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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
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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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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11 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:55 pm

“Putting Government Back on the Side of the People”

An excerpt from Charlie Gibson’s interview with Sarah Palin tonight:

GIBSON: But this is not just reforming a government. This is also running a government on the huge international stage in a very dangerous world. When I asked John McCain about your national security credentials, he cited the fact that you have commanded the Alaskan National Guard and that Alaska is close to Russia. Are those sufficient credentials?

PALIN: But it is about reform of government and it’s about putting government back on the side of the people, and that has much to do with foreign policy and national security issues.

She then changed the subject to energy.

But hold on a second, Governor.  You said that “putting government back on the side of the people. . .has much to do with foreign policy and national security issues.”  I’m willing to take you on your word on that — at least for the moment.  But I have a few questions for you.

  1. Given that a majority of the American people believe that we should not have gone to war in Iraq, does that mean that you favor us getting out?
  2. Given that a majority of the American people want the United States to be an international leader on climate change, are you willing to support much more aggressive measures to combat global warming, even if it means cutting back on the use of internal combustion engines, thus hurting your state’s economy?
  3. Given that a majority of the American people support the end of torture, the closing of Guantanamo, and as you so quaintly put it in your acceptance speech, “reading their rights” to terrorist suspects, are you and Senator McCain in favor of ending the Bush Administration’s assault on civil liberties and the rule of law?  Would you prosecute those in the Bush Administration suspected of committing war crimes?
  4. Given that a majority of the American people want the United States to work within the United Nations system and with our allies, would you and Senator McCain support reengaging with the United Nations in a meaningful way, including an end to the rhetoric we saw at the Convention attacking the UN?  And if so, can you explain the presence of John Bolton as an informal foreign policy advisor to the McCain-Palin campaign?

Because, Governor, that’s putting foreign poicy back on the side of the people.  Because that’s what a majority of the American people want.

I didn’t think so.

By the way, on Pakistan, she agreed with Obama and contradicted McCain.

And she thinks we should go to war with Russia if it invades Georgia again (or Ukraine).

Last but not least, Governor Palin might want to check out this page before her next interview.

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9 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
02:15 pm

Compare and Contrast: Libya

Here’s what the State Department’s most recent human rights report has to say about Libya:

The Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya is an authoritarian regime with a population of approximately six million, ruled by Colonel Mu’ammar al‑Qadhafi since 1969. . . .Qadhafi and his inner circle monopolized political power. . . . The government’s human rights record remained poor. Citizens did not have the right to change their government. Reported torture, arbitrary arrest, and incommunicado detention remained problems. The government restricted civil liberties and freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association. The government did not fully protect the rights of migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees. Other problems included poor prison conditions; impunity for government officials; lengthy political detention; denial of fair public trial; infringement of privacy rights; restrictions of freedom of religion; corruption and lack of transparency; societal discrimination against women, ethnic minorities, and foreign workers; trafficking in persons; and restriction of labor rights.

Now here’s what our favorite government blog, Dippynote said after The Condi finished her Weekend at Moammar’s:

Libya’s journey to rejoin the community of nations came after a long process of reengagement. Its historic 2003 decisions to voluntarily rid itself of its WMD program and renounce terrorism created the foundation from which Libya has today become a leader in Africa and a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. . . .Today, Libya is a vital partner in the fight against terrorism, helping to stem the flow of foreign fighters to Iraq. It works closely with its neighbors to combat the growth of terrorism in the Sahara and Trans-Sahel regions.

Libya is also a leader on the African continent. It maintains a humanitarian corridor that provides much needed supplies to the people of Darfur. Working with the African Union Contact Group, it is helping to mediate the conflicts in Chad and Sudan. Additionally, Libya provides development assistance to other African countries. . . .

The U.S. and Libya have shared interests, but have also differed at times on some key policy points and use of diplomatic tools. Naturally, we would prefer to have their support on some of these issues, but it is noteworthy that Libya — which serves as a model to others — voted in favor of placing additional sanctions against Iran for its non-compliance with international efforts to ensure the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program.  Libya has come a long way in its transformation from an isolated pariah to renewed membership in the international community.

One of these things is not like the other.

By the way, this is the sixth consecutive Dippynote post on Libya.  That’s more than the total number of posts on Iraq (five) since the beginning of April — and equal to the number of posts on Afghanistan (six) since Dipnote began.  And they wonder why nobody takes them seriously?

Here’s the best part:  it’s very likely that the two statements above were written by the same person — Amanda Johnson, a Libya Desk Officer in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA).  Ms. Johnson is identified as the author of the Dippynote piece, and since there was no diplomatic presence in Tripoli at the time of the last human rights report, it probably would have fallen to Ms. Johnson to prepare the first draft of that report.

This is what drives me bananas about the State Department. I have no beef with Ms. Johnson, who in all likelihood is a fine foreign service officer.  But given her age (she says in the Dipnote piece that she was born in 1977), she is in all likelihood a fairly junior one.  And junior foreign service officers — those without tenure — might as well be party apparatchiks for all the influence they have on the policymaking process:  they either toe the party line or find themselves out of a job.

In Ms. Johnson’s case, that means writing something highly critical of Condi’s creepy stalker boyfriend wannabe, and then, eight months later, being told to write something highly complementary.  It’s no wonder that foreign service officers get cynical about political appointees — and about the U.S. government’s commitment to human rights.

So which one is right?  Let me offer you the following hint:  the happier the tone, the bigger the lie.

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4 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:45 am

Hey, Kids! Let’s Play Hide the WMD!

Back when I was in graduate school, Chernobyl happened.  Being graduate students, we responded to this tragedy in the only way we knew how:  we threw a party.  We covered the walls with aluminum foil, replaced all the light bulbs with flashing red lights, and renamed the keg the cooling tower.  We had so many people there, that the floor almost collapsed and the heat generated by the foiled-up walls caused the air conditioning unit for the entire building to fail.

That was the last time I remember connecting nuclear power to dancing.  Until now.  If you’ve been watching the conventions, you’ve seen this commercial:

You may not have noticed it, given the awesome animation and Lipps Inc.’s “Funkytown” playing in the background, but if you pause at 0:09, you’ll notice a couple of words down in the lower right hand corner:


So that’s where Saddam put it!  Canada!

And what is up with this ad?  Funkytown?  The happy shiny strip mining?  And the apparent argument that we should have nukes so that people can play Dance Dance Revolution in Shanghai?

So the ad is at least two years old.  The first version was in French.

{{PAGENAME}}You wouldn’t know it from the commercial, but after a check of The Googles, I found out that Areva is “a French public multinational industrial conglomerate that is mainly known for nuclear power.”


Did I mention that the company also manages those yellow cake mines in Niger?  More happy shiny strip mining!

That means Areva played a role, albeit indirectly, in the whole Valerie Plame scandal.  And the Iraq war.  And, of course, the lies of the Bush Administration to justify both the war and the Plame leak.

Now that’s some serious funk.

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26 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
09:45 am

Diplospeak Translator: Partying Like It’s 2011

In the middle of the DNC frenzy, let’s not lose sight of the fact that there’s an end in sight in Iraq:

Iraqi Prime Minister Prime Nuri al-Maliki said on Monday that an agreement had been reached in negotiations on a security pact with the United States to end any foreign military presence in Iraq by the end of 2011.  “There is an agreement actually reached, reached between the two parties on a fixed date which is the end of 2011 to end any foreign presence on Iraqi soil,” Maliki said in a speech to tribal leaders in the Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone.

“Yes, there is major progress on the issue of the negotiations on the security deal,” Maliki said.  The Iraqi government has said it is proposing U.S. troops end patrols of Iraqi towns and villages by the middle of next year and U.S. combat troops leave Iraq by 2011.

Now here’s McCain’s comment on the deadline.  Time for the Diplospeak Translator!

McCAIN: I am pleased that, following the surge strategy led by General David Petraeus and our brave men and women in uniform, security in Iraq has improved to the point at which we can responsibly talk with our Iraqi allies about U.S. troop withdrawals.

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR:  I can’t believe that Bush is screwing me so badly.  I saved his ass on Iraq and now he’s exposing mine.

McCAIN: Because of the hard-won success of this strategy, the Iraqi security forces are able to take on ever greater responsibility for security in their country. We should not forget that this is possible only because of the surge — a strategy many predicted would fail and that some cannot, even today, recognize as a stunning success.

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR: This is my success!  Mine, damnit!  Mine! My preciousssss!

McCAIN: While negotiations with the Iraqi government are ongoing, reports indicate that all dates included in the draft security agreement are aspirational goals, based on conditions on the ground.

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR: Fixed date, what fixed date?  I’m not listening!  LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA.

McCAIN: Conditions-based withdrawals of U.S. troops are the precise opposite course of that advocated by Senator Obama. Senator Obama seeks to withdraw all U.S. combat forces regardless of the consequences for Iraq or for American national security, and in disregard of our commanders’ best counsel.

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR: Just because he’s right now doesn’t mean that he was always right.  I, on the other hand, was right when it counted, even if I’m wrong now.  Um, what I mean is that he’s a candidate who’s willing to lose a war in order to win an election, even though we’re now winning the war and the leaders of Iraq support his timetable, I mean time horizon.  Uh, um, wait a second.  I know!  He’s a celebrity, damnit!  Paris Hilton Paris Hilton Britney Britney Britney MADONNA!

McCAIN: Had we followed his course, Iraq could have easily descended into chaos and America would have suffered a catastrophic defeat. Instead, we are today negotiating a conditions-based agreement that will enable us to withdraw troops in victory and with honor.

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR: Have I mentioned that I spent five years as a POW?  Well I was.  And that means I’m right.

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21 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
01:55 pm

Diplospeak Translator: SOFA (Hot) Potato

So it looks like the on-again off-again Status of Forces Agreement is back on.  The Condi went to Baghdad to try to hammer out the final details, and she and Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari appeared at a joint press conference to say that the two governments were close to a deal.  The Associated Press is reporting that American troops will be out of Iraq no later than next June 30, but The Los Angeles Times says they’ll stick around until 2011.

The State Department and White House web sites don’t have anything up on this yet, so we’ll have to see what their official comment is.  In the meantime, let’s use the Diplospeak Translator to compare and contrast what The Condi and Zebari had to say:

THE CONDI:  We have agreed that some goals, some aspirational timetables for how that might unfold, are well worth having in such an agreement. . . . Obviously, the American forces are here, coalition forces are here at the invitation of the Iraqi government. . . . What we’re trying to do is put together an agreement that protects our people, respects Iraq’s sovereignty. . . . [T]he goal is to have Iraqi forces responsible for the security of Iraq. . . . We’re not sitting here talking about an agreement to try to get out of a bad situation.  [The agreement] builds on the success we have had in the last year. This agreement is based on success.”

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR:  Given Maliki’s repeated statements, we had no choice but to accept a timetable.  And anytime I actually say something is a bad situation, you can bet that it’s a bad situation.

ZEBARI:  This decision (agreement) is a sovereign one and Iran and other neighboring countries have the right to ask for clarifications. . . . There are clear articles (that) say that Iraq will not be used as a launching pad for any aggressive acts against neighboring countries and we already did clarify this. . . . This agreement determines the principle provisions, requirements, to regulate the temporary presence and the time horizon, the mission of the U.S. forces.

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR:  Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

So does that mean that President Bush would rather win an election than lose a war?  That The Condi is a cheese-eating surrender monkey?

Something tells me that John McCain is about change back into Bitter Angry Man again.

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18 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:41 pm

Maliki Gets Bolder

Iraqi Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki is getting bolder:  he wants American troops to leave, and to leave as soon as possible:

American officials privately admit being concerned that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has become “overconfident” about his government’s ability to manage without US combat troops, according to an Iraq analyst who just returned from a trip to Iraq arranged by US commander General David Petraeus. . . .

Maliki’s new sense of confidence has been accompanied by a new political identity as a nationalist foe of the occupation, according to Kahl. “He is successfully fashioning himself as an Iraqi hero who kicked the Americans out. That makes him difficult to negotiate with.”

To make matters worse for the Bush Administration, Maliki also isn’t happy with some of its key allies:

One of the consequences of Maliki’s perception of the new power relations in Iraq is that he is even less inclined than before to make accommodations with former Sunni insurgents now on the US payroll in the militias called “Sons of Iraq”.

This last point tracks with Dr. Irak over at Abu Muqawama:

Dr. iRack has been warning for months that their were signs that the Maliki government was planning to turn on the sahwa/Awakening groups/Sons of Iraq. Maliki considers the SoIs thugs and terrorists who should not be accommodated. Dr. iRack heard this often and repeatedly during his recent Baghdad visit. In the past few months, there have been growing signs that Maliki and his allies are (1) stalling SoI integration into the Iraqi security forces; (2) collaborating with other Iraqi parties to limit political participation by sahwa groups; and (3) arresting SoI members or chasing them out of the country. Dr. iRack has also heard credible rumors that Maliki hopes that his provocative treatment of the SoIs will encourage them to start a fight, giving Maliki an excuse to bring the Iraqi security forces down on them. Hard. . . .This is a story that all Iraq watchers should keep a VERY close eye on. Maliki may be making his move.

It’s too early to tell whether Maliki is canny, overconfident, or suffering from hubris.  But it is increasingly possible that Maliki will settle the debate over a long-term American presence in Iraq sooner than anyone — including McCain and Obama — anticipated.

Hat tip: Vet Voice

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14 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:55 pm

Three Words for John McCain

Senator Grouchy McGrouchypants yesterday on the cabletubes:

Okaaaaay. Uh. Well. Ahem.

Three words, Senator:  March.  Twentieth.  Two-thousand-and-three.

John McCain’s candidacy is increasingly resembling that crazy old uncle who’s locked up in the attic because he no longer understands just how inappropriate it is to scream obscenities at strangers.

You know, it’s not just that McCain might sleep through the proverbial 3 a.m. phone call.  It’s far worse than that.  He seems to have been asleep for the past five-plus years.  Or maybe, given his Cold-War era rhetoric, the past twenty.

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14 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
03:55 pm

Beyond November: Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr.

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.

Today, we’ll hear from Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr..  Posts in the series will appears every Thursday from now to the convention.  You can find the previous posts here.  Thanks again to Heather Hamilton and Eric Schwartz for making the cross-postings happen.

The Hip Hop Caucus has always seen the Hip Hop Generation, those born after 1964,  as representative of what we like to call the “Dream Generation,” or the generation Dr. King prophesized, in which all people regardless of race, economic level, religion, or sexual preference, stood together to stand for Justice and Peace.

Throughout the world we find young people from diverse backgrounds who identify with Hip Hop culture and have similar local-to-global issues yet feel alienated or disenfranchised by political systems who do not address their issues.

As we move forward a progressive agenda, it is paramount that we are able to recognize the potential for a global movement around similar issues people face using an inside out approach. We must 1) address local issues that fit into a larger global context and 2) educate (Hip) people on the similarities and affects between local and global issues, and 3) mobilize and move (Hop) people to action so they are active civic participants and hold their elected officials accountable. By working an inside-out approach we have the ability to engage new segments of our democracy, who have not traditionally been engaged in matters concerning US global engagement into this process.

This upcoming presidential election is a unique and timely opportunity to engage new segments of our population into the political process and educate them on foreign policy. We recently launched our voter registration, education and mobilization campaign, “Respect My Vote!” to capture the energy surrounding this election. We are engaging 18-29 year olds–targeting those that did not attend college– in the political process and ensuring we can maintain contact with them beyond the presidential elections, and mobilize them to the polls. Our campaign is unique because we place equal emphasis on election and post election work. We have chosen this group because only 67 percent of people in this age group feel they can make an impact on their communities and we want to show them they can have an impact on their communities as well as the world.

As part of our voter education campaign we have selected urgent foreign policy issues and will begin familiarizing with the issues for future campaigns.

Climate Change, Food Shortages, and a Green Economy

Our incoming President must address climate change in a very real and urgent manner. No longer can we ignore or thumb or noses at international policy, we must work with the international community to aggressively address climate change because if we do not act now in the 21st century, there might not be a 22nd century for Humanity on this planet.

Without drastic shifts in emissions of greenhouse gases, we will continue to see shifts in rain patterns and temperatures which will deepen the food shortages and drought which we are already beginning to see, especially in parts of Africa. We are also beginning to see a rise in food prices here in the US which have acute impacts on disadvantaged communities

To curb climate change and oil dependence we must find new and creative ways to embrace the green movement, and build a broader social base for our movement. There is also vast economic potential in a green economy which would make way for new technology and industry which can provide new “green collar” jobs. The Hip Hop Caucus is working with organizations such as Green for All to ensure that disadvantaged communities are at the forefront of the emerging green economy, allowing us to fight both poverty and pollution at the same time.

Proliferation of poverty, Iraq war, and the Iraqi refugee crisis

We must recognize the Iraqi refugee Crisis as both a humanitarian issue and a national security issue.  While we hemorrhage resources to the war in Iraq, a October 2007 CRS Report cited that  2.2 million people have been Internally Displaced in Iraq and there are now 2 million refugees in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon. We spend upwards of $12 billion per month on this war which has caused a humanitarian crisis and proliferated poverty onto millions of people in Iraq, while our communities in the US continue to suffer from inadequate resources. Anti-US sentiment created by poverty, instability, and our treatment of people combine to provide a great environment for potential threats to US National Security.

Yes, there are policies which need to be addressed the incoming president and 111th Congress but without an engaged citizenry to hold the accountable for their words and rhetoric there will be little change. This is why it is so important to engage our citizenry in meaningful ways. This is why we must make the connections between spending in Iraq and spending in our communities, or the effects of climate change and soaring prices of food as well as the opportunity for our communities to be at the forefront of the Green Collar job movement.

Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr., is a minister, community activist, and one of the most influential people in Hip Hop political life. Firmly grounded in his Caribbean and Louisiana roots, Rev. Yearwood is a fierce advocate for the human and civil rights in the 21st century.  A powerful and fiery orator, Rev. Yearwood works diligently and tirelessly to encourage the Hip Hop generation to utilize its political and social voice.  He currently serves as President of the Hip Hop Caucus, a national, nonprofit, nonpartisan, organization that inspires and motivates those born after the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

Rev. Yearwood is known for his activist work as the National Director of the Gulf Coast Renewal Campaign in which he organized a coalition of national organizations and grassroots organizations to advocate for the rights of Hurricane Katrina survivors.   Rev. Yearwood has become an important figure in the peace movement as an outspoken critic of the war in Iraq and the Bush Administration.  He was an Officer in the U.S. Air Force Reserve and led the “Make Hip Hop Not War” national tour to engage more young people in the movement for peace.  Rev. Yearwood was a co-creator of the 2004 campaign “Vote or Die” with Sean “Diddy” Combs.  He was also the Political and Grassroots Director for Russell Simmons’ Hip Hop Summit Action Network in 2003 and 2004, and a Senior Consultant to Jay Z’s Voice Your Choice.

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12 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
02:55 pm

Wonk’d: Why the UN Human Rights Council Blows

As I’ve noted in my two previous posts, I’m both a fan and a critic of the United Nations.  But if there’s one thing the United Nations does really really really badly, it’s human rights.

It wasn’t always this way.  Thanks in part to the leadership of Eleanor Roosevelt, the early years of the United Nations adopted both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Genocide Convention.  Over the next several decades, a number of other important treaties followed, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention against Torture, and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, among others.

Lately, however, not so much.  The UN Commission on Human Rights became so disreputable — by doing things like electing Libya as chair and failing to take action on Rwanda — that the UN decided to abolish it and replace it with a new body that would address many of its shortcomings.

During the 2005 UN Millennium Summit, the General Assembly agreed to the creation of a new Human Rights Council, supposedly putting into place safeguards that would prevent similar problems in the future.  Sadly, the United States chose not to play a central role in the negotiations over how the Council would be constituted or how it organizes itself.  Thank you, John Bolton, you self-righteous paleocon jerk.

(Full disclosure:  Steve Clemons, Scott Paul (both of the Washington Note), Don Kraus (my successor as CEO of Citizens for Global Solutions) and I organized the successful opposition to the Bolton nomination.)

(And for the UN wonks out there, yes I know I’m oversimplifying this timeline.  But please keep in mind that I’m not writing for you.)

So there we were, a new start, a new opportunity to do serious human rights work.



Today we have a body that in many ways is worse than its predecessor.  There are a lot of issues that the Council should be looking at these days — Darfur, Zimbabwe, North Korea, Burma, Pakistan, and Iraq, to name just a few.  Instead, the it has spent almost all of its time on one issue:  Israel.

The reasons for this have to do not with human rights in that country –- which, to be clear, should be looked at, as should human rights issues in every country.  Rather it’s the product of those who currently sit on the Council.  Dictatorships make up over half the Council’s membership. They have spotlighted Israel to deflect attention from the human rights abusers within their own ranks, as well as to stick it to the West (and, to be clear, Israel).

Meanwhile, the Bush Administration continues to refuse to engage the Council, deciding not to stand for election and even failing to send an Ambassador to Council meetings.  Of course that’s assuming it could even get elected to the Council, given its own human rights record.  Either way, its actions have only encouraged the misbehavior and discouraged those who would stand up to such nonsense.

And then, late last week, we have the latest outrage:

A former spokesman for Cuba’s foreign ministry was appointed this week to head the United Nations Human Rights Council’s advisory committee.  Radio Rebelde says Miguel Alfonso Martinez, is president of the Cuban Society of International Law, was appointed this Monday to head the Advisory Committee of the UN Human Rights Council.

Oy vey.  Oh wait — saying that might get me investigated by the Council.

This isn’t the first bad appointment either.  Richard Falk, a Princeton professor who has compared Israeli policy in the Gaza Strip to Nazi Germany, is the Council’s Special Rapporteur on. . . wait for it. . .Israel.  And Jean Ziegler, who once helped Muammar Qaddafi establish a peace prize named after the dictator and who has praised, among others, Robert Mugabe and Fidel Castro, was elected to the Council’s Advisory Committee.

The Council has more than a bad joke.  It’s a black eye for the UN and and embarrassment to the entire world.  Furthermore, it has become a convenient whipping boy for the paleocons here in the United States.

It’s time to start over. . .again.

Maybe the third time will be the charm.

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11 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:42 pm

One of These Things is Exactly Like the Other

Pop quiz:  Kosovo is to Iraq as Iraq is to. . .


As Matthew Yglesias and other analysts have noted, the Kosovo conflict set a dangerous precedent because the United States (with the backing of most of Europe) intervened without getting authorization from the Security Council under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter.  At the time, liberal internationalists cheered the move, believing that the danger of ethnic cleansing and perhaps genocide took precedence over a Security Council resolution.

The only problem was that it created a precedent for other unilateral intervention.  Four years later, when the Bush Administration invaded Iraq, many of the same folks who defended the U.S. action in Kosovo found the neocons making the exact same arguments.

Now, the Bush Administration is getting a taste of the same medicine it so gleefully dished out back in 2003.  The Administration finds itself  trying to explain why Russian action in Georgia is somehow not the same as what the United States did in Iraq.

Let’s face facts here, folks.  There is no difference.  Well there’s one difference:  Georgia has a democratically elected government.  But in the context of contemporary international politics, that clearly doesn’t mean much.

Time to play compare and contrast.  Today, Dubya said the following [emphasis added]:

I am deeply concerned by reports that Russian troops have moved beyond the zone of conflict, attacked the Georgian town of Gori, and are threatening the Georgia’s — Georgia’s capital of Tbilisi. There’s evidence that Russian forces may soon begin bombing the civilian airport in the capital city.

If these reports are accurate, these Russian actions would represent a dramatic and brutal escalation of the conflict in Georgia. And these actions would be inconsistent with assurances we have received from Russia that its objectives were limited to restoring the status quo in South Ossetia that existed before fighting began on August the 6th.

It now appears that an effort may be underway to depose Russia’s* duly elected government. Russia has invaded a sovereign neighboring state and threatens a democratic government elected by its people. Such an action is unacceptable in the 21st century.


Russia’s actions this week have raised serious questions about its intentions in Georgia and the region. These actions have substantially damaged Russia’s standing in the world. And these actions jeopardize Russians’ relations — Russia’s relations with the United States and Europe. It is time for Russia to be true to its word and to act to end this crisis.

Now here’s what then-Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the time of the invasion of Iraq [emphasis added]:

Today the United States started a military action against Iraq. Already there are human victims and destruction. . . . Let me stress from the beginning that military actions are taking place contrary to the world public opinion, contrary to the principles and norms of international law and the Charter of the UN.

Nothing can justify this military action — neither accusations of Iraq of supporting international terrorism (we have never had and do not have information of this kind) nor the desire to change the political regime in that country which is in direct contradiction to international law and should be determined only by the citizens of this or that state.


The military action against Iraq is a big political mistake. I have already referred to the humanitarian aspect. But the threat of the disintegration of the established system of international security causes at least as much concern.

If we allow international law to be replaced by “the law of the fist” whereby the strong is always right and has the right to do anything and in choosing methods to achieve his goals is not constrained by anything, then one of the basic principles of international law will be put into question, and that is the principle of immutable sovereignty of a state. And then no one, not a single country in the world will feel secure. And the vast area of instability that has arisen will grow and cause negative consequences in other regions of the world.

It is for these reasons that Russia insists on early termination of military actions. And we are still confident that the central role in resolving the crisis situations in the world, including the situation around Iraq, must belong to the UN Security Council.

I would like to stress that Russia is committed to trying to bring this situation back to a peaceful course and to achieve genuine solution of the issue of Iraq on the basis of UN Security Council resolutions, a solution that would take into account the legitimate interests of the Iraqi people, respect of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of that country.

Pot, meet kettle.  Kettle, meet pot.  The only fundamental difference here is that Putin framed things in terms of international law and the role of the UN, while Bush framed things in terms of Russia’s place in the world and its relationship with the United States and Europe. (Leave it to our distinguished President to allow his soul brutha to come up with the stronger argument.)

That said, somebody needs to throw these words back in Putin’s face.  And Medvedev’s too.  What hypocrites.

Sadly, as a result of our Iraq adventure, it can’t be the United States.

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

10 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:02 pm

Controlympics: Pollyanna George

From Bob Costas’s interview with President Bush during NBC’s Olympics coverage tonight:

COSTAS: This past week, you restated America’s fundamental differences with China. But given China’s growing strength, and America’s own problems, realistically, how much leverage does the U.S. have here?

DUBYA: First of all, I don’t see America having problems. I see America as a nation that is a world leader that has got great values.

I’m speechless (wordless?  what is the blogging version of speechless?).  I thought he stopped drinking.  Maybe he’s high on vollyball babes.  I mean, Dude, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN FOR THE LAST SEVEN FREAKING YEARS?????  Just off the top of my head:

  1. We’ve lost our lead in manufacturing to China.
  2. We’ve mortgaged our economy to the Chinese and others.
  3. We now torture, contrary to everything we supposedly stand for.
  4. We now detain people indefinitely.
  5. We haven’t captured Osama bin Laden or other al Qaeda leaders.
  6. We’re mired in two wars, one of which is going badly and while the other is going better, we are spending billions of dollars a month to try to find a way out.
  7. Our two largest mortgage lenders are in deep trouble, and the USG probably is going to have to bail them out.  And thousands upon thousands of Americans are losing their homes.
  8. As many as a dozen of our elected and appointed officials (Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, Gonzales, Addington, Yoo, Cambone, Wolfowitz, Feith, Rice, Tenet just off the top of my head) may be indicted for war crimes after the Administration ends.
  9. The Katrina crisis demonstrated just how incompetent our government can be in the face of a massive human disaster.
  10. Guantanamo; Abu Ghraib; Bagram; secret sites in Eastern Europe.

Nope. No problems there.  I apologize Mr. President, you’re absolutely, completely, and irrevocably right insane.

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7 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:00 am

Five to Watch: The Rest of the World

Between the U.S. Presidential election and the Beijing Olympics, there isn’t much space on the Intertubes or the cabletubes for other stories.  And I understand that The Washington Postdated is running a five-part series on McCain’s wacky aunt, so they’re not going to be much help either.

But that doesn’t mean the rest of the world has taken a break.  Here are five stories worth watching in the coming weeks:

1.  Bolivia.  This Sunday, voters will go to the polls to decide whether to recall Bolivian President Evo Morales (an ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez), the Vice President, and nine provincial governors — many of whom are Morales critics.  Originally envisioned as a way to end the political impasse between Morales and his opponents, the vote instead has exacerbated tensions, and could strengthen separatist sentiment in four provinces.  In the lead-up to the vote, Chavez and Argentinian President Cristina Kirchner had to cancel a planned meeting with Morales as a result of the unrest, and Morales had to relocate planned independence celebrations to La Paz from the opposition-controlled Sucre after opposition supporters blockaded the airport.

2.  Rwanda-France. On Tuesday, Rwanda issued a report formally accusing French government officials of complicity in the 1994 genocide.  Rwanda President Paul Kagame, who has steered Rwanda away from the francophone bloc and towards a closer relationship with the United States, cut ties with the French government back in 2006 as a result of a French judge’s efforts to have him charged for allegedly playing a role in the death of President Habyarimana — an event that either triggered the genocide or was used as an excuse for its genesis.  Two separate issues appear to be at play here:  questions about French complicity, which may have included training of and advice to the pre-genocide army, and the role of Kagame’s RPF movement, which human rights groups say is responsible for war crimes (albeit not genocide).

3.  Mauritania. On Wednesday, a group of Army officers seized power from the first-ever democratically elected government in Mauritania.  The coup took place after Mauritanian President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi attempted to fire four senior military officers — who instead led the coup.  The President and Prime Minister are both under house arrest, and while the new leaders have promised new elections, a history of coups and military rule make such an outcome unlikely.  The recent discovery of significant oil reserves further complicates matters.

4.  Iraq. Think everything in Iraq is peachy?  Think again.  The Parliament recessed on Wednesday without passing an essential provincial elections bill, hampering further efforts at reconciliation dependent on the vote’s outcome.  The sticking point is Kirkuk, which the Kurds want to annex but other factions want to keep separate.  Once again, oil is playing a role — Kirkuk has lots of it.  Perhaps the worst news is that the Iraqis decided the best course of action at this point is  to appoint yet another commission to study the matter while the rest of the Council of Representatives went on vacation.

5.  Pakistan. Perhaps the biggest mess in the world today, Pakistan continues to find new ways to destabilize itself.  As a result of the secret police’s (and perhaps the military’s) role in the bombing of India’s embassy in Kabul, U.S.-Pakistani relations are the worst they’ve ever been.  The military’s accomodation of the Taliban and al Qaeda in the Northwest Frontier Province hasn’t helped much either.  Meanwhile, Parliament is debating whether to impeach President Pervez Musharaf at the very moment that Musharaf has headed to Beijing for the Olympics.  With no one apparently in charge and the ISI and military facing increasing calls for reform, another coup is a real possibility.  This time, however, the generals are unlikely to continue to pursue policies favorable to American interests.

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1 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
06:30 pm

Obama’s Next Commercial: Political Jujistsu

If I were Barack Obama, here’s what I would say in my next commercial.

Hi, I’m Barack Obama.

You’ve seen a lot of commercials from Senator John McCain, lately.  Without exception, they’ve been attacks on my character, not my positions.  I was disappointed that John chose this tack, especially given his repeated promise to run a positive, issues-based campaign.

If my opponent chooses to run nothing but negative ads, avoiding real debate on what matters to Americans, that is his prerogative.  It would be easy for me to respond with similar attacks.  But doing so not only would run counter to my principles, it also would continue the divisiveness and distrust that have dominated our political discourse for far too long.

This does not mean I will not continue to challenge his misstatements and distortions. I will not let stand his attempts to disparage my character or question my love for this country.  But I will not make similar attacks against him.  Like John, I promised to focus on issues rather than personalities.  Unlike John, I will keep that pledge.

Earlier this year, John challenged me to join him in a series of town hall meetings held all around this great country.  We were not able to make that happen, in large part because our campaign staffs focused on petty details rather the big picture.  I accept my share of the responsibility for that mistake.  I hope that my opponent will recognize his role as well.

Today, I accept his proposition:  ten town hall meetings, to be conducted after the conventions, without moderation of any kind.  I hope that we can hold a real debate on the things that matter to this country:  the state of our economy; the worsening situation in Afghanistan; energy security; global warming; and yes, how best to disengage from Iraq.

I place only one condition on my participation:  that Senator McCain stop his deliberately misleading attack ads.  Then, and only then can we stop playing games and start focusing on what really matters: returning this country to greatness and its people to prosperity.

My name is Barack Obama.  I hope that you will support me this November.  I approved this commercial.

I think this would put McCain on the defensive.  I think the frame would become McCain’s attacks rather than the content of those attacks.  And I think that ultimately McCain would refuse because he knows he can’t win on the issues.  And that would make future attacks less credible.

Perhaps more importantly, it would allow McCain a credible way to reclaim his soul from the Rovian vampires now running his campaign.  Of course, that’s assuming he wants that.

I recognize that there are risks for Obama here:  some commentators will suggest that he’s avoiding the charges that McCain has leveled.  But with his new website and ad, he’s already tried that, and it’s done little other than encourage the McCain team to keep attacking.

Obama has an opportunity to demonstrate that old-style attack politics don’t work anymore. Yes, some people won’t get it, and some will criticize a change in tactics no matter what he does.  But the upside to this bit of political jujitsu is so great that it’s worth that risk.

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1 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:55 am

Diplospeak Translator: W Talks about His Asia Trip

So President Bush met with the foreign-language press on Wednesday.  They had a contest to see who could do a better job of mangling the English language.

Now calm down.  I’m kidding of course. President Bush can mangle English better than anybody.

In any case, we have a special edition of the Diplospeak Translator today:  it’s one part DT and one part Bushisms.  The latter are underlined.  And as is usually the case, we bring you only the choicest cuts:

DUBYA: As you all know, the itinerary is South Korea, Thailand and then China. China will be a mix of — South Korea will be all diplomacy; get a chance to see my friend, the President; a good discussion about common issues. I’ll see the Prime Minister of Thailand for a nice dinner.

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR:  I really like the Thai food.  Especially those chicken on a stick thingies.  Chinese, not so much — except the King Kong Chicken.

DUBYA: Relations with the three nations that I have just described are good, strong. My trip will help advance them, the relations.

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29 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:30 am

McCain’s Ad: More Disgusting Than We Thought

The latest on that atrocious McCain ad that attacks Obama for not visiting wounded troops in German.  This is from VetVoice:

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28 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
06:30 am

Obama, Europe and Gallup: A Berlin Bounce?

I continue to be fascinated by this.  According to Gallup, Obama got almost no bounce from Iraq and Afghanistan, but does seem to be enjoying a not-insignificant bump from Berlin.

Here are Gallup’s own headlines from the last four days:

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27 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:00 pm

Hagel Defends Obama (Vandy Prize)

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska) isn’t happy with his old friend John McCain:

Sen. Chuck Hagel took on his old friend and fellow Vietnam veteran Sen. John McCain, criticizing McCain’s new TV ad attacking Sen. Barack Obama.

In the ad, the Republican presidential candidate complains about Obama’s recent decision not to visit U.S. troop hospital in Germany, saying, “Sen. Obama made time to go to the gym but canceled a visit with wounded troops.”

“I do not think that ad was appropriate,” Hagel said in an appearance on CBS-TVs “Face the Nation.” Obama’s staff was advised by the Pentagon about the military’s concerns with Obama bringing his political campaign to see soldiers there, his advisers have said.

It’s been two weeks since Steve Clemons reported that Hagel was going to endorse Obama, and it hasn’t happened yet.  That may be because Hagel doesn’t plan to, or it may be because Obama wanted to wait until after their trip.  Either way, having a man who once was a top pick for VP (albeit in 2000) now criticize him publicly must be driving McCain nuts.

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