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The incident became the inspiration for silent movie plots that brought laughter to early audiences. A few historians wonder if it actually happened. The story is just too perfect.
Catherine II, Empress of Russia, decided to take a trip through the Crimea in the late 1700s. The area had been taken from the Ottoman Empire in a series of brutal battles, and a Russian governor had been installed. His task was to bring in Russian settlers and then rebuild. Catherine wanted to see how it was going.
This put the governor in a bit of an awkward position. He had exaggerated the progress he had been making.
As the Empress and her entourage made their way down the Dnieper River, the governor had his men erect a fake village and dress up as peasants. As soon as the procession was out of sight, the village would be disassembled, hastily transported down the river before the Empress could arrive, and then reassembled.
The Empress and her group saw dozens of healthy, productive villages, populated by industrious peasants who looked remarkably alike.
The governor was Gregory Potemkin. The term "Potemkin Village" comes from that history.
In the 1920s, the new Soviet Union tried to impress foreign visitors with showcase communities complete with happy residents living in prosperity. It didn't work. The term Potemkin Village came to mean pretty much any effort to impress by using a false facade to cover up a less impressive reality.
When Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev visited the United States in 1959, he wanted to visit Disneyland, but security arrangements could not be worked out in time. A shame, actually. Still, I doubt anyone would have thought to convince him that Disneyland was a typical American town. America was not a land of Potemkin villages.
Everyone likes to put their best foot forward. When that best foot turns out to be a disconnected Prada fur trimmed shoe, it becomes a Potemkin display.
In 2007, John McCain paid a visit to Iraq. He was taken through the Shorja market in Baghdad. Shelves were well stocked and merchants were conducting a fast paced business. Life was good. The Senator was impressed.
What he had not noticed was more telling than the signs of prosperity. Attack helicopters circled. American snipers were assigned to every rooftop. Armored Humvees manned by hundreds of soldiers patrolled side streets. Traffic was redirected around the area, as selected "shoppers" were sent in.
Merchants tried to break through to tell the American visitors things were actually terrible. They were turned away. And things were terrible. In the two month prior to Senator McCain's visit, more than 60 people had been killed in the very streets he toured. After he left, taking the soldiers, the Humvees, the snipers, and the helicopters with him, things went back to deadly normal. The following week, over 20 people were killed.
There are neighborhoods in Baghdad where you and I could walk through those neighborhoods, today.
- John McCain, in a radio interview, March 26, 2007
Supporters of the war insisted the conflict was ending successfully. We had it won. The Iraqi government would soon stand on its own. We wanted the troops out. Iraq wanted us out. President Bush had negotiated an agreement to get us out by the end of 2011.
Today, Republicans insist that we did have it won, but we didn't have it won enough to leave. This won-but-not-won status of continuing war could have been maintained indefinitely, had President Obama simply kept our forces there.
John McCain appeared on MSNBC this week to drive home the two points. We had it won and yet we could not leave.
The fact is, we had the conflict won. And We had a stable government. And a residual force such as we have left behind, we even have forces in Bosnia, Korea, Germany, Japan, where we could have. But the president wanted out, and now, we are paying a very heavy price. And I predicted it in 2011."
- Senator John McCain, June 13, 2014
Had the conflict won. Had a stable government. Walk anywhere in Baghdad.
Senator McCain should know.
He saw it with his own eyes.
In response to comments by John Myste about Republican Revolution in Virginia
The underlying motivations for the “revolting” philosophies we find in conservatives as a body are not hate, not a desire to discriminate and not racism or xenophobia, as you called it. They are love of God, morality as they see it, and commitment to positive ideals, such as we all should strive to do our part and a subset should not be required to fill in for those who refuse...
- John Myste, June 17, 2014
I said very little about motivations. My focus was on the revolting ways in which they
think and feel about certain groups of people and express those thoughts and feelings and
- claim moral superiority by virtue of a religion that they practice as they see fit and use as justification for laws that affect people from other or no religions.
The second concern cannot be justified; it is hypocritical and abusive. The first concern can only be justified by the nature of the groups that they resent, but those groups do not deserve the resentment.
Understanding conservative motivations, whether they are what you listed or otherwise, leads to understanding conservatives, but not to justifying their behavior. They don't have to think that homosexuals or women or black people are inferior beings to do the things that I find revolting.
When people start from different points in believe, they come to different conclusions. Even when those conclusions are contradictory, that does not make them hypocrites.
- John Myste, June 17, 2014
If this is directed at my comment about hypocrisy, let me clarify with an example:
If some behavior X must be illegal because it is wrong according to the Bible, then all behaviors that are wrong according to the Bible must be illegal. And yet, while there is much political talk over the horrors of gay marriage, there is little to none on the matters of divorce, marriage between non-Christians, marriage between Christians and non-Christians, totally secular marriages, and adultery.
Plenty of conservative Christians have a problem with at least some of these for the same purported reason that they oppose gay marriage, but virtually all political energy (and hatred) is focused on gay marriage alone.
To bring this back to your point about motivations, there is more going on here than love of God, morality as they see it, and positive ideals. Something else motivates them to focus on one issue over another, when the two issues are otherwise equally important from a Biblical, social, or economic perspective.
In this case, gay marriage gets so much attention primarily (I believe) because conservatives regard homosexuality (and even homosexuals) with such disgust and associate that with a "moral sense." There are other reasons, such as their perception of the "homosexual lifestyle," but these tend to be equally flimsy as justifications for legislation against homosexuals.
You can say this, without knowing it, and then saying it is pointless.
- John Myste
I didn't follow this line.
I know lots of conservatives personally. I like most of them. I think you would too.
I get along with them as well as I do with non-conservatives unless I hear about "the gays" and their agenda or morally bankrupt atheists or our black welfare queen epidemic or filthy "A-rabs" or our "Kenyan Muslim usurper" or any number of other ridiculous and insulting talking points.
If I am not forced to interact with such people, I make a point to not do so again. If I am, I try my best to avoid all religious and political discussion.
Ryan is a frequent contributor of thoughtful posts and an even more frequent contributor of insightful comments. We are always grateful for his thoughts and insights.
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This is the farewell kiss, you dog!
This is from the widows, the orphans, those killed in Iraq.
You are responsible for the death of thousands of Iraqis.
- Iraqi Journalist, throwing one shoe, then another, at President George W. Bush, December 14, 2008
The man was arrested by Iraqi Security forces, tried, and taken to prison. He was sentenced to three years, which was eventually reduced to 9 months.
Some sources, including his brother, alleged that he was severely beaten while in prison. In most of the Arab world, he was treated as a hero. He was defended at his brief trial by the head of the Iraqi Bar Association.
The positive reaction was not entirely confined to the Arab world. The British paper The Guardian invited him to write his own story, "Why I threw the shoe".
The reaction of some of us was worry. The incident seemed to illustrate the vulnerability of our leaders. I wrote at the time, "..some of us now wonder about the apparent lack of reaction by the Secret Service after that first shoe was thrown."
For the most part, that is how the incident, the trip itself, and the last few days of the Bush Presidency are remembered. Shoes were thrown. They missed. The President was amused.
What is often overlooked is the reason President Bush was visiting Iraq to begin with. He was standing with Iraq's Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, as they jointly announced the terms of United States withdrawal from Iraq.
The new Status of Forces Agreement had two deadlines. The United States would be out of major cities by the end of June 2009. We would be pretty much out of Iraq by the end of 2011.
Some experts thought the United States should stay a lot longer. The time frame of our stay should be anywhere from a few more years to a few more generations. Mostly they were the same experts who had marched us into Iraq.
But Iraq's Prime Minister, not to put too fine a point on it, turned out to be an astonishing jerk.
The vision President Bush had embraced of spreading inclusive democracy throughout the Middle East, indeed basic fairness, depended largely on Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The tense, very tense, relationship between Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims has wavered for hundreds of years between blood feud and unfriendly peace. The Sunni minority in Iraq had ruled over a resentful Shiite majority for a long time. The US had tossed most of the Sunni government out of power. Shiite Muslims moved on in.
Now we relied on the new leader to open the new government to the religious minority. But the Prime Minister greeted the Sunni minority with an iron fist. The opportunity to settle past scores was irresistible. He grabbed at every chance to multiply that repayment. He would grind the religious minority face first into the dust.
The real deal breaker for President Bush was the uncompromising stand Nuri al-Maliki took toward members of the United States military. At issue was whether any future criminal accusations against military service people would be adjudicated by the United States or by the government of Iraq.
No American administration would agree to having US soldiers tried and sentenced by a foreign government. Not the outgoing President George W. Bush. Not the incoming President Barack Obama. Never had before. Never would in the future. Never.
After President Bush left office. President Obama refused to compromise about US military forces. As had President Bush, Obama also pressured Maliki to include Sunnis in the government. The Prime Minister responded with bellicose anti-American rhetoric.
The same folks who negotiated the early departure of US forces, the people assigned to negotiate by President Bush, those folks are now attacking President Obama for not finding a way to get Prime Minister Maliki to sign a new agreement.
They urge the President to send troops or, at least, to use American air power to turn away the tide of a new Sunni march against the Maliki government.
The lack of defined targets is of no concern to critics of President Obama. A Presidential reluctance to get re-involved in a religious civil war is interpreted as weakness.
Conservative attacks seem to be based less on events in Iraq than on a continuing distaste for President Obama. As much as the anger that sometimes erupts between Sunnis and Shiites, the anger that motivates at least some of those critics goes back hundreds of years.
As difficult Presidential decisions are made, most of the rhetoric from the grandstands is little more the verbal equivalent of throwing shoes.
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The conflation of patriotism with boisterous conservatism is nothing new. In the late 1960s many of us went from support to opposition to the Vietnam War. It became obvious that it was wrong. It wasn't long before it became obvious it was dumb.
Our intervention in a sectarian civil war between a Buddhist population and ruler holding to a peculiar brand of conservative Catholicism was based on ideology more than on facts. We knew for an absolute fact that Communism was a monolithic conspiracy directed from a single room in the Kremlin. Better keep the world domination plot a few hundred miles further away.
Those who became persuaded that this was wrong found patriotism challenged. America! Love it or leave it.
A couple of generations later the phrase had become passé, but the sentiment had not. The invasion of Iraq, with all the stories of mushroom clouds over Manhattan, was bought by the public on a simple principle - we had to get them back for September 11, them being Muslims in that part of the world.
If you were an American Muslim, or if you didn't hate Muslims, or even if didn't want to kill them over there so they didn't make it over here, you simply weren't an American. Did the militant Sunni hate group, al Qaeda, target Shiite Muslims? Did they target fellow Sunnis who did not adequately hate Shiites? Forget all that. They were all Muslims. Same as the 9/11 murderers.
Ten years later we see the results on the nightly news. I am struck by the latest irony. As Sunni tribes join associates of the remnants of al Qaeda on the march toward Baghdad, our latest nation of American nightmares, Iran, makes moves toward alliance with the United States. Iran is Shiite and does not want to stand by as comrades in religion are slaughtered in its neighboring country.
The Love It or Leave It mentality has, at its heart, a rejection of traditions important to representative democracy. Sometimes ideas that I embrace, and candidates that agree, are rejected in elections.
I still have a chance to persuade. Ideas do occasionally gain acceptance as policies have an effect.
And we always have a chance to try again in the next election, or the one after that.
One obligation of traditional democracy, when my side wins, is to be open to debate. We need to be aware that those with whom we disagree have the right to oppose. We argue. We do not suppress.
Both sides play by the rules and, over time, things get settled. Consensus emerges.
Missouri Republicans seem to have a different tradition.
These are folks who recently placed a statue in the rotunda of the legislature, the Missouri Capitol, of Rush Limbaugh. There it stands, a proud symbol of the show-me state.
They have joined Republican legislatures in several other states to reject expansion of Medicaid coverage for folks working their way out of poverty.
Current law says states can exclude large numbers of the working poor from coverage. The Affordable Care Act included a provision that expands Medicaid coverage to all people earning below a certain level. The increase is financed by the federal government. Missouri has refused the money and denied the coverage.
State Senator Republican Ed Emery wrote to one citizen who protested Republican blocking of insurance for low income residents. Part of Ed Emery's letter was an invitation:
We live in a nation and an era that facilitates physical moves between states. Individuals and families are free to consider moving to states with differing and even contrasting government policies.
- State Senator Ed Emery, May 13, 2014
No kidding. That's what our state representative said.
He later backtracked a little. He was not really telling his constituent that she should darn well leave the state. He was just explaining that it as an option.
This is how he explained it to KCUR in Columbia Missouri: "We’re free to move from state to state if a state has policies that we like versus policies that we don’t."
There you have it. Two friendly options: Missouri! Love it or leave it.
Domestic Terrorism - Warnings from 2009 Revisited (8:03) - Click for Podcast
For Original Text
If we had listened back then, if we had been less insulted, how many would be alive now? So why didn't we listen?
With each oscillation of modulus 4 years, Republicans win, when they win, by a smaller margin. When they lose, they lose by an ever widening gap.
All the vital, angry, deadly issues in this prisoner exchange come down to a few decisions. Each of those few decision involves priorities.
This true of the President. This is true of each conservative critic.
What is most important?
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From Times Daily:
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A federal judge ordered Ohio's elections chief Wednesday to set early voting hours on the three days before elections in a ruling that gives Democrats a victory going into the fall election.
The order from U.S. District Judge Peter Economus comes in a dispute that began before the last presidential election. The fight was especially intense because of Ohio's role as a swing state rich with electoral votes.
President Barack Obama's re-election campaign and Democrats filed a lawsuit in July 2012 against Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, over an Ohio law that cuts off in-person, early voting for most residents three days before Election Day.
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From KFOR, Oklahoma:
I think we would be totally in the right to do it. That goes against some parts of libertarianism, I realize, and I’m largely libertarian, but ignoring as a nation things that are worthy of death is very remiss.
- Scott Esk (R-OK), candidate for State Senate, June 10, 2014
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Is it possible not to have an opinion about the unfortunate Bowe Bergdahl?
Colonel David Hunt, longtime contributor to Fox News: "We don’t know yet whether he joined the Taliban or not. But, there’s no question he deserted."
One report said Bergdahl had left a note saying he was leaving to start a new life. Fox News went further, reporting the note as saying he wanted to renounce his citizenship.
Fox also reported, from what they said were secret documents, that the captured soldier converted to Islam and declared jihad on the United States.
Sarah Palin condemned his failure to stick to English while in captivity.
Does anyone remember abused POWs like John McCain, Tom Moe, James Stockdale, Tom Kirk, and other American troops forgetting the English language during their years and years of brutal, inhumane captivity? Seems these war heroes returned to their beloved country not speaking Vietnamese, but speaking KickAss against those who would destroy the red, white, and blue.
- Sarah Palin, on Facebook, June 4, 2014
Some reports indicate it was not unusual for Bergdahl, when he had free time, to take walks off base alone. He had returned safely each time until he was captured. The extent to which walking off base after guard duty violates permissible military conduct is unclear. Was walking alone and unarmed a serious violation?
His appearance upon release did conform to the account he was reported to have given later. He was beaten and kept for weeks at a time alone in a darkened cage as punishment. The punishment was for his habit of trying to escape from his captors.
Which of several versions of his captivity will turn out to be accurate? It is at the moment, or ought to be, permissible not to know.
One obvious point can be lost amid the news analysis and punditry of the lost soldier's personal character. As policy, we don't determine whether each captured soldier deserves rescue from the enemy.
This point was not always lost on Republican critics. In fact, before his release, some conservatives were uninhibited in condemning President Obama for failing to obtain the release of the captive soldier.
In January, conservative news outlet PJMedia encouraged readers to sign a petition:
The petition asks the Obama administration to "take action to secure the release, or rescue, of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, using all means available, including force."
It needs 100,000 signatures by Feb. 16 to prompt a White House response. As of this writing, more than 2,800 have signed the petition.
Add your name to the petition here.
- PJMedia, January 21, 2014
In 2009, Sarah Palin, who was then Governor of Alaska, offered her support. Texans for Sarah Palin quotes a press release from the Governor:
Todd and I are praying for Private First Class Bowe Bergdahl, his family, and all of his fellow soldiers who are putting their lives on the line to defend our freedom and protect democracy abroad,” Governor Palin said. “The capture of Private Bergdahl and the bombings in Jakarta prove that we have not defeated terrorism, and that radical extremists will stop at nothing to attack Westerners and our ideals.
A major objection to the exchange is that it amounts to bargaining with an organization of terrorists to release 5 highly dangerous individuals.
The accusation that we were negotiating with terrorists has two answers. One is technical. The Taliban have never been considered terrorists, although they did harbor and shield terrorists. The other is more basic. America has been negotiating with terrorists back to Ronald Reagan. In fact, we have negotiated for hostages going back to the earliest part of our history.
More troubling is the objection to allowing dangerous individuals to go free. John McCain has made this point.
So what we're doing here is reconstituting the Taliban government, the same guys that are mass murderers. One killed thousands of Shiite Muslims.
Senator John McCain on CNN, June 8, 2014
Actually, the 5 seem to have been, not so much actual fighters, but rather office holders in the Taliban government before it was overthrown. In fact, Senator McCain had joined other conservatives in supporting variations of the same exchange, all involving the same five prisoners.
Now this idea is for an exchange of prisoners for our American fighting man. I would be inclined to support such a thing depending on a lot of the details.
Senator John McCain on CNN, February 18, 2014
Senator McCain later insisted that he had qualified his support, saying it depended on those details. However, one of the details he explicitly supported was the release of the same five former Taliban government officials.
The most significant issue is the law. Can President Obama break the explicit law he signed? The law said the administration had to give Congress 30 days notice before releasing prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay prison. It was, to be sure, part of the year's military appropriation. He couldn't very well veto it. He did say all the time that he considered the notification requirement unconstitutional.
Some news outlets say that President Obama is ignoring the law. Jack Goldsmith, Assistant Attorney General for George W. Bush, is joined by other legal experts when he points out that disregarding a legal requirement that the President considers unconstitutional is quite different from ignoring the law.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel says intelligence reports indicated that the Taliban were likely to immediately execute their captive if word of a deal got out. Perhaps they were also worried about internal objections to the deal.
Members of Congress were notified days or hours ahead of time, rather than 30 days. Secretary Hagel says this was "substantially" in compliance with the disputed requirement. The secrecy was not arbitrary. Notifying Congress would have endangered Bergdahl's life.
It is possible to view this as an implied insult to Congress. It makes it seem as if Congress could not be trusted to keep a life-and-death secret. How does Congress answer that? Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), says he would have gone public:
I’d have raised holy Hell. Absolutely. I did last time and I would again.
The administration had to make a decision. They determined that the desire not to have a soldier die was more important than adhering to an unconstitutional law.
Conservatives, at one time, wanted the captured soldier rescued. On the other hand, they hate President Obama. They too had to make a decision as to which was more important.
Changes that keep keep minority voters and the elderly from voting for the other side are necessary. If voting rights are violated, that's just the price you have to pay. The campaign activist locked alone with the ballots? Let's not make a big deal over every little thing.
Depending on our level of ignorance or on our philosophy, we either negotiated for a hostage, or we negotiated for a prisoner exchange.
The meaningful question is whether either one will encourage other enemies to take prisoners for the purpose of negotiation.
Perverse Incentives in the Veterans Administration (4:36) - Click for Podcast
For Original Text
Eric Shinseki's management techniques work in combat. In a non-combat organization, a narrow focus on motivation works about as well as overfilling a gas tank in response to a dead battery. Perverse incentives are a recognized enemy in the private sector.
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A short time ago, a 92 year old Texas woman, a lifelong resident, was told she will no longer be allowed to vote. Up to now, she has been voting in Texas since 1944.
Texas has a new restrictive voter ID law. You can't say she didn't try. She took her Medicare card and her Social Security card and eventually found the right office where she could get a photo ID.
They said no. Feeling a responsibility to public safety, she had stopped driving a long time ago. She let her drivers license expire. In a bit of good luck, she found the expired license. Officials said no. She couldn't vote.
A 93 year old who has been voting in Alabama since World War II was told he can no longer vote. He no longer drives and can't get the documentation to get a substitute ID.
These are not isolated cases. The Brennan Law Center has done extensive work on the issue. They have found that 5 million eligible voters are likely to lose the right to vote.
These are mostly minority or elderly voters, who have no vehicle and live more than 10 miles from an office open more than a couple days a week that can give them a photo ID. Even then they have to find documents that are often long gone. Students trying to vote for the first time are also hit hard by the new rules.
The reasoning for the restrictions is that keeping all these folks from voting is the only way to prevent abuse: voters who would vote more than once, or people who are not voters who would try to vote anyway.
If there was a way to keep voter fraud from happening and yet would also allow these eligible voters to keep their rights, why not do that?
For example, we could accept substitutes, common IDs that most folks already have. A statewide database could avoid duplication. A signature comparison could work. Requiring in voters to say aloud who they are and where they live would make it dangerous for someone to try to vote where they shouldn't. Too great a chance some neighbor will know something's not right.
One tried and true method is strict, very strict, penalties.
In fact, most of those steps are done now, and they work. Actual fraud by voters, the kind a Photo ID will catch, is pretty much non-existent.
Voting fraud does happen, but it almost never involves voters. It happens behind the scenes. Someone changes totals, or stuffs ballot boxes, or throws ballots away while nobody is looking.
What new restrictive laws do accomplish is to keep the wrong kind of voters from voting. The wrong kind of voters are the voters that elected officials don't want to see on election day, voters who might vote for the other candidate.
What the restrictive laws don't do is prevent actual vote fraud, the kind that happens when campaign workers find unlocked doors and spend time alone with ballot boxes.
In Mississippi, Republicans put into effect some of the harshest voting restrictions since Jim Crow days. There has never been a problem of voters voting fraudulently in Mississippi. But you can't be too careful about the future.
A recent election may decide whether there will be a new United States Senator from Mississippi. It will result in a runoff. It is the first election with the tough new voter restrictions.
On election night, after hours, a Republican official in the Tea Party movement found an unlocked door to the building where the ballots are stored. She was alone with those ballots for hours. Nobody else was in the building.
The campaign activist locked alone with all those ballots did call for help after several hours. And officials do say the ballots were secure. So all is well.
Changes that keep keep minority voters and the elderly from voting for the other side are necessary. If voting rights are violated, that's just the price you have to pay. No voter fraud has been discovered, but we have to be alert for the future.
The campaign activist locked alone with the ballots? Let's not make a big deal over every little thing.
Utah will not recognize, at least for now, the marriages of gay couples who rushed to wed after a federal judge's ruling briefly legalized gay unions in the conservative, predominantly Mormon state, the governor's office said on Wednesday.
The state's decision comes as a blow to roughly 1,400 same-sex couples who tied the knot after U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby ruled on December 20 that a state ban on gay marriage violated the U.S. Constitution. His ruling was later put on hold by the U.S. Supreme Court pending an appeal.
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The killing of a US Ambassador in Benghazi in 2012 was not without precedent.
Over 40 years ago, eight Palestinian gunmen broke into the Saudi embassy in the Sudan and captured ten diplomats. Two of them represented the United States. One was Ambassador Cleo Allen Noel who had been assigned to the Sudan a short time before.
The gunmen demanded the release of prisoners held by Israel, and of Sirhan Sirhan, the assassin of Senator Robert F. Kennedy. They would kill the hostages if their demands were not met. The demands were absurd, of course. The question was what lessor concession negotiators could arrange.
President Nixon went on television to announce the United States negotiating position. The United States had no negotiating position. We would not give in to blackmail demands.
He began by observing that Ambassadors served in dangerous places.
Last night I was sitting by the wife of Mr. Rabin, and we were saying that the position of ambassador, once so greatly sought after, now, in many places, becomes quite dangerous.
He acknowledged that diplomats had been taken by terrorists, then went on.
I don't mean to suggest it is that hazardous everyplace, but it is a problem and it is a risk that an ambassador has to take.
As far as the United States as a government giving in to blackmail demands, we cannot do so and we will not do so.
The casual words were not as explicit as later accounts would have it. He did not say that the United States would never negotiate with terrorists. In fact he told the press that a high official of the State Department was on the way for discussions.
But the tone was unmistakable.
I was not far into adulthood by then. I remember my dad watching the Nixon announcement. "That is one cold SOB," he said.
The captured American diplomats and a representative of Belgium were killed within hours.
The Nixon pronouncement quickly evolved into policy, and the policy became doctrine. America would not negotiate with terrorists. Ever.
The United States had a history of negotiating with terrorists. Our first three Presidents paid off pirates to get hostages. Teddy Roosevelt did the same. Lyndon Johnson negotiated with North Korea to get hostages released. So did Nixon himself.
The Nixon Doctrine was new. The idea was simple. If we did not negotiate with terrorists and if we maintained that position without fail, it would be irrational for a terrorist group to take hostages.
Problem was it kept happening anyway. It was as if terrorists were not completely rational.
After Nixon, Presidents still negotiated with terrorists. It was mostly called something else, and done through intermediaries, but the idea was the same. It was war by means of euphemism.
Negotiating with terrorists, but not negotiating directly with terrorists, kind of took the wind out of the sails of the no-negotiation principle. Is it still completely irrational for terrorists to take hostages if they then have to negotiate with Sudan or some other country for American concessions, instead of with the United States directly?
President Reagan tossed even that fig leaf away when he negotiated with Iran to get seven American hostages released. Not that he was alone. Jimmy Carter had negotiated as well, to get hostages back.
So, how could Chuck Hagel recently announce that we did not negotiate with terrorists to get an American soldier back from the Taliban?
The only obvious way is to make a distinction between the Taliban and al Qaeda. In 2001, the Bush administration, in getting tough with the Taliban, was willing to make just that distinction. They demanded the Taliban turn over Osama bin Laden and the entire al Qaeda leadership, and deny any further protection to other terrorist groups. The accusation was that the Taliban government was harboring terrorists, not that they were terrorists themselves.
The United States position has since been that al Qaeda is the terrorist group the United States directs the greatest force against. The Taliban are only the former rulers of Afghanistan who were driven out for allowing terrorists to operate.
The Taliban are now regarded as insurgents, enemy combatants, fighting to regain authority that we will deny to them until we are satisfied they will no longer provide a haven to terrorists.
Most Americans will see no distinction between the Taliban and al Qaeda. In some cases this will be a matter of ignorance. Aren't the two just different words for the same thing? For others the words are synonyms for philosophical reasons. If you shield my mortal enemy, you are my mortal enemy.
For still others, such as myself, there is a distinction. al Qaeda is al Qaeda and the Taliban is the Taliban. They have connections, but they are separate and apart.
In any case, the distinction, if it exists, is not relevant to a principle that collapsed long ago. We do not negotiate with al Qaeda. We capture or kill them.
But we have been negotiating directly with the Taliban for years.
Most recently, depending on our level of ignorance or on our philosophy, we either negotiated for a hostage, or we negotiated for a prisoner exchange.
The only meaningful question is whether either one will encourage other enemies to take prisoners for the purpose of negotiation.
That danger, if it exists, has not changed with the release of a US soldier. The Ship of State sailed through those waters a generation ago.
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Eric Shinseki accomplished a lot by putting pressure on staff and management of the Veterans Administration.
He took a special interest in homelessness. He announced that homelessness among veterans would reduce to zero by the end of 2015. By one measurement, it went down by 24 percent by January 2013. By another, it went down by almost a third by the end of 2012.
He pushed the automation process. The backlog of veterans waiting for treatment had gotten to be huge. In one case, the existence of of so much paperwork waiting for processing was creating a fire hazard. Shinseki assigned a group of technicians to work day and night during a year and a half surge so new veterans needing medical help could be processed electronically, rather than though piles of paperwork. They put the process into place.
When he left office last week, it was not because he was opposed by veterans groups. In fact, when those groups were pushed - roughly pushed - by one US Senator, Richard Burr (R-NC), they pushed back. Hard.
Shinseki seemed to care. Many veterans seemed to feel he was one of them. He had served. He had served in combat. He had been wounded in combat. Part of one foot is gone as a result of those wounds.
But problems were swept under the rug, records altered, deficiencies kept from him and most everyone else. He described the underlying issue as one of integrity. People had disappointed him.
During his tenure, tasks multiplied. The health problems caused by Agent Orange had been dodged by government for decades. Now, the V.A. welcomed veterans who needed treatment. policies for issues like PTSD were similarly changed. Treatment was expanded.
And, of course, the aftermath of Iraq and Afghanistan came in like an overdue bill. More than 9 million veterans are in the medical system.
Funding has increased, but hasn't kept up.
Staff has remained a problem. There is not enough staff. Doctors are a bigger problem. There are not enough doctors.
Lack of resources can be ascribed to an uncooperative Congress. The lack of information belongs to Shinseki.
The scandal part of the Veterans Administration issue involves falsification of information. The Department had issued a mandate. Applications for appointments would be processed, and the patient would be seen within 14 days. Those directed to see that the mandate was carried out had access to information systems.
It seems to have been a mandate against mathematics.
Eric Shinseki once discussed his management technique, comparing it to combat, where you never have enough information or resources. "Sometimes you just gotta launch, and fight your way through the unknowns."
That might work at times in combat. In determining military progress and loss, it is hard to mistake where you are and whether you are alive. In Vietnam, it was said to have been the proximate cause of inflated calculations of enemy casualties.
In a non-combat organization, a narrow focus on motivation works about as well as overfilling a gas tank in response to a dead battery. When fake statistics are the price a dedicated health care worker must pay to continue that work, the temptation must be enormous. For some for whom bonuses might be tied to statistics, devotion to duty does not even have to enter the picture.
Perverse incentives are a recognized enemy in the private sector. In this case, the 14-day mandate provided an incentive that was singularly perverse.
Perverse incentives were not confined to the Veterans Administration. Slate Magazine put together a list of Senators who demanded that Shinseki resign, but had previously voted against significant appropriations for VA spending.
They were very angry about the care veterans were getting, right after they voted against that care for those veterans.
- Richard Burr (R-NC)
- Jeff Flake (R-AZ)
- Rob Portman (R-OH)
- John McCain (R-AZ)
- Tim Scott (R-SC)
- Marco Rubio (R-FL)
- Jerry Moran (R-KS)
- Pat Roberts (R-KS)
- Deb Fischer (R-NE)
- Dean Heller (R-NV)
- Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)
Political incentives are sometimes the most perverse of all.