One of the major problems in recent days around Baghdad are the roads. The major artery to the west of the city has been Code Amber for about a week, as has the major artery to the south. Putting this into perspective, a clear road (Code Green) is still subject to random IED attacks. An Amber road, as I understand it, is not fully secure, and is known to have at least some roving Ali Baba. A notice was sent out this morning stating that several sections of road have been closed indefinitely for repairs and public safety reasons. The notice also says that those driving on the road may be considered anti-Coalition, and fired upon.
Given this insecure condition, a number of convoys have been targeted. I received word from a well-placed source today that there have been 82 convoys hit in Iraq in the last 10 days, leading to resignations by 200 civilian contractor drivers. An Army travels on its stomach, and the Army, the CPA, and KBR food services rely on shipments of food from Kuwait. I am told that the Green Zone may have as little as six days worth of food and water provisions left, and that five of those days are MREs. I will bring you more on this when I am able to confirm this information and get some details from the brass.
One interesting part of life in Baghdad is the mix of people you randomly meet. Last night, for example, I met a German cameraman who is here for a few days. When he gets back to Germany, he will quickly turnaround to head off to Kazakhstan, where he will spend around eight weeks working on a documentary. He told me that conditions have much improved in Kazakhstan in the last two years, and that you can walk around safely in the cities, even in the middle of the night. It is a bit of an odd place, with some living a nomadic herding life, and others living in modern comfort. There is, of course, the Russian missile base as well, which is why most readers of this page would have followed activity in the country. There are also large "spiritualist" communities there, as some religions believe that the center of the earth is in Kazakhstan. (I have bad visions of new age hippies [Yes, it is another (different) sound file for South Park fans.])
Many of the civilians you meet here are contractors. They are, in a sense, the modern adventurers and prospecters. I had dinner a couple weeks ago with a two electric contractors. They were swapping tales of far off lands--Siberia, Kosovo, etc.--where they had been responsible for getting power systems running under adverse conditions. One of the guys boasted that he had been to every continent on earth--including Antartica, by the time he was 35.
Then there are the people who work at the Coalition Press Information Center and with the Coalition directly. I have bumped into a Harvard Law grad who speaks fluent Arabic, a former Press Aid to Laura Bush, a former censor for CBS (guess they could have used her during the Superbowl), and a former State Department press officer, among others.
As I pointed out in my first piece over here on the bus driver, there are a lot of interesting people over here doing the heavy lifting to get Iraq in business again, and not all of them are government employees. While some came just for the job, many appear to have chosen this life out of a sense of adventure, and to see places that they would not otherwise see.
Conventional wisdom says that George Bush has had a terrible two weeks. The president has been taking a pounding in the mainstream media and has slid a little in some polls. But now, it turns out, John Kerry is the one who is getting worried. First was the Bush news conference, which again showed the president’s great strength: plain-spoken seriousness that Americans instinctively trust. Add to that, as Peter mentions below, the New York Times reports that the Bush campaign ads seem to have started to take a long-term toll by defining Kerry "as a waffling tax-and-spend liberal," especially among suburban voters in swing states.
And Kerry’s problem is not just about reaching swing voters: he also has some difficulties with his base. He went to Howard University, where he received "tepid applause, particularly on questions about race." Then he had a meeting with Cardinal McCarrick, who heads a Church panel deciding whether there should be penalties against Catholic politicians who support policies that are opposed to Church doctrines on matters like abortion. What will happen when he has to face the kind of media scrutiny Bush did this week?
for saying that Senator Byrd--a former KKK member who voted against the Civil Rights Act and has in recent memory used the "N" word both on the Senate floor and during a television interview--would have been a great Senator at any time in history, including during the Civil War. In an attempt to make this look different than the Senator Lott’s statement lauding Strom Thurmond, AP offers the following tripe:
During the December 2002 party, Lott specifically endorsed Thurmond’s candidacy for president in 1948 on a segregationist platform, saying that "we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years" if the country had voted for Thurmond.Nonsense. Let me repeat what happened: he said that a former Klansman and segregationist who still uses the "N" word would have made a good Senator during a war that was principally about slavery and the meaning of Natural Rights. This is at least as explicit as Lott’s statement, in which Lott likewise did not mention "votes, views, or acts." Lott could not get a pass with an apology but was forced to step down from leadership. Such a fate will inevitably not befall Dodd, but for those who are interested, here is a list of the committee leadership positions that Dodd touts on his web site:
Dodd offered only general praise of Byrd and did not specifically mention any of Byrd’s votes, views or acts.
Senator Dodd is currently a senior member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and is the senior Democrat on its Children and Families Subcommittee. He also is the senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Peace Corps, and Narcotics. He serves on the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, and is the senior Democrat on its Securities and Investment Subcommittee. He also is the senior Democrat on the Rules and Administration Committee.
Today has been another relatively quiet day in Baghdad. At least one reasonably-sized boom in the distance, but nothing else of note. Today is Friday, which, being the "Sunday" here, meant that most of the city was closed. After dealing with the administrative duties of taxes and the hospital yesterday, I settled in this afternoon to finishing an article that I have been trying to wrap up for some time on particularly notable examples of media incivility and bias. I have sent it off, so you should be seeing it soon.
Elsewhere in Iraq, there has been some activity near Samarra, where two IEDs resulted in 1 fatality and 5 injuries to soldiers in Task Force Danger. Also near Samarra, Task Force 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment discovered a truck containing 21 120mm rounds (these are biggies), 65 60mm rounds, two 40mm rounds, six RPG rockets, one sniper rifle, and one AK-47. Reports suggest that negotiations are continuing in Al Najaf and Fallujah, which have remained relatively quiet.
A lovely and true essay by Charles Krauthammer about why Iraq is not Vietnam. Read it and learn much. I like this paragraph: "Iraq is Vietnam not on the ground but in our heads. The troubles of the past few weeks were immediately interpreted as a national uprising, Iraqs Tet Offensive, and created a momentary panic. The panic overlooked two facts: First, Tet was infinitely larger and deadlier in effect and in scale. Second, Tet was a devastating military defeat for the Viet Cong. They never recovered. Unfortunately, neither did we, psychologically. Walter Cronkite, speaking for the establishment, declared the war lost. Once said to be lost, it was." Also see Mac Owens for more detail.
According to this story, Air America, Al Frankens answer to Rush Limbaugh, et al., has been pulled from the airwaves in Los Angeles and Chicago. Apparently the networks owner, Multicultural Radio Broadcasting, Inc., has been bouncing checks, and is now in the hole for roughly a million dollars.
Just keep repeating to yourself: "It is unbecoming to gloat...."
The Los Angeles Times reports that John Kerry is now attacking president Bush’s character. "After months of attacking President Bush’s policies, Sen. John F. Kerry is stepping up an assault on his rival’s character, challenging Bush’s credibility on everything from job creation to the war in Iraq.
Stopping just short of calling the president a liar, Kerry routinely accuses Bush of ’running up a truth deficit’ and compiling ’a long list of broken promises.’"
The New York Times reports: "Declaring that he is not a redistribution Democrat, Senator John Kerry told a group of wealthy and well-connected supporters on Thursday that he would soon start an aggressive campaign to define himself as a centrist, in hopes of peeling moderate Republicans from President Bush." The Washington Post reports: "Sen. John F. Kerry will begin using new images to introduce himself to voters with an intensified ad blitz in the next two weeks just as President Bush scales back his media offensive, campaign advisers said yesterday." Kerry says: "A lot of people don’t really know who I am. Their goal is to define me and make me unacceptable. . . . Our goal has to be to keep that acceptability." Thanks, John, all this is helpful. Also note Ryan Lizza’s short essay in The Atlantic on Kerry’s campaign guru, Bob Shrum. Shrum is a much overpraised Pupulist-Lefty who has his work cut out for him; he’ll retire a loser.
Enlistment in the military continue at record rates. "Despite a rising tide of combat deaths and the prospect of deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan for years to come, Americans continue to volunteer for duty and are re-enlisting at record rates." And, "Even the Army National Guard, which has had 150,000 citizen soldiers mobilized for up to a year, has seen retention rates going through the roof, said Guard spokesman Maj. Robert Howell."
Alonzo Hamby will hold forth today at our last Ashbrook Colloquium for the year. He will be talking about his just published book, For the Survival of Democracy: Franklin Roosevelt and the World Crisis of the 1930s. C-SPAN is taping it and will play it within a couple of weeks, but you can listen to it live. It starts at 3 p.m.
"The economic reports are running hot," said Cary Leahey, senior U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank Securities in New York. "If we continue to see growth like this, it makes it much more likely that the recent jobs data was no fluke," said Christopher Low, chief economist at FTN Financial in New York. More here and here .
`"Manufacturers are feeling better about the economy and there are signs that we may finally get some job gains in manufacturing," said Ethan Harris, chief U.S. economist at Lehman Brothers Inc. in New York.
President Bush met Staff Sgt. Michael McNaughton of Denham Springs, La., fiteen months ago at Walter Reed, where he was recovering from a bad wound (he had been in Afghanistan). His right leg had to be removed above the knee, he lost two fingers on his right hand and he suffered shrapnel wounds in his left leg. The president and Sgt. McNaughton had talked about running, and Mr. Bush promised to run with the soldier when he was "fully recovered and able to run with his prosthetic leg." Bush kept his promise. They ran together at the White House.
No, no, I dont mean Al Gore. Tim Berners-Lee has been awarded the first Millennium Technology Prize. Berners-Lee is recognized as the creator of the World Wide Web while working for the CERN Laboratory in the early 1990s, the European center for nuclear research near Geneva, Switzerland.
The biggest story for this week is the dog that didn’t bark: Al Najaf. Just 40 days ago, the celebration of Ashura was marked by numerous explosions around the mosque in Al Najaf. Yet with all the violence leading up to Arba’een, this last weekend’s festivities went off with very little if any violence. The pilgrims are quietly making their way home, and the Coalition is making strides with Sistani to bring order back to the city without having to resort to violence. This is important, because a shootout in Najaf which did damage to the holy sites (which inevitably would be where the bad guys would be shooting from) would go along way to alienating the Shias. All told, Najaf to date appears to be benefiting from a well-orchestrated strategy by both the military and the diplomats, who appear to be applying pressure while at the same time capitalizing on the rift between Sistani and Al Sadr. While there is still the potential for things to got terribly wrong, the accomplishments to date are significant. It is the biggest story of the week that you didn’t hear.
Peters statement about the preconceived notions of the military reminded me of a conversation I had with a journalist after a press briefing a few days ago. As luck would have it, I dont know who she is, or for what organization she works. She came in late, and was wondering what the Coaltiion said about Fallujah. I told her that there was not a lot new there. Dan Senor, the Coalition spokesman, had attributed recent violence there to international terrorists, and I thought that this was interesting, because, while this explanation had been offered recently by the Iraqi National Security Advisor, I had not heard this strong a statment made by the Coalition.
She began asking me about snipers. She said that she had talked to someone who had seen women and children killed by Americans. In the course of the conversation, however, it became apparent that her witness did not see who killed these women and children, they just assumed that it was the Americans, because the Americans controlled the high ground. I asked if she meant the mosques--which, having driven past Fallujah, I can attest are the tallest buildings in Fallujah--and which for days had been used by anti-Coalition forces. For this she had no response. But what was shocking was her set of presumptions. For days, the military had made perfectly clear that it operates under a very strict set of rules of engagement. While this does not mean that no women and children die on accident, it means that they are not targeted, and in fact we put our boys in greater harm to assure that the collateral risk is as low as possible. On the other hand, she had eyewitness testimony from an observer who claims only to have seen the result, and assumed that the act was perpetrated by Americans without any evidence. It was clear from the conversation that she was prone to believe the latter, and in so doing to believe that the rules of engagement were not being enforced and that the young men were ruthlessly picking innocent kids off with sniper rifles. If she had spent any time with these young men and actually talked to them, rather than rattle accusations at them as many of the press do, then she would not be so prone to think them monsters.
These two stories here and here (from the NY Times and the WaPo) are very revealing about how our guys fight in the most difficult circumstances. One Marine commander says: "It’s their Super Bowl. Fallujah is the place to go if you want to kill Americans." The one from the Post is especially gripping, describing a Marine rescue mission to get their guys out. They were surprised, surrounded, but got our guys, and fought their way out. In another spot in Fallujah, in combat that lasted 14 hours, we killed more than one hundred insurgents on Tuesday, only two Marines were shot, their injuries not life-threatening. A Colonel says: "We don’t want to rubblize the city. That will give the enemy more places to hide." Fallujah is a wasps’ nest, they are more organized than we thought, they’re Baathists and foreign terrorists, coming at us in coordinated attacks, fifty to one hundred bad guys coming at us at a time. The Marines are ready, willing and able. They have learned a lot about urban combat and they are putting it to use. The commander of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment says of their rescue operation: "This is a story about heroes. It shows the tenacity of the Marines and their fierce loyalty to each other. They were absolutely unwilling to leave their brother Marines behind." These are teenagers in the cannon’s mouth. All this goes on why the politicians are talking. This bravery makes such talks possible. Do you think this is Mogadishu or Vietnam? Think again. I offer this to our boys (from
Coriolanus): "Before him he carries noise, and behind him he leaves tears. Daeth, that dark spirit, in’s nervy arm doth lie, Which being advanced, declines; and then men die."
Those who know me will be happy to know that being 10,000 miles from home did not stop me from doing my yearly ritual of waiting until the last minute to do my taxes. I took my files and my Turbo Tax with me to Baghdad, and just finished my electronic filing. As luck would have it, because of the eight hour time difference, this may be the earliest I have filed a return in years.
I want to make two points about the events in Iraq over the last two weeks or so. The first has to do with the elite media coverage of the events. I have turned a corner on my view of the media. I have thought for decades that they are biased; knowing this is not rocket science. But I have discovered--especially watching television duirng the Easter weekend--that they are actually stupid, ignorant, and likely malicious. "This is the time that the unjust man doth thrive," as the Poet said. Vietnam, quagmire, and defeat were not only everywhere in the air, but these possibilities were revelled in by the talking heads of the establishment media. If all you knew or understood was what you heard from them, you would have gotten the impression that Iraq was dissolving into anarchy. This was not true, and even I knew it at the time. You didn’t have to know much to figure it all out. But the mnedia missed it all, in their rush to assert that the whole war was wrong, and ill conceived. This leads to my second point.
The military-political developments in Iraq over the Easter were dangerous. This al Sadr character, the radical Shiite, attempted a coup, at best, at worst he merely wanted to cause as much mischief as he could. He hooked up with verious Saddam left-overs and some foreign terrorists (financed by some Iranians) and made his move. He had no choice. It was now or never. He already knew that he had been de-authorized even by Shiites, and would have no role in the new government; as he shouldn’t, he’s a killer. He knew we would arrest or kill him. What was worth watching in all this is not only our military’s actions in Fallujah, which, by the way, as far as I can tell, was brilliantly handled. One of the great unreported stories out of Iraq is the extraordinary competence--indeed, the heretofore unexampled competence--of our military. These guys are smart, they are well trained, they are brave, they shoot straight, they are great diplomats, and they are utterly American (decent) in even the way they conduct war. They are the greatest soldiers of the world. May the god of battles continue to steel our soldiers hearts. I love these guys! The other thing to keep on eye on is the way the moderate Shiites were handling the al Sadr instigated violence: They opposed it. The way CNN was reporting things I was worried that the pilgrims (over a million) coming into the Southern holy cities would riot and even take up arms. Nothing happened. (And then, of course, CNN didnt talk about why nothing happened. As far as Im concerned this was a moral crime by the media. Their obligation is to report, and they didnt.) That nothing happened was due, in large measure, to the Grand Ayatollah Sistani. He was not going to repeat the Shiite mistakes of 1920 when they revolted agains the Brits, lost, and the country became Sunni property. Sistani wants Shiites to participate in a moderate and democratic Iraqi government, anbd they are the majority. Yes, this was a clarifying moment, but, in the end a positive development. This is not to say that there will be no more killing, no more rocket attacks, no more American lives lost. Yet, it does mean that political process is going in the right direction and President Bush is right is saying so. There will be a turnover of the government to Iraqi hands, it will be on time, and it will be successful. Will this mean that Iraq will turn into another fully democratic constitutional order overnight? Of course not. But it will mean that it will become moderate, something along the lines of Jordan. Not bad. And this will have massive consequences for the region and for our well-being. And future historians will heap praise upon this administration for its noble effort, even though CNN and the others can’t find anything good to say. But, then, as far as I’m concerned the elite media is history. Do continue to payt attention to the reports of our man Robert Alt, who has been in Iraq for over a month now, and whose insights I much value.
A good friend in the states has done everything but issue a writ of mandamus to get me to see a doctor following my prolonged bout of Saddam’s revenge. I finally went this morning, and can attest that I have lost 17 pounds to date on what I previously dubbed the "Mesopotamian diet." For my anorexic friends on the west coast, this is why it would be a bad thing to have two percent body fat.
Lucas post below on Carwardine (whose bio of Abe I have read, and its pretty good) reminded me that my edition of Charnwoods Lincoln is still available.
Im off to Kent State to listen to a talk given to the Friends of the Library of Kent State by Jeffrey Wallin. I hope the dinner will be worth the trip, knowing the speaker, I dont expect much from the talk.
139 years ago today, Abraham Lincoln was shot while watching a play at Ford’s Theatre on Good Friday. He died at 7:22 the following morning across the street at a boarding house owned by William and Anna Petersen. See the Abraham Lincoln Online website for historical details. In today’s Wall St. Journal, Richard Carwardine of Oxford University offers a short but fitting tribute to the savior of the American union. Entitled
"Lincoln Through British Eyes", the article is a reflection on Lincoln’s greatness by a historian who will receive the coveted Lincoln Prize tonight for his recent biography, Lincoln (Pearson-Longman 2003), which garners him $30,000 and a bronze replica of Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ life-size bust, "Lincoln the Man."
The article closes with praise for one of Lincoln’s greatest biographers, Lord Charnwood, and a fitting summation of Lincoln’s self-understanding:
Charnwood was right: Lincoln was a genuinely great statesman, a talented politician who exceeded expectations in rising to the challenge he faced. His tenacity, patience, humanity, shrewdness in personal dealings, and unblinking focus on essentials more than offset his inefficient, unbusinesslike ways. Convinced that the Union had to be saved, and sure that slavery’s days were numbered, Lincoln seized what he judged his historic moment as the instrument of providential purpose.
I had just finished procuring some Dunhill pipe tobacco from a tobacconist (o.k., he is actually just a guy who has a table with various tobacco) in the lobby when there was a boom followed by the sound of shattering glass plunging from the sixth floor skylights to the lobby floor. As is my custom, after getting to a sheltered position, I opted to freeze momentarily, as these things often come in twos and threes. I then took the elevator to my room, wondering all the while why they chose to put glass elevators in this building. I retrieved my camera, and made my way to the staircase (for those safety Nazis reading, there is no lobby access via stairs to the sleeping floors, thus my previous use of the elevator). I ran up to the sixth floor deck, where the missile hit a couple of weeks ago, to see where this missile hit. It is from there that I took the exterior pictures of the damage to the 12th floor.
I then got back in the staircase, and began running to the 12th floor. I made it as far as the ninth floor before the smell began to get thick. I have now been close to a few explosions, and they have a unique smell-- a distinct chemical smell, mixed with smoke, mixed with what smells like burning wires or an electrical fire. The smell became too strong to continue running, so I slowed my pace to slow my breathing. When I made it to the 12th floor, the Fox news guys were there, but whoever was behind the door was not letting anyone through.
I then made my way to the internet café across the street to upload the pictures. A large armored column came by, with M1 Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles making their way with great haste. The cold steel warmed the cockles of my heart. No sooner had I made my way to the café than the power went out, and the café closed. This message, if it makes it through, will be by means of my satellite phone.
As I began to say in my last message, it is interesting to note that the attacks occur right before the call to prayer. For example, when they hit the hotel last time, it was around 4:30 am, just before prayers. This time has proved popular recently for a series of mortar attacks on the Green Zone—enough so that I must admit that I braced myself for a boom this very morning at that time.
For those who wonder about the prudence of staying at this hotel, suffice it to say that there is a calculation to my move. The biggest factor is that while it is susceptible to missile and mortar attack, it is not easily hit with a car bomb. I have been in the building twice now when missiles hit and, through God’s mercy, walked away. It is far less likely that I would be able to say the same if I were in a hotel hit with a car packed with explosives.
The internet cafe has lost power so I must be brief. As I mentioned in my last post, a missile hit the 12th floor of the Sheraton where I stay. This is the second direct hit, and there was a third close hit earlier in the week. The reason seems fairly obvious: it is the tallest building in the city, and it has a large amount of security. Something else to consider: the recent missile and mortar attacks have all come right before prayer at the mosques. The theory is that they do this so that they can go in and be holy right after the attacks, but I think it also serves the purpose of creating a crowd to blend into. The Ashbrook folks will be posting some pictures I took soon.
Here is the Washington Post article on Bush’s press conference, with the headline: "Short on Details, Long on Resolve." This reminds me of a story:
During a recent visit to Washington, the Pope was the guest of the President and his wife for an afternoon Potomac River cruise on the presidential yacht Sequoia. They were sipping their iced teas and chatting amiably when a gust of wind blew the Pope’s zucchetto off his head and into the river. Secret Service agents immediately scrambled to launch a speed boat to retrieve it, but the Pres waved them off with, ’Hang on. I’ll handle it.’
Bush then stepped off the yacht onto the water, walked over to the Pontiff’s little hat, picked it up, walked back to the yacht, climbed back aboard, and handed it to the Pope amid stunned silence.
The headline in the Post, Times, Le Figaro, Guardian, etc. was, "Bush Can’t Swim".
I saw about forty-five minutes of the press conference and thought that he did just fine. I liked it. Straighforward, to the point, a couple of nice formulations. I’m especially glad that he gave the short talk to start with. It worked. I also watched CNN, et al, after and they just reinforced my belief that the elite media is both biased and stupid. I was only ambarassed about being an American once in my life; I watched the Ford-Carter presidential debates of 1976 (and I don’t mean only the fact that the mikes went silent for a while), I mean their inability to say anything interesting or thoughtful. I am, for the second time, embarassed to be an American each time I watch the TV news. Wanting to confirm that I was right about Bush’s performance, I asked the first guy on I ran into on the street this morning what he thought. He said this: "He did fine. I like the guy. I’m not worried. The only question that is important for the election is this: Who do you trust? I trust him." It’s a nice day, by the way, the sun is shining and it’s to be dry the next six or seven days. Here is the transcript of the press conference.
The Sheraton Hotel in Baghdad, where I am staying, was just hit by a missile or mortar attack. I am standing on the six floor deck where the last missile hit a couple weeks ago. In todays attack, one projectile hit the 12th floor. It broke substantial amounts of glass, including the skylight in the lobby. I cant confirm whether there are any injuries.
Ive spent today holed up in my hotel trying to finish a few articles that have been languishing during the recent flurry of activity. The good news is that there will be some new articles for you to read soon; the bad news is that I dont have much to blog about today. The other good news is that I am close to doing a series of embeds to provide views from outside Baghdad: 1) in the Shia city of Najaf; 2) with the 1486th south of Baghdad; and 3) with the 196th Cavalry in Tuz (which is relatively close to Tikrit, and is quite close to Kirkuk).
Fox News reports that Cynthia McKinney is running for Congress again. Here is a candidate for whom the saying "Give a man enough rope and he will hang himself" was meant. It is only a matter of time before she and her family resume their anti-semitic spelling bees.
Medienkritik has a few choice words about Gerhardt Schroeder’s decline (drop like a lead balloon is more like it) in the polls. Die Welt says: "Never before has a Chancellor fallen so far so quickly as Schroeder has since his re-election in Fall 2002." Tut mir leide, baby! Note the photograph; such a short man.
This New York Times story considers how the publication of Bill Clintons book (slated for mid-Summer) will affect the presidential race. Or, more clearly put, how much air will Clinton suck out of Kerrys room. This is an amusing thing to contemplate. It shows how needy Kerry is; he is an inferior candidate. The concern is always what is going on around him, how he is being defined by others, how there is no essence to the guy. Clinton could get away with shifting around because he was Huck Finn-like about it: he knew he was doing it, he talked about doing it, he was exuberant in doing anything he did; he amused people as young boys do. Kerry is dull and needy and ever-so-boring. No one likes him. Juxtaposed to Clinton, he is like a dead man walking. Clinton will be on every talk show, on every newscast, for at least a month after the publication of the book (and probably a month before publication as well). He will be very interesting, and if, as implied in the article, his book proves similar to his mothers in its honesty and a kind of odd generosity of spirit, it will be a great read and a huge seller. People brought Hillary book for duty, they will buy Bills for love. There will be no oxygen in the room, and for Kerry, no room left at all after his loss to Bush. He will have to retire to one of his big houses, feeeling sorry for himself and hating everybody for not having recognized his virtues (including Bill). But by then Kerrys loss wont matter because we will all be talking about the 2008 election: if you get the other Clinton into the White House, Bill will be there too, and life will be more interesting again, wont it?
This John F. Burns piece in The New York Times has some useful information on what is going on in Iraq, and this from the Washington Post adds to it. The short of it is this: Sistani’s people (led by one of his sons and the Grand Ayatollah Sayed) are talking with Sadr and the situation is being diffused. Sadr violent reach for power and authority has failed. Politics follows, even though the guns are not yet silent. "The decision of the prominent clerics to intervene was a result of days of secret contacts, and a vindication, American officials said, of months of assiduous American courtesy toward Ayatollah Sistani. The aged cleric has been an increasingly shrill champion of Shiite rights in Iraq, but at the same time a restraining influence through his emphasis on the importance of settling the country’s web of ethnic, religious and political rivalries peacefully."
Unsurprisingly, Sistani is playing his cards, and we are backing him up. Al Sadr failed because of a combination of U.S. guns and Sistani’s prudence. He doesn’t want a repeat of the Shiite uprising against the Brits; it failed and brought the Sunni’s to power. A couple of things are made clear by all this. One, the elite media hyperventilates, even seems as if they are looking foward to the place falling into chaos; and they don’t inform. They continue to lose credibility. Over time, they will be less able to affect the outcome of events (this includes even the Arab stations).
Two, our tough military reaction to al Sadr’s gambit (which continues even as they talk), proved just the right combination of force and diplomacy. Doggedness and perserverance are good things, and this administration has them. Three, watch for the political solution to move at a much more rapid clip than heretore. The turnover to Iraqi rule will not be delayed, indeed, expect even earlier elections than have been talked about. Four, the calm during the Shiite holy days is another point in Sisteni’s favor; he has shown that he can control events, and do so with finesse and moderation. The Shiites have nailed down the massive fact that everyone has wanted to avoid saying publicly: they will rule Iraq, and, still to the surprise of most, will do it relatively moderately, partly because of their disposition and party because the new constitution will demand power sharing, and partly because they will still need to be backed up by our force. Other problems will arise, of course, but I remain optimistic.
Victor Davis Hanson on "The Fruits of Appeasement" in the City Journal. As with everything he writes, its terrific. Who else can navigate between Demosthenes, Michel Foucault, and Jimmy Carter? Get a cup of Arabica, and kick back. And, Martin, its OK to disagree with some of the things I post. Im looking for insight and wit (thats why I havent called lately!), and sometimes the truth comes along.
One of al Sadrs aides was detained yesterday (and then let go after a few hours of questioning). What struck me in both the report (and some visuals of the arrest on TV) is that the guys was taken by two American soldiers while they were completely sorrounded by hundreds of people, including the guys bodyguards ("they stepped aside"). They simply allowed the soldiers to take him away. And note this interview with Wael al Rukadi, the vice-secretary general of the Council of Iraq Tribes (and a Shiite). Worth reading.
Shandi Finnessey, Miss Missouri, was crowned Miss USA last night (I missed it, but I strongly suggest you click on picture to the left). Note this: "A Republican, she told Reuters she would use her position to help explain America’s involvement in Iraq. ’What needed to be done had to be done.’"
The recent round of kidnappings reinforced my inclination to procure a firearm. They are not terribly hard to come by--after all, it seems that a healthy number of those on the streets are carrying an AK-47 or holstering a 9mm. But there is a problem: security in Baghdad makes it very difficult for a journalist to carry a weapon. Entering the Green Zone, where I am able to post these messages and attend briefings, requires me to go through no less than three pat down searches. Only those employed by the Coalition or recognized as a contractor for the Coalition are freed of this requirement. And even if I do not choose to go to the Green Zone, there are pat down searches to enter my hotel. While I appreciate the security for bombs, I am really not concerned about a fellow journalist carrying a handgun. Finally, when a journalist embeds with the troops, they are required to sign a form stating that they will abide by a rule against bringing personal weapons. While this is fine when you are actually embedded, getting to and from the embed sometimes takes you through neighborhoods where having a firearm would be adviseable. Some of the big media outlets get around this by hiring professional security details. But this option is prohibitively expensive, and more often than not makes you look important, and therefore like a nice target. The measures simply strike me once again as emblematic of the problem with gun control in general. There are ample interim steps which could be taken: requiring the press to check weapons at the convention center or with an officer prior to embedding is one option. But with the checkpoint prohibitions, we are left in a world where the bad guys all have guns, and the good guys who would seek to protect themselves are deprived of the capacity to do so.
Fox News offers a reasonably throrough report on recent events in Iraq, with a particular emphasis on Al Sadr and Al Najaf. It does quote locals for the proposition that the majority of wounded in Fallujah are women, children, and the elderly--an uncorroborated statement which I believe will be disproven.
The Financial Times is reporting that "General John Abizaid, the commander of US forces in the Middle East, has asked the Pentagon for two additional combat brigades[.]" My sense is that asking for more troops is strategically the right move. A common complaint over here is that we should have come in with more troops from the beginning. My sense is that it is not so much that the current troop levels are insufficient to handle the recent challenges. To the contrary, they have dispatched the enemy quickly. But rather, the problem is that Iraq is a pretty big place. To have a strong military presence simply requires a lot of bodies. The number I have heard frequently tossed around is 200,000, compared to current troop levels of approximately 130,000.
Another issue which is frequently complained of is length of deployment. A year ends up being a long time. The soldiers do not get weekends off, and on many posts they do not get much sleep either. The long days and hours, combined with time away from loved ones, takes its toll. The soldiers perform admirably, but the rotation time does not appear to be optimal. I will confess that I am not aware of all the reasons for the one-year rotations, and that I am willing to concede that the obstacles to putting in a 6-month term are likely prohibitive. For example, do we have sufficient volunteer troops to handle shorter rotation terms? And strategically, I have personally witnessed that the one-year rotation permits the soldiers to develop strong ties to locals, who begin to trust and to work with the soldiers. If the bases become revolving doors, developing these important relationships would be hindered.
While requesting more troops is the right strategic move, and indeed to my mind should have been done even in the absence of the recent uptick in violence, be prepared for renewed howls of "Vietnam" and "quagmire." What is stratigically correct is not always politically popular, and increasing troop levels is a move which I believe will prove that maxim true. But those who scream about quagmire should not be allowed to hide behind the veil of "supporting the troops." Many of these individuals joined Senator Kerry in voting against the appropriation bill that provided needed body armor for soldiers--a move that earned Senator Kerry the ire of many of those risking their lives here. And in using the increase in troop numbers as a basis to attack not just the policy of engagement, but tacitly the performance of the troops here, these chicken littles can hardly be said to be providing support.
Schramm noted here that there have been no hard Iraqi casualty numbers coming out of Fallujah. It has been the general policy of the Coalition not to comment on non-Coalition casualties. This policy has not only applied to Iraqi deaths, but when a non-U.S. non-combatant is killed, for example, the Coaltion generally directs all inquiries to the relevant embassy. While this policy is understandable, it does lead to wildly discrepant figures, as we have witnessed in Fallujah. To address this, the Coalition is attempting to get the Ministry of Health (which has already transitioned to Iraqi control) to compile official numbers. My understanding is that this effort is currently underway in Fallujah.
That said, General Kimmitt did offer his first estimates. He stated that since April 1, Coalition forces have suffered approximately 70 casualties. He estimated that insurgent casualties were probably around 10 times that number. While some of the Arab press sources have received quotes from locals stating that most of the Iraqi dead are women and children, Marine sources have vehemently disputed that assertion. While I’m sure there was some collateral damage, given my knowledge of the engagement, I would be willing to bet that the Marines are correct. They are operating under very strict rules of engagement. They are not permitted to fire unless they have a clear shot, and after the unilateral cease fire, they are not permitted to fire unless fired upon. The entire women and children myth appears to have been spread by anti-Coalition press elements such as Al Jazeera, which have stated that the Coalition is collectively punishing the innocent civilians of Fallujah for the killing of the four contractors.
I will say now what the Coaltion cannot. If you want proof that this is not collective punishment, look to the fact that the city still exists. We have employed very little heavy artillery. We have used very limited airpower. If ours were a military that indulged in collective punishment, I can assure you that the death toll would not be hundreds but tens of thousands. But we do not do such things. We risk the lives of our young men in order to be precise in our attacks: that is, in an attempt to kill or detain only those who mean to do us or the Iraqis harm. We cannot avoid all civilian casualties--this would be impossible. But we keep them to a minimum, and in so doing subscribe to an ethic unknown by our attackers. This is in the best tradition of Augustine just war theory. But this places the military in something of a catch-22. The opposition knows this, and tries to exploit it. They conduct attacks on Coalition forces from mosques and schools in an attempt to create collateral damage and bad press. They do not care if Iraqis die, but they know our military, and the people in American and Europe, do care. And perhaps most difficult for us to understand is the fact that they do not respect our restraint. They respect strength, and it seems that they view limited attacks as weakness. For these barbarians, the brutish hammer that destroys the just and unjust alike is power. Our military understands that lesser powers can accomplish mass destruction--it takes genuine power to be precise.
Ronald Browsntein writes that Richard Holbrooke has the best shot to be secretary of state in a Kerry administration (with Biden and Berger following). Howard Kurtz wraps up the McCain for VP question: It’s out of the question. So why do the Kerry people keep letting this idea float out there? I don’t get it. Karl Rove says this about the McCain issue: "It’s a sign of the Kerry campaign’s tactical weakness and shortsightedness if they keep talking about McCain, because it raises expectations that they are serious about him -- and what happens when it turns out that it wasn’t serious at all?
’He (McCain) would never accept it in a million years, anyway.’"
And Kerry makes an appeal to the younger voter by (somehow) tying national service to a cut in college tuition. The Los Angeles Times considers what issues would be raised regarding her philanthropic activities if Teresa Heinz Kerry (Mrs. John Kerry) would end up as first lady. But they say nothing about the support she gives to the Tides Foundation.
Andrew Sullivan takes on the question of whether or not Iraq is another Vietnam (the answer is no) and in considering that poses an interesting question for John Kerry: What would he do if he were elected? Kerry is dodging the issue of what he would do in Iraq now, rather, he is staying in the mode of criticizing Bush for how he went in there. He recommends the following: " A neo-hawkish ouflanking of Bush is therefore a perfect electoral gambit. After all, what lies ahead in Iraq is not, in fact, a very Republican project. It’s classic nation-building - the kind of thing Clinton and Gore once favored and George W. Bush once resolutely opposed. Were Kerry to take this tack, it would, of course, be a turning point rich in irony, especially when viewed through the prism of Vietnam. Whereas Richard Nixon inherited a Democratic war, Kerry, the man who found his first fame in anti-Vietnam protests, would inherit a Republican war. Whereas Nixon was doing all he could to find a way out with honor, Kerry would be doing all he could to find a way to win for the sake of democracy. Yes, we may be seeing a strange replay of Vietnam. But in reverse. And, quite possibly, with an entirely different ending."
The London Financial Times reports: "Terrorists plotting to use chemical weapons in Europe have more advanced plans than security services previously suspected, a senior French counter-terrorism official has warned.
Small groups of chemicals experts have been detected in several European countries and have developed ways of communicating with each other that allowed them to avoid being exposed.
We have underestimated the terrorists willingness and capacity to develop chemical weapons, the French official told the Financial Times. He said a recent wave of arrests in Britain and France has revealed how far they had developed their plans." I am not sure that I am happy to note that the French have only recently discovered this, but there you have it. Also note this: "The groups appear to operate separately from other cells planning attacks using ordinary explosives. Several of them are believed to have links to Islamic militants in the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya. Western intelligence services allege that extremists linked to al-Qaeda have carried out experiments in chemical warfare in Chechnya." This information, to the best of my recollection, is over a year old from the U.S.s point of view. I believe that this is why the Pankasi Gorge in Georgia has been a focus of some of our efforts. In any case, there is a lot of information in this short article that is worth noting. But above all, I dont understand why it is only now that the French are talking about this. Perhaps the Madrid bombing, and the subsequent investigation surrolunding it, woke them up.
Theodore Dalrymple, writing inThe City Journal, reflects on the breakdown of Islam. He navigates wonderfully between Afghanistan and Shakespeare, between love and forced marriage, between Muslim piety and the drug trade in England. Very thoughtful and informative. It may surprise you. I give you his concluding paragraph:
"Islam in the modern world is weak and brittle, not strong: that accounts for its so frequent shrillness. The Shah will, sooner or later, triumph over the Ayatollah in Iran, because human nature decrees it, though meanwhile millions of lives will have been ruined and impoverished. The Iranian refugees who have flooded into the West are fleeing Islam, not seeking to extend its dominion, as I know from speaking to many in my city. To be sure, fundamentalist Islam will be very dangerous for some time to come, and all of us, after all, live only in the short term; but ultimately the fate of the Church of England awaits it. Its melancholy, withdrawing roar may well (unlike that of the Church of England) be not just long but bloody, but withdraw it will. The fanatics and the bombers do not represent a resurgence of unreformed, fundamentalist Islam, but its death rattle."
This Washington Post story recounts how Marines in Fallujah discovered a terrorist cell, and all the materials for suicide bombings. It’s a short and interesting story, but what it reminded me of, above all else, is that we are getting no figures on how many Iraqi insurgents were killed by Marines in Fallujah. Everytime I read a story about Fallujah, there is always a Marine that says something like this: "we killed a lot of them." I have been wondering what the numbers are, I have heard different figures on TV news. This WaPo story from today says that we say 700 were killed and Iraqi doctors in Fallujah say 600 (they claim "civilians").
It would seem that the Iranians have thrown about $80 million into al Sadr’s cause in Iraq. Iran’s former president, Rafsanjani, on Friday hailed the Shi’ite Muslim militia of firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr as "heroic" for rising up against the U.S. occupation in Iraq. But the current president, Khatami, seems to distance himself from Sadr. Amer Taheri a few days ago discussed the disagreements within the Iranian leadership over Iraq. Ralph Peters talks about the Iranians who ambushed an American convoy between Mosul and Akre in Iraq. He also considers the general Iranian involvement in Sadrs efforts.
Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt was asked about reports (mentioned by Schramm here) that an Iraqi army battalion refused to fight in Fallujah. He did not provide much clarity on why that particular unit did not fight, but he did reemphasize that two ICDC battalions fought side-by-side with the Coalition in Fallujah.
As for the non-performing unit, Gen. Kimmitt emphasized that it will take time to get the army units fully prepared to fight. My Monday morning quarterbacking suggests that this problem is exacerbated because the units have the Coalition to fall back on. It is easier to to dodge the bullet if there is someone there to take it for you. This is not a statement in favor of reducing Coalition forces, but rather an observation. The Coalition is increasingly integrating Iraqi security forces into their operations, so hopefully the "no go" response of this unit will in short order prove anomalous.
Yesterday Coalition spokesman Dan Senor said "[w]e’ve noticed a trend with Al Jazeera and Al Arabia misreporting the facts on the ground." But today the words were much harsher. Mr. Senor, referring to those same networks, stated that "I wouldn’t even call it one side of the story. It is no side of the story." In case this left anything to the imagination, he offered that "several of the news agencies do not engage in truth in reporting."
But the harshest words were offered by new Iraqi National Security Advisor Dr. Mowaffak Al Rubaie, who asked "Where is the objective press?" He complained that too many of the satellite channels supported Saddam even after his removal, and have distorted the news. As an example of what he called the many lies propagated by the media, he offered a story about his decision to resign from the Iraqi Governing Council. The networks reported that his decision to resign was motivated by the recent violence. In fact, it was public knowledge that he was required to resign from the IGC in order to take his new position as National Security Advisor. "Don’t they understand Separation of Powers? . . . This is a new Iraq. This is not Saddam Hussein’s Iraq."
Dr. Rubaie offered a words of caution for the networks: "I am warning these channels . . . they challenge the patience of the Iraqi people." When asked what steps would be taken, he was equally plain: "If Al Jazeera and Al Arabia continue reporting the way they are reporting--inciting violence and sectarian rifts--I have no doubt they will be closed in this country." This raised questions in the room about freedom of press. Dr. Rubaie responded that "we have drawn a very clear line. Inciting violence . . . is not allowed." He noted that CNN would not be allowed to incite violence in London, and that he would not allow networks to do likewise here.
Dr. Rubaie also sought to clarify a few issues which he believed had been distorted. He suggested that "[s]ome of the channels and the western media cannot understand what is going on in Fallujah." In particular, he stated that "[n]o one should have in their mind that this is a battle between the Coalition and the Iraqi people." Rather, he described the action as one between international terrorists and the Iraq people.
It will be interesting to see what happens with these networks. I can tell you from first hand experience that Al Jazeera at the very least has tight connections with terrorists--tight enough that they are told about terrorist attacks before they happen so that they can have cameras on the scene. The general media coverage from Fallujah has also been quite poisonous, with outlets suggesting that the attack is a general punishment of Fallujah for the killing of the contractors--which punishment is described as meted out to women and children. Of course, something more than mitigating the bad reporting is necessary. To echo Dr. Rubaie’s question in a slightly different way, where is the equivalent of Fox News Iraq?
This may be the worst news coming out of Iraq in a long time.
Thomas A. Ricks reports that "A battalion of the new Iraqi army refused to go to Fallujah earlier this week to support U.S. Marines battling for control of the city, senior U.S. Army officers here said, disclosing an incident that is casting new doubt on U.S. plans to transfer security matters to Iraqi forces.
It was the first time U.S. commanders had sought to involve the postwar Iraqi army in major combat operations, and the battalion’s refusal came as large parts of Iraqi security forces have stopped carrying out their duties." Some argue that it was a "command failure," others that it was just plain fear. There are other possibilities, as noted.
For a more academic analysis (based on iterviews of soldiers in Iraq) of why American soldiers fight, see this paper published in 2003: "Why They Fight: Combat Motivation in the Iraq War".
"The researchers then interviewed U.S. combat troops fresh from the fields of battle to examine their views. What they found was that today’s U.S. soldiers, much like soldiers of the past, fight for each other. Unit cohesion is alive and well in today’s Army. Yet, Dr. Wong and his fellow researchers also found that soldiers cited ideological reasons such as liberation, freedom, and democracy as important factors in combat motivation. Today’s soldiers trust each other, they trust their leaders, they trust the Army, and they also understand the moral dimensions of war." (Thanks to Phil Carter.)
Tony Blair writes a very good letter to the Guardian outlining why we must continue our work in Iraq. It is excellent. Good man, that Blair. Newsweek reflects briefly on why Blair and John Kerry seem unable to schedule a meeting. It implies that it is not in Kerrys interest to do so. I rather think it is the reverse; note that a few weeks back Blair ordered that the usual Labour Party delegation will not make the trip to this years Democratic Party convention in Boston.
Here is the text of the famnous Aug 6, 2001, intelligence briefing for the President on al Qaeda. This was released on Saturday. I am struck by how banal the thing is. I do not think it is impressive in itself, and certianly doesnt have any useful information for Bushs enemies, Ben-Venistes ravings to the contrary notwithstanding. It does make clear that the CIA was not exactly useful in trying to find ouit what binLaden was up to; that is what should be the story. And yet here is the Washington Posts slant; not an editorial, but a news story. And I mean slant, start with the title: "Bush Gave No Sign of Worry In August 2001." Read the rest for yourself, and be angry. This isnt reporting. But, hey, thats OK because Richard Clarkes book is going to be made into a
movie. The terms of the deal were not released. Perfect.
Here is a story from the Mansfield News Journal about an attack on the 1486th Transportation Company of the Ohio National Guard here in Iraq. I received confirmation from the Public Affairs Office (PAO) that the unit came under fire on Thursday near Baghdad International Airport. The PAO confirmed that three soldiers were wounded, with one suffering an injury to his shoulder, another suffering an injury to his arm, and the third suffering an injury to his thumb. The PAO has stated that they will provide me with more details when they are available.
There is not a great deal new to report today. Having just attended the press briefing, I can tell you that the cease fire continues in Fallujah, with intermittent shooting by the insurgents. The Coalition continues to take positions outside the cities of Karbala and Al Najaf to permit the pilgrims to celebrate Arba’een, despite the presence of Al Sadr forces in those cities. From my own first hand accounts, I can tell you that there were a series of explosions in Baghdad this morning, but the streets appear calm now. In fact, the main street by the hotels is open today for the first time in several days, which made travel this afternoon considerably easier.
As for Schramm’s post about what’s going on in Iraq, I have a few thoughts. First, the thing that has struck me most is that the press seems completely unaware that they are being used by the insurgents. When reporters were released by the kidnappers, they expressed that they did not understand why they were released. Pleeeeease. When attack after attack is waged by insurgents even though there is no hope of military success, the press still fail to ask "why?" While the insurgents could be trying to drum up violent support among Iraqis, this does not appear to be happening to any significant degree. Rather, the attacks seem to be aimed at one group--the media--which increasingly reports without reflection.
My second point is that if you feel deprived of information in the states, you should have been in Baghdad for the past few days. Much of the action with Al Sadr and Sistani is in Al Najaf. But with the pilgrims and the potential for violence, that city is virtually untouchable right now. As for Fallujah, I have personally been trying to be embedded with the Marines there for over two weeks, and have not been able to get there because of a combination of a backlog of requests and security concerns. As one reporter who has also been delayed in his request to embed in Fallujah complained to me today, it is at times easier to get access to the insurgents than to the military. Even Baghdad has been very difficult to get around in the last few days, with numerous streets closed, and increased safety concerns in traveling during the day--let alone after dark. To add insult to injury, when the streets are closed, the businesses--including the internet cafes--close, thereby reducing the number of hours during which I can communicate. So please be patient with those of us who are trying to give you some perspective on what is going on over here.
I asked a representative at the Press Center yesterday about Easter Services here in the Green Zone. There were services, but they were in the Palace, which is generally off-limits to those who are not Coaltion employees--a category which includes reporters. I got the distinct impression that I was the first reporter to have asked this question, which demonstrated a certain cultural gap between the soldiers, who tend to be quite religious, and the reporter class, among whom religion is at best not a spoken topic. To give but one poignant example of the religious character of the troops, a few weeks ago I spoke with a brave young man who had been patrolling in the Sunni Triangle when a mortar exploded near him. He sustained a serious injury to his leg, and while I met with him the Army was preparing to move him from the Combat Support Hospital up to Germany for more treatment. As they readied him for the Medevac chopper, a nurse handed him the personal effects which were in his pockets when he arrived at the hospital. He surveyed the ziploc bag and noticed that something was missing: his Bible. You see, he normally carries it in his back pocket. He reflected that the day he was hit was the first time that he was not carrying his Bible. The sentiment struck me not as superstition, or the desire to keep something of a good luck charm on your person. Rather, the soldier’s statement spoke of his faith, and his desire to keep God’s word close to him when surrounded by those who would do him harm. This faith is repeated time and again on the battlefied, in images such as the now famous AP photo from Fallujah, showing Marines praying over their fallen comrade.
It is my opinion that this helps explain why the press has such a hard time relating to the soldiers. You see, the soldiers subscribe to a set of rules and values which make no sense to the elites. The soldiers on average believe in God. They have a strong sense of patriotism--a love of their country and what their country stands for. They believe that there are things that are absolutely right and absolutely wrong. And they believe that there are things worth dying for, and worth killing for. For this, they are considered simple-minded by the far more sophisticated members of the press. Fine. They can keep their post-modern sophistication, but I prefer the simple faith and values of the soldier. May God keep them and protect them on this Easter day, and every day.