Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Sorry for relative sparse posting lately.

I've officially succombed to the disease that affects almost everybody in Iraq as the end of their tour of duty approaches . . . malaise.

I've got less than 20 days left in country, and find myself having a hard time caring about much other than returning home and starting life over again with Marya and David.

Actually, it's not that I've stopped caring, but rather that caring so intensely has left me completely exhausted. I'm tired of the office politics that I endure everyday, I'm tired of the posturing and obstructionism of the national politics surrounding the war. I'm tired of being awaken by mortar fire and by the helicopters flying so low over my trailer it sounds as if they are about to land on the roof.

I'm even more tired of seeing MedEvac helicopters skimming above the palm trees, ferrying more wounded soldiers to the Combat Support Hospital.

I did have a brief respite from this affliction for two days recently as a buddy visited the IZ from Camp Victory. It did my heart good to see an old friend the CRC at Ft. Bliss, to compare our experiences in Iraq with the expectations we had when we flew into country together eleven months ago . . . and okay, to vent. The companionship ended up making it one of the best nights I've had since activating almost 14 months ago. But once separated again, it only made me wish that security conditions would have permitted us to visit more frequently, especially given that we were only separated by a few miles of highway.

There are still reasons to be hopeful for the war and Iraq's future despite the suicide bombers' continuing nihilistic onslaught. But I'm too tired to go into it right now.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Some Thoughts on the Resolution

I meant to post this last week, when it was actually relevant, but was having technical difficulties at the time.

Last Saturday, the Washington Post editorial board absolutely eviscerated Representative John Murtha for his attempt to undermine the President's constitutional authority to conduct U.S. foreign policy by ending the war through subterfuge. Key quote:
Mr. Murtha has a different idea. He would stop the surge by crudely hamstringing the ability of military commanders to deploy troops. In an interview carried Thursday by the Web site MoveCongress.org, Mr. Murtha said he would attach language to a war funding bill that would prohibit the redeployment of units that have been at home for less than a year, stop the extension of tours beyond 12 months, and prohibit units from shipping out if they do not train with all of their equipment. His aim, he made clear, is not to improve readiness but to "stop the surge." So why not straightforwardly strip the money out of the appropriations bill -- an action Congress is clearly empowered to take -- rather than try to micromanage the Army in a way that may be unconstitutional? Because, Mr. Murtha said, it will deflect accusations that he is trying to do what he is trying to do. "What we are saying will be very hard to find fault with," he said.

Mr. Murtha's cynicism is matched by an alarming ignorance about conditions in Iraq. He continues to insist that Iraq "would be more stable with us out of there," in spite of the consensus of U.S. intelligence agencies that early withdrawal would produce "massive civilian casualties." He says he wants to force the administration to "bulldoze" the Abu Ghraib prison, even though it was emptied of prisoners and turned over to the Iraqi government last year. He wants to "get our troops out of the Green Zone" because "they are living in Saddam Hussein's palace"; could he be unaware that the zone's primary occupants are the Iraqi government and the U.S. Embassy?

Again, this is the Washington Post editorial board, not exactly a right-leaning institution.

Also, last weekend, retired Colonel Ralph Peters discussed the House's resolution in an op-ed in the New York Post. I think Peter's goes way too far in implying that the Democrats (and 17 Republicans) who voted for the Resolution are guilty of treason. This kind of hyperbole, much like Senator Reid's comment that Iraq is the "worst foreign policy mistake" in American history, produces more heat than illumination.

(By the way, Senator Reid, 52,000 more U.S. servicemen died in Vietnam than Iraq. You may want to ask their families which was worse, or for that matter, the millions of refugees our subsequent abandonment of South Vietnam caused, or the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis likely to die if we follow your policy of similarly abandoning Iraq. . . But that's for another post).

Peters' does make some good points when not going into hysterics. The resolution will not affect the morale of American troops. Those in the field have more pressing matters to worry about than what a bunch of politicians in Washington think and say. The real damage lies in the potential impact it has on the Iraqi moderates we are encouraging to stand up to the 5% fringes on each side of Iraqi society that are creating the horrific violence in Iraq. It is difficult to ask them to join the Iraqi Security Forces, to take political risks by reaching national reconciliation, and to radically restructure their economy away from Saddam's decrepit socialism and corruption if they will be left to assume all the risks for themselves in the very near future.

Iran is not going away. The former Ba'athists and Sunni extremists are not going away. But if these Iraqis -- whose security forces are taking casualties at a much higher rate than ours, by the way -- believe we are looking for the nearest exit, why should they make sacrifices for a democratic, multi-sectarian Iraq?

While the House was debating the Resolution, Ayman al-Zawahiri released a statement playing precisely to this fear:
The deputy also said US-allied governments in Iraq and Afghanistan should consider their future.

"These traitors in Iraq and Afghanistan must face their inevitable fate, and face up to the inescapable facts. America ... is about to depart and abandon them, just as it abandoned their like in Vietnam," he said.

Also, the obvious desperation to withdraw from Iraq does play in to Al Qaeda's strategy. In documents discovered in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban, Al Qaeda discussed their lessons learned from Somalia:
There is an important observation that we must not ignore, which is that the Americans were not defeated militarily in Somalia. Effective human and economic losses were not inflicted on them. All that happened was that the Somali battle revealed many of their psychological, political, and perhaps military weaknesses.
The Somali experience confirmed the spurious nature of American power and that it has not recovered from the Vietnam complex. It fears getting bogged down in a real war that would reveal its psychological collapse at the level of personnel and leadership. Since Vietnam America has been seeking easy battles that are completely guaranteed.

I do not think the Congressmen who voted for the resolution did so with the intention of playing into Al Qaeda's strategy, nor do I question their patriotism. (Neither did Dick Cheney, for that matter). Although there are no doubt some who want to lost the war so as to embarrass President Bush, I believe most are sincere about supporting the troops and wanting to obtain the result in Iraq that bests safeguards American interests.

However, resolutions such as the one the House passed eight days ago do have consequences in terms of Iraqi behavior and enemy morale. I fear that although many Representatives voted for the Resolution because they believe it will improve the situation in Iraq, they did so unaware of the second-order effects it creates, effects that will make it harder for Iraqis to step up and solve their nation's problems.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Prince Harry Comes to Iraq

The money quote from CNN's story about the third-in-line to the British throne coming to serve in Iraq:
There is no way I am going to put myself through Sandhurst and then sit on my arse back home while my boys are out fighting for their country.

F*** yeah, Harry, GET SOME! (P.S. It might be a good idea if you leave the Nazi costume at home. Just saying. . . )

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Quotes of the Day (XIV)

"Democrats and some Republicans in Congress are seeking to humble, embarrass and, if they can, destroy the President and the prestige of his position as the Commander-in-Chief who is responsible for the safety of our military forces and the nation's defenses. By doing so, they are adding to the dangers that face our nation. And so I ask again them again: do you think that leaving a power vacuum in Iraq will make us safer? If, as a result of the power vacuum, the terrorists are emboldened and God forbid we sustain here in the U.S. civilian casualties comparable to those caused in Iraq by car bombs, will you publicly accept responsibility?

Ed Koch, "Will Embarrasing the President Make Us Safer?"
February 20, 2007

- "To see . . . the President as the enemy -- which the savage and unfair attacks upon him convey to the world -- is harmful to the security of our country and, therefore, injures us all."
Ed Koch
December 21, 2005

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Good News About Baby Catherine

I just wanted to provide an update on Catie, the infant daughter of one of my officemates here who last week had seizures and fell into a coma.

The Major emailed us the other day to say Catie came home on Thursday. She was still shaking a bit, and is having trouble walking on her own. But the doctors say there was no permanent damage, and she is improving a little bit each day.

So thank you to everybody who said a prayer for Catherine and her family.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Congratulations Seth!!!

Sorry ladies, but as of today this hunk is taken! (My brother-in-law, that is. David won't be available for a few years yet).

Congratulations to my brother-in-law Seth and his new bride Lindsay, who are getting married today in Arizona!

Obviously, I really wish I were there celebrating with them rather than here in Baghdad. (I really wish I were almost anywhere right now rather than here in Baghdad . . .)

But tonight I'll be raising a near-beer in their honor, wishing them a joyous wedding day and many years of happiness together!

Representative Johnson on the House Resolution

The following is the text of remarks delivered by Rep. Sam Johnson on the floor of the House of Representatives yesterday.

You know, I flew 62 combat missions in the Korean War and 25 missions in the Vietnam War before being shot down.

I had the privilege of serving in the United States Air Force for 29 years, attending the prestigious National War College, and commanding two air bases, among other things.

I mention these stories because I view the debate on the floor not just as a U.S. Congressman elected to serve the good people of the Third District in Texas, but also through the lens of a life-long fighter pilot, student of war, a combat warrior, a leader of men, and a Prisoner of War.

Ironically, this week marks the anniversary that I started a new life - and my freedom from prison in Hanoi.

I spent nearly seven years as a Prisoner of War in Vietnam, more than half of that time in solitary confinement. I flew out of Hanoi on February 12, 1973 with other long-held Prisoners of War - weighing just 140 pounds. And tomorrow - 34 years ago, I had my homecoming to Texas - a truly unspeakable blessing of freedom.

While in solitary confinement, my captors kept me in leg stocks, like the pilgrims... for 72 days....

As you can imagine, they had to carry me out of the stocks because I couldn't walk. The following day, they put me in leg irons... for 2 ½ years. That's when you have a tight metal cuff around each ankle - with a foot-long bar connecting the legs.

I still have little feeling in my right arm and my right hand... and my body has never been the same since my nearly 2,500 days of captivity.

But I will never let my physical wounds hold me back.

Instead, I try to see the silver lining. I say that because in some way ... I'm living a dream...a hope I had for the future. "From April 16, 1966 to February 12, 1973 - I prayed that I would return home to the loving embrace of my wife, Shirley, and my three kids, Bob, Gini, and Beverly...

And my fellow POWs and I clung to the hope of when - not if - we returned home.

We would spend hours tapping on the adjoining cement walls about what we would do when we got home to America.

We pledged to quit griping about the way the government was running the war in Vietnam and do something about it... We decided that we would run for office and try to make America a better place for all.

So - little did I know back in my rat-infested 3 x 8 dark and filthy cell that 34 years after my departure from Hell on Earth... I would spend the anniversary of my release pleading for a House panel to back my measure to support and fully fund the troops in harm's way....and that just days later I would be on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives surrounded by distinguished veterans urging Congress to support our troops to the hilt.

We POWs were still in Vietnam when Washington cut the funding for Vietnam. I know what it does to morale and mission success. Words can not fully describe the horrendous damage of the anti-American efforts against the war back home to the guys on the ground.

Our captors would blare nasty recordings over the loud speaker of Americans protesting back home...tales of Americans spitting on Vietnam veterans when they came home... and worse.

We must never, ever let that happen again.

The pain inflicted by your country's indifference is tenfold that inflicted by your ruthless captors.

Our troops - and their families - want, need and deserve the full support of the country - and the Congress. Moms and dads watching the news need to know that the Congress will not leave their sons and daughters in harm's way without support.

Since the President announced his new plan for Iraq last month, there has been steady progress. He changed the rules of engagement and removed political protections.

There are reports we wounded the number two of Al Qaeda and killed his deputy. Yes, Al Qaeda operates in Iraq. It's alleged that top radical jihadist Al-Sadr has fled Iraq - maybe to Iran. And Iraq's closed its borders with Iran and Syria. The President changed course and offered a new plan ...we are making progress. We must seize the opportunity to move forward, not stifle future success.

Debating non-binding resolutions aimed at earning political points only destroys morale, stymies success, and emboldens the enemy.

The grim reality is that this House measure is the first step to cutting funding of the troops...Just ask John Murtha about his 'slow-bleed' plan that hamstrings our troops in harm's way.

Now it's time to stand up for my friends who did not make it home - and those who fought and died in Iraq - so I can keep my promise that when we got home we would quit griping about the war and do something positive about it...and we must not allow this Congress to leave these troops like the Congress left us.

Today, let my body serve as a brutal reminder that we must not repeat the mistakes of the past... instead learn from them.

We must not cut funding for our troops. We must stick by them. We must support them all the way...To our troops we must remain...always faithful.

God bless you and I salute you all. Thank you.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The "Fabulous People" on Iraq

From the New York Observer, an . . . um, interesting? . . . take on the war from the patron's of NYC's "exclusive" Bungalow 8. Among some of the choicer excerpts:
-- Interior designer Brinton Brewster, 38, was also very upset. “We were brought into the war under false pretenses, the public was lied to, and we’re creating another generation of terrorists,” he said.

“Unfortunately, the ‘fabulous people’ get a bad rap,” he continued. “Just because we live life in a certain way, they think we don’t have compassion for other people. It’s just not the truth. But you know, what really upsets me, honestly, is the propensity of the media to focus on Lindsay Lohan going in and out of rehab. I don’t care about celebrities and what they’re doing. I’ve met them all.” . . .

-- Next up was a blond woman in her late 30’s. She was wearing a black fedora from the men’s department at Bergdorf Goodman, a black Moschino dress and shoes by Christian Loubouton. I asked her about Iraq.

“A rack? You mean titties? Like a really big rack?”


. . . “I feel personally connected in one way—I’m a mother, and every day in Iraq somebody is losing their child. My little girl will never go to Iraq. I’m sorry, she’ll go to Prada.”

-- Jacqie Venable, a 40-year-old music producer, was wearing a beret and jeans. She said she wasn’t wearing underwear.

She said the war in Iraq was meant to happen “karmically.”

-- Paul Johnson-Calderon, a 23-year-old fashionista wearing a Balenciaga tunic, was also upset.

“I think that the initial reason for us going into Iraq, to get rid of Saddam and his regime, was a good thing,” he said. “How it’s been handled is terrible.” . . .
He looked around Bungalow 8. “Do you think the Iraqis, little villagers in Kandahar, are doing this?” he said. “None of them are. And that’s the sad, awful truth.”

You're right, Paul, the little villagers of Iraq don't have any clubs as fabulous as Bungalow 8. And I think we can all agree that that is the real tragedy of this war.

(G-d, I hate New York).

"Quest to Heal Iraqi Boy Became a Final Mission"

Another article in today's Washington Post on CPT Brian Freeman, his charitable work, and the attack that took his life.

In October I helped Brian get an injured Iraqi into the Combat Support Hospital here in the IZ. Knowing that "Ali" wouldn't be safe in a hospital back in Najaf, Brian was working on obtaining a Canadian visa for him when "Ali" succombed to the effects of his six gunshot wounds.

It is not surprising that on the day Brian was killed he was working to help another sick Iraqi child.

The world is truly a poorer place for Brian's passing.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A Call for Prayers

When I returned to my office from dinner tonight at 1900, I found one of the Majors with whom I share an office doubled over in his chair. At first his convulsions made it appear as if he was laughing, but when I looked more closely I saw that he was silently weeping.

I stepped out to give him some privacy, and the other Major (my supervisor) told me that it had something to do with his baby daughter Katherine, who is about the same age as David. Apparently, Katherine was running a high fever, started to have seizures, and went into a coma. She was still unconscious, and the doctors didn't know either the cause or the prognosis.

After a few tense hours, at 2200 we received word that Katherine's seizures had stopped, and shortly thereafter another call came that she was conscious, albeit somewhat spacy from all the medication. Her CatScans didn't turn up anything abnormal, although they will be running more tests tomorrow morning to determine what caused the Grand Mal seizure.

As all the officers in my office are fathers, we shared some tears of joy. Quite frankly, I can't even begin to imagine how I could function if something like this happened to David, especially while I'm over here. It is just too horrifying to imagine what my friend must have been going through during those hours of uncertainty. Fortunately, he has left to start the journey to get back home and be with his family during this difficult time.

So tonight I'm asking everybody that reads this blog -- from my family and friends, to the left-wing nuts who don't believe I really exist -- to please stop and say a prayer for Katherine's recovery. She hopefully appears to be in the clear, but she can use every little bit of good karma we can muster.



Baba O'Reilly on Public Diplomacy

No, not the classic Who song, but my old cubicle-mate at the Pentagon, Robert (Bob) Reilly.

In the two years we sat next to each other at DoD, I lost track of how many times I overheard Bob's deep voice ranting to somebody on the phone, his face flush with indignation: "They offer religion and ideas, and what do we give them?? BRITNEY SPEARS!!!" I always thought Bob was just showing his age a little bit and was out of touch with today's youth.

So it was with some trepidation that I saw Bob had published an op-ed in Friday's Washington Post on America's public diplomacy efforts entitled "Britney v. the Terrorists."

It turns out I was not giving Bob nearly enough credit.

Although I still think Bob is overly averse to American pop culture as a tool to attract interest, he is correct that we can not rely on it to win the "war of ideas" that everybody recognizes as a critical part of the larger War on Terror. Young listeners in the Islamic world (and elsewhere) may tune in to hear pop music and provide a temporary ratings boost, but other radio networks in the Middle East will eventually copy this format and inundate their young audiences with an anti-American bias.

It may not be as sexy, but in the long run we are better off basing our public diplomacy on the substance of discussions of liberalism and individual rights rather than the flash of Justin Timberlake or Beyonce. We do not have to make the world love us, as some politicians seem to think, but rather should seek better understanding of our policies and respect for our ideals.

Whereas I think Dinesh D'Souza's argument that America's "cultural left" somehow caused 9/11 is despicable, Bob makes an articulate and intelligence argument on playing to America's real strengths in our public diplomacy.

(Although Bob, I still will take my Classic Rock -- and The Killers, Audioslave, White Stripes, etc. -- over your Classical Music anyday).

Fear The Turtle!

Maryland 72, Duke 60. 'Nuff Said!!!

(Okay, so even if the Terps miss the tournament for the third straight year, this game put a smile on my face and ensured the season isn't a total loss. And they do still have an outside chance of making the tournament.

Of course, as soon as I exulted in the Bullets . . . damn, Wizards . . . having the best record in the Eastern Conference, Antawn Jamison sprains his knee and will miss the next 3-6 weeks. The Wizards have since lost four of their last five games, so I'm probably jinxing the Terps by even mentioning them. . . Oh well, at least we beat Duke!)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

General Petraeus' Message

Our new Commanding General hit all the right notes in his first public statement today. Not bad for a Princeton grad . . .

To the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Civilians of Multi-National Force-Iraq:

We serve in iraq at a critical time. The war here will soon enter its fifth year. A decisive moment approaches. Shoulder-to-shoulder with our iraqi comrades, we will conduct a pivotal campaign to improve security for the Iraqi people. The stakes could not be higher.

Our task is crucial. Security is essential for Iraq to build its future. Only with security can the Iraqi government come to grips with the tough issues it confronts and develop the capacity to serve its citizens. The hopes of the Iraqi people and the coalition countries are with us.

The enemies of Iraq will shrink at no act, however barbaric. They will do all that they can to shake the confidence of the people and to convince the world that this effort is doomed. We must not underestimate them.

Together with our Iraqi partners, we must defeat those who oppose the new Iraq. We cannot allow mass murderers to hold the initiative. We must strike them relentlessly. We and our iraqi partners must set the terms of the struggle, not our enemies. And together we must prevail.

The way ahead will not be easy. There will be difficult times in the months to come. But hard is not hopeless, and we must remain steadfast in our effort to help improve security for the Iraqi people. I am confident that each of you will fight with skill and courage, and that you will remain loyal to your comrades-in-arms and to the values our nations hold so dear.

In the end, Iraqis will decide the outcome of this struggle. Our task is to help them gain the time they need to save their country. To do that, many of us will live and ifght alongside them. Together we will face down the terrorirsts, insurgents, and criminals who slaughter the innocent. Success will require discipline, fortitude, and initiative -- qualities that you have in abundance.

I appreciate your sacrifices and those of your families. Now, more than ever, your commitment to service and your skill can make the difference between victory and defeat in a very tough mission.

It is an honor to soldier again with the members of the Multi-National Force-Iraq. I know that wherever you serve in this undertaking you will give your all. In turn, I pledge my commitment to our mission and every effort to achieve success as we help the Iraqis chart a course to a brighter future.

Godspeed to each of you and to our Iraqi comrades in this crucial endeavor.

David H. Petraeus
General, United States Army

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Simply Outstanding

From Senator Lieberman's speech on the Senate floor on Monday (sorry, I've been busy) opposing the Warner-Levin resolution:

Now, a new course has been chosen. A new commander is in place in Iraq, confirmed by this Senate. A new Secretary of Defense is in place at the Pentagon, confirmed by this Senate. And a new strategy has begun to be put into action on the ground in Iraq by our troops.

It is altogether proper that we debate our policy in Iraq. It should be a debate that is as serious as the situation in Iraq and that reflects the powers the Constitution gives to Congress in matters of war.

But that, sadly, is not the debate that the Warner-Levin resolution invites us to have. I am going to speak strongly against this resolution because I feel strongly about it. I do so with respect for my colleagues who have offered it, but I believe its passage would so compromise America’s security, present and future, that I will say so in the clearest terms I can.

The resolution before us, its sponsors concede, will not stop the new strategy from going forward. As we speak, thousands of troops are already in Baghdad, with thousands more moving into position to carry out their Commander’s orders. This resolution does nothing to alter these facts.

Instead, its sponsors say it will send a message of rebuke from the Senate to the president, from one end of Pennsylvania Avenue to the other. But there is a world beyond Pennsylvania Avenue that is watching and listening.

What we say here is being heard in Baghdad by Iraqi moderates, trying to decide whether the Americans will stand with them. We are being heard by our men and women in uniform, who will be interested to know whether we support the plan they have begun to carry out. We are being heard by the leaders of the thuggish regimes in Iran and Syria, and by Al Qaeda terrorists, eager for evidence that America’s will is breaking. And we are being heard across America by our constituents, who are wondering if their Congress is capable of serious action, not just hollow posturing.

This resolution is not about Congress taking responsibility. It is the opposite. It is a resolution of irresolution.

For the Senate to take up a symbolic vote of no confidence on the eve of a decisive battle is unprecedented, but it is not inconsequential. It is an act which, I fear, will discourage our troops, hearten our enemies, and showcase our disunity. And that is why I will vote against cloture.

If you believe that General Petraeus and his new strategy have a reasonable chance of success in Iraq, then you should resolve to support him and his troops through the difficult days ahead. On the other hand, if you believe that this new strategy is flawed or that our cause is hopeless in Iraq, then you should vote to stop it. Vote to cut off funds. Vote for a binding timeline for American withdrawal. If that is where your convictions lie, then have the courage of your convictions to accept the consequences of your convictions. That would be a resolution.

The non-binding measure before us, by contrast, is an accumulation of ambiguities and inconsistencies. It is at once for the war but also against the war. It pledges its support to the troops in the field but also washes its hands of what they are doing. It approves more troops for Anbar but not for Baghdad.

We cannot have it both ways. We cannot vote full confidence in General Petraeus, but no confidence in his strategy. We cannot say that the troops have our full support, but disavow their mission on the eve of battle. This is what happens when you try to wage war by committee. That is why the Constitution gave that authority to the President as Commander in Chief.

Cynics may say this kind of thing happens all of the time in Congress. In this case, however, they are wrong. If it passed, this resolution would be unique in American legislative history. I contacted the Library of Congress on this question last week and was told that, never before, when American soldiers have been in harm’s way, fighting and dying in a conflict that Congress had voted to authorize, has Congress turned around and passed a resolution like this, disapproving of a particular battlefield strategy.

Thank G-d for Senator Lieberman. Obviously, I disagree with the few Senators who opposed the authorization of military force against Iraq back in August 2002 and continue to oppose us pursuing victory. But I respect them for the consistency of their beliefs, unlike those on both sides of the aisle who out of political expediency began to backtrack once it became clear this war would be longer and more difficult than anticipated. (Although our casualties are still well below what they were anticipated to be prior to March 2003).

Senator Lieberman was the only Democrat to have the courage to condemn the immorality of President Clinton's personal conduct back in 1998. (Whether Clinton's subsequent perjury was an impeachable offense or not is a seperate issue.) He remains one of the more principled political leaders we have.

(Hat tip to Michael Goldfarb at the Daily Standard for the excerpt).

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Simply Stupid

From the same hour of CNN's "This Week at War," Christiane Amanpur on whether Iran is interfering in Iraq:

JOHN ROBERTS: Christiane Amanpour, is there any doubt at this point that Iran is actively involved in Iraq and is shipping weapons to Shiite militias, insurgents, other extremists?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Well, if you took it from the perspective of the Iranian officials here, yes, there is very much doubt. In fact they deny it outright. That's what the Iranian officials say. And when I pressed them on the fact that U.S. officials are saying that they have evidence of shipment of weapons and training et cetera to Iraq, they say we must see that evidence. That is not our policy.

On the other hand, some analysts here are saying that, yes, Iran and the United States are at odds and do have a struggle over various issues such as Iraq and also of course over the nuclear issue. There is a great fear here in Iran of war from the United States. Everybody has been asking me about it since I arrived here in the last few days. And what these analysts are saying is that perhaps some Iranians are suggesting that it might be better to try to keep America occupied inside Iraq than sort of fight that battle away from Iranian territory, rather than inside Iranian territory.

Forget the second paragraph, which only admits that Iran would have cause to harass (re: kill) American forces in Iraq given that we are at odds over "the nuclear issue," and that war would come "from the United States." Whereas in the first paragraph Amanpour accepts unquestioningly the mullahocracy's emphatic denial (despite a long history of sponsoring terrorism abroad), every counter-statement in the second paragraph is extremely conditional: "Analysts are saying . . . perhaps some Iranians are suggesting . . . it might be better to . . . sort of fight."

Strong stuff, Christiane! That a way to present balance to the assertions!

This reminds me of the great Kids in the Hall sketch in which a judge releases every defendant who pleads "not guilty:"

[Scene opens in a courtroom. Bruce sits at the prosecutor's table. Mark and Kevin sit at the defense table, and Dave is on the bench.]

Dave: The charge is murder. How does the defense plead?

Mark: [standing] Your honor, the defense would like to plead not guilty.

Dave: Fine, then the court finds in favor of the defense. Your client's free to go. [He raps his gavel.]

Bruce: What?

Kevin: [jumping up] Yes! Yes! Yes! Honey, we didn't need the alibi! [He runs toward a woman in the courtroom audience.] I have to be fast! My murder weapon! [He runs over to the prosecutor's table and grabs a gun, then heads out of the courtroom.] Where's the men's room?

Bruce: Your honor, may I approach the bench, please?

Dave: Yes, you may.

Bruce: [stepping up to the bench] Your honor, uh, did it ever occur to you that the defendant might have been lying?

Dave: Well, Mr. District Attorney, no. No, that never occurred to me.

Bruce: But we have seven eyewitnesses, his prints were all over the murder weapon, his shirt was soaked with the victim's blood...as a matter of fa--

Dave: [interrupting] Well, maybe I'm just not as cynical as you are. If that young man says he's not guilty, I'm afraid that's good enough for me. Now, we have a very busy schedule; I suggest we move along. Call the next case, please!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Simply Heartbreaking

From CNN's "This Week at War" on Sunday night (I think):

JOHN ROBERTS: But first, a THIS WEEK AT WAR remembrance. Army Captain Brian Freeman of the 412th civil affairs battalion was liaison between coalition forces and the government of Karbala. He was killed when insurgents disguised as U.S. forces attacked in late January. Back home in California, Freeman's wife Charlotte tells how their three- year-old son comforted her when she got the terrible news. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHARLOTTE FREEMAN, WIFE: He just came up to me, put his arms around me and said it is OK, mommy. Daddy is coming home soon, having no idea what I was even crying about. And then I tried my best to explain that his dad had passed away and -- to this day he still says to me "but he's not gone."


Monday, February 05, 2007

Good Reads

Three stories that caught my eye today.

First, Christopher Hitchens effectively eviscerates Frank Rich's book on the Bush administration and Iraq in the new Claremont Review of Books. Of course, this is the intellectual equivalent of Mike Tyson knocking out Erkel, but still an interesting deconstruction.

Second, from today's Washington Post, Tom Ricks writes about
General Petraeus' use of officers with PhDs as advisors. (I actually read Petraeus' Princeton dissertation back in 1999 for a paper I was writing in grad school, before anybody really knew who he was). Army Officer PhDs? Great, there goes the neighborhood . . .

Finally, Time writes about watching the Super Bowl from Camp Victory on the other side of Baghdad from the International Zone. To be honest, I didn't watch the game, which was the first Super Bowl I can remember missing. I didn't have any rooting interest between the Bears and Colts, had a busy day ahead, and didn't want to get up at 0230 to watch it. Moreover, Armed Forces Networks does not allow commercials, which is half the fun of any Super Bowl, so what was the point?

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Pizza Pizza!!!

All I can say is G-d Bless Michael Ilitch, the former Marine who founded Little Caesars. (Okay, to be honest, I don't really like their pizza that much. But this is the sort of thing people do when they genuinely support the troops!)

From Thursday's Louisville Courier-Journal:

Little Caesars gives unto Iraq war vets
Ky. soldier at root of franchise program
By Bill Wolfe

On July 8, 2004, Staff Sgt. Robbie Doughty's Humvee was hit by a roadside bomb near Samarra, Iraq. The blast took his legs and the Paducah resident's dreams of a 30-year military career.

"It was terrible, a very tragic thing," said Doughty, 32, who had joined the Army Reserves as a student at Lone Oak High School in Paducah in 1991. But with his hopes for a long military career gone, Doughty has turned to a new ambition -- success in the restaurant business.

After reading about Doughty in a November 2004 USA Today story, Little Caesars Pizza owner and founder Michael Ilitch offered him a franchise and new store in Paducah at no cost -- a gift valued at between $250,000 and $300,000.

The carry-out restaurant will celebrate its grand opening today.

Ilitch also has started a franchising program that offers up to $68,000 in benefits for service-disabled veterans and a $10,000 benefit to other qualified veterans.

Nearly 1,000 inquiries about the program have come in, and dozens of veterans have advanced through the screening and are moving toward owning their own franchises, according to Little Caesars.

The program grew out of Doughty's experience with Ilitch, and Doughty has been spreading the word through veterans' groups.

David Scrivano, president at Little Caesars, said Ilitch was impressed by Doughty's story, seeing "that Robby was really a go-getter and had a spirit for success in life, in general, and just a great overall positive outlook."

The road to Iraq
Doughty had volunteered for combat duty. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he wanted to leave his safe assignment as a recruiter in Bowling Green and join a combat unit, he said.

"We obviously wanted to bring the people that did this to justice, and I wanted very much to be a part of that," Doughty said.

In 2004, he was transferred to the 5th Special Forces Group at Fort Campbell. Within a month, he was headed to Iraq. Two months later, after the bomb attack, he was headed home for months of rehabilitation and an uncertain future.

A new career
Ilitch offered Doughty a store, which has started serving ahead of the grand opening.

"I like going back and working with the dough and doing what we call the pizza dress, putting the toppings on the pizza. I also like to go out and greet the customers," said Doughty, who was fitted with prosthetic legs and walks without help.

He said he still has pain, but if he needs to sit, he takes a few minutes.

Doughty has a partner in the venture -- his best friend and fellow Iraq veteran Lloyd Allard of Clarksville, Tenn. After Ilitch suggested a partnership, Doughty invited Allard, who quickly agreed to the proposal.

"Yes, I probably could have lived on my pension alone," Doughty said, but "they say people that work longer, they live longer. I just think it's good and it's healthy for us to have something to do."

Helping veterans
Ilitch's Little Caesars Veterans Program was launched on Veterans Day.

For honorably discharged veterans, the plan provides a $5,000 reduction of the $20,000 franchise fee, financing benefits and a $5,000 credit on equipment. Service-disabled veterans are eligible for additional benefits, including a waiver on the franchising fee, additional financing options and a $10,000 credit on the initial equipment order. The total benefit for the disabled veterans can reach about $68,000.

To open one store, candidates need to have a net worth of $150,000 with at least $50,000 in liquid assets. Outside the program, it typically costs from $109,000 to $299,000 to build a store, according to Little Caesars.

According to Pizza Today, a trade magazine published in Louisville, Little Caesars takes a royalty of 5 percent of sales.

The veterans program is scheduled to run through next year, and it will then be evaluated, Scrivano said.

Doughty said he and Allard are already thinking about their next step in restaurant management, possibly adding a Clarksville franchise within the next year or so.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Breaking the Army?

A lot of critics of the war claim that we are sending troops over here without the proper equipment, or that the intensity of operations here is wearing out equipment fast enough that we are "breaking the Army."

However, as the picture below indicates, the soldiers here are innovating and have all the equipment necessary to take the fight to the enemy. HOOAH!

And yes, I recognize these are Belgian troops, not American, lest anybody take this too seriously.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Washington Post Columnist Tells Spoiled Soldiers to Shut Up!

The New York Times may not hate the military (see below), but William Arkin, the Washington Post's online columnist on defense issues sure seems to.

NBC News ran a segment about the troops' views about the recent anti-war protests last weekend. Richard Engel relayed how "troops [at Ft. Lewis, WA] say they are increasingly frustrated by American criticism of the war. Many take it personally, believing it is also criticism of what they've been fighting for." Responding to these soldiers, Arkin writes:

So, we pay the soldiers a decent wage, take care of their families, provide them with housing and medical care and vast social support systems and ship obscene amenities into the war zone for them, we support them in every possible way, and their attitude is that we should in addition roll over and play dead, defer to the military and the generals and let them fight their war, and give up our rights and responsibilities to speak up because they are above society?

I can imagine some post-9/11 moment, when the American people say enough already with the wars against terrorism and those in the national security establishment feel these same frustrations. In my little parable, those in leadership positions shake their heads that the people don't get it, that they don't understand that the threat from terrorism, while difficult to defeat, demands commitment and sacrifice and is very real because it is so shadowy, that the very survival of the United States is at stake. Those Hoover's and Nixon's will use these kids in uniform as their soldiers. If I weren't the United States, I'd say the story end with a military coup where those in the know, and those with fire in their bellies, save the nation from the people.

But it is the United States and instead this NBC report is just an ugly reminder of the price we pay for a mercenary - oops sorry, volunteer - force that thinks it is doing the dirty work.

Mercenaries?!? So many ways to deconstruct this idiocy, so little time.

First of all, as a supposed "National and Homeland Security" expert, Arkin should know that the average salary of an active duty U.S. serviceman is far below the average for people of similiar edcuational backgrounds. I may have only had a government job, but I still endured a significant pay cut to come back on active duty. (It is only because of the tax breaks I get for being deployed to a combat zone that let my wife stay at home with our son during his infancy). The average job in the civilian world that pays what soldiers make also tends not to come with mortar fire in the job description.

So I assume Arkin is being intentionally imprecise in his definition of "decent wage."

Second, as for "taking care of their families" with medical care, my wife gave up on the Army health care system months ago when it came to taking care of David. We are now paying out of pocket so that she can get an answer on the phone to her questions, or not have to wade through ten layers of bureaucracy just to make an appointment.

Other families may have been having better experiences than we are, but this experience has turned my wife off of socialized medicine for good.

As for the amenities, I concede that my half of an 8'x20' trailer, while not as nice as a college dormroom, is better than my father-in-law had during Vietnam. And I'm the first to admit that I eat well thanks to the overstuffed contract that KBR gets for feeding us in the dining facility. (I would note, however, that my amenities include sharing a 2'x 6' bathroom with three other officers, only sometimes have hot water to shower/shave with, have a single bed with exposed wires sticking out of the mattress, step out into 120 degree heat once I'm outside my trailer, get awoken at least three times a week by explosions, have had my trailer shot twice . . . and oh, by the way, can't drink. But other than that the amenities are spectacular.)

But I also have been to enough places in Iraq (far more than Arkin, I'd wager) to know that I am one of the fortunate ones. The vast majority of the soldiers in Iraq do not have it nearly as good as I do, much less in comparison to their civilian peers.

And yes, there is that little thing these guys face in getting mortared and shot at everyday. For Arkin to act as if these soldiers and Marines are privileged and should be grateful for their conditions is ridiculous.

More importantly, and contemptibly, Arkin seems to embody the "Free speech for me but not for thee" school of political commentary. It is perfectly fine in Arkin's book (and mine, to be honest) for the protestors to assemble and oppose the war. Freedom of speech, and freedom to dissent, is part of what makes America great. (I'm not okay with spray painting the Capitol Building, as some protestors did in DC last weekend).

I disagree with their argument, of course, and can see with my own eyes that it does have real consequences in terms of enemy propaganda here in Iraq. But that is part of the price we pay living in a free society, and not one that I would abrogate lightly.

However, Arkin seems to believe that Jane Fonda, Tim Robbins, Susan Surandon, and other celebrities have more of a right to express their opinions than do the "mercenaries" who are risking their lives daily to preserve our freedoms. And this despite the fact that the soldiers weren't even saying that nobody could criticize the war, but were expressing their opinion on the protests.

Opinions, Mr. Arkin. You know, part of that whole free speech thing?!?

On a visceral level, I agree with the readers who've exercised their freedom of speech in the comments section of his post.

But in order to keep the discourse reasonably elevated, it suffices to say that Arkin has produced one of the more despicable commentaries on the war, and that is already a pretty low bar.

(Hat tip to Captain's Quarters).

Does the New York Times Hate the Military?

Back in June, I linked to another military blogger's open letter to New York Times editor Bill Keller condemning the Times arrogant exposure of a legal and effective classified anti-terror program. In a subsequent personal correspondence with SGT Boggs, I told him I agreed with his main point regarding the Times astonishing recklessness, but that I didn't agree that journalists hate America. Instead, I suggested that based upon my experience, journalists instead confuse cynicism with objectivity, and therefore treat the military more skeptically than they do the terrorists.

(Or something like that. It was seven months ago).

However, after this piece by Damien Cave on the 28th, I'm beginning to think that maybe SGT Boggs was on to something.

The article itself is not so bad: it is a riveting account of the danger, confusion, and sometimes tragedy that our combat units face everyday here in Iraq. The problem, however, lies in the photos which accompanied the article in the New York Times' print edition.

The third photo shows SGT Hector Leija being carried out of a building on a stretcher after having been shot in the head, a medic applying pressure to his skull. The caption reads: "Army soldiers and medics carry Sergeant Leija to an armored vehicle after he was shot in the head."

At the end of the article, Cave tells us the SGT Leija died from that gunshot would.

Although the story of the challenges and the dangers our troops face (as well as that of the human cost of the war) needs to be told, imagine how Leija's family has to feel when seeing this photo.

The media ground rules which all embedded reporters and photographers sign includes the following ground rules: "Media will not be prohibited from covering casualties provided the following conditions are adhered to: (a) Names, video, identifiable written/oral descriptions or identifiable photographs of wounded service member will not be released without the service member's prior written consent."

The reason for this is so that families do not find out their loved one was wounded or killed via the media rather than the proper military chain.

So thanks to the New York Times, the Leija family has a photo to capture the moment as their son/husband/brother is dying.

I still can't go so far as to say the Times hates the military, but it sure does not appear to have much sensitivity to how their families feel.