One observation is that both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are giving foreign policy issues extremely short shrift in their campaign. Instead of discussing them, both are making reference to the idea that the Bush administration hasn’t done enough in terms of providing services for veterans. It’s true, I think they haven’t done enough, but I also think it’s a dangerous trap for Democrats to think that talking about this issue is a substitute for talking about the substance of national security policy.
Gore: It Is ‘Obscene’ That Bush Has Dismissed ‘George Washington’s 200-Plus Year Prohibition On Torture’
On April 9, ABC News reported that in 2002, President Bush’s most senior advisers approved the use of harsh interrogation tactics. Days later, Bush confirmed to ABC he “approved” of the tactics. Since the ABC report, the media have largely ignored the story. Morever, it took 14 days for a reporter to raise the issue in a White House press briefing.
During an interview this morning on NPR, former Vice President Al Gore criticized Bush for approving the techniques, calling it “obscene,” adding that his use of signing statements is “a raw assertion of authority outside the boundaries of the law”:
GORE: Ultimately the guarantor of our freedoms are the people. And these kinds of outrages, a president saying that he has the right turn George Washington’s 200-plus year prohibition against torture and torture anyone he wants with his assistants gathering in the basement of the White House — according to recent revelations — personally reviewing the kinds of torture techniques being used prisoner by prisoner, its obscene.
Highlighting Bush’s “arrogation of authority,” Gore also noted that the Bush administration has “refused to comply with the Supreme Court decision” requiring it to regulate “global warming pollution” under the Clean Air Act.
While Gore called Bush’s abuses of power “outrages,” the media does not seem to be as concerned. However, the House Judiciary Committee provided a bright spot today, voting to subpoena David Addington, Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, to compel him to testify about the administration’s interrogation programs.
Transcript: Read more
This past Sunday afternoon, the government of Sudan bombed the village of Shegag Karo in North Darfur. One of the bombs fell on an elementary school, killing 6 children. Another bomb destroyed the town’s market, killing 6 civilians and wounding many more. On Monday morning, the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum issued a press statement. Did they condemn the attack as a brazen violation of international humanitarian law and a United Nations Security Council ban on offensive military flights over Darfur? No. In fact, the release commemorated the two-year anniversary of the Darfur Peace Agreement, a moribund and counterproductive deal which the Bush administration still counts as a diplomatic success.
That the administration is clinging to the Darfur Peace Agreement is not surprising; despite all of its lofty rhetoric and hand-wringing over the genocide in Darfur, the administration’s policy decisions have made little difference on the ground in Sudan. For the administration, the peace deal is something tangible. For the people of Darfur, the administration’s blind faith in the Darfur Peace Agreement is cruelly ironic. Civilians, like those in Shegag Karo, are subject to aerial bombardments and ground assaults by Sudanese soldiers and government-backed militias. Absent logistical support from the United States and other military powers, the United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur is still too small and too feeble to offer any real protection. Worse, the Bush administration’s one real diplomatic achievement in Sudan, the landmark peace agreement that ended Sudan’s North/South civil war, is on the verge of collapse due to the Sudanese government’s refusal to implement key provisions. Read more
Pentagon Warns Of ‘Harm’ From Webb’s Effort To Give Educational Benefits To Soldiers After ‘Only’ 2 Years
There are currently 56 senators –including 10 Republicans – who have joined Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA)’s effort to dramatically expand educational benefits for returning veterans. The 21st Century GI Bill would pay a significant portion of college costs for all service members, including national guard members, who served in active duty after Sept. 11, 2001.
The Pentagon and the White House oppose the bill, however, apparently “out of fear that too many will use it.” In a press briefing today, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell explained the administration’s opposition, warning of the “harm” Webb’s bill would do to troop retention and objecting to the generous benefits given after “only” two years of service:
We have no issue with the fact that Senator Webb wishes to provide a more generous education benefit to troops. But we are certainly concerned that this would be eligible to them after only two years of service. We think pegging it to a longer period of service — the number we have in mind, at this point, is six years of service — that the longer you stay in, the sweeter the benefits are to you. Six years would show a commitment to service. … The last thing we want to do is provide a benefit — or the last thing we want to do is create a situation in which we are losing our men and women who we have worked so hard to train.
Morrell suggests that those who serve their country for a full two years somehow do not show “a commitment to service” and are thus undeserving of Webb’s generous benefits. Under Morrell’s terms, a soldier who participated in the invasion of Baghdad, in April of 2003, and had remained in service ever since would be forced to wait a whole year before becoming eligible for full benefits.
As the New York Times’ Bob Herbert pointed out, more robust educational benefits will only help the military fill its enlistment quotas with qualified Americans. He took opponents of Webb’s bill to task for failing our troops:
The notion that expanding educational benefits will have a negative effect on retention seems silly. The Webb bill would cover tuition at a rate comparable to the highest tuition at a state school in the state in which the veteran would be enrolled. That kind of solid benefit would draw talented individuals into the military in large numbers. … Politicians tend to talk very, very big about supporting our men and women in uniform. But time and again — whether it’s about providing armor for their safety or an education for their future — we find that talk to be very, very cheap.
As VoteVets chairman Jon Soltz and Gen. Wesley Clark wrote recently, “it is morally reprehensible to fix the system so that civilian life is unappealing to service members, in an attempt to force them to re-up.”
This story out of Nigeria is getting around on the internet:
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has said it is considering a temporary cessation of hostilities in the oil-producing region based on an appeal by United States presidential hopeful, Senator Barack Obama.
MEND also said in an e-mail that its ceasefire was to enable the federal government to have a rethink over the way it has handled the matter concerning its leader, Mr. Henry Okah.[...]
“The MEND command is seriously considering a temporary ceasefire appeal by Senator Barack Obama. Obama is someone we respect and hold in high esteem. The period of halting attacks, we hope, when considered, will afford the Nigerian government the opportunity to address the issues with Henry Okah, including improving his living conditions and having access to a bible which he has requested for but was denied,” they said.
Fascinatingly, I checked with the Obama campaign and they don’t believe Obama actually made any such appeal. So someone’s making something up.
UPDATE: A somewhat different version of the story is on the Reuters wire.
Michael O’Hanlon wants us to know that contrary to myth, the Army’s just in great shape and not at all overburdened by the situation in Iraq. Brandon Freidman points out considerable evidence from within the military that O’Hanlon is wrong and the conventional wisdom got in place because it’s, you know, true.