Homeland Security

The Big Question: Will Congress fund a troop surge in Afghanistan?

Some of the nation's top political commentators, legislators and intellectuals offer some insight into the biggest question burning up the blogosphere today.

Today's question:

If President Barack Obama calls for tens of thousands of additional troops in Afghanistan, will the Democratic-led Congress fund this effort?

Ronald Goldfarb, Pundits Blog contributor, said:

One hopes Congress will exercise its constitutional power to control war decisions. But I doubt it will. Sadly, peace, non-war, positions are rare with politicians. We hear constant complaints about too much spending when it concerns healthcare, but none when it comes to killing and maiming our young men and women in the military.

How can we afford this war, politically, economically, morally? No one has made the case that our engagements in Afghanistan will make America safer, or immune from attack. So why are we there?

Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, said:

The American people are ready for smart, serious decisions about the use of our military, and the Democratic party will support that.

Brian Katulis, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said:

Congress will fund the effort, but it will do it kicking and screaming and after asking a lot of tough questions.  Rightly so.  After about eight years of insufficient oversight, when Congress was complicit in the Bush administration’s strategy-less, no accountability and no end in sight way of fighting wars, we are seeing more scrutiny on this administration’s national security decisions.
Congress will hold a series of hearings, ask questions that are aimed at sharpening policies, and perhaps even set clear conditions for additional funding dependent on outcome.  That would be a good thing.  Though President Obama was right to take the time to deliberate on options, his team still hasn’t provided sufficient answers to key questions – like what precise conditions are they setting on assistance to Afghan authorities, how much Pakistan and other key countries are willing to play a more constructive role in advancing stability, and how to pay for the war without passing the costs onto our grandchildren.  The metrics for to measure progress developed by the Obama administration are still an unclear mess, and simply saying “we’ll know it when we see it” is too glib of an answer when we’re sending more Americans into harm’s way and spending taxpayers’ money.

Michelle D. Bernard, president and CEO of Independent Women's Forum, said:

Congressional Democrats will be in a tough spot if the president calls for additional troops for Afghanistan: They don't want to alienate the far left wing of their base, but also cannot afford to further lose the support of Independents and "Obamacans" and give new life to the image of undisciplined Democrats unwilling to wage a war that the Commander-in-Chief believes saves the national security interests of our nation.

Ultimately, it seems most likely that enough Democrats will join with Republicans (who are most likely to support the president's call for additional troops and funding). They cannot abandon our nation's commander-in-chief.

Paul Kawika Martin, policy and political director of Peace Action, said:

If you were a gambler, you would have to bet the the Democrats will ultimately fund more troops for President Obama.  Remember that the Democrats didn't even come close to mustering enough votes to stop the Bush Administration's folly in Iraq, even after finding out that they were lied to and a near-super majority of Americans wanted troops to come home.

Most Democrats in Congress have ceded the debate to the neo-cons that your not supporting the troops if you vote against war funding. This is ludicrous, of course. It's the utmost support of our troops to exercise democracy and vote for policy beliefs. It's the utmost support to vote for the troops to come home. Certainly, during the debate on Iraq, you heard Republican cries of "Where's your patriotism?" to those that voted against funding the war in Iraq. Then, this year, the Republicans voted en masse against supplemental funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan because they opposed money for the World Bank.

There are a few courageous Republicans that will most likely vote against funding, including Rep. Walter Jones. He will vote his thought-out policy beliefs, rather than join the Republican Party line that if you don't support more troops than you are weak, unpatriotic and "dithering." Many Republican's will play the worn out partisan card that the Democrats are "weak on defense." And many Democrats haven't figured out that to trump that argument, you need to discuss all of the tools in America's tool box, including economics, aid, development and diplomacy.  Reps. Barbara Lee and Jim McGovern have made that wise argument and will vote against war funding.

Chairmen Obey and Murtha provide an interesting twist. Both have said that if we do fund more troops then we must pay for them now, not put the deficit burden on our grandchildren. So far, the near trillion dollars the United States spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has been nearly all borrowed from other countries, namely China and Japan. Noble Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard professor Linda Bilmes claims that if you include interest on debt, veterans benefits and other costs to society, then the total costs for the wars could top a staggering $5 trillion to $7 trillion.

Of course, I hope I lose my bet and that enough courageous Democrats and Republicans vote against funding more troops and instead use that money to pay Afghan security forces a livable wage so they are less susceptible to Taliban bribes; to fully fund the National Solidarity Project that helps bring Afghans out of poverty (a root cause of violent extremism); and to increase funding for Afghan-led aid and development that will tackle the 40 percent unemployment rate and 30 percent literacy rate.  Lastly, without a comprehensive peace process -- that includes all internal and regional actors like the Taliban, Iran, India, Pakistan and China -- Afghanistan will continue to suffer the brunt of proxy wars and instability.


The Big Question: How will the 9/11 trials play out legally, politically?

Some of the nation's top political commentators, legislators and intellectuals offer some insight into the biggest question burning up the blogosphere today.

Today's question:

Attorney General Eric Holder's decision to hold detainee trials in New York City has attracted criticism from Republicans. Democrats, meanwhile, are accusing the GOP of playing politics. How will this issue play out legally and politically?

Peter Fenn, Democratic strategist, said:

There is no question that the decision to try the five terrorists (excuse me, alleged terrorists) in New York City has produced a heated and important debate. Everyone and their brother is weighing in on this one.

The questions raised are almost as interesting as the answers: Is this better or worse for the U.S. and the world than a military trial? Is this, as many believe, a slam dunk case, with the death penalty the result? Does a trial at the “scene of the crime,” on U.S. soil, result in a “Nuremberg” effect? Do these five become martyrs or does this show the world the horrendous acts of extremists, pushing Muslims away from violence and terrorism? What happens if they were to get off on some sort of “technicality?” Does a trial in New York invite another terrorist attack or would a military tribunal at Gitmo be more likely to produce such an attack? Is this a potential political disaster for President Obama and the Democrats or will this further Obama’s efforts to truly get a handle on the problem of international terrorism?

This is clearly not without risk -- but if military trials were easy, we wouldn’t have had the Supreme Court decisions and the Bush Administration would have been trying cases left and right. The fact is that only three people have been convicted in military trials, less that one half of one percent of those held. Contrast that with the 92% conviction rate of terrorists who have been tried in U.S. Courts.

The case against these five is clearly unbelievably strong – it is hard to get much better that confessions on Al Jazeera television and even bragging to the world, taking credit for these heinous acts.

In addition, the decision to try the perpetrators of the USS Cole, which took place on foreign soil, in a military court makes sense. Obviously, the key here is to move forward, sort through the legal and logistical morass left by the Bush-Cheney Administration and see to it that justice is done. This is the right call.

John F. McManus, president of The John Birch Society, said:

The decision to try the 9/11 defendants in a civilian court opens up the likelihood that the defendant's right to what is called "discovery" will require providing the defense team with intelligence that will surely make its way back to terrorist allies. These trials should be held in military courts where no such rights exist. Their crimes were acts of war (didn't we go to war as a result?), not the acts of ordinary criminals. The civilian trial of Omar Abdel Rahman after the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center led to supplying sensitive information to the defense team, and it ended up in the hands of other terrorists. The lesson should have been learned. There's far more at stake here than political posturing.

Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, said:

Holding the trials in New York shows our strength as a country, and shows the strength of our judicial system. It demonstrates our moral legitimacy, that we can be "the shining city on the hill."

Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit blogger, said:

It seems to me that the Obama Administration has managed to get the worst of both worlds here. They made a promise that they couldn't keep with regard to closing Guantanamo Bay. They then tried to cover themselves with the Khalid Sheikh Mohammed trial in New York, only to get blowback both from conservatives and from New York Gov. David Paterson. Then Obama -- like Nixon with Charles Manson -- made a public pronouncement of Mohammed's guilt, only to have to backtrack. The whole affair contributes to an amateurish, not-ready-for-prime-time impression, which isn't what Obama needs as he tries to sell a federal takeover of health care.

Justin Raimondo, editorial director of Antiwar.com, said:

The objections to putting the Gitmo detainees on trial in New York City are only marginally coherent, and seem more like an emotional knee-jerk reaction rather than a credible critique. Failed Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani avers "What the Obama administration is telling us loud and clear is that both in substance and reality, the War on Terror from their point of view is over."

Really? Then why, one wonders, is the Obama administration about to send as many as 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan? Why are US drones striking Pakistani soil – and killing civilians? Why are we spending $3.6 billion every month on the continuing occupation of Afghanistan?

If the upcoming trial of the Gitmo detainees means the “war on terrorism” is over, then one has to wonder what it would be like if the war was still on.

Giuliani also said Khalid Sheikh Mohammed “should be tried in a military tribunal. He is a war criminal. This is an act of war." There is plenty of precedent for trying war criminals in a civilian court: Nuremberg comes to mind (although the two Soviet representatives among the judges were military officers, the rest were not). What about the trial of Adolf Eichmann – was Giuliani opposed to that?

The former Mayor of New York City also complains of the alleged security threat posed to the Big Apple by the upcoming trial, but the city of already a terrorist target: is this trial really going to increase the danger by much? And this objection surely underscores the odd quality of the objections: first we are told that the trail signifies “weakness,” and then the same people cavil that we ought to be scared to death of putting someone on trial on our own soil.

The only serious objection to the trial is the contention that it will provide the defendants with a public platform to make pro-terrorist propaganda – but, really, isn’t the trial itself the best sort of counter-propaganda? After all, in the dock will be individuals accused of killing more than 3,000 people in the worst terrorist attack in our history, and yet there they are, facing a jury of free Americans, being provided with lawyers and a full-fledged legal defense – because that’s just the way we do things here. No better refutation of terrorist libels against America could be imagined.

Politically, I don’t think there will be a whole of ramifications – unless something sensational is revealed at the trial, or if the torture of some of the defendants impedes their prosecution.

Ronald Goldfarb, Pundits Blog contributer, said:

Legally, it is the right thing to do. It is how we handle crime in America. The politics will follow, and opponents (Republicans) won't approve anything the administration does.

Paul Kawika Martin, political director of Peace Action, said:

Legally, I have confidence in Attorney General Holder and fully expect that the Justice Department will win convictions of all of the detainees, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. And they will be sent to a federal prison, like the 340 international and domestic terrorists the head of the Federal Bureau of Prisons reports are already in their custody. No one has ever escaped from a federal supermax prison or endangered the communities in which those prisons are located.

Politically, the Republicans continue to flip-flop on the issue. Rudi Giuliani has now done a complete 180: up until very recently, he repeatedly and vocally supported the idea of trying terrorists in U.S. civil courts. He now has entirely contradicted himself. Congressman Mark Kirk of Illinois, who is running for the U.S. Senate, voted in favor of the President moving the detainees to the U.S. before he came out against it. The American people will soon realize that the Republicans are playing politics with this issue. This is appalling given how strongly our top military leaders support closing Gitmo. Colin Powell said on Meet the Press "I would close Guantanamo. Not tomorrow, but this afternoon."

The large coalition, Win Without War, has been doing excellent work on this issue.


KSM Prosecution Myth: the “pre-9/11 mindset”

On Friday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four co-conspirators will be tried in a civilian court in New York City for their role in the September 11, 2001 attacks.   A predictable outcry followed.  One of the most misleading statements, repeated by individuals such as Rudy Giuliani, Texas Senator John Conryn, and former Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey, claims that prosecuting terrorists takes us back to a “pre-9/11 mindset.”

The problem with their claim is the fact that terrorist trials never went away.  In fact, they increased dramatically after 9/11.  A report from the Center on Law and Security shows 693 defendants with identified terrorist ties were prosecuted in the United States from September 2001 through September 2008.  81 of those defendants were affiliated with al Qaeda.  And, 23 of those al Qaeda defendants were tried in New York City (without compromises to safety, to address another misleading criticism).


Honoring our veterans (Rep. Michele Bachmann)

On Veterans Day, we pause to remember the brave American heroes who sacrificed so much to preserve our great nation.

Though we celebrate Veterans Day once a year, we reap the benefits of freedom everyday.  America's courageous sons and daughters who have chosen to fight for the freedoms and liberties upon which our country was founded deserve to be honored for their tremendous sacrifices.  From the Halls of Congress to Main Street, millions of Americans use this important day to thank our soldiers and their families for their strong commitment to our nation. We must not make the mistake of waiting until our heroes have passed on to recognize their sacrifices and tell them "thank you."


The Big Question: What lessons can we learn from the Fort Hood attack?

Some of the nation's top political commentators, legislators and intellectuals offer insight into the biggest question burning up the blogosphere today.

Today's question:

Homeland Security Chairman Sen. Joe Lieberman said Sunday that he intends to launch a congressional investigation into the motives behind "the worst terrorist attack since 9/11" -- the slaying of 13 people at Fort Hood by an Army major.

Are there any lessons for lawmakers or military leaders that could be taken from the tragedy at Fort Hood?

Michael T. McPhearson, president of Veterans For Peace said:

War is taking a heavy physical and mental toll on our troops. The physical injury is easier to see. The mental wounds are many times invisible until it is too late. It is not a new lesson. We saw social and political questions deteriorate unit cohesion of our military forces in the Vietnam War.  The U.S. claim to fight communism in defense of freedom was a contradiction to class tensions between Enlisted Men and Officers and the racism of White troops against Black troops. As in Vietnam, there is open speculation as to whether or not U.S. actions in the Global War on Terror are just. Are these wars against Islam? Why are there little if any consequences for torturing Muslims? Are these wars about protecting the people of the United States or some other agenda? In Afghanistan and Iraq, similar to Vietnam, questions and obvious contradictions undermine the legitimacy of the cause and tear at the mind of the soldier.

There are many time bombs like Major Hasan, but those troops exploded in their homes by committing suicide or on their families by pushing love ones out of their lives and overtime destroying themselves.  It is a mistake to see this day as an isolated incident. Major Hasan exploded in the open, in the middle of our lives. He and his horrific action to kill those around him is the latest and most public act of violence. He made visible the countless, hidden and forgotten tragedies.  It shows us these tragedies are not restricted to the combat zone, but in ways big and small affect us at home, in our communities and as a people.  It should motivate us to work harder to end the madness of war.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council said:

The Rising PC Causality Count

The Left would have us believe that political correctness never killed anyone.  But there are 13 fresh graves in Fort Hood, Texas to prove them wrong.  When Army Major Nidal Hasan opened fire on a crowd of his own military brothers, the tragedy that followed should warn Americans of the devastation that can come from putting blind tolerance ahead of national security.  By his own admission, Major Hasan was a radical Muslim who expressed an incredible hostility for the very military in which he served.  Yet despite his anti-Americanism, outreach to Al-Qaeda, and jihadist views, Hasan was "treated with kid gloves." Lt. Col. Val Finnell, a student with Hasan, said his superiors were afraid of offending the shooter, even after a poor performance review. This wasn't about anyone questioning his religious views.  "[It's] different when you are a civilian than when you are a military officer," Finnell said.  And he's right.  As a soldier, political correctness is much more dangerous.  It shackles our troops' sensibilities and opens the country up to attacks from within. Obviously, our commanders can't force their men to believe in the mission, but if a soldier has moral objections, then he should be excused from duty.  Anything less than zero tolerance for radicalism is destabilizing to our military.  This was never a question of Hasan's religious freedom but of his loyalty to the country he was sworn to defend.  Leaving a Muslim extremist to preach hatred about the U.S. Army is a deadly negligence that cost 14 people their lives.  (There was a pregnant mother among the slain).  Diversity is an honorable goal 'until it compromises American security.  President Obama said we shouldn't "jump to conclusions" about Hasan.  But, as Jonah Goldberg points out, we shouldn't jump away from them either. 

Dr. James Zogby, president of the Arab-American Institute, said:

After providing support for survivor families, an immediate concern that must be addressed is how best to secure the vision of a diverse military so eloquently articulated by the President and General Casey.

With thousands of Muslim Americans and many more Arab Americans serving with honor and distinction in all branches of the military, attention must be paid to the stress they and their comrades in arms may now be under. The horrors of this senseless attack will be felt throughout the services. Fueled by some in the media who will see in this tragedy an opportunity to mount their Islamophobic hobby horse, fear and suspicion may grow.

Quick action must be taken by the military's leadership to address this situation. They should encourage our servicemen and women to participate in organized and structured open dialogue and honest exchanges of views and concerns. The only way to nip fear and suspicion in the bud is to acknowledge them and deal with them openly and directly. To fail to acknowledge the pressures resulting from this tragedy will only cause them to fester with the potential for breaking down the very comity for which our military is known.

PS: The last thing needed right now is for Joe Lieberman to be "hot dogging" this tragedy in "his" committee. At a time when thoughtfulness and thoroughness, not heavy handed politicking, are required, he can only do harm.

Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit, said:

NPR has reported both that Major Hasan gave a presentation to fellow physicians in which the key theme was the right of Muslims to kill infidels, and that his supervisors met and concluded that discharging him would look bad because he was one of the few Muslim physicians at Walter Reed.  The story of ignored warning signs before the attack -- and obfuscation and excuse-making after the fact -- suggests that pre-September 11 political correctness has returned as a major source of vulnerability.

Alas, the President, who didn't hesitate to exercise swift judgment where Boston Police were concerned, now seems anxious to avoid recognizing the obvious where a Muslim terrorist is involved.  That's not leadership, and it's not likely to play well.  Senate hearings are needed to document and overcome the blindness that led to this disaster, and to prevent similar failures of leadership in the future.


Playing 'gotcha' on Gitmo (Rep. David Price)

President Barack Obama's promise to close the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, within his first year in office gave substance to one of the central messages of his campaign: the age of unilateralism and disdain for international norms has come to an end, and an era of renewed American leadership based on core values of justice and human rights has arrived.

With the president's self-imposed deadline now less than three months away, however, even his top advisers are acknowledging that his promise will be hard to fulfill. As Attorney General Eric Holder said in a recent interview, the "possibility still exists, but it will be difficult to meet that deadline."

There are legitimate reasons for this delay. Commitments from other countries to relocate detainees have been significant but not sufficient, and the distinct legal challenges posed by each detainee's circumstances make it difficult to rapidly dispose of every case. Even after most of the remaining detainees have been accounted for, we could still be left with a small number of hardened terrorists who pose a serious threat to our national security, and a decision on what to do with these prisoners should not be hastened by an arbitrary deadline.


Keep the focus on security

How many times have you come up with a great idea only to be told that it’s already been tried to no avail, or that it’s simply unrealistic or impractical, but a nice thought anyway?

The concept of “inherently safer technology” with regard to chemical facility security falls into the latter category.  When a proposed government policy sounds so easy and affordable to implement, it usually isn’t. Witness today’s debate on a myriad of public policy proposals. The members of our organizations and their employees are challenged every day by politically motivated second-guessers with little or no background in security, chemistry or engineering, and it’s time to set the record straight. After all, second-guessing is easy. The true challenge lies in developing meaningful programs and standards that safeguard our employees, facilities and communities while ensuring there will still be employees and facilities to protect and communities to sustain in the midst of an uncertain economy.


The Big Question: Will CIA controversy distract Pelosi?

Some of the nation's top political commentators, legislators and intellectuals offer their insight into the biggest question burning up the blogosphere today.

Today's question:

Democrats on the Intelligence Committee say the CIA misled Congress five times since 2001. These claims come as the House is gearing up to vote on healthcare reform. Will the revival of this controversy be a distraction for Speaker Pelosi?

Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) said:

I do not [think it will be a distraction]. We have so much other stuff going on right now. That is an important issue, but no, I think she is a strong leader, and I don't think she'll be distracted at all.

Glenn Reynolds, from Instapundit, said:

If Nancy Pelosi et al. were deceived as many times as they claim to have been, they must be awfully gullible. Now that there's another big government initiative on the table, I wonder how they'll manage to resist the allure of snake-oil salesmen with bogus health-care pitches? So far, things don't look very promising.


Patriot Act: Congress shouldn't rush to judgement (again) (Sen. Ron Wyden)

Congress passed the USA Patriot Act six weeks after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The understandably intense fear and panic gripping the nation in those early days following the attacks fueled the near-record speed with which dramatic alterations to U.S. surveillance law were drafted, debated and made law. Many members of Congress -- myself included -- were concerned that the bill had not been adequately examined or thoroughly considered and managed to attach sunsets to the bill's most controversial provisions. The idea was that these provisions would be more thoughtfully debated at a later, less panicked time. The current expiration date for these provisions is December 31, 2009.

While there are several controversial provisions in the USA Patriot Act, the coming debate is likely to center around the "business records" provision. Prior to 9/11, if the FBI or another government agency was conducting an intelligence investigation and wanted to obtain an individual's personal records from a bank, hospital, library, retail store or whatever institution was holding them, the government had to have evidence indicating that the person whose records were sought was a terrorist or a spy. The Patriot Act changed the law to authorize the government to collect any records deemed "relevant to an investigation."


Still waiting for ‘change’ under Obama

The Department of Homeland Security announced last Friday which localities have signed new Memoranda of Agreement (MOAs) delegating immigration enforcement responsibilities to local law enforcement authorities. Not surprisingly, this announcement has been met with condemnation from immigrant and civil rights groups alike, and for good reason. The program, dubbed 287(g) after the section of the Immigration and Naturalization Act creating it, has a history of mismanagement by ICE and of major civil rights abuses and racial profiling.

DHS claims that the new MOAs will cure the major deficiencies identified in governmental and non-governmental reports. But nothing in the agreements will stop the police from engaging in profiling and arresting people who look or sound foreign so their immigration status can be checked. DHS apparently fears that putting strict requirements in the MOAs would discourage localities from signing on. And nothing in the agreements will compel a focus only on immigrants convicted of serious criminal violations or impose real consequences for localities where it turns out that the main targets are accused traffic offenders.