Political MoJo

Castro to CIA: "Beep! Beep!"

| Thu Aug. 3, 2006 2:26 PM EDT

Apparently the exploding cigars were just the beginning. The U.S. has tried to kill Fidel Castro 638 times, or so says one of his former security guys. Many of the plans—which might have been taken from the reject pile of Wile E. Coyote—never got off the drawing board, like this classic:


Knowing his fascination for scuba-diving off the coast of Cuba, the CIA at one time invested in a large volume of Caribbean molluscs. The idea was to find a shell big enough to contain a lethal quantity of explosives, which would then be painted in colours lurid and bright enough to attract Castro's attention when he was underwater.

Now that its bivalve budget has been slashed, I assume the CIA has moved on from trying to off Fidel. But as it goes after our current crop of international enemies, you have to wonder what kind of half-baked, brilliant-in-their-stupidity kind of ideas it's been tossing around. Why do I have a hunch that someone in Langley is desperately trying to find out Osama bin Laden's favorite candy bar?

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Lessons from Cuba: Why Sanctions Don't Work

| Thu Aug. 3, 2006 2:13 PM EDT

In addition to recognizing that a Cuba-esque policy won't work in Syria, Jacob Weisberg writes that it probably won't work in Iran either. Weisberg is writing specifically about the futility of imposing sanctions on dictatorial regimes, but his argument begins with the same basic premise—namely, that a policy which has failed to effect change in Cuba for 46 years and counting probably isn't a great policy.

By applying economic restraints, we label the most oppressive and dangerous governments in the world pariahs. We wash our hands of evil, declining to help despots finance their depredations, even at a cost to ourselves of some economic growth. We wincingly accept the collateral damage that falls on civilian populations in the nations we target. But as the above list of countries suggests, sanctions have one serious drawback. They don't work.

Nothing like an ailing Communist dictator over whom we have no influence whatsoever to remind us what constitutes productive diplomatic strategy.

"Senator Lieberman's campaign bus seems to be stuck in reverse."

| Thu Aug. 3, 2006 1:26 PM EDT

Reverse Joe-mentum! AP reports:

Millionaire businessman Ned Lamont opened a double-digit lead over veteran Sen. Joe Lieberman less than a week before Connecticut's Democratic primary, raising the possibility that the three-term senator may have to run as an independent in November, a new poll released Thursday shows. ...

"Senator Lieberman's campaign bus seems to be stuck in reverse," poll director Douglas Schwartz said. "Despite visits from former President Bill Clinton and other big-name Democrats, Lieberman has not been able to stem the tide to Lamont." ...

The poll, however, indicated that Lamont's support is in large part a backlash: 65 percent of Lamont supporters said their vote is mainly against Lieberman. Schwartz said he had never seen a race where an incumbent has stirred up such negativity within his own party.

"Kill all military-age males..."

| Thu Aug. 3, 2006 1:25 PM EDT

It was only a week ago that John Podhoretz wondered if the big tactical mistake we made in Iraq was that we didn't kill enough Sunnis in the early going to intimidate them." As he put it: "Wasn't the survival of Sunni men between the ages of 15 and 35 the reason there was an insurgency and the basic cause of sectarian violence now?"

And now the New York Times reports today: "Four American soldiers from an Army combat unit that killed three Iraqis in a raid in May testified Wednesday that they had received orders from superior officers to kill all the military-age men they encountered." Anyone who thinks that excessive bloodhsed is the "solution" to Iraq should read this post by Dan Nexon. Just because the Roman Empire could be maintained through genocide doesn't mean the American empire can. The horrific possibility is that some military officers may be starting to think along the same lines as Podhoretz. Which is another indication, if we needed one, that there's absolutely no reason to stay in Iraq any longer.

EPA: An Unknown Risk is an Acceptable Risk

| Thu Aug. 3, 2006 3:32 AM EDT

So there are about 82,000 industrial chemicals in use today. For 2,800 of those, industry has submitted--voluntarily, mind you--data on potential dangers to human health to the EPA. The remaining 79,200 are... a disaster waiting to happen? Something we really ought to look into more? Let's go now to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (chair: James "Global Warming is a Hoax" Imhofe) hearing on the Toxic Substances Control Act, covered by almost no one except the LA Times' invaluable Marla Cone, for a live update:


When asked by Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-New Jersey) if all 82,000 chemicals on the market were safe, [EPA Assistant Administrator James B. Gulliford] said, "Their risks to human health and the environment are acceptable."

Any questions?

In Iraq, No Troop Withdrawal in Sight

| Wed Aug. 2, 2006 8:44 PM EDT

More troops, not less, are in the offing:

According to U.S. Army officials, the withdrawal of troops from war-rattled Iraq has been delayed for four more months past their scheduled departure. The news came as U.S. President George W. Bush agreed to send more U.S. troops into Baghdad to curb the sectarian violence there….

The Pentagon also identified four other additional Army and Marine Corps units consisting of about 25,000 troops due to deploy to Iraq in the future, enough to maintain the U.S. force at about 130,000 troops for a year.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Blair's Cabinet in Open Revolt

Wed Aug. 2, 2006 7:48 PM EDT

The Guardian reported over the weekend that Blair's cabinet is in "open revolt" over his support for Israel's invasion of Lebanon, revealing for the first time that "at a cabinet meeting before Blair left for last Friday's Washington summit with President George Bush, minister after minister pressed him to break with the Americans and publicly criticise Israel over the scale of death and destruction."

Blair's apparent attempt in a speech yesterday to "change the language as well as the nature" of the war without mitigating his support for Israel's actions, however, does not appear to have done the trick. In a follow-up piece today, The Guardian said that by the time Blair returned to England, three days after the Qana massacre, there was even more anger at his policy: "A former Labour minister, Joan Ruddoch, claimed the party was 'in despair' at the position the prime minister had taken and Ann Clywd, the chair of the parliamentary party, said that the 'vast majority' of his Labour backbenchers wanted a ceasefire." Such strident protests from within Blair's own party are surprising, even given the results of last week's poll showing that over 63 percent of Britons think Blair has tied his country too closely with the U.S. and ought to distance itself (only 54 percent of Labour Party voters agreed).

Our "Cuba" Policy Has Failed... Even in Syria

| Wed Aug. 2, 2006 6:30 PM EDT

Now that Fidel Castro's wavering health has brought the issue of America's Cuba policy to the public stage once again, the parallels with other areas of U.S. foreign policy are more obvious than ever. Consider this analysis published today in The Miami Herald, under the heading, "U.S. Isolation Policy Leaves Few Options:"

[Some] Cuba analysts say the U.S. policy of aggressively isolating Castro through economic sanctions means Washington will be forced to play a secondary role in a post-Castro period…. Under the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, the U.S. government cannot lift many of the sanctions against Cuba without congressional approval until Havana declares its intention to hold free elections and release political prisoners, among other conditions.

'"Our strategy is to enter the game in the ninth inning and to tell the Cubans they are on their own until then,'' said Phil Peters, a Cuba expert with the conservative Lexington Institute, an Arlington, Va., think tank.

Now consider what Thomas Friedman said earlier that morning on NPR. "If you're not going to go to war but you really need [a given country's cooperation], and you're just going to adopt this aggressive verbal stance and some economic sanctions, then you have the worst of all worlds." Sound familiar? But Friedman wasn't talking about Cuba—he was talking about Syria. The result of such a policy, he continued, is that now "you have a hostile Syria but it's not afraid of you and therefore you have no real leverage, and that seems to me to be the penumbra that we're in right now vis-à-vis Syria. And I don't see it serving anyone right now."

Cuba is no Syria, obviously, but it is also no closer to democracy than it was when we first imposed sanctions back in 1960. And there are other important similarities: the U.S. government has castigated and disengaged with both countries largely at the behest of a single, well-organized lobby in Washington, despite no evidence that either policy has produced the desired results.

As Flynt Leverett, a former CIA official and author of Inheriting Syria, told a Brookings Institute audience last year, "I think there is a better way to achieve American policy objectives… It's not rocket science. It's sticks and carrots. In a previous era, we used to call it diplomacy." Of course, he didn't mean "Cuban diplomacy."

Why Can't Congress Telecommute?

| Wed Aug. 2, 2006 5:46 PM EDT

Via Ezra Klein, Michelle Cottle reports that, nowadays, members of Congress are expected to maintain homes in their districts and keep their spouses and children there, so as not to appear "out of touch" with the constituents. Naturally, this places a strain on the family life, since it's difficult to constantly shuttle between the Capitol and the home district all the time. The geographic split also forces Congress to shorten its legislative calendar to three days a week, so that representatives can race home to campaign and fundraise and maybe catch up with the kids. Everyone involved is miserable.

Well, here's a radical idea. Technology can do a lot of cool things these days. Among them is teleconferencing. I see no reason why every single member of Congress can't just live in his or her respective district all the time and telecommute to work. They can ask insipid questions at committee hearings and avoid reading lengthy bills just as easily from afar as they can from Washington. This way, they can spend more time with their constituents and their families. And as an added bonus, it would make things much more difficult for lobbyists, who would have to fly to 435 different districts to do their dirty work.

As a triple bonus, if we had publicly-financed elections, representatives could spend even less time fundraising and spending hours on the phone with potential donors, and could spend even more time with their families. Sounds good to me.

UPDATE: Hmm… this could be harder than I thought. Apparently there's a rather insidious anti-teleconferencing bias lurking in Washington: "Nearly two-thirds of U.S. government employees haven't been allowed to telecommute even after the U.S. Congress has established penalties for agencies that don't allow telework options, according to a survey released this week."

Israel, a "Strategic Ally"?

| Wed Aug. 2, 2006 5:08 PM EDT

It seems entirely bizarre to me that debates over the shape of U.S. policy towards Israel often hinge on the question of what the best thing for Israel would be. But shouldn't these policy debates hinge on what policy would be best for, you know, the United States? You'd think so, but no.

Anyway, John Judis has a good column in The New Republic today noting that, for the past forty years or so, U.S. policy towards Israel has basically swung between two polar stances: one that seeks to broker peace between Israel and its neighbors, pursued by Carter, Clinton, and Bush the elder; and one that regards Israel as a "strategic ally," as pursued by Ronald Reagan and President Psychopath. The former course appears better for U.S. interests, while Israeli officials often prefer the latter. But Judis points out that the "honest broker" role has actually been better for Israel, as well:

Of course, many Israeli officials prefer an American administration that regards Israel as a strategic ally to one that places a priority on brokering peace between Israel and its adversaries. But the United States and Israel have both fared better when an American administration has tried to broker peace. Carter oversaw the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt—to Israel's enormous benefit. Support from George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton contributed to the Oslo agreements and to a peace treaty between Israel and Jordan in October 1994. This strategy doesn't presume apocalyptical change; instead, it assumes that over decades, Israel could become integrated economically, if not politically, into the Middle East and that former adversaries could co-exist peacefully, if not happily.

In conceiving Israel as a strategic asset, Reagan didn't necessarily hope for a "new Middle East." He was more concerned with winning the cold war with the Soviet Union. But nonetheless, Reagan's embrace of Israel and abandonment of the role of honest broker saw the war in Lebanon (which proved to be an enormous disaster for Israel), the founding of Hezbollah and Hamas, the first terrorist attacks by Islamic groups against the United States and Israel, and the first intifada.

George W. Bush still has two-and-a-half years to go, but so far, his strategy toward Israel has seen the escalation of the second intifada (which began in the last year of the Clinton administration), the eclipse of Arafat's Fatah by the more radical Hamas, and now a two-front war in Gaza and southern Lebanon that is unlikely to achieve the results that the United States and Israel have hoped for.

Indeed, it now appears that we're about to help our "strategic ally" straight into yet another disastrous occupation of southern Lebanon, and there's no end in sight. With friends like these, etc. It's often said that shadowy lobbying groups like AIPAC have convinced the United States to abandon its self-interest in order to make things better for Israel. Perhaps the real scandal, though, is that we're not actually making things better for Israel.