Ugandans recruit ex-rebels to hunt rebels

uganda-flagUganda’s government, armed and assisted by the United States with “millions of dollars of military support, namely, trucks, fuel and contracted airplanes,” is hunting down the transnational Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a cult-like group of marauding rebels that follows no borders and transfers their “resistance” to whatever government is currently least stable in central Africa. They originated in Uganda under the messianic Joseph Kony, but he’s taken them elsewhere at present (I think the southeast of the Central African Republic). With the Ugandan government back on its feet, the LRA has pretty much left the country for a few years to seek easier targets, but they’re still pillaging across the Congo, Sudan, the Central African Republic, and elsewhere, sometimes one or two countries away from Uganda’s border.

Now Uganda is on a mission to wipe them out or liberate its members (many of whom are child-soldiers and slaves), and they’ve hit upon the idea of recruiting former members to track the group across the jungles and swamps of central Africa, since they have the most experience following the LRA’s tricky trails. It’s somewhat of a controversial program, but it seems to be working.

Some American officials said that they had mixed feelings about the former rebels’ being involved, though they said that the decision was the Ugandans’ and that in this case, as one American officer put it, “these guys may be some of the best they got.”

The battlefield statistics seem to bear this out. In the past 18 months, American officials say, the Ugandan Army has killed or captured more than half of Mr. Kony’s men, including his finance and communications officers, as well as several other high-ranking commanders.

“And let’s be realistic,” added the American officer, who was not authorized to speak for attribution. “These ex-L.R.A. guys don’t have many skills, and it’s going to be hard for them to reintegrate.

“But one thing they are very good at,” the officer said, “is hunting human beings in the woods.”

 
Of course, the big question is what happens to these ex-rebels if the LRA is wiped out? Many were hired for this program because they lacked any marketable skills after leaving the LRA themselves, and this was something they were good at that paid well. Let’s hope the United States’ commitment doesn’t end with the elimination of the Lord’s Resistance Army, or else the destabilization problems will just re-appear under a new rebel group.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Legal Underpinnings for a Papal Resignation

The New York Times published an interesting article by Daniel Wakin titled, “Do Popes Quit?” on the issue of whether a Roman Catholic Pope can resign, which is different from whether a Pope should resign. The issue has arisen in recent weeks as mounting evidence suggests Pope Benedict XVI (a.k.a. former Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger of Munich) improperly handled sexual abuse allegations against priests under his jurisdiction in Munich for many years.

At least two previous Popes have resigned, but the most recent was in the early 15th century, when the position was as much a secular European monarch as spiritual leader of the Catholic Church. In fact (I went and looked this up), Gregory XII’s resignation in 1415 was arguably done entirely for the sake of political consolidation of the Church at the end of the Great Schism, during a period of great systematic upheaval in Europe as the concept of sovereign states was emerging in parallel to the existing Church geo-political structure. However, even though he “resigned” and left office, Gregory was not replaced until after his death in 1417, probably to ensure that there was absolutely no question of who was Pope, since he had resigned to conclude a dispute between several factions of “rival Popes.”

As the Times points out, especially with Popes living to be older and older these days, there would be serious questions as to the legitimacy of a new Pope if the previous one had resigned but was not deceased yet. The problem from 1415 would be repeated and potentially worse now for the Church. An ex-Pope would still have a very large following, especially among many of the Cardinals who elected him, and unless he went off into solitude like Gregory XII, an ex-Pope’s public statements would be taken as the word of God and official Church doctrine by his remaining adherents, even if it contradicted or undermined the positions of the sitting replacement Pope. It’s like a former US President openly criticizing the new administration endlessly because he’s around and available for comment, except about a hundred times worse, since devout followers believe the Pope is speaking as God’s own corporeal representative on Earth.

But what about the legal doctrine and precedent? Can a Pope really just resign? Here is what Wakin found:

While it does not apply to Benedict, another reason for papal resignation was widely discussed in the Vatican in the years before John Paul II’s death in 2005. Several cardinals openly raised the possibility in the event John Paul became too ill to govern.

One of those cardinals was Joseph Ratzinger. If John Paul “sees that he absolutely cannot do it anymore, then certainly he will resign,” the cardinal was quoted as saying in the weekly publication of his old archdiocese, back in 2002.

 
That would be ironic if he helped set up the justification for his own resignation, but Wakin notes that he walked that back later…

Two years later, he gave some insight into his conception of the papacy in an interview with the Italian Catholic weekly Famiglia Cristiana. “The pope is chosen for life because he is a father, and his paternity goes beyond his function,” he said, paraphrasing Pope Paul VI.

John Paul himself entertained thoughts about resigning. In his last will and testament, he wrote, “Providence has seen fit for me to live in the difficult century that is departing into the past, and now in the year in which I reach my 80s, one needs to ask oneself if it is not the time to repeat with the biblical Simeon, ‘Nunc dimittis.’ ” The Latin was a reference to a Gospel passage in which Simeon says, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.”

John Paul was responsible for two recent but fleeting references to papal resignation in official church policy. A revision of the code of canon law issued under him, in 1983, says, “If it happens that the Roman pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that the resignation is made freely and properly manifested but not that it is accepted by anyone.”

In John Paul’s 1996 constitution on papal succession, “Universi Dominici Gregis,” he made a reference to “the death or valid resignation of the pope” as he set limits on the College of Cardinals’ actions after either event. In any case, it might be no surprise that the leader of a worldwide church of one billion people would at least think about throwing in the towel. Pius XII reportedly planned to resign if the Nazis invaded the Vatican, and some believed that Paul VI, weighed down by the office, contemplated the idea, according to “101 Questions and Answers on Popes and the Papacy,” by Christopher M. Bellitto, a church historian at Kean University in Union, N.J.

 
So it sounds like John Paul II clearly laid forth the legal possibility for a Pope to resign and even established some procedure for that. But other than defining “valid resignation” as legally equivalent to death, he didn’t explain any circumstances, I guess. And functionally, of course, as I explained above, resignation is very different from death, in that the person is still around even if no longer legally in the position. One wonders if Benedict would have to go back to being Ratzinger or if he’d be like an ex-President who gets many of the trappings of the office and an elevated “former” status.
Read more

Bachmann wants to use nukes vs. a cyber attack

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) revved up a huge crowd in Minneapolis by saying the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty would limit American response options to a diverse range of threats… including preventing a nuclear retaliation against a cyber attack. Whoa there, cowboy! Steve Benen (The Washington Monthly):

To be sure, attacks on a country’s computer networks can be severely damaging. But even Bachmann, as confused as she is, has to realize that responding to a cyber attack with a nuclear bomb would be the most insane act in the history of humanity. Does she understand what a nuclear bomb does?

So to answer Bachmann’s question, no, the United States will not use a nuclear arsenal to respond to a cyber attack. That doesn’t mean we’d welcome a cyber attack; it doesn’t mean we’d let a cyber attack slide; it doesn’t mean our conventional weapons couldn’t serve as a sufficient deterrent.

 
It’s been said that the banning of above-ground nuclear weapons tests has been a major factor in an increasingly clueless American population on what power nukes really have. My entire generation and everyone after is post-Cold War, so we’re generally even more detached. The argument goes that without these tests to remind people visually of the awesome power of them, nuclear weapons become a dangerous abstraction. However, there are serious environmental and global health consequences to above-ground tests, which is partly why we don’t do them now.

But when elected officials like Bachmann start saying crazy stuff like this, I start to agree that America might benefit from one or two big, new tests just to jog the collective memory of the country.

Actual footage of Operation Castle Bravo:

You don’t screw around with nukes.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Opposition overthrows Kyrgyz government

What initially looked like a massacre of opposition protests in Kyrgyzstan today quickly evolved into an apparently spontaneous (and violent) revolution. Protestors stormed and seized several key government buildings after police opened fire — they claim in self-defense — in the capital city, while other cities reported unrest. The ruling government appears to have collapsed suddenly. Here’s the account from Voice of America (the US government’s global propaganda media arm, so take with salt):

The political opposition in Kyrgyzstan says it has seized power, after a day of clashes in several cities that killed at least 40 people and wounded more than 400.

Opposition leaders said late Wednesday they were forming a provisional government with former Foreign Minister Roza Otunbayeva as its head. They said the current prime minister, Daniyar Usenov, had agreed to resign, but there has been no confirmation of the opposition’s claims.

The exact whereabouts of Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev are not known. Some opposition members say he has left the capital for the southern city of Osh, where he has a strong power base.

Sporadic gunfire continued overnight in the capital, Bishkek. Reuters news agency reports many buildings remain ablaze. Looters also reportedly ransacked a house belonging to Mr. Bakiev’s family.

Authorities confirmed 40 deaths, while the opposition says at least 100 people were killed.

 
This revolution somewhat mirrors the previous one in 2005 (the “Tulip Revolution”) that brought the ruling government to power. Since then, the country has been racked with sporadic violence from discontent under the new regime, which was seen as just as authoritarian and undemocratic and corrupt as its predecessor.

The Pentagon announced temporary closure of the controversial airbase in Kyrgyzstan, while they await the results of today’s unrest, which could result in a more anti-American government coming to power that would not be amenable to continued US presence.

This post originally appeared at Starboard Broadside.

Republicans splinter on $50 bill

A couple weeks ago, I looked at a proposal by a southern Republican representative to replace Grant with Reagan on the $50. Students of (northern) history will recall that Grant is reviled in the South for a) winning the civil war, b) enforcing strong Reconstruction policies with martial law and c) wiping out the original KKK. Reagan, on the other hand, used dogwhistle campaign tactics to win the South in his presidential campaigns, emphasizing pro-segregation code words like “states’ rights.”

While Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) insists that this is a pro-Reagan move, not an anti-Grant one, and notes that he chose one Republican to replace another, I think it’s pretty obvious why most his 17 co-sponsors hail from the South.

Now Republicans outside the South are splitting over the proposal, despite their love of Ronald Reagan. Ohio Republicans are particularly annoyed because Grant was a native son:

State Representative Danny R. Bubp, a Republican from the [Ohio] district that includes Mr. Grant’s birthplace in Point Pleasant and childhood home in Brown County, is preparing a resolution that would oppose the currency change.

“The Union may not have won the Civil War had President Lincoln not had the wisdom to put Grant in charge,” Mr. Bubp said. “He was just the kind of guy who needed to be there at that time, and we should not diminish his place in history.”

 
Oh snap.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

North Carolina Republican wants Reagan on the 50

When you’re a relatively new Republican representative from the South, there are lots of proposals you could make to burnish your credentials as a southern conservative. But some are more stupid and transparently reactionary than others. Case in point, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) is proposing that President Ulysses S. Grant be removed from the $50 bill, in favor of President Ronald Reagan. Now, we all know why Reagan: he’s the mythologized hero of the Right who don’t or won’t remember what they thought of him at the time. (For the record, McHenry was barely a teenager when Reagan left the White House, which explains a good deal.)

But why did he decide to go with the $50? His official (weak) reasoning:

President Reagan would be replacing President Ulysses S. Grant on the bill. In polls of presidential scholars, President Reagan consistently outranks President Grant. In 2005, The Wall Street Journal conducted one such poll of bipartisan scholars which ranked President Reagan 6th and President Grant 29th.

 
I’m deeply skeptical that this is the true reason… If you don’t remember your American History of the 1860s and 1870s, President Grant was the United States Army General who kicked Confederate butt all over the map and finally finished the Civil War in the Union’s favor… and then when he was elected President in 1868, he proceeded to implement a strong Federal Reconstruction policy in the South that protected the rights of liberated Blacks, cracked down and wiped out the original Ku Klux Klan, and implemented martial law in several Southern states until order was restored. Once Grant left office, most of his policies were immediately reversed by President Hayes as a result of the Compromise of 1877 that selected him as the winner on condition that he pull Federal troops out, which was the only force ensuring the policy’s implementation. Because of that policy, the Southern states in the post-Reconstruction period voted en masse for Democrats and against Republicans all the way until the 1960s, nearly a century later, when the Democratic hold began to slip as the national party began pushing for desegregation.

In the ensuing decades from the 1960s to the present, Republicans gradually reposition themselves as the more establishment-friendly/states’ rights party, and many Southern Democrats switched parties eventually to become Republicans. In many places, the lingering anti-Republican sentiment has continued to this day at a local level, with party switches being the only thing that finally turns a district to Republicans from conservadem/dixiecrat control. Ronald Reagan was a big factor in continuing Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy” to flip the South into a solid Republican bastion — that it is today — at the presidential level. So, this proposal is a win-win for reactionary Republicans stuck in the past down South: it dumps Reconstructionist Grant in favor of states’ rights Reagan.

Sean Wilentz, a history professor at Princeton who has actually even written a supportive book on Reagan, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times vigorously protesting McHenry’s proposal, giving many reasons why Grant deserves to remain on the fifty, instead of Reagan. He includes a lot of reasons I didn’t go over that were unrelated to Reconstruction and the Civil War, but I tend to think those are why McHenry wants to replace Grant. Wilentz makes a compelling case, additionally, that Grant’s reputation — which McHenry cites as reason for replacement — is the unjust result of extended character assassination after his death by pro-Confederate historians.

Fortunately, I don’t think McHenry has enough pull to make this go any place. Nevertheless, I think we should remain vigilant, since the Republicans did manage to use their majority a few years ago to quietly remove the Lincoln Memorial from the back of the penny.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Niger junta taking steps to restore democracy

As previously pledged, the military regime that suddenly seized power in Niger from the democratically-elected president just over a week ago in a violent coup d’état has begun taking steps to restore democratic rule:

As its promised transition to democratic rule begins, the military junta that overthrew Nigerien president Mamadou Tandja on February 18 has named a former information minister, Mahamadou Danda, as the new prime minister while retaining legislative and executive powers for itself.

Danda, 59, is seen as unaffiliated to any political party, was appointed on Feb. 23 by the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy (known by its French acronym, CSRD).

In a declaration broadcast nationally the previous day, CSRD head Djibo Salou was announced as head of state and the government; the junta will, for the moment, have the final word in governing the country.

Marou Amadou, president of a coalition of groups opposed to the ousted president known as the United Front To Safeguard Democratic Gains (FUSAD, after its French acronym) believes this first decree provides further guarantees of the junta’s intention to return power to civilians.

“The length of this transition will be decided after the consultations with all political and social stakeholders in the country announced by the junta,” Amadou told IPS. He hopes the transition will be neither too slow, nor overly hasty.

 
Because of the falling popularity of the democratic administration — due to it’s consolidation of power and the famine conditions nationwide — the coup has been met with generally positive reactions within Niger, though some expressed concern of a repeat of the breakdown of bureaucratic function seen in the months after the more violent 1999 coup.

Outside Niger, there were mixed reactions as most major power diplomatic corps struggled to decide whether to condemn the coup, encourage the rapid reintroduction of democratic norms, or help the average Nigerien get critical food supplies. Since sanctions placed on the democratic regime were already aggravating a food crisis, further sanctions would have been damaging and entirely unproductive. The United Nations pledged food aid, while the United States cautiously urged the junta to continue steps toward democracy and lightly condemned the illegal seizure of power (which involved heavy exchanges of fire right near the US embassy in Niamey). An interview about the coup with the Deputy Secretary of State for African Affairs, William Fitzgerald, can be read here.

As I previously examined, Niger is a major uranium-producing country, so there is a good reason for the world to be paying attention to its politics.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.