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20 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
09:14 pm

Thought for the Day


The Bush Administration is now suggesting that the $700 billion price tag for bailing out Wall Street may be off because some of the assets purchased could be resold at a profit.

Just remember that this is the same gang of idiots and liars who  told us that the Iraq war would start paying for itself within a few weeks of the invasion.

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19 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
06:45 pm

Some Polite Questions for the Bush Administration


From today’s Los Angeles Times:

A long-delayed plan to send dozens of U.S. military advisors to Pakistan to train its army in counterinsurgency could begin in a matter of weeks under a new agreement on a training base, according to the top U.S. military officer.

Excuse me, Bush Administration, sorry for intruding.  I don’t mean to be a pest.  Would you mind if I just asked one little question here?  Great!  How about two?  Three?  No more than that, I promise.  Thanks!

Okay, here it goes.  Again, sorry for the bother.

ARE YOU FREAKING INSANE?

ARE YOU SMOKING CRACK?

DON’T YOU MORONS REMEMBER HOW VIETNAM STARTED?

Okay, thanks.  Yeah, I did mean the caps.  Sorry about that.  You can go back to finding more dangerously nuke-ridden failed states to “advise.”

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19 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
05:45 pm

The Decline of American Power, Iraq Edition, Part 356


This morning, The Washington Postdated confirms that yesterday’s attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad was the work of a group known as the Soldiers’ Brigade of Yemen, an affiliate of al Qaeda, using techniques that they may have learned while fighting in Iraq:

[T]he first vehicle exploded near a guard post. Cameras then recorded attackers taking positions nearby, until a second vehicle packed with explosives detonated near a sidewalk. . . . The use of two vehicle bombs — one to breach the perimeter of a compound, a second to drive inside and explode — is a tactic used by the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Matt Duss over at Think Progress demonstrates how this blows away yet another justification for the Iraq war — the “we’re fighting them over there so that we don’t have to fight them over here” idea, also known as the flypaper theory:

Those who have been following the Iraq debate might remember “flypaper theory,” which was one of the earliest exponents of the “incoherent post hoc justifications for the Iraq war” genre. The idea was that there was some limited number of terrorists in the Middle East, and the presence of an occupying U.S. army would lure them to Iraq, whereupon they could all be conveniently killed, presumably as soon as they stepped off the bus.

This plan was prevented from working only by the fact that it was staggeringly dumb. The U.S. occupation radicalized scores of young Muslims, many of whom traveled to Iraq, where they learned terror warfare and were galvanized in the global jihad. And now they’ve begun returning home, to share the tactics and technology developed in a laboratory we provided for them by invading Iraq.

Of course, that doesn’t even take into account the role of torture, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and other such obscenities in helping to radicalize Muslims as well.

To put it another way, the Bush Administration have spent  billions upon billions of dollars on the Iraq War, largely based on the bankrupt theory that we are building an island of democracy that will de-radicalize the Middle East.  In reality, we have made things far worse than they would have been had we never invaded, so much so that we have unthinkingly created another generation of terrorists, in the process weakening ourselves to such a degree that we may not be able to fight back the next time the come “over here.”

Imagine how bad things would be if Bush had taken a similar approach to the economy.

Oh.  Wait.

Never mind.

Hat tip:  Obsidian Wings

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18 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:55 pm

Joltin’ Joe


Another great point from the only VP candidate actually qualified to hold the job:

COURIC: Your vice presidential rival, Governor Palin, said “To the rest of America, that’s not patriotism.  Raising taxes is about killing jobs and hurting small businesses and making things worse.”

BIDEN:  How many small businessmen are making one million, four hundred thousand–average in the top 1 percent. Give me a break.

I remind my friend, John McCain, what he said–when Bush called for war and tax cuts–he said, it was immoral, immoral, to take a nation to war and not have anybody pay for it. I am so sick and tired of this phoniness.

The truth of the matter is that we are in trouble.  And the people who do not need a new tax cut should be willing, as patriotic Americans, to understand the way to get this economy back up on their feet is to give middle class taxpayers a break. We take the tax cut they’re getting and we give it to the middle class.

Pow! Bam! Zing!

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18 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:50 pm

Spain Spain Spain Spain Spain Spain Spain Spain. . .


Lovely Spain, wonderful Spain!

This is the story that just keeps on giving.

So Josh Marshall and TPM have put together a nice little video summarizing McCain’s running of the bull on  Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

The transcription is particularly useful.  As a result, something new caught my eye:

REPORTER:  Okay what about Europe?  I’m talking about the President of Spain

McCAIN:  What about me, what?

When she asked “what about Europe,” he heard “what about you.”  That’s pretty clear from his response.  But Scheunemann keeps insisting that McCain knew what he was talking about, that he intended to dis Zapatero, and that he was reflecting the position of the campaign.

I’ve shoveled a lot of horse dookie in my day (I worked at a summer camp for four years — you do a lot of that), so I think I recognize a load of bull manure when I see it.  McCain clearly misheard or misunderstood the reporter.  He thought she was asking something about him, not Europe.  So there is no way in hell that his final answer was anything other than confused tap-dancing around a question he had completely misunderstood.

Just one question here:  when McCain makes a mistake in office, will his White House attempt similar stonewalling and denial?  Because if it does, it really will be Bush 44.

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18 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
06:45 pm

Palin Riffs on Foreign Policy


Yesterday, someone actually got to ask Sarah Palin about foreign policy at a town meeting — specifically about her experience.  Here’s what Palin had to say.

I think because I am a Washington outsider that opponents are going to be looking for a whole lot of things that they can criticize and they can kind of beat the candidate here who chose me as his partner to kinda tear down the ticket. . . . But as for foreign policy you know I think I am prepared and I know that on Jan. 20 if we are so blessed as to be sworn into office as your president and vice-president, certainly we’ll be ready. I’ll be ready. I have that confidence. I have that readiness and if you want specifics with specific policy or countries go ahead. You can ask you can play stump the candidate if you want to. But we are ready to serve.

I didn’t think it could get worse than her responses on foreign policy during the Charlie Gibson interview.

I was wrong.

Oh, one other thing:  there are numerous reports that at a McCain rally in Iowa today, people started leaving after Palin spoke and while McCain was speaking.  Maybe they were from Spain.

I’ve said it before.  I’ll say it again.  It’s Sunshine Sarah’s party now.

Buddha help us.

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18 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
01:45 pm

Daily Political Haikus


Spanish Radio
Asked him a simple question
Who is Spain’s PM?

;

McCain on Spain fails
mainly to explain his view
that our friend is bad

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18 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:45 am

My Fair Zapatero


Idea for a new Broadway musical:  My Fair Zapatero.  The Sarahnator could sing,

McCain in Spain falls mainly on his face

Heh.

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18 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:45 am

John McCain’s Handy Guide to the World


After John McCain had absolutely no clue who the prime minister of Spain was, even though he was talking to a freaking Spanish radio station, I thought it would be useful to share with our readers a guide to John McCain’s world.

Here is a list of countries that John McCain cares about.  Future interviewers are advised to limit their questions to this list.

1.  Countries the United States has invaded:

  • Vietnam
  • Iraq
  • Afghanistan
  • The Confederacy

2.  Countries that he thinks the United States should invade:

  • Iran
  • Russia
  • Pakistan
  • Hell (but only if Osama lives there).

3.  Countries that hate our values and our way of life:

  • China
  • North Korea
  • Bolivia
  • Venezuela
  • The Hamas-controlled part of Palestine
  • Cuba
  • France
  • Hawaii (too exotic)

4.  Countries near countries that we’ve invaded, want to invade, or hate us:

  • Syria
  • Jordan
  • Thailand
  • The PLO-controlled part of Palestine
  • Cambodia
  • Ukraine

5.  Countries his dad fought against in World War II:

  • Japan
  • Italy
  • Germany

6.  Countries that speak English:

  • Great Britain
  • Canada
  • Australia
  • Alaska

7.  Countries that have been invaded by other countries we’ve invaded, should attack, or hate our values:

  • Georgia
  • Kuwait
  • Poland
  • Czechoslovakia
  • The Union

8.  Countries on our side in the war on drugs:

  • Mexico
  • Colombia
  • Latin America

9.  Israel

10.  Israel

11.  Have I mentioned Israel?

That’s about it.  The rest of the world, well, as far as he’s concerned, they’re all Georgians too.

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18 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:45 am

Death to Mickey!!


Turns out that Mickey Mouse is haraam:

As it happens, there are four Disney comic books published in the UAE and distributed by in Saudi Arabia. Here’s one called, of all things, “Mickey.”

The distributor is none other than Al-Arabiya, the Saudi-owned, UAE-based media company that competes with Al-Jazeera.

I had a fatwa issued against me once.  I always thought it was because of my human rights work.  But maybe it was because I had the same name as a cartoon character.

Hat tip:  Checkpoint Jerusalem

Comic book: Disney Comics Worldwide

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18 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
12:48 am

No One Expects. . .The Spanish Inquisition!


Eight years ago, a journalist asked Dubya if he knew who was the leader of Pakistan.  Bush flubbed it, and the journalist was widely criticized for playing “gotcha.”

Flash forward eight years and it’s John McCain’s turn — except this time it isn’t gotcha, it’s just a candidate who clearly doesn’t know what the hell the reporter is talking about.

Today, McCain did an interview with Union Radio (Cadena Seiz) a Spanish network.  I presume his handlers told him that by “Spanish radio,” he should understand that the interviewer was from Spain, and that he might, just might want to bone up a little on a few things — like the name of Spain’s prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. Apparently they didn’t and he didn’t.

Senator John McCain of ArizonaAccording to stories on the websites of El País and Union Radio, the reporter first asked McCain his thoughts on Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, and Raul Castro.  In each case, McCain made it clear that he would not sit down to meet with any of them, and went out of his way to note that Obama had promised to meet with Chavez.

Then the interviewer asks McCain whether he would meet with Zapatero.  From what I’ve been able to glean (given that I don’t speak Spanish), it was not an attempt to trip McCain up — the reporter merely wants to cover as much territory as possible in the brief time he has.

McCain replies, (and this is a very rough translation based on me running the stories through BabelFish), “I will meet with those leaders who are friendly and who want to work with us cooperatively.”

Uh oh.

José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Prime Minister o...The reporter asks again.  McCain says, “I will meet with those leaders who have the same principles and philosophy that we do:  human rights, democracy and liberty.  I will challenge those who do not [have them].”

The reporter asks a third time.  According to a commenter at Obsidian Wings, McCain starts talking about President Felipe Calderon of Mexico and praises him for cooperating with the United States in the war on drugs.

Finally, the interviewer interrupts McCain and says, “Okay, I’m talking about Europe, the prime minister of Spain.  Will you meet with him?”  McCain repeats his earlier statement about working with friends.

Holy Sarah Palin, Batman!  Can McCain see Spain from one of his homes?

One of the more interesting part of this fiasco is that the Spanish press is treating this as a straight story — that McCain dissed Zapatero repeatedly, refusing to commit to a meeting.  Here’s a rough translation of the lede of the El País story:

John McCain, the Republican candidate for the White House, refused on four separate occasions to commit to meet with the Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, if [McCain] becomes the next president of the United States.

I think I understand the mistake that the Spanish press is making here:  they’re assuming that McCain has any freaking clue about their country.  They assume that he couldn’t possibly be that stupid.

Here’s my suggestion to the next Spanish language interviewer who wants to ask about U.S.-Spanish relations:  don’t pronounce the prime minister’s name “Za-peh-tey-ro.”  That was your big mistake.

You’ll find that you get a much better answer if you just learn to pronounce it “Sah-kash-vee-lee.”  Next thing you know, McCain will suggest that we’re all Spaniards now and start threatening war with Portugal.

So what should we make of this?  Imagine if this had happened to Obama.  The media would talk about nothing else for a week:  the inexperienced candidate flubs a simple question. In McCain’s case, it’s not yet clear what will happen — except that his campaign will lie about what really happened.

Ultimately there are three possible answers:  he was tired; he was clueless; or he is stupid.  Let’s hope it was the first.

Hat tips:  TPM and Hilzoy at ObWi

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17 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
09:45 pm

What He Said


Eric Martin over at Obsidian Wings does a great job of capturing just how dangerous McCain’s foreign policy is and how pragmatic Obama’s is.  Check it out.

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17 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:45 pm

U.S. Embassy in Yemen Attacked


You may not have heard, but the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen was attacked today, apparently by a group known as Islamic Jihad in Yemen.  Reports differ as to whether they are affiliated with al Qaeda.

At least sixteen people — six Yemeni police officers, six of the attackers, and four civilians died as a result of the attack.  None of the Americans or foreign nationals working at the embassy were harmed, but this does represent the second time that the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa has come under attack.  In March, the Yemeni branch of al Qaeda fired mortars, missing the Embassy and instead hitting a nearby girls’ school.

Here’s what the embassy spokesman said after the attack:

The first explosion happened about 9:15 a.m. Wednesday (0615 GMT/2.15 am ET) and was followed by several secondary blasts, said U.S. Embassy spokesman Ryan Gliha. . . . Gliha was at the embassy at the time of the attack and said he felt the compound shake.

“We were all ordered to assume what we call a duck-and-cover position which is a position where we guard ourselves and bodies from potential debris,” Gliha told CNN.  “From that vantage point, I can’t tell you much after that except we did feel several explosions after the main explosion that shook the ground.”

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said during his daily briefing today that the attack had the goal of breaching the Embassy’s walls.  Jeff Stein at Spy Talk notes that, given the number of people involved, at least one former intelligence agent thinks that the purpose may have been not to kill those working there but to take hostages, along the lines of what happened in Iran in 1979:

It seems like the team was large enough to do more than just blow something up. Tactically it would have been interesting: Think Tehran-like embassy takeover, in the middle of a presidential election, hostages being executed on live TV.  It would have to be a resolved by an assault, which the Yemenis are not trained to do.

As I’ve said before, I have long believed that Americans fail to understand or appreciate the heroism and courage of our foreign service officers.  The same goes for the foreign nationals who serve so ably in every American post.  As McCormack noted in his briefing today,

People understand, as we’ve seen today, that American personnel serving overseas serve in some dangerous places or places that have the potential to be dangerous. We’ve seen that borne out once again today. But we manage that risk. And we’re not going to take any steps or do anything that we think unduly puts any of our personnel or their family at risk.

Unfortunately, attacks like these will only make our diplomats’ jobs even harder.  After every such incident, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security finds ways to make it harder for terrorists to attack.  That’s a good thing — no one wants to endanger unduly our diplomats — but it also creates a new problem:  it cuts off our diplomats even further from the countries they’re covering.  The reality is that nothing will make our embassies completely safe.

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17 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
06:45 pm

What You Might Have Missed: Petraeus/Odierno


We’re trying out a new feature here at Undip:  “What You Might Have Missed,” which will highlight stories that other stories have kept off the front page.

BAGHDAD - SEPTEMBER 16:  Outgoing commander Ge...Today, it’s the transfer of authority from Gen. David Petraeus to Gen. Ray Odierno in Baghdad.  Petraeus will now head Central Command, which oversees all U.S. military activity from Egypt to Pakistan, an arc that includes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

What I find particularly interesting about this story is that Petraeus and Odierno had completely different approaches to the occupation of Iraq in the immediate aftermath of the invasion.  When Petraeus led the 101st Airborne, he was praised for applying counterinsurgency doctrine in Mosul in a way that helped keep the region calm — until he left.

In Mosul, a city of nearly two million people, Petraeus and the 101st employed classic counterinsurgency methods to build security and stability, including conducting targeted kinetic operations and using force judiciously, jump-starting the economy, building local security forces, staging elections for the city council within weeks of their arrival, overseeing a program of public works, reinvigorating the political process, and launching 4,500 reconstruction project. . . . [I]n the book Fiasco, Washington Post reporter Tom Ricks wrote that “Mosul was quiet while he (Petraeus) was there, and likely would have remained so had his successor had as many troops as he had–and as much understanding of counterinsurgency techniques.” Ricks went on to note that “the population-oriented approach Petraeus took in Mosul in 2003 would be the one the entire U.S. Army in Iraq was trying to adopt in 2006.”

Contrast that with Odierno’s time commanding the 4th Infranty Division during the same period:

Odierno’s tenure as 4th ID commander in Iraq and his unit’s actions there have subsequently come under criticism from several sources. Many officers from the 1st Marine Division were critical of 4th ID’s belligerent stance during their initial entry into Iraq after the ground war had ceased and the unit’s lack of a ‘hearts and minds’ approach to counter-insurgency. Several authors have echoed similar criticisms shared with them by other military personnel in the theater. In his unit’s defense Odierno strenuously argued that the situation was that such an approach was required and subsequent insurgent activity justified the actions of 4th ID as former insurgents began to join the fight against Islamic extremist groups, such as al-Qaeda, in 2007.

To this day, Odierno rejects these arguments, saying that the situation then required an aggressive approach.  That said, Odierno did spend the past few years helping Petraeus craft the surge, and it’s doubtful that Petraeus would support the choice of someone he thought could not build on his success.

There’s an old saying in sports that you’re much better off being the guy who replaces the guy who replaced the legend.  Odierno doesn’t have that luxury.  If he fails, he may find that he’s on a short leash, as Petraeus, Gates, and Bush are unlikely to let Iraq to fall back into chaos.

Photo: Outgoing commander Gen. David Petraeus hands over the Multi-National Force Iraq flag to U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates as Gen. Ray Odierno looks on during a Change of Command ceremony at Camp Victory on September 16, 2008 in Baghdad, Iraq. David Petraeus, the American general who presided during “The Surge”, the increase in American military presence believed to have been critical to reduced violence in the beleaguered country, handed over his command today to Gen. Ray Odierno. (Getty Images via Daylife)

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17 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
05:45 pm

More Fun in the New Europe


Over the years, I have had the opportunity to travel to a number of countries around the world.  Almost without exception, I have found the experience to be incredibly rewarding, helping give me an entirely different perspective on America and the world.  I want to go back to every place I’ve visited.  Well almost all of them.  To be precise, all but one, where the politics were so corrupt and nasty, the weather so freaking cold, the city so unpleasant, that I never want to return.

After months of infighting, the Western-leaning governing coalition in Ukraine formally collapsed Tuesday. The two leaders of the coalition, President Viktor A. Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia V. Tymoshenko, who were the heroes of the Orange Revolution of 2004, could not come to an agreement on maintaining the coalition. Mr. Yushchenko had accused Ms. Tymoshenko of betraying him. Parliament now has 30 days to form a new coalition. If it does not, an election will be called.

I’ll let you guess which country I’m talking about.

Boy, offering NATO membership to former Soviet republics has really been a force for stabilization, hasn’t it?

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17 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
02:15 pm

Memo to Michael Gerson: WTF?


In today’s Washington Postdated, former Bush flack-hack and occasional thoughtful conservative Michael Gerson goes off the rails again, suggesting that Obama has made three mistakes during his campaign that just might prove to be fatal.

1.  Obama made the mistake of choosing in Joe Biden a thoughtful, experienced, and capable running mate instead of a crazy, inexperienced, and frequently vicious unknown.

He could have reinforced a message of change and moderation with a Democratic governor who wins in a Republican state, or reached for history by selecting Hillary Clinton. But his choice came soon after Russia invaded Georgia, and the conventional wisdom demanded an old hand who knew his way around Tbilisi. When the Georgia crisis faded, Obama was left with a partisan, undisciplined, congressional liberal at his side.

Apparently it is better to score easy points by creating a celebrity while sating your red (moose) meat base than it is to think about what is necessary to govern a large and complex nation.

2.  Obama made the mistake of turning his convention speech into a thoughtful discussion of the issues that matter to the American people instead of a rehash of his inspirational stumps:

In his Denver speech, it seemed that every American home was on the auction block, every car stalled for lack of gasoline, every credit card bill past due, every worker treated like a Russian serf. And John McCain? He was out of touch, with flawed “judgment.” His life devoted to serving oil companies and big corporations. And, by the way, he didn’t have the courage to follow Osama bin Laden “to the cave where he lives.”

Apparently it is better to speak blandishments than talk about the real problems facing this country.  The irony, of course, is that much of the commentariat before the speech — including Republicans — could not stop talking about how Obama needed to talk policy.  After the speech every commentator — even Pat Buchanan, for crying out loud — called the speech one of the finest of his career and an extraordinary challenge to McCain.  All that was forgotten by Gerson and other folks, largely because the next day, John McCain opened up that big ol’ can of crazy known as the Sarahnator.

3.  Obama is now making the mistake of getting tough on McCain for being such a lying liar who lies about his giant sack of lies.

Who is hurt most by this race to the bottom? McCain, by the evidence of his own convention, wants to be a viewed as a fighter — which a fight does little to undermine. Obama was introduced to America as a different and better kind of politician — an image now in tatters.

That’s right — it’s Obama’s fault for challenging the lies, because it makes him look like a typical politician.  Forget the fact that McCain has sullied his honor.  It’s far more relevant that Obama chose to fight back, thus hurting his reputation as a change agent.

If Michael Gerson wants to put on a pair of beer goggles when he looks at John McCain, that’s his prerogative.  But he shouldn’t expect the rest of us to believe him.

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17 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
12:45 pm

Beyond November: David Sandalow


The Connect U.S. Fund has launched a new two-year initiative to help shape debate during the upcoming Presidential transition.  As part of this effort, they’ve asked leading thinkers and advocates to talk about what should be the top two or three foreign policy priorities for the next President.  They’ve also kindly allowed us to cross-post the responses here.

The series took a brief hiatus during the conventions, but it’s back and will continue from now until the election.  Today, we’ll hear from David Sandalow.  You can find the previous posts here.  Thanks again to Heather Hamilton and Eric Schwartz for making the cross-postings happen.

The dependence of our cars and trucks on oil weakens the United States and constrains our foreign policy.  The buildup of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere threatens our national security and imperils the planet.  The next President has an unprecedented opportunity to tackle both problems.

Today, 96 percent of the energy in our cars and trucks comes from oil.  That dependence lies at the heart of many problems.  Oil dependence empowers our enemies, endangers our men and women in uniform and undermines democracy around the world.  It plays a central role in global warming. It strains family budgets when world oil prices rise.

(”Drill here, drill now” is not the answer.  The nonpartisan Energy Information Agency says drilling in new areas offshore would add roughly 0.3% to global oil supplies in 10 years, with little if any impact on price. Does anyone think Ahmadinejad and Chavez are quaking in their boots at the thought of the US drilling in additional areas offshore?  Offshore drilling is weak.  It’s like walking an extra 20 feet per day to lose weight.  Let’s hope our leaders have the courage to take more powerful steps to help keep the United States strong.)

And we face an even more epic problem.  Today, concentrations of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere are at their highest level in human history — and rising sharply.  Unless we change course, rising sea levels, more frequent storms, more severe droughts and floods, the spread of tropical disease and forest loss will threaten lives and livelihoods around the world.  In the words of a dozen retired US military commanders including General Anthony Zinni (USMC-Ret.), “Climate change can act as a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world and presents significant national security challenges for the United States.”

Depressed?

There’s good news.  Solving these problems is the economic opportunity of the century.

From China to northern Europe to Silicon Valley, fortunes are already being made in renewable energy.  Thousands of companies are cutting emissions while increasing profits by improving energy efficiency and ending energy waste.  “Green collar jobs” are beginning to revitalize US cities.  Plug-in electric vehicles could revitalize the US car industry.

What should the next President do?  First, launch a crash program to end the utter dependence of our cars and trucks on oil.  Tax incentives, federal procurement and federal research and development funding should be marshaled to put millions of plug-in electric vehicles on the road soon.  The same tools should be used for advanced biofuels, dramatic improvements in fuel efficiency, natural gas vehicles and mass transit.

For decades, the U.S. government has heavily subsidized oil consumption.  (How does one value the subsidy to a commodity from having the US President fly to Saudi Arabia to try to talk the down its price?  Although the most recent effort by a US President to do this was unsuccessful, it has been a priority of Presidents and Cabinet secretaries of both parties for generations to promote the free flow of cheap oil around the world.)  The cost of programs to help break our oil addiction will be small in comparison.

In launching these programs, we should work closely with other oil-consuming nations.  Traditional oil diplomacy means securing adequate and reliable supplies.  21st century oil diplomacy should have an additional objective: reducing dependence in all nations.

At the same, the US must immediately take comprehensive steps to fight global warming.  In the past several years, dozens of States and hundreds of US cities have passed laws to control emissions of heat-trapping gases.  It is long past time for the federal government to do the same.  The next President should work with Congress to pass such legislation as a top priority, giving the US the strength to participate credibly in international global warming negotiations.

Neither oil dependence nor global warming can be solved overnight.  But dramatic progress is possible.  The unusually broad consensus concerning the national security threats from oil dependence, growing awareness of global warming, sharp rise in public attention as a result of high oil prices, and breakthroughs in clean energy technologies such as solar power and lithium ion batteries - in combination - create an unprecedented opportunity for change.

The transition to a clean energy economy will shape the first part of this century.  The next President can make history by setting the United States on the right course.

David Sandalow is Energy & Environment Scholar and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.  He is a former assistant secretary of state and senior director on the National Security Council staff.  He is the author of Freedom from Oil (McGraw-Hill 2007).

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17 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:45 am

While You Were Filing for Bankruptcy: Pakistan


Has Bush just gotten us into another war?  According to a number of press reports today, the Pakistani Army has orders to fire on American troops should they cross the border from Afghanistan:

Pakistani troops have been ordered to fire on U.S. forces, if they launch another raid across the Afghan border, an army spokesman tells the Associated Press.

“The orders are clear,” Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas  said in an interview. “In case it happens again in this form, that there is a very significant detection, which is very definite, no ambiguity, across the border, on ground or in the air: open fire.”

And they’re our ally.  Led by the guy we wanted to succeed Pervez Musharraf.

It looks like Adm. Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has suddenly decided to vacation in Islamabad.

Meanwhile, Jeff Stein over at SpyTalk suggests some troubling parallels to an earlier American conflict:

Pakistan is beginning to remind me of Cambodia.

Just as Pakistan gives shelter to the Taliban attacking us in Afghanistan, not to mention Osama Bin Laden, Cambodia in the 1960s provided a haven for the North Vietnamese Army, which was killing us across the border.

Just as in Pakistan, we “secretly” bombed Cambodia to get the North Vietnamese, killing innocent peasants.  When Cambodia’s prime minister resisted American pressure to oust the North Vietnamese, he was overthrown by U.S.-backed generals.

When we next sent combat units into Cambodia, there was a quantum leap of death, havoc — and radicalization — in the countryside, just as in Pakistan today.  Cambodia’s communists now found the peasants to eager to sign up, just as Muslim extremist leaders are finding today in Pakistan. . . .

Is something like that in Pakistan’s future? Nobody can be sure.  We do know that the escalation of U.S. (and some Pakistani) military operations there, much ballyhooed here for killing a few al Qaeda captains, is turning more and more Pakistanis against us.  And that’s a quandary for which there are no immediate answers, much less easy ones.

But we do know there’s one big difference between Cambodia and Pakistan.

Pakistan has nuclear weapons.

The analogy isn’t perfect.  We fomented the coup that brought Lon Nol to Cambodia, but in Pakistan, our guy got overthrown.  And there’s a big difference between a massive bombing campaign and a few cross-border incursions.  But it does make you think.

Undip reader Midwest McGarry, who raised similar concerns, also asks why American incursions don’t trigger the War Powers Act.  One reason is that both the U.S. and Pakistan officials are pretending none of this happened:

. . .the Pakistani and United States military publicly denied any such incident on Monday, and a Pakistani intelligence official said that an American helicopter had mistakenly crossed the border briefly, leading Pakistani ground forces to fire into the air. . . . On Tuesday, American officials repeated their denials that such an incident occurred.

If there were no incursions, there is no need to inform Congress as required by the War Powers Act.

But there’s another, more important reason.  Back in 2001, shortly after September 11, Congress passed a S.J. 23, Authorization for Use of Military Force:

[T]he President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons. . . .

SPECIFIC STATUTORY AUTHORIZATION- Consistent with section 8(a)(1) of the War Powers Resolution, the Congress declares that this section is intended to constitute specific statutory authorization within the meaning of section 5(b) of the War Powers Resolution.

So you see, Midwest, the President already has the authorization he needs.

Am I the only one not comforted by that?

Maybe the October Surprise came a bit early this year.  So far, no new statements by either campaign.

| posted in foreign policy, war & rumors of war | 0 Comments

17 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:45 am

Sarah Palin’s Excellent Adventure


In case you missed it yesterday, the Sarahnator and her tannin’ bed are heading to New York City to visit Dr. Joel Fleischman to meet with strange people who talk funny (no, not other Alaskans):

Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin will meet with foreign leaders next week at the United Nations, a move to boost her foreign-policy credentials, a Republican strategist said.  Republican candidate John McCain plans to introduce the Alaska governor to heads of state at the opening of the U.N. General Assembly, although specific names weren’t yet firmed up. “The meetings will give her some exposure and experience with foreign leaders,” the strategist said. “It’s a great idea.”

Oh yeah, a great idea.  Just stu-freaking-pendous.  Maybe McCain advisor John Bolton can take her up in a helicopter and they can try to shoot the top ten stories off the UN building.

Nothing like using foreign governments to score a few political points.  And hey, if Obama can go to Berlin, why can’t Palin go to Turtle Bay?

Uh, because she doesn’t know what the hell she’s talking about?

I can see it now.

Hi Vladimir and Dmitri, my name is  Sarah.  Vlad, you gotta come to Alaska where we can go huntin’ together.  Shootin’ moose is a lot more fun than that little kitty you killed a few weeks ago.  And have I mentioned that I can see you guys from my house?

Oh, and if you ever mess with Georgia again, this lipstick-wearin’ pitbull is gonna bomb the living crap out of ya.  If you thought messin’ with Texas was a pain, just wait ’til you have a snowshoe shoved where the sun don’t shine.

I’m sure that will go over like a ton of nukes.

| posted in foreign policy, globalization, politics, war & rumors of war | 1 Comment

16 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:45 am

Married to the Mob


WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 26:   David Addington, C...When the history of the Bush Administration is written, few individuals will be held as responsible for its excesses as David Addington.  He is the G. Gordon Liddy of attorneys, a one man dirty tricks squad — except in his case, he wasn’t working outside the law, he was rewriting the law.

In an excerpt from Angler that ran in yesterday’s Washington Post, author Barton Gelman describes what happened when the Justice Department ruled that the warrantless surveillance program was illegal.  Cheney determined that the program should nonetheless be reauthorized and ordered Addington to get it done.

Addington opened the code-word-classified file on his computer. He had a presidential directive to rewrite.

It has been widely reported that Bush executed the March 11 order with a blank space over the attorney general’s signature line. That is not correct. For reasons both symbolic and practical, the vice president’s lawyer could not tolerate an empty spot where a mutinous subordinate should have signed. Addington typed a substitute signature line: “Alberto R. Gonzales.”

What Addington wrote for Bush that day was more transcendent than that. He drew up new language in which the president relied on his own authority to certify the program as lawful. Bush expressly overrode the Justice Department and any act of Congress or judicial decision that purported to constrain his power as commander in chief. Only Richard M. Nixon, in an interview after leaving the White House in disgrace, claimed authority so nearly unlimited.

The specter of future prosecutions hung over the program, now that Justice had ruled it illegal.  “Pardon was in the air,” said one of the lawyers involved.

It was possible to construct a case, he said, in which those who planned and carried out the program were engaged in a criminal conspiracy. That would be tendentious, this lawyer believed, but with a change of government it could not be ruled out.  “I’m sure when we leave office we’re all going to be hauled up before congressional committees and grand juries,” Addington told one colleague in disgust.

Addington may only be a minion, but particularly effective henchmen often can be as dangerous and destructive as their dark lords.  Cheney made the decisions that led to torture, rendition, indefinite detention, and other such abominations, but Addington gave Cheney the legal cover to justify his actions as within the law.

As Jane Mayer notes in The Dark Side, Addington’s interpretation of the law was, in essence, that there was no law, only executive authority:

The Bush legal team, as former New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis observed, spent an extraordinary amount of effort figuring out how to steer top administration officials around criminal conduct.  Their “memos,” Lewis wrote, “read like the advice of a mob lawyer to a Mafia don on how to skirt the law and stay out of prison.  Avoiding prosecution is literally a theory of the memoranda.”  Behind these contortions was the reality that the White House lawyers, like crminial litigators, were using their skills to provide rationales for a path their clients had already taken.

Let’s not mince words here.  What Addington, John Yoo, and other Administration lawyers did was nothing less than criminal behavior.  If a private organization were to act in this way, federal authorities would not hesitate to prosecute it under the Racketeering in Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO):

Under RICO, a person who is a member of an enterprise that has committed any two of 35 crimes—27 federal crimes and 8 state crimes—within a 10-year period can be charged with racketeering. Those found guilty of racketeering can be fined up to $25,000 and/or sentenced to 20 years in prison per racketeering count. . . . Under the law, racketeering activity means:

  • Any violation of state statutes against gambling, murder, kidnapping, arson, robbery, bribery, extortion, dealing in obscene matter, or dealing in a controlled substance or listed chemical (as defined in the Controlled Substances Act);
  • Any act of bribery, counterfeiting, theft, embezzlement, fraud, dealing in obscene matter, obstruction of justice, slavery, racketeering, gambling, money laundering, commission of murder-for-hire, and several other offenses covered under the Federal criminal code (Title 18);
  • Embezzlement of union funds;
  • Bankruptcy or securities fraud;
  • Drug trafficking;
  • Money laundering and related offenses;
  • Bringing in, aiding or assisting aliens in illegally entering the country (if the action was for financial gain);
  • Acts of terrorism.

Pattern of racketeering activity requires at least two acts of racketeering activity, one of which occurred after the effective date of this chapter and the last of which occurred within ten years (excluding any period of imprisonment) after the commission of a prior act of racketeering activity.

I’m not a lawyer, but I would argue that Cheney and Addington (and others in the Administration) committed at least four such acts:  conspiracy to murder (CIA personnel may have, as a result of their use of “vigorous” interrogations promoted by Cheney and Addington, been responsible for the death of at least six detainees); kidnapping (the rendition program was essentially a federally sanctioned kidnap operation); fraud (inserting the signature of Alberto Gonzales instead of John Ashcroft); and obstruction of justice (as Gellman notes above, Addington, at Cheney’s instruction, attempted to override a Justice Department determination that the warrantless surveillance program was illegal).  That means they’re eligible.

Before you start arguing that the RICO statute cannot be used against government officials, know this:

In June 1984, the Key West Police Department in Monroe County, FL was declared a criminal Enterprise under the Federal RICO statutes after a lengthy United States Department of Justice investigation. Several high-ranking officers of the department, including Deputy Police Chief Raymond Cassamayor, were arrested on federal charges of running a protection racket for illegal cocaine smugglers.  At trial, a witness testified he routinely delivered bags of cocaine to the Deputy Chief’s office at City Hall.

To paraphrase Pogo, we have met the government and it is the mob.

Photo:  Getty Images via Daylife

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