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Archive for June 17th, 2005

Friday, June 17th, 2005


My senior Senator will never be regarded by history as another Daniel Webster or Arthur Vandenberg but even for Dick Durbin it is not every day that he manages to insult American veterans, Holocaust survivors and victims of the Khmer Rouge genocide. Quite a rhetorical trifecta !

The other day, from the Senate floor, in the midst of an overheated attack on the Bush administration’s parameters for interrogation techniques at Guantanamo, Durbin let fly with this ahistorical gem:

“If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime — Pol Pot or others — that had no concern for human beings. Sadly, that is not the case. This was the action of Americans in the treatment of their prisoners”

Now, reasonable people can disagree about whether or not al Qaida detainees should be entitled to P.O.W. status under the Geneva Convention – those who think they should, like Senator Durbin, don’t have a legal leg to stand on – but the argument can be made. Likewise, the Bush administration has invited criticism of their Guantanamo policy by keeping detainees in legal limbo instead of moving forward with military tribunals. It is perfectly legitimate to argue that the value of what tough interrogation techniques yield pales in terms the damage caused to America’s image abroad, particularly in the Muslim world. But the al Qaida terrorist detainees are not the moral equivalent of terrified Jews being herded to Auschwitz and the American guards at Guantanamo are not the SS.

That kind of analogy, that Senator Durbin fervently believes, can only be described as morally grotesque as well as profoundly ignorant. A U.S. Senator should have more sense.

Mr. Durbin has degraded the suffering of those who went through hell on Earth to survive Genocide by putting their experiences on par with the interrogation discomforts of mass-murderers like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. It is the latter who is in the same moral ballpark with Heinrich Himmler or Pol Pot, not some Marine Guard at Gitmo or President Bush.

If somebody in the USG happens to be reading this blog, please forward this post to Senator Durbin’s office with the suggestion that he take a break from his partisan duties and visit the nearby United States Holocaust Memorial Museum for a few hours to find out what the victims of Nazism really went through.

Hopefully the good Senator might then think twice in the future about the nature of his historical analogies.

UPDATE I: Jeff at Caerdroia weighs in on Durbin ( Jeff is a former, temporary, Chicagoan)

UPDATE II: Idiotic commentary at DailyKos on same ( Hat tip Jeff)

UPDATE III: Senator Durbin starts his backtracking

UPDATE IV: The Captain’s Quarters blasts Durbin for attempting to spin:

“This, of course, is the classic example of the non-apology apology. Note that he doesn’t retract a word of what he said. He says that he regrets if others misunderstood his “true feelings”, not that what he said was wrong and historically inept. Basically, this is the translation one is meant to hear:

I’m sorry you were too stupid to understand me.

If this is the best that Durbin can do after comparing the men and women of our armed forces to Nazis and Stalin’s goons, as well as comparing Islamofascist terrorists to Japanese-American victims of WWII detention centers, then he’s a bigger idiot than I thought.”


Friday, June 17th, 2005


No, this is not a post about the Texas Air National Guard or the how the Vietnam War continues to haunt the national political psyche but of democracy and our national interests.

Bruce Kesler, a columnist for the Augusta-Free Press alerted me to the underreported fact that Phan Van Khai, the Prime Minister of Vietnam, will be visiting the United States and meeting with President Bush– a key step in an increasingly warm relationship between Washington and Hanoi. The Prime Minister does not come empty-handed but instead brings with him a jet deal for Boeing that will net the corporation a cool half billion dollars

It is easy to see why Vietnam would want to pursue closer ties with its former foe, the United States. Despite a rising trade with America worth $ 6 billion, Vietnam is only a stone’s throw from becoming a mendicant nation, hobbled by a socialist economy and the costs of oppressing their own people and Vietnam’s two, even poorer, Indochinese satellites. The Soviet-made equipment of the Vietnamese military is outdated and growing older even as Hanoi nervously watches China’s rising wealth and armed might. Thirty years after the fall of Saigon, Ho Chi Minh’s Leninist revolution is looking more like the senile Communism of Konstantin Chernenko.

What is harder to see is what Vietnam has to offer the Bush administration, whose good graces it needs to win in order to get into the WTO and for a strategic hedge against Chinese hegemony. Granted, Vietnam has nice beaches, a cheap and docile work force and a potentially good naval base but if really we need a neo-Stalinist dictatorship for that, well, Cuba is about 11,900 miles closer.

Freedom House rates the Socialist Republic of Vietnam as one of the world’s worst regimes – up there with such cannibalistic luminaries as North Korea, Equatorial Guinea, Sudan, Burma,Uzbekistan and Zimbabwe. Foreign Policy magazine has just classified Vietnam as a ” borderline” failed state ( print article is not yet online). The U.S. Department of State details a human rights record for Vietnam that looks positive only in comparison with democidal regimes like North Korea or the Sudan. Human Rights Watch reports on significant persecution of the Montagnards , a mountain tribe once allied with the United States and the repression of religious believers of all stripes is exceeded only by that directed toward political dissent. Vietnam has little to sell the United States and its rulers are little better than an odious cabal of ideological gangsters who stay in power by the same methods used by Saddam Hussein.

Am I arguing for a policy of non-intercourse ? No, I’m arguing that the United States has the strongest possible hand to attach a human rights price tag to the goodies of connectivity that Hanoi desperately needs. President Bush should raise his voice on democracy and liberty with at least as much emphasis to Van Khai as he did to Vladmir Putin. After all, we actually need decent relations with Russia to further American security but Vietnam is so strategically unimportant that if it slid into the South China Sea it might be a good month before the American media even noticed.

The cookies given out to Vietnam by the administration and the U.S. Congress should be meaningful and should be given promptly – after Vietnam demonstrates concessions. To use a Kissingerian term, there should be ” linkage” between rewards and behavior. We don’t need them, they need us and the squealing of Fortune 500 American corporations whose lobbyists will be ( or are) clogging the halls of Congress in opposition will be a good sign that U.S. policy is on the right moral track.

Right now, there are men and women in camps and clammy cells in Hanoi who have committed no crime as we reckon it and who are – like the Zeks of the former Soviet Gulag once were – without any hope. President Bush needs to speak for them by telling Vietnam’s rulers that their admission price to the circle of civilized nations is walking away from the practices of barbarism.

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