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The LiberalOasis Blog
The daily view from the oasis

June 3, 2005 PERMALINK
Bush Makes “Genocide” A Meaningless Word
(posted June 3 1:45 AM ET)

The W. Post gave Dubya a wet kiss headline yesterday: “In Break With U.N., Bush Calls Sudan Killings Genocide”

The implication is that Bush is somehow doing the UN one better.

In reality, while the UN is not acting in ideal fashion, Bush is actively worsening the situation in Darfur.

And the UN can’t do all that much without active participation from its member countries.

A little background:

A UN investigation said the killings were technically “crimes against humanity” and not “genocide,” a distinction some felt was a cop out because calling them genocide would have legally compelled more direct action, such as an international force disarming militia.

The “crimes against humanity” conclusion did prompt the UN Security Council to give the International Criminal Court responsibility to prosecute those behind the killings, though that took a couple months because Bush threatened to veto any resolution legitimizing the ICC.

(The US abstained, stopping short of a veto, after the resolution was watered down somewhat).

Human rights groups hoped the ICC move would not only lead to prosecutions for past crimes, but would deter future crimes by showing the international community was serious about the situation.

But Bush has done the opposite.

Instead of complimenting the ICC move with additional pressure on Sudan, Bush has instituted a “shift toward indifference on the crisis in Darfur,” according to the Power and Interest News Report.

Sudanreeeves.org notes in disgust, “The ICC referral has perversely succeeded only in providing Khartoum an incentive for greater violence and contempt.”

Bush is actually forging closer ties with Sudan, reopening the CIA station in Khartoum that Bill Clinton had closed down and working with Sudan on terrorism matters, according to the LA Times.

(PINR also notes: “Today's American and Western attention for the Darfur question has much to do with Khartoum's new commercial and political ties with Iran and -- especially – China ... Sudan's importance is understandable in light of its energy assets and strategic position to securitize the 'Greater Middle East.'")

And last month, Bush’s #2 at the State Dept., Robert Zoellick, visted Sudan, where he lowballed the body count, signaling to the Sudanese officials that the US was easing up on them.

So when Bush repeated the “genocide” word on Wed., he was not trying to one-up the UN, and he was not trying to put more pressure on Sudan.

He was trying to limit domestic PR damage from Zoellick’s lowball.

But just so the Sudanese didn’t get the wrong idea, Bush also made sure to add that his part of his response to the genocide was that “Deputy Secretary Zoellick is on the way to Darfur” for another visit.

(Which the NY Times regurgitated without mentioning Zoellick’s recent handiwork.)

The Sudanese know full well that Zoellick is there to make nice, not crackdown.

In fact, Tapped reported yesterday that Sudan launched another attack on civilians using gunships the day Zoellick, in advance of the second trip, praised Sudan for grounding its gunships.

Also, Sudan recently arrested two high-profile humanitarian workers after Zoellick sent signals that the US was not concerned about harassment of such aid workers. On Tuesday, Tapped wrote:

Yesterday ... Zoellick briefed reporters on [Sudan].

In a far cry from ... Colin Powell's [Sept.] declaration [of genocide], Zoellick publicly embraced Khartoum’s efforts in trying to find a political solution to the conflict in Darfur...

...Zoellick was careful to ... avoid statements that clearly signaled U.S. displeasure with Khartoum’s documented harassment of aid workers...

...That was yesterday; Paul Foreman was arrested today.

In a police state like Sudan ... silencing humanitarian workers is important for domestic security.

Zoellick’s statements were so damaging precisely because they gave Khartoum the false (I hope) impression that the United States would tolerate the harassment of aid workers as long as the United States believed that Khartoum was generally on the right path.

(It’s important to remember that harassing aid workers is not an end itself, but a warning to other aid agencies to simply dutifully administer aid and medicine and not mention to the outside world the atrocities they see.)

Clearly feeling some domestic heat, Zoellick followed a meeting yesterday with the Sudanese prez with some language meant to sound tougher, but really wasn’t.

Coalition For Darfur noted this Reuters dispatch:

...Zoellick said ... he had asked Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to stop violence, rape and intimidation of aid workers in the western Darfur region.

"The key message ... is that the eyes of the world are directed on Darfur, so the rapes, the violence, we have to try and stop it," he said...

To which Coalition For Darfur said:

The international community has been "trying" to stop this for a year now without much success.

Perhaps the time has come to stop "trying to stop" it and start "stopping it."

Furthermore, while a State Dept. spokesperson condemned the arrests on Tuesday on US soil, Zoellick does not appear to have repeated that condemnation when sitting face to face with Bashir, which would be another mixed message signaling indifference.

Bush once said there would not be any genocide in the world, at least, “not on my watch.”

That watch is broken.

We are way past the point where you get a gold star for saying the word “genocide.”

Either you’re stopping it, or you’re not.

June 2, 2005 PERMALINK
Meet Your New Counterterrorism Chief
Now Wash The Oil Off Your Hands
(posted June 2 3:30 AM ET)

On Sunday, the W. Post reported that the Bush Administration is quietly undergoing a “high-level internal review of its efforts to battle international terrorism,” apparently after realizing its present strategy wasn’t all that.

The story notes that “many of the key counterterrorism jobs in the administration have been empty for months,” including the head of the National Counterterrorism Center.

The NCC was created in late August 2004 by executive order, one of four orders Dubya signed as the presidential campaign heated up.

As CNN.com reported at the time:

Sources familiar with the executive orders said they fall well short of the [9/11] panel's recommendations...

...One official complained that the measures do not go far enough, saying they are designed to create the appearance of doing something to respond to the 9/11 commission "without really doing anything meaningful."

But we digress. That is the past. What about the future? Will this belated introspection do us some good?

Based on the reported pick to head the NCC, LiberalOasis expects more of the same, more policies that breed international resentment and help terrorists grow their ranks.

The W. Post says the choice is Charles Wald, deputy commander of our European Command (that does not appear to be official as of yet.)

Who’s that?

If you have a photographic memory of every word LiberalOasis has ever published, you will recall that Wald was a key part of this post, dissecting our policies in the Caspian Sea region (prompted by one of controversial portions of Fahrenheit 9/11)

To recap, and elaborate:

In March ’04, Wald publicly stated that the US considered the Caspian region in its sphere of interests, provoking Russia, since that region is in its backyard.

On March 24, Turkmenistan.ru interviewed Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Kalyuzhny about Wald’s comments:

Q: Last week...General Charles Wald said the Caspian was in the sphere of US interests and that Washington was ready to help ensure the security of the region.

What is your view of the US participation in the resolution of Caspian problems?

KALYUZHNY: All Caspian problems have to be solved by the countries of the region themselves in a family way, without mediators.

An external factor will only create additional problems.

It would be interesting if Russia said it had some interests in the Great Lakes region or even appointed its special representative. How would the White House respond to that?

We have to understand one thing: the US interest in the Caspian region is associated only with oil.

Russia was not putting words in Wald’s mouth.

Wald gave a breathtakingly candid keynote address to the conservative American Enterprise Institute in April 2004.

It was at an event titled “Leave No Continent Behind: U.S. National Security Interests in Africa,” and it followed a panel discussion “U.S. Energy and Commodity Interests in Africa,” featuring the Exec. VP of Chevron Texaco, George Kirkland.

That discussion dovetailed into Wald’s presentation, which went beyond Africa and addressed Caspian issues as well. Wald said early on:

Some of our petroleum friends have left for the day, but I will tell you that in the Caspian Sea, if you think the Gulf of Guinea is important -- which I do, by the way. I'm going to talk about it -- the Caspian Sea is important as well.

And British Petroleum has a consortium of 20 different countries and agencies that are developing the oil in the Caspian Sea, $20 billion over the next 5 years...We think that's an important area...

Of course, the Caspian region includes some of our more delightful allies like Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, where it's not freedom that's marching and the Bushies couldn’t care less.

Wald also says the Gulf of Guinea, off the west coast of Africa, is important. Why is that?

...if you look down here in the Gulf of Guinea that was talked about by [Chevron Texaco’s] Mr. Kirkland ... and others, that in the next 10 years, we'll get 30 percent of our oil from that area...

...we get more oil from Western Africa today than we do the Middle East. It's a huge, important area...

...they talked about deep-water drilling, Mr. Kirkland did.

Deep-water drilling is a new technology that's allowed now the ability for oil companies to dig right now through the seabed and pump the oil right straight into a ship that's sitting off the coast.

You don't have to put it into a refinery. You don't have to put it into a pumping station. You pump it right to the ship...That's a good thing because it's easier and more secure.

[Deep water drilling is not as simple as that. The nonprofit Center For Public Integrity and the for-profit Greenwire explain.]

Number two is this crude oil that's coming out of here is called sweet crude.

It costs one-half the amount of money to refine that oil that it does out of the Middle East. This is a hugely important issue for the United States and the rest of Europe.

This is going to take security.

We're going to try to help with that from the standpoint of advice. They're going to have enough money in those areas to provide their own security.

That's why ... regional groups are going to be very important for Africa itself, and Europe and the United States.

And so what we're going to do is recommend to them -- intellectual capital is free -- how to set up a better security capability for themselves in the Gulf of Guinea.

A key player in the Gulf of Guinea region is Equatorial Guinea, another vicious dictatorship Bush likes to pal around with (see this 2003 LO post).

Wald does not speak about spreading freedom there, but about ensuring that the present tyrant has a “better security capability” so the oil can flow.

Wald justifies all this by arguing that terrorist groups are lurking about in Africa, looking to overthrow governments.

He also cites a recent incident where Russia briefly cut off gas to Belarus -- and in turn, all of Europe -- to highlight the national security importance of controlling the flow of energy resources.

Now, Wald is not explicit about propping up dictators.

He’s just explicit about Bush’s interest in controlling natural resources around the globe, and how that directly relates to Bush’s terrorism strategy.

But his silence about the tyrants in the regions he considers so critical to our security speaks volumes.

This is exactly the kind of foreign policy strategy that Bush has supposedly rejected:

We seek the advance of democracy for the most practical of reasons: because democracies do not support terrorists or threaten the world with weapons of mass murder...

...For too long, American policy looked away while men and women were oppressed, their rights ignored and their hopes stifled. That era is over...

As LO has repeatedly noted, it’s not that this sentiment is wrong. It’s that Bush is wholly insincere.

Yes, we need energy to be secure. But propping up dictators to get that energy is simply myopic. It causes more problems than it solves (as Bush says, but clearly does not believe.)

Yet propping up dictators when it is deemed to be in our narrow self-interest is still the policy, as the choice of Wald to be our counterterrorism point man confirms.

(Check out Sunday’s not half-bad, couple years too late, NY Times piece about our Caspian policies. Also, Hullabaloo and Democracy Arsenal have a few words about Bush’s terror strategy review.)

June 1, 2005 PERMALINK
What's Bush Quacking?
(posted June 1 12:30 AM ET)

A couple of notable nuggets from yesterday’s presidential press conference, subtitled “Stop Calling Me A Lame Duck”:

The Doth Protest Too Much Moment

REPORTER: Amnesty International said you have established a new gulag of prisons around the world, beyond the reach of the law and decency. I'd like your reaction to that.

And also your assessment of how it came to this, that that is a view not just held by extremists and anti-Americans, but by groups that have allied themselves with the United States government in the past.

And what the strategic impact is that in many places of the world, the United States these days, under your leadership, is no longer seen as the good guy.

BUSH: I'm aware of the Amnesty International report, and it's absurd. It's an absurd allegation.

The United States is a country that...promotes freedom around the world.

When there's accusations made about certain actions by our people, they're fully investigated in a transparent way. It's just an absurd allegation.

In terms of the detainees, we've had thousands of people detained. We've investigated every single complaint against the detainees.

It seemed like to me they based some of their decisions on the word of ... people who were held in detention, people who hate America...

...And so it was an absurd report. It just is.

Bush obviously knew this one was coming.

So it’s no accident he used the word “absurd” multiple times. He knew full well that could be the next-day headline.

And it’s no accident that his name-calling came 24 hours after Dick Cheney said, “I frankly just don't take [Amnesty] seriously,” and 48 hours after the Chair of the Joint Chiefs called Amnesty’s annual International Report “absolutely irresponsible.”

Clearly, the Amnesty charge stung.

Such a serious charge from an organization with such a sterling international reputation (so sterling that the Bushies often cite its work) could not be simply shrugged off.

Yet even though a ferocious pushback would keep the Amnesty report in the news past the holiday weekend, the Bushies felt they had no choice.

Of course, they can’t debunk the main “gulag” charge: that the Bushies are systematically detaining people in secret without providing access to attorneys or ensuring due process.

So, per usual, they don’t bother discussing the merits. The pushback is mainly bluster.

That’s enough to feed the right-wing echo chamber, but way short of actually discrediting Amnesty and salvaging America’s international reputation.

Most depressingly, Bush is following the irresponsible pattern of other nations that Amnesty charges with human rights abuses: instead of cleaning up his act, he blames the messenger.

Undercutting the Iran Talks, Again

REPORTER: I wonder if you can explain the administration's decision to allow Iran, in its negotiations with the Europeans, to get WTO status, ascension into the [World Trade Organization], whether you think that deal, in a sense, has legs...

BUSH: ...your question was about our agreement that Iran should apply for WTO. [emphasis original]

In other words, we said, fine, if you want to apply for WTO, go ahead and apply...we did that to facilitate the [European] discussions with Iran...

...So our decision was to allow them to ... apply to join the WTO, which is not ascension to the WTO.

It's just the right to make an application...

Once again, Bush undermines European efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue diplomatically.

The White House party-line, often echoed in the press, is that we’re supportive of the European talks.

But it’s been clear that our plan is to set up the talks to fail, kicking the issue to the UN, where we will set up that process to fail (see Iraq, 2003), all the while buying time as we prepare for military action.

The above response is latest example of that strategy.

The allowing of Iran to begin the process of joining the WTO, a shift in US policy, was supposed to be a small, trust-building step. Our State Dept. has portrayed it that way.

But for Bush to go out of his way to stress that he has merely permitted Iran to apply for membership, strongly implying that actual acceptance is not in the cards, is sure to poison what little faith the initial gesture generated.

Which, of course, was the point of saying it.

May 31, 2005 PERMALINK
The Temptation To Tack Right on Immigration
(posted May 31 2:30 AM ET)
(edited Aug. 4 7:45 PM ET)

It’s going to be sorely tempting for Dems to tack rightward on immigration issues.

But they should resist.

The issue is heating up, as anti-immigrant grassroots groups and their allies in Congress continue to apply pressure and attract media attention. And Rep. Tom Tancredo may run for prez as an “immigration reform” candidate.

Yet the debate in Washington is not really between Democrats and Republicans, but between pro-business, cheap-labor Republicans (like Dubya and John McCain) and nativist Republicans (like Pat Buchanan and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner).

(Recently, the W. Times, Wall Street Journal and Congressional Quarterly have examined the rift within the GOP on immigration.)

But Democrats will have to figure out where they stand.

Do they a pick a side in the GOP rift? Do they stake out their own position? Or will they end up creating an intra-party rift of their own?

With the GOP split, with the party’s bigger names on mushy middle ground, and with polls showing an anti-immigrant tilt (though arguably not as severe a tilt as 10 years ago), most political consultants will counsel Dems to get to Bush’s right in hopes of picking up some swing votes.

In the words of one of them, Mudcat Saunders:

Bubba doesn’t call them illegal immigrants. He calls them illegal aliens.

If the Democrats put illegal aliens in their bait can, we’re going to come home with a bunch of white males in the boat.

(Makes you wish your kids will grow up to become political consultants, doesn’t it?)

The buzz is that Sen. Hillary Clinton is taking Mudcat’s advice, but it’s unclear to what extent.

In Dec., the Right was stunned by her tough talk, such as “I am, you know, adamantly against illegal immigrants” and “People have to stop employing illegal immigrants.”

That won her praise from the conservative columnist Tony Blankley and the liberal-ish columnist Froma Harrop, sure to make politicos feel she’s on the right track.

Hillary hasn’t gone all the way to the far Right yet.

She opposed the attachment of the anti-immigrant REAL ID act onto an emergency military spending bill, though her statement was a disjointed mess that tried to meld pro-immigrant rhetoric with border crackdown rhetoric, while also ducking the contentious driver’s license issue.

Still, it’s clear she want to move the party rightward on immigration. We just don’t know how far.

Meanwhile, Sen. Ted Kennedy is staking out different turf, co-sponsoring legislation with McCain that would provide a path to citizenship for those currently working here illegally, after paying some penalties.

That differs from Dubya’s “guest worker” proposal, which would send people back home after three years of work. Extensions would be possible, but no real path to citizenship.

Both proposals anger the anti-immigration crowd, and both would keep supplying businesses with cheap labor.

From a political perspective, Democrats may feel comfortable under either the Hillary umbrella, where it feels like “end welfare as we know it” all over again, or the Kennedy umbrella, since it’s the media-friendly McCain out front drumming up support for his bill.

But to gravitate to the McCain-Kennedy bill is to merely pick sides in a Republican squabble, not to clearly articulate what Democratic policy ideals are.

And to follow Hillary’s lead is to repeat the mistakes of her husband, trying to score short-term political gains by using rhetoric that undermines party principles, creating long-term problems, both political and substantive.

What else can Dems do?

Don’t start with poll data. Start with principles.

That Democrats fundamentally believe in equality and opportunity for all.

That all humans are created equal, no matter what country they’re born in.

That the people crossing the border illegally, risking death in the desert to provide for their families, are no more criminals than Americans who illegally buy affordable prescription drugs from Canada to stay alive.

And that no one should be subjected to unfair wages, poor working conditions, with no hope for upward mobility.

Once you embrace those principles, you are not led to impractical crackdown policies, nor are you led to status quo cheap-labor policies.

You realize you not dealing with bad people, but a broken system.

Mexicans should not need to leave their towns and risk their lives just to make ends meet.

If the Mexican economy were in decent shape, then there would be no incentive to cross the border illegally.

And without a supply of illegal immigrants creating an underground economy, American companies would have a harder time exploiting workers, creating fresh opportunities for American workers.

W. Post’s Marcela Sanchez wrote an excellent online column on this point last week:

For all the talk around the country of border enforcement, guest worker programs, employer sanctions and driver's licensing restrictions, the sad fact is that none of these "solutions'' addresses the root of the problem -- a persistent and large U.S.-Mexican income disparity...

... To alter income disparity, it is obvious that Mexico must reduce its development gap and raise incomes.

What is just as apparent is that Americans do not feel, at least at the moment, that they have a responsibility or even an interest in reducing that gap through investment of money and expertise... former Bush administration official Richard A. Falkenrath and others say a significant infusion of U.S. aid into Mexico is a "nonstarter.'...

...[NAFTA] was supposed to generate more jobs in Mexico, raise salaries and therefore reduce people's incentive to emigrate. That proved to be wishful thinking...

...NAFTA has not generated the number of new jobs predicted, nor has it alleviated rural poverty...That would require, according to a soon-to-be-released report on NAFTA by the Institute for International Economics, "a sustained period of strong growth and substantial income transfers to poorer states."

There are some in this country, a minority to be sure, who say Washington must get involved more directly. Otherwise, they argue, Mexico won't be able to reduce disparities at least for another 100 years.

Among them is Robert Pastor, a former Carter administration official who has tirelessly argued for a North American Investment Fund. Pastor cites a 2000 World Bank estimate that Mexico would need $20 billion per year for a decade in essential infrastructure and educational projects to reduce 100 years to 10.

Would adopting an approach like this be short-term political magic? Of course not.

Many Americans will be skeptical of a strategy that costs money and doesn’t promise immediate results.

But when you are driven by principles and not polls, there are going to be issues where you won’t automatically be on the winning side, where you need to take some time to persuade.

And the split in the GOP gives Dems some room to do so, as they won’t be facing a united attack.

Dems can undercut the demagogic promises from the anti-immigrant groups by citing some of McCain’s pragmatic criticisms. For example, on ABC earlier this month he said:

The other option is to take ten or 11 million people ... and ship them back to the country from which they can came.

I can envision the scenario where four and five year-old children, where 70 and 80 year-old men and women are loaded onto buses or airplanes and sent back to the country from which they came, not to mention the expense associated with it.

It's not practical.

Once you can solidify the notion that there are no silver bullet answers, you may not score any immediate political gains, but you can prevent the anti-immigrants from scoring points too.

At the same time, you’ll earn some long-term respect for embracing a comprehensive solution that flows from your principles.

If Hillary succumbs to the temptation to tack rightward on immigration, will most of the Democratic Party follow?

Or will someone else be bold enough to take the long view?

The Blog Wire
Tracking the liberal blogosphere

The Yellow Doggerel Democrat: "I memorialize of course all those in the American military who fell in the line of duty, and I give my thanks to all those seriously injured (who seem to be always just out of reach of the cameras and the interviewing reporters these days), but I also celebrate the lives and mourn the deaths of everyone who died as a result of any war."

Yellow Dog Blog: A Conflicted Veteran On Memorial Day

firedoglake says Indy 500 driver Robby Gordon is "a Big Fat Cry-Baby, and You Can Tell Him I Said So"

The Nuclear Threat Initiative is giving away free DVDs of its film Last Best Chance, "a docudrama that shows the threat posed by vulnerable nuclear weapons and materials around the world and underscores what the stakes are."

Baker Muckraker: "a new study from the World Policy Institute ... reveals the United States central role as a supplier of weapons that fuel ongoing conflicts – ones where human rights violations are rampant."

Sirotablog: The Misguided Desire to Seem "Hawkish"

Orcinus has a new book in stores June 1 about the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. Buy it!

Common Blog: Another Body Blow to Tom DeLay

Confined Space: "Terrorism has been used as an excuse for a lot of crazy things like limiting civil liberties ... Now ... it's also an excuse for letting workers die."

Huffington Post's Trey Ellis: "Don't Execute Co-Founder of Crips ... amazingly, Mr. Williams has dedicated the last twenty years of his life to stopping at-risk kids from making the same mistakes he did."

Chuck Currie: "Christians can confidently and morally support embryonic stem cell research. We are called to support a healing and caring ministry in our own day and this research can help meet that goal."

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