Wednesday, January 01, 2014

The New Year, Connecticut’s Novice Senators, Russia And Afghanistan

Connecticut U.S. Senator Chris Murphy’s young years were showing in an interview he gave to the Connecticut Post just before the New Year opened. Murphy assumed office on January 3, 2013. Possibly by the time this column appears in print, Mr. Murphy’s career in the Senate will be one year young.

The high point of his yet shallow senatorial career, Mr. Murphy said in the interview, was his near heroic resistance to the National Rifle Association (NRA).

His opposition to the NRA, the one term senator said, possibly would not pay legislative dividends for years. However, the resistance he has offered the NRA represents the point of a spear. Advocates of tougher gun laws, he told the paper, are now organizing to offset the political clout of the NRA.

"For the past 20 years,” said Mr. Murphy, “the NRA has worked in a vacuum. Now, there are groups that are counterpoints to the NRA. I consider myself part of the political resistance to the NRA,” a small wave, so to speak, that announces the coming tsunami of resistance.

Unfortunately for Mr. Murphy and his fellow guerrilla fighter in the U.S. Senate, Dick Blumenthal, also a newly minted senator, the two NRA resistance fighters were not able to convince a sufficient number of senators, in a body controlled by Democrats and possibly the most progressive President the Democratic Party has produced since Woodrow Wilson hung up his spurs, to adopt very mild gun control measures, far less severe than those measures rushed into law in Connecticut following the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

In fact, Mr. Murphy’s brash and very public resistance to the NRA may have persuaded some senators favorable to mild gun control measures to place a ten foot pole between themselves and Connecticut’s two new U.S. Senators, one snorting for battle, and the other, Mr. Blumenthal, who wishes to go down to history as the U.S. Congress’s first consumer protection senator.

Most recently, a Connecticut newspaper reported that Mr. Blumenthal was pressuring United Parcel Service (UPS) to issue refunds to customers whose gifts did not arrive in time for Christmas. “I am disappointed,” Mr. Blumenthal thundered in a press release, “to learn that so many consumers in Connecticut and across the country made purchases this holiday season expecting their gifts to arrive in time for Christmas, but instead were left empty-handed.” As Attorney General in Connecticut for 20 years, Mr. Blumenthal’s disappointment frequently was translated into expensive multi-year suits against parties that presumed to disappoint him. As U.S. Senator, Mr. Blumenthal appears to have brought into office with him an abundance of his vices and few of his virtues.

Even his junior partner in the Senate, Mr. Murphy, knows that the U.S. Congress should be concerning itself with larger issues – such as Afghanistan. “The long list of foreign challenges facing the U.S. in 2014,” Mr. Murphy told the paper during his interview, “is topped by the drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and the ongoing efforts to persuade Iran to halt its nuclear weapons program.”

Mr. Murphy also promised to keep an eye on Russia: "There's no doubt that Russia is trying to expand its influence around the region and world and revert back (sic) to the kind of abusive autocracy that they got rid of 20 years ago.”

The “abusive autocracy” Russia presumably “got rid of 20 years ago” was, in fact, not an autocracy but rather a totalitarian enslavement of nations that previously had declared autonomy from Russia and were for nearly three quarters of a century -- from the Communist Revolution in Russia in 1917 to the destruction of the Berlin Wall in 1989 – forced into the Soviet orbit. But why quibble over antique historical points?

The most recent “intelligence estimate” on Afghanistan, a consensus report involving all U.S. intelligence agencies, contains some bad news and some worse news.

The bad news, to put it bluntly, is that if the U.S. withdraws all its troops from Afghanistan, sometimes called “the graveyard of empires,” the country is very likely, very quickly, to revert to Taliban hands. The worse news is that even if the U.S. were to retain in the country more than 12,000 troops, the minimum number necessary to sustain the present inadequate status quo, the security gains achieved since 2010 would still significantly erode in the south and east of the country.

Given these options, “some White House officials," according to a Tribune report, are pressing for a full and immediate withdrawal.

Following release of the report, the Obama administration was peppered with questions, and the questioners were told by an administration official who requested anonymity that President Barack Obama “has not made any decisions about troop numbers, nor will he” in the absence of a signed agreement with the mercurial Hamid Karzai that would permit U.S. troops to remain after 2014.

When Mr. Blumenthal has finished squeezing all the publicity he thinks he needs for re-election from the UPS contretemps, and when Mr. Murphy similarly leaves off cuffing the ears of law abiding NRA members, both Connecticut’s relatively new U.S. Senators might want to address themselves to immediate and pressing foreign policy issues such as: Should the United States withdraw from Afghanistan in the new year – yes or no?

Perhaps the Taliban in Afghanistan should be President of Russia Vladimir Putin’s problem. Geography is destiny, and Afghanistan is a terrorist doorway to Russia.
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