Living in Society

Retro Post: When I Met Colin Powell

Colin Powell and Jin Roy Ryu at dedication of Korean War Memorial in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, June 1, 2010. Photo Credit: Cedar Rapids Gazette.

This post first ran on June 4, 2010. It was a relatively small gathering and I had a chance to shake Powell’s hand. Powell’s view of the Korea-United States Free Trade Agreement was illustrative of his mainstream political and economic values. Powell died yesterday of complications from COVID-19 at age 84.

Colin Powell and Free Trade in Iowa

This week former Secretary of State Colin Powell came to Cedar Rapids, Iowa to dedicate a memorial to 507 Iowans who died during the Korean War. It is past time for such a memorial, and the event brought out Korean War Veterans, legionnaires, politicians and citizens of every stripe. While I was walking from the parking lot at Veteran’s Memorial Park to the seating area, an old van pulled up, windows open and Aaron Tippin’s song about eagles, the flag and “if that bothers you, well that’s too bad” booming into the air, shaking the pavement. A parking lot attendant in a military uniform told the driver, “Don’t turn that off.” It typified the gathering as predominantly working class, veteran and plain folks like us.

PMX Industries, Inc. was the host and funding source for the memorial. PMX is headquartered in Cedar Rapids and is an affiliate of the South Korea based Poongsan Corporation, whose tagline is, “Poongsan Corporation can, and will, contribute to human progress through our superior products.” PMX makes the copper and brass alloys that go into things we use every day, such as coinage, ammunition casings, electrical connectors and lock sets. Poongsan’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Jin Roy Ryu, was present for the dedication, posing for photos with dignitaries and assisting with the unveiling of the memorial. Chairman Ryu is politically well connected in the United States. He translated and published a Korean edition of Colin Powell’s autobiography, My American Journey. The author believes most in the audience had not heard of him. It also seems likely Ryu’s long standing relationship with Colin Powell brought him to Cedar Rapids for the ceremony.

Sid Morris, President of the Korean War Association Iowa Chapter, spoke and PMX President, S. G. Kim, gave a well written speech to mark the occasion. Many of us had come to hear Colin Powell speak.

In a world where cynicism is commonplace, when Powell advocated for ratification of the Korea-United States Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA), it was unsettling. It was unsettling partly because of the potential for additional off-shoring of jobs a free trade agreement with South Korea would represent. According to the Office of the U. S. Trade representative, the treaty is signed but not ratified, with the status, “the Obama Administration will seek to promptly and effectively address the issues surrounding the KORUS FTA, including concerns that have been expressed regarding automotive trade.” The author is not the first to be concerned about the treaty’s encouragement of off shoring jobs to South Korea.

More than this reaction, what was bothersome was the way this advocacy was raised in the context of recognition of our Korean War Veterans. Why does there have to be a political agenda behind everything? When I look at the people sitting next to the podium, Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett, S.G. Kim, Colin Powell and Chairman Ryu, I believe all of them to be decent people. At the same time, in an economy where increasing the number of jobs has proven to be difficult at best, why politicize this dedication to fallen soldiers?

Powell’s assertion was that Korean investments in the United States have created jobs, like the ones at PMX Industries. His reasoning is that presumably there would be more investment by Korean companies in the US with a Free Trade Agreement. No guarantees of that. There would also be a trickle down of jobs related to new access to South Korean markets by U.S. companies. With U.S. productivity on the skids, some of these sales could be serviced through increases in productivity more than through expansion. In any case, the benefits of a Korea-United States Free Trade Agreement cannot be easily reduced to something that would fit in an Aaron Tippin song.

I am thankful that PMX Industries donated the funds for the Korean War memorial. At the same time, the interconnectedness of local politics, jobs and foreign affairs, as represented by the relationship between Jin Roy Ryu, Colin Powell and the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement, indicate again that the powerful influences at work in our lives have their own agenda. That agenda does not always fit the needs of working people.

Long after the applause at their private luncheon at the country club is forgotten, we’ll continue to be here, living our middle class lives in the post-Reagan era.

Living in Society

Who Has Standing on Military Affairs?

Mariannette Miller-Meeks on the Iowa State Fair Political Soapbox on Aug. 13, 2010. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The Republican approach to oversight of our military is curious and ineffective. On the one hand they vehemently criticize the administration’s handling of our country’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. On the other, Senator Tom Cotton sponsored legislation ending U.S. funding for Afghan refugees brought here as a result of the withdrawal, something they said they wanted. Cotton was joined by the 49 other Republican senators, yet their measure failed.

Republicans, and some Democrats, don’t think twice about spending $7.7 trillion on the U.S. military over 10 years without scrutinizing details of where the money goes. They reject an audit of the Pentagon. At the same time, Republicans reject the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Act which would help everyday Americans at half the price.

Cotton appeared with Second District congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks at her re-election announcement fundraiser in Iowa City.They then co-wrote an op-ed piece for the Des Moines Register in which they laid out their grievances about the Afghanistan withdrawal. It was pure politics in our red state. As far as I’m concerned, Senator Cotton should resign and return to Arkansas to peddle snake oil. Apparently that’s what he might be good at.

Mariannette Miller-Meeks was an ophthalmologist during military service. How does that qualify her to evaluate the Biden administration on military and foreign affairs? It doesn’t.

Unlike Democrats who are held to a higher standard of truth, Miller-Meeks can spew anything that comes to mind without regard to accuracy. If what she says is unhinged from reality, she thought it, asserted it with confidence, and therefore among Republicans it must be right. As a freshman in congress she’s proving to be little more than a parrot for what the moneyed class seeks: destruction of American democracy.

Whatever flaws the administration may have in military and foreign affairs, Joe Biden himself doesn’t have many vulnerabilities going into the midterm elections. First of all, he’s not on the ballot. More importantly, the man got the most votes of any candidate for president ever, 81,268,924 votes and 7,052,770 more than the next closest candidate. Despite the mad raving of pillow merchants and such, it was the most secure election ever. The results are not in doubt.

What galls me about members of congress like Miller-Meeks and Cotton is they have no respect for the authority embodied in the presidency that transcends administrations. We all get it. When they grandstand, it’s to make some political point rather than solve any of our pressing problems.

Neither respects the chain of command in civilian leadership of our military. They daily disrespect the president. Chain of command is a lesson both should have learned while serving in the Army. They assert what they present as factual about the military when the fact is they spin a yarn that ventures from the truth from its beginnings. Life in the military and management of foreign affairs is more complicated than the sawdust laden beef they peddle as hamburger.

A majority of Americans like Biden’s policies. The American Rescue Plan Act, which Miller-Meeks voted against, provided needed relief during the run up to distributing a viable vaccine for the coronavirus. Miller-Meeks did her part to add to quackery about the vaccine, including support for hydroxychloroquine treatment and misstatements about children getting sick with COVID-19.

We need members of congress with a grip on reality. Not those like Miller-Meeks who would say anything that comes to mind without regard for truth and logic. If she wants to opine about military and foreign affairs, that’s her right. She should stop taking talking points from conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, do her own homework, and level with the American people.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

Living in Society

Afghanistan Persists

War is Not Healthy

The headline in today’s Washington Post was “Afghanistan to be ruled under sharia law, Taliban commander confirms.” No surprises here. What did we expect if not that?

As the coronavirus surges in the county where I live, people have become more isolated. If we don’t stay on media constantly, we are checking it often and the news about Afghanistan is grim.

NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel began yesterday on Twitter by tweeting, “At kabul airport, military side, more order than before. Evacuations picking up. Seeing more Afghan families being taken through. Planes taking off. Base well guarded.” That was reassuring news midst the media claims of “chaos” in the country. I am deeply skeptical about media claims.

Someone asserted, “the reason all these people are stuck in Afghanistan right now is because the visa program that was created to get them here was purposely shut down by Donald Trump and Stephen Miller.” Like most Americans, I don’t recall enough of the last administration to remember this. What I do remember is the national news media, for the most part, gave Trump a pass on any hard questioning. This is being resolved by President Biden saying he assumes responsibility for the mess. Exiting our long-standing war was never going to be easy. Four presidents made the problems we see, and all of them are culpable for where we are today.

I don’t want to write about Afghanistan, yet it is on everyone’s mind. There is no avoiding the conversations, so we have them. It is not what we want to be talking about, yet we are considering a lock down again, leaving home only to exercise nearby and to secure provisions. We are stuck talking about what dominates the national news media.

A few people in the public eye take some of the pressure from us. Heather Cox Richardson writes an almost daily newsletter which explains what’s going on in the news from a historian’s perspective. Justin King, who goes by Beau of the Fifth Column, reacts to the news on YouTube almost daily from the perspective of a “Southern journalist” and former military contractor. Octogenarian and former CBS news person Dan Rather publishes an almost daily newsletter in which he brings perspective to news events. None of these writers are perfect and I suppose each has their issues. The calm demeanor with which they put things in perspective, what they choose to get upset about, and what they publish goes a distance to bring perspective to a cyclone of news that is terrible more because the reporting is inept than because events in Afghanistan are concerning.

Afghanistan persists and it is difficult for Americans to get a grip on it. Partly this has to do with the bubble in which most of us live our lives. What seems clear is the news media plays an active role in creating a narrative about ending our war. Some of these narratives are not accurate. Many of them distort the view we get of what’s going on on the ground there. Some of them are plain false. It is difficult to understand the relevance of daily events. Not all daily events presented by the news media are relevant.

As Afghanistan turns again to sharia law it is assured Westerners will not like it. To the extent our culture penetrated Afghan society, it will create problems for local citizens with the Taliban in charge. What is our responsibility? Like it or not, we have to stop propping up values that are not shared by locals and as effectively as possible withdraw our military from the country. We also need to protect those who supported us over the last 20 years. From Iowa it appears President Joe Biden is doing that. It’s messy, yet we have to support him in this endeavor.

Living in Society

Inscrutable Afghanistan

Detail of White House photo of President Biden and Vice President Harris.

I want to understand the draw down of the U.S. military and diplomatic presence in Afghanistan. I want to be assured people who assisted U.S. personnel during the conflict get proper protection. I want to feel like the 2,448 deaths among U.S. soldiers and more than a trillion dollars were not wasted. As Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wrote, “You can’t always get what you want.”

There are no brilliant takes. The situation in Southeast Asia is too complex for that. What I present instead are my reactions to what I am seeing and hearing from my perch in Iowa.

My friend Ed left a voicemail to call him on Sunday. When I did the next day we talked for 15 minutes and agreed we had to support President Biden’s decision to end the war. After Ed, me, and eight others organized the Iowa Chapter of Veterans for Peace we protested our endless war in Afghanistan many times–in rallies, in letters to the newspapers, and by bringing speakers to Iowa to discuss this war and other U.S. military engagements around the world. Either one wants the war to end or one doesn’t. Either choice can get ugly.

I listened to President Biden’s speech Monday afternoon. It was a good speech that addressed the issues from the perspective of someone who knows U.S. foreign policy better than any president since George H.W. Bush. A couple of things stood out.

  • “Our only vital national interest in Afghanistan remains today what it has always been: preventing a terrorist attack on American homeland.”
  • “Our mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to have been nation building. It was never supposed to be creating a unified, centralized democracy.”
  • “I stand squarely behind my decision. After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces.”
  • “I will not repeat the mistakes we’ve made in the past — the mistake of staying and fighting indefinitely in a conflict that is not in the national interest of the United States, of doubling down on a civil war in a foreign country, of attempting to remake a country through the endless military deployments of U.S. forces.”
  • “Our current military mission will be short in time, limited in scope, and focused in its objectives: Get our people and our allies to safety as quickly as possible.”

Biden’s speech is unlikely to convince the naysayers. There is no hope for them anyway.

Before the speech I received an email from U.S. Senator Joni Ernst. She “fervently disagreed” with the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. Among things she said was this: “Women and girls who were just starting to enjoy their freedoms are again faced with oppression and subjugation by a ruthless Taliban regime.” What of that?

The concern is the Taliban will re-establish a caliphate which will repress Afghan citizens, forcing women into traditional roles. It is a legitimate concern. However, if Ernst valued the “freedoms” of women, she would support a woman’s right to choose right here in Iowa. Instead, in early 2020, she joined an amicus brief with 206 other members of congress calling on the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider its decision in Roe vs. Wade. The hypocrisy of conservatives like Ernst is thick.

The way President Trump negotiated the draw down of U.S. Troops and equipment created an opportunity for the Taliban to resume control of the country. By releasing 5,000 Taliban prisoners, including key leaders, President Trump set the stage for the group to organize to retake the country. The negotiated ceasefire created an environment for the Taliban to approach members of the Afghan army to gain their support. In the end, the Taliban demonstrated competence by using what they were given by the Trump administration. While the international media drew a picture of chaos in Afghanistan, describing a “backlash” to U.S. execution of the withdrawal plan, the Taliban knew exactly what they were doing and effectively, mostly peacefully, ousted the U.S. backed government.

Where does this leave my desire to understand Afghanistan? Unsatisfied. I recall that throughout history others have had the same problem, going back to the Persian empire of Darius the Great. Seven months into his first term, President Joe Biden recognized the challenge of Afghanistan. With our mission there long accomplished, he did what three previous presidents would not. He initiated withdrawal of U.S. forces and, for now, closed the embassy. It was the right thing to do.

Living in Society

Afghanistan Forever

Paper cranes

~ I’ve been writing about Afghanistan for what seems like forever. Here are two posts, the first was written as the surge happened and our company participated in deployment of equipment to Afghanistan. The second reiterated how long the United States has been involved in Afghanistan. As the U.S. makes a hasty and long overdue exit, and the Taliban resumes control, one has to wonder about the human cost of U.S. engagement.

The War Machine Goes On
March 11, 2009

As I write this post, the military equipment moved from the depot to the coast continues its progress towards Afghanistan. There were hundreds of truckloads of vehicles and provisions moving out in a very large deployment over the past two weeks. We did not hear a lot about this in the mainstream media. If anything, this deployment would have gone on unnoticed, except for some of us in Big Grove.

For those of us who would rather see a world at peace combined with economic stability, we have been doubly disappointed. If the defense industry were to falter at this point, it would be another short circuit of an economy already on the fritz. The deployment to Afghanistan furthers the military spending, and while we agree that the influence of Osama Bin Laden and his followers should be neutralized, beyond that, it is difficult to see the importance of the Afghanistan-Pakistan issue.

So, as I drink morning coffee and turn down the heat to go into the office, I wonder how we can realize a sustainable peace in the world. With continued drought, famine, genocide and poverty, the global community is ripe for more conflict as populations move, oppressive regimes assert dominance and the United Stated assumes a larger role as “peace keeper” by these military deployments around the globe. In the words of John Lennon, “all we are saying is give peace a chance.”

An Iowan’s View of Afghanistan
December 11, 2009

When I hear people talking about the 8th anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan I shake my head. We should be marking the 30th anniversary of our Afghanistan policy because we have been engaging in Afghanistan’s affairs since at least 1979, when the former Soviet Union invaded that country.
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan combined with the ongoing Islamic Revolution in neighboring Iran, and the United States view of the importance of Middle East oil, complicated the presidency of Jimmy Carter. In his memoir, Keeping Faith, former President Jimmy Carter wrote about the threat of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, “A successful takeover of Afghanistan would give the Soviets a deep penetration between Iran and Pakistan, and pose a threat to the rich oil fields of the Persian Gulf area and to the critical waterways through which so much of the world’s energy supplies had to pass.” There were also American interests. UNOCAL, a US company, was seeking to build an oil pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan through Afghanistan at that time. For President Carter these were vital US interests and he felt it critical to address the Soviet aggression. As many of us remember, Carter was in the middle of his campaign for a second term, and believed that campaigning actively was inappropriate. Among other things, he canceled his participation in a nationally televised debate in Des Moines, Iowa and initiated a US boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. Many of us remember President Carter as beleaguered by the challenges of Iran and Afghanistan.

In the end, President Carter forswore direct military action and implemented economic sanctions. The most notable sanction to Iowans may be the grain embargo of the former Soviet Union. His administration also decided to prop up what he called “Afghan freedom fighters.” According to Sonali Kolhatkar and James Ingalls in their book, Bleeding Afghanistan, the Afghan freedom fighters were “seven Islamist ‘Mujahideen’ or ‘jihadi’ groups based in the Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan.” These groups received monetary, military and logistical support from the United States and Saudi Arabia through a third party intermediary. This indicates indirect military action on the part of the United States interests during the Soviet aggression. According to Kolhatkar and Ingalls, U.S. military aid may have gone to a group called Makhtab al Khadimat, “a group that recruited and trained Muslim volunteers from Egypt, Algeria and other countries to fight in the Afghan war.”

Makhtab al Khadimat was founded in 1984 by the Saudi heir to a construction firm, Osama bin Laden. From the perspective of today, this all sounds too familiar, except that eight years ago, the United States intervened in Afghanistan militarily to remove a problem that it may have helped engender.

I hope the blood and treasure that we have invested in our engagement in Afghanistan serves as another reason the United States must get to energy independence. Our sons and daughters are fighting and dying in a country where our interest in oil blinded us to the values of Islamic extremists. As we were supporting the Mujahideen, and saying we could work with the Taliban, we failed to hear other voices in Afghanistan that called for an end to the Soviet occupation, but not a return to Islamic fundamentalism.

According to Zoya, a member of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), during a recent Iowa City appearance, little has changed since the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989. The United States continues to support Islamic extremists in the Karzai government. To the extent Afghanistan is about United States interests in oil, it is one more manifestation of our addiction to hydrocarbon fuels. We need the will to cure our addiction to hydrocarbon fuel.

I empathize with my friends who call for demonstrations over President Obama’s escalation of the troop levels in Afghanistan. I have participated in these demonstrations. At the same time, I have to ask, where were they during the first escalation earlier this year? Where were they in 1979?

What I know is that President Obama, more than any president in my memory, appears to have put together the elements of a comprehensive plan to resolve the issues related to war and our addiction to hydrocarbon fuels. If Obama can extract us from three decades of engagement in Afghanistan, he will have truly done something for peace in that region and for the world. Iowans should support President Obama on Afghanistan. He is doing the dirty work that his predecessors, beginning with Jimmy Carter, left behind.

Living in Society

Fall Cleanup 2020

Big Grove Township, Nov. 8, 2020

While returning from a walk in the state park I picked up four yard signs a neighbor placed in their yard. Two of the candidates are poised to win and two are not.

While crossing the street, another neighbor called out but I couldn’t hear them. They walked over to discuss Saturday’s events in the general election. They had considered leaving the country if the president were reelected. Like many in our neighborhood, they keep their politics private. Sigh of relief the president was defeated. They are good neighbors.

After my walk I drove over to a damaged street sign and removed the signs from the pole. It is hard to get the screws loosened so I brought it home to repair in the garage if I can. Leaves are mulched with the mower so the minerals can return to the soil. The smell of neighbors burning leaves permeated the neighborhood. What fall work remains in the yard is optional. Today looks to be in the 70s so it is a chance to work outdoors.

Emails began arriving from groups with which I associate after the election. This one from the Climate Reality Project is typical.

We will mobilize support like never before for federal-level climate policy, and will bolster this with continued state and local-level work, which has been so instrumental in building this movement since 2016. We will persist in fighting for climate justice, by forging partnerships and adding capacity to campaigns that address systemic ways the climate crisis hurts historically marginalized communities. And we will continue to the grow the Climate Reality Leadership Corps, ensuring we have even more voices conveying our clear message. We have the solutions at-hand, and there is no more time to waste.

Ken Berlin, President and CEO, The Climate reality Project

To work on any of the received requests, I had to get organized. Here is what I came up for post-election priorities from an email to friends:

My first Iowa work will be determining a leverage point to advocate for mitigation of the coronavirus pandemic. The virus prevents us from organizing as we are accustomed. I plan to follow State Senator Rob Hogg’s lead on this. As you likely know, experts are saying we will be challenged by the virus into 2022. This is a high priority.

I’m working on nuclear arms control issues with the Arms Control Association, and on the climate crisis with the Climate Reality Project. I’m also working with the Sierra Club on the Pattison Sand proposal to pump water from the Jordan Aquifer and ship it to arid western states. However those things dovetail with your organization will be our points of opportunity to work together.

The Biden administration will quickly become besieged with its efforts to undo the four years of the current administration, therefore I view moving the ball forward on our issues as something our folks in DC should lead. My expected local contributions include writing an op-ed for the Cedar Rapids Gazette every 4-6 weeks (arms control and social topics), organizing a group in Solon to help me work on issues including politics and political advocacy, and set the stage for a Democratic comeback in the 2022 election. Tall orders all.

I don’t see Iowans devoting much bandwidth to the TPNW (Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons) until there is an opportunity for the administration to listen and take action on the treaty. I forget who’s having the Zoom meeting that includes Rose Gottemoeller but I plan to listen in. For the time being, the U.S. government and those of the other nuclear states are ignoring the treaty. If that changes in the next couple of years I’ll get more involved.

If we don’t get organized ourselves, we will be hindered in working with others. Onward we go!


UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons Ratified

The weekend has been a stream of emails from friends leading to ratification of the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).

On Oct. 24, Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), reported Honduras became the 50th state to ratify the treaty. This started a 90-day clock for the treaty to enter into force and become international law on Jan. 22, 2021.

Congratulations to everyone who worked to achieve this significant milestone.

What we have known all along is the nine nuclear states have scant interest in eliminating nuclear weapons, even if most of them give lip service to Article VI of the Non-proliferation Treaty which calls for it.

During the Obama administration activists fully understood the United States would not lead on abolition of nuclear weapons. ICAN, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and others took the cause to the international stage and yesterday set the world on a more definitive path by making nuclear weapons illegal. The hard work now begins.

There remains a growing danger of nuclear weapons proliferation. In an Oct. 24 statement, reacting to the 50th state ratification of the TPNW, IPPNW laid out the risks:

The treaty is especially needed in the face of the real and present danger of nuclear war climbing higher than ever. The hands of the Doomsday Clock stand further forward than they have ever been: 100 seconds to midnight. All nine nuclear-armed states are modernizing their arsenals with new, more accurate and “useable” weapons; their leaders making irresponsible explicit nuclear threats. The cold war is resurgent—hard won treaties reducing nuclear weapons numbers and types are being trashed, while nothing is being negotiated to replace them, let alone build on them. If the Trump administration allows the New START Treaty to expire, then from 5 February 2021, for the first time since 1972, there will be no treaty constraints on Russian and US nuclear weapons. Armed conflicts which could trigger nuclear escalation are increasing in a climate-stressed world. The rapidly evolving threat of cyberwarfare puts nuclear command and control in jeopardy from both nations and terrorist groups. Close to two thousand nuclear weapons remain on hair-trigger alert, ready to be launched within minutes of a leader’s fateful decision.

~ Tilman Ruff, Ira Helfand, Arun Mitra, and Daniel Bassey—Co-presidents of IPPNW

This milestone is a moment for celebration as the plan to eliminate nuclear weapons comes together as well as it has since the United Nations was established 75 years ago. Whatever uncertainties there are in our global civilization — the coronavirus pandemic, economic injustice, and armed conflict — today there is hope for a better world. That’s worth noting.

Living in Society

Turning Point 2020

Predawn light. Sept. 20, 2020

A few things in the election campaign need doing before turning toward home. Compared to past years the work ahead is enough to keep busy yet less.

Chaos in the pandemic response, racial tensions, economic turmoil, and the obvious impact of global warming made it easier to get to this point in the 2020 election cycle.

I’ve been discussing candidates with friends, family and neighbors. Everyone is planning to vote. Most have decided for whom.

I want to finish the lit drop for the state house candidate, take a look at our budget to see if we can afford another contribution to congressional candidate Rita Hart and state house candidate Lonny Pulkrabek, and finish the last writing for the campaigns before boxing up the memorabilia and moving on. Unlike in past years we won’t likely have a final get out the vote gathering or operating center in town because of the coronavirus pandemic.

What bothers me most about 2020 is the inadequate government response to the coronavirus pandemic. If African nations, with a lot fewer resources than the United States, can control the virus what is our problem? I don’t have good answers.

The fact that Russia is blatantly trying to influence the outcome of the election gets to me. It’s not because I viewed the former Soviet Union and Russia as an adversary while serving in the U.S. Army in West Germany. It’s because Republicans apparently agree with the Russian view that reelecting Trump serves their purposes. When did we become susceptible to Russian propaganda? I don’t know but Trump is without question their favored candidate. What the president does to contain Russian global aggression is pitiful. Did he think we wouldn’t notice?

The issue of China is problematic. In a new world order with the United States diminished by the president’s America first agenda, China is rising. They have been for a while. It’s been 11 years since I retired from my job in transportation and logistics when the appetite for American companies to do business with China could not be sated.

There were many examples, Hon Industries in Muscatine is one. They pursued a deal with China to manufacture and distribute office equipment in the Asian market. Manufacturing costs were much lower in China and there was proximity to developing markets combined with transportation infrastructure to export the goods. Doing business in China seemed obvious from a global perspective. The kicker was they could own no more than 49 percent of any China-based business, surrendering control to the Chinese. I don’t know how this worked out for Hon but they were vulnerable to the Chinese and deemed it worthwhile to expand use of their technologies into new markets.

Republican politicians repeat the words “Chinese Communist Party” without end. If China was such a good business partner a short while ago, what turned us on them now? The answer sounds dumb but rings true: the problem the president created with his management of foreign affairs is coming home to roost. Instead of managing diplomatic and economic relations with China the president let the whole thing turn into a mess. Our former governor now outgoing ambassador to China Terry Branstad’s personal relationship with the Chinese president couldn’t stop the president’s inept policy.

Part of the president’s message is about jobs. It is incoherent. For anyone following this as long as I have, history tells a different story about job migration. Once President Bill Clinton signed NAFTA the job exodus began. Jobs first went to the Mexican side of the border where labor was cheaper than in unionized plants in the United States. These plants were called maquiladoras. Ultimately corporations left Mexico and chased cheap labor around the globe, ending up in China and Southeast Asia. As I’ve written previously, there is no bringing those jobs back. The global system American business created would be difficult and costly to dismantle. I’m not sure we want it dismantled.

Whatever the outcome of the election we’ll go on living. As the disaster of 2020 governance has shown, it will be better with Democrats in positions of power. I’ll continue working to elect Democrats until the polls close on Nov. 3. At the same time I am ready to turn toward winter and what’s next.

Living in Society

Slaying a Foreign Government Official

Dr. Maureen McCue speaking for the Iran Deal at Rep. Dave Loebsack’s Office Aug. 31, 2015

The politics of Iran has been on my radar since the Iranian Revolution when Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was overthrown in 1979 and an Islamic republic replaced the monarchy.

I lived in Mainz, Germany that year. I was a mechanized infantry battalion adjutant in the Eighth Infantry Division, which, as part of V Corps, was training for a war in the Middle East over oil. Across the Rhine river from us was Wiesbaden, the evacuation point for American citizens fleeing Iran in the wake of the revolution. Our unit provided support to the Wiesbaden operation during the evacuation.

One of the choices I made during that time was which of my peers in the battalion would be sent to Iran during the aftermath of the Shah’s overthrow. I picked someone whose family wasn’t with him in Germany. My friend was never deployed to Iran and we were all grateful for that.

In this context it is natural that the United States assassination of Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force would catch my attention. What I wasn’t prepared for was spending so much time following developments. When I write “developments” what I really mean is the slow, uneven release of information about what happened and what it means. Yesterday’s post is a list of the main questions raised early on in the discovery process. Answers have proven complicated and elusive.

I was reading the news right when I wrote Soleimani was a target of opportunity. That means the U.S. intelligence community had long been tracking his movements and after President Trump gave the order to slay him, when his movements at the Baghdad airport exposed him and his entourage, there was an opportunity to take action and our military did. While our president seems impulsive, in this case there was a developed plan to assassinate Soleimani.

Two things make this different. First, Soleimani was revered in Shia Muslim culture. His death by unmanned drone attack elevated him to martyrdom and could bring a ruptured Iranian society together in opposition to the United States. Second, he was part of the Iranian government the way Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army General Mark Milley is. It is important to note Soleimani’s status was distinct from a figure like Osama bin Laden who was a rogue, non-state actor. People who make a proportional comparison between Soleimani and bin Laden are wrong to do so.

The politics of this have been predictable as Heather Cox Richardson pointed out in her daily Letters from an American:

Last night’s news about the assassination of Iran’s military leader Qassem Soleimani has today turned into a predictable split. Defenders of the president insist that Soleimani was an evildoer and the United States absolutely should have taken him out. They have no patience for anyone questioning Trump’s decision, suggesting that those questioners are anti-American and pro-terrorist if they do not support the killing of a man they insist has been one of our key enemies for years.

Those questioning the president’s decision to assassinate a member of a foreign government as a terrorist freely acknowledge that Soleimani was a dangerous man. But they are concerned that Trump appears to have ordered the man assassinated illegally and has, in the process, ignited a firestorm.

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Whether President Trump had constitutional or legal authority to assassinate a member of the Iranian government without consulting the Congress remains an open question. The administration claimed it was free to act under the 2002 Authority for the Use of Military Force enacted by congress in the wake of the 911 terrorist attacks. The U.S. named the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, of which Quds Force is a part, a terrorist organization. Friends Committee on National Legislation has been lobbying the Congress to repeal the 2002 AUMF. The incident yesterday in Baghdad highlights the pressing nature of Congress reasserting its authority over the executive branch of government in matters of war and peace.

In today’s Iowa City Press Citizen, Zachary Oren Smith posted the reactions of three people running for congress. Smith’s framing was “early reactions to the U.S. military strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani fell along party lines in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District.

Democrat Newman Abuissa, a native of Damascus, Syria, reacted to the assassination, “If the goal of the U.S. is a regime change or to negotiate a better deal, this attack makes both goals impossible to achieve. It strengthens the government of Iran and makes it impossible for them to sit down with the U.S. president.”

Both Republicans supported the president and Schilling was quoted at length, parroting long-debunked talking points.

What makes easy media narratives like Smith’s difficult is the decades-long context in which Thursday’s assassination took place. Simple comparisons serve little purpose and push a struggling news outlet closer to irrelevance.

My questions from yesterday aren’t answered. After spending too much time following the news, my work on other projects lagged behind. I need to keep moving. 2020 is here and there is much I want to accomplish.

I did make time to visit a friend whose spouse died Wednesday. She said of him, “at least he got out of here before all this shit happened.” It remains for those of us living to deal with it and carry on.

Living in Society

Questions About Our New War With Iran

Photo Credit: Des Moines Register

At 3:15 a.m. CST my phone rang. It was an international call from Jordan. I don’t know anyone in Jordan and the caller did not leave a message.

I know a few people who travel in the Middle East from time to time. None of them stood out as a person who might be calling the morning our country assassinated Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of the Iranian Quds Force, as a target of opportunity at the Baghdad airport.

I had not heard of Soleimani so I found and read Dexter Filkins Sept. 23, 2013 New Yorker profile. However this decision was made, intentionally or not, the U.S. Government kicked the beehive of Shia efforts toward hegemony in the Middle East. We will likely be stung by this extrajudicial exercise of American military force.

There is not enough information despite the rapid response of social media. The vacuum generates questions:

Why didn’t the president inform the gang of eight of the imminent assassination? Given the prominence of the target in Iranian and Middle East society he should have. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was clear he hadn’t.

Why didn’t the administration seek an authorization for the use of force from the U.S. Congress? According to Pelosi, there is no existing authorization relative to Iran.

When will the president address the public on what he did and why?

Was this assassination retaliation for the recent attack on the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad or part of a long-term plan to enter war with Iran?

What will be the consequences for U.S. interests in the region? Iranian officials have already stated publicly there will be revenge for the slaying. We can expect them to act with thoughtful reserve and to think outside the box.

Who will replace Soleimani in the established and future operations for which he was responsible?

What was the benefit to U.S. interests of elevating Soleimani to the status of martyr?

There are a lot of questions, few answers, and a grim pall has been cast over this Friday in Iowa.