Democracy Arsenal

July 06, 2006

Capitol Hill

Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld Debate: Who is a true Conservative?
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

During the Cold War,  foreign policy stopped at the water's edge.  For the most part, elected leaders, in a common cause against an ideological foe, abandoned partisanship to join a united American democratic ideal.  Well, those days are really over.  Late last week the House GOP leadership demonstrated that the water could be a reeking sewer and they'll still take off their shoes and jump right on in.

After last Thursday's  Supreme Court ruling (Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld) that rejected the Bush administration's plan to try Guantanamo detainees before military commissions, Majority Leader Boehner attacked Democrats who-- upon hearing the ruling-- praised the Rule of Law and acknowledged the importance of cautiously moving forward in the realm of post 9/11 international justice.  Boehner and the GOP echo chamber pounced-- accusing the Democrats of wanting "special rights for terrorists" while acknowledging  how this talking point would rally the conservative base for November 06.  Time to take the gloves off. There is a difference between politics and policy.  Congressional conservatives--in a fit of self-hate for their own institution-- are attacking our constitution.  Their disgraceful talking points are a one-two punch-- for in "rallying" their base, they undermine another great American institution as well--the US military.

This breed of politically partisan rhetoric is not "just politics" . There are no exuses for political talking points that rationalize threats to the  foundation of American democracy. True conservatives everywhere should read this interview  by Reagan appointee Bruce Fein as a call to take their party back.

Today's conservatives in power (as opposed to real conservatives)  love to brag about how they value the military, but the truth is they have few military values.

Continue reading "Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld Debate: Who is a true Conservative?" »

June 01, 2006

Capitol Hill

National Security:pre-election Amnesia
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

What a sweet long awaited rejoinder. The Dixie Chicks Album Taking the Long Way debuts at number one on Billboard this week. Hopefully some of those ranters at Townhall will unavoidably have to listen to tunes like "Not Ready to Make Nice" during drivetime radio this week. The song is a reflection on the band's treatment by the scary right in the run up to the Iraq war, when the singers had the audacity to have a critical opinion in public.

Of course, the idea of a critical opinion seems lost on the majority in Congress (that would be its former role: oversight). It appears to be not a worry at all, in fact.  This weekend on Fox News, Senate Majority Leader Frist had an opportunity to discuss all matter of important national security issues, like why the Department of Homeland Security is cutting funding for the two most at-risk cities in the USA: Washington, DC and New York, and kicks New Orleans in the shins as well. Nope, he chose instead to talk about those huge security risks gays and flag burning.  Obviously, Rove has settled into his comfy post-White House job of re-hashing Republican talking points for the next 5 months.   

For a reality check must read: the email exchange between DoD Press Operative Larry DiRita and veteran war correspondent Joe Galloway, which took place earlier this month. Here's a sample of one Galloway response to DiRita:

the question is what sort of an army are your bosses going to leave behind as their legacy in 2009? one that is trained, ready and well equipped to fight the hundred-year war with islam that seems to have begun with a vengeance on your watch? or will they leave town and head into a golden retirement as that army collapses for lack of manpower, lack of money to repair and replace all the equipment chewed up by iraq and afghanistan, lack of money to apply to fixing those problems because billions were squandered on weapons systems that are a ridiculous legacy of a Cold War era long gone (viz. the f/22, the osprey, the navy's gold plated destroyers and aircraft carriers and, yes, nuclear submarines whose seeming future purpose is to replace rubber zodiac boats as the favorite landing craft of Spec Ops teams, at a cost of billions) meanwhile the pentagon, at the direction of your boss, marches rapidly ahead with deployment of an anti-missile system whose rockets have yet to actually get out of the launch tubes. at a cost of yet more multiple billions.

Amen, Joe.  And check out the 2006 Unified Security Budget. (full disclosure, I was on the task force) It suggests trade-off behefits within national security spending (including critical infrastructure, public health and Army stability ops) by reducing the funding for these Cold War relics.  Think Fox news might want a copy?  nah.....

May 04, 2006

Capitol Hill

Money where it Matters: Congress Continues to Fail
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

I've been travelling back and forth from New York this week--most recently up to Cornell University, where the Peace Studies program is collaborating with West Point, figuring out ways to draw more faculty activity on new security issues.

The theme that came up repeatedly (typical of nearly all discussions of Iraq but post 9/11 policy more generally) is over-militarization of our international policy across the imbalance that will be made even worse this year with a defense budget approaching a trillion dollars (when the war spending is included).

No doubt frustrated by Congress' unwillingness to remedy the shortage on the civilian side, Senator Warner (R, VA) chair of the Armed Services Commmittee, sent the following letter mid-March to all Cabinet Secretaries aside from DoD plus a handful of other offices. (excerpted)

Continue reading "Money where it Matters: Congress Continues to Fail" »

February 23, 2006

Capitol Hill

Missing the Boat on Port Security
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

For the first time, it seems, the adroit operatives of the Bush Administration have landed in the middle of the intersection of politics and policy--and now know what it feels like to be T-boned by a truck.  Make that a sea-faring vessel.  The sale of six US ports to an Arab company has both  Republicans and Democrats doing cartwheels while hyperventilating while watching their 06 poll numbers.

This is not a wise nor a measured response.  In contrast, it is lazy and opportunistic and does nothing to address the overriding challenge of achieving port security.  Instead of educating the public about needed policy reforms, such posturing scares Americans and brings out the worse kind of isolationism. There's a pattern here. Remember last year, when Congress blocked the sale of American company  UNOCAL to a Chinese buyer but said nothing about our wacky budget and the fact that China owns billions and billions of US debt?  Well, the ports sale goes into the same easy political in-box: If Congress screams enough about selling American property to Arabs, maybe nobody will notice the fact that five years after 9/11 we still don't have a well-funded and comprehensive port security plan.  At least the President has something in mind, the National Strategy for Maritime Security. Congress, meanwhile, is so stingy with the Coast Guard that the agency can't live up to its own congressional mandated port security duties.

Continue reading "Missing the Boat on Port Security" »

January 17, 2006

Capitol Hill

Getting the Hill Abroad
Posted by Derek Chollet

A few months ago, when the DeLay-Abramoff scandal first broke, I wrote here with concern about the ramifications that these criminal acts might have on something that is entirely legitimate, and in my view, absolutely necessary – travel overseas by members of Congress or their staffs that is sponsored, organized and paid for by outside groups.

Now before the howls start (again), I don’t mean the Scottish golfing junkets or warm water resort research during the winter months.  I’m talking about the trips to policy conferences, meetings with leaders and analysts, and study tours that hundreds of think tanks and advocacy groups arrange and sponsor for members of Congress and Hill staffers. 

Many – most – of these are perfectly legitimate.  The reason so many turn to these trips is because the alternative – taxpayer-funded official travel – has traditionally been even more politically unpalatable.  In fact, outside of those who work on any of the relevant foreign affairs and security committees, travel paid for officially is almost unthinkable. 

We should all want Congress and their staffs to be more informed about the world and the challenges we face.  At a moment when so many justifiably lament the breakdown of legislative oversight in national security, it would be a mistake to do anything but promote more Congressional travel.  Yet what’s happening now is completely predictable: both Democrats and Republicans are racing to propose legislation that would prohibit all outside-funded travel.

If this were to happen without any remedy—like some kind of new official fund to support travel -- I think this would damage both Congress and American foreign policy generally.

An even more worthwhile idea was floated last weekend by former Colorado Congressman David Skaggs.  He suggests creating a private non-profit group, led by a board of former Secretaries of State and Defense, military and Congressional leaders, that would draft guidelines (with public input through hearings) to define whether a trip served a legitimate purpose or was properly financed.  This organization then would offer to review proposed travel by members or their staffs to judge whether they complied with these standards.  This process would be transparent and voluntary, but if implemented, Skaggs correctly points out that it would soon be a political necessity as officials would be worried about traveling without the good housekeeping stamp of approval.   

Sounds like a very good idea, and perhaps even a project that an existing bipartisan group dedicated to promoting national security, like Partnership for a Secure America, might consider taking on.

December 22, 2005

Capitol Hill

Caribou best Conservatives!
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Heather's polling comments demonstrate that the public is figuring out that they've been snookered. Although Bush's personal approval gained some ground back, Americans remain dubious about the war.  I wager that his higher personal raings will prove temporary and soon rejoin the Iraq numbers.

A Lakoff  inspired reflection: The interesting part about GW's poll numbers is how well the conservatives  control their narrative.  The victory language combined with Bush's personal appeal is a tonic for his political base.  Yet conservatives-like any good storytellers--depend on messenger credibility for staying power.  President Bush explicitly depends on his believability as a messenger who reflects strong and decisive leadership.  The public has let him slide on other flaws because this one perception is decisive.  This perception was damaged by Katrina and is being inexorably eroded by Iraq.  Even several speeches in a week won't reverse the nagging sense among Americans that we've been had.

The Republican party is developing interesting fissures...Now, it appears that not even
accusations of being "soft" on defense can keep the party in line.  Here is an Intriguing list of Republicans who voted against the Defense Appropriations conference agreement, something not done lightly.  This year 16 Republicans voted against it, undoubtedly related to the addition of the provision to drill in the Arctic Refuge.  The final vote was 308 yeas, 106 nays and 2
voting present.  Last year the conference report passed 410 to 12.

Republicans voting no in 2005:

Johnson (CT)
Johnson (IL)
Paul (he always votes against it, as he does against most spending bills)
Smith (NJ)

This is a sure sign of nervousness.

November 17, 2005

Capitol Hill

Seismic Shift in Congress on Iraq
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Murtha is the grandfather of security issues for the Democrats. He is a former Marine, a Vietnam Vet and generally conservative on defense issues.
"I believe before the Iraqi elections, scheduled for mid December, the Iraqi people and the emerging government must be put on notice that the United States will immediately redeploy.  All of Iraq must know that Iraq is free.  Free from United States occupation."
November 17, 2005

The Honorable John P. Murtha: War in Iraq

(Washington D.C.)- The war in Iraq is not going as advertised.  It is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion.  The American public is way ahead of us.   The United States and coalition troops have done all they can in Iraq, but it is time for a change in direction.  Our military is suffering.  The future of our country is at risk.  We can not continue on the present course.   It is evident that continued military action in Iraq is not in the best interest of the United States of America, the Iraqi people or the Persian Gulf Region. 

General Casey said in a September 2005 Hearing, “the perception of occupation in Iraq is a major driving force behind the insurgency.”  General Abizaid said on the same date, “Reducing the size and visibility of the coalition forces in Iraq is a part of our counterinsurgency strategy.” 
For 2 ½ years I have been concerned about the U.S. policy and the plan in Iraq.  I have addressed my concerns with the Administration and the Pentagon and have spoken out in public about my concerns.  The main reason for going to war has been discredited.  A few days before the start of the war I was in Kuwait – the military drew a red line around Baghdad and said when U.S. forces cross that line they will be attacked by the Iraqis with Weapons of Mass Destruction – but the US forces said they were prepared.  They had well trained forces with the appropriate protective gear. 

Continue reading "Seismic Shift in Congress on Iraq" »

October 27, 2005

Capitol Hill

A Budget for Halloween
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

With indictments imminent, DC is very jumpy these days--giving everything the John Stewart-esque-Halloween glow of wacky, ironic foolishness.  In this spirit, I will now proceed to link the DDX destroyer and genocide in the Sudan.

But first a little background.   I grew up in the Berkeley Hills--the original nuclear free zone--where we painted peace doves on the walls in elementary school and figured out ways to hide Salvadoran refugees during the pot lucks at church.  When I was 12, my single parented family moved to Northern New Mexico, where big letters on the way into my new hometown read "Roll Your Own Ammo" and little signs linking the United Nations with satan popped up like baby tumbleweeds on the median. Ah, the 1970's. We went from nuclear family to nuclear fallout in 14 months. 

None of this stuff mattered at age 12 because I soon got a pony.  I do however, think it gave me an ability to rationalize contradictions.  But this skill,  for the life of me,  fails to help me understand the priorities of our elected leaders these days.

I've been wandering around town all week thinking about a discussion on the Sudan that I participated in on Monday.  Discussion leaders included both American humanitarians as well as Sudanese citizens.  Mostly, we covered the African Union  mission presently ongoing in the Sudan (called AMIS). It is a ceasefire monitoring mission now 1.5 years old.  Here is a new ICG report on it. The speakers had  just returned from the Sudan and reported that this mission is under serious stress.   The AMIS soldiers are being shot at  and kidnapped and even killed. The government is not providing security.  The government btw, has AK 47s, artillery and  attack helicopters. AMIS has a few RPGs and rifles.  The monitoring soldiers from 5 different African nations patrol in toyota pickup trucks.  Canada has  recently given 105 armored vehicles--which is generous--but split between  64 teams it is spread thin. This mission  is being tested by roaming violent gangs and the Sudanese government, the speakers believed.  They don't have enough wherewithal nor the mandate to enforce stability.   

The AMIS mission is  like a  trip-wire. It is symbolic. The numbers of soldiers is so small that its most important effect is the show of resolve.   It is a vital test-drive of international willingness to stand for something.  We are not only letting them down, we're missing out on an opportunity to blaze the trail on behalf of early warning and response--key policies for combatting terrorism.

I was thinking about this talk today, as I walked through the Capitol South metro station on my way up to the Hill.  Metro stations are full of large advertisements. This fall,  the defense bills have been wending their way through committees.  Hence fighter planes, guns,submarines and lots of gadet laden soldiers float along the walls of most DC metro stations like an X-box dream menu.  Capitol South had a nautical theme. ....

Continue reading "A Budget for Halloween" »

October 09, 2005

Capitol Hill

Bludgeoning Democracy
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

We won the vote before we lost it.

If anybody thought that Delay's demise might reveal a more deliberative, responsible Congress then guess again.  On Friday afternoon, the hooting on Capitol Hill could be heard from the House Floor and throughout the halls of the Rayburn House Office Building as the majority leadership once again torpedoed democratic deliberation.

The so called   "Barton Bill"  (HR 3893) was brought to vote ostensibly to help reconstruction in the wake of hurricane Katrina.  But this thoughtless boondoggle instead actually damages prospects for security and public health.  It is full of failed policies that didn't make it into the energy bill passed earlier this year.

Policy zombies, excavated from the oil and gas industry talking points graveyard-now live to haunt us once again.  Let's hope the populist dictators of Central Asia and Latin America aren't CSPAN geeks. It would be awful if they decided to emulate us these days.  This vote was held open by the frazzled looking Rep. Michael Simpson despite the fact that all members present had voted, and the bill had lost.  210 yeas, 212 nays.  Yet no gavel fell.  The only possible reason to keep a vote open like this--when every vote has been cast-- is for the majority to dragoon Members, twist their thumbs, and make them return and change their vote to the leadership's liking.  I have no idea what actually happened.  But somehow, with the anti-democratic over-time, the bill squeaked by.

The good part here was that the minority fought back, vocally, and with parliamentary inquiries.  Members of Congress, Bernie Sanders, Barney Frank, John Dingell and Nancy Pelosi, among others, didn't let this abusive behavior go unremarked.   The minority is feeling its oats.  Hopefully it is the start of a trend.

October 06, 2005

Capitol Hill

Avian Flu: Steep Learning Curve for Congress
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

On Monday, I was visiting a friend  in the House of Representatives--where approximately half of the staff are walking on sunshine and the other half have the sickly look of a pithed biology frog who knows what's coming (those would be the Republicans)  As I sat in the front office, I chatted with the receptionist intern. Hill interns have a much more mundane existence than their counterparts in other branches of government.  They spend a lot of time receiving and opening mail.  Although it's nothing compared to an impeachment trial, this job has become an above average thrill since the anthrax attacks during 2001-2002.  All Capitol Hill mail is now irradiated--the crispy yellow pages and nuked envelope paste adds to the excitement of what lies beneath the letter knife.

Anyway,  while sitting there, I noticed the intern open a pack of wall posters from the Center for Technology and National Security Policy at National Defense University.  They were handsome, instructive public health posters about how to  recognize bird flu and what to do about it.  My mom is a public health nurse, so I looked at them covetously and then watched with dismay as-- PLOP-- they went into the garbage can.   He then moved on to open a stack of boxes, each of which contained several  300 page hardbound volumes entitled "Ronald Reagan: Late a President of the United States"  The books were the  compiled memorial tributes delivered in Congress last June upon the death of Reagan, published by the Government  Printing Office. I noticed there were far too many to be of use in one office.  Maybe China will accept some as barter on our debt.

But back to the avian flu.  Throwing the posters into the trash  pretty much symbolizes how Congress has responded to new security issues since the end of the Cold War.  Global threats in particular just don't fit into the antique structure of Congress, and because they don't fit into the jurisdictions of existing committees, they fall between the cracks. This is particularly true of  trans-national security issues.  Such toics--like avian flu-- cross more than one committee's interests.  If you were to narrow it down,  the committees that handle security are primarily foreign relations and defense.  In Hill speak, the defense issues are handled by the HASC and the SASC.  The foreign relations by the HIRC and SFRC.   These oversight plans and jurisdictions are instructive.  The foreign relations plans are pages and pages long.  The armed services jurisdictions and oversight plans are quite a bit shorter, especially in the Senate where it is one paragraph plus change.  These descriptions don't reflect the fact that the military is involved in just about every important foreign policy issue that exists today.  Lots and lots of issues don't get their full measure of attention because they don't "fit".

I attended the Princeton Project on National Security conference last week along with Suzanne. On Friday,  a happy yelp arose amidst the gathering as one participant announced that the Senate passed legislation on Thursday to add $4 billion to fight avian flu.  This money was tacked onto the defense appropriations bill for 2006.  Now, I think that's great, but why can't we fund a solid and generous public health system like most normal countries?  Countries where public health is a high priority are far better prepared and defended against global pandemics and biological terrorism. Why does avian flu only get the urgency it deserves on a defense bill during wartime?  Something is wrong with this picture.

On a progressive note, check out the House Armed Services site on Committee Defense Review  This panel of Members convenes on a parallel track to the official committee hearings in order to bring up all sorts of new threats and security challenges.  It is bipartisan and, as Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher says, a chance to  "look at what challenges we're confronting rather than weapons programs we want to advance."  Fine words and an auspicious start.

p.s. I rescued the posters from the trash and now they are featured in several Washington offices. I also have a book of Reagan speeches.

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