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Posts Tagged ‘international affairs

I Agree On This: End of War

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Iraq War soliders in battle I graduated from high school in 1964, just as the Vietnam War took off. Most of my young male classmates were drafted into that war that hawks in both parties said was absolutely necessary to prevent Communism from spreading throughout South-east Asia. Known as the Domino Theory, it was widely believed that if Vietnam fell to Communism so would go all other So. East Asian nations, then eventually So. and Central America and eventually Africa.

So great was the fear of Communism in So. East Asia, that Eisenhower’s Administration came to believe that if Communism was not stopped at the borders of the USSR, China, and No. Korea, it immediately would spread to engulf the entire So. East Asia region including India and possibly Japan. However, conspiracy theorists such as those who created and joined the John Birch Society believed Eisenhower was too soft on Communism. They accused him of being a co-conspirator or “fellow traveler” or soft on communism because he refused to declare war again so soon after the end of WWII.

One of the greatest believers in the domino theory was Henry Cabot Lodge, a Republican who served as an adviser to Eisenhower and later to JFK on So. East Asia. Lodge came from a long-standing, prominent and highly politically influential New England family. His knowledge and standing on So. East Asia gave him a well respected gravitas. So, when he declared that Communism must be stopped or the entire So. East Asia region would fall to Communism, presidents and Congress listened.

The end result of the fear that all of So. East Asia would fall to the Communists was the Vietnam War. Nixon was elected on a platform of ending the war. As my own husband said when he returned from Vietnam, “we’re fighting a war to preserve the French rubber plantations.”

So much had the tide of war turned within the nation that during the 1968 election season, Nixon based his platform on ending the war. Overwhelming numbers of students and Vietnam vets turned out to cast their votes for Nixon, causing him to win the election. But Nixon was no appeaser. Instead of ending the war, his first term in office saw him expand the war into Laos and Cambodia. Loud protests erupted all across the nation…but it wasn’t until the sons of Congress members began being drafted that Congress turned from pro-war to pro-peace. It seems it was okay to send the sons of other people’s families to war but when their own sons became cannon fodder, sensibilities changed. Finally, Nixon realized that the only way to win a second term was to bring the war to a close.

But there were still a significant number of hawks within the Democratic Party who believed that the US had not only failed to win the war but had lost it. For them, nothing less than the complete annihilation of Communism was sufficient; they would gladly have used “the bomb” on North Vietnam rather have the US somehow seen as having lost that war. Those hawks joined the Republican party to later become known as neo-conservatives.

The neo-cons we know today, by and large, have never served a day in the armed forces but are willing to send the children of others to fight and die. They see enemies around every bend. They thoroughly believe that the US must have the greatest military force on earth because the destiny of the US is to be the greatest super-power, if not the greatest empire, on the face of the earth.

Even though GW Bush’s foreign policy gave the lie to the neo-cons ideology, they still hold considerable sway in Congress, in the media, and, most importantly, within the Republican Party. Respected conservative publications such as Buckley’s National Review are now completely controlled by neo-cons as is the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). And, of course, the John Birch Society is no better, believing the supposed evils of communism – and its evil companion socialism – are just around every policy corner.

As a result, we have the Patriot Act and its equally odious new companion, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), adopted by the Senate in a count of 98 to 1 – more than enough votes to override a veto by President Obama.

As a centrist-left leaning voter, I do not believe in the constant, always needing a enemy, and ready to Even the dead ask, Let there be peace...declare war stance our nation has taken since Reagan’s Administration. I do not believe the US should be the world’s police force or build an American Empire or deplete our nation’s blood and treasure to fight wars that fail to serve our national interests. I believe that our nation would be much better served, just as the overwhelming number of our young GIs who have served in the war zones believe, by rebuilding and renewing our own nation and using diplomacy, rather than war, to negotiate our national and international interests.


Written by Valerie Curl

January 16, 2012 at 9:18 AM

Rethinking National Security

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Washington crossing the DelewareThis morning Fareed Zakaria, during his Sunday morning Global Public Square (GPS) program, highlighted a new essay (pdf) by two career senior officers on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The essay was written under the pseudonym of “Mr Y”, a takeoff on George Kennan’s 1946 “Long Telegram” from Moscow (published under the name “X” the following year in Foreign Affairs) that helped set containment as the cornerstone of U.S. strategy for dealing with the Soviet Union.

This new National Strategic Narrative argues for a new national security strategy to replace the old 1947 National Security Act which laid out a strategy of containment against the U.S.S.R. and communism. However, we’re in a new century with new challenges. The “zero sum” game of the old containment strategy is no longer effective or sufficient to the needs and challenges of this century. Yet, Washington continues to lag behind, failing to revise the national strategy to fit the 21st Century.

John Norris of Foreign Policy Magazine correctly writes, regarding the authors’ essay:

The narrative argues that the United States is fundamentally getting it wrong when it comes to setting its priorities, particularly with regard to the budget and how Americans as a nation use their resources more broadly. The report says Americans are overreacting to Islamic extremism, underinvesting in their youth, and failing to embrace the sense of competition and opportunity that made America a world power. The United States has been increasingly consumed by seeing the world through the lens of threat, while failing to understand that influence, competitiveness, and innovation are the key to advancing American interests in the modern world.

Courageously, the authors make the case that America continues to rely far too heavily on its military as the primary tool for how it engages the world. Instead of simply pumping more and more dollars into defense, the narrative argues:

By investing energy, talent, and dollars now in the education and training of young Americans — the scientists, statesmen, industrialists, farmers, inventors, educators, clergy, artists, service members, and parents, of tomorrow — we are truly investing in our ability to successfully compete in, and influence, the strategic environment of the future. Our first investment priority, then, is intellectual capital and a sustainable infrastructure of education, health and social services to provide for the continuing development and growth of America’s youth.

Yet, it is investments in America’s long-term human resources that have come under the fiercest attack in the current budget environment. As the United States tries to compete with China, India, and the European Union, does it make sense to have almost doubled the Pentagon budget in the last decade while slashing education budgets across the country?

The only way in which Washington will change its current, failed strategy is for Americans to read this essay and send it to their representatives in DC. The U.S. does not have to settle for decline at home and constant military adventures abroad.

This Narrative advocates for America to pursue her enduring interests of prosperity and security through a strategy of sustainability that is built upon the solid foundation of our national values. As Americans we needn’t seek the world’s friendship or to proselytize the virtues of our society. Neither do we seek to bully, intimidate, cajole, or persuade others to accept our unique values or to share our national objectives. Rather, we will let others draw their own conclusions based upon our actions. Our domestic and foreign policies will reflect unity of effort, coherency and constancy of purpose. We will pursue our national interests and allow others to pursue theirs, never betraying our values. We will seek converging interests and welcome interdependence. We will encourage fair competition and will not shy away from deterring bad behavior. We will accept our place in a complex and dynamic strategic ecosystem and use credible influence and strength to shape uncertainty into opportunities. We will be a pathway of promise and a beacon of hope, in an ever changing world.

Out of the mouth of babes….

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In 1992, 12-year old Severn Cullis-Suzuki spoke before the United Nation’s Earth Summit. Her words are still powerful today.

Eighteen years have passed since Severn pleaded with world leaders, and so little has changed.


I couldn’t pass this up: Iranian elections and freedom

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Roxana Saberi, the Iranian-American journalist tried and convicted of spying in Iran this year, wrote an article for the Washington Post today on the nation’s election.

“Roxana, when you go back to America,” my cellmate entreated me last month, “please tell others that our country is not only about the nuclear issue. It is also about people like us.”

My cellmate was one of the many “prisoners of conscience” I left behind when I was released from Tehran’s Evin Prison on May 11. Many were women, student and labor activists, researchers, and academics who have been detained solely because they peacefully pursued freedom of expression, freedom of association or religious beliefs. Several of them face vague charges such as “acting against national security,” like I did.

Tehran has legitimate security concerns. But hard-liners often exaggerate and exploit “soft threats” to tighten their grip on society and to silence critics. This “security-oriented” view has become especially prevalent under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

His victory in 2005 empowered hard-liners who reversed many political and cultural openings made under his predecessor, Mohammad Khatami. The past four years have brought tighter restrictions on books, film and the press; stricter monitoring of the Islamic dress code; and mounting risks of ethnic, political and social activism. Meanwhile, hard-liners have often ignored laws or interpreted them in ways to restrict basic freedoms while monopolizing power.

During this crackdown, dual nationals and Iranians with links to foreigners have been particularly targeted. In 2007, Iranian American scholars Kian Tajbakhsh and Haleh Esfandiari were accused of acting against national security. The next year, Esha Momeni, a graduate student from California, was arrested. She has been released on bail but is still prohibited from leaving Iran.

Saberi goes on to write:

It is not uncommon for “prisoners of conscience” to be detained without due process. Some are freed on exorbitant bail. As in my case, many have limited or no access to attorneys of their choice and cannot study the “evidence” against them. When hearings occur, they usually take place behind closed doors. On top of severe psychological and mental pressures, some are physically tortured, and a few have died in custody.

Iran’s people and civil society have paid the price of this “security approach.” This use of force has failed to address the root causes of social, economic and political issues while individual freedoms and human rights are being violated. Many Iranians have become suspicious of authority and, often, of one another.

Maybe it is this example – and fear – of loss of freedom that we here in the U.S. must understand. If we allow fear to overwhelm our thinking to the point of giving up our Constitutional rights, will some in our own government behave as the security forces in Iran, all in the name of “security approach.”

Saberi ends her article with this:

Tehran’s ties with Washington will also influence the future. Under the Bush administration, the State Department set up a “Democracy Fund” that many Iranian authorities claimed was a “regime change” policy. Silva Harotonian, the Alaei brothers and many other activists are victims of this reaction.

The Obama administration has been wise to avoid talk of regime change as it makes cautious efforts to improve relations. If these ties significantly improve, Iran’s hard-liners will lose their main pretext for their tight grip on power and society. If they want to continue their clampdown, they will have to find another excuse for their unjust treatment of Iranians like those I left behind in Evin Prison.

Freedom, as Iran exemplifies, is something so elusive that even one’s own government can take it away in the name of security, especially when combined with a good dose of fear.

Heaven willing, those days are over in the U.S.

I’ve never cried before….

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For fifty years I’ve watched Presidents give State of the Union Addresses. Never before have I been moved to tears as I was tonight. Never before have I been more proud of my country as I was listening to President Obama tonight.

As the 62 year old daughter of a career Air Force Master Sargent and the descendant of Revolutionary War warriors, I am so proud of my country tonight. President Obama stated all my hopes and dreams tonight in his speech for my country.

We are a great country. We can become even better. We can lead this nation, and the world, forward rather than look back at the past. We can show the world what democracy really represents in building new forward looking businesses and in taking care of our people to meet the challenges of the future.

We can solve every problem put before us as long as we are willing to face those challenges rather than say they’re too big to be solved. We are a great country with a huge imagination. There is nothing we cannot solve if we pull together as one unified people.

President Obama laid a challenge before us as patriotic individuals and as a nation to come together as families and communities and as a nation to solve the many problems confronting us. I believe…and hope…that we have the courage and strength and determination to solve those problems.

Three TV programs worth watching

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Most of TV is a vast wasteland. Not at all the educational tool that Edward R. Murrow envisioned. However, some programs come along that do teach us. The following are three such programs.

1) PBS’s Frontline program: Meltdown

2) CNBC’s House of Cards

3) CSPAN’s Davos: Advise to President Obama

In a time of almost unparalleled economic uncertainty, these three programs analyze how the financial meltdown occurred and what the new President needs to do to revitalize the U.S. economy- and by extension the world economy.

The Stimulus Bill will pass, but…

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I have a few questions to ask.

1) Why are Republicans so against infrastructure expenditures?
I have friends and family who are Republican who say that the Bill will either just increase the Fed. government size (and it’s legendary inability to do anything efficiently and cost-effectively, they say) or it will waste money on infrastructure which the government should not pay for. Okay, I understand the Libertarian point of view in which each person or family should stand on his or her own two feet and not expect government to bail them out when they’ve made poor (or stupid) decisions. I accept that. I work hard for my income so I’m not inclined to give it away to slackers or idiots or people who just want someone else (as in the rest of us) to take care of them.

But building a 21st Century infrastructure to compete with foreign countries is an objection which I simply do not understand. I’m a business person. As a purchaser of goods and services for the last 30 years, I understand competitiveness depends upon supplying quality goods and services in a fast, efficient, economically competitive way is the only way in which any company can survive in a global marketplace.

I dearly want our country’s businesses to lead foreign competitors. To do that, we must have an infrastructure that allows our businesses (and families) to compete fiscally and rapidly with foreign competitors. This country has not invested in modern technological interstate infrastructure systems since Eisenhower in the 1950s. That’s a hellava long time to rebuild our country to compete – over 60 years. The world has changed dramatically in those years. As a result, the U.S. is rapidly losing it’s competitive edge – which will cause even more jobs to go to emerging countries that have invested in modern infrastructure. As all Silicon Valley execs, including the CEO of IBM, have stated infrastructure spending should be a priority in the Stimulus Bill. Decrying infrastructure spending in the Stimulus Bill is short-sighted and just plain stupid.

Sure some, if not many, of these projects are not shovel-ready, as Congressional Republicans say, but in getting them into development, many people will be hired in private industry to plan and develop these project, then other businesses will feel the affects of the increased income in their neighborhoods. Then, skilled workers will be hired to implement the plans which adds more income to local businesses. The ripple effects will be enormous.

2) Why do Republicans think that only tax reductions will stimulate the economy?
Yes, some tax reductions are good. I would dearly love to see research and development for any industry become a permanent tax deduction. Taxing research and development is anathema to global competitiveness…and just plain stupid. Why Congress refuses to enact this tax deduction (BTW, opposed by Republicans in the last Congress) permanently is beyond me. It hurts our industries and our ability to lower prices and be more competitive. Venture capitalists should also receive tax deductions for investing in new technologies and emerging industries. These people represent true capitalism in action and should be rewarded for their risk.

However, currently in the tax code are numerous tax reductions which only benefit rich Wall Street types. The top 1% have paid less in taxes, and made out better, than at any time in recent history, including the Reagan era. But there is little evidence from the last 8 years that shows their Republican-approved tax reductions have impacted our economy positively through any non-real estate business expansions.

Some tax cuts, obviously, make sense for our business competitiveness, but some seem to be just give-aways to rich, influential donors – just as in the ’70s or early ’80s when Congress passed a law that specifically, and only, benefited the Gallo Brothers because the Gallo Winery gave millions of dollars to influential Congressional members in campaign funds to get their single company-favoring law passed – which it did.

3) Why do Republicans think that the Stimulus Bill should provide only short term jobs without any long term effects?
In other words, why must the Stimulus Bill be either one – creating immediate jobs – or the other – creating long term economic benefits provided by emerging industries and technologies? Cannot the Bill provide both?

Frankly, I’m sick of the either – or scenario that dominates the arguments in Congress. As any good, logical business person knows, there is always a third or potentially fourth alternative. Analyzing the problem, evaluating the potential results, evaluating the fiscal impact, and determining the outcomes are always part of determining the best course of action. Yet, Congress does not seem – or refuses – to understand this simple business concept, except where their own electability is concerned.

Frankly, in my opinion, I am sick and tired of a Congress bent more on their own re-electability than on doing what is right and good for the entire country. We are a nation built of businesses – of a market economy. We need a Congress that understands national competitiveness, rather than just local constituencies and large donors, to regain our competitive edge. That edge has been slipping dramatically over the last decade, allowing the competitive rise of other countries. Is this really what we want? Do we always want to be a debtor nation rather than an innovative, export nation? We cannot export restaurant and retail workers (at minimum wages), but is that the nation we choose to become? Or do we want to be a productive, manufacturing nation (at quality wages) that exports leading edge, manufactured goods and technologies that no other country has yet to develop?

Right now in our industrial and R&D pipelines are ideas that revolutionize highways, mass transit systems, railways, energy – including nuclear – systems, and medical IT systems. All of these and many more, with expenditures that only the Federal government can afford, could push our nation into the leading edge of competitiveness for the next fifty or one-hundred years. To turn away from that competitive and economic edge would not only be stupid, but irresponsible.

In the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, our Federal government embarked on a federal spending program, through an Defense Department agency known as DARPA, that resulted in the internet, personal computers, space technologies, consumer products, telecommunication revolutions, medical advancements, and a host of other products that only initial government funding could afford. That same kind of revolutionary thinking and commitment to innovation is needed now.

With so many jobs as well as our manufacturing and innovative competitiveness at stake, why have Republican Congressional members adamantly opposed the Stimulus Bill? Their vetoes are illogical and regressive and anti-business.

To my thinking, the Bill does not have be either – or but rather both. It should stimulate new, innovative industries as well as provide high quality jobs in this new, 21st Century technological world economy. And it should support emerging industries, venture capitalists, and the retraining of workers to fully engage in new 21st Century technologies that can push the U.S. to the forefront again of world competitiveness.

If our elected leaders in Congress don’t understand this need, at this precarious time in our national history, they should not be allowed to retain their offices. We don’t need stupid leaders. We need imaginative, forward-thinking Congressional members who put the entire country ahead of their own self-interest. If they don’t, as it seems the current crop of Republican Congressional members have done, then they don’t deserve to retain their offices. That’s not to say every Democrat deserves his or her office.

However, the litmus test must be, going forward, for all Congressional members: what is in the national interest, not just the interests of my local constituents or those special interest groups who contribute big dollars to my campaign.

The ideology must change from what is in my best interest in being elected (and re-elected) to what is in the best interest of the entire country. We don’t have a moment to lose; otherwise the world will overtake us and leave us behind.

The only way to end being a huge debtor nation to the leading exporter nation, with enormous tax revenues to pay off our debt, is to innovate and create and produce manufactured goods and services that the rest of the world wants and is willing to pay for.

If Congressional members don’t get this simple, competitive idea, then they must be replaced with people who do.

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