Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Case Not Made

            President Obama’s speech last night concerning the United States’ intervention in Libya was deeply disturbing. Not only did the president fail to adequately address the lingering questions regarding the situation at hand, but his proposals for the future uses of the American military offer greatly expanded missions without coherent ties to either vital national interests and/or the additional resources necessary to meet broader mandates. Most alarmingly, President Obama’s remarks reinforce a continuing imbalance between the Executive and Legislative branches of government—an imbalance that favors the bureaucratic offices of the Executive branch at the expense of oversight and accountability.

            U.S. policy regarding Libya remains bereft of coherent objectives or endstates. According to President Obama, U.S. military intervention was/is justified by the protection of civilians and the imprimatur of an international coalition. The “conscience of the world” demanded action. Now, assumption of operational command by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and leadership by other partners are not only desirable, but purportedly advance the American interests that were so threatened as to require the commitment of American lives. Unfortunately, every tenet of the president’s Libya policy lacks coherence:

·         The Responsibility to Protect—President Obama’s claim that the United States has an enduring interest in protecting foreign civilian lives through military intervention opens the United States to either (a) charges of hypocrisy or (b) the quick exhaustion of resources. The president attempted to preempt this argument by saying that the United States would not react to every humanitarian crisis, but he in no way showed how the Libyan case is any more dire or important than other contemporary crises. Why does the protection of Libyans demand the commitment of U.S. armed force, while Ivorians wage bloody street battles, Zimbabweans suffer under the oppressive rule of Mugabe, and Congolese live in a Bermuda Triangle of human misery and conflict? Is the supposed humanitarian crisis of refugee flows to Tunisia and Egypt (two supposedly reforming states) more detrimental than Ivorian refugee flows to the likes of Ghana and Liberia (two of Africa’s most successful nascent democracies)? President Obama’s answers were simply insufficient, as they hinged on justifications of multinational collaboration and an ability to intervene, rather than American interests. Are we to assume that an American conception of the sanctity of civilian life hinges on the importance placed on the same by other collaborative states? Should we really place such interpretations at the mercy of the Italians (steadfast supporters of Qaddafi until the tide was nearly out,) the French, the Chinese, and—even more incredulously—the Arab states? Furthermore, does anyone really believe that the United States military would be less able to successfully conduct operations in other regions of the world, particularly littoral states?

·         Coalition-building—Since at least the First Gulf War (1990-1991), the United States has attached a specious importance to the acquiescence of large coalitions in justifying U.S. military action. Even worse, since 2001, our government inaccurately portrays the contributions and commitments of such coalition members. Take, for example, President Obama’s references last night to the strong support of Arab states, as exemplified by the Arab League’s support of a no-fly zone and the willingness of countries like Qatar and the United Arab Emirate (UAE) to provide forces. Left unmentioned was the Arab League’s condemnation of the actual implementation of the no-fly zone, and the scarcity of Arab aircraft over Libyan skies. Such reliance on coalitions becomes even more problematic when one considers the partners involved and their competing interests. UAE’s support to protect civilians in the Libyan affair is supposedly noble, but its commitment of ground forces to help the Bahraini monarchy quell popular risings by the country’s majority Shia is (fill in the blank)? Coalitions built on ephemeral concepts like the “responsibility to protect” are inherently more unstable than those built on shared security concerns.

·         NATO—One tenet of the president’s speech justified our Libyan intervention by arguing that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s commitment would allow U.S. intervention to be temporary and limited in nature. Before accepting that premise, observers should revisit the purpose and health of NATO. Lest anyone forget, NATO is a defensive alliance chartered primarily to protect continental European security (and, by extension, U.S. security interests) from a Soviet threat. Nowhere does the alliance’s mandate call for it to be the implementing or enforcing arm of United Nations’ decisions. NATO’s commitment of military force (and, by extension, the command of military forces) is predicated on a security threat and the consensus of alliance members that such a threat exists, which then justifies collective action. Neither tenet exists in regard to Libya’s civil war. No case has been made that the security of any alliance member has been threatened by Libyan governmental action. Moreover, allied consensus hardly exists. Key NATO members have expressed significant reservations. Germany, as a current member of the United Nations’ Security Council (UNSC), even abstained from the UNSC resolution that allows intervention.

Apart from the absence of a security threat, NATO is simply a dysfunctional and dying entity. Though the alliance ostensibly focuses on collective security (with an emphasis, at least historically and by number of members, on European security), the overwhelming majority of members consistently fails to meet minimum defense spending goals. Collective defense increasingly means American-provided defense under the guise of collective legitimacy. NATO headquarters elements are dominated by the U.S. military, and one need only compare the vast disparity between U.S. air/missile strikes in Libya compared to all other alliance members combined to support the assertion that NATO, rather than a collective security alliance, is increasingly a tool of legitimization for certain members’ actions.

            Beyond the situation in Libya, President Obama’s comments set dangerous new parameters for the commitment of U.S. military forces. According to him, threats to “our common humanity and our common security” (including, but not limited to: responding to natural disasters, preventing genocide, keeping the peace, ensuring regional security, and maintaining the flow of commerce) are enough to justify American action, to include military action. One wonders, however, to what common humanity or security he refers. Is it one that includes China, Russia, Brazil, India, and Germany—all countries that abstained from the decision to justify military action in Libya? Are citizens of Bahrain, Syria, Ivory Coast, Sudan et al. not entitled to the protections of such common security? If it, in fact, exists, shouldn’t all countries be responsible for protecting “our common humanity”, or do we continue to allow some states to amass vast financial reserves while the United States mires itself in increasing levels of debt and commitment?

            Domestically, the president’s address raises two existential questions: who decides when it is important enough to intervene, and who carries the burden of sacrifice for such interventions? Few Americans would argue that the president, as the commander-in-chief, does not have the authority to commit U.S. military forces to action. In emergency and exigent circumstances, the president may have to act unilaterally. However, in specifically delegating to Congress the power to declare war, one wonders if our Founding Fathers intended to give the Executive branch the power to commit U.S. forces wherever and whenever a single individual (the president) decides it is necessary to save civilians.  Such overarching control of a nation’s military reeks of monarchical power more than it reflects the checks and balances demanded in our Constitution. Congress, as both legislators and representatives, has the responsibility to mandate such action. One hopes that future congresses will be less complacent in living-up to such responsibility.

            Finally, if our representatives in Congress assembled find that such future actions are in the nation’s interest, a more equitable distribution of the sacrifices are in order. Increasingly, the U.S. military is treated more as a mercenary force that operates solely at the behest of the president, rather than as a profession sworn to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. The U.S. Government continually turns to approximately 2% of the population to achieve U.S. military objectives, and a slightly larger percentage (when one includes military family members) to bear the sacrifices associated with U.S. policies. Such a system neglects not only our Founders’ intentions (which held standing militaries extremely suspect), but also neglects the foundation of shared commitment that, theoretically, is one basis of our liberal democracy. In the end, all may not be required to sacrifice equally, but the notion that the overwhelming majority are not called upon to sacrifice at all is unsustainable.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

History Will Not Treat Us Kindly

      Current events in the Middle East—most notably in Tunisia, Egypt, and Lebanon—presage not only declining U.S. political influence in the region, but a growing realization that our government has squandered its influence and chosen the wrong side in most of the region’s tensions. Worse yet, our waste of lives, treasure, influence, and their sum (power) comes with far greater strategic liabilities than gains. Stagnation in Washington guarantees that we will have few significant course corrections to our misguided policies. One only hopes that the appeal of the idea of the United States prevents too precipitous a decline in our regional stature.
     The Levant is a case study in U.S. foreign policy being captured by special interests (particularly those representing foreign entities) and of our government’s inability to adjust to changing circumstances. Our policies concerning Israel are the most egregious examples. What has been the United States’ strategic gain resulting from our seemingly unquestioning support of Israel since 1973? How, in our present era of crushing national debt and budget deficits, can we justify the billions and billions of dollars we provide Israel annually? After all, the country is no more geostrategically significant than its immediate neighbors, either in terms of access to the eastern Mediterranean Sea, in terms of natural resources, and/or in terms of access to the larger region. However, the strategic liabilities of our blind patronage of Israel are legion. Not only have we damaged—perhaps fatally—our relations with the region’s Arab and Persian populations, but we have undermined our military advantages measured against rising competitors.
     U.S. policy relative to Lebanon reflects our inability to adjust to changing circumstances. While Lebanon’s political system, domestic actors, and political calculus change, our country’s approach is stuck in the 1980s. The U.S. has legitimate concerns regarding Iran’s Lebanese influence vis-à-vis Hizballah, but we seem unable to recognize that that organization is significantly more developed and powerful than it was as the 1980s’ amalgamation of groups opposing our presence in Lebanon. The State Department reacts negatively to Hizballah’s use of constitutional methods to alter the country’s political dynamic and leadership, but remains silent concerning Saad Hariri’s supporters’ calls for a “day of anger”. Instead of recognizing the possibilities (or at least realities) regarding Lebanon’s multi-confessional and semi-democratic system, we instead bind ourselves to the region’s entrenched autocracies (e.g. Saudi Arabia) that combine repressive tactics and the unrealized expectations and simmering anger of discontented populations.
     The follies of our support of regional autocracies will soon come to light regarding North Africa. The Tunisian regime, which traditionally received more U.S. aid than most of the sub-Saharan African states combined, has already fallen. Mubarak’s regime in Egypt, which is slated to receive its regular dose of approximately $1.5 billion in U.S. foreign assistance, is tottering. One wonders whether populations that have lived under these autocrats will forgive the United States its long-standing support to dictators, or whether they’ll turn to other regional or global actors for improved relationships and increased support.
     International politics may justify the need to align oneself with imperfect and unsavory regimes, but we no longer live in the Cold War era. In fact, our unwavering support of autocratic and anti-democratic regimes in the Middle East does more to strengthen our contemporary salafi jihadi foes than it does to combat them. Better to reduce our presence in the region and our dependence on its natural resources than to continue down our present path.

Monday, December 20, 2010

On Congress’ Abrogation of Responsibility

     Much has been made of Congress’ decision this weekend to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), but little focus has been devoted to the decision’s glaring lack of substance. Regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with the decision, it should be disconcerting to all that the associated social/political questions are to be answered by the unelected bureaucrats of the Department of Defense.

     The brevity of the bill was simultaneously refreshing and disconcerting—refreshing because of the absence of riders and amendments unrelated to the topic at hand, yet disconcerting in Congress’ refusal to address core issues clearly falling within its realm of responsibility. The bill’s two pages state simply that (1) the Secretary of Defense has ordered a comprehensive review of how his department will implement such a repeal, (2) the President, SECDEF, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff must review and forward said implementation plan to the appropriate congressional committees, and (3) repeal will only occur after the aforementioned requirements have been met. A lone clause mandates that repeal not conflict with the definitions of “marriage” and/or “spouse” currently found in the U.S. Code.

     Left unanswered in this landmark piece of legislation are the critical questions having ramifications well beyond the realms of the Pentagon and those in uniform. For example, is cohabitation by two homosexual servicemembers not only to be socially accepted within the military, but also to be supported by the military services' housing policies? If so, how will such support provide equity with unmarried, opposite sex servicemembers who are not allowed to cohabitate? What about the question of civil unions? Are the services required to recognize such legal relationships and confer benefits (e.g. medical, insurance, and other privileges) accordingly?

     More important than these individual questions, however, is the issue of decision-making. Many of these questions are deeply divisive, as has been demonstrated not only since DADT’s implementation during the Clinton Administration, but during recent state referendums and judicial decisions regarding same-sex marriage. Given such divisiveness and the fact that DADT’s repeal implementation will inevitably be looked to as federal precedent for other matters regarding the acceptance of homosexuality, what body should be making such decisions? What should be the process? Should U.S. citizens be satisfied with Congress rubber-stamping the findings of the Defense Department’s unelected (and, arguably, inexpert) bureaucrats, or should we demand that our elected officials debate and decide openly the critical issues at hand—and be held accountable for the same?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Reckless Endangerment

     Today, we learned that President Obama and the Republicans’ Senate leadership have reached a compromise concerning the issues of tax cuts and unemployment benefits. Rather than either side ceding significant ground, both parties agreed that all concerned should get what they seek. As it stands, the political settlement allows for a two-year extension of the Bush era tax cuts, while simultaneously extending unemployment benefits an additional 13 months (beyond the current maximum of 99 weeks of benefits.) For good measure, the parties have also proposed a one-year reduction of the payroll tax (used to fund Social Security) by two percentage points. The deal’s completion is not necessarily assured, as it must still face members of the House of Representatives—some of whom stridently disagree with one or the other of the plan’s major proposals.

     Unaddressed in this short-sighted and ill-conceived political posturing are the ballooning national deficit and debt that will hang around the necks of future American generations. Richard Haass and Roger Altman have written persuasively about the national power implications of such ignorance. In addition to the budgetary effects of interest payments on an increasing national debt (which will require both increased taxes and reductions in non-debt spending,) the United States also faces losing one of its most effective “soft power” tools, i.e. the use of the U.S. dollar as the currency of choice in international business. Already we are seeing international actors begin to question the sagacity of holding and conducting trade with the American greenback. Should these actions have a cascading effect among other actors, one wonders who will buy the debt instruments (Treasury bills and the like) necessary for the United States and its citizens to live beyond their means.

     What is particularly damning about this bilateral Washington compromise is its refusal to address the fundamental cultural and economic problems undergirding the United States’ weak economic position. While additional short-term government spending may be necessary to prevent an economy’s freefall (an assertion that I am not in complete agreement with, but that seems to be the position of many economists,) it must be targeted spending that builds or buttresses the foundations of sustained growth. For example, targeted programs that (a) improve the country’s crumbling infrastructure, (b) assist training and re-training programs for U.S. workers, and/or (c) fund research and development to increase American productivity would be useful types of such government spending. Across-the-board money in pockets to boost consumption (much of which will inevitably be consumption of imports) hardly seems to pass the common-sense test for improving the long-term economy.

     Additionally, such short-term spending must be paired with a plan to address debt reduction. To date, the latter (and, arguably, more fundamental) requirement remains ignored. Although most long-term analyses have unchanged entitlement/non-discretionary spending (Medicare, Social Security, and the expanding health provisions passed during the Bush II and Obama administrations) and debt servicing crowding-out discretionary spending, our leading politicians fail to coherently address this fundamental weakness. We will soon face (and, some argue, already face) a Ponzi scheme of entitlements that will increasingly tax our children and grandchildren to provide for a growing percentage of graying Americans. Something must give.

     What must be done? Our nation’s long-term health requires immediate initiatives, some of which can be tied to the short-term stimulus spending our politicians desperately desire.

        • First, the United States must have a coherent debate and resolution concerning its entitlement programs. Social Security’s reform can no longer remain the third-rail of Washington politics. Some combination of an increase in retirement age, decrease in benefits, and increase in payroll taxes must be developed and implemented if the program is to remain solvent. Americans’ attachment to the arbitrary retirement age of 65—an age selected in 1935 when a far smaller percentage of U.S. adults lived to see that age—is puzzling, as is the idea that all citizens should receive the same Social Security benefits, regardless of their other sources of retirement income.

        • Second, our nation’s long-term productivity is fundamentally tied to the size, quality, and innovative abilities of our labor pool, which will consist of (a) our children and grandchildren as they enter their wage-earning years, and (b) the quality and quantity of immigrants that the United States can attract. Therefore, education reform and immigration reform are priorities of the first order.

            o One possible method of education reform that has not received nearly enough implementation is a voucher system. Such a system would allow students and parents to use market mechanisms to shop for better education opportunities. Given American students’ decreasing academic performances (when compared to students of other countries) over the last two decades, it is hard to imagine that we could do worse with an individual voucher program.

            o Immigration reform remains an important component of bolstering the United States’ labor resources. Increasing percentages of university students studying math, engineering, and the sciences are either foreign nationals or recent immigrants, as are a significant percentage of start-up technology companies’ founders. Our country requires an immigration reform plan that significantly expands the legal opportunities for immigration, not only to take advantage of those at the high-end of the education spectrum, but also to take advantage of the capabilities of hard-working, law-abiding immigrants who seek the better life the American dream promises. Immigration must be tied to socialization that fosters the nationalism and responsibility expected of American citizens.

        • Third, if agreement is reached that short-term economic stimulus is necessary, we must use such resources appropriately. Improve and expand the roads, highways, and railroads that facilitate our domestic trade. Improve the ports that facilitate our international trade. Improve the electrical, telecommunication, and energy grids. Devote more resources to research and development that might have multiple benefits for numerous fields (particularly energy security.) Consider that, in some cases, a modern version of the Civilian Conservation Corps may be more beneficial than simply providing monthly unemployment benefits with little quantifiable gain.

     Most states of these United States have laws prohibiting the reckless endangerment of citizens, particularly of children. With some variations, reckless endangerment is generally defined as “…recklessly engage[ing] in conduct which creates a substantial risk of serious physical injury to another person.” I can think of no better example of reckless endangerment at the macro-level than the incoherent policies cobbled together by politicians of all stripes. If we refuse to condone reckless endangerment of one individual by another, why do we allow the United States Government to endanger the health and vitality of entire generations of young and future Americans?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Government as Philanthropist?

       Are U.S. humanitarian assistance and development assistance tools of national power, or are they charity? Should the United States federal government ever “do” charity? Whether as a component of national power or as charity, should the government outsource humanitarian and development assistance to third parties? These fundamental questions (and preconceived answers to the same) underlie a recent Washington Post op-ed that may have received scant attention outside the Beltway. On October 10th, Mr. Samuel Worthington, the President and CEO of InterAction (an “alliance of U.S.-based international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) focused on the world’s poor and most vulnerable people”) railed against recent U.S. Government pressure to more directly associate the provision of humanitarian aid with the government that, in part, makes such aid possible. Because of the possible dangers to aid workers and the mission difficulties that such “branding” might cause, Worthington advocates a laissez-faire approach by the federal government; to wit, aid organizations should independently determine the where, when, and degree of association with the United States. His approach, at its core, seems to be that the U.S. Government should cut the checks and step aside, so that NGOs can get on with their business of saving and improving lives.
       First, let us be clear that many, if not most, of the NGOs allied with InterAction are doing incredibly valuable work throughout the world, and that their workers breathe life into concepts like bravery and self-sacrifice. I know aid workers who have placed themselves in situations of extreme fragility, instability, and deprivation—situations that few soldiers or marines would venture into without heavy armament. Whether to educate the world’s poorest or to respond to the most devastating natural disasters, humanitarian workers consistently place themselves in environments only a handful of Americans can fathom.
       Let us be equally clear, though, that the goals and objectives of humanitarian organizations and the United States Government, while sometimes parallel to each other, are hardly synonymous. The United States Government is charged with preserving, protecting, and defending the United States, its Constitution, and way of life. Organizations like World Vision (to borrow an example from Mr. Worthington) are “dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice.” The U.S. federal government should only be supporting such NGO missions and goals to the extent that the missions and goals are directly and explicitly tied to the government’s core mission. Any other expenditure is a misallocation of resources, regardless of its degree of altruism.
       Let us also be clear that humanitarian work is big business. NGOs compete with each other, with intergovernmental organizations like the United Nations, and with national governments for funding, recognition, status, and a future. World Vision’s financial records show that, in fiscal year 2009, the organization received approximately 23% of its support and revenue from the United States Government. While undertaking its noble work, World Vision is in constant competition with other NGOs for public and private dollars. A safe bet is that it’s far easier (in terms of time and effort) to secure a multi-million dollar grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development than it is to solicit a commensurate amount from hundreds or thousands of private donors. In such an environment, why wouldn’t NGOs pursue U.S. Government grants while attempting to minimize obstacles and requirements concerning their expenditure?
       As is so many other instances, we are paying (financially and otherwise) for the inadequacy of our government. If these expenditures in the guises of humanitarian and development assistance are in the national interest, our political leaders and bureaucrats should be tying them to coherent national objectives, should be assessing the progress toward such objectives, and should be modifying expenditures based on the progress/lack thereof to such objectives. Moreover, if these types of assistance are so critical, then the government should develop the manpower, resources, and structures necessary to plan and provide them, rather than relying on third-party NGOs that have their own mandates and missions. Contemporarily, the United States Government confuses assistance with charity. The latter is noble and is the raison d'être for many NGOs, but it is not the purview of a government of free citizens who should decide individually and independently the types, amounts, and degrees of charitable donations they choose to make. American citizens consistently prove themselves to be some of the world’s most giving persons. We don’t need more government help in giving away our time or money.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Voice in the Wilderness

         Secretary Gates’ call to service yesterday at Duke University should be required reading by not only the nation’s youth, but by the country’s Age of Aquarius decision-making generation that drives us into international quagmires of the first order. His comments echoed many of the sentiments and arguments voiced by a minority over the last decade: that the military is marked by exhaustion; that too few serve in armed forces asked to do far too much; that those who do serve are increasingly becoming a community onto themselves; and that citizenship should bear with it the responsibility and privilege of service. Yet, one wonders if Gates enters the fray too late in the game, if the secretary’s comments serve as a one-off public soliloquy (rather than as the initiation of a sustained campaign for change,) and if the United States will ever confront the basic means-ends mismatch we’ve constructed.
         In his speech to the Blue Devils, Secretary Gates went further than any other contemporary political leader in highlighting the multiple dangers inherent in our civil-military environment. The All-Volunteer Force (AVF), which Gates marks as a “remarkable success” (while simultaneously identifying the hallmarks of its failure,) was not built for the types or durations of conflicts in which we’re presently embroiled. Voluntary service, while possibly noble, turns out to be quite expensive, and has the added disadvantage of being either hidden from or ignored by an overwhelming percentage of Americans. In short, for all of his lauding of the AVF, a discerning reader is left at the end of Gates’ speech wondering “Now how exactly is this better than the draft?”
History should identify Gates as one of the country’s better secretaries of defense, but his elaboration on the state of American civil-military relations did not go far enough. In the end, we will only begin to correct the deficiencies in our foreign policy and in our civil-military relations when a much greater percentage of the population shoulders the costs of our misadventures; when—as Gates himself highlighted—war is no longer an “abstraction” for the elites and the common folk who return a disengaged political class to Washington every two years. Democracy and disengagement are polar opposites, and with rights come responsibilities. A volunteer force is a fine tool as a standing army during a time of peace, but democracies require national service during times of war. 

Friday, September 24, 2010

Forgetting Whom They Serve

       While conducting some research this morning, I stumbled upon a disturbing Israeli press article that hasn’t yet received too much coverage in the American press. Over the last few days, a couple of American press outlets have reported about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s offer to freeze settlement construction in return for Jonathan Pollard’s clemency. What I haven’t seen in the press is the crux of the Israeli Haaretz article—that Representative Barney Frank (D, Massachusetts) and colleagues are circulating a petition to President Obama appealing for the same.
       Frank’s and friends’ justification for clemency (the body of the press release was provided by Representative Frank's office and is copied below) would be laughable if it wasn’t so disgusting. Representative Frank first justifies such clemency based on “…the vast disparity between Mr. Pollard’s sentence and the sentences given to many others who have been convicted of similar activities,” although the true extent of Pollard’s espionage (mainly for Israel, but also reportedly for South Africa) has never been publicized. Even worse, Representative Frank cites clemency as being needed “…as a strong indication of the goodwill of our nation towards Israel and the Israeli people.” Lest anyone forget, Israel is the recipient of billions of dollars of American taxpayer-provided aid annually, and has been provided overt and tacit American security guarantees since 1973. Israel’s thanks has been the Pollard affair, weapons negotiations with China, and intransigence in the Middle East peace process. (To be fair concerning the latter, however, the Palestinians are hardly the best of negotiating partners.)
       One wonders if we, the United States, are getting full-value from our relationship with Israel. More immediately, one wonders whether Representative Frank and company have completely forgotten which country’s interests they are sworn to protect. Pollard is an individual duly convicted of espionage in a court of law. His crimes were so damaging that the judge in question (who was privy to a classified damage assessment provided by the Secretary of Defense) disregarded a plea agreement in the matter, and sentenced Pollard to life in prison. Representative Frank’s petition is unconscionable.

(c) 2010 Richard Wrona

Body of Press Release Regarding Representative Frank's letter to President Obama Regarding Jonathan Pollard

WASHINGTON -- Congressman Barney Frank, Congressman Bill Pascrell, Congressman Edolphus Towns and Congressman Anthony Weiner announced today that they are circulating a letter in the House of Representatives, seeking other Members to join them in asking President Obama to extend clemency to Jonathan Pollard, the former civilian defense officer who is serving a life sentence for passing classified information to Israel

The letter notes that they are not questioning Mr. Pollard’s guilt, the process by which he was convicted and sentenced, nor the necessity of punishing those who engage in espionage on behalf of allied countries.  Rather, the appeal for clemency is based on the vast disparity between Mr. Pollard’s sentence and the sentences given to many others who have been convicted of similar activities, even with countries that unlike Israel are or have been adversaries of the United States.

The letter also notes the positive impact that a grant of clemency would have in Israel, as a strong indication of the goodwill of our nation towards Israel and the Israeli people.  This would be particularly helpful at a time when the Israeli nation faces difficult decisions in its long-standing effort to secure peace with its neighbors.

The letter will be circulated in Congress for a period of time, and then sent to President Obama, most likely by the middle of October.