Sunday, April 26, 2009

Foreign Policy Position on Pakistan

Thinking about our continuing controversial political and military involvement in Iraq, though it should be winding down a great deal over the next year or two, and our growing, troubling involvement in and commitments in Afghanistan, I'm one of those who is even more concerned with what's going on in neighboring Pakistan with its 173 million almost entirely Muslim population and the consequent potential impact on our military forces and our limited available financial resources.

What's going on and why am I very concerned? Religious conservatives in the Swat Valley in the northwest of Pakistan close to the border with Afghanistan have been rebelling against the secular laws of the federal government since 1969 when the formerly independent region became part of Pakistan. A consequence of this is that these conservatives have increasingly become sympathetic to the radical Islam Taliban movement whose primary battleground for many years has been Afghanistan. In December 2008 Taliban insurgents captured the Swat Valley, surprisingly without a lot of resistance from the large Pakistan army. Among other anti-social policies in the area, they immediately banned education of girls, use of televisions and the playing of music.

In February this year, in an effort to secure peace in the region, the captive regional government of the area, supported by the weak and fragile government of Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani agreed with a leading Taliban cleric that harsh Islamic or Sharia law should replace the current secular laws.

Since that time the Taliban has moved forces into the adjacent Buner District only 60 miles from the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. The U. S. has been suspicious for years that elements in the Pakistani military and especially in Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, though officially denied, have been secretly working against the policies and interests of the Pakistani government in support of some of the insurgent groups.

There is increasingly widespread concern, as evidenced recently by blunt statements by Secretary of State Clinton and some high-ranking British sources, that the Taliban pose a major near-term threat to the rest of the country and its federal government. President Obama's special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke said in an interview yesterday that "Pakistan is an emergency situation." We should all be greatly oncerned because Pakistan has nuclear weapons and the Taliban have recognized links to al Qaeda. Our worst fear would be that al Qaeda gets even close to control or access to any nuclear weapons.

The U. S. therefore needs to continue and further increase its political pressure on the Pakistan government and its military leaders, including the head of the army, Ashfaq Kayani, to get much more serious in dealing effectively with this Taliban threat. It's positive that Chairman of our Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen has recently talked to General Kayani, and that Mr. Holbrooke has been regularly talking to Mr. Zardari, who is scheduled to come to Washington, D. C. on May 6th to talk to President Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai about how to combat the threat that is a continuing danger to both nations and also a potential danger to U. S. interests. Hopefully Mr. Obama will make it extremely clear what we expect and how their subsequent actions will impact continuing U. S. aid and financial support.

That this threat has been allowed to develop as it has is ridiculous! Pakistan has 650,000 active, reasonably well-trained duty personnel in the military, a paramilitary force of 300,000, and reserves of 520,000, giving a combined military force of nearly 1.4 million! The Taliban apparently has a comparatively small force of some 5,000 fighters. What's the problem? As I understand it, the problem seems incredibly to be primarily two-fold: questionable national political consensus and will and, secondly, the fact that the military has 80% of their troops firmly positioned near the Indian border, in anticipation of another possible war with that country, especially in view of the massacre in Bombay in November 2008 committed by Pakistanis, possibly assisted by some ISI insiders. Of course, another major factor in the Pakistani deployment is the longstanding national tensions associated with territorial disputes in the Kashmir region.

It should not be necessary for the U. S. to get directly involved militarily in dealing with this threat, at least with combat troops on the ground. If the Pakistani government and military allow the Taliban to capture the country's nuclear facilities, or significantly increases its control of other regions in Pakistan, the U. S. should seriously consider disabling or destroying the nuclear facilities in collaboration with the other members of the U. N. Security Council and our major allies.

This is obviously a highly sensitive and challenging situation for many reasons. The Security Council would most likely be divided on any appropriate military action. Despite the serious threat, China and Russia would probably veto any U. N. supported military action proposed by the U. S. and perhaps try to conduct bilateral negotiations with Taliban leaders, even though Russia had a bitter war with the Taliban in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989. China supplied much of the technology used by Pakistan for their nuclear facilities and probably is concerned with maintaining a balance between the military power of Pakistan and India for greater stability in the region.

Considering everything already on their plates, President Obama and Mrs. Clinton will deserve a lot of credit if they can get this matter resolved satisfactorily. Most preferably, this would be convincing the Pakistani leaders not to be unduly concerned with any threat from India, redeploying their forces as needed, and to quickly retake control of their country without requiring any significant U. S. military or financial assistance. Since the Taliban have been active moving fighters and training camps back and forth across the loosely guarded northern Afghan Pakistani border with ease for years as opportunities for their terror and mischief campaigns arose, success in killing or capturing militants in Pakistan will help the U. S., our allies there and Karzai's government in Afghanistan as well.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Amnesty for Illegal Immigrants?

President Obama will apparently reveal publicly in May his plan for a comprehensive reform of our legislation on immigration to include de facto amnesty and a "pathway to citizenship" for the 15-20 million illegals living in this country. He brought the issue up again at a speech in Costa Mesa, California, on March 18th. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi seems to be strongly in favor of the expected plan. My guess is, therefore, that it will be difficult for opponents to stop the legislation, although it will probably be feasible to influence some of the specific provisions.

Some of my readers may remember that I posted a blog on the subject of Illegal Immigration way back on 9/22/07 and a related one titled U. S. Mexico Border Fence on 4/02/08 in which I gave many of my views on this general topic. While I think President Obama is doing a good job overall so far and I support him on most issues, I will most probably not agree with him on what one can expect to see in his plan, and I intend to pass on my views to his Administration.

I suspect the most sensitive and controversial part of his prospective plan will be the "path to citizenship" to be offered to most illegals, presumably those not convicted of any crime other than breaking the law by entering the country illegally or over overstaying their visas. Keep in mind that the majority of these 15-20 million illegals have broken one or more other laws such as driving a car or truck without a valid license, driving without insurance, lying on one or more employment applications, using fake Social Security numbers, and not filing income tax returns and paying amounts due. Depending on one's definition, virtually any "path to citizenship" is a de facto amnesty, even if the path requires payment of a fine, proper registration with federal, state, and local authorities, payment of income taxes owed, and if the applicants for citizenship have to go to the end of the line.

The history of amnesty legislation in recent times goes back to 1986 when President Reagan signed the Immigration and Reform Control Act which made hiring undocumented workers illegal and provided a blanket amnesty for 2.7 million illegal aliens. There have been six other pieces of legislation since 1986 that have provided amnesty for various groups of illegal aliens. The amnesties were well intended, as President Obama's no doubt will be, but they haven't worked in terms of stopping or even slowing down more illegal immigration, which in most cases was one of the objectives.

One of President Obama's main points in justifying the de facto amnesty plan is that "we can't deport them all." Unfortunately that's probably true. However, we know from our long experience that a big part of the problem has been a lack of proper enforcement of existing laws and regulations and inadequate border patrolling. We also know that the Mexican government has not done very much to help, such as government reforms and initiatives to provide better education and job opportunities for the illegals in Mexico, making it much less necessary and attractive for the illegals to risk their lives trying to cross the border into California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

As I mentioned in my earlier blogs, there are substantial costs and risks associated with the illegals, although there is no question that the great majority of them work very hard, especially in lower wage jobs in construction, picking crops in farming, garden maintenance, and the food service and hospitality industries. The majority of illegals do not own property and therefore do not pay property taxes. In addition, the majority do not pay income taxes, either because they don't earn enough or because they don't file returns in order to help evade detection and their tax liability. Yet their children go to public schools, their families use emergency medical services at our decreasing number of hospitals, and, like the rest of us, use most other municipal and state services, including, unfortunately, for many thousands a lot of time in our court system and space in our costly prisons.

So what should be done, then? Obama's plan to be revealed in May should include a requirement for immediate compliance for businesses in not hiring any illegals, with stiffer penalties for violations, and much more effective border controls. Those actions should not require new legislation, unless it proves necessary for new funding. Obama needs to follow up with Mexican President Calderon to seriously discuss joint efforts to stop illegal immigration as much as possible. I'm confident he will pursue that, though I frankly don't expect to be favorably impressed with the outcome.

In the plan to be presented to Congress there should be a provision to deport those who have come across the border in the recent past, say 12 months, those who have no job, reasonable prospects for a job, or other legal means to reasonably support themselves, and those who have committed any felonies. A "path to citizenship" should be reserved for those who have lived in the U. S. for at least five years, have learned to speak and write English at some elementary or better level, and have a track record of employment and acceptable "citizenship" in terms of obeying our laws and paying taxes. It should not be automatically made available to every illegal, just by paying a modest fine and agreeing to learn English. The third group, those who should not be deported and don't yet qualify for citizenship, should be considered for a guest worker program or an extended visa, depending upon individual qualifications and family issues.

I would support a plan along the above lines that sharply reduces illegal immigration from all countries, deports new illegals and the group mentioned above, is fair to the millions of illegals who have lived here for more than five years and are in good standing with their communities, and reasonably protects the unemployed millions of Americans who are seeking new jobs at this very moment. However, the plan must also be fair and reasonable to the legal American taxpayers and take account of our current very serious national, state and local economic circumstances. This point should not be sacrificed to serve the interests of those politicians who seek Hispanic votes at upcoming elections or those who insist we must demonstrate compassion by offering citizenship to everyone. As also mentioned in the earlier blogs, I still think that the 14th Amendment giving automatic citizenship to children of illegals born here should be repealed or reinterpreted by the courts to take away this benefit.

It's a difficult issue in several respects, but that doesn't justify no action or anything close to a blanket de facto amnesty. The new plan must differentiate between different categories of illegals in a pragmatic, reasonable and fair manner. Furthermore, we must not find ourselves in a similar position five or ten or more years down the road, facing what to do with many more millions of illegals.

John Demjanjuk Case

Who the heck is John Demjanjuk and why do you bother spending time posting a blog on him? These are fair questions many of my readers are no doubt asking. Mr. Demjanjuk, 89, is a naturalized U. S. citizen who has gained notoriety after being accused of car crimes related to alleged Holocaust involvement in World War II. I'm writing about this case because I see it as an example of the federal government wasting a lot of taxpayer moneys at a time when we're in an economic crisis, have a large budget deficit, and certainly have many other higher priority needs for funding that are not being met.

His is a complicated, long drawn-out legal case, but, born in the Ukraine, he is believed to have been a Nazi SS guard at the notorious Treblinka extermination camp in occupied Poland in 1942 and 1943, as well as at one or two other similar camps, and allegedly was actively involved in torturing and exterminating many thousands of prisoners, primarily Jews. He, his wife and a child came to the U. S. in 1952 and became citizens in 1958, apparently aided by the concealment of most of his activities during the war.

At the request of Israel he was deported to that country in 1986 to stand trial. In 1988 the Israeli court found him guilty on all charges and sentenced him to death by hanging. However, in 1993 five Israeli Supreme Court judges overturned the guilty verdict on appeal, based on doubt about the validity of some of the evidence brought out in his trial. Demjanjuk was then released and returned to the U. S.

In 1999 the U. S. Justice Department filed a new civil complaint against him, having to do with his guard jobs at two other Polish camps and one in Germany. He was put on trial in 2001 and 2002 and the court agreed that the Justice Department had proved its case, resulting in their ruling that Demjanjuk could be stripped of his U. S. citizenship. In 2005 an immigration judge ordered him to be deported to Ukraine. Demjanjuk appealed all the way to the Supreme Court but was unsuccessful. Then out of the blue Germany announced it would seek his extradition for trial there for his role in the Holocaust. But the latest is that deportation was halted and he has for now returned to his home in Ohio.

There is little doubt that Demjanjuk was a guard in several Nazi death camps during the War and participated in some horrible activities. I understand those who maintain that he should be held accountable, regardless of age. But how much money is the government going to spend on prosecuting and deporting this guy?? How many federal employees are going to be involved when they could be doing more important things for the benefit of the country? We should also keep in mind that he was acquitted in Israel of similar charges to those brought up in the U. S. and Germany. Furthermore, not only is he 89, he is extremely frail and highly likely would not survive what is believed to be a prospective two year trial in Germany.

Far too much federal money has already been spent on this case. I think the Obama administration should advise Germany that the U. S. Government has decided for pragmatic and humanitarian reasons to cease any further action against Demjanjuk, discourage any extradition, and let him live his remaining limited days with his family in Ohio. I would think Germany also has better things to do with their taxpayer Euros. This is also another case which demonstrates why we need reform in our justice system to speed up prosecutions and our appeals process to conserve taxpayer dollars.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Somali Piracy

After a one month European trip, it's time to get back to work, and I thought Somali Piracy, while seemingly an odd choice, is an appropriate subject, given a number of significant factors. Before I provide some brief background and provide my personal views, I want to make it clear right off that I feel strongly that the international community victims have handled this criminal piracy activity incredibly poorly.

For those that are not very familiar with Somalia or this subject, this is an Islamic country of 9.5 million largely poor people located on the horn of Africa, with the Gulf of Aden on the north, the vast Indian Ocean on the east, and the countries of Ethiopia and Kenya on the west and south. Its size of 246,000 square miles makes it just a little smaller than California. For the most part the people are Sunni Muslims and the languages spoken are Somali and Arabic. The capital is Mogadishu and the current country was formed in 1960 when British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland became independent and merged. There's a very weak, dysfunctional coalition central government with alleged links to al-Qaeda.

Piracy has been a threat to international shipping since the civil war which took place in the early 1990's. There's not a lot of reliable available information on the pirates, but they seem to be based in a number of smaller seaports and villages on the Indian Ocean coast, especially in and around the port of Eyl in the northeast and to a smaller extent on the northern coast by the Gulf of Aden across from Yemen. Ransoms collected from several ship seizures last year apparently totaled between $30 million and $50 million, which we understand have been used to cover their living expenses and to purchase weapons and related pirate equipment.

Most noteworthy among recent seizures were a Ukrainian ship carrying 33 battle tanks and a Saudi Arabian tanker vessel carrying $100 million worth of crude oil. The current total of seized vessels is more than twenty with 300 hostages. U. S. interest got greatly escalated when on April 8th, only a few days ago, a small number of pirates temporarily seized the U. S. registered 17,000 ton "Maersk Alabama" container ship bound for the Kenyan port of Mombasa with a cargo of food aid for several African countries, but at the time an estimated 400 miles off the coast northeast of Mogadishu. The ship is operated by a U. S. subsidiary of the huge Danish shipping concern, A. P. Moeller Maersk Group headquartered in Copenhagen.

As most people who follow international news know, the 20 member crew of the "Maersk Alabama" managed to expel the 4-5 pirates, but they managed to escape in their covered lifeboat with the ship's American captain, Richard Phillips, as a valuable hostage. Subsequently the lifeboat apparently ran out of gas and was bobbing relatively idle alone several hundred miles off the coast. Shortly afterwards the U. S. Navy's destroyer "Bainbridge" and frigate "Halyburton" arrived on the scene to monitor the situation and be prepared to take whatever action is decided upon by their superiors and the Pentagon. Clearly their top priority is keeping Phillips safe and rescuing him, secondarily trying to apprehend the pirates. So far no military action has been taken, but some radio contact has apparently been made with the pirates.

What has been done by the international community over the past year to deal with this highly unacceptable situation? In October 2008 the U. N. Security Council adopted Resolution 1838, calling on nations with vessels in the area to apply military force to repress acts of piracy in the area. India has called for a U. N. peacekeeping force under a unified command to tackle the piracy. But nothing much further been done, though yesterday the French navy initiated a military operation against pirates who had seized a French luxury yacht with 30 or so people onboard that appears to have been successful, though one or two hostages apparently died.

This is obviously a significant U. S. political issue at the moment, since an American vessel has been attacked by pirates for the first time in about 200 years, an American is held as a hostage, a sizable ransom appears to have been demanded, the Somali government is linked to al-Qaeda, and the U. S. is the key member of the U. N. Security Council which has voted to deal with this situation. Furthermore, those involved include the U. S. Department of Defense, the FBI, CIA, State Department, and probably also the National Security Council and President Obama himself.

Limited U. S. action to date to deal with the pirates no doubt is due to the facts that no U. S. vessel was seized before April 8th, our federal government has been understandably preoccupied with higher priority issues including, but not limited to, rescuing our economy and fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and because the U. N. Security Council typically is not geared to come to agreement and follow up resolutions with effective action. As far as the shipping companies are concerned, their primary motives appear to be the safety of their crew and keeping their ships sailing as much as possible, quickly agreeing to ransoms which are covered by freight revenues and insurance against piracy. These are not adequate excuses, at least now.

It would be nice if there were a strong, unified central government in Somalia that could take effective action against the pirates under serious international pressure. However, that will most likely not happen in at least several years. I think the shipping companies should quickly reconsider their current widespread policy of having their crews unarmed with no hired security guards onboard. The risk to the safety of crews should be fairly limited with training and arming their crew with modern weapons and/or hiring a half dozen or so trained and experienced guards. The economic incentives of keeping their ships sailing and not paying ransoms should be adequate to do so.

Another practical option would be organizing to have the ships sail in periodic convoys, like in World War II, protected by a multinational naval force manned especially by the U. S., the British and the French, but also other NATO navies on a rotational basis to limit costs to any one country. This should be fairly easy to do, and be very effective, keeping in mind the pirates have
no submarines, like the Germans and Japanese during the war, and limited resources and weaponry. Isn't this really a no-brainer?