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.



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.



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

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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.



New York firefighters on Giuliani
July 14, 2007, 7:21 pm
Filed under: Politics, The War on Terror

It seems some of them don’t like him.

I’ve gone off on Giuliani before and I’ll probably do it again, but I want to say that I actually admire his aggressiveness about fighting terrorism. Immediately following 9/11, his black and white mind was a reassuring presence. But some things have happened between now and then, like Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, secret rendition to torturing regimes, the President’s unilateral, extralegal wiretapping of US citizens, and the occupation of Iraq, which we fumbled in front of the whole world – after the whole world had told us not to do it. So while Rudy does seem like a good guy to have around, I just can’t allow myself to vote for someone who doesn’t even seem to view these as major problems, someone who just wants to keep on chooglin’. We’ve had enough monarchy for a while. It’s time to elect a President.



Contempt of Congress
July 13, 2007, 1:08 pm
Filed under: Politics, The War on Terror

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At yesterday’s press conference, Bush was asked how he would win Republican legislators to the cause of staying the course in Iraq. His answer was simple: he didn’t have to. Congress has no business making war policy.

I respect those republicans that you’re referring to, I presume you’re referring to friends of mine like Lugar, or, Senator Lugar, Domineci, yeah. These are good honorable people. I’ve spoken to them, and I listen very carefully to what they have to say. First of all, they share my concern that a precipitous withdrawal would embolden Al Qaeda. And they also understand that we cant let al Qaeda gain safe haven inside of Iraq. I appreciate, you know, their calls. And I appreciate their desire to work with the White House to be in a position where we can sustain a presence in Iraq. What I tell them is this, just as I’ve told you, which is as commander in chief of the greatest military ever I have an obligation, a sincere and serious obligation, to hear out my commander on the ground. And I will take his recommendation and, as I mentioned, talk to Bob Gates about it, as well as the Joint Chiefs about it, as well as consult with members of the Congress, both Republics (sic) and Democrats, as I make a decision about the way forward in Iraq. And so, you know, I value the advice of those Senators. I appreciate their concerns about the situation in Iraq. And I will continue listening to them.

Note how radically his language would limit the power of Congress: I listen very carefully to what they have to say (no mention of Congress actually, you know, making law). As commander in chief I have an obligation. As I make a decision about the way forward. I will continue listening to them. The corollary, you see, of the Unitary Executive, is the Advisory Congress. Call it America 2.0.

Bush used 9/11 to create a war with no geographical limit, which can be prolonged indefinitely. He may be losing against al Qaeda, but he has racked up a series of stunning victories on the front of expanding government power and attacking American liberties. Ask yourself how much of that agenda could have been achieved without the favorable environment of the “war on terror”? Welcome to the permanent emergency. And check out a Republican presidential candidate with a different view.

Remember when the power to begin – and end – war lay with the Congress? To borrow a line from Star Wars, those were the days of the Old Republic – before the Empire came.



“His great virtue and his weakness”
June 30, 2007, 9:07 am
Filed under: Hell, Let's Call it Torture, Politics, The War on Terror

I just finished part 2 of the Washington Post’s Cheney profile. Read it if you have any interest in understanding the mindset of an American who comes to embrace torture – and understand it we must, if we are resolved to begin the long and hard work of removing this stain from our honor.

It is striking to me that the torture crowd paints themselves as the realists in this debate. I submit that the entire foundation of their argument rests on a singular fantasy – the fantasy that if we just try hard enough, and compromise enough of our core values, we can ensure that Americans will be safe from another terrorist attack. If you believe this then all else follows. It means our historical disdain (and proud disdain) for torture is meaningless. It means the public interest in privacy and protection from government scrutiny is a bygone. And it may come to mean many other things, to our lasting regret. This fantasy – this dangerous fantasy – can justify anything, and it will, until we give it up for good.

My opposition to torture is not idealistic, it is realistic. I know – though of course I wish it were otherwise – that any government’s promise of security is hollow. When politicians bring us their sweet offers of safety – think Rudy Giuliani – I see the shrewd self-interest that lies beneath their reassuring strength. When has a politican ever won office by telling people what they do not want to admit? We are being targeted by killers, and they are bent on murder, and we can not stop all of them. That is the truth, and we can “double Guantanamo,” as Mitt Romney bravely suggests, and it will make no difference.

This is not defeatism; I believe we can defeat the jihadists, and we must. But show me the terrorist movement or insurgency that was defeated by torturing those who were captured. Show me one. You will find no examples of this, only examples of the opposite; movements which were fueled by oppression, and strengthened by it, and given the one thing we should find most repugnant to give them: a sense of justification.

We can never hope to erase the risk of attack, but it is completely within our power to uphold the traditions of democracy. Bush and Cheney notwithstanding, limits to the power of kings are an enduring monument of our civilization. That achievement probably took more toil than erecting the pyramids. Unlike the pyramids, it passes on a sweet benefit to every new generation, for as long as we can find the strength to honor and defend it. Also unlike the pyramids, it is being dismantled.



Ron Paul clips from Youtube
May 12, 2007, 10:18 am
Filed under: Politics, The War on Terror

It’s gratifying to hear a Republican say this:

The catchall phrase “the war on terrorism,” in all honesty, has no more meaning than if one wants to wage a war on criminal gangsterism. Terrorism is a tactic. You can’t have a war against a tactic. It’s deliberately vague and non-definable in order to justify and permit perpetual war anywhere and under any circumstances. Don’t forget the Iraqis and Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with any terrorist attack against us – including that on 9/11. Special interests and the demented philosophy of conquest have driven most wars throughout all of history. Rarely has the cause of liberty, as it was in our own revolution, been the driving force.

It’s also disturbing that we so rarely hear Democrats saying it.

Ron Paul in the Republican primary debate:

It’s good for Ron Paul that 65% of Americans oppose the war in Iraq. Unfortunately they are mostly not Republican primary voters.

Now the bad news: Paul doesn’t think the science is settled on global warming.

Vote for Ron Paul: sidestep the coming apocalypse of the Forever War, but bring closer the coming environmental apocalypse.

It’s a dilemma.