Sunday, April 30, 2006

REARRANGING THE DECK CHAIRS?

By William Fisher

So, after seven months and 21 separate post-Katrina hearings, testimony from close to 400 witnesses, and review of more than 800,000 documents, the Senators have thrown up their hands in frustration and disbelief and called for the abolition of FEMA - the Federal Emergency Management Agency -- and its resurrection under a new name.

Sens. Susan Collins and Joe Lieberman, respectively the top Republican and the ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Reform, predictably found "failings" at all levels of government in dealing with Hurricane Katrina, before, during and after the storm hit the Gulf Coast.

The Committee made more than 80 recommendations to begin to solve FEMA's problems. These recommendations concluded that FEMA is "a shambles" crippled beyond repair by years of poor leadership and inadequate funding and called for a new agency - the National Preparedness and Response Authority - to plan and carry out relief missions for domestic disasters.

The new authority would communicate directly with the president during major crises, and any dramatic cuts to budget or staffing levels would have to be approved by Congress. But it would remain within the Homeland Security Department and would continue receiving resources from that department.

Unfortunately, in "gotcha" Washington, what should have been a serious discussion about how to fix FEMA has degenerated into a partisan - and uninformed - debate about whether FEMA should remain part of the DHS or return to its former place as a Cabinet-level independent agency reporting directly to the President.

But that is a faux argument. It is largely irrelevant. The challenges facing both FEMA and DHS involve issues so fundamental that no amount of box-shifting has the slightest chance of fixing the problems. The main issue is not where the boxes are located, but who is in the boxes.

In case you've forgotten, FEMA has been around a long time. It was created by President Jimmy Carter way back in 1979, and by all accounts, it was just as dysfunctional then as now.

During the Reagan years, it was considered largely a weapon in the cold war. It morphed from dealing with natural disasters to planning for nuclear attacks.

In the early 1990's, FEMA's reputation was as bad as it is today. It was a dumping ground for political cronies, headed by a man whose only apparent qualification for the job was that he was a close friend of the first President Bush's chief of staff.

The agency's pitifully inadequate performance during Hurricane Andrew in 1992 should have told us a lot about how it would handle a Katrina-size calamity. For the first three post-Andrew days, the agency was absent. When it arrived, it was clueless about what to do.

But then President Bill Clinton has a unique idea: fix the problem by recruiting experienced leadership. Clinton appointed a seasoned disaster management professional, James Lee Witt, to head FEMA, which he elevated to cabinet rank.

Witt reorganized the office from top to bottom, producing immediate results. And even Clinton's harshest critics - including candidate George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential campaign -- praised the agency's performance.

What Clinton did is exactly opposite to what President George W. Bush has done

When Bush took office, he set out to replace FEMA's experienced staff with political cronies. His choice for director was his campaign manager, Joseph Allbaugh, who had no experience in emergency management. Veteran staffers were demoralized. Qualified personnel began leaving.

Allbaugh hired his college pal Michael Brown as FEMA's general counsel and then promoted him to deputy director. And when Allbaugh left to join the army of Washington lobbyists, he recommended Brown for the top job, despite his lack of any experience whatever in emergency management. Bush appointed him and, aside from the Katrina debacle ("You're doing a heck of a job, Brownie"), he will be best remembered for passing out FEMA checks to people whose homes weren't damaged in heavily Republican districts in Florida before the last election.

Then came the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001, and the president felt the urgent need to be seen to be taking action. He created a new White House office of Homeland Security. To head this key post, he appointed former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, another "friend of Bush". Gov. Ridge, an affable politician, had zero experience in either counter-terrorism or disaster management.

When the behemoth Department of Security was created in 2002 - over the objections of the president -- Ridge was named to head it. Under his command were 22 different government agencies, as many different corporate cultures, and more than 183,000 employees. FEMA was one of the agencies absorbed by the new DHS.

But, as Eric Klinenberg and Thomas Frank wrote in Rolling Stone, "the real damage" began when Bush folded FEMA into the sprawling new Department of Homeland Security." With the department's focus almost exclusively on terrorism, disaster experts and emergency managers found themselves excluded from planning sessions. Military and law-enforcement personnel dominated DHS, imposing a top-down structure built on secrecy and skepticism, which clashed with FEMA's primary function of collaborating with regional agencies in an environment of shared information and mutual trust."

They point out that the cronyism that gave us Tom Ridge as the first secretary of Homeland Security quickly extended to the Bush Administration's buddies in the corporate community." The department's first advisory council was filled by corporate CEOs, many from industries positioned to profit from homeland-security projects.

DHS outsourced billions to private sector contractors, many on a no-bid basis.
With enthusiastic help from the Congressional pork barrel, a substantial part of DHS's funding was wasted on programs that rewarded "red states" and treated Wyoming and New York as if they faced equal threats of terrorism.

Issues that the 9/11 Commission identified as being critically important were neglected. The result, as we saw during Katrina, was that five years after the 2001 terrorist attacks, Louisiana - and most other states - still lacked the interoperable radio systems to allow first responders to communicate with one another.

Other parts of DHS were equally wasteful. The Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) spent billions fighting yesterday's wars by snatching nail clippers from airline passengers while largely ignoring, for example, port security.

And before the flood waters had receded from New Orleans, the president gave us added confirmation that cronyism was still alive and well by nominating the niece of the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, to head the DHS's Immigration and Customs Enforcement operation (ICE). ICE and its predecessor agencies have always been seen as wildly dysfunctional. Now the president put its 20,000 employees and $4 billion budget in the hands of an appointee with no expertise in the field.

Running DHS was always going to be an extremely difficult job. Running it without world-class leadership was unarguably an impossible job. Here was a monster that cried out for the talents of a Jack Welch, who brilliantly managed a similarly huge and varied enterprise known as the General Electric Company. Instead, it got a party political crony named Tom Ridge.

Ridge will probably best be remembered as the man who brought us the highly informative terrorist threat color-codes - that many charge he used to exploit terrorist fears by creating fake red alerts.

When Ridge left after the 2004 election, the President first named former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, a tough-talking cop who was a partner in former Mayor Rudy Giuliani's private security firm. But Kerik, it was soon revealed, had forgotten to pay his "nanny-tax" and his name was withdrawn. The nod then went to Michael Chertoff, a former federal prosecutor who had headed John Ashcroft's Criminal Division in the Department of Justice before Bush nominated him to be a Federal Judge.

I'm sure Secretary Chertoff is a very smart guy, but like his predecessor, he has zero experience in managing anything larger than a few Justice Department hundred lawyers and support staff.

Six months after his confirmation, the unthinkable happened: DHS and FEMA had to demonstrate their ability to deal with a catastrophic natural disaster: Katrina. And we are all too familiar with how that turned out.

But the DHS and FEMA were not alone in abdicating responsibility; Congress bears a large share of the blame. DHS was obliged to report to dozens of different congressional committees because Congress refused to reorganize its oversight, the same way it did during the consolidation of the intelligence community.

What so many congressional committees did with so many hours of testimony is near nothing. Members protected their turf, ignoring the many critical reports from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the failing grades contained in the 9/11 Commission's "report card".

Congresspersons made lots of speeches and did a lot of showboating. Republicans led the cheerleading and counseled patience while Democrats hot-dogged dire warnings. In the end - until Katrina - neither party exercised any meaningful oversight. So the cronyism and wasteful spending continued - and continues today.

Post-Katrina, both the House and Senate conducted serious and valuable investigations. But in my view, the Senate reached the wrong conclusion.

Arguably, it might be marginally easier to fix the much smaller FEMA if it was no longer part of DHS - if the Administration is able - and has the political will -- to hire another James Lee Witt, regardless of his or her party affiliation, and give a new leader the resources needed to get the job done. Based on its current unsuccessful recruiting campaign, that prospect doesn't seem very promising. Top professionals in disaster management appear reluctant to become cogs in the DHS machinery.

But whether FEMA is cut loose from DHS or not is not likely to make a significant difference in the performance of either agency. Both will continue to fail until they undertake the fundamental strategic, tactical and managerial reforms they should have begun to address three years ago.

Both agencies need to replace political cronies with highly qualified and motivated leaders and employees - and that requires the cooperation and support of the president. Both need to make large and continuing investments in human capital. Both require improved clarity of mission. Both need to better understand and anticipate impacts of massive government reorganization on the other departments and agencies they need to depend on to be "force multipliers" as they carry out their tasks. Both need to adopt a decision-making process that is clear and transparent to outsiders. Both need to develop strategic plans that have measurable goals and benchmarks to assess progress and correct deficiencies. Both need to build accountability for individuals into their performance evaluations. Both need to develop rapid-response capability. Both need to build more effective relations with state and local agencies. Both need complete independence from the political centers in the Administration. Both need adequate financial resources, allocated according to need and not party politics. And both desperately require real Congressional oversight.

None of this is going to be easy. It is instructive to recall that President Harry Truman's proposals to coordinate the activities of the military services were initially considered by Congress in 1944. His objective was to reduce the inter-service rivalries believed to have reduced military effectiveness during World War II. But the Senate did not confirm James V. Forrestal as the first Secretary of Defense until three years later, waited another two years before giving him needed authority over the Army, Navy and Air Force, and thus opened the door to the "jointness" of the current Department of Defense (DOD).

And that job is still a work in progress, far from complete. The DOD's annual budget is roughly $425 billion, not including the tens of billions more in supplemental expenditures allotted by Congress throughout the year. And, all these years later, it is still the most avid dispenser of huge, often no-bid contracts and the government's most profligate waster of taxpayer money. It has never been able to pass any of the annual audits carried out by its own accountants. Its own Inspector General reports that it has not and will not be able to account for $1.1 trillion of "undocumentable adjustments."

So, with both FEMA and DHS, a measure of patience is required. Change threatens vested interests and is always resisted. It is at this nexus of transformation versus the status quo that presidential leadership is most critical. And we may well have to wait for another president to muster the political will to take it on. Hurricanes, floods and terrorist attacks, however, won't wait.

But clearly the debate is far broader than where to put FEMA, because what ails FEMA also ails the DHS.

Friday, April 28, 2006

WE CAN ALL AGREE ON THIS, RIGHT?

By William Fisher

In the unlikely event that our senators and congresspersons come together to pass an immigration bill sometime in this century, it is virtually certain to overlook a heartbreakingly simple humanitarian issue: battered women seeking asylum.

This is far from a new issue. It has been kicking around for years - and it has been kicked around for years.

Kicked from the old Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) within the wildly dysfunctional Department of Homeland Security. And to compound this bureaucratic nightmare, BCIS now shares jurisdiction with the Justice Department (DOJ) for preparation of new guidelines that would cover this category of asylum seeker.

Rewind to 1995, when the INS actually produced some acceptable guidelines concerning women's issues. There was only one problem: the INS failed to follow its own guidelines.

That little lapse resulted in the bizarre case of Rodi Alvarado, a Guatemalan woman who was subjected to extreme domestic violence by her husband, who broke her jaw, kicked her when she was pregnant, wielded a machete and threatened that if she tried to escape he would leave her wheelchair bound for the rest of her life.

In 1995, Mrs. Alvarado did escape -- to the United States, which granted her asylum. But this decision was immediately appealed by the INS and overturned by the Justice Department's Board of Immigration Appeals in 1999.

The Board claimed she was not seeking asylum due to membership in a social group, political opinion, race, religion or nationality. They claimed she needed to show a nexus between the beatings and her political opinion or membership in a social group.

She was allowed to remain in the U.S. pending an appeal of the appeal. And she's still here, living in California and working in a convent.

Near the end of the Clinton Administration, Attorney General Janet Reno proposed regulations to expand the ability of victims of domestic violence (and other gender-related human rights abuses like trafficking, sexual slavery and honor killing) to seek asylum in the United States.

But those regulations were never implemented. And when John Ashcroft became attorney general, he failed to recommend that the regulations be adopted. Instead, he re-certified Ms. Alvarado's case to himself in order to review it, since the Attorney General has authority to make decisions on any immigration case.

But Ashcroft left office in 2004 without making a decision. He said the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security should agree on a set of guidelines covering women's issues, including domestic violence.

Since then, both agencies continue to claim they are working on these guidelines. Despite the fact that proposed regulations were drawn up back in December 2000, nothing has been finalized in more than five years.

According to Rodi Alvarado's lawyer, Karen Musalo of the University of California's Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, "The complication, as we understand it, is that now both DHS and DOJ have jurisdiction over the regulations because of the reorganization of the INS, and there has not been consensus between the two agencies on how to proceed."

One has to wonder about how hard these two taxpayer-funded behemoths are working to solve the problem.

Meantime, Mrs. Alvarado - and others in her predicament - remains in legal limbo.

The current immigration debate has rekindled interest in cases like that of Mrs. Alvarado. But a coalition of refugee and human rights groups is taking a new approach: it is urging congress to examine the "root causes" of population movements.

Responding to the claim by some congresspersons that easing asylum restrictions would "open the floodgates" to still more undocumented aliens, a report by one of the members of the coalition, The Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at the University of California at Hastings, argues that "the solution is not to deny protection, but to look at the root causes of refugee flows, and to craft foreign policy responses to address them."

And it is taking its case not to immigration agencies but to a few key members of congress who, they hope, will help them to take their message to the State Department.

The reason they want State involved is that there is credible evidence that domestic violence is part of a larger and even more deadly phenomenon: Femicide. And the State Department is a major funder of programs to strengthen the judiciary and other rule of law institutions in Guatemala and elsewhere around the world.

For example, in Mrs. Alvarado's country, Guatemala, the coalition says "there is violence and murder of women with total impunity - with more than 2,200 women
killed since 2100, and perhaps 10 or 11 prosecutions and convictions. Local media has largely ignored the issue.

Femicide is also a problem elsewhere in Latin America. Earlier this year, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Mexico and Guatemala sent a delegation of activists to the
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington to focus attention on Femicide.

Incomplete murder rates presented to the Commission cite 373 known murders of women in Bolivia from 2003 to 2004, 143 in Peru during 2003, and more than 2,000 in Guatemala. In Colombia, a woman is reportedly killed every six days by her partner or ex-partner. Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua City, Mexico, two cities where the Femicide trend was first widely noticed, have suffered the murder of more than 500 women from multiple causes since 1993, according to press and other sources. Dozens more remain missing.

Globally, the problem is no less severe. In many parts of South Asia and the Middle East, for example, so-called "honor killings" usually go unpunished.

Leading the Femicide campaign are four non-governmental organizations -- the Washington Office on Latin America, Amnesty International USA, the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, and the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission.

Three members of congress - California Democrats Barbara Lee, Tom Lantos, and Hilda Solis - are drafting a letter to the State Department, which they hope will be signed by most of their colleagues, regardless of party. The letter will urge State to provide funding and personnel to examine the Femicide issue as well as the murder of human rights activists.

It would be tough to think of two issues less controversial than Femicide and asylum for battered women. They are not immigration issues - they are issues of compassion, justice and basic fairness. Congressmen like James Sensenbrenner and Tom Tancredo ought to be able to sign on in a heartbeat.

But, given the incredible rancor generated by the immigration issue, I'm not holding my breath.

“THE WORST OF THE WORST”

By William Fisher

In 2002, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld famously referred to Guantanamo prisoners as “the worst of the worst”.

As recently as June 2005, he said, despite massive and incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, "If you think of the people down there, these are people, all of whom were captured on a battlefield. They're terrorists, trainers, bomb makers, recruiters, financiers, [Osama bin Laden's] bodyguards, would-be suicide bombers, probably the 20th 9/11 hijacker."

And Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, chimed in, “They were so vicious, if given the chance they would gnaw through the hydraulic lines of a C-17 while they were being flown to Cuba.”

"These are the people that don't know any moral values," he said, adding that
” the threat they pose is real -- at least 12 former detainees have been killed or captured on the battlefield after their release.”

If that be true, how do we explain why, of the approximately 760 prisoners brought to Guantanamo since 2002, the military has previously released 180 and transferred 76 to the custody of other countries.

Or why it is now proposing to release 141 more prisoners -- about a third of those still left at GITMO? Have they been rehabilitated?

No, the Pentagon says they no longer have any further intelligence value.

So they were “the worst of the worst”, but they have now told us everything we wanted to know, so we are letting them go, presumably to terrorize us another day?

Or is it that the military doesn’t have enough on these people to try them, even before its own tribunals, which have a much lower threshold of evidence than our courts?

Or is it that it we are planning to turn some of these released prisoners over to law enforcement authorities in their home countries? A kind of slightly more transparent rendition.

Or is it that the military simply can’t abide the idea of admitting that it, too, makes mistakes?

There may be some truth in all of the above. Yet, the Bush Administration seems hell-bent on continuing to shoot itself in the foot by clinging to the fading perception of its own hundred per cent righteousness.

Many of the Pentagon’s “mistakes” have been held for close to five years, without charges and without trials. Some were not captured on the battlefields of Afghanistan, but kidnapped off the streets of Europe and various locations in the Middle East. Many were “sold” to U.S. authorities in Afghanistan and Pakistan for bounties. It is clear that many others were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In a brilliant piece of investigative journalism, the fiercely nonpartisan National Journal magazine reported, “Notwithstanding Rumsfeld's description, the majority of (Guantanamo prisoners) was not caught by American soldiers on the battlefield. They came into American custody from third parties, mostly from Pakistan, some after targeted raids there, most after a dragnet for Arabs after 9/11.”

Nevertheless, all were categorized as “enemy combatants” with ties to the Taliban, Al Qaeda, or other groups that support terrorism. The Pentagon undoubtedly has evidence that some of the prisoners at Guantanamo were Al-Qaeda operatives out to kill as many Americans as possible. But in many other cases, the “evidence” is based on second, third and fourth-hand hearsay. In still others, it is clear that admissions of guilt have been obtained through cruel and inhumane interrogations that many say amount to torture.

Examples of Pentagon mistakes are not difficult to find. For example:

There is a man named Saddiq who has been behind razor wire for more than four years. In a rare display of candor, the military acknowledged last year
that he was not an enemy combatant. But he remains imprisoned. His lawyer says his opposition to Osama bin Laden makes him too hot to handle in his native Saudi Arabia.

Then there are the Chinese Uighur Muslims who had fled persecution in China, some of who are still being held at Guantanamo, officially because they would not be safe if returned to their native country.

Then there are the “Bosnian Six” -- six Algerians seized in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2002 and flown to Guantanamo after the Bosnian Supreme Court dismissed charges against them of plotting to blow up the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo.

Said one of them: "I've been here for three years and these accusations were just told to me…Nobody or any interrogator ever mentioned any of these accusations you are talking about now. Not even one mentioned the embassy thing, the terrorist organization, the Algerian Islamic organization. It's weird how this just came up now."

Then there are at least three children, ages 13 to 15.

Then there is the Casio watch caper reported by the fiercely nonpartisan National Journal. According to the Defense Department’s own files, a watch worn by one prisoner was similar to another Casio model that has a circuit board that Al Qaeda used for making bombs. The United States is using the Qaeda-favored Casio wristwatch as evidence against at least nine detainees. But the offending model is sold in sidewalk stands around the world. And the detainee’s Casio model hasn't been manufactured for years.

Then there is Murat Kurnaz, a Turk the government plucked off a bus in Pakistan and subsequently accused of being friends with a suicide bomber. The government did not tell Kurnaz's tribunal that his friend is alive and therefore could not be the referenced suicide bomber. In January 2005, a federal judge singled out Kurnaz's case as evidence of the lack of due process in the Guantanamo tribunals. The judge said that his tribunal had ignored exculpatory evidence and relied instead on a single anonymous memo that was not credible.

Then there are the British men who were detained for nearly three years and who have sued the U.S. government, alleging torture and other human rights violations. In a 115-page dossier, the men allege that they were beaten, stripped, shackled and deprived of sleep during their detention. They charge that guards threw prisoners’ Korans into toilets and attempted to force them to give up their religious faith. There say detainees were forcibly injected with unidentified drugs and intimidated with military dogs. And they claim they were subjected to abuse and beatings during their detention.

Each said they eventually gave false confessions that they appeared in a video with al Qaida chief Osama bin Laden and Mohammed Atta, one of the September 11 hijackers, despite the fact that they could prove they were in Britain when the video was made.

After they were freed last March, the men were questioned by British police but quickly released without charge.

These are just a few of the Pentagon’s mistakes – much of the evidence coming from the Defense Department’s own files.

Not even the CIA bought into Rumsfeld’s “worst of the worst” riff. Michael Scheuer, who headed the agency's bin Laden unit through 1999 and resigned in 2004, said, ”By the fall of 2002, it was common knowledge around CIA circles that fewer than 10 percent of Guantanamo's prisoners were high-value terrorist operatives…Most of the men were probably foot soldiers at best” who were "going to know absolutely nothing about terrorism."

Presumably, these are the 141 prisoners now being released.

Those who remain will be judged through a legal process that most lawyers familiar with military prosecutions say ignores the due process protections found in, say, garden-variety courts martial.

But, if past is prologue, the Pentagon – and the President – will continue to defend the indefensible.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Someone Does Not Mean Anyone

By William Fisher

The trial of Zakarias Moussaoui has all the makings of a soap opera. If Kafka wrote soap operas, that is.

Consider the cast of characters:

A defendant who alternately proclaimed his innocence and boasted of his guilt.

A prosecution that magnified the importance of a bit player in the 9/11 terrorist plot, and put the death penalty on the table despite charging him not with doing anything, but only with conspiring to do something.

A government that claimed that if only Moussaoui had not lied to the FBI, they could have prevented the attacks of 9/11, even though on 9/11 Moussaoui was in a Minnesota jail, while FBI headquarters was minimizing repeated alarms from its Minneapolis field office about Moussaoui's flight training.

A heart-wrenching chorus of survivors of 9/11 victims, unified in their view that the defendant was guilty of committing a crime, but divided about whether to exact retribution by executing him (thus conferring the martyrdom he says he welcomes), or jailing him for life (so that he will have to look in the mirror every morning and hate himself for the terror he wrought). Except that he didn't actually commit any act of terrorism. And, judging from his testimony, if he hated himself for anything it would be for not killing any American infidels.

Psychiatrists who painted the defendant as a paranoid schizophrenic, prompting some of us to label him "crazy" and others to decide he's "crazy as a fox."

A media that slavishly focused on the defendant's bizarre courtroom rantings and portrayed the trial as some kind of 21st century passion play about retribution vs. forgiveness, good vs. evil.

But there remains a major issue this trial has ignored. As lawyer David Cole wrote me, "There is something fundamentally wrong with trying to execute Moussaoui, an admittedly marginal figure who was not himself even involved in the planning of 9/11, when we have detained the mastermind of the attack, and the alleged 20th hijacker, but have brought no charges against them -- and probably never will, because our torture of them effectively immunizes them from prosecution."

The reputed mastermind of 9/11 is, of course, Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, who was arrested by the Pakistani government in a safehouse outside Islamabad in March 2003. President Bush characterized the arrest as "fantastic" evidence of the success of his crusade to bring the perpetrators of 9/11 to "justice", and immediately had Khalid whisked off to an undisclosed location in the custody of undisclosed persons who doubtless interrogated him using undisclosed techniques.

The so-called "20th hijacker" is said to be Mohammad al-Qahtani, who has been held in Guantanamo and is touted by the U.S. military as a major informant.

Moussaoui's trial heard from neither, because evidence obtained through torture would probably still be inadmissible in a U.S. court.

Moussaoui pleaded guilty to all the charges against him, though during the trial he denied that he was part of the 9/11 plan, but rather part of a separate plan to fly a plane into the White House. He signed his guilty plea "the 20th hijacker," implying that he was supposed to be on Flight 93, which had only four terrorists, and which crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. But Zakarias Moussaoui and Mohammad al-Qahtani can't both be the 20th hijacker.

Moreover, information garnered from Khalid Sheikh Muhammad portrays Moussaoui as a bit player, a fringe figure who was never in contact with the 9/11 hijackers.

In fact, on 9/11, Moussaoui was in a Minnesota jail. A month before the 9/11 attacks, Minnesota FBI agent Harry Samit warned his superiors that Moussaoui was dangerous, and that his flight training could be part of a terrorist plot. Samit told the Moussaoui jury he sent Washington about seventy fruitless warning messages about Moussaoui. And the 9/11 Commission concluded that the government had enough information to "join the dots."

So what has truly given this trial its Kafkaesque quality is that it is trial by proxy. It is a surrogate for the trials of those we'll never hear from, like Khalid Shaikh Mohammad and Mohammad al-Qahtani, and those who are still at large, like Osama Bin Laden.

Even among those who oppose capital punishment, it is not difficult to understand why America would want to punish someone for 9/11. But someone does not mean anyone.

If the jury votes to execute Zakarias Moussaoui, it will be elevating this bit player to above-the-marquee prominence, and he will be laughing all the way to Paradise.

WHISTLEBLOWING PAST THE GRAVEYARD

By William Fisher

After the firing of the CIA officer who leaked the secret prisons story to Dana Priest of the Washington Post, one of the retired-general-talking-heads who regularly appears on cable news these days weighed in with advice on the many avenues this whistleblower might have traveled instead of going to the media.

The CIA officer, identified by the Washington Post as one Mary O. McCarthy, could have reported it to her superior. She could have gone to the agency's Inspector General. If neither of these remedies worked, the errant conduct could have been reported to a member of the House or Senate Intelligence Committees, the general said.

It's probably not a bad thing that this general is retired, because he is either delusional or woefully uninformed.

There are scores of former employees of agencies involved in national security who have attempted to change things from the inside, through their superiors or the Inspector General. Predictably, they have gotten absolutely nowhere.

The reason they are former employees is that they've all been fired or made professionally impotent by having their security clearances yanked. Many have also gone to senators and representatives, only to hit the same brick wall.

For all I know, Ms. McCarthy went through all the steps above, but ended up at the Washington Post anyway.

Ironically, Ms. McCarthy was working in the agency's Inspector General's office at the time of her dismissal. Her termination came after CIA Director Porter Goss, with the encouragement and support of the White House, went on a rampage to out those who have recently leaked classified materials to the media .

There is a reason people become whistleblowers. A few months ago a House subcommittee held a televised hearing that explained the reason. It is because employees of agencies that operate in the national security field are not now covered by the 1989 Whistleblower Protection Act. Nor any other act. The hearing provided an opportunity for people serving with the FBI, the military, and cabinet departments -- to tell their harrowing stories of retaliation for their attempts to report unethical or criminal misbehavior.

That Congress held a hearing at all was a huge breakthrough. The Subcommittee was considering legislation to provide legal protections for national security whistleblowers. The legislation appears to have gone nowhere as of this date, and similar earlier legislation was defeated on a straight party-line vote.

There was apparently another small problem arising in connection with going to the congress for help in the secret prisons matter. According to the Washington Post, the chairmen and vice-chairmen of the respective intelligence committees were briefed on the operation in the same way they learned about the NSA domestic surveillance program - on condition they keep the information secret.

So going to Congress in this case would not appear to offer much promise either.

If you're just catching up with the "black sites" prisons story, the CIA set up a network of such secret facilities in the Middle East and in now-democratic countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union. To these prisons, the CIA "rendered" the most high-value suspected members of Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations.

According to the Washington Post, the CIA acted under its covert authority, which can only be authorized by the president. President Bush signed such an authorization - known as a "finding" -- six days after the Sept. 11 attacks. It gave the CIA broad authorization to disrupt terrorist activity, including permission to kill, capture and detain members of al Qaeda anywhere in the world.

Dana Priest wrote that The Post could not be certain whether Bush approved a separate finding for the black-sites program, but reported that he probably didn't have to because the CIA already had the authority under the September 17th finding.

She wrote that the black-site program "was approved by a small circle of White House and Justice Department lawyers and officials."

In November of 2005, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan was questioned about the Washington Post report. He said: "I am not going into discussing any specific intelligence activities. I would say that the president's most important responsibility is to protect the American people. It's a responsibility he takes very seriously."

I'm sure he does, notwithstanding his recent "instant declassification" and subsequent leak to the media of parts of the National Intelligence Estimate, apparently in an effort to discredit an Administration critic.

All governments have, and should be expected to have, secrets. But the attacks of 9/11, the "Global War on Terror", plus President Bush's obsession with secrecy, have guaranteed that this administration currently has more classified documents than any other in American history.

Going public with those documents is never a good option. But, assuming for the moment that The Washington Post was a last, not a first, choice for Ms. McCarthy, what is an employee supposed to do when he or she has knowledge of egregious misconduct in the national security arena and has exhausted all other avenues?

The secret prison program was, in my view, worthy of the term "egregious misconduct".

In the absence of adequate internal protections for national security whistleblowers, they will continue to seek out the media.

Where would we be without Deep Throat?

Friday, April 21, 2006

GETTING CLOSER TO THE TOP?

By William Fisher

In less than a month, we may finally get to hear from the army general who ordered commanders at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison to "get dogs".

Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who ran the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and then was sent to Iraq to "Gitmo-ize" that prison, has been silent on his role in introducing cruel and degrading interrogation techniques to Abu Ghraib.

Originally, Gen. Miller invoked his military rights not to incriminate himself. But last week, a military judge ordered prosecutors to produce him on May 17 as a witness for the defense in the trial of a military dog handler accused of abusing detainees at the Abu Ghraib.

Defense lawyers have said it was Miller who first told intelligence officers at Abu Ghraib to "get dogs" to exploit Arab fears of the animals.

As reported by The Washington Post, Miller's appearance "will give defense attorneys a chance to question Miller about the use of dogs in security and interrogation operations at Guantanamo and in Iraq. It also means lawyers could use Miller's testimony to attempt to draw connections between the alleged abuse and the policies developed by top Pentagon officials, who had regular contact with Miller when he was the commander at Guantanamo."

Witnesses in other cases have testified that Miller went to Iraq at the request of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who wanted to "Gitmo-ize" Abu Ghraib. Tactics used on detainees in Iraq -- including dogs, a dog leash and placing women's underwear on their heads - were the same as those used on one Guantanamo Bay detainee in 2002.

So, it seems, we inch closer to the top - to the White House and Pentagon policy makers who sliced and diced the Geneva Conventions to redefine torture, and left the grunts who followed orders to pay the price.

Miller would be the first general and the highest-ranking officer to testify in any case connected to the now infamous abuses at Abu Ghraib. Lawyers for Sgt. Santos A. Cardona, 31, are the first to be successful in persuading a judge that his involvement could shed light on how dogs came to be used to threaten high-value detainees during interrogations in Iraq in late 2003.

One of Cardona's lawyers said he plans to question Miller about the Rumsfeld-inspired trip he made to Iraq to advise U.S. officials on how to get better intelligence.

Prosecutors contend that Miller was not actively involved in the operations in Iraq until he was transferred to the country to work full-time in April 2004.

But shortly after Miller was ordered to go to Iraq on temporary duty in September 2003, military working dogs were shipped to Abu Ghraib and approved for use in interrogations.

Col. Thomas M. Pappas, formerly the senior military intelligence officer at Abu Ghraib, has testified that Miller and his team recommended using dogs. As a result, Pappas said, he approved the use of dogs for interrogations of one
high-value detainee after Miller's visit.

But shortly after the now infamous photos of abuse were turned over to Army investigators, Pappas urged an end to the use of dogs and recommended that charges not be brought against the dog handlers. Pappas has made a deal with military lawyers granting him immunity from prosecution.

Last year, a team of military investigators looked into allegations by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), who said they witnessed abusive interrogation techniques at Guantanamo. The FBI allegations were contained in documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The chief investigator into Guantanamo practices, Air Force Lt. Gen. Randall M. Schmidt, told a Senate panel of the interrogation techniques used on Mohamed al-Qahtani, a Saudi who was captured in December 2001 along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Al-Qahtani was thought to be involved in the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Schmidt said interrogators told him his mother and sisters were whores, forced him to wear a bra and wear a thong on his head, told him he was a homosexual and said that other prisoners knew it. They also forced him to dance with a male interrogator and subjected him to strip searches with no security value, threatened him with dogs, forced him to stand naked in front of women, and to wear a leash and act like a dog.

These techniques were reportedly approved by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld for use on al-Qahtani -- the alleged "20th hijacker" in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks - and were used at Guantanamo in late 2002 as part of a special interrogation plan aimed at breaking him down.

Members of the team that conducted the three-month investigation told the Senate Armed Services Committee they recommended that Gen. Miller be reprimanded, but their recommendation was overruled by his superior, Gen. Bantz J. Craddock, commander of U.S. Southern Command.

The Miller inquiry appears to strongly support the contention that Gen. Miller was the constant in the prisoner treatment equation, first at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and later at military prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan, where similar interrogation techniques were employed.

Gen. Craddock said that Gen. Miller had used "creative" and "aggressive" tactics, but did not practice torture or violate law or Pentagon policy. He concluded that Miller's techniques did not rise to the level of torture, and referred the matter to the Army's Inspector General.

Whether Miller will actually testify remains to be seen. If he does, his testimony will be limited to the dog issue, the judge has ruled. If he can't find a way out of testifying altogether, will his testimony link any prisoner abuse to policies promulgated by the Secretary of Defense, the Justice Department or the While House?

It would be, to say the least, unexpected. The Bush Administration has endlessly proclaimed prisoner abuses to be the work of "a few bad apples", most of who have already been punished. And, more than most organizations, the military has a long tradition of taking care of (and sometimes overlooking) its own mistakes and not hanging its dirty laundry in public.

But in light of the ongoing "revolt of the generals," who can really predict how all this will end? Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

ANTI-TERRORISM FINANCING LAWS

By William Fisher

A major government watchdog organization is charging that Muslim charities are being summarily shut down for supporting terrorist causes while giant firms such as Halliburton are receiving the full protections of American law for allegedly breaking U.S. government sanctions against doing business with Iran – a country designated as a sponsor of terrorism.

“There is unequal enforcement of anti-terrorist financing laws,” says OMB Watch.

The organization says the USA Patriot Act gives the government “largely unchecked power to designate any group as a terrorist organization”. Once a charitable organization is so designated, all of its materials and property may be seized and its assets frozen. The charity is unable to see the government’s evidence and thus understand the basis for the charges. Since its assets are frozen, it lacks resources to mount a defense. And it has only limited right of appeal to the courts. So the government can target a charity, seize its assets, shut it down, obtain indictments against its leaders, but then delay a trial almost indefinitely.

Thus far, OMB Watch says, the effort has resulted in the government shutting down five charities that support humanitarian aid in Muslim areas without disclosing any official finding that they were aiding terrorist organizations. But there has only been one indictment, no trials, and no convictions. “Only one official criminal charge has been brought against a Muslim organization for support of terrorism, and that case has not yet made it to trial.”

According to OMB Watch, dozens of charitable groups have been investigated since 2001. The organizations shut down were not on any government watch list before their assets were frozen, the group adds.

The organization says the result is that Muslims have no way of knowing which groups the government suspects of ties to terrorism. “Organizations and individuals suspected of supporting terrorism are guilty until proven innocent,” it says.

To support its claim that the government is applying the law unevenly and targeting Muslim-American groups, OMB Watch cites the government’s “velvet glove” treatment of the Halliburton Corporation, a giant defense contractor.

Halliburton has been under investigation by the Treasury Department – which oversees the terror-financing campaign – and the Department of Justice since 2001 for doing business with Iran, which is listed as a sponsor of terrorism.

But, says OMB Watch, rather than seizing and freezing assets “pending an investigation,” Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and the Justice Department sent an inquiry to Halliburton requesting “information with regard to compliance.”

Halliburton sent a written response explaining why they felt they were in compliance with the law. Halliburton’s defense seemed to rest on the fact that its dealings with Iran were done through a Cayman Islands subsidiary,not its U.S.-based entity.

Over two years later, in January 2004, OFAC sent a follow-up letter requesting additional information, to which Halliburton responded that March. In July of that year, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas sent a grand jury
subpoena requesting documents and the case was referred to the Justice Department.

On Sept. 22, 2005, the Progressive Caucus in the House of Representatives
wrote to President George W. Bush, asking that Halliburton be suspended from hurricane relief contracts for a host of reasons, including “dealing with nations that sponsor terrorism.”

The White House took no action and Halliburton received no-bid contracts valued currently at $61.3 million, and growing, to provide clean-up, rebuilding and logistical assistance to victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Last year, an organization called Halliburton-Watch charged that the handling of the case against the company raises serious legal questions: For example, “if Halliburton were a charity would its assets have been frozen like the U.S.-based Muslim charities; even though little is known about the evidence OFAC relied on to freeze and seize assets of Muslim charities, it appears there is much stronger evidence against Halliburton -- what legal distinction is OFAC making; if U.S. charities formed Cayman Island subsidiaries could they avoid the USA PATRIOT Act, IEEPA, and Executive Order restrictions on dealings with groups or countries linked to terrorism?”

Halliburton has also become the poster child for waste, fraud and abuse among U.S. contractors in Iraq. To date, it has received more than $12 billion in contracts there, many of them on a no-bid basis. According to Pentagon reports, the company failed to account for 43 percent of its Middle East expenses, with $1 billion of those being considered "unreasonable" and another nearly half-billion in the "unsupported" category, according to Defense Department auditors.

Critics of the government say the government’s anti-terror financing campaign is a product of the paranoid Islamophobia that has gripped the U.S. since 9/11. They also say is has had its desired effect: to scare Muslim-Americans into abandoning one of the premier tenets of Islam -- giving to those in need.

The government denies these charges; it says it is merely trying to cut off funding to a wide variety of so-called charitable organizations that funnel it to groups that practice terrorist tactics. The Treasury Department cites President Bush’s pledge to ensure “that Arab Americans and American Muslims feel comfortable maintaining their tradition of charitable giving”.

Meanwhile, Muslim charities report a precipitous decline in contributions. Contributions that do arrive come increasingly in cash from anonymous givers. And donors who happen to be Muslim are increasingly turning to the large household names like Oxfam and Save the Children, which may conduct programs in predominantly Muslim areas abroad.

Kay Guinane, OMB Watch’s Director of Nonprofit Speech Rights, told IPS, "The real tragedy behind closure of Muslim charities is the fate of people in need of humanitarian assistance, who are doing without because the funds have been frozen by the U.S. and sit in the bank, benefiting no one”. She suggested, “The U.S. government could demonstrate its good faith by releasing these funds to other charities or aid agencies."

Leaders of the Muslim charitable community in the U.S. have had numerous meetings with officials at the Treasury Department, and together developed a set of “guidelines” for charitable organizations and their donors. But these guidelines lack any specificity regarding Muslim philanthropy and could be applied to any charitable organization. They also provide no safe harbor from being shut down. OMB Watch told IPS, “A group could comply 100% and still be shut down ‘pending an investigation’."

Leaders of the Muslim philanthropic community in New Jersey asked the Treasury Department at the start of Ramadan in 2004 to issue a “white list” of “approved” charities. But the request was denied. The government claimed it was impossible to fulfill. “Our role is to prosecute violations of criminal law,” a spokesman said, adding, “We’re not in a position to put out lists of any kind, particularly of any organizations that are good or bad”

But government critics also claim that Treasury’s campaign is reminiscent of the activities of John Ashcroft’s Justice Department in the months following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The government then launched its “Global War on Terror” by rounding up thousands of “Middle Eastern-looking” men and women, sending them to jail without charges or access to lawyers, holding many in solitary confinement, but accusing none of them with terror-related crimes, convicting no one, and ending up deporting some for non-criminal immigration violations.

WORDS TO PONDER

By William Fisher

I recently e-mailed Neil Hicks, the director of international programs for Human Rights First, seeking his thoughts on a new poll of the U.S. public that shows rapidly declining support for President Bush's pledge to spread democracy throughout the world.

His response was more eloquent than any words of mine. Here it is:

"It is not surprising that there is growing skepticism among Americans about the goal of actively promoting democracy in other countries through U.S. policy. There are several reasons for this, in my view:

"First: the administration's democracy promotion strategy has been very broadly defined and yet invoked inconsistently from country to country. While the headline principles of freedom, women's empowerment and elections are proclaimed frequently, there is no consistent benchmark for implementation of democracy at the specific country level, which is the only place where the practical impact of the policy can be discerned. This leaves the actual content of the policy somewhat amorphous, and makes it easy for its critics to accuse the U.S. government of engaging in double standards and pursuing these goals selectively in its own interests.

"Second: the U.S. has undermined its credibility as a promoter of democracy and human rights by its own practices in the Global War on Terrorism, including, as the U.S. public is increasingly aware, torture, deaths in custody and arbitrary detention.

"Third: the initial results of the policy have been complicated and troubling. While I am concerned that current difficulties -- in Iraq, where what is now portrayed as a war to bring democracy appears to be leading to a civil war, or the Palestinian territories, where a relatively free election produced a government that is opposed to U.S. policies, and whose commitment to democracy is questionable - should not result in the abandonment of a global U.S. posture that actively promotes democracy and human rights, such complications will inevitably sap public support.

"We are at a precarious moment where some are willing to jettison the Bush administration's championing of democracy promotion as an instrument of national security policy. This would be a shame. In my view the proper response is not to revert to the discredited old practices of accommodating dictatorships and authoritarian regimes in the Middle East.

"I welcome the emphasis that President Bush and other senior administration officials have placed on the link between oppression and the absence of basic freedoms on the one hand and instability and global insecurity in the other. This diagnosis requires a sustained, results oriented approach to promoting human rights and democracy that applies consistent principles and standards to all countries, and is responsive to the varied particular contexts of each country situation."

There are many things I like about this statement. But high among them is that this is not your garden-variety Bush-bashing polemic. It credits the president with the right vision but suggests that we need a more thoughtful strategy for its implementation.

Development experts have disagreed with one another for years about whether "nation building" is a legitimate concept. But there are two parts of that discussion about which there is virtually no disagreement. First, democracy grows from within; it can not be imposed from outside. And, second, no democracy will ever emerge at the point of a spear.

Despite our flawed strategy and our many tactical mistakes over the past six years, the U.S. still has lots of lots of non-military carrots and sticks to apply. As Neil Hicks points out, we don't have to revert to supporting repressive and authoritarian dictatorships in the Middle East (or anywhere else). And we don't have to reward those regimes just because they're such good partners in the "Global War on Terror". After all, getting rid of terrorists protects them as well as us.

What we ought to be spending our time thinking about is how to use our leverage and our aid dollars to help countries to build democratic institutions - civil societies, independent judiciaries, respect for the rule of law, law enforcement authorities who honor human rights and enforce penalties for corruption.

Because it is only such institutions that can give birth to transparency, good governance and, ultimately, democracy.

Just don't expect any overnight transformations. This kind of nation building is generational.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

AMERICAN SUPPORT FOR "SPREADING DEMOCRACY"

By William Fisher

Only 20 per cent of Americans thinks President George W. Bush's goal of spreading democracy to other countries is "very important". And even among Republicans, only three out of ten favor pursuing this goal "strongly", with most of the erosion in Republican confidence occurring in the more religious wing of the party.

These are some of the highlights of the second in a continuing series of
surveys monitoring Americans' confidence in U.S. foreign policy conducted by the nonprofit research organization Public Agenda. The survey results were described in an article in the journal "Foreign Affairs" by the organization's chairman, opinion research guru Daniel Yankelovich.

The first survey, conducted in June of last year, found that the war in Iraq had reached a "tipping point" - which the survey defines as the moment at which a large portion of the public begins to demand that the government address its concerns.

The 2006 survey found that public confidence in U.S. foreign policy has declined
since then. The public has become less confident in Washington's
ability to achieve its goals in Iraq and Afghanistan and hunt down terrorists.

Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed said they think that U.S. relations with the rest of the world are on the wrong track (compared to 37 percent who think the opposite), and 51 percent said they are disappointed by the country's relations with other countries (compared to 42 percent who are proud of them), the survey reported.

Yankelovich reported that the war in Iraq continues to be the foreign policy issue foremost in the public's mind, and respondents consistently say that the war, along with the threat of terrorism, are the most important problems facing the U.S. in its dealings with the rest of the world.

Concern about mounting U.S. casualties in Iraq is particularly widespread -- 82 percent of respondents to the June 2005 survey said they cared deeply about the issue; in January 2006, 83 percent said they did.

Although the level and intensity of concern about Iraq has remained fairly stable, the public's appraisal of how well the United States is meeting its objectives there has eroded slightly. Last summer, 39 percent of respondents gave the government high marks on this issue; 33 percent did in January.

The erosion, moreover, comes almost entirely from Republicans: 61 percent gave the government an A or a B on Iraq in the first survey, but only 53 percent did in the second. Confidence in U.S. policy on Iraq is also down significantly among those who regularly attend religious services, who also show rising levels of concern about casualties.

Yankelovich says one reason for the downward trend is skepticism about how truthful Washington has been about the reasons for invading Iraq. He notes that 50 percent of respondents said they feel they were misled -- the highest level of mistrust measured in the survey.

Another source of skepticism may be more troublesome for the government: only 22 percent of Americans surveyed said they feel that their government has the ability to create a democracy in Iraq.

Foreign policy observers we contacted found few surprises in the survey.

Brian J. Foley, a professor at Florida Coastal School of Law, told us, "The American public is, finally, coming around to realizing that the so-called mission of spreading democracy abroad requires the destruction of democracy here at home. War results in increased secrecy, growth of big government and its control, and an erosion of civil liberties. Here we're getting that, and an enormous government budget deficit, and a reduction in public services, to boot."

Samer Shehata, Professor of Arab Politics at Georgetown University, worries that the survey results indicate that the U.S. will be pressured to "withdraw from Iraq quickly and - most likely - without sufficient planning and preparation for the consequences." He told us,"Rather than working early to 'internationalize' the occupation and rebuilding, the Bush administration has been unwilling to let other countries - including the UN, the EU, NATO and neighboring Arab and Muslim countries - play a part in Iraq and therefore become vested in Iraq's stability and reconstruction. The US now faces no good options. Withdrawing quickly will likely lead to the worsening of the situation while the US continued presence does not seem to be - even gradually - producing stability."

And Patricia Kushlis, a veteran of the U.S. Information Service, said she finds it "particularly interesting to see that 70 percent of the administration's stalwart supporters - and especially the religious right - now realize that exporting democracy is an impracticable objective". She told us, "This sea change in U.S. public opinion could well impact the outcome of the November midterm elections and send the Republican-majority Congress packing".

But Edward Herman, professor emeritus of the University of Pennsylvania, questioned not the survey's findings, but its basic premise. He told us "One problem with all these opinion surveys is that they never question that the goal of the Bush Administration is democracy -- which I believe to be a complete fraud."

"In some cases the Bushies, like earlier leaders, would like to see a democratic fa├žade, but never real democracy, which, in say Iraq, would see the U.S. and its military bases thrown out on their ear," he said.

On the issue of U.S. relations with the rest of the world, only about a third of Americans surveyed (35 percent) said they think the U.S. government could do a lot to establish good relations with moderate Muslims -- but almost two-thirds (64 percent) nevertheless gave the government poor marks because of its failure to do so.

Nearly a third of respondents said they "worry a lot" about the rise of Islamic extremism around the world (31 percent) and the possibility that U.S. actions in the Middle East have aided the recruitment of terrorists (33 percent).

Almost half (45 percent) said they believe that Islam encourages violence, and survey respondents estimated that about half or more of all Muslims in the world are anti-American. But a clear majority (56 percent) continued to have confidence that improved communications with the Muslim world would reduce hatred of the United States.

But Yankelovich reports that Americans may also be getting used to the notion that they are not well loved abroad. A majority of respondents (65 percent) realize that the rest of the world sees the United States in a negative light.

While the Americans surveyed have fairly clear ideas about U.S. foreign policy priorities, U.S. political parties differ on the desirability of promoting democracy in other countries (30 percent of Republicans surveyed supported this goal, compared to only 16 percent of Democrats). But even a majority of Republicans have little stomach for this priority of the Bush administration, the survey found.

A majority of the U.S. public supports the ideal of spreading democracy (53 percent of respondents said they believe that "when more countries become democratic there will be less conflict"), but Americans remain skeptical that an "activist" U.S. policy can contribute much to this outcome. A majority of those surveyed (58 percent) said they feel "democracy is something that countries only come to on their own."

The survey results bear an eerie similarity to those that were reported during the mid to later stages of the Vietnam War. It was the gathering antiwar mood of the American public that finally made that adventure unsustainable. And many are predicting that U.S. intervention in Iraq will suffer a similar ignominious end.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

A DILEMMA IN SEARCH OF A POLICY (AGAIN)

By William Fisher

Going to war is always a last resort -- only when all avenues of diplomacy have failed.

Sound familiar?

It should. Because that was the mantra of the Bush Administration for well over a year before we invaded Iraq. But we now know that the White House and its minions cherry-picked intelligence, hoodwinked the Congress and spooked the American people with tales of WMDs and mushroom clouds and Iraq's Al Qaida/9/11 connection, and conducted pretend diplomacy while our generals were busily planning their "shock and awe" campaign.

Now we are hearing similar rhetoric concerning Iran. Except that there's one difference: There hasn't been any U.S. diplomacy with Iran at all, pretend or otherwise.

For the past couple of years, America has outsourced its Iran diplomacy to the folks Donald Rumsfeld famously derided as "old Europe". And resisted their many efforts to get us to join the talks directly.

But outsourcing is not a policy. It's a cop-out.

The truth is that the United States has no Iran policy. And we are about to witness the consequences.

Unlike the period of the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, when we alternately ignored or misinformed the United Nations, we are now fully engaged on Iran with the Security Council. But to what end?

There are no additional sanctions the U.S. alone can impose on Iran that would make any difference at all. And it is unlikely that expect Russia and China to go much further. Too much business for them there. And too much oil.

And even if they did agree, it seems clear that Iran would rather risk being isolated from the world and branded a pariah than be seen to be caving to the West. Moreover, Iran's risk may be exaggerated. Pariah or not, there will always be countries in the world prepared to sell Iran what it needs - and buy its oil.

Moreover, while it's possible that the "military option" our generals are now busily planning for may have its intended effect - terrifying the Iranians into believing they are about to become the next Iraq - it's equally possible they will see it as a faux option. The Iranian leadership may be stubborn and bigoted, but we can be sure it's under no illusions about the state of the U.S. military. They know the devastating effects our Iraq adventure has had on our war-fighting and war-financing capability. They are also fully aware of how pivotal their influence might be in helping to put the wheels back on the Iraq project.

The Iranians probably also know the American people are probably not in any mood to support another invasion of anybody any time soon. Especially when they come to understand just how large - and how relatively powerful - Iran is. Not even Dick Cheney would have the chutzpah to claim Iran was going to be another Iraqi cakewalk.

Consider another perspective. Put yourself inside the head of an average Iranian. Notwithstanding U.S. government spin, every bit of reliable reporting from inside Iran tells us that the Iranian people want their nuclear program to go forward. That they are proud of it. That, because they are surrounded by nuclear powers, they believe they are entitled to it to protect their own national security.

And it is not only the mullahs who feel this way - though they are of course driving President Ahmadinejad to front this latest chapter in the "clash of civilizations" for purely domestic political purposes. Most of what is left of the "reform movement" in Iran, though it opposes the mullahs, is reliably reported to feel the same way.

Paradoxically, current U.S. "policy" is having the unintended consequence of uniting Iran. It is fuelling Persian Pride. Given the intensity of Iranian nationalism, the millions of dollars Congress recently gave the State Department to "promote freedom" in Iran might better have been spent helping Katrina victims.

So how realistic is the way the Bush Administration is framing U.S. options - give up your nuclear ambitions, or else? (Or else what?)

This seems to many observers to be a phony option. Even our former Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage - no dove he - is urging the Administration to start serious and comprehensive talks with Iran. No proxies. Face-to-face. It is in furtherance of that objective that our "old Europe" allies, plus China and Russia, might well play their most valuable role.

Can the U.S. talk to a country whose leader denies the Holocaust and vows to throw all the Israelis into the sea? Well, in the world of realpolitik, yes. We talk with oppressive and authoritarian regimes every day - and send hundreds of millions in aid to many of them. If you think the Iranians are the only ones who want to erase Israel, have a look at some of the newspapers that come out of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, or the Palestinian territories.

OK, so let's say we talk to Iran, offer all the carrots we can think of to win abandonment of their nuclear weapons ambitions, and still the talk gets us nowhere, what then? Can we live with a nuclear Iran? Well, in a weapons context, Iran isn't yet nuclear and appears to be some years from being there. Meanwhile, we are living with a nuclear Pakistan, a state far more unstable than Iran. And with a nuclear India, on whose future benign intent we have just bet the ranch. And with a nuclear North Korea, a charter member of the axis of evil, with whom the so-called six-party talks have thus far yielded little - except no war. And with a nuclear Russia, whose dysfunctional guardianship of "surplus" nukes should give the world a global heart attack.

Israel will disagree. Not unreasonably, it sees an Iran with weaponized nukes as an existential threat. Also not unreasonably, Iran sees Israel in the same way.

The bottom line is that it's clearly in the world's interest to get Iran to back off. But the Bush Administration needs to understand that merely rattling its sabers has real limits. It is now being obliged to confront those limits, and it is from that reality -- not from generals talking about deploying tactical nuclear bunker-busters -- that we ought to be developing an achievable Iran policy.

ALAS, POOR SCOTT

By William Fisher

Poor Scott McClellan. He has what must be the least satisfying job in Washington.

Members of the White House press corps report that McClellan is generally a decent guy and no villain. But, like most presidential press secretaries before him, he is kept out of the loop on many key issues so that his "plausible deniability" is not compromised.

The result is that it often appears his job is defending the indefensible.

The latest evidence of that condition of employment came last week, when Scottie angrily denied a newspaper report suggesting that in 2003 President George W. Bush declared the existence of biological weapons laboratories in Iraq while knowing it was not true.

You may recall that on May 29, 2003, the president was crowing about two trailers captured in Iraq, which he asserted were mobile biological laboratories. He declared triumphantly, "We have found the weapons of mass
destruction."

But The Washington Post reported last week that a Pentagon-sponsored fact-finding mission unanimously concluded that the trailers had nothing to do with biological weapons and sent its findings to the Pentagon two days before the president's statement.

The Post asserted that the mission's field report and a 122-page final report three weeks later were classified and shelved, but that for nearly a year after that, the Bush administration continued to publicly assert that the trailers were biological weapons factories.

McClellan called the account "reckless reporting" and said Bush made his statement based on the intelligence assessment of the CIA and the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency.

He said the Post story was "nothing more than rehashing an old issue that
was resolved long ago."

Maybe so, maybe no. And we may never know which.

But let me offer the blasphemous possibility that maybe there was no cover-up here. Let me suggest that this latest dust-up with the media may have been more about inefficiency than about conspiracy.

Katrina and other disasters have by now made us all too familiar with the shameful inefficiency of this government. But, to greater or lesser degrees, all governments tend to be inefficient.

So maybe the folks who sent the Pentagon report to the White House weren't exactly the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency or the Secretary of Defense. And maybe the folks who actually received the report weren't the president's chief of staff or his national security advisor. Maybe they were mid-level staffers. And, just maybe, they tried to get their superiors' attention, but failed.

Having worked inside the government bubble, I know a bit about what concentrates the minds of senior officials and what ends up in the bottom of the inbox. It's often all about whose name is shown as the sender of stuff to the White House and the seniority of the person who receives it.

In fact, given the government's daily tsunami of paper, I find it near-miraculous that this report made it from the DIA to the White House in two days. In government, two days is a millisecond. For that kind of speed, you could end up with the Medal of Honor (except, of course, if you're transmitting bad news).

But, you ask, how about the classified version of the 122-page final report that got to the White House three weeks after the initial three-page field report? Surely, the president was briefed on that, so knew his claims about the mobile labs was bogus, though he went right on pitching their significance.

OK, you got me. I don't know for an absolute fact that anyone ever had the chutzpah to tell the president these inconvenient facts, but I have to assume that sometime during the year he was busy selling the mobile lab fairytale, someone must have given him the facts.

And that he chose to ignore them.

And then neglected to tell poor Scott McClellan.

Giving him "plausible deniability".

Friday, April 07, 2006

GRADING OUR MBA PRESIDENT

By William Fisher

There is a consensus among CEOs and business school professors that there are just short of a dozen indispensable characteristics that are essential for an effective chief executive. Since the current chief executive of America Inc. is the first to hold a Masters degree in Business Administration, how does George W. Bush stack up?

What are these basic tenets? And how's our president doing?

1. Have a coherent vision for your organization's future.

When he ran for President in 2000, the cornerstones of George W. Bush's vision for America were a more competitive but more compassionate market economy, more "ownership" of more things by more people, a better-educated, healthier, more self-reliant and more ethical population that believed in the power of religious faith and acted accordingly, all working together under a smaller, more fiscally responsible government dedicated to maintaining a leadership role in the world. By example, America would continue to be the light at the end of the tunnel for the oppressed, the punished, the persecuted.

It was not until after the attacks of 9/11 that we heard anything about the president's mission to "spread democracy" throughout the world.

GWB promised to be a "uniter". Yet today, six years on, the U.S. is more sharply divided about more things than at any time since our post-Civil War history.

As globalization has changed patterns of production and consumption, we are less, not more, competitive on the world stage. It may be only natural for business to outsource jobs that can be performed more cost-effectively elsewhere, but our economy has been unable to replace the jobs it has lost with higher-skilled and better-paying ones. A substantial proportion of our higher-skilled workers - engineers, scientists, information technologists -- come from other countries as visitors or immigrants. The President's "No Child Left Behind" initiative was a positive start, but it has been woefully under-funded. Every international test shows us lagging far behind other industrialized countries in the skills we need to fill the jobs of the future - principally science and mathematics. More than 40 million people are without health care, millions of others continue to live below the poverty line, and the gap between "haves" and "have-nots" has become a chasm.

The terrorist attacks of 9/11 presented the president with a second golden opportunity to unite us. That dreadful day gave him the unquestioning support of virtually every American, and most of the world's other peoples. If he had then called the leaders of both political parties to the cabinet office, there are no tools within reason they would not gladly have given him.

That turned out to be irrelevant. After all, doesn't an "imperial presidency" have the "inherent Constitutional authority" to craft its own tools, like the NSA domestic surveillance program? And order the then attorney general, John Ashcroft, to round up every "middle Eastern-looking" person he could find (notwithstanding that many of them were South Asians, including Sikhs from India) and throw them into jail without charges or lawyers (many were deported, but not a single person was convicted of any terror-related crime).

The world was totally with the president when the U.S. declared its Global War on Terrorism, retaliated against the source of the 9/11 attacks, and toppled the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Our country seemed to be making a good start in Afghanistan. But then, for reasons that continue to remain murky - "I am the president, see? And I do not have to explain myself to anyone", as he told Bob Woodward -- the president took a sharp left turn into Iraq on the basis of intelligence he knew to be suspect, never told us it might be suspect, and kept reinventing our reasons for that invasion.

Was it the image of the mushroom cloud? Or the yellowcake from Niger? Or the aluminum tubes? Or the defeat of Iraq's terrorists? Or was it to use Iraq as the first stop on the road to spreading democracy everywhere?

Whatever the reason (and we may never know), weeks after the "Mission Accomplished" appearance on the aircraft carrier, the president embarked on what he said he would never have any part of: "nation-building".

Now, there are two problems with nation-building. First, most development authorities don't believe it can be done - certainly not from the outside-in at the point of a rifle. Secondly, the president's nation-building project was carried out with unbelievable inefficiency.

His proconsul, Jerry Bremer, knew little about Iraq, was culturally tone-deaf, grew a vast, confusing and confused bureaucracy, but had no more of a plan than did the military for dealing with post-Saddam Iraq.

The coalition of the willing had too few troops. They bypassed the most effective units of the Iraqi army in their rush to Baghdad and sent the rest home with their weapons. What has happened since then is history. The soldiers we bypassed - the Saddam Fedayeen -- became the core of what we now call "the insurgency".

So we toppled a despicable despot but, in the process, created the very terrorist haven the president said he was determined to eliminate. Doing that has cost us billions of dollars, thousands of lost lives, and the rupture of our hard-won relationships with most of our friends and allies.

And, as for the U.S. remaining the world's "beacon of light", respect for our country has never been lower.

The president's "vision" of bringing democracy to the world has been called Wilsonian. But Woodrow Wilson was thinking of the League of Nations, not preemptive war.

2. Hire people who may be smarter than you are, and include them in crafting strategies and action plans to implement a collectively determined vision.

President Bush has surrounded himself largely with cronies -- old, trusted friends, from his days as governor of Texas, like Karl Rove, Condoleeza Rice and Karen Hughes, and others from the generation of his father, like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. Many may well be smarter than he is. But he is famous for his loyalty to those around him, even to the point of defending the indefensible. Like conferring the Medal of Freedom on George Tenet, whose CIA provided the flawed intelligence that presaged the invasion of Iraq.

Until recently, their major talents have been far more political than substantive. Like Mr. Rove famously telling his Republican troops that 9/11 would provide a fail-proof platform for reelection in 2004.

And as for crafting strategies and action plans - managing the nuts and bolts of governance - there is persuasive evidence that we now have one of the most inefficient and poorly managed government bureaucracies in the nation's history. Just to cite two examples: the Katrina debacle and the near-unanimous failing report card on homeland security recently issued by members of the former September 11th Commission.

3. Listen to a lot of people who may not agree with your vision.

There is much to commend a man of genuine conviction and high principle, but White House insiders say President Bush has managed to win the trifecta of poor governance: ill-informed, opinionated and stubborn. There is little evidence that he welcomes views that aren't his own or those of his tiny coterie of advisors inside the echo chamber.

For example, he used all the power of the presidency to resist the formation of the 9/11 Commission (only to warmly embrace it when it became inevitable). He opposed the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (only to warmly embrace it when it became inevitable). He fought the reorganization of the intelligence community in 2005 (only to warmly embrace it when it became inevitable). He allowed superkawks like the vice-president and secretary of defense to dominate the Iraq discussions and emasculate the National Security Council, many of whose staffers expressed serious doubts about the wisdom of the invasion. He rejected the informed planning done by the State Department about what to do after "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq. He sent Colin Powell to the United Nations to shill his incomplete and super-hyped Iraq WMD case, and ignored Powell's "You break it, you own it" Pottery Barn admonition.

As president, Mr. Bush has instant access to any of the worlds most experienced and knowledgeable experts in virtually any field, but there is no publicly known evidence that he has availed himself of their advice. Or listened to "outsiders", except when they happen to agree with him.

4. Understand who your stakeholders are, pay attention to their views, and let them know how you're doing.

As CEO of America Inc., the president's stakeholders are not only all Americans but all the world's countries and important institutions.

At home, our born-again president has acted as though only half of us had a stake in the future of our country - his Republican base, and especially the so-called "social conservatives" whom he regards as so vitally important to his success. It was precisely this view that brought us the Terry Schiavo debacle, the nomination and un-nomination of Harriett Myers to sit on the Supreme Court, the president's endorsement of a Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, his endorsement of "intelligent design", his insistence on an "abstinence only" policy in the treatment of HIV-AIDS that cripples the effectiveness of our efforts, and the controversy that just won't go away - Roe v. Wade.

Abroad, he has failed to consult, much less listen to, most of our oldest friends and allies, much less those who have never been our friends - unless, of course, they have agreed to become our partners in the war on terror, in which case they get a free pass for their shortcomings. The countries with which we partnered to win World War Two and found the United Nations were derisively dismissed as "old Europe".

Why are countries abroad stakeholders in America Inc.? Well, for one thing, they buy the bonds that keep us operating in the face of the largest budget deficits in the history of the country. Secondly, they buy our products (though these days we buy a lot more of theirs). Thirdly, merely because of who we are, whatever happens to and in the U.S. impacts lots of other countries. Finally, globalization has made it virtually impossible for any single nation - even the world's lone remaining superpower - to achieve much unilaterally.

Meanwhile, what partners we have left are partners in the Global War on Terror. And they include some of the world's most stalwart bastions of democracy, like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan.

And, as for letting your stakeholders know how you're doing, I suspect that one of the attributes for which history will long remember this Bush administration is its paranoid secrecy. There has never been a time in American history - not even in wartime - when so much government information has been classified. And as stakeholders, we are left to foot the bill - in the hundreds of millions - for all the folks who do the classifying.

The State of the Union message, in modern history the equivalent of the CEO's Annual Report message, has become a grotesquely choreographed "State of the Spin" extravaganza, complete with "guest stars" sitting beside the First Lady in the gallery. Instead of a thoughtful, sober and honest allocution of where we've been and where we're going, it has become a Chinese menu of un-defined or ill-defined or downright distorted one-liners describing the CEO's reputed achievements during the year, combined with a litany of vague promises about what the boss is going to do for America and the world in the year ahead.

The big problem with our stakeholder relations effort is that our stakeholders don't believe us. The reason is that they no longer have to depend solely on the White House for their information. In many parts of the developing world, there are almost as many satellite dishes as there are people. The Internet is growing exponentially. And even in the authoritarian states that claim to be our allies in the war against terror, the state controlled media does not treat the U.S. fondly.

They know all about Abu Ghraib, Bagram, Guantanamo Bay. They know about "extreme renditions". They know about the CIA's secret airline that kidnaps people and sends them off to black hole prisons in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. They don't believe the president when he tells the world that "America doesn't torture". Or that "There are no wiretaps without warrants". And they know how vital our president thinks elections are - providing they result in outcomes favorable to us.

Presumably the president took some marketing courses during his MBA days, and knows that flawed products can't be sold for very long. But that's precisely what he's asked his old Texas crony, Karen Hughes, to do in her new role as America's public diplomacy maven. Only unwavering fealty can explain why Ambassador Hughes took this job on. Because it is simply un-doable.

Everywhere she travels, she finds herself facing skeptical, even hostile, audiences who let her know in no uncertain terms that American policy is unacceptable.

The reaction to Ms. Hughes overseas is to want to shoot the messenger. But the messenger is not the problem. The problem is the message. And it's the message of our MBA president.

So much for stakeholder relations.

5. Understand your competitors and the environments in which you and they operate.

Does America Inc. have "competitors"? It has a ton of them. Those that would replace our products and services - and the people who make or deliver them - with their own. Those that would undermine our values by unlawful or unethical behavior. Those that would like to see us destroyed. Authoritarian regimes that oppress their people. Others that represent potential threats.

How is the president of the world's lone surviving superpower supposed to deal with all of that? No one ever said it was going to be easy, but George W. Bush wasn't forced into being president. We (with a little help from the Supreme Court) gave him the job, and dealing with competitors goes with the territory.

The president has done well in recognizing that commercial competition has always existed among nations - it would be unthinkable for an MBA not to. But he has not done nearly as well in helping us prepare to be better, smarter competitors.

Second, credit the president with understanding that the Enrons of the world are part of the bad guys. But does he understand that corporate corruption represents a real and present danger to our very way of life -- that it may be just as threatening, albeit less bloody, as the Wahabis?

Third, is the president really convinced that a big part of being competitive on a world stage lies in building constructive partnerships with people and institutions dedicated to bringing about peaceful change?

There are some things that simply can't be solved by the projection of American power. Competition is one of them.

6. Give your strategists lots of latitude to do their planning, but subject them to frequent reality checks.

Almost no one truly qualified to take on a top policy job - whether in the private sector or in government - wants his boss playing micro-manager. Professional CEOs pride themselves on being able to recognize and hire top people, matching those people with the job at hand, and then delegating to them whatever authority they need to get the job done right.

But that's not the same as hiring someone and then forgetting about him or her. The president has an obligation to frequently ask senior officials - even at Cabinet level - what and how they're doing on major projects. And their responses can't be one-liners. They need to be detailed. Nor can they just be "good news" briefings. Top people need to feel free to tell the boss things he may not want to hear.

No one wants to hear bad news. But an effective CEO strives to create an environment in which reality reigns - whether it's good news or otherwise. From all we know about this White House, the president's most senior advisors go to great lengths to shield the boss from the bad news. And that's an environment that doesn't just happen; someone creates it.

7. Establish benchmarks to measure progress.

Ronald Reagan famously said of his nuclear relations with the Soviet Union, "Trust but verify"-not a bad phrase, by the way, to be etched into the facades of every government building in Washington. Verification is not rocket science. But it demands that top officials be required to develop sound, realistic benchmarks for tracking the progress of every major project - what's going to be accomplished, over what timeframe, by whom and at what cost.

What's tricky about benchmarks, however, is that you can waste a lot of time measuring the wrong things. The Pentagon invested millions into planning for the day Saddam's statue came down. There was no plan - hence, no benchmarks - for what happened the day after.

The president trusted but forgot to verify.

8. Develop alternative realistic scenarios. Always have a Plan B, C, or D, because every major policy initiative is likely to have "unintended consequences".

For people who work in think-tanks or in corporate planning, playing "what if?" games is as natural as the sunrise. They'll tell you it's part of the fun. Well, the sad truth is that a lot of people in the Bush Administration don't think it's fun and don't think it's necessary.

Maybe it's the intellectual arrogance that comes from living in the bubble. It's easy to feel omnipotent when you're in power. But it's also intellectually corrupt. And ultimately self-destructive.

The nation is now paying a very high price for that intellectual corruption - in lives and treasure lost in Iraq.

But it applies to virtually every other issue the White House deals with. Were "what if" scenarios built regarding the president's plans for social security, or his guest worker program, or energy independence, or Supreme Court nominations, or relationships with the Congress, or the Palestinian elections, and on and on?

Having worked in government, I'm pretty sure someone was doing a lot of "what if" work. But I'm also pretty sure no one in the White House and few in Congress were listening.

9. Be willing to admit and correct errors, even if this means altering the vision.

At one of his news conferences last year, the president was asked if he could think of a mistake he'd made. He put on his deer-in-the-headlights look, appeared to be thinking, and then came up empty.

He couldn't think of any mistakes he'd made.

Others, including many from his own party, have a different view. They point to plenty of mistakes - from Iraq to Harriett Myers to Social Security to the Medicare prescription drug plan to desecration of the environment to reneging on treaties to inequitable treatment of foreign countries.

But it seems not to be in this president's nature to fess up. Somehow, admitting a mistake equates with weakness.

Yet many of both the president's friends as well as his foes believe that his credibility has been held hostage to his stubbornness. GWB could do worse than to remember how John F. Kennedy dealt with the Bay of Pigs disaster: He went on television, admitted his error, and moved on - with the increased respect of the nation and the world.

10. Maintain the integrity of the organization and its goals through sound internal accounting and ethical guidelines.

I have no doubt that the Bush Administration's budget folks are every bit as creative as Enron's. The Medicare prescription drug plan provides a good example. The White House told Congress the project would cost $395 billion. Once the arm-twisting was done and the bill passed and signed, the president's budget mavens revised the cost upward to $552 billion - surely a fact they knew from the get-go.

This wasn't a case of shoddy accounting. It was a case of unethically manipulating the numbers. In the corporate world, it's called cooking the books.

For shoddy accounting, look to Iraq. Even by the estimates provided by the administration's own Special Inspector General, hundreds of millions of dollars appropriated by Congress has simply gone missing. Or look to the Pentagon, where government accountants have for years been unable to complete an audit because financial systems are in total disarray and because financial mismanagement, waste, fraud and abuse are so ubiquitous.

There's an 11th attribute I would add to these basic CEO requirements -- to inspire.

Why do we hold onto some stocks we've bought although they haven't taken off yet? We generally do so because we believe that the company has the potential its top guy or gal tells us it has. We believe. Which means the CEO has the credibility to inspire us.

President Bush has, at best, inspired only half his stakeholders - and the number continues to dwindle as we speak. And lots of these conservatives no longer see the president as a conservative because, on his watch, the government and its deficit spending have become larger than at any time in the country's history. That breaks the two cardinal rules of conservatism.

The president has had far more opportunities than most of his predecessors to turn his fortunes around. He could have inspired all of us, most notably, after the 9/11 attacks. Yet he squandered that extraordinary measure of patriotic support by asking no sacrifice of any of us - though almost all of us would gladly have given him anything he needed. He told us not to worry, go to the mall, live life as usual. Then he cut the taxes of the wealthiest people in the country.

And that, I'm afraid, will be the legacy of our first MBA president. Unless things change radically and fast, he will leave office with an America weaker than it was before 9/11, and occupying the unique position of the largest debtor nation in the history of the world.

Think of some of the great business names of our time: Jack Welch of General Electric, Bill Gates of Microsoft, Andy Grove of Intel, Sam Walton of Walmart, Meg Whitman of Ebay. All of these CEOs faced huge problems during their tenures. Just as George W. Bush did when he ran Harkin Oil. But none of them, when faced with strategies that weren't working, urged their stakeholders to "stay the course". They adjusted - sometimes scrapped - failing strategies and developed better ones. And they always leveled with their stakeholders.

I don't know how many of these men and women earned MBA degrees. But I continue to wonder how our president ever made it through Harvard.