Thursday, December 01, 2005

Bush Speeches Overdue First Step Back Towards Winning Public Opinion War

Bush Speeches Overdue First Step Back Towards Winning Public Opinion War

VietNam was a war won on the ground by our troops and lost at home by a combination of an anti-military media and a lack of resolve among the policymakers in Washington, D.C. The war in Iraq should not and cannot be the same type of war. An immediate or even timed withdrawal in Iraq will leave the country open to some Zarqawi-Baathist cabal to run the country and most likely set up a terrorist base that has been missing since the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The terrorists look to previous examples of where the United States has committed only halfheartedly to a mission and left when things started to look less than rosy. VietNam, Lebanon, Somalia, and the refusal of the U.S. to retaliate against attacks in Yemen, Tanzania, Kenya, and elsewhere have given the terrorists the impression that the United States will leave a conflict when it looks like the times might be tough or the commitment might take more than a couple of years. With recent bickering and pushes from the left to evacuate the area, the terrorists can’t help but wonder if the same outcome won’t happen in Iraq if only they wait long enough.

Others in the area are looking to the outcome in Iraq with great interest. The other Baathist regime, Syria, and an aspirer to the world’s nuclear club, Iran, are keenly looking to see what happens. The last thing that both want is a strong, democratic country run by moderate Shiites on their borders. A country that respects the rule of law and the rule by its people would be a terrible example for both Assad and the theocracy of Iran. Moreover, it would help to provide a bulwark against the Wahabist lava boiling underneath the surface of the Saudi monarchy.

However, the Bush administration has not done an adequate job of telling the American people the full story of why we are in Iraq, and the consequences of failure. Instead, they let others throw out red herrings such as the search for WMD to distract the public from what is truly important about why we went into Iraq, and why we must stay. Instead of dictating the agenda and elaborating on the reasoning, the Bush administration has been backpedaling on defense, answering every allegation and losing focus.

By making the round of speeches that he is making, President Bush is taking a right and overdue first step in telling the true story of Iraq to the American people. Talk to soldiers and you’ll hear a different story than the one that you hear in the media. It is a story of hope, and of a growing peace. Notice that the Baathist and Sunni terrorists are now attacking Iraqis. There’s a reason for this tactical change, and that’s because of the great work of the American soldier in Iraq. While the media covers the line at the police recruiting station that gets attacked by a homicide bomber, it doesn’t go back the next day to see the lines doubled with even more Iraqis who want to take back their own country from the terrorists.

Nobody wants American soldiers in the Middle East indefinitely, not the American people, not the administration, not the opposition, and not the Iraqis. However, leaving or telegraphing our departure will create a power vacuum that will surely be filled by those who we do not want to fill that void. It is incumbent upon the President not to make this just another chapter in a series of fits and starts towards showing the American people the reason we must win this fight in Iraq. A series of speeches is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for success in this endeavor.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Alito first step in winning back conservatives

The nomination of Judge Samuel Alito the Supreme Court is the first step for President Bush to take control of the agenda that he set forth in his 2004 election campaign. The recent history with an unsuccessful attempt at Social Security reform, hurricane relief efforts, and the nomination of Harriet Miers to the bench have not been high points of the Bush administration’s five years. While the appointment of Chief Justice Roberts to the Supreme Court was a victory that will help conservative efforts for years to come, it was somewhat lost among other recent events. The appointment and successful confirmation of Judge Alito will help to change the momentum of the Bush White House.
In both 2000 and 2004, President Bush ran on a platform of conservative values. As I sat in the Republican National Convention, I watched a string of conservative speakers take the podium and espouse the ideals that the party was going to stand for. While speakers like Senator John McCain and Mayor Rudy Giuliani had their moments in the spotlight, the primary focus was on ensuring the continuation of a conservative agenda in the Bush White House. A 3 million vote majority showed that a predominance of Americans were in agreement of the direction of the country. However, since the election, the agenda has gone adrift. A failed attempt to push privatization of Social Security, a good idea which was not communicated appropriately to the American people, started the drift. Allowing news to obfuscate the reality of the progress in Iraq was the next failure of the administration. I have many classmates who have served in the Army in Iraq, and they bespeak of the progress that is being made, contrary to the continued morass that the media would like to portray. Having served in deployments before, I understand that the reality of what is happening on the ground often somehow does not get conveyed through the lens of the media.
The latest misstep was the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. It is entirely possible that Miers’s positions on cases would have reflected the conservative values that the Bush team and the Republican Party would hope for. After all, Miers was President Bush’s personal attorney and he has known her for many years. That story was never told, though, and because President Bush never made a compelling case for the jurist that Miers is, he lost credibility with the conservative base that brought him to the office.
The nomination of Judge Samuel Alito should help to mend fences with the conservative base that the President relies on. Judge Alito has a long track record of conservative writings and decisions and will likely continue along those lines as a Supreme Court justice. Once confirmed, Judge Alito will be a signal to conservatives that President Bush still has an appropriate conservative agenda that he wants to push forward to help make this country a better one than what it was on his first day in office.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Iraqi referendum should not signal beginning of end of American troop deployment

A successful constitutional referendum in Iraq is just another arrow in the quiver of liberals’, and some conservatives’, arguments that the United States should start withdrawing from Iraq. While the referendum is another step towards full Iraqi sovereignty and liberal democracy, the government and the country is still perched precariously on the brink of chaos, and it does not possess the infrastructure or organized resources to ensure success. Only American involvement can give Iraqis a chance at long-standing freedom.

First, Iraq does not have the organized resources and standing infrastructure to guarantee long-term stability if the United States withdraws its military forces from the Iraqi theater. The Iraqi defense forces have between one and three combat-ready battalions with upwards of 80 other battalions in varying states of readiness. This is hardly the amount necessary to protect a country the size of Texas. Iraqis are looking for their government, their military, and the American military to provide stability, security, and justice and to restore the order of law. While this is mostly the case and certainly a great improvement over the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, it is still a far cry from the conditions necessary for democracy and freedom to take hold and flourish. President Bush’s strategy, rightly so, is to create a bulwark in the Middle East where others can see democracy in action and the value of freedom; however, it will need to take root to be a successful example.

Additionally, the United States needs to show that it is truly committed to peace and democracy in the Middle East. Even talk about drawdowns of American forces show Iraqis, our allies, and the terrorists that the United States is not committed to the long-term investment necessary to guarantee creating a stable democracy in the Middle East. As long as the enemy cannot know if and when the deployment of American troops will end, it cannot plan on an end game. However, word of American withdrawal will reinvigorate recruitment and give the terrorists a reason to believe that they can win. Additionally, it will show Iraqis that America does not truly believe that democracy and stability in the Middle East are important.

Establishing a democracy and freedoms in a country is not a process that, even in the best of conditions, will take two years. It will take several years, and the United States, Iraqi leadership, and the coalition of the willing must be willing to commit the blood, treasure, troops, and time necessary for democratic roots to take hold. This is a theater that the United States cannot afford to lose to the terrorists. One victory will make winning the longer war on terror exponentially more difficult, as those who would think that they cannot hope to take on the United States will become emboldened. Now is the time to redouble our efforts in ensuring that the Iraqi constitutional referendum is one step in the march towards democracy, and not a high point in the war on terror.

Monday, October 10, 2005

New York City Subway Terror Plot Showed Appropriate Decision Making

The response of the New York City authorities to the potential terrorist attack over the weekend was an appropriate response and an example of the correct way for information flow and decision making to work. The federal government was in the best position to accumulate the information about the potential attacks, as it is responsible for leading the way on the war on terror. The federal government controls the CIA, military, FBI, and other agencies with superior resources for obtaining and interpreting information. The local New York City authorities were the correct ones to make the decision on how best to react to the situation. They knew their security capabilities and the true likelihood of the success of such an attack were it to be attempted.

The federal government is indeed the best resource to lead the effort in information gathering and determination of potential attacks by terrorists. The war on terror should be and is a combined effort of multiple federal agencies who can keep overarching global and strategic goals in mind while engaging in the conduct of the war. It has the resources and the capabilities that local governments cannot hope to have. While the coordination of the war leaves much to be desired, it is the correct level to lead that war.

However, the local level of government is the right level at which decisions about actions should be made. Local authorities know of the likelihood of the success of planned actions and the best countermeasures to take against the potential terrorist attacks. They also know their budgetary and resource constraints and can reach out for additional help where necessary. Additionally, and most importantly, they know their citizens and how those citizens will react to potential countermeasures.

While New York City officials have come under fire for the decision to flood the subways with police officers, the decision was New York City’s to make. The officials took the information that they had at the time and the time constraints that they had and decided that public safety was best served by not assuming that the risks posed were minimal. They knew the situation on the subways and the best way to protect the riders. This was an example of letting local government govern. Local governments are the first responders in times of crisis, so allowing them to make decisions on how to preposition resources to either prevent or to respond to terror attacks maximizes the probability that they will either deter, prevent, or correctly react to terror attacks. The federal government should facilitate and provide additional resources where necessary, but the decisions properly rest with local officials who are best informed about local situations and their citizens.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Oregon law supporting physician assisted suicide is not the right path

The Supreme Court is currently considering an Oregon law regarding the ability for a physician to provide drugs and treament necessary for a patient commit suicide. Gonzales v. Oregon, 04-623, contemplates the right of the individual to commit suicide and the rights of others, namely doctors, to participate in the suicide.

The decision hinges on the difference between the right to refuse treatment and the right to actively seek death. The Oregon law has gone too far in the intent to aid the suffering of patients. Aiding in death sets a precedent that facilitates others deciding on a person's death and leaves too much to interpretation.

Anyone should have the right to determine when to stop received treatment that can prolong life. Seeking to extend a life unnaturally is the right that any person has and links directly to the value that we place on a life. However, when the courts extend that right beyond seeking or refusing treatment, they set a precedent that can lead to other consequences that we will not want.

The solution is not to sanction assisted suicide, but, rather, to strengthen the legal frameworks concerning living wills. Define the standard of evidence--preferably clear and convincing or higher--by which life-sustaining treatment can be removed. Set the standard and the precedent for the value of human life. Prematurely terminating life cannot be the standard for a country that wants to support a culture of life.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The steroidal expansion of Congressional inquiry

Yesterday, several United States Senators, faced with monumental decisions about this country, such as whether or not to confirm Judge John Roberts as Chief Justice, how to most effectively prosecute the war on terror, how to clean up after the Gulf Coast hurricanes, and the best way to maintain our economy's strength, spent a morning lambasting professional sports leagues about the problems of using steroids. The interest of Senator Jim Bunning is obvious; he is a Hall of Fame baseball pitcher so naturally takes an interest in the matter. However, does the use of steroids rise to the level of importance of many other matters that the Congress could address?
The role of government is to provide the infrastructure and services that localities and states cannot, and, in general, to get out of the way more often than not. However, Congress takes an interest in baseball, particularly, because of its antitrust status. While this provides some justification, it certainly does not provide enough to merit Congressional meddling in a private affair. Simply put, one must wonder about the priorities of the Senate if it deems a steroid scandal as a "transcendent" issue, as John McCain put it. Likely, few of our soldiers who are defending freedom around the world think of a minority of professional sports players using steroids as a "transcendent" issue. Same with internally displaced citizens from Gulf Coast hurricanes. The displaced father of three is likely not concerned with steroid abuse, but, rather, with how the government will help him get back on his feet after the devastation of Katrina and Rita.
Government has no role in policing sports in the best of times; it is a private matter to be handled by leagues. If fans do not want their teams to employ players who use enhancement drugs, then they will not show up at the gates. However, these are not what many would classify as the best of times, and it is an abhorrence that the Senate would waste its time on these pithy matters. To quote Steve Czaban of Fox Sports Radio, John McCain is an "embarassment to Team Elephant" right now.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Brown's hearings show a complete lack of personal responsibility

The testimony of Michael Brown, former FEMA director, to Congress today was appalling. This was the testimony of someone who was trying to posthumously save his reputation as a competent, capable administrator. While all of the blame for the lack of response from many authorities, local, state, and federal, does not rest at Brown's feet, the utter failure of Brown to make a compelling argument for what share of the burden rested with his agency reflects poorly on his leadership capabilities and calls into question the rigor inherent in vetting heads of national authorities.

What specifically caused me to have a visceral reaction against Brown's testimony was a segment of his opening statement. In it, Brown spoke of walking into command posts where nobody was in charge and chaos reigned. He had seen smoothly run operations in Florida, but the situation in Louisiana was completely different. There was no leader taking charge and organizing. Brown's complaints show his primary shortcoming as the director of FEMA--his failure to take charge in that room and make things happen.

The public elects people that it expects to be leaders. It also expects those leaders to appoint other leaders to organizations to drive results. Leadership is encountering a difficult situation, taking command, and driving to a satisfactory resolution. When I was a tank platoon leader, I had a company commander, Scott Cunningham, who said--probably quoting some famous general of history (if anyone can tell me who the general or the real quote is, I'd really appreciate it)--that a medicore plan executed aggressively is much better than the best plan never executed at all. Brown sat back and took a victim mentality to what was happening. Brown, Governor Blanco, Mayor Nagin were and are not victims. The people who lost lives, homes, and suffered countless horrors are the victims, not the elected and appointed "leaders" who survived and then failed to act decisively.

Even if Brown did not have the direct authority to take command and start action, the right thing for him to do as a federally appointed leader was to step up and do it anyway. Proper chains of command could reemerge later, but at that point, the chain of command was a formless mass of unlinked parts, and Brown, the one that could have reformed that chain, failed miserably. He did the right thing only in stepping down from the role, and the government failed to do the right thing in firing him before he could step down.

The exposure of an incompetent administrator at the head of one of the nation's most important agencies calls into question the process by which these heads are chosen and the qualities that are requisite in a successful agency head. The first is indisputable--leadership. The federal government is and should be the backstop where local and state agents cannot handle situations, be it national defense, interstate regulations, or disasters. There will be times when those heads will face incredible hardships, war, catastrophe, and the like. These leaders should be willing to step into uncertain, chaotic situations and take command, tell the gathered that they are in charge, and to follow them.

While President Bush, Rudy Giuliani, and many others distinguished themselves with exemplary shows of leadership in the 9/11 period, the victims of hurricane Katrina are suffering from a nearly equivalent lack of leadership. What the federal government needs is not people looking to shirk responsibility and lay blame at the feet of others, as Michael Brown attempted to do today, but rather leaders who can galvanize and drive results in times of dire need.

Monday, September 26, 2005

The choice between hurricane cleanup and the war on terror is NOT a choice

The liberal media is attempting to portray the natural disasters in the Gulf Coast a perfect opportunity to frame government spending into an either/or type of decision with spending on cleanup from Katrina and Rita or spending the money necessary to support the effort in the war on terror. This is an incorrect presentation of the options in front of the American people. The decision before the American public is not a choice between cleanup or prosecution of the war on terror, but, rather, of how to pay for supporting both efforts.

The reasons that the United States has no choice but to pursue both courses of action simultaneously are clear, if not always understood. Failing to pursue the war on terror, a war in any sense of the term, and not a political engagement, leaves the United States open to asymmetrical opportunities to attack by the terrorists. As the United States cannot defend every potential target that the terrorists might hit without exhausting the Treasury and breaking the economy, it has no choice but to attack suspected terrorists before they have the capability to choose and hit a target. The base of support for terrorists is the disaffected who believe that the United States is wrong and that enough attacks on a populace will cause a callow withdrawal like witnessed in Somalia. However, creating free and open societies in areas where terrorists come from, such as in Wahabist Saudi Arabia, denies the terrorist recruiters the justification they have in bringing in new members to the fold. Furthermore, the enemy, the terrorists, are implicitly acknowledging that the focal point of this war is now Iraq. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has repeatedly stated that a successful democracy in Iraq will likely signal the death knell for terrorist activities. Therefore, by not supporting the continuing war in Iraq and other places, we give the terrorists a chance to slip through the noose before it tightens on them and makes the costs of successfully prosecuting a war later exponentially higher.

The reasons for cleanup after the hurricanes’ destruction are equally clear, and certainly more understood. Failing to rebuild one of the largest cities in the United States, New Orleans, would be a failure of the implied agreement between government and people. The people pay taxes, take part in civic duties, and agree to the laws of the land in exchange for protection and provision of necessities for living and for the opportunity to pursue their dreams through hard work. Creating the internal displacement of a half a million people would be on a scale comparable to Africa or Afghanistan. Even though the displaced people would not face the level of hardship that a refugee in, for example, Chad fleeing from Darfur may face, to allow U.S. citizens to undergo needless relocation is unacceptable. While the purely economic argument could posit that people took risks of self-insurance by living in an area such as New Orleans, morally, giving in to the purely economic argument would disregard the inherent human value that all of the displaced, and all of the rest of us have.

Therefore, the question that should be before the public is not what to do, but how to accomplish it. Naysayers of thee war effort claim that the U.S. economy and government cannot afford both. This is true only if the government wishes to continue to spend money in areas that are, on a relative scale, less important. Funding for roads in Alaska that go to nowhere or for subsidization of a public broadcasting service which should be private can be eliminated or reduced to provide the funding to support both cleanup and the war on terror. What is needed is not profligate excess, but, rather, an intentional exercise in the tradeoffs offered. Unfortunately, in times of strife and suffering, we cannot have everything that we want, and we must make some sacrifices. Our government should take a hard look at spending and determine what is truly necessary and what is mere excess. Protecting pet projects in a local congressman’s district rather than freeing up the funds to tackle more important areas of government is inexcusable. Write elected representatives and hold them responsible for spending wisely so that they are not mortgaging the future to curry favorites with the present. No individual’s reelection in the next cycle is as important as the reconstruction of a destroyed city or as important as the successful prosecution of the war on terror.