IRAQ EXACTS CONCESSIONS ON EXTENDED STAY AGREEMENT

As predicted, if the approaching “show of hands” vote by the 275-member Iraqi assembly goes as expected, the United States will be mired in Iraq for another three years. The assembly is set to vote on a pact between the United States vis-a-vis “W” and Iraqi officials. The Iraqi cabinet has already approved the pact.

Iraq won a number of concessions in the deal, including a hard timeline for withdrawal – from Iraqi cities by the end of June 2009 and from Iraq by the end of 2011. The act also gives Iraq the right to search U.S. military cargo and the right to try U.S. Soldiers for crimes committed while they are off their bases and off-duty.

Other included terms require that U.S. troops obtain Iraqi permission for all military operations, and that they hand over the files of all detainees in U.S. custody to the Iraqi authorities, who will decide their fate. The pact also forbids U.S. troops from using Iraq as a launch-pad or transit point for attacking another country, which may reassure Syria and Iran.

Although the pact has the potential to pass by a bare majority – a vote of 138 – officials are nervous that such a slim majority will hinder the effectiveness of the pact. In addition to such a slight majority, several groups oppose the pact and are demanding that it be put to a national referendum.

So, buckle up, we are approaching six years of a war that was touted as “Mission Accomplished” in May 2003. We aren’t coming home – something that Americans had better learn to accept. And along with accepting our entrenchment in Iraq, we better be able to accept the fact that hundreds more American lives and Iraqi lives will be lost before this is over – if it is ever over.

Photo credit: The Nation

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COMBAT VETERANS UNDER INCREASING STRESS

For the first time in history, a growing number of combat troops are taking daily doses of anti-depressants to calm nerves strained by repeated and lengthy tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to the Army’s fifth Mental Health Advisory Team report, using an anonymous survey of U.S. troops taken last fall, about 12 percent of combat troops in Iraq and 17 percent of those in Afghanistan are taking prescription antidepressants or sleeping pills to help them cope.

Photo Credit: Military.com

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Use is split 50 – 50 between anti-depressants such as Zoloft and Prozac and sleep aids such as Ambien. Military physicians are also split on the effects of using such prescriptions on soldiers in war zones. Some physicians are concerned that they are not adequately understood, while others contend that using prescriptions for mild depression symptoms avoids costly removals of soldiers from the fight.

Now there’s a thought – removal of soldiers from the fight. Apparently that isn’t something a number of military physicians are willing to acknowledge – got to fight that war even at the expense of increasing emotional and psychological problems among the military.

STOP-LOSS – BACKDOOR DRAFT IN FULL SWING

The peacetime draft – signed into law in 1940 by President Franklin Roosevelt – lasted 33 years until it was abolished in 1973 by the government after almost a decade of unrest and protest during the Vietnam War era. But, the government has one of those “fine-print” clauses in the enlistment contract for military service that serves as a tactic which has come to be known as the “back door” draft.

The stop-loss provision is the involuntary extension of a service member’s active duty service under the enlistment contract in order to retain them beyond their initial end of term of service (ETS) date. Stop-loss was used immediately before and during the first Persian Gulf War. Since then, it has been used during American military deployments to Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo and during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the subsequent War on Terror.

Stop-loss was created by the United States Congress after the Vietnam War. Its use is founded on two different provisions. The first is contained in Title 10, United States Code, Section 12305(a) and states in part:

“the President may suspend any provision of law relating to promotion, retirement, or separation applicable to any member of the armed forces who the President determines is essential to the national security of the United States”

The second provision is included in the actual enlistment contract signed by those entering service. Paragraph 9(c) of DD Form 4/1 (The Armed Forces Enlistment Contract) states:

“In the event of war, my enlistment in the Armed Forces continues until six (6) months after the war ends, unless the enlistment is ended sooner by the President of the United States.”

The Armed Forces Enlistment Contract uses the word “war”, but that word has literally lost its meaning through Congressional shirking of its constitutional role to declare war and the merging of all aspects of terrorism under the blanket cover of the “War on Terror.”

Every person who enlists in a branch of the U.S. Armed Forces signs an initial contract with an eight-year service obligation. The enlistment contract for a person going on active duty generally stipulates an initial period of active duty from 2 to 4 years, followed by service in a reserve component of the Armed Forces of the United States for the remainder of the eight year obligation. Service members whose ETS, retirement, or end of service obligation date falls during a deployment are generally involuntarily extended until the end of their unit’s deployment.

In 2002, the Army announced new orders that would forbid thousands of soldiers from leaving the service after they returned from Iraq, Afghanistan and other fronts in the war against terrorism. Since then, the stop-loss policy used by the Army to keep US soldiers and reservists in the military beyond the date when their service was supposed to end, has been used on more than 50,000 members of the armed forces since the war in Iraq began.

The policy is nothing more than a draft. The military is overextended fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the Bush Administration was totally unprepared for the ensuing conflict once it ended its “shock and awe” tactics.

Plans were not made for a lengthy occupation nor were they made for the subsequent insurgency that divided the three ethnic factions in Iraq and placed our military smack in the middle. Military personnel have been recycled and recycled – some as many as four or five times.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

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When I attend the Peace Rally on the first Saturday each month, I see a few young people. But most of us are of an age who remember the Vietnam War and the draft with all its inequities. Most of us are in our 50s and 60s and recall the thousands of young people who marched in the streets and protested the Vietnam War. They protested because, among other concerns, they had a vested interest – they could be drafted.

Now that the draft has been abolished, the same interest of the young does not exist. But the government didn’t let go completely of its control over potential soldiers. All males of a certain age are required to register. And just why do you think registration is still maintained even though we have an all-volunteer military?

At some point, the government will be out of bodies to send to foreign lands. Volunteer enrollment will slow, and stop-loss will no longer work on a physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted and worn out body of soldiers. New bodies will be needed, and those bodies will be readily available through the selective service registration process.

All that will be needed is for Congress to re-instate the real draft, and, unless we disentangle ourselves from the Middle East, it is coming.

KASHMIR CLASH

With the tension in the Middle East, one more hot spot only adds fuel to a region already suffering from the fires of upheavals and violence. India and Pakistan have been in conflict over Kashmir since the 1940s. The two countries have fought two wars over Kashmir with the 1999 clash raising the specter of nuclear war.

Today the area includes the Indian-administered state of Jammu and Kashmir consisting of the Kashmir valley, Jammu and Ladakh; the Pakistani-administered provinces of the Northern Areas and Azad Kashmir, and the Chinese-administered region of Aksai Chin.

Although tensions still exist between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, more than half the citizens of each country have indicated that they are willing to look at resolutions for Kashmir. They also show a willingness to have the Kashmiri people decide their own fate – even if that choice is independence. With the close proximity to other countries in turmoil, a fairly peaceful solution to Kashmir would be a welcome change for the region.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

IRAQ TO U.S. – WE WANT YOU OUT

Iraq’s prime minister has indicated that a timetable needs to be set for our departure. That notion must really have the right-wingers in a snit. Imagine those uppity Iraqis – after all we have done for them – to actually have the gaul to tell us to leave. What on earth is wrong with them? They must think that Iraq is their country or something.

Of course President Bush opposes the idea. Bush has yammered for quite some time now about Iraqis taking control of their own future and destiny. And now that they want to do so, Bush doesn’t really want to break up the relationship. Kind of one of those “I didn’t really mean it” situations.

Bush and the invasion supporters have been bragging about how successful the surge has been and how it has helped stabilize the country. It makes perfect sense that Iraqis now see this as their opportunity to oust the occupiers. Perhaps this is one of those times that the phrase, “be careful what you wish for, you might just get it” takes on real meaning.

BUSH STACKS DECK WITH PETRAEUS NOD AS TOP MIDDLE EAST COMMANDER

General David Petraeus slid easily through Senate confirmation on his way to his promotion as the top commander in the Middle East. Democrats again could not seem to find the intestinal fortitude to take a position that would indicate active disagreement with the Iraqi war.

The vote in the Senate was 95-2 with the sole opposition coming from Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa. Despite constant criticism of the war, Democrats kowtowed to the administration’s ploy to keep in command a general who has relentlessly supported and defended the need to keep troops in Iraq.

Petraeus has been nothing but a mouthpiece for the war in Iraq and a puppet to the administration’s end game to maintain troops in Iraq. Once again, Democrats had a chance to stand up and show that they oppose Bush’s irrational and misguided occupation of Iraq, and, once again, they failed.

Photo credit: BBC

NOW IT’S IRAN’S TURN

On May 22, 2008, Congress “expressed” its sense and passed a resolution that will no doubt start the process toward a confrontation with Iran. The following is the resolution.

H.CON.RES.362
Title: Expressing the sense of Congress regarding the threat posed to international peace, stability in the Middle East, and the vital national security interests of the United States by Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and regional hegemony, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Rep Ackerman, Gary L. [NY-5] introduced 5/22/2008
Cosponsors (169)
Related Bills: S.RES.580
Latest Major Action: 5/22/2008 Referred to House committee. Status: Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Regional hegemony refers to the influence exercised over neighboring countries by an independently powerful nation, the regional hegemon. Regional hegemonies are small scale versions of global hegemons. Apparently, Congress has decided that Iran is the regional hegemon that needs to be dealt with next.

Didn’t we see a run-up to the invasion of Iraq with preliminary tactics like these? The Resolution itself is ludicrous. The Resolution contains three “threats”:

  1. Threat to international peace – What international peace? At any given time in any given corner of the world, genocide is being perpetrated and dictators (right and left) are crushing and slaughtering their citizens. Using terminology that includes “international” allows Congress once again to mislead and exaggerate the threat.
  2. Threat to stability in the Middle East – What stability in the Middle East? Israel and Hamas are at each other’s throats on a consistent basis and Iraq is far from stable. And remember, Afghanistan is teetering on the brink of regression.
  3. Threat to the vital national security interests of the United States – Oh, oh. Here we go again. What are our vital interests? Oil? Israel?

The Resolution is nothing more than a prelude to raising the specter of another “threat” which will require American intervention.

Of course, in order to avoid the appearance of weakness, the following Indiana representatives helped co-sponsor the Resolution:

Dan Burton (R)
Mark Souder (R)
Peter Visclosky (D)
Mike Pence (R)

I understand the three Republicans, but what was Visclosky thinking? And remember this is just the co-sponsoring. Heaven knows how many Democrats will again cave for the sake of appearance and vote in favor of the Resolution. I bet I know one who won’t – Dennis Kucinich.

Get ready. Another intervention is in the works – it is just a matter of time.

SOMETIMES YOU FEEL LIKE A NUT – BUT NOT IN THE WHITEHOUSE

John McCain makes no secret of the fact that he will keep us mired in the Middle East for decades to come if he assumes the office of the presidency.  While many have talked about the similarities between Vietnam and Iraq, one major difference exists – oil.  Anyone who thinks this foray into nation-building isn’t about oil hasn’t been paying attention to our history with the oil producing countries. 

With oil rising at an almost unbelievable rate, what better course to take than to occupy our own private oil fields in Iraq?  The Bush administration has built the world’s largest embassy in Iraq in order to maintain a presence for an undetermined number of years.  In addition, Bush and Maliki are in the process of negotiating the terms of an agreement which will keep U.S. forces entrenched in Iraq until …. freezes over.  

McCain will simply continue a misguided and disastrous course of action a la George Bush.  Should McCain be elected, Bush will no doubt be smiling broadly as he exits the White House in January 2009.  George Bush, along with his neo-con cohorts, manipulated an American crisis into an invasion of a country which had no connection to 9/11.  But John McCain has no intention of manipulating anything – he blatantly and arrogantly says he will keep us there.

Photo Credit: Getty Images
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We have had close to eight years of a president who is out of touch with reality and who has never let sanity and logic interfere with his quest to conquer Iraq.  The last thing that is needed is another tunnel-visioned president who sees Iraq and Afghanistan as nothing more than future American bases.

KING GEORGE – “WE DON’T NEED A CONSTITUTION AS LONG AS I AM KING”

Apparently Bush has decided, along with his “War Czar” General Douglas Lute, that permanent bases in Iraq don’t require the approval of either house of Congress. Lute said the White House intends to conclude negotiations on an enduring security guarantee with the Maliki government in July. Permanent military bases and residual troop levels will be specified in the final accord.

The following is Lute’s high-minded view of permanency in Iraq:

Q General, will the White House seek any congressional input on this?

GENERAL LUTE: In the course of negotiations like this, it’s not — it is typical that there will be a dialogue between congressional leaders at the negotiating table, which will be run out of the Department of State. We don’t anticipate now that these negotiations will lead to the status of a formal treaty which would then bring us to formal negotiations or formal inputs from the Congress.

Q Is the purpose of avoiding the treaty avoiding congressional input?

GENERAL LUTE: No, as I said, we have about a hundred agreements similar to the one envisioned for the U.S. and Iraq already in place, and the vast majority of those are below the level of a treaty.

Below the level of a treaty? I doubt that the Founding Fathers even had something “below the level of a treaty” in mind when they wrote the Constitution. After all, we were a fledging nation with no real Army or Navy and with little military might. There would have been no reason to even think of agreements with other nations as anything other than treaties.

But never one to be deterred by the Constitution, Bush has again decided to ignore the checks and balances carefully crafted by the Founding Fathers by using semantics. The Bush administration announced the Declaration of Principles for a Long-term Relationship of Cooperation and Friendship with Iraq, an agreement to start formal negotiations with Iraq about a long-term security pact between the United States and Iraq.

The Declaration sets a goal of concluding this final agreement by July 31, 2008. The “agreement” will not be called a treaty – as he so imperiously reminds critics that many other agreements do not bear the label “treaty.” His logic is, of course, that if it isn’t called a treaty then there is no need for Congressional input as required by the Constitution. Here’s what the Constitution and the Founding Fathers said about treaties:

Article II, Section 2, Clause 2.

He shall have the Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two-thirds of the Senators present concur….

In order to enter into formal agreements called treaties, the president must get advice and consent from the Senate. If something is not termed a treaty, then the Senate can be bypassed and thus prevented from providing input as the Founding Fathers mandated.

The issue was raised long ago by the New York Times. On April 20, 2003, The New York Times ran a story citing unnamed sources indicating the U.S. military was planning as many as four permanent military bases in Iraq. The next day, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld dismissed the story as “inaccurate and unfortunate.”

The national media, mesmerized and enamored by the “shock and awe” tactics of the recently initiated occupation and not willing to criticize a war only a month old, dropped the story after Rumsfeld’s disclaimer. Later that same year, the November 19, 2003, edition of the Jordanian daily al-Arab al-Yawm reported that the U.S. government had plans for six bases. The sources revealed the names of these bases and the planned positions for permanent deployment. They were:

  • Al-Habbaniyah Airbase [already an RAF airbase for much of the last century] near the city of al-Fallujah, 65km west of Baghdad;
  • Ash-Sha’biyah Airbase in Basra, 600km south of Baghdad;
  • ‘Ali ibn Abi Taleb Airbase on the outskirts of the city of an-Nasiriyah, 400km south of Baghdad;
  • al-Walid Airbase about 330km north west of Baghdad;
  • al-Ghazlani Camp in the city of Mosul, 400km north of Baghdad;
  • A permanent deployment of forces in the east of Iraq in what is known as the Hamrin mountain range that extends from Diyala Provice, 60km east of Baghdad, and borders on Iran and extends to the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, 260km north of Baghdad.

Five years later, it looks like the story was accurate. Bush and his neocon supporters had a plan all along to go into Iraq and stay. The American public, so hungry for revenge after 9/11, gave the “King” a blank check. His plans are made, and he has utter disdain for our Constitution and its checks and balances. By calling this an informal agreement and not a treaty, he hopes to circumvent Constitutional protections that were structured to guard against just such a dictatorial frame of mind.

However, in an attempt to thwart King George’s most recent power grab, Rep. Barbara Lee recently introduced a bill to prevent Bush from signing any agreement emerging from the Declaration of Principles without consulting Congress. A parallel bill was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Photo Credit: Hillary for President
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Since November 2007, attacks on the Bush-Maliki agreement’s constitutionality have mounted. Bill Delahunt, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight, has held a series of hearings on the legality of the Declaration of Principles. During the most recent Delahunt hearing, experts almost universally concluded that the agreement violates the Constitution, since Congress was not consulted in the process of its approval.

Throughout his seven years in office, Bush has undertaken an onslaught against liberties and rights as well as undermined the Constitution.   No matter how much power a president usurps, his reign always comes to an end.  King George’s term is about at an end. With its end, perhaps we can get back to a government based on our Constitution and its checks and balances – a government of the people, for the people, and by the people.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

WHERE ARE OUR YOUNGINS? IS ACTIVISM TIED TO THE DRAFT?

Conscription is a system to provide manpower to be used in the armed forces. In the United States, conscription was introduced in the Union Army during the American Civil War. The 1863 Enrollment Act permitted draftees to hire paid substitutes to fight in their place. In the United States during more recent times, conscription has simply been called the “draft.”

During the Civil War and again during World War I the draft mechanism was dissolved at the end of hostilities. In 1940, prior to U.S. entry into World War II, the first peacetime draft in our nation’s history was enacted in response to increased world tension with the result that the system was able to fill wartime manpower needs smoothly and rapidly after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

At the end of the war, the draft law was allowed to expire, but it was reenacted less than two years later to maintain necessary military manpower levels as a result of the Cold War. From 1948 until 1973, during both peacetime and periods of conflict, men were drafted to fill vacancies in the armed forces which could not be filled through voluntary means.

Induction authority expired in 1973, but the Selective Service System remained in existence in a “standby” posture to support the all-volunteer force in case an emergency should make it necessary for Congress to authorize a resumption of inductions.

Vietnam War draft

Opposition to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War began slowly and in small numbers in 1964 on various college campuses in the United States. This happened during a time of unprecedented student activism reinforced in numbers by the demographically significant baby boomers, but grew to include a wide and varied cross-section of Americans from all walks of life.

Much of the protest movement was fueled by a system of conscription that provided exemptions and deferments more easily claimed by middle and upper class registrants – and thus inducted disproportionate numbers of poor, working-class, and minority registrants. By the end of 1967, as U.S. troop casualties mounted and the war ground on with no end in sight, public opinion polls showed a majority of Americans were opposed to the war and wanted it to end. In 1967, the continued operation of a seemingly unfair draft system then calling as many as 40,000 men for induction each month fueled a burgeoning draft resistance movement.

But where is that resistance from the youth of today? An undeclared war is being waged in a foreign land, thousands of military personnel are being sent to fight, thousands are dying, and thousands more are being maimed for life.

Yet, the youth of today are strangely silent. Could it be that the primary reason so many college age and young people are not participating is because they do not have a “vested” interest in this war? The Selective Service is still in place for males, but the draft is not. But it is folly to ignore the authority to reinstate the draft at any given moment.

The sole purpose of the Selective Service is to keep track of the number of available young males in case the draft needs to be reinstated. And, as the youth of today sit back comfortably assuming that they are “safe” from forced service to this country, the reality is that our military is stretched thin by our ongoing and misguided efforts in Iraq.

Of course, you will see some younger protesters at the rallies and marches, but take a closer look as you drive by. When I stand on the sidewalk along the Clinton street side of our Courthouse, I look up and down the row of protesters, and I see older individuals – many in their 40s, 50s, 60s, and, yes, even in their 70s.

Many of us protesting and rallying are from the Vietnam War era – we remember those days, and we are willing to stand on sidewalks and street corners in blistering hot weather as well as zero degree temperatures to protest a war that is not only unjust but also one of the greatest blunders ever made by a president.

So our youth, for the most part, turn their heads away from the horrors of Iraq, comfortable in their false sense of security and the notion that they are safe from being snatched into service. They are not yet affected; they are not the ones fighting and dying in an unjust war.

But those thoughts are misguided; the Selective Service hovers in the background with the power to rip complacent bodies into forced military service. A vested interest in this war and any other wars may very well arise only when the individual has the most to lose – his or her own life. What a shame that it takes extrinsic motivation to force the youth to do something that should arise from intrinsic values – caring about their fellow human beings.

Photo Credit: Mike Keefe – InToon.com