Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Iraq Dilemma

We need to get out, but dare we leave behind a failed state?

Colin Powell's "China Shop" principle on invading Iraq has by now become a well worn cliche, but the principle holds true nonetheless: "You break it, you own it."

Powell warned George W. Bush about the danger of breaking Iraq well before the invasion, but Bush dismissed Powell's counsel and broke Iraq anyway. Now we own it. That is the essence of the nasty mess in which we now find ourselves.

Taking stock of our unwanted property is discouraging: The constitution writing process in Iraq is in shambles, with the Shiites and Kurds unwilling to compromise with the Sunnis. The U.S. death toll nears the 2000 mark. The insurgency is well entrenched and more deadly than ever. Shiite militias rule the south. The U.S. military is stretched almost to the breaking point and desperately wants to begin a discrete exit, but still needs to appear resolute. President Bush says that as Iraqi forces are able to stand up, U.S. forces will stand down, but the number of Iraqi forces able to fight without U.S. assistance is dismally low. The President's approval ratings are in the toilet, and Americans are drawing parallels between Iraq and Vietnam.

Meanwhile the people of Iraq are caught in a violent maelstrom of bombings, assassinations and instability. The electricity won't stay on and the oil won't flow. More than two years after Bush's strutting about under a "Mission Accomplished" banner, Iraq is in chaos. In 2004 the CIA described three possible scenarios for the future of Iraq; one of them was that the country would descend into civil war. That outcome seems as likely as ever.

This is the place that we broke and now own.

President Bush still insists in equating the war in Iraq with the war on terror. He is correct in but this one respect: If Iraq becomes a failed state--a very real possibility--then it will surely be a hotbed of terrorist activity after the model of Afghanistan in the 1990s. As such, it will constitute a much greater threat to the United States than it ever was under Saddam Hussein. That is the real dilemma of Iraq: We've made a mess that we can't clean up, but in walking away we will leave behind a place from which future threats against the U.S. will continue to fester.

In this way Bush's misbegotten war has cost us dearly in not only blood and treasure, but indeed our very security.

Copyright (C) 2005 James Michael Brennan, All Rights Reserved

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Executing Saddam

I should say at the outset that I'm against capital punishment. I believe it is a barbaric act that reduces society to the level of the murderer being executed.

And based on my previous posts, my reader knows that I'm a reliable critic of George W. Bush's misbegotten war. It was founded on lies concocted by arrogant men too full of their own power. A war thus waged can be neither just nor moral.

But the war did remove the ruthless murderer Saddam Hussein, who seems as close as a man can get to being evil personified. The first official charges against him were recently filed, and more will follow. A trial could be held as soon as this year. No doubt Saddam will be convicted of the most heinous of crimes. What should be his sentence?

Although my reason and intellect inform me that capital punishment is immoral, my gut and emotion nevertheless fantasize about ways to dispatch a fiend like Saddam. (My gut is wrong.) So for purposes of fantasy only, I'll share just a bit of my private thoughts.

I've imagined a public hanging, before the world's eyes and cameras. Saddam would remain unhooded, and the cameras would zoom in close. All could watch his eyes as the noose was placed around his neck. The thought of Saddam flopping briefly at the end of a rope, with his own excreta fouling his pants, warms some dark place inside of me to which I must not often go.

Hanging is not a very dignified way to die. But it's not especially creative, either. For scum like Saddam, we can do better. How about this: Throw Saddam into a pit, about ten feet deep. Allow anyone who wishes to do so to file past the pit and spit into it. Give priority to Iraqis. The procession would thus continue until the pit fills and Saddam drowns.

There, I've got that off my chest. Now lock the bastard up someplace secure for the rest of his wretched life.

Copyright (C) 2005 James Michael Brennan, All Rights Reserved

Friday, August 12, 2005

Power Plant a Dirty Neighbor

A letter to the editor submitted by me was printed in the August 11 edition of the Fort Scott Tribune, a small daily newspaper published in Fort Scott, Bourbon County, Kansas. The topic of the letter is a new coal-fired power plant proposed by Westar Energy, the utility that provides electrical power to much of Kansas. Westar recently announced its desire to build the plant, and suggested that communities interested in providing a site should make their interest known to the company. A petition in favor of the plant was circulated in Bourbon County, and in a short time three thousand residents--a significant fraction of the county's population--had signed it. The county's application was hand delivered to Westar. There seems to be much enthusiasm in the county for the plant on the assumption that it will create jobs and spur economic development. Here's the text of my letter:

To the Editor,

I was somewhat surprised and very dismayed by the residents of Bourbon County who are chasing after Westar's proposed new power plant. Do they understand what they're asking for? A coal fired power plant is one of the most foul, vile, polluting industries imaginable. It's hard to understand how so many people would enthusiastically request to have one located nearby.

That the plant will be an obvious eyesore is the least of its problems. Do you really want coal ash raining down on your laundry, your car, your house? More important, do you want all the chronic health problems that come from breathing fine particulates deep into your lungs?

In a recent article in the Pittsburg Morning Sun, one person described what it's like to live near the Asbury power plant: "Some mornings there is a film from the plant on the fields. The white roofs of some of my barns are black with the film." I have heard similar stories of the LaCygne plant.

Residents near the Asbury plant report increased levels of allergies and asthma. I would suggest that we can also expect more sinus infections, bronchitis, and lung diseases. If you're exposed to enough fine particulates you may even have emphysema or lung cancer in your future. Is it worth it?

Bourbon County should tell Westar thanks, but no thanks. Take your filthy plant to a place where people value their clean air less than we do here.

Copyright (C) 2005 James Michael Brennan, All Rights Reserved

Sixty-Six Dollar Oil

Oil screamed past sixty-six dollars per barrel today, and closed at nearly $67.

Sixty-Five Dollar Oil

Oil topped $65 per barrel yesterday. It passed $66 overnight in Asian trading. Oil prices have set new records every day this week. Remember how remarkable it seemed, just a couple of months ago, when oil passed fifty dollars?

Copyright (C) 2005 James Michael Brennan, All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Sixty-Four Dollar Oil

On Monday, August 8, 2005--the day that President Bush signed that massive corporate welfare program also known as the "energy bill"--oil prices came within a gnat's eyelash of sixty-four dollars a barrel. Prices hit $63.99 during trading and closed at $63.94.

Markets get jittery when supplies are tight. Monday' s record price was attributed to security concerns in Saudi Arabia. Tomorrow it will be something else, perhaps the passage of a dog leash law in Podunk, Oklahoma. These days it takes very little to spook the oil markets. Get used to it.

For several fundamental reasons, prices will continue to rise. They'll rise in the short term because we've not yet seen prices high enough to quench demand. They'll rise in the long term because, as I have previously written, we've reached the point where each year's worldwide oil production will be less than the previous year's.

Copyright (C) 2005 James Michael Brennan, All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

A Divider, Not a Uniter

George W. Bush came to office proclaiming that he intended to be a "uniter, not a divider". His record belies that lofty pronouncement. Time after time he has shown that he has neither the temperament nor the desire to unite.

The latest example is the recess appointment of John Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Bolton's nomination had been stalled in the Senate over an impasse between the White House and Senate Democrats regarding the release of information on Bolton's use of sensitive wiretap transcripts. With neither side willing to budge, Bush waited for the Senate to adjourn for its August recess, and then appointed Bolton to the position without Senate confirmation.

That Bush was within his legal rights to make this appointment does not diminish the fact that he is, as always, more interested in having his way than in reaching compromise or consensus. A uniter? Hardly.

The President announced that he was making the appointment because of the "partisan delaying tactics of a handful of Senators" that denied Bolton an "up or down" vote. That is only true if you consider 43 Senators--which is how many voted against cloture on the Bolton nomination--to be a "handful". The President also did not mention that Senator Joe Biden, speaking on behalf of the senators requesting the additional information, essentially promised a final vote without delay once the requested information was delivered. The Bush White House would have none of it.

The fact that Bolton was Bush's nominee in the first place is evidence of just how tone deaf this administration is to the sensible propriety one would expect from "a uniter, not a divider." "A bull in a china shop" is how the headline of an analysis by the Financial Times of London began. Bolton's nomination was voted out of committee to the Senate floor without a recommendation--hardly a ringing endorsement.

The controversial Bolton is famous for throwing tantrums, bullying subordinates, and seeking to have fired intelligence analysts whose conclusions contradicted his own ideological beliefs and political positions. And the revelation of his behavior comes at the very time that many have concluded that the politicization of intelligence was in part responsible for our failure to accurately understand Iraq's pre-war WMD capabilities.

This man who Bush would send as our ambassador to the United Nations has been openly and crudely disdainful of the world body. Incredibly, Bush feels that the vindictive and tactless Bolton is just the guy to repair our strained relations with countries around the world, and to nurture reform at the U.N.

The Financial Times analysis observed that Bush, in making the appointment, has "stretched his executive prerogative to the limit." The article notes that "even some of the new ambassador's staunchest supporters have conceded that a recess appointment was likely to undermine his standing at the UN."

Bolton's most passionate Senate critic has been not a Democrat but Republican Senator George Voinovich of Ohio, who noted that "this is not the behavior that should be endorsed as the face of the United States to the world community in the United Nations." Voinovich goes on to say that "John Bolton is the poster child of what someone in the diplomatic corps should not be."

Regardless of how Senator Voinovich feels about it, John Bolton is now on the job at the U.N., and George "My Way or the Highway" Bush has obtained the outcome he wanted. But at what cost?

Copyright (C) 2005 James Michael Brennan, All Rights Reserved