Thursday, April 13, 2006

No (Good) Exit

Probably the greatest obstacle to withdrawing American forces from Iraq is potential for chaos and civil war that will likely ensue in our wake. Notwithstanding the fact that even our own commanders admit that foreign troops are a catalyst for the insurgency (see here and here), sectarian differences combined with militias loyal to sectarian leaders create the real potential for continued mayhem in Iraq. Not that US troops are really able to do much when the groups clash. During the violence that followed the bombing of the Askaria Mosque in February American forces stayed pretty much on the sidelines while the various sides slaughtered each other.

But simply pulling our forces out and leaving the Iraqis to whatever fate awaits them is irresponsible at best and immoral at worst. We opened this Pandora’s Box and are responsible for the consequences, so America cannot simply just leave. At the same time, it is very clear we cannot stay despite BushCheney’s repeated vows to that effect.

That’s why I find the absence of real diplomacy, seeking cooperation and assistance from nations with experience and credibility in the region to craft a solution so distressing. Clearly, America cannot stabilize Iraq on its own. Yet we have not seriously sought to build a framework that would create the conditions that would allow us to exit Iraq with anything resembling honor. In the absence of such effort, we are stuck and our casualties mount.

John Kerry made this point very clear recently when he compared the absence of diplomatic efforts in Iraq to Henry Kissinger and James Baker’s efforts in previous wars.

...[The a]bsence of legitimate diplomacy in this is absolutely astounding to me. You know, when you look at what former Secretary Henry Kissinger did night after night, day after day, back and forth in an airplane, struggling to be able to get people to come to agreement around the table. You look at what former Secretary Jim Baker did, traveling all over the world, working with countries, pulling people together around the idea. I don't even see deputy assistant secretaries, other people out there at a level working other countries to try to a resolution for this, and there are Sunni neighbors all around who could all play a more significant role. The Arab league could play a more significant role. The United Nations could play a more significant role. What are we doing? Just drifting day after day after day....(emphasis mine)

Of course, one of the primary reasons–probably the main reason–that no other nation will join our effort is the BushCheney’s unwillingness to recognize policy options other than his own. “With us or against us,” he said famously in 2002 and I see little evidence that he has changed. Oh sure, Condoleeza Rice jets about meeting with world leaders but that is largely for show or to bully them to go along with policy already decided in
Washington. This administration does not listen, does not discuss. It demands. Nor is it willing to acknowledge interests and options other than its own. Building any kind of coalition on those terms is next to impossible.

So the question comes down to what do I do, as an American, to seek an honorable solution to the Iraq quagmire, a solution that enables us to stand down our forces without leaving Iraqis at the mercy of sectarian murderers. In the end, I don’t see any good solutions, only ones that offer slim hope. Real diplomacy that creates a sustainable coalition that can credibly support Iraqis building a government that transcends the centrifugal forces that divide theme is one option. The other is John Kerry’s resolution setting deadlines to force the Iraqis to come to agreement on their government.

I hate to end on a negative note but I don’t have much hope that either will come to pass. Powerful as the United States may be, that power has real limits in the face of Iraq’s history and culture. BushCheney blindly and arrogantly led this America into The Big Muddy. We’ll be lucky not to drown.

All of which makes me ask, “Why is BushCheney threatening to attack Iran?” Is he THAT incapable of learning? Or is he really trying to lead us into Armageddon?

Monday, April 10, 2006

Good Business

Read BBC correspondent John Simpson's article about his interview with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal just prior to the US invasion of Iraq. Al-Faisal's predictions at the time were depressingly prescient (as were mine and thousands of others'). More depressing is the foreign minister's final comment:

Just over three years ago, when I interviewed the Saudi foreign minister, I asked him why he thought the US was determined to invade Iraq.

He said he had put the same question to Vice-President Dick Cheney. Mr Cheney had replied: "Because it's do-able".

How many families of the dead and wounded will find comfort in knowing they sacrificed because "it's doable"?

If you still have any doubts, I recommend seeing Eugene Jarecki's "Why We Fight".

Mission Ignored

From the New York Times:

The three-star Marine Corps general who was the military's top operations officer before the invasion of Iraq expressed regret, in an essay published Sunday, that he did not more energetically question those who had ordered the nation to war. He also urged active-duty officers to speak out now if they had doubts about the war....

The decision to invade Iraq, he wrote, "was done with a casualness and swagger that are the special province of those who have never had to execute these missions — or bury the results."...

Semper Fi, indeed.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Crossing the Line

With immigration heating up as a major political issue, I guess it’s time for me to expand on the ideas I wrote a few weeks ago. I take a broad view of individuals’ right to migrate toward opportunity, national borders notwithstanding. To those who advocate restricting immigration in order to protect workers in one nation from competition or who object to the costs these migrants place on a society, I look at several centuries of economic imperialism that created the current economy and distribution of wealth. For me, the idea that American, or any society for that matter, is inherently entitled to economic rewards based on advantages gained from centuries of exploitation clashes with my concept of economic justice.

This is hardly a set of beliefs that will find support among any groups–liberal or conservative–in the United States. Nor do I expect to see them enacted in any immigration law reform. It is simply what I believe to be moral and just. I also recognize practical politics and the likelihood that immigration reform will be based on traditional ideas of nation-state exclusivity. That’s why I support the McCain-Kennedy bill pending in the Senate. In a nutshell, this bill offers an opportunity for undocumented individuals a measure of protection and, ultimately, a path to citizenship. For me, at least, the fines and penalties imposed by the bill address their illegal entry into the United States. McCain-Kennedy also allows the nation to screen out individuals with criminal backgrounds and those who pose a national security threat.

Although opponents deride the bill as amnesty and a reward for breaking the law, providing an opportunity toward legal status is simply recognizing reality. The United States is not going to deport the estimated 12 million individuals now in this country illegally. And regardless of their violation of our immigration laws, these individuals are still human beings who are highly vulnerable to exploitation. McCain-Kennedy offers protection and opportunity to this population. Extending legal protections to these workers also protects American workers who will face less competition from low wage workers who lack the legal status to insist on fair wages for their work.

On the other hand, Congress’ record in passing legislation to address problems is not encouraging (No Child Left Behind, Medicare Prescription Benefit, to name a couple recent examples) so the possibility exists that any action on immigration will only exacerbate the immigration problem. Jacob Weisberg explores this possibility in Slate. His solution is to do nothing and leave the existing “system” in place.

You can already see the outlines of another domestic policy disaster emerging: Bush will sign a law that threatens toughness but declines to apply it, that costs billions to administer but fails to reduce illegal immigration, and that creates massive new bureaucratic and legal headaches for everyone. This would be in keeping with past efforts, such as the big 1986 immigration reform bill, which promised serious sanctions against employers of illegals, has never been enforced, and has produced results the opposite of those intended.

If the past is prologue, it’s hard to argue against Weisberg’s point. All we’ll get is another legal and bureaucratic boondoggle, one that leaves many at the mercy of exploitation, which I consider unacceptable. I don’t care if someone broke the law or not, he or she is still a human being. I don’t advocate simply ignoring their violation but I don’t advocate leaving them in a legal limbo where they are trapped in near slavery. Yeah, I guess they could go back to their own country where they can live as citizens in a land of no opportunity and watch their children die but the human spirit being what it is doesn’t really leave that as a likely option when economic opportunity exists elsewhere. The North American Free Trade Act was supposed to promote economic opportunity in Mexico but the opportunity has been largely for American corporations at the expense of Mexican agriculture and enterprise. Hence, even more individuals seeking to escape an economy that offers little hope.

The Senate compromise that surfaced and sank last week does not really address my concerns. It simply reduces the number of individuals unprotected by the law but still leaves a large unprotected underclass. For now, I’ll stick with McCain-Kennedy and hope for the best.