Saturday, December 17, 2011

End of Iraq War Closes Long, Murky Chapter in American History (December 16, 2011)

These lyrics to “War is Over” by John Lennon and Yoko Ono are particularly timely this Christmas. 
So this is Christmas and what have you done,
Another year over, a new one just begun.
A very merry Christmas and a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one without any fear.
War is over if you want it, war is over now.

There were no celebrations. No parades. No dancing in the streets. No soldiers kissing girls in Times Square. The war in Iraq, AKA Operation Iraqi Freedom, sort of turned out like the month of March — it came in like a lion (shock & awe) and went out like a lamb.
While we should be thankful the Iraqi conflict is officially over, we must not forget the thousands of American combat and support troops still engaged in a war in Afghanistan — that one’s for Enduring Freedom — where they face death and danger every day. For them, there’s nothing to cheer. And though the Iraq War may officially be over, American soldiers, diplomats and other civilians remain to face the wrath of certain Iraqi factions.
Even so, the key difference between the end of this war and when the last soldiers returned from Vietnam in 1975 is that these veterans won’t be subjected to the undue scorn or derision heaped on their predecessors unjustly blamed for any connection to the innocent slaughter of unarmed civilians.
The one thing common to the end of this war, which gradually lost national support as it dragged on with no clear resolution, is that a grateful nation reveres those who served, remembers those whose lives were sacrificed and, hopefully, won’t soon forget those who came home injured in mind and body. Consequently, it is imperative that our government guarantees Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, especially those who experienced serious physical and psychological damage, are provided adequate assistance to adjust to postwar life. And, even in this struggling economy, it is crucial that businesses try and accommodate able-bodied veterans so they can make a suitable transition to civilian life.
One question that has been debated for eight years, and one that help cue a divisive grass-roots controversy, but lately has been on the minds of media pundits, newsmakers, opinion writers and the man on the street is, was the war in Iraq worth it.
How can you measure the significance of something that was an unequivocal blunder from the onset? After all, it started on the whim, or maybe a plan, of few misguided government officials — with President George W. Bush at the top of that list. In the end, the cost was 4,500 American men and women lives and an estimated $1 trillion spent on something initiated with faulty, uncorroborated information.
Unlike his predecessor, President Obama did not herald the mission as a victory when the war officially ended on December 15. This president knows we’re not that much closer to the end of the War on Terror than we were on May 1, 2005. On that day, Bush, in a badly chosen attempt to take the edge off a nation still saddened by the horror of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, prematurely declared the end of the war as he stood on the deck of an aircraft carrier in front of a huge banner that proclaimed “Mission Accomplished.”
Putting aside the cost in lives and whether or not freedom and democracy really had much to do with our motives, the money spent on the Iraq War helped devastate our national economy. It also stained America’s image abroad with long-time allies, as well as Arab nations with which we hoped to craft constructive affiliations and business ties. The war also distracted us from vital international and domestic issues, but diverted scads of money to destroy then rebuild Iraq’s roads, bridges and buildings, while this nation’s infrastructure was drastically underfunded or neglected and left to deteriorate. 
Despite continuing violence, Iraq is safer today and better off without Saddam Hussein, but it still must reconcile its civil war and create a stable government if the Iraqi people can hope to live in a peaceful, secure and tolerant society.
Only time will tell if we learned any lesson from the botched misadventure where we stayed the course much too long. But, as we welcome home the troops, one in particular stands out: from now on America should develop a viable, rational approach before committing troops to fight and die in a clash that justifies sacrifice in the defense of this country.

Friday, December 16, 2011

President Bush Serving Same Old Whine from a New Bottle (December 8, 2005)

More than two and a half years ago, those opposed to the invasion of Iraq were vilified for condemning President Bush after he landed on an aircraft carrier off the West Coast and prematurely spoke of victory standing in front of a titanic banner that read “Mission Accomplished.”
Here we are, more than 2,000 dead American soldiers later — and counting — as the mission lingers and the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel isn’t even a flicker. And the longer it persists, the greater chance it has of becoming the costliest war in our history, while critical domestic agendas and vital Homeland Security programs are shortchanged and overlooked.
Last week, in Annapolis, the president spoke before a receptive audience of U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen — he is, after all, their Commander-in-Chief — to defend, for the umpteenth time, and outline his war strategy, but refused to broach U.S. troop withdrawal.
Bush said that military commanders on the scene, not Washington politicians seeking “an artificial timetable,” would determine the policy for troop withdrawal.
At one point the president said, “Iraqi forces have made real progress…” but Army General George W. Casey, commander of the multinational force in Iraq, had previously contradicted Bush at a Senate hearing, stating that only one of 100 Iraqi battalions formed since 2003 is adequately prepared and capable of operating independently.
“A time of war is a time of sacrifice,” the president noted. That kind of rhetoric is easy to utter when you — and those who authorized the war at the outset — have sacrificed nothing but their reputations.
Prior to Bush’s remarks, the National Security Agency issued a report, which warned that deadly violence is a prospect for Iraq “for many years.”
The question then is how much longer will American soldiers be victims of that deadly violence?
Even most opponents of the war don’t want the president to hastily cut and run because it could put American and Iraqi lives in jeopardy, but, it’s rather obvious that it’s going to take many years for the Iraqi Army to sufficiently defend itself from insurgents, terrorists and native factions that desperately want equitable representation in the new government.
Before the chest-beating speech, nearly two-thirds of Americans polled disapproved of Bush’s Iraq policy. In its aftermath that number shrunk a bit, but the president’s popularity is still at the lowest level of his presidency, due largely to the situation in Iraq.
This war was an unequivocal mistake from the onset. The unprovoked attack on Iraq in March 2003 was nothing more than delayed retaliation in response to the worst attack on America in history. It had nothing to do with the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, nor did our soldiers come across any evidence of weapons of mass destruction that dictator Saddam Hussein was supposedly stockpiling to use against us. Incidentally, in the speech Bush never alluded to those motives, which, perhaps, he finally realizes, few still believe.
The only reasons the president got nearly unanimous approval from Congress for the Iraqi action was because politicians were undoubtedly troubled about post-9/11 backlash back home. Voters would have judged a “No” vote as opposition to terrorist retribution. More politicians, however, might have voted against the attack if they were not suckered in by faulty intelligence.
With the GOP suffering a few losses in last month’s elections and hoping to avoid additional reductions in next year’s Congressional elections, it’s reasonable to speculate there will be an announcement about troop reduction just in time for voters to remember that move when they go to the polls eleven months from now. While President Bush continues to rehash his “stay the course” policy, it’s only a matter of months before that course will be changed for political gain rather than common sense.
It’s all in the timing, just as the president went on the stump to defend the war to bolster his image in the eyes of an American public that is growing more and more restless with each attack on American forces.
Not much — except the number of GI deaths — has changed since May 2003. It’s the same old whine in a brand new bottle.
It’s time for President Bush to realize that though pulling out troops may not be a plan for victory, it is, ultimately, a sensible strategy to save American lives that would begin to put an end to one of the biggest blunders in U.S. history.

Iraq, One Year Later: Mission Botched, Not Accomplished (April 15, 2004)

With the formal end of the war in Iraq this week, I post this column that I wrote after its first year.
Almost one year after President Bush stood on the deck of an aircraft carrier moored off the coast of California and triumphantly boasted, "Mission accomplished," and major U.S. combat operations in Iraq were over, the situation, to put it succinctly, is a bloody mess.
That presidential moment, preceded by a male testosterone-induced jet-landing stunt, has proven to be untimely because hundreds of Americans have died since then, not in the name of freedom or to counter Muslim terrorism, but to transform Iraq into a democracy.
Iraqis dancing in the streets last spring, rejoicing over the downfall of Saddam Hussein, has been replaced by frequent acts of random violence. Today, once jubilant Iraqis are, no doubt, as much concerned about what the future holds as are American families whose military sons' and daughters’ tours of duty were abruptly extended last week.
Indeed, the only thing that’s been accomplished in the last twelve months is to entangle this nation in a billion-dollar-a-week struggle that’s slowly paralleling the quagmire we endured for fourteen years in Vietnam.
This time, though, it’s starting off more lethal!
According to the Reuters news agency, Department of Defense data designates the start of the Vietnam War as December 11, 1961. In the first three years, nearly 400 Americans died in Southeast Asia. As we enter the second year in Iraq, the war borders on chaotic, while the number of American military casualties is fast approaching 700, including some 50 KIAs last week. There are more pockets of resistance now than following the "Shock and Awe" bombing campaign that preceded ground combat.
As the war drags on, the tragedy that precipitated it is being investigated by a commission, which is revealing staggering evidence about the incompetence of the nation’s domestic and international intelligence agencies and negligence of top government officials.
Mind you, this bipartisan, independent authority was adamantly opposed by the Bush Administration. It was authorized only after various family members of 9/11 victims persisted in their effort to obtain answers about the terrorist attacks that took almost 3,000 lives.
The commission’s report, scheduled to be issued by midsummer, will likely focus on the ineptitude of the FBI and CIA, particularly the rivalry that has traditionally led to keeping each other out of the loop when it comes to sharing vital information. If nothing else, there has to be a complete overhaul of how these agencies operate — and cooperate — from now on.
We know now that the critical report – the Presidential Daily Briefing of August 6, 2001, "Bin Laden Determined to Strike the U.S." — the administration grudgingly declassified last week, contained little new information, but still deserved attention because it pointed to something in the wind.
When former White House counterterrorist chief Richard Clarke, who served America’s last four presidents, recently testified before the commission, he claimed he tried on numerous occasions to warn the president and National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice about the Al Qaeda threat, but was always rebuffed since they seemed more obsessed with overthrowing the Iraqi dictator.
However sincere, Clarke’s testimony was a bit tainted by the fact he’d recently been promoting a book in which he denounced the Bush administration’s negligence in the months preceding 9/11. Clarke maintains that Bush was focused on ousting Saddam Hussein while Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda were afterthoughts.
When Rice appeared before the commission last week, she was unyielding, yet unconvincing and uninformative, in her defense about disregarding the Al Qaeda threat, but did support Clarke’s criticism of FBI and CIA bungling of information.
From the information gleaned thus far by the commission, it’s highly improbable anyone in the White House could have been prevented the 9/11 attacks, nevertheless, it is evident that the Bush administration was mindful of something in the air, yet failed to take appropriate action for what they judged to be vague "patterns of suspicious activity."
The altered process in reacting to suspicious terrorist chatter since 9/11 is agonizingly unmistakable every time the White House issues a terror alert upgrade based on any speck of evidence it collects.
If the Bush Administration were as vigilant to warnings of domestic terrorism as it was to foreign intelligence reports about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, perhaps they would not have to be on the defensive now.
If President George W. Bush hopes to earn a distinguished place in American history, and win a second term in November, he can start by taking responsibility for what happened on his watch — from intelligence breakdowns to the botched mission in Iraq — and restore the deteriorating confidence of the American public.
Once and for all, Mr. President, we need to hear the truth. We can handle it.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Trump: Sideshow Distraction or Serious Contender? (April 21, 2011)

As cherry trees blossom in Washington DC, so do budding presidential candidates. While there are about a dozen Republicans thinking about entering the race for the White House in 2012, no one has officially committed.
With the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary scheduled for next winter, it’s unlikely Barack Obama will have a challenger from his own party, but it’s a whole ‘nother story for the Republican side.
But, so far, the current leader of the GOP pack in the polls looks like the joker in the Republican deck.
Donald Trump hasn’t thrown his proverbial hat into the presidential political ring, but he has been flirting with the idea for several weeks. Although, he must be getting serious because Trump has expressed a change of heart — known as a flip-flop in political circles — on a couple of issues that deeply divide the two major parties. He once supported universal health care and was pro-choice on abortion, but now opposes the former and is pro-life on the latter, knowing he must bow to conservative principles to be a potential candidate. He recently acknowledged, “I’m pro-life. I think that’s a big social issue.’’
At least that’s a relevant matter, compared to the one he’s focused on lately. Trump has joined that group of birthers, who, despite ample evidence to the contrary, refuse to acknowledge that Barack Obama was born in the U.S. It doesn’t matter if Trump and the birthers doubt the authenticity of Hawaii’s birth records; the President is a citizen no matter which way the facts are twisted. Trump must get past this issue or it’ll spoil any chance he has to be a presidential contender.
Ya have to wonder, who’s acting crazier of late, Donald Trump or Charlie Sheen? Sheen is ahead for now, but after Trump’s latest remarks, “I like blacks” and calling LaGuardia “a Third World airport,” the billionaire’s slowly gaining on the unrestrained actor.
It’s been rumored Trump might announce his intentions to jump into the GOP race next month on the season finale of his TV reality show, “The Celebrity Apprentice.” Another indication came last week when he informed NBC not to include the popular show on its 2011-12 schedule, since the network would have to offer equal air time for Trump’s opponents.
With many voters fed up with politics as usual from both Democrats and Republicans, Trump appears to be riding a wave of frustration and dissatisfaction that was evident with the formation of the Tea Party not long after Obama took the oath of office. As a result, he holds the top spot, by nine points according to the latest polls, in a potential field of experienced and novice politicians.
Yet, if Trump wants to be taken seriously, he must get serious — and fast. On the other hand, unless a viable GOP contender overtakes him, this Clown Prince of Politicians just might talk his way to the top of the Republican ticket next year.
And that would be a sad state of affairs even though he would stand little chance of unseating Obama. When all is said and done, Donald Trump will not be the Republican Party nominee in 2012.
First of all, how can Trump be a suitable fit with conservatives’ family values? He’s been married three times and had a very public affair while still married to his first wife. Right wing memories must be limited. They were quick to condemn President Clinton’s extramarital affair and his pre-White House trysts, but when their advocates are exposed in similar circumstances, they merely look the other way. If that’s not the definition of hypocritical, than what is?
Secondly, Trump has never been one to shun the media spotlight. Even so, if and when he does announce his candidacy, he’s going to have to show a lot more than a birth certificate. With the ubiquitous Internet and 24/7 prying eyes of the media, he’s going to have to submit to a vetting process and scrutiny that he managed to avoid as he built his real estate empire.
There’s little doubt Donald Trump’s a wheeler dealer — he’s got the billions to prove it. Though he’s got more money than his likely opponents combined, if Trump enters the presidential political arena, he’s going to discover there’s nothing he can hide (can’t wait ‘til they interview his hair stylist).
 Anyway, while his incessant diarrhea of the mouth gets media attention, it only confirms he’s nothing but a sideshow distraction.