Free Markets, Free People

Foreign Affairs

More Hope and Change – Rendition-style

Remember the uproar on the left about “rendition” and how that sort of thing was simply “un-American”, unconstitutional and a legal travesty? I’m not going to pretend I don’t agree with many of the arguments made then. But that’s not the point of this post.

The point is how the left was again punked by the man in the White House. Recall this from the Obama campaign website:

“From both a moral standpoint and a practical standpoint, torture is wrong. Barack Obama will end the use torture without exception. He also will eliminate the practice of extreme rendition, where we outsource our torture to other countries.”


As a candidate last year, President Obama vowed to end “the practice of shipping away prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far-off countries.”

And 7 days after his inauguration, President Obama signed an executive order prohibiting the CIA from conducting “extraordinary rendition”.

But last week a Lebanese man was snatched by the FBI in Afghanistan. His claims sound faintly familiar. He charges he was stripped naked, subjected to a cavity search and photographed among other things:

In court papers, Azar said he was denied his eyeglasses, not given food for 30 hours and put in a freezing room after his arrest by “more than 10 men wearing flak jackets and carrying military style assault rifles.”

Azar also said he was shackled and forced to wear a blindfold, dark hood and earphones for up to 18 hours on a Gulfstream V jet that flew him from Bagram air base, outside Kabul, to Virginia.

Before the hood was put on, he said, one of his captors waved a photo of Azar’s wife and four children and warned Azar that he would “never see them again” unless he confessed.

“Frightened for his immediate safety . . . and under the belief he would end up in the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib to be tortured,” Azar signed a paper he did not understand, his lawyers told the court.

His crime? Terrorism? A Taliban leader? A person making terroristic threats? Someone who had engaged in combat against Americans?

Well sort of – he apparently inflated some invoices.   And the Obama administration was out to serve warning that they just weren’t going to put up with that.

Now, I recognize that we only have his word about what was done to him, and he could certainly be embellishing certain aspects of his incarceration for effect, but the FBI admits to part of it apparently feeling that this invoice padder was a threat on a par with Osama bin Laden and should be treated accordingly:

Prosecutors, however, said that Azar was “treated professionally,” kept in a heated room, offered food and water repeatedly and “provided with comfortable chairs to sit in.”

They said he was photographed naked and subjected to a cavity search to ensure that he did not carry hidden weapons and was fit for travel. Court records confirmed that Azar was shackled at the ankles, waist and wrists and made to wear a blindfold, hood and earphones aboard the plane.

Prosecutors also said that FBI agents read Azar his rights against self-incrimination on three occasions, and that he “voluntarily” waived them.

The FBI agent in charge, Perry J. Goerish, denied in an affidavit that Azar was “told he would never see his family again unless he confessed.”

Additionally an accomplice who was arrested with him has not made similar charges, but has pled guilty to those charges.

But the bottom line is a foreign national was snatched in Afghanistan, shackled, blindfolded and whisked off to an undisclosed location (it ended up being the US) and, in effect, treated just like the terrors suspects the CIA had taken previously.

Yet the LA Times decides:

Their case is different from the widely criticized “extraordinary renditions” carried out after the Sept. 11 attacks. In those cases, CIA teams snatched suspected Al Qaeda members and other alleged terrorists overseas and flew them, shackled and hooded, to prisons outside the United States without any arrest warrants or other judicial proceedings.

Ah, well, there you go – this apparently was legal, so, you know, that makes it all okay. Pretty much exactly the same thing except this time there was a legal veneer to help everyone, to include the LA Times, declare this case is “different”.

Yeah? Seems just like old times to me.


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Chavez Calls Obama A Space Cadet

OK, not precisely, but you could infer that from remarks made by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez:

“President Obama is lost in the Andromeda Nebula, he has lost his bearings, he doesn’t get it,” he said.

His remarks were apparently a reaction to something Obama said about the situation in Honduras as well as Latin America as a whole:

Last week Obama said critics of U.S. involvement in Latin America who are now asking Washington to do more to restore the ousted president of Honduras “can’t have it both ways.”

Saying you can’t ask for help on the one hand and then demand the US get out of Latin America on the other apparently makes you a space cadet lost in “the Andromeda Nebula”.

“We are not asking you to intervene in Honduras, Obama. On the contrary, we are asking that “the empire” get its hands off Honduras and get its claws out of Latin America,” Chavez said in a rambling weekly television and radio show.

Well so far so good on improving relations in Latin America. Of course, if you read the article, you’ll see that Reuters goes out of its way to make the case that this is all a side-show and in fact, Chavez thinks Obama is ok. I guess, like the reporting on the economy in which the media finds negative numbers that aren’t as negative as expected to be good news, this somehow qualifies as good news on the foreign relations front.

Tiger Woods – Bourgeois Tool

At least in Venezuela.  Apparently the game of golf is the latest thing under assault in the socialist paradise Hugo Chavez is fashioning:

After a brief tirade against the sport by the president on national television last month, pro-Chávez officials have moved in recent weeks to shut down two of the country’s best-known golf courses, in Maracay, a city of military garrisons near here, and in the coastal city of Caraballeda.

“Let’s leave this clear,” Mr. Chávez said during a live broadcast of his Sunday television program. “Golf is a bourgeois sport,” he said, repeating the word “bourgeois” as if he were swallowing castor oil. Then he went on, mocking the use of golf carts as a practice illustrating the sport’s laziness.

Meanwhile, the rubber-stamp National Assembly passed a bill that will broaden the state’s control of what is taught in schools:

The bill would order schools to base curricula on what it calls “the Bolivarian Doctrine” — a vague reference to ideals espoused by 19th-century independence hero Simon Bolivar, such as national self-determination and Latin American unity.

Or, more simply said – socialism. Unsurprisingly, it has generated protests a colleges and universities – not that Chavez cares.

Meanwhile, as the economy continues to tank, Chavez is using the dictator’s normal first choice to divert attention from economic problems – claiming there is an external threat.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Sunday raised tensions with Colombia over a U.S. troop plan, accusing his neighbor of sending an army patrol over their Orinoco River border and ending a Colombian gasoline subsidy.

Chavez made his remarks on the eve of a regional summit in Ecuador, where the persistent Washington critic will try to fuel opposition to a Colombian plan to allow U.S. troops more access to seven of its military bases.


Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, a staunch U.S. ally, says the troop plan is necessary to fight drug traffickers. But Chavez claims a greater U.S. presence in the region is a direct threat to him and risks sparking war in South America.

Where have we seen all of his before? And how predictable is this as well?

Poor Venezuela – they’ve got a tiger by the tail and they’re in for an awful ride. They’ve allowed this goon Chavez to manipulate the democratic process into autocratic rule and he’s now developed into not just a threat to the freedom and liberty of his own citizens, but a threat to other nations.

Anyone can see this isn’t going to end well. I feel for the people of Venezuela.


American Caesar?

Katherine Jean Lopez had this to say the other day at The Corner:

Yesterday, at a rally for R. Creigh Deeds in Virginia, President Obama said: “I don’t want the folks who created the mess do a lot of talking. I want them to get out of the way so we can clean up the mess. I don’t mind cleaning up after them, but don’t do a lot of talking.”

For Barack Obama, democracy appears to be a distraction. He really does seem to view himself as a Caesar.

Shortly after taking office, Obama held a meeting with governors. At the time, one person in the room relayed Obama’s request that critics and skeptics of the stimulus plan keep their concerns to themselves. Just let me do it, was his attitude. He got pushback and he wasn’t happy. He wanted democratically elected state governors to shut up so he could do as he pleased. He knows better and we should respect that, seems to be the attitude.

There seems to be quite a bit more of an authoritarian streak in Barack Obama than one might think. I was willing to dismiss the first statement at the Deeds event as a little red meat for the locals. But I wasn’t aware of the second incident, which makes dismissing the first a little less likely.

Then this story coincidentally showed up which adds fuel to the fire:

President Obama has issued signing statements claiming the authority to bypass dozens of provisions of bills enacted into law since he took office, provoking mounting criticism by lawmakers from both parties.

Apparently Obama feels much the same as his predecessor did about the laws passed by Congress – he doesn’t have to obey provisions he doesn’t care for:

They were reacting to a statement Mr. Obama issued after signing a bill that expanded assistance to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank while requiring the administration to pressure the organizations to adopt certain policies. Mr. Obama said he could disregard the negotiation instructions under his power to conduct foreign relations.


Other laws Mr. Obama has said he need not obey as written include format requirements for budget requests, limits on whom he may appoint to a commission, and a restriction on putting troops under United Nations command.

While there is some argument to be made about Congress getting into the foreign relations area, there’s certainly none which should arise from budget questions or other domestic legal considerations. However, there is a very easy way for Obama to confront Congress over areas he thinks they overstep their bounds – veto the bill. Instead, displaying that authoritarian streak, he chooses to disregard the law and do what he wants to do through a signing statement.

All of this after calling Bush’s use of signing statements “abuse” and promising much greater restraint than practiced in the previous administration. Thus far, at least according to a Democratic Congress, no such restraint has been practiced and it appears Congress deems his use to date just as “abusive” as they did George Bush’s use of signing statements.

Two things are obvious, at least to me – one, he has an agenda and he doesn’t like anyone standing in his way as he tries to accomplish it, to include the law. And two, he’s a glib pretender when it comes to bi-partisan ship or opposition in general. He wants none. The two statements highlighted by Lopez above are simply extended examples of his “I won” quote (and the not so subtle but implied “so shut up”) Obama gave not long after taking office.

Lopez entitled her NRO posting, “American Caesar”. The more I watch this guy operate, the more I’m coming to believe she may have a point.


Quietly, Honduras Has Won

Yes I meant to put that in the title.  They have won.  As Investors Business Daily  reports, things have quietly changed to the advantage of Honduras.  While Chavez could run his mouth and the OAS could make threats, the 800 pound gorilla which could really make it miserable for Honduras was the US, and it has quietly backed off its former stance:

In a welcome about-face, the State Department told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Richard Lugar, R-Ind., in a letter Tuesday that the U.S. would no longer threaten sanctions on Honduras for ousting its president, Mel Zelaya, last June 28.

Nor will it insist on Zelaya’s return to power. As it turns out, the U.S. Senate can’t find any legal reason why the Honduran Supreme Court’s refusal to let Zelaya stay in office beyond the time allowed by Honduran law constitutes a “military coup.”

This marks a shift. The U.S. at first supported Zelaya, a man who had been elected democratically but didn’t govern that way. Now they’re reaching out to average Hondurans, the real democrats.

Sure, the U.S. continues to condemn Zelaya’s ouster and still seeks mediation of the dispute through Costa Rican President Oscar Arias. But no U.S. sanctions means Hondurans have won.

You have to admire the little country that stood up to the world and said, “it’s our Constitution, it’s our law and we’re going to enforce it”, and refused to back down.

And it is apparent that our State Department, after its initial knee-jerk reaction, has seemingly come to understand that what happened was done legally and in accordance with the Honduran constitution. The Senate was unable to find anything illegal about the action taken.

Certainly things are not back to normal in Honduras, but with the US backing off, the chances of returning to normal are greatly increased. Congrats to the Honduran people for sticking up for their Constitution and refusing to allow it to be violated, and for demonstrating that no man is above the law.

I just wish we had the same level of respect for our own Constitution.


NoKo, Bill Clinton And The Hostages

I think the WSJ has the best take on the freeing of the kidnapped journalist situation to this point:

We don’t begrudge the congratulations Bill Clinton deserves for saving the two journalists from what might have been a nightmare 12 years of hard labor; that was the sentence a kangaroo North Korean court imposed for allegedly blundering across its border with China in March. But the important question going forward is whether Mr. Clinton’s visit was merely the down payment Kim extracted from the Obama Administration for a potentially larger set of American concessions.

The point, of course, is this time the hostage negotiations forced by NoKo required, as the WSJ says, “the full prestige of a former US president” to bring the situation to a successful conclusion, i.e. the freeing of the two US journalists.

Instead of assuming we know what transired and condemning it, we need to wait and find out. However, given the level of envoy and the obvious propaganda value NoKo milked from the occasion, the WSJ’s question is valid.

What, if anything, was the cost of getting the two journalists out of there. I’m sure we’ll eventually find out and then can render some sort of judgment as to whether the outcome was beneficial or not to the US. That said, I’m happy to see Clinton got those two out of that hell hole. I just hope we didn’t give away the store to do it.


Six months and counting: Team Obama looks pretty pitiful at this point

I have not posted much lately. Busy. Very busy. I don’t see how McQ does it. He’s a machine.

But I have been paying attention, and I must say Obama is as amusing during his first six months as I had hoped, and maybe more. Here’s a brief summary of where he’s at as far as I’m concerned, categorized into various types of success and failures on the political front.

Continue reading

Iran Ready To Build Nuclear Bomb?

That’s what the UK Times is reporting:

Iran has perfected the technology to create and detonate a nuclear warhead and is merely awaiting the word from its Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to produce its first bomb, Western intelligence sources have told The Times.

The sources said that Iran completed a research programme to create weaponised uranium in the summer of 2003 and that it could feasibly make a bomb within a year of an order from its Supreme Leader.

Of course, what we don’t know about Iran’s capability could fill a book. We’ve seen it variously reported that they a year away to ten years away – a good indicator that for the most part intelligence agencies haven’t a clue in reality.

However, as we know, nuclear bombs are old technology. The genie has been out of the bottle way too long to believe that Iran can’t build a bomb if it dedicates the time and resources to do so. And it certainly seems to have done both.

So now what?

That’s the salient question now. Let’s assume Iran has a bomb by this time next year – then what?

Well here’s the apparent game plan:

If Iran’s leader does decide to build a bomb, he will have two choices, intelligence sources said. One would be to take the high-risk approach of kicking out the international inspectors and making a sprint to complete Iran’s first bomb, as the country weathered international sanctions or possible air strikes in the ensuing crisis. The other would be to covertly develop the materials needed for an arsenal in secret desert facilities.

Last week, during a series of high-level US visits to Israel, officials outlined Washington’s plans to step up sanctions on Iran, should Tehran fail to agree on talks. Robert Gates, the Defence Secretary, and General James Jones, the National Security Adviser, said that Iran had until the end of next month, when the UN General Assembly is to meet, to make a positive move towards engagement.

If Tehran fails to respond, Washington aims to build a tough international coalition to impose harsh sanctions focusing on petroleum products — an area where Iran is particularly vulnerable because it sends almost all of its crude abroad for refinement.

The feeling, of course, is if these sorts of sanctions can be imposed, it will hurt the regime even further by adding more unrest among a population already not happy with the election outcome. And, per the Times, hit directly at the Revolutionary Guards Council, which is the main exporter of terrorism through its surrogates in various parts of the world.

Of course what isn’t mentioned by the Times is the one big fly in the ointment of getting this done – China. No China, no sanctions. And China has developed a pretty close relationship with Iran based on petroleum trade. In 2004 it signed two huge oil and gas deals with Iran. Presently 45% of China’s crude imports come from the Middle East and that’s expected to rise to 70% by 2015. In 2008, China finalized a $70 billion deal to develop Iran’s Yadavaran oil field in exchange for the supply of liquefied natural gas. And much, much more.

So China is not going to be keen to cripple a nation which it has invested so much time and money in developing a relationship with – especially if it wants to maintain its own economy (and keep its own internal unrest to a simmer) during recessionary times.

Bottom line? My guess is a lot of tough talk and fist shaking at Iran, but in the end, nothing much happens and Iran ends up with its nuke. The play will be made in the UN where China has a seat on the Security Council and I’d almost bet the house that nothing comes out of that organization with any teeth whatsoever or China won’t vote for it.

Bottom bottom line – Israel, who we seem bound and determined to have worse relations with, is probably going to have to find a way to destroy the capability on their own. Militarily they’ve been quietly developing the strike capability for some time. And Saudi Arabia, which is very worried about an Iranian nuke and what it would do to the balance of power in the region, has given Israel a subtle nod that it would turn its back should the Israelis fly over their territory to strike Iran – unprecedented in the history of the region and an indication of the depth of fear the Saudis harbor.

But reliance on the UN and “sanctions”? I just don’t see that happening.


Hell Freezes Over – NYT Fact Checks Obama

I‘ll leave it to you to read the health care fact check. But this was of particular interest to me:

The president continued to take credit for deficit reduction by making a claim that has been challenged by many experts.

“If we had done nothing, if you had the same old budget as opposed to the changes we made,” the deficit over the next 10 years would be $2.2 trillion greater, the president said.

In fact, $1.5 trillion of those “savings” are mainly based on an assumption that the United States would have had as many troops in Iraq in 10 years as it did when Mr. Obama took office. But before leaving office, President George W. Bush signed an agreement with Baghdad mandating the withdrawal of all American forces within three years.

So Mr. Obama is claiming credit for not spending money that, under the policy he inherited from Mr. Bush, would never have been spent in the first place.

For those of you who missed it, even Bush didn’t plan on keeping as many troops as we had then for 10 years. The SOFA agreement and the general withdrawal timetable had been announced before Obama ever took office.

A perfect example of why every “fact” Obama utters needs to be examined carefully (that’s true for every politician, but this one especially), especially now when he’s promising the moon and stars in health care for less cost. Again, read the fact check for some of the points addressing that.


Nicaragua: And The Pattern Repeats

I have to wonder what our State Department and President, who seem completely enamored with process over actual democratic institutions, will have to say about this:

Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega announced Sunday, on the 30th anniversary of the leftist Sandinista revolution he led, that he would seek a referendum to change the constitution to allow him to seek reelection.

Following in the footsteps of elected regional allies, Ortega told thousands of supporters here that he would seek a referendum to let “the people say if they want to reward or punish” their leaders with reelection.

His close leftist allies who have had rules changed enabling them to remain in power include presidents Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia and Rafael Correa in Ecuador.

In the last month President Manuel Zelaya in neighboring Honduras was ousted in a coup by his own military after seeking similar action.

My guess is they’ll applaud this even while it has essentially established “democratic” dictatorships in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador. And my guess is the “certified election results” are complete for Nicaragua, just as they were for Hodura’s Zelaya, even as I write this. They only need to be produced at the proper time to “validate” the referendum.

Call it the Venezuelan model.

And our puddin’ heads in Washington will again applaud this step toward totalitarianism as a wonderful exercise in democracy we should all support.

Meanwhile those meanies in Honduras who take their Constitution too seriously? Not so much.