Thursday, September 20, 2007

Hillary Clinton and her Tentacled-Eyed Squid Friend

Yesterday, Hillary Clinton referred to Dick Cheney as Darth Vader. While this is a mere reflection of the rampant political immaturity that exists amongst American politicians, I would like to, for the sake of satire, continue Hillary's silly metaphor. I'd say Hillary's the garbage squid Luke Skywalker encountered in the garbage chute of the Death Star during Episode IV. Hillary is always letting her opportunistic eye surface from the sludge of her self-centered politics when looking to take advantage of a given situation. Interestingly enough, when things go awry, Hillary quickly disappears just as Luke's slippery tentacle-eyed squid foe. Point in case, during the aftermath of 9/11 Hillary's opportunistic eye and rhetoric only surfaced at locations where cameras and media coverage was present. At one such surfacing, New Yorkers, sensing her ingenuity and obduratism, promptly booed her off the stage. She, like her tentacled-eyed squid counterpart, quickly vanished never to been seen talking to fear-suffering New Yorkers during the 9/11 aftermath.

Post Script: Hillary's comment on Dick Cheney though true in its reflection of a dearth of moral character, does not do justice to Darth Vader's infamy. Perhaps, something a bit more sad, loathing, and physically cowardly would be a more astute metaphor. Any ideas?

Friday, September 07, 2007

Cluster Bombs: Why the US needs to take a cue from Latin America

A recent convention attempting to ban cluster bomb munitions was held in Costa Rica this last week. The convention was made up by a large contingent of Latin American countries who are pushing to make Central and South America the first cluster bomb free zone. This is a strongly welcomed development as I've taken up a personal vendetta against the bomb and those that use, sell, and stockpile it. Mankind simply must extricate himself from the use of these crude devices that are calculated to so inhumanely torture.

To those that are unaware, cluster bombs are projectiles containing a thousand or so bomblets that scatter in mid-descent over a wide area much similar to a shotgun. Anywhere between ten to twenty-five percent of these bomblets fail to detonate, thus waiting to release a deadly explosion accompanied by shrapnel capable of piercing tank armour up to seven inches deep! These unexploded bomblets present a grave danger to refugees seeking to re-inhabit their previously war ravaged lands. In such situations these unexploded bomblets are incapable of discriminating between a soldiers fighting in the battlefield today, and a civilian herding his sheep months later.

This danger of unexploded cluster bomb bomblets constitutes both moral and legal dilemmas, and despite a formal ban, they violate the principle purpose of two international treaties: the Geneva Convention and the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. Cluster bombs are incapable of discriminating between combatants and civilians. This incapability is a direct violation of the Geneva Convention which outlaws indiscriminate attacks. Specifically, the treaty outlaws attacks that "employ a method or means of combat the effects of which cannot be limited" and thus "strike military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without distinction" (Geneva Convention Protocol I, article 51.4.C).

In addition to violating the Geneva Convention, cluster bombs also violate the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). The CCW outlaws the use of "any mine, booby trap or other device which is designed or of nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering" (CCW, Protocol 2, Article 3.3). A cluster bomb's bomblets that fail to detonate are no different than the CCW's definition of landmines. Furthermore, these munitions certainly fall under the CCW's ban of "devices that cause superfluous injury."

Despite these palpable violations of both the Geneva Convention and the CCW, cluster bombs are still used, stockpiled, and sold by a many states, the US and Europe being the primary culprits. It’s sad that full fledged and long established democracies, often argued as the peaceful polities, have to take cues on how to engage in humane warfare. Hopefully, the Costa Rican convention will lead to a cluster bomb free zone (Brazil is holding out), providing an example towards which the US and Europe can aspire.

Random Fact regarding Cluster Bombs

  • Cluster Bombs have been produced, sold, stockpiled, and used by a number of countries.
  • Some notable users are the US, Britain, France, Israel, Russia, the Netherlands, and Saudi Arabia.
  • Over half of the European Union member states produce cluster bombs
  • Six of the eight G8 nations produce cluster bombs. Other notable producers include India, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, South Africa, Brazil, and Argentina.
  • 75 countries stockpile cluster bombs
  • 24 areas of the world have been affected by cluster bombs. Among the worst are Vietnam, Cambodia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Lebanon.
  • Vietnam still averages 300 civilian deaths because of unexploded cluster bombs.
  • Lebanon has experienced over 150 civilian casualties due to cluster bombs.
  • The Oslo Process, launched in February 2007, is an international attempt to ban cluster bombs. 75 countries have stated a goal to do so, but results are yet to surface. The US has not signed
  • Belgium is the only country to completely ban cluster bombs from production, stockpiling, exportation, and use. I used to live in Belgium..Yay Brussels!
  • A cluster munitions amendment was voted on in the House and the Senate in the Fall of 2006. The amendment would prohibit any funding from going to cluster munitions unless it could be proven that they would not be used near civilian populations.
  • The vote passed through the House 407-19, but failed in the Senate 30-70.
  • No Republican voted in favor of the amendments adoption.
  • Amongst notable Democrats opposed were Senators Clinton, Biden, and Dodd.

Rome is Burning

Iraq is pure partisan debauchery. Republicans are dogmatically treading turbulent waters too stubborn to admit policy failure, and Democrats are holding out for policy failure in order to make big gains at the polls in ‘08. When political jockeying for narrow interests takes precedence over the lives of human beings, both foreign and domestic, rest assured, our political system has gone to pot. Its decadence at its worst…to pick a particularly poignant metaphor from the hat: Rome is burning. Anyone with half a brain can tell neither Democrats nor Republicans are positing anything realistic regarding Iraq. It doesn’t take long to figure out that staying the course doesn’t make much sense when its four years floundering. Likewise, the notion that Sunnis and Shi’ites will hold happy hour the second Dems hastily withdraw is equally non-sensical.

The scalding hot conditions on the Hill promise to get hotter with General Petraeus’ soon to be complete report on Iraq. While Democrats and Republicans anxiously sit in their trenches waiting, considerations to practicality and human decency should be made. Lives and nations weigh in the balance. Partisan grumbling and political jockeying must be abandoned, and the common good embraced. Perhaps then we’ll see a tinge of realism amongst our political representatives with regards to Iraq. If not, expect Congress and the White House’s approval ratings to continue to drop below freezing levels, and Rome to continue burning.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Obdurate Opportunism: Hillary's Freudian Slip

I loathe political opportunism. Politics, at least in an ideal polity, is supposed to be about the benefit of the common good, not partisan groups and certainly not individuals. Unfortunately, in the real world this is not the case. Hillary Clinton's recent comments to a New Hampshire audience is a good case in point. Speaking on the effects another terrorist attack would have on the nation, Hillary only pointed out how it would affect her own campaign!?

"It's a horrible prospect to ask yourself, 'What if? What if?' But if certain things happen between now and the election, particularly with respect to terrorism, that will automatically give the Republicans an advantage again, no matter how badly they have mishandled it, no matter how much more dangerous they have made the world."

Simply stunning. Another 9/11 and not a mention of victims, fear, massive infrastructural damage, further urban sprawl, economic upheaval!? Nope. But Hillary does see how damaging that would be to the Democratic party's popularity, and her own presidential aspirations. How sympathetic. When confronted with the large scale death and destruction of harmless victims, Hillary's thoughts are drawn inward to political jockeying rather than outward to psychologically distraught Americans.

At first I thought this must have been a miscommunication, but then I remembered Hillary's refusal to speak anywhere without a camera during the aftermath of 9/11 leaving terrorized New Yorkers with a bitter taste of her truly obdurate opportunism. To Hillary, events even as horrific as 9/11 are best seen as ways to advance her interests. She of course is not the only one guilty of swimming to such shallow ends. Karl Rove's fear mongering regarding 9/11 during the '04 election is just as deplorable. Nonetheless, Rove's equality in guilt is in no way redemptive of Hillary.

The point Hillary was trying to make was that she is better and stronger than Republicans on matters of national security and the war on terrorism. Why not just say that rather than reducing something as horrific as 9/11 to a purely political tool, and letting slip where her true concerns with terrorism lie: how it affects her, not fatherless children, widowed women, and jobless men. She along with Karl Rove are talking mockeries of the term "public servants" whose first, second, and third thoughts are all self-serving. You know the old idiom, somethings are better left unsaid. Well here's a new one: Somepeople are better left not to serve, and most assuredly not to be voted for.

September Dawn: anti-mormon tracts on celluloid

Movie critics are giving September Dawn, the mountain meadow's massacre movie that paints an ugly picture of fanatical Mormon leadership, dismal reviews. The snippets are well worth breezing through. Roger Ebert's review was particularly interesting and well worth reading. He does a phenomenal job deploring religious fanaticism that justifies murder in any case while also pointing out the thoughtless and exploitative motives of the film makers. His comparison of September with 1950 World War II movies unfair depiction of Japanese and Germans was right on.

Also worth looking at is an op/ed piece in the USA today that calls out Hollywood for addressing terrorism by, despite ample evidence of contemporary and unabashed strands of Islamic fundamentalism, traveling back to the 1800's to disparage Mormonism. The reasoning is obvious enough: Mormonism is an easy target as it rarely sees the friendly side of political correctness' double standards. Fortunately, many in the community of film critics have provided a pleasant contrast to such skewed standards.

Monday, August 06, 2007

A War We Just Might Win...really?

Perhaps I was wrong with my previous vilification of the current strategy. Granted it has been a dismal failure for four years, but according to this New York Times article by Kenneth Pollack and Michael E. O'Hanlon ( the fifth year has brought vast improvements. Apparently, local Iraqi militias, police forces, and governments are beginning to cooperate with each other, so much so that in certain areas, US military is taking a second seat to local enforcement units. Also, the economic reconstruction plans employing strategies like microcredit are beginning to bare fruits.

Even more significant, Iraqi's are taking what seems to be a definitive side in the propaganda war I referred to earlier, the one between the US and sectarian forces like Al Qaeda. Much of Iraqi locals have chosen to seek security and stability with US troops and local militias rather than rolling the dice with Al Qaeda and Sharia Law. This in my view is the real victory as it represents a conscious choice for democracy over authoritarianism.

While this report is certainly encouraging, I remain convinced that partitioning the country into autonomous regions is the best solution, and tidbits from Pollack's article vindicate that point. The Times article points out that national aspects of Iraq remain mired in corruption, apathy, and inefficiency. As a result, towns have turned to local police forces which are far less sectarian. Additionally, the article also paints the national government as one being full of self-interested politicians jockeying for political power rather than seeking to secure the greater good. This seems to bolster the argument for devolution increasing autonomy to regional authorities who have acted responsibly, completely bypassing self-interested elitists.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Hawks and Doves: my ’08 election dilemma

I have a dilemma with the current views held by the major presidential candidates on both sides of the political paradigm. Republican candidates support the current strategy, some even calling for a doubling of the troops (Romney) while Democrats are calling for immediate withdrawals. While this is of course no surprise, it is, however, fear inspiring as far as it reflects on the foreign policy ideals of the major candidates. Currently, Iraq is all about creating sustainable stability. Yet, the major candidates are advocating implausible policies incapable of producing such results.

The clear crux of the problem is the inability of ethnic groups to get along in any form or fashion, and Iraq is certainly not the first country to be mauled by such a dilemma. Multi-ethnic states are more often than not incapable of prolonged stability (think Balkans). In essence then, my dilemma is this : Republican candidates advocate the current strategy (outlined below as option a), which, though proactive, seems bound to do what it has in the past, fail. Contrastingly, the Democrats advocate withdrawal, which in the long-term will produce even worse results (A terrorist harboring Sunni state, and an Iran with access to the Shi'ites vast oil resources). It’s sad that this very complex problem is dealt with so simplistically, abandoning the myriad of alternatives that lie in the middle ground between these extreme policy stances (This is indicative of two-party politics where the middle ground is abandoned for the political fringes). In essence then, the Republican's seem far too hawkish and the Democrats too dovish. If these candidates support Iraqi policies doomed for failure, what should I expect from them in future crisis with Iran, North Korea, Russia, and Venezuela? I'm not certain, but I have some ideas, and frankly, they scare me.

In my view, the only sensible voice I've heard on the Iraqi matter is Joe Biden. He supports a middle ground position, that being partition (option e). Furthermore, he has a good record on foreign policy (he was crying foul long before Milosevic really got going in the Balkans), and he, unlike his fellow democratic presidential candidates, did not leave American Soldiers out to dry by denying them the funding requisite for their support and protection (a major peek into the moral hypocrisy of many of the democratic candidates). He alone has pursued a fresh, viable, and middle ground policy. Indeed, he's neither a hawk nor a dove, but rather something in between.

Anyhow, these are my thoughts on both Iraq and how it illustrates the stale, stagnate, and scary foreign policy ideals of the majority of the presidential candidates. Hopefully, there is a greater influx of candidates entering into politics that lie somewhere between a hawk and a dove. Below is a crude, but hopefully useful synopsis of the various policy proposals in Iraq:

(a) Continue the current policy in hopes that stability is obtained.
(b) Begin withdrawing now, and hope for the best.
(c) Institute Marshall Law. Use very stern means to quell dissent. Allow the government to mature.
(d) Pick a side, Sunni or Shi'ite, support their dominance over the other ethnic groups, deal with this privilege group a la the house of Saud.
(e) Split Iraq into three autonomous regions loosely governed by a central body, its purpose being to secure the borders and distribute oil revenues.
(f) Split the country into three entirely independent countries.
(g) Involve the international community in the peacemaking and keeping process, i.e. UN, Iran, Syria, etc.

The two most widely held views are (a) and (b), embodied respectively by the Republican and Democratic candidates. (b) isn't plausible for obvious reasons. Leaving Iraq in its current state of disarray will allow the situation to grow far worse then it currently is. The Sunni region will end up as some sort of Talibanesque state much similar to pre-2001 Afghanistan, recruiting and harboring terrorism. The Shi'ite region will fall under the influence and most likely, control of Iran, making Iran the second most oil rich country in the world (20% of the world’s oil resources, I think). This of course will give Iran greater leverage in its attempts to proliferate. Iran with lots of oil and a nuclear arsenal to lend credence to its oil policies, whatever they may be, is a scary notion. Moreover, it creates a situation in which the US would have a fast closing window of opportunity and a fast opening window of vulnerability, thus providing us with an incentive to wage a preventive war with Iran. This is a worst case scenario of course, but wholly possibly.

Option (a) is far more preferable from my standpoint; however, judging from the fact that it hasn't improved the situation and the government continues to act incapably, it will likely produce no results other than what we have to day, chaos.

Option (c) is perhaps the only plausible military solution. In a way, it’s providing the stability that Saddam did by suppressing ethnic dissent through very invasive government control. However, it’s hawkish, and will provide terrorist and other sectarian groups with an advantage in recruiting. Terrorism thrives off propaganda. If it can make the State (in this case, the US and the Iraqi government) appear to brutalize the civilian population, terrorism will likely win the recruiting battle, further radicalizing the populous. We've seen this tactics by militant Arab organizations before (Hezbolloh provoking Israel's retaliation of Lebanese civilian population by firing rockets from Lebanese villages). In essence, it would create a situation in which sectarian groups would be able to contort the situation in such a way where the populous is forced to definitely take sides, and I'm not confident Iraqis would make the right choice (for neo-liberals, that would be the US and local Iraqi governments).

Option (d) isn't plausible since it would recognize the failure of democracy as an institution and even more importantly, equality as a governing principle. Five hundred years ago this would have been the de facto policy. Today, it’s an unmentionable idea.

Option (f) is certainly in the right direction. The easy solution to the ever difficult task of creating stability in a fractious multi-ethnic climate is partition. However, there are three fundamental problems which renders this option implausible. (1) The Sunni's will never peacefully accept the Shi'ites possession of what Sunni's considered to be their oil resources. (2) A Kurdish state would destroy US-Turkish relations, and incite Kurdish secessionist movements in Iran, Syria, and Turkey, increasing the possibility of genocide and ethnic cleansing against the Kurdish population. (3) Three small countries such as Sunni-Iraq, Shi'ite Iraq, and Kurdish Iraq will not provide for their own security, leaving them susceptible to each other, and foreign powers seeking to broaden regional influence and institute puppeteer regimes.

Option (g) is far too dovish to be realistic. The UN is has proven itself incapable of effectively resolving armed conflicts, i.e. anywhere in Africa. Its disinterest and inability to act decisively are its most obvious shortcomings. Iran and Syria continue to remain fickle regarding what they want achieved in Iraq (actions are not congruent with rhetoric).

Option (e) seems to be the only viable option. It separates conflicting groups while avoiding the pitfalls of border security, (provided by a central, triparite government), and oil revenues (which are evenly distributed by the same central government). Otherwise, the regions would be completely autonomous from each other. This is by no means an ideal solution. Afterall, none exist. But, it’s by far the most likely to succeed.