Political MoJo

Where's That Iraqi Army?

| Fri Nov. 18, 2005 12:47 PM EST

Yesterday, Dan Senor and Walter Slocombe, two former CPA officials, wrote a New York Times op-ed defending the Bush administration's decision to disband the Iraqi army in early 2003. It's a bit like having Oliver North write an essay on why using Iran to sell arms to the Contras was actually a pretty clever scheme (oh, hell, it's a bit like hiring Oliver North as a commenter for your news network), but in this case, these two are probably right. Had the U.S. kept Saddam's old army in place in Iraq, it could have very easily alienated the Shiites and Kurds, and in that alternate universe, who knows what kind of insurgency the U.S. may be facing right now.

But that's just to say that the prospects for success in Iraq always looked bleak, and the country isn't a mess now merely because the Bush administration botched the execution. The war hawks certainly did just that—especially when they didn't even bother to plan for the occupation—but even if the planners had done all their homework, "victory" was always a pretty remote possibility, and the real lesson in retrospect is that we should have only invaded if we had to, which we didn't.

On a related note, James Fallows has a good cover story in this month's Atlantic on why the U.S. still hasn't yet created a new army for Iraq yet. Basically, the task hasn't ever been a priority for the administration—it's not sexy enough, apparently, certainly not for Donald Rumsfeld—and for the most part it's not really a glamour job within the military, which means that top officers aren't usually assigned to the job. (Although Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, the guy who helped turn training around in 2004, became something of a mini-celebrity.) Things are going better now, but the training's still too sluggish and new insurgents are cropping up faster than new forces can be trained. As long as the army remains too small, and too unequipped, and too fractured by ethnic and sectarian divisions, there won't be order in Iraq.

So the U.S. needs to either 'magically' figure this problem out, or else it needs to start recognizing that "it has no orderly way out of Iraq, and prepare accordingly." That's the basic logic of it, not overly difficult to grasp, and it was pretty much John Murtha's point when he came out in favor of withdrawal yesterday, although the usual lunatics are accusing him of wanting to "retreat".

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Remember Afghanistan?

| Thu Nov. 17, 2005 9:23 PM EST

Via Patriot Daily, a report from USA Today reveals that U.S. Special Forces soldiers say that a more organized enemy than they faced last year. The report of the 1st Batallion, 3rd Special Forces Group, is that includes the fact that this year in Afghanistan has been the bloodiest since 2001. 87 troops have died, and the insurgency is not about to collapse, as predicted by Army Lt. Gen. David Barno.

This week alone, there were three suicide bombings in Kabul, in which ten people were killed, including one U.S. soldier. U.S. forces are supposed to be significantly reduced next year, when they will be replaced by NATO forces. According to Afghanistan's defense minister, al Qaida has smuggled cash, weapons, and explosives into the country in preparation of an insurgency against the government. He also said that the recent suicide bombings in Afghanistan were done by foreigners.

Children at War

| Thu Nov. 17, 2005 6:21 PM EST

War is on the decline around the world, for the most part. The statistics are here. But that ignores the fact that the conflicts that do still exist are reaching new levels of general gruesomeness. Civilians are much more likely to die in today's wars, limbs are more likely to be hacked off, women are more likely to be raped. And, Caroline Moorehead writes, children are more likely to serve as soldiers

As P.W. Singer points out in his new study, Children at War, child soldiers, some of whom are no older than six, are to be found in three quarters of the world's current fifty or so conflicts. In Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front (RUF), 80 percent of the fighters were aged between seven and fourteen. Twenty thousand children are reported to have served in Liberia's protracted civil wars, and there were many children among Rwanda's génocidaires. As if to make their use more palatable, many of these children were given childlike names. The Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka had a Baby Brigade and called their girl soldiers "Birds of Freedom"; there were "Little Bells" and "Little Bees" in Colombia and "Brave Sprouts" in Myanmar. Saddam Hussein called his child warriors "Lion Cubs."….

If you have recruited and trained so many children —there are now veterans aged fourteen who have far more experience of soldiering than most Western soldiers do—what do you do with them when a conflict ends? Uneducated, lawless, violent, druggy, often infected by venereal disease, these young soldiers are, as one psychiatrist put it, "ticking time-bombs." Reeducation and rehabilitation programs are woefully underfunded and inadequate, and most former child soldiers, unable to go home, either because their home no longer exists or because, as killers, they are no longer welcome there, often have little choice but to live on the streets or seek employment with other rebel forces. Many emerge from these conflicts severely traumatized and suicidal, having been forced to witness and perform acts that they cannot afterward forget. "Some children sit and look at running water and just see blood," an aid worker reported to Human Rights Watch.

Singer estimates that there are some 300,000 child soldiers worldwide, although, as the 2005 Human Security Report notes, this number is over a decade old and has probably decreased somewhat during that time, given that the total number of conflicts has also decreased. Still, it's a problem. Note that it's already illegal to recruit child soldiers; the main problem is that the international community rarely enforces sanctions on countries where child soldiers are used, and doesn't prosecute it as a war crime. You'd think if anything could get people to act, it would be children with AK-47s, but not yet, apparently.

Meanwhile, Moorehead points out that child soldiers exist largely because the global arms trade in light weapons makes it so easy for children to wage war: "You no longer have to be rich enough or strong enough to carry a Kalashnikov: it weighs little more than a small dog and, in parts of Africa at least, costs about the same as a chicken." But there hasn't been much effort to clamp down on that trade, despite calls from Kofin Annan. It's easy to see why. Russia's military-industrial complex is in decline, still has massive excess capacity, and depends (partially) on continued light arms sales to sustain itself; not much interest in regulation there. The American arms industry has never shown much interest in regulating the arms trade either—even in the black market. Not surprisingly, Bush hasn't shown much interest either, but this is one of the major roots of the problem here.

The Gray Area of Torture

Thu Nov. 17, 2005 5:25 PM EST

While a national debate rages over whether the United States should ever torture detainees in its custody, there is still no consensus on what torture actually is. This gray area has allowed the Bush administration to condemn the practice while simultaneously justifying practices that at the very least approach torture. Despite broad evidence to the contrary, President Bush has asserted "we do not torture." But the President's systematic obfuscation of the extent to which his operating definition of torture encompasses the Geneva Conventions' prohibition on "inhumane, degrading and humiliating" actions, misdirects the public debate away from the real issue: Does the US torture?

Goodbye Ted Stevens?

Wed Nov. 16, 2005 2:07 PM EST

Ted Stevens, Republican Senator from Alaska and one of the top porkers in Congress, went berserk in late October when the Senate tried to take $125 million designated for a "Bridge to Nowhere" in Alaska and use it to repair a bridge in New Orleans damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

In addition to calling the move "a threat to every person in the state," Stevens said, "I will put the Senate on notice -- and I don't kid people -- if the Senate decides to discriminate against our state, to take money only from our state, I'll resign from this body."

Now the Sierra Club is reporting that the whole $223 million earmarked for the bridge -- which would link the small town of Ketchikan (pop. approx 7,000) to an island with 50 people -- will still go to Alaska, but not necessarily to the bridge.

Take a stand, Ted Stevens! Resign from this body!

The CIA's Secret Budget

| Wed Nov. 16, 2005 1:23 PM EST

How big is the intelligence budget? Usually we don't know because it's classified. Except this year we do know—it's $44 billion. How do we know? Because someone accidentally let it slip a few days ago:

At a public intelligence conference in San Antonio, Texas, last week, Mary Margaret Graham, a 27-year veteran of the CIA and now the deputy director of national intelligence for collection, said the annual intelligence budget was $44 billion.
Big mistake? No, not at all. That $44 billion number shouldn't have been a secret in the first place. Several former CIA directors have already come out and said that the overall intelligence budget figures should not be classified, that publishing these numbers wouldn't harm national security so long as individual budget items were kept secret. The Brown-Aspin Commission in 1996 concurred. Indeed, from time to time I do wonder why no one ever takes article 1, section 9, clause 7 of the Constitution seriously:
No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.
Yet this statement has obviously never applied to either the Department of Defense or the Central Intelligence Agency. So why don't constitutional orginalists ever start complaining about this? One explanation is that this clause has been violated almost continuously since the country's founding. In 1790, Congress appropriated $40,000 for "intercourse between the U.S. and foreign nations," but didn't require George Washington to account for how he actually spent the money. In 1794, Congress gave the president $1 million in a similar fashion—the money ended up being used as ransom money for American hostages in Algiers. Regardless of how useful these moves were, they were clearly unconstitutional, allowing Congress to decide willy-nilly when and where it gets to spend money without public oversight.

My preference would be to make everything related to intelligence and defense fully public, and carve out exceptions only if absolutely necessary, after long debate. Excessive secrecy has rarely served the country well. Now that the CIA is getting in the business of running a secret network of gulags around the world, and who knows what else, that holds doubly true. But this will never happen, especially since Democrats seem to place a premium on CIA secrecy these days. More realistically, Congress should at least publish overall figures for the intelligence budget and the basic purposes for which they're spent.

Meanwhile, the GAO, the government's auditing arm, still has only limited access to reviewing CIA programs. At the time of the Pike Commission in the early '70s, the agency had no access to any budgetary information whatsoever. Today, the GAO has "broad authority to evaluate CIA programs," but it still faces limitations: it lacks access to the CIA's "unvouchered" accounts, and has no way to "compel" access to foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information. As I said, we're not likely to get sunlight anytime soon, but giving the GAO increased access would be a good start.

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Congress takes back September 11 aid money

| Tue Nov. 15, 2005 9:35 PM EST

For some time now, New York officials have done their best to hold on to $125 million in aid that was originally intended to help cover increased worker compensation costs originating from the September 11 attacks. The city was saving the money to use for the first responders who are likely to develop long-term lung problems from working around the debris, as well as mental health problems from working at the disaster site.

When the White House learned the money had not yet been spent, administration officals decided to try and take it back. The Senate voted to let New York keep the funding, but the House of Representatives did not follow. Senate and house budget negotiators have now decided to take the money back

A week after the September 11 attacks, EPA director Christine Todd Whitman announced to the nation that the air around the World Trade Center was safe to breathe, despite the fact that no one had enough information to make such a statement. In the weeks following the attacks, the Bush administration suppressed warnings by the Environmental Protection Agency that that there were health hazards associated with the toxic debris around the World Trade Center. Later, it was discovered that countless New Yorkers had developed lung problems. It is still unknown what the ultimate effect of the pollution will be, but it is more than reasonable to think that $125 million would help deal with it.

Law and Order

| Tue Nov. 15, 2005 9:33 PM EST

Nathan Newman dredges up a telling little quote from Samuel Alito's 1985 application for some promotion or other. First there's Alito's contention that "the Constitution does not protect the right to an abortion." That's a big deal, obviously, but there's also this:

In college, I developed a deep interest in constitutional law, motivated in large part by disagreement with Warren Court decisions, particularly in the areas of criminal procedure, the Establishment Clause, and reapportionment.
As Nathan points out, by "reapportionment," Alito apparently means he's not happy with the Warren Court's various "one person one vote" decisions (here and here), which prevented state legislatures from drawing up voting districts in such a way that they could pack tens of thousands of urban voters into a single district and then lightly sprinkle hundreds of rural voters into another. These district lines, naturally, were usually drawn up to water down the voting power of African-Americans in the South by cramming them into urban Bantustans. (Some might say the Warren Court didn't go far enough on this score; legislatures are still allowed to count prison populations towards the size of an individual voting district, despite the fact that those prisoners can't actually vote.)

But I'm curious about another part of his statement. What Warren Court decisions concerning "criminal procedure" drew Alito's ire, exactly? Was it Gideon vs. Wainright, ensuring that all Americans must be provided a lawyer if they cannot afford one? Mapp v. Ohio, making evidence that was illegally obtained inadmissible in court? Escobedo v. Illinois, doing the same for evidence obtained by improper interrogations? Would he rather citizens not be informed of their Miranda rights? Does he think the Court took a wrong turn in Hernandez v. Texas when it said that Mexican-Americans could not be excluded from juries? Inquiring minds want to know. For the most part, criminal procedure occupies the majority of the Supreme Court's time, and it would be nice to know what manner of "law and order" justice we're dealing with here.

Alito on Church and State

Tue Nov. 15, 2005 8:14 PM EST

Just days after the quiet town of Dover, Pa. ousted its evangelical school board, which had been intent on infusing its public school curriculum with intelligent design theories, the apparent church-state views of Samuel Alito, Bush's pick for the Supreme Court were revealed in a 1985 application released Monday by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. In the application, Alito described not only his thoroughgoing conservatism, but also how his inspiration to study constitutional law stemmed in part from his opposition to a strong separation of church and state.

The young Alito states in his application, which he submitted to apply for a promotion within the Solicitor General's Office, that he strongly disagreed with church-state precedents forged by the Warren Court (1953-1969), including its famed exclusion of prayer and barring coerced participation in religious activities at public schools. In addition, reflecting upon his as assistantship to Reagan's Solicitor General, Alito remarked that he was "particularly proud" of their work "in which the government has argued…that the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion." Although today Alito discounted his antagonism to Roe v. Wade expressed in his 1985 application, as the statements of "an advocate seeking a job."

In a court already conflicted on matters concerning religious beliefs—such as abortion, and allowing prayer in public schools—Alito's presence could prove decisive, noted Elliott Mincburg of PFAW. While the absence of a paper trail allowed John Roberts to slip through his congressional hearings without divulging his political opinions, Alito's public record paves the way for a probing inquisition into his beliefs. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, told the Washington Times

Past nominees have said they could not discuss these issues for fear of creating a perception of bias. Here, unfortunately, the memo itself creates the perception of bias, and it will be crucial for this nominee to address the issue head-on.

President of PFAW, Ralph G. Neas, noted that "unlike Chief Justice John Roberts, Alito says these are his own strong personal views, and not just those of the administration he was working for."

How Plan B Was Delayed

Tue Nov. 15, 2005 1:46 PM EST

A recent GAO report on the Food and Drug Administration's rejection of Plan B, an over-the-counter morning-after-pill, in 2004 tells the story of how the agency allowed political biases to override its own scientific assessments of the drug.

Conflicting reports suggest that that the FDA might have denied approval of Plan B before scientific tests were even completed. High-ranking FDA officials, including former commissioner Mark McClellan, were involved in the review of Plan B, derailing its passage before even hearing feedback from agency scientists. Investigators found that FDA officials had already stated that approval of Plan B would be rejected months before the decision was made. The Director of the Office of New Drugs, as well as the directors of the reviewing office, refused to sign the final review of the drug application, which had wide-support within the agency.

According to the GAO report, the Acting Director on the application review

was concerned about the potential behavior implications for younger adolescents of marketing Plan B OTC because of their level of cognitive development and that it was invalid to extrapolate data from older to younger adolescents.

However, it continues,

FDA review officials noted that the agency has not considered behavioral implications due to differences in cognitive development in prior OTC switch decisions and that the agency previously has considered it scientifically appropriate to extrapolate date from older to younger adolescents.

Plan B is the only over-the-counter drug denied by the FDA between 1994 and 2004. According to Planned Parenthood experts, expanding access to the drug "could prevent up to 1.7 million unintended pregnancies a year — and 800,000 abortions."

Citing a history of delays and setbacks, Planned Parenthood President Karen Pearl said the GAO report was confirmation that the FDA has put the politics of contraception before women's health. Senators Patty Murray and Hillary Clinton concurred in a statement saying that the report—originally requested by congressional representatives incensed by the 2004 block—"has confirmed what we have always suspected, that this was a politically motivated decision that came down from the highest levels at the F.D.A."

An FDA representative said that the agency stands behind its rejection of Plan B.