An intellectual freedom blog with an emphasis on libraries and technology

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Conscription revisited

No more predictions

I have been wrong about conscription before. I will avoid making predictions. My predictions of a coming draft in two previous posts prove a bit embarrassing as the draft has not come back. The Administration no doubt fully understands the opposition to the war should the children of the wealthy and middle class have to serve in it. Rep. Charles Rangel has, once again, announced plans to reinstate conscription in the coming Congress. I will not make any predictions as to whether this will happen. But I find Rangel's rationale worth examining:

"There's no question in my mind that this president and this administration would never have invaded Iraq, especially on the flimsy evidence that was presented to the Congress, if indeed we had a draft and members of Congress and the administration thought that their kids from their communities would be placed in harm's way," [Associated Press, Nov 19, 2006].

I question whether Rangel's comments address true motivations of those involved. The chicken-hawks who have cried so vehemently for war found ways to avoid going to Vietnam. Their spawn can follow their example as well. I suggest instead that the experience of the draft during the Vietnam War makes the Administration reluctant to reinstate conscription. A draft would provide the anti-war movement with a clear rallying point and serve as a motivating factor for people to oppose the war who otherwise would not. Sadly, I suspect that many people who do not voice an opinion or who may even support the war (verbally, that is) would think differently if they had to face an all expense paid trip to Iraq. And think about this: does the U.S. feel like a country at war? How has the war changed people's lives? Sadly, selfishness and indifference, to say nothing of the hypocrisy of chicken-hawks, keep the war going by the lack of opposition to it.

How has the Bush administration avoided conscription up to now? They employ a variety of methods. The first one we can recognize readily enough in simply not sending in enough troops to accomplish what an occupying force needs to do. Not that I agree with going to war in the first place, but if you're going to do so, one would expect some thought and planning beforehand. Early news reports of cooperative Iraqis walking into U.S. military compounds with information also revealed that the U.S. military did nothing to act on the reports. For example, numerous Iraqis warned U.S. intelligence officers that the Iraqi Army had abandoned its ammo dumps and that men in civilian clothing were carrying away ordinance. No one made any attempt to guard to ammo supplies. They did not have enough troops. Now the ordinance provides the explosives for IEDs. And without enough troops to patrol populated areas during the frequent blackouts (that plagued the civilian population from the start of the war) kidnapers freely preyed upon the more well-to-do Iraqis.

For another way to avoid a draft, they use "contractors" in Iraq for tasks formerly the work of soldiers. In previous wars (and previous post-war occupations) the U.S. military has its own trucks and drivers, its own cooks and latrine diggers. Paying contractors to do these jobs reduces the need for military personnel. Fair enough.

But now we come to the third method: the contractors also have their own "security forces" for protecting their personnel and work sites. Method number three for doing without conscription has the most important implications. As Terry Jones (of Monty Python fame) wrote recently: "... the four "civilian" contractors" whose murders prompted the attacks on Fallujah. They were mercenaries. They work for Blackwater, and if you go to Blackwater's Web site, it's really quite interesting. They offer two courses on sniping." The use of mercenaries has come back to bite the Bush Administration. They cost far more than soldiers (we'll be paying for this war, literally as well as figuratively, for generations). They do not have the same accountability and the U.S government has less control over them.

From a story in the Washington Post: "These guys run loose in this country and do stupid stuff. There's no authority over them [mercenaries], so you can't come down on them hard when they escalate force," said Brig. Gen. Karl R. Horst, deputy commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, which is responsible for security in and around Baghdad. "They shoot people, and someone else has to deal with the aftermath. It happens all over the place." (Security Contractors in Iraq Under Scrutiny After Shootings, By Jonathan Finer. Washington Post Foreign Service. Saturday, September 10, 2005; A01).

And worse to come. Alan Grayson, an attorney representing whistleblowers from Custer Battle who exposed massive fraud in Iraq says in a new documentary:

"If you are a U.S. soldier and you hurt an Iraqi civilian and that becomes known, you will be court-martialed. But if you are a U.S. contractor and you kill an Iraqi civilian and that becomes known, you will be sent home. And then, you can come back the following week, and you can work for a different contractor."
-- [From Iraq for sale Cf. AmericaBlog "Iraq for Sale": an exceptional new film by AJ in DC - 8/31/2006].

The Bush administration made a deliberate decision to go to war without conscription. As a result mercenaries run amok in the country that the Administration claims it wishes to help. If Saddam Hussein truly posed a threat, why not implement a draft? This represents a glaring contradiction. Although Bush considered invading Iraq vitally important he did not consider it important enough to make sure the military has sufficient personnel? But the plan to use "contractors" existed from the start. They made up for the small number of troops in the all volunteer military. This makes the use of mercenaries and the decision not to start conscription a deliberate domestic political decision.

This political strategy eerily mirrors the French use of its Foreign Legion in colonial wars in Algeria and Vietnam. If ones dying are not somehow "ours" do they not matter? And turning Iraq into what "Mr. Nice Blog" calls "... an Open-Air Abbatoir for Human Beings" does not matter? Who else thinks this is insane?

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Baby pledges to sever umbilical cord

The Democrats and lobbyists

In an AP story today (Nov 10) Nancy Pelosi announced the democrats pledge to sever ties to lobbyists. As the AP story points out, that's day 1, but day 2 they will be asking the lobbyists for donations.

More than donations or the Abramov scandal I would like to find out if they will do anything about who is writing the legislation? In 1995 after Newt Gingrich and his "reformers" cut the Congress' budget for staff no one was left to do the work of crafting the legislation introduced in the House or Senate. The representatives and senators themselves have too much other work to do to devote the needed time and effort to write the laws themselves. The majority of Congresspeople do not even have time to read the legislation that they vote on. Lobbyists have been writing legislation for a given Representative or Senator to introduce to Congress. This has remained an under-reported fact of life ever since Gingrich started as Speaker of the House.

Will the democrats restore the staff budget to allow people they hire and who work for the government to do the work of writing the legislation or will they continue to outsource this essential task to lobbyists? Nancy Pelosi and the democrats can say anything they like and they can villify the lobbyists as much as they like. If the lobbyists continue to write the laws, why should they care what anyone says?

Friday, November 10, 2006

Ed Bradley RIP

The loss is greater than you realize

Ed Bradley of CBS news died of complictions from leukemia on Thursday November 9, 2006. As I write this the next day the web overflows with obituaries, tributes and other laudatory verbiage. But I'll bet most of them will fail to mention one very important event. During the 2000 election Ed Bradley was the only journalist in the United States who used his head for something other than a hatrack.

Bradley was the one who noticed that Al Gore's numbers ran backwards in Florida. While everyone else looked at the percentages, which are supposed to vary and trade places relative to each other, Ed Bradley saw that an update of the raw number of votes for Gore showed an amount less than the previous one. The raw numbers are not supposed to do that. A Diebold vote tabulating machine for optical card ballots "disappeared" nearly 20,000 votes for Gore. This is the reason Gore withdrew his concession of the election. (Nevermind that most of the media played it like it was some sort of indecisiveness -- what would you have done?). We know as much as we know about the travesty that took place in Florida because Ed Bradley was paying attention and doing his job. What about the rest of them?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

No time?

Democrats fail before they begin

This just in: Nancy Pelosi has stated, regarding impeachment proceedings against the President in the event that Democrats take over the House: "We don't have time for that." I think she must have been misquoted. Most likely she actually said: "We don't have spine for that."

Yes, that sounds more accurate. For word of the popular support for impeachment, keep reading: