Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Beyond Simplistic Perspectives

by Keith Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, June 19, 2009

Anyone who doubted that North Korea would present one of President Obama’s first and critical dilemmas can hardly deny that fact today. Nuclear detonations, test launches, and the harsh sentencing of two U.S. journalists accused of illegally entering the country have demanded the attention of the United States and the world.

The troubles with North Korea are far from the only ones facing this young administration. The Taliban is presenting a threat in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Iran continues to present a debacle as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently “won” a “reelection” as President. We are still mired in a violent occupation of Iraq. Our domestic economic struggles remain a looming ordeal and promise to be one for most of the current term of office.

Thus, the question of how to solve the problem of North Korea becomes even more critical because it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There is much speculation about how to handle it, and since the Obama approach has not yet fully materialized, there remains some question about what shape that approach will take.

Early commentary has characterized the Obama strategy as too soft or too hard-line – depending on the audience or the critic. Invoking a confrontation with North Korea may be seen as too risky in light of other foreign conflicts. Others predict diplomacy will fall short of containing the unpredictable North, and that South Korea will be unlikely to provide much assistance in negotiation.

Part of the problem is dictator Kim Jong-Il. The use of the term “loose cannon” is often generous in comparison to some of the other names Kim has been called. Most often the terminology is centered around his perceived mental instability, with words like “madman” and “nutcase” used to describe the leader. Despite where his critics fall on the political spectrum, most would call him unpredictable at best. This perspective reinforces the perception that North Korea is a grave threat to peace and security.

It also introduces an interesting element into the discussion of how to deal with that threat. Faced with an uncontrollable enemy, there is a certain amount of liberation from responsibility. If all one’s options are undesirable, one is released from some of the blame when a failure occurs. For example, the Bush administration got a pass for appeasing North Korea with bilateral talks after vowing not to negotiate with “evil” actors.

Another part of the problem is the oversimplification of the situation from various viewpoints. Dismissing the provocative actions of Pyongyang (North Korea’s capital) as craziness overlooks other potential motivations that might serve a certain logic. The fact that the nuclear and missile testings were announced indicates that North Korea was seeking global attention. This isn’t the first time it has played this game. Over the past several years North Korea would provoke the international community in order to reap rewards. This strategy has been remarkably successful. During 2006 and 2007 displays of defiance were answered with concessions and diplomacy. There is reason to believe that the current behavior is an invitation for the Obama administration to pay off in kind.

Among other motivations could be that Kim Jong-Il, still recovering from a stroke and looking to cement power, is simply interested in political posturing. It is important for Pyongyang to exhibit military might in order to ensure that the eventual transition of power goes from Kim to his third son Kim Jong-un.

A simplistic approach to North Korea also narrows the options one might pursue in response. In the past there have been only carrots and sticks applied in similar strategies across multiple U.S. administrations. North Korea would provoke the United States who would lure the rogue state to the negotiation table to temporarily avert conflict. Or, conversely, the U.S. would demonize Pyongyang and give empty threats of unilateral aggression.

There are other courses of action to be pursued. Most importantly, we must recognize that while the United States is a superpower, there is more at stake than our interest. This international concern presents opportunity as well. Multilaterally approaching North Korea with the backing of the global community means greater power and influence over the North. South Korea has obvious interests in the outcome but they are counterproductive when it comes to meaningful negotiations. However, Russia, China and Japan can become powerful tools in thwarting North Korean aggression. The United States can also make use of the U.N. – effectively for a change – instead of choosing to marginalize its importance as it has done in the past.

North Korea’s recent behavior does pose a serious new problem for the Obama administration. It is unclear what the solution will be, but it will inevitably require an international effort if it is to be successful.

Words Are Empty When Weapons Are Loaded

by Gordon Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, June 19, 2009

I remember a teacher in elementary school who used to deal with unruly students by putting their name on the chalkboard and adding little check marks for each violation. It was assumed that the public humiliation of being pointed out and designated as a troublemaker would initiate fear and trembling among the most brazen offenders. Sadly, this notoriety only served to embolden the bully of the class by giving him the attention – even if it was negative – that he longed for.
The same principle is now being played out in our global classroom. And I am afraid history has shown that missing recess doesn’t bother those who don’t really want to play the playground games.

In the case of North Korea, as was the case in Iraq before George Bush assembled a coalition of forces and finally dealt with the bully there, the United Nations has been putting check marks on the chalkboard and denying recess for several decades. Perhaps it is time to try a new approach.

I don’t have the expertise nor do I have the time to analyze the whole bully syndrome, but I do know that many times it is the attempt to compensate for deficiencies in other areas. This “Napoleon Complex” is borne out in many ways, and most of them involve the actor becoming more and more dangerous as he sees powerful and charismatic leaders garnering attention he feels should be his alone. In other words, a deranged man with a shrinking self image is a dangerous man. And if that deranged man acquires nuclear capability, he is even more dangerous.

As we look back at the history of the UN’s dealing with North Korea, we can see failure after failure. Sanctions have done little to change the behavior of the leadership, but have served to add more names to the list of those who have starved to death. The example of capitalism and global inclusion that has enabled South Korea to flourish has not served to convince the leaders to abandon their Communistic system.

When Bush lumped Iran, Iraq and North Korea into the Axis of Evil, many criticized him, claiming that such designation would be too divisive and inflammatory. Eventually, enough pressure was applied and North Korea made concessionary moves to convince Bush to remove its name from the terrorist list. Now, our new Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, has threatened to put the name back on the list. Forgive me if I do not express great confidence in its efficacy at changing Kim Jung Il’s posture.
What then should be the response of Obama?

Well, let’s look at what has worked with bullies in the past.

While Obama repeatedly draws attention to the economic malaise he has inherited, he should also notice and mention some of the other things he inherited from previous administrations. First of all, thanks to the policies of Reagan, Obama does not have the shadow of a vital U.S.S.R. stretching its tentacles around the globe. Secondly, thanks to Bush-the-first, he does not have an Iraq-occupied Kuwait. Thirdly, thanks to Bush-the-second he does not have Saddam Hussein to deal with; he has also inherited a weakened Al Qaeda network led by a cave-bound, emasculated Osama Bin Laden. I will grant that Bush was not always right on many issues, but when the world witnessed the image of Saddam crawling out of a rat hole under the command of our brave soldiers, it became clear that his tactic of dealing with that particular bully was obviously the correct ploy. We must also remember that Libya abandoned their destructive ambitions when they saw the resolve of our coalition forces to root out evil.

Obama’s offhand, affirmative response during the campaign, when asked if he would negotiate with leaders such as Kim Jung Il and Ahmadinejad, was duly criticized by his Secretary of State for being naïve and immature. It is my hope that she has convinced him to grow up since then.

While it may be unpopular with Obama’s core constituency, I believe he has to at least leave the option of force on the table. The best scene for us to see on our TV’s and in our newspapers would be the image of Kim Jung Il under the custody of an international coalition of forces. The worst scene would be the rising mushroom cloud of a nuclear detonation over Seoul or a major US city.

Ronald Reagan faced down a much more powerful adversary with a steadfast challenge to “tear down this wall”; Bush-the-first drew a line in the sand; Bush-the-second made a decision to hold a madman accountable to his conditions of surrender. My hope is that Obama will learn some valuable lessons from these true leaders who have shouldered heavy burdens and made difficult decisions.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Search for Common Ground on a Slippery Slope

by Gordon Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, June 5, 2009

In his commencement speech delivered to the graduates and families at Notre Dame University last month, President Obama admonished his listeners to strive for a better world and to use their acquired skills to seek “common ground” with those of differing views. That is commendable and I would have stood with those who applauded him for those words. But, as is the case in any political speech, it is necessary to dig a little deeper into the text of Mr. Obama’s treatise and compare his statements with the facts.

First of all, Obama started out with a charming dismissal of some protesters, establishing a moral high ground with a smile and an affirmation that he knew his views were not unanimously accepted. He then went on from there to use that same charm and smiling visage to try to disarm those who hold certain truths to be self-evident, by clouding the debate with double-speak and obfuscation.

Obviously, the protesters were not concerned with Obama’s failed economic policies or his fluctuating stance on the terrorists in Guantanamo; they were astonished by the fact that a man who clearly held some of the most radical views regarding the value of unborn human life, would be invited to speak at an institution that had supposedly held to the truth of each conception being precious in the eyes of God.

The national news media, as usual these days, failed to critically analyze the validity of Obama’s words or even to investigate the reasoning behind the protests.

Obama compared and contrasted the opposing views of various groups and ideologies with the obvious intention of illustrating that diverse opinions have always been a part of American life and will always be so. However truthful that may be, it is also true that our history shows there is an underlying set of truths that must be held tightly, no matter how shrill the opposition voices may become, or how high the cost.

On the issue of abortion, Obama claimed that certain common goals could unite the opposing sides. For example, he asserted we should all work together to reduce unintended pregnancies and to make adoption more available, and that support and care be given to those who choose to carry their children to term. Again, that is commendable speech, and I again concur. However, his words ring hollow and empty when compared with his actions.

While a senator in the Illinois Legislature, Mr. Obama repeatedly showed his contempt for unborn humans by supporting the radical practice of “partial birth abortion” which is, in essence, a most brutal form of infanticide. The baby’s birth is induced by the abortionist, who then performs a procedure so horrific that many of the most ardent abortion proponents have voted against its legality.

Obama has also opposed legislation that would have protected a child who had miraculously survived an attempted abortion.

The bottom line is that Obama has consistently sided with the extreme branch of the pro-death lobby. And he again showed his contempt for the unborn when he stated during his campaign that he would not want his daughters “punished with a child”.

He has voiced support for the Freedom of Choice Act, which is a bill co-sponsored by NY Representative, Jerrold Nadler and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA). This radical legislation, if passed, would create a Federal standard whereby individual states would be prohibited from enacting any limitations on abortion. No parental notification statutes, no waiting periods, no late-term restrictions, no choice to deny abortions by those who hold religious objections such as Christian doctors and Catholic hospitals would be legal under this law.

Those who push this law are well aware of the slippery Constitutional basis of the Roe decision of 1973, and their fear of its eventual and rightful reversal by an objective Supreme Court. It is their intent to supersede states’ rights and to further their cause of a planned society. Obama has benefited politically, and financially, by joining his shoulder to their yoke without regard to the fact that the underlying result of the abortion industry has been the destruction of a disproportionate number of minority children. In other words, abortion has killed more African-American and Hispanic children per capita than Caucasian children.

Those who are standing upon the biological, theological and just plain logical solid ground regarding the truth that each conception begins the life of a unique human being, should not be convinced to join hands with those who stand upon the slippery slope of belief in the relative worth of human life. Indeed, there is no common ground. Either it is a child worthy of the same rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness or it is a “non-viable life form” to be flushed and disregarded at will. If it is not a living human, why then should it be a “heart-wrenching decision”? I believe wholeheartedly in every woman’s equality under law and her freedom to choose what happens to her body, but even the average high school biology student knows that the baby in her womb carries its own unique DNA code – not hers.

“Open hearts. Open minds. Fair-minded words.” – Obama 5/17/09

by Keith Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, June 5, 2009

On May 17, the 2009 graduating class at Notre Dame University had the distinct honor of hearing their commencement’s keynote address delivered by a sitting president of the United States. This rare and unique privilege has made statesmen the most sought-after of commencement speakers throughout the history of academia. Unfortunately some small portion of the glory of this experience was soured for those students dispatched from the South Bend, Indiana, Ivy League school.

Though the interruptions during the address were minor and the protesters few, there were a handful of gatherings outside the campus gates that weekend, with dozens of demonstrators speaking out against the Catholic institution’s invitation of President Obama to orate there.

While the controversy didn’t build the head of steam many hoped for, it had been a focus of coverage on Fox News for weeks, where it first came to my attention. A lone spokesperson represented a conservative group of students protesting the decision. However, even she admitted that the majority of students were Obama supporters and that the coverage of the school paper and other internal sources favored the president. Still, over the ensuing weeks the network drove the controversy and over-reported its intensity.

Fox News and my brother, Gordon, would have us believe that Obama’s speech was equivalent to that of a Nazi war criminal, instead of the democratically elected leader of the free world. The fact of the matter is that the school’s administration was wise to seek the president’s presence, especially with his approval ratings at a relatively high level. Obama’s charge to find common ground was not lost on the Reverend John Jenkins, who introduced the president. Though he used the opportunity to reaffirm the University’s support for the Catholic Church’s stance on abortion and stem cell research, Jenkins encouraged dialog, discussion and discourse. He admonished his audience to resist demonizing the opposition and to ease hateful divisions.

Gordon’s essay is an example of why the divisiveness of politics will continue to stall both progress and unity. Rigidity and a refusal to recognize commonality reinforces hatred, fuels animosity and chills cooperation.

Furthermore, the demonization of the opposition is counterproductive, despite its popularity when one is preaching to the choir. Terms like “pro-death” and the graphic description of a little-used operation serve well to inspire rage, but present a distorted view of the pro-choice (though I personally dislike the term pro-choice) side of the debate. This portrayal disregards the dire circumstances of those faced with heart-wrenching decisions and the perils they face.

Gordon claims that while there are always differing views, certain values remain steadfast at the core of issues, and have remained so throughout America’s history no matter how loud the cry of majority or how high the cost. It is interesting to me, then, that during our recent discussions [Broader View Weekly: May 8 and May 22] on torture, certain core values were dispensable in the interest of security.

Another inconsistency that has always been troubling is that the voices that shout the loudest about the sanctity of life are often the same ones that cheer for the death penalty or root for war. There are “justifications” for this seeming double standard, but most result in a clouding of the matter or a shrouding in the supernatural. The truth is that in matters of life and death, it is less black-and-white and more “grey area”.

The work of a democracy is rooted in nuance and not in rigid standard. Hence the need for the judicial branch of our government to wade through real world data and weigh it against the stricture of written law, taking into account the human condition. In 1973, the Roe v. Wade decision weighed the hardship and danger posed by the lack of safe and legal abortion options for women, against regulation applied broadly with little regard for individual circumstance. Opinion varies about whether the decision is settled law (though even conservatives like Chief Justice Roberts have proclaimed it so), or merely legal precedent, and the struggle between preserving it or overturning it continues.

My fellow columnist and I have argued the merits of the abortion issue, and that of stem cell research, at length. We remain passionately on opposite sides of the table regarding both. Yet, we embrace as brothers through it all. Our conversations in written form are not always filled with pleasantries. However, it is my hope that cooler heads will always prevail and that we will always strive for open hearts, open minds and fair-minded words.

Torture Revisited

by Keith Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, May 22, 2009

During the administration of George W. Bush, when he or his press secretary were put on the spot about some former issue like the justification for war in Iraq or surveillance of Americans, the response was often a reference to looking forward, or ire at those who would dredge up the past. Now, in the midst of Congressional hearings and investigations over the use of torture by the CIA and U.S. soldiers, some are criticizing Congress and President Obama for shedding light on past offenses.

The exception seems to be Nancy Pelosi’s Republican colleagues, who apparently now agree in the criminality of the practice since they have taken to accusing the Speaker of the House of complicity.

And former Vice President Dick Cheney has emerged from his undisclosed location to shine even more light on the past, in his defense of the former administration. Speculation abounds about the motivation of Cheney, who spent the last eight years operating behind the scenes, to speak out so publicly and loudly now.

Perhaps one reason could be a man named Baltasar Garzón. He is a Spanish Judge who famously ordered the arrest of oppressive Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

In a move underreported (at least in American mainstream media) the Spanish court initiated an investigation into the actions of high-level Bush administration officials for their involvement in the ordering of torture techniques. The case could lead to an arrest warrant for Cheney’s former Chief of Staff, David Addington, among other officials.

Though they are largely symbolic, the anticipated warrants could reach high in the former administration, including signatories of the recently released torture memos, John Yoo and Jay Bybee, as well as former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and former defense undersecretary Douglas Feith.

The investigation began with a formal complaint filed by Gonzalo Boye, a lawyer from Madrid, to hold the architects of legal support for torture techniques to account. “This is a case from lawyers against lawyers. Our profession does not allow us to misuse our legal knowledge to create a pseudo-legal frame to justify, stimulate and cover up torture,” said Boye.

The most important byproduct of the investigation may be the introduction of accountability for high-profile members of the Bush administration for their wrongdoing. It is little surprise, then, that Cheney has chosen to vociferously defend the techniques since it is clear that torture figures into his stated strategy of going to the dark side in addressing the threat of terror.

When I proposed a second discussion of torture [see BVW 5-8-9 for first], my fellow columnist called me a Bush Basher (not for the first time), as if my primary motivation is to denigrate Bush on a personal level. In the past I have been accused of hating or fearing George W. Bush. It is true that I have never believed the former president possessed the necessary qualifications for the highest office in the nation. However, I have tried to focus my disapproval on the policies that are misguided, unjust, or that violate valued principles.

In the case of torture, it is becoming increasingly clear that Bush policies are illegal by U.S. and international standards. Practices like waterboarding violate international law such as the 1984 Torture Convention. It may be unpopular among some ideologues to hold the U.S. accountable to international standards, however, even the Bush administration considered international standards expedient when applied to outside violators, such as the son of Liberian president Chuckie Taylor who was convicted and sentenced in U.S. courts.

This double standard is less distressing than is the abandonment of standards we have held for our own conduct. This bears investigation.

I don’t know the details of the briefings Nancy Pelosi received, but if she approved illegal torture by neglect or complicity she should be held to account. I don’t believe torture to be an effective method for gleaning actionable intelligence. Even if it has been fruitful as Cheney insists, I don’t believe that we would be proud of the nation we would become, as we discard our moral compass in exchange for security. I don’t think the Spanish investigation will lead to the extradition of high-level Bush officials. However, perhaps international intervention will help restore U.S. respectability in the world. Perhaps it will inspire our respect of international law and of humanity.

Hen-house Politics

by Gordon Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, May 22, 2009

There is a phenomenon that is recognizable by anyone who has raised or observed chickens in confinement. It is the tendency of the hens to attack an injured or sick chicken at the first sight of blood [or] weakness. The whole group will suddenly demonstrate a viciousness and false bravado that is so antithetical to the image of what we call chickens. In other words, when faced with legitimate threats, the tendency of chickens is to become, for lack of a better word…chickens, scattering in diverse directions, squawking for their dear lives. But when they detect blood on the feathers of one of their own, they will unite and peck away until the injured bird is dead. That is referred to as hen-house politics.

The most recent action, taken by the Spanish Court, headed by a Judge Garzon illustrates hen-house politics on a human scale. The charges filed by this court center around whether or not certain attorneys violated International Law by assisting the Justice Department in its definition of approved interrogation techniques to be used on captured terrorists who held information of planned attacks against our citizens.

First of all, as usual, I have to clear up a few foggy points by my brother. It was not the Republicans who accused [Nancy] Pelosi of “complicity in a crime”, that charge came from a reporter during her press conference in which she stammered her way through a prepared statement of what she knew and when she knew it. The Republicans, the CIA officials and I accuse her of duplicity – which is defined as “deceitfulness in speech or conduct; double-dealing” (RHCD). Pelosi along with the other congressional representatives and Senators all signed off on the approved definition of torture in 2005.

That definition, according to an article by John Yoo, one of the attorneys named in the indictment, contains the following qualification:
“Physical pain amounting to torture must be equivalent to …organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death. For purely mental pain or suffering to amount to torture (under U.S. Law), it must result in significant psychological harm of significant duration, e.g. lasting for months or even years…We conclude that the statute, taken as a whole, makes plain that it prohibits only extreme acts.”

This is the definition Pelosi and others should have read in 2005. For her and others to now claim they were unaware and to infer that Bush’s Justice Department acted in a solitary way in some dark underbelly of conspiratorial, war-mongering way is both untrue and destructive to our national security.

Now, let us go back to the charges themselves. It is true that these charges have received little attention from our national media, as my brother states in his column. There is a reason for this. Even in the one source that covered it, apart from the myriad of Bush – Deranged web blogs, of course, The New York Times article clearly states that the indictments and subsequent trial is largely symbolic. Even if they were to reach a consensus and convictions were handed out, the teeth are just not there to actually bite into the freedom of Yoo, Gonzales, Bybee, Addington and others. It would only be the toothless beaks of misguided hens attacking the wrong source of danger.

In another article, (“Closing Arguments”, March 15, 2009) Yoo makes the point of refuting the claims by many that civil liberties have been lost and the rule of law has been irreparably damaged by the Bush policies following 9/11. He reminds us that former presidents during other eras of conflict have gone much further in restriction of civil liberties and mistreatment of both civilians and enemy combatants. Yet each generation that followed those times has not only re-instituted lost freedoms, (such as habeas corpus that was suspended by Lincoln and the freedom of movement denied to Japanese Americans by FDR) but has also expanded civil liberties.
Despite the inference made by my brother, we have not lost our moral compass. I believe we made the right choice to use whatever means were available to us by U.S. Law to extract valuable, life-saving information from those who had sworn to destroy unarmed citizens of our American cities. The men who were captured in the act of conspiring against our freedoms are not suffering “significant harm of significant duration” they are alive and well fed with their heads still attached to their shoulders.

For those who suddenly feel compelled to hold others accountable, I would suggest that they compare the number of enemies killed by Gonzales’ Justice Department in Gitmo to the number of U.S. citizens killed by Janet Reno’s Justice Department in Waco, Texas.

The saddest aspect of this whole issue is the fact that while the hens are uniting in their attacks upon the very agents that worked to keep them free from attack, the real danger is from the wolves who are lurking just outside the hen-house door. And they smell blood.