US Politics

America’s Enabling Act? Catastrophic events and the suspension of the division of power in the USA.

Telepolis (in German) reports about the US “National Security and Homeland Security Presidential Directive” that was apparently ‘taken out with the trash’ by the White House Communications department on May 9, 2007, and, accordingly, apparently deemed too sensitve to explain even to US Congressmen, has not been approrpriately covered by the media. The directive is intended to ensure US governmental functionality in the case of “catastrophic events”, yet raises concerns for being weak on the definitions as well as giving only the Presidency the apaprently legally unchallengable power to invoke as well as recind this state of emergency.

An article published in the Boston Globe a month after the directive had been published details that even Conservatives who were involved in the campaign against former Democratic Presidential Candidate John Kerry are deeply critical of the directive. According to to the Boston Globe –

“[t]he unanswered questions have provoked anxiety across ideological lines. The conservative commentator Jerome Corsi , for example, wrote in a much-linked online column that the directive looked like a recipe for allowing the office of the presidency to seize “dictatorial powers” because the policy does not discuss consulting Congress about when to invoke emergency powers — or when to turn them off.”

Interestingly, the Congressman, Peter DeFazio, who is apparently a member of the U.S. House on the Homeland Security Committee and as such entitled to review classified material, asking to review details of the policy on behalf of some of his constituents who worried about “a conspiracy” being buried in the classified documents, told The Oregonian after his request was denied that

“[m]aybe the people who think there’s a conspiracy out there are right.”

Coming from a Congressman, that’s at least somewhat scary.

Bürgerrechte, Political Theory, US Politics

Osama BinLaden wins.

We lose. America certainly no longer is the Land Of The Free. It may be telling that the German term “Rechtsstaat” doesn’t really have a useful translation in English, but, alas, at least in the US, there may no longer be the need for one. President Bush now ordered the special tribunals, or military commissions, to be created in which so-called “enemy combattants” will be tried. Most of the defendants are currently inmates in the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Last year, the US supreme court had stopped their creation based primarily on institutional concerns – after some political haggling, a bill was passed, and the tribunals will now be established.

Even Bush’s last friend among the German newspapers, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, seems appalled about the seemingly totalitarian legal practices applied by these “courts”. As the newspaper reports (in German), defendants may be punished with the death penalty based on indirect witness accounts and forced testimonies.

Let’s hope Ben Franklin did not hear about it.

German Politics, Germany, US Politics, USA

Bush in Bild

For those of you, gentle readers, who do not engange in in-depth analysis of Germany’s tabloid newspapers, here’s a transcript of the US President George W. Bush’s interview with Kai Diekmann of BILD here’s the edited German version published by BILD. They met in the Oval office and discussed, among other issues, the rug-choosing dilemma every leader of the free world is facing. At least this one knows how to delegate.

Oh, and there’s a chance the US forces on German soil will have to do more than singing Karaoke in local Irish Pubs soon: Via SFGate, I noticed, that the President is not entirely sure about the state of democracy in Germany…

Zeroing in on the United States’ ties to Germany and recalling that German troops did not help attack Iraq, Bush admits: “I’ve come to realize that the nature of the German people are such that war is very abhorrent, that Germany is a country now that is — no matter where they sit on the political spectrum, Germans are — just don’t like war…. The point now is how do we work together to achieve important goals. And one such goal is a democracy in Germany [sic].” (The White House published its transcript with Bush’s glaring error and called attention to it.)

A part of the American blogosphere, on the other hand, was most excited to finally learn hrough the interview that President Bush’s best moment of all was

“when [he] caught a seven and a half pound perch in [his] lake.”

A little fishy, indeed.

I’m starting to wonder if we’re gonna miss him, after January 2009…

Iraq, US Politics, USA

I’m having a déjà vu.

reading the NYT’s report about the updated US national security strategy.

An updated version of the Bush administration’s national security strategy, the first since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, includes a vigorous defense of striking pre-emptively against countries seen to threaten the United States.
The document declares for the first time that diplomacy to halt Iran’s nuclear program “must succeed if confrontation is to be avoided.”

The Tehran government is given new prominence in the latest document, which declares that “we may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran.”

Administration officials cautioned that the reference to confrontation with Iran did not necessarily mean military attack, though both the United States and Israel have extensively examined what kind of surgical strikes could be aimed at Iranian facilities should diplomatic efforts fail to persuade Tehran to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

The warning to Iran also stands in stark contrast to the wording about North Korea, a nation that, as the strategy document notes, now boasts that it already possesses nuclear weapons. The North Korean regime “needs to change these policies, open up its political system and afford freedom to its people,” it says.

“In the interim, we will continue to take all necessary measures to protect our national and economic security against the adverse effects of their bad conduct.”

Missing, however, is the threat of any military action, perhaps because, in the words of a senior administration official, North Korea is “already considered a lost cause” that already has weapons, while Iran is still considered 5 to 10 years away from having them. “

Somehow, this makes me think of Bob Dylan… “…when will they ever learn, when will they ever learn.”

compulsory reading, US Politics, USA

Sex, Lies, And Dossiers.

Today,’s Nicholas Thompson looks at recent examples of US-Presidential truth-tampering and decides that lying about war is worse than lying about sex. Many, certainly on this side of the pond, will agree with him that lying about the reasons for the sanctioned killing of human beings is actually lying in a league of its own.

But however much I believe that Mr. Thompson is theoretically right, I am not so sure about the political viability of his analysis.

After all, Mr Bush is President of a country, some states of which still criminalise ownership of sex toys and in which it is possible to seriously question the privacy of homosexuals – a case recently debated publicly following remarks of a US Senator and now settled by the US supreme court – in favour of their privacy.

Notwithstanding the annual San Franciscan group-masturbate-a-thon and Candice Bushnell’s “Sex and the City”, notwithstanding even unionised lap-dancers, in America, freedom of speech does NOT entail “obscenity” – but it does protect the depiction of violence.

It is certainly interesting to debate the cultural origins of this American particularity, but whatever the reasons – including the American media -, the fact remains that the American public has a special way of dealing with the sexuality of its public figures, above all the President.

A few weeks ago, I met Amber, a 20 year old Texan student currently pursuing an language study exchange programme in Bonn, the former West German capital. She adamantly defended the Bush administration’s policy on Iraq, and a lot of other things (excluding their tax and educational policies – because that’s where she is personally affected…). It wasn’t too long before we crossed the Clinton line – after all, it was the week of Hillary Clinton’s book release. Amber explained to me that she would always hate Bill Clinton for dishonoring the American Presidency by having sex with Monica Lewinsky – and also, because he lied about it. How could she, she wondered, trust such a politician?

Trust – the magic word when it comes to lying.

After hearing what she said about lying presidents, I couldn’t help but wonder if it were different for her if she was lied to about other things, say, the war on Iraq – if the President had decided he had to adjust the story to sell it to the public but if he *believed* he was doing the right thing for the country? [which is basically the story US Deputy Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz, floated a few weeks ago].

And you know what, Amber said – yes, that would be less grave, as long as he believed he was doing *the right thing* for the country. She is right, of course. But this realisation has to be put differently to become useful in a political analysis- as long as most of his electorate trusts (or pretends to trust) that the President was *doing the right thing*, lying about the reasons will be forgiven and called leadership. And having sex with an intern can never be the right thing to do, however smart your PR people are. As Clinton realised, fighting this battle was pointless.

We might not like it, but in politics, sex, lies and dossiers are never judged by their factual truth, or by their moral gravity alone – these things matter if, and only if, they allude to electoral ramifications. This US administration knows that, however nervous some of their recent statements, however unpractical the unfolding drama around David Kelly’s death in the UK.


Here’s to the dead. And the living.

The four German soldiers who died in last week’s Kabul suicide attack, Jörg Baasch, Andrejas Beljo, Helmi Jimenez-Paradies, and Carsten Kühlmorgen – the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th German soldiers to die in a (publicly known) sort-of combat situation after World War Two – were honoured today in a special ceremony at Cologne airport.

Earlier today, they were bid farewell by their comrades and Acting Commander ISAF, the Dutch Brigadier General Bertholee, at Camp Warehouse, Kabul. As any decent leader, he knew he had to adress the future while not forgetting about what happened –

“We can show our respect for the sacrifice that our comrades made in only one way. Continue our mission as well as we can; show determination; and make clear that we will not be intimidated. That will also help to overcome our grief.”

Not surprisingly, their work has seen a spark of interest in recent days. I suppose one thing the public could do is preserve this interest and remember that all those international troops are in Afghanistan not only to help an increasingly isolated Afghan central government survive against resurfacing warlords, but because we believe that our very personal security is enhanced by doing so.

They are some some of those who make people carry balloons instead of bombs. And they have a website that describes some aspects of their life – and sometimes their death – in Kabul.

compulsory reading, Iraq, US Politics

Body Language. N’Sync.

Tonight, CNN dug out footage from the “scandalous” Munich Security Conference from February this year where Joschka Fischer lashed out at Donald Rumsfeld in English – “You have to make the case, excuse me, but I am not convinced.”

Back then, Michael Kelly [who tragically died in Iraq as embedded journalist] excused Fischer in the Washington Post by saying that there is no need to convince Fischer because of his violent 1968 past. CNN is not alone these days to remember Fischer’s skepticism. Less and less people, journalists included, are inclined to trust the US government’s statements.

In particular, a lot of British MPs who supported Tony Blair after his pro-war speech on March 18 are less than happy with the renewed public uncertainty about the true reasons for the war the British forces just had to fight. It’s a long way to go to November 2004, the next US Presidential elections, but if the Bush administration cannot contain the “they lied to us”-tsunami, given their abysmal economic policy they might well be swept away when the wave hits the shore. And how could they possibly contain the British outrage? Wolfowitz might actually have handed the Democrats the opportunity they had hoped for to escape the post 9/11 “patriotism”-trap. Maybe now there’s a chance that it will once again be “the economy, stupid.”

As for Wolfowitz, in my opinion the whole confusion stems from the fact that Wolfowitz inadvertently crossed a fine line. He spelled out the secret subtext everybody had “agreed” never to tell.

Different actors had different bundles of motivations to go support the policy of ousting Saddam Hussein [or to oppose it] – just as Wolfowitz says in the interview (see left column for the link). For Tony Blair, being “America’s staunchest ally” was probably an important element in his equation to go to war – and – legitimately so.

However, one fundamental ambiguity was never satisfactorily clarified prior to the war – the ambiguity between the US government’s body language and its words – the former was clearly “regime change – it’s strategically important [and the guy tried to kill my dad!], let’s find a rationale to sell it”, the latter one was, “regime change, if Saddam Hussein is guilty, so let’s talk about the burden of proof.”

[ note: this is something we should not forget over the Wolfowitz debate – according to the UN weapon inspectors Iraq never accounted for a significant amount of biological and chemical agents that could be used as weapons of mass destruction. So it would be equally wrong to suggest that Iraq never had, or never even tried to get hold of, weapons of mass destruction. The risk and the amount of these weapons posed were subject to diverse assessments and public statements, some of which seem to have been exaggerated. ]

Of course, all the relevant players knew they were probably playing the body language game. But formally, through the international system, they had to and they were in fact playing the “burden of proof”-game. That’s where so many of the diplomatic problems stem from.

And that’s why there is so much public outrage about the Wolfowitz admissions – someone who has taken the US government’s pre-war words literally and supported their policy simply must feel now that he was not told the whole story. As opposed to Condi Rice, whose recent stipulation that Iraq might have had “just-in-time” WMD assembly lines was as much “admission” as one could reasonably expect without revealing the subtext, Paul Wolfowitz has crossed the line.

Thanks to him, the US government’s body language is now in sync with its words. It was about time for the administration of a President whose personal mantra is one rather unusual for a politician – I say it, I mean it. Or could that be another body language trap?

Iraq, US Politics

Rubber Bands vs. Cannons

Earlier tonight, RTL television broadcast an in-depth 25 minutes interview with Richard Perle, the former chairman of the Pentagon’s defense policy board who stepped down at the end of last week due to alligations of possible conflicts of interest between public and private consulting engagements (see earlier post). I tuned in too late so I don’t know when this interview was taped – but judging from his attitude and words I assume it was not during the last few days.

Asked how he would describe the military disparity between the US and other NATO forces, he said something along the line of –

“…it’s like one shooting with Rubber Bands and the other one with Cannons.”

Now most people know that ‘low tech’ will beat ‘high tech’ whenever the latter’s vulnerable spot is known. I read somewhere that Iraqi soldiers have onw found out that the main US battle tank (Abrams M1A1/M1A2) does seem to have a soft spot – and so they developed a way to exploit it with their anachronistic 1970s Soviet anti-tank weapons. Not that I fear this indicates that the US could actually be forced to pull back – *that* would be a scenario I believe not even the staunchest opponents of this war would hope for once they think about the ramifications for a nanosecond – but it shows that disrespect for the rubber band equipped enemy is never a healthy strategy.

Yet it is precisely this kind of arrogance that is displayed by the Perles of this world [I read Michael Lind’s “Made In Texas” on my way back from Paris and I can’t say the book has increased my sympathy for the neo-conservatives’ worldview…]. It is the “Daddy knows best” – attitude of these apparently overeducated men that gives otherwise simplistic books like Michael Moore’s bestseller “Stupid White Men” the grain of truth needed to be sold.

In the interview mentioned above Perle explained why he believes that force (he did not say ‘war’, probably because of the nasty associations) should not be just a “means of last resort” for a given international problem – because it often seems to be more difficult to solve it by force later on. This is captivating logic – if one is in possession of complete information about the future.

As for arrogance, here’s another example, this time from Paul Wolfowitz, US Deputy Secretary Of Defense. In a recent interview with Newsweek magazine he was (also) asked what he made of the intense opposition to war from the streets all over the world –

Newsweek: But in all these countries it’s a really strong domestic tide.
DepSecDef Wolfowitz: But it’s fed by leadership. Leadership matters. American opinion is different because our leadership is talking about it differently.

Why, exactly, is it, that I fear a lot of those wargamers did watch the war-room sequence in “Patriot Games” a bit too often.