Saturday, December 03, 2005

Afghanistan - History Lesson Bush Should Have Learned

Juan Cole posts a thoughtful study on the ramifications of the Iraqi Invasion at Truthdig. In it he covers the history of Saddam's war against the Shia in Iran, the First Gulf War, and the foreseeable events now unfolding. Summation - the eventual conclusion to the war will be an Iranian Shiite Theocracy in Iraq.

In comments, reader Tom Janzen suggests three possible reason for Bush's dogged insistence on the war. One, the existence of intelligence unknown to anyone outside the administration (now known to be a myth). Two, that there were political reasons not discloseable to the public (oil deals, empire building). Let's assume conspiracy theories are mythical as well. That leaves us with number three, "the Bush Administration simply did not know what it was doing, was so incompetent it had no way to assess or desire to understand the most probable outcome, and the decision was taken soley on unexamined ideological/religious grounds." (Forever more to be known, not as the Peter Principle, but the Katrina Complex).

It was at this point that I began to wonder about event from history which might have proven helpful to the administration, had they chosen to be so introspective, and one literally leapt out at me - the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan. Let me start by saying I know and accept there are major differences between the two, most notably the recruiting, funding and training of anti-Soviet guerilla forces by the US, UK, Saudi and Pakistan. Although, as many of Osama bin Laden's Al Qaida members are former mujahideen, maybe this isn't such a difference after all.

When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, they no doubt anticipated an easy victory and successful takeover of a country torn by years of tribal infighting (yes, major difference; Iraq had a strong dictator, but years of fighting Iran and the US had left him poor and desperate). Several years later the Soviets found themselves fighting a major insurgency, better armed than expected, more determined and growing. The Soviets controlled only Kabul, the capital, while 80% of the country was divided among tribal and guerilla interests. Ten years after they invaded, the Soviets were forced to withdraw amid mounting international pressure, the deaths of a million of Afganis and 15,000 Soviet troops, at the cost of millions, billions of Rubles. A succession of failed governments gave rise to the Taliban, that seized control in 1994, proclaimed Islamic law and provided a training ground for Islamic fundamentalist radicals under the leadership of Osama bin Laden.

After the events of 9-11, when it became clear that al Qaida was responsible and hiding in Afghanistan, the United States went to war against the Taliban and the terrorist they were shielding. It did not take a year for American troops to understand the difficulties faced by the Soviet army years before. While they were able to defeat the Taliban in Kabul and place a government in the capital, much of the country remains unstable and Osama bin Laden has never been captured.

Iraq is not Afghanistan, or Vietnam, or Hitler's Germany, but lessons learned in each of these instances (our misunderstanding of Arabs and Islam, misjudging the vested interests and abilities of local people, not fighting a war on two fronts) could have been invaluable to the administration before they invaded Iraq, had they any desire to learn them.

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Friday, December 02, 2005

Sea Stories

Ah, it's Friday night and all is fine in my little corner of the world. My nasty headcold has abated, the children have all managed to position themselves elsewhere, and Chron.com has linked to BotB (see here and here). The people at Chron.com are doing a great job of trying to publicize local bloggers. Let's all try to support them by visiting the site and suggesting others blogs for consideration.

As Friday is the traditional day for special interest blogging (or it is tonight), I thought I would entertain you all with this ditty I just made up. Actually, I've been meaning to write this for years now, and tonight, opportunity became the mother of invention. Enjoy...

An Englishman, a Frenchman and a German went out
For a leisurely moonlight sail.
The weather whipped up to a force ten blow,
And the boat tipped right to the rail.

The Englishman smiled in pure delight and said,
"What a great night to be at sea."
The Frenchman drank a few bottles of wine and said,
"Merde, I need a pee."

The German looked up and down the boat,
Then at the tempest swirling around.
As funny as this nautical tale might be,
No punchline has ever been found...

How would you end it?

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Thursday, December 01, 2005

Justice, American Style

Moving from the politics of government to the politics of humanity...

999 - that's the number of inmates executed in the United States since the Supreme Court reaffirmed the death penalty in 1976. Texas, the big kahuna of lethal injection, has administered terminal justice to 355 people during this time. Like they say, everything is bigger in the Lone Star State.

I don't actually have a problem with the death penalty per se. However it seems to me we should exclude certain people from the pool of contenders, either by statute or by the trial and appeal process, and this is where the dispute begins. I say we should not be executing children, those with IQs under 80, or the innocent. The law of the land over the years has condoned all three.

Case in point - Ruben Cantu, 17 at the time, was arrested for the brutal robbery and murder of one man, in an act that left another severely injured. Identified by the survivor, he was put to death in 1993. Now, a decade later, new facts and witnesses have come to light, and it seems Ruben Cantu may have been wrongfully convicted and, oops, executed.

In his post Dead Wrong at Yellow Doggerel Democrat, Steve Bates provides several great links for more information on this case, other arguments against capital punishment (racist, ineffective deterrent, not cost effective) as well as to the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. As Steve says, its the only way to be really sure you're not killing the wrong guy.

Case in point - Joseph Cannon, 17 at the time, was convicted of the murder of Anne Walsh and sentenced to death, this despite a personal history of sexual abuse, mental illness and substance abuse to substantiate a claim of extreme mental incompetence. It took two attempts to execute Cannon; after his vein collapsed, he alerted officials the needle had popped out. It was replaced and Cannon's execution was completed.

Both boys were seventeen at the time of their alleged crimes, they were both poor, minorities, and badly represented by counsel. They were also both in Texas, where 61% of people agree with the death penalty, according to the TCADP. When given to option to choose life without the possibility of parole, 41% still vote death.

43% of Texans would choose life without parole instead of the death penalty. This sounds like a good start for the people at TCADP, who favor such sentences over capital punishment. But in the case of juveniles, is it still going too far? What are we saying about the value of justice when children as young as 13 can be sentenced to spend the remainder of their lives in prison for a variety of crimes far short of killing.

In The Rest of Their Lives: Life Without Parole Human Rights Watch gives a glimpse into the lives of young offenders who will never know freedom, due to a choice they made well before they could truly appreciate the meaning of forever. Fourteen-year-old Stacy accompanied older cousins on a robbery. He left before any violence took place, did not know his cousin had grown frightened of leaving a witness and had murdered the victim, and had no previous record. He is serving life without parole for one bad choice.

We live in a violent world and our criminal justice system works to the best of it's ability, but it is as political as anything else in this country. Being born poor, dark and underrepresented in society means being at risk- less education, healthcare, jobs, more disease, drugs and crime. Our courts are filled with young people whose first crime was being born a have-not in America. Justice-thirsty voters empower tougher, stricter sentencing, without thought to the long term.

Like the War on Terror, justice in America is fought from a foundation of fear not fact. If there were more transparency to the root causes of our fears, we might be more willing and able to commit the time and resources needed to confront them successfully. Instead we have a society shrouded by our own willingness to stick a smiley face on everything and vote W four more years.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Democrat Reframes War on Terror and Other Unbelievable Tales

Stop the presses, uh, internets. This just in...Russ Feingold, spoke to NPR today in response to the President's daring new Strategy to Win the War in Iraq. In one single sentence my new hero managed to pinpoint what has been missing from both the administration and the Democrats. Feingold reframes the debate back to its origins, that what we should be working towards is victory against Al Qaeda. He then goes on to remind us that Iraq had nothing to do with 9-11, but that the president has confused to two to a point where the endgame has been lost and along the way Iraq has become a requiting tool for terrorist worldwide. Step one to remedy this is to set up a realistic timetable for the world to see, how we plan to leave Iraq and reduce the threat our presence places on the region.

Be still my heart, did I just really quote a prominent national Democrat making positive remarks on a legitimate plan to bring real national security back to the forefront of public debate and make the world a safer place. When I asked for suggestions on winning the War of Words, cynicism reigned, anarchy ruled. Though, god knows, I really love an anarchist, what I was really hoping for was this very thing. No finger pointing or smear campaigns, enough of blame and whining (we already have Kerry for that). What we need in this country is a progressive voice of reason and courage, willing to speak the truth, even when it is unpopular, and vote his or her convictions. And guess what? He's running for President in 2008. Check him out and we'll talk later.

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Hello. Anybody Home

Now I know how a mother feels. You birth something, raise it up through adolescence, turn it over to the care of another supposed responsible party, then find out later that your baby has been neglected and is in some serious need of redemption and care.

STC - what do you have to say for yourself? Don't give me that business about your family's needs. What about "Belly of the Beast"'s needs? What about our loyal readers needs? Do you think THEY care about your 3 kids, dog, crazy motocycle-riding husband, and infirm parent(s)? (OK, maybe some of them care.)

Well, as they say, if you want something done you better do it yourself.

Ranting over!

If you haven't read Ted Rall this week, you really should. His article is called What Lost Iraq.

Sometimes Ted is too strident, even for me (and I am pretty strident). He's pretty far left, and offensive to a lot of people. However he commonly speaks the truth. Check him out.

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