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“Cleaning Up The Last Bush/Cheney Mess”: There Is Almost Never A Way To Do So That Pleases Everyone

One of the sad realities of the Obama presidency is that he and his administration have had to spend so much of their time cleaning up messes that were left by Bush and Cheney. I won’t try to capture all of them, but two wars in the Middle East, an economy careening towards a second Great Depression and exploding federal deficits are the three big ones. When President Obama titled his 2015 State of the Union Address “Turning the Page,” a lot of what he was saying is that his administration was finally ready to move on from most of that.

But one intransigent mess lingers on…the prison Bush/Cheney built in Guantanamo, Cuba. President Obama is determined to close Gitmo before his term ends and the White House has been clear that they are drafting a plan to do so.

This week right wing media sites have gone a bit berserk over the fact that two more detainees have been released. The first was the man who was reported to be Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard.

The former detainee, Abdul Rahman Shalabi, 39, is from Saudi Arabia, and he was one of 32 Middle Eastern men who were captured by the Pakistani military along the Afghanistan border in December 2001 and turned over to the United States. He was among the first batch of detainees taken to the prison when it opened at the American naval station in Cuba on Jan. 11, 2002.

Second was the last of several British residents and citizens who have been held at Gitmo.

The Obama administration has notified Congress of its intent to send Shaker Aamer, a suspected al-Qaeda plotter held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for more than 13 years, back to Britain, yielding to a lengthy campaign to secure the British resident’s release, officials said Friday.

For a status update on where things stand with closing Gitmo, the New York Times has some helpful graphs. Of the 771 detainees who have been held there, 657 have been released and 114 remain. Of the 53 who have been cleared for release but are still there, 43 are from Yemen. The Obama administration has been reluctant to repatriate detainees to Yemen due to the chaos that currently exists in that country. Ten detainees have either been convicted or await trial. Finally, as a testament to how badly the Bush/Cheney administration handled all this, the remaining 51 have been recommended for indefinite detention without a trail – mostly due to the fact that evidence has been tainted by their treatment (read: torture).

In December of last year, Pope Francis offered to help the Obama administration in their efforts to close Gitmo. This is very likely one of the topics he and the President discussed in their one-on-one meeting this week. I would assume that the Vatican might be most helpful in working with countries to provide alternatives for the 53 who have been cleared for release. No matter how controversial plans for that might be, you can be sure that whatever President Obama proposes to do with the remaining detainees (10 convicted/awaiting trail and 51 to be indefinitely detained), there will be howls from both sides of the political spectrum. The left will suggest that they shouldn’t be held at all and the right will complain because President Obama’s likely solution will be to move them to a maximum security prison(s) in the United States.

I will simply say that one of the problems that is endemic to cleaning up your predecessors messes is that there is almost never a way to do so that pleases everyone. Nothing more ably demonstrates that than Gitmo. Perhaps the one thing that everyone can agree with is that President Obama deserves some credit for his determination to not leave this one to the next president.


By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, September 27, 2015

September 30, 2015 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, Congress, GITMO | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Hollow Words In Airports”: Today’s All-Volunteer Military Has Been Robbed Of The Sense Of Shared Sacrifice And National Purpose

I don’t know exactly when the habit of civilians publicly thanking uniformed military personnel “for your service” caught on. But as a painful but very informative feature story by David Zucchino and David Cloud of the L.A. Times on the increasing rift between military and non-military cultures illustrates, it’s not making things better:

“We glorify the military in this country in a way that’s really weird,” said Eric Harmeling, 21, a Carrboro [NC]-area resident who often argues with his father, a politically conservative minister, about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “It’s like the Roman legions…. It’s like we’re being told to kneel down and worship our heroes.”

That’s not the way military personnel and recent veterans see things:

The military-civilian divide is not marked by particular animosity or resentment on the civilian side. In airports and restaurants, civilians thank men and women in uniform for their service. They cheer veterans at ballgames and car races.

What most don’t realize is how frequently such gestures ring hollow.

“So many people give you lip service and offer fake sympathy. Their sons and daughters aren’t in the military, so it’s not their war. It’s something that happens to other people,” said Phillip Ruiz, 46, a former Army staff sergeant in Tennessee who was wounded twice during three tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Douglas Pearce, a former Army lieutenant who fought in Afghanistan and is now a marriage and family counselor in Nashville, said civilians seem to think they “can assuage their guilt with five seconds in the airport.”

“What they’re saying is, ‘I’m glad you served so that I didn’t have to, and my kids won’t have to.'”

Ironically, during the era of mass conscription there wasn’t nearly as much of a brouhaha:

George Baroff, enjoying an outdoor lunch at an organic food co-op in Carrboro one recent afternoon, said he understood the military quite well: He served three years as a draftee during World War II before eventually becoming a psychology professor in nearby Chapel Hill.

Baroff, 90, finds himself startled when people learn of his war record and say, as Americans often do to soldiers these days, “Thank you for your service.”

“You never, ever heard that in World War II. And the reason is, everybody served,” he said.

In Baroff’s view, today’s all-volunteer military has been robbed of the sense of shared sacrifice and national purpose that his generation enjoyed six decades ago. Today’s soldiers carry a heavier burden, he said, because the public has been disconnected from the universal responsibility and personal commitment required to fight and win wars.

So what’s the answer to this growing rift between a “warrior class” that never feels really appreciated and a citizenry engaged in hollow gestures of support? Bring back the draft?

I don’t think so, though some truly robust national service program would not hurt.

What civilians truly owe to the military is consistent material support for veterans–particularly those injured in combat or for the families of those who perished–and a sustained effort to ensure lives are not unnecessarily put at risk in wars big or small that aren’t worth supporting or even knowing about. It may seem kind of obvious to many of us that you do not “support the troops” by sending them into the wrong conflicts with the wrong mission and the wrong leadership. But unfortunately, a lot of people think glorifying warfare itself is the best way to honor our surrogate warriors–along with hollow words in airports.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, may 21, 2015

May 26, 2015 Posted by | Civilians, U. S. Armed Forces, U. S. Military | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Moment Of Respect”: Make Time For Memorial Day’s True Purpose

I have no idea where I will be at 3 p.m. Monday, when a national moment of remembrance takes place, but Memorial Day will be very much on my mind.

Monday is the day to pause and give a moment of respect to those who, regardless of race, religion, gender, national origin or sexual orientation, served, fought and died in behalf of our nation.

Hopefully, time to remember can be found in the din of holiday sales pitches.

“Memorial Day returns May 25. Until then, check back daily for more ways to save,” says the Wal-Mart Web site. “7 Memorial Day Sales You Won’t Want to Miss,” reads a headline in U.S. News & World Report’s Money section. “Chevy Memorial Day Sale, 15% off cash back.” “Memorial Day Sales 2015 —”

And then there are all those cookouts and barbecues. Will there be any time to pay tribute?

Let’s hope so. Because as we bustle about in hot pursuit of those sales and bargains, and as we gather all that food to cook for the family gathering, it’s worth remembering that American men and women are embroiled in wars fought far from our shores. Their lives could be claimed. They could end up in the graves that get decorated next May with flowers and flags. Next year’s prayers could be recited for them. Parades could take place in their honor.

Next summer’s beginning could be marked with their remembrance.

I’m part of a long line of men in my family to have served in the U.S. military. My great-grandfather, Isaiah King of New Bedford, Mass., was with Company D of the 5th Massachusetts (Colored) Cavalry during the Civil War. My uncles, Marshall Colbert and Robert Colbert, were soldiers in World War I and World War II, respectively. My younger brother, Cranston, was an Air Force captain. And I was an active-duty Army officer from 1961 to 1963. My relatives and I aren’t among the countless number of men and women who died in service to their country. But we all proudly wore the uniform, even though the home front wasn’t always very kind.

My great-grandfather enlisted as a Union soldier at the age of 16 to defend against the great rebellion of the South, and he participated in the Siege of Petersburg, which resulted in 2,974 Union and 4,700 Confederate casualties.

He and his fellow black soldiers were paid less than white troops until, after months of protest, they finally got what they were owed. Getting a pension following his release from service was even more difficult.

His physical hardships and the struggle for his retirement benefit are documented in the book “New Bedford’s Civil War” by Earl F. Mulderink III. It took Great-granddaddy King 13 years, but he finally got his pension, which was $75 a month at the time of his death in 1933.

My uncles returned home from military service to a Washington, D.C., that was separate and unequal in nearly every respect. And the bars on my shoulders in the early ’60s weren’t enough to get me seated and served in southern public accommodations.

We were among the thousands of men of color who responded to the call to arms from a nation that demanded loyalty and discipline from us while often forgetting to reciprocate.

But we served. As did many of my Howard University ROTC classmates, some of whom gave their “last full measure of devotion” in Vietnam.

Do you know the formal declaration made by the men and women sworn to defend America? It’s worth remembering and repeating on Memorial Day. This is the Soldier’s Oath of Enlistment:

“I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

We who served will always remember that oath. In return, not just on Monday, but every day, the nation must remember what it owes to its defenders — all of them.


By: Colbert I. King, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Columnist, The Washington Post, May 22, 2015

May 25, 2015 Posted by | Memorial Day, U. S. Military, War | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Media’s Military Malady”: Brian Williams’ Lies Are Symbolic Of The Media’s Too-Cozy Relationship With The Military

Brian Williams has come a cropper – a useful English expression for falling off your high horse. The NBC News anchor exposed a malady of the American news media, because he had the worst case of it. Deftly told tales of danger flared up on news and comedy shows, even on rival CBS and at a Rangers hockey game. More than any other leading anchor, the preening Williams acted like he was in show business. And he’s clearly smitten with the military, taking a cue from his predecessor Tom Brokaw, who wrote “The Greatest Generation,” the blockbuster book about the World War II generation. In peacetime, Brokaw started a process of glowing (retro) war coverage with his valedictory book.

Williams furthered that fawning trend when he took over the chair as the “NBC Nightly News” standard-bearer. But the stakes were higher, because suddenly, it was wartime. The longest wars in our history, in Afghanistan and Iraq, were upon us. And all the world was a stage for his stand-ups.

Since 9/11, Williams and many in the media became too cozy and close with the military. I mean, literally, too close, sharing fatigues, meals and living space. But the volunteer military has a job to do and so do people in the press covering wars. They are best kept at a distance. In the Vietnam War, the press was confrontational and skeptical of the Pentagon – and properly so. The daily press briefing was dubbed “the Five O’Clock Follies.” Reporters knew the government was telling lies every day. The two Iraq wars were covered like sporting events at first, with broadcast and print media cheerleading the invasion of Iraq a dozen years ago. The stories they missed on the job have filled many books, such as Thomas Ricks’ “Fiasco.”

The broadcast media seemed happy to befriend the military and hang out in tanks and helicopters with them for visual color. It became cool to “embed” in the desert – an approach the Pentagon encouraged and put into place with the brief first Gulf War. Thus the Pentagon shrewdly seduced the media in an “embed” embrace. Some correspondents who embedded died along the way, including David Bloom of NBC News and Michael Kelly of the The New Republic. It all seemed futile, being along for a ride. In a dusty foreign desert, it’s hard to break great stories about people whom you think are protecting your life.

“Four birds in the desert.” Williams used such vivid language to describe being aboard one of four Chinook helicopters as the Iraq War was getting underway in 2003. One “bird” was hit. He tells the story well, except it wasn’t true. He spoke on a comedy show about it and tried to hide his false pride at surviving an “RPG” attack, as if everyone talks that way. The helicopter Williams was on did not come under fire, but what’s the difference between friends? Williams rubbed shoulders with soldiers in uniform, and perhaps felt he could share their valor.

But he was supposed to be one of us – the press. To be clear, I worked at CBS News as my first journalism job. In network news, I’ve seen the best in action and perhaps I judge Williams too harshly. His survival shall largely depend on ratings. Whatever happens, the cautionary note here: A string of tall tales went on for years unchecked by Williams’ peers at the best networks and newspapers, as well as the usual chorus of media critics.

Ironically, a respected military newspaper finally turned Williams in for his on-air fibbing. Travis Tritten, a Stars and Stripes reporter, said discontent had been building up for years with Williams’ rash storytelling. “We were there to give them a voice,” he said, referring to those in the armed forces and veterans. A military newspaper did the work and got the story straight. The lines between civilian and military became bright and clear here. For that, we in the Fourth Estate should be grateful and humbled.


By: Jamie Stiehm, Washington Whispers, U. S. News and World Report, February 9, 2015

February 10, 2015 Posted by | Brian Williams, Journalism, U. S. Military | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Oh, The Wayward Priorities”: If Republicans Hated War Like They Hate Obamacare, There Wouldn’t Be an Iraq Debacle

The Affordable Care Act might eventually be a terrible idea for the country. Perhaps, as Paul Broun (R-GA) once said, “Obamacare is going to destroy everything that we know as a nation.” Maybe Michelle Bachmann is right when she claimed, “I believe God is going to answer our prayers and we’ll be freed from the yoke of Obamacare.”In addition to GOP lawmakers making statements vehemently condemning the Affordable Care Act, they’ve tried over 35 times to repeal the law in Congress.

When it comes to big government healthcare programs, conservatives have likened the ACA to everything from communism to death panels. However, when it comes to war, the GOP doesn’t see Uncle Sam picking the pockets of citizens. The $4 to $6 trillion that the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars will cost taxpayers never evokes anger from the Tea Party. Rather, it’s funding someone else’s surgery that really gets conservatives furious. Sadly, if Republicans viewed healthcare programs in the same manner as they viewed war over a decade ago, we wouldn’t be in the gigantic debacle called Iraq.

Soon after the death of three thousand Americans on 9/11, Republicans worked vehemently to sell the Iraq War. In 2002, the same Bill Krystal who now bemoans Obamacare believed a war in Iraq “could have terrifically good effects throughout the Middle East.”In 2002, Vice President Cheney in a speech stated the “entire world knows beyond dispute that Saddam Hussein holds weapons of mass destruction in large quantities.”In early 2003, the Bush administration told the UN Security Council, “Either you’re with us or against us.”

Any opposition leading up to the Iraq War Resolution was met with political attacks and even Vietnam War heroes weren’t safe from Karl Rove and a united Republican Party. Rove and Rep. Saxby Chambliss led the charge against Senator Max Cleland and questioned his patriotism for criticizing the impending insurgent war in the Middle East. Chambliss attacked the triple amputee Vietnam Veteran “for breaking his oath to protect and defend the Constitution,” in addition to besmirching his character for having the audacity to be against the Iraq War Resolution. In order to better understand the mood of the time period, it’s important to note that Chambliss got a medical deferment from Vietnam because of a football injury to his knee and Rove has never joined the military.

When General Eric Shinseki advocated a far greater troop level before the invasion-closer to a number like 300,000 soldiers — he too was denigrated by Republicans. However, by 2007, even Lindsay Graham was quoted in a New York Times article as admitting Shinseki was right. As a result of invading and occupying a country as large as Iraq with an insufficient number of troops (in addition to a number of other mistakes), Bush announced a surge of troops in 2007. Essentially, this surge worked as a draft in that it prolonged tours of duty, keeping American soldiers in combat longer than in any other war in U.S. history. This prolonged time in battle directly led to the record number of PTSD cases as well as exacerbating the issue of suicide in the military.

The Iraq War Resolution passed with 215 House Republicans voting for it and 126 Democrats voting against the war. In the Senate, 48 out of 49 Republicans voted for it while 21 Democrats voted against going into Iraq. After the initial invasion, President Bush addressed the United Nations in late 2003 and declared America’s invasion a noble endeavor:

The regime of Saddam Hussein cultivated ties to terror while it built weapons of mass destruction. It used those weapons in acts of mass murder, and refused to account for them when confronted by the world… Across Iraq, life is being improved by liberty.

While the country was still in shock, President Bush spoke confidently about the reasons for U.S. involvement in Iraq.

In 2004, Donald Rumsfeld justified the rush to war (and the fact Humvees weren’t protected from IED’s with extra armor) by saying, “As you know, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.” In 2007, after a civil war between Shia and Sunni threatened to destroy Iraq, President Bush addressed the nation in a speech defending a surge in troop levels:

The consequences of failure are clear: Radical Islamic extremists would grow in strength and gain new recruits. They would be in a better position to topple moderate governments, create chaos in the region and use oil revenues to fund their ambitions. Iran would be emboldened in its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Changing his tune from 2003, and possibly forshadowing 2014, Bush advocated widening the war because “the consequences of failure are clear.”

Today, after all the monumental sacrifices made by American soldiers and their families, and with all the money spent nation building in Iraq, America has to contend with a new threat. Extremist militants named ISIS now have control of Fallujah (a one hour drive from Bagdad) and just recently conquered Mosul, one of Iraq’s largest cities and the home of two million people. Of course, the GOP is now changing the narrative from Bush’s speeches to a recent call for further military action in Iraq. Interestingly, no word yet has been heard from the Tea Party about the financial cost of further military action in Iraq.

It says something about a political party when a health care law is the end of the world, but an insurgent war is something worthy of attacking even a triple amputee war veteran to defend. If only one could go back in time and tie in an amnesty clause or a nationalized healthcare law to the Iraq War Resolution, then maybe GOP lawmakers wouldn’t have worked so hard to send the United States into the Iraq debacle. The truth is that the ACA, even if it falls short of its promises, won’t do nearly as much damage to this country as the Iraq War. Analyzing the GOP’s reaction to both will give you a good idea of its priorities.


By: H. A. Goodman, The Huffington Post Blog, June 15, 2014




June 17, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Iraq, Iraq War | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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