Thursday, July 10, 2008

american democracy (FISA Bill)

The new FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) bill amendments have just been passed by the United States Congress

This enables electronic surveillance without approval being issued by a court (provided the government files required papers within a week) and provides retroactive immunity to telcos who have been breaking the old law at the behest of the Bush administration. According to Ellsberg this law breaking preceded 9/11 and has been revealed by leaks to the New York Times.

This represents an undermining or "gutting" of the Fourth Amendment of the American constitution which guards against unreasonable searches and seizures

(1) american democracy
(2) Obama, for his reversal of his previous committment to filibuster this bill
(3) it undermines credibility from the US efforts to help establish democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq

Daniel Ellsberg: You can't maintain a democracy while the State can spy on its citizens without independent approval from a judge (paraphrased)

update (11th July):
This article from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) provides more detail about the inadequate checks on wiretapping:
The FISA Amendments Act nearly eviscerates oversight of government surveillance by allowing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to review only general procedures for spying rather than individual warrants. The FISC will not be told any specifics about who will actually be wiretapped, thereby undercutting any meaningful role for the court and violating the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

The bill further trivializes court review by authorizing the government to continue a surveillance program even after the government’s general spying procedures are found insufficient or unconstitutional by the FISC. The government has the authority to wiretap through the entire appeals process, and then keep and use whatever information was gathered in the meantime.
Daniel Ellsberg on FISA (video). People of my generation remember Daniel Ellsberg for his role in leaking the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times in 1971, which "demonstrated unconstitutional behavior by a succession of presidents, the violation of their oath and the violation of the oath of every one of their subordinates"
FISA Amendment Acts of 2008 (wikipedia)
Senate Joins House in Caving to White House Immunity Demands (eff site)
strangebedfellows: a unique and diverse left--right coalition which has come together to put a stop to the eradication of civil liberties in America
The FISA Protest and myBO Interesting detail here about the interactive features and dynamics of Obama's website


Anonymous said...

This is really unbelievable, and it proves that the ship is beginning to go down. This is very distressing to me, though perhaps not much of a surprise considering the way things have been going.

Time to start flying the American flag upside down. :-(

Anonymous said...

I have listened to both sides on this, and to me this bill is rather like the War Powers Act, which was made law many decades ago in response to the nuclear situation posed by the Cold War. The WPA has been used since the Cold War ended. I remember that it was explained to us in school as a pragmatic law. Essentially what happened is the congress delegated its war making power to the president in emergency situations, such as (then) a nuclear attack from the U.S.S.R. It was explained that even though the Constitution said that the congress has to declare war, it was impractical in this situation because a nuclear attack would be overwith within 15 minutes. Congress would be too slow. It has continued to be used, and is the reason the U.S. has not officially declared war on any country since WW II, despite the military activity on the part of the U.S. that's occurred since then.

With the WPA the president is authorized to take military action pretty much unilaterally, but must seek congressional approval within a prescribed time period, primarily for budgetary reasons. Congress has the authority to cut off funds for such military activity entirely, after the prescribed time.

There has been talk for a long time about congress reappropriating its traditional war powers, but it hasn't happened yet.

In my view this FISA act is similar. An effective counter-terrorism/counter-insurgent campaign must be waged on the basis of intelligence. In our "War on Terror", as we call it here, there is no front line. Our military fights islamists abroad, but it is forbidden from doing so here, for good reason. The rules of warfare, however, have been totally changed by our islamist enemies. They are free to operate wherever they can reach, including inside the U.S.

The reason I think the FISA bill that was passed is necessary is because if a call is made from a jihadist cell here, perhaps one that was previously unknown, to a cell abroad, communicating their own intelligence or seeking instructions, the only way we're going to be able to gather intelligence from that call is to capture it in real time. The FISA court is efficient, but such phone calls will likely be ended by the time approval is given to monitor them. So again, timing is a factor. The reason this sort of selective monitoring is even possible is the NSA has technology that can listen for key phrases in the din of the telephone network, and zero in on a phone call of someone potentially involved in nefarious activity. The only way this will hold up is if the Executive branch uses this power judiciously. If it abuses this power and the people find out, then I think you can be sure this power will be curtailed or eliminated. The reason the FISA bill passed at all is because people trust that it will only be used to monitor suspected terrorists.

The reason why the Bush Admin. monitored calls outside the FISA law before is that most people were willing to give the Admin. a wide berth for catching the jihadists. We did NOT want a repeat of 9/11 ever again! I think the reason the Admin. felt it necessary to formalize it in law, and let the legislative process say yes or no to it, is that there were rumblings that they could be called to the carpet eventually for doing what they did, because legally they were operating outside the law.

It's interesting that Obama voted for approval of this FISA bill, which included indemnity for the phone companies. He said originally he would vote against it. It's all about the "move to the center". Personally I don't think Obama would've changed his position if most of the public wasn't behind the idea.

Your post jogged my memory about how the Clinton Administration used the capturing of phone calls outside of FISA. The difference was his administration did not use it for defense purposes. Instead he used the information gathered with businesses. His administration also cast a "dragnet", capturing hundreds of thousands of calls, indescriminantly. Unfortunately that's all I remember. I don't recall the ACLU complaining about that back then. Perhaps they did and it just didn't make news. In fact, I didn't hear about Clinton's "dragnet" until a couple years into the Bush Administration.

The one anti-terrorism law that has left me, and civil libertarians uncomfortable is one the Clinton Administration passed, which allowed the president the sole discretion of identifying terrorist organizations, and the ability to unilaterally forbid donations to them. It seems to me congress could have oversight over such a list and it wouldn't compromise its integrity. I think the Terrorist Watch List falls in the same category. Congressional oversight might be a good thing for it, too. The List has become a bit of a laughing stock because it's fingered people who are clearly not terrorists, like Sen. Ted Kennedy! So I think there are improvements that can be made to some anti-terrorism law that makes it possible to right some wrongs and make the process a bit more transparent.

The overriding principle of liberties vs. security is as one judge put it, "The Constitution is not a suicide pact." In other words, there has to be a balance between them. If liberties allow an existential threat to the country to exist unchallenged then what's the point?

There is precedent for this. In the Civil War (1860-1864) President Lincoln suspended the right of Habeus Corpus, and maintained the ban on it despite the Supreme Court ruling against him. Some say that was an extraordinary circumstance because there was a rebellion within the country, but no court put such a restriction on it in the future. As far as they're concerned the action was illegitimate to begin with. Lincoln ignored the courts on this matter, yet today he is heralded as one of our greatest presidents for saving the Union. It's arguable that one of the reasons Lincoln was assassinated was that some feared Lincoln had turned into a dictator.

President Franklin Roosevelt also put restrictions on some liberties during WW II. For example there was rationing of supplies like food, many materials, and fuel. It was illegal to use money or barter to buy these things. Everyone had to get ration stamp booklets from the government. Many manufacturing plants were basically ordered to stop making consumer goods and turn all production over to building tanks, fighter planes, bombers, and artillery.

Once these conflicts were over many liberties were restored. So there is a kind of pragmatism to our country. We love our freedom, but not to the point where observing liberties means that our national enemies are free to slit our collective throats anytime they want to.

Bill Kerr said...

thanks mark,

I agree with your basic premise that Islamism is a very real threat and that the "rules" (in this case the american constitution) sometimes ought to be modified in times of crisis.

I don't much like the term "war on terror" - I think the real Bush agenda has been to introduce more democracy into the Middle East, via Iraq (obscured at times by bad leadership), however, due to the need to disguise this from the traditional foreign policy establishment and to obtain the required funding this has not always been openly stated. I see this as very much a reversal of US policy in the ME before 9/11. ie. 9/11 demonstrated that small terrorist groups could link up with WMDs (be they passenger aeroplanes or nuclear devices) with devastating effect. Strategically, the only long term answer to this (and this might take years) is to undermine religious fundamentalism by supporting the completion of the democratic revolution world wide. Hence, the Iraq war as opposed to just chasing Al-qaeda in Afghanistan / Pakistan.

So, I see the important line of demarcation as support for democracy both in the Middle East (which requires democratic revolution and has been made possible by US assistance in Iraq) and at home. In a number of ways the messages sent by the Bush administration with regard to this is confusing. (detail not added at this point but I could dig some up)

You make some very interesting historical comparisons - Cold war, Clinton admin., Civil war (Lincoln), WW2 (Roosevelt). Unfortunately, I don't have time at the moment to do a full analysis of all of this but I think the historical points you make are an important part of the way of developing such an analysis. One thing I recall hearing is that Lincoln did invite critics of his policies into his Cabinet; this is the sort of thinking that doesn't seem to be part of the Bush approach.

Anonymous said...

Hi Bill--

I haven't particularly liked the "War on Terror" moniker either, because terrorism existed in the West long before 9/11, or even the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993. Some liberals have mocked the Bush Admin. for using it, and smartly pointed out that terrorism is a tactic, not an enemy. The term obscures the true goal: to defeat radical fundamentalist Islam's goal of a worldwide Caliphate through militant jihad.

Unfortunately I think most Americans can't relate to this sort of explanation. The term "War on Terror" is a colloquialism that most ordinary Americans can relate to, because what they experienced on 9/11 was terrorism. That much they know.

Even the mention of the word "Islam" in the name of the campaign, even if it had qualifiers like "radical" could be misinterpreted by Muslims and non-Muslims to mean "Islam" in general, and the Bush Admin. really wants to avoid that. To the Islamic world it might even be interpreted as a "war on Islam", though some see it that way right now, regardless.

You are correct in your assessment that the Bush Admin. is trying to introduce democracy to the Middle East, and that it is a change in policy.

Here is a speech Bush gave in 2003 to the National Endowment for Democracy. In a key part of the speech he says:

"Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe -- because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty. As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment, and violence ready for export. And with the spread of weapons that can bring catastrophic harm to our country and to our friends, it would be reckless to accept the status quo.

Therefore, the United States has adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East. This strategy requires the same persistence and energy and idealism we have shown before. And it will yield the same results. As in Europe, as in Asia, as in every region of the world, the advance of freedom leads to peace."

The strategy the Bush Admin. has been using is commonly called "drain the swamp". It came from a discussion he had with his cabinet early in his first term on counter-terrorism strategy. It may have even been before 9/11. I don't remember. Bush said, "I'm tired of swatting at flies. We have to drain the swamps where they live." This is what Democrats have been opposed to ever since 2003.

The position they've staked out is that Iraq is a distraction. We should only focus on securing and continuing reconstruction in Afghanistan, and take aggressive action to go after Osama bin Laden and his cadre, presumably in Pakistan. The thing is I tend to think this "position" is really a foil. They don't really believe this. They're stating it because they know Americans want bin Laden dead. I'm sure they're aware that getting bin Laden will not end this. Even if they really meant "go after Al Qaeda only", it's been known that Al Qaeda affiliates have existed in about 60 countries, and it's just a network of cells with a very flat organizational structure. They thrive in chaotic areas of the world where there are weak governments.

Pres. Bush has said since 2002 that bin Laden is only one of the people we're going after. Experts on Al Qaeda have said that even if we only got him it would hardly affect the network at all. It might decrease morale for a bit, but Al Qaeda cells have always been autonomous for the most part. The structure used to be more like that of a franchise, though I have no idea if that structure still exists today. It seems like since our aggressive action, Al Qaeda cells have acted totally on their own without coordination with anything resembling central leadership.

The problem with any Pakistan-Al Qaeda strategy is Pakistan has a weak government as it is, and they have nuclear weapons, a dicey combination. Invading Pakistan to get at Al Qaeda could end up strengthening them, because Pakistan's government could become destabilized, and that could give them access to Pakistan's weapons. It could really put the region into turmoil, making Iraq look tame by comparison. Imagine how nervous India would get if the worst case scenario became reality.

The Taliban has had sympathizers within the Pakistani military infrastructure for many years, and we know the Taliban have been friendly to Al Qaeda. As far as I know, Musharraf is the only one in the government who has kept the Taliban sympathizers in check.

Anyway, despite the fact that Democrats have occasionally trotted out this notion that they'll do what Bush won't in Pakistan, I don't think they're serious about it. It's just a way for them to "outflank Bush's right".

One thing I recall hearing is that Lincoln did invite critics of his policies into his Cabinet; this is the sort of thinking that doesn't seem to be part of the Bush approach.

This is a popular notion. Those I have heard who have spent time documenting the inner workings of the Bush Admin. have said that Bush has brought in people to his cabinet who disagree. Unfortunately I can't cite specifics, because I haven't read any of the books on his administration. I have listened to interviews with their authors, and they have stated this.

The area where I think the Bush Admin. has really fallen down is in having an effective communication strategy, both domestically and abroad, about the war, why we're fighting it, and why Muslims and non-Muslims alike should join us in the effort one way or another. This has allowed the Left in the West, and the jihadists in the Middle East to define it in ways that serve their purposes.

The Islamists have to be defeated politically as well as militarily. I don't think a military solution alone will do it. It's enough to hold the jihadists back, keep them on the defensive, but they're still able to recruit new people because some see their cause as just. I hope our next president can effectively add to the existing strategy.

Anonymous said...

I should correct something. I talked earlier about the Terrorist Watch List. I should've said the No Fly List, because that's what I meant. Sen. Kennedy was never on the Terrorist Watch List, but he has ended up on the No Fly List a few times in the last several years. The No Fly List is meant to prevent terrorists from boarding airplanes. That's why I got them mixed up.

Bill Kerr said...

The strategy the Bush Admin. has been using is commonly called "drain the swamp". It came from a discussion he had with his cabinet early in his first term on counter-terrorism strategy. It may have even been before 9/11. I don't remember. Bush said, "I'm tired of swatting at flies. We have to drain the swamps where they live." This is what Democrats have been opposed to ever since 2003

hi mark,
I agree with that analysis of that is what Bush seems to be doing but was surprised that you attribute the "drain the swamp" phrase to him. If you could source that I'd love to see it. As far as I'm aware the phrase was first used by Chomsky as to what ought to be done but then taken up by the lastSuperpower group as to what was actually happening (Chomsky didn't accept it when his analysis was framed in those terms)

Condoleezza Rice has also voiced that self criticism about US policy in pretty much the same language as Bush, after she became Secretary of State in 2005:
"For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region here in the Middle East -- and we achieved neither. Now, we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people." (Cairo speech )

I'd be interested to hear more detail of Bush inviting critics into his cabinet.

As far as I can tell Bush lost support after his re-election because the war became bogged down, there were many casualties and the Rumsfeld military strategy of keeping troop numbers relatively low didn't work. It's hard to sell a strategy of fighting for freedom outside your border if the casualties are high.

(I should try to compile list of alleged infringements to democracy inside the USA for you to respond to - I have reddit as my home page and there is no shortage of accusations from that community --> a sample currently on the front page)

Bill Kerr said...

hi mark,

The recent book, War and Decision (link to comprehensive website ) by Under Secretary of Defense for Policy from July 2001 until August 2005, Douglas J. Feith, looks like an authoritative account of what really happened in planning the Iraq war

The author is interviewed by jon stewart here

Anonymous said...

I agree with that analysis of that is what Bush seems to be doing but was surprised that you attribute the "drain the swamp" phrase to him. If you could source that I'd love to see it.

Unfortunately I can't remember where I heard this. It might have been in Bob Woodward's first book on the Bush Admin. Just guessing. I know that it came up during the 9/11 Commission hearings.

As far as I can tell Bush lost support after his re-election because the war became bogged down, there were many casualties and the Rumsfeld military strategy of keeping troop numbers relatively low didn't work. It's hard to sell a strategy of fighting for freedom outside your border if the casualties are high.

There could've been a few causes. One was he announced after he won re-election that he wanted to reform Social Security, a government program for retirees that's existed since the 1930s/40s, I think. Retirees (most of the people who vote in elections) got nervous about this. Bush's reform program went nowhere, but he probably lost support there.

I noticed Bush's ratings took a drop after Hurricane Katrina in August/September 2005. Even though everyone I was hearing from didn't blame the federal government for a "slow response", the general sense of public opinion I was hearing through the news was that the public became disillusioned with the Bush Admin. because Bush had set the expectation that he would keep the country safe from attack. When people saw that the citizens of New Orleans were left languishing for days after the disaster began, people thought, "Well if this had been a nuclear attack, would the Bush Admin. wait this long to bring help??" It was the image of a citywide disaster that got people thinking about this. From that perspective Bush seemed woefully ineffective, and his reputation as a war president took a hit.

Some also challenged Bush's credentials as a "compassionate conservative", a label he ran on in 2000.

The reason the "slow response" actually wasn't slow is it has always taken at least a few days for the federal government to respond to any natural disaster in the country, once its aid forces are mobilized. The Bush Admin. was widely blamed for not breaking the federal government's emergency response rules (set in law) in this case. The way our system is set up is that the state and local governments are supposed to be the first responders in these situations. The federal government is supposed to be "backup", providing reinforcements for aid efforts, and states are supposed to request help from it. In other words, the position the federal government took was Louisiana did not request help, so they didn't respond sooner. Many in the media, and I think many in the public, wanted/expected the federal government to disregard these rules and just come in and take over. The problem with New Orleans was that the state (Louisiana) and local governments were inept. Some would say corrupt. This held up government relief efforts, and the Bush Admin. insisted on following the law, honoring the boundaries between state sovereignty and responsibility, and federal government intervention.

The neighboring state of Mississippi got the full force of Katrina, yet its disaster hardly showed up in the news here. This was because the state of Mississippi had things well in hand with their emergency response. By the time the hurricane hit New Orleans it had gone down to a Category 2 storm. It wasn't the hurricane that caused the disaster in New Orleans. It was the failure of their flood control system, which had deteriorated below its specified strength. It was originally designed to handle a Cat. 3 storm.

In any case, the Democrats took the opportunity to blame the Bush Admin. for not breaking its own rules and just barging in and taking over the situation. Nevermind that a Democrat was governor of Louisiana at the time, and a Democrat was mayor of New Orleans. The real problem, which didn't get reported much, is these two officials were asleep at the switch. The Bush Admin., being magnanimous (IMO), didn't point this out very much either.

Interestingly, when a proposal was put forward in 2006 to the states, offering to have the federal government intervene more aggressively in future natural disasters most states answered with an emphatic "NO!"

In Iraq, I think the Samara Mosque was hit in early 2006, and the sectarian strife started. Up to that point we were in a stalemate with the insurgents. After that things were spiraling downhill. This is just my amateur analysis, but it seemed to me that Katrina in late 2005, followed by the mosque bombing and ethnic strife in early 2006 combined to bring Bush down to where he is now in the polls. The government was slow to realize that the situation on the ground had changed.

Becoming bogged down is certainly part of the reason for the current state of affairs. Americans like a clear outcome: victory or defeat, or at least signs of progress. For it to get dragged out to a stalemate is demoralizing to most.

Every time the U.S. military gets bogged down the situation gets equated to Vietnam. There were even instances in the invasion of Afghanistan where some were quick to make comparisons to Vietnam if it seemed like things got bogged down just for a week. The specter of that war still hasn't left us.

The difference with Vietnam was the casualties were a lot higher, in the tens of thousands. When I've heard second hand from soldiers who have returned home for leave, they've often said they think Iraq has been a pretty safe war. Sure the car bombs make it seem worse than it is, but they told their friends and families that the likelihood of getting killed was very low. The statistics bear this out. The casualty count now is around 4,000. I did a comparison with WW II engagements once, and found that things were a lot worse in terms of the number killed--in the hundreds of thousands. We lost more than 6,000 troops on D-Day alone. We lost more than 6,000 troops in the course of a month taking the tiny island of Iwo Jima. So by comparison Iraq's casualties are pretty light. I think what really gets to us is there never seems to be any resolution. It's felt more like a stalemate up until recently, and Americans hate that.

Yes, one of the criticisms of Rumsfeld was that we went into Iraq with too few troops. In hindsight the critics were right on that, IMO. The surge has worked, for example. It wasn't just the number of troops though. We've used a different strategy as well.

After the invasion in 2003 the strategy was to go into insurgent strongholds, clear them out, and then leave. What the soldiers on the ground quickly found out was that when they left, the insurgents would come back in. There was no civil society to take the reigns, and so they filled the power vacuum. The reason I heard this was done was there was an overriding concern, promoted by Rumsfeld, about avoiding being perceived as occupiers. This was one reason the troop levels were kept low. The thinking was that if we kept the "footprint" light enough we could provide some security while staying out of Iraqi lives for the most part. Many analysts I heard from recommended at the time that U.S. troops should stay out of Iraqi cities altogether. They should just stay at the periphery. Another aspect that Rumsfeld promoted was that the Iraqis needed to feel the pressure of a society on the brink in order to motivate them to join up with the Americans and help create the civil society necessary to rebuild the government, and bring about security. The concern was that if the U.S. provided sufficient security to handle all threats, Iraqis would be lulled into a sense that they didn't need to participate, nor were they welcome to. We didn't want that to happen. Like in Somalia, this line of thinking didn't work. The insurgents took advantage of the light security presence. The "pressure" technique was working. Iraqis were signing up to participate in droves. Many Iraqis, though, divided along sectarian lines, were also joining the insurgents for protection. It took a few years for the Bush Admin. to figure this out.

The strategy we started using last year was to increase the number of troops temporarily, but what's really made it work is when a town is cleared of insurgents, U.S. or allied troop units are assigned to stay in the town to keep them out. Then they begin a process of building the civil service from scratch, bringing in Iraqi citizens to build it. Once the civil service is established, and a loyal local defense force is formed, then the U.S. forces pull out. This new strategy is the work of Gen. Patraeus who wrote what's considered here in the U.S. to be the definitive manual on counter-insurgency. It's been working well, from what I hear.

Rumsfeld had a mixture of successes and failures. He was heralded as a hero with the Afghanistan campaign of 2001, where "going in light" was a success for the most part, though we failed to kill/capture the Al Qaeda leadership. The difference was we backed a particular side, the Northern Alliance, that did a lot of the fighting. We mostly provided support. In fact more U.S. military got killed in accidents during that campaign than from enemy fire. This has changed recently. The Taliban have made a few attempts now to come back in, sometimes with Iranian help, and so the casualty rate has been increasing there.

The story that doesn't get told much about Afghanistan is that NATO has not been very proactive. Liberals in the U.S. were glad when NATO was brought in to help keep the peace. They didn't want it to be a U.S.-only mission. So we drew down U.S. forces and let NATO take over the mission of securing the country, and nation-building. The problem is NATO is fractious, not nearly as united in purpose as its name suggests. Member countries have the right, for example, to set conditions under which their troops will participate in particular missions. In many cases it would have been strategically advantageous for NATO troops to suppress the actions of a warlord, or Taliban insurgency, but most NATO troops would lay back and not get involved, because of some conditions on the battlefield. This is pretty ineffective. Now the Democrats are blaming our war in Iraq for Afghanistan's problems, saying we drew out too many resources to fight in an illegitimate war. Now they're saying we need more U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Funny how their idea is what led to the state of security that Afghanistan is in now, but they won't admit it. Bringing in NATO was probably just the thing we needed in order to provide sufficient troop levels in Iraq, which is probably the reason the Bush Admin. agreed to NATO help.

The Afghan mission has been called "The Forgotten War" for about a year now in our media. I think there's a simple reason for that. The media haven't been covering it that much and the Democrats have largely used it as a whip to slap the Bush Admin. with. All the attention has been on Iraq because that's where a lot of the media coverage went, and the Democrats made a big deal out of it, casting doubts on the war's legitimacy, which ironically made people pay even more attention to it. The domestic fight over Iraq has caused political divisions in our country where people are emotionally invested in one side or the other. The Afghan campaign never had that effect on us, because the really dangerous part was over in a few months.

What's happened since the initial campaigns in Afghanistan, which ended in early 2002, and Iraq, which ended in the summer of 2003, is more like the occupation of Germany and Japan after WW II. It's nation-building. Since our societal memory of WW II is fading, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that most people don't know this, but the U.S. occupied both Germany and Japan for 10 years after the war ended. During that time we had to reform both governments and suppress insurgencies. And yes, U.S. soldiers got killed during that time, though I haven't found a good account of what the occupation was like, or what the casualty rates were. I know that there were doubts expressed then, too, about whether we'd be able to pull off our objectives. If we were to compare the Iraq occupation with that, we should expect to maintain a heavy presence until 2013. In reality we're only halfway through that time range.

Since WW II the U.S. has adopted a policy akin to preventive war. It used to be called "containment" during the Cold War. The idea is if you can see your opposition growing in military strength, and making clearly belligerant moves towards you, and if diplomacy doesn't work, you should strike them while they're weak, and set them back. We didn't do this in the lead up to WW II, and paid a terrible price for it. The U.S. had an isolationist foreign policy. While Nazi Germany was growing in strength and invading its neighbors, we did nothing. We only assisted Great Britain with supplies of weapons when they were attacked. We didn't get involved. Likewise, as Japan was invading Manchuria, China, and the Philippines, and acting belligerantly towards us, we didn't get involved. That changed only when Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was attacked. By then both Germany and Japan had gotten their hands on rich resources, and had built up their militaries to a considerable size. Germany declaring war on the U.S. was not that big of a threat at the time it happened. It provided President Roosevelt with an excuse to get involved in the war in Europe. Germany had the ability to affect us economically, since they could sink our commercial shipping, and civilian cruisers with their submarines, but there wasn't a danger of a German invasion of the U.S. The Japanese were more of a concern. They had a well built navy.

The U.S. faced the prospect of losing hundreds of thousands of troops with an invasion of Japan, in addition to the hundreds of thousands that had already been lost during the course of the war. The Japanese had a policy of fighting down to the last man, never surrendering. There are some interesting similarities between Japan's Kamikazes and the Islamist suicide bombers. Both had a religious ethos around them. They were martyrs, and both cultures believed that the martyr would be celebrated in the spirit world for their sacrifice. Like with the jihadists, the Japanese never followed rules of humane treatment of POWs. Torture was routine. The only reason we averted the consequences of an invasion was Pres. Truman's decision to use nuclear weapons on Japan. WW II would have dragged on for at least a few more years than it did if he hadn't made that decision.

The older WW II generation largely thanked him for that. The generations that followed have viewed his decision with shame. In fact, just about every strategic lesson we learned from WW II has been derided by the follow on generations. Every time the U.S. has engaged in preventive war the American populace has tolerated it for a few years, but it loses faith in the effort because our heart wasn't in it to begin with. Because the U.S. is addressing a threat before it gets too big, it doesn't feel like a threat. Americans find it hard to get inspired by the threat that "would have been", though, like in some other areas of life, the more rational POV is counter-intuitive. In the eyes of many we're just beating up on a country that doesn't have the ability to oppose us. A lot of us, particularly on the Left, literally see it like a "big kid" bully (us) beating up on a weakling. From my study of our military efforts, that's not the intent at all. The intent is to spot the trend of belligerance and aggression, see where the trajectory leads, and address it before it becomes a problem that will take a larger toll on us. The intent is to save more American lives by nipping potential threats in the bud.

Having said this I don't advocate using nuclear weapons in this conflict. Islamist forces are so diffused, so integrated into their host societies, that any such attack would be foolish. It would surely turn the world against us. There's no quick fix to this.

What I think most Americans would prefer is for the U.S. to essentially take a "hands off" stance towards adversaries until they attack us. This is seen as a healthier position to take at a societal level, since in this case the threat and the purpose of military action is clear to most everyone. This has the effect though of waiting until the enemy is powerful enough that they are confident they can take us on, which makes the situation worse for our military, and the existential threat for our country more severe. We end up losing a lot more lives this way. So it's politically difficult, but in terms of our national interest it's the moral thing to do.

Re: Reasons for getting into Iraq

My own analysis is that Iraq under Saddam Hussein represented an emerging strategic threat to us in our campaign against the Islamists. From listening to people who were members of the Bush Admin., hearing what their thinking was, there were many reasons posed for invading. The one they could all agree on was the specter of Saddam gaining nuclear weapons. He had already tried to get them once, and we only found out about it after we invaded, back in 1991. After looking at the evidence our government realized with horror that he wasn't far away from getting them then, though getting a delivery device for it (missile technology) would've been a few more years down the road.

I think the reason we invaded Iraq in 2003 was strategic. What the evidence revealed once we invaded was that there were no existing WMDs, but Saddam's government had dismantled and buried all of the equipment necessary to restart his WMD programs, including nuclear weapons, once sanctions were lifted. The fact that there were no WMDs was a surprise. According to the intelligence services, here and abroad, we all knew Iraq had at least chemical and/or biological WMDs in its stockpile. There was no dispute about that before the invasion, as best I can tell. Our human intelligence on Iraq was pathetically weak though. I read an article several years ago that said we had only about 4 intelligence sources inside Iraq, in total! Prior administrations, after the end of the Cold War, decided to scale down human intelligence efforts, thinking military spy satellites in space would be sufficient to keep track of adversaries.

All sanctions against Iraq would have been lifted within a few years had we done nothing. According to the Bush Admin.'s analysis, it would've been much more difficult to put Saddam back in a "box" once that happened. In terms of international pressure, he would've had free reign to restart his WMD programs and there wouldn't have been much we could've done about it, short of acting unilaterally to stop it. The Kurds in the north, and the Shiites in the south would've surely felt his wrath, as there probably would no longer be no-fly zones. Acting unilaterally would've had even worse consequences for us diplomatically. At least when we did invade, the sanctions regime was still in force, and the 1991 cease fire agreement was still recognized internationally. From what I understand, all of that would've been nullified had the sanctions been lifted, and we would've been back to square one with respect to Saddam's Iraq.

The reason Iraq was a strategic threat is that Saddam had had a long history of supporting jihadists of all stripes. The evidence showed his government had contacts with Al Qaeda, though no working relationship. Back in the late 1990s Saddam's government held a few what I'll call "jihadist conferences" where representatives of many terrorist groups attended, though I haven't learned details about what was discussed at these things. His government had a long history of training jihadists, and offering sanctuary to them. The Bush Admin. considered Saddam to be "the godfather" of terrorism in the Middle East, and supposedly this wasn't much of an exaggeration.

The problem that the Bush Admin. put forward to the American people was that if Saddam managed to build a nuclear weapon down the road (Bush never suggested that Iraq had a nuke before we invaded), that even though Iraq wouldn't have missile technology capable of reaching us, given enough time Saddam might find a way to give nukes to jihadists who could come and attack us or Israel, which has had a long alliance with the U.S., and even "keep their hands clean". In other words, he might sponsor a jihadist attack, but we could have a hard time finding out Saddam was behind it. So the rationale given was we needed to stop him before he acquired a nuke. We had reason to believe in this scenario since British intelligence had learned that Saddam's government had tried (but failed) to purchase "yellow cake" uranium from Niger.

The reasons are not clear cut, and so are not very satisfying to many. The mission was expected to be short, less than a year long. We expected to be greeted as liberators by the Iraqi people, and that there would be enough reform-minded civil servants in the country that they would be able to take over for Saddam's toppled government.

For a brief time we were greeted as liberators. The part about civil servants taking over didn't materialize. In fact, they had effectively disappeared. According to Paul Bremer who became the provisional governor of Iraq, the Iraqi army wasn't disbanded. They had abandoned their posts and gone home. He said, "There was no army to disband." Shortly before the invasion began Saddam had released all prisoners from the jails. What resulted was chaos. Al Qaeda in Iraq took advantage of the situation and set up shop. The ethnic strife that resulted from the mosque bombing was just what Al Qaeda wanted. They thrive in chaos. What they hoped to do was drive the Sunni population to ally themselves with them for protection. This is what happened. What followed though was Sunni disillusionment. Al Qaeda's form of strict Islamic law was not compatible with Iraqi Sunni Islam. They began to attack Sunnis to enforce conformity. Then Sunni leaders began to approach the U.S. for help in getting rid of Al Qaeda. This is what the Sunnis called "The Awakening". We joined forces with the Sunnis and successfully drove Al Qaeda out of Anbar Province, which had once looked like a lost cause. That began the success we've had ever since.

Bill Kerr said...

hi mark,
you have put a lot of thinking into this (it's a thoughtful analysis of reasons why Bush may have become unpopular)

some quick thoughts in response:

* I agree with a lot of your points and they have been well put together - Hurricane Katrina did seem to be a turning point in Bush becoming unpopular for the reasons you say

* I agree with the WW2 analogy

* there seems to be a global movement towards fuzzy pacifist brotherhood cross cultural but cultural relativist type, isolationist sentiments, away from hard decison making - the "not in my name" movement is basically irresponsible, it sits back and blames those making real decisions - (this feeds off the post Vietnam feelings)

* I'd stress more the discontinuity between US foreign policy before and after 9/11 --> I think the Viet was anti democratic as well as "anti-communist", the majority of vietnamese did support Ho Chi Minh - there is a famous Eisenhower quote about this

* there are other reasons for Bush unpopularity (eg. abu ghraib, torture, guantanamo bay, secret bases around the world off the top of my head)

thanks for your detailed thoughts

Anonymous said...

there seems to be a global movement towards fuzzy pacifist brotherhood cross cultural but cultural relativist type, isolationist sentiments, away from hard decison making - the "not in my name" movement is basically irresponsible, it sits back and blames those making real decisions - (this feeds off the post Vietnam feelings)

I'm seeing that in the U.S., too. In fact, around the time the invasion of Iraq began I was seeing demonstrations in the news using the slogan "not in our name" as well. The Left is internationally coordinated, no?

I still find myself not believing this is happening among some of us. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks I heard about some Democrats who believe in the "peace" movement who wanted to "embrace" the jihadists "with our love", as if all we had to do was invite them to group therapy sessions and everything would be fine. It was unbelievable; so detached from reality. Not to say a majority of Democrats were this way. Quite the opposite. A majority supported the invasion of Afghanistan, and incidentally a majority of Democrats supported "use of force" against Iraq before the invasion started, but felt that we went in too soon. Many Democrats believed at the time that Saddam possessed WMDs, and after 9/11 he was dangerous enough that he needed to be dealt with belligerently. Many of them complained when the invasion began that we didn't give the UN weapons inspectors the time they needed to fully verify Saddam's weapons status. We gave Saddam's government and the UN inspectors several months to accurately account for it. The Democrats turned against the invasion very quickly once it was overwith. The main charge they put against Bush was that no WMDs were found at all, not even chemical or biological. My sense of it was they felt humiliated. The intelligence reports they had gotten said he had these weapons stockpiles. The intelligence report that then-Sec. of State Colin Powell gave at the UN showed that Iraq had mobile biological weapons labs that could fit inside truck trailers. When we finally found the trailers there was no evidence of biological materials in the tanks. After further inspection they were found to have been used for filling weather balloons. The Democrats could not just let this stand and let themselves share the blame for the discrepancy. They claimed Bush lied to them, or "misled" them.

There were many in the U.S., both liberal and conservative (though I mostly heard from the liberals) who raised questions about the invasion because, "Iraq hasn't attacked us." They felt very uncomfortable with the idea of invading a country that posed no direct threat to us. They raised the argument about why it was being brought under the umbrella of the "War on Terror", since there was no credible evidence showing that Iraq in any way participated in the 9/11 attacks. I guess they missed one of Pres. Bush's speeches, where he said that the U.S. would not countenance those who harbor or support Islamists of international reach. They either missed or chose not to accept Bush's "drain the swamp" strategy.

They also had amnesia. People have short memories about politics and world events. What's been forgotten was that the U.S. and a broad coalition had invaded Iraq in 1990 to push its forces back from Kuwait, and that they had signed a cease fire agreement with the allied forces. One of its provisions was for Iraq to totally come clean about its weapons programs. In the years that followed Iraq broke this agreement repeatedly. When UN weapons inspectors were brought in, Saddam's government usually did everything it could to block the process. The inspectors were supposed to be able to have surprise inspections. Usually that's not what happened. They'd show up and demand entry to a weapons site on the spot, but wouldn't be allowed in. Nevertheless, eventually the inspectors found illegal weapons stockpiles and destroyed them. It was a long process that took persistence. The question was did they get everything? It's possible they got all of the stockpiles, but it's obvious now that they didn't get all of the equipment that was needed to produce illegal weapons.

When we had the no-fly zones over the north and the south of Iraq, which were patrolled by U.S. warplanes, Iraqi forces routinely shot SAMs at our planes. The vast majority of the time our planes were able to evade the missiles, but it was a constant nuisance.

We had every excuse in the world to invade again. The only problem was that internationally it was politically unpopular. The oil-for-food scandal that emerged revealed 1) that Saddam had taken oil revenues and instead of using them to provide food and care for his people, he had built a bunch of palaces for himself and his family, and 2) he had made sweetheart deals with certain government officials in Europe to provide a discounted price for oil to their countries on the condition that their government would vote to lift sanctions on Iraq. In the meantime Saddam used kickbacks (selling Iraqi oil at a secret discounted price to select customers, giving them the ability to sell the oil on the world market at regular market prices, and make extra profit) to European oil companies to further cement his strategic relationships.

Saddam never followed through on the cease fire agreement in good faith, but he tried to make Europe not care about that. He was opportunistic and used the suffering of his own people as political pressure to convince the world to lift the sanctions against him. As a result the UN oil-for-food program was implemented. The sanctions would not be lifted, but the idea was he could sell oil on the open market with the caveat that the revenues be used to supply food and humanitarian supplies to his people. Never veering from his goal, he used the oil-for-food program as a tool for enriching, and then freeing himself from the UN's sanctions. The oil-for-food program would have been his ticket to the eventual lifting of all sanctions, which I talked about earlier.

The truth was, and we've seen this with other despot's in the Middle East, Saddam never really stopped fighting the war from 1990. From our perspective he had lost that war. Saddam's government had signed the cease fire agreement, but they never intended to comply with it. They used it as a foil for a retreat. In Saddam's mind he had lost what he considered to be a battle, but he never conceded that he had lost the war. As an example, several years after the war, after George H.W. Bush was out of office, Saddam plotted to assassinate him while he was on a foreign trip. The plot was discovered and stopped by security forces, and President Clinton sent out a brief aerial bombing campaign in Iraq to punish Saddam for it.

People rememebered the assassination attempt, but some thought that one of George W. Bush's reasons for invading Iraq was as revenge for this attempt on his father's life. I never saw it that way. I thought it showed how reckless Saddam could be, and when asked about it President Bush made a similar argument. Had the attempt succeeded we would've surely invaded Iraq again, this time to do just what we've done: get him out of power.

Your comment about the multiculturalists reminded me of a book by Diana West called, "The Death of the Grown-Up: How America's Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization". I've heard her speak about it, but haven't read it yet. I kind of feel like I know what she's driving at anyway. It reminds me of a book Alan Kay has cited sometimes, by Neil Postman, called "Amusing Ourselves To Death". I haven't read that one either, but I intend to. I've heard Kay give a summary of it. West made distinctions between adult and childish/immature behavior. She said that on one of her speaking engagements about her book she was asked if multiculturalism was childish. She thought for a moment and said yes, but I forget her reasoning behind it. It had something to do with ignoring the great accomplishments of the West, but I'm sure it was more than that.

Sometimes in discussions about this stuff a mini-series produced by the BBC comes to mind, called "The Century of the Self". You can view it online at Google Video by just looking up the title. I think it was posted by the BBC. It comes in four parts, about 45 minutes or an hour each. It has a social democratic bias, but I think it presents some very revealing truths about American society that I didn't know before viewing it. Maybe it has to do with that saying from McLuhan: "I don't know who discovered water, but it wasn't a fish." The series even revealed some causal relationships between events, and views that developed and have been held ever since by leftists which used to mystify me.

Its basic goal was to talk about the history of the field of public relations, and its effect on the West. It talked about how it was derived from Sigmund Freud's observations and theories about human sexual drives. It said that public relations derived its practices specifically from psychoanalysis. I had heard about psychoanalysis, but what the series reveals is how the implementation of it at a societal level (government subsidies funded psychoanalysis centers throughout the U.S. for a time), coupled with the practices of PR by corporations, profoundly changed the culture.

The theme of the series is that modern Western civilization has accepted PR's thesis, that society is best ruled by emotion, rather than thought, because our primal drives affect our behavior much more profoundly than our thoughts do. In an early version of this societal view, only those qualified to rule were deemed worthy of doing any actual thinking about the civilization they were governing. They in turn would manipulate the public, using PR, into making the "correct" decisions. Since the 1980s, this has been modified to the view that those who rule still do the thinking, but they listen intently to the desires of the public, and deliver what they want. It's "consumer politics". The series raises some questions about this that deserve to be considered. It asserts that by letting the public's emotions and desires "wag" the government, the government ends up acting as capriciously as the public, leading to bad governance. I think George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush are exceptions to this form of governance. I'd even lump PM Tony Blair into this, though he initially bought into "consumer politics". The Bushes delivered on the desires of certain constituencies sometimes, but it seemed like both yearned to get away from that and govern as they saw fit. Both times the public hasn't liked this, and gives no benefit of the doubt to presidents when their desires are not answered. The approval ratings of both went into the toilet as a result.

The series makes the argument that this dynamic between the government and the people need not exist, and does some debunking of those who promoted these ideas, mainly by examining the lives of Freud, his daughter Anna (who promoted government support of psychoanalysis nationwide), and those within the psychoanalytic community who eventually rebelled against them. The picture it paints is rather scary. Anna Freud's (Anna was a daughter of Sigmund's) psychoanalytic techniques were disasterous when applied to her own relatives, and public figures. This caused a few rebels in the psychoanalytic field to question her basic tenets of practice. They formulated their own, which came to dominate pyschoanalytic practice in the 1960s. On the other hand, many of the people who rebelled had significant psychological problems themselves. Yet the series makes a convincing argument that people on both sides played a large part in reshaping our society.

What the series argues is that this has led to a fractious society, one that is even more attuned to consumerist desires than past generations. It asserts that people who are "self-actualized" expect their wants to be catered to, despite the needs of society. Politically this has led to a society that believes more and more in elevating the individual above the group. It communicates a sense that there is less of a sense of civic duty and responsibility, and shows Democrats bemoaning this, because it runs counter to President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, which was the beginning of the welfare state in the U.S., and the Great Society programs of President Lyndon Johnson.

It shows a bit about what American culture was once like in the early 20th century, and it shows how that's changed through time. It asserts that the transformation was largely driven, initially, by corporate concerns that mass production without mass consumption would produce an economic depression (this was many years before the Great Depression, BTW). So they thought they should convert the culture from one that was utilitarian into a consumerist society, one that could be manipulated into consuming in order to drive the economy. The tool they would use to do this was public relations. By that measure they've succeeded with flying colors, though it took more than psychological techniques to drive the economy. The series raises some interesting questions, because it also shows how consumerist habits have infiltrated into other areas, like civil society and politics. One could even make the argument now that it's infiltrated into education.

The inventor of PR, Edward Bernays, was an American who saw other Americans as "bobs" that floated on a "sea of emotions", that they were incapable of thinking in the sense of being a self-governing people, and needed to be psychologically and emotionally manipulated towards certain ends in order to create a healthy functioning society. He considered American democracy to be an idealist fantasy, though he supported the idea of freedom. He just thought that people needed to be persuasively guided to "correct" decisions and ways of life. They would not be coerced into deciding things a certain way, but there has no doubt been peer pressure to think as most others do. Anna Freud largely agreed with Bernays. Pretty creepy stuff.

It seems to me that the practice of PR has contributed to the "arrested development" that West talks about, and which Postman probably talked about as well, because it doesn't ask people to think, only to feel, and it tries to convince people that this is sufficient for making decisions, even about things that are critical to our well-being. I think that post-modernists act in a similar way.

Recently I've had the thought that Alan Kay is fighting the good fight against the influence of PR in society, though I wonder if he realizes it. I've only heard him talk about the symptoms of PR's effects (though not mentioning it by name), not PR itself.

there are other reasons for Bush unpopularity (eg. abu ghraib, torture, guantanamo bay, secret bases around the world off the top of my head)

I have no polling data to support this, but my sense is none of these account in a significant way for Bush's drop in popularity in the U.S. They have solidified liberal opposition to him, and as a consequence eroded some of his support here. I think these events have had a much greater impact on the image of the U.S. abroad.

The peak of Bush's popularity was something like a 90% approval rating and so this included liberals. This was shortly after 9/11. In the last year or so it's hovered between 20-30%, which is about what the Republican base is as a proportion of the voting population. The conventional wisdom is that between 25-30% of the voting population is registered Democrat or Republican (accounting for 50-60% of the total), with the remainder being unaffiliated/independent.

Re: torture

There's been a lot of debate about whether we have tortured those we have captured or not. Some liberals claim we have. The Republican candidate for president, John McCain, claims we have via. waterboarding (sometimes referred to in interrogation circles simply as "water"). Many Republicans, and the Bush Admin. claim we haven't.

McCain makes a strong argument that we have, saying that in WW II, when the Japanese used waterboarding on POWs, that was considered torture. He's sensitive to the issue, because during Vietnam he was captured as a Navy pilot and tortured for several years by the North Vietnamese. One of the counter-arguments to this assertion is there's been a training course that some soldiers go through where they get to experience interrogation techniques as practice for resisting giving out valuable information, and also to show the effectiveness of those techniques for interrogation trainees. One of the techniques that trainees can go through in this course is waterboarding. I've listened to interviews with a couple people who have gone through it in this course, and they say they don't consider it torture. It would be interesting to see how this change in definition came about.

Down the road this might be a case where the Bush Admin. got a little too technical on a critical issue. During an investigation of President Clinton on charges of sexual harrassment he said something that's become a byword for conniving out of a "tight spot": "It's a matter of what your definiton of 'is' is." I don't know. We may find out that the Bush Admin. was splitting hairs when it shouldn't have. Right now the issue is too murky for me to make out.

A part of the debate has centered around the Geneva Convention. The Bush Admin. has claimed that the protections of the Convention don't apply in this case, because the people captured are classified under the Convention as illegal combatants. They do not serve any state in the world, and do not wear uniforms, yet they act as combatants in terms of carrying out organized attacks on civilians and legal combatants (soldiers). Others claim that those captured are protected by the Convention, though I have not heard a coherent argument about how they are protected by it. They only make moral arguments about "torture" as justification for this statement.

I don't condone torture, even of jihadists. I think doing things like causing organ failure, breaking bones, bringing someone close to death, or causing death during interrogation, etc. is going too far. Military experts say that torture produces poor intelligence, because the victim will just tell the interrogator what they think they want to hear, even if it's not true, to stop the suffering. I'm not against rough treatment and/or the use of psychological techniques to get useful information out of a military prisoner. In that range of things, I support whatever works. Having said this, I've heard that waterboarding simulates the sensations of drowning, though the person is not in any danger of drowning.

George Tenet, a former CIA chief who worked for Clinton, and then Bush, said that waterboarding, used for something like 6 seconds on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (I may be wrong on the timing), produced very valuable information that was used to stop a post-9/11 jihadist attack on U.S. citizens that could have killed thousands. It was used as a last resort when none of the other techniques were getting him to talk. In addition, he gave up accurate information on many top Al Qaeda figures in the same session.

Re: Abu Ghraib

From what I understand Abu Ghraib was caused by poor military management. People who were unqualified to interrogate prisoners were allowed to do so. The people who committed the acts in the pictures were prosecuted. It became an emblem for people who hate Bush and the Iraq war. Al Qaeda in Iraq used it as propaganda for recruitment, and it worked very well for them.

What happened did not occur as a direct result of policy. I forget the details, but there was an investigation carried out by The New Yorker, I think, back then that claimed that Abu Ghraib was a side effect of an aggressive campaign that the Bush Admin. used to try to disable Al Qaeda throughout the world as quickly as possible shortly after the 9/11 attacks; to get intelligence and use it to degrade their capability so that they couldn't attack us again. The problems at Abu Ghraib began when the military was getting desperate in trying to stop the growing insurgency. They were trying to gain intelligence on it. My understanding is that the type of personnel that were assigned to do the job, and the techniques they used, were not authorized by the Bush Admin.

Re: Guantanamo Bay

I am skeptical about the negative publicity about Guantanamo Bay. I think it got Europeans upset because some of the captured prisoners were citizens of the UK, for example, and it took a long time to get them out. Some prisoners who were released claimed they were tortured there, though we've known from captured Al Qaeda training manuals that this is a technique they use to bring negative publicity and shame upon their captors: claim they were tortured, even if they weren't.

I think, again, it became a symbol of an overly aggressive, brutish U.S. My understanding is that the prisoners are treated more humanely than criminals in our civilian prison system. They are given ethnically appropriate meals, and they are allowed to carry out their religious practices. They are given assistance, for example, in finding the direction to Mecca so that they can carry out their prayers appropriately. They are allowed recreational activities. There have been some cases of suicide, but this is something the prisoners did after concerted effort. Prisoners are watched almost constantly to try to prevent them from killing themselves. The image I get from listening to sources I trust is that Guantanamo is nothing like the maligned image that's portrayed to the rest of the world.

The real problem with Gitmo (as it's also called) is that the U.S. government hasn't been able to decide on an appropriate way to vet and try those who have been captured, to separate those who are our real enemy, and those who through circumstances just so happened to come under U.S. military custody. There have been stories I've heard that claim that many of our detainees from Afghanistan were handed over to us by the Northern Alliance, or other Afghan groups, simply because they were Arabs. Many Afghans hate Arabs. So the story went that Arabs were captured and handed over to us as though they were enemy combatants. If that's the case, then of course the innocent deserve to be freed. The problem is how to discern who is really innocent, and who's dangerous.

The Bush Admin. tried to set up military tribunals a few years ago, but civil libertarians, and some lawyers within the military establishment have been suing the U.S. government and trying to pressure it to either create tribunals that are more like our civilian court system, or allow the prisoners access to our normal, civilian court systems instead. This conflict has slowed down the process of figuring out who should remain in detention, and who should be set free.

From every analyst I've heard from, allowing these prisoners access to the civilian courts would be a disaster, because our courts operate under normal rules of arrest and evidence gathering, and penalize the government for violations of these rules. These prisoners were picked up by soldiers on battlefields. Soldiers are never trained as police officers and should not be expected to behave as such. The very idea of reading prisoners their Miranda Rights and soldiers acting like FBI agents on the battlefield is ludicrous. Yet that's what would be required for this idea to work properly. I don't know what the right answer is, but it's certainly not this. So far, some Gitmo prisoners have been released through some kind of process, and a small proportion of them have been recaptured or killed in the process of fighting allied forces on other battlefields! So the vetting process is difficult as it is.

There has been a campaign going on for a few years now to close down Gitmo and presumably bring the prisoners to the U.S. It would be foolish to release them all. The only reasonable course of action would be to change the location of their detention. What would this accomplish? What has some legal analysts worried is if they are relocated here, then legally the U.S. government might be forced to give them access to our civilian courts. What I believe has made Gitmo special is that legally it is not considered "U.S. soil", so constitutional protections are limited.

McCain has said that if he wins he will shut down Gitmo. Obama has said the same, so either way it's going to happen. I just hope that either one doesn't set up a situation where most/all of the prisoners are freed because the circumstances of their capture oblige the legal system to let them go.

Re: secret prisons

My understanding is the secret prisons were authorized and known to the host governments where they were located. They were just not made public, at least until someone leaked information about them.

Another policy that's been controversial to leftists, and to some (most?) in Europe is rendition. This is where, in cooperation with a host government, our agents capture an individual who is wanted by their home country for one or more crimes, and we have an interest in taking them away from where they are (for example, if they are part of a terrorist cell) and put them on a plane that takes them to their home country where they are handled by their criminal system. There are conflicting claims. Some say this is unethical because it brings people into the hands of regimes that are cruel, and who will torture them. Others say when we carry out renditions we get commitments from the governments they are delivered to that they will be treated according to international standards of human rights.

The rendition program was started under the Clinton Administration. The goal was to disrupt terrorist cells, but not bring those captured back to the U.S. I think the reasons had to do with the same reasons some fear bringing the Gitmo prisoners to the U.S.: They'd have access to U.S. civilian courts. In the case of the rendition program the fear was, I think, that the U.S. government would be forced to either reveal classified information in the course of trying the prisoner in the courts, or, if the government refused to divulge this information, let the prisoner go free for lack of evidence.

There have been documented cases though of a few individuals who have been captured in Europe and taken to a prison in Afghanistan, for example, and when they were found to be of no intelligence value (a false lead), and were released, they claim they were tortured. This can't be confirmed or debunked, because it's the person's word against the CIA's, for example, and the CIA keeps mum, because that's its nature.

I think an overall problem is that the UK/Europe, and the U.S. see terrorism differently. For a long time Europe saw terrorism as a form of protest, violent as it is. It is a sign of unsatisfied grievances. The U.S., not having experienced it for more than 100 years, saw it (pre-9/11) as other people's problem. It happened in Europe, the UK, Israel, Lebanon, etc. It didn't happen here. When Israel suffered from terrorism we always advised them to show restraint, to press for negotiations with Hamas, Hezbollah, the PLO, etc. When 9/11 happened we finally understood what Israel has understood for decades.

Some in the UK claim that we could learn a lesson from them about how they dealt with the IRA. I see these as different situations. The goal the UK always had was unification, or at least a "neighborly" relationship with the Irish. I don't see that as our goal in the Middle East, particularly with the jihadists. We seek allies in the region. My sense is we ultimately expect countries in the region to "join the community of nations", but otherwise act autonomously. There is a wide cultural gulf as well, so I think we seek a region that's friendly, but at arm's length. From what I hear the Middle East might prefer that as well, with Saudi Arabia, Dubai, and the U.A.E. being exceptions.

Anonymous said...

Hi Bill. I know this is an old thread, but I thought this might be important information to add to what I said earlier.

I heard about this article today. There's a biography on VP Richard Cheney which says that Cheney and Rumsfeld worked to block the military tribunals. The article doesn't state why they opposed them. The headline is "Rumsfeld made Condi cry", but I was more interested in this tidbit, which was only mentioned. I guess this fills in the picture some more about the situation with Gitmo. There have been many things gumming up the works with it.