Posts Tagged ‘Bush’

Several interesting news stories recently on the partisan struggle regarding closing Gitmo.  The first was a McClatchy article on former VP Cheney’s speech yesterday to the American Enterprise Institute — the center of Neocon World.  In it they charge that the speech was filled with misstatements, exaggerations and omissions.  Lately, Cheney has been acting like someone desperately trying to rewrite history, or in some cynical way hoping for vindication should another attack come, or could it be that he’s trying to taint a war crimes jury pool?   His daughter Liz has been on TV almost as much as her father, pleading his case right along with him.  On CNN’s “AC 360,” she acknowledged that fear of prosecution does indeed explain his near omnipresence.  And yet there is another factor that might be involved — the former VP’s anger at Bush for not pardoning Scooter Libby.  Could he be so angry that he is trying to hurt Bush’s legacy?  Wow.

Cheney’s not getting much help outside the family.  The chorus of voices on the other side is getting louder, and some of the voices in that chorus are former members of the Bush/Cheney administration.  It is as if the majority of sane people want to close Gitmo — Bush called for it in the latter days of his presidency, as did McCain, Gates, and a number of other Republicans.  But closing it is a difficult prospect.  What to do with the detainees that we’ve spent 8 years demonizing?  Meanwhile, while Cheney continues to play the fear card, with some benefit, President Obama and others are calling for a discussion of how best to proceed.

The RNC is doing a remix of a 1964 campaign ad. The so-called “Daisy” ad played very effectively to American’s fears about the Soviet Union and the possibility of nuclear annihilation.  Don’t forget that this ad ran a mere two years after the Cuban Missile Crisis when many Americans expected that all-out nuclear war was just hours or days away.  The irony in doing a remix of this ad is that it follows immediately upon the pronouncement that the GOP is done looking backward and that they will confront the President with classiness.  So the first thing they do is to look back for inspiration to something that was done — to them — 45 years ago.  The new ad plays upon the fears that somehow the Gitmo detainees are going to be released onto American streets rather than tried and, if convicted, locked up in supermax prisons.

Fear is likely at the heart of the debate on all sides.  Is it fear that somehow our justice and penal systems aren’t up to the task of determining the fate of the 250 remaining detainees?  Or is it a deeper fear that in determining their fate, we will learn that the entire policy system that supports the detention system was flawed from its inception?  Fear was, after all, what led to that system’s creation.  Fear of another attack.  Fear of all Muslims.

So, how did fear specifically play itself out with the detainee system?  First, we didn’t devise a good system for identifying which people were really Al Qaeda associates or sympathizers.  Instead, lacking language and cultural knowledge, we relied on villagers and tribal elders, not considering that we were providing them a way to settle grievances that had absolutely no connection to 9/11, Al Qaeda, or even terrorism.  We just wanted the bad guys rounded up, yesterday if possible.  We’d figure out later how to sort them out, if any sorting needed to be done.  So, after rounding them up — off the battlefield, off the streets, out of airports, in their homes — we started questioning them.  But because we were afraid, we didn’t believe them when they said they weren’t part of Al Qaeda, that they didn’t hate Americans.  Ah, we said, they must hate us.  After all, they’re Muslims.  So, we pushed them harder and harder, using ever harsher means to question them.  We sent them off to other countries — countries who had no qualms about torturing people to gain confessions.  And we began torturing them ourselves.

Finally, we began to come to our senses — just a little.  And we got scared about what we had done.  After all, torture is a violation of the Geneva Conventions, other international laws and treaties, and even US law.  So, we “reasoned,” we needed to make sure our guys — from the people doing the interrogations to those who authorized them — wouldn’t get hauled up on war crimes charges.  So we came up with the novel idea of getting some lawyers to write opinions that said it wasn’t torture after all.  We defined the detainees as “unlawful enemy combatants” instead of prisoners of war to avoid the Geneva Conventions.  And we set up a prison at a US Navy base in Cuba.  That wasn’t on US soil, so US law wouldn’t apply.  We could just make up the rules as we went along.  And we’d just question the patriotism of anyone who objected.  Whew!  That’d cover us. Except that it didn’t.  Because those among us who didn’t object — whether they actually supported the program or just remained silent — are morally complicit.

Another aspect of this whole thing about the detainees is the assumption — on the part not just of Cheney but of potentially millions of Americans — that they are all guilty.  Never mind that over 2/3 of those held at Gitmo have already been released for lack of evidence and that none have been tried.  Never mind that some of those remaining have been declared innocent.  Never mind that no court of law would accept evidence obtained under torture, and that as a result, some of those we believe are guilty may not be convicted.  We created a disaster in this program, and President Obama is going to have the devil of a time trying to resolve it.


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Over the weekend I watched news coverage of the ground incursion into Gaza by the IDF.  Then, this morning, three very different articles caught my attention.  The first was this account by a Gazan journalist. The second was President Bush’s take on the situation in Gaza. The third was Andrew Sullivan’s analysis of the current conflict using the idea of “just war” and proportionality.

Taken as a whole, these articles summarize my own thoughts and concerns about the situation in Gaza.  Yet, another set of questions and ideas has also been on my mind… questions of cause and effect.  President Bush (and seemingly the Israeli government) seems focused on the immediate causes — the thousands of crude rockets that Hamas has sent into Israeli cities, towns, and villages.  As such, a response can be seen as justified.  Yet, are there other, earlier causes and responses that have played a role in bringing both sides to the present conflict?

Several years ago, I worked for an organization and in an industry where there was a requirement to minimize error and to understand what had happened when errors or failures occurred.  Now, humans are fallible, and all human activity is subject to error and to failure.  However, the consequences of some errors can be catastrophic, so it is important to understand what went wrong when errors and failures — even small, seemingly insignificant ones — occur.  The military calls this process a “lessons learned” exercise.  “Root cause analysis” is another term for the same process.  It’s important to make sure that the process results in identifying the right things and all the contributing factors that lead to the errors and failures. Essentially, that analysis consists of asking “why?” repeatedly until one has identified ALL the factors and failures that contributed to the event in question.  Virtually no event has a single cause — or a single contributing factor or failure. Root cause analyses can and should identify assumptions that may be an unconscious part of the thought process leading to decisions.

A former boss encouraged his staff to innovate, to think creatively in order to solve problems.  He knew that we would make mistakes in our efforts at improving processes — there are almost always unanticipated consequences to decisions.  But he was adamant that we learn from our mistakes, saying, “Don’t make the same mistake twice.  There are plenty of new ones to make!”  The idea that one can keep repeating the same action yet expect a different result is one definition of insanity.  It’s also a definition of alcoholism — which is seen by most recovering alcoholics as a form of insanity, albeit with genetic aspects.

There are those within the US military who believe that the majority of US casualties in Iraq are direct and unavoidable blowback from our abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and the “enhanced interrogation techniques” used on detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo, and at a series of so-called “black” sites.  If that’s the case, can we (or the Israelis) expect different results from their response to the attacks coming from Gaza?

In listening to the news coverage over the weekend, it seems to me that very few people are going beyond the most immediate cause of the current strife.  There isn’t time or space here or in news reports to trace far enough back through time to identify all those contributing factors dating back at least to World War I and possibly as far back as the Diaspora at the hands of the Romans.  However, as I continue with my Middle East tutorial, some of them will come into focus.

All sides agree that the solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict must be political, not military.  Hamas states as its goal the destruction of the state of Israel.  All but the most radical and intractable factions agree that is at least impractical if not impossible.  The vast majority of Israelis and Palestinians wish to live in peace.  The issue is, at its core, how to achieve that goal.  It would be an intellectually and emotionally challenging task to determine the root causes of the current conflict if the parties were willing to go through that exercise.  Both sides would have to face the consequences of their actions as well as of their assumptions about themselves and  the other side.

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So What?

There was an astounding exchange during W’s recent interview with ABC’s Martha Raddatz.

BUSH:  One of the major theaters against al Qaeda turns out to have been Iraq.  This is where al Qaeda said they were going to take their stand.  This where al Qaeda was hoping to take…

RADDATZ:  But not until after the U.S. invaded.

BUSH:  Yeah, that’s right.  So what? The point is that al Qaeda said they’re going to take a stand.  Well, first of all in the post-9/11 environment Saddam Hussein posed a threat.  And then upon removal, al Qaeda decides to take a stand.

It’s now official.  The man is as delusional as Illinois Governor Blagojevich!  This is so stunning a statement that it’s hard to know where to start.

First, the arrogance.  Or ignorance.  Or maybe both — could it really be that he’s proud to be so totally clueless???

Second, the statement totally puts a lie to the facts.  We now know that the Bush administration was looking for an excuse to topple Saddam Hussein even before 9/11.  Bush and his neocon cronies began to plan for such an action almost as soon as he took office.  And following the attacks, they were eager to find a connection to Iraq that would justify their plans — whether such a connection actually existed or not.  Could it be that Bush’s reality exists only in his mind???

Third, the rise of an insurgency shouldn’t have surprised anybody.  Post-invasion planning was almost non-existent.  So, once Saddam was toppled, a power vacuum existed.  Just who the hell did Bush figure would fill that vacuum?  Let’s see… there were all the criminals that Saddam had released from prison in the run-up to the invasion.  And there was the Iraqi army and bureaucracy that Grand Poobah Bremmer fired as his first two acts.  And then there were all the ordinary Iraqis whose sense of honor and national pride was battered by the invasion.  And, finally, Rumsfeld and his cohorts thought they knew better than the US military leaders about the number of troops that would be needed, and the neocons wanted to believe that we’d be welcomed with roses.  Hmmmm…. so, is it really any surprise that an insurgency developed?  Not to most people who were paying attention to the facts beyond the official pronouncements or just using common sense.

After all, if our country were invaded and our political leadership toppled, our military and bureaucracy toppled, the Smithsonian looted, would we have been tossing flowers at the feet of the invading military?  I think not. Rather, I think we’d be doing everything in our individual power to thwart the plans of the invaders.

Given all this, the disconnect between Bush’s response and that of the Arab street to the shoe-tossing is also far more understandable.  Bush laughs it off — another “so what” moment I suppose.  Whether he understood the depth of the insult that came flying with those size 10s is questionable, given that he seems totally oblivious to criticism from any quarter.  The Arab world, on the other hand, have had more than enough of the man and his policies.  These latest incidents only serve to confirm what they’ve realized for some time.  The tragedy is that rather than trying to tamp down the hatred, his every pronouncement serves only to ratchet it up further.  And when the blowback occurs, too many Americans will wonder why…

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It would seem that at least one Iraqi journalist has had enough.  He took off his shoes and threw them at President Bush at a news conference held during a surprise “victory tour” visit to Iraq.  It seems that the journalist had lost members of his family to the war, had been kidnapped at one point, had spend considerable time reporting on the violence in Sadr City.  Journalists who know the individual say that he just snapped.  Were he an American serviceman, he might well have been diagnosed with PTSD.  But the act of throwing shoes at the American President and, as the Secret Service wrestled him to the ground and hustled him away, calling out, “You dog!” needs to be viewed through the lens of Middle Eastern values and cultural mores.

Remember the images of Iraqis beating the downed statue of Saddam Hussein with their shoes?  Well, in Arab culture showing the soles of your feet to another is is considered extremely bad form.  Watch carefully, and you’ll not see Arab leaders sitting with their legs crossed in such a way as to expose the soles of their shoes to others.  We read body language as positive if western leaders are pictured with their legs crossed toward each other.  Not so in the cultures of the Middle East.  Even in photos of Bedouins sitting in their traditional tents, it’s extremely rare to see the soles of their feet or sandals. So, for an Iraqi journalist to throw shoes at the current American President is an insult of the highest order.  Furthermore, dogs are viewed as unclean animals, not as members of the family, so to call another a dog is also highly insulting.

Some years ago, I had the privilege of hearing a Christian minister of Middle Eastern origin discuss the New Testament parables from an Arab cultural perspective.  He spent considerable time discussing the parable of the prodigal son, pointing out details that would have been meaningful to those hearing it at the time and that we who are not schooled in Middle East culture miss entirely.  And what depth those details add!  One detail that relates to today’s incident in Baghdad comes in the description of the father as he goes out to meet his returning son.  He doesn’t walk sedately, as befits a man of some social stature within a traditional community.  No, he runs to meet his son, his robe flapping about his ankles.  And not only does he expose his ankles, but he throws all custom and mores to the wind in his eagerness and allows the soles of his feet to show as he runs.  What a powerful demonstration of unconditional love!

I cannot help but wonder at how much else we miss by not understanding other cultures and the various nuances that are part and parcel of the myriad ways in which we communicate.  It’s said that well over half of all communication is done without benefit of words — written or spoken.  Some cultures use gestures far more often when speaking.  Eye position is also culturally determined — eye contact can convey a degree of intimacy that is inappropriate beyond close relatives. If you happened to see the interview of Fareed Zakaria interviewing Queen Rania of Jordan, you might have noticed that she looked at him briefly at the beginning of each response, then looked away.  I was aware that the “personal space” bubble is smaller among Arabs than it is among Americans, and that one finds Arab acquaintances standing closer together in conversation than do most Americans.

I recall an occasion when I was chatting with a young Lebanese man while I was in grad school.  I became aware that we were in constant motion — me backing away a step as he came closer so that an observer might have described our motions as a sort of dance.  Realizing that two different sized personal space bubbles were colliding, I decided to stand my ground.  My sense of discomfort was intense, and this was a person that I found very likeable and with whom I’d had many long conversations sitting in the cafeteria over coffee!  As our conversation continued, my discomfort eased, largely because I was aware of what was causing it.  I don’t know if he was aware either of our “dance” or of the fact that I had chosen to accommodate to his comfort level initially at the cost of my own.  But I can’t help but think that if my awareness and decision allowed us to continue our conversation, being aware of cultural nuances and making accommodations to them would facilitate communication between our nation and others.

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