Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Torture Taboo

Why does tough interrogation get such a bad rap in the US? Certainly, much of the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib was senseless and shameful, but this should by no means push the US to tone down its interrogation techniques.

One commonly hears this protest: “How can anyone take seriously US pronouncements on human rights in light of how it treats its own prisoners?” At best, this is rather flimsy logic. In times of war, an army’s chief objective almost always involves killing its enemy. Why is killing OK in war, but tough interrogating—which is less terminal than killing—to gain strategic advantages not?

But what if the tortured prisoner had no valuable intelligence to begin with? The nature of war, even a just war, makes collateral damage unavoidable. General Sherman’s statement “War is hell” was prescriptive as much as descriptive.

There are plenty of documented cases where intense interrogation has yielded crucial information, so the onus is on the dissenters to explain why torture should not be used. What worthwhile value or moral principle does an anti-interrogation stance promote? And why—in the political world of value tradeoffs—does that principle outweigh the advantages that tough interrogation has been known to produce?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Why do we fear?

Amid Protests, President of Iran Speaks at Columbia

Damon Winter/The New York Times
[Protesters, including students bused in from other schools, swarmed Columbia University to demonstrate against the speech.]

I think, first of all, we need to listen directly and carefully on his opinion on what’s wrong and what’s right on the situation in the Middle East. And then, we can judge his argument how he is biased or not based on his remarks. Protests are a good means of representing the American ideology. Even without it, Ahmadinejad would keep look down on the U.S. and so called the Western democratic countries. National security can be obtained only when we sought the true values. If he does not exactly know on those values, we have to le him know ho to maintaining a stable national security. If somebody who is not content with him, how about to say in front of his speech table that “you are a terrorist!” To obtain true values, we need to know to withdrawing one step, and then it will make us to go further.

Speaking of Values

Since we have just concluded our discussion of values and how these tie into national security I found it rather intriguing that The Economist began a series this week that examines how terrorism has affected civil liberties. In the first installment The Economist examines arguably the worst assault on civil liberties by exploring the use of torture to secure information deemed to be of vital interest to national security. The report looks specifically at how 9/11 has changed some of the attitudes in western countries about the appropriateness of some level of torture to extract information from terror suspects.
The article lays down some of the international laws to which most countries are signatories and how they define torture. According to the article it the different interpretation of what constitutes torture that has allowed several countries most notably the US and England to engage in or sponsor some level of torture by allies. The moral dilemma with torture is of course discussed as it can potentially save many lives in return for small concessions in civil liberties. Dick Chenney is quoted as having recently suggested that "dunking" a terrorist in water to save lives was a "no-brainer". This blunder was later altered by a press release stating that he was not referring to "water-boarding". Also in 2004 the English Court of Appeal ruled that evidence acquired through torture was admissible in court. Although later overturned by the House of Lords.
The nature of terrorism, according to the article, has made the need for information that much more important to defending against the enemy. Polls presented in the article also show that a large numbers of people around the world believe that "some degree of torture is permissible". However, in the same polls we also see that in all countries a majority of the population are "against all torture". Clearly a divide has developed since the rise of terror that has changed some peoples perception as to what national security is and how important civil liberties are to it. Governments have responded to these changes in public attitude by permitting it in some form through elaborate schemes.
Also, the article touches on some aspects from the nuclear taboo article from last week. The Economist seems to espouse the view that torture should also remain a taboo to modern societies as it poses a slippery slope just like the use of nuclear arms. Once the practice of torture becomes accepted, even in only a minor role and extreme cases similar to the use of tactical nukes, it will lead to escalation as there is no clear boundary that can be established in its implementation. The article argues that the erosion of civil liberties in this direction is a dangerous development but also makes note that in many places legislation has been developed to curb many of the torture practices that emerged directly after 9/11 and the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. This seems to coincide with reduced support for torture at home.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Disaster at Sea?

On Friday Robert Kaplan—a journalist currently writing for The Atlantic—wrote and op-ed piece in the New York Times, arguing that the Iraq war may be the event which brings about the Asian Century. Throughout the article, Kaplan predicts scenarios and points out trends about Asian naval power.

A trend: Kaplan argues that the balance of naval power in Asia is changing. Specifically, he mentions China. It has five times as many submarines as America, and it is focusing on naval mines, G.P.S. satellite blocking technology, and ballistic missiles that are capable of hitting moving objects at sea. Kaplan also mentions that India’s Navy is on its way to being the 3rd largest, and Japan’s Navy is also increasing, soon to be 4 times larger than Britain’s Navy.

A forecast: As the Indian and Chinese middle classes grow, and consequently, as the demand for energy grows, the narrow bodies of water in and around the Indian Ocean will become clogged with tankers transporting oil and with the warships protecting the tankers routes. Kaplan calls this is a dangerous situation prone to terrorist attacks.

A trend: While pointing out that a willingness to use military power can be based on nationalism, Kaplan compares the level of nationalism in America and Europe to that in Asian countries. Kaplan calls the West post-nationalistic, seemingly ashamed for needing nuclear weapons. Contrastingly, the Indians, Pakistanis, and Chinese are prideful about possessing nuclear weapons, and certainly the Iranians are passionate about their right to poses nuclear weapons. Kaplan brings the discussion back to the Iraq war by blaming it for worsening the European trend towards pacifism.

A forecast: Several territorial disputes in the Asian seas remind Kaplan of the same sort of territorial dispute that “often led to war in early modern Europe.”

Kaplan goes on with more predictions and trends, describing what sounds like a recipe for disaster, but how possible are his predictions?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Montpelier: to the President of the United States

Dear Mr. President,

I have sympathy for the aspirations of the Second Vermont Republic (SVR) movement, and though it has generated a media maelstrom, I think it would be wise to consider circumspectly its goals and ideals. At the very least, the Vermont issue should shed some light on American values.

Press reports have censured the SVR movement with words "threat," "treason," and "radicalized." These are inaccurate.

That the SVR movement seeks to harm or overthrow the United States government (which would be treason) is nonsense; it simply wishes to reinvigorate the American ideals that government proceeds from the citizen and, in the United States, that the federal government should operate within a limited scope. That the United States government has claimed prerogatives outside its constitutional mandate (see Bill of Rights, 10th amendment) is undisputed.

Would the SVR be a threat? No more than Canada. Would its secession harm the nation? Vermont has the smallest gross state product of the fifty states--about 0.2% of US GDP--and has a similar share in the national population. Perhaps one could say the SVR threatens the value of unity. But unity is desirable only when centered on virtuous principles, and SVR supporters believe that United States' policies that erode self-government pose the larger threat--a noble argument that sadly got entangled in the slavery issue in the 1800s.

Are they radical? In their pursuit of self-determination, perhaps. The "treason" and "threat" labels, however, are unwarranted. Then again, they would be quite familiar to people such as John Hancock and Samuel Adams. Before cursorily classifying the SRV movement as inimical to the United States, Mr. President, please consider the fundamental values for which the United States stands, or more appropriately, stand.


An American citizen

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Death to Ameri..er, Pakistan!

Reports now say the the next video out of the bin Laden camp is going to call for jihad against...Pakistan.

Welcome to the party, Pakistan.

Apparently, UbL is hacked off by the Musharraf government for its management of the Red Mosque issue and by his dodgy rule as a whole (read: cooperation with the Great Satan). Things are really up in the air in Pakistan now with the good general's relinquishing control of the military if elected properly...or whatever his mindset happens to be this week. Either way, UbL has chosen a tricky period in which to get into fisticuffs with Pakistan.

Seeing as how the Taliban and perhaps UbL himself managed to stay alive by hiding along or even inside the border with Pakistan, it might not be the best move to tamper with this relationship. Isn't there a saying about not pooping where you sleep? If not, there needs to be.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Montpelier Delenda Est!

While our attention has been focused on our enemies in the Middle East, there has been a threat growing within our own national borders. The Second Vermont Republic (SVR) has been growing in power and notoriety over the past few months and has been gaining fame both domestically and abroad.

The SVR is a secessionist movement bent on pulling the state out of the United States a la South Carolina in 1860-61. SVR leaders claim that the right to secession is real and justified by historical precedent (just when you thought the Civil War was a bad thing...). According to the SVR, a state and its people have the right and the duty to secede when a government has lost the authority to rule. Ironic how they use the reasoning of the founding fathers to support their cause. Furthermore, the United States' government is immoral and disrespectful of the individual states.

To date, the separatist movement is not militant. In fact, one of the hallmark ideas of the movement is that a state can secede peacefully. As evidence, they cite the newly independent states born of the break up of the Soviet Union. Of course, the Soviet bloc fell apart and did not stand idly by while a section of it radicalized politically and opted out.

A seceding state from the US, especially one on the border, is too great a threat to national security to be permitted.

Granted, any red-blooded American would love to see the hyper-liberal state hit the road, but it simply is too dangerous. With its growing international fame, how long would it be before the SVR is contacted by the greater terrorist network? How long until Osama is hiding out in the mountains of Vermont instead of in the mountains of Afghanistan? A rogue state on the border is too tasty a morsel for the enemies of America to ignore.

The practical means to rectify the problem are less clear. Perhaps the residents of Vermont could be relocated to Texas for re-Americanization? Pacify the Vermonters by legalizing marijuana in their state?

Either way, the South is now officially exculpated and the Northeast has taken over the mantle of treason. One course of action is clear: Montpelier Delenda Est!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Penguin, err...Dick Cheney, strikes again

Speaking at a GOP fundraiser this week, the Vice President felt compelled to weigh on the moveon.org controversy involving its ad in last week's NY TIMES. (Is it me, or does it seem like the only time the VP comes out of hiding is to raise money, but I digress.) In the article, the organization questions whether General Petraeus was "cooking the books" during his Capitol Hill testimonies last week. Whether you agree with Moveon's tactics or not, this administration has proven its resolve to "cook the books" to advance their agenda. Given that former Bush cabinet officials (Paul O'Neill, George Tenet, etc.) have publicly stated that this administration was only concerned with intelligence that supported their agenda, the question is at least worthy enough to be investigated. Further damning to the administration, the respected by all, former FED Chairman Alan Greenspan came out this week and stated that the Iraq War was all about oil. Back in 2003, the Bush-Cheney team sacrificed Colin Powell at the UN, when they sent him to deliver the "cooked-up" evidence supporting their pre-determined war, sidetracked only by the events of 9/11. And now, they expect all Americans to unequivocally support all of this administrations proposals for Iraq or they label them as un-patriotic. Given this week's topic on Values and National Interests, along with having heard Greenspan's opinion on the motive for the Iraqi invasion, I think a true patriot would do anything but go along with the status-quo of this administration.

Further, when I heard the VP state, "No one in politics should hesitate to object when an American soldier at war is mocked and insulted." I couldn't help but remember the confrontation that Cheney engaged in with Max Cleland, the former Vietnam Vet and Georgia Senator who lost both of his legs and one arm during battle, in 2004. Or, in that same year at the Republican National Convention in NYC, Cheney permitted and supported the use of band-aides as way to "mock and insult" Senator Kerry's service in Vietnam, while he continuously and cowardly avoided the same draft in which Kerry served. His hypocrisy knows no bounds.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Second Summit Meeting in the Korean Peninsula

What are the meanings of the second inter-Korean summit meeting?

Second summit meeting will be held on 2 – 4, October, 2007. This will be a meaningful in many ways as I suggested below. Let me compare the two meetings.

The first summit meeting in June, 2000 was come about when there was no trust between North and South. And there was no contact between government officials. Rather, the Hyundai’s role as intermediary was devotional.

First of all, however, the second summit meeting will be held with the results of frequent dialogues and negotiations--owing to the U.S. and multilateral conversations. Second, Kaesong Industrial Complex and other economic projects are being carried out in positive senses. Third, as I mentioned above, the government’s official channel made it possible to have the second meeting.

This summit meeting will be meaningful in its contents. This meeting will definitely deal with the nuclear issue first. Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is the basic premise of the successes of the 13 February, 2007 Six-Party Talks. For two Koreas, security is the most important issue to be solved for the further progress in a bilateral relation. If the nuclear problem solved, South Korea have enough intention to assist North Korea in a various ways.

In this sense, South Korea can play a crucial role in securing stability and finally the reunification of the two Koreas. In regard to security issue, NLL (Northern Limitation Line) issue—the most urgent problem is expect to be suggested. North Korea does not recognize the existence of this line; whereas South Korea is firmly insist on the existence of this line, so there are many possibilities of conflict in the West Sea, as some North Korean Navy skirmish cases showed. Summit meeting will deal with this line seriously. Of course, this will not be easily solved in one time, but gradually there will be much more specific meetings. Accordingly, I expect this second summit meeting will institutionalize the inter-Korean summit meeting further.

Friday, September 14, 2007

It’s easy to criticize US policy in Iraq. Even the president has expressed disappointment with the lack of political reconciliation and security enhancement, and the chorus of war critics is as clamorous as ever. But merely pointing out policy flaws—especially obvious ones—is unhelpful, unless one is advocating viable alternatives.

One popular alternative: skedaddle. But this is not a strategy; it’s a reaction. Those who advocate pullout need also to demonstrate how steadily drawing-down forces in Iraq, irrespective of events on the ground, is the best policy option for the US. True, it would bring many US troops out of harm’s way and decrease expenditures, but what would be the larger ramifications? How would US interests in the region be affected? What balance of power shifts might occur? Those who assert—correctly—that US war planning pre-invasion gave inadequate attention to future scenarios should also consider what consequences a precipitate withdrawal might produce.

Some war critics cite declining Iraqi optimism—documented in a recent BBC pool—as proof of US failure and an argument for pullout. But the poll shows also that security is still the number one concern for Iraqis. Those who advocate withdrawal out of sensitivity to Iraqi opinion should explain how this policy would address Iraqis’ primary misgiving. The BBC poll shows also that over 50 percent of Iraqis wish the US to remain until security is improved.

Merely hollering that the light bulb has burnt out does not fix the light. Of course, if you’re the US you can just walk out of the room. But those who are staying behind don’t like the dark either and would probably prefer that you replace the bulb rather than just complain that it doesn’t work. Some intent thinking on enhancing US war policy--not merely carping--is in order.

Endnote: to those who assert—correctly—that this blogger has ignored his own advice and failed to present a viable alternative policy, it shall come in a future posting.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

It's working! Or, it was until today...I think...

According to General Petreaus the troop surge in Iraq has made significant progress, "it's working" we were told a scant 4 days ago. The Iraqi people however disagree, and voiced their opposition to the General's assessment. In a bbcnews poll released the same day 70% of Iraqi's believed that the security situation in Iraq had deteriorated despite our increased presence in their country.

There was political wrangling and much gnashing of teeth in Washington as pundits debated who was closer to the truth,
Petraeus or the Iraqi people.

Today, the point is moot. We now have fairly conclusive evidence that the latter was far more accurate, and that Iraqi's understand their country better than we do.
Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, who met with President Bush last week and was widely credited with the "Anbar Awakening", has been assassinated.