Sunday, April 29, 2007

A Superpower?

Attached are some definitions for the word "Superpower"

Here is the main one:

"1. an extremely powerful nation, esp. one capable of influencing international events and the acts and policies of less powerful nations."

I have been thinking and wondering for a long time if this definition really fits the United States of America anymore. A superpower must be more than just a military power. Everything about it must be "super"

As the Iraq war goes into it's fifth year, every aspect of this country's might continues to erode. I am not nearly a gifted enough writer to connect all of the dots, and make it a cohesive, systematic picture (I really wish that I was), but I can offer a few of my thoughts on the general status of our country - all of these things tie together, but are often viewed separately.

1. The economy. I think that the economy is a house of cards that could be blown over at any time. The war has been financed not with tax dollars, but with BORROWED money from such countries as China. That we are going to have to pay this back is going to affect our economy for a long time. We could see an economic collapse, and when that happened, we could see the kind of events that happened in New Orleans post Katrina on a nationwide scale. As things get scarce, the violence could hike up. Also factor in that our economy is generally built on the premise of cheap, unlimited energy. This could be taken away at any time and in multiple ways, and our country would not really be prepared for it at all - we have no plan B.

2. The military. The military has been degraded due (both in equipment and personnel) to the wars that have been fought over the last few years. Also, they are not being replenished (i.e. new people are not joining - for SOME reason, really can't figure out why.......). We keep sending back the same units to Iraq and Afghanistan over and over again. There is a breaking point, and I believe it's getting close. We will see massive draining of the best, most experienced leaders. We see also in other places that the system is not designed to cope with the stress being put on it. The "sudden crisis" at Walter Reed (even though there was nothing sudden about it) is a good example. As a side note, why do we hear nothing about Senator Dole and Secretary Shalala's work???? This same thing happened after Vietnam, and the military was rebuilt by dedicated soldiers who lived through the horror of Vietnam, and promised "Never again". Do we have one more "rebuild" left in us? Will the military be too degraded to do anything other than start over? And what if the National Guard has to go out and restore order in some city because of events transpiring in item 1? Does it have the strength to do so?

3. International Relations. We are seeing that our influence as a superpower is waning in that countries like Iran, North Korea and Syria (and to a lesser extent our old nemesis the Russians) are snubbing their noses because they know we won't deal with them on a talking basis (because this Administration sees diplomacy as a weakness), and we can't do anything to them on a military basis.

4. Our infrastructure. Closely related to item 1, our infrastructure is old and decrepit and could be heading for a massive collapse. As items get scarce due to item 1 (an economic collapse), our ability to move goods from point A to point B could be seriously hampered.

These are just a few items. As I say, a more gifted writer could tie them all into one cohesive package, and not a rambling diatribe as I've done. I believe this country has the POTENTIAL, with the right combination of events, to slide into at least a Second World status over the next several years.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Surrender Date?

From an MSNBC article:

Republicans labeled the timetable a “surrender date.”

“Al-Qaida will view this as the day the House of Representatives threw in the towel,” said Rep. Jerry Lewis of California, ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee.

Most Americans have not read any of bin Laden's words (and the Administration and the Republicans are counting on this fact). But if you do read his words, implicit in them, you find that they don't want us to withdraw from Iraq. They want us there - forever. Their long term strategy is to do to us what they did to the Soviets in Afghanistan - bleed our economy white, and hasten our collapse - just like the Romans collapsed.

Bin Laden is in a no lose position. If we leave he can say he drove us out. By staying, he can keep draining our economy - and remember, we ARE going to pay for this war (and to use Condi's words about the middle east, we are seeing "birth pangs" of these bills coming due). Maybe not today, but we will pay, in a lot of ways - ways most Americans cannot dream about (but here's a taste - remember the "sudden crisis" at Walter Reed? That was a manifestation of a system ready for and geared for a "cake walk" war, and not a "wildly off the mark" war).

Think about it Farmer Brown, where is the money for this war coming from? From taxes you pay? Get real. We are borrowing it from countries that we are going to be beholden to - China for example. Doesn't that feel good to know that we owe China BILLIONS and BILLIONS of dollars? Your children, their children, and their grand children are going to be paying for this war. That's IF there is even a US in the form we know it today.

Syria and Iran want us in Iraq too. If we are in Iraq, we do not have the flexibility to conduct a multi-faceted war against them. And, the longer we stay, the less we'll be able to carry out ground operations due to the serious degradation of our military and economy.

I think the point of the dates is to get some dialogue going other than the tired, meaningless mantras of "staying the course" and not "cutting and running".

People who still support the war mindlessly chant those over and over. When asked what a victory in Iraq would look like, they don't know. Nobody does. It's because no one has really ever thought about it (and do a thought exercise and ask if the Administration might have known that the security situation would be what it is now, enabling them to keep prolonging the war).

The FACT is, we cannot be in Iraq forever. It is simply not sustainable without permanently breaking the country. By this time, according to the Bush Administration fantasy (we'll be welcomed as liberators, it'll be a cakewalk, etc) there was only supposed to be a handful of troops in Iraq.

Interesting that by "staying the course", we might be giving our enemies (bin Laden, Iran, Syria, et al) EXACTLY what they want, while at the same time permanently damaging our economy and permanently disabling what was the finest military in the world.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Walls don't have too good of a history.

We all know about the Berlin Wall, and how that turned out. Other walls (planned or executed) with mixed results - the US border wall, the Israeli's wall, The Maginot Line.

One notable thing before I continue. Building walls around communities to keep the other guy out (especially when that other guy is a member of a "dangerous" or "undesirable" group) is not unique, and is in fact prevalent here in the good old US of A.

All that being said, the building of walls around certain neighborhoods in Iraq is just another thing to try because they are desperate that nothing is "working" (and by working I mean getting them to stop killing each other and us, and getting some semblance of governmental effectiveness going). The deeper problem is that it was known going into Iraq that these people (Sunni's vs. Shiites) were not going to get along. You cannot shove a gun into someones face and tell them to get along or else.

The faith of the Administration (and those who supported the war) felt that if we just dropped enough bombs, or killed enough bad guys, the people in Iraq would eventually see how great Democracy is, and would come around to our way of thinking. Overwhelming military force would do the trick. Culture, ethnicity, religious belief? None of it matters if you use enough force.

Other voices that were ignored, predicted the mayhem now occurring (see General Shinseki's comments below - comments that great military strategist Paul Wolfowitz called "wildly off the mark"):

"I would say that what's been mobilized to this point -- something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers are probably, you know, a figure that would be required. We're talking about post-hostilities control over a piece of geography that's fairly significant, with the kinds of ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems. And so it takes a significant ground- force presence to maintain a safe and secure environment, to ensure that people are fed, that water is distributed, all the normal responsibilities that go along with administering a situation like this."

Of course, the Administration would like you to believe that we in no way could have predicted the events on the ground, but General Shinseki's prediction seems pretty darn accurate (and why? It was based on EXPERIENCE and STUDY of war in all of its facets, not some pie in the sky dream of how he thought the world SHOULD be)

If you want to know why they won't get along for awhile, you need to read Paul Rieckhoff's great book "Chasing Ghosts: A Soldier's Fight for America from Baghdad to Washington".

Monday, April 23, 2007

Who do you know, who knows you?

One of the most controversial things about the VA Tech shootings is the showing of the incoherent rantings of the shooter, and the luridly disturbing pictures that he posed for.

A lot of people say that this information should have been suppressed. I am one that believes that no matter how unpleasant, it needs to be seen.

Every time one of these events occurs, there is always a "post mortem" in which the case is dissected, and all aspects of the shooters life is looked into. The value in this might be that there would be recognition of a young man (or woman) who might be in your circle who might be on the same tragic trajectory. Certainly Criminologists (amateur and professional) learn much from each of these unfortunate events.

All of the cases are different, but all are disturbingly similar. Often the most glaring similarities is that the shooter is a "loner" or "outcast" or had trouble "fitting in".

Another thing that has been brought to the forefront is that as a society, the US has generally lost the sense of community. We don't belong to communities in large numbers (i.e. membership in a parish, church, synagogue or mosque), or clubs or organizations. More and more, we tend to isolate ourselves from our neighbors (I know people who don't even know their neighbors, and have lived next to them for years). It was said by the community in which Cho lived that they were "ghosts" - nobody knew them.

That has got to mean something doesn't it?

Mother Theresa said that Americans were rich in material wealth, but generally were poor in spirit - this is sometimes the most dangerous kind of poverty isn't it? Because it's a poverty that is carried around by the person every day, and cannot be seen.

So, who do you know? Who is in your circle(s) that might be on this lonely hateful trajectory? The VA Tech shooter cannot be helped, and given what I've seen of him, I'm not convinced that anything might have changed this terrible path. But what about that kid on your little league team who shows disturbing signs. What about the kid in your youth group? What about your next door neighbor's kid? What about your own child? Sometimes a powerful adult role model can change a life (other times, unfortunately, it cannot).

We need to look at ways of getting community back before it's too late.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Guns, guns, guns

The second amendment reads:

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

We talk a lot about the "wisdom of the founding fathers", and how, virtually everything they wrote had meaning, and how it all went back to checks and balances. But, when you talk to second amendment enthusiasts, they want you to believe that the line "A well regulated Militia" is a throwaway line (and means nothing), and the "shall not be infringed" is the key to the 2nd amendment. I have had this debate with many of them. They say things like "what part of "shall not be infringed" do you not understand"? I tell them that I'll answer their question when they tell me what a "well regulated militia" is. Over the years, very few have wanted to debate anything of the sort.

I have no desire for anyone to have to give up the guns. But I still, for the life of me cannot understand how Cho, could plunk down money at a pawn shop and the internet and come away with military/police grade guns, and fairly good sized loads of ammunition. It still, several days later leaves me shaking my head in disbelief - and the rush to defend the gun system in the US makes me shake my head even more.

Certainly nobody believes that Cho is part of a "well regulated militia"? Never mind, that he had been adjudicated to be a threat to himself by officials of the State of Virginia. Bottom line, how did this guy get guns? In his depressed and angry state, would he have procured the guns illegally? We'll never know, since he was able to get them easily, legally.

Here's two suggestions (of course nothing will happen to change anything on access to guns in this country because the pro-gun lobby is VERY powerful, with some very deep pockets, and have a lot of politicians who owe them big time).

1. Let's say the right to bear arms is not infringed. BUT, you have to have the kind of weaponry that was available when the bill of rights was written. Hey, the colonials hunted, shot targets and protected themselves with those guns, why not you? I often ask 2nd amendment enthusiasts, do you really believe that the framers would think and act the same way if they could have seen the lethality of current weapons and the speed with which they would kill large amounts of people? Again, few takers on that debate.

2. Let's say you actually have to belong to a "well regulated militia" to be able to buy guns. Attendance at a set amount of meetings enables you to buy a gun (see rule number 1 about the types of guns you can buy). And, I'm not talking about the militias that patrol the border, or the ones who train in compounds out west. I'm talking about a WELL REGULATED militia run by the county you live in. It could be similar to a volunteer fire department - except they would train on how to keep the community safe, and turn out in times of national disasters (and since our National Guard is being dismantled piece by piece in Iraq and Afghanistan, we might well need an organization like that in the near future). Maybe gun ownership comes with a civic price? Again, what did the framers mean by "A well regulated militia"?

Don't ask yourself if this means I'll have to give up my guns (I have no doubt that if tomorrow the government tried to take them, there would be a massive civil disobedience and most Americans would probably keep their guns). Ask yourself how Cho got the guns, and if it was too easy for him. And why it was too easy for him. And if it's easy for him, who else is lurking out there.