United States News Digest
Senator Snowe Ridicules Coast Guard Ship Replacement Plan
On July 6, USA Today featured two stories on Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), chairman of the Senate's Coast Guard subcommittee, her opposition to Coast Guard plans to recapitalize their fleet (plans which have now been stretched out to 25 years, instead of 10-15), and the breakdown of the Coast Guard's aging ships, planes, and helicopters, which today have primary responsibility for U.S. maritime security and protecting U.S. ports and waterways against terrorism, as well as the Guard's longstanding rescue, anti-drug, and other operations. Some ships are more than 50 years old, and the U.S. fleet, described by former Coast Guard officer Stephen Flynn as a "Third World navy," is among the oldest on the planet, older than those of Pakistan and Algeria. What has the Republican Senator from Maine up in arms, is the Bush Administration's proposal that the $20-billion, 20-year plan passed in 1998 to replace these sinking ships and helicopters, be extended to 25 years.
Snowe, who is one of the seven Republicans Senators who joined seven Democrats on May 23 to stop the attempted coup by the Bush-Cheney White House, is demanding the fleet be replaced over the next 10-15 years. "The cold, hard truth remains that the Coast Guard is experiencing a record number of casualties and mishaps like never seen before, and it's becoming simply unsafe for our young men and women to serve aboard these aging assets," she warns.
Coast Guard commandant Adm. Thomas Collins in July gave Congress a list of the increase in breakdowns by category, summarized in his report that the number of unscheduled maintenance days for all major cutters and patrol boats was 742 in fiscal 2004, as compared to 267 in fiscal 1999; the lost days in 2004 equivalent to losing 10% of the major fleet for a year. USA Today details the case of one of the Guard's 210-foot cuttersthe average age of this class in the fleet is 37.3 yearswhich operates in the Caribbean: fully half the time, the ship's high-frequency radios and GPS (global positioning) systems aren't working; the radar system goes down at least once a day, so they use a small commercial system which recreational boaters buy at ordinary marine stores; its communications systems are so primitive that half the time they can't even talk to other CG ships; and crew members often spend 18 hours a day on repairs and maintainenceincluding changing the saturated rags which keep leaky pipes from dripping on their bunks at night.
Iraq War Upends Rumsfeld's Military Strategy
Top civilian and military officials attempting to write the next Quadrennial Defense Review are grappling with the fact that the Iraq war has overturned Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's cherished notions about what the U.S. military is capable of doing. The old strategy, known as 1-4-2-1, called for defending U.S. territory, deterring conflict in four regions of the world, fighting and winning two major conflicts simultaneously, and decisively defeating one of those adversaries, to include toppling the government and capturing the capital.
The problem is that the protracted counterinsurgency war in Iraq doesn't fit into any of those categories. Iraq has involved a large, long-term commitment of U.S. ground forces, at a cost of about $5 billion per month, raising questions as to whether or not the U.S. military has the capability to do any of the other things in the 1-4-2-1 construct. Ryan Henry, the principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, when asked by the New York Times where the war on terrorism fits into that strategy, said "It wasn't there when they came up with 1-4-2-1." If a new strategy emerges from the review, he said, it might be "something that doesn't have any numbers at all."
Bush and the 'Vietnamization' of Iraq
President Bush's speeches about Iraq are sounding more and more like those given by earlier Presidents about Vietnam, observed Daniel Ellsberg, in an op-ed in the July 3 Los Angeles Times. Ellsberg should know: He wrote most of them. He wrote speeches for Presidents John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon. "Looking back on my draft, I find I used the word 'terrorist' about our adversaries to the same effect Bush did," Ellsberg says in the L.A. Times. "I felt the need for a global threat to explain the scale of effort we faced," he says, so he used China the way Bush uses al-Qaeda. He has great skepticism about Bush's claims about sufficient troop strength, because "Johnson lied about it" (troop strength in Vietnam) constantly, afraid that the truththat we had drafted twice as many troops as he had admittedwould hurt him politically.
A favorite theme of Bush's is that our resolve is being "tested" in Iraq. This, too, is nothing new, says Ellsberg. "Have we the guts, the grit, the determination to stick with a frustrating, bloody, difficult course as long as it takes to see it through?" Ellsberg asked in a 1965 speech for Robert McNamara. "I can scarcely bear to reread my own proposed response to that question," he writes today. "Till Hell freezes over," was his answer then, borrowing the words of Adlai Stevenson, who was then speaking about the Cuban Missile Crisis. "It doesn't feel any better to hear similar words from another President 40 years on, nor will they read any better to his speechwriters years from now."
Ellsberg became famous in 1971 for leaking to the New York Times the "Pentagon Papers," which documented the Johnson Administration's planning for, and true state of, the Vietnam war.
Panel Recommends AIDS Testing for All Pregnant Women
The Federal U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is now recommending AIDS testing for all pregnant women, a change from its recommendations a decade ago. The change in policy, reported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) July 5, was brought about because of "significant new evidence on screening for and treating HIV infection." Through the options of new drug therapies, Caesarean sections, and avoidance of breast-feeding, infant infection can be reduced to less than 1%, the panel said. AHRQ is part of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Rumsfeld Tried To Sabotage U.S.-French Anti-Terror Cooperation
Counter-terrorism cooperation between the United States and France, carried on between the CIA and the French foreign intelligence service DGSE, was continually endangered by the actions of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, according to a profile of the joint endeavor centered in the "Alliance Base" in Paris, which was profiled in a front-page article in July 3 Washington Post.
The most interesting aspect of the report, is that the CIA-DGSE cooperation continued throughout the worst period of France-bashing in the U.S., the period leading up to the Iraq war. (This is reminiscent of the CIA's cooperative relationship with Syria, while much of the Administration and forces in Congress were launching operations against Syria.) John McLaughlin, former acting CIA Director and a 32-year veteran of the Agency, described the relationship between the CIA and its French counterparts as "one of the best in the world."
But Rumsfeld was pushing in the opposite direction in 2003, barring general officers from talking to their French counterparts, grounding U.S. planes at the Paris Air Show, and disinviting France from a major military exercise, Red Flag, in which France had participated for years.
The State Department and the CIA protested Rumsfeld's actions, and they got President Bush to order Rumsfeld to desist; Secretary of State Colin Powell then wrote a memo stating that punishing France was not U.S. policy. But Rumsfeld paid no attention, and continued to exclude the French from the Red Flag exercise in 2004.
"Most of the things the Secretary of Defense did, I could understand, even if I disagreed with him," says Powell's former chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson (who also figured prominently in the opposition to John Bolton's nomination as UN Ambassador). "On this one," says Wilkerson, "it was totally irrational, even dumb."
Senator Specter Attacks 'Original Intent' Nominalism
Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pa), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, warned the White House against sending to the Senate a nominee for the Supreme Court who professes a belief that the Constitution should be interpreted according to "original intent." This is one of the favorite crackpot theories, although widely held, among right-wing legal activists and even some academics, that in looking at a Constitutional question, one should try to determine what the words meant in 1789. On the current Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia are the major proponents of this view, although Scalia calls it "textualism."
Appearing on ABC's "This Week" July 3, Specter cited the case of Robert Bork, whose nomination Specter was instrumental in sinking in 1987: "If you have someoneand Judge Bork has come up, and it comes up repeatedlywhere you have someone who believes in 'original intent' and has views which are so extraordinaryif you followed original intent, the galleries in the United States Senate would still be segregated, with Caucasians on one side and African-Americans on the other side," Spector said.