Thursday, October 12, 2006

U.S. Government: Some Signs of Strain?

By John E. Carey
October 12, 2006

There may be some signs of strain and concern in the U.S. government. We wonder if, with all that is happening in the world, the U.S. government needs a new approach to the war on terror and world diplomacy and engagement in general.

Yesterday, on October 11, General Peter Schoomaker, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, gave an interview. Schoomaker might be considered to be a tad more independent than many military men. He was recalled to active duty from retirement for his job – an almost unheard of action since the end of World War II.

Schoomaker said, “While we must prevail, victory is not assured,” and “we are much closer to the beginning than the end” of the war.

Schoomaker expressed concern that national support for the war on terror has been “tepid,” noting that just 4 percent of the United States’ gross national product is committed to defense. This compares to 38 percent during World War II.

“Ultimately, victory requires a national strategic consensus … in words and actions,” he said.

“Another 9/11 should not have to occur to shake us into action.”

Schoomaker is calling for unity and greater effort. Without using the word “mobilize,” he is likening this war to the effort in World War II and wondering why the United States cannot invest more time, effort and resources to this war.

Schoomaker also made news by indicating to reporters that the current U.S. troop level in Iraq could remain there unchanged until the year 2010.

And the President has always said he will support the advice of his senior military officers. Just yesterday at a news conference the president said the last time he talked to general Casey in Iraq he told him he would support his recommendations.

“I said: General, the Baghdad security plan is in its early implementation. I support you strongly but, if you come into this office and say we need to do something differently, I support you,” the president told reporters.

"If you need more troops, I support you. If you're going to devise a new strategy, we're with you. Because I trust General Casey to make the judgments necessary to put the tactics in place to help us achieve an objective,” said President Bush.

If you have ever heard a seasoned lawyer carefully choosing his words, you know what General Casey sounds like much of the time. Just a few months ago General Casey told reporters he would be bringing troops home soon. Then, Baghdad got ugly and Casey lengthened soldiers’ “in country” time to add troops to the troubled streets of Baghdad.

On September 25, 2006, more than five years after the September 11, 2001 attacks, retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. John Batiste told Senators during his appearance before the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, "We must mobilize our country for a protracted challenge."

This bold statement, from a lifelong military man, should perhaps be a harbinger of a more real problem. General Batiste doesn’t seem to have an axe to grind or a political motivation.

General Batiste was joined on September 25 by two others in agreement: retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, and retired U.S. Marine Corps Colonel Paul X. Hammes.

O.K. that is only three gentlemen. But three experienced warriors who served in Iraq and who say their conclusions are supported by many others on active duty. The testimony was the most riveting I have heard since I first came to the halls of Congress in 1974. My impression of this hearing was that these three military men are tired of seeing men die and suffer tremendous wounds in a conflict they feel is poorly managed and under funded. I thought, "These guys feel honor bound to be here."

There is also the voice of James K. Kallstrom. The former FBI Assistant Director and the man who was in charge of the criminal investigation in the crash of TWA Flight 800, Mr. Kallstrom is now Advisor to the Governor of New York for Counter –Terrorism.

On the Fox News Channel on September 27, Mr. Kallstrom said, “We haven’t yet done a lot of common sense things here at home” to fight the war on terror. He added, “We are in a massive war and I am afraid most Americans have no idea….”

We know for a fact that Mr. Kallstrom believes, as we do, that the United States has totally failed in its “war of hearts and minds” against the terrorists. When asked about the "hearts and minds" effort in the war on terror on September 11, 2006, he said, "Quite frankly I don't think we are doing that great a job."

Between Iraq, North Korea and Iran alone the foreign policy and diplomacy requirements have to be mind boggling. But there have been several other, let’s call them “second echelon” crises or situations, that have also complicated the strategic landscape. Just this year, Israel went to war with Hezbollah, Muslims rioted in France (and reacted badly to some cartoons and the Pope), nations like Venezuela and Iran lobbied for seats on the U.N. Security Council, and in Southeast Asia a coup in Thailand removed a democratic government just as Vietnam became ready for perhaps more democracy with a new government in place and anticipated entry into the World Trade Organization.

There are just a few situations where U.S. interests are involved but where, arguably, the full intellectual might of our best people might be distracted by the bigger fish to fry in Iraq and elsewhere.

There are some other indicators that mobilization, or at least some greater effort, may be in order because maybe our government is not totally and completely able to handle all its responsibilities during the added weight of the war on terror.

Am I crazy or did a democratically elected government in Asia fall during a coup a few weeks ago?The new man in Thailand is a Muslim general in charge of the army. He says he’ll name a civilian leadership corps, get the King’s approval, and hold elections again….in a year or so.

The last time this happened Pervez Musharraf became the General/President in Pakistan. He is also still the Army Chief of Staff. He promised elections too. That was just after a bloodless coup d'état on 12 October 1999. That’s seven years ago.

Granted that Thailand is not much of a threat to anybody and this was the 18th coup in Thailand since it became a constitutional democracy in 1932. One still has to wonder if there might be strategic implications from this coup d'état later on.

Even though President Bush has said over and over that spreading democracy is part of his doctrine, and that “democracies don’t attack other democracies,” he seemed to give the Thai military a “pass” on this. Just as he has given Musharraf a pass on his democracy, apparently.

Tony Snow, the White House Press Spokesman, at first said, “we’re disappointed at the coup [in Thailand].”

A few days later, Snow said, the United States is “committed to democracy and in no way do we countenance military coups.”

By September 26, the U.S. Secretary of State was on the record with a well thought out response to the Thailand coup.In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, she said, "It's not a good thing and we are terribly displeased to have had a military coup.”

"They need to get a civilian government and they need to get to elections and get back on a democratic path very, very quickly,” said Secretary Rice.

OK: did we lose a little focus?Maybe.

In July 2006, the U.S. Secretary of State was scheduled to go to Vietnam. We care about Vietnam for many reasons; not the least of which is that the Communist government has been holding an American citizen, Mrs. Thuong N. "Cuc" Foshee, without charges, medical care or legal council for over a year.

The president is supposed to go to Vietnam in November and Vietnam is awaiting word on entry into the World Trade Organization and receipt of Permanent Normal Trade Relations with the U.S.

All that is important; and we know there are issues of still grater importance. But Secretary of State Rice cancelled her mission to Vietnam last July because of the pressing business of the war between Israel and Hezbollah – even though she made it all the way to Malaysia at just about the same time she was supposed to be in Vietnam.

In fact, that July trip by the Secretary of State was supposed to be a diplomatic mission to Japan, China, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia and Vietnam.

All this diplomacy never happened, save the Malaysia piece. Given recent events in North Korea and the difficult decisions to be made now, would that July trip have paid some dividends? Perhaps.

Last July the Secretary of State, unfortunately, could not make it to Vietnam, Japan, China, or South Korea due to the war in Lebanon. But she did make it all the way to Malaysia to entertain other diplomats at a dinner by playing the piano (Brahms' Sonata in D Minor, 2nd Movement).

So, because our nation did not have a special envoy to the Middle East, and the Secretary of State tried (and failed) to meet all her diplomatic responsibilities, Mrs. Foshee remains in jail in Vietnam.

And who knows what else the United States left on or under the table unattended with China, Japan and South Korea.

Before the President of the United States goes to Vietnam in November, we would hope that the U.S. government takes all necessary action to secure the release of Mrs. Thuong N. "Cuc" Foshee, a citizen of the United States, who is now held without charges in Vietnam.

Is the U.S. government showing signs of strain that need to be addressed?

And the larger question is this: are we losing “focus” in our government of all our international responsibilities due to the war against terror? Because if we are then General Batiste and his group, the Army Chief of Staff and others, including, we believe, Mr. James Kallstrom, are correct: we need to mobilize our government more completely.

Or otherwise make some changes.


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