A Man with a Flashlight


Small war, big fear

Two former Reagan appointees notice an odd difference between today’s Permanent Emergency (popularly labeled the War on Terror) and World War Two and Vietnam:

To date in the war on terrorism, including the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks and all U.S. military personnel killed in action in Afghanistan and Iraq, America’s losses total about 2 percent of the forces we lost in World War II and less than 7 percent of those killed in Vietnam. Yet we did not find it necessary to compromise our honor or abandon our commitment to the rule of law to defeat Nazi Germany or imperial Japan, or to resist communist aggression in Indochina. On the contrary, in Vietnam — where we both proudly served twice — America voluntarily extended the protections of the full Geneva Convention on prisoners of war to Viet Cong guerrillas who, like al-Qaeda, did not even arguably qualify for such protections.

I have seen remarkably little discussion of how this happened. In fact I cannot, at the moment, recall reading a single explanation of why, after shouldering the bitter weight of World War Two with such aplomb, and maintaining our principles, if not our winning streak, in Vietnam – what caused us to lose our nerve now, and to condone such desperate, doomed solutions from our President?

Are we simply spoiled? Has sixty years of wealth and comfort made us so desperate to avoid a fight that we will give up honor, if only we can buy a little more time, and be saved from death?

That is Bush’s bargain: betray the principles of our fathers, and I will give you safety from death. Let those take it who will, but forgive me if I don’t have the stomach for it.



King of America watch
July 23, 2007, 11:30 pm
Filed under: Politics

Some people are beginning to notice that the constitution gives the power to wage war to congress not the president. And to ask why they might have done such a thing. Good quote:

The Constitution cannot enforce itself. It is, as the constitutional scholar Edwin Corwin famously observed, an “invitation to struggle” among the branches, but the founders wisely bequeathed to Congress some powerful tools for engaging in the struggle. It is no surprise that the current debate over a deeply unpopular war is arising in the context of a Congressional spending bill. That is precisely what the founders intended.

Are we approaching a constitutional crisis that will make the 2000 election showdown look like a minor judicial matter?



Japan flirts with trial by jury
July 21, 2007, 1:10 pm
Filed under: Crime and Punishment, The East

Beginning in 2009, trials in Japan will be decided by a jury – or one manner of jury anyway, consisting of three judges and six citizens. Some aren’t buying it:

Critics say the judges will lead the deliberations, deciding what issues to debate; the jurors will depend on the judges to hand out sentences because of their lack of knowledge of the penal code. What is more, the new system will not address more basic problems in the Japanese criminal justice system: the authorities’ overreliance on confessions, sometimes forced; the absence of discovery, which allows the prosecution to withhold information; and a general presumption of guilt that leads to a 99.8 percent conviction rate in criminal cases.

I was startled to learn that Japan hadn’t had a jury system before. But it figures. Even in the flower of East Asian democracy, the power of the state is somewhat steroidal by comparison with the ways of the West. Yes, we are all practicing “democracy.” But that’s a pretty broad concept. The genius of government in Europe and her children is not simply popular suffrage – it is the constant, laborious hacking which keeps the rude weed of state power in check. The nature of all government is to grow and hoard power. Really the heart of the American achievement is not governance, it is the successful check placed on governance by keeping power institutionally – not by mob or public passion, but by the patient, daily decisions which restate the individual’s rights – in the hands of each American.

That, of course, is an America that many in her government understand dimly at best. And the Cheneys of this world, not at all.

But returning to the Japanese move towards juries – many Japanese don’t really see the benefit of them at all. That’s what policeman and courts are for, aren’t they? To tell us who must be punished and how?



Want more people to read your blog?
July 20, 2007, 7:39 am
Filed under: The East

Write it in Chinese. The internet is shifting.



Terrorists on trial
July 19, 2007, 10:38 am
Filed under: Crime and Punishment, The War on Terror

At Guantanamo, it’s all about maintaing the facade of legality.

The only thing that made al Sharbi exceptional was that he was one of only a few Guantánamo detainees who’d actually been charged with a crime, albeit a novel one in the annals of international-warfare law: conspiracy to commit, among other things, murder by an unprivileged belligerent—which basically means he thought about killing American soldiers he believed he was at war with. (He was never accused of killing, or even trying to kill, anyone.) He would be prosecuted by the men at the table on the other side of the room, an Air Force captain and a Navy Reserve lieutenant, who would be allowed to present their case using evidence the military considered so sensitive that al Sharbi would not be allowed to see it, let alone contest it. The judge, who was known in the proceedings as the presiding officer, was a navy captain. The jurors would also be military officers.

Hm, so that’s what an unlawful enemy combatant is. It’s hard to sum up this system better than the accused did himself, when asked if he wanted a different military lawyer – “To me it’s the same circus, different clown.”

Don’t blame him for being right about that. President Bush is the sole author of this comic strip. If justice in America is still more than a game, then someday he will be the one in the dock. That’s not a question of politics, it’s a question of which is paramount – the law, or the king. For us in the west, there can be no going back: the law must prevail.



The firewall is not great
July 19, 2007, 9:48 am
Filed under: The East

Wanted to send email into or out of China over the past four days? Too bad. The Communist Party shows off its tech muscles.



Maliki to US: Get Out
July 15, 2007, 3:49 pm
Filed under: Politics, The War on Terror, Uncategorized

060624_maliki_widehlarge.jpg

Where to begin? At first Maliki’s statement seems like shocking ingratitude. His office and the government it directs were paid for with American blood. But think about what he’s saying – and his advisor’s complaints about the recent Anbar successes Bush is rightly proud of. Don’t get it yet? Here’s how it works: Maliki is pissed off because we’re not helping him conduct a civil war against the Sunnis. Meaning whatever successes the surge has achieved are against the will of the Maliki government. We are trying to establish security; he prefers instability which can be exploited against the Sunni enemy.

Imagine what it means to the average Iraqi in the street that the man who for better or worse leads their country has told us to leave. What is it we think we can achieve here again? And who is going to help us achieve it?

From today forward, any soldier dying in Iraq is dying for a government which doesn’t want our help and has asked us to leave. Our mission is opposed by most Iraqis and the Iraqi government. And most Americans think it should be ended. Against that, we have the faith of a president who has spent all his political capital. You may not like the way the wind blows, but you can’t pretend it’s blowing the other way. The time for realism has come.




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