So that we never forget…

I saw this sign, “Torture is always wrong,” outside a Presbyterian church in Columbus, Indiana during my recent visit there. It can serve us well as a reminder that it is ten years ago this week since lawyers in the Bush Administration issued the “torture memos” justifying torture.

“Torture is always illegal,” writes Morris Davis, law professor and retired Air Force Col. and former chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in today’s Los Angeles Times. “And we should mark the 10th anniversary of the effort by the Bush administration to justify torture, remembering that as a nation founded on religious and moral values, we must work to ensure that U.S. government-sponsored torture never occurs again.”


Home again to a gloomy economy and political paralysis

Home again to a hot and deeply green Washington after a few weeks in Europe. Midsummer Eve in Sweden today. Maybe I should have stayed another couple of days and enjoyed all the things of Midsummer, but with Europe in crisis and Greece in revolt the attraction wasn’t really there.

So I’m home again, and it feels good even if the political or economic situation is just as, or maybe even more, gloomy.

On the foreign policy front, I was met by President Obama’s statements to begin pulling back troops from Afghanistan, a statement criticized from both the left and the right. The country’s military leaders regard the troop reductions as too rapid and too drastic, but they have accepted them, while the left wing of the Democratic Party believes that the pull out is not fast enough.

Obama’s decision to withdraw 33,000 troops by next summer is a compromise that also reflects the declining support among the American public for war in Afghanistan after Osama bin Laden’s death. Doyle McManus in the Los Angeles Times and Fred Kaplan of Slate Magazine have some excellent reflections on the background and reasons for Obama’s decision.

On the domestic front, I was met by continued political paralysis in Washington, so characteristic of the divided power structure, with the White House and the Senate in Democratic hands, and with Republicans in the lead in the House of Representatives.

August 2 – the deadline for raising the debt ceiling – is fast approaching. This should be a routine decision like so many times before over the years, but it has now turned into a decision about everything in the American economy – debt, deficit, taxes, Medicare, pensions.

So far, there are no indications of a breakthrough in the negotiations led by Vice President Joe Biden. On the contrary. This week the Republican representatives left the negotiating table. The main reason was a continuing and stubborn “no” to anything that might look like a tax increases, including proposals from the Democrats to pay for part of budget cuts of two trillion dollars by not extending current tax breaks for the wealthiest in the American society.

David Leonhardt in his column, “Economic Scene” the other day in New York Times explains.

At the same time, words this week about the economy from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke were surprisingly gloomy, as he predicted economic growth this year and next year probably will be lower than what the Fed predicted just a few months ago.

Midsummer in Sweden does not sound so bad … after all.

Only one third supports Afghan war

The war in Afghanistan is increasingly unpopular in America. Not since 2007, when the Washington Post-ABC News first began asking the American people about the war in Afghanistan, has the support for the war been as low as in the latest poll published on Tuesday.

The new figures show that only 31 per cent think that Afghanistan is “worth fighting for.” Of these, only 19 per cent are Democrats and 27 per cent Independents. In late 2009, 44 percent opposed the war. That figure has now risen to 64 percent.

73 percent of the respondents think that America should withdraw its troops from Afghanistan next summer, but a majority of respondents does not believe that will happen.

Nearly 1,500 U.S. soldiers have died in the Afghanistan war. The U.S. now has over 100,000 soldiers in Afghanistan and a first troop reduction is planned for next summer.

The massive opposition to the Afghanistan war among Democratic and independent voters may compel President Obama to revise his war strategy with view of next year’s elections. It is particularly troubling for Obama that two thirds of the independent voters, whose support paved the way for his election victory in 2008, now do not support the war.

Gates: no more Afghanistans or Iraqs

Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, said the other day in a speech at West Point that it would be highly unlikely that the United States would again send its soldiers into wars such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

Any Secretary of Defense who advises the President to do that “should have his head examined,” said Gates, who will leave his office later this year. There is no word yet on his eventual replacement. Gates said that the “odds of repeating another Afghanistan or Iraq may be low.”  

The speech before the West Point cadets was not a direct criticism of President Bush’s decision to go to war against Iraq, but it might be important to recall that Gates, a Republican who replaced Donald Rumsfeld as Defense Secretary at the end of 2006, was a close assistant to Brent Scowcroft, the National Security Adviser during the first President Bush’s time in the White House, who later became a leading critic of President George W. Bush’s decision to go to war against Iraq.

The United States Army will continue to face challenges around the world but, Gates said. That will require a change in culture within the Army and a necessity for different training and equipment to meet these new challenges.