Point of View Columns

War is No Game

In the military, efficiency is based upon training, practicing and training and practicing. Some of that practice involves simulations of combat and those are called “war games”. However, it is clear to anyone and everyone connected to the military that war is not a game.

That particular wisdom has not seeped into the American bunker also known as the Trump White House. It appears that Trump and his enablers, particularly Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton, have concocted an international policy modus operandi that entails threats and faux confrontations, goading and threatening adversaries and then stepping back from the brink of actual confrontation and combat….just…. in…. time.

But if anyone seriously thinks that tightrope diplomacy is a good thing in these days and times of instantaneous communications and response, they also think that dancing on active airplane runways is a good thing.

What is most disturbing in the recent near-clashes with Iran is that there are people in the Trump administration who think that a war with Iran is a viable option and that it is “winnable”, whatever that means. Even more disturbing is that some of these people are the same people who said that a war with Iraq was “winnable” and that a war in Afghanistan was a viable option.

How these advisors can be credible after a trillion dollars of expense and the loss of life of thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan men, women and children is a wonder in an of itself. One would think that John Bolton and his running partners – like Mike Pompeo and Liz Cheney – should be banned from ever advising anyone about anything, much less advising the President of the United States on matters involving war and peace.

Mike Pompeo is graduate of West Point and served in the Army for five years. He never went near a combat theater and left the military to pursue a career in business and politics. John Bolton was eligible for the draft during the tail end of the war in Vietnam and joined the National Guard as a way of assuring that he would not have to go into combat. Research does not indicate any military service by Liz Cheney.

So the three loudest voices in favor of military action against Iran have never been in combat and have avoided combat when there was any opportunity to do so (Pompeo could have re-enlisted in participated in Desert Storm, the war in Afghanistan and the 2003 war in Iraq). They are certainly intellectually capable of understanding the human and financial costs of war, but they ignore these costs so as to support a world view that could turn apocalyptic in a literal nanosecond.

It almost seems that these pseudo-war hawks look at war as being part of some great global game where they get to play Masters of the Universe. But in fact, they are playing with the lives of Americans and men, women and children all over the world. And if they think for even a brief moment that America is not vulnerable to a counterattack by Iran then they clearly have managed to erase 9/11 from their collective memories.

But Americans in New York and Washington remember 9/11. Americans who are in veteran’s hospitals suffering from PTSD and countless other injuries and disabilities remember the cost of war. And if these pseudo war hawks think that bombing Iran today and North Korea tomorrow will make America safe they are either stupid or deranged or both.

America and Americans have interests all over the world – therefore we are vulnerable all over the world. No American city will be safe in the event of another conflagration along the lines of an Iranian war. No American who travels anywhere in this world will be safe at a time when America is at war with the world.

Trump has shown some signs of baseline intelligence and common sense by calling off a missile strike against Iran – 15 minutes prior to launch. How close did we come to Trump Induced Trauma throughout the world, we may never know.

But Trump cannot continue to play with fire without America getting burned.

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Point of View Columns

Basketball Diplomacy

The New Year has transitioned seamlessly from 2013 with double standards in full bloom. Most recently former NBA star Dennis Rodman has led a delegation of basketball players to North Korea as part of a cultural exchange program. It is not clear what North Korea is offering to exchange but Rodman’s sojourn has lifted the steel curtain that surrounds that country just a bit allowing for the possibility of the light of inquiry and the air of communication to slip in. And for that, Dennis Rodman and his colleagues have been excoriated by members of the American press.

In the view of some commentators, by merely setting foot in North Korea, Dennis Rodman is providing some kind of tacit endorsement of that country’s government and its peerless and apparently brutal leader Kim Jong-un. In condemning Rodman it appears that the naysayers are simply not willing to take his words at face value while also refusing to face the realities of world politics.

If American cultural exchange initiatives were to be limited to countries whose policies and practices are completely acceptable to the American people there would be very few countries left off the “no fly” list. Political opponents of Russian President Vladimir Putin have routinely disappeared or ended up in Siberia. Yet an American delegation is at this very moment packing its bags to participate in the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Israel is routinely acknowledged to be the key and primary ally of the United States in the Middle East. The partnership between Israel and this country is historic and institutional. Yet, in 1967 Israel attacked and sank the American navy vessel U.S.S. Liberty killing 34 Americans. An apology was issued and accepted and both countries found a way to move on.

Moving on, there are virtually limitless claims of human rights abuses taking place in China. The Chinese government has imprisoned dissenters and simply does not countenance any criticism of its practices and shows no signs of changing in the near, or far future. Yet most American observers contend that continued engagement with China offers the best chance of meaningful and institutional change in that country.

Accepting the fact that Dennis Rodman is better known for his outrageous conduct, occasional cross dressing, unique choices in clothing and hairstyles, there is every reason to believe that only someone like Dennis Rodman could gain admittance to North Korea and achieve some measure of communication with Kim Jon-un. There really doesn’t seem to be a downside to whatever inroads that he and his band of ball players might make since they are clearly not diplomats and they are just as clearly not endorsing anything.

But just as a generation ago a series of ping pong matches opened the way for formal diplomatic relations between the United States and the People’s Republic of China, is it too farfetched to imagine that basketball diplomacy might succeed in prying open a door to actual communications between two countries that have spent over half a century demonizing each other?

There may be many reasons to criticize Dennis Rodman – role model he is not – but his role in changing the interaction between the U.S. and North Korea may turn out to be more meaningful than all of his NBA championship rings.

We can only wait and see.

 

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Point of View Columns

The Four Million Man March

Here’s a number to ponder – 4,356,927. That is the number of times people have been stopped and frisked during the ten years of the administration of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Keep in mind these numbers do not come from North Korea or Syria or the Gaza Strip. Over four million times in the past ten years New York City residents have been subjected to this highly questionable and absolutely intrusive police behavior. And, by the way, 80% of the individuals stopped and frisked are black and Latino men between the ages of 18-34. Do you detect a pattern here?

Outrageous strategies conducted in the name of some special purpose seem to be insulated from criticism. Waterboarding and other forms of torture have been justified in the name of national security. Mayor Bloomberg has sought to justify the stripping citizens of their personal dignity and human rights with the fig leaf of crime prevention.

The problem is that too many outrages have taken place in the name of crime prevention. That is why over the last century courts have ruled that homes cannot be entered without a warrant, that suspects cannot be questioned without having been given access to an attorney and why people cannot be beaten until they confess. There is no doubt that crime prevention would be a lot simpler if these restrictions on police conduct were not in place.

But the Constitution of the United States is not a pesky detail to be ignored or avoided whenever it is inconvenient. And the rights conferred to American citizens by the Constitution are worthless if they don’t apply to all American citizens.
The constitutional rights are not the sole possession of the white and wealthy.
Police intrusion for no reason except skin color or mode of dress should not be the sad inheritance of young men of color in New York City.

Here’s another number – 685,724. That is the number of people who have been stopped and frisked during 2011. Apologists for Mayor Bloomberg, a surprisingly number of whom are currently black and formerly prominent, drink the Bloomberg brand of Kool-Aid and point to suspect statistics that are supposed to describe a decline in the crime rate that is supposed to be totally attributable to Stop and Frisk.

But even if those statistics are true, and there are numerous law enforcement experts who dispute the statistics and the conclusion, how can the daily humiliation of thousands of human beings be justifiable? The fact that many criminal acts in New York City are committed by black and Latino young men does not mean that all, or most, black and Latino young men are criminals.

I cannot imagine the Justice Department going to Wall Street to stop and interrogate virtually all well-dressed white men between the ages of 30 and 50 just because most white collar crime is committed by that demographic cohort. How unfair and how outrageous would that be? About as unfair and outrageous as New York City’s current Stop and Frisk policy.

The worst part about this institutionalized degradation is that is turning an entire generation of young men into permanent suspects. It can only damage self-esteem and fan glowing coals of resentment and distrust that will burn for a lifetime and be passed on from generation to generation.

The men and women of the New York Police Department have a difficult and challenging task in protecting the citizens of New York City. Why Mayor Bloomberg wants to make their lives more difficult is incomprehensible.

There is no doubt that Mayor Bloomberg is a brilliant man and an incredibly successful businessman. There is also no doubt that there is an indelible tattoo of stubbornness that he doesn’t even try to conceal.

Instead he and his enablers are the perpetual organizers of a four million man march that will haunt the present and the future. The four million intrusions in to the lives of presumably innocent young men visit too many of them over and over until their only view of law enforcement is soaked in subdued rage and resentment.

If Mayor Bloomberg and his enablers wanted to create a generation of resentful and criminally-inclined young men who are leery of law enforcement and law and order, they couldn’t have come up with a better strategy than Stop and Frisk.

We will all grow old and die before Michael Bloomberg will admit that he is wrong. But he is smart enough to find a way out of this immoral morass.

It is way past time to stop Stop and Frisk.

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