Monday, September 1, 2014

Caution: World Imploding

Sometimes the correct answer is that there is no correct answer.

Republicans and even some Democrats are ratcheting up their criticisms of Obama's foreign policy. Of course, each side has political reason to do so: the Republicans obviously look better by making Obama look worse, and Democrats are nervous that Obama's low approval ratings will drag them down in midterm elections. With control of the Senate in the balance, both sides are going to try whatever it takes to come out on top.

But if we look a little deeper, we see... nothing. That is, for all the criticisms, I've yet to hear a legitimate solution to any of the world's problems. They want Obama to be more forceful in Syria, in Iraq, and in Ukraine/Russia. Have we learned nothing from moving too quickly to the drumbeats of war? I'm not a fortune teller, and I can't say for sure that the Middle East would be any different or better today had the US not invaded Iraq. It certainly seems to me, though, that it would be far less of a mess. We went in, toppled Hussein, hung around for a while providing "security and training", and then left... and we left a country with no way to combat the threat of terror groups such as ISIS. Is it really such a surprise what's happening over there today?

What I'd really love to hear is not what we should be doing in Iraq, Syria, and Ukraine, but rather what these politicians think the results of such action would be. They want us to begin airstrikes in Syria and to arm the "more moderate rebels". No one, of course, is willing to say publicly that conducting airstrikes in Syria against ISIS is equivalent to supporting the regime of Bashar al-Assad. No one is willing to say publicly that it's effectively impossible to identify moderate groups in Syria, and even if we could, it would be entirely impossible to ensure that our weapons don't end up in the hands of ISIS or Assad. We need only look to Iraq to see how easily our weapons can end up in the hands of ISIS. I'd be all for a solution, if only one person would propose an answer that seems feasible. Going in with guns blazing and American flags flying hasn't yet worked in the Middle East, and I don't see why it should be any different this time around.

As for Ukraine, again, what are we to do? I suppose helping to arm the Ukrainians makes more sense than does trying to do the same in Syria. At the same time, I don't know if any amount of weapons we give to Ukraine would be enough to overcome the power of the Russian army; I believe that if we wanted to turn the Russians back with force, it would require direct American military intervention. That may be in Ukraine's best interest, but is it in America's? At the beginning of the Obama presidency in 2009, he and Hillary Clinton spoke of a "Russian reset", trying to begin our relations with Russia anew. Was that such a crazy idea? In hindsight it's very easy to say "obviously it didn't work, therefore it was a bad idea." But what else could we have said? A new administration has two basic options for dealing with a contentious nation: either try to work with them or declare them an enemy. As far as I'm concerned, attempting diplomatic solutions to issues, attempting to work with Russia as a partner is preferable to declaring them an enemy and starting Cold War II with the beginning of the Obama administration. So we tried to work with Russia, and recently we've seen Russia has no interest in being an ally; their actions in Ukraine prove that beyond a shadow of a doubt. So I'd say the "reset" is less of a mistake and more of optimism that didn't turn out so well. In any case, the reset is in the past. We tried working with the Russians and it didn't work. So while it makes sense from a narrow point of view to support Ukraine against Russia, is that a situation we really want to step into? Anything the United States does, from arming the Ukrainians, to providing air support, to direct military involvement, will be clearly seen as an act of aggression of the US against Russia. Given Russia's actions, I believe our intervention would be wholly justified; the issue, however, is how Russia would perceive such actions. Vladimir Putin and the Russian people have a completely different view of their involvement in Ukraine, and I believe would likely take great offense at America "interfering" in their affairs. Any action the US takes would, in my opinion, sever the few remaining threads connecting the US to Russia, and officially begin Cold War II... and we could only hope Cold War II doesn't become Nuclear Apocalypse I.

We need to be fully prepared to deal with the consequences of our actions around the world, and this is something I think is lost on the politicians calling for immediate action. They accuse Obama of being too cautious, which in some cases is a legitimate criticism; my opinion is that Obama's caution has so far prevented a catastrophe on a scale most politicians can't fathom. Obama's policy of "don't do stupid stuff" has become a punching bag for many, but I believe those four words have stopped us from making a few grave mistakes. While it seems the time is coming for America to take some sort of action, I believe a policy of caution, patience, planning, and depth of strategy are vital to achieving our goals without causing even greater chaos in the world.

Let us learn from the lesson of the 2003 American invasion of Iraq that caution is required. Patience is needed. Just because America has the military power to go anywhere and crush any threat doesn't mean that that's always the best solution. Hopefully our politicians can realize this before we repeat the mistakes we've made so many times before.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

A Low Point For Bowe

There have been some low political moments recently in America, such as the Benghazi witch-hunt, the ongoing Obamacare war... but I think this may be the lowest I've ever seen.

As a result, or perhaps symptom, of the toxic atmosphere caused by the deal to free Bowe Bergdahl from Afghanistan, the Bergdahl family has been on the receiving end of death threats recently. Isn't it ironic that these people who sent these death threats, people who no would doubt self-identify on the high end of the "love America, hate the terrorists" scale, are themselves employing terroristic acts against the Bergdahl family?

These are also likely to be people who hold America's justice system and due process of law in the highest regard. Yet they've already convicted Bowe Bergdahl without even letting Bowe get well enough to tell his side of the story; the right to confront one's accuser is central to our justice system, but these people are ready to say Bowe's guilty (and threaten his family's lives!!) before even hearing him speak. So hypocritical.

If it turns out Bowe has committed some sort of crime, he should be punished. But if not? Who are we to assassinate his character at this point? I've seen people defend the rights of those Obama strikes with drones, saying we're "killing them without the due process of American law"... but somehow Bowe Bergdahl, a soldier and American, doesn't have that same right? It just doesn't make sense to me.

I've seen people say this will encourage terrorists to kidnap more people for ransom; however, isn't this already standard operating procedure for terrorists? They've always kidnapped Americans given the opportunity; this is (unfortunately) nothing new that will be caused by the Bergdahl deal.

It's been said that Bergdahl willingly provided information to the Taliban on how to more effectively attack Americans, and that the Taliban's attacks became more precise shortly following this. I don't claim to know exactly what happened, but do the people who argue this not realize that the Taliban would have gotten this information from Bergdahl whether he wanted to give it up or not? He was a prisoner of war; the Taliban would have gotten their information out of him one way or another. It being willing on Bowe's part is merely one plausible explanation, and doesn't really seem any more plausible than anything else at this this point.

I've seen people of the opinion that this deal is a slap in the face to the families of soldiers who died searching for Bergdahl after he disappeared. This is an absurd notion in at least two ways: First, the sad deaths of these soldiers happened long before any deal to free Bergdahl was even considered (and maybe it's just me, but isn't it possible that the fact that our men died trying to find him gave the option of negotiation a bit more merit compared to rescue?), and one can't possibly be linked to the other. Second, I would imagine that the soldiers that gave their lives trying to save Bergdahl would be happy to see their mission finally completed, regardless of what they think of Bowe personally. I honestly can't come up with a good rationalization for why finally securing Bowe's release should be in any way insulting to those who died; in fact, I'd say that leaving Bowe in Afghanistan forever would have been the real insult. It would have sent the message "Yeah, you died trying to save him, but he's actually not that important."

Finally, it's been argued that the five released men will return to the fight and attempt to kill Americans again. This unfortunately cannot be guaranteed against, but, I ask, forgetting the Bergdahl situation, what IS the ultimate plan for these people at Gitmo? Indefinite detention with no trial, again ignoring the due process of our justice system that is held so dear? Better would be an actual trial and conviction, but there seems to be no hurry for that (why would there be when we can just hold prisoners forever though). We parole murderers from regular American prisons every single day, and we KNOW there is a massive danger that they will reoffend. Yet we act like it's nothing; "well they did their time". But the men we released to Qatar likely won't have much chance to hurt many Americans, since we are supposed to be leaving Afghanistan soon; yes, the random murderer or rapist we parole from prison here has a higher chance of succeeding in hurting Americans than these 5 Taliban do, in my opinion. Again... hypocrisy.

I guess I just don't get the speed and contradictions of the judgment against Bergdahl... okay that's not totally true; I definitely understand that some of it is political, as far as anything involving Obama becomes immediately politicized. But that certainly cannot be the extent of it, because I've seen plenty of "average" people around the internet claiming that Bowe should have been left in Afghanistan, should be executed, or any other number of extreme punishments. Is it just that Obama made this deal? Is Bowe Bergdahl collateral damage of the partisan hatred toward Obama? Or is there a deeper reason that people are outraged?