It seems George W. Bush and John McCain, after having worked hard to scuttle Jim Webb’s veterans’ benefits bill, have now decided to try and take credit for it.
Lots of folks are upset at “the Democrats” over the FISA business, but while the party leadership (including Obama) has been bad on this, it’s worth noting that more House Democrats voted no (128) than voted yea (105). Full list of “no” voters is below the fold. The two members of the House who I had occasion to vote for (Nadler and Capuano) before decamping to the land of taxation without representation were both on the right side of this.
The Obama campaign finally released a statement on the FISA compromise:
It is not all that I would want. But given the legitimate threats we face, providing effective intelligence collection tools with appropriate safeguards is too important to delay. So I support the compromise, but do so with a firm pledge that as President, I will carefully monitor the program, review the report by the Inspectors General, and work with the Congress to take any additional steps I deem necessary to protect the lives – and the liberty – of the American people.
As I said this morning if I were the next President of the United States I’d be happy to be handed unlimited power by the GOP, too. The trouble is that unlike Barack Obama, I’m not going to be President and odds are neither are you.
Michael Cohen snarks away at John McCain’s op-ed on the US-Canada relationship but the fact of the matter is that the US-Canadian relationship is vitally important. Nobody talks about it here in the United States, but when you look at the combination of our trade with Canada and the extent of our security cooperation, the Canadians are probably our most important allies.
Everyone running for president should have to offer his thoughts on this subject.
Our guest blogger is Ken Gude, Associate Director of the International Rights and Responsibility Program at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Yesterday, I posted on John McCain’s confusion about the consequences of his proposal to close Guantanamo and move the detainees to Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. I thought then that perhaps he just didn’t grasp the full implication of that action – that the detainees would be guaranteed habeas corpus because they would be within the boundaries of the United States. But after his latest baffling statement, I am now more inclined to think that he simply has no idea what habeas corpus is, how it’s applied in the legal system, or really any understanding of the most significant war crimes trials in history.
This latest flap occurred after Barack Obama said that if Osama bin Laden survived the operation that results in his capture, an appropriate model for a trial would be something like the Nuremburg war crimes tribunals. John McCain clearly has something else in mind. In a written statement, he first pledged that he would kill or execute bin Laden, then he launched into a bewildering series of supposed attacks that only demonstrated his own ignorance. McCain said it was Obama who was “confused about what the United States Supreme Court decided,” that he is “running away from the consequences of that decision,” and that “it is clear Senator Obama does not understand what happened at the Nuremburg trials.”
So what happened at the Nuremburg trials? A lot of Nazis were convicted and a dozen were executed. The tribunals, established under the joint jurisdiction of the Allied powers—the U.S., the U.K., France, and the U.S.S.R.—were a model for “all subsequent trials holding individuals accountable for their roles in criminal atrocities.” Read more
Peter asks “Matt, what do you think about AFRICOM?”
Well in a banal sense, putting responsibility for the U.S. military’s involvement in Africa under the umbrella of a new Africa Command makes a lot more sense than splitting responsibility between EURCOM and CENTCOM. So in that sense it’s a good idea. But in the real world, it seems the impetus for the reorganization is the Defense Department’s intention to start getting more involved in Africa issues. I’m, shall we say, skeptical of the merits of this idea. Some people seem to think that security-ifying humanitarian problems by overstating the extent to which poverty and state failure in Africa are a national security problem for the United States is a good idea because when you shift a situation from the “charity” box to the “national security” box you get more resources. Which is true, but you also get the wrong kind of resources. The last thing Africa needs is to become the venue for a continent wide struggle for “influence” and a re-injection of great power conflicts, weapons, funding for armed groups, etc.
But the literal question of AFRICOM is a done deal at this point, so there’s no real reason to fret about it instead of specific policy issues. There are a lot of folks with a background in Africa issues in Obama’s inner circle, so I an Obama administration will probably be able to avoid blundering into fiascos by accident.
Scott Horton has an interesting article in The New Republic about the likelihood that Bush administration figures will face indictment abroad for war crimes and thus, as Larry Wilkerson put it, “Haynes, Feith, Yoo, Bybee, Gonzales and–at the apex–Addington, should never travel outside the U.S., except perhaps to Saudi Arabia and Israel.” Horton writes:
Is it likely that prosecutions will be brought overseas? Yes. It is reasonably likely. Sands’s book contains an interview with an investigating magistrate in a European nation, which he describes as a NATO nation with a solidly pro-American orientation which supported U.S. engagement in Iraq with its own soldiers. The magistrate makes clear that he is already assembling a case, and is focused on American policymakers. I read these remarks and they seemed very familiar to me. In the past two years, I have spoken with two investigating magistrates in two different European nations, both pro-Iraq war NATO allies. Both were assembling war crimes charges against a small group of Bush administration officials. “You can rest assured that no charges will be brought before January 20, 2009,” one told me. And after that? “It depends. We don’t expect extradition. But if one of the targets lands on our territory or on the territory of one of our cooperating jurisdictions, then we’ll be prepared to act.”
Doesn’t it seem overwhelmingly likely that the anonymous magistrate here is Baltasar Garzón of Spain, the king of universal jurisdiction?
Last week, after the Supreme Court ruled that habeas corpus protections apply to detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) denounced it as “one of the worst decisions in the history of this country.” At a townhall in New Jersey, McCain railed against the “unaccountable judges” who made the decision.
On Sunday, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol suggested that McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) would soon introduce legislation to undermine the decision by creating national security courts. But Graham has also floated another option for blunting the decision:
The Court’s decision is bad on many levels and I will continue to review the decision and determine its sweeping effect on our military. I will also explore the possibility, if necessary, of a constitutional amendment to blunt the effect of this decision when it comes to protecting our men and women in the military and our nation as a whole.
According to the Boston Globe, Graham raised the constitutional amendment at a news conference with McCain last Friday and McCain “did not rule out that option“:
Graham, a close adviser to McCain on military and justice issues, said Thursday the Constitution might need to be amended to override the Supreme Court ruling. McCain did not rule out that option yesterday but said there are other avenues available, including drafting a new law to limit detainees’ access to federal courts.
Considering that McCain’s camp has made a concerted effort in the past three days to make the Supreme Court’s decision a central issue in the 2008 campaign, McCain should definitively answer the question: Would he support a Constitutional amendment to override the Supreme Court’s ruling in Boumediene v. Bush?
I can’t really tell what Kirchick is trying to get at here but it inspired Justin Logan to tell me something I didn’t know namely that French television asked Ahmadenijad what he meant about how Israel should be wiped from the map, and he replied: “Why are you worried? Where is the Soviet Union? It has disappeared, has it not?”
Now I think it’s actually clear enough why one might worry about this, and I have no objection to anyone worrying, but it really is different from threatening to kill all the inhabitants.
Following up on yesterday’s promise to catch up on the situation in Afghanistan I read, among other things, The Forgotten Front, a report for the Center for American Progress by Caroline Wadhams and Lawrence Korb. They make the case that a relatively ambitious set of aims can still be achieved, namely:
- Deny sanctuary to Al Qaeda and its affiliates.
- Build a stable, secure state that is not threatened by internal conflict and does not threaten its neighbors.
There’s a lot of ins-and-outs to the “how” part, but perhaps the most interesting argument is the “Afghanistan Is Not Iraq” sidebar section which makes the following points:
- Afghanistan has a legitimate government led by President Hamid Karzai that is representative of its people, despite problems with corruption, lack of capacity, and an insufficient presence outside of Kabul. While Karzai’s popularity has decreased since 2005, the majority of Afghan citizens are still supportive of his leadership.
- A functioning parliament exists that is an effective counterweight to executive power in Afghanistan.
- A general consensus exists among Afghanistan’s different ethnicities and communities over the government of Afghanistan.
- The United States is not alone in Afghanistan; 37 countries make up the NATO-International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, and the United Nations is also playing a strong role. The Afghan
government and the international community have a shared agenda and set of goals, embodied by the Afghanistan Compact, which was negotiated by 53 countries in January 2006 and is supported by the Asian Development Bank, the G8 countries, the European Union, and the World Bank.
- The Afghan National Army is loyal to the Afghan government and not to a specific sectarian group, and sectarian strife is not dividing the country.
- Polling of the Afghan people shows that majorities support an international troop presence and few support the Taliban. While these numbers vary regionally, and are lower in the south, the overall support is positive.
- While more should be done, progress has been made in reconstruction efforts, including the expansion of independent media and communications, and building roads.
That seems plausible enough to me. The authors also argue that while more troops (and in particular, special forces troops trained in the appropriate kind of missions) are needed in Afghanistan, they say we don’t need a huge increase. Instead, they say we need diplomatic breakthroughs with Iran and Pakistan that will create the circumstances in which stabilization is possible and go through what that might involve.
Ultimately, how plausible this is hinges on the diplomatic calculus and I really have no idea the extent to which it would be possible to convince Pakistan to do X, Y, and Z in exchange for A, B, and C. Iran is an easier case as they actually were cooperating with us in Afghanistan for a long time and then decided to change their mind, which seems ot indicate that they’re not oppose in principle to cooperation. So what we have hear is a blueprint of a strategy that sounds worth attempting to me — it’s just hard to know how optimistic we should really be about a new administration’s efforts at regional diplomacy.
When last we saw McCain campaign manager Rick Davis’ ties to the pro-Kremlin party in Ukraine, campaign spokesman Brian Rogers told ABC News that “He was not involved in any work his firm did on Ukraine” even though at the time the firm was doing this work they were sharing office space with McCain’s non-profit, the Reform Institute. Now along comes Seth Colter Walls reporting that:
That denial — which shoots past the question of whether Davis merely worked with politicians in Ukraine to the point of denying any business activity in the country whatsoever — is now being questioned by another American consultant who served as an adviser to a Ukrainian business group during 2004. This source, who requested anonymity from The Huffington Post in order to protect his business interests, said that Davis bragged to him in 2007 about the continuing profitability of real estate investments that he held in Ukraine.
An anonymous accusation isn’t worth a huge amount necessarily, but “Multiple emails to top officials within the McCain campaign on Thursday asking about Davis’s investments in Ukraine were not returned” so for now at least it seems like the McCain team may be looking to revise their earlier statements on this matter.
Spencer Ackerman notes that there are plenty of non-Republicans well-qualified to serve as Secretary of Defense:
Jim Webb. Richard Danzig. Michele Flournoy. John Hamre. My personal favorite — though apparently not eligible to be secretary until 2010 — Tony Zinni. (Who probably isn’t actually a Democrat, but is also not a Republican, and whom the building would greet with sweets and flowers.) Ash Carter.
Right-o. Two other ideas — Lee Hamilton, Larry Korb.
Jim Henley on Barack Obama’s lack of leadership on FISA: “If the House and Senate leadership really did sneak the bill past him last week, which I’m not inclined to believe, still nothing stopped him from shutting them down this week. Except if he either doesn’t consider it important enough to be worth his time and credibility, or if he’s just as happy that the measure might pass.” And of course if I were Barack Obama it’s very possible that I wouldn’t think giving the executive branch unlimited surveillance powers was a bad idea at all — I’m going to be president in a few months.
For the rest of us, this is a concern. But it’s still baffling to me how little concern congressional Republicans seem to have about this. It’s not that I expect logical consistency to restrain them — they complained about Bill Clinton’s expansions of executive power in the 1990s then turned on a dime when Bush entered office and they’ll turn again in 2009. But while they’ll be able to whine about the inevitable abuses Bush-era policymaking has opened the door to, they won’t actually be able to do anything about it. Meanwhile, I guess I hope President Obama uses his powers responsibly, but on some level I’m sort of rooting for massive abuses so the right can get what they’ve been asking for.
Photo courtesy of BarackObama.com used under a Creative Commons license