more)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

#181 Our Unconstutional Middle-East Wars

Can you just imagine the reaction of Jefferson, Madison, or Adams ... or Franklin, Hamilton or Jay (at right) ... or a fortiori George Washington, he of the "avoid-foreign-entanglements" valedictory--when confronted with the question: "Sir, What do you think of our current President sending an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan?" Okay, I know this little bit of business borders on the intellectually naive, but, playing along, if you could get an answer before they all dropped dead all over again in apoplectic shock, you know what it would be. Beginning with the obvious, even in the 18th Century: "Why, son, everybody knows that Afghanistan is the Graveyard of Empires! How did our troops get there in the first place?!" This would be followed by myriad other founding-fatherly objections. So very many, and so well-known, that I can leave them to you. Except for Constitutionality.

Though I'm sure many were swayed by the President's speech last week--I predict his approval ratings going up a few notches (which is good for doing good in other crucial areas)--but for those who legitimately were not ... take heart. Not only would the Founding Fathers find the Bush/Obama [oops] desert adventures preposterous, they would declare them gravely unconstitutional. Nothing new here, I know, but it should be said again. In fact, "WWOFFD?" might be a good T-shirt blazon for the kids in these war-anguished times. But really, it's what our FF's wouldn't do that is the point. If they were in Congress, the vote to DECLARE such military adventurism would simply never have come up. Constitutionally, the CONGRESS makes war; only then does the PRESIDENT wage it. In that order. It's a little more complicated than that today, for one reason only: the War Powers Resolution of 1973.

More of that later, but first: it's surprising just how little is said about War, in the Constitution. No single Article of the seven is devoted solely to the subject, nor a single Section of an Article. In fact, it's only THREE WORDS of one half-sentence, located in Article I, Section 8, Clause 11, bundled up with 17 others of seemingly equal importance like coining money, establishing a post office, and pursuing pirates. Under the general rubric introducing the Section--"Congress shall have the power ..."--will appear in due numerical course the little #11: "To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal [i.e. seizure of property], and to make rules concerning captures on land and water." That's it.

So little is said, I believe, because there was so little concern. The Framers apparently thought their wars were decisively over. And with the new and improved version of the (flawed) Articles of Confederation, now to be called the Constitution of the U.S., foreign powers just wouldn't have a chance against such an undivided national state. It also didn't hurt to have a vast ocean between us and Europe, either ... and NOT to have a KING. Wars would henceforth be a European problem, the "sport of kings"--as it had always been--on the hunting grounds of a fractious and fragmented Continent. A newly "constituted" America would be immune to all of that, and by its very nature immune from making such senseless warfare. John Jay argues as much in three of the Federalist Papers he authored, dealing with the influence of foreign powers. Here's an excerpt from FP #4:

It is too true, however disgraceful it may be to human nature, that nations in general will make war whenever they have a prospect of getting anything by it; nay ABSOLUTE MONARCHIES will often mke war when their nations are TO GET NOTHING BY IT, but for the purposes and objects MERELY PERSONAL, such as a THIRST FOR MILITARY GLORY, REVENGE for personal affronts, AMBITION or PRIVATE COMPACTS [Halliburton, Blackwater?] to AGGRANDIZE their particular families, or PARTISANS. These and a variety of motives, which affect only the mind of the SOVEREIGN, often leads him to to engage in WARS NOT SANCTIFIED BY JUSTICE, OR THE VOICE AND INTERESTS OF HIS PEOPLE. But INDEPENDENT of these inducements to war ...
But are we? Well, we don't have a Monarch, but an "Imperial Presidency" has sufficed for the past six decades. (more)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

#180 Obama/Gates and the New Culture of War II

By far, Obama's most haunting sentence from the AfPac War speech is the first one from the "Stonewall Jackson" paragraph quoted in last post:

So as a result, America will have to show our strength in the way we end wars and prevent conflict.
"Prevent conflict," though loosely open-ended, would seem to be benign, if our preventive strategy up to this point hadn't been blood-thirsty interventionism. But it's the phrase just prior that really set me to shaking in my Libertarian boots--"THE WAY WE END WARS."

Look to the logical sub-text: wars are a given, and America's involvement in them so inevitable that it's not the conflict itself but rather the OUTCOME that becomes most important. We'll show 'em, you betcha. I guess how we handled the end-game in Iraq can stand as a model for all nations--IF it weren't for the fact that we'll be quagmired in the *&%$# @$#& place for generations to come. A lot more practice would seem to be in order for "future wars."

And that's how Defense Secretary Gates puts it ... almost. Contrary to one of my favorite Boy Scout songs ("Down by the Riverside" based on Isaiah 2:3-4 )--"Gonna put away my sword and shield ... Ain't gonna study war no more"--Bob Gates and his minions are gonna, with a literal vengeance. Study war, that is. (Even though I'm sure he was a Boy Scout, too.) In a 60 Minutes interview (via HuffPost) last May, Gates spoke of how the Pentagon would support Obama's renewed focus on Afghanistan:

I wanted a department that could frankly walk and chew gum at the same time, that could WAGE WAR as we are doing now, at the same time we PLAN AND PREPARE for TOMORROW'S WARS.
"Tomorrow's wars" ... alas. Once again, I say it's long overdue that we return to the original name for what Mr. Gates is Secretary of--Department of War--for so it has ulteriorally been since McNamara. How did this Republican neo-con get into the Obama administration, anyway? But he's not the only one. In a NYT article (rptd. HuffPost July '09), one Michele Flournoy (interesting first name?) was profiled and quoted in her evidently influential capacity as Undersecretary of Defense for Policy. So doubtless she was present for the three-month colloquy on Afghanistan. That being the case, her contributions perforce reflected the following mentality:

A major question ... within the Pentagon is how to balance PREPARATIONS for FUTURE counterinsurgency WARS, like those in Iraq and Afghanistan, with PLANS for conventional conflicts against well-equipped potential adversaries like NORTH KOREA, CHINA, OR IRAN. [a breath-stopping "Hoooooly Shit!" is needed here ... sorry]. Another quandary, given that the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan have lasted far longer than the American involvement in World war II [a simple "Noooo Shit" will do here], is how to PREPARE for conflicts that could TIE UP AMERICAN FORCES FOR DECADES.
So I suppose we might as well get used to the new culture--nay, "cult"--of war in America. Shouldn't be that hard. Sooner or later, in her dystopian view, becoming accustomed to serial and perpetual warfare would seem to be as easy as sitting down to the family dinner table. For Ms. Flournoy blithely concludes that, since the conflicts of tomorrow are a complex mixture of conventional battles, insurgencies, and cyber-threats,

We're trying to recognize that WARFARE may come in A LOT OF DIFFERENT FLAVORS IN THE FUTURE.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

#179 Obama/Gates and the New Culture of War

Let's return to those two disturbing (to me) paragraphs in the text-version of Obama's AfPak speech last week. Not only has our new President allied himself with the failed policies of the last administration in conducting the Middle-East War--is Robert Gates really a secret Bush/Cheney mole?--but Obama has apparently pledged us to a future and perpetual state of war. The BlogMan hopes he's wrong.

The speech, however, did little to dispel that notion. Before making it, the President and his advisers went under a "cone of silence" about the war for three months for a "review" of its current conduct:

... the review has allowed me to ask the hard questions, and to explore all of the different options along with my national security team, our military and civilian leadership in Afghanistan, and with key partners [?]. Given the stakes involved, I owed the American people--and our troops--no less.
And what did this heavy-duty "brain-trust" come up with? A "surge." They might as well have phoned it in. More aggression, occupation. This is the best they could do? Of course the premises dictating the context of the confab were probably all wrong to begin with for any hope of peace. To be fair, Obama has said forever that he would pursue the war in Afghanistan. But then, if so: what was the three-month deliberation all about. There might have been a glimmer--Obama now having seen the blood at his feet and the slough of carnage on the horizon--that he could have taken the right course and get us the hell out. Statim. But no, too much I fear of "Defense" Secretary Bob Gates and General Stan McChrystal--career militarists--in the mix for that.

You can hear them in those two ominous paragraphs of speech-text, which I'll re-quote with emphases added, beginning with:

Let me be clear: none of this will be easy. The struggle against violent extremism will NOT BE FINISHED quickly and it EXTENDS WELL BEYOND Afghanistan and Pakistan. It will be an ENDURING test of our free society, and our LEADERSHIP in the world. and unlike the great power conflicts of and clear lines of division that defined the 20th century, our effort will involve DISORDERLY REGIONS and DIFFUSE ENEMIES.

Watch out you "disorderly" peoples ... we'll send in the troops. And to qualify as "enemies" of America, you don't have to be terribly well-defined. To be a "diffuse" threat is good enough. And then there's the next one:

So as a result, America will have to SHOW OUR STRENGTH in the way that we END WARS and PREVENT CONFLICT. We will have to be NIMBLE and PRECISE in our use of MILITARY POWER. Where al Qaeda and its allies ATTEMPT to establish a foothold--whether in Somalia [has he forgotten total failure there?] or Yemen [?] or ELSEWHERE--they must be CONFRONTED by GROWING PRESSURE and strong partnerships.
Res ipsa loquitur. C'mon ... Can you read the above as anything less than a retro-manifesto of America as Policeman of the World? There can be little doubt that Obama has decided to cinch the mantle of War-President tightly about him. And moreover to take very seriously the "commander" part of Commander in Chief. Just listen to his "military power" being "nimble and precise" and exerting "growing pressure." Sounds like a tactical field-manual. Might as well have been Sun Tsu or Napoleon or Stonewall Jackson on the TV podium last week. I can hear old Stonewall now (from his letters) positing his like-minded kind of military strategy in, eerily, much the same words: "Find the enemy and strike him, invade his country ... move swiftly and strike vigorously ... and always keep the skeer on him."

Too bad it's against the rules of the Nobel Committee to award the Peace Prize posthumously. (more)

Monday, December 7, 2009

#178 The Middle-East War: Withdrawal-Withschmrawal

Despite President Obama's disclaimer in his AfPak speech--"We do not seek to occupy other nations"--yes we do. Although the blood-letting of American troops in Iraq seems to be down to a trickle, for the latest example, the poor civilians of that quasi-nation still donate blood by the gallons, and since we're responsible for re-starting our bellum absurdum there, we'll have to be there to catch it, or not, but be there just the same ... and OCCUPY the hellish place INDEFINITELY. That's simply the way America and its Armed Forces have operated over the last 60 years ... with only one exception: Vietnam. But more about that, and even Germany, later.

Wisely therefore, while Mr. Obama gave us a definite time-span of 18 more months for war ... not so for withdrawal. I think he knows in his heart that once he has now taken this fatal step toward escalation, there's no getting out. To avoid that, Obama would have to do the right thing, the Monte Python thing, and "Run away, run away"--something that for some reason no President has ever done. Even though it's common sense in every other walk of life. Cut your losses; don't throw good money after bad; know when to hold 'em ... etc., etc. But nooooo, le jeux sont faix now for Obama, and the losing roll of the dice can be read easily "between" the following lines:

Taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and BEGIN the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011. Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this this TRANSITION RESPONSIBLY, taking into account conditions on the ground. We will CONTINUE to advise and assist Afghanistan's security forces to ensure that they can succeed OVER THE LONG HAUL.
Already, just yesterday, even these fuzzy time-schemes ("begin" is the weasel-word in the first sentence) have begun to be eroded by Obama's own people--namely Gates and Clinton--who spoke to the only definitive date of July 2011 as being far too early, thereby pushing the imaginary withdrawal schedule even farther into a vague future. In the Graveyard of Empires.

No, as much as our President would like to deny it--

For unlike the great powers of old, we have not sought world domination. Our union was founded in resistance to oppression. WE DO NOT SEEK TO OCCUPY OTHER COUNTRIES. We do not claim another nation's resources [not oil?] or target other peoples because their faith or ethnicity is different from ours [not the "gooks" of Vietnam?].

--we're there to stay. It's our history. For speaking of "empires"--we've got one, whether we like it or not. Bill Maher sounded the alarm last week on his HBO show. He did my homework for me, accompanied by his inimitably scowling wit. Enjoy:

Forget about bringing the troops home from Iraq [or Afghanistan]. We need to get the troops home from World War Two! Can anybody tell me why in 2009 we still have over 50,000 troops in Germany, and more than 30,000 in Japan? At some point these people are gonna have to learn to rape themselves ... Bush and Cheney liked to keep us all sphinctered up about how terrorists might follow us home. But actually we're the the people who go to your home and never leave. These are the facts: America has over 5000,000 military personnel on over 700 bases, with troops in 150 countries. We're like McDonald's with tanks. Including 37 European countries, because you never know when Portugal might invade Euro-Disney ... And why? How did this country get stuck with an EMPIRE? ... The reason is that once we land in a country, there is no exit strategy. We're like cellulite, herpes, and bad Irish relatives ... we aren't going anywhere. We love you long time.

Over the last half-century-plus, starting with Korea and no end in sight, the only exception to this rule has been a country that Bill didn't mention: Vietnam. We got outta there. On no uncertain terms. Therefore, the Vietnamical corollary to the American Invasion and Occupation Rule must be: The only way to be rid of the our military presence, once it's there, is to wait for it to devastate your country completely; to kill hundreds of thousands of your civilians collaterally; to sacrifice the lives of over 50,000 of its own senselessly; and, most important, for it to be defeated ignominiously. As for you folks in Afghanistan?... not quite there yet. We're destined to "love you long time."

Saturday, December 5, 2009

#177 Obama and Serial Warfare

He's for it. At least that's one way of reading his Tuesday night speech justifying the AfPak escalation. The President offered little in the way of cure for our seeming addiction to military interventionism over the last 60 years (see my recent"Veterans Day" series)--especially from Vietnam onwards. You'd think there might be some positive "aversion therapy" coming out of it all. But no. The drug is apparently a powerful one. Here's the big giveaway close to the end of Obama's speech:

The struggle against violent extremism will NOT BE FINISHED QUICKLY, AND IT EXTENDS WELL BEYOND [!] AFGHANISTAN AND PAKISTAN. It will be an ENDURING test of our FREE SOCIETY, and our LEADERSHIP in the world. and unlike the great power conflicts and clear lines of division that defined the 20th century, our effort WILL INVOLVE DISORDERLY REGIONS AND DIFFUSE ENEMIES. [emphases added]
Good, I'm glad he narrowed it down. I'm sorry, but this sounds too ominously like Obama's fellow-Democrat and former President, John F. Kennedy, who got us into worlds of trouble in Southeast Asia. No more perilous four words --foreign, at that--have perhaps ever been spoken than "Ich bin ein Berliner" from his famous 1963 "jelly doughnut" speech, mentioned earlier (DM #170). JFK was proclaiming himself not only a citizen of Berlin, but a member of it's police department, and by extension taking on law-enforcement duties for the rest of the world. But he was simply reiterating more colorfully what he promised at his inaugural ("auguring" ill in foreign affairs for decades to come) two years earlier:


The "and more" footnote is the killer. It's been getting us in trouble ever since. And don't we see these broad, fight-for-freedom-at-any-cost-anywhere brush-strokes re-limned on Obama's palette? Moreover, what are we to make of our President's vague "disorderly regions" and "diffuse enemies" that our "free society" might have to contend with in the future? Just as in Kennedy's speech, Obama is writing himself a carte blanche for military adventurism that can be cashed anywhere around the globe.

And he proves it in the very next paragraph ... a scary one, to my mind:

So as a result, America will have to show our strength in the way we end wars and prevent conflict. we will have to be NIMBLE and PRECISE in our use of MILITARY POWER. Where al Qaeda and its ALLIES attempt to establish a foothold--whether in Somalia or Yemen or ELSEWHERE--they MUST BE CONFRONTED by growing pressure and strong partnerships.
"Nimble" is a bit glib, don't you think? At best ill-chosen. It noisily warps into "Barack-be-nimble, Barack-be-quick" for me, unfortunately. (Yes, I'm angry.)

Friday, December 4, 2009

#176 Afghanistan: Obama's Big Mistake

I'll give credit to Fox News, usually a big Obama-booster, for pointing out that not once during Tuesday's AfPak-escalation speech did the President use any form of the word, "win"--because he's too smart for that. He might "succeed" in waging temporary war for 30 billion for 18 months and getting us out in, let's say (because he didn't), another 12. That's 30 months, to be conservative and kind. But what's really filling up these empty calender dates and monetary figures? Thousands upon thousands of human lives ... lost.

And not just Americans, of course. I should repeat the following facticity about our hapless Middle-East War with every post: we kill TWICE as many civilians, as "collateral damage," than the militants do in deliberate attacks. Wouldn't it have been interesting if Obama had aligned his cost-of-war-calculus with "actuarial" life-or-death outcomes. "Let's see," he might have said, "at the current rate: x-number of U.S. soldiers killed per day + xx wounded + xxx horribly mangled in body and soul PLUS xx enemy soldiers killed and wounded + xxx non-combatant civilians including kindly old men, pregnant women, and fresh-faced schoolkids = a total of umpteen whothehellknows thousands for 30 months." Ka-ching.

But Afghanistan will be "secure." There's the rub. Al Qaeda notwithstanding, the President's speech in no way convinced me that we should give a rat's ass if that corrupt quasi-nation is secure or not. Sorry, THE AFGHAN PEOPLE ARE JUST NOT WORTH IT. As I've said before, at least in Vietnam we were dying senselessly for a better class of human being. In order to be sure you'll read it, let me reproduce (just this once) an excerpt from an earlier post (DM #167). It emdodies all that's WRONG about these people, their country, and our sons and daughters giving up their lives for it. Headline:

Father murders university-student daughter for falling in love with British soldier; police release and congratulate him ...

According to the Guardian (UK) May 2008 article, the father, Abdel-Quader Ali, works as a government employee in Basra. He was not charged, but rather put on salaried leave because of "bad publicity." He is still a free man. Moreover, in an interview, he takes pride in an act that he says any Muslim would do, if he honored his religion. "God is blessing me for what I did," he says. "Death was the least she deserved." Actually she got more. Torture. Mr. Ali stomped, suffocated, and finally stabbed the 17-year-old to death. When her mother screamed in horror for the girl's brothers to save her ... they instead joined in the carnage. Says the father, "My sons were men enough to help me finish the life of someone who just brought shame to ours."

Thursday, December 3, 2009

#175 American President Sends 50,000 To Their Deaths in Afghanistan

I'll stand by that headline. For that's what Citizen Obama did Tuesday night. Why-oh-why is it that American Presidents--Republican or Democrat--grow up to be cowboys? Who like to shoot foreigners. He made the worst decision of his life.

Essentially here's what he said: Vital American interests ... need to secure Afghanistan ... sending additional 30,000 combat troops ... 18 months ... then withdrawal. So very precise! We know better.

Let's look at the numbers in terms of people and time. First of all, it ain't just 30,00o additional Americans who will be put at risk of their lives and limbs in that benighted and god-besotted land. Nope: Don't forget about that silent head-count of support personnel. As pointed out earlier (DM #167) in connection with his "troop-surge" in March, Obama will have to send an auxiliary 18,750 people-worth of engineers, intelligence experts, medical staff, military police, etc. That's the pentagon formula: 2500 non-combat folks for every 4000-member brigade in the field. BUT AN I.E.D. LAND-MINE DOES NOT DISCRIMINATE.

Obama tried to get away with this technicality last March, until it was leaked that his "modest" figure of 21,000 new troops really involved 34,000 Americans going off to war. And now he's doing it again. We are free therefore to revise his latest "surge" of 30,000 to a corrected figure of 48,750 soon to be in harm's way, on foreign soil. We can perhaps forgive his increasing the troop strength very early after taking office. It was Bush's war after all; maybe extras were necessary to help get the thing over with. But it's been eight months since then. He's self-admittedly had plenty of time and counsel for deliberating the decision of probably his administration, if not his life. There can be no pretense anymore of cleaning-up his predecessor's mess--this is stark ESCALATION. None dare call it aggression, I suppose.

As for the time involved? Fuggedaboutit. After 18 months we'll have to get out the carbon-dating kit. And the imaginary withdrawal period after that? We've got to pretend to win/lose the war first, and yet we've been on the verge of withdrawing for the last eight years. Really, I'd rather not take up any more "time"addressing an almost a self-ironic proposition. Except for this: At not a single moment during the decade we were at war in Vietnam did anyone ever dream that it would go on year, after year, after year. Until it did.

And THAT, Blogmanfans, brings me to the biggest disappointment in his speech. His dismissal of the lessons of Vietnam. In fact, I was shocked when he came out with the following:

First, there are those who suggest that Afghanistan is another Vietnam. They argue that it cannot be stabilized, and we are better off cutting our losses and rapidly withdrawing. Yet this argument depends upon a false reading of history. Unlike Vietnam ...

And I was truly amazed at the sophistry employed in making his argument from that point on. Even the "Giuliani" mantra of 9/11, 9/11 could appeal at this point only to the die-hard chicken-hawks over at Fox News--who faulted him, by the way, for not sending enough troops--or the jingoistic wing-nuts in Congress (and their tiny, absurd constituency) to whom he seems to have capitulated. Okay, not only is there a difference in pronunciation, but Afghanistan is not spelled the same as "Vietnam"--the former requires, first of all, a greater number of letters from the alphabet, some of which quite dissimilar from those of the latter, and arranged in a different configuration altogether. Most telling, I suppose , is that the two countries do not occupy the same planetary space.

But "a false reading of history"? Ye gods ...