OUT OF THE MIDDLE EAST

How many times do we need to learn a lesson?  The cause in Afghanistan is not winnable.  So listen to the John Fogerty song once again and see if you can learn anything.

 

And, if you can’t, then I really feel sorry for you.

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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

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.

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.

VA TO VETERANS – WE WON’T HELP YOU REGISTER TO VOTE

In what has to be one of the most illogical, unreasonable, hypocritical, and downright disrespectful decisions made by the new VA Secretary James Peake, the VA will not allow voter registration assistance in VA facilities. The National Voter Registration Act was passed in 1993 and imposes an obligation – indeed, a duty – on federal, state, and local governments to promote the exercise of the citizens’ fundamental right to vote.

VA Secretary Peake has a different take on promoting the right to vote, especially when those citizens are veterans. Peake’s position is that:

“the VA remains opposed to becoming a voter registration agency pursuant to the National Voter Registration Act, as this designation would divert substantial resources from our primary mission.”

Diverting of substantial resources? Voter registration forms can be downloaded from the internet and copied in a matter of minutes. I have helped at several different events where we registered voters, and helping with the form must take a whole 2 or 3 minutes. If VA personnel are asked to spend a few extra minutes with VA patients, I bet they would gladly do it. To think otherwise is to dishonor those who have served our country and those who serve our veterans.

Peake also insists helping veterans to register to vote is “partisan.” Voter registration does not require that the registrant declare a party. Obviously, he does not know the definition of partisan which means allegiance to a party or cause.

An interesting twist in the whole debacle is that armed forces recruitment offices are mandated to develop and implement procedures to ensure that those registering at the recruitment offices have the opportunity to register. The following is a section from the National Voter Registration Act of 1993:

ARMED FORCES RECRUITMENT OFFICES- (1) Each State and the Secretary of Defense shall jointly develop and implement procedures for persons to apply to register to vote at recruitment offices of the Armed Forces of the United States.

(2) A recruitment office of the Armed Forces of the United States shall be considered to be a voter registration agency designated under subsection (a)(2) for all purposes of this Act.

Since the passage mandates recruitment office voter registration assistance, I decided to call one of the local Army recruitment offices to see if they provided voter registration assistance, and, yep, they do. I spoke to a recruiter and asked one simple question, “Do you have voter registration forms?” His reply? “We sure do.”

The hypocrisy is staggering. The Bush Administration sends our military to fight and die in needless wars. Volunteers are provided the opportunity to register at the front end as they enlist. But at the back end, as our wounded return to lives filled with adjustments and frustrations and physical and emotional therapy and missing limbs and suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome, the Veterans Administration denies help with one of the very basic rights that our veterans fight to protect – the right to vote.

Could it be that after service in wars, our veterans are more likely than not to vote against those who sent them? Keeping faith with our veterans requires more than laudatory speeches – it requires matching those speeches with actions.

Photo Credit: About.com

A young soldier in DaNang, Vietnam – August 3, 1965

MARCH 29, 1973 – “THIS DAY IN HISTORY” THE U.S. WITHDRAWS FROM VIETNAM

Two months after the signing of the Vietnam peace agreement, the last U.S. combat troops left South Vietnam as Hanoi freed remaining American prisoners of war held in North Vietnam. America’s direct eight-year intervention in the Vietnam War was at an end. In Saigon, some 7,000 U.S. Department of Defense civilian employees remained behind to aid South Vietnam in conducting what looked to be a fierce and ongoing war with communist North Vietnam.

U.S. President John F. Kennedy sent the first large force of U.S. military personnel to Vietnam in 1961 to prop up the ineffectual autocratic regime of South Vietnam against the communist North. Three years later, with the South Vietnamese government crumbling, President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered limited bombing raids on North Vietnam, and Congress authorized the use of U.S. troops.

By 1965, North Vietnamese offensives left President Johnson with two choices: escalate U.S. involvement or withdraw. Johnson made the ill-fated decision to escalate the war, and troop levels soon jumped to more than 300,000 as U.S. air forces commenced the largest bombing campaign in history.

During the next few years, the extended length of the war, the high number of U.S. casualties, and the exposure of U.S. involvement in war crimes, such as the massacre at My Lai, helped turn many in the United States against the Vietnam War. The communists’ Tet Offensive of 1968, three years after Johnson escalated the war, crushed U.S. hopes of an early end to the conflict and galvanized U.S. opposition to the war. In response, Johnson announced in March 1968 that he would not seek reelection, citing what he perceived to be his responsibility in creating a perilous national division over Vietnam. He also authorized the beginning of peace talks.

In the spring of 1969, as protests against the war escalated in the United States, U.S. troop strength in the war-torn country reached its peak at nearly 550,000 men. Richard Nixon, the newly-elected president, began U.S. troop withdrawal and “Vietnamization” of the war effort that year, but he intensified bombing. Large U.S. troop withdrawals continued in the early 1970s as President Nixon expanded air and ground operations into Cambodia and Laos in attempts to block enemy
supply routes along Vietnam’s borders. This expansion of the war, which accomplished few positive results, led to new waves of protests in the United States and elsewhere.

Finally, in January 1973, representatives of the United States, North and South Vietnam, and the Vietcong signed a peace agreement in Paris, ending the direct U.S. military involvement in the Vietnam War. Its key provisions included a cease-fire throughout Vietnam, the withdrawal of U.S. forces, the release of prisoners of war, and the reunification of North and South Vietnam through peaceful means. The South Vietnamese government was to remain in place until new elections
were held, and North Vietnamese forces in the South were not to advance further nor be reinforced.

In reality, however, the agreement was little more than a face-saving gesture by the U.S. government. Even before the last American troops departed on March 29th, the communists violated the cease-fire, and by early 1974 full-scale war had resumed. At the end of 1974, South Vietnamese authorities reported that 80,000 of their soldiers and civilians had been killed in fighting during the year.

On April 30, 1975, the last few Americans still in South Vietnam were airlifted out of the country as Saigon fell to communist forces. North Vietnamese Colonel Bui Tin, accepting the surrender of South Vietnam later in the day, remarked, “You have nothing to fear; between Vietnamese there are no victors and no vanquished. Only the Americans have been defeated.” The Vietnam War was the longest and most unpopular foreign war in U.S. history and cost over 58,000 American lives. As many as two million Vietnamese soldiers and civilians were killed.

CONGRESSMAN SOUDER MEETS WITH LOCAL VETERANS ACTIVIST GROUP

Thursday night, Congressman Mark Souder met with our small, grass-roots group, Veterans for Better Health Care. Our group was born back in August 2004 in response to then VA Secretary Principi’s announcement that he would follow a recommendation to close our inpatient beds here at out local VA Hospital.

About 10-12 men gathered to figure out a strategy to defeat the recommendation. The group’s chosen name was “Veterans for Better Health Care.” Although I am not a veteran, that was not a criteria to join the group, so I joined in November 2004 and found myself participating each month and getting to know the veterans who were members. We did have one overriding requirement – no matter what our political persuasion, we wanted to maintain bipartisanship and avoid political affiliations. Our issue was saving the VA Hospital inpatient beds: an issue that we felt should not be subject to our own political ideologies.

Getting ready for our meeting with Congressman Souder
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I became our Director in October of 2005 and am still in that position. I am extremely proud and honored to be involved with this group and to be its director.

Some of our first efforts at getting the message out to the public included writing letters to the editor and handing out flyers containing our message. In April 2005, we organized a rally which was held at the World War II Victory Museum in Auburn, Indiana. The Kruses allowed us to hold the rally without charging us, which was greatly appreciated since we were a new group and had no means of financial support other than passing around a “donation can.”

The Rally was a success and drew about 150 people. We had a number of guest speakers who emphasized the need to maintain our inpatient beds, and a newly returned veteran who had been injured in Iraq also spoke. We began to become more active in area events. One of our members had an old car that he decorated with various slogans and items. He placed a mannequin on the roof of the car dressed as an injured veteran. “Oscar” as we affectionately called him, always drew comments and cheers when we took the car to parades.

The Frankes also were good to us and allowed us to hand out our flyers at hockey games in February 2006 and February 2007. That venue gave us access to thousands of individuals as they left the arena. Although we might only gain a member or two from those events, every person who joined our group was greatly appreciated. We also began to identify ourselves by wearing caps with our name and slogan “Save Our VA Hospital” and donning t-shirts with the same slogan. We wore these items when we participated in parades and events.

Our focus in all of our efforts was to keep the inpatient issue in front of the public and to put pressure on our representatives. Our particular focus, however, was to pressure Congressman Souder on the issue. Thursday night was the culmination of our efforts.

Congressman Souder’s office had contacted me about a month ago to arrange a meeting between our group and the Congressman. Frankly, I was quite surprised to receive the call, but I was also excited to think that we would have an opportunity to talk to the Congressman about the recent flap over the redacted VA Study done by Booz, Allen & Hamilton (BAH).

I had been a participant in that Study – first in a private morning meeting with about 10 other veterans’ representatives and later attending the public town hall meeting held at the Memorial Coliseum. That day’s activities – November 29, 2006 – had been arranged by local veterans’ groups and BAH. We were told that the report would be done in about six months, which would have been a due date of May 2007. May came and went with no report. The spring turned into summer and summer into fall and still no report.

The call also represented a shift in how the Congressman viewed our group. In our earlier days, we were not exactly the most welcome sight at parades and events where both the Congressman and our group appeared. When we appeared at town hall meetings or smaller local question and answer sessions, we triggered increased tension. But with this contact, we felt the Congressman truly recognized our dedication and efforts over the 3 1/2 years since our organization. He was seeking our continuing help to fight for our VA Hospital inpatient beds.

Congressman Souder at Thursday night’s meeting
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The meeting went very well, and the Congressman spent about two hours talking to us in a small room at Post #82 – the location we chose because it was where our group began. The meeting started at 7:00 p.m., and, when I left at a little after 9:00, the Congressman was still talking to a few remaining individuals. Reports were shown on the local TV stations as well as provided in the local newspapers.

The bottom line to this is that our hospital inpatient beds are still not out of danger. The VA is doing a follow-up study on outpatient care and facilities. The delay may be beneficial, but we do not yet know that, so we cannot let down on our efforts. THE FIGHT IS NOT OVER.

As I drove home from the meeting, I kept thinking about my favorite Margaret Mead saying:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

We started as a small, grass-roots group with no funding.  But what we had was an overwhelming concern for our veterans – past, present, and future – and their care.  We put together a plan of action and kept fighting.  We still meet monthly, and we still make plans to participate in area events.  Now that the weather will be turning nicer, we will be able to get back out to parades and events.  We will not give up this fight, and we ask that you not give up either.

Congressman Souder’s office has scheduled a rally, and here are the particulars:

When: April 7, 2008 (Monday)

Where: World War II Victory Museum, Auburn, Indiana

Time: 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Please help us once again have a successful rally in support of our VA Hospital. Do not take anything for granted. We have many veterans returning from the Middle East who will need our help and support, both in the hospital surrounding and in the community surrounding.

Please make plans to attend this rally and let the VA know we have not forgotten this battle, and we will not give up.

BUSH TO SUPPLY ARMS TO KOSOVO – AND THE ONE-UPMANSHIP BEGINS

George W. Bush has agreed to supply arms to Kosovo – and the game of one-upmanship begins.  Bush sells arms to Kosovo; Russia sells more arms to Serbia. 

Photo Credit:  Wikipedia
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In a memo to the State Department made public by the White House, Bush said: “I hereby find that the furnishing of defense articles and defense services to Kosovo will strengthen the security of the United States and promote world peace.”  Yee gads!  Bush still lives in his virtual unreality world.  How does one argue that providing more instruments of death promotes “world peace?”  Absolute lunacy.  But then what can you expect from a president who sees himself as the saviour of the world and the purveyor of democracy. 

A senior official said the authorization followed US recognition of Kosovo’s independence and was part of the normal process of establishing relations with a new government.   Somewhere along the way, what is normal has become warped.  When people argue that providing arms is normal and helps establish peace, they are being disingenuouos.  And it all leads to increasing world tension and a game of one-upmanship that cannot be won.

Photo Credit:  The New York Times

Posted in War