Belmont Club

April 2 Notes

Groups from all over the world are pursuing their individual agendas, from more ‘inclusive’ societies, to robotic armies; from international Human Rights organizations to building more terrorist bombs. The New York Times worries that it’s all the same old, same old. Me, I’m not so sure. Here are some notes from all over.

  • Is Sharia law OK with Harold Koh? “Among numerous questionable and controversial statements, Koh has said that the “war on terror” — a term which the Obama Administration has already quietly abandoned, was ‘obsessive.’ And in a 2007 speech, according to a lawyer who was in the audience, Koh opined that ‘in an appropriate case, he didn’t see any reason why sharia law would not be applied to govern a case in the United States.'” I don’t think its definite evidence of a policy position Koh will work for, but it does shed light on his attitude toward it. Is the country “moving on?”
  • Michael Yon shows what a happy bus full of explosive looks like. “Soldiers call these colorful beasts “jingo trucks” because of all the chains and bells that make them sound like road chimes. Jingle trucks ply the roads of places like Nepal, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, often dangerously overloaded with just about anything imaginable. Like explosives and blasting caps, for instance. This fella was steaming into Afghanistan last night.” From Pakistan.
  • The NYT worries that Barack Obama is acting too much like George Bush. Imitation, if that is indeed what it is, is the sincerest form of flattery. It writes:

They may be sending 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan, much as Mr. Bush did to Iraq, but it is not a “surge.” They may still be holding people captured on the battlefield at the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, but they are no longer “enemy combatants.” They may be carrying the fight to Al Qaeda as their predecessors did, but they are no longer waging a “war on terror.”

So if not a war on terror, what then? “Overseas contingency operations.”

And terrorist attacks themselves? “Man-caused disasters.”

Every White House picks its words carefully, using poll-tested, focus-grouped language to frame issues and ideas to advance its goals. Mr. Bush’s team did that assertively. The initial legislation expanding government power after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, was the “U.S.A. Patriot Act.” The warrantless eavesdropping that became so controversial was rebranded the “Terrorist Surveillance Program.” The enemy was, for a time, dubbed “Islamofascism,” until that was deemed insensitive to Muslims.

  • Are robots the new tank? The transformational mechanized platform of the battlefield? Aviation Week says that robots are already here. And the services are increasingly thinking about how their man/machine force works together. The chief roadblocks are efforts to develop more autonomy through better software and hardware, moving the armed services from a situation where machines are controlled by men to one in which they become partners.

According to the Robotics Strategy, about 3,000 UGVs were used in combat over the last year in Iraq and Afghanistan. “In the near- and mid-term, it is anticipated that robots will continue to operate under some human control,” the strategy reads. “However, as technology progresses, robots will require less human interaction and will be capable of higher levels of autonomy and independent operation.”

  • Ann Bayefsky of the Hudson Institute asks whether the Obama Administration has done the right thing by agreeing to join a UN Human Rights body many of whose current members are the most egregious violators. Maybe we should ask Harold Koh what he thinks.

It counts among its members consistent human rights violators as China, Cuba, Egypt, Libya and Saudi Arabia. And now the United States wants to become one of the organization’s 47 members.

The Obama administration claims it can reform the “rights” body from the inside out. In a statement Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said the administration will join the council to help make it more effective as part of President Obama’s desire to create a “new era of engagement” with the international community.

“Human rights are an essential element of American global foreign policy,” Clinton said. “With others, we will engage in the work of improving the U.N. human rights system to advance the vision of the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights.”

The decision caused shockwaves among U.N. critics, who say membership puts the U.S. in the same company as repressive regimes.

“This is a surrender of American values unlike any other,” said Anne Bayefsky, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. “The spectacle of this particular president legitimizing a lethal weapon for the defeat of human rights will haunt him until the end of his term.”