Saturday, September 29, 2007

Norm Coleman : ChickenHawk Iraq Re- Solution

News Alert :
Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman has become a Co-Sponsor of legislation ( Senate Amendment 3096 ) that would require that President Bush change the mission of U.S. troops and set a goal of completing such a mission. link

Why is this a ChickenHawk resolution ?
Generally a ChickenHawk is someone who advocates that others go to war while they are not directly involved.
So, what is the “mission compeletion date” ?
If it were enacted today, the date would be just after Coleman’s Senate term expires !

Mike Ciresi penned an editorial chastising Coleman for using General David Petraeus patriotism instead of debating ”policies that affect people's lives and our nation's future -- not advertisements.
Ciresi advocates the right policy : ”Support a comprehensive surge in diplomacy and the convening of an international peace conference under the auspices of the U.N. Security Council that should involve all regional governments.”
Ciresi seems to be embracing a key recommendation of the bi-partisian Iraq Study Group which called upon the United States to “embark on a robust diplomatic effort to establish an international support structure intended to stabilize Iraq and ease tensions in other countries in the region.”

Sadly, while Coleman is hiding behind an exclusively Republican sponsored amendment 3096, he should become a co-sponsor of Senate Amendment 2931 which is a bi-partisian effort being advanced by three of his fellow members on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. This amendment is consistent with Ciresi’s outline.

I am not a supporter of Al Franken, yet somehow, he must be wondering if it’s time for an update on the chapter "Operation Chickenhawk" from his 1996 book Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot. The story details the exploits of a fictional Vietnam War squad made up of Pat Buchanan, Newt Gingrich, Phil Gramm, Dan Quayle, Clarence Thomas, George Will and of course, Rush Limbaugh (all who were of draft age during the Vietnam era yet did not serve in the conflict.) In the story, the cowardly and incompetent squad ultimately extricates itself from the battle by killing its gung-ho lieutenant, Oliver North (a Vietnam war veteran). In the update, those Republican Senators such as Coleman who are now refusing to enact policy changes during their term, will no doubt blame Bush after he leaves office for the mismanagement of the Iraq Civil War.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Norm Coleman should heed lessons from Burma

President George Bush addressed the situation in Myanmar ( aka Burma ) at the United Nations link : “Americans are outraged by the situation in Burma, where a military junta has imposed a 19-year reign of fear. Basic freedoms of speech, assembly, and worship are severely restricted. Ethnic minorities are persecuted. Forced child labor, human trafficking, and rape are common. The regime is holding more than 1,000 political prisoners -- including Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party was elected overwhelmingly by the Burmese people in 1990.
The ruling junta remains unyielding, yet the people's desire for freedom is unmistakable. This morning, I'm announcing a series of steps to help bring peaceful change to Burma. The United States will tighten economic sanctions on the leaders of the regime and their financial backers. We will impose an expanded visa ban on those responsible for the most egregious violations of human rights, as well as their family members. We'll continue to support the efforts of humanitarian groups working to alleviate suffering in Burma. And I urge the United Nations and all nations to use their diplomatic and economic leverage to help the Burmese people reclaim their freedom.

The lessons are woefully apparent yet President Bush is still trying the same approach.

Following the August 1988 massacre of demonstrators, President George H. W. Bush suspended all arms sales and foreign assistance, except humanitarian aid, to Burma. In September, 1996 President Clinton barred U.S. assistance to Burma except for relief aid and anti-narcotic purposes and calling for a moratorium on new American private investment . link

Sanctions were the message.

Bush was right -- “Americans are outraged by the situation in Burma" -- and some did try to force compliance … for example, Halliburton shareholders advanced an initiative after the Halliburton was involved in a 1997 Yadana pipeline project (NOTE : Halliburton’s CEO in 1997 was current US Vice-President Richard Cheney).
Halliburton’s response : “While the Board shares the Proponent's concern about human rights abuses in countries such as Myanmar, Halliburton has not engaged in, or condoned, such conduct. Thus, the requested report will serve only to increase administrative burdens and costs. Halliburton's Code of Business Conduct requires all employees and agents to practice honesty and integrity in every aspect of their dealings with other Halliburton employees, customers, suppliers and the public and to treat those persons with dignity and respect. As a company that operates in over 100 countries around the world, our customers, partners, suppliers and employees represent virtually every race or national origin and an associated multitude of religions, cultures, customs, political philosophies and languages.
We must, and do, respect this diversity and realize that neither the United States nor we can impose its values on the world. It is not our purpose to remake the world in the image of any particular political, moral or religious philosophy with which we are comfortable.
Rather, we hope to help improve the quality of life wherever we do business by serving as a developer of natural resources and infrastructures.
Regarding allegations of violations of human rights by the government of Myanmar, we believe that decisions as to the nature of such governments and their actions are better made by governmental authorities and international entities such as the United Nations as opposed to individual persons or companies. Where the United States government has mandated that United States companies refrain from commerce, we comply, often to the advantage of our international competitors. History has shown that single country, let alone corporate boycotts and sanctions, are ineffective, often injuring the economic interests of the boycotting entity.
We do not always agree with the policies or actions of governments in every place that we do business. Due to the long-term nature of our business and the inevitability of political and social change, however, it is neither prudent nor appropriate for Halliburton to establish its own country-by-country foreign policy.

Note : Emphasis added.

There’s the problem with sanctions … they don’t work. Halliburton’s response is similar to China which views the problems in Burma as “internal”. How can the US expect other countries to levy sanctions when US companies will not ?

While sanctions restricting foreign aid and investment may economically weaken a country, the reigning regime may retain, and even increase, its brute power. Dictators strengthen their control over reformers as contact with the outside world is restricted. Education and society advancements are restricted. The US is blamed for meddling and all difficulties that the people face. The only jobs are military jobs. The ruling power find “friendly partners” who will continue to provide what it wants ( Senator Coleman’s investigation of the Iraq Oil industry is an illustration).
The regime does not suffer … just the people.

This is not a rant on Cheney and Halliburton … but instead that sanctions don’t work. And that is why I address this commentary to Senator Coleman.

Senator Coleman sits on the Foreign Relations Committee. The committee has oversight over the foreign policy agencies of the U.S. government, including the State Department, USAID, and other agencies that implement international treaties, as well as legislation relating to U.S. foreign policy. That is the most important committee that Coleman is assigned.

Coleman has advocated sanctions against Cuba, Iraq, Iran, Laos, North Korea, and Syria … just to name a few.

As Baron de Montesquieu wrote in his 1748 work, The Spirit of the Laws, “Peace is the natural effect of trade. Two nations who traffic with each other become reciprocally dependent; for if one has an interest in buying, the other has an interest in selling: and thus their union is founded on their mutual necessities.”

It’s time for Senator Coleman to realize that sanctions do not work.
Nineteen years of US sanctions against Burma has not changed the regime.
Engaged diplomacy and trade is America’s best foreign policy.
Adhereing to his idealogy of sanctions actually hurts Minnesota businesses.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Tom Coburn : Dr. Death aims to kill Congress

Is there a Doctor in the House ?
Forget the House of Representatives, the problem is that there is a Doctor in the Senate.

Mark Kennedy tried to sell Minnesota voters that the Senate had too many attorneys and that it needed a Certified Public Accountant. Well, the problem is not the attorneys in the Senate, but instead it is the Accountant turned Doctor that is causing all the problems.

Polls of the approval of the 110th Congress performance are dismal. But who is to blame? I blame the stubborn Republican Senators who are slowing and stopping legislation. Some may argue that it is sound philosophical differences that prompts their actions. That is understandable, but there is probably a portion that is just political theatre.

The Founding Fathers created six year terms for members of the Senate and as such it is considered the more deliberative legislative body. But now, the Republicans are being more obstinate than deliberative.

First, most legislation is not voted upon until a vote in which 60 members agree to end a filibuster. The current Senate is balanced between Democrats (49) and Republicans (49) and two Independents. In the previous Congress, the threat of filibuster involving judicial appointments was resolved when 7 Republicans and 7 Democrats agreed to advance the confirmation vote on judicial nominees (except in "extraordinary circumstances"). Today, the Republicans do not seem to have the same inclination to overcome the filibuster rule. So often, we now see a handful of Republicans breaking with Party Managers on specific votes, but I suspect some (Norm Coleman, Gordan Smith, and John Sununu) are motivated by the 2008 election while others (Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe) were original members of the compromise group. It is reasonable to question whether Coleman / Smith / Sununu votes are really symbolic since they know that the 60 vote threshold will not be met.

But there are other “procedures” that Senators can use. For example, a “hold” can be placed on a piece of legislation. Let’s look at the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. Olympia Snowe - a Republican from Maine - initiated this legislation in 2002 and with every session she starts a new bill with hope and optimism. For example, February 17, 2005 the Senate passed the bill 98-0 ... in most instances, that overwhelming support would mean quick passage ... sadly, it went to the Republican-controlled House ... where it never was addressed. Fast forward, to this year , ... now with a Democratic-controlled House ... it was passed with only three dissenting votes ... but when it went to the Senate, Republican Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, put a HOLD on it. Now, why did Coburn vote for this bill in 2005 but now does not want it to be passed .... these are the games the Republicans are playing. Coburn has used the Hold procedure over 80 times.

And even when legislation is moving forward, the Republicans move into delay mode. Coburn frequently offers amendments to bills (over 80 times thus far) as they reach final vote. Some may be valid. And the outcome may even be easily forecasted before the vote. So how can that be delayed … simple require a Roll Call vote. For example, Coburn offered an amendment #2773 and required a recorded vote . Senator Leahy scoffed at the need and pleaded to have a voice vote … but the Republicans wanted a Roll Call. So the process is delayed while all the Senators come to the Clerk to announce their vote. The outcome of this vote – 92 in favor … and ONE opposed … the one Senator who voted against Coburn’s amendment was Richard Lugar – a Republican from Indiana. Reviewing the amendments offered by Coburn, if it is not approved by an overwhelming majority, they are rejected. His actions are largely to delay and impede passage.

It’s time for Norm Coleman and other Republican Senators to address Coburn. These antics are not productive and create voter dissatisfaction that Coleman and others will feel next November.

End this political theatre now !

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Norm Coleman INACTION : Iran Sanctions

The US State Department announced that the six nations (U.N. Security Council's five permanent members, all nuclear powers, plus Germany) will meet on Sept. 21 in Washington to discuss the use of sanctions, or the threat of them, to persuade Iran to drop disputed nuclear work.

This May, The Jewish Policy Center asked Senator Norm Coleman to evaluate the performance of Congress and the Bush Administration in curbing the Iranian threat.
Coleman responded ”Congress has acted decisively by passing the legislation to sanction Iran and support movements that seek regime change. Our message is that, through external and internal pressure, there will be great costs to pursuing a nuclear path.
The executive branch has worked tirelessly to isolate Iran through diplomatic means. I am frustrated that we have not yet imposed stronger multilateral sanctions through the U.N. This situation stems mainly from the economic interests of some of our international partners. Iran wields considerable influence because of its oil resources. Still, we must tell our partners that we expect them to act responsibly.

Hearing Coleman’s words, one would think that he and the State Department are doing everything possible to make sanctions work but it is the other UN members that are failing.

However, it has now been reported that the Bush Administration acknowledges “that the United States has not carried out existing Security Council penalties on several companies linked to Iran’s nuclear and missile programs.

Why is that ?

My assessment is that the Bush Administration is not truly committed to diplomacy. Much like their unwillingness to accept the findings of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) investigation of Iraq, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is now complaining that “The IAEA is not in the business of diplomacy." By the US slowing up instituting sanctions, it will claim that sanctions are not working.

Coleman is uniquely charged to take action He was outspoken that sanctions did not work with Iraq. He has been outspoken of the failings of the United Nations. When Coleman was selected to be the Ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs, he said ”I also want to focus attention on the destabilizing effect of Iran and its nuclear program and support for terrorism. Additionally, I will use this position to continue to articulate my strong support for our allies as well as the need for an even-handed approach to Middle East peace and an end to terror.” Additionally, Bush selected Coleman to be a Congressional Delegate to the United Nations 61st General Assembly.

Coleman needs to do something about this. Idle rhetoric praising Bush’s State Department is not responsible. Instead he needs a careful examination of its failings. Otherwise, we risk magnifying this into a crisis of our own doing.

If Coleman is not up to the task, then he should resign from the Foreign Relations Committee.

To paraphrase, Senator Coleman, "we must tell the Bush Administration that we expect them to act responsibly" which could produce "an even-handed approach to Middle East peace and an end to terror.”