Syria: Campaign muddies the view of the rock and hard place

Last night’s PBS Newshour had an informative but depressing segment on Middle East policy (“What should we be doing to defeat the Islamic State?“).

The segment featured two guests.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey served in the infantry, and he is now a distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute (The Washington Institute for Near East Policy). And John Mearsheimer, a West Point graduate and former Air Force officer, he writes extensively on strategic issues and is a political science professor at the University of Chicago.

Surprisingly, it was the West Point grad and former officer who spoke most about the need for diplomacy, while the diplomat advocated an expanded war involving U.S. ground troops. That made it kind of a strangely disturbing dialog.

Jeffrey, the former ambassador, laid out his position early.

In terms of taking down ISIS as a state and as an army, we have to go on the offensive. That requires ground troops.

We have tried for 15 months to create a set of ground troops from the units and entities and forces on the ground that we have. It isn’t working all that well. We don’t have the time to keep trying to do this. Some insertion of U.S. forces, both as advisers, special forces and some ground maneuver units are absolutely necessary to move this forward.

While Mearsheimer, the West Point grad, saw this as folly.

And the principal reason is you would have to put a lot of ground troops in to defeat ISIS. And there is no question that if you put 100,000, 150,000 troops in there, you could defeat ISIS, but then you run into the what-next question. What are we going to do, stay in there and occupy the place? And the end result will be dealing with insurgents, won’t know how to get out and will just make a bad situation worse.

So it’s quite clear to me that there is no way we can defeat ISIS from the air or with ground forces. And, therefore, we have to find some sort of diplomatic solution.

Speaking as a former military officer, his position was clear. There is no military solution available to us, he argued.

There is no simple military solution. There is nothing the Americans or the Russians can do militarily to win this, because we’re not willing to commit ground forces, for good reasons.

He advocated a diplomatic approach involving the U.S. as well as Russia and Iran, along with other regional states and interests.

It all goes to show the complexities of the situation which are wholly absent from the war talk so easily leaving the lips of presidential candidates on both sides of the party divide. We’ve done the full scale military thing in Iraq, and look how well that turned out (sorry for the sarcasm there). And the counterinsurgency approach in Afghanistan hasn’t worked out for us either.

Are we capable of learning?

Anyway, using the link at the top of this post, you can read the Newshour transcript, watch the segment, or listen to the audio.

And while I’m at it, I’ll refer you over to Larry Geller’s Disappeared News for the brief essay by well-known peace researcher, Johan Galling (“Violence In and By Paris: Any Way Out?“)

Encore Post: A political train wreck?

I was looking for something else this morning, and ran across a column of mine originally published in July 2014 in the aftermath of the public hearings held by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Events have moved on, but the underlying observations are still valid today, as voting for delegates to a Native Hawaiian political convention closes in on the final deadline.

If the election process flounders due to the fractiousness of the debate within the Hawaiian community, I think it will fit the definition of a political train wreck.

So I thought that I would share it here in this “encore” post.

Did Hawaiian Hearings Set Up a Political Train Wreck?

Civil Beat, July 9, 2014 · By Ian Lind

If I had to sum up in a single word the testimony of Hawaiians in the current round of statewide hearings, the word would be: “Dispossessed.”

The hearings, sponsored by the Interior Department, have sought input on whether, or how, the U.S. should seek to reestablish an official, government-to-government relationship with Hawaiians. They have drawn lots of input, most of it direct, in-your-face, passionate, and personal, often reflecting a religious-like zeal which makes evidence irrelevant and renders certain “facts” beyond debate.

Concerned community member holds up sign during a Department of the Interior panel during a public meeting on whether the United States should establish a government-to-government relationship with Hawaii’s indigenous community held at the Hawaii State Capitol auditorium on June 23, 2014

Speakers most often traced their sense of loss back to the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893, when, in the currently prevailing narrative, we lost our nation and our land. I think there’s plenty of room to debate the facts and interpretation of the overthrow and its aftermath, while sorting out a path to some form of self-determination, but that widespread sense of the shared experience of dispossession, the loss of history, rights, and more, comes through loud and clear.

One could, I suppose, take heart at the apparent high level of consensus that Hawaiians need to get together and take active control of their collective destiny, whether political, cultural, or economic. But that consensus quickly falls apart when you attend to the details.

Some want to restore the monarchy. Some believe the kingdom doesn’t need restoration because it never ceased to exist. Others believe they already speak for the Kingdom, whether restored, resurrected, or recreated. Together, they reject further efforts to shape a new governing body.

Some back the Hawaiian roll commission, others reject it utterly and completely.

There are those who say they reject laws of the United States and the State of Hawaii, and are not subject to them. There are others who rely on specific U.S. laws, from the Annexation resolution to the so-called Apology Resolution, to argue the overthrow was illegal.

Through all the testimony, though, the dominant message has been a simple “no.”

No, we don’t need or want federal help. No, leave us alone. No, go home.

Preferences and Hawaiian Programs

Here’s the problem.

If you hadn’t noticed, the new conservative majority of the Supreme Court, and in the U.S. Congress, is hostile to everything that smacks of affirmative action or racial preferences.

The court has narrowed the protections of voting rights laws, and outlawed, undermined, or restricted affirmative action in a variety of settings, including college admissions, employment, and so on.

Through all the testimony, though, the dominant message has been a simple “no.”
Beginning in the mid-1990s, long before this court was seated, there was an organized push from the political right challenging the constitutionality of programs benefiting Hawaiians. Back-to-back lawsuits forced elections of trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs elections to be open to all voters, not only to voters of Hawaiian descent, and then eliminated barriers that had required trustees themselves to be Hawaiian.

Another pair of lawsuits during the same period challenged Kamehameha Schools’ policy giving preference in admissions to Hawaiian children. The policy survived the legal challenges, but only after both cases were settled out of court, one with a payment of a reported $7 million to convince the plaintiffs to walk away.

Tribes and a ‘Special Relationship’

The legal issues we’re dealing with today go back to the 1970s, when Native American activists were beginning to challenge the effects of historical discrimination and were seeking reparations, including land and monetary damages. During that period, the Supreme Court upheld policies and programs that specifically benefited Indian tribes, holding these were allowed because of a “special relationship” between the tribes and the federal government. Absent such a special relationship, however, such programs would likely be found to violate the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The combination of the perceived vulnerability of Hawaiian programs to constitutional challenge, and the court decisions regarding Indian tribes, set off a search for something equivalent to the tribal “special relationships” that could be claimed, or created, to cover the case of Native Hawaiians and allow benefits to continue to flow through to Hawaiian communities.

Hawaiians don’t need to necessarily become a tribe. They do, however, need an equivalent special status. The Akaka Bill was an attempt to create that special tie through the legislative process, but floundered in part due to internal infighting and in part due to conservative opposition in Washington.

The Interior Department initiative behind this set of hearings is another, perhaps last-ditch attempt to define a “special relationship” between Hawaiians and the federal government through administrative rules rather than legislative action.

Hawaiians don’t need to necessarily become a tribe.

If this isn’t successful—and it’s hard to see the Interior Department panel finding a way to move forward in light of the hostility expressed during the hearings—a whole range of institutions that have provided critical community services and support to Hawaiians, including Kamehameha Schools and the other alii trusts, along with OHA, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, and the network of nonprofit health, education, and cultural organizations built over recent decades with federal funding, will remain at risk.

No one likes to talk about this publicly, for fear it will encourage those legal challenges. But the hearings have shown that failing to acknowledge the real threats may be doing even more damage.

A Slow-Motion Train Wreck

So as I have watched online as testimony has been presented across the state, and marveled at the strength of convictions and depths of emotions being expressed, I can’t help thinking that I’m watching a political train wreck in progress.

That train is moving in slow motion, since it will take years for any new legal challenges to work their way through the lower courts and finally reach the U.S. Supreme Court. But I have no doubt, given the current political climate, that such challenges are coming.

Realistically, the Interior Department’s initiative is throwing a lifeline to Hawaiian programs, offering a potential way to survive lawsuits that will end up being decided by an increasingly conservative Supreme Court. You know, the same court that says corporate money is the same thing as free speech, that special protections for voting rights aren’t needed any more, that corporations have the same religious rights as people, and that corporate rights to religious freedom take precedence over the rights of actual, human persons that are employed by them.

While perhaps there are some who would not hesitate to trade all of the established Hawaiian institutions and programs for the vague promises and psychological satisfaction of “sovereignty,” I doubt very much that a majority of Hawaiians would want to embrace this tradeoff if it were made explicit.

Perhaps the hearings prove to be cathartic and, after the opportunity to share strong emotions, enough of those repressed feelings will have been expressed that we can move on, making progress possible. I hope others will see that as preferable to the train wreck scenario. But only time will tell.

Probably no post today

This is a travel day.

We’re on the way back today from Washington, D.C., leaving the Washington Hilton at 6 a.m. (I think that’s 1 a.m. Hawaii time).

We’ve been here for Meda’s major professional meeting of the year, the annual meetings of the American Society of Criminology. She had a good conference, while I mainly relaxed and got some little jobs done.

Hopefully we’ll be back home on time, and I’ll be ready to blog on Monday.

Check back tomorrow, please.

Terrorism and Hawaii tourism

Larry Geller ( quickly caught the theme behind the recent ISIS attacks–tourism.

He wrote:

Today’s edition of Democracy Now is well worth watching. See the video or read the transcript here.

The segment, after the headlines is the first of a two-part interview with Middle East journalist Abdel Bari Atwan that explains a great deal about ISIS and their current strength and strategies—an explanation that does not appear in the mainstream media. For one thing, the MSM seems not to want to admit that ISIS is in fact a state, with an army, police, borders, oil sales, etc. To describe them as an al-Qaeda on steroids is to mislead readers.

If the observations in the interview are correct, ISIS has moved to a strategy of targeting tourism in the West. If there is a threat to Hawaii from ISIS it could be because our economy is so heavily based on tourism that we might be in terrorists’ crosshairs.

Here’s the comment on the tourism strategy.

And that’s why we see this eight people, eight people, a very organized cell, to attack six positions, six places in Paris in the same time, the same night. It means they are lethal, they are dangerous. And this kind—these attacks is one of four attacks which took place by the Islamic State. The first thing was in Tunisia in a resort, where about 40 people were killed. And then, you know, this—the downing of the Russian tourism aircraft—224 people were killed—to destroy the tourism industry in Egypt and in Tunisia. Now they are attacking the tourism or the jewel of the crown of Europe, which is Paris, where $70 billion, actually, the revenue of the tourism industry for France. So they know what they are doing.

And should the vulnerability of tourism be worrying Hawaii tourism officials? I would hope so. After all, Hawaii was already targeted by plots against planes flying to the islands. We’re not just distant observers of this latest expansion of ISIS.

Great photos document WWII Japanese relocation

Don’t miss the collection of photographs of the WWII Japanese internment camp at Manzanar, California, taken in 1943 by famed photographer Ansel Adams.

They appear today in the Washington Post.

From the WP:

In 1943, Ansel Adams set out to document life inside the Japanese-American internment camp at the Manzanar War Relocation Center in California. It was a departure for Adams, who at the time was known as a landscape photographer and not for social-documentary work. When Adams offered this collection of images to the Library of Congress, he said, “The purpose of my work was to show how these people, suffering under a great injustice, and loss of property, businesses and professions, had overcome the sense of defeat and dispair [sic] by building for themselves a vital community in an arid (but magnificent) environment….All in all, I think this Manzanar Collection is an important historical document, and I trust it can be put to good use.”