The Catastrophic Near Miss

Posted June 26, 2007 on 7:13 pm | In the category Europe, Germany, International Broadcasting, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

Italian prime Minister Romano Prodi called the compromise solution to the European Union’s attempt to settle its endless bureaucratic wrangling over national and European-wide powers a step backwards. Europe, he suggested, had fallen into a situation in which some countries put their own national interests first while others presented those of Europe, whatever that now may mean. There is no question about who he meant by the former. Poland had made its intentions to play the spoiler clear for the last couple of months, and Great Britain, with Tony Blair leading it for the last time, once again in the end played an anti-Europe card which left mainland Europe wondering if the island kingdom really ever considered itself part of Europe.

In the end all 27 countries signed onto a compromise (otherwise there would be no rules of order for the EU today) which many, like former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer, felt “hardly avoided a total catastrophe.” If there was anyone who came out of this event looking good, it was German Kanzlerin Angela Merkel, who piloted the leaking ship of state with more patience and expertise than most would have imagined not long ago, and managed to sail it into some kind of safe harbour for the time being. Unfortunately for the EU, her term of office as president of the EU runs out on July 1, and her successor will have to have the patience of Job and the wisdom of Solomon to get that ship back on a stable course.

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The Omnipotent Mr. Cheney

Posted June 25, 2007 on 12:21 pm | In the category Human Rights, Iraq, Politics, Press, U.S. Foreign Policy | by John

The Washington Post is running a 4-part report on the Vice Presidency of Richard Cheney. The report, prepared by Barton Gellman and Jo Becker and entitled “Angler” which is Mr. Cheney’s secret service code name, paints a picture of our Vice President as the man behind the throne, pulling strings, Oz-like, that direct many of our most critical domestic and foreign policy programs. One example is the role Mr. Cheney played in how the United States would handle “terrorists” captured during the apparently unending “war on terror”. Mr. Cheney developed the draft order that Mr.Bush signed, putting into operation the policy permitting the indefinite confinement of foreign terrorism suspects without any access to the courts. Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condi Rice, nominally in charge of such things, knew nothing about the order until after it was executed. The secrecy is typical of Cheney’s modus operandi. As stated in the Gellman/Becker report:

“Across the board, the vice president’s office goes to unusual lengths to avoid transparency. Cheney declines to disclose the names or even the size of his staff, generally releases no public calendar and ordered the Secret Service to destroy his visitor logs. His general counsel has asserted that “the vice presidency is a unique office that is neither a part of the executive branch nor a part of the legislative branch,” and is therefore exempt from rules governing either. Cheney is refusing to observe an executive order on the handling of national security secrets, and he proposed to abolish a federal office that insisted on auditing his compliance.

“In the usual business of interagency consultation, proposals and information flow into the vice president’s office from around the government, but high-ranking White House officials said in interviews that almost nothing flows out. Close aides to Cheney describe a similar one-way valve inside the office, with information flowing up to the vice president but little or no reaction flowing down.”

Mr. Cheney has played a similar role in approving use of extremely inhumane treatment of “terrorist” prisoners (which many believe amounts to torture), gatekeeping Supreme Court nominees, and squelching environmental initiatives – all with a degree of secrecy that is startling. Past vice-presidents have attended state funerals and promoted run-of-the-mill programs, such as Mr. Gore’s efforts to improve the bureaucracy’s efficiency. Not so Mr. Cheney. While the President signs the executive orders and makes the public appearances, Mr. Cheney pulls the strings from his undisclosed locations. The Post report confirms that Mr. Cheney is in fact our co-President, exercising power as Vice-President as it has never been exercised before.

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The Candidates and Iraq: Avoiding Reality

Posted June 21, 2007 on 6:04 pm | In the category Election 2008, Iraq, Politics, Press, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

A recent Op-Ed piece in the Washington Post recognizes what should by now be obvious to any serious candidate for the presidency: by any reasonable definition the Iraq War is lost. The decision to invade was based on a combination of ignorance, arrogance and deception; the waging of the war was naïve and simple-minded, and the management of the follow-up has been nothing short of a disaster. The surge is most recently defined by General Petraeus as a ten-year effort; that is a time line the American people will not accept. Nor will they accept the Bush/Cheney concept of a new “Korea-type” 50 year involvement. The American people have determined that it is not in the national interest and they are – finally – smarter than their leaders.

So, what is going on with the primary campaigns among both Republicans and Democrats? It seems obvious that the major foreign policy challenge facing America is first, how to extricate itself from Bush’s Iraq fiasco and second, and perhaps more important, to begin to define an appropriate role for the United States in the Middle East and Gulf region post-Iraq. But the campaign rhetoric is largely confined to how long to stay in Iraq, how many troops to leave behind, can Americans face the fact of defeat, and isn’t it about time the Iraqis cleaned up the mess we made.

No one can know what will happen when U.S. troops leave Iraq but we can certainly predict what will happen if we stay because it is happening already – more American deaths, more Iraqi deaths, throwing good American after bad, more Iraqis leaving their country, and a terrific training and recruiting ground for Al Queda.

But to read the press and listen to media news one would think that staying in Iraq was an actual option. It is not and the more time spent pretending otherwise is time lost to the serious effort needed to redefine America’s role in the world in a way that reflects both reality and America’s real national interest. This public discussion needs to begin now and needs to be led by those who would be our next president.

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The Last Polish Joke Show

Posted June 18, 2007 on 11:39 pm | In the category Europe, Germany, International Broadcasting | by Mackenzie Brothers

The European Union, currently celebrating its fiftieth birthday, is about to display its farcical administrative side, and simultaneously demonstrate its inability to function if faced with controversial decisions. There are now 27 members, ranging in size and power from France, Germany and the UK to Malta, Latvia and Cyprus, resulting in a linguistic chaos at its meetings in Brussels as the frantic search goes on to find a Finno-Maltese translator. This is farce, although, it’s an incredibly expensive and cumbersome production, but that is nothing compared to the fact that its constitution demands unanimity for anything to be agreed upon. Every country, no matter how small, has the right to veto.

Now, at this year’s EU summit meeting, it is about to face the music for this anachronistic rule that was passed when there was a small core group. All but one of the 27 nations is in total agreement that something must be done about the way that the number of votes has been assigned to each country. In Nice in 2000, after an all night session, bleary-eyed representatives passed a temporary measure on vote distribution that resulted in the still-prevailing situation in which the largest financial contributor to the EU. Germany, with a population of 85 million, received 29 voting representatives while Poland, the largest recipient of EU funds with a population of 38 million, received 27. Afterwards, the sleep-deprived voters could scarcely remember why they had ever reached such a strange result other than that it was the only way they could get unanimity.

Now the time has finally come to agree to a constitution that distributes the votes more reasonably, and even the UK and Malta agree that a referendum to that effect must be approved at the EU summit. But Poland doesn’t and the Polish Prime Minister, Lech Kaczynski, has ignored personally-delivered lectures by the prime ministers of France, Spain, the Czech Republic, and Germany in the last week and continues to say that he will not compromise but will veto. German analysts speculate this is because Poland does not want Germany to have the honour of solving the vote-distribution problem of the EU during its term as President. Instead Kaczynsky has proposed a reckoning by what he calls “rectangular roots” that has even mathematicians struggling for comprehension.

The Germans have lost their sense of humour on this latest example of odd behaviour by the reigning Polish government. The liberal Süddeutsche Zeitung finished its editorial on the topic as follows: “If Europe should really slide into the greatest crisis imaginable after the failure of its constitutional referendum, then the Germany may be accused of having underestimated the size of Polish ignorance of Europe for months on end. But Poland itself will bear responsibility on its own for everything else. It is going to have to pay a price for that.” This is not the way the German liberal press normally talks about Poland, and it does not bode well for future Polish-German relations.

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Mitt Romney: All Suit, No Man??

Posted June 16, 2007 on 4:09 pm | In the category Election 2008, Politics, Press, Uncategorized | by Jeff

His no-hair-out-of-place look has led some to refer to Mitt Romney as “Governor Perfect”. But former Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney has not-so-subtly shifted positions from middle of the road to far right on abortion, stem cell research, gun control, civil unions for gay couples, homosexual adoption, and birth control privacy laws, among others. He has added support for the Iraq adventure to his current repertoire as he courts the right wing of the GOP for primary votes and it is apparent that he will do almost anything, take on any view and change any opinion, to reach the White House.

What would candidate Romney look like in a general election when the extreme right has less influence and any GOP candidate must gain support from independents? He has said that his positions have “evolved” since he left the governorship of Massachusetts and it is probable that they will evolve backwards as time and events demand. He is one more in a long (and growing) line of presidential candidates with no central core of beliefs and should have a large sign on the back of his suit: “Voter Beware”.

In 1968 George Romney, Mitt’s father, was a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination and discovered very late in the game that supporting the Vietnam War was a loser of an issue so he changed his mind, claiming that he had been “brainwashed” by the military (Gene McCarthy commented that a “light rinse would of sufficed”).

Seems like the Romney genes are intact, but going through life on a haircut and a smile do not make for a good president. Now it is up to the American press to put on their big-boy pants and start dealing with issues and the political history of all the candidates and forget about suits, haircuts, slick commercials, and canned responses aimed at narrow interest groups.

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Clarification from the Resident-in-Chief

Posted June 15, 2007 on 9:23 am | In the category Uncategorized | by John

“In terms of a deadline, there needs to be one. It needs to happen.”
— George W. Bush, June 9, 2007, on the urgency of completing UN talks on the future of Kosovo
“I don’t think I called for a deadline…I did? What exactly did I say? I said ‘deadline?’…OK. Yes, then I meant what I said.”
— George W. Bush, asked about his statement the next day

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Lonesome George: The Last Cowboy

Posted June 13, 2007 on 10:33 am | In the category Politics | by Jeff

George Bush has morphed into President Pariah, rattling around the world with no one giving him respect.  Republican senators treat him like a leper; German citizens riot in the streets; Italian courts sue his CIA for criminal activity; old soulmate Putin calls him names; Poodle Blair is whining his way into early retirement; Newt Gingrich is all over his record; and Colin Powell criticizes him on a regular basis.

He is the first sitting American president to visit Albania where he received the adulation of a nation that owes its freedom to Bill Clinton, but never mind – adulation is adulation. He steered clear of Iraq on this latest trip.

But now this Lone Ranger is left only with Alberto Gonzales as his Tonto and Joe Lieberman as the hind end of his Silver. There is a reason for the preponderance of new bumper stickers reading: “1/20/09”, the date the Last Cowboy rides off into the sunset.

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Horror Show on the Streets

Posted June 12, 2007 on 5:03 pm | In the category Germany, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

During the soccer world championships a year ago in Germany, there was general euphoria and pride among the Germans that the atmosphere had been so serene and that there was almost no sign of the hooliganism that has plagued – some would say ruined – the European national sport in the UK, Italy, the Netherlands, and elsewhere. The German police made a great and ultimately successful effort to keep the usual British suspect-thugs from entering Germany or at least from getting into the stadiums. But there was one aspect of the law and order campaign that continues to be very disturbing – people of colour, and other obvious outsiders, whether athletes or fans, were advised not to stray far from secure areas in former East German cities like Leipzig, where the only only venue in the former DDR was located. The reason was clear for anyone used to life in West and East Germany – the Neo-Nazis had strongholds in parts of East Germany that were unimaginable in western cities like Munich, where one would be stunned to see Neo-Nazis, outfitted in their military paraphernalia, unless they were surrounded by Munich police who were keeping angry protesters away from them.
That this is not the case in eastern Germany was made grotesquely clear on the weekend in Halberstadt, a small city in Sachsen-Anhalt that is considered to be a centre of Neo-Nazi strength, 100 kilometers northwest of Leipzig. The state theatre there put on a performance of the Rocky Horror Picture Show on Friday evening. At 3:00 on Saturday morning, 14 members of the ensemble, on their way home from the post-premiere party, were attacked on the main street of the city by a drunken horde of Neo-Nazis. Five musicians, actors and dancers were so badly beaten that, with broken bones and severe bruises, they ended up in the hospital. One actor, who was wearing a Mohawk hair cut because of his theatre role, had his nose broken. According to eyewitness accounts, police did eventually show up at the scene of the crime, but did little to stop it. Eventually one 22-year old with a record of violent assaults and wearing the traditional bomber jacket, was first arrested and then set free.
No motive could be found other than that the theatre group seemed to be having too good a time, and perhaps the mob didn’t like the Mohawk because they felt it mocked them. The scandal was large enough for the premier of Sachsen-Anhalt to join the chorus of critics of the police, and the suspect was arrested again on Sunday evening, admitted his part in the beatings, but wouldn’t identify any colleagues. As it turned out, in April a young lad wearing a bomber jacket had attacked a young girl sitting in a bus on her way home from a music lesson. Well he did not actually attack the girl, but rather her cello, which he proceeded to smash in a thousand pieces. Now that there are virtually no Jews left in this part of Germany, it seems that anybody considered different – Africans, Turks, gays, actors, artists, cellos – can be openly attacked and the police don’t seem to want to do much about it.

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The Iraq Solution: Let’s Give Them Guns!

Posted June 12, 2007 on 10:53 am | In the category Iraq, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

As evidence of the likely failure of the surge strategy in Iraq begins to surface the U.S. is reported to be moving toward a strategy of arming Sunnis so they can defend themselves against Al Queda. It is an almost breathlessly desperate idea, forged in the failure of a four-year disaster and reminiscent of the arms we provided to the Taliban in Afghanistan while they were fighting the Russians. While there are many lessons available from that adventure perhaps the best one would be that the weapons ended up with the forces of Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. We all  remember them.

A lengthy piece in the NY Times describes some of the risks:

“But critics of the strategy, including some American officers, say it could amount to the Americans’ arming both sides in a future civil war. The United States has spent more than $15 billion in building up Iraq’s army and police force, whose manpower of 350,000 is heavily Shiite. With an American troop drawdown increasingly likely in the next year, and little sign of a political accommodation between Shiite and Sunni politicians in Baghdad, the critics say, there is a risk that any weapons given to Sunni groups will eventually be used against Shiites. There is also the possibility the weapons could be used against the Americans themselves.”

So, we invade Iraq for whatever reason is the current rationale, accomplish the mission in weeks but forget to deal with the aftermath. Four years later the winners appear to be the Shias which creates a little problem with our Sunni friends in Saudi Arabia and Jordan but is welcomed by our ‘enemies” in Iran and Syria. Arms would be provided only to those Sunnis promising not to use them against their Shia neighbors and only against Al Queda. It is understandable that failure can produce desperate measures but will the U.S. really do something this risky?

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Al Hurra: Fair and Balanced News?

Posted June 7, 2007 on 10:12 pm | In the category International Broadcasting, Middle East, Public Diplomacy, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

Al Hurra is America’s Arabic language TV station and it is performing with typical Bush administration competence. Intended to bring trustworthy news to the Arab world as an antidote to anti-American media in the region and by so doing, to serve as a tool of American foreign policy, the station has managed to turn itself into a propaganda conduit for the other side.

In an incredibly naïve strategy to build credibility among potential viewers the station has – on several occasions – broadcast speeches, rants, and statements from leaders of Hezbollah and Hamas, many of which have been rabidly anti-American and all intended to present reality through the prism of terrorist rationales.

Al Hurra has been a disaster since its inception and bringing in Larry Register last fall from – of all places, CNN – to run the operation has proven to be a major mistake. CNN is – like most of the major broadcast news media – committed to pretending to be objective by giving time to even the most ridiculous points of view on major issues.  It fills time and God knows we would not want a news organization to accept facts as they are and simply report them. So we have endless programs with all sorts of weird views presented because – well, someone believes them and we need to give them a chance to peddle their snake oil.

Apparently Register thought it important to provide a soapbox for some of the most destructive characters in the Middle East as proof of our “objectivity”.  This is reminiscent of the decision VOA made after the attacks of 9/11 to broadcast – in its entirely and without challenge – a mind-bending speech by Mullah Omar, the head of the Taliban.

Should American international broadcasting ignore the statements of leaders of groups like Hezbollah, Hamas and the Taliban? Of course not, but the way to do that is to invite them on to either be interviewed by a tough, knowledgeable interviewer or invite them to participate in a round table with a variety of points of view represented. They would in all likelihood decline the invitation but then that refusal can be reported.

Finally, for those moderate voices in the Arab world – those seeking peaceful change in the region – the broadcast of unchallenged speeches from leaders of terrorist groups for them simply destroys the credibility that Al Hurra needs to be effective. Imagine Radio Liberty broadcasting Stalin’s speeches during the Cold War. Their audience would no longer trust them and no longer listen to them.

The Arab world’s moderates and reformers are the ones that we most need to support and Al Hurra, if managed well, could provide some of that support by broadcasting honest news without pandering to the fringe elements. The expected resignation of Larry Register in the next week or so is a good first step.

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