Bernd Debusmann

U.S. Congress, Communists and God

Bernd Debusmann
Nov 29, 2011 17:38 UTC

Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

After the high-profile failure of a Congressional “supercommittee” to trim America‘s budget deficit, one could be forgiven to conclude that there’s nothing the divided House of Representatives can agree on. But that would be wrong.

Among the few topics on which Democrats and Republicans in the Republican-dominated House see eye-to-eye: the official motto of the United States is “In God We Trust”. That has been the case since 1956 but as the supercommittee wrangled with the thorny deficit problem, lawmakers found time to vote on a resolution reaffirming the motto. Why that reaffirmation was deemed necessary speaks volumes about congressional priorities and Washington‘s peculiar political climate.

According to two polls taken before the supercommittee failed to find a compromise, the American public’s faith in Congress stands at historic lows – a 9-percent approval rating according to a CBS/New York Times poll and 13 percent according to Gallup. In October, Gallup forecast that disenchantment with the people’s representatives would further deepen in the absence of agreement.

Not to harp on the negative, let’s revisit the resolution on America‘s motto, passed 396 to 9 on November 1, with two legislators voting “present” and 26 not voting. Randy Forbes, the Republican who sponsored the measure explained it had been necessary because “a number of public officials … forget what the national motto is.” He named President Barack Obama as one of the forgetful officials, referring to a speech in which he cited E Pluribus Unum as America‘s motto. (Latin for “out of many, one”, those words are emblazoned on the official seal of the United States and engraved, along with “In God We Trust”, on 25-cent coins. E pluribus unum served as the country’s de facto motto until 1956, when Congress passed a law making In God We Trust the official motto).

In the floor debate on the matter, one legislator, Arizona Republican Trent Franks, portrayed failure to reaffirm the motto in apocalyptic terms. “If … man is God, then an atheist state is as brutal as the thesis it rests upon and there is no reason for us to gather here in this place,” he told his fellow members. “We should just let anarchy prevail because after all we are just worm food.”

To curb piracy, bring on hired guns

Bernd Debusmann
Nov 18, 2011 16:04 UTC

By Bernd Debusmann

The views expressed are his own.

Better late than never. After years of debate, there is growing consensus among governments, major shipping companies and maritime organizations that armed private security guards are a potent deterrent to high-seas pirates. That view is certain to crimp a criminal business already showing signs of decline.

Numbers tell part of the story: In the first nine months of the year, Somali pirates attacked 199 ships, a hefty increase over 126 attacks in the corresponding period in 2010. But the number of ships they hijacked dropped from 35 in 2010 to 24 this year. Expressed differently, their success rate declined from 28 percent to 12 percent. Not a single vessel carrying armed guards was taken.

Which is why the United States and Britain changed policies on hired guns a few days apart in October. In the United States, the change was so quiet it almost escaped notice. In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron said in a television interview his government was reversing opposition to armed guards on British-flagged vessels because “the fact that a bunch of pirates in Somalia are managing to hold to ransom the rest of the world … is a complete insult.”

America, Iran and mowing nuclear grass

Bernd Debusmann
Nov 15, 2011 18:33 UTC

Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

In the long-running Western debate over what to do about Iran’s nuclear program, fresh language has been as rare as fresh ideas. But here’s a novel phrase worth noting: “Striking Iranian nuclear sites is like mowing the grass.” How so?

The man who coined the simile, Middle East scholar Aaron David Miller, argues that no strike, or series of strikes, could permanently cripple the Iranian capacity to produce and weaponize fissile material. Absent complete success in wiping out Iran’s hardened and widely dispersed nuclear sites, “the grass would only grow back again.” The Iranians would “reseed” the grass “with the kind of legitimacy that can only come from having been attacked by an outside power.”

The presidential hopefuls of America‘s Republican Party could do worse than take note of that assessment. In the first foreign policy debate of the Republican primary race on November 12, all but one of the nine would-be presidents supported an attack — by the United States or Israel — on Iran to stop it from getting the bomb, if sanctions failed, as they have done so far.

After U.S. departure, a bloodbath in Iraq?

Bernd Debusmann
Nov 4, 2011 18:20 UTC

Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

As the clock ticks towards the end of America’s military presence in Iraq, there are increasingly dire warnings of a humanitarian disaster unless steps are taken to protect more than 3,000 Iranian dissidents living in a camp in Iraq. How closely is Washington listening?

Gloomy forecasts for the fate of the exiles at Camp Ashraf, north of Baghdad near the border with Iran, have come from Amnesty International, a long string of prominent former U.S. government officials, retired generals, and members of the European Parliament. One of them, Struan Stevenson, predicts “a Srebrenica-style massacre,” a reference to the 1995 killing of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims during the Bosnian War.

Stevenson, who is head of the European Parliament’s delegation on Iraq, issued his warning this week in an op-ed in the conservative Washington Times newspaper. Also this week, Amnesty International said there was a “serious risk of severe human rights violations” if the Iraqi government went ahead with plans to force the closure of the camp by the end of December.