Thursday, August 31, 2006

Hackett Calls Son of a Holocaust Survivor a Nazi

From today's "Media Blog" by Stephen Spruiell over at the National Review Online. (Which I strongly recommend checking out from time to time, and not just because I have several friends who write for them).

Paul Hackett was one of several anti-war Iraq veterans that were being trumpeted a while back as proof that the Democrats could be pro-troop and anti-war. There is no inherent contradiction between holding these two positions, to be sure, although much of the more inflammatory rhetoric against the war and President Bush tends to get cited by the insurgents as proof that we're ready to surrender. An example of this came in April 2004 when Senator Ted Kennedy described Iraq as "Bush's Vietnam," rhetoric that was almost immediately echoed word-for-word by Muqtada al-Sadr, who had never invoked Vietnam beforehand. This led to significantly more attacks against the same U.S. forces Kennedy claimed to be speaking on behalf of, in the hopes that we would withdraw. (Again, this is not to say that if you are against the war you are not patriotic, only that the enemy does listen, and because they don't understand the role of dissent in our politics takes this to mean that we're vulnerable, and therefore does increase the risk that soldiers here face).

But I digress.

I haven't followed up on how these Democratic anti-war vets are doing, but at least one is turning out to be something of a malicious nutjob.

Hackett Calls Son of a Holocaust Survivor a Nazi
08/31 11:56 AM - The Markup

Paul Hackett is an Iraq veteran who unsuccessfully ran for office twice as a Democrat in Ohio. He was the official nutroots candidate in the first of these elections, and he was an early favorite to get the nutroots endorsement in the most recent one until his primary opponent hired nutroots founding father and astrology enthusiast Jerome Armstrong to advise his campaign.

Now that he's at loose ends, he's taken to appearing with increasing frequency on the cable shout shows, where his inability to control what comes out of his mouth is destroying his political future. For instance, last night on Fox News he referred to former White House advisor Dan Senor as "Herr Senor" and "little unterfurher of propaganda, Mr. Senor there."

These nutroots slurs are all fun and games, of course, until you take into consideration the fact that Mr. Senor is Jewish and his mother survived the Holocaust. (h/t James E.)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Letter from a Marine

This was recently the "Email of the Day over at Andrew Sullivan's blog, posted by one of his guest bloggers, David Weigel. Sullivan was an ardent advocate of the liberation of Iraq, and used to publish this sort of letter from troops in the field quite frequently. In fact, with his permission I even incorporated some of them into Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz's Senate testimony when I was at the Pentagon. Unfortunately, after Abu Ghraib Sullivan became hysterically anti-war, seeing that incident as epitomizing the war rather than the disgusting aberration that it was, and began ignoring the voices of soldiers that he had promoted against the media. Pity.

Wonder why the press is ignoring what has been going with operations in Baghdad? There were literally thousands dying there in June and July, but almost none now. If you read the New York Times or Washington Post and even the WSJ, you would think your experience here in Iraq is all an illusion.

I don't want to paint any overly rosy picture of things here as I never have indulged in that practice before, but we have control everywhere now (up to a point). They are still capable of launching small attacks against our forces, still able to blow up Iraqi Police in large numbers sometimes, and yes, they can still murder each other in Baghdad in sectarian violence. But, we are waging our war right now almost completely on our terms.

Where are Thomas Ricks and Max Boot on these events? Even if short-lived and part of an ever changing chain of events in Iraq, news-worthy events are happening that are not all blood and guts.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Blame Canada! Blame Canada!

Whether true or not, just the thought of this is too funny!

(And for those of you who've never seen South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, the plot revolves around a deceased Saddam Hussein having a homosexual relationship with Satan, and provoking a war between the United States and Canada in order to bring about the apocalypse . . . great satire, if you can handle all the cursing and vulgarity).

From Yahoo News:

Saddam's cartoon capers Monday August 28, 08:11 AM

Former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein is being made to watch his appearance in cult cartoon South Park while he is behind bars.

The deposed leader on trial in Iraq was featured in the movie spin-off as the lover of the devil. South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut featured Hussein and Satan attempting to take over the world together.

Speaking at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone said US Marines guarding the former dictator during his trial for genocide were making him watch the movie "repeatedly".

"I have it on pretty good information from the Marines on detail in Iraq that they showed him the movie last year. That's really adding insult to injury. I bet that made him really happy," Stone said.

Monday, August 28, 2006

David Interlude (VIII)

"Mom, don't forget the lime with that Corona!"

Happy Eight-Month Birthday to the little guy! Less than two months until my mid-tour leave!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Cindy Sheehan's "Freedom Fighters"

At the height of her fifteen minutes of fame last summer, Cindy Sheehan claimed that the people who killed her son Casey in Sadr City in 2004 were "freedom fighters." This claim was unquestionably repeated or promoted by scores of far-left bloggers who care more about damaging President Bush than the soldiers in Iraq or this country's national security.

Yesterday, the Washington Post published an article by Ellen Knickmeyer about those "freedom fighters," better known as the Jaish al-Mahdi (The Mahdi's Army). The JAM is responsible for thousands of murders in Baghdad and throughout Iraq, including (according to Knickmeyer):
- Women suspected of extra-marital sex;
- Christians selling alcohol;
- Anybody they deem takfir, or apostate, which in practice means Muslim who they deem insufficiently devout according to their definition of Islam.

In other words, they are no different from the Taliban and other jihadists in the type of society they seek to establish and the violent means they will apply in order to make it come to pass. (Oh, and they are also the ones responsible for all the mortars and rockets fired at the IZ, as well as the IED that killed my friend back in May).

Keep this in mind the next time you hear of somebody promoting Cindy Sheehan or defending the insurgents as simply objecting to American occupation.

Update on Mom's Cancer

My mother's operation on Tuesday was successful in removing the cancerous portion of her upper colon. However, they also removed glands from two of her lymph nodes that the doctor thought looked suspicious. The subsequent biopsy revealed these glands to be cancerous as well.

So although Mom is feeling suprisingly well after the surgery, she is still facing several months of chemotherapy in order to get rid of the remaining cancer.

Her prognosis is still hopeful, and even though she was disappointed with the biopsy results, she is gathering her strength for the fight ahead.

So please, continue to include her in your prayers, as right now she needs them more than I do.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Battle of Baghdad

Ambassador Khalilzad has a very goodop-ed (if I do say so myself) in today's Wall Street Journal, which I've taken the liberty of republishing in full below. One fact that he did not mention (I'll discuss the backstory of the drafting of this piece another time) is that since operations began in the Amerriyeh district ten days ago, there have been no Iraqi-on-Iraqi murders, less than one attack every two days, and more than 90% of Amerriyeh's shops have reopened. As the Ambassador says, things are not good in Baghdad, but there is still good reason to believe the problems are not insurmountable.

The Battle of Baghdad
Rampant insecurity--and a detailed plan to combat it.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006 12:01 a.m. EDT

BAGHDAD--Although there has been much good news to report about security progress in Iraq this summer--the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the handover of security responsibility for Muthanna province, the fifth of 10 Iraqi Army Division Headquarters to assume the lead in its area of responsibility--Iraq faces an urgent crisis in securing its capital, Baghdad. Although Iraqi leaders and the Coalition have a sound strategy to turn the situation around, it is vital that Iraqis control sectarian violence and come together against the terrorists and outside powers that are fomenting the violence.

In July, there were 558 violent incidents in Baghdad, a 10% increase over the already high monthly average. These attacks caused 2,100 deaths, again an increase over the four-month average. More alarmingly, 77% of these casualties were the result of sectarian violence, giving rise to fears of an impending civil war in Iraq. While statistics should not be the sole measure of progress or failure in stabilizing Iraq and quelling violent sectarianism, it is clear that the people of Baghdad are being subjected to unacceptable levels of fear and violence.


This trend is especially troubling because we cannot achieve our goal of a secure, stable and democratic Iraq if such devastating violence persists in the capital. Baghdad represents one-fifth of Iraq's total population, and is a microcosm of Iraq's diverse ethnic and sectarian communities. Baghdad is also Iraq's financial and media center, the latter of which is especially important given that the declared strategy of the terrorists and violent sectarian groups in Iraq revolves around creating a perception of growing chaos in an effort to persuade Americans that the effort in Iraq has failed. Therefore, violence in Baghdad has a disproportionate psychological and strategic effect.
The deterioration of security in Baghdad since February's attack on the Samara Mosque is the result of the competition between Sunni and Shiite extremists to expand their control and influence throughout the capital. Although the leadership of al Qaeda in Iraq has been significantly attrited, it still has cells capable of operating independently in Baghdad by deploying car bombs to Shiite neighborhoods. At the same time, Sunni and Shiite death squads, some acting as Iranian surrogates, are responsible for an increasing share of the violence. This cycle of retaliatory violence is compounded by shortcomings in the training and leadership of Iraq's National Police. To combat this complex problem, Iraq's national unity government, led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, has made securing Baghdad its top priority. The government's Baghdad Security Plan has three principal components:

• Stabilizing Baghdad zone by zone.Four Iraqi Army battalions, two Coalition brigades and five military police companies will be redeployed to Baghdad, resulting in more than 12,000 additional forces on the city's streets. The National Police will simultaneously undergo intensive retraining, with each brigade to be subjected to a three-day assessment period, with its leadership evaluated and, if necessary, replaced. Each brigade will subsequently receive additional training focused on countering violent sectarianism before redeployment. Over the last 10 days this approach began to be implemented in five areas of Baghdad--Doura, Ghazaliyah, Rashid, Ahmeriyya and Mansour. In coming weeks other districts will be added.

Iraqi government and Coalition forces are adopting new tactics to stem sectarian killings. Increased checkpoints and patrols are being used to deny freedom of movement and safe haven to sectarian killers. The leaders of the death squads are being targeted. Security forces have started to work with cross-sectarian neighborhood committees. These and other new tactics will drive toward the goal of achieving security neighborhood by neighborhood. As each district of Baghdad is secured, operations will expand into contiguous zones over coming weeks and months.

• Disrupting support zones. Even as Iraqi and Coalition forces concentrate on securing specific neighborhoods, they will continue to conduct targeted operations in other zones that are staging areas for the violence. This includes targeted raids and other operations on areas outside of Baghdad's center, where planning cells, car-bomb factories and terrorist safe houses are located. This will degrade the ability of the terrorists and death squads to mount offensive operations into the areas we are working to stabilize.

• Undertaking civic action and economic development. One of the most tragic elements of the increasing violence in Baghdad is that it has robbed the Iraqi people of the sense of normalcy they desperately seek after living under crushing tyranny for more than three decades. In the immediate aftermath of Iraq's liberation, the entrepreneurial spirit of the Iraqi people was demonstrated as Baghdad's shops overflowed with consumer goods prohibited under the previous regime. However, the increasing violence in the streets of Baghdad has forced many Iraqis to close their shops for fear of their safety.

Consequently, after joint Coalition and Iraqi military operations have secured a neighborhood or district, a structure of Iraqi security forces sufficient to maintain the peace is expected to be left in place and reinforced with the capacity to undertake civic action and foster economic revitalization. This will be supported with $500 million in funds from Prime Minister Maliki's government and at least $130 million of U.S. funds.

These economic support funds will be used to offer vocational training and create jobs, especially for 17-to-25-year-old males; to foster public support through improved services, such as medical care and trash and debris removal; and to build local governmental capacity to protect and provide for their citizens. These goals will be achieved through a mixture of high-impact, short-term programs; mid-term programs designed to stabilize these initial gains; and programs focused on long-term economic development. Prime Minister Maliki's plan for securing Baghdad is also closely tied to the national unity government's larger program for reconciliation, which seeks to foster political understanding between Sunni and Shiite forces, including those that either control or influence unauthorized armed groups involved in sectarian conflict.

In addition, a moral compact between the religious leaders of the two Islamic communities--which will ban sectarian killings--will delegitimize the violence. Such a compact would deny the killers a political or religious sanctuary while Iraqi and Coalition forces deny them physical shelter. For the longer term, the plan seeks to induce insurgents and militias to lay down their arms by implementing a program to demobilize unauthorized armed groups. It will also review the implementation of the de-Baathification process--referring those accused of crimes to the judiciary and reconciling with the rest.


It is understandable that when the American people hear of new U.S. casualties and witness the images of bloodshed from the streets of Baghdad, they conclude that our plans for stemming sectarian violence in Iraq have failed. Yet, implementation of the Baghdad Security Plan has only recently begun. Iraq's national unity government has been in office barely three months, and its ministers of defense and interior have been on the job for less than 80 days. Iraqi ministers are still hiring key staff, and they are learning to work together, under the leadership of a new prime minister. The Committee for National Dialogue and Reconciliation, charged with overseeing implementation of the reconciliation plan, was formed only three weeks ago.
Moreover, as tragic and dangerous as the ongoing violence is to our shared vision of a free and prosperous Iraq, it is not representative of the Iraqi people's sentiments toward one another. In July, a poll by the International Republican Institute, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to democracy promotion, found that 94% of Iraqis said they support a "unity" government representing all sects and ethnic communities, with only 2% opposed. Some 78% of Iraqis opposed Iraq being segregated by religion or ethnicity, with only 13% in favor. Even in Baghdad, where the worst of Iraq's sectarian violence has occurred, 76% of those surveyed opposed ethnic separation, with only 10% favoring it. The challenge of the Baghdad Security Plan and its accompanying effort at national reconciliation is to realize the overwhelming majority of Iraqis desire to live in peace with one another against the violent minority who seek to impose their vision of hatred and oppression.

These programs are already beginning to show positive results. The Iraqi Ministry of Defense reports that the crime rate in Doura has been reduced by 80%. In the Rashid district, Sunni and Shiite political leaders, tribal leaders and imams met and signed an agreement forswearing violence. The tribal leaders went a step further by renouncing protection for tribal members who engage in sectarian violence.

Although it is too early to determine whether these success stories will be replicated throughout the city, this initial progress should give Iraqis, as well as Americans, hope about the future. Contrary to those who portray Iraq as hopelessly mired in ancient ethnic and sectarian feuds, Iraqis themselves want to put the divisions of the past behind them. The Battle of Baghdad will determine the future of Iraq, which will itself go a long way to determining the future of the world's most vital region. Although much difficult work still remains to be done, it is imperative that we give the Iraqis the time and material support necessary to see this plan through, and to win the Battle of Baghdad.

Mr. Khalilzad is the U.S. ambassador to Iraq.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Prayers for My Mom

Apologies for not posting anything in a while. Partly, this was the result of the inertia I've mentioned in the past. Partly this was because nothing really interesting has happened in the past eight days. But my inactivity is also because I've been dealing with a sudden illness in the family.

Thursday morning my wife called and woke me (it was 11PM her time) with the news that my mother had been diagnosed with colon cancer. She had been feeling sluggish for weeks, and based upon the symptoms her doctors suspected it was due to internal bleeding from a pin-sized hole in her intestines (or colon . . whatever, I'm not that kind of a doctor). However, when the doctors performed a colonoscopy, the photos revealed a polop clearly visible on her upper colon.

Fortunately, the CATSCANs she had taken on Friday revealed that the tumor hadn't gotten into the bloodstream yet, and therefore the cancer was confined to the colon. So today she is in surgery to remove the growth. In a month or two, once she has regained her strength from the surgery, she will begin undergoing about six months of chemotherapy.

I've been praying every night for Mom's recovery, and was extremely relieved to hear that her prognosis is relatively positive. This is a relief, as David will need his "Bubbe" around for many years to come. But she is not in the clear yet, and can use whatever power lies in everybody's collective prayers.

Thank you, and I'll return to some regularly scheduled cantankerous posting tomorrow.


Monday, August 14, 2006

My Morning Wake Up Call

Another mortar attack on the IZ this morning woke me up at 0610. These attacks happen frequently enought that after hearing the three impacts, I rolled over to try and catch another hour of sleep. But for some inexplicable reason the "duck and cover" siren went off . . . 20 minutes later. Like it or not, my day had started.

Unfortunately, the bad guys got lucky today and for once actually hit something.

Four Australian soldiers injured in Baghdad rocket attack


Date: 14 August 2006

SYDNEY - Four Australian soldiers were injured Monday in a rocket attack in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, the military chief said.

Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, head of the Australian Defence Force, said the troops were injured Monday morning when the rocket was fired into the fortified international zone.

Three male soldiers had already been discharged from hospital while a female soldier remained in hospital in stable condition, he added.

"She has got injuries consistent with a blast and lacerations to the head, internal injuries, bruising and obviously some shrapnel injuries as well,"
Houston added.

Australia contributed 2,000 troops to the US-led invasion which ousted Saddam Hussein in early 2003 and still has about 900 troops in the country.

Conservative Prime Minister John Howard, a staunch ally of US President George W. Bush, has given no timeline for the withdrawal of Australian troops despite public opposition at home to their presence in Iraq.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Over at WSJ . . .

Because its editors really hit the nail on the head, here, in its entirety, is an editorial from yesterday's Wall Street Journal about the London Plane Plot and U.S. counterterror policy.

'Mass Murder' Foiled
A terror plot is exposed by the policies many American liberals oppose.

Friday, August 11, 2006 12:01 a.m. EDT

Americans went to work yesterday to news of another astonishing terror plot against U.S. airlines, only this time the response was grateful relief. British authorities had busted the "very sophisticated" plan "to commit mass murder" and arrested 20-plus British-Pakistani suspects. As we approach the fifth anniversary of 9/11 without another major attack on U.S. soil, now is the right moment to consider the policies that have protected us--and those in public life who have fought those policies nearly every step of the way.

It's not as if the "Islamic fascists"--to borrow President Bush's description yesterday--haven't been trying to hit us. They took more than 50 lives last year in London with the "7/7" subway bombings. There was the catastrophic attack in Madrid the year before that left nearly 200 dead. But there have also been successes. Some have been publicized, such as a foiled plot to poison Britain's food supply with ricin. But undoubtedly many have not, because authorities don't want to compromise sources and methods, or because the would-be terrorists have been captured or killed before they could carry out their plans.

In this case the diabolical scheme was to smuggle innocent-looking liquid explosive components and detonators onto planes. They could then be assembled onboard and exploded, perhaps over cities for maximum horror. Multiply the passenger load of a 747 by, say, 10 airliners, and this attack could have killed more people than 9/11. We don't yet know how the plot was foiled, but surely part of the explanation was crack surveillance work by British authorities.

"This wasn't supposed to happen today," a U.S. official told the Washington Post of the arrests and terror alert. "It was supposed to happen several days from now. We hear the British lost track of one or two guys. They had to move." Meanwhile, British antiterrorism chief Peter Clarke said at a news conference that the plot was foiled because "a large number of people" had been under surveillance, with police monitoring "spending, travel and communications."
Let's emphasize that again: The plot was foiled because a large number of people were under surveillance concerning their spending, travel and communications. Which leads us to wonder if Scotland Yard would have succeeded if the ACLU or the New York Times had first learned the details of such surveillance programs.

And almost on political cue yesterday, Members of the Congressional Democratic leadership were using the occasion to suggest that the U.S. is actually more vulnerable today despite this antiterror success. Harry Reid, who's bidding to run the Senate as Majority Leader, saw it as one more opportunity to insist that "the Iraq war has diverted our focus and more than $300 billion in resources from the war on terrorism and has created a rallying cry for international terrorists."

Ted Kennedy chimed in that "it is clear that our misguided policies are making America more hated in the world and making the war on terrorism harder to win." Mr. Kennedy somehow overlooked that the foiled plan was nearly identical to the "Bojinka" plot led by Ramzi Yousef and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to blow up airliners over the Pacific Ocean in 1995. Did the Clinton Administration's "misguided policies" invite that plot? And if the Iraq war is a diversion and provocation, just what policies would Senators Reid and Kennedy have us "focus" on?

Surveillance? Hmmm. Democrats and their media allies screamed bloody murder last year when it was leaked that the government was monitoring some communications outside the context of a law known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. FISA wasn't designed for, nor does it forbid, the timely exploitation of what are often anonymous phone numbers, and the calls monitored had at least one overseas connection. But Mr. Reid labeled such surveillance "illegal" and an "NSA domestic spying program." Other Democrats are still saying they will censure, or even impeach, Mr. Bush over the FISA program if they win control of Congress.

This year the attempt to paint Bush Administration policies as a clear and present danger to civil liberties continued when USA Today hyped a story on how some U.S. phone companies were keeping call logs. The obvious reason for such logs is that the government might need them to trace the communications of a captured terror suspect. And then there was the recent brouhaha when the New York Times decided news of a secret, successful and entirely legal program to monitor bank transfers between bad guys was somehow in the "public interest" to expose.

For that matter, we don't recall most advocates of a narrowly "focused" war on terror having many kind words for the Patriot Act, which broke down what in the 1990s was a crippling "wall" of separation between our own intelligence and law-enforcement agencies. Senator Reid was "focused" enough on this issue to brag, prematurely as it turned out, that he had "killed" its reauthorization.

And what about interrogating terror suspects when we capture them? It is elite conventional wisdom these days that techniques no worse than psychological pressure and stress positions constitute "torture." There is also continued angst about the detention of terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, even as Senators and self-styled civil libertarians fight Bush Administration attempts to process them through military tribunals that won't compromise sources and methods.

In short, Democrats who claim to want "focus" on the war on terror have wanted it fought without the intelligence, interrogation and detention tools necessary to win it. And if they cite "cooperation" with our allies as some kind of magical answer, they should be reminded that the British and other European legal systems generally permit far more intrusive surveillance and detention policies than the Bush Administration has ever contemplated. Does anyone think that when the British interrogate those 20 or so suspects this week that they will recoil at harsh or stressful questioning?

Another issue that should be front and center again is ethnic profiling. We'd be shocked if such profiling wasn't a factor in the selection of surveillance targets that resulted in yesterday's arrests. Here in the U.S., the arrests should be a reminder of the dangers posed by a politically correct system of searching 80-year-old airplane passengers with the same vigor as screeners search young men of Muslim origin. There is no civil right to board an airplane without extra hassle, any more than drivers in high-risk demographics have a right to the same insurance rates as a soccer mom.

The real lesson of yesterday's antiterror success in Britain is that the threat remains potent, and that the U.S. government needs to be using every legal tool to defeat it. At home, that includes intelligence and surveillance and data-mining, and abroad it means all of those as well as an aggressive military plan to disrupt and kill terrorists where they live so they are constantly on defense rather than plotting to blow up U.S.-bound airliners.
As the time since 9/11 has passed, many of America's elites have begun to portray U.S. government policies as a greater threat than the terrorists themselves. George Soros and others have said this explicitly, and their political allies in Congress and the media have staged a relentless campaign against the very practices that saved innocent lives this week. We doubt that many Americans who will soon board an airplane agree.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Over at Powerline . . .

A press statement we wrote to mark the 4th Iraqi Army Division's assumption of responsibility from the 101st Airborne on Tuesday was picked up by one of my favorite web logs, PowerLine.

I was originally supposed to go to Tikrit to attend the ceremony, but unfortunately was dropped from the manifest. Oh well, I guess I'll have to wait to see Saddam's hometown when it is safe enough for tourism.

The PowerLine guys also included a letter from Major General McCoy, that captures some of the frustration a lot of people here feel about the persistent negativity of the press coverage emanating from Iraq. (Not that everything is perfect, but neither is everything borderline apocalyptic as some of the coverage almost seems to imply).

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Quotes of the Day (IX)

Two quotes relating to Israeli military operations in southern Lebanon:

-- "The presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations."
Article 28, Fourth Geneva Conventions

-- "When peace comes, we will perhaps in time be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our sons. But it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons."
Golda Meir

Israel is by no means morally perfect (neither are we, for that matter), but they are morally superior to Hezbollah and Hamas. Whereas Israel issues apologies and conducts inquiries (and when justified, courts martial) for unintended civilian deaths, the terrorists and their supporters celebrate the intentional murder of Israeli civilians.

To illustrate, the pictures below were taken on Sept. 23, 2001, at an exhibition at Al Najah University in the West Bank town of Nablus, to mark the one year anniversary of the start of the Second Intifadah. Israelis and the Palestinians. The exhibit on the suicide bombing, replete with body parts and pizza slices strewn across the room, is a replica of the Aug. 9 Sbarro suicide bombing which killed 15 Israelis and the bomber in Jerusalem. To me, these photos say everything about which side we should be supporting in this conflict.

Two Minor Disasters

Recently, I've suffered two minor disasters here.

First, for unexplicable reasons, the laptop I purchased from a friend in the Ft. Bragg barracks has crashed. This means I may have lost all the pictures from Kurdistan that I hadn't yet published (as well as pictures from a shalal [sandstorm] in April and the picture of me and Senator John McCain), my Arabic language course, and 2/3 of a season of Diamond Mind Baseball. (Scoff if you will, but through my managerial talents the Washington Nationals were only five games out of the National League wild card race. Let's see Frank Robinson do that while in a duck and cover from mortar fire!)

Second, I've been shut out of the new round of beginning Arabic classes starting up here at the Embassy. Although the notification email said registration would be open until a certain date, in fact, the class was filled on a first-come-first-serve basis, something that would have been nice to know beforehand! One of my goals for this year was to become, if not fluent, then at least conversational in Arabic. Unfortunately, with the poor quality of our Trailer Net connections, it is difficult to stay connected online long enough to complete an entire Rosetta Stone lesson in Arabic. So after four-and-a-half months, my Arabic is still very rudimentary. This is starting to look more and more like a quixotic goal.

I know, these are small complaints to have in a war zone. I'm healthy, I'm well-fed, and despite a recent uptick in incoming fire, I'm still relatively safe. But these setbacks are still annoying nonetheless.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Ignatius' Wrong Lessons

A lot of friends and family have been asking me what I think about the situation in Israel. To be honest, I've discovered it is a little difficult to follow what is transpiring in one war when you are smack dab in the middle of another one, so I'm not as up to speed on the Israel/Hezbollah conflict as I'd like to be.

However, I did happen to catch David Ignatius's column
in yesterday's Washington Post. Although I don't always agree with Ignatius, I have respect for him as a generally non-partisan centrist on foreign affairs, which is rare in a universe of overly partisan pundits. However, yesterday's column was misguided to the point of almost being naive.

Specifically, Ignatius writes:

The strategy of Israel's (and America's) enemies today is to lure the military superpower into a protracted conflict. To accept the bait, as the Israelis did in assaulting Lebanon and as America did in Iraq, is to risk stepping into a trap. As Lawrence Wright says in his new book, "The Looming Tower," the master of this approach is Osama bin Laden: "His strategy was to continually attack until the U.S. forces invaded; then the mujahadeen would swarm upon them and bleed them until the entire American empire fell from its wounds."

This may or may not be true, but is certainly an idea worth considering. However, Ignatius draws what I think is a wholly untenable conclusion from the assertion above:

The Israeli and American resolve in this grim summer of war should be: No more falling into traps. In the age of missiles, there's limited value in a "security fence" or "security buffer." The evidence grows that you can't achieve real security without negotiating with your adversaries, and you can't succeed in such negotiations without offering reasonable concessions.

Whoa, wait a second! I agree that "falling into traps" is bad. But who is to say that Al Qaeda and Hezbollah haven't badly overstepped by pursuing strategies that invite massive reprisal? In 2001, many commentators argued that we should not invade Afghanistan because this is what Al Qaeda wanted. This hardly means that Al Qaeda is stronger as result. Even if the United States were to precipitously withdraw from Iraq (a huge mistake in my opinion), the "entire American empire" would not fall. Our strategic position would be weakened, and the Iraqi people would suffer terribly, but it would not cause us to go the way of the Soviet Union or the British Empire by any stretch of the imagination.

Similarly, it is unclear what grounds for negotiation Ignatius thinks exist between Israel and Hezbollah, or the United States and Al Qaeda, for that matter. Israel withdrew beyond the internationally recognized border in 2000, after which Hezbollah moved the goal posts and started to claim that Shebaa Farms was a part of Lebanon as well. Yet these concessions did nothing to stop Hezbollah from making cross-border incursions (these were not the first Israeli soldiers kidnapped, or the first rockets launched against Israeli civilians). Hezbollah's declared goal is the destruction of Israel; Israel's declared goal is not to be destroyed -- where does Ignatius see room for compromise between these two objectives?

Similarly, given that Bin Laden has said the only way to end the conflict with the United States is for all the infidels to convert to Islam, what concession does Ignatius see as possibly bringing an end to Islamist jihad? (This also ignores the possibility that there are some conditions under which "peace" creates more suffering than a state of war, but that is a broader question for another time).

Again, Ignatius is often an intelligent voice of balance and reason in the world of overblown Inside-the-Beltway rhetoric. However, by asserting that there is room for compromise between the Western democracies and the Islamofascists who seek to destroy them (and noticeably not providing any examples of possible compromises), he sadly comes off as naive in this column.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

A Field Trip to Anbar

Last week I took a little field trip to al Anbar province, strap hanging on a visit by two staffers from the Senate Appropriations Committee who were visiting Iraq. Why go to Anbar, the heart of the Sunni insurgency in Iraq, you ask? With apologies to Sir Edmund Hilary, because its there, essentially. I wanted to see a side of the war not readily apparent from my comfortable perch here in the International Zone.

As it turned out, we received a sad reminder of the cost of this conflict right away. In the middle of the C-130 we took from BIAP (Baghdad International Airport) to al Asad Airbase sat a flag draped coffin. I tried my best not to think about the soldier or Marine lying inside, about the family or small town waiting for him back in the states, or about my friend who unfortunately made the same journey. There will be time for that reckoning later, I guess.

Al Asad is situated along the Euphrates River, even farther west than insurgent hotbeds such as Hit, Ramadi, and Fallujah. The airbase is literally in the middle of the desert. Unlike the Green Zone, with its ample supply of palm trees, there are no trees, no desert shrubs to be seen anywhere at Al Asad. Once we'd landed, we were driven to Warrior Hall for lunch. Warrior Hall had only opened a week before, but is now the largest mess hall in all of CENTCOM, capable of seating 7,000 personnel. Cavernous is quite simply the only word to describe it. (Unfortunately, the food was not much better than it was here in Baghdad).

After lunch we were given a tour of the base by the commander of the Marine Air Wing, a full bird Marine colonel. We are shown their state-of-the-art operations center, their UAV operations center, and an F-18 fully loaded for combat, all seemingly ripped from the pages of Bruce Berkowitz's The New Way of War.

After the tour, we boarded helicopters for a brief hop to visit RCT-7's compound near Baghdadi. In the blink of an eye the barren desert landscape of brown sand and wadis transformed into lush, dark green palm groves hugging the Euphrates. We flew over a town filled with orderly rows of modern, two-story homes with walled courtyards and a new satellite dish atop each house. We are later told this used to be a military housing complex under Saddam Hussein.

We are briefed by the Marines in a 15'x30' building with plywood walls and ceiling. Given the bottles of A-1 steak sauce and Aunt Jemima syrup sitting before us on the folding tables, it is clear that this building also doubles as their dining facility. It looks as if it can about forty people maximum, and seems a world apart from spacious Warrior Hall.

COL Crowe and his staff brief us on the Marines' operations in the Western Euphrates River Valley, or WERV, an area the sized of South Carolina. While I can't go into the specifics of their briefing, it was clear that they understood this fight in terms of counterinsurgency theory. In his remarks, COL Crowe frequently made reference to civil affairs, agriculture, and irrigation projects he would like to pursue if has the time and money to see them through.

The Marines' presentation was followed by a briefing from Colonel Shaban, the local Iraqi police commander. Although he was living in Baghdad at the time, Shaban was chosen by his tribe to head the local police. Since assuming command, COL Shaban has lost his brother to a VBIED (car bomb) that was intended for him. He says that he doesn't want his brother to have died in vain. "Iraqis are good people," he says, "but they are plagued by the terrorists, the Ba'athists, and the Wahabbis."

Shaban believes that together with the Marines, they have destroyed more than 85 per cent of the terrorists. One of the staffers asks COL Shaban how long the Marines should stay in Iraq. He says that although he wants them to be back with their families, without them there would be a civil war, and he wants twice as many Marines.

Back at Al Asad, we are given a quick tour of the Marines headquarters. Outside COL Crowe's office stands a memorial to the Regiment's fallen: a rifle with bayonet point down between a beat up pair of combat boots, with a Marine helmet perched on the rifle butt. From the rifle grip hung more than a hundred dog tags, collected from Marines killed in action from OIF to the present.

Again, this was a touching reminder of the cost of what we are doing here. But given the Marines' obvious devotion to their mission and to COL Shaban and his men, it seems to be a sacrifice they made willingly.

I came away from the trip with a greater appreciation for the difficulties of reconstructing a country and a society so thoroughly ravaged over the past 30 years, and of the courage and dedication of the American and Iraqi officers fighting the terrorists and fascists in the Anbar province.