Thursday, October 19, 2006

Quotes of the Day (XI)

- "A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but also by his inaction, and in either case he is justly accountable to them for the injury."
John Stuart Mill

- "The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality."

- "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing."
Attributed to Edmund Burke, 1776

Monday, October 16, 2006

"American Mourning" Crushes "Peace Mom"

From yesterday's Instapundit, this comparison between the sales of American Mourning and Cindy Sheehan's Peace Mom made me smile:

PRESS RELEASE OF THE DAY: The publicists for American Mourning have hit on a novel approach, comparing its Amazon ranking with that of Cindy Sheehan's book, Peace Mom. Excerpt:

Most compellingly, "American Mourning" offers a potrayal of another American family that lost a child in the war on terrorism - Joe & Jan Johnson of Rome, Georgia. Their son, Justin, dies one week after Cindy Sheehan's son, Casey, died. And to make things more amazing - Justin and Casey were best buddies in the U.S. Army.

But unlike Cindy Sheehan, Joe & Jan Johnson honored their son and his sacrifice for his country. In fact, Justin's father, Joe, re-enlists in the Army at the age of 43 and goes off to Iraq to fight the Islamic militants who had killed his son.

Is it any wonder then, why Sheehan's "Peace Mom" is getting clobbered in the sales charts by Morgan & Moy's inspirational "American Mourning?" Check out the sales ranks for yourself - it's not even close. And for the past few weeks, even though their book had yet to be released, Morgan & Moy were still outselling Sheehan's "Peace Mom."

Cindy Sheehan's book, Peace "Mom" (ranked # 155,717 as of 7:00 PM Sunday 10/15/2006)

Melanie Morgan's & Catherine Moy's "American Mourning" (ranked # 836 as of 7:00 PM Sunday 10/15/2006)

As I post this, the gap's actually widened a bit.

Rain Returns to Baghdad

On Thursday night I was sitting by the Palace Pool, listening to the high-pitched, uptempo dance music that accompanies the monthly "Middle Eastern Night." The sky was a strange purplish orange, the air was hazy, and the palm trees surrounding the pool were nearly doubled over by the gusts of wind coming off the Tigris. I thought we might be in for a shalal (sandstorm), but instead, freezing raindrops the size of silver dollars started to fall. The music kept playing, and the Embassy's Arab employees continued dancing, but everybody else was forced to run for cover from the first rain to fall here in at least six months.

It only sprinkled occasionally on Thursday. However, on Friday night, sheets of rain pounded the IZ for about an hour, accompanied by gale-force winds and an impressive lightning show. As I returned to my trailer from playing cards with some friends, I saw that a thirty-foot palm tree had fallen, broken into three sections, and blocked the narrow path leading to my hooch. (Unfortunately, my laptop hard drive crashed a few weeks ago, so I can't take any photos for a while).

But this was nothing compared to what happened to my friend John, who was sitting in his trailer watching television when he heard a creaking sound outside. The next thing he knew, a palm tree was crashing through his roof. As you can see from the picture below, the palm pretty much crushed his trailer as if it were an aluminum can. (Ironically, a rocket would have left a much smaller hole . . . assuming it did not detonate, of course).

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Senor 1, Rajiv 0

If I really wanted to make a quick fortune, I could sell out and write an "insider's memoir" about the "debacle" in Iraq. I could dish all sorts of gossip about the gross incompetence I saw in the Pentagon's handling of post-war Iraq, followed by a gripping depiction of how the pro-war idealism I was brainwashed with while at the White House was shattered by the reality I encountered serving in Baghdad. I have no doubt that the hefty advance I'd collect from publishers, not to mention my speaker's fee on the lecture circuit, would easily pay for my son's college education eighteen years from now.

Of course, such a book would suffer from the handicap of being primarily fiction. Yet that hasn't stopped numerous other authors from writing book after book labeling the war in Iraq as an abject failure even as it is still being fought. In fact, a lack of accuracy wouldn't be much of an impediment to garnering critical praise.

Take, for example, Rajiv Chandrasekaran's "Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone," which yesterday was announced as a finalist for the National Book Award. The thesis of Chandrasekaran's book is that young and inexperienced neoconservative political hacks and Bush loyalists screwed up Iraq's reconstruction in contradiction of the sage advice of State Department and other non-partisan (re: Democratic). This is certainly a plausible hypothesis, given that there were many mistakes made by the Coalition Provisional Authority in its year-plus of existence, and that many young people -- some with Right-of-Center political backgrounds -- were among the first to volunteer to serve in Iraq.

However, the guys at Powerline have effectively debunked the series of articles in the Washington Post intended to promote the book here,here, and here. And now Dan Senor, who served as a senior adviser in the CPA, effectively destroys Chandrasekran in his piece in Tuesday's Washington Post

I will let you read Senor's takedown yourself. But he devastatingly shows that while Chandrasekaran focuses on junior staffers, he completely ignores senior CPA officials who had served as Undersecretaries of Defense (David Oliver, Walt Slocombe) or Ambassadors in the Middle East (Ryan Crocker, Richard Jones) in the Clinton administration, senior military officials with more than 50+ years of senior leadership experience (Gen. Keith Kellogg and Vice Adm. Scott Redd), as well as several academic experts (Larry Diamond, Noah Feldman) who had prominently opposed the liberation of Iraq in the first place. In other words, Chandrasekran omits all evidence that contradicts his increasingly flimsy premise.

Moreover, he ignores the fact that the State Department consciously chose to sit out the first year of Iraq's reconstruction. To quote George Packer, whose The Assassins' Gate is extremely critical of the Bush Administration's handling of the war:

And yet during the life of the CPA, the State Department didn't send all its best people to Iraq, even after the Pentagon's influence waned and Bremer began to use his back channel to Powell more and more. A department official said of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, the archenemy of the neoconservatives, "We didn't do our best job to get things uncocked or to help. I watched NEA, for example, essentially say, 'Okay, you don't want us -- fuck you.' And then from there on out it was, 'Let's see what impediment we can put in their way. Let's see how long we can be in delivering this particular commodity or individual or amount of expertise. Let's see how long we can stiff 'em.'"

Things are not much better today. I have the highest admiration for my State colleagues who are here in Iraq with me. However, the Mission is still short on political officers who speak Arabic, to the point where an Iraqi-American Navy Lieutenant I know was snagged by the Political-Military section because of his language/cultural skills, despite having deployed to Iraq to serve a six-month tour as a dentist! FS-4's (the entry level for foreign service officers) fill jobs that are held by FS-2's (FSO's with about 10 years experience) in just about every other embassy in the world. My friends from the Civil Affairs Course consistently complain about the lack of State Department personnel in the Provinicial Reconstruction Teams on which they serve outside of Baghdad.

Again, this does not mean that the junior FSOs posted here don't deserve admiration for their dedication and service to their country. They should be credited for their service. However, the major difference between their collective skill sets/experience and those of the junior CPA officials was that they have been trained to write State Department cables. It is therefore a shame that Chandrasekaran chooses to bash young, patriotic Americans with the same relative level of expertise as many of those he'd label as "experts" currently serving in Iraq.

I don't think my tell-all could end up being any more selective in its use of evidence or biased in its conclusions if I tried. Maybe I'll win a Pulitzer.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

An Exciting Night . . . (With Update)

. . . and not in a good way.

At around 2305 last night, I was in my bathroom, brushing my teeth, when I heard a crashing sound through the wall to my room. At first I was afraid something had fallen and awakened my roommate, who goes to be at 2130 everynight (but that's another story unto itself). I quietly stuck my head in the room, but didn't see anything on the floor, so I assumed either an incoming rocket or mortar had landed somewhere in the distance, or I was just being paranoid.

About five minutes later I was back in bed reading when the percussion of a blast shook the trailer and made my heart skip a beat. This was followed by about six more rounds over the next ten minutes, three of which were close impacts, the other three were distant, low thuds. I wanted to go outside and discover just how close the rounds were impacting, but the duck and cover alarm had sounded after the third round. Even though the plastic trailer offers little protection from rocket fire (see the pictures of what a round did to my colleague's trailer back in April), I didn't want to have a round hit me while stumbling in the dark in my boxers and dog tags.

Two more rounds landed at 2333. The percussion of the first round startled my roommate awake, crying "S**t, that was close." The other landed somewhere off in the distance.

We have received about 100 rounds of incoming fire in the IZ since I arrived in March, but usually they arrive as isolated pot shots (the bad guys have no fire direction capabilities, so where the rounds actually impact is almost completely arbitrary) or sometimes in groups of two or three rounds fired off before our air cover can find and annihilate the bad guys. But this was the first sustained barrage we've undergone.

Keep in mind that the guys out in Ramadi, and some posts in Basrah, probably undergo this every day. I just hope that there were no casualties stemming from all the incoming fire.

UPDATE: Apparently, at 2303 four rounds of indirect fire impacted in FOB (Forward Operating Base) Falcon, which is located to the South of the IZ. They hit an ammo dump, and the fire this created subsequently caused rounds to "cook off" and inadvertently launch friendly indirect fire at the IZ. This explains the initial round I heard in the distance, and all the subsequent rounds that landed closer. (Although to be honest, I'm not sure how ammunition stored on a pallet could reach us from FOB Falcon rather than exploding in place). Fortunately, no casualties were reported.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

It's The Thought That Counts

Sorry for delving into domestic politics once again, but this was too funny/sad to ignore. Apparently, with the mid-terms approaching, the Democratic Party put up a page on their website to show their support for the troops and to blast Republican policies.

Fair enough. Speaking on behalf of U.S. troops, I can say that we will gladly accept both parties support. However, the Democrats apparently can't tell the difference between American and Canadian troops. Oops!

(If you are a South Park fan, then this is actually quite disturbing, as it suggests that in the event of an U.S.-Canadian War -- like that depicted in the first South Park movie -- the Democrats will be supporting the opposing side. At least we will still have Zippy the Wonder Dog on our side!)

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Heath Shuler Coming Back to DC?

I've generally avoided commenting on domestic politics on this blog, and given my proximity to Ambassador Khalilzad, have written much less about the highs and lows of Iraqi politics than I expected. But this story about Heath Shuler running for Congress was too good to let pass (no pun intended) without comment.

For those who don't remember, Shuler was one of the best college quarterbacks of the last 20 years while at the University of Tennessee in the early 1990s. In 1994, the Redskins drafted him with the third overall pick. However, he immediately held out for more money and missed most of training camp his rookie year. When he finally did take the field, he clearly lacked the head to comprehend the complexity of professional defenses.

Sadly, he turned out to be a horrendous flop in the NFL, completing only 47% of his passes and averaging less than 184 yards/game with the 'Skins, and ended his career -- which included one forgettable year with the New Orleans Saints -- with twice as many interceptions (33) as touchdown passes (15). (Ironically, he is actually one year younger than the Redskins current starting quarterback, Mark Brunell).

If I were his opponent, I would run a campaign ad with the slogan: "Heath Shuler: A Proven Failure in Our Nation's Capital!"

(And yes, if he is elected, I will definitely try to get his autograph the next time I'm on the Hill).

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Major General Caldwell on the Iraqi Security Forces

From Saturday's Atlanta Journal Constitution:

Published on: 09/29/06

Let's put the bad news up front: Extremist elements in Iraq are vying for political and economic power and are seeking to take advantage of this delicate stage of transition in Iraq's history.

Sunni and Shia extremists are using brutal and provocative tactics against one another. Baghdad is the center of gravity for this increasingly sectarian conflict. There are also foreign terrorists infiltrating the borders, renegade death squads, an insurgency and foreign governments who seek to exert influence on Iraqi politics.

This, however, is only part of Iraq's present story. The violence belies the gradual but remarkable transformation this nation is experiencing.

Three years ago, there were virtually no security forces in Iraq. Today, Iraqis are standing up in military and police forces that number more than 300,000. In coming months, the coalition and the Iraqi government will reach the goal of 325,000 trained and equipped force members.

Quality is improving with quantity. In April 2004, almost all Iraqi forces fled in the face of a militia uprising in Najaf. This August, when militia attacked an Iraqi army outpost in Diwaniyah, the Iraqi army counterattacked and killed 50 militiamen.

By the end of August, Iraq's special-ops brigade, with U.S. combat advisers, had netted 1,320 detainees in 445 operations all over the country this year, including three senior militia leaders and 20 most-wanted individuals. This month, Iraqi forces provided a safe environment for more than 4 million Shiite pilgrims celebrating the birth of the 12th Imam. And it was Iraqi forces operating independently who recently captured a major al-Qaida in Iraq leader, Abu Hammam.

A functioning command structure is in place. This month, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki became commander in chief of Iraq's military in more than name only. That is, the Ministry of Defense and the Joint Headquarters — who report to the prime minister — assumed operational control of the Iraqi ground forces command, navy and air force. Before Sept. 7, coalition forces exercised control of all of Iraq's military. Now, two of Iraq's 10 army divisions fall under this command structure. More will soon follow.

Security will only improve with simultaneous political and economic progress. Under Saddam Hussein, government served the will of the dictator and primarily served one sect. Today, Iraqis are learning to share power and wealth.

Local governments — provinces, districts or neighborhoods — are beginning to take responsibility for their citizens. The government must work to heal the wounds of this fractured society by getting all factions to reconcile.

In Baghdad, several hundred Iraqi civil society representatives renounced violence this past weekend at the second of four conferences that are part of Maliki's overall 24-point national reconciliation and dialogue plan.

The Iraqi government met with representatives of neighboring and European countries to form an "international compact," aimed at getting help to transform Iraq's economy.

Iraq's new unity government is moving forward and will continue grappling with tough political challenges, such as how to balance power between central and regional governments (federalism) and how to divvy up the country's oil revenues. But Iraqis have succeeded in setting a road map for resolving these essential issues. We must maintain the patience to allow their critical efforts to come to fruition.

•U.S. Army Maj. General William B. Caldwell IV is spokesman for Multi-National Forces-Iraq and is currently stationed in Baghdad.

I would add one other point that the General could not discuss in the 530 word limit given to him by the AJC. The development of an effective Iraqi Security Force is critical to winning the counterinsurgency battle we are fighting in Iraq. A cornerstone of modern counterinsurgency theory is the vital importance of training an indigenous security force. As Jonathan Nagl notes in the preface to his excellent book “Learning to Eat Soup With a Knife”:
Local forces have inherent advantages over outsiders in a counterinsurgency campaign. They can gain intelligence through the public support that naturally adheres to a nation’s own armed forces. They don’t need to allocate translators to combat patrols. They understand the tribal loyalties and family relationships that play such an important role in the politics and economies of many developing nations. They have an innate understanding of local patters of behavior that is simply unattainable by foreigners. All these advantages make local forces enormously effective counterinsurgents.

This is why in his classic work on guerrilla warfare in the Middle East, T.E. Lawrence wrote, “Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them.”

In the face of daily acts of barbarity perpetrated in Iraq, it is understandable that Americans question whether we are making progress in establishing a free and prosperous country. Unlike the conventional wars that comprise the greater part of the American military experience, counterinsurgencies are long, messy affairs that do not provide clear metrics such as lines of advance by which we can mark progress. However, the remarkable success we have witnessed in training, equipping, and developing the Iraqi Security Forces strongly suggest that we are on the right track.