Six Degrees of Speculation: September 2007: Archives
Every now and again, news events create a uniquely instructive conflation. Such a situation can be found in the events and the headlines of the last two days. Yesterday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad responded to a question about the mistreatment of homosexuals in Iran with an answer that would befuddle anyone with remotely identifiable cognitive abilities. In suggesting that Iran doesn't have homosexuals, the defiant leader, who seems so determined to establish his own legitimacy, elicited little more than laughter and ridicule. The response was appropriate and should have been anticipated.
Today, the discussion centers upon the apparent decision by the four GOP presidential front-runners to forego attending a PBS sponsored debate being held at a prominent Black college in Baltimore this Thursday. While the invitations were issued back in March, somehow each of the four leading candidates has declined due to "scheduling conflicts".
One might be inclined to extend the benefit of the doubt had these same candidates participated in a debate sponsored by the Hispanic television network Univision and a forum in July hosted by the NAACP.
"I think the best that comes out of stupid decisions like this," said former Oklahoma Rep. J.C. Watts, is "that African-Americans might say, 'Was it because of my skin color?' Now, maybe it wasn't, but African-Americans do say, 'It crossed my mind.'"
All four GOP presidential front-runners -- former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson -- have said they will not attend a PBS debate at a historically black college in Baltimore hosted by Tavis Smiley.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who's weighing getting into the race, called that excuse "baloney" and called the no-shows "fundamentally wrong." On "Good Morning America" today, Gingrich said GOP candidates are making a mistake because "African-Americans have been hurt more by the failures of government" than any other group.
Watts pointed out that some of the candidates with more liberal histories on issues such as guns and abortion have reached out to conservative groups that don't share their views.
African-Americans are the most reliably Democratic voters around, with up to 90 percent voting Democratic in the last five presidential elections, but Watts and other Republicans including former vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp, and former RNC chairman Ken Mehlman, have said that's exactly why Republicans need to reach out to them.
These no-shows come just days after the Spanish-language channel Univision canceled its debate because only one of the 11 Republican candidates -- McCain -- accepted.
Frankly, I view the refusal of these GOP candidates to participate in the PBS debate, as well as the prior NAACP forum, in much the same manner as I view the Ahmadinejad statement. For all practical purposes, these candidates are telling Americans that there are no blacks in America.
To understand the degree to which blacks have been ignored by the GOP, one need only look to the sitting President...a man who attended his first NAACP meeting in the sixth year of his presidency. Whether his decision to attend was at all intended as atonement for the poor handling of Katrina can't be determined...but the about face seems rather suspect.
More telling, Robert Draper, author of the new Bush biography, Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush, during an appearance on Real Time With Bill Maher, offered some added insight into the President's views on the lack of interest in courting black voters. Draper recalls the words of George Bush following his election as Governor of Texas, "The Blacks didn’t come out for me like the Hispanics did, so they’re not going to see much help from me." Draper qualified his statement...elaborating that the remark was offered as an example of the President's petulance; not any innate bigotry.
While the President doesn't speak for all Republicans, the fact that the four front-runners seem to be responding accordingly simply highlights the apparent complacency on the part of the GOP with regard to the issues of Blacks in America. We need candidates who seek to represent all Americans...and that holds true for both Democrats and Republicans.
While not participating in a forum or a debate isn't the equivalent of the spoken words of Iran's fanatical leader, the refusal seems to send a similar message...one that would rather ignore an American constituency than address their presence and their issues. Let me be clear...refusing to attend a debate should never be seen on par with Iran's execution of gays. Clearly, the former is a unwarranted snubbing and the latter is a blatant disregard of basic human rights.
Regardless, I find it fascinating to watch the outrage from the right at the Iranian President on an issue (gay rights) which the GOP has a less than stellar record. When this outrage and this record are juxtaposed with the silence by many on the snubbing of Blacks and Hispanics, it provides an important look into the prevalence of bias and the refusal to acknowledge and address it.
Fortunately, the United States isn't Iran and our record on human rights issues is commendable and often regarded as a model for the rest of the world. Nonetheless, as we prosecute this war on terror and extremist ideology, we would be well advised to recognize the comparison and contrast found in these recent events. We must avoid the inclination to suspend civil liberties in order to preserve and protect our hard earned freedoms.
Further, we must never forget that our freedoms will prevail so long as we extend them equitably and without bias. What led us to demand and create them will always provide the motivation and the passion to defend them. We can only be defeated by succumbing to our own shortsightedness and fear.
Tagged as: 2008 election, Bias, Equality of Opportunity, Fred Thompson, Freedom, George W. Bush, GOP, Iran, John McCain, Katrina, LGBT, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Mitt Romney, Robert Draper, Rudy Giuliani
Daniel DiRito | September 25, 2007 | 12:41 PM |
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Keith Olbermann offers his acerbic observations on the President's assault on the MoveOn.org advertisement. Olbermann dismantles the President's condemnation of the Democrats for not "properly" supporting General David Petraeus and our military...pointing out that the George Bush bears the responsibility for making the General a political operative ("pimping" as Olbermann defines it).
Olbermann is particularly animated in this iteration of his must watch Special Comments. Clearly, Olbermann has had his fill of the hypocrisy routinely demonstrated by the Bush administration.
Tagged as: Democrats, General David Petraeus, George W. Bush, GOP, Keith Olbermann, MoveOn.org, Special Comment
Daniel DiRito | September 20, 2007 | 10:28 PM |
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I've decided to tattoo the word "stupid" on my forehead. I've been considering it throughout the last four plus years of being treated as such by the Bush administration. As soon as I get my tattoo, I'm signing up to become one of the live moles in a new carnival game called human whack-a-mole...a game that has grown in popularity since the President spent most of the last five years making it a feature of his strategy in Iraq.
Some have argued that the game's resurgence can be directly traced to the latest troop surge...but there seems to be divergent opinions on that attribution. On the one hand, last week General Petraeus told us the troop surge was succeeding...suggesting that the resurgent insurgency was being abated. Not to be outdone, the Pentagon released its latest quarterly report yesterday...arguing that the insurgency was in fact resurgent...just in different regions of Iraq.
Upon reading about this latest episode of back and forth, my decision to join the carnival was sealed. I just can't continue to sit on the sidelines and let the Bush administration exclude me from the fun they must be having while playing games with the American public. After all, if the insurgents can figure out how to beat the President at his game, I can surely make a go of it in the carnival. I'm convinced the bar just hasn't been set all that high.
Security is deteriorating in southern Iraq as rival Shiite militias vying for power have stepped up their attacks after moving out of Baghdad to avoid U.S.-led military operations, according to the latest quarterly Pentagon report on Iraq released yesterday.
The growing violence in the south is one factor making it unlikely that Iraq's leaders -- hampered by a "zero sum" mentality -- will make headway in the fall on key political resolutions, the report concluded. "In the short term, Iraqi political leaders will likely be less concerned about reconciliation than with consolidating power and posturing for a future power struggle," it said.
Overall, the report detailed both progress and setbacks. It highlighted positive trends such as a recent nationwide drop in sectarian violence, high-profile bombings and total attacks [...] .
But in another trend seen in earlier reports, attacks spread outside the Baghdad area, rising in neighboring Diyala and Salahuddin provinces, where security remains "fragile," as well as in some southern provinces, the report said.
Violence and instability in some southern provinces reflects primarily the growing strength in the region of the Mahdi Army or Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM), the militia of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, the report said.
Moreover, the Pentagon assessment said the Mahdi Army reasserted itself in Qadisiyah province after coalition forces withdrew, illustrating how areas can revert to violence.
In Basra, the city through which 90 percent of Iraq's oil is exported, the report said that the expected continued reduction of British forces had led to insurgent groups "posturing themselves to control the city, where violence has increased due to the presence of multiple Shi'a militias -- most notably JAM and its splinter groups, the Badr Organization and the Fadilah Organization -- and criminal groups."
Meanwhile, the report stated that Iraqi security forces, though improving and maturing, remain hindered by sectarian infiltration.
Amid uneven trends in security and the Iraqi government's "indecisiveness and inaction" on key political goals, the report found that some segments of the population have lost confidence in the government's ability to improve the situation.
As Bill Maher put it today on CNN, it was logical to expect that adding 30,000 troops in Baghdad would reduce violence...in Baghdad. At the same time, the predictions of many other observers was equally rational...predictions which relied upon past experience and concluded that the violence would simply shift to other areas which were less secure. Hence, more of the same old game of whack-a-mole.
Perhaps the most significant finding in this new Pentagon report involves the shifting strategies being adopted by the Iraqi's...a strategy which now fully understands the limitations of the current U.S. strategy and has led the Iraqi's to be "less concerned about reconciliation than with consolidating power and posturing for a future power struggle". In other words, the Iraqi's realize there is little to be gained in hashing out issues they expect to explode upon the withdrawal of U.S. forces.
They are simply biding their time while we spin our wheels, train and arm them, and pour cash into a system which is arguably being diverted to the various factions in preparation for future battles. For those who doubt this strategy, keep in mind Moqtada al-Sadr's recent announcement to suspend his militia activities for six months...a move I contend is further evidence of this newly emerging paradigm.
One added likelihood needs to be explored...the one which argues that whoever controls the port city of Basra (think oil) will have an inordinate amount of power and influence over Iraq's future. The fact that the British have pulled most of their troops out of the region and the U.S. has been focused on Baghdad may well play into the plans of those groups intent on capturing control of Basra.
Frankly, the longer we have spent in Iraq, the more breathing space we have afforded to those groups with aspirations on obtaining the lions share of power. In fact, our presence likely provides the time each group needs to better organize for the eventual and inevitable battles.
On second thought, maybe its our President that needs to make a visit to the tattoo shop? While I'm thinking about it, does anyone know of a good the carnival he can join? Oh, one last thing...make sure it's one that needs an experienced whack...a-mole.
Tagged as: Basra, David Petraeus, George W. Bush, Iraq, Moqtada al-Sadr, Pentagon, Sectarian Conflict, Troop Surge
Daniel DiRito | September 18, 2007 | 6:54 PM |
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Black and white...white and black. America has struggled with these two words for decades. No doubt race is the first thought which comes to mind when one mentions black and white...but the issue is much broader than skin color...it encompasses a way of thinking that struggles to see the many shades of gray which occupy the space between two extremes.
Hence, my thoughts on the subject were triggered by four items in the news...all seemingly unrelated though clearly conjoined by the presence of a simmering sickness...one which has at its core a pitiful propensity to view the world and its inhabitants with the forceful, though false safety found in the embracing of extremes.
For most of my life, I've been a doodler...writing and drawing in school notebooks or in any other blank space I could find on an otherwise white piece of paper. By and large, my doodles were mindless acts intended to fill space...both the space on a piece of paper and the empty mental space that often accompanied my own boredom.
However, not long ago, I stopped to think about my doodling and realized that one particular pattern existed...one that was evidenced by years of writing words that are opposites...most frequently the words "sooner" and "later"...all words that are akin to the concept of black and white.
At the same time, my life has been characterized by an effort to see the many shades of gray that one must navigate in order to move from one extreme to the other...so much so that I've often angered individuals on both ends of the philosophical and political spectrums. I view my choice to do so as a decision to remain conflicted...the place from which I've always sought and found my most significant moments of awareness and insight.
Truth be told, choosing to reside in such a state creates anxiety and frustration...but the payoff has always exceeded the cost...payoff that comes in what I've called my periods of hyper-reality. During those intervals, long standing mental logjams are broken and a comforting clarity suddenly emerges in a cascade of cognition. It's as if pieces of a puzzle fall effortlessly into place to reveal a much needed image.
I make mention of my personal experience because I believe it a worthwhile contemplative construct...one that has the potential to move beyond the banality of black and white...and therefore past the animosity which seems to typify our adoption of an architecture of antagonism.
With that contextual background, let's look at the specific news items. First, the observations of Stanley Kurtz on a Salon.com article titled, So Long, White Boy, in which he points to a new book about the Duke lacrosse rape case, Until Proven Innocent, specifically citing this quote from the book, "Duke’s politically-correct faculty...produced a mirror image of the worst racism of the South in the 1950s....". Kurtz raises the prospect that the Duke case and the university response may provide evidence that reverse discrimination is the ultimate product of affirmative action. He concludes with the following.
First the Democrats alienated many white men by supporting discriminatory preferential treatment policies. When these men refused to accept this discrimination, many of them left the Democratic Party. This, in turn, enraged many Democrats, who began to think "invidiously" about white men. So it would appear that racial discrimination in law and policy breeds racial discrimination in culture. If the Democrats lose a large chunk of the "NASCAR Dad" vote in the upcoming elections, it might have something to do with the fact that the Dems richly deserve to lose it.
The second item is the "censoring" of Sally Fields remarks during the Emmy Awards. While accepting her award, Fields, who plays a mother on the television program "Brothers & Sisters", dedicated her award to all of the mothers in the world and stated, "May they be seen; may their work be valued and raised and especially for the mothers who stand with open hearts and wait. Wait for their children to come home from danger and harm's way and war". As she closed her remarks, Fox cut out the following statement.
From The National Post on Canada.com:
"If mothers ruled the ruled the world, there would be no..."
Snip to wide shot.
What was cut (some people saw it live) from the broadcast: "god-damned wars in the first place"
The blogosphere is abuzz with commentary on Field's remarks and the decision by Fox to edit the latter portion. The situation is being characterized differently by those on opposite sides of the political spectrum. One side suggests it is an issue of censorship by right leaning Fox Network and the other side argues that Field's was simply using the Emmy's as a platform for an anti-war tirade.
Consistent with the argument I intend to make, I choose to focus on the dialogue rather than the merits of either position. The following are some of the comments found on the internet.
someone should’ve thrown her off the stage, forget using a cane.
G*****n you, Rupert Murdoch! All Sally was doing was trying to offer the progressive counterpoint to that war-glorifying, Bush-loving, neoconservative medley of talk show one-liners earlier in the broadcast.
Well, if mothers ruled the world in the way Sally meant (i.e. mothers wouldn’t send their own or other people’s children to die in wars, so there wouldn’t be any wars)–what would happen in reality is that a great many Western mothers would indeed keep their children from fighting. However, the Islamist moms around the world would be busily strapping bombs to their babies themselves and shoving them out the door to kill Jews and Americans. Result? We’d lose our culture and our lives. Miserably and quickly.
As any straight man can attest, if women ruled the world there’d still be plenty of wars. They’d just cease to be for discernible reasons. I’ll go hide now.
Confirms that the right-wing corporate establishment cannot survive without war. A threat to war is a threat to their very existence. Manifestly, the anti-war movement is their biggest fear, greater even than an adverse puritanical FCC ruling. Shocking (but predictable).
The third item involves Chris Crocker, the gay man who defended Britney Spears in a tearful YouTube video. Crocker has become the latest celeb of the moment and as so often happens, he has become the focus of mean spirited and malicious comments...comments which clearly seek to use the Crocker situation to push a variety of ideological beliefs.
Most recently, Crocker took issue with a Fox News segment...one which he felt was nothing more than a personal attack by the group of reporters. There are those who defend Fox News, stating that Crocker sought the attention and therefore needs to deal with the consequences...and there are those who feel the Fox segment was homophobic. The following are an example of some of the most heinous comments in response to this latest Crocker video clip.
Clearly ur the most gay and stupid person in the world, why do u wear make-up? Are u a guy who think he's a girl, Or are just a dumb dumb, + UR SO F****D UP! Put a dildo in ur ass a gun in ur mouth and shoot urself!
what a friggin weirdo! I swear if i ever see this person face to face i will kick his/her ass!
hahaha your are sick!!! please do us a favor die soon before someone kill you for good!!!
BTW, If you WERE MORE A WOMAN you wouldnt cry like the little bitch that you are. people get made fun of, deal with it, thats what drives the world.
The final item involves the immigration debate and the belief that the GOP stands to see the gains they made with Hispanic voters under George Bush evaporate in response to perceived prejudice against Mexicans. The two poles of the immigration argument are miles apart. On the one hand, there are those who favor the deportation of all illegal's and the sealing of our border with Mexico. Then there are those who take the opposite view...the one which views the issue as a matter of basic rights and proposes that all illegal's be granted amnesty and that the U.S. make it much easier for Mexicans to immigrate.
Sept. 24, 2007 issue - Lionel Sosa has long been one of the Republicans' most potent weapons come election time. A Hispanic marketing guru, he's crafted successful ad campaigns for presidential candidates from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush aimed at drawing more Latinos into the GOP fold.
But Sosa, who last worked for Bush in 2004, has also been dismayed by the way many GOP candidates have handled the illegal-immigration issue, advocating policies like building a border wall and employing rhetoric that he says is venomous and xenophobic: "It's just an exaggerated, unfriendly position that needlessly turns away Latinos."
Unlike the Democrats, all the Republican presidential candidates, except Sen. John McCain, declined to participate in a debate on the Spanish-language channel Univision, possibly to avoid hostile immigration questioning (the network says it's trying to reschedule). They also ditched conventions earlier this year held by high-profile groups like the National Council of La Raza and NALEO.
Among Latino evangelicals, the portrait's just as bleak. They make up a growing portion of the Hispanic electorate and are twice as likely as Latino Catholics to identify with the GOP, according to Pew Research Center surveys. Yet "right now, the nativist and xenophobic constituency is in charge of the Republican Party," says the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the evangelical National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. "That's a party the Hispanic-American voter cannot support."
Quite frankly, all of these stories are related...related in their evidence of a growing climate of black and white...the need to view all situations and issues with a certainty which cannot be justified or sustained...a certainty born of bias but doggedly disguised as unencumbered eRudytion.
It's a need to determine which race has suffered more from discrimination such that we seemingly need to conclude whether one race has been more aggrieved. What can be achieved in arguing that the white male is the new black male? What is the goal and where and when does it end?
It's the need to prove that the war in Iraq is about the freedom and liberty promised by democracy such that success must and will include the transformation of the world into an image of our liking.
It's the need to characterize civility and a commitment to peace as a gender driven dynamic such that the world cannot function appropriately if one gender holds more power than the other.
It's the need to refute the potential of women of Islam as advocates for peace by defining their religion as evil and thereby associating them with acts of terrorism...all designed to lead one to the tortured conclusion that their annihilation may well be justified.
It's the need to report the news through ideological filters such that news is little more than packaged rhetoric meant to bolster network ratings and define reality. Its a public which seems all too receptive to believing that the news is either black or white...happily stepping over our own responsibility to demand that all news be factual...and doing so with an ill-conceived notion that all will be well if we can only succeed in painting a map of the United States red or blue.
It's the need to identify sexual orientation as the defining moral issue confronting the nation such that individuals like Chris Crocker become lightning rods for the bias and prejudice which seeks to unleash its ugliness by finding its way to the much sought after path of least resistance.
It's the need to vilify Mexicans as a force for the undermining of our cultural identity...all the while ignoring our history as an agglomeration of countless cultural influences...influences which were once thought to be a noble trait and a defining part of our charmed legacy.
It's the willingness of politicians to close their eyes to those walking in the back door because they long ago opened the front door to all those willing to foster and fund their political aspirations.
It's embracing all that is wrong with the construct which posits that the absence of love must be accompanied by the emergence of hate...both in our personal lives and universally in all things that we deem to defy the lazy and illogical labels of black or white.
In a world where proponents of a higher being...a divine creator...prevail...and willfully espouse the inability of science to extricate the intricacies of god's grand design...we willingly bear witness to the audacity which so arrogantly and arbitrarily seeks to attach our own vituperate views to that which we deem to be unacceptably different.
Either we accept the infinite grayness that permeates our perceptive proclivities or we continue down the path of painting ourselves into the dark corners and blinding back rooms which come with an insistence upon the advancement of ideation that is little more than two dimensional delusion.
Unless the battle for black and white gives way to judicious gradations, the red blood which gives each of us life will undoubtedly be the last vague vestige upon the canvas which was intended to represent the enduring achievements of our shared humanity. That's a legacy we can preclude...that's a legacy to lament.
Tagged as: Affirmative Action, Border Security, Chris Crocker, Duke Lacrosse, Emmy Awards, FCC, Fox Network, Homophobia, Immigration, Islam, LGBT, Sally Fields, Stanley Kurtz
Daniel DiRito | September 17, 2007 | 10:32 AM |
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Fred Thompson is someone to watch...someone who may have a strategy which is far more evolved than many may think. Personally, I'm not inclined to support Thompson but as I've kept an eye on the 2008 presidential candidates, I keep coming back to Thompson as a candidate who is blazing a new trail and carving out a niche that just might serve him well.
Prior to Thompson's official announcement on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, I too questioned his decision to delay his entry into the race. Since he's actually become a candidate, I've begun to wonder if Thompson is onto something. One recent Thompson statement crystallized my thoughts on the candidates strategy.
While offering that "debates are important," Thompson warned about letting "the tail wag the dog here."
"Standing up here, ten in a row, you know, like a bunch of seals waiting for somebody to toss the next fish is not necessarily the best way to impart information to the American people," he cracked to loud applause. "I'm not above acting like a seal every once in a while and waiting for the next fish. I just don't want to do it all the time."
Conventional wisdom has suggested Thompson's absence from the many debates may harm his candidacy...but after reading his remarks, I think Thompson will be able to succeed...or at a minimum, hold his own...with a measured participation. I say as much because I suspect that voters will soon be tired of the many debates as well as being bombarded by newfangled formats which may appeal to the tech savvy...but not so much to the bulk of "ordinary" voters simply looking for a means to garner an understanding of the candidates positions and therefore draw necessary comparisons and conclusions.
The manner in which Thompson has chosen to characterize the debate process and their frequency may well allow him to define a unique and independent style as well as a distinctive leadership quality...one that questions the status quo. I would call it a move to define himself as "presidential". Rather than following the crowd towards endless "performances", Thompson can downplay their merit while still benefiting from his well established name recognition.
His ability to distill folksy and frank messages adds to his appeal as an outsider...one who understands the voters and their disgust with polished political rhetoric designed to maximize the constituent base while maintaining an element of policy flexibility. The bottom line is to impart that he isn't selling slick...to convince voters that he's not selling anything; he's simply a straight shooter.
Look at his response to a question about his late entry into the race.
Local television reporters swarmed the senator before he had time to sample the stew. With his chili going cold in a Styrofoam bowl behind him, Thompson insisted that his late entry into the race would not prevent voters from warming to him. "I can't let other people set my agenda for me," he said.
The first thought which entered my mind as I began to view his strategic acumen was the comparison and contrast to George W. Bush. Clearly, none of the candidates want to be seen as George Bush the policy maker...but being seen as George Bush the down home person one might like to have a beer with is another story. Of all the candidates, Thompson may best capture that trait...one which has led voters to forgive many of the gaffes they've witnessed from the current president...simply because he seems to be a likable chap.
At the same time, two recent remarks by Thompson help establish the necessary contrast. His comments on not being a regular church goer and his suggestion that he was uncomfortable talking about his faith at length...other than to state he was "right with God and the people I love" is a clear deviation from the Bush approach to religion as a driving force. Add in his virtually disengaged reaction to a question about the Terri Schiavo situation and an astute pattern emerges. Let me explain.
The press jumped upon both comments. With regard to his sporadic church attendance, a number of pundits saw it as the equivalent of political suicide. Perhaps that makes sense on the surface but it requires more reflection. As the 2008 election approaches, one must first look backward and forward...backward to eight years of the Bush administration's perceived religious excess...forward to the efforts by Democratic candidates to accentuate and highlight their proximity to religious faith.
I suspect many voters will view Thompson's position as authentic...a position absent the religious pandering which characterized the Bush years...and one which refuses to engage in the seeming rush by Democrats to demonstrate their religious credentials so as not to alienate the faithful. As I perceive Thompson's remark, I suspect it mirrors the views of a majority of Americans...one that strikes a practical balance in the current political atmosphere.
As to the Schiavo comments, many in the media portrayed them as a liability which may be indicative of a candidate lacking the necessary sharpness...an acuity which some argue could have been refined by an earlier entrance into the fray. His vagueness has also been cast as potentially supportive of the suspicions that Thompson is lazy. I disagree with both assumptions. Take a look at Thompson's actual statement on the Schiavo situation.
"I can't pass judgment on it. I know that good people were doing what they thought was best," Thompson said. "That's going back in history. I don't remember the details of it." [...] "Local matters generally speaking should be left to the locals. I think Congress has got an awful lot to keep up with."
As I read the words, they were in keeping with the opinion of most Americans from a number of angles. No, they won't necessarily satisfy the far right...but Thompson has support from that quarter already as a function of the perceived insufficiencies of his opponents...meaning he need not pander to them on social issues. Rather, his words establish his conservative credentials for those independents who may have voted Democratic in 2006 as well as those Republicans who have viewed George Bush as an acceptable social conservative but also a president wholly lacking in the traditional GOP conservatism which has become equated with Ronald Reagan.
Further, his answer is actually in line with what most Democrats felt about the situation. Specifically, they believed it shouldn't have become a national political issue whereby Congress and the President would intervene in a matter which had been fully vetted at the appropriate levels. In other words, Thompson's lack of knowledge...or lack of interest...along with his musing that Congress has plenty to do already...sends some important and welcome messages to Reagan Democrats; he doesn't intend to be George Bush, he is a traditional conservative, he supports limited government intervention, and religion will not drive his presidency.
Even his comments on gay marriage honor this apparent strategic equation.
Patrick Sammon, president of the Log Cabin Republicans, said Thompson’s proposal stops short of resurrecting the failed Federal Marriage Amendment, which sought to define marriage as being solely between a man and a woman.
“It is a pretty huge difference from the Federal Marriage Amendment that President Bush supported," he said. “This proposal would not prohibit state legislatures from passing gay marriage."
But many gay activists said Thompson’s proposal would nonetheless enshrine discrimination in the U.S. Constitution.
Thompson’s camp eventually issued a statement clarifying his stance.
“If necessary, he would support a constitutional amendment prohibiting states from imposing their laws on marriage on other states," it said. “Fred Thompson does not support a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage."
Clearly, Thompson's position won't fully satisfy evangelicals...but it must be looked at in comparison to his fellow GOP candidates. In that regard, he has little to lose in establishing a federalist position on the issue...and is likely to draw some much needed support from moderate Republicans and independent voters.
One last statement shines a bright light on the Thompson strategy. During a recent campaign stop in Florida, Thompson addressed No Child Left Behind...calling it a good idea but once again seeking to strike the right balance between federally mandated programs and good old local decision making. Here's how he summarizes his view.
"It's your responsibility," he said. "If you don't like what's going on, don't get in your car and drive by your school board and maybe drive by the capitol and get on an airplane and fly to Washington and say, 'I don't like the way the school down the street is being run.'"
Where does such a strategy potentially position Fred Thompson? He holds his own with the social conservative evangelical voters who lack better choices, he recaptures the essence of traditional conservatism, he broadens his appeal with independents, and he opens the door to capturing Reagan Democrats. If he can make that happen, that's a pretty impressive achievement.
Tagged as: 2008 Election, Evangelicals, Federalism, Fred Thompson, No Child Left Behind, Religion, Same-Sex Marriage, Terri Schiavo
Daniel DiRito | September 14, 2007 | 10:59 AM |
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The United States, in it's efforts to combat terrorism under the Bush administration, has chosen military intervention as its preferred approach...an approach which successfully toppled anti-American regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. In my opinion, the larger objective remains elusive...that being changing the hearts and minds of the inhabitants of those nations which have the potential to foster further terrorist activities.
Prior to 9/11, Afghanistan was under the control of the Taliban and Osama bin Laden was a welcome inhabitant who freely organized and ran terrorist camps which espoused the rejection of the West and in particular, the United States. Today, many believe that bin Laden has set up shop in Pakistan despite the fact that the country is under the control of U.S. ally, Pervez Musharraf. Notwithstanding, his pro-western stance has made him an unpopular figure...so much so that recent polling shows him trailing Osama bin Laden by a significant margin.
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf -- a key U.S. ally -- is less popular in his own country than al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, according to a poll of Pakistanis conducted last month by an anti-terrorism organization.
Additionally, nearly three-fourths of poll respondents said they oppose U.S. military action against al Qaeda and the Taliban inside Pakistan, according to results from the poll conducted by the independent polling organization Terror Free Tomorrow.
"We have conducted 23 polls all over the Muslim world, and this is the most disturbing one we have conducted," said Ken Ballen, the group's head. "Pakistan is the one Muslim nation that has nuclear weapons, and the people who want to use them against us -- like the Taliban and al Qaeda -- are more popular there than our allies like Musharraf."
According to poll results, bin Laden has a 46 percent approval rating. Musharraf's support is 38 percent. U.S. President George W. Bush's approval: 9 percent.
Asked their opinion on the real purpose of the U.S.-led war on terror, 66 percent of poll respondents said they believe the United States is acting against Islam or has anti-Muslim motivation. Others refused to answer the question or said they did not know.
"We failed in winning hearts and minds in Pakistan," Ballen told CNN. "In fact, only 4 percent said we had a good motivation in the war on terrorism."
After American relief efforts following the October 2005 earthquake in Pakistan's Kashmir region, 46 percent of Pakistanis had a positive opinion of the United States, according to the poll. But as of last month, only 19 percent reported a favorable opinion.
Meanwhile, al Qaeda has a 43 percent approval rate; the Taliban has a 38 percent approval rate; and local radical extremist groups had an approval rating between 37 percent to 49 percent.
There were a few bright spots in the poll results, however. Opposition leader Benazir Bhutto -- a relatively moderate and progressive figure, as well as a woman -- had a 63 percent approval rating.
Seventy-five percent of poll respondents said suicide bombings are rarely or never justified.
The comfort the United States garners from Musharraf's hold on power in Pakistan is understandable. However, his ability to keep the lid on extremists and maintain his position are both in question...a reality which leads one to wonder if our current strategy to combat terrorism can succeed. The fact that Pakistan has nuclear weapons only exacerbates our need to get it right. How that is accomplished should be a policy priority.
What we should do in Pakistan cannot be determined absent a review of the lessons learned in Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, our experience in those nations reveals a frightening pattern which cannot be ignored. With Afghanistan and Iraq, the forces for extremism continue to undermine our efforts to reconstitute regimes friendly to the United States.
At the same time, the goal of democratizing these nations may well enable the election of governments hostile to the United States. Were that to happen, one would have to question the strategy and the means to achieving our objective...that being an end to anti-American extremism which is intent upon executing terrorist strikes in the United States.
No where is this dilemma more evident than in Pakistan...and given its nuclear capacity...no where is the outcome more critical. In addition to gleaning lessons from Afghanistan and Iraq, history tells us of the risks of supporting unpopular regimes. Our experience in Iran during the 1970's offers a clear example...as well as an ominous warning. At the time, the United States backed the Shah of Iran and his pro-western objectives. Unfortunately, he was eventually unseated and replaced with a radical Islamic regime hostile towards the West and particularly the United States.
Musharraf's tenuous grip on Pakistan is frighteningly familiar...and it highlights the potential for a similar foreign policy gaffe. A number of foreign policy experts see a silver lining in the Musharraf situation...one which rests in the fact that those in the best position to challenge the existing regime politically are generally viewed as moderates. While I accept that assessment, I see time as our enemy.
Here's the equation. The longer Musharraf holds power against the will of the populace (meaning he continues to postpone democratic elections), the more likely extremist groups will gain strength. The optimism resulting from Musharraf's discussions to share power with former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto may seem valid on the surface but there is a possibility that it will push more Pakistani's into extremist camps as the compromise may well be viewed as unacceptable and an indication that Musharraf's opponents have also sold out to U.S. pressure and Western interests.
Further tempering this optimism is Musharraf's recent deportation of his foe, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif...a move made in opposition to the ruling of the Supreme Court to lift his exile...and a move which may only heighten the emerging skepticism and lead to a strengthening of radical extremists and their anti-American rhetoric.
The bottom line is that there is great risk attached to our ongoing support of Musharraf...despite his apparent cooperation in combating terrorism and the hopes that a shared power arrangement will put an end to his sliding popularity. If the Pakistani's determine that their government (either the one that currently exists or one which results from an apparent compromise) is nothing more than a fabrication intended to further American objectives, they may well be pushed into the open arms of extremists just as we witnessed in Iran.
While the United States may possess the military might to continue to confront hostile regimes, at some point the ground swell of animosity and radical ideology aimed at vilifying the West and the United States may well push us into a position similar to Israel...one that describes us as a mortal enemy to a majority of the nations of the Middle East and one that ends our still salvageable role as an honest broker for peace in the region. If this happens, I fear we can expect to see terrorism becoming a common and chronic occurrence in the homeland.
Lastly, the current strategic divide in the United States may well be a battle of straw man arguments. There is little reason to believe that our Iraq dilemma and the larger war on terror can or will be solved by the current interventionist strategy or the proposed alternative of full withdrawal. While a case can and should be made to discontinue the status quo, an alternative which will address the core issue of anti-American sentiment has yet to be identified. Those who seek to argue otherwise would be well advised to look at the realities found in Pakistan.
Whether it be hands on in Afghanistan and Iraq or hands off in Pakistan, the tide towards extremism has yet to be abated. Perhaps its time to set aside the rhetoric and refocus?
Tagged as: Afghanistan, Benazir Bhutto, George W. Bush, Iraq, Nawaz Sharif, Neoconservatism, Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, Terrorism, War On Terror
Daniel DiRito | September 12, 2007 | 9:48 AM |
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Before George Bush was elected in 2,000, my Republican friends were touting the potential of Colin Powell joining the Bush team...a move they felt overwhelmingly amplified their desire to support George Bush. After the election and the Cabinet appointments, there was talk of a "Dream Team"...citing Powell, Rumsfeld, and Rice as the best available athletes...a combination of experience, wisdom, and raw talent.
Nearly seven years later, only Rice remains...and while some still embrace her star potential, many feel she exemplifies the flickering remnants of a light that never reached its potential and the growing shadow that has been cast over what remains of the Bush administration.
For those who so hopefully championed the Bush presidency, there are few answers to explain the twists and turns that brought many of them to this disappointing juncture. For those interested in a candid assessment, Colin Powell, in the latest GQ Magazine, provides some much needed insight.
On affirmative action:
Affirmative action is a concept that is probably not a growth industry. I'm glad it will eventually go away. But when I go to these inner-city neighborhoods, including across the street here in the Washington area, you can’t tell me these kids have the same opportunity that other kids have or that my kids have. Is it because they're black that these kids are at a disadvantage? To some extent no, to some extent yes. We can't deny it. Therefore, to the extent that we still believe it appropriate to provide some way of balancing the legacy of the past, I think we have an obligation to do so.
Powell's view is one I would actually equate with the notion of compassionate conservatism...a practical analysis of the realities on the ground and a pragmatic and thoughtful approach to effecting the necessary change to assure that opportunity is available to all Americans.
On the threat of terrorism:
What is the greatest threat facing us now? People will say it's terrorism. But are there any terrorists in the world who can change the American way of life or our political system? No. Can they knock down a building? Yes. Can they kill somebody? Yes. But can they change us? No. Only we can change ourselves. So what is the great threat we are facing?
I would approach this differently, in almost Marshall-like terms. What are the great opportunities out there—ones that we can take advantage of? It should not be just about creating alliances to deal with a guy in a cave in Pakistan. It should be about how do we create institutions that keep the world moving down a path of wealth creation, of increasing respect for human rights, creating democratic institutions, and increasing the efficiency and power of market economies? This is perhaps the most effective way to go after terrorists.
The only thing that can really destroy us is us. We shouldn't do it to ourselves, and we shouldn't use fear for political purposes—scaring people to death so they will vote for you, or scaring people to death so that we create a terror-industrial complex.
Simply stated, Powell rejects the notion of cowboy diplomacy in favor of measured diplomatic and economic efforts to remove the underlying motivations that lead to extremist thoughts and organizations. In essence, give people a dream that can exceed and overcome the desperation which creates fanaticism...hope must exist for terrorism to lose its appeal.
More importantly, Powell recognizes the dangers of a leadership which fosters and foments the fears of voters for political gain. My own experience traveling around the world just after the 2004 election was enlightening. Many Europeans, prior to the 2004 election, had viewed the actions of George Bush as indicative of a zealous president out of touch with his well intentioned constituents.
Following the Bush reelection, the world began to wonder if they no longer understood the American public...wondering if the events of 9/11 had led the inhabitants of the world's only superpower to shed their image as a force for reason and rationality in an already volatile world...electing instead to allow their fears to lead them to the adoption of an aggressive and arbitrary foreign policy.
On closing Guantanamo:
Let's show the world a face of openness and what a democratic system can do. That’s why I want to see Guantánamo closed. It's so harmful to what we stand for. We literally bang ourselves in the head by having that place. What are we doing this to ourselves for? Because we’re worried about the 380 guys there? Bring them here! Give them lawyers and habeas corpus. We can deal with them. We are paying a price when the rest of the world sees an America that seems to be afraid and is not the America they remember.
Powell's views on Guantanamo are simply a further call for the United States to uphold its long established values in the face of challenges to our way of life. If our defense of freedom is to include the denial of the very principles which denote a free society, how can the world embrace our efforts and how can they trust our intentions? Truth be told, our greatest defense has always been our commitment to upholding our way of life...even in the face of adversity.
On the failed Iraq strategy:
I went to the White House and had a private session with him. I told him that we could knock over Saddam’s regime but he needed to understand what we would be faced with once we had done that. It was my “When you break it, you own it" speech. I said that this invasion would tie up the better part of 40 percent of our army for an indefinite period of time. It will be hugely expensive. You will be dealing with this for a long time to come. I said, “Take it to the U.N. See if we can get something from the U.N. that might allow us to avoid this war."
The military presented its plans, and I was secretary of state, so it wasn’t really my role, but I said it didn’t seem to me that the plans called for enough force to impose our will or enough troops to deal with the problems that might come up.
They were right for the first part, the capture of Baghdad. And I never really had any question about the force needed for that. My question had been, “Have you guys really thought through the aftermath?" That's what we hadn't done. That was the big mistake. Don had written a list of the worst things that could happen, but we didn't do the contingency planning on what we would do about it. So we watched those buildings get burned down, and nobody told the divisions, “Hey, go in there and declare martial law and whack a few people and it will stop."
On the troop surge:
You can surge all of the American troops you want, but they can't stop this. Suppose I'm a battalion commander. My troops ask, “What do I do today, boss?" “Let's go fight the Shia militias!" “What do I do tomorrow?" “Let's go fight the Sunni insurgents!" “What do I do the day after tomorrow?" “Let's go chase Al Qaeda!" “What do we do the day after that?" “We're going to guard streets!" Our kids are fantastic. But this is not sustainable. Our surge can work only with an Iraqi political and military surge.
On nation building and exporting democracy:
Yes. I can give you a lesson on Jeffersonian democracy that will bring tears to your eyes, but when I was doing business as the secretary of state, the word I used was reform, less so than democracy. When I dealt with the Arab world, we had several conferences on reform. The word democracy frightened them. As a Saudi leader said to me, “Colin, please, give us a break. Do you really want to see Jeffersonian democracy in Saudi Arabia? Do you know what would happen? Fundamentalists would win, and there wouldn't be any more elections." President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt would say the same thing. They all were saying, “Take a look at our history and where we are. You can talk to us about reform, but don't tell us to become Jeffersonian democracies tomorrow. It's not possible."
We have a tendency to lecture and perhaps not think things through. We have to be careful what we wish for. Are we happy with the democracy that Hamas gave us? There are some places that are not ready for the kind of democracy we find so attractive for ourselves. They are not culturally ready for it, they are not historically ready for it, and they don't have the needed institutions.
On salvaging America's image:
We should remember what that image was, back after World War II. It was the image of a generous country that sought not to impose its will on other countries or even to impose its values. But it showed the way, and it helped other countries, and it opened its doors to people—visitors and refugees and immigrants.
That's the image we have to portray to the rest of the world: kind, generous, a nation of nations, touched by every nation, and we touch every nation in return. That's what people still want to believe about us. They still want to come here. We've lost a bit of the image, but we haven't lost the reality yet. And we can fix the image by reflecting a welcoming attitude—and by not taking counsel of our fears and scaring ourselves to death that everybody coming in is going to blow up something. It ain't the case.
Suffice it to say that the Iraq war and our foreign policy strategy were undoubtedly the primary reason for Powell's exit from the administration. The Bush administration saw the 2004 election as evidence of a new voter mentality...one fully aligned with the neocon view that we cease massaging the world towards democratic values and begin the work of muscling those who refuse to embrace it.
Clearly, Powell understands that power can mimic persuasion but it cannot transform despair or dissent into democracy. In reality, persuasion is the most effective means to power...and the one which requires the least effort to maintain.
Conversely, power obtained with the barrel of a gun is only persuasive so long as the gun remains in place. Diplomatic and economic persuasion, on the other hand, are eventually self-perpetuating and they effect change at the key level...the general population...and the effort needed will therefore diminish over time. In the end, power wains; but persuasion sustains.
Our efforts to end terrorism must not only involve a strong defense and a thoughtful pursuit of the perpetrators; it must include the removal of the conditions which enhance its appeal. Further, it is an uninformed oversimplification to equate terrorism with Islam. Islam isn't inherently evil; those who seek to use it as the vehicle with which to promote their agenda are evil. Therefore, it is essential that we use caution and avoid generalizations which could lead others to embrace radicalized interpretations.
In fact, history tells us that all religions can be hijacked to further radical agendas. Halting that process is rarely achieved by condemning the religion; rather it is imperative that the evildoers be isolated from their religion and those who practice it appropriately, that those who embrace the legitimate precepts of said religion receive assurances that they are not at risk and subject to condemnation, and that the evil interlopers be identified, exposed, and extinguished. Its a divide and conquer equation; not the Bush administration's singular view that conquest connotes capitulation.
In the final analysis, it has taken the Bush administration nearly three years to realize that most of the warnings offered by Colin Powell were accurate assessments. Unfortunately, that will never be voiced, and in the interim the American public has received a litany of revised justifications and shifting strategic objectives too disjointed to rationalize and too married to partisan politics to prevail.
Worse yet, during that time, the image of the United States has been unnecessarily tarnished, extremists have been emboldened by our actions, and we have yet to achieve an ideological turning point in those regions which foster terrorism. The battle is not yet lost, but precious talent, time, trust, and troops have been lost in the Bush administration's languor of lordliness.
Tagged as: Colin Powell, Democracy, Diplomacy, George W. Bush, GQ, Guantanamo, Iraq, Islamic extremism, Nation Building, Terrorism
Daniel DiRito | September 11, 2007 | 10:08 AM |
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I've previously written about our "chain letter society"...my own hypothesis that our society has become obsessed with winning, the notion of number one, and all that can be associated with the position at the front of the line...such that little else seems to matter.
The process is initiated by parents who instill such thoughts in the minds of their children and then push them to attain nothing less. In my theory, over time, the mechanisms which hold a society together are eroded to the point that singular objectives overwhelm the pursuit of collective goals...devolving into the classic scenario of dog eat dog.
As I was sitting at my computer, surfing the web and experiencing a nondescript feeling of frustration, I suddenly realized the source. I've been watching a number of situations unfold that have all the makings of the growing excesses one might expect from a "chain letter society"...complete with healthy portions of self-serving irrationality.
Initially, the connecting points might not be apparent, but bear with me as I attempt to weave a coherent argument. Let me begin by identifying the topics of note. The first has been the anger directed at Atlanta Falcon quarterback Michael Vick as a result of his involvement with dog fighting. The second is the endless jockeying on the part of several states to enhance their position in the presidential primaries...and the third is the effort being launched in California to divide their presidential electoral votes based upon the percentage of the popular vote each candidate receives as opposed to the existing process of awarding them all to the candidate who garners the most votes.
The Michael Vick situation provides the necessary backdrop for discussing the other two issues. In the Vick case, from the outset, there was a clear and consistent criticism of his actions and countless people came to the defense of dogs which are abused or killed in such operation. I believe that reaction is valid and reasonable by most measures of civility.
As one deciphers the outrage, the underlying basis seems to center upon the imposition of injustice and the infliction of cruelty. Further, I would contend that most individuals believe it is wrong to subject these dogs to the whims of those who own them and who presumably seek the psychic rewards that may come from having the toughest dog in the circuit. In essence, the owner is consumed with the notion of Fido being number one...such that the welfare of Fido is secondary to the needs of his master.
In pointing to the Vick situation, it provides evidence of three things. One, most people have an innate moral compass which recognizes injustice. Two, most people dislike it when others live out their insufficient egos by victimizing those they can manipulate. Thirdly, most people have the ability to recognize when others are excessive in their pursuit to be viewed as king of the hill.
Pivoting to the other two news items, we begin to see signs of a subtle, though significant, inconsistency...an inconsistency which begins to distinguish and divorce individual self-interest apart from the need for a society to monitor and exhibit self-restraint and self-discipline. Further, the fact that we are now dealing with human beings as opposed to our canine companions is undoubtedly relevant to the analysis.
I believe it is safe to conclude that the actions of a society or some identifiable segment of that society reflect the predominant beliefs of its members. Such subsets can include our child's soccer team or, with regard to the presidential primary, it can be an individual state. In both cases, it isn't difficult to see the emergence of self-interest and the de-emphasis of self-restraint and self-discipline. Suddenly, the empathy which elicited a measurable compassion for our four legged friends seems to evaporate when the aggrieved are fellow human beings.
In our current societal construct, we have apparently elevated the principle of being number one to a desirable trait...one to which we do not attach the same outrage which was reserved for Michael Vick's behavior with regard to his dogs...one which doesn't seek to penalize those parents who act similar to Michael Vick with regards to their children and the traits they endeavor to instill within them.
Specifically, ingraining the instincts of a pit bull in our children with regard to success and the achievement of number one status suddenly supersedes the attachment of any deterrents to unbridled self-interest and the pursuit of dominant status. As such, we abhor the Michael Vick's of the world whose actions are arguably selecting for the same outcome we embrace with regards to our children's human interactions...actions and outcomes which of course are applied to entities like soccer teams and individual states. In the end, injustice and cruelty in our human interactions is therefore ignored and outrage can rarely be found.
It now becomes easy to see how our primary system is symptomatic evidence of the ailment identified by the concept of a "chain letter society". It is also fraught with the pitfalls of any pyramid scheme...meaning that a select few can ascend to the top and getting there must be done upon the backs of those sacrificed in the process. Logic tells us only one state can arguably be first...but when the mechanisms of self-restraint are removed, chaos is bound to ensue. The objective of electing a competent president becomes inferior to the self-interests of individuals and groupings of individuals such that the fundamental goal is now fully obstructed and virtually irrelevant.
As if that isn't a sufficient bastardization of the intent upon which our society is predicated, the scramble for success knows no bounds and is further evidenced in the effort to alter the equation for apportioning electoral votes in California, one of the largest states...one that has the potential to alter the entire election outcome in order to assure that the highest position can be secured.
Taking it a step further, those who are pushing this change are not doing so because they believe all states should adopt the same system. They are acting to obtain an advantage and their selection of the state of California can be equated with Michael Vick's selection of superior dogs...which of course spells irrelevance...or in the case of the dogs, death...for those who haven't chosen to participate in the rush for dominance regardless of ethical considerations as well as the well being of the existing entity...the United States.
As with the primary dates, when the selective altering of the electoral system overshadows the objective of preserving and promoting the national interest, then the nation becomes inferior to the self-interests of individuals and groupings of individuals such that the fundamental and primary goal is now fully obstructed and virtually irrelevant.
Michael Vick's actions were wrong and they shouldn't be condoned. The same is true of the efforts to alter the primary system and the distribution of electoral votes. All are indications of the ailment I've identified as our preoccupation with the precepts of a "chain letter society". The struggle to be number one...whether that begins at home with the instruction of our children or whether it is has become a foregone reality which has infiltrated every fiber of our political system...is nothing more than a recipe for failure.
While we seek to defend Michael Vick's dogs from the infliction of injustice and cruelty, we simultaneously have justice locked in our lethal jaws...attempting to shake from it any semblance of our commitment to the ethical treatment of our fellow human beings. Perhaps our outrage at the savagery of dog fighting is little more than a reaction to an unwelcome glimpse of our own bloodthirsty barbarism.
Image courtesy of In A Vault Underground
Tagged as: Bill Richardson, California Electoral Votes, Chain Letter Society, Dog Fighting, Iowa, Jennifer Granholm, Michael Vick, Michigan, Presidential Primaries
Daniel DiRito | September 4, 2007 | 1:04 PM |
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Recently, there has been a significant amount of debate as to the meaning of U.S. troop casualties in Iraq. The premise behind this dialogue is an attempt to gauge the success or failure of the Bush administration's troop surge as well as the overall success or failure of our efforts to bring stability and security to Iraq.
The discussion has included not only the total number of U.S. fatalities, but also an understanding of the circumstances which have led to those casualties. Casualties that cannot be attributed to combat have been removed from the lists of some who have commented on the topic. Specifically, troops killed in helicopter crashes which were not the result of combat have been removed from some of the lists of U.S. casualties. Therefore, the inclusion of the high number of dead which often result from such crashes can significantly alter the interpretation.
As I read and sifted through this information looking for answers, it occurred to me that before I offered any hypothesis, I should objectively explore the validity of the many arguments being brought forward. Clearly, it is only natural for Americans to look for ways to gauge the success of the war. At the same time, one has to wonder what can actually be gleaned from this troop death data...and what other data might be equally relevant to drawing any meaningful conclusions.
If the war were taking place on U.S. soil, I'm certain that our civilian casualties would merit the same attention as our troop fatalities. I believe this to be true in light of the fact that this war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan...as well as the war on terror...all resulted from the civilian casualties of the 9/11 terror attacks. It's important to realize that the deaths of just under 3,000 civilians led to these three wars. One can't help but wonder how many deaths we should accept in order to address these wrongful deaths. Further, which deaths warrant consideration...those of U.S. troops...those of Iraqi civilians...or simply each and every one?
It's always dangerous to attempt to place a value on human life...and while my thoughts are not intended to do so; that will happen nonetheless. Whether that is fair will need to be determined by each reader. The following is a snapshot of some of the relevant numbers:
Total U.S. Troop deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq: 4,000+ (From antiwar.com)
Total Iraqi civilian deaths: 70,000+ (From IBC)
Total Iraqi civilian deaths: 650,000+ (From Lancet as of June 2006)
U.S. Troop combat casualties in August: 57 (From McClatchy News)
Iraqi civilian casualties in August: 1,750+ (From newsday.com)
Much of the recent news in the United States has focused upon the declining number of U.S. troop casualties...which of course leads the pundits to offer their own assessments of the surge and it's success or failure. While there is no contesting that the numbers show a reduction in American troop deaths since the surge began, the essential question is how to interpret these numbers...and what other numbers should matter?
The following two graphs are from two different articles and they demonstrate different approaches to the meaning of the numbers. The top graph is from McClatchy and it seems to focus upon the fact that troop deaths have significantly declined since the insertion of the added troops. The lower graph is from The Washington Monthly and it seems to be focused upon drawing comparisons between troop casualties in 2006 versus 2007.
The written excerpts which follow the graphs are from the McClatchy article and they offer insight into the many ways in which the data is being interpreted.
WASHINGTON — American combat deaths in Iraq have dropped by half in the three months since the buildup of 28,000 additional U.S. troops reached full strength, surprising analysts and dividing them as to why.
Military officials and observers are wondering whether the lower U.S. casualties are a sign of success or an indication that insurgents and militiamen simply chose a different battlefield when the Americans mounted their offensive in Iraq's capital.
"Nobody here is doing cartwheels yet," said one senior military official at the Pentagon, who requested anonymity in order to speak freely.
One British analyst, using the example of the British drawdown of forces in southern Iraq, suggested that the lower numbers may mean that American troops are irrelevant to the many conflicts racking Iraq: ethnic cleansing of neighborhoods in Baghdad, massive bombings of religious minorities by Sunni Muslim extremists in northern Iraq and Shiite-on-Shiite-Muslim violence in southern Iraq.
Instead, he suggested, Iraq’s armed factions and politicians already are thinking beyond the troop buildup.
Supporters of the troop increase say the lower casualty figures show that the larger number of troops and the counterinsurgency approach of Gen. David Petraeus, the latest U.S. commander in Iraq, have turned Iraqi citizens against armed groups, putting them on the run and fracturing them.
"The population is progressively turning to coalition and Iraqi forces and making a positive difference in bringing security to their towns, villages and neighborhoods. They are pointing out extremist leaders, identifying caches and IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and asking to be a part of the legitimate Iraqi security force," Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the No. 2 commander, said last month.
Others, however, noted that while U.S. combat deaths have dropped, deaths among Iraqi civilians have remained constant and the "ethnic cleansing" — the street-by-street homogenization — of Baghdad's neighborhoods has continued almost unabated.
As readers can see from the graphs and the excerpts, it is possible to spin the numbers in many ways depending upon one's particular bias. Notwithstanding, I believe some solid conclusions can be drawn.
First, adding troops to specific regions has been proven to be successful...so long as those troops remain. The problem is that we have shifted troops from hot spot to hot spot in what Senator McCain has called a failed game of "whack-a-mole"...a process of chasing the insurgents and the sectarian violence from area to area but never actually bringing it to an end.
To fully understand this phenomenon, one must look at the inability of the Iraqi security forces to step in and hold those areas where the United States has been able to increase security and reduce violence. By most accounts, not only are the Iraqi forces inferior and unable to assume responsibility, there are valid concerns that these forces have been infiltrated by sectarian groups and militias which have their own goals and objectives...many times not consistent with the U.S. plan. In fact, some are suggesting that the Iraqi police force is so dysfunctional that it should be scrapped and rebuilt from the ground up. That offers little hope for a timely solution.
Beyond this, when attempting to project the future, one must look at the historical data. During the Hussein regime, the Sunni controlled government was viewed by many to be heavy handed and brutal in policing the country...but they did succeed in maintaining a civil society (many Iraqi's affirm this reality while excepting the well documented sectarian abuses that existed).
In looking at this data, one can argue that there are only a limited number of options which can control the long standing sectarian differences. First, one of the sectarian group could achieve dominance over the others...a process which would likely involve a further escalation of the already existing civil war. Another would be a much larger U.S. presence...a presence which shifted from a military endeavor into a police operation during this latest troop surge and which would need to do so on an even more accelerated basis.
The last...and the most unlikely...would be for the combatants to reach some peaceful arrangement which would put an end to the centuries old animosities. This would not only require political compromise which has yet to be demonstrated; it would have to overcome internal sectarian, tribal, and militia power struggles as well as the outside influences of regional players who believe they have a stake in these sectarian struggles.
What this points out is that the troop surge isn't a military undertaking; rather it is the utilizing of American troops to police a nation which has failed to develop a security force that can serve such a purpose. In essence, the United States has logically been forced to assume the role previously held by those security forces who were loyal to Saddam Hussein. How that function can ever be transferred to the Iraqis remains uncertain...because there is no unified Iraq and no indication that one can be achieved.
This brings us back to casualties and how to understand their meaning. First, the graph provided by The Washington Monthly likely reflects the shifting from a military strategy to one which can be equated with police enforcement (troops remain stationed in communities as opposed to conducting military strikes from the safety of fortified bases)...a shift which one would expect to result in higher troop deaths in 2007 than those in 2006.
Second, the McClatchy graph likely reflects the fact that the troop surge was focused upon Baghdad...the largest population center in Iraq...which no doubt pushed insurgents to the lesser populated areas and limited their ability to target the heaviest area of U.S. troop traffic and activity. This makes sense when one understands the nature of the enemy we face.
Let me explain. Since the inception of the war on terror, it has been clear that our enemy hasn't functioned as a convention military operation...hence the constant reference to our difficulty in confronting urban guerilla warfare. Until we adopted this new police strategy, we approached the enemy with a military mentality...which allowed the opposition to target U.S. troop activities from clandestine locations within the neighborhoods. Not only did it allow them to be effective (more U.S. troop deaths), it kept the citizenry afraid to speak out since the insurgents controlled the streets. By taking over the streets of Baghdad, we undercut the effectiveness of the enemy....effectively transitioning U.S. troops into a force similar to what the enemy has been since the outset.
Therefore, while the reduced U.S. casualties are a welcomed change, it says little about the overall success and even less about sustaining it into the future. This is best understood by looking at the ongoing Iraqi casualties...numbers which tell us that the sectarian conflict continues and is likely unabated by the new strategy. Again, an explanation is warranted. The following excerpt provides some important data.
From The Seattle Times:
BAGHDAD — Newly released statistics for Iraqi civilian deaths in August reflect the strikingly mixed security picture that has emerged from a gradual six-month increase in U.S. troop strength here: the number of deaths across the country rose by about 20 percent since July, but in the capital itself, the number dropped sharply.
Figures provided by an Interior Ministry official indicated that 2,318 civilians died violently in the country in August, compared with 1,980 in July.
Statistics compiled from Iraqi government sources by Reuters and The Associated Press also showed significant increases, although the precise figures varied. But the figures provided by the Interior Ministry official show a drop in deaths within Baghdad, to 656 in August from 896 in July.
The national rise in mortality is partly a result of the enormous death toll in a truck-bomb attack in August north of Baghdad, outside the areas directly affected by the additional troops. More than 500 members of a small religious minority called the Yazidis died in the Aug. 14 bombing in the north, according to figures collected by the Iraqi Red Crescent Society.
As one can see, our new strategy in Baghdad has been effective; reducing the number of civilian deaths in that city. Unfortunately, those reductions were offset by deaths in other regions...regions where insurgents likely relocated upon the increase of troops in Baghdad. If the ultimate solution to the Iraqi dilemma must involve a political solution (which the Bush administration acknowledges; citing the surge as providing breathing room for political resolution), the troop surge cannot be judged effective in that regard in light of the ongoing civilian deaths. Truth be told, the surge did not and cannot address the required political compromises; it can only provide a police presence in the regions it is employed.
Given this information, one comes back to the argument that nationwide security will only be achievable with an even larger U.S. troop force employed as a police presence. Taking that hypothetical forward, there are a number of considerations. At what point in the future could the U.S. police presence cease...at what point would the Iraqi's be prepared to assume that role...and what would have to happen politically to allow that to happen...and what is going to break the centuries old cycle of mistrust and hatred in order to facilitate the dialogue necessary to even make political resolution a reasonably expected possibility?
In the end, the death tolls mount...whether they be U.S. casualties, Iraqi civilian casualties, or casualties in Baghdad and/or the outlying regions. Spin them as you like, but the dynamics needed to bring a halt to all of these deaths doesn't seem to be present in any of the existing strategies. Imagining a strategy which will end the killing of one Iraqi by another Iraqi seems doubtful without having significantly more troops. Imagining those troops can come from within Iraq seems all the more doubtful. That suggests that success in Iraq is only achievable with more U.S. troops...and of course that means more U.S. troop deaths. If that is the only means to a peaceful Iraq, then success for both countries seems to be little more than the perpetration of a semantic sham. That's not fatal; its suicidal.
Tagged as: Baghdad, Civilian Deaths, Iraq, Sectarian Conflict, Troop Deaths, Troop Surge, War Casualties, Whack-a-mole
Daniel DiRito | September 3, 2007 | 12:01 PM |
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