November 2007 Archives

Supporting Democracy ... or not

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The Washington Post had an article about the US relationship with Pakistan and its erstwhile dictator, Pervez Musharraf.

Inside call centers and in high school social studies classes, at vegetable markets and in book bazaars, Pakistanis from different walks of life here say that ever since President Pervez Musharraf imposed emergency rule two weeks ago, he's been the most unpopular figure in the country. But running a close second, many say, is his ally: President Bush.

"We used to love America. Give me Tom Cruise and a vacation in Florida any day," said Parveen Aslam, 30, who like many Pakistanis has relatives in the United States. "But why isn't the U.S. standing up for Pakistan when we need it most? Is America even listening to us? We are calling them Busharraf now. They are the same man."

While many Pakistanis lament that the Bush administration is involved in their country's politics, they also see the United States as the only force strong enough to do what they say is necessary to temper the crisis: pressure the military-led government to restore the constitution, release thousands of political prisoners and lift restrictions on the news media.

[...]

"But we've lost our faith in the U.S. now," said Aqdos Aftab, 15, who said her classes have been filled with discussions on why the United States is still backing Musharraf. "I thought America stood for human rights."

I thought the same thing, Aqdos. So did many of us in the United States. In fact, I would venture to say that many of us think that is what we should stand for. But the man who ended up in the Oval Office evidently doesn't do more than lip-service to the concepts of democracy and human rights.

Why are we failing these veterans?

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The NY Times editorial on "The Plight of American Veterans" is worth some of your time.

Recent surveys have painted an appalling picture. Almost half a million of the nation's 24 million veterans were homeless at some point during 2006, and while only a few hundred from Iraq or Afghanistan have turned up homeless so far, aid groups are bracing themselves for a tsunami-like upsurge in coming years.

Tens of thousands of reservists and National Guard troops, whose jobs were supposedly protected while they were at war, were denied prompt re-employment upon their return or else lost seniority, pay and other benefits. Some 1.8 million veterans were unable to get care in veterans' facilities in 2004 and lacked health insurance to pay for care elsewhere. Meanwhile, veterans seeking disability payments faced huge backlogs and inordinate delays in getting claims and appeals processed.

The biggest stain this year was the scandalous neglect of outpatients at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and a sluggish response to the needs of wounded soldiers at veterans clinics and hospitals. Much of this neglect stemmed from the Bush administration's failure to plan for a long war with mounting casualties and over-long tours of duty to compensate for a shortage of troops.

So how much have you thought about what sacrifice you could make that would honor and support these veterans and their families who have given so much more? Or do you not "bother your beautiful mind" about such things?

Well, here's a place to start. Sen. Webb is proposing an updated GI Bill. Go learn more about it and call your congressional reps and senators and express your support for it.


Cross-posted from Dwahzon's Village

OpEd by Officer returning from Iraq

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I'm not familiar with how long The Seattle Times makes their op-eds available online so here's one by a soldier returning from Iraq in its entirety. Do go to their website and read it there if possible. As testvet6778 pointed out, these comments "are from a serving mid level officer who works at the Brigade level of an Army unit from Fort Lewis deployed to Iraq. In other words it is from one of the mid level managers of the fiasco in Iraq and has to see it day in and day out, and he was lucky enough to make it home."

Questions from the front lines of a war that strains logic

By Brian J. Sullivan

HILLAH, Iraq -- My military tour of duty in Iraq ends in several weeks. We return home during a period of military success, to a decidedly anti-war nation and to an unclear future Iraq policy.

There is a certain pressure for those returning from this war to thump our chests, make proud claims of success, honor the fallen and extol a positive military spirit. Returning is a time to wave the flag; it's hard not to get caught up in those feelings of pride and conclusion.

My unit will focus on pinning medals and awards on returning soldiers, speeches by the generals, and maybe a homecoming event or parade.

But, tough questions will be on the minds of many as their flights leave Baghdad International Airport.

Was it worth it? Is the nation of Iraq we are attempting to assist worth the sacrifice? Will Iraq be different tomorrow because of our blood, sweat and a trillion dollars?

After serving here, I strongly disagree with the most common justification for the war.

U.S. Sen. John McCain has often commented, to paraphrase, "If we don't kill the enemy in Iraq, they will follow us home to America."

From the several hundred detainees I've seen here, and others I am aware of, I conclude it's unlikely that many of these illiterate dirt farmers and thugs caught planting roadside bombs, men who can barely feed themselves, or their children, would be able to mount a successful jihad against North America.

A closer look at the 9/11 terrorists should stiffen our resolve against radicalized, sophisticated, Westernized Muslims, from nations like Saudi Arabia, not Iraq.

Our concern should focus on sealing the U.S. border, and finding terrorists who can navigate the airports and the complexities of the First World, not the palm groves of Iraq.

I've thought about this a lot as I drove in convoys to our outlying patrol bases or flew over the palm forests along the Tigris and Euphrates. I thought about this as I crouched in bunkers as rockets were landing near me.

What I see are militia groups continuing their violent struggle for primacy and power. Iraq's primitive legal system is hardly functioning; it's a coin toss whether due process or torture will be applied.

The country's ancient power grid remains unimproved. The Mosul dam is near failure but the Iraqi government will not act to stop potential catastrophe. Iraq's police are corrupt and unreliable. Iraq's army is better, but struggling with basics like putting shoes on its soldiers' feet. The graft-dominated central government seemingly controls little.

Contrast this mess with the actions of our young U.S. soldiers. They do their combat patrols on bomb-infested roads and kick down doors of houses that could be rigged to explode. Their behavior and competence have cemented my trust in the military leaders and troops I serve with here.

I wish I could say the same of my confidence in our D.C. policymakers.

Iraq is a war being waged with a military that is stretched to the bone. Can we respond elsewhere in the world if we had to? The reality is, the U.S. Army has insufficient troops to extend the surge in Iraq without ordering 18-month rotations.

I've watched more than a dozen congressmen come into our forward operating base for their 60-minute briefings and photo opportunities.

After one briefing, I listened to a general and State Department official talk about how a large group of federal elected officials ignored the presentations, looked at their watches, or stared at the ceiling. They didn't care about the details. But, details matter, and should matter to policymakers.

It is that kind of highhandedness that will keep us fighting here.

I leave Iraq loving the organization of the Army, and grateful for the hard sacrifices of my fellow soldiers.

I leave Iraq unsure ... whether the true reason we are here, as Alan Greenspan recently opined, is that we are fighting for oil, regional stability and protecting our oil-based economic system.

I leave hoping the American people will fire their congressmen next year, especially if they are arrogant toward those risking their lives in a mission they directed.

Most of all, I challenge the soundness of the logic that what we are getting in Iraq is worth the steep cost in American blood and treasure.

Brian J. Sullivan is an infantry brigade staff officer in Iraq and formerly served two terms, from 1997 to 2001, in the state House of Representatives representing Tacoma and Pierce County. The views in this guest column are his alone.


Cross-posted from Dwahzon's Village

Don't take them for granted

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I heard an interesting interview between Michele Norris and Dr. Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission at the Southern Baptist Convention on NPR's ATC program yesterday afternoon. Michelle asked a question which brought an insightful response from Dr. Land and one that I think is all too often overlooked in discussions in the blogosphere.

Norris: Now you've heard that the Evangelical Christians are often painted as a monolithic bloc. How do Democratic or independent evangelicals fit in this picture?

Land: Well, the majority of evangelicals do not identify themselves as either republicans or democrats. And let me now speak for the constituency I know best which is the Southern Baptist constituency which is 16.4 million folks in 43,700 churches. Most of them did not grow up in Republican homes. Most of them have been voting solidly Republican starting with the 1980 presidential election but they've not been doing so because they see themselves as voting Republican.

They see themselves as voting pro-life and if the Republicans are foolish enough to take the life issue off the table, that bright line distinction, then they have given the Democrats a license to go hunting for evangelical and conservative social Catholic voters. Because they're not nearly as convinced that the Republican party is right when it comes to economic justice issues. They're not nearly as convinced that the Republican party is right when it comes to some environmental issues. And they're not nearly as convinced that the Republicans are right when it comes to some of the racial reconciliation issues

I was surprised to hear someone of Dr. Land's standing and position make this point so clearly on a national broadcast outlet; and the take-away is this, that evangelical Christians have many reasons to seriously consider Democratic candidates. Of course, it's true.

Perhaps those on the left blogosphere who regularly excoriate the Christian right might want to re-think their approach. No monolithic voting bloc is ever really monolithic. There's simply an unwillingness or inability to consider all the separate, different voices in the attempt to denounce a particular viewpoint.


Cross-posted from Dwahzon's Village

Fishback vs. Mukasey on Torture

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Discussion with a friend this morning brought to mind Captain Ian Fishback. He wrote a letter in September 2005 to Senator McCain which was published in the Washington Post. It's sad to see that the man nominated to the position of the Attorney General of the United States does not have the clarity of understanding or the commitment to the Constitution that this soldier demonstrated.

Dear Senator McCain:

I am a graduate of West Point currently serving as a Captain in the U.S. Army infantry. I have served two combat tours with the 82nd Airborne Division, one each in Afghanistan and Iraq. While I served in the Global War on Terror, the actions and statements of my leadership led me to believe that United States policy did not require application of the Geneva Conventions in Afghanistan or Iraq. On 7 May 2004, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's testimony that the United States followed the Geneva Conventions in Iraq and the "spirit" of the Geneva Conventions in Afghanistan prompted me to begin an approach for clarification. For 17 months, I tried to determine what specific standards governed the treatment of detainees by consulting my chain of command through battalion commander, multiple JAG lawyers, multiple Democrat and Republican Congressmen and their aides, the Ft. Bragg Inspector General's office, multiple government reports, the Secretary of the Army and multiple general officers, a professional interrogator at Guantanamo Bay, the deputy head of the department at West Point responsible for teaching Just War Theory and Law of Land Warfare, and numerous peers who I regard as honorable and intelligent men.

Instead of resolving my concerns, the approach for clarification process leaves me deeply troubled. Despite my efforts, I have been unable to get clear, consistent answers from my leadership about what constitutes lawful and humane treatment of detainees.