Monday, October 31, 2005

Impotent Resolution Sent to Security Council

Seeking to gain unanimous support for a resolution condemning Syria for the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri, the US, Britain, and France agreed to delete the threat of economic sanctions. The new resolution only threatens to refer Syria to the council for further consideration if they don't comply. (China View: UN draft resolution on Syria revised to get unanimous support).

What it boils down to is that the UN Security Council will consider a completely worthless resolution that has no teeth and offers only the hollow threat of drafting another worthless resolution if this one doesn't have them shaking. This is the same pattern we have seen continuously from that worthless organization.

Historically, UN resolutions do little more than constitute an international finger wag. The overwhelming majority of resolutions go unenforced and are summarily ignored by the offenders. No wonder so many nations were shocked when we actually enforced UN Resolution 1441 against Iraq. Had they known we would actually enforce the clause that threatened serious consequences, there's little doubt that the Chapter 7 clause would never have made it into the final draft.

So the pattern continues. Syria will be threatened with the diplomatic equivalent of a time out, but nothing of consequence will ever come of it. The UN will once again turn a blind eye to a nation that openly sponsors terrorism, conducts assassinations against other heads of state, and provides safe harbor for insurgents disrupting the peace process in Iraq. Once again, the UN has proven to be worthless. Two months ago I questioned why we spend a dime on UN dues when they are clearly a waste of money. That question is still valid today.


"Quiet Conservative" Picked for Top Court

In just under an hour, President Bush will nominate 3rd Circuit Appeals Court Judge Samuel Alito to replace the retiring Sandra Day O'Conner on the US Supreme Court. (CNN: Officials: Bush to nominate Alito to high court). Alito's pick quickly follows the withdrawal of Harriet Miers' name from that same position.

In selecting Alito, the President has picked a candidate that will have overwhelming support from his conservative base - something he did not have with Miers and what ultimately scuttled her nomination. He has also selected a judge with a lengthy history of public decisions, and someone that has extensive experience on the bench. From the standpoint of qualifications, Judge Alito certainly passes muster.

The confirmation of Alito is no slam dunk, however, and the President is in for an extremely difficult fight in the Senate. Many describe Alito as being "Scalia-like", something that will not sit well with the left. Like Scalia, Alito is a very conservative judge and would also be described as a constructionist. Attorneys that know Alito claim that, were they on the same court, he and Scalia would typically vote the same way. In some circles, he has earned the nickname "Scalito", in reference to the similarities between the two.

This nomination raises the spectre of a filibuster, although that could be politically damaging to the Democrats when it involves a Supreme Court pick. Of course, with O'Connor's decision to remain on the bench until a replacement is found, there's no rush to fill the vacancy, and the Democrats may only need to hold out until the 2006 elections to force the selection of their choice.

For the record, I fully support the nomination of Samuel Alito. He is precisely the type judge I want to see on the Supreme Court. He is a conservative, a constructionist, has extensive judicial background, and has a lengthy and consistent judicial record. Whether or not the President has enough political clout left to see Alito confirmed remains to be seen. In the end, that is what will decide Alito's fate, not his qualifications.


Sunday, October 30, 2005

Rosa Parks to Lie in Honor

Civil rights legend Rosa Parks will be given an unprecedented honor on Monday when her body lies in honor in the Capitol Rotunda. It is a fitting tribute to the woman than sparked the peaceful - and most effective - aspects of the civil rights movement. (Montgomery Advertiser: Crowds honor civil rights legend Rosa Parks).

The lesson Parks taught the nation in 1955 was that a single act of civil disobedience could inspire a nation. That the actions of one woman could make such a huge difference. The snowball Rosa Parks set in motion on December 1, 1955 would result in a Supreme Court ruling banning segregation on public transportation. It would lead to the integration of the nations public colleges. It would inspire a young man by the name of Martin Luther King Jr. to lead the most peaceful civil rights movement the world has ever seen. What Rosa Parks did would ultimately lead to minority men and women holding the highest positions possible in our government. So yes, it is only fitting that she lie in honor in the Rotunda.

What many today don't realize is that there were very different factions in the civil rights movement, and each faction had their own agenda. Of the various factions, it was ultimately the peaceful movement lead by Dr. King that succeeded. The more radical movements headed by Malcolm X and Elijah Mohammed along with groups such as the Black Panthers either promoted violent revolution or sought "separate but equal" status. Sadly, none of the leaders of today's civil rights movement are in the same mold and mindset of Rosa Parks or Dr. King. Today's leaders preach a message of hatred; something that Dr. King would have abhorred.

The lessons taught by Rosa Parks are still valid today. It was not violence that fostered dramatic change in the area of civil rights. It was not a message of hatred that fostered it. It was not an attitude that blamed everyone else for every problem that fostered it. That is something that today's civil rights leaders need to learn. Sadly, today's leaders are setting race relations back decades. They are not only part of the problem, they are the problem. They would do well to learn from Rosa Parks.


Second Term Woes Commonplace

The troubles facing President Bush a year into his second term are nothing new. Every president elected for more than one term in the last century has had to deal with scandals at high levels throughout their administrations. (New York Times: The Latest in Second-Term Scandals). Even FDR was confronted with extreme opposition when he attempted to expand the Supreme Court from 9 to 15 members, a move that almost cost him reelection in 1940.

Other more serious scandals have plagued subsequent multi-term presidents. Eisenhower lost his Chief of Staff to resignation thanks to accusations of corruption. Vice President Spiro Agnew was forced to resign after he was indicted on bribery charges in his home state. President Nixon resigned to avoid impeachment over the Watergate cover-up. President Reagan's second term played host to the Iran-Contra scandal that also involved his VP and successor George H. W. Bush. President Clinton's second term was marred by impeachment on charges of perjury. Now, President George W. Bush is facing scandals of his own involving his Chief of Staff Karl Rove and his Vice President's former Chief of Staff "Scooter" Libby.

No president, regardless of how popular, is immune to second term blues. The reasons for it are already being discussed ad nauseum all over the web and I won't bother to repeat them here. What I haven't seen discussed, however, is a reexamination of the presidential term limits. Given the track record of virtually every two-term president we've had, it seems to me that it makes sense to restrict the office to a single term, be that a four-year term or a six-year term. I favor the latter as it is already a term length for the governorship in many states.

There are many on both sides of the aisle that strongly oppose term limits of any sort. Their argument is a valid one. In a democratic society, people have the right to vote for whomever they wish and term limits would infringe on that right. That is a true statement. Yet, we already place limits on who can fun for President. The candidate must be 35 years old and be a natural born citizen of the US. That candidate must also not have been elected twice, nor may the candidate's total service exceed 10 years. The candidate may not be a convicted felon. So we do have restrictions on the office. Why not amend the term limits to prevent the second term scandals that have plagued even our best presidents? Doing so is not an infringement on our rights, it is pure common sense.


Palestinian Terrorist Puts Cart Before Horse

Khaled al-Batsh, a leader of the terrorist organization Islamic Jihad, claimed they would stop launching rocket attacks against Israel after Israel stops attacking them in Gaza and the West Bank. (BBC: Palestinians issue rockets pledge). He did not pledge to halt suicide attacks, however, which were the primary reasons behind Israel's retaliation against the terrorist group.

What al-Batsh and his ilk don't seem to want to accept is that the ball is currently in their court. If they want Israel to stop targeting them, then they must first halt the suicide bombings and rocket attacks being conducted against Israel from Gaza and the West Bank. They must also end their calls for the utter destruction of Israel - something that is still first and foremost in the mission statements of both Islamic Jihad and Hamas.

Israel has halted retaliatory strikes many times in the past. Each time they were immediately confronted with more rocket attacks and suicide bombings from one or both of the terror groups operating in that region. For Israel to pledge non-retaliation is absurd. As long as those terrorist organizations exist, Israel will face attacks. It appears, however, that Israel is going to repeat the same mistakes it has been making over the past decade. It appears that they have been in negotiations with these groups and have agreed to a cease-fire. A spokesman for Abbas stated, "The effort and contacts between Israel, the United States and the Palestinian Authority during the last 24 hours succeeded to stop the escalation."

While Israel has yet to comment, they do appear to be in agreement with this statement. That is a tremendous tactical mistake that will ultimately cost Israeli lives. All a cease-fire will accomplish is to give Islamic Jihad and Hamas time to regroup and resupply. Once they are fully armed they will again strike Israel and the cycle will start all over again. The only viable option for Israel is to aggressively attack the areas where these terrorists are based, destroy those bases and drive the terrorists from Israeli and Palestinian territories. Fortunately, it is in the best interests of the Palestinian Authority to do the same, and there does appear to be cooperation between the two.

The pattern of diplomacy being pursued by Israel has not been successful in the past decade, nor is it likely to succeed in the future. Whether they are willing to admit it or not, Israel is at war. It's time they started to fight that war in earnest. Only after Islamic Jihad and Hamas are made homeless will there be any chance for peace in that region.


Saturday, October 29, 2005

Iran Solidifies Terrorist Sponsorship

Iran scoffed at worldwide outrage over their call for the annihilation of Israel, and even upped the ante this weekend by promising a $10,000 reward to Islamic Jihad if they launch rocket attacks against Tel Aviv. (The Sunday Times: Tehran ‘bounty’ for attack on Israel).

According to Israeli intelligence reports, Iran has a triple threat aimed at Israel including long range missiles in Lebanon, the use of terrorist organizations like Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and Hezbollah, and via new terrorist controlled arsenals in the West Bank. Over the past year, Islamic Jihad has overtaken Hamas as the leader in attacks against Israel, prompting a series of Israeli retaliatory strikes against their bases in both the West Bank and Gaza.

Islamic Jihad is yet another terrorist organization headquartered in Damascus, further implicating Syria as a terrorist sponsoring state. Its annual budget of several million dollars is financed almost exclusively by Iran.

Israeli patience must be wearing thin by now, and the brazen statements coming out of Tehran may be the last straw. There have already been a series of Israeli strikes against Islamic Jihad missile factories based on intelligence provided by the Palestinian Authority. There has been increasing cooperation between the two sides, especially against Islamic Jihad and Hamas, since these terrorist groups are the greatest inhibitor to peace in the entire Palestinian - Israeli conflict. How long it will be before Israel takes the battle directly to the source of funding in Iran and to the terrorist headquarters in Syria is anybody's guess, but I have no doubt such plans are already being discussed.

Iran may well be on borrowed time. While the US and the EU may be willing to extend the diplomatic talks aimed at preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear technology, Israel does not have that luxury and may be forced to act if the US doesn't. Israel has far too much to lose if Iran succeeds in obtaining nuclear weapons. There's little doubt that the first test of an Iranian nuclear device will be in the heart of Israel. There's also no doubt that Israel is not going to wait long enough to see if it's a successful test. When it comes to Israel's survival, a preemptive strike is their only option.


"I Don't Recall" Defense In Play

Joseph Tate, lead attorney for former Vice Presidential Chief of Staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby appears poised to play the "I don't Recall" card in Libby's perjury and obstruction of justice trials. "As lawyers, we recognize that a person's recollection and memory of events will not always match those of other people, particularly when they are asked to testify months after the events occurred," he said, alluding to allegations that Libby's testimony before the grand jury constituted perjury. (USA Today: Lawyer for Libby signals possible memory defense).

The memory defense was made famous in Ronald Reagan's testimony in the Iran-Contra scandal, but it has long been a popular and effective defense for embattled political advisers. The defense even worked well for former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton during the Whitewater scandal.

The basis behind the charges against Libby stem from his testimony that he learned Valerie Plame's name from NBC correspondent Tim Russert. Russert subsequently denied ever talking to Libby about it and Fitzgerald has evidence that Libby in fact learned of Plame from Vice President Dick Cheney.

There's a distinction between lying about conversations and having a poor recollection of the events including those conversations. Human memory is indeed very poor when it comes to past details, especially concerning conversations or actions that one doesn't consider important at the time. This particular chain of accusations and evidence appears pretty flimsy and one hopes Fitzgerald has more to display than what has been made public thus far.

Getting a grand jury to hand down an indictment is not much of a challenge even in the absence of any tangible evidence. An indictment is not a conviction, but in many cases the distinction is largely irrelevant. Most careers are destroyed on indictment, not on conviction. In fact, when it comes to damage done, the outcome of a trial often has little meaning. A not-guilty verdict does not undo the damage done by the simple indictment. That fact is a problem we as a nation sorely need to address.

In the meantime, Scooter Libby is out of a job and the Vice President is out a Chief of Staff. I certainly hope Fitzgerald has more to justify this than he has thus far displayed.


Friday, October 28, 2005

Bush's Most Horrible Week

Without a doubt, this was the worst week of President Bush's 5 years in office. The withdrawal of Harriet Miers as Supreme Court nominee dealt a severe political blow to a president already suffering from extremely poor public opinion ratings, raging energy costs, an increasingly unpopular war, and multiple natural disasters along the Gulf Coast. (San Francisco Chronicle: Bush Heads to Camp David to Ponder Nominee).

Following right on the heels of Miers' resignation came the indictment of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's Chief of Staff, on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. (The Irish Times: Bush faces political crisis as top aide resigns). While the news could have been worse for the White House, all indications are that the investigation into other potential charges continues.

In a way, the questionable status of other White House staffers including top Presidential adviser Karl Rove is worse (for the President) than actual indictments. Until the investigation is completed, Rove is effectively neutralized. His ability to advise the President on critical matters is severely impaired. The effects of the investigation may well have first manifested in the nomination of Harriet Miers. To promote a candidate that drew such immediate and sharp criticism from the President's power base is glaring evidence that his closest advisers dropped the ball on the nomination.

President Bush has now retreated to Camp David to ponder his next nominee for the Supreme Court, however he does so with a severely crippled advisory staff. The record for most nominees rejected by the Senate is 8, set by President John Tyler in 1844. Let's hope President Bush does not make a run on that record. There are several lessons to be learned by Miers' failure to garner support:

  • The next nominee must be a judge with a lengthy track record. The Senate is not going to support more on-the-job training in the Supreme Court.
  • The nominee must have a clear and accessible paper trail that the Senate can review. Nominating another inner circle confederate with documents the administration will not release simply won't fly.
  • The nominee will have to be a moderate. As much as I would like to see an ultra-conservative judge on the court, I do not believe the President has the political clout to push a conservative through the Senate. He may have been able to pre-Miers - barely - but he's on the ropes now and the Senate knows it. He's getting a moderate.

Without a doubt, this is a week the President would like to forget. Unfortunately, all indications are that the legal and political troubles will continue. The best move for the President now is to promote a court nominee that will have an easy time in the confirmation process and then focus his attention on cleaning his inner circle of advisers. The investigation will likely take down a few more people in his inner circle, and his chief adviser may well head that list. With three years remaining in his term, the President would be well advised to clean house, regroup, and make a fresh start. Trying to salvage the current situation will be both distracting and futile. A good house cleaning is in order.


Thursday, October 27, 2005

Sunnis Oppose Charter By Getting Involved

The Iraqi constitution passed by the slimmest of margins, coming very close to being defeated by the needed 2/3 majority in three or more provinces. In fact, two Sunni controlled provinces defeated the measure by far greater margins than 2/3, and a third province defeated the measure by 55%, falling just shy of the 67% needed to block passage. The strong Sunni opposition is being touted by critics as setting the stage for civil war or for increased violence in the months ahead. Yet, what we are really seeing is a ground swelling of support even in the Sunni regions, not for the constitution as written, but for the democratic process that gave it life. (Washington Post: The New Sunni Jihad: 'A Time for Politics').

Abu Theeb, an Iraqi guerrilla, described it thus, "It is a new jihad. There is a time for fighting, and a time for politics." Rather than urging a boycott of the elections or planning attacks against the polling places, Theeb went door-to-door in Sunni regions urging the people to register to vote and use the political process to have their voices heard.

This is the most encouraging news possible out of that region. That the vote totals in Sunni controlled provinces was so remarkably high is a major blow to outside insurgents, and al Qaeda specifically, since it signals a dramatic shift in the overall philosophy of the people in that region. For the first time, they participated in a democratic process rather than resort to roadside bombs and terror attacks to get their message across.

Elections for the new Iraqi parliament will forever change the face of Iraq. Sunni presence in that new parliament will be far higher than the current one, scarred by a Sunni boycott a year ago. While still a minority party, they will be a voice that cannot be ignored and they will have a far greater say in how Iraq - and their own provinces - are run.

Theeb's tribe has a harsh reputation for kidnappings and executions. Their reputation is so bad that election officials refused to staff a polling station there, and instead had to rely on a local sheik to serve as the election monitor. That democracy can be embraced in that region is the most encouraging news possible for the future of Iraq's fledgling government.

Democracy is not just a form of government, it is a mind-set; a way of life. It is not simply a case of going to the polls, it is an understanding that the will of the people expressed in those polls is the greatest political force on the planet. For the first time, Iraqis are starting to think with that mind-set. For the first time, we can see that the majority of Iraqis now understand what that process means. They understand that they do have a voice and that their voice matters. Now let's see what they do with it.


Withdrawal Call Blind to Regional Issues

Senator John Kerry (D-MA), silver medalist in the last presidential election, issued calls for immediate troop reductions in Iraq. According to Kerry, "The way forward in Iraq is not to pull out precipitously or merely promise to stay 'as long as it takes.' We must instead simultaneously pursue both a political settlement and the withdrawal of American combat forces." (Washington Post: Kerry Urges U.S. to Start Withdrawal From Iraq).

While such a "pull out now" attitude may be popular with the anti-war crowd, which is admittedly growing in numbers, the policy turns a blind eye to regional issues that require a very strong US military presence. A withdrawal from Iraq now will only complicate matters when it becomes time to deploy troops sometime in 2006 for likely action against either Syria or Iran or both.

Just yesterday we heard Iran call for the complete eradication of Israel, something the west is certainly not going to tolerate. If there was any doubt about Iran's nuclear intentions before, that doubt was dispelled yesterday. Given yesterday's remarks, we have to assume the worst possible intentions for their nuclear program. Preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear technology without resorting to the use of force is extremely unlikely.

Also in the past several days Syria was implicated in the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister. The world is now debating what action to take against Syria, however given their track record and their continued support for terrorist groups and their hands-on involvement in the Iraqi insurgency, avoiding military action sometime in 2006 is unlikely.

The US presence in Iraq must be viewed in the larger context that includes Iran and Syria. A pullout of US forces now would be foolhardy. Rather, the US and allies must take whatever steps are necessary to prepare for that inevitable day when action against those two pariahs becomes necessary. At the rate things are moving now, that day will be sooner rather than later.


Wednesday, October 26, 2005

US to Detail Oil For Food Corruption

A US report will detail corruption in the pre-war Iraqi Oil for Food program and will show that fully half of the 4500 companies that participated provided kickbacks to Saddam Hussein to the tune of $1.8 billion. (New York Times: U.S. Is to Detail Who Paid Bribes in Iraq Oil Sales). Over 60 nations were involved in the program and virtually all of them were able to skirt UN monetary controls to provide kickbacks to the Iraqi regime and to make money for themselves.

The corruption that ran rampant in the Oil for Food program is one in a long line of UN failures when it comes to providing assistance to impoverished nations. In this case, the program was intended to provide food and medicine to the Iraqi population while strict economic sanctions were in place against Hussein's government.

There is one significant flaw in the concept behind economic sanctions. In order for sanctions to work, there is a basic assumption that the government of the nation under sanction has some measure of concern for the well being of the general population. The problem is, that is hardly ever the case. Hussein couldn't have cared less for the general health of the population. The same is true of virtually all dictators in third-world countries. Of course, if they truly cared about their people, chances are pretty good that they wouldn't be under economic sanctions in the first place.

Equally troubling, of course, is the amount of corruption running rampant among the nations and companies allegedly trying to help. That Over 2300 companies were involved in kickbacks and were spread across 60 nations, speaks volumes to the amount of greed that drives many of these so-called aid programs. Not so coincidentally, the majority of companies came from France and Russia - two of the three most vocal nations arguing against military action. That would certainly explain their reluctance to take action since the war effectively stopped the flow of illicit funds.

Saying the UN is in desperate need of reform would be a vast understatement. UN peacekeeping missions are notorious for prolonging a crisis, their aid programs are rife with corruption, their nuclear proliferation watchdog has been asleep at the wheel for 12 years, and their most visible entity - the Security Council - is an exercise in stagnation, indecision, and weakness. The Oil for Food scandal is only the tip of the iceberg. The entire organization is a textbook case of mismanagement, corruption, and incompetence. Reform the UN? The challenge will be to find parts that are salvageable.


Iran, Hamas Share Common Goal

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's support for the terrorist organization Hamas could not be any clearer. Speaking at a conference in Tehran called "The World without Zionism," Ahmadinejad said, "There is no doubt that the new wave (of attacks) in Palestine will wipe off this stigma (Israel) from the face of the Islamic world. Anybody who recognizes Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nation's fury, any (Islamic leader) who recognizes the Zionist regime means he is acknowledging the surrender and defeat of the Islamic world." (China Daily: Iranian Leader: Israel will be destroyed).

Just in case anyone still had doubts about Ahmadinejad's message he went on to state, "As the Imam said, Israel must be wiped off the map." This hard-line tone should come as no surprise to anyone. Despite quaint slogans such as the "road-map for peace", despite land concessions by Israel, despite a peace accord with the more moderate Egypt, and despite overtures by the Palestinian Authority, the fact remains that the Islamic states want nothing less than the full destruction of Israel. The idea that there can ever be peace in that region is sheer folly.

The blunt statements by Iran's president, however, make it quite clear that he - and Iran - have openly chosen to back the terrorist groups seeking the destruction of Israel. There is absolutely no difference between the terrorists that run Hamas and the terrorists that run Iran. As long as those terrorists exist, there will be no peace in Israel.

While the world takes umbrage over the assassination of a Lebanese prime minister, the world must be equally outraged by Ahmadinejad's remarks and the official anti-Semitic stance of Iran's government. Iran must be taken to task for their open support of terrorist activities in the Middle East. As financiers and political supporters of the terrorists bent on the destruction of Israel, they are as effectively at war with Israel as is Hamas.

In an address to the nation in 2001, President Bush referred to Iran as a part of the "Axis of Evil". He was not entirely accurate. Iran is the hub of that axis. It is the grease that keeps the wheels of terrorism in the Middle East turning. The only way to truly foster peace in that region is to exterminate rodents like Ahmadinejad that openly promote terrorism and scuttle any movements to bring stability to the Middle East.


SCO: The New Warsaw Pact

Recent Chinese - Russian military training maneuvers appear to be far more than just window dressing. The two nations will today discuss the formation of a new counter-NATO alliance comprised of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan and may even be extended to include India, Pakistan and Iran. Should the latter three be included, the organization would contain four members of the nuclear club. (Christian Science Monitor: Russia, China looking to form 'NATO of the East'?).

The alliance was formed initially to counter the growing US influence in the region. Buoyed by post-9/11 support among former Soviet powers, the US established military bases in several former Soviet republics including Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. That expansion was troubling to a Russia that is still unwilling to accept that the Soviet Union has dissolved. The SCO has recently demanded the US removal of bases from Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, although Secretary of State Rice did succeed in winning a long-term lease from the former.

Equally troubling would be the inclusion of Iran and Pakistan into this alliance. China and Russia already openly oppose US policy and have veto power in the UN. Iran may soon find themselves at war with the US and EU over nuclear proliferation, and Pakistan is only one political coup away from becoming a state governed by terrorists. China and Russia appear to be aligning themselves to directly compete with the US over power influence in the Middle East. Given China's insatiable thirst for oil to fuel their 9.5% growth rate, it's not surprising that they would seek to limit US influence in that oil-rich region.

The blocks are all falling into place for another cold-war era triumvirate of opposing powers. This time, it would appear that the three major factions will be the US, the EU, and now SCO. Whether or not this iteration is as openly hostile as the former US - Soviet struggle remains to be seen, however conditions are ripe for it to degenerate to that level. The battleground would appear to be the Middle East, although there are plenty of other minor theaters in play as well. The SCO alliance puts an interesting twist on the conflict with North Korea - something that seems to have taken a back seat in recent weeks - and also in the situation between China and Taiwan.

Dismissing this alliance out of hand four years ago was a huge blunder; one of many our foreign policy experts have made since the fall of the Soviet Union. This alliance bears watching. The struggle for control of the Middle East has already begun. Don't be surprised to see SCO members taking a more openly aggressive posture as we continue to debate UN sanctions and subsequent action against Iran and Syria. This struggle is only beginning.


Tuesday, October 25, 2005

No Consensus For Syria Resolution

While German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis prepares to deliver his report to the UN Security Council today, strong disagreement remains over the wording and intent of a resolution being prepared by the US and France. (Washington Post: Security Council Split Over Resolution on Syria). The holdouts appear to be Algeria, China, and Russia. The Arab world is also a bit queasy about invoking sanctions against Syria, although their logic for opposing it remains a bit shaky.

China's UN ambassador Guangya Wang openly opposed the invocation of chapter seven which would threaten "serious consequences", tantamount to the authorization of the use of force if Syria doesn't comply with the resolution. Said Wang, "I think we have to be very careful with Chapter 7. Chapter 7 is the dog that will bite, not just bark."

That, Mr. Wang, is precisely the point. Any resolution that does not invoke Chapter 7 is just noise. Syria knows it and the rest of the world knows it. Don't waste our time with a series of meaningless resolutions. Sadly, that appears to be precisely what is going to happen. Even France is starting to back away from the stronger resolution since there does not appear to be unanimous support for it in the council.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice shrugged it off yesterday, saying that she would support a series of progressively stronger resolutions leading up to an ultimate invocation of Chapter 7. Rice said, "This is all about Syrian behavior, but if people want to sequence it, fine, we can sequence it." She then added that the world, "must make very clear to the Syrians that this is a really serious matter and that their nonchalant attitude, their efforts to discredit the investigation . . . are not the attitude of the international community."

So it looks like this will be another typical long dragged out UN affair that accomplishes nothing. It looks like a resolution will be proposed that has no substance and no teeth; a resolution that leaves Syria plenty of room to wiggle off the hook. Meanwhile, Syria continues to support the terrorist organizations Hamas and Hezbollah. They continue to allow Iraqi insurgents safe harbor in border towns within Syria. They continue to allow easy access to the Iraqi border for those same insurgents. They will remain unpunished for the assassination of a head of state that had taken an anti-Syrian shift in his policies. Well, that is the UN at its finest. There is not another organization on this planet better at doing absolutely nothing than is the UN. What a waste of time and money.


Monday, October 24, 2005

CIA Trail Leads to Cheney

Lawyers close to the investigation into the leak of a CIA agents name claim that I. Lewis Libby learned of Valerie Plame directly from Vice President Dick Cheney weeks before her name was made public on July 14, 2003 by syndicated columnist Robert Novak. (New York Times: Cheney Told Aide of C.I.A. Officer, Notes Show). That, in and of itself, is not illegal. Both Cheney and Libby are authorized to have that information, and neither of them can be indicted simply because they knew Valerie Plame's name.

Current speculation is that Libby, at least, will be indicted on perjury charges. Lawyers associated with the investigation state that Libby testified before the grand jury that he learned of Plame from journalists, not from the Vice President. Given the presence of his own notes on the matter, that testimony is grounds for perjury and obstruction of justice charges.

Of more concern, however, is the reason Plame's name ever came up in the first place. Plame's husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, was openly questioning and criticising the Bush administration's handling of intelligence related to Iraq's alleged attempts to acquire nuclear material from Africa. There appears to be a link between his criticism of that intelligence and investigations by the White House into Wilson and his wife. Of all of the charges being leveled against Rove and Libby, to me, these are the most serious implications and they are not even being discussed.

Investigating a CIA operative that is questioning administration policy, and subsequently leaking the name of an agent in what would appear to be an attempt to discredit the pair can be called nothing short of abuse of power. Any investigation into this whole affair must involve the motives behind the leak, not just the leak itself. Implications that the administration may have used their authority to seek vengeance against someone openly raising legitimate questions about intelligence used to justify military action must be thoroughly investigated.

I don't believe anyone will be indicted for releasing the name of a CIA agent. There is simply not enough evidence to suggest that anyone had any knowledge that her status may have been classified, and that's a requirement before that law may be invoked. On the other hand, I do expect to see perjury and obstruction of justice charges leveled at least against Libby and possibly against Rove. But more than anything, I want to know if there was an abuse of power. All other charges would pale before those allegations. As much as I support the Bush administration and most of their policies, I could not support using their authority to punish anyone for questioning the handling of intelligence. That's a bit too Nixonesque for my likings.


Agreement Building on Syria Resolution

The UN Security Council will take enjoin the debate on Syria's transgressions tomorrow. At the center of the debate will be an as yet undisclosed resolution issued jointly by the US and France that will take Syria to task for its role in the assassination of former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri last February. (Kuwait News Agency: Council to send "strong, clear, unambiguous signal" to Syria).

According to US ambassador to the UN John Bolton, the US is working closely with France and Russia to finalize the draft of the resolution and obtain a consensus on its wording and implications. The goal is to be unambiguous - not one of the UN's strongest suits. That the negotiations are coming down to those three nations would imply some disagreement over the potential threat of the use of force.

Said ambassador Bolton, "we thought of a lot of different options but we haven't settled on what direction we are going to go yet. There is no decision on chapter seven. We are still consulting, but it is going to be a strong resolution." Chapter seven refers to the threat of "serious consequences", the UN euphemism for military action.

A resolution against Syria that does not invoke chapter seven is worthless. Unless faced with a unified front in the Security Council that leaves Syria without any doubt that they will face military action if they don't fully cooperate with the UN investigation, halt support of the Iraqi insurgency, and halt support for the terrorist organizations Hamas and Hezbollah, then Syria will have no incentive to change their ways.

This is Bolton's first real challenge since being appointed by President Bush during a Senate recess, bypassing the confirmation process. It will be interesting to see if he is up to the challenge of staring down both France and Russia. A strong message to Syria that invokes chapter seven will be a huge victory for Bolton and will signal a significant shift in the US' influence in the Security Council. Given Bolton's latest comments, the only sticking point now is that chapter seven clause. We will see in the coming days how strong Bolton will be as US ambassador. This particular challenge may well decide if he will ultimately be confirmed by the Senate when his 18 months are up or if he will be a weakened lame duck ambassador without any real influence.


Bernanke Succeeds Greenspan

President Bush selected Ben Bernanke, the 51 year-old chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers to succeed Alan Greenspan as chairman of the Federal Reserve. (Business Week: Profile of New Fed Chief Ben Bernanke). The top White House economic adviser will assume the reins when Greenspan retires on January 31, 2006.

The market responded positively with a jump of 168 points today when Bush ended a great deal of speculation surrounding Greenspan's successor. Bernanke gave assurances that he would continue the proactive economic policy management techniques introduced by Greenspan, "Our understanding of the best practice in monetary policy evolved during Alan Greenspan's tenure at the Fed, and it will continue to evolve in the future."

Bernanke's academic credentials are impeccable, scoring 1590 out of 1600 on his SATs and graduating summa cum laude from Harvard in 1975. He will also bring a much more down to earth language style to the Federal Reserve, eliminating what has come to be known as "Greenspeak". His economic policies were largely shaped by the Greenspan era, although there are some distinctions that may become significant.

Unlike his predecessor, Bernanke is not committed to stock market price. "Saturation coverage by cable TV networks notwithstanding," he told the Senate Banking Committee in 2002, "the stock market is not the whole economy." Perhaps not, but the stock market is an excellent indicator of the overall health of the economy. That is something Bernanke will need to learn and learn fast.

The new Fed chief is also focused on maintaining an inflation rate of 2%. This implies a fairly aggressive interest rate management philosophy, not unlike that currently being utilized by FOMC. This could signal some rather daunting interest rates with oil prices double what they were a year ago, and while inflation may end up being contained, the overall effect on the economy may be somewhat less than pleasant. Already we are seeing the financial markets and banking specifically squeezed by rising interest rates. The housing market will also suffer as higher mortgage rates make home-buying less attractive.

What stamp Bernanke will put on FOMC during his tenure remains to be seen. For the present, it appears that he will attempt to maintain Greenspan's policies, but will seek more to contain inflation than to maintain market price stability. The probability of being able to accomplish this, at least in the next 12-18 months, leaves me more than skeptical. From this angle, 2006 looks to be a very rocky economic road. Bernanke will most certainly receive a baptism by fire. Let's hope he's a quick learner.


CIA Leak Defense Prepares Spin

The spin doctors were out in force yesterday, probing for potential defense strategies that may work if indictments are handed down this week in the CIA leak scandal. (New York Times: Republicans Testing Ways to Blunt Leak Charges). Special investigator Patrick J. Fitzgerald is expected to conclude his investigation and possibly issue indictments by Friday of this week.

Senator Hutchinson (R-TX) on "Meet the Press" referred to a possible perjury indictment by comparing it to the Martha Stewart case "where they couldn't find a crime and they indict on something that she said about something that wasn't a crime." That would appear to be the first major spin being placed on the investigation. Ironically, it's not too far removed from the argument posed during former President Bill Clinton's impeachment trial for lying to a grand jury. That argument was hollow then and it is hollow now.

The second popular defense being floated is an attack on the prosecution, claiming the investigation is the result of an over zealous prosecutor. If that sounds familiar, it's because it is. The same defense is being used in the Tom DeLay case. That, too, is a hollow argument. Accusing the prosecution of doing their job - i.e. investigating a possible crime and handing down indictments based on the results of that investigation - only serves to worsen the effects of the scandal for those involved.

There is strong speculation that those indicted will resign their positions and the White House is already preparing for the aftermath of those resignations. (Washington Post: Resignations May Follow Charges). Senator Allen (R-VA) said yesterday that he expects both Rove and Libby to resign if indicted, however he cautioned, "Let's see what happens rather than get into all this speculation and so forth." Both Rove and Libby have already been warned that they face serious legal challenges, and Fitzgerald has opened a web site for the case which would suggest that he intends to issue indictments.

It is imperative that the White House not attempt to spin any indictments. Learning from history is not the strongest suit for any administration, however there are some lessons to be learned by Nixon's handling of Watergate and Clinton's handling of his impeachment investigation. Spin only compounds the issue. Nixon wasn't on the verge of impeachment because of the Watergate break-in, he was on the verge of impeachment because of the subsequent cover-up. Americans have a very high tolerance for leaders that stand up, admit they erred, and take take full responsibility for their actions. Americans have no tolerance at all for cover-ups, skirting responsibility, or blame misdirection.

Popular history will not remember the names Rove, Libby, or Plame. Popular history will most certainly remember how the Bush administration deals with the aftermath of any indictments. If you don't believe me, try naming the Watergate burglars. Five men were arrested for that break-in, but I will be shocked if the average person can name even one. That is the lesson history has to offer. Let's see if this administration can learn from it. (For the record, the answer to that question is Bernard Barker, Virgilio González, Eugenio Martínez, James W. McCord, Jr. and Frank Sturgis. How many did you get right?)


Sunday, October 23, 2005

Saddam's Trial In Jeopardy

A combination of death threats leveled against prospective witnesses and the murder of one of the defense attorney's have brought Saddam Hussein's first trial to a halt. Witnesses are now refusing to testify, and attorneys are demanding the trial be moved out of Iraq. (Telegraph: Death threats to witnesses halt Saddam trial).

That Hussein's supporters would resort to any criminal method imaginable to disrupt the trial should come as no surprise. The tactics being used here - murders, death threats, and kidnappings - are as old as the concept of a trial by jury. Similar problems were rampant in the heyday of organized crime in the US. In Saddam's case, however, the stakes are far higher both for the people of Iraq and for the terrorists that want to prevent a fair trial from ever occurring.

The problem in this case is that Saddam should never have been turned over to the fledgling Iraqi government in the first place. Historically, deposed leaders accused of war crimes are tried by military tribunals comprised of the victors in the conflict. Had we done this the right way, Saddam would already have been tried and he would have collected his reward of 72 virgins three years ago.

Holding this trial in Iraq was one of the worst mistakes made in the drive towards the implementation of democracy in the Middle East. In our naive quest to prove to the rest of the world that we can give one of the worlds worst tyrants a fair trial in his home country, we are gambling the entire effort on a single roll of the dice. Politically and strategically it is the greatest blunder we have committed in a three-year comedy of errors.

There is still time to rectify the mistake. With even Saddam's defense attorneys screaming to move the trial out of Iraq, we should do just that. Take the primary participants along with the witnesses and their families, and move the trial off-shore. Give Saddam his trial, find him guilty and execute him. Just get it over with fast before we give the insurgents too much of a strategic advantage. Following the historic vote last week, the insurgents were struggling to regain momentum. The Saddam trial may have done just that. We need to take the steam out of it now.


Hughes Stumbles Through Indonesia

Presidential envoy Karen Hughes continued to stumble her way through the Muslim world, this time meeting surprising resistance in Indonesia, one of the more moderate nations that is predominantly Muslim. (Washington Post: Hughes Misreports Iraqi History). The former Bush speech writer is working her way through Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and now Indonesia trying to boost America's image in Islamic culture.

Hughes' trip through Turkey, a NATO ally and one of the strongest supporters of US policy in the Muslim world, was a huge disappointment. She encountered many crowds that disapproved, not just of US actions, but of the goals set by the US in our Middle East policy. Surprisingly, large numbers of women in each of the countries she visited turned out to oppose some of the basic equal rights tenets of the US objectives.

Indonesia revealed more of the same. What Hughes encountered was very strong resistance, especially among younger Muslims, to US policies in Afghanistan, Iraq, and in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. None of this should have come as a surprise, and one must question why a State Department trainee was sent to represent our values to the Muslim community.

Hughes' international affairs experience is extremely limited. She has had no exposure to Muslim culture, and in dealings with Islamic societies abroad, she has absolutely no credibility whatsoever. Her trip to the Middle East and Indonesia is hurting our already tarnished image, rather than helping it.

Surely there must be more qualified women in the State Department to carry this tremendously important message to the Islamic world. The primary appeal we are making is to women that we view as oppressed, so sending an American woman to carry that message makes sense. But is there not a single Muslim woman in the State Department? It seems to me that the message would be far more credible if the person carrying it could at least relate to that culture.

I have no problems with the President surrounding himself with advisers and confidants he knows and trusts, provided those advisers and confidants are qualified for the position. While Karen Hughes is undoubtedly an excellent speech writer, she is clearly under qualified for the role she has been ordered to fill in the State Department. That is not the kind of blunder we can tolerate.


Saturday, October 22, 2005

Illegal Immigration Plan a Non-Starter

A Bush Administration proposal to allow illegal aliens in the US to work for up to six years before facing deportation is under fire in Congress and will likely never see the light of day. (Washington Post: Little Support for Bush Immigration Plan). Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff showed little support for the plan himself when he appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Asked the cost of the proposed program by Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Chertoff sounded a bit like Carl Sagan when he responded, "billions and billions and billions of dollars." The DHS chief admitted that the program was likely not feasible.

At the heart of the program is the idea that illegal aliens would register for a three-year work visa which could be extended for another three years before facing deportation. The fact that these illegals have already avoided the bureaucracy to get here in the first place doesn't seem to register with plan proponents. Nobody in the administration has yet explained why any illegal alien would ever register for the work visa since they are already here, are already living under the radar, and are already working! There's no incentive to them to register, knowing that they would now be tracked and would ultimately face deportation.

There are only three steps that are practical in the fight against illegal immigration. First and foremost, we must secure our borders and prevent people from entering this country illegally. The hassles for legal visitors to the US at Passport Control in every airport in the country is absurd, yet it's relatively simple for someone to wade across the Rio Grande and enter the US illegally at hundreds of points along our southern border. Until we secure the borders, no documentation program is going to work.

Second, we must immediately deport any illegal aliens that are caught. The current "Catch and Release" plan may sound great to fishermen, but it falls short when dealing with illegal aliens residing in this country. The only acceptable practice is to "catch and deport".

Finally, businesses that hire illegal aliens must face heavy fines and possibly even criminal charges. What they are doing is illegal and they must be held accountable for those actions. Without a source of income, the enticement for people to cross into the US illegally will significantly diminish.

The administration's proposal is not realistic, nor does anyone actually expect it to pass. This is one more step in the Immigration Waltz in which politicians pretend to be doing something about illegal immigration without running the risk of upsetting the Hispanic voting bloc. The proposal is a sham, and so too is any politician's interest in addressing the problem. Wake me up when someone puts a legitimate proposal on the table.


Friday, October 21, 2005

Mehlis Softened Assassination Report

UN investigator Detlev Mehlis deleted sections of the report on the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri after a copy was sent to journalists but before it was made public. The deleted sections implicated Syrian President Bashar Assad's brother Maher Assad, and his brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat in the decision to assassinate Hariri. ( U.N. investigator concedes report changes).

Mehlis' excuse for altering the report appeared as watered down as the version released to the press. When pressed by journalists, he stated that he didn't want to publish their names because they hadn't stood trial and didn't want them to appear guilty. A more plausible reason would be Kofi Annan's desire to avoid confrontation between the west and Syria, a goal also shared by Mehlis' native Germany. It's not coincidental that the deletions were made around the time Mehlis handed the report to Annan.

President Bush wasted no time in pressing for UN action against Syria. The President said, "The report strongly suggests that the politically motivated assassination could not have taken place without Syrian involvement," and urged the UN to deal "quickly and seriously" with the report. (Union-Tribune: Bush says world must hold Syria accountable for Lebanese killing, asks quick U.N. action).

The UN Security Council is scheduled to meet next Tuesday regarding the report. While the US has called for swift action, a meeting before Tuesday is not anticipated. What sanctions will be introduced against Syria are not yet known, however Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is already laying the foundations, challenging the credibility of the world body if they do not take appropriate action.

Syria is clearly on the defensive and is facing a rare unified front between the US and France. The credibility of the UN Security Council is clearly at stake as Rice suggests, however, and a watered down report is not the best opening move in restoring any measure of respect to that body. We will see what Tuesday brings and what form the joint US / France resolution takes. Let's hope that resolution has more substance and less spin than the report that is prompting it.


North Korea Takes Less Aggressive Stance

North Korea's willingness to discuss their nuclear weapons program fluctuates more than the stock market. Their latest position appears, at least on the surface, to be an agreement to abandon their program. That announcement was hailed by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, although he did still cite grave concerns over the rogue nation's continued development of a long-range ballistic missile delivery vehicle capable of striking parts of the US. (ABC: U.S., S. Korea Hail North's Nuclear Pledge).

Tensions on the Korean peninsula continue to ebb and flow, however at no time would the situation there be described as calm. The US currently maintains 37,000 troops in South Korea, however about 8000 of those have been withdraw or repositioned so as not to decimate defense forces in the event of an invasion from the North. Despite North Korea's apparent willingness to concede their nuclear program, there are still grave concerns in the region that they may attempt to reunify the two Koreas.

The US has pledged full support to both South Korea and Japan in the event of an attack by the North. The full might of the US nuclear arsenal is being used as a deterrent against any aggression in the region, and to date that deterrent has been effective. Indeed, the real danger in that region may not be North Korean aggression against the South, but rather China's aggression against Taiwan. Rumsfeld criticised China yesterday for their rather cold response to various US overtures and suggested they were sending mixed signals regarding the type of relationship they want with the West. (Washington Post: Rumsfeld Chides China for 'Mixed Signals').

The real powder-keg there is pledged US protection for Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion, something that seems increasingly likely. Reports that China may be understating their defense spending by 70%, China's recent joint military exercises with Russia, and a recent statement by a Chinese general that they may launch a nuclear strike against the US should we shield Taiwan in an invasion, all add tension to an already strained relationship.

North Korea is the likely pawn in the more complex US-Chinese relationship. China has long been North Korea's only ally and even intervened in the mid '50s Korean War following US involvement. It would hardly be surprising if Beijing were controlling the level of Kim's aggressiveness in negotiating with the US. In the grand scheme of foreign policy maneuvering throughout Asia, it is ultimately not North Korea that will be the catalyst for conflict or peace, it is China. They are the ones really pulling the strings. The sought after prize for them is not a reunified Korean peninsula, but rather a Chinese controlled Taiwan. That goal poses the greatest danger for the US since we have already pledged to intervene on the island nature's behalf.


Thursday, October 20, 2005

Syria Back in the Hot Seat

A UN investigation into the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri has implicated high Syrian officials and indicates collusion with Lebanese security forces. The US and France were already preparing to take the issue to the UN Security Council and this report makes that a virtual certainty. (BBC: UN Hariri report points to Syria).

Between the UN report on the assassination, US assertions that Syria is promoting the Iraqi insurgency, and Secretary of State Rice's discussion of military force, the stage is being set for a confrontation between the coalition and Syria. That France is cosponsoring the UN resolution implies a more unified front than we have seen in recent years. Coincidentally, the UN report was prepared by German investigators, effectively eliminating another major source of contention in the Security Council. The only dissenting voice may come from Russia, long a Syrian ally, however even they will be hard pressed to oppose action against the assassination of a head of state.

What form of action the UN resolution takes remains to be seen, although some form of economic sanctions appear likely. The US will attempt to include wording in the resolution to force Syria to tighten their borders with Iraq and take action against insurgents being harbored on Syrian soil. It's doubtful that France and Germany will allow that resolution to be as harsh as the US would prefer, however, and it's certain they will not allow verbiage that implies any authorization of force.

Syria is definitely on the hot seat now. How they respond to UN sanctions and to the increasing pressure being applied by the US will determine if they can avoid military conflict. Given their past history of openly promoting terrorist organizations, I doubt it. Before this war is done, I believe we will see action taken against Syria. From where I sit, it's not so much a question of if, it's a question of when.