Grab-Bag for Today: Gay Marriage, Guantanamo, Mexico Violence, and Drones

Uruguay Legalizes Gay Marriage

The South American country of Uruguay has legalized gay marriage through its Chamber of Deputies.  Good to see a country mature enough to do it through legislation and not have to wait until the court system informs the public what the phrase “equal rights” actually means (looking at you America).  And the good news for Americans is the legislation states “gay and lesbian foreigners will now be allowed to come to Uruguay to marry, just as heterosexual couples can.”  So, if the Supreme Court doesn’t have the guts to legalize gay marriage in the United States when they release their decision, there is always Uruguay!  (Or Canada, Argentina, Denmark, etc.)

Guantanamo Hunger Strikes Worsen, Free People Being Mistreated

How many of these people are already “free”?

We have to continue asking: why is Guantanamo still open?  In a story getting little to no press in the U.S., hunger strikes of prisoners at the base have worsened as the inmates continue to protest their treatment and possible desecration of the Koran by guards.  The truly awful part of this: most of the prisoners have been granted their release but are still there.  As reported in the Guardian, 86 prisoners have been granted their release out of a total population of 166.  Guantanamo has now long been a disgrace to human rights and Obama’s broken promise of closing the base will continue to worsen America’s standing with the rest of the world everyday it stays open and abuse continues of those inside for reasons now beyond comprehension.

Mexico Drug Killings Down 14%! (Note: No Reason For Celebration)

The first four months of President Nieto’s administration have been apparently better then the same four month period last year during Calderon’s term.  The killings due to drug violence have dropped to 4,249 from 4,934.  Impressive!  Just one problem: the “official” count seems to be a little lower than what the actual numbers probably are.  From the article:

Bloody clashes are still common in Mexico and it can be impossible to know how many people died because drug traffickers take their dead away before authorities reach the scene.

In the border city of Reynosa there were at least four major shootouts between rival drug gangs in March. One of the clashes lasted several hours. People reported dozens of dead on social networks and at least 12 were corroborated by witnesses. The official account only listed two dead.

It might be a reason to celebrate a decrease in violence.  Then again, there’s a good chance the “official” decrease is a sham and things could be even worse.  Who really knows?

The U.S. Government Lied About Drone Attacks (with proof!)

Watch out below for the bombs and the lies!

The U.S. government, whether under Bush or Obama, has stated drone attacks were specifically and, more importantly, legally directed at members of Al Qaeda and its allies who were imminent threats to America and were plotting action against us.  In other words, it’s self defense only.  Not true according to this article from McClatchy that examined classified documents from both administrations.  One small piece of info from the long report:

While U.S. officials say the Taliban Movement of Pakistan works closely with al Qaida, its goal is to topple the Pakistani government through suicide bombings, assaults and assassinations, not attacking the United States. The group wasn’t founded until 2007, and some of the strikes in the U.S. intelligence reports occurred before the administration designated it a terrorist organization in September 2010.

This is getting into a very murky legal area if the U.S. is killing members of groups that are not in any way a threat to the U.S.  It is an obvious violation of international law (along with pretty much the entire drone policy) but it brings up the question of what happens when other countries develop the technology and begin using it according to the same legal (a.k.a. not-really-legal) definitions?  Could we justifiably take action against Iran if they used drone attacks against Israeli assets because they viewed them as an imminent threat?  What about North Korea using it against what they view as a threat?

When little evidence is needed to justify what is a threat (as is the case with the drone attacks), how will we be able to say that is not right when the policy spreads?

Gerson’s Foreign Policy Op-ed: All Kinds of Wrong

Reading Michael Gerson’s latest piece on foreign policy and the idea America is in retreat at the moment from the rest of the world leaves one wondering how he even conjured this view of policy in the first place.  So much of this argument is questionable it is hard to address all that is wrong.  But here goes!

His first line is interesting but suggests a my-way-or-the-highway perspective:

Declining national influence is a choice, and America seems to be making it.

The bulk of Mr. Gerson’s argument has to do with the cuts in military spending due to the sequester and the potential effects we will see from that “choice”.  The problem with this line of thinking is it implies that it’s impossible to have influence around the world in any way other than through military strength and, of course, a nearly overzealous hankering to use it.  No other options are allowed, such as investing in education instead of bombs.  The idea that we could still be the world’s superpower and lead by example through having the brightest minds is ludicrous apparently.  Same goes health care, information technology, or human rights.  Not that we are at the bottom of the world in those areas, but there is more than one way to be an inspiration and make others watch with envy.  This also implies the military can’t take even the slightest of cuts at any point or we will be invaded by North Korea and blown to bits.  Feel free to insert your favorite joke about North Korea’s military prowess here.

Iran is on the verge of building the Shiite bomb and igniting a sectarian nuclear arms race (and you thought a purely ideological nuclear arms race was scary)…If you are the Iranian regime, you might wonder if America’s nuclear red line is truly red.

Very scary stuff!  Just one thing Mr. Gerson needs to do here: give something that looks like even the slightest bit of proof that Iran is actually pursuing a nuclear weapon.  The fact is, up to this point, not one shred of evidence has been produced to suggest this and further stoking the idea of this boogeyman is dangerous for everyone.  As I’ve said before, we’ve been down this road where a Middle Eastern country has been alleged to have WMDs and many people died over the illusion.  How can we let ourselves get fooled again?

In the Middle East and North Africa, a combination of economic stagnation, a youth bulge and a sense of historical grievance — all the preconditions for radicalism and terrorism.

The funny thing about this statement is there is no further elaboration about the fact the United States played a pretty big role in both the economic and grievance parts in these areas of the world and that, just maybe, the people are a little ticked at us for it, particularly the latter.  My question to Mr. Gerson would be this: what should these folks do about their “historical grievance”?  Just forget about decades of oppression at the hands of dictators who were backed economically and militarily by the United States?  Frankly, they should be angry at us for the time being and should not want our “influence” in their countries as they transition away from those former governments.  In this area of the world, the U.S. made its bed in a very bad way for a very long time and now we are going to have to sleep in it, whether we like it or not.  Engagement with these countries will be possible and likely down the road but an effort must first be made to let them work out their new governments and give them the chance to make what they want of their lands without an overbearing outside influence.

Elements on the right and left apparently believe that reducing military resources will constrain future interventions. This is perhaps true of a European country. For America, with a set of unavoidable global interests, it doesn’t work this way. Constrained resources generally mean that interventions, when necessary, come at a later time, under less favorable conditions, from a weaker position.  (Emphasis added)

I’m honestly not sure why Mr. Gerson did not just go ahead and use the word he wanted here: imperialism.  The phrase “future interventions” obviously implies there will be many more no matter how things play out in the world and the U.S. will mostly be alone in conducting them.  Our interventions over the past few decades, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Latin America in the ’80s, have typically gone so poorly that maybe the time has come for us to entertain some other options.  But, then again, we do have our “unavoidable global interest”.  And judging from our actions, those interest are not stopping genocide-like massacres, such as what occurred in the Sudan for so long, or spreading democracy, indicated by our support of rulers like Hussein and  Mubarak, but going after resources.  Whether those resources are oil or cheap labor, we have our priorities and we need to be able to control them, especially when the lands they are produced in are not actually American soil.  In short, just go back to that i-word at the beginning of this paragraph.

A campaign (drone attacks) conducted by U.S. intelligence services and military forces with exceptional patience, restraint and care in targeting is vilified for political gain and ideological pleasure. Could there be a more potent symbol of the unlearning of the lessons of 9/11?  (Emphasis added)

Incredibly well phrased piece of propaganda supporting drones.  I almost want them over my head!

Not really.  And if Mr. Gerson thinks they are carried out with such “care”, I would issue a small challenge.  Leave your cell phone and anything you could use to tell people where you are behind.  Now, move to an area of Pakistan where militants are being targeted by drones and live there for a year.  Are you sure you trust the policy that much with a roughly 3-to-1 ratio of militant to civilian death rate by drones in Pakistan?  I’m going to say, probably not.  And if Mr. Gerson is not willing to take that chance, he may want to adjust his wording when describing the policy next time.

(Quick side note: not sure how the word ‘care’ makes its way into a description of drones.  Why not really go for the gusto and add rainbows, cuddly teddy bears, and prancing unicorns in your argument as well?)

But he is so wrong about so much in this foreign policy argument, why should we expect anything else?

Killing Awlaki: Step by Step

10awlaki-popupAn excellent, excellent piece in the NYT outlining the events that led up to the killing of Al-Quaida member Anwar al-Alwaki and his son Abdulrahman. It has great info into each determining event and legal decision on how they were destroyed by drone missile fire. Extremely thought provoking.

Read Here.

Agreeing With Rand Paul?

eugene-robinson-114x80A good piece in The Post by Eugene Robinson arguing that the Senator from my home state, Rand Paul of Kentucky, brought up a very good point in his filibuster the other day which I also agree with.

Rand argued that we cannot have drones killing suspected terrorists that are American citizens in the United States’ territory. It is too hard to judge what constitutes a credible terror threat and the level of how much the American citizen(s) are involved.

I can’t believe it, but Paul makes a good point.

Read Here.

Drone Strikes Okay Only Under Obama

obama_drone-620x412A good piece in Salon, dated Feb. 19th, on the differences between those who are “racially liberal” or “racially conservative” when it comes to supporting Obama on many issues. But at the end, and most importantly, the cited study shows that liberals are giving Obama more leeway on authorizing drone strikes rather than if it was Pres. Bush or some other conservative politician. It’s as if they trust Pres. Obama’s judgement more of who is a terrorist and who is not, who needs to be killed and who does not, than they would if a conservative president were in office.

Read Here.

What About “Drone-Strike Courtsd”?

Predator-DroneAn excellent article in The Atlantic on the infeasibility of the judiciary to form a “drone court” to be appealed to by the executive branch before a striking an American citizen(s) suspected of terrorism. The article puts major doubts forward including running up against Article III of the Constitution, citing what criteria for the court to apply, and what occurs, since we’re in a time of war, when quick decisions are required?

Read Here.

Kratuhammer: The Right on Drone Strikes

Predator-DroneIt’s interesting to look at the other side of a debate on such serious issues as drone strikes on American citizens even if you don’t agree because it opens your mind. So all you fellow “lefties” need to read this op-ed in The Post by Charles Krauthammer and take a fresh look, even if you disagree as I do, on the use of drone attacks by the president against al-Quaida members to see where our opponents stand.

Read Here.

Obama & Bush on Terrorist: Same but Different

jp-prexy1-articleLargeA great article in the NYT on how Pres. Obama is continuing some of the same actions on terror that Pres. Bush did and how the critics are responding. The article also addresses the cognitive dissonance it is causing amongst supporters of Obama who disliked Pres. Bush’s policies. Very good piece.

Read Here.

New Court for Drone Strike Approval Debated

imagesA good article in the NYT on rather the judicial system should create a new branch to approve or disapprove of targeted drone strikes in an effort to provide more oversight. This report lists many of the pros and cons of such a system. Good debate.

Read Here.

Drone Strikes Creating More Terrorists?

imagesA good article in the NYT regarding John Brennan’s upcoming testimony this Thursday on the clandestine drone attack campaigns taking place in countries like Yemen, Pakistan, and Sudan. It explores many individual examples of drone strikes that kill innocents or very low-ranking Al-Quaida members. But what struck me in this article was the points it made that seem similar to the Vietnam War. First, we are attacking countries that we do not understand socially, politically, or ideologically. Secondly, attempts on Quaida leaders that end up killing numbers of civilians could drive the ordinary Yemeni to action. This same thing happened in Vietnam. The American bombings of South Vietnam to force Vietnamese civilians into refugee camps so they could no longer aid the Viet Cong-dynamic is also present here. Like the Viet Cong, many Yemenis may not be for Al-Quaida, but joining “the base” is the only way to strike back at the U.S. which has taken close relatives or neighbor’s lives with drone missiles.

Read Here.