S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Watching National Security

The invasion of Iraq in early 2003 was sold to us as a matter of national security. It is now 2008 and the government of Irag is demanding that the U.S. set a timetable for withdrawal of our forces.

What a switch this "national security" development is for the candidates running for the presidency. There is a good analysis of this question from the (8/22/08) Democratic Strategist: Titled, "Tide Turning In, and On, Iraq, it is by Ed Kilgore. To quote a couple of Kilgore's ideas:

The political figure most threatened by it is John McCain, who has violently and consistently opposed any sort of withdrawal timetable on grounds that it would fatally endanger an impending U.S. military "victory" in Iraq.

Barack Obama's reaction to the new deal in Iraq is obviously a big deal in terms of framing his position vis-a-vis McCain's. Here's part of what he said about it:

I am glad that the Administration has finally shifted to accepting a timetable for the removal of our combat troops from Iraq. Success in Iraq depends on an Iraqi government that is reconciling its differences and taking responsibility for its future, and a timetable is the best way to press the Iraqis to do just that. I welcome the growing convergence around this pragmatic and responsible position....

Senator McCain has stubbornly focused on maintaining an indefinite U.S presence in Iraq, but events have made his bluster and record increasingly out of touch with reality. While Senator McCain continues to offer unconditional military and economic support for Iraq, I strongly believe that we need to use our leverage with the Iraqi government to ensure a political settlement. In addition to a timetable, we should only train Iraqi Security Forces if Iraq's leaders reconcile their differences, and we must insist that Iraq invests its $79 billion surplus on rebuilding its own country. It's time to succeed in Iraq and to honor the sacrifice of our servicemen and women by leaving Iraq to a sovereign Iraqi government.

The Iraqis do not need our money; we do. Watching it be spent at the current rate is very demoralizing. Eric Umansky is a great investigator for ProPublica. Here is his (8/21/08) story on why withdrawal from Iraq is so incredibly complicated: "Iraq Fibs on Reconstruction Spending." To quote:

It seems the U.S. and Iraq are nearing a deal for American forces in Iraq. Whether the GIs are staying or going home ($) in the next few years isn't clear (and anyway, these are "aspirational timetables," as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice put it). But security agreements aside, one thing that's increasingly clear is that Iraq isn't exactly mustering its full financial resources to reconstruct the country.

A GAO report released earlier this month concluded that Iraq was basically rolling in the dough. Benefitting from record oil prices, Iraq's budget surplus is estimated to reach near $80 billion by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Iraq's spending on reconstruction projects, the report concluded, has been miserly by comparison. In 2007, the report said, Iraq only actually spent 28 percent of its $12 billion reconstruction budget.

Who is to watch Blackwater? Investigative journalist Matthew Schwarzfeld also writes for ProPublica. He tells us that, as of(8/15/08), "Security Contractors in Iraq Remain Outside the Law." To quote:

Nearing the one-year anniversary of the shooting incident involving Blackwater guards at Baghdad's Nisour Square, State Department security contractors in Iraq continue to operate in a legal vacuum.

Iraqi leaders have continually pushed to revoke the controversial Order 17, passed in the final days of the Coalition Provisional Authority to immunize contractors from Iraqi law. Recent news reports about Iraqi-U.S. negotiations indicate that the Iraqis may prevail. But because of inaction by Congress, the loophole for State Department contractors remains in U.S. law.

Closing the legal loophole that makes prosecuting the Blackwater guards so unlikely -- as illustrated by the Justice Department's public difficulties in finding the legal authority to prosecute guards for last September's Nisour Square shooting -- has proven extremely difficult. Blackwater has said its guards acted only after coming under fire.

Follow the money -- these little tidbits come from my daily newsletter, CQ Behind the Lines. The date is 8/13/08. Quoting a couple of items:

Security-related concerns about Sharia-compliant banking may stem from a lack of understanding, stereotyping and/or a “conflation” of Islamic finance with hawala money transfers, CRS suggests —

. . . An accused North African terror cell rolled up in Italy last weekend allegedly financed ops with collections from phony car accident insurance claims, BBC News relates.

Watching in the name of national security -- For many Americans the best metaphor for what is wrong with the Bush administration's misguided efforts to "keep us safe" is the Terror Watch list. If you remember that is the list from which Teddy Kennedy could not extract himself. An e-mail from Anthony Romero at ACLU weighs on the mess: "Who's next on the watch list?" It includes this interesting opportunity: Take our national security quiz to learn about other frightening national security tools. To quote Romero's letter:

Why is 7-year-old John Anderson from Minneapolis on the national Terrorist Watch List?

1. He pushed Tommy too hard on the playground.
2. His July 4th birthday means he distracts other Americans from celebrating their country.
3. John didn’t pick up the blocks during playtime.

The truth is that we don’t know how he got on the Terrorist Watch List. Or if he can get off it. It took an Act of Congress to get Nelson Mandela, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, off the list.

The watch list is the perfect metaphor because, according to Eric Umansky of ProPublica (8/22/08), the "Terror Watch List [is] Technologically Troubled" To quote:

According to the Wall Street Journal, which details the investigators' findings ($), the current watch list database was built in a rush after 9/11 and uses seriously limited software. For instance, the list can't be searched for keywords. Investigators also concluded that the database doesn't include "potentially vital" messages from the Central Intelligence Agency.

The government is building a new database. But apparently it's not shaping up to be a crackerjack system either. . . . The new database, called "Railhead," was supposed to be completed by the end of the year, but it's hitting delays. Citing a "congressional aide," the Journal says the "government has fired most of the 862 private contractors from dozens of companies working on the Railhead project, and only a skeleton crew remains."

References on national security from my regular contributors:

View my current slide show about the Bush years -- "Millennium" -- at the bottom of this column.

My “creativity and dreaming” post today is at Making Good Mondays.

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