Saturday, December 15, 2007

Blast from the past. Same as it ever was . . .

Isn't this funny? Hindsight is 20-40.

In June of 2006 I wrote this at this blog [June 14 2006]:

"As I watched Taylor Hicks become the new American Idol last Wednesday night, the thought suddenly occurred that the Democrats winning back the Congress might be a sure thing after all. It was the weirdest thing; I don't know whether it was Prince unexpectedly swooping in out of nowhere just before Ryan Seacrest announced the winner, or the fact that a gray haired, 29-year old --- who'd actually heard of Buddy Holly before he did one of his songs on Idol ---had actually gotten some 45 million votes from a bunch of Bush babies.

I really got the impression, though, that this is some sort of bellwether, some kind of sea change. I'm sure I'm not the only one out there who has been wondering when the tipping point was finally going to come, and it's really seemed that it would never come, but the moment Hicks won I thought this might actually be it. People are sick and tired of the fear mongering, the lies, the rampant corruption and the seemingly enless blunders this administration is responsible for. 'Enough is enough,' is what a vote for Taylor Hicks says!"

How crazy is that? Who knew the Democrats would be so spineless and ineffective, though? What would Simon Cowell say?

Soft power in Africa: Anything goes.

AP reports:

"Dec. 14, 2007, at least 401 members of the U.S. military had died in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan as a result of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, according to the Defense Department. The department last updated its figures Dec. 8, 2007, at 10 a.m. EST. . . Outside the Afghan region, the Defense Department reports 63 more members of the U.S. military died in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Of those, two were the result of hostile action. The military lists these other locations as Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba; Djibouti; Eritrea; Ethiopia; Jordan; Kenya; Kyrgyzstan; Philippines; Seychelles; Sudan; Tajikistan; Turkey; and Yemen."


Isn't that one of the those African countries we're trying to project our soft power to?

NYT reports:

"The Ethiopian government, one of America’s top allies in Africa, is forcing untrained civilians — including doctors, teachers, office clerks and employees of development programs financed by the World Bank and United Nations — to fight rebels in the desolate Ogaden region, according to Western officials, refugees and Ethiopian administrators who recently defected to avoid being conscripted."

Rebels in the Ogaden region, made up of mostly Muslim Somalis, have been fighting the Christian Ethiopians for a while now. The continuing instability in Somalia, even after our glorious victory over the Islamic Courts Union last year, and the threat of another war with Eritrea seems to be putting the regime in Addis a little on edge. So much so in fact that they're Shanghai-ing civilians into armed service.

A nice bunch, that regime in Ethiopia. Good Christians.

The Times reports that being a dissident in Ethiopia can be very dangerous, too, even if you manage to escape the country:

"United Nations officials said Ethiopian intelligence agents had infiltrated Kenya, and on Nov. 2, there was a mysterious attack that only added to these fears. According to the Kenyan police, masked men burst into an apartment building in a Nairobi slum and shot five Ethiopian refugees. Two died, along with a guard outside who was shot in the head."

So this is the government Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Joe Carpenter says we have "a close working relationship" with? We have currently about 100 U.S. military trainers in Ethiopia instructing their troops.

Almost a year ago Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J pushed legislation that would have tied our money to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's exhibiting better behavior human rights-wise. Smith told USA Today, "We have to be careful that that old maxim — the enemy of my enemy is my friend — does not make us unwitting enablers of abuse." [This coming from a country that can't figure out what the meaning of "torture" is.]

That may be so, congressman, but when you're so bent on fighting the GWOT that you're willing to allow the North Koreans to sell weapons to the Ethiopians, human rights issues seem to pale in comparison. [IHT]

In W.'s mind, the Ethiopians are a Christian nation surrounded by Muslim countries. They're fighting Islamic terrorists, ergo we let them get away with murder. Sure they bombed the hell out of civilans in Mogadishu, so did we in Fallujah. You've got to break a few eggs to make that democratic omelet.

Joseph Nye, the guy who coined the term Soft Power says, "I think having stubbed our toe badly on Iraq, people are realizing that we weren't doing that well, and it's time for a change. . . Since 9/11, the United States has been exporting fear and anger rather than the more traditional values of hope and optimism." [AFP]

Not too much of that to go around in Africa it looks like. No wonder the Sudanese don't listen to us.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Waterboarding is A-OK Congress says.

AP reports:

"The House approved an intelligence bill yesterday that would prohibit the CIA from using waterboarding, mock executions, and other harsh interrogation methods."

How absurd! Are these Democrats trying to get us all killed?

Naturally, the White House has threatened a veto.

It's amazing in this day and age that we're actually debating whether barbaric techniques like waterboarding are really torture or not and that no one seems to be particularly concerned that their president and 199 members of Congress think that torture is A-OK.

Just go out and shop. Let W. and his men in black worry about what is and what isn't torture. Soon enough, Kiefer Sutherland will be out of jail and "24" will be back to make you feel much better about the whole thing.

But, I digress . . .

Here's an example of the "enhanced interrogation techniques," W. and his supporters in Congress are protecting:

The Army Field Manual prohibits interrogators, but not the CIA, from: "Forcing detainees to be naked, perform sexual acts, or pose in a sexual manner; placing hoods or sacks over detainees' heads or duct tape over their eyes; beating, shocking, or burning detainees; threatening them with military dogs; exposing them to extreme heat or cold; conducting mock executions; depriving them of food, water, or medical care; and waterboarding."

Don't you feel so proud to be an American? All of these things presumably W. is squarely behind. Like he says, we've got to keep the terrorists guessing; is it going to be a mock execution or burning this time around? You won't know evil doer.

And all of these things perfectly fine in the minds of our local representatives like Michael N. Castle (R., Del.), Charles W. Dent (R., Pa.), Jim Gerlach (R., Pa.), Frank A. LoBiondo (R., N.J.), Joseph R. Pitts (R., Pa.) and H. James Saxton (R., N.J.).

Meanwhile, even though every torture session this administration has authorized is on the up-and-up and perfectly legal -- just ask John Yu -- the CIA still saw fit to destroy some video tapes a la Abu Ghraib of some waterboarding hi-jinx they conducted against Abu Zubaida and KSM. The new AG Michael Mukasey -- the one who hasn't made up his mind about whether it is torture or not -- has hit the ground running in his new job by telling Patrick Leahy to take a long walk off a short pier.

The WaPo:

"Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey today sharply rebuffed congressional demands for details about the Justice Department's inquiry into the destruction of CIA interrogation tapes, saying that providing such information would make it appear that the department was 'subject to political influence.'"

How's that for turning things on their heads?

He tells Leahy and Specter:

"At my confirmation hearing, I testified that I would act independently, resist political pressure and ensure that politics plays no role in cases brought by the Department of Justice. Consistent with that testimony, the facts will be followed wherever they lead in this inquiry, and the relevant law applied."

See how that works? He can't tell them anything because that would be politics at its worst.

Gosh, I thought that was the thing the Democrats were accusing Alberto Gonzales of. Make up your minds!

And the beat goes on . . .

And having nothing to do with torture but extremely interesting:

"The bill, a House-Senate compromise to authorize intelligence operations in 2008, would also block spending 70 percent of the intelligence budget until the House and Senate intelligence committees are briefed on Israel's Sept. 6 air strike on an alleged nuclear site in Syria."

What's that all about? I wonder if any mention of the outcome of this little tidbit will ever see the light of day?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Soft brains on "soft power."

[Note: I'm blogging at Let's Talk about Democracy lately]

AFP reports (with a straight face):

"After six hard years of war, the United States is awakening to the idea that 'soft power' is a better way to regain influence and clout in a world bubbling with instability."

Well, how about that?

It seems the military wants the Department of State and other civilian agencies to take to the reins on this whole fighting-an-insurgency thing.

AFP: "[The Pentagon] has stepped up thinking and planning for what it calls 'phase zero,' military jargon for conflict prevention. 'I think they've come to the conclusion that insurgencies are really hard to fight. And so it would be better if they could not have the conflict in the first place,' said Robert Perito, an expert at the US Institute of Peace." [My italics]

Hey, there's a concept. Why didn't anyone think about that before we blundered into Iraq?

Soft power in Afghanistan:

So how is that soft power thing working in Afghanistan these days?

Afghanistan Watch:

"Almost half of Afghanistan is now too dangerous for aid workers to operate in, a leaked UN map seen by The Times [of London] shows. In the past two years most foreign and Afghan staff have withdrawn from the southern half of the country, abandoning or scaling back development projects in rural areas and confining themselves to the cities or the less risky north. . ."

Well, so much for that. Better get the military involved. AFP reports that the US military is pumping nearly $ 2 billion into Afghanistan. Is it for civilian projects? Water, irrigation projects, schools etc? No?

"About 75 percent of next year's allocation would go towards building facilities for the Afghan security forces on which the country depends, the head of the corps, Lieutenant General Robert L. Van Antwerp, told reporters. . . "

But, we'll all be gratified to know that 228 Army Corp. engineers will be building "roads and surveying dams for use to provide power, irrigation and drinking water." [uh huh.]

I know, maybe the way to go here is to super-impose the Anbar Model on the Tribal areas in Pakistan.

The NYT reported recently:

A new and classified American military proposal outlines an intensified effort to enlist tribal leaders in the frontier areas of Pakistan in the fight against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, as part of a broader effort to bolster Pakistani forces against an expanding militancy, American military officials said.

If adopted, the proposal would join elements of a shift in strategy that would also be likely to expand the presence of American military trainers in Pakistan, directly finance a separate tribal paramilitary force that until now has proved largely ineffective and pay militias that agree to fight Al Qaeda and foreign extremists, officials said."

Wow. you see all these people are all the same. Just throw a little money at them and they'll come around to our way of thinking.

Robert Kaplan thinks it's a great idea. He writes: It's the Tribes stupid!"

"There is nothing wrong or cynical about this. Where democratic governance does not exist, we must work with the material at hand."

Right, what could go wrong?

Ahmad Rashid pointed out to Terry Gross yesterday on Fresh Air that the fly in the ointment is that in Anbar, the Sheiks came to the Americans because they were sick of foreigners killing them. In the case of the Pakistanis, besides the fact that they already have plenty of money and weapons, they're buddies with AQP and the Taliban. IN many cases even related to them. We're the foreigners. Sure, they'll take their money but they'll be as reliable as Pervez Musharraf has been.

Real loose thinking. Or is that soft thinking?
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