Friday, September 24, 2004

Justice DeLay-ed

Of course, no one with half a brain is really surprised to learn that some of Tom DeLay's minions have been indicted on counts of illegal fundraising and money laundering. But it still feels good to know that someone, somewhere still cares about democracy.

Tragically, that place isn't US Congress, where an ethics complaint filed against DeLay is likely to get ignored and/or buried. Why? Because if you out one corrupt congressman, then you have to start outing them all, and pretty soon...there are no congressmen left.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Rivkin/Casey v. Martinez Debate

I've made a decision on the Rivkin/Casey and Martinez debate over the question: "How should the U.S. try suspected terrorists?" In a very close decision, I give it to Martinez, though if this was a debate tournament it would be on a low-point win.

Rivkin and Casey cream Martinez on the legal aspect, doing a great job proving that these tribunals are legal under international law (news to me). At first glance, this was going to be enough for me to vote for them. But on closer reflection, the resolution is a question of morals, how SHOULD be try them, not how CAN we. The question then became whether or not Martinez focused enough on the "should" part in her first post to make that the framework (as it is closer to the original text of the question). Though she did get dragged into the legal debate more than was strategically wise, I concluded she focused enough on the "should" to make that a voter. Unfortunately, her best arguments were made only in the last post, but this quote from the first post is money.

The first week of proceedings before the military commissions was a travesty. The commission members (all but one of whom have no formal legal training) seemed perplexed when asked about basic legal concepts like "due process of law" and "reasonable doubt." One member confessed that he did not really know what the Geneva Conventions were—which is quite troubling given that the Conventions are the cornerstone of the modern laws of war. Even if he was not familiar with the Geneva Conventions before being appointed to the commission (though the Conventions are a mandatory topic in basic training) you would have thought this high-profile assignment might have caused him to study up. The presiding officer of the commission—the only lawyer in the bunch—was little better prepared. He reacted like a deer caught in the headlights when one defendant asked to represent himself or have a lawyer from his home country assigned to work with him. This type of request is hardly unusual, and both the civilian courts and courts martial have established legal standards for evaluating them. Because the military commissions are starting from scratch, however, every new issue of procedure or evidence will cause this kind of paralysis. And then there were the problems with the translators—apparently, they were so inadequate that the defendants and Arab-language journalists had to struggle to figure out what was going on. It's a good thing the government is not allowing audio or video recordings of the trials—it would be far too embarrassing.

It rather unfortunately seems that Martinez was flailing and just happened to catch a lucky break. But sometimes that's the way it works in debate. And I want to say that I was very impressed by Rivkin and Casey's ability to argue, persuasively, a position that I thought was both morally and legally untenable.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Of Politics and Principle

Matthew Yglesias shows yet another example of how President Bush cares more about his political prospects than he does about the safety of the American people.
Bush has adopted policies designed to keep the death count low, primarily by avoiding ground combat in the Sunni triangle. Good campaign tactics, needless to say, but, as ever, the Bush team seems better at winning elections than winning wars. By delaying any assault on the wily Salafi terrorists...lurking in Fallujah, Samarra, Ramadi, and Baquba until after November, we give them more time to dig in, prepare defenses, and strengthen their forces before the attack.

An important point comes next, so it gets a paragraph of its own: This plan will get people killed. If an assault is to be mounted, it should be done as soon as possible, before the adversary has been given months to prepare for it. The Marines and soldiers serving in Iraq volunteered for the military, but they've been conscripted into the Bush campaign. Decisions, as Lieutenant General James Conway recently stated, are being made on the basis of narrow political considerations rather than military ones. It's appropriate for generals to be subordinate to civilian politicians, but not to civilian campaign strategists. We're waging war as an extension of an electoral campaign, exposing our soldiers to harassing attacks right now and to a more difficult fight later on in order to help secure the president's re-election.

This is merely another link in the Bush train of letting his political concerns get in the way of unimportant things like safety. From Homeland Security to hunting terrorists to protecting our agents to Iraq today, President Bush has consistently opted to score political points at the expense of the American people. And now it appears that he's going to withdraw from Iraq as soon as he gets the electoral all-clear sign. The stakes are simply too high to let that continue.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Past Problems, Future Results

John Kerry just gave a major Iraq Speech at New York University.

TNR's "etc" says that Kerry hit a Triple. I think that its more along the lines of a Double. On the one hand, I really like Kerry's proposal on what he'd be doing in Iraq right now:
First, the President has to get the promised international support so our men and women in uniform don’t have to go it alone. It is late; the President must respond by moving this week to gain and regain international support.
The President should convene a summit meeting of the world’s major powers and Iraq’s neighbors, this week, in New York, where many leaders will attend the U.N. General Assembly. He should insist that they make good on that U.N. resolution. He should offer potential troop contributors specific, but critical roles, in training Iraqi security personnel and securing Iraq’s borders. He should give other countries a stake in Iraq’s future by encouraging them to help develop Iraq’s oil resources and by letting them bid on contracts instead of locking them out of the reconstruction process.

This will be difficult. I and others have repeatedly recommended this from the very beginning. Delay has made only made it harder. After insulting allies and shredding alliances, this President may not have the trust and confidence to bring others to our side in Iraq. But we cannot hope to succeed unless we rebuild and lead strong alliances so that other nations share the burden with us. That is the only way to succeed.

Second, the President must get serious about training Iraqi security forces.

Last February, Secretary Rumsfeld claimed that more than 210,000 Iraqis were in uniform. Two weeks ago, he admitted that claim was exaggerated by more than 50 percent. Iraq, he said, now has 95,000 trained security forces.

But guess what? Neither number bears any relationship to the truth. For example, just 5,000 Iraqi soldiers have been fully trained, by the administration’s own minimal standards. And of the 35,000 police now in uniform, not one has completed a 24-week field-training program. Is it any wonder that Iraqi security forces can’t stop the insurgency or provide basic law and order?

The President should urgently expand the security forces training program inside and outside Iraq. He should strengthen the vetting of recruits, double classroom training time, and require follow-on field training. He should recruit thousands of qualified trainers from our allies, especially those who have no troops in Iraq. He should press our NATO allies to open training centers in their countries. And he should stop misleading the American people with phony, inflated numbers.

Third, the President must carry out a reconstruction plan that finally brings tangible benefits to the Iraqi people.

Last week, the administration admitted that its plan was a failure when it asked Congress for permission to radically revise spending priorities in Iraq. It took 17 months for them to understand that security is a priority … 17 months to figure out that boosting oil production is critical … 17 months to conclude that an Iraqi with a job is less likely to shoot at our soldiers.

One year ago, the administration asked for and received $18 billion to help the Iraqis and relieve the conditions that contribute to the insurgency. Today, less than a $1 billion of those funds have actually been spent. I said at the time that we had to rethink our policies and set standards of accountability. Now we’re paying the price.

Now, the President should look at the whole reconstruction package…draw up a list of high visibility, quick impact projects… and cut through the red tape. He should use more Iraqi contractors and workers, instead of big corporations like Halliburton. He should stop paying companies under investigation for fraud or corruption. And he should fire the civilians in the Pentagon responsible for mismanaging the reconstruction effort.

Fourth, the President must take immediate, urgent, essential steps to guarantee the promised elections can be held next year.

Credible elections are key to producing an Iraqi government that enjoys the support of the Iraqi people and an assembly to write a Constitution that yields a viable power sharing arrangement.

Because Iraqis have no experience holding free and fair elections, the President agreed six months ago that the U.N. must play a central role. Yet today, just four months before Iraqis are supposed to go to the polls, the U.N. Secretary General and administration officials themselves say the elections are in grave doubt. Because the security situation is so bad… and because not a single country has offered troops to protect the U.N. elections mission… the U.N. has less than 25 percent of the staff it needs in Iraq to get the job done.

The President should recruit troops from our friends and allies for a U.N. protection force. This won’t be easy. But even countries that refused to put boots on the ground in Iraq should still help protect the U.N. We should also intensify the training of Iraqis to manage and guard the polling places that need to be opened. Otherwise, U.S forces would end up bearing those burdens alone.

I think its very clear that this proposal is vastly superior to Bush's head-in-the-sand approach. Indeed, if you asked me, I couldn't tell you what Bush's strategy for Iraq is at the moment, beyond empty phrases like "winning the war" and "creating a healthy democracy." With all due respect, that's rhetorical crap, and Bush has not done one thing that would suggest he is serious about these or any other goal he's set for Iraq.

Also, this line particularly struck me:
In the dark days of the Cuban Missile Crisis, President Kennedy sent former Secretary of State Dean Acheson to Europe to build support. Acheson explained the situation to French President de Gaulle. Then he offered to show him highly classified satellite photos, as proof. De Gaulle waved the photos away, saying: “The word of the President of the United States is good enough for me.”

How many world leaders have that same trust in America’s president, today?

That loss of trust is both true and deeply tragic. I think Sen. Kerry is right to emphasize it.

The negatives in the speech come in two areas. First, Kerry continues to muddle his position on whether or not we were right, originally, to go into Iraq. Ideally, this should be tangential to the main point, which is 'what do we do now that we're there?' But the Bush campaign has seized upon this as the trump example of an indecisive Kerry, and I'm not happy that Kerry seemed to make Bush's job easier.

The other problem comes with regards to troop deployment. Kerry appears to simultaneously argue that Bush didn't commit enough troops to Iraq to stabilize it (which is true), and that Iraq drew our attention and manpower away from Al-Qaeda, enabling Osama Bin Laden to escape (which is also true). Both of these are accurate criticisms, but they are mutually exclusive in terms of remedy. In terms of political realities, we could only deploy enough troops to do one of these jobs, not both. This isn't to absolve Bush of his incompetence on the matter, since he allocated too few troops to BOTH projects. But I'm confused as to Kerry's proposed solution here, though ultimately it doesn't take away from the positives of his plan as a whole.

What I like most about this speech is that it attacks Bush on his home territory. The Accountability President? Then why were the only people fired over Iraq those who made accurate predictions? The need to be tough against terrorists? Then why is Bush flailing blindly at the "main front" for the war on terror? The need for solid, argumentative coherency (as opposed to "flipflopping")? Bush gave 23 reasons for the war in Iraq, the majority of which are discredited.

The more I think about it, the more I'm voting for Kerry because of all the reasons Bush strategists say I should vote for Bush. I want a President who stand solidly against terror, will aggressively move to target them, knows the importance and utter paramounce of homeland security, and above all, does not subordinate the safety of American people to score quick political points. On all of these fronts, President Bush has objectively been a disaster, and Sen. Kerry appears to have a remedy. That's enough for me.

Troop Movements

I want more troops in Iraq, but I don't think this is the way to do it.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Bipartisan Critique

CNN reports on Republican criticism of Bush's Iraq policy. These aren't backbenchers either, but the heavy hitters: McCain (AZ), Lugar (IL), and Hagel (NE). All have the reputation of a maverick streak, but rarely have they been this blunt criticizing the President. Sen. Lugar even went so far to label Bush "incompetent" when spending reconstruction money. Senators Kyl (AZ) and Graham (SC) also had more mild criticism for the Bush administration, but this is perhaps more telling as they are both considered GOP loyalists.

And while it wasn't from a Republican, this quote was on the money.
"The president's going to the United Nations [Tuesday]," [Delaware Senator Joe Biden] said. "You know what we list as our priorities for the United Nations General Assembly? Dealing with sex trade, which is important. Dealing with cloning. Dealing with spread of democracy.

"Not one word of Korea. Not one word with regard to Iraq. Not one word with regard to Iran. It's like Wonderland," said Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Maybe President Bush has also been paying a bit too much attention to Rathergate compared to foreign and domestic policy.

In any event, its good to see that some Republicans are breaking away from the "support Bush at any cost" mentality.

Blogger Code of Ethics

This is something I've toying around for a long time. As I've been reading the blogosphere, I've noticed that ALOT of the blogs out there are not behaving like they want an objective search for truth, or a reasoned political discourse. Instead, they are partisan bombthrowers who only wish to score a quick 2 points for their preferred political allies. This, I think, is a negative trend, and one I think we should counteract before the internet turns into Cass Sunstein's "". That being said, I give you my (very personal) take on the "blogger code of ethics" (keep in mind this really only applies to political blogs).

1) I will not be a partisan hack, nor will I engage in hatchet jobs on my political opponents that are grounded weakly or not at all in facts.
2) I will focus predominantly on issues, not personal lives or other tangents. While instances such as Rathergate deserve some attention, they don't deserve ALL of our attention and certainly don't outweigh the pressing issues that face our country.
3) I will do my best to present issues with as much factual grounding as possible.
4) If evidence turns up that proves I'm wrong, or casts my point in substantial doubt, I will either address the criticism or admit error.
5) If a political opponent says something that I think is smart, wise, well-advised, or I otherwise agree with, I will point it out.
6) I will at all times conduct myself in a manner that seeks to further, not hinder, intellectual debate on the issues.
7) Recognizing that full compliance with the above is often a case of judgment, I will make a good faith effort to comply with this code.

Do I expect this to have much effect? Probably not. But this, at least, is the code that I'm going to write this blog on.