Tag Archives: national security

Political Folly and the Lust for Power

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Note: this was inadvertently posted in incomplete for late last night as I closed up my iPad thinking I would complete it today. This is the completed article.

I have been to war. I have been shot at and had rockets pass over my head. I have seen the wounded, and I have seen the devastation caused by war. Likewise I have also trained and prepared for worse worse than I served in. Back in the 1980s the unit that I commanded, the 557th Medical Company (Ambulance) had the mission of helping to support the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment on the Fulda Gap. They and we were expected to take 75-90% casualties if the Soviets came over the border. I have to tell you that you haven’t really had to contemplate the reality of war if your neighborhood is not in the fallout pattern of nuclear weapons or the contamination zone of chemical or biological weapons. Mine was, thus ever since I was a young Army Lieutenant I have had a tremendous appreciation for what could happen if all hell broke loose and a worse case war scenario developed. For me it is not that hard to imagine worst case scenarios.

Sadly, that does not seem to be the case with President Trump. He seems hell bent at forcing the military to provide him with expressly demands faster military options for whatever he is planning; he mocks his Secretary of State’s efforts to use diplomacy to defuse the growing crisis on the Korean Peninsula, a crisis that he has made worse by taunting the North Korean leader; he is about to end an agreement with Iran which with the cooperation of our allies has been relatively successful in spite of Iran’s other provocative actions in the Arabian Gulf, in Syria, and in Yemen.

Despite the President’s rhetoric there has been no significant strengthening of the military since he took office. In fact the President’s policies are further stretching a force that spent the better part of a decade and a half wearing itself out in counterinsurgency campaigns that knew no end and cannot be won without the host nations being stable and secure enough to address the underlying causes of the insurgency. Now those forces are being tasked to go back and get ready for potential high intensity conflicts in Europe, Northeast Asia, and the Middle East.

The military is not the solution for every situation. This is something that those of us with significant military experience in peace and war, and who have studied the fundamentals of strategy and strategic thinking using history, economics, political science, geography, science and technology, diplomacy, and information know this. Sun Tzu wrote: “He who relies solely on warlike measures shall be exterminated; he who relies solely on peaceful measures shall perish.” It is in choosing which elements of national power to gain advantage without war where true success lies, as Sun Tzu noted “The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.”

There are a host of elements of national power, and for the President to be enamored with just one, the most costly and the destructive is foolish. Barbara Tuchman wrote:

“Chief among the forces affecting political folly is lust for power, named by Tacitus as “the most flagrant of all the passions.” Because it can only be satisfied by power over others, government is its favorite field of exercise. Business offers a kind of power, but only to the very successful at the top, and without the dominion and titles and red carpets and motorcycle escorts of public office.”

One can see how the lust for power infected President Trump and how business was not enough to satisfy that need, and how even the domestic power of being President is not enough. To me it appears that the President like so many before him sees glory in war conquest and does not consider the cost. When he told reporters that they “could be watching the calm before the storm” and when asked what he meant said “you’ll find out,” not just once but a number of times going into the next day it was unnecessary and unnerving.

Honestly it seems to me that the President through his words and actions is sowing the wind and that in time we will reap the whirlwind unless sane and wise counsel prevails. I do see that senior military leaders are stating their differences with the President on policy matters and one hopes that they if no one else will be able to restrain the President who cannot stomach criticism, attacks his opponents and seems to desire affirmation and not information.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Thumbs Down: McCain, Collins, and Murkowski send ACA Repeal to the Dust Bin 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It was an eventful week. In addition to the President’s tweet about baring transgender persons from the military, an action which blindsided the Pentagon leadership and caused a lot of consternation in the military and the GOP, a hyper-political address to the Boy Scouts, another North Korean ballistic missile test, a Congressional vote in favor of more sanctions against Russia, and the end of the attempt by Trump and the GOP leadership the scuttle the Affordable Care Act, more popularity known as Obamacare. 


The end of the GOP Congress’s attempt to repeal the Affordable Health Care came to an appropriate end last night at the hands of Senators John McCain, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski who joined with ever Democrat in the Senate to place the repeal attempts in the dustbin of fail legislation. 

After seven years of ranting and raving, failed votes and shear legislative incompetence the efforts of Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, and President Trump demonstrated that hubris, coupled with incompetence is no way to go through life. Ignoring polls which said less than 20% of Americans were in favor of their various legislative proposals; against the advice every major medical association, the insurance industry, the AARP, and even veterans organizations the GOP leadership goaded by President Trump who blatantly ignored his own campaign promises to make healthcare more affordable and available, pressed ahead. 

A good number of GOP Senators voiced concern, but only McCain, Murkowski, and Collins held the line. A number of Senators voted for the doomed act hoping that if it passed the House would do nothing with it, reject it, or send it back. 

McCain stole the show by coming back from Arizona after surgery which revealed that he is suffering from a deadly form of brain cancer, the same type that ended the life of Teddy Kennedy, to cast the final and deciding vote Thursday night. His action, which followed an ovation to welcome him back was dramatic. As the last Senator to vote he walked up to the clerk of the Senate under the glowering face and folded arms of majority leader McConnell, voted no and for dramatic effect turned his thumb down. It was possibly the crowning moment of McCain’s Senate career. I think that he must have relished it. He came back and voted to allow the GOP repeal efforts to come to the floor, and then voted against every one of them. He could have ended things by voting not to allow the vote to go forward, but it seemed that he savored the opportunity to torpedo Trump who had on numerous occasions during the campaign disparaged McCain’s military service, including his years in a North Vietnamese prison camp at a time the President was using ever deferment and excuse that he could to avoid serving in the military. 

In light of his cancer diagnosis this may be one of his last acts in the Senate, I hope not because I think we still need him, but I am a realist and know how devastating this cancer can be. 

But McCain’s dramatic comeback would have been impossible had not Senators Collins and Murkowski held the line, braving physical and political threats from various Republicans and Trump supporters and not wavering in the face of tremendous opposition. 

So the ill-advised, moronic, and badly botched GOP effort to destroy the ACA failed. President Trump appears not to be deterred and will probably do whatever he can to destroy the ACA even as the GOP Senate leadership begins to work with Democrats on a more bipartisan attempt to improve the ACA. 

It was a humiliating end to seven years of bluster to repeal the ACA without any serious effort to come up with something better, especially since the ACA had its origins in the Heritage Foundation and its trial run in Romneycare. It was a Republican proposal put into place by Demcrats alone because Mitch McConnell and othe GOP leaders decided on the day that President Obama was inaugurated to do all they could to make his presidency a failure and him a one-term president. 

Now, no-matter what President Trump says or does, the GOP needs to decided to work with Democrats. This is not about the President’s ego and need to win at all costs. It is about so much more. Healthcare is one of the largest sectors of the economy, public health is a strategic concern that impacts national security. The health and well-being of people impacts every part of our economy and the future of our country. It cannot be left to ideologues bent on destroying our health care system for next quarter’s profits and tax write offs. 

So anyway, until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under healthcare, Political Commentary

When the Unthinkable Arrives


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

There are times that is terrifying to be a historian who has specialized in the study of tyrannical regimes. This is the case with me. Even since my undergraduate study working under Dr. Helmut Huessler at California State University Northridge I have studied the transition of society from democracy to dictatorship. While my studies then and ever since focused on the rise of National Socialism in Germany, the fact is that what happened in Germany was not unique, it is a part of the human condition and the people of any country can find themselves under the foot of a dictatorship if the conditions are right. I believe that conditions in the United States have never been more ripe for dictatorship than they are today. 

As chaos continues to engulf the House of Trump, as investigations regarding Trump’s relations with Russia gain steam, and as his poll numbers crash, I become more concerned that the unthinkable will happen and we will suddenly be in a major war or hit by a major terror attack. I believe that if or when one or the other happen that the Trump regime will use it to suspend civil rights and liberties and maybe even suspend Congress and the courts in the name of security. Sadly, I think that in such a case that very few people would resist. Of course the 35-40% of people that would support him as he said, even if he shot someone on 5th Avenue would be at the forefront, but many other people would follow all because they are afraid and desire security more than freedom. 

Now this is not all Trump’s doing as for the last three decades many of those that now support him, especially the leaders of the Religious Right, Fox News, and radio and internet demagogues have prepared the ground for his rise. 

Dr. Timothy Snyder, the historian from Yale has warned us in his book On Tyranny. He noted:

“Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. Modern tyranny is terror management. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that authoritarians exploit such events in order to consolidate power. The sudden disaster that requires the end of checks and balances, the dissolution of political parties, the suspension of freedom of expression, the right to a fair trial, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. DO NOT FALL FOR IT.”

Human beings are the one constant in history, and human nature is very consistent when it comes to how we respond when under attack. One only has to think of the fear that followed the 9-11 attacks and the willingness of people to give the government vast new powers, including an authorization for the use of military for against Al Qaida which has not been updated or supplemented since 2001, despite the fact that many of the places our military are operating in today have nothing to do with Al Qaida. 

I believe that the chances of such a think happening have gone up exponentially since the President and the Executive branch have not filled many critical ambassadorships, as well as thousands of key billets in the State Department, the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security. Likewise, despite all it’s bluster about strengthening the military nothing significant has occurred and will not occur because it cannot. This is because of the the policy of sequestration enacted by Congress in the 2011 Budget Control Act. Likewise, with its callous treatment of our allies and lack of concern about Russian interference in American elections, and in Europe the administration has weakened us at home and abroad. 

This is a very dangerous time and every day I wake up wondering if this will be the day that our Republic as we knew it dies. I do not know if this will be the result of a war with North Korea or Iran, or possibly a major terror attack, but as things spiral out of control I cannot shake the feeling that we are going to have our Reichstag Fire moment, and that we will not rise to the challenge. Instead I think that most Americans will give up freedom in the name of security simply because that is human nature and has been demonstrated throughout history on every continent. James Madison noted: 

“The means of defence against foreign danger have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people.”

Now is a time that we must all be awake and aware of what is going on in our country and the world. The storm clouds are building and we most be cognizant of the times or be engulfed and overwhelmed when the unthinkable arrives. That may not be pleasant to contemplate, but it is necessary. 

I would like to believe that I will be proven wrong and honestly I want to be proven wrong because I do not want our nation to have to endure war, terrorism, and a tyrannical despotism. 

So, until tomorrow I wish you a good day,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Arrogance, Ignorance, Incompetence, and Dangers to National Insecurity 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Barbara Tuchman wrote: “Strong prejudices in an ill-formed mind are hazardous to government, and when combined with a position of power even more so.” 

Just a few words today as the dealings of the closest family members and associates of President Trump continue to ensure that his campaign’s relationships with multiple Russian contacts likely connected to the Putin regime will dominate our lives for quite a while. I’m not going to write much today because this story is going to gain traction until the President is either impeached or resigns from office, unless he blunders us into a big war, or there is a terrorist attack that allows him to get his own Reichstag Fire opportunity. 

Columnist Bob Herbert once wrote: ”

“There are few things more dangerous than a mixture of power, arrogance and incompetence. We are seeing that today with the members of the Trump administration and their true believer followers. The revelation of Donald Trump Jr.’s emails with Russian contacts and his meeting with them along with Trump’s campaign manager and son-in-law at a time when the President and all of his advisers denied all contacts with anyone related to Russia are astounding and reveal more than a smoking gun, but a complete disregard of American national security. Winning an elected appears to have mattered more to them than their county, the principles of our democracy, and our national security. 

Personally I am hard pressed as a former Reagan Republican and Cold Warrior to believe how anyone can defend the President’s proclivity to prefer Putin to our allies in NATO, and his willingness to throw NATO, American Intelligence agencies, diplomats, and law enforcement under the bus to defend Putin and his dictatorship. But they are and paradoxically had a Democrat been accused of one iota of what is being revealed about Trump’s family connections to the Russian interference in the American electoral process these same people would be calling for immediate impeachment. But they don’t care because they have so linked their fortunes to Trump that they cannot back down. As things get worse they will become more desperate but few of the True believers, mostly Evangelical Christians, will defect. They will fight to the end. 

That makes him and them very dangerous. They will create such chaos that it will undermine national security and leave us vulnerable to whatever the Russians or any other enemy might want to do, because the President will be so compromised that nobody will believe a word that he says. That poses danger to Americans around the world, our various allies, and to us at home. Well before there was any smoking gun I have been warning about the dangers posed by the arrogant, ignorant, and incompetence shown by the President and his closest advisors. 

Isaac Asimov wrote something that we should pay close attention to. He said “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” 

I worry that this administration and its true believer followers will resort to violence backed by the power of the state to maintain power. I would very much like to be wrong but there is nothing that the administration has done to assuage my fears. This is not good, it is not normal, and it is dangerous for all of us.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, Foreign Policy, leadership, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary

Rainy Days, Floods, and National Security 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

We have had a lot of rain here in Hampton Roads since Monday. As of about 3:00 PM yesterday our neighborhood in Virginia Beach has received almost 14 inches of rain since Monday when the remnants of former Tropical Storm Julia arrived. The rain was still falling when I went to bed and I imagined that we are well over 15 inches of rain. To give you an idea just how much rain we had, our yearly rainfall average is 46.5 inches of rain, in the summer we average just under 15 inches, in other words we got a third of our yearly average rainfall in three days. 

Today we have about 50% chance of more rain and schools including the Staff College are operating under a delay even while schools in North Carolina just a few miles from us will be closed due to flooding.

That slow moving system came into contact with a weak cold front and pretty much stalled over the area. Hampton Roads is a low lying coastal area with lost of rivers and streams, in fact before civilization arrived it was pretty much a swamp. Since the early settlers arrived the area has been called the Virginia Tidewater, and may I say that Tidewater is a quaint and somewhat romantic synonym for swamp. As such we frequently have flood conditions any time there is a tropical storm or a Nor’easter. That is simply the way it is.


In our swamp, I live in a town home that was built in the 1980s which the builders as they do so often in these parts built in such a way that water sometimes comes over the foundation and into the house. So I spent yesterday morning de-watering our living room, and again about 11:00 PM when another round of really heavy rain came through. Thankfully little damage was done, mainly because I have tile floors and our furniture is high enough not to sustain damage, but this is the third time in less than six months that we have had to do this.


That is what we live in, a swamp, very prone to flooding, in some places if someone flushes their toilet too long. But that is what you get when you build cities in areas that are prone to flooding that is what you get. Sadly, most of us on the coastlines of this and other nations have done just that, even in good times we flood. But just wait, as sea levels rise due to global warming, something that the United States Navy recognizes even if Congress will not, things will only get worse. As sea levels rise the effects of storms like this, and the run of the mill tropical storms and hurricanes that come through will be greater. The Navy requested funding to begin work to deal with the potential loss of its biggest naval base complex as sea levels rise, but this year Congressional Repulicans blocked the request in the DOD budget. The same is true of our other big base in San Diego, although that fair city does not have to deal with the habitual flood conditions that we endure here. The decision of Congress was  a terribly short sighted move based on the denial of science and empirical evidence and a decision that if continued will harm national security. But then when a majority of the GOP representatives are or represent Fundamentalist Christians who believe that we don’t have to plan for the future because Jesus is coming soon it really doesn’t matter. But I digress…

Naval Station Norfolk, rising seas will submerge the Navy’s largest base if measures are not taken to mitigate the effects of Climate Change

The is a huge economic concern as well. The area is home to one of the largest port and shipbuilding complexes in the nation. 

But our area is not alone. These trends will effect most of the costal area of the United States and the world. This is not simply an environmental issue, it is economic, social, and military issue. Over 70% of the earth’s population lives in what we in the Navy call the littorals. Climate change and the rise in sea levels will cause massive social, economic, and security problems and what we in the Tidewater experienced today will be incredibly mild as whole societies are disrupted.



For the United States the answer is to prepare, and thankfully if we use them we have the resources to alleviate the worst effects of global warming and sea rise. But many nations will not, and the turbulence that this change causes will not leave the United States or Europe uneffected.

What happens this week in Hampton Roads was probably not the result of global warming, but in the effects of it will grow in the coming years. Hampton Roads has always suffered from flooding, but even today with much better storm drain systems we still see the same kind of flooding that affected the region 80-100 years ago.  It is time to actually take this seriously. I do, but sadly too many people turn it into a joke.

Have a great day and stay dry.

Peace

Padre Steve

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Filed under Climate change,, Military, national security, News and current events, weather

“They Won’t Get in Our Way…” to Armageddon

US-ISRAEL-CONGRESS-NETANYAHU

“I know what America is. , move it in the right direction. They won’t get in our way…” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu 2001

Yesterday I watched the address of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as it occurred live. I watched as the majority of our elected Senators and Congressmen, seem to hang on every word and rise to give thunderous applause to Netanyahu’s blatant attempt to not just hijack but to commandeer U.S. foreign policy to serve Israel. If any other foreign leader had been invited by any other party to do the same at any point in our history there would be an outcry.

 Now please do not get me wrong. Iran is an enemy, they continually work against us in attempting to destabilize the Middle East and advance their Shia’ Moslem version of the Apocalypse. However, they are very pragmatic and with the major demographic shifts there could easily come a point when the young people of Iran, tired of the repression of the Mullah’s overthrow them. Likewise I do believe that the Iranian nuclear program must be monitored and if it looks as if they are about to produce a bomb that can be delivered by air or missile that could harm us or any ally that they will have to be stopped. I have written about this before so I will not go into that here. Likewise, before calling me anti-Semetic please look at the body of my writings which not only are supportive of Israel but those of a realist who understands that anything which involves the United States in yet another pre-emptive war is not in the interest of the United States or Israel. 

 At the same time the speech was insulting because the United States has given Israel everything that it ever has needed since its founding in 1948. American Presidents from Truman to Obama have bent over backwards to support Israel. In 1967 the Israeli Navy and Air Force launched a sustained coordinated attack on the USS Liberty during the Six Day War which killed 34 and wounded 171 United States Navy Sailors. The Israelis, despite evidence to the contrary, including the testimony of the crew of the Liberty claimed that they had mistaken the ship for an Egyptian destroyer. The Johnson administration accepted the Israeli version and quickly buried the incident.

In October 1973, if it had not been for the actions of Richard Nixon Israel very likely would have ceased to exist, Nixon rushed emergency supplies of tanks, aircraft and weapons aboard U.S. ships and cargo aircraft, and confronted the Soviets who were threatening to intervene. 

Since then we have provide Israel advanced weapons and weapons technology in abundance, we share intelligence with Israel that we share with no-one else, and we have always supported Israel in the United States every time there is an attempt to rebuke, condemn or sanction Israel. Even President Obama and his administration has done this with abandon. 

 And what credit do we get? We get a few meaningless platitudes from Netanyahu before he attempts to commandeer U.S. foreign policy with the active aid and support of John Speaker of the House Boehner, support that is in clear violation of one of the oldest laws dealing with foreign policy enacted by this country’s founders in 1799. 

 The speech and the reception of the Representatives and Senators who invited Netanyahu to give it and their wild adulation was not only insulting but flies in the face of what our every one founders believed reference foreign policy and relations and actually a clear violation of the Logan Act of 1799 that prohibits unauthorized citizens from negotiating with a foreign government.

The Logan Act reads:

“Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.” 

 And this my friends was exactly what happened here. While negotiating with members of the Israeli government as Speaker of the House, Boehner kept his efforts secret for over three weeks. Boehner only told the White House when he had secured a deal for the Israeli Prime Minister to address a Joint Session of Congress, which is in itself a highly unusual event. If fact Winston Churchill was the only foreign leader to receive such an invitation. I do not want to be cheeky, but Netanyahu is not a reincarnated Winston Churchill. Unlike Britain in late 1940 Israel has the capability of destroying every one of its enemies with its large stock of fully operational and deplorable nuclear weapons and delivery systems, most of the latter supplied by the United States and other Western Allies. 

Not only this, but the invitation coincided with the closing weeks of Mr. Netanyahu’s reelection campaign, and is a blatant attempt to sway Israel voters to vote for him.

What the Speaker did was unethical, illegal and against every founding principle of American foreign policy dating back to George Washington and John Adams.

The nearly orgasmic applause of the Republicans to every thing that Netanyahu said was sickening. Especially when Netanyahu demanded that  the United States walk away from the negotiation table, and especially when Netanyahu threatened to attack alone if necessary. Of course, knowing his audience, he said, he knows that would not happen. It was like watching them cheer on Armageddon. 

 Mr. Netanyahu knows that he can use fear to get Americans to do his bidding, as well as the beliefs of the militant Conservative Christians who pray for such a war in order for Jesus to return.

Netanyahu presented a very black and white image of the Middle East. It was as insulting as it was fear based, conflating Iran and the Islamic State competing “for the crown of militant Islam.” He said, “In this deadly game of thrones, there is no place for America or Israel…” and urged no middle ground short of destroying Iran. Netanyahu’s option was to walk away and offer Iran a deal that no nation with any self-respect would agree to, in fact walking away will usher in the war that Netanyahu says that the tactic will avoid. 

 The speech was eerily reminiscent of Netanyahu’s words to a Congressional committee in 2002 in the lead up to the Iraq War, which of course was such a success. Netanyahu has been using the same tactics to get the United States to do Israel’s bidding for two decades, capitalizing on America fears, and the underlying apocalyptic strain of American Evangelical Christianity which has found its way into the political mainstream. Back in 2002 Mr. Netanyahu said:

“There’s no question that [Saddam] has not given upon on his nuclear program, not [sic] whatsoever. There is also no question that he was not satisfied with the arsenal of chemical and biological weapons that he had and was trying to perfect them constantly…So I think, frankly, it is not serious to assume that this man, who 20 years ago was very close to producing an atomic bomb, spent the last 20 years sitting on his hands. He has not. And every indication we have is that he is pursuing, pursuing with abandon, pursuing with every ounce of effort, the establishment of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. If anyone makes an opposite assumption or cannot draw the lines connecting the dots, that is simply not an objective assessment of what has happened. Saddam is hell-bent on achieving atomic bombs, atomic capabilities, as soon as he can.”

“Today the United States must destroy the same regime because a nuclear-armed Saddam will place the security of our entire world at risk. And make no mistake about it — if and once Saddam has nuclear weapons, the terror networks will have nuclear weapons.” 

 
“If you take out Saddam’s regime, I guarantee you that it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region… The task and the great opportunity and challenge is not merely to effect the ouster of the regime, but also to transform the region.” 

 The scary thing is that when you look at the Americans who most strongly “support” Israel, they are men like fundamentalist Christian zealots like John Hagee, and Tim LaHaye, who have spent the better part of fifty years preaching a version of Bible prophecy which for Jesus to return and institute his “millennial kingdom” Israel must be devastated by a war that claims two-thirds of Israelis before the “remnant” accept Jesus as their Messiah. By the way this point of view is also held by top contenders for the GOP nomination in 2016 for the GOP nomination in 2016 and many House and Senate GOP leaders. But, my friends, if you disagree with them, some of their “Christian” pundits will call you a traitor who should “be hanged” in from of the Capital Building. 

 Now, be assured, Netanyahu doesn’t believe that for a second, he is a cunning politician, and he has no problem using the political power of the people who believe this to get his way with America. I believe that this will in the long run be bad thing both for the United States and Israel. I think that it is unbelievably unwise and may create an actual rift between our countries and fracture what has been throughout our history a bi-partisan support for Israel, and for what reason, short term political gain, both in Israel and the United States by those that brought it on. 

 My objection to what happened yesterday was not that Iran should not be opposed, nor the security of Israel be compromised. My objection is that what happened yesterday was against everything that our founders believed in and violated the law. Of our land. 

As an American my loyalty is to this country and our Constitution, not to an errant and heretic view of scripture that surrenders American rights to the whim of a particular warmongering Israeli politician. Netanyahu is a politician who has more than once stated his disdain for this country and sees us as a means to achieve his end, even if that means committing the United States to a war from which no good can come.

 Mr. Netanyahu and his American allies pushed us into a war in Iraq which was disastrous, not only for the human lives lost and devastated, the reputation and image of this country, and the economic burdens incurred, but also because it has unleashed turmoil in the region far greater than anyone imagined.

I am an American and my allegiance is not to Israel, it is to this country and our Constitution. I will be damned if allow myself to be silent while religious zealots, be they American, Iranian, the Islamic State, or Jewish try to bring about their version of Armageddon.

 Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Foreign Policy, History, laws and legislation, national security, Political Commentary

The National Security State thru the Lens of Star Trek Deep Space Nine

nsa-operations-center

Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges, in time of war the law stands silent…

James Madison wrote that “A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or, perhaps both.”

I am amazed when I read the reports about the activities of the National Security Agency and the reactions of citizens to them. I know that I feel a sense of apprehension about those activities. The national security state and the seeming all pervasive security and surveillance apparatus which demolishes any sense of privacy, especially the protections enunciated in the Fourth Amendment and to some extent the First Amendment.

I also feel, or rather understand from history and empirical evidence that many others, many from unfriendly countries do not share those apprehensions. It makes for an ethical, legal and even constitutional conundrum that I am not sure if anyone of us is quite comfortable with and perhaps maybe we shouldn’t be.

It is very easy on one hand in light of history, our Constitution and democratic process to condemn the NSA, the FISA courts and other lawfully constituted agencies and those that drafted the laws over the decades that allow the activities which they now conduct. The same can be said of foreign intelligence agencies which all engage in similar activities including the British GCHQ, the German Bundesnachrichtendienst and so many others including the Chinese and Russians.

Likewise it is equally easy in light of history, current events and national security to jump to the other side of the fence and not only defend the activities of the NSA and agencies like it, and to demonize those that expose such activities.

I find looking at such issues in light of Star Trek sometimes more interesting and provocative than simply doing the whole moralizing pundit thing. The fact that the particular episode of  Star Trek Deep Space Nine was aired well before the events of 9-11-2001, and the subsequent Global War on Terror, make it more interesting. The episode deals with an agency in Starfleet that is secretive, but legal operating in the gray areas between the ideals of the Federation and the threats that it faces. Even when the Federation is a peace, Section 31, as it is called is engaged in activities against historic or potential enemies.

At the beginning of the Deep Space Nine Episode Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges the head of Section 31, a man only known as Sloan comes back to Doctor Bashir to involve him in an operation, spying on the Romulans who are working with the Federation against the Dominion.

BASHIR: You want me to spy on an ally.

SLOAN: To evaluate an ally. And a temporary ally at that. I say that because when the war is over, the following will happen in short order. The Dominion will be forced back to the Gamma Quadrant, the Cardassian Empire will be occupied, the Klingon Empire will spend the next ten years recovering from the war and won’t pose a serious threat to anyone. That leaves two powers to vie for control of the quadrant, the Federation and the Romulans.

BASHIR: This war isn’t over and you’re already planning for the next.

SLOAN: Well put. I hope your report is equally succinct.

BASHIR: How many times do I have to tell you, Sloan? I don’t work for you.

SLOAN: You will. It’s in your nature. You are a man who loves secrets. Medical, personal, fictional. I am a man of secrets. You want to know what I know, and the only way to do that is to accept the assignment.

The fact is that the situation we face today and the arguments of both sides should make us uncomfortable. The fact is that like it or not or not the incredibly rapid technical and communication advances of the past couple of decades have primed us for our present time. Likewise they have also enabled a generation to grow up in a virtual world in many ways detached from the moral and ethical balances of individual rights and liberties as well responsibility to community. All the wonderful gadgets that we employ in everyday life make it easy for enemies and “friends” to do things that were unimaginable to people other than science fiction writers even twenty to thirty years ago. Likewise they were must certainly beyond the wildest imaginations of any of the founders of this country or drafters of the Constitution. The reality is, the things that make are lives so easy are also the things that are potential instruments of our destruction.

That being said throughout history, even our own there have been operatives within the government in charge of secrets, and even spies. In the Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges episode we see an operation that is full of duplicity and moral ambiguity all committed in the name of security. It involves the mysterious Section 31 and Starfleet Admiral Ross who attempt to use Doctor Bashir to double cross a Romulan Senator who had been working with the Federation to keep the secret of the head of the Romulan secret police who is a Federation agent. When Doctor Bashir figures out the plot he confronts the Admiral. Part of their exchange is very enlightening because it practically mirrors how many on both the civil liberties and the national security side of the current controversy feel about the War on Terror.

BASHIR: You don’t see anything wrong with what happened, do you.

ROSS: I don’t like it. But I’ve spent the last year and a half of my life ordering young men and young women to die. I like that even less.

BASHIR: That’s a glib answer and a cheap way to avoid the fact that you’ve trampled on the very thing that those men and women are out there dying to protect! Does that not mean anything to you?

ROSS: Inter arma enim silent leges.

BASHIR: In time of war, the law falls silent. Cicero. So is that what we have become? A twenty fourth century Rome driven by nothing more than the certainty that Caesar can do no wrong!

ROSS: This conversation never happened.

In light of the controversy of today, that of the NSA, FISA and government secrecy and gathering information on its own citizens we face a growing tide of reporters and others seeking to reveal those secrets. Back in 1989 ethicist Sissela Bok wrote something very important in her book Secrets: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life:

“…as government secrecy expands, more public officials become privy to classified information and are faced with the choice of whether or not to leak … growing secrecy likewise causes reporters to press harder from the outside to uncover what is hidden. And then in a vicious circle, the increased revelations give government leaders further reasons to press for still more secrecy.”

As we wade through this controversy we will see people do exactly this and the these exact arguments are being made by the people and officials directly involved as well as former elected and appointed officials as well as the press. The interesting thing to me is that very few of the people or agencies, past and present, Republican and Democrat involved really have clean hands. It is amazing to see former champions of civil liberties defend the NSA actions and those that empowered the NSA in the Patriot Act now condemn it. I find it fascinating.

At the end of the Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges episode the mysterious Sloan pops back in on Doctor Bashir who is in his quarters, asleep and depressed by what he experienced during the operation on Romulus and with Admiral Ross.

SLOAN: Good evening.

BASHIR: Are you expecting applause? Have you come to take a bow?

SLOAN: I just wanted to say thank you.

BASHIR: For what? Allowing you to manipulate me so completely?

SLOAN: For being a decent human being. That’s why we selected you in the first place, Doctor. We needed somebody who wanted to play the game, but who would only go so far. When the time came, you stood your ground. You did the right thing. You reached out to an enemy, you told her the truth, you tried to stop a murder. The Federation needs men like you, Doctor. Men of conscience, men of principle, men who can sleep at night. You’re also the reason Section Thirty one exists. Someone has to protect men like you from a universe that doesn’t share your sense of right and wrong.

BASHIR: Should I feel sorry for you? Should I be weeping over the burden you’re forced to carry in order to protect the rest of us?

SLOAN: It is an honor to know you, Doctor. Goodnight.

We live in this kind of world and maybe it is good sometimes to find other ways to look at it. I really don’t have the answers. I am a civil libertarian who places a high value on the openness of a government to its people. I also know that there are those that have no regard for such openness or, to quote Sloan don’t “share your sense of right and wrong.”

Maybe that is not a good answer. I really don’t know. All I know is that as uncomfortable as this all is that those on both sides of the issue have valid points and concerns and they come back to the balance that a society needs to have between individual rights and responsibility to the community, openness and secrecy, civil liberties and national security. But that being said it is a debate that needs to happen, even if it makes us uncomfortable. I for one think that it is better that we be uncomfortable when looking at such an important debate than to be prisoners of our certitude.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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