Setting the Record Straight

July 22, 2008

Sunset, End, Finis, Adios

Iraq: Time For a Vision of The Horizon

     With the Iraq War, when is a timetable for U.S. withdrawal a sched-ule? When is it a “time horizon?” When a “vision?”
     All these acrobatics with the English language come because it is an election year in the United States and possibly a watershed year in Iraq. The Bush White House does not want to show any inkling of agreement with Democrat Barack Obama’s plan for withdrawal of U.S. combat troops. But Bush is under pressure to see an end to the war and put a renewed emphasis on the war in Afghanistan. So, the White House settled on “time horizon” as the only acceptable way to describe changing troop numbers in Iraq.
     Some wag pointed out that the trouble with a horizon is, as you try to get closer, it stays the same distance away, unattainable.
     Under pressure from the administration, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had his spokesman explain that, in seeming to support Obama’s idea, Maliki was not subscribing to a specific timetable a la Obama, but working on a “vision” of withdrawal by the end of the year 2010.
     That would not coincide exactly with Obama’s plan, but it is in the ballpark. And it sounds like a timetable to me.
     Republican John McCain’s vision is that the U.S. commitment in Iraq is long-term and indefinite. McCain says any talk of withdrawal should be based on conditions “on the ground,” which can mean anything from quelling the insurgency to restoring critical infrastructure to forming a stable coalition government.
     Considering that the United States is going to have its largest em-bassy in the world in Baghdad, American antiwar activists suspect the Bush administration is trying to make conditions “on the ground” support a very long-term American presence in Iraq.
     McCain is saying that the troop surge in Iraq, which McCain sup-ported, has succeeded enough to give Obama the debating room to suggest a specific pullout. McCain’s commitment to a long-term U.S. force struggles against the polls that show more Americans than not consider the Iraq War a morass that they want to pull out of.





When Losing a War Is Okay

Declare Victory if You Must, Just Leave
          John McCain keeps belaboring a couple of ideas about Iraq that U.S. conservatives, and probably also many liberals, need to begin giving serious thought to changing.
          The first is McCain’s insistence that because Barack Obama has “no military experience whatsoever” that somehow he is not qualified to be president, a position that also makes the office holder commander-in- chief of the military.
          If he and others keep harping on that idea, they need to explain just what it is about military experience that helps someone not only be president in general, but commander of the military in particular. The founding fathers were clear they wanted a civilian to be the ultimate commander of the military. That was an extremely wise decision.
          What good has military experience in a president done for us since World War II? Franklin Roosevelt did not have it, but Dwight Eisen- hower, John Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and the first George Bush did. We won World War II and have not won a significant war, “conflict,” what- have-you since.
          We did push Iraq back out of Kuwait and were successful in using our military power in bringing peace to the former Yugoslavia—the former under a president with military experience, the latter under one with none. And the one with none, Bill Clinton, was commander over probably one of the most intelligent decisions by a U.S. commander-in- chief, a decision we could have used several times in the past six decades.
          And that brings us to the other idea McCain chose to speak to while Obama was on his maiden trip to Afghanistan and Iraq.
          McCain said that if Obama had been president and opposed sending more troops to Iraq, “we would have lost.” McCain also sup- posedly wrote in an op-ed piece submitted to the New York Times, which chose not to run it as presented, that Obama only talks about ending the war in Iraq, but never about winning it. McCain said, “When you win wars, the troops come home.”
          Yes, everyone would rather the United States win any war it enters. Sup- posedly so would citizens of any other country and its wars.
          But, how about someone in the leadership doing as Clinton sup- posedly did after sending troops into Somalia. The sortie fell apart, and Clinton pulled the United States out, saving who knows how many U.S. and local lives. We made a try and lost.
          We fought the Korean “conflict” under the most militarily experi- enced president. We fought to a draw; the U.S. did not win or lose and we’ve been stuck with a large number of troops in South Korea ever since. Eisenhower decided to claim a draw and quit fighting.
          Our first military presence in Vietnam was sent by Eisenhower, with additions ordered by Kennedy. Lyndon Johnson, with no military experience, used a phony claim to justify turning Vietnam into a full- scale war we most clearly lost 10 years and 58,000 U.S. lives later.
          In between that fiasco and the first, but limited Iraq invasion under a presi-dent with military experience, we actually won some battles, all under presidents with no military experience. Those battles were easy of course, because they were fought in backwater places such as Grenada and Panama.
          It is time we had leaders in the White House who understand that when our military decisions go wrong, we should be willing to walk away from them. Declare victory if you wish; sometimes, such as in the Iraq fiasco, a lie like that pales by comparison with the lies that got us involved.
          We need presidents willing to swallow a loss when victory is not likely or the cost would be more than the American people are willing to pay.
          We survived the ignominy involved in all of our six decades of military losses, and we will survive the current one begun by a president with no military experience, and whose military policies are endorsed by the candidate with military experience.




July 19, 2008

Flip-Flop, Flop-Flip

Will the Real Flip-Flopper Please Stand Up?
          Consider the ineffable unpredictability of the presidential campaign.
          Much of it is puzzling and too much of it is personal. Bottom line: I wish the candidates would talk only about their own pro- posals to get the country out of what we on this site call “The Bush Messes.” Economy, environment, war, world standing, security, debt, housing, crime, you name it.
          Barack Obama proposed a specific timetable for with- drawal from the Iraq fiasco. Even some of his friends were uneasy. Then he “clarified,” but seemed to modify, that. His enemies were energized and derisive. Flip-flop, they said.
          Then, even Nouri al-Maliki, our puppet in Iraq, and some in the Bush administration are thinking of a timetable, albeit of varying intensity. John McCain continues to believe the U.S. presence in Iraq is a very long-term one. That position brought him considerable moans of dismay.
           McCain was ragging Obama about not having gone to the hot spots in the Middle East. The hidden message was, I have been there, even been kept in a bestial prison.
          But then, when Obama announced his several-stops trip to the region, the McCain reaction was, When I went it was to form my policies; but when Obama is going, it is AFTER he has an- nounced his policies.
          Obama said he would talk with foreign leaders, even some who are very unfriendly to the United States. The Bush adminis- tration derided the idea of talking to the “evil.”
          But now, the Bush administration has caught something of the national mood, and decided to talk with Iran. An undersecre- tary of State, in fact, just met with Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, but just to listen, his bosses said. The Bush administration still does not call the discussions free conversations; the Bush condition is: Iran must first pledge to end its nuclear enrichment that would prepare it for a nuclear weapon.
          The fact is, despite the continuing angry national debate about the wars, it seems most Americans are worried about the increasingly desperate American economy. Instead of ragging their opponents, the candidates should flesh out every day their ideas on that issue.
          McCain is wedded to a continuation, even perpetuation, of the Bush tax cuts for the rich, which largely brought us to this deep recession because the increased money in rich hands did not help across the board. The old trickle-down idea (remember David Stockman?) that the rich would invest and hire, and help us all, did not work.
          Obama makes the possibly impossible pledge that he will balance the budget in his years in office, with some new tax breaks for the middle class, but restoring some of the old tax rates for the very rich.
          Both candidates should be held to the standard: List spe- cifically how your ideas add up to your promises.
          Complicating the campaigns of both Obama and McCain is the behavior of Congress. But the argument of a selfish, do-noth- ing-good Congress ignores some of the facts of the legislative/- presidential process.
          Even with a slender Democratic majority in Congress, the president still has the veto power, which means every piece of legislation has to have a “super-majority” to get past him. So the Democrats have an argument in that way. But they still have to defend their continuing support of the greedy habit by both parties of passing “earmarks,” those special home-district projects not subjected to the usual scrutiny in the legislative process.
          And the silly sidebar of the election campaign: When you are in the Senate and running for president, you must schedule carefully so you are in the Senate at just the right moment for some very important things–and absent, campaigning, for the rest. The trouble is, your opponent is watching and can say, “Oh my; my opponent did not see fit to be in the Senate when the important Hangnail Control Act of 2008 was debated today. Shame on him.”
          And this tongue-in-cheek comment about this year’s cam- paigns: Considering the statements that have hurt the candidates the most in this interminable campaign for the presidency, I here- by propose that NOBODY with “The Rev.” before his name be allowed to utter a word, publicly or privately, when the campaign has begun.
          As Bobby Burns said, “O wad some pow’r the giftie gie us tae see oursels as others see us…. T’wad frae many a blunder free us.” The endless campaign is subject to “frae many a blunder.”




July 16, 2008

Surge, or InSURGEncy Shift?

Winning, or Moving the Game?

     Ever get the feeling the famous “surge” of troops in Iraq actually is no more than a change of venue for inSURGEncy?
     For months now, we have been hearing about how successful the “surge” of troops to Iraq has been. It sounds like a grandiose plan  en- compassing all of Iraq, but as applied by the Bush administration at the beginning of 2007, the surge of troops never was intended to do more than secure only Baghdad and the province that encompasses it.
     The figures are not dramatic, but check them out anyhow. Between January, 2007, when the Iraq surge began, and mid-2008, 1,117 U.S. lives have been lost in Iraq. During the previous 18 months, 1,258 U.S. lives were lost, meaning the “surge” has resulted in about an 11 percent decrease in U.S. fatalities.
     By contrast, during the same 18-month period in Afghanistan, 198 Americans died, compared with 136 during the previous 18-month per- iod, or about a 45 percent increase.
     Of those latest deaths, 28 occurred this past June alone, the highest U.S. fatality count since the United States attacked Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11 with the backing of most of the rest of the world.
     The U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan in mid-2008 was 32,000, the largest number since that post-9/11 attack.
     One has to wonder, if we had stayed committed to Afghanistan and seeking Osama bin Laden, and had committed just half the 160,000 troops we now have in Iraq (80,000, more than tripling the troops we have in Afghanistan now), what the situation would be like today in Afghani- stan. And what the fate of Bin Laden might have been.
     Could we still pull out of Iraq and shift our full attention to Afghani- stan and save face? Even Nouri Kamal al-Maliki, Iraq’s prime minister, wants a timetable for U.S. withdrawal from his country.
     In the spring of 1975, the United States suffered the most ignomin- ious defeat in its 200-year history. The scene is forever etched in history books and the memories of Americans over 50, one of helicopters landing on the roof of the U.S. embassy in Saigon to extract the last of the Americans and/or their Vietnamese supporters, leaving behind thousands of other Vietnamese to their fate.
     The United States not only offered no formal surrender, it never has acknowledged a surrender, let alone a defeat. More than 58,000 Americans died in that stupid war, and to what end?
     Today, it is just Vietnam; there is no distinction between north and south. In 1975, the communists of Hanoi took over the south and made one country that now is a struggling, but thriving nation. Vietnam, much as China has, embraced a form of parental capitalism that enjoys a great deal of investments from its former enemy, the United States, both the private and government funds.
     The great specter our government had before the fall was of Vietnam as the first of a series of Communist dominoes falling across South Asia. Somehow, the dominoes never fell and the great crisis of a communist takeover of all of Vietnam never became a threat to anyone. And where is the shame the United States has carried since? It only lies within, and is a fading one at that—we still have our macho image as the world’s bully.
     Fast-forward now to Iraq. If our intentions there are as the Bush administration presents them in its inimitable garbled fashion (as an effort toward democratization even though it favors undemocratic means to achieve its goal), and are not an effort to control the country’s oil riches, then what is our problem in extracting our troops.
     Yes, this is overly simplistic and likely would leave that area of the world in an all-out war from within and without. But consider it as a starting point: leave Iraq, concentrate on Afghanistan and try to make sure the ensuing civil wars in Iraq do not spread beyond its borders.
     If Vietnam and its 58,000-plus U.S. fatalities is any indication, perhaps we should send a fleet of helicopters to that vast new U.S. embassy in Baghdad now, extract the Americans and leave Iraq to determine its own fate, and probably thrive on its own, while we concentrate on finishing the job we began in Afghanistan post 9/11.



June 17, 2008

Ignorant America Goes to the Polls

Is Our Past To Be Our Prologue Again?

          An increasingly ignorant America (well, maybe half of Americans if we’re lucky, or unlucky) will go to the polls Nov. 8 to choose its next presi-dent. As we are learning with the current gas crisis and as we appear to be learning too late from the foolish Iraq invasion, history and its mistakes are repeated because we are ignorant.
          Our ignorance keeps getting us into trouble that easily could have been avoided. As a small example, although this year’s floods in the Mid-west are unusually extreme, they have occurred every year for decades and we have heard or read the same heart-rending stories every year right on schedule. No one seems to learn that rivers do flood.
         The mantra of this site is the quote from the American philosopher of 100 years ago, George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” That is particularly a problem when you have an electorate that is ignorant of the past, much less unable to remember it.
          With all of the information at our fingertips these days, with access to minute-by-minute news from around the world, why do we fail to pay at-tention to what happened in the past and end up repeating its mistakes?
          The current gas crisis, which is driving up inflation and deepening a recession, twin ills afflicting millions, could easily have been avoided by paying attention to what happened in the 1970s. Up until that decade, ex-cept for interruptions by a couple of world wars, the price of fuel had re-mained constant since the stuff was first pulled from the ground.
          The crisis drove prices skyward, led to a shortage of gas and prompted our first serious consideration of alternative fuel sources. Pro-grams were put in place to conserve fuel. Congress imposed a 55-mile-per-hour national speed limit still in place today (although in a somewhat loosened form. The limit was imposed because 50 mph was determined to be the most fuel-efficient speed for a car to travel (It was set at 55 to satisfy the pleas of truckers).
          As Santayana had warned, in this instanceAmericans began to forget about the oil crisis of the 70s and began buying bigger and bigger cars, with pickup trucks becoming the first fad and then sports utility vehicles, all of them gas-guzzlers with a design and designation that freed automakers from fleet-average mileage requirements. The automakers fought against increased mileage requirements as they changed small-car production lines over to producing more-profitable pickups and SUVs. Foreign automakers also produced the gas guzzler, but never abandoned their fuel-efficient lines.
          As the American time machine groaned on through the 90s and the turn of the century, we became complacent and all the concerns about conserving fuel, finding alternative sources, etc., became lost in the minds of the public.
          Look as us now—right back where we were in the 1970. Auto- makers, American ones almost on their mismanagement death bed, are scrambling to get back to small cars and we are looking once again at the long-forgotten issue of alternative fuel sources. Luckily, we got a bit of a head start on those alternatives, not because of high fuel prices, but be-cause environmental concerns.
          In Vietnam, we learned our military’s reliance on superior weapons, particularly those that can be fired at an unseen enemy, were not be useful in a ground war against an enemy using guerrilla tactics. Ten years later we remembered that lesson and limited our brief war to drive Iraq out of Kuwait to air strikes. Taking over the country would have involved us in a ground war we learned from Vietnam we could not win.
          Then along came George W. Bush, playing the ever-faithful Mortimer Snerd to Dick Cheney’s Edgar Bergen, apparently deciding his father’s ad-ministration was wrong and he would correct it. We are now repeating the Vietnam mistake and are mired in a conflict that likely will have the same ignominious end.
          Who knows what a still-ignorant American public will allow our next president to blunder into. Fortunately, although the primaries may not have given us the best people for the job, they have given us two candidates who will return intelligence to the White House. The question remains, will either of them remember the past and avoid repeating American mistakes?



June 9, 2008

Random Musings

Some Random Musings from Veritas
        Some news report mentioned recently that we have 150,000 troops in Iraq. Think of that for a moment. The only things we see on television are small patrols kicking down doors and such. What are 150,000 troops doing? Think of the cities in your state of that size, just to get an idea of the immensity of our military presence in devastated Iraq.
        Every drummer in America seems to have a job. I am talking about the fact nearly every television advertisement, and some of the shows, feature insistent drumming. Consider the “theme” music for CNN’s newscasts: a rhytmic drumbeat with orchestral background in an increasingly frantic theme. Some rock bands may be missing their drummers.
        The Democratic Party is sure to have a debate over its proportional granting of delegates from primaries. Hillary Clinton said that if there were not the proportion system, she would have won the nomination long ago. Winner-takes-all seems a good idea for some things, like tennis matches, but across the nation for choosing pledged delegates to a convention, the proportional system seems fair. Or does it?
        Speaking of tennis, what about the shriek? Some of the best players in modern tennis–Maria Sharapova and the Williams sisters come immediately to mind–have adopted a shriek. For a while, opponents objected, but to no avail. The shrieks are of a wondrous variety: Sharapova’s a high-pitched scream of seeming agony; the Williamses’ full-throated roars punctuating every shot; the yell of Dementieva coming close to “Yuh-HOO.” This all started, I theorize, with the little squeak of Chrissie Evert. It grew from there. But Bill Tilden did not need to shriek; Althea Gibson never roared; Ken Rosewall and Rod Laver played without yelling. What changed?
        Some cliches we can do without: Somebody said that at one point in the campaign, Clinton led “in all the important metrics.” “Metrics”? My dictionary does not list “metric” as a noun. But it is a usage popular on Capitol Hill with speakers who forget there is “measure” or “measurement” or “criterion” or “element” or any number of correct words in place of “metric.”
        And while we are being once again a schoolmarm, why does everything have to be “great”? A restaurant tells us on television that it has “great food at great prices.” That may mean just affordable hamburgers. The amusement park promises “a great time with great bargains,” which may mean just affordable fun. By me, “great” should be reserved for really historic items or events. Otherwise we have to look for the next superlative.



May 29, 2008

Questions for the Confident Decider

 Straightrecord’s Veritas Has Some Questions for Bush

          I no longer cover any event at the White House, but if I did and were at a news conference, I would ask these questions:
President Bush, early in your term you were asked if you had made any mistakes, and your reply was that you could not think of any.
Are you proud, sir, of taking on a budget surplus and turning it into record deficits and record debt?
Are you pleased that you worked out tax breaks for the richest among us, widening the earnings gap between poor and rich?
Do you sleep better at night, knowing you led the nation into a war that has killed more than 4,000 Americans and countless foreigners?
Are you content that this war has no end in sight?
Does it please you that, in contrast to the day you took office, a large part of the world now hates America?
Do you reflect with pride on the fact that your approval ratings are lower than the average serial murderer’s?
Do you smile at the fact that, under your leadership, your own political party is in tatters?
so, now, do you think you have made any mistakes?”



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