Monday, June 26, 2006

A Letter to Bill Keller

The following is a letter from a U.S. Army Sergeant stationed in Mosul to New York Times Editor-in-Chief Bill Keller. I don't necessarily agree with every assertion SGT Boggs makes, but it accurately conveys the anger I feel about the NY Times' arrogance and irresponsiblity.

Mr. Keller,

What ceases to amaze me about your paper is the lengths you are willing to go to make headlines and sell papers. Who cares if those headlines help the enemies of America, you guys are making money and that is what it is all about in the end right?

Your recent decision to publish information about a classified program intended to track the banking transactions of possible terrorists is not only detrimental to America but also to its fighting men and women overseas. I know because I am a sergeant in the army on my second tour to Iraq. As I am sure you don’t know because you aren’t in Iraq, and I am sure never will be, terrorism happens here everyday because there are rich men out there willing to support the everyday terrorist who plants bombs and shoots soldiers just to make a living. Without money terrorism in Iraq would die because there would no longer be supplies for IED’s, no mortars or RPG’s, and no motivation for people to abandon regular work in hopes of striking it rich after killing a soldier.

Throughout your article you mention that “ the banking program is a closely held secret” but the cat is out of the bag now isn’t it. Terrorists the world over can now change their practices because of your article. For some reason I think that last sentence will bring you guys pleasure. You have done something great in your own eyes-you think you have hurt the current administration while at the same time encouraging “freedom fighters” resisting the imperialism of the United States. However, I foresee a backlash coming your way. I wish I had a subscription to your paper so I could cancel it as soon as possible. But alas, that would prove a little tough right now since I am in Iraq dealing with terrorists financed by the very men you are helping.

Thank you for continually contributing to the deaths of my fellow soldiers. You guys definitely provide a valuable service with your paper. Why without you how would terrorists stay one step ahead of us? I would love to hear a response as to why you deemed revealing this program a necessity, but that will probably come as soon as the government decides to finally put you guys behind bars where you belong.

Tim Boggs

Sunday, June 25, 2006

"A publication written by traitors for an audience of idiots."

This is simply unbelievable.

The New York Times has publicized yet another highly classified anti-terror program against the government's wishes. This time they printed the details of a program that was unquestionably legal, that had been briefed to the appropriate Congressional leaders, that apparently did not risk the privacy of any individual American citizens, and that had a proven track record of impeding Al Qaeda's financial transactions.

(Well, at least until Al Qaeda reads about it in the New York Times, anyways. The terrorists now know which specific financial institutions and money transfer techniques to avoid. For a great summary of what intelligence the Times gave to Al Qaeda, see Andrew McCarthy's piece in the National Review Online.

As "Instapundit" Glenn Reynolds observes,
When you talk about military force, we're supposed to use law-enforcement and intelligence methods instead. But if you use law-enforcement and intelligence methods, people shout "Big Brother" and the Times runs stories exposing them.

Seriously, if one didn't know better, it would appear that the New York Times is repeatedly siding with the terrorists against our government.

(Oh, and the quote in the headline comes from Ed Morrissey, whoseCaptain's Quarters has provided a useful summary of this issue as well).

Saddam's "Hunger Strike"

This is priceless . . .

Saddam ends hunger strike after missing lunch
Ex-Iraqi leader refuses one meal to protest his lawyer's slaying by gunmen

Updated: 6:23 a.m. ET June 23, 2006
BAGHDAD - Saddam Hussein ended a brief hunger strike after missing just one meal in his U.S.-run prison, a U.S. military spokesman said on Friday.

The former Iraqi leader had refused lunch on Thursday in protest at the killing of one of his lawyers by gunmen, but the spokesman said he ate his evening meal.

Former Saddam aides being held in the same prison had refused to eat three meals since Wednesday evening but ended their fast with the ex-president.

“They all took their dinner meal,” the spokesman told Reuters.

Saddam is on trial for crimes against humanity for his role in the 1982 killing of 148 Shiites in Dujail. His lead counsel, Khalil al-Dulaimi, has blamed pro-government Shiite militias for the murder of his deputy Khamis al-Obaidi on Wednesday.

It was certainly not good news that al-Obaidi was killed, although it is unclear whether he was murdered by Shi'a militias seeking revenge or Sunni terrorists attempting to force a mistrial. A fair, non-political trial that holds Saddam and his thugs accountable for their crimes against the Iraqi people is a vital step in re-estabilishing confidence in Iraq's institutions after more than three decades of Ba'athist depravity.

But it is amazing (and amusing) to think that for all his bluster, Saddam could not last longer without a meal than thousands of high school wrestlers throughout America!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

World Cup Notes

By the time anybody reads this, the fate of the U.S. national team will likely already have been determined. But I wanted to convey some thoughts from watching my first World Cup abroad.

As the World Cup started two weeks ago, it was a disaster of epic proportions to discover that the Armed Forces Network was not televising the games here in Iraq! After shaking hands with President Bush, General Casey came over to me to say hello, jokingly asking whether he could get me a mocha (the President's speech was held in the Green Beans coffee lounge in the Palace). I said "No thanks, but if you could do anything to get AFN to start televising the World Cup I think everybody would really appreciate it." General Casey just smiled, and walked away, probably having no clue what I was griping about, I thought.

The World Cup has been one of my favorite sporting events ever since I was a grade schooler participating in the soccer boom of the 1970s. For my 8th birthday my mother took me and five friends to RFK for a Washington Diplomats-Montreal Mania game, and when the players came out during halftime to punt autographed soccer balls into the stands, this birthday boy actually caught one. (Thus proving beyond any philosophical doubt that there is cosmic justice). That same year I was able to go to the 1980 "Soccer Bowl", the North American Soccer League's championship game, in which the New York Cosmos beat the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers 3-0 on two second half goals by Italian national team star Giorgio Chinaglia.

The only compensation for undergoing a wisdom tooth extraction in the summer of 1990 was that I was able to watch the U.S.'s first World Cup matches in 40 years instead of working my summer job. In 2002 I was fortunate to room with two former college soccer players who were as passionate about soccer as me (and, in reality, knew more about the game than I did).

Initially, the only venue within the Palace complex to watch games at was by Saddam's pool, where the MWR (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation) folks had set up a movie screen and projector so that we could watch games on Arab satellite. So for the U.S.'s disastrous opening match against the Czech Republic (the Czechs won 3-0) I couldn't understand a word of the commentary other than GOOOOOOOAAAAAAALLLLLL!!!! It was an almost perfect setting, underneath the palm trees, as night fell and the oppressive heat broke into a cool, 90 degree evening.

The games at the pool were shown at 8PM Baghdad time, or noon EST. However, the U.S.-Italy game Saturday night was televised at 11PM, past the "quiet hours" for the pool. So for this game they opened up Saddam's movie theater in the basement of the Palace. For two hours I sat next to a burly Caribinari with a shaved head, trading insults and boasts in Italian and English as the U.S. dominated the Italians in every aspect, with only a couple of questionable ejections allowing the Italians to escape with a 1-1 draw. As I said when I arrived in Iraq, there were sure to be some surreal moments in my year here, and this was clearly one of them.

This is perhaps the best part of watching the World Cup in Iraq. Although we are repeatedly reminded that Operation Iraqi Freedom is clearly a unilateral war representing the failure of the Bush administration's diplomacy, I've sat next to Aussies as they lost to Brazil, Ukranians as they routed Saudi Arabia 4-0, and commiserated with British officers at the news of Michael Owens' torn ACL. (The day after the loss to the Czech Republic, I evened scowled at some Czech officers as the walked by, although I'm not sure they understood why I was doing it and that I wasn't just some insane American officer). In all, there are TEN countries in the Coalition besides the United States that have teams participating in the World Cup this year.

In fact, these ten sides have a combined record of 13-6-5, with a +9 goal differential. In other words, social science proves that if you want World Cup success, it is better to be allied with the United States in Iraq. (Iran, incidentally, failed to win a game this year). To test this theory, just watch tonight's game between Brazil and Japan. Japan recently announced that after three years, they will not renew their troop commitment again because the security in the province in which they are stationed no longer requires their presence. I bet that because of their withdrawal from Iraq, the Japanese team will lose tonight's match against Brazil. Don't try to argue with this, it's science!!!

Okay, I have to go. Kickoff is in half an hour, and I have to quickly grab some chow. I will likely be watching tonight's game alone in my trailer, which affords both air conditioning and one of Maj. Carroll-Keay's leftover beers. Fortunately, yesterday we received an email that for the duration of the tournament, what is normally the Pentagon Channel on our cable system is being converted to AFN Extra so that we can watch the World Cup games.

Perhaps General Casey understood what I was talking about after all!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

"Courageous" Warriors

Back in grad school, I got into a heated debate with a Leftist (an appellation he wears proudly, incidentally) colleague in the Harvard Government Department over whether the 9/11 hijackers were courageous or cowards. He argued that they were courageous, because they'd successfully carried out a suicide mission against a more powerful adversary in pursuit of what they believed to be a righteous cause.

I argued that they were cowards, given that their intended victims in the World Trade Center and Pentagon were unaware of the attack, and hence incapable of self-defense. A criminal who attacks a much larger, well-armed victim who is aware of the risk of assault, if nothing else, can be said to have displayed physical courage even while performing a morally objectionable act. However, the same criminal would never be considered courageous in any way shape or form if his victim is an old lady or a child incapable of self-defense, or say by sniping at the larger victim from a distance.

Furthermore, the mere fact that the 9/11 attacks were a suicide mission doesn't confer the merit of courage on its attackers. Society, while maintaining empathy for those who commit suicide, generally does not describe the act as courageous. Given that Muhammed Atta and associates (half of whom did not even know the true nature of the operation) committed suicide solely as a means to murder thousands of people, it is clearly not appropriate to describe their action as courageous when we'd condemn the more morally neutral act of killing oneself.

(My former colleague, incidentally, is now a professor of political philosophy at Oxford. He also maintains a web blog that once made a very condescending remark about me in the context of this debate, although sadly, I can not find the link. But I digress).

This previous debate came back to me in the light of two recent articles on the battlefield tactics of the jihadists in Afghanistan and Iraq.

First, the Times of London reports that the Taliban are repeatedly
using women and children as human shields in firefights against Coalition forces. So much for the image they project in their propaganda as courageous holy warriors, I guess. Just imagine what the Western media would say if U.S. forces ever used such tactics.

Second, we received the sad news yesterday that the bodies of PFC Kristian Menchaca and PFC Thomas L. Tucker were found. Al Qaida in Iraq has claimed credit for their kidnapping, so not suprisingly, evidence suggests they were tortured before being murdered. News reports also indicate that their bodies were mutilated and booby-trapped. According to Islam, desecration of the dead, even of one's enemies, is strictly forbidden. So again, whereas the terrorists claim to be holy warriors, they routinely violate the very religion in whose name they claim to be waging jihad.

In the end, these "insurgents" are nothing more than cowards who propogate not the word of God, but rather a nihilistic death cult. If this were a movie, there would be no hesitation to call their actions and their aims evil.

As much as we are fighting them physically in the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert of Iraq, we must fight against the tendency of certain intellectuals and pundits to assert some sort of moral equivalence between U.S. forces and the terrorists.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Ben and the President (Reverse Angle)

This photo, in which you can actually see my face rather than just the back of my head, was sent to me by a Colonel who served in my old Field Artillery Regiment at Ft. Bragg at the same time as I did back in the mid-to-late 90's. Another "It's a Small Army" story, to be sure.

(Oh, and for the record, the President and I are neither arm wrestling nor doing some sort of secret handshake in this photo).

Monday, June 19, 2006

Happy (Belated) Father's Day

I didn't have a chance yesterday to wish everybody, whether in theater or back home, a Happy Father's Day!

It is impossible to overstate the importance of fathers to the development of healthy, happy children, and therefore to society at large. For example, the picture above illustrates that poor David is suffering from the absence of a father figure to teach him that you imbibe the inside of the bottle, not the outside. But at least his instinct is in the right place!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Quotes of the Day (VIII)

-- "Military power wins battles, but spiritual power wins wars."

General George C. Marshall

-- "Military action is never directed against material forces alone; it is always aimed simultaneously at the moral forces which give it life, and the two cannot be seperated."

General Carl von Clausewitz

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The President in the Palace

At around 1600 yesterday, a colleague came into my work area and announced rather matter-of-factly that the President had arrived at the Palace and was on the BBC. I assumed she meant President Talabani, who I thought was included to participate in the Camp David summit via SVTC (secure video teleconference). An hour earlier, Ambassador Khalilzad had made a rare appearance in the back office, looking for a book of quotations he had given me a few weeks ago. He said something about needing a quote to introduce the President, which again, I assumed meant introducing Talabani to the gathering of Embassy staff scheduled for later that evening after the SVTC. (I selected some self-deprecating quotes from John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, as well as something a little more inspirational by John F. Kennedy).

It wasn't until I actually turned my computer to the BBC that I realized President Bush had made a surprise visit to Baghdad to meet Prime Minister Maliki. Apparently, I wasn't the only one kept in the dark, as Maliki himself was only informed that he'd be meeting the President in person rather than by SVTC minutes before President Bush arrived. Given Maliki's normally dour personality, the enthusiastic smile on his face when he greeted the President in the rotunda of Saddam's palace, was priceless.

At 1806, an email went out to the entire Embassy inviting everybody to come welcome the President in the coffee shop/internet cafe. Although he wouldn't arrive until 2030, the doors had already opened at 1800. My friend Clark (a fellow political appointee in the Administration) and I looked at each other, grabbed some reading material and our cameras, and ran down outside to where the line was forming.

Two laps around the Palace (somebody forgot to tell us no cell phones or weapons allowed) and an hour of waiting outside in 100 degree heat later, we finally got into the former ballroom where the President would be appearing. At 1900, the crowd was already about 20 rows deep, and I was frustrated that I was not going to get much of a view of the President. Fortunately, one of the Embassy's security personnel saw us, and informed us that there was a separate section to the side of the stage for the Ambassador's staff. So I was able to get a position along the front-row of the wooden barrier when the President addressed the Embassy staff.

And so we waited. And waited. And waited.

When I spent a weekend working on the '04 campaign and was able to attend a rally with the President, the campaign provided various musical acts to entertain the throng while waiting for the President to arrive. Okay, so what if all they were all country music acts, at least it was live music. Yesterday, however, the best they could do was to pump easy listening music into the hall, including a surreal, non-Led Zepplin acoustic version of "Stairway to Heaven." But as people continued to flow into the ballroom, there was a palpable electricity in the air.

Finally, at about 2045 a voice came over the loudspeaker introducing Ambassador Khalilzad and General Casey. I thought they were each going to deliver remarks while we waited for the President to come out, but fifteen seconds later, the announcer said, "Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States," and the room ERUPTED IN APPLAUSE! The enthusiasm of the audience (probably 1,000 soldiers and diplomats) surprised me a little, given that probably 80% of the State Department are passionate Democrats. But as the President bounded on stage, even a senior State official who spent years actively undermining the Administration's Iraq policy through wildly inaccurate leaks to the press was elbowing people to try and get in a better position to take a picture of the President.

I thought the President's remarks were excellent, hitting all the right notes concerning strategic optimism mixed with tactical patience, while emphasizing how the outcome in Iraq is vital to both our interests and ideals. The speech was interrupted several times by boisterous applause, the loudest coming when he said,
"I also have a message to the Iraqi people that when America gives a commitment, America will keep its commitment."
and after a remark that wasn't even intended as an applause line ("We will continue to hunt down people like Mr. Zarqawi and bring them to justice.")

More importantly, perhaps, the President's sincerity regarding his appreciation for our work and his dedication to the mission came through clearly. He was so comfortable with the speech material that he only looked down at the podium to check his notes 2-3 times.

After he'd finished, he came right over to where I was standing, and shook my hand. (Yes, that's me in uniform in the picture above. And no, he didn't come to our side first because he recognized me). As the President worked his way through the rest of the crowd (and he seemed to take more time with this than usual), I was able to get Stephen Hadley's attention and catch up with him for a few moments.

In the end, this was a very successful visit from the standpoint of bolstering morale. This morning everybody at the Embassy was still exhausted from expending so much adrenaline and energy the night before.

Also, it is impossible to overstate the importance of the imagery of President Bush coming to Iraq to meet PM Maliki as opposed to hosting him in DC. With all the petty partisan sniping over the war, it is easy to forget that PM Maliki's government was democratically selected in an election with 75% voter turnout. The Iraqi government is as legitimate a representation of the will of the people as the American government, the British government, the French government, etc. The fact that President Bush come to Baghdad to pay tribute and pledge support to the Iraqi government sends a very strong signal to the Iraqi people (and throughout the Arab world) that Iraq is no longer a pariah in the international community. This sign of respect will go a long ways towards helping the national unity government establishing (not reestablishing) normalcy in Iraq.

History will be the ultimate judge of whether or not President Bush was correct in his judgment about the necessity of liberating Iraq. But the freedom and hope that the Iraqi people enjoy today, despite the continuing violence, would not have been possible without the President's almost-Churchillian steadfastness. In the face of a chorus of politicians who want to cut and run from Iraq, give other nations a veto over our ability to defend ourselves, or abdicate our role as a purveyor of freedom in the world, President Bush has stood firm in his vision and refused to take the easy way out just to improve his poll numbers.

That is the definition of leadership. And whatever history's verdict of this conflict may be, last night I was proud to shake his hand.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

President Bush Visits Baghdad

By now, everybody probably knows President Bush was here in Baghdad today.

No, I didn't "officially" know beforehand that he was coming, although there were hints that made me suspect he might be visiting us.

Yes, I did get to shake his hand and say hello. I also was able to spend a few moments speaking to National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, who was my boss when I was called to active duty last fall.

I'll write more about the event with the President itself tomorrow. Waiting in line and attending the President's speech to the troops and Embassy staff overrode dinner tonight, and I need to go to "Midnight Chow" at the Dining Facility. (Also, to be honest, the excitement of the day has worn me out a bit).

More details (including pictures!) to follow . . .

Thoughts on Zarqawi's Demise (Conclusion)

Okay, to recap: In Part I of this post, I outlined why history suggests we should not overstate the importance of killing Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. In Part II, I emphasized why we should not understate the window of opportunity that his death offers to Iraq. In this concluding post, I argue that killing Zarqawi was a good thing in and of itself regardless of its consequences for Iraq.

Whether or not one supports the Bush administration's decision to liberate Iraq, the following is factually indisputable:
-- Zarqawi operated a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan with the blessing of the Taliban and, at minimum, the tacit approval of Al Qaeda;
-- After the liberation of Afghanistan, Zarqawi moved to Northern Iraq, and directed a plot to disperse ricin in European subway systems;
-- Zarqawi was responsible for the 2002 murder of U.S. diplomat Lawrence Foley in Jordan;
-- Whatever his previous link to Al Qaeda, he swore fealty to Osama bin Laden and sought his guidance, support, and blessing for terrorist operations in Iraq;
-- Zarqawi was responsible for the bombings of the UN Headquarters in Iraq in August 2003 that killed Sergio Vieira de Mello; the bombing at the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf (Shi'a Islam's holiest site) that killed Grand Ayatollah Muhammed al-Hakim and a hundred other worshippers; and the bombing of the Al-Askariya Mosque in Samarra (another extremely important shrine for Shi'a) that killed hundreds of worshippers.
-- Zarqawi personally beheaded two Western hostages and disseminated the videotape for propaganda purposes, an act that even Al Qaeda's #2 Ayman al-Zawahiri found too extreme; and
-- Zarqawi was responsible for the bombing of three hotels in Amman that killed more than 70 members of a Jordanian wedding party.

This short list actually understates the thousands of Iraqi civilians killed by his network's suicide bombers as he attempted to provoke a civil war between Iraq's Sunni and Shi'a.

Zarqawi also said the following (again, a short list because I don't have time for further research):
-- "We have declared a bitter war against the principle of democracy and all those who seek to enact it."
-- "We will either achieve victory over the human race or we will pass to the eternal life."
-- "Anyone who stands in the way of our struggle is our enemy and target of the swords."

In other words, Zarqawi had declared himself to be irrevocably at war with the United States, all democratic countries, and any Muslims who he (without any religious standing whatsoever) deemed to be insufficiently devout. He showed zero compunction about slaughtering women and children to achieve his desired ends, and personally reveled in killing his "enemies" as sadistically as possible. His stated objective was a living hell of mass murder between all of the communities of Iraq, the broader Islamic world, and eventually the entire world.

It is fashionable in certain corners to argue that "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter;" that American imperialism created and deserved to targeted by murderers such as Zarqawi; or to think that Zarqawi was merely the result of the Bush administration's simplistic propaganda to frighten people into accepting fascism at home.

But in a less cynical age, there was a word to describe a man like Zarqawi: evil.

The bottom line is that Zarqawi believed he was justified in killing every person reading this page right now, whether you support the war or not. And everyday he was actively seeking the means to do so. With such a barbarous fanatic as Zarqawi, there is no question of root causes, no hope for deterrence, no salvation in compromise or negotiation. With men such as Zarqawi (and Bin Laden, Zawahiri, and others whose names we don't know yet), there is only one option for Western Civilization: kill or be killed.

This is why, regardless of any other consequences for Iraq, it is a good thing that Zarqawi is dead. And it is worth remembering that had we withdrawn from Iraq months ago, as some U.S. politicians demanded, this amoral monster would still be sewing death and destruction today.

Monday, June 12, 2006

al-Rubaie on Zarqawi's Demise

Apparently Iraq’s national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, appeared on CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer yesterday, and made a similar arguemnt to the one I proposed earlier as to why Zarqawi's death may speed a political settlement of the Iraqi insurgency.

[T]he medium-term effect of the departure and the death of Zarqawi is going to be huge on this organization, and not only on this organization, but on other groups, insurgent groups if you like. Because those people were reluctant and afraid, from Zarqawi, to join the political process. Now, the road is easy to go and to come back to the political process and to join the Iraqi people, and I believe this is going to encourage a lot of people from the insurgents, the nationalists, the former regime elements, Baathists, (inaudible) and religious extremists, they're going to start joining the political process and joining the new Iraq.

Thoughts on Zarqawi's Demise (Part II)

Yesterday, in Part I of this post, I argued why history suggests that the Administration is correct to be cautious about the impact of Zarqawi's killing on the level of violence in Iraq. Although it is important to avoid triumphalism and unrealistic expectations in the wake of Zarqawi's death, it is equally important not to go too far in the opposite direction and trivialize his importance to the insurgency.

There are currently three sources of insurgent violence in Iraq:
-- Foreign jihadists under the Zarqawi network's direction who seek to impose Islamofacism on the Iraqi people and establish a base for global attacks;
-- Former Ba'athists who seek to reimpose their secular fascism on the Iraqi people (and for anybody who doubts that the Ba'ath were a Fascist party, read Kanan Makiya's Republic of Fear to dispel all doubts); and
-- Sunni Arabs who feel excluded from the Iraqi political process due to the loss of privilege they enjoyed since the British imposed a Sunni monarch on a majority Shi'a country in the 1920s.
Additionally, in the past few months, the majority of Iraqi civilian deaths have been caused by radical Shi'a militias.

With the exception of the "Saddamists," Zarqawi's death has the potential to significantly reduce three of the four sources of violence in Iraq.

First, Zarqawi's death clearly weakens Al Qaeda in Iraq. Through his propaganda campaign (unquestioningly conveyed by the Arab and Western media), Zarqawi attained a rock star status amongst jihadists that gave him a unique ability to recruit extremists and raise money for operations. Whoever takes over Al Qaeda in Iraq will not have the same charisma as Zarqawi, and will take at least a year or two to attain his stature. The problem for this successor, however, is that in order to attain such visibility, he has to expose himself to the U.S. military. If nothing else, the attack that killed Zarqawi shows that Coalition intelligence has gotten inside the decision loop of the terrorist hierarchy. Whoever succeeds Zarqawi will likely have to spend as much time on the run as planning terrorist attacks, and if the key intelligence did come from within the Zarqawi network, may have to conduct a purge in order to feel that he can trust his subordinates.

As every Administration and military official has noted, this does not mean an end to suicide bombings in Iraq. However, Al Qaeda's operational effectiveness is likely to be degraded in the mid- to long-term because of Zarqawi's death.

Second, any weakening of Al Qaeda in Iraq stemming from Zarqawi's death will signicantly alter the dynamics within the insurgency. As with most guerrilla wars, Iraq's insurgency will likely end with a political settlement rather than a decisive military victory. Now that they've seen there is a place for Sunnis in the new Iraq (Tariq al-Hashemi, a former insurgent sympathizer, is a Vice President, and Mahmoud al-Mashaddani is Speaker of the Council of Representatives), many Sunni Arab insurgents have already indicated that they are tired of the fight and want to join the political process . Until now, fear of retribution from Zarqawi's network has intimidated these insurgents and prevented any negotiation of a surrender/cease-fire with the Iraqi government. Zarqawi's death, however, makes it more likely that a political compromise will be reached with those Sunni Arabs who are fighting for what they perceive to be nationalist reasons.

Third, and finally, Zarqawi exceeded even Al Qaeda's ideology by proclaiming all Shi'a to be tafkiri (infidels), and therefore subject to mass slaughter. He attempted to recruit Sunni Arabs to his cause by provoking a full-scale sectarian civil war in Iraq through attacks such as the al-Askariya Mosque in Samarra in February. (Most Sunni insurgents are abhorred by these attacks on their fellow Iraqis, and have sought to separate themselves from Zarqawi's ideology and actions). To some degree, he was successful, as that attack unleashed a wave of sectarian violence in Baghdad by Shi'a militias seeking to push Sunnis out of mixed neighborhoods. With Zarqawi gone, however, there is reason to hope that attacks targeting Shi'a civilians will decline as well. This could create a window of opportunity for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to enact a program to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate the militias into Iraqi society -- a plan that has Grand Ayatollah Sistani's tacit support, incidentally.

Again, much of what I've described above is conditional. Zarqawi's death does not ensure that Al Qaeda in Iraq will be permanently incapacitated, that Sunni insurgents will reach a negotiated solution with the Iraqi government, or that Prime Minister Maliki will be able to rein in the Shi'a militia. But Zarqawi's death was a necessary precondition for these things to happen. Killing Zarqawi provides a critical window of opportunity for Iraq's leaders to step up and lead, which is always what the rebuilding of Iraq was geared toward and, ultimately, dependent upon for success.

Although it will not immediately end the violence in Iraq, this is why Zarqawi's demise should be a cause for optimism.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Godspeed, Major Carroll-Keays

Today my roommate left, beginning the long journey out of Iraq that will take him back home to Australia.

I thank him for his nation's service to the cause of freedom. (Again, for those who call this war "unilateral," I invite them to come here to see the Australians, British, Danes, Italians, Macedonians, Koreans, Romanians, etc. that I encounter everyday here.)

More importantly, I thank him for his comraderie and sympathetic ear during difficult days. (And for the beer left in the frig).

Thank you, Sir, and God bless you and your family.

Thoughts on Zarqawi's Demise (Part I)

I'm going to post these thoughts in three parts rather than one enormously long entry. This first post will explain why we shouldn't overstate the importance of his death, the second will explain why we shouldn't understate its importance, and the third will essentially argue that no matter what else, we should be happy that evil son of a bitch is gone.

In his remarks on Thursday, President Bush noted, "Zarqawi is dead, but the difficult and necessary mission in Iraq continues. We can expect the terrorists and insurgents to carry on without him. We can expect the sectarian violence to continue." Other administration officials, including Ambassador Khalilzad, have also tried to temper expectations of what Zarqawi's death means to our effort in Iraq.

I will leave it to the other commentators that have likely flooded the airwaves and op-ed pages back home to parse Zarqawi's precise role in the insurgency, and how his departure will alter Iraq's strategic landscape. In my present position, it is best if I don't say much on this topic.

Instead, I'd like to offer a bit of historical perspective regarding the effectiveness of strategic campaigns to kill or capture individuals. By strategic campaign, I mean a series of linked operations with the objective of removing an individual from a position of power, as opposed to a discrete operation such as those that killed Admiral Yamamoto in WWII, or the 1986 bombing of Tripoli that targeted Qaddafi. Yamamoto was a target of opportunity, and since there was no follow up to the 1986 attack on Libya, that operation does not meet the technical criteria to be called a campaign.

Instead, by my count, there have been roughly 9-10 strategic campaigns against foreign individuals/leaders in American military history: Emilio Aguinaldo (Philippines, roughly 1899-1901 ), Pancho Villa (Mexico, 1916), some Haitian rebels whose names I forget (during the 1915-1934 occupation), Augusto Sandino (Nicaragua, 1930s), Manuel Noriega (Panama, 1989), Pablo Escobar (Colombia, late 80s-1992, although since this was an entirely covert operation it may not count), Farah Aideed (Somalia, 1993), Osama Bin Laden (Afghanistan, 2001-present), Saddam Hussein (Iraq, 2003), and Zarqawi (Iraq, 2004-2006). Briefly looking at whether we got our target, and whether that led to the completion of the strategic goal that initiated the campaign, we find the following:

Aguinaldo -- Captured, but by the time of his capture he had been marginalized within the Philippine insurrection, and the worst massacres of U.S. forces of that war occurred after his capture.
Pancho Villa -- Never Captured, but banditry and attacks across our Southern border were never again a threat to U.S. security.
Haitian leaders -- Both Killed, Haiti eventually stabilized, albeit into a dirt poor nation.
Sandino -- Never Captured, but the U.S. was able to install a benign (to our interests at any rate) government that held power for over 40 years.
Noriega -- Captured, Panama no longer a strategic threat to U.S. interests.
Escobar -- Killed, but drug trafficking emanating from Colombia not significantly curtailed.
Aideed -- Never Captured, no stability brought to Somalia, which unfortunately has emerged as a greater threat to U.S. interests since our retreat in 1993 than it was at the time of the 1992 intervention.
Bin Laden -- Not Captured Yet, but arguably, the cells of Al Qaeda over which he had direct control in 2001 may have been marginalized by their expulsion from Afghanistan to the point that they don't pose nearly the threat they did on September 12, 2001. (This is a highly conditional assessment of course, and decentralized Bin Laden-inspired jihadists may pose an equal or greater threat than the Afghan-based network).
Saddam -- Captured, his capture had almost no effect on the insurgency in Iraq.
Zarqawi -- Killed, remains to be seen.

So of the nine cases that we can assess, only in three instances (Haiti, Noriega, and Aideed) did the capture or death of our target correlate to the achievement of our broader strategic objective. In the cases of Aguinaldo and Saddam Hussein, the worst violence of the conflict occurred after their capture. And of course, we could capture OBL tomorrow, which would change how that case is coded.

This is not to say we should not make individual leaders the target of military campaigns. Often the vigilant pursuit of an individual will prevent them from gathering the resources necessary to threat the United States or its allies (as was the case with Pancho Villa, Sandino, and possibly Bin Laden). This pursuit also may marginalize key leaders (Aguinaldo and Saddam} so that they become peripheral to the conflict's center of gravity, which significantly alters how those cases would be coded.

All of this is a rather academic and obtuse way of saying that history suggests that killing Zarqawi will likely in and of itself not be enough to end the insurgency in Iraq, and that President Bush is correct to try to manage expectations while celebrating Zarqawi's demise.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Pictures of Iraqi Jubilation

Some pictures (via PowerLine, via Yahoo News) of Iraqis celebrating Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's death on Thursday.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

"Today is a Good Day for Iraq"

I'm exhausted after a long day. But I would gladly suffer this kind of fatigue in return for another 281 days as good as this one. The following are some thoughts and observations from what was obviously a hugely important day for Iraq:

- First, before anybody asks, no, I had nothing to do with the attack, and I won't be seeing any of the $25 million reward. (More on the reward later).

- A little before 1000, the Ambassador calls me into his office. He wants to put out a statement about the death of an Al Qaeda operative, although I don't catch the name, if he says it all. He quickly goes over a few key points to emphasize, and I rush back to my desk to crank something out. One of the Ambassador's aides tells me I have about 20 minutes to write the statement, which is unusual, given that these products usually have a much looser timeline.

- I draft the remarks, and when I go back to show the Ambassador what I'd written, I'm embarrassed that I've forgotten the terrorist's name already. So I ask another aide how to spell the operative's name, and after a moment's hesitation, she simply writes down "AMZ" (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi) on a sticky note. This is how I find out about the killing of the most important figure in the Iraqi insurgency, and perhaps the most important terrorist in the world.

- Fast forward to an hour-and-a-half later. I am watching al Iraqiya, the state-run television network in Iraq. (One of the under reported success stories in Iraq is the explosion of independent media outlets since the fall of Saddam. There are currently 44 commercial television stations in Iraq, compared to ZERO before the war). At about 1145, they interrupt an Iraqi cooking show that, as far as I can tell, was providing recipes for tabouli and some kind of rice dish. Suddenly the screen is filled with a bright orange scroll across the bottom, with Arabic script running from left-to-right. Images of Iraqi men and women dancing in groups fills the screen, interspersed with shots of Iraqi landmarks. An Iraqi friend tells me this is simply stock footage of Shi'a tribesmen celebrating that is pulled out whenever there is news to be celebrated. (This kills me for some reason. Imagine FOX News announcing that President Bush had won the election in 2004 by showing scenes of Republicans celebrating Nixon's election in 1972!)

- Al Iraqiya cuts from the news scroll/celebration montage to the press conference taking place at Prime Minister Maliki's office across the Green Zone. PM Maliki is flanked by Ambassador Khalilzad and General Casey. When Maliki announces the news of Zarqawi's death, the Iraqi reporters breakout into loud cheers and applause. Women can be heard ulating, and after about 15 seconds the applause becomes rhythmic and celebratory. Richard Engel, of NBC, later tells the Ambassador "When they made the announcement, with the cheers, the flavor was the same as with the capture of Saddam Hussein."

- I switch over to BBC International so I can hear the translation of Maliki's remarks. He concludes by saying, "We have put an end to Zarqawi." Whether that means the same in Arabic or was a product of the translation, it is a nice bit of phrasing.

- The Ambassador reads the statement we drafted. General Casey follows, although his statement is drowned out by the voice of the Iraqi translating his remarks into Arabic for the reporters present. As they leave the podium, a reporter shouts to the Ambassador, "What does this mean for America?" The Ambassador continues walking, but gives him a big thumbs up with an ear-to-ear grin, and says, "Today is a good day for Iraq, but it is also a good day for the United States."

The irony of the Zarqawi killing is that it totally overshadowed what was supposed to be the big news of the day, the nomination and confirmation of Iraq's new Ministers of Defense and Interior, which complete the formation of the first national unity government in Iraqi history. Twenty minutes later, in a separate press conference at the Council of Representatives, PM Maliki introduces Abdul Khadr Jassim (Defense), Jawad al-Boulami (Interior), and Shirwan Waeli (Minister of State for National Security).

I spend much of the remainder of the day with Ambassador Khalilzad as he conducts a series of media interviews. Walking through the halls of the Palace, Iraqi nationals stop him to shake his hand and thank him. "I am happy now," one says. "Today is like a birthday," says another. Other Embassy officials stop by the office to tell us that their FSNs (Foreign Service Nationals) cried in happiness when they found out, and we also get reports of Iraqi police (a frequent target of Zarqawi's) dancing in the streets.

When I have more energy, I'll comment a bit on what Zarqawi's death means to the overall effort here in Iraq. For now, I just want to get some sleep, and bask in the glow of what the Ambassador described as "a good day for Iraq."

Big News Coming . . .

If you are reading this now (0322 EST), then get to your televisions quickly.

There will be EXTREMELY big news coming out in the next hour . . .


Absolutely Disgusting

I have never been much of an Ann Coulter fan. In order to create controversy and sell books, she makes intentionally provocative, over-the-top statements that while amusing to some, in my opinion unnecessarily discredit legitimate conservative causes. (Personally, I prefer George Will and Charles Krauthammer as intellectual voices for conservatism).

However, she has absolutely gone beyond the pale with her recent comments on NBC's Today show:
LAUER: On the 9-11 widows, and in particular a group that had been critical of the administration:
COULTER: “These self-obsessed women seem genuinely unaware that 9-11 was an attack on our nation and acted like as if the terrorist attack only happened to them. They believe the entire country was required to marinate in their exquisite personal agony. Apparently, denouncing Bush was part of the closure process.”

"These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by griefparrazies. I have never seen people enjoying their husband’s death so much.”

Whereas I don't agree with all the political pronouncements of certain groupings of 9/11 widows, the thought of anybody "enjoying" the death of a spouse in the conflict against Islamic terrorism is ignorant beyond belief.

I strongly agree with Hugh Hewitt, the conservative blogger and radio host, who wrote "Ann Coulter owes an apology to the widows of 9/11, and she should issue it immediately. This is beyond callous, beyond any notion of decency. It is disgusting."

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

From Rumsfeld to Summers

One topic I have resisted the temptation to write about over the past few months has been the series of debacles at my graduate alma mater, Harvard. From the College's acceptance of a $20 million grant from a shady Saudi prince, to the malacious and sloppy anti-Israel essay written by one of my thesis advisors, it's been hard to find much to take pride in regarding Harvard lately.

However, perhaps the most lasting damage to Harvard will come from the forced resignation of President Summers after a vote of no confidence from the Liberal Arts faculty. I firmly believe Summers was right:
-To fight rampant grade inflation at Harvard (as a Teaching Assistant, I once had a freshman come to my office hours to protest an A-);
-To argue that even tenured professors should concentrate more on academics than producing rap albums;
-To fight against the "Divest from Israel" movement in academia;
-To suggest that men and women may have innate differences in cognitive processes (or at least is right to suggest this as a legitimate line of theoretical inquiry); and finally,
-For supporting the return of ROTC to Harvard's campus after being chased off by radicals during the Vietnam War.

Relating to this final point, The Weekly Standard has posted a letter of appreciation recently sent to President Summers by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

It is not often that a sitting Republican SecDef goes out of his way to pay tribute to a member of a Democratic administration's cabinet (or vice-versa, for that matter). Whatever else he has done with which one might disagree -- and big surprise, I tend to agree with him more often than not -- this was a very classy gesture by Secretary Rumsfeld.

For all his faults and admittedly brusque style, Harvard Yard will be a poorer place for Summers' departure. The faculty's actions in driving him out will do more to diminish the institution rather than the individual.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


In honor of those who served and sacrificed to defeat tyranny in a previous conflict, President Reagan's "Boys of Pointe du Hoc speech," delivered on the 40th anniversary of D-Day. Reagan's tribute was so moving that it inspired the Liberal historian Douglas Brinkley to write a book about the speech and the men of the Second Ranger Battalion whose valor on this day 62 years ago inspired it.

As a speechwriter, all I can say is -- damn, Peggy Noonan was good! But she was also blessed to work for a visionary leader and incredible speaker the likes of which graces American politics maybe once a generation, if we're lucky.

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Trip Back

I forgot to mention in my Memorial Day post that because the Ambassador had another appointment after the memorial ceremony, I was forced to hitch a ride back to the International Zone with a ground convoy rather than taking a helicopter back.

This was my first ground convoy in the Red Zone since Shane's death, and I was full of apprehension. I made sure that I was carrying extra compresses, packets of Quick Clot, and as much 9mm ammo as I could hold. I said an extra prayer as we took off, and sat on the edge my seat ready for anything that could happen.

But something remarkable happened on the drive from Camp Victory to the Green Zone . . . nothing. There were so many Iraqi security forces manning checkpoints along Route Irish that it was difficult to discern where Camp Victory ended and where the IZ began. In the end, it was as uneventful as a drive from Dulles Airport to Alexandria, albeit with heavily armed Iraqi police rather than toll booths.

But considering that the Airport Road was once the site of daily ambushes against U.S. forces, uneventful was good. Very good.