Tag Archives: Bush

And now some after thoughts

There are some Nevada politicians still clutching Trumpian coat-tails, or pants’ legs, or something as of now.  They might want to ask some questions, some fundamental, some quotidian, some tangential about that posture.  We’ve had a day in which President Obama has spoken of a need to preserve and protect our democratic institutions, and in which his successor has spoken of a felt need to use the Department of Justice to pursue his personal political critics.  It’s time to address the questions.

Do Nevada politicians really want to associate themselves with a president who cannot, or perhaps will not, differentiate between his own sense of security and the security of this nation?  There is a difference.  Our national security is not compromised by the publication of non-classified, albeit controversial, information about how the West Wing functions.  It is a stretch to assume that IF a person divulges information from a meeting then it is presumed the individual in questions would necessarily reveal classified information.  I can think of one instance in which #45 shared information with Russian visitors to the White House that compromised sources and methods; no sources and methods were compromised by the NYT op-ed piece.

President Bush took flack from critics of the Iraq War, from those critical of his administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina, and from others who decried his economic policies and his advocacy of de-regulation.  Never once did he call the press an “enemy of the people.”  President Obama received his share of criticism and complaint concerning everything from wearing a tan suit to the validity of his birth certificate. Never once did he call the press an “enemy of the people.”  Both these men understood the difference between the President and the Presidency, and the difference between being the Head of State and the State itself.

Merely because criticism makes #45 feel insecure doesn’t mean the state is insecure.  Bush understood this. Obama understood this.  Nevada politicians would do well to consider whether or not to wholeheartedly support someone who can’t make this distinction.

Do Nevada politicians truly want to run campaigns anchored in a message of fear and division?  What is gained by suggesting that Nevada citizens of Hispanic origin are less “American” than the citizens of Irish, German, Polish, Basque, or Chinese descent who preceded them?  What is gained by inferring that immigrants from the Philippines are less capable of assimilating into the broad fabric of Nevada life than the immigrant workers in the hospitality industry who came from other countries?  What is better for Nevada in the long run, promoting a path to citizenship and entrepreneurial opportunities for immigrants to this country (and this state), or building walls, both metaphorical and literal to keep them at a distance?

It isn’t necessary to run about wearing a white hood to touch the vile pitch of racism.  All that’s required is to advocate in favor of restricting the economic opportunities, circumscribe the education, and diminish the participation in civic life, for various ethnic or minority groups.  We can constrict them, devalue them, and make advocacy difficult for them.  We can take away their voices by capriciously restraining their voting rights.  We can wall ourselves off from them.  However, in doing so we only succeed in encircling and shrinking ourselves.

If there’s one thing Nevada has it’s miles and miles of beautiful miles and miles. We can see further toward the horizons beyond most other topographical regions in this nation.  Why would we choose to close down our social horizons when after a few moments driving time we can open up our physical ones?   Every time we build a wall we restrict our own field of vision.

Fear usually breeds failure.  Do Nevada politicians want to associate with failed policies? Nothing seems like a larger failure than the Zero Tolerance debacle on our southern border.  416 children to date separated from their parents, some of whom were lawfully seeking asylum in this country.  Too many of these youngsters are under the age of 5.  This is an unconscionable failure.  Unless, of course, one adopts the President’s mindset that immigrants from Mexico and Central America “infest” our country; unless, of course, one thinks of people from Sh*thole Countries as undesirable. And now the Administration wants to detain families indefinitely. Indefinitely. [Vox]

There is only one nation on this planet that pulled out of the Paris Climate Accords, and as President Obama noted today, it wasn’t Syria…it was the United States of America.  There is only one nation that gave away dominance in regional trading by backing out of the Transpacific Partnership…it was the United States of America.  China and Japan are only too happy to fill the void.  There is only one western democracy causing friction among NATO allies…the United States of America. There is only one nation threatening trade wars with debilitating tariffs … the United States of America.  There is only one nation taking positions which could seriously damage trade relations with two of its most valuable trading partners… the United States of America.  This isn’t success.

We got vague promises of future vague promises from the North Korean regime.  While we made relations with China more difficult, the Chinese now have less incentive to pressure North Korea to do more.  The North Koreans are continuing their military research apace. This isn’t success.

Polarization begets gridlock, and gridlock impedes progress.  Do Nevada politicians want to take this route?  My way or the highway is NOT a bargaining position.   Implacable positions, taken for political expediency, mean a politician can never follow the dictum: Campaign in poetry, Govern in prose.  I can startle a conservative relative by arguing that single payer health care would promote entrepreneurship and support small businesses by leveling the playing field between the big box retailers and the mom and pop stores.  My conservative relative can widen my eyes by arguing that when work requirements are attached to Medicaid benefits we should be mindful of single adults, who while not physically disabled, are intellectually or developmentally challenged, and adjustments should be made for them.   If hard and fast positions don’t advance conversations; then how can they be an impetus toward progress?

We can, and must, do better.  And, we’ll do better when we function from a foundation predicated on our shared values, not one based upon our private fears.

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Get Serious or Get Lost? GOP lack of focus on ISIS

ISIS I’ll take the Republicans, especially the ones in Congress, seriously when they speak of ISIS threats to national security when they take up the bill sent to Congress during the week of February 11, 2015 which authorizes U.S. action against the Islamic State.  The joint resolution had a bit of something for everyone:

“The proposed legislation limits Obama from the use of “enduring offensive ground combat operations,” deliberately vague language intended to win over those on the left wary of mission creep and those on the right who don’t want to restrict possible military action against ISIS.” [TheHill]

As of the moment it merely looks as if the GOP wants to turn foreign and defense policy into a semantic game for the purpose of giving Democrats headaches in an election many months away.  Witness the whinging from Senator Lindsay Graham:

“One by one, nearly a dozen GOP presidential hopefuls took the stage here last weekend for a Lincoln Dinner, each different in style and stature but all joining a rising Republican chorus that lays blame for the Islamic State terrorist group squarely at the feet of President Obama. “If you fought in Iraq, it worked. It’s not your fault it’s going to hell. It’s Obama’s fault,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) said to cheers.” [WaPo] …

“This deterioration of our physical and ideological strength has led to a world far more dangerous than when President Obama entered office,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said in a speech this month. “We’ve seen [the Islamic State] sweep across multiple states, commit brutal atrocities and attempt to establish a caliphate.” [WaPo]

If the Republicans want more U.S. involvement in Iraq, then why not authorize the administration to apply more force in the region – as in bring the joint resolution to the floor for a debate and vote?

Perhaps the delay is because the Republicans don’t want to address key issues, and would rather launch verbal flames than real ones.  Consider the flap over the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government.

If the Obama Administration had been serious about winning in Iraq it would have negotiated a status of forces agreement,” wail the right wingers. Not. So. Fast. It takes two parties to negotiate such an agreement and the al Maliki government wasn’t playing the game:

“But ending the U.S. troop presence in Iraq was an overwhelmingly popular demand among Iraqis, and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki appears to have been unwilling to take the political risk of extending it. While he was inclined to see a small number of American soldiers stay behind to continue mentoring Iraqi forces, the likes of Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, on whose support Maliki’s ruling coalition depends, were having none of it. Even the Obama Administration’s plan to keep some 3,000 trainers behind failed because the Iraqis were unwilling to grant them the legal immunity from local prosecution that is common to SOF agreements in most countries where U.S. forces are based.” [Time 2011]

The Iraqi government under al-Maliki, once touted as the harbinger of democracy, proved to be a colossal failure.

The Iraqis wanted stable government, less corruption, economic reconstruction, and all the other things modern governments can provide. However, rather than moving forward from the gains made during the last months of U.S. occupation, the al-Maliki government swung away. The situation fell apart almost immediately.

Maliki’s government used “de-Baathification” laws, introduced to keep members of Saddam Hussein’s regime out of government, to target his opponents — but not his many allies, who also had been senior members of the Baath Party. The 2010 government formation process turned out to be yet another opportunity for politicians of all stripes to grant themselves senior positions which they could use to plunder the state. When tens of thousands of Iraqis took to the streets in February 2011 to protest corruption, they were branded terroristsand were attacked and beaten by security forces and hired thugs. Dozens were killed and thousands arrested and tortured until the protests fizzled. Meanwhile, though terrorist groups were not operating as openly as before, hundreds of civilians continued to be killed every month, particularly in Baghdad, denying Iraqis in many parts of the country even a brief period of normalcy. [ForeignPolicy]

This is not exactly a recipe for popular government, or even a respected one. However, the situation with the Iraqi security forces was even dimmer.

“The security sector, which had an annual budget greater than the budgets for education, health, and the environment combined, was subject to minimal oversight. Soldiers were enrolled and paid monthly salaries without reporting for duty. Overpriced and faulty equipment was procured using the laxest standards. Training sessions were financed on paper but never took place in practice. Appointments were politicized. Officers close to the prime minister’s office who failed to investigate leads on terrorist attacks were almost never held accountable for their actions. Even the most grotesque failures, including the military’s passivity in the face of regular attacks against Christians in Nineveh over a period of years, went unpunished. Morale among the rank and file was low, and there was very little desire to take risks on behalf of political elites who were viewed as wildly corrupt.” [ForeignPolicy]

And we wonder why the Iraqi forces couldn’t hold Mosul, and  can’t hold Ramadi?   By 2006 the political atmosphere was getting obvious, only the willfully blind could avoid seeing the implications of the Sunni-Shia split, and al-Maliki’s role in that disintegration:

“By the time Maliki took office, the police and the Army were overwhelmingly Shiite, packed with former militiamen bent on cleansing Baghdad of Sunni Arabs. In the summer of 2006, each morning brought new reports of sectarian atrocities. Maliki did very little to stop them, according to Matthew Sherman, the civilian adviser to the U.S. Army. “We’d go into his office, we’d tell him about a massacre that had been carried out by his men,” Sherman told me. “And Maliki would just sit there and say, ‘I’m sure they were terrorists.’ We could never get him to act against the death squads.” (Maliki says that he never received any evidence that his soldiers or police had acted improperly.)” [NYorker 2014]

The eggs laid by the parliamentary elections of December 2005 were fully hatched by 2014.   By 2015 the eggs were completely scrambled, and not in a good omelet sort of way.

al-Maliki’s resignation in 2014 didn’t alleviate the situation. As of August 12, 2014 the Iranian government pulled its support for al-Maliki, offered him asylum, and backed his successor Hiadar al-Abadi. [Guardian] The disaffected Sunnis, the former criminal gangs, the death squads and the local militias were now a fact of life in Iraq’s daily existence.  Nor has U.S. policy been all that helpful.  The Iranians, who are positioned to assist the current Iraqi government in its fight with ISIS, are the subject of saber rattling by members of the U.S. Congress who want to do everything from bolster current embargo terms to engage in outright military action against Tehran.

In other, less elegant terms. if we weaken the Iranian government then we risk undermining the Iraqi government’s efforts to retain or retake territory seized by ISIS.

It is very difficult to have a consistent and rational foreign policy when the requirements are (1) opposition to the Iranian government, and to all forms of Iranian involvement in Iraqi military operations against ISIS; (2) opposition to ISIS which doesn’t incorporate Shia interests in Iraq; and (3) support for Sunni participation in Iraqi governance, when the Sunnis could be convinced that their interests would be better served by ISIS than by the governing Shia groups in Baghdad. Perhaps these contradictions help explain why the Republicans don’t want a full blown discussion of U.S. foreign policy vis a vis Iraq, and seem content to snipe from the sidelines?

If the GOP is serious about discussing our policy toward Iraq, then it’s time to bring the joint resolution to the floor, debate the ramifications seriously, recognize the historical and political implications of the policy, and to take a stand on those issues.  The rest is simply political noise making, the equivalent of slide whistles and noise-makers.

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Filed under Foreign Policy, Iraq