A headline in this mornings edition of the Mansfield News-Journal (sometimes referred to colloquially as the News-Urinal) reads, "Poll shows Kerry favored by Ohio voters." Technically its a true statement; according to the article, 41 percent of voters in this critical swing state say they will cast their ballot for John Kerry.
But heres the first sentence of the story, provided by the Associated Press: "President Bush has a 6 percentage point lead over John Kerry in Ohio...." In 2000 Bush won the state by a 4.4 percent margin.
To the editors credit, they have apparently corrected the mistake in the on-line edition.
The June issue of Harpers (not available online), a one-proud magazine now lost to editor Lewis Laphams increasing dementia, contains perhaps the worst article yet on Leo Strauss. The article, "Ignoble Liars: Leo Strauss, George Bush, and the Philosophy of Mass Deception," by one Earl Shorris (who writes books on Mexico, so he is obviously well-suited to comment on Strauss) is so full of mis-statements and flat-out goofy assertions about Strauss and his followers that it is impossible to convey how bad it is with a few samples. To quote an old saying (that may come from Yogi Berra), You have to read it, not to believe it.
But heres one small sample of its awfulness: "The only alternative to the last man is the will to power, which Nietzsche said is the will to life itself, the will to overcome, to control, to be master of all things. This is the will of the Bush Administration."
It is obvious that Shorris is channelling Shadia Drury (Shorris writes that he read several of Strausss books and "two books about Strauss"--gee, I wonder which two those were?).
Hat tip to Instapundit for bringing the following article from The Spectator (UK) [free registration required to access article] to my attention. In the column, Toby Harden relates an encounter he had with an American magazine journalist with impeccable credentials. Here is a key excerpt from their discussion:
Not only had she ‘known’ the Iraq war would fail but she considered it essential that it did so because this would ensure that the ‘evil’ George W. Bush would no longer be running her country. Her editors back on the East Coast were giggling, she said, over what a disaster Iraq had turned out to be. ‘Lots of us talk about how awful it would be if this worked out.’ Startled by her candour, I asked whether thousands more dead Iraqis would be a good thing.
She nodded and mumbled something about Bush needing to go. By this logic, I ventured, another September 11 on, say, September 11 would be perfect for pushing up John Kerry’s poll numbers. ‘Well, that’s different — that would be Americans,’ she said, haltingly. ‘I guess I’m a bit of an isolationist.’ That’s one way of putting it.
I would only add that liberal journalists wishing for increased instability in Iraq are inevitably (if unwittingly) wishing that more Americans would die--Americans in uniform, and American contractors. After all, the Iraqi effort cannot go poorly without casualties. I wish that the abhorent sentiments that Mr. Harden relates were isolated, but experience says they are not. Who can forget the comments on Howard Dean’s blog site after Saddam was caught: an expletive. Anyone who has spent but a few minutes in the press room in Baghdad knows the glee that the mere prospect of bad news elicits among too many in the press corp. As I said of Senator Kennedy’s preemptive declaration of quagmire, the Left is more than willing to declare defeat (and insodoing to suffer the deaths of U.S. soldiers and Iraqis) in their quest for a White House victory.
Sgt. Stryker opines that Sci-Fi conventions are a lot more fun than political conventions.
In the hierarchy of coolness, politics sits at the absolute rock-bottom. I would rather be caught wearing a hooded brown robe and casting a 10th Level Spell of Enchantment against a chaotic good half-elven Ranger, than be standing in a sea of uptight dorks and declaring to the world, "Mr. Chairman, the Great State of Nebraska, home of the Cornhuskers and latent sexual frustration, nominates John Kerry to be the next President of the United States!"
Yup. By the way, I’ll be at Origins in Columbus June 26th. Like, can you believe, SEAN ASTIN is totally gonna be there!
Oh, and in case you missed the mega-geeky "Horta" reference, go here.
Mark Steyn compares us to those who lived through 1863, and finds us wanting. Good, but hard, too hard. Our corrupted elites and their epigones may participate in this victim culture he describes, but our towns our full of citizens who do not see themselves as victims. I will be speaking tomorrow at our ceremonies in Ashland, and am working on the speech. I came across
something I wrote for Memorial Day in 1997, and another in 1998. Maybe Ill just crib from these. Honor, duty, country are hard things to write about, especially when dozens of old warriors sit in the front, looking at an unworthy speaker trying to thank them. Here is President Bush at yesterdays dedication of the World War II Memorial:
"On this Memorial Day weekend, the graves will be visited, and decorated with flowers and flags. Men whose step has slowed are thinking of boys they knew when they were boys together. And women who watched the train leave, and the years pass, can still see the handsome face of their young sweetheart. America will not forget them, either.
At this place, at this Memorial, we acknowledge a debt of long-standing to an entire generation of Americans: those who died; those who fought and worked and grieved and went on. They saved our country, and thereby saved the liberty of mankind. And now I ask every man and woman who saw and lived World War II -- every member of that generation -- to please rise as you are able, and receive the thanks of our great nation.
May God bless you."
Last week, fourth platoon moved some M-113 Armored Personnel Carriers to a checkpoint in the southern part of their area of operations, and ran an IED sweep on the way. These tracked vehicles have a driver’s hatch in the front, a gunner’s hatch up top, and a personnel compartment in the rear with a large roof hatch that opens so that the men in that compartment can take up gunning positions on the sides of the vehicle. The platoon I am with is a cavalry platoon—more specifically armored (tank) cavalry. Their vehicle of choice is the Abrams tank, so the M-113s are a bit diminutive to them. This trip allowed me to try out my best Dukakis impression, albeit riding in the personnel compartment. As luck would have it, I was the one with the camera, so I avoided any Dukakis-like pictures. I do have some pictures of the professionals at work, which I will post as soon as the internet moves fast enough to load some more images.
The base recently hosted the muqtars (village political leaders) and sheiks (tribal leaders) in the area to the base to discuss concerns in the region. Sitting around one table were approximately 30 Arabs, Kurds, and Turkimen—an accomplishment in itself.
The primary concern for the leaders was getting a reliable source of water. There are still a few villages in the area that do not have a good well, and this was the top priority. The next big issue was access to electricity. It is interesting to note that among the villages in this region is Davac, a Sunni village which was a favorite of Saddam. While it is not in as bad of shape as some of the villages, it nonetheless shared many of the same problems as its neighboring village, demonstrating once again how run down much of the country had become.
The officers also view the meeting as something of a neighborhood watch” group. Lt. Col. Miller thanked the attendees for their help in making the region more secure by not tolerating insurgents in their villages. And the region is safer: since the major firefight just over a month ago, the base has not been subject to a mortar or rocket attack, and there have been fewer IEDs on the roads.
The meeting provided the opportunity for me to meet one of the Turkimen muqtars. As I understand it, the Turkimen are simply Turks who remained in Iraq after the borders were drawn by the British. If you ask them, they still claim to be Turkish. The muqtar from the Turkimen village was an old man, who spoke Arabic, Kurdish, and Turkish—and probably a little English, although he doesn’t let on to that. He has a quick wit, and a devilish grin. He was a clear minority in the room, but you would not have known it from how he handled himself.
There was one muqtar in attendance who was a Hajji. This is not a derogatory term (or a reference to the sidekick from Johnny Quest) but rather an honorific used by the locals to denote that he had completed a Hajj to Mecca. This particular Hajji had it in his mind that I was Iraqi (my beard is a great asset), and kept trying to talk to me in Arabic despite my responses in English.
There is much good news coming out of Iraq. Since CNN and CBS isn’t going to do it, I’m going to try to blog on as much of the good news out of Iraq as possible. People have been sending me things, and I appreciate it. Keep it up. It makes life a little easier. Here is a good piece from the Christian Science Monitor showing how local councils are fairing. There are problems, but the Iraqis stay with it. Something called the Religious University of Hilla has been established near Baghdad. It is run by Shiia, and shows promise to be a real university. "From this university we will change the old ideas, said Sheikh Sayyed Farkat Qazwini, founder. Two exiles have returned to found a film and TV school in Baghdad. A Kurdish leader says "Iraqi Kurdish Jews who migrated to Israel are free to visit relatives in northern Iraq." The Iraqi economy is improving. Iranians are coming to Iraq looking for work. Oil production is up. Iraqi education is being rebuilt. And private schools will now be allowed. The World Bank is doing some good work, most of it not being publicized, or appreciated by the media. Has anyone followed up on this article from six months ago about brain-drain in reverse to Iraqi universities? I bet it is continuing. Thomas Foley said: "There are two Iraqs — one is the one from the media, and the other is the one I saw; they are quite different," said Tom Foley, deputy to Iraq Ambassador Paul Bremer, in a speech in Florida. See this Iraqi blogger for more and this Australian blogger.
Dexter Filkins’ report in The New York Times about Iyad Alawi, seems much better to me than the one in today’s Post. From what little I know, this seems to me to be a good turn of events for three reasons: First, and most important, this guy is a politician--and a resonable one--with some base. And, he knows how to get others to support him. Note that two Shiite parties, each wanted a different person, and neither would compromise; yet both were willing to go with Alawi. And Sistani approves. Second, this puts an end to the UN’s Brahimi’s attempt to pick a non-politician, a so called technocrat, to be PM. That would have been a bad move. Third, The Iraqis themselves seemed to have pushed Alawi. This means that he seems to not have been imposed by either the Coalition or the UN. The fact that UN was surprised amuses me. They underestimated the Iraqis ability to do politics. They are going to need that ability in the coming years.
As I have noted before, I continue to be impressed by how unthoughtful and/or prejudiced the US elite media is toward developments in Iraq. Even this NYT story is entitled, "Exile with ties to the CIA is named premier of Iraq." CNN and the others have been reporting it the same way. The prejudice is against exiles, and most certainly against anyone with American ties. The Iraqis seem to have no such prejudice. By the way, neither did Poles, Hungarians, Estonians, et al, after the fall of Communism. Their cabinets were stuffed with exiles. Good for them. I am betting that our media will continue to be confused and prejudiced. They can’t report this story as good news. In my naivete, I continue to be amazed. But the news is good, and we should delight in it.
Justice Clarence Thomas father-in-law, Donald Lamp, seems to be in some hot water: He wont remove Old Glory from his balcony. It has been up and out since 9/11. The managers of the retirement community are not amused. I am.
This week has seen a dramatic increase in temperature. The thermometer at one checkpoint in Tuz area reached 117 degrees earlier this week. Only a couple of the Humvees on the base have working air conditioning, and the Hummers’ engines join with the desert climate to heat the vehicles to the point where the men all but have griddle marks. The lack of A/C makes it nearly impossible for the troops to travel windows-up as they should to take full advantage of the bulletproof glass (or “transparent armor”). While the vehicles are perpetually filled with plenty of 1.5 liter bottles of water, the liquid becomes so hot that you could make instant coffee without the aid of a microwave. And the good news is that it only gets hotter from here.
Add this heat to the fact that a lot of the guys have been suffering from Saddam’s revenge recently (the chow hall was found to have been using non-potable water to make its coffee and juice), and you have a recipe for trouble. For example, on a recent mission to the village of Albu Najm, Spc. Russ began to show signs of dehydration, and was not able to keep any water down. When we returned to base, it took the medic several attempts to find a vein that would take an IV without collapsing, and when he finally succeeded, it took two large IV bags to restore hydration. The guys joke that if they don’t get the A/C in the vehicles fixed soon, then they should just run the missions hooked up to IVs.
Over last weekend, fourth platoon performed an evening mission to establish a snap traffic control point to search for people carrying illegal weapons. As is customary, the Humvees drove lights out, with the troopers wearing night visions goggles, and with me staring out into the darkness. When the vehicles reached their destination and established the checkpoint on the road, the only illumination came from the stars and the chem lights placed like bookends on the control area. The road was quiet that night—only one vehicle came through the TCP. But as luck would have it, this night the platoon would be one-for-one. When the unit asked the man to step out of his vehicle, SSG Pugh saw an AK-47 sticking out from beneath the driver’s seat. While it is legal in Iraq to have one AK-47 in your residence or business, it is not legal to carry one on your person or in your car. The troopers therefore confiscated the weapon.
When the man was questioned about where he lived and where he was going, he offered answers that suggested he was not terribly familiar with this area. He was Kurdish, and from what he said, it appeared that his home was farther north. There have been rumors that the Kurds are bringing in more fellow Kurds from outside the area to stack elections—think of it as politics Kansas style—which lead Lt. Naum to think that this man may have been one of the electoral transplants.
At long last, I have gotten what appears to be a reliable and fast internet connection here at Bernstein. As long as it continues to work, there should be many more posts to follow.
Boston Globe columnist Joan Vennochi reflects on what it must be like to be Al Gore.
He endorses Howard Dean, and the Dean campaign starts to unravel. He gives a speech about global warming on a frigid winter day in New York. He backs Air America, the liberal radio channel that is another disaster in the making. He is also supposed to be starting a cable news channel for the under-35 crowd, except most of those folks dont watch TV news. Good luck with that demographic, Al.
But if Al Gore manages to latch onto the Kerry campaign, Kerry will be even sadder.
While the UN’s Brahimi is thinking things through,
the Iraqi Governing Council--just before they were about to meet with Brahimi--announced that they chose one of its members, Iyad Allawi, a Shiite Muslim and former exiled opponent of Saddam Hussein, to become prime minister in the new government taking power June 30. Here is the
AP story, and the Reuters story on the issue. Note the interesting permutations and complications. Allawi is being "nominated" (I think) by the Governing Council, and that Brahimi and the UN are a bit surprised: "It’s not how we expected it to happen," chief U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said. That they were surprised by this is very interesting. Also note that the wire reports are delighted to point out that Mr. Allawi has worked with the CIA (to topple Saddam), and that the Bush administration is said to be "delighted" with the choice. It is implied by some that both these points should be to Mr. Allawi’s disadvantage.
Also note that he is related to Ahmed Chalabi, but they are not close, it is said. Note this from the AP dispatch:
"Allawi would appear far from the qualities Brahimi had been seeking for the government’s top spots: local, non-political ’technocrats’ respected by Iraqis. Allawi, in contrast, is a veteran political leader who lived in exile for decades.
But after weeks of speaking of empowering Iraqis, it may be difficult to reverse the public announcement by the Iraqi council.
’It is a done deal,’ Hameed al-Kafaei, the spokesman for the Governing Council, said. Allawi ’is a prime minister-designate.’"
Interesting and amusing stuff, is it not? Politics is easy to love. I also note that John Kerry has given a speech on foreign policy in which he charged that President Bush undermined Americas safety by having "rushed off to war" in Iraq without adequate help or "a plan to win the peace."
James Lileks tells you what he thinks of France-Russia-Germany-China’s attempt to change the our UN resolution on Iraq. A sample: "China wants the UN to give the new Iraqi government authority over the American troops.
Well, that didn’t take long, did it? You can argue about the idea itself, whether it has merits, gives the new government more legitimacy, et cetera – moot points all, to me. China. Do you think they’re doing this out of concern for the Iraqis? I tell you what, lads: we’re going to set a nice example by beginning our exit June 30. How about you follow our lead and take your thumb off Tibet’s carotid artery, eh? How about free elections over there? How about we send in the Blue Helmets to supervise that transition?"
The Field Poll shows that 64% of California voters say they believe Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is doing a better job as Governor than they expected. Just 11% think he is doing a worse job, while for 15% he has met their expectations. And 65% of the voters say they approve of the job he is doing, and only 23% disapprove. See
Daniel Weintraub’s comments on this amazing feat. If you dont think that the national Democratic Party is worried about this, you should keep your day job.
I just discovered that Thomas P.M. Barnett (author of "The Pentagons New Map") is a blogger. Read a few pages into it, I think youll find some interesting points and unusual insights. Note especially (a few pages down) his thoughts on how Russia and China are connecting: "Russia’s president Vladimir Putin floats the notion that many in the Core are waiting anxiously to hear first and foremost from China: the push to make the currency truly tradable with the rest of the world’s convertible currencies. This is a huge form of connectivity, because by linking your currency to the world outside, you let that world start determining the real power of your money beyond your borders—pushing up or driving down the value according to its fluctuating desire to buy, hold, or sell you money. At once you give up a lot of control over your economy while gaining a lot of help in keeping your currency logically priced according global market conditions.
Going convertible is a key step to joining the Core big-time. Once the rest of the Core can hold your money, companies become more comfortable in dealing with your economy, because now they have additional mechanisms by which to manage the risk of entering in and doing business within your economy."
Belmont Club reflects on this essay, "Sun Tzus Bad Advice: Urban Warfare in the Information Age", to make some very interesting and large points worth pondering: Modern "operations will cease to be only military in caharacter, instead becoming complex military-political-media problems."
(Also, follow the link to the seemingly weird David Wongs desire to have a real war simulation game.)
Charles Krauthammer is very critical of the Memorial: "The good news is that the Mall survives. The bad news is that for all its attempted monumentality, the memorial is deeply inadequate -- a busy vacuity, hollow to the core.
The memorial is a parenthesis, quite literally so -- two semicircular assemblies of pillars cupping the Rainbow Pool on the invisible axis that connects the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument." Catesby Leigh is also critical of the architecture. And Ken Masugi says this: "Yet, despite the failure of the memorial as architecture the fact that it will for a few years more attract living memorials gives it a dignity that cannot be lost over time. (Compare the architecturally hideous Vietnam memorial.) Speaking with veterans is a moving experience whose educational impact transcends the failed efforts of the architect."
The Day After Tomorrow opens in theaters today, and Al Gore can hardly wait. The reviewers can, however. You can read my thoughts on the movie here. My summary point may be enough for you: "The Day After Tomorrow is to serious climate science what Hogans Heroes was to serious depiction of prison camp life in World War II."
Other reviewers are finding the movie just as comical. The Washington Post this morning says of the films director roland Emmerich, "Hes never made a movcie you could believe and he still hasnt." And the Wall Street Journals indispensible Joe Morgenstern says "the movie comes to feel like a giant TV tuned to the Weather Channel on Groundhog Day. . . Seldom has grandeur struggled so mightily, and fruitlessly, with rampant goofiness."
The final delight of this film is that it is backed by Rupert Murdochs Fox. Which means that Murdoch, the bogeyman of the Left, will be laughing all the way to the bank on the paranoia of the greens. Im taunting environmentalists that there is no disinformation in the film that cant be dispelled on Fox News in the coming weeks, and I thank them for cross-subsidizing Brit Hume.
The economy grew at a "4.4 percent annual pace from January through March, faster than estimated last month, as businesses replenished inventories, government spending rose and home construction accelerated.
The reading on gross domestic product, the value of all goods and services produced, compares with a previously reported 4.2 percent rate and a 4.1 percent fourth-quarter pace, the Commerce Department said in Washington. Initial jobless claims fell by 3,000 to 344,000 last week, the Labor Department said." And also note this: "Corporate profits jumped 31.6 percent in the year ended in March, the biggest increase since the first quarter of 1984, the Commerce Departments report showed. A rebound in manufacturing and more investment in new equipment will enable the economy to keep growing for the rest of the year." Thats that. Now let the ebb and flow of war in Iraq become even a poor and mangled peace and there will be an end to carping.
Robert Alt is catching his breath and is, rightly, a little miffed. From the sands of Iraq here is what he thinks is the Liberals Creed.
John Derbyshire claims that the 25th anniversary of 1979 is worth noting: this is the year (aside from Russia invading Afghanistan, Vietnam invading Cambodia, China invading Vietnam, Khomeni taking Iran, etc.) that "the miserable shuffling retreat had been stopped." He kind of feels sorry for Carter, but Steve Hayward takes issue with that. For more--indeed, everything--on Carter see Hayward’s The Real Jimmy Carter.
Muslim cleric arrested in London. "Abu Hamza al-Masri, the fiery Muslim cleric whose shuttered London mosque was linked to Zacarias Moussaoui and shoe bomber Richard Reid, was arrested Thursday in Britain, accused in a U.S. indictment of trying to establish a terrorist training camp in Oregon and providing aid to al-Qaida, officials said.
Al-Masri, 47, also is charged in the 11-count indictment with hostage-taking and conspiracy in connection with a December 1998 incident that killed four tourists in Yemen."
South Africa foiles terror plot: "South Africas police chief has said his officers revealed a plot linked to al-Qaeda to disrupt Aprils elections.
National Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi said a number of people from outside South Africa had been arrested on 9 April, five days before the poll.
He told parliaments security and safety committee that those detained had had evil intentions against South Africa - though he gave few details.
Mr Selebi said the police operation had led to arrests in Jordan and Syria."
Musharaff "said junior army and air force personnel were involved in an assassination attempt against him in December and that the suspects have been captured." Bali prosecutor is killed. Two cars exploded in Karachi, near the Pakistan-American cultural ceter, killing one, and injuring twenty five. Three killed by army in Beirut. Explosives found near NATO venue in Bratislava. Germans search for the "Caliph of Cologne". A top al Qaeda leader in Saudi Arabia "issued a battle plan on Thursday for an urban guerrilla war in the kingdom, already reeling from a recent spate of militant attacks on Western and security targets." In the meantime, the press is sceptical of yesterdays Bush administartion warning about terror threats.
Here is Al Gores rant to MoveOnPac. I saw it. It was unbearable. I was enraged at first, then felt ashamed that he was incapable of feeling shame. He is now irrelevant, at best becoming the spokesman for about five percent of the American people. John Podhoretz says this: "A man who was very, very nearly president of the United States has been reduced to sounding like one of those people in Times Square with a megaphone screaming about Gods justice. It is almost impossible to believe that this man was once vice president of the United States.
As a stalwart supporter of the war, I would naturally be inclined to find Gores line of attack discomfiting and upsetting, even enraging. Instead, I feel an intense sadness and a great sense of relief. The sadness comes from the sight of a man losing his sanity in public. The relief comes from the fact that he is not, and never will be, the president of the United States." Well said, John.
Ramesh Ponnuru, a very able writer and thinker, has responded to my contumelious assault on a point of his. I take his response at face value and we dont need to stretch it out.
He is right that I do not maintain that the Iraqis (or any other human beings) can govern themselves democratically just because they have the right. But they do have the right, and they are now going to be given the power and the opportunity to attempt to actualize it. I dont expect self-government to be immanent, but I expect movement toward the
What should guide the new political regime in Iraq? It should be Henry Adams’s definition of politics: "the systematic organization of hatreds," according George Will. Good, as far as it goes, but Ken Masugi recommends this addition from Federalist 55: "As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust: So there are other qualities in human nature, which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence. Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form. Were the pictures which have been drawn by the political jealousy of some among us, faithful likenesses of the human character, the inference would be that there is not sufficient virtue among men for self-government; and that nothing less than the chains of despotism can restrain them from destroying and devouring one another."
Ken Masugi brought this to my attention. President Bush nominates the following individuals to be on the National Council for the Humanities. Not a bad list.
Edith Fosters advises parents to have their children memorize some poetry this Summer, and she explains how to do it. This carefully thought through piece is long, but very useful and I recommend it. I agree with her that it should be done, and I have had had success with more or less the same methods with my own children (but not with my own self, since my memory left years ago!). Still, I remember when I was able to remember. She writes: "Memorization does not deserve its reputation as a killer of creativity. On the contrary, memorization is useful to the whole process of thought creation. It exercises intelligence and quiet concentration, creates a supply of examples to think with and about, and provides models of speech that can be accommodated to suit different themes. Memorization is the basis of versatility, because examples that live in the mind are truly one’s own: they can be molded and recast for any useful purpose."
Andrew Sullivans comment on Bushs Iraqi policy and his vapid critics, (note his title, "Nattering Nabobs") are in line with mine, so I quote it in full:
"There are plenty of reasons to worry about Iraq. There are also many valid criticisms of the occupation. But I have yet to read any cogent criticism that offers any better future plan than the one president Bush outlined Monday night. John Kerrys plaintive cries to internationalize the transition are so vacuous they barely merit attention. The transition is already being run by the U.N.; very few countries have the military capacity to cooperate fully with the coalition, and few want to; quicker elections would be great, but very difficult to pull off on a national level before the end of the year. So what are Bushs opponents proposing? More troops now? But wouldnt that undercut the message of transferring sovereignty to the Iraqis? A sudden exit of all troops? But no one - apart from right-wing and leftwing extremists - thinks thats a wise move. Giving a future Iraqi government a veto power over troop activities? Done, according to Blair. The truth is: Bushs plan is about as good as were likely to get. And deposing a dictator after decades of brutal rule could never have led immediately to insta-democracy. Do I wish we had had more troops at the start to maintain more order? You bet. Do I wish incompetence had not allowed Abu Gjraib to happen? Of course. But none of that would have prevented the Baathists and Jihadists from wreaking havoc. Do I wish the original war had been bloodier so that the real battle with Saddams henchmen could have been joined all at once rather than over a long year of low-level conflict? Er, no. Remember what our anti-war friends predicted at the outset? That the battle for Baghdad could cost up to 10,000 Coalition casualties? Im quite happy that didnt happen. 800 deaths is bad enough. What Im saying, I guess, is that as long as the anti-war critics continue relentless negativism without any constructive alternative, they will soon lose the debate. Americans want to know how to move this war forward, not why we shouldnt have started it in the first place. Right now, the president has the best plan for making this work. What does anyone else have?"
There are some interesting and thoughtful comments on my note on Ponnuru’s reaction to the David Brooks article. In case you are not in the habit of glancing at our comments page, I bring them to your attention.
John Moser has some reflections on Walter Russell Meads understanding of the Jacksonian tradition in American foreign policy and its relevance to Bush and Iraq.
I am in Kirkuk today, completing my tour of the Sunni triangle. The trip has given me much needed internet access, which I am using this to do some much belated research, and to catch up on the world. I will have several new articles, and some blog updates covering the events of the last week soon--hopefully later today.
The AP is reporting that "[c]omprehensive testing has confirmed the presence of the chemical weapon sarin" in the artillery shell found earlier this month. A number of readers of this site suggested that the media relegated this story to p. 10 (p. 14 in WaPo) because it was not yet confirmed through more comprehensive testing to be sarin, and therefore was somehow not newsworthy. If only it were confirmed, then the media would have paid attention. A quick review of the NY Times and WaPo this morning suggests otherwise.
I was traveling for a couple of days and did not get a chance to respond to the comments on my article on marriage when they first appeared. The great blog machine has moved on but since there were a number of comments I thought I would respond. In addition, the California State Supreme Court is considering today the legality of San Francisco marrying same sex couples.
The comments fell into two categories: the usual polemical stuff, often criticizing something the article did not say, and lists of human behavior supposed to contradict my argument. The latter comments deserve a comment in return, I think.
Contraception and sexual activities other than what is strictly necessary to reproduce are examples of the sort of thing that some took as sufficient in themselves to undermine my argument. Such things supposedly show that my account is too narrow and rigid. But a bit of reflection suffices to show that, on the basis of the argument I made, neither contraception nor the activities alluded to are either right or wrong in all cases. They need to be judged on the basis of the purposes of sex and marriage articulated in the article.
John Moser’s comments on the article were, I thought, particularly revealing because they were so dismissive. He does not object on the basis that the argument is too narrow, that it categorizes as unacceptable some things that are good. John rejects the whole effort to judge human behavior by any standard other than what people actually do. On this basis, I wonder why he objects, as he so frequently does in the blog, to the shoddy practice of history or, as he did today, to sexually exploiting teenage girls.
John’s approach to these questions is of interest more generally. John takes his bearings apparently by what men are capable of doing, by their power. Our power is increasing steadily. As we enter an age when human biology itself will come under our power, John’s approach will open extraordinary possibilities. The argument about homosexual “marriage” is part of a larger argument about whether there is any limit to those possibilities.
Few celebrities besides Bill Cosby could get away with the straight talk he gave recently about certain ills plaguing 21-century black Americans. At a Constitution Hall gala commemorating the 50-year-old desegregation decision, Brown v. Board of Education, Cosby had harsh words for blacks who have squandered the opportunities opened for them due to the dismantling of Jim Crow and segregation since the 1954 Court ruling:
Cosby, contrasting the achievements of civil rights giants of the past with today’s generation, observed that a lot of "lower economic people are not holding up their end in this deal. These people are not parenting. They are buying things for kids -- $500 sneakers for what? And won’t spend $200 for ’Hooked on Phonics.’"
When the novelist Ralph Ellison heard the high court’s decision in Brown, he wrote, "So now the Court has found in our favor and recognized our human psychological complexity and citizenship and another battle of the Civil War has been won. The rest is up to us and I’m very glad . . . What a wonderful world of possibilities are unfolded for the children!" A decade later Ellison would write, "For Negroes the Supreme Court Decision of 1954 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 induced no sudden transformation of character; it provided the stage upon which they could reveal themselves for what their experiences have made them, and for what they have made of their experiences."
The challenge of building character is an abiding one for all members of the human family. Unfortunately, Cosby’s challenge for blacks to do better for themselves by seizing the opportunities established in the wake Brown was met by a rebuttal from NAACP legal defense fund head Theodore Shaw, who asserted that many problems facing poor blacks were not self-inflicted. The NAACP’s obsolescence has never been more in evidence.
Ramesh Ponnuru wrote these few lines over at NRO this morning on David Brooks column on the Bush speech I noted below. I bring it to your attention because it is not only wrong but revealing, if not snippy. Why would Ponnuru go out of his way to beat up on Brooks use of the Declaration of Independence to justify the right of self government? It is a reflex of a conservative (that is, a paleo?) who doesnt understand the basis of popular government. That is not to say that Brooks has it exactly right, but it seems to me to be close enough for a column. Here is Ponnuru:
"[I]n David Brookss column today fairly leaps off the page: [Bush] began this war in Iraq repeating the sentiment embodied in the Declaration of Independence, that our creator has endowed all human beings with the right to liberty, and the ability to function as democratic citizens. I see two problems with this formulation: God has manifestly not endowed all human beings with . . . the ability to function as democratic citizens, and the Declaration of Independence says no such thing."
Now look. The Declaration does say such a thing. It is the axiom of all political reasoning and the central idea of our political tradition (Ramesh should glance at Lincoln from time to time) and the thing on which self government, (popular government, even democracy, if you like) constitutional government depends. Men are born equal and free, hence they can only justly rule one another through consent. No man has a right to rule another man the way I rule my dog, for example. Lincoln: "As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy...." And that consent shows itself through a constitutional scheme that limits the power of the people even though they have the right to rule. My point here is not to lecture Mr. Ponnuru, but to show my regret that a well thought of conservative could have such a knee-jerk reaction to a perfectly sensible statement by a relatively thoughtful columnist who happens to support both the Presidents actions in Iraq as well as the final reason for that action, the final cause of which--the proper ground of human rights--happens to be the same as that put forth by both Jefferson and Lincoln, and Bush.
Its not about Iraq, Bush, or the election, but the Christian Science Monitor had this report on the new British stem cell bank.
"Britain moved into the heart of the controversy by setting up the worlds first bank for storing and distributing the tiny fragments of proto-life. The idea is to provide a repository for these scientifically valuable stem cells that researchers the world over can withdraw and use without having to go through the scientific and legal hurdles of generating their own."
The President’s speech at the Army War College did one big thing: It probably stopped the apprehension (and even panic) about whether Iraq is melting into chaos. I happened to see Peter Galbraith (Demo sharpshooter and Clinton’s ambassador to Croatia) on the Lehrer Report just before Bush’s speech. He was not only pessimistic, but explicitly said that there will be a civil war because everything has gone wrong: our major mistake was that we treated Iraq as one country when it is actually three (etc.). It was a remarkably non-astute political performance (full of anger and vitriol) and Galbraith’s comments is a perfect reflection of the political rhetoric of Bush’s opponents: Bush has to admit that the whole thing--both the mission and its means--have proved wrong. If Bush admits that he has a plan, then he can’t admit his mistakes. Admit your mistakes, you arrogant SOB! Bring in more troops, if not more troops then UN troops, if not UN troops, then at least UN money. It goes on.
The point is that Bush’s opponents are now in an anachronistic and antedeluvian conversation with themselves: They are talking archeology, and Bush is talking space travel. They are angry as hornets that we are in Iraq, and have nothing to contribute to any private or public conversation that may have an effect on current policy. Hence the smell of pessimism, if not a wish for failure. Kerry says nothing on the most important political issue of the day, thereby seeming to agree with Bush’s policy, and supple mouth Biden just shakes his head and wants more detail: Now just what exactly does full sovereignty mean? Does the president have any control? Why isn’t the President leading? I’m not impressed.
Bush meanwhile holds to his purposes, while saying explictly that his means are flexible. He cites Fallujah and Karbala as examples of flexibility. He makes clear (as he always has) the deadline is important because it was a promise and because this will be the formal opportunity for the Iraqis to start taking full responsibility for their country. That means that we can begin thinking about leaving the country. Will post-June 30th be what is called full sovereignty? Will this mean that they may ask us to remove all our troops, and we would? Will it mean that our troops will be unable to conduct military action without the approval of the Iraqi government? It seems to me that it would have been imprudent of him to address such matters; better left to a subaltern like Powell to say that certainly we would remove the troops if asked. That is all that has to be said on the matter. Anything any more exlicit would be insulting and imprudent. Not everything should be made perfectly clear.
Is Bush making a mistake by letting Brahimi choose the whole darn government? Not necessarily; besides, Brahimi will not be doing it alone, both he and the UN carry the kind of baggage that they need help with. That there is some serious (even, God forbid, Machiavellian) politics going on here is obvious, perhaps some of it even has to do with Chalabi and the UN oil-for-food corruption, and Iran, and Syria. Perhaps it should not surprise us that the Arab League is calling for reform in their neighborhood. What is it that they understand that Biden and CNN don’t? What we call Byzantine politics is a mere kindergarten compared to the politics of the Arab world. Can things go wrong? Of course. There are a thousand and one possibilities for mischief. Will they go wrong? Only some will, and a betting man will bet the reasonable odds, which are in our favor. Why? Because I am confident of all the details? No. Because perserverence is a great virtue in times of war, and the chance factors have a way of falling into your line if you push your designs. I believe Bush is pushing. Also, it is clearly in the interest of Iraqis to make this work. I believe they know this and will try mightily to take advantage of an opportunity. Yet, I realize there is no guarantee of success. I’m trying not to trick myself into unwarranted optimism. But I will not fall into the pessimism and the archeological mode of his opponents in the elite media. Let them return to the so called horrors of Abu Ghraib at first light tomorrow (and don’t be surprised if all the headlines read "Bush to demolish notorious prison"; the elites will take this to be the most important part of the speech), get more pictures, try to implicate everyone from Sanchez to Rumsfeld, and hope for the worst. Let them, and the people will think progressively less of them, and the disjunction between the liberal elites and people will become a chasm. In the meantime Iraq is being constructed and they have nothing interesting to say about it. They are turning into background chatter, indistinguishable from one another, always there like elevator music. But such music moves no one and after a while you can’t even hear it.
One last note. I liked to way he delivered the speech: sober and thoughtful. I also liked that he called upon Islam to regain its former greatness when they
"think and work and worship as free men and women, they will reclaim the greatness of their own heritage." Pretty good. Why not? Maybe they can rediscover Aristotle one more time.
This on jobs being created from USA Today: "Employment has picked up significantly this year in a number of closely contested states that could decide the outcome of the 2004 presidential election.
The latest Labor Department figures on state jobs show that 10 of the 17 states expected to be the most tightly contested this campaign season were among the fastest-growing job markets in the country in April.
The report, out Friday, showed a marked acceleration in job gains in industrial states in and around the Midwest defying the expectations of economists who predicted last year that those states would lag the national recovery."
Arnold is raising big bucks for GOP candidates in California. "In a way, Schwarzeneggers fund-raising success affirms fears that legislative Democrats have held since he was elected last October: that his movie star popularity would put them at a tremendous disadvantage with voters in their districts. It helps explain why they have largely been on their heels since Schwarzenegger took office, handing him several legislative victories and seeking to appear cooperative with him at every opportunity.
Republican operatives say Schwarzenegger is presenting them with the best opportunity in years to gain control of the Assembly, where they would need to pick up nine seats, and close the gap in the Senate, where they are down 10 seats."
Andrew Sullivan thinks that Bushs opponents are mis-underestimating him again. Sullivan: "Bushs problem at home is not one of general disbelief in the war itself. It is a function of the fear that incompetence is ruining the war. History shows that Americans are not squeamish about war, if its succeeding. But they are ruthless in getting out of conflicts where they seem to be failing. Bushs speeches in the next month will be designed to counter exactly that impression of drift. His advisers are confident. They note that even as his poll numbers have dropped, John Kerry has failed to take a lead in the race. Its also true that the press corps is in danger of over-playing its hand in attacking an administration for partisan and political reasons, when that administration is fighting a difficult and costly war.
There is, in other words, no panic among senior officials. There is a deep sense that neither the war nor the election is lost; and that victory against the nexus of terror and tyranny in the Arab-Muslim world is still still within reach. In the presidents words: dont mis-underestimate him. The gloomsters have overplayed their hand before; and they may well be doing so again." Bush speaks tonight at 8 p.m., but dont look for it on ABC or NBC, and CBS hasnt decided whether or not to run it. The cable stations will run it. This will be the start of Bushs rhetorical offensive against those who think that Iraq has fallen apart; he will be succesful in the end, as long as the place doesnt fall into a civil war, and I have no reason to think it will.
The London Telegraph reports that blue roses will be avaliable in about a year. "The discovery was made by chance by two biochemists conducting research into drugs for cancer and Alzheimers in a medical laboratory at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee.
Professor Peter Guengerich and Dr Elizabeth Gillam were trying to find out how the human liver breaks down drugs when they came across a liver enzyme that had a startling effect.
When we moved a liver enzyme into a bacterium, the bacterium turned blue, Dr Guengerich said. "We were aware that there were people in the world who had been interested in making coloured flowers, especially a blue rose, for a number of years." (Via
This seems a respectable piece of reporting on a conference just held at The University of Chicago on Tyranny, ancient and modern. Mark Lilla, Nathan Tarcov, Paul Berman, among others spoke, with Leo Strauss in the wings. Glad to see the term resurrected, studying politics is not posssible without it. I was pleased that President Bush said, "The tyrant is a prisoner," when Saddam Hussein was captured last December.
(Thanks to Powerline).
I picked up a copy of "The New York Review of Books" last week during my travels. I thought maybe I should have a look at it again. I stopped reading it years ago, got bored with its flaccid writing, and learned nothing. The issue I read seemed even worse than I remembered. Useless, left wing pap. Deadly boring. Now this praise of it from The Nation, another tedious left wing publication, praising "Review" for finding some of its old vigor again. Stirring.
Just got back from an all-too-brief vacation to New Orleans. It’s our fifth time there, and we no longer feel compelled to do the touristy stuff--it’s just walk around, eat, do some shopping, and enjoy adult beverages (in roughly that order).
Anyway, just happened to turn on Fox News while we were there, and they were running a piece on blogs and how they might affect the 2004 campaign. They ran a few quick images of some of the big blogs, then lo and behold an image of "No Left Turns" appeared. Unfortunately there’s no mention of the blog at the on-line version of the story.
Okay, I can’t resist sharing a funny story from the trip. We were in the cab on the way back to the airport. The driver was Cajun to the core--right off the bayou, it seemed. We noticed that the airport in New Orleans (by the way, it’s a good thing we weren’t flying out Friday, when the president was in Baton Rouge for the LSU commencement--apparently the airport was crazy) was now called Louis Armstrong International Airport. We knew it was called something else last time we were there, but couldn’t remember what, so we asked the driver. He must have told us about a half-dozen times before we realized he wasn’t saying "What’s that?" in Cajun deflection, but rather "Moisand."
Hmm. Guess you had to be there.
I dont know what to make of the Ahmad Chalabi mess, but this story claims that there is rock solid evidence that Chalabi spied for Iran. Watch how this will be turned--immediately--into the next big anti-Bush story on Iraq. More proof that everything is falling apart...and now the media will make Chalabi into a good guy and be given plenty of air time no doubt, because he will be critical of the administration: That he has lost authority is proof that the administrations plan for Iraq isnt working, etc.
This Opinion Dynamics/FOX News poll is worth a look (thanks to Instapundit). Note that most Americans think the media is out of step with American public opinion. Note the response to a few questions: "On the situation in Iraq today, where do you think most of the problems are being created?" In the news media 27%, In Iraq 23, In Washington, DC, or 18." Another: "Which of the following news stories upset you more?" The beheading of an American
civilian by Muslim terrorists 60%, The abuse of Iraqi prisoners
by U.S. soldiers 8%. One more: "Do you think the media spent an excessive amount of time covering either of the following news stories?" The Iraqi prisoner abuse story 34%, The beheading of American Nick Berg 9%.
Now, note what Morton Kondracke has to say on the media: "The American establishment, led by the media and politicians, is in danger of talking the United States into defeat in Iraq. And the results would be catastrophic.
The media - unperturbed by mistakenly likening both the Afghan war and last years invasion of Iraq to Vietnam - focuses overwhelmingly on the bad news coming out of Iraq. There is plenty of bad news - but there is also much good, and it is being almost completely ignored."
The BBC reports: "British spy chiefs secretly considered training pigeons to fly into enemy targets carrying explosives or biological weapons, it has been revealed.
British intelligence set up a pigeon committee at the end of World War II to ensure expertise gained in the use of the birds to carry messages was not lost." (Thanks to
Iraqi police "have arrested four people in the killing of American Nicholas Berg and believe a nephew of Saddam Hussein was involved in Bergs beheading, an Iraqi security official said Friday," according to ABC news.
The latest conventional wisdom on the Presdiential election is that President Bush’s presidency is ripe for a wipe-out in November along the same lines as Jimmy Carter’s defeat in 1980. Inside the beltway punditry has it that John Kerry then is the new Ronald Reagan. Steve Hayward takes issue with this nonsense and demolishes the conventional wisdom.
As James Traficant used to say: ’Beam me up, Scotty.’ Was Traficant the last intelligent Democrat?
The chaotic and confusing political world is filled with rancor. The Democrats combine with the Liberal media elite to question everything about President Bush, including not only his policies but his purposes as well. This man--it is argued explicitly by Democratic leaders from Jimmy Carter to Nancy Pelosi to John Kerry, is an incompetent idiot, a warmonger, a man who is responsible for the death of Americans. A recent survey of academic historians finds that eight out of ten historians rate the Bushs presidency a failure. The attacks are relentless. The war in Iraq is an abject failure: it was started for the wrong reason, and then badly handled; nothing has gone right. The distortion and exageration is relentless; there is no let up. Malice is everywhere. We prefer bombing wedding parties to negotiating. The Abu Ghraib prison scandal is morally equivalent to beheading prisoners. Bushs cabinet (save for Colin Powell whom the Liberals cant attack, yet) is made up of goons and idiots. Rumsfeld should go, to be followed by the tyrant Ashcroft. President Bush, according to some polls, is now losing support and the election of John Kerry is, according to Stan Greenberg, is almost a certainty.
This is not, Im afraid, a caricature of American politics. This is what we have come to. But this is not where we are going. We are moving into a period that demands some clarity on the major issues, and on the major players. This period is called an election. It is a presidential election, the kind we have been having for over two hundred years. We Americans have experience in these matters. And, in the end, it will not be determined by Katie Curic and CNN, but by you and me, ordinary citizens who will think things through and will play their hand. We know how to play poker, we know when to hold them, and we know when we should fold; and we are far from folding. An Iraqi government will be formed, and--although not without bloodshed--Iraqis will not slip into the chasm of civil war. They will take advantage of this opportunity to act more like men, and less like slaves. Old habits have been broken and new ones are being established. The task is hard, and you have to be cruel and hard-hearted not to wish them well. The President will be talking about these matters, and his words will resonate. His opponents will wallow in their hatred, and John Kerry--who, I remind you has not even budged upword in the polls--will continue to sound as though he is running for secretary general of the U.N. rather than for president of the worlds sole superpower. And the American people will decide whether they want peace through strength or peace through talk. I know how they will decide for two reasons. One, ever since the birth of the new Democratic Party (stillborn in 1972) they did not decide in favor of soft-kneed Liberalism; when Carter became a wimp, they threw him out; Clinton got elected and re-elected because he persuaded us that he wasnt a Liberal and, besides, the USSR was kaput and things were less perilous, so we allowed a brief sexual interlude between two Bushes (as Chris Hitchens calls the period). Two, the U.S. was attacked on September 11, 2001. This is the final cause of all our actions, and our actions since then only make sense in light of that. It looks as though Democrats and the elite media have forgotten this massive fact; but the American people have not. If the Democrats would assume what we assume, they could justly criticize some of Bushs actions in their particulars; but that is not what they are doing. They have boxed themselves in, they have played their last card much too early, they have quentioned President Bush comnpetence, intelligence, and even good will, and they have wrapped it in a word, Iraq. I am not surprised by this, I have always maintained that the election would be decided on Iraq; yet, I did not imagine the ill will that has settled in. Yet, no matter how much the Katie Curics of the world want to help him, John Kerry is still a man who questioned Americas cause a generation ago by throwing away the medals as a gesture for "peace and justice" and a few months later said that he had decided to "renounce the symbols which this country gives" to its soldiers at war. And then he said they werent really his own medals, just the ribbons were his. And even later he said "Theyre my medals, I can do goddam what I want with them." Yes you can, Senator, and we can decide that you should not be president of the empire of liberty.
No one has ever argued that republican government is easy and smooth. But we have our republican institutions, we have a couple of centuries of habits, we remember our heroes, we know what are fighting men are like, and we can--in the end--tell humbug from truth. And this even though we have faulty information, and bias in the news with people pushing facts around like your all-too-common historians at universities. But the big push is here, the cards are being played, and we are in the game. In the end--my anger at the distorters aside--I revel in the hand we have been dealt and enjoy the game because I remember what Churchill said about democracy: "At the bottom of all the tributes paid to democracy, is the little man walking into the booth, with a little pencil, making a little cross on a little bit of paper." It is these little men, ones who teach hope to all, and despair to none, that I trust. Malice cant change that.
I spent Wednesday at the Joint Operations Center, or JOC in Tuz. As the name implies, the JOC is an operations center for the Iraqi Police (IP), the Iraqi Civil Defense Corp (ICDC), and the Coalition. It also serves as a training center for the ICDC, and on this day, I would be accompanying Sergeants Graham and Black in running the men through their paces.
As some will recall, when I first came to Iraq, a number of military sources pushed the idea to me that the ICDC is a success story for the Iraqi security forces. A key point was that the members of the ICDC were from the neighborhoods they would be patrolling, and therefore were trusted by the people. However, in recent days, the ICDC’s reputation has become tarnished. First, an ICDC unit refused to fight in Fallujah, prompting questions both as to their dedication and level of training. Even previous supporters like Brigadier General Kimmitt and General Sanchez admitted that the ICDC had come up short. Conventional wisdom quickly settled on the conclusion that America had tried to do too much too fast—that is, the ICDC had been rushed through insufficient training. A second major failing came here in the Tuz area of operations. The ICDC was manning a checkpoint 40 days ago when they were attacked by anti-Iraqi forces. There were about 40 ICDC at the outpost—which included a building with high ground—compared to around 15 bandits. When ICDC soldier Farhad Abdullah was hit in the chest by an RPG, the other ICDC soldiers literally ran from the location despite superior numbers and superior position. This act, combined with lax habits in the use of their firearms (e.g., poor muzzle control, walking around with clips in their AKs and the safety off, misfiring of weapons when jumping from the bed of trucks, etc.) make Army forces less than enthusiastic about conducting joint operations with the ICDC.
The training mission at the JOC is intended to turn this around—that is, to turn the ICDC into a force that will be able to stand on its own. The program has already had some successes. For example, the day that I was there, none of the ICDC were seen walking around the base with clips in their weapons, and most of the ICDC were exercising reasonable muzzle control (that is, they weren’t slinging their weapons every which way). This may sound small, but these are big steps. That said, there is still a lot of work to do. When I was touring the base, we stumbled on one of the ICDC soldiers sleeping on the job in a lookout tower. The next day, the CO found all four towers sheltering slumbering guards. The level of personal discipline among the ICDC members is grossly lacking. They straggle in late, and are quick to complain and “discuss” orders. I could not help but think that the average band camper demonstrates more discipline than the average ICDC soldier. The ICDC officers have very little control over the soldiers, because of fear of retaliation. As I mentioned in a previous post, if an officer withholds pay for a soldier’s negligence (say, for example, sleeping on the job), then he will likely be threatened with retaliation by the somnambulant soldier’s family. Sergeants Graham and Black are attempting to change this by filtering disciplinary actions through untouchables such as themselves. They pound the importance of arriving on time and prepared by demanding pushups and other PT for failures. But it is a very tough job. As Sergeant Graham put it, under Saddam, military discipline and control was achieved with a nine millimeter—the common weapon of execution. Anything else is considered weak. So the large but soft spoken Sgt. Black finds himself raising his voice to bark orders or issuing pushups more often than he would like in order to even get their attention.
On Wednesday, they were practicing checkpoint search procedures. I actually participated in the training, which I will explain in greater detail in a forthcoming article. After the training, a procession of arbaena—essentially a memorial service—was held in commemorating the 40th day after the killing of the ICDC soldier. The stage displayed a picture of Farhad Abdullah on an easel. The lawn was packed with mourners, and the service, which lasted about an hour, included many speeches (in Arabic or Kurdish—without translation), and a performance by a choir of children.
After the trip to Mansur, the guys met for their regular physical training (PT). I tried to explain that this whole “embedded reporter” thing has limits. In the end, I did join them, if only to make clear that I am comparatively old and objectively out of shape, and they are not.
William Safire had an excellent piece in yesterdays NY Times about the medias downplaying of the discovery of Sarin gas in Iraq. As he points out, the story was buried on p. 10 of USA Today, and I am told that at the press conference in Baghdad, not a single U.S. reporter chose to ask a question about the find. Admittedly, this was also the day that Izzadin Salim was assassinated, but after all the grousing I have heard in the press room about the lack of any WMDs, this was a discovery that certainly merited a couple of questions. Anyone who doubts this needs only to talk to a soldier. The universal response on the base was "this changes everything." Their statement was not one of justifications for the war in Iraq, but one directed at safety. If the terrorists are using WMDs in IEDs, then the level of precaution must change. Uparmored Humvees may provide adequate protection against explosives, but they are not hermetically sealed. And despite the fact that the soldiers did not intend to make a point about justification for war, and despite the fact that I have long said that the war was not exclusively about WMDs, the fact remains that with this discovery, a WMD has been found in Iraq. It is simply no longer accurate to say that there were no WMDs in Iraq.
For those of you who have not seen a camel spider before, here is a picture sent to me by a friend at the CPA of a couple of these august arachnids (click on the picture for the full effect). There are all sorts of myths about these spiders here in Iraq (that they aggressively chase people, etc.), but I can assure you that they do exist, and that they seem to like to congregate in the outhouses at night. We have not had any as large as the ones in this picture at FOB Bernstein, but we do get some "babies" which are about the size of small tarantulas. The base is a former Iraqi air force installation, and the bunkers that quarter the troops look like pyramids with the squared off tops. Last night, I was reclining against the base of one of the bunkers grabbing a smoke with Specialist Dickens, when he exclaimed that something big just moved. I stood up, and a few inches from where I was sitting was one of these nice-sized "baby" camel spiders. Dickens quickly transformed it into a Rorschach spot on the side of the bunker. For the naturalists out there, I have also seen one scorpion at Bernstein. It was small and black, which I have been told makes it among the more dangerous varieties. I also saw a large number of bats in Baghdad, swooping in and out of the tall lights to capture insects drawn to the glow.
UPDATE: I received this picture from a friend at CPA who specifically claimed that it was not a forgery, but based upon the posts, there is reason to believe that it may have been modified. I will be a bigger man than the Boston Globe (which to my knowledge still has not apologized for running a story showing pictures held by protesters which were supposed to depict soldiers raping Iraqis, but were in reality pictures taken from porn sites) and retract any endorsement of the picture barring verification of its origins and validity. As for the content of my post, the information at the Urban Legend web site, which lists the leg span of camel spiders at approximately 5 inches, is consistent with my experience and my report above that the spiders I have personally seen are roughly the size of small tarantulas.
ABC News reports: "At least three senior United Nations officials are suspected of taking multimillion-dollar bribes from the Saddam Hussein regime, U.S. and European intelligence sources tell ABC News."
Tuesday the fourth platoon was assigned to be the Quick Reaction Force, or QRF. Essentially, this means that if any unit runs into trouble in the field, the fourth platoon would be the first to respond. But today, the platoon was all dressed up with no place to go. On days like this, the guys bide their time with the assistance of personal DVD players (our room is working through season three of the Sopranos) and video games. I personally made some progress on articles, and some progress on season three of the Sopranos.
On Monday, we visited the village of Mansur, a Kurdish town in FOB Bernstein’s area of operations. Mansur is much like many of the villages in the area: mud huts lining streets which serve as thoroughfares for people and poultry. A murky creek runs through the village. It is redirected into channels to provide water to wash kitchen utensils and to water the herds of sheep and goats. The sewage collects in another channel which runs down the center the same streets in which the children play, before its black waters joins with the creek.
The muqtar for the village has a luxurious home by local standards, with a concrete courtyard, a small grass yard with a few trees, and a meeting room in which he has recently installed air conditioning. After we arrived, one of the villagers, Noman Najim, came to see Spc. Guyton (aka “Doc”), the medic for the platoon. Noman’s leg had been hurting, and Doc could tell at once that it was broken just above the knee. When he asked when this happened, Noman explained that he injured it in an auto accident 10 months ago! The bone was not healing properly, and would require re-breaking and possible surgery. Noman explained that he had previously gone to the hospital in Tuz, but he was told that they could not do anything for him. This is not the first time I have heard of this happening in Iraq. When I rode with the medevac unit, Spc. Patterson explained to me that the thing he found most surprising about his time in Iraq is the utter lack of medical services. For example, he had seen a girl of three sent home to die without treatment by local doctors, with burns over 65% of her body. Given the ethic and religious tensions in this region, the question regarding Noman’s failure to receive treatment is whether the hospital could not do anything because they lacked medical equipment and training, or whether they simply refused him service because he is Kurdish. After Doc had given Noman some pain killers and made a referral, he met with a few other locals, who were suffering from skin and eye conditions.
The last time we went to the village, we did not have time for a full meal. The muqtar would remedy that on this visit. He served chicken and rice, schwarma bread, green onions, tomato and cucumber salad, an eggplant and tomato dish, chicken broth soup, and chai tea. Before lunch, Lt. Naum discussed plans to refurbish the local school: replacing broken windows and doors, and fixing a leaking roof.
After lunch, we went to meet a sheikh in the village who was a Kurdish tribal leader for much of north central Iraq. The topic of conversation was land disputes—which is the issue in this region. Saddam Hussein instituted an Arabization program beginning about 30 years ago, in which he sent Arabs into this region to occupy homes and seize chattels from the local Kurds. When Saddam was removed, the Kurds came back to reclaim their lands, displacing the Arabs who had occupied the same for an average of a couple of decades. As a result, there is a tent city of Arabs displaced by Kurds just outside of Mansur—with the attendant level of distrust and animosity which you would expect. In this case, the sheikh’s concerns included not only claims against participants in the Arabization, but encroachment by other Kurdish tribes. These controversies are old, as was evidenced by the decaying map he used to plead his case—a map which dated from 1929.
Lt. Naum explained that there was now a Land Dispute office in Tuz to address these controversies, but this kind of centralized, governmental method of resolving disputes is not customary to the locals. Much of Iraq still operates fundamentally on a tribal and familial basis. A good deal of the violence is predicated on past wrongs between families and tribes which make the Hatfields and McCoys look like rookies in the grudge-match business. This tribal/familial model of conflict resolution even transcends the Iraqi military ranks. Iraqi officers are afraid to punish subordinates by, for example, taking away their pay because the subordinates will threaten them and their family with retaliation by the subordinate’s family. These disputes have been complicated by the proliferation of larger conventional weapons—which occurred when the Iraqi Army fled, leaving stockpiles of weapons to be looted by the locals prior to the arrival of Coalition forces. Inter-family and inter-tribal disputes which previously would have been resolved with pistols or rifles are now being resolved with rocket launchers and grenades. The idea of a state monopoly on the use of force is foreign, and as long as it remains foreign, it will be somewhere between difficult and impossible to create consistently safe and stable conditions. Understanding the tribal nature of conflict, the Army’s current caretaking role inevitably involves serving as a moderator between the feuding tribes. Lt. Naum therefore procured an agreement from the Kurdish muqtar that the next time he came to Mansur, they would go together to sit down with the leader of the Arab tent village to discuss their respective grievances.
After meeting with the sheikh, we went to observe how the village’s well project was proceeding. The Army has provided a grant to drill a 100 meter well to provide fresh water for the village. The project was proceeding apace, and the drilling would be finished in a few days. This is the kind of work that constitutes a good deal of the time and effort the soldiers which gets little or no attention in the state. For example, driving through Tuz on Wednesday, I saw two new parks which had been built with Army funding and assistance. The cheerfully painted walls, manicured grass, swings, and other equipment looked like a playground oasis compared to the trash strewn streets of Tuz where the children would otherwise play. I have been told that the base has provided something in the neighborhood of $8 million in the last month toward projects in and around Tuz. But this is not what makes the news in the states. Rather, in the rare moments when the soldiers at Bernstein get news updates from back home, they witness the drumbeat about soldiers killing children or torturing prisoners. It is disconcerting to these men that the lion-share of their effort goes unnoticed, while the wrongs of a few are falsely characterized as common.
As is the norm for Mansur and the nearby villages, the troopers were swarmed by children as soon as they entered the village. Walking down the street, the troopers look like pied pipers, with throngs of little people following them. One young lad of around four adopted Cpl. Clark, holding his hand and following him wherever he went throughout the village. Indeed, it is difficult to drive through the towns because the kids will run around the Humvees without due regard for their own safety. They ultimately had to have the muqtar order the children to get back just so we could actually get out of the village.
Ben Connable, with the 1st Marine Division in Iraq, doesnt see Iraq the same way as Dan Rather does.
On Sunday, a number of troopers from fourth platoon were down at a checkpoint in the south which abuts Tauq Chay, a large reservoir. Aside from the novelty of seeing such a large body of water in the middle of an arid land, visiting the reservoir makes an interesting anthropology field trip. As Sgt. Cummins from 3d platoon noted, the fisherman cast their nets into the water the same way they did in biblical times—little has changed in 2000 years.
While the fourth platoon was there, the Iraqi Civil Defense Corp (ICDC) officers who were working the checkpoint with fourth platoon stopped a truck, which just happened to be hauling fifty-one 155 mm artillery shells. The shells were empty or damaged, and the driver of the vehicle claimed that he was taking them to sell for scrap metal. The ICDC officers informed Sgt. Gleason about the find, but they were inclined to let the man proceed with the shells because the items were inert. Of course, these kinds of shells are highly desirable to those who build IEDs—and so even if the driver really just wanted to sell them for scrap, the buyer may have other intentions. Sgt. Gleason therefore rolled into the FOB on Monday morning hauling a trailer filled with 155 mm shells. This incident shows a major problem with the ICDC: they still do not have the experience to exercise judgment, and so they tend to look to someone who can tell them what to do. I will have more on the ICDC program soon.
Nancy Pelosi gets even more extreme in her attacks on Bush: "Bush is an incompetent leader. In fact, hes not a leader. Hes a person who has no judgment, no experience and no knowledge of the subjects that he has to decide upon." And: "He has on his shoulders the deaths of many more troops, because he would not heed the advice of his own State Department of what to expect after May 1 when he ... declared that major combat is over. The shallowness that he has brought to the office has not changed since he got there."
Stan Gereenberg and James Carville revel in Bushs bad poll numbers and claim that it is all over but the shouting. They claim the odds are now against him and "He is more likely to lose than win." Expect this full frontal assault to continue. And do not expect Bush to do nothing.
Much is being made about taking out a wedding party in Western Iraq. The Belmont Club is a bit more sceptical.
I have been away from the office for over a week, and am just now getting back to some of the work that I have had to leave behind. The first thing worth mentioning--aside from the war in Iraq--is that by all accounts Bush’s poll numbers are down. Even Robert Novak and Peggy Noonan are piling on, claiming that, for one reason or another, Bush’s base is faltering. Maybe it is, and if it is, it is understandable, given the Iraqi prison mess, and the continued bad news from Iraq, at least as it is protrayed by the elite media. I am not persuaded that Iraq is falling apart, although it continues to be messy and complicated. But, I never expected simplicity and clarity in matters of war. I happened to see (on C-SPAN) Iraq’s Foreign Minister, Hoshayar Zebai, respond to questions at the World Economic Forum in Jordan. He was a very impressive and thoughtful man. It was very difficult not be hopeful about the future of Iraq while listening to him. But the seemingly chaotic nature of both the war and the relentless public criticism of both tactics and strategy of it at home--in the press and on Capitol Hill--could easily lead citizens to confuse the messy sausage making aspect of our democratic life, with mistrust and defeat. Even though we may be critical of the President on some issues (foreign and domestic), we have no reason to mistrust him. Things will become clearer soon, President Bush will begin to be mnore specific in his public conversations on Iraq, handing over sovereignty, etc.
I saw Rudy Giulianis spirited defense in front of the 9/11 Commission. The Commission continues not to impress me; too arbitrary, too political. I think they may have forgottenm their original purpose. I liked this comment from the Mayor: "Our enemy is not each other, but the terrorists who attacked us....
The blame should be put on one source alone, the terrorists who killed our loved ones."
Mac Owens and Spencer Ackerman debate the war in Iraq: Are we losing, and is Bush the reason why? Worth a look.
The Claremont Institutes Bill Bennett hits the nail on the head with this speech, Remembering Why We Fight.
In "No Way to Run a War", Mark Helprin penned a Wall St. Journal article that criticizes both the Republican Administration and the Democratic opposition for their respective approaches to dealing with the threat from Iraq. Read it and chime in.
Here’s the crux of his case, and the best graf in the essay:
In the Middle East, our original purpose, since perverted by carelessness of estimation, was self-defense. To return to it would take advantage of the facts that the countries in the area do not have to be democracies before we require of them that they refrain from attacking us; that a regime with a firm hold upon a nation has much at stake and can be coerced to eradicate the terrorist apparatus within its frontiers; and that the ideal instrument for this is a remounted and properly supported U.S. military, released from nation building and counterinsurgency, its ability to make war, when called upon, nonpareil.
David Tucker ponders the effects of the ruling that has allowed Massachusetts to start issuing marriage licenses to homosexual couples and asks:
"Is this revolution as good as the last one that Massachusetts led? Are its principles as sound?"Read the article and see what he concludes.
Instapundit links to this amusing story about what happened when a group of gay activists showed up at a rally in London to show their solidarity with the plight of Palestinians. They were immediately surrounded by Islamic fundamentalists who accused them of being agents of Sharons government.
Best comment on the event: "Gays opposing the war on terror is as stupid as Jews opposing the US fighting WWII."
I understand that the old "Bush is Hitler" line is nothing new, but now it’s found its way to the History News Network, not from some unknown commentator, but from a Swarthmore historian.
Actually, his argument is a bit more subtle than that--Bush is more like von Papen than Hitler, having prepared the groundwork for a fascist takeover. The evidence? An increasing amount of talk of using massive force--even nuclear weapons--in the War on Terror, and efforts to minimize (if not defend) the crimes at Abu Ghraib.
Don’t get me wrong--I have no time for those who are advocating turning the Middle East to glass, or who defend what happened at Abu Ghraib. But aren’t such attitudes an understandable (though not justifiable) response to the predictions of "quagmire" we’ve been hearing? Once we’ve established that the country is heading toward imminent defeat, we then ask ourselves what we should do about it. The answer of many on the Left is that we should cut and run. Should we be surprised that there are others who are equally convinced by the "quagmire" thesis, but who think that defeat must be avoided, no matter what the cost?
Perhaps such views--the "run away" school and the "nuke ’em all" school--have become standard tropes in modern warfare. However, it particularly bothers me to hear it coming from historians, who are supposed to be characterized by their appreciation for a long-term perspective.
Lucas Morel reflects on the Brown v. Board of Education decision on its 50th anniversary. Heres a sample:
"By officially desegregating public schools in America, a unanimous high court prompted the most productive decade of the modern civil rights movement, culminating in the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act. However, the legacy of Brown remains mixed as its praiseworthy conclusion stands at odds with its flawed reasoning."
From reasononline, intelligent commentary by Charles Paul Freund and Michael Young--certainly no advocates for the Iraq war--on American reaction to Abu Ghraib and the murder of Nick Berg. Apropos of recent discussions, it shows how we can object to what some U.S. troops have done in Iraq without descending into the morass of moral equivalency.
At the risk of appearing to make light of a serious situation, I commend the following editorial cartoon from Reason.
Robert J. Samuelson has an insightful piece about the worsening relations between the United States and Europe. He notes that Americans hardly paid attention to the fact that on May 1 10 new countries--most of them former members of the Soviet bloc--joined the European Union. There are a number of reasons why this is the case, simple demographics among them. However, for Europeans George W. Bush represents everything they dislike and distrust about America:
The truth is that Europe is too weak to lead and too proud to follow. It doesnt want to undertake costly new commitments. Its already got more than it can handle. In some ways, George Bush is a political godsend. His style and language offend so many Europeans—he seems simplistic, trigger-happy, uneducated—that opposition to him camouflages more basic conflicts. Ive been repeatedly reminded here that Europe and America share too much (common cultures, political systems and economic interests) to drift apart. Maybe. But were still drifting.
In the wake of the increased violence in Al Najaf, Muqtada al-Sadr is said to have issued a fatwah against the Coalition. Members of Sadrs Mehdi army were reported to have been handing out weapons here in Tuz yesterday, and the mosque in Tuz was renamed as the Sadr Mosque. While there have been a couple of recent acts attributed to local thugs (including an attack yesterday on an Iraqi Civil Defense Corp Colonel), I have not seen any links between these attacks and the Mehdi Army.
I had to re-read this front page story in the Los Angeles Times to make sure I didnt miss anything. Take a look at it. Remember that it runs on Armed Forces Day, and it is entitled, "Far From Ready for More War." The subtitle is this, "With battered gear and nerves, a third of the Army is unfit to fight but preparing to return." What is amazing is that there is nothing in the story to indicate any such thing, except that the guys have to do a lot of cleaning, and some have personal problems, and some have too much money to spend on trucks and motorcycles. This is quite remarkable. The author of the piece, and the editors who allowed it in, should be forced out of the profession. First two paragraphs: From their first days as Screaming Eagles, the 18,000 soldiers of the Armys 101st Airborne Division are taught to be ready for anything. As the forces proud creed goes: First in, last out.
But at its sprawling home base — after a long year in Iraq that wreaked havoc with the blades of its helicopters, the sights of its guns and the nerves of its soldiers — the 101st is as far from ready as it has ever been."
Yesterday, I traveled with the 3d platoon to Tikrit—my second visit to Saddam’s old home town. It struck me what a scenic city it is, resting right on the Tigris, and featuring enormous palaces with sprawling balconies which reach out toward the water.
Not long before we left Tikrit, a firefight broke out just outside the base. It gathered in intensity, until it sounded like mortars were fired. The insurgents tend to fire mortars from the other side of the river in a marshland area, because it is hard to patrol. The base has a simple but effective response: they place Abrams tanks at the perimeter of the base, with optics that can fix on a target 3000 meters away. Then, they unload the 120 mm main gun—which they did in this firefight. The firefight ended before we left, and we traveled back to FOB Bernstein without incident.
Several weeks ago, a checkpoint manned by the Iraqi Civil Defense Corp (ICDC) was overrun by bandits. In addition to attacking the Coalition and the ICDC, the bandits had been destabilizing the roads south of Kirkuk and Tuz by committing acts including, well, highway robbery. Soldiers from Echo 196 subsequently were able to locate four of the bandits, who were heavily armed with mortar rounds, rocket launchers, and AK-47s. A firefight ensued, in which a medic was injured, and all four bandits were killed--three by Apache air support. This is a high-tech war, and so I have been able to see digital images of the results from the battlefield. The pictures reveal the realties of armed conflict, and as one soldiers suggested, will remain burned in his mind long after he returns home. Talking to a group of soldiers about the raid, they credited Sgt. Perry Hamilton of 3d Platoon with what they thought was the most honest explanation of the troop’s feeling about the battle: it was not that the platoon wanted to kill them, but that under the conditions of the firefight, it was either us or them. Of course, in the larger scheme, the need was equally urgent, because these bandits were directing their attacks not only against the Coalition, but against innocent Iraqis who they terrorized on the roads. Following the attack, a funeral was held by a village in the south for the four bandits. In addition to being the home of the brother of one of the bandits, intelligence suggested that the village housed a significant number of anti-Iraqi forces and substantial weapons caches. So early on Thursday morning, the unit with which I am embedded joined a large cast in raiding the village.
When the order came down for the mission, Lt. Spears of 3d platoon gathered his men together to give them an overview of the mission. Spears is a veteran of Desert Storm who frequently jokes around with troops, but today it was all business. He warned them that the road they would be traveling down had not been used in some time, and was expected to be loaded with IEDs. The village they would be hitting was thought to hold some pretty bad guys, and a lot of weapons, so they should be ready for anything. I was standing next to Sgt. Ward, who was active duty for 17 years before joining the Guard. He noted how quickly the crowd of troopers, who began by joking, became quiet and serious once the briefing began. I noted how quickly the look their eyes changed—grew more stern, concerned, and serious—as the reality of the mission sank in.
The operation was largest I have witnessed to date. The raid was to begin with an air insertion of troops by Blackhawk helicopters, followed by a large ground component. But as the vehicles were staged late Wednesday night, lightning began to appear on the horizon—no rain, just lightning and gusts of wind. We subsequently received word that the Blackhawks were a no go due to weather, but the mission would continue as a ground assault.
I rode in an up-armored Humvee with some civil affairs (CA) guys in a convoy that included both Army Humvees and ICDC in Nissan trucks. Prior to leaving, the CA guys gave me a quick tour of the vehicle, which, like most pre-mission briefs, basically constituted a description of what to do if things go wrong. Accordingly, they gave me instructions regarding how to hail a medevac, showed me where the spare ammo and the medical kits were, and, if all went wrong and we were overrun, they gave me instructions to use the phosphorus grenade in the vehicle to melt the sensitive equipment.
The drive to the village was conducted lights out on a night that was forecasted to have zero illumination. The soldiers all wore night vision goggles, while I stared out at the passing blackness. (Before leaving, I had a chance to check out the night vision, and how it works together with the laser sights on the M-16s. When you are wearing the night vision, you can see the path of the laser, as well as a detailed, enhanced target. Very cool.). While the night vision goggles (or NODs) are effective, even the soldiers had trouble seeing this night given the lack of illumination. The paths (not even exactly dirt roads) we were taking were in ill-repair, and seemed to disappear into farmers’ fields. The vehicle I was riding in was part of the convoy assigned to create an outer cordon, and to block a road that might have served as an escape path from the village. In the pre-dawn darkness, it was nearly impossible from our vantage to make out what was happening in the village, so we listened on the radio as the raid progressed. Overhead, Apaches circled providing air support, and stirred up clouds of dust on the ground. As first light peaked above the horizon, it became possible to see some of the other air power that we had been hearing for hours—F-16s performing recon and an unmanned drone making repeated passes.
After a couple of hours of quiet, shots rang out from the village, prompting the soldiers in the vehicles around me to prepare in case these were the opening volley by the anti-Iraqi forces in response to our presence. But then word came over the radio that the shots were fired at a charging dog. Soon thereafter, it became apparent from the chatter over the radio that the village was all but deserted. The civil affairs unit was called in to assess the water system and other needs of the town, and I went with them. As we walked through the streets and past the mud huts, there was an eerie silence. There were more chickens roaming the streets than people. When we reached the center of the village, we found the muqtar chatting with Lt. Col. Miller. We were able to discern that the anti-Iraqi forces had fled the village sometime following the bandits’ funeral. Now that the military objective was achieved, the civil affairs crew could begin their task of assessing the water and power needs of the village. The contrast between these Army functions is stark, and is illustrative of complexity of the military mission in Iraq: in one minute, the village is surrounded by ground forces and is being flown over by F-16s and Apaches. In the next, the soldiers are meeting with the muqtar to make sure that there are enough wells, electricity, and school supplies in the village.
The fact that the raid did not yield any bad guys is also worth noting. This area had been prone to flare-ups of anti-Coalition activity, but after a series of raids, has begun to quiet down. Contrary to the perception of many people back in the states, violence is not constant or ubiquitous in Iraq. The danger lies in the terrorist nature of the attacks. At any time, on almost any road, you could encounter an IED or enemy fire. You are not likely to be attacked, but you must be prepared.
James Dunnigan notes: "The U.S. Army, which is taking the bulk of the casualties in Iraq, is still getting more volunteers than it needs. Standards have remained high, but the numbers needed have gone up as well. With over 6,000 casualties in Iraq during the last year, the number of new troops needed this year has been increased from 72,000 to 77,000. Most of the wounded troops return to duty, but all are out of action for days, or months, or forever in the case of the dead and crippled. This is all uncharted territory for the army, as it has been over 150 years since it was in a long war with an all-volunteer force."
Charles Krauthammer explains that the panic that has set in, even among some of Bushs supporters, over Abu Ghraib, is unseemly at best. Our objectives are being achieved. TGhere is no reason for Rumsfeld to resign. Oh, and isnt it interesting that Janet Reno didnt resign over Waco (where over seventy people died), even though she took full responsibility?
The Belmont Club considers our current victories against Sadr’s militia, the President’s executive order against Syria, and the real meaning of the Rumsfeld/Myers trip to Iraq (they flew on the same plane for the first time). Something is up. It has less to do with the prison scandal, and more to do with some strategic possibilities resulting from our recent victories in Iraq and the region. Pay attention, and don’t let the Abu Ghraib post mortem confuse you.
Victor Davis Hanson has a few choice words to say about Americans’ capacity for cannibalism (I used to call it self-flagellation): "The idea that anyone would suggest that Donald Rumsfeld — and now Richard Meyers! — should step down, in the midst of a global war, for the excesses and criminality of a handful of miscreant guards and their lax immediate superiors in the cauldron of Iraq is absurd and depressing all at once." He goes on the explain what he means. And then this:
"One final jarring scene from the televised spectacles was the image of the lone, beleaguered Joe Lieberman calling for patience and sobriety, and worried about our troops in the field and the pulse of the war. This decent and honest man reminds us of what the present party of Ted Kennedy and Terry McAuliff used to be. The confidence of a Truman, JFK, and Scoop Jackson — caricatured now for dropping the bomb, a fiery "pay-any-price" speech, and heating up the Cold War — is now nowhere to be found." Read the whole thing. Also see Senator Lieberman on why Rumsfeld must stay.
The Economist gives a short and optimistic reading to the surprising outcome to the elections in India. It seems as if the Congress Party will have to ally with parties on the Left, including the Communists, and yet it there is reason to think that the free market reforms of the previous administration will be continued. We should also pay attention to the new governments view of the recent opening to Pakistan.
Last week over at ZenPundit, Mark Safranski offered an interesting suggestion about what was really going on at Abu Ghraib--that the photos were staged and deliberately leaked so as to demoralize our enemies in the Middle East. As he puts it:
the shocking pictures, for all their political fall out, remediate a deficit American forces suffer in a narrow military sense - outside of actual combat engagements, we are not much feared because by and large we do not commit the usual litany of atrocities of an occupying army.
I’ll admit that it seems far-fetched, but it fits in well with the revelation that the most gruesome photos that have appeared so far--the ones showing actual rape--have turned out to have been doctored. Furthermore, it is perfectly consistent with what Pfc. Lynndie England has claimed: that "I was instructed by persons in higher rank to stand there and hold this leash and look at the camera." Finally, there’s no denying that American casualties have dropped off noticeably since the release of the photos.
Now, assuming that the hooded figures appearing in the photos were actually prisoners, and not, for instance, paid actors, this still raises serious ethical questions. Unfortunately Jeff Tiel, our resident military ethicist, is away in Florence--I’m sure he’d have some interesting things to say on this matter.
Last night there was a major raid launched from Bernstein. My time on the internet is short, so I will describe it late. Suffice it to say that there were a lot of birds in the air and vehicles on the ground, and most importantly everyone made it back safe and sound.
I almost missed this one in todays Los Angeles Times, "Sex and the Asian man."
Sometimes a story becomes a parody of itself; this may be one of those. Here is the first paragraph to give you the flavor of the thing. Read on at your own risk, laugh or cry, as you will.
"Wanting to know what the mostly Asian American class considered desirable, professor Darrell Hamamoto asked: What posters are on your bedroom walls? After an uncomfortable silence, Hamamoto got the names he expected — celebrities such as Brad Pitt. There wasnt an Asian among them, which reinforced what he has long believed: that clichés and stereotypes about Asian men have rendered them sexual afterthoughts.
You arent creating your own images, the 50-year-old Japanese American told the UC Davis class. Make your own movies. You have to take it into your own hands. Like Hamamoto, hundreds of Asian American men are writing books and poems and creating websites in hopes of redefining themselves by combating the enduring notion that they are sub-masculine. Many are offended that Asian men are projected as power players when it comes to intellectual intercourse but bystanders in the world of romance."
The New York Times has a useful electoral map and accompanying article about the battleground states. To see the map, click on "Graphic: Mapping the Campaign" on the right. Print and file, useful and clear.
There is much hyperventilating in the upper levels, the media and in some political circles, about the effect of the Abu Ghraib revelations on our work in Iraq. Indeed, some people seem to be in a panic. The war is lost, if not militarily, then politically. We cannot possibly win the hearts and minds of the Iraqis. It is all over but the details, etc. I think such reactions are over the top. CNN talking heads (Aaron whats-his-name is an example) are already calling the prisoner abuse photos the "iconic moment" in this war (i.e., iconic in the same way that we saw a South Vietnamese soldier shoot a Vietcong in the head, only later did we find out that the man had slaughtered his family); this is an attempt to be clever and sophisticated the way the ideological literary critics are: They talk around the text (in this case reality) by ignoring it. And today Muqtada Sadr--the guy who has caused mischief, but is losing at every turn he lost a couple dozen men today in Karbala--called Iraq Americas new Vietnam. The elite press loves this stuff, dont they? Well, the slaughter of Nicholas Berg is also affecting the discussion, at least on the lower levels where most of us citizens live. Even though CNN will not show the beheading (and I dont think they should) they beat the drums that every other photo from Abu Ghraib be shown, regardless of how many lives it may cost! This slaughter of Mr. Berg reminded us that although what was done to the prisoners was both wrong and illegal--it has been investigated by our military and dutifully reported, and the law will take its course--the enemy is capable of acting in this horrible way as a matter principle. This reminds those of us who do not live in the Washington beltway why we fight, and why we must win. Seeing the Twin Towers in flame has the same effect; thats why CNN doesnt like showing it. Well, those in the upper levels are once again misreading both the capacity of those of us on the lower levels to understand our purposes and policies, and the passions--not excluding righteous indignation--that we are capable of; in our quiet way, of course. Let them misread us at their peril. My guess is that Bush has a much clearer sense of these matters than he is given credit for; he will not panic. The regeneration of Iraq will continue and Rumsfeld will not be pushed out; and let John Kerry run against Rumsfeld if he likes, and see where that takes him (and announcing that he would like to have Senator John McCain as his secretary of defense isnt going to help him; nice try though). In the end, the citizens on the lower levels will make their opinions count, and the smug Aaron whats-his-name can continue to bloviate and be paid handsomely for it, and be ignored.
The Belmont Club has a thought about the media and the connection between Abu Ghraib and the murder of Nicholas Berg. And William Safire explains that the real world in Iraq is moving along at a pretty good clip, and there is no need to panic. Nice piece, read it.
In case you missed it, here is the Reuters story about Nick Berg, an American contractor who was beheaded on video by a man identifying himself as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Al-Zarqawi is the Jordanian Al Qaeda operative who previously issued a memo encouraging terrorists to use the American occupation pre-June 30th as a pretext for launching terrorist attacks in Iraq.
I am travelling, currently sitting in a hotel room in California finishing reading term papers (this should be combat pay!). I came to attend a funeral of a friend of mine (and the Ashbrook Centers). Brad Mishler passed away a few days ago, and the services were yesterday. He was buried next to his wife at La Verne Cemetery. They were both very fine people, both lovers of things beautiful and noble. They appreciated various forms of human excellence, especially in art and in politics, nowadays a seemingly uncommon juxtaposition, but not in their mind or mine. I valued their friendship and their support, and I will miss them. Because of this, and other meetings, I will be on the road for another week, so expect me to blog only a little, from time to time. Now, back to the term papers!
Both the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times run articles on Steve Cambone, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence. Cambone testified this morning with Gen. Taguba, and I happened to see only some of the proceedings. It is clear that Cambones attempt to get tactical intelligence on the ground (as opposed to the more strategic and broader intelligence sought by the CIA) will be an issue in this attempt to get to the bottom of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. I excpect him to be on the hot seat because the question will be whether or not he instructed his people to be aggressive, and thereby leading prison guards to do what they did. At the moment, it looks as though the guards were acting on their own. Because of his close relationship to Rumsfeld, the purpose of his office, and the kind of infighting that goes on in Defense (and with the CIA), you can expect to hear more about him and from him in the coming weeks.
Here is my latest article about some victims of Abu Ghraib, and here are some pictures of the victims. Recent polls are showing a 12 point drop over the last two months in support for the Iraq war, with many wondering whether we should have come at all. We must not dismiss the abuse which occurred. We must treat it seriously. But we must also not lose sight of the change that has been made. One of the commenters on this blog resorted to moral equivalency, suggesting that we had done all the horrors of Saddam. Were he to leave his ivory tower and come to Iraq and actually say that to an Iraqi, the locals would laugh at him. There is no doubt that the Iraqis are angry and disheartened by the pictures, but they know the horrors of the previous regime. This is not to use the worst to in any way justify the bad--but when people make statements suggesting that the current situation in Iraq is no better than the prior regime, their imprudence should be checked by the painful realities of the former regime. And, to emphasize the point of my article, the real difference is that our leaders view the abuse with horror because it violates our principles--in the prior regime the abuse would have been looked at with disdain by the leader because it was not on a grand enough scale.
A major part of the mission for the soldiers here in Tuz, as well as in other areas I have visited, is meeting with the local religious, tribal, and political leaders to discuss the concerns and needs of the locals. When you visit an Iraqis home, local etiquette demands that they offer you at the very least something to drink, and very often something to eat. The food is often quite tasty--chicken and lamb, and a variety of vegetable garnishes. But the food is grown and prepared and very unsanitary conditions. The soldiers therefore eat the food to be polite, but do so at the risk of "Saddams revenge." Lt. Naum is the latest victim after having lunch at a local village two days ago. As he put it, "the two biggest dangers in Iraq are RPGs and lamb."
In the Wilson Quarterly Francis Fukuyama reviews Bruce Caldwells recent intellectual biography of F.A. Hayek. As Fukuyama notes, the author correctly reminds us that Hayek did not only reject socialism, but also the pretensions of positivistic social science:
But Hayek also offered a far more profound critique of the limits of human reason, which extended to the models that would come to underlie postwar American neoclassical economics and, thus, the economics that we teach university students to this day. Caldwell explains that a constant theme in Hayek’s writing—from his early critique of “scientism” in his “Abuse of Reason” project to his last published work, The Fatal Conceit (1988)—is a critique not just of real-world planners but of positivist social scientists who aim to turn the study of human behavior into something as empirical and predictive as the physical sciences.
Indeed, in this sense he was as critical of fellow free-market economist Milton Friedman as he was of John Maynard Keynes.
A number of the men in the unit I am embedded with made their way to Kirkuk today, which provided them with an opportunity to visit the PX (a military store which carries everything from food to electronics), and to load up on some of the comforts of home. Sgt. Hutton returned with what is for this area the latest copy of Newsweek, featuring a cover comparing the latest conflict to the Vietnam War. The heavy-handed drumbeat in the issue was astounding. Even the movie review of The Alamo included language about how strange it was to watch a movie about American military defeat while our soldiers are beleaguered in Iraq. The guys, who were reading particularly ridiculous passages aloud, had great fun with this: "Hey Sergeant, you feeling beleaguered?" They also had no tolerance for the ignorance of the reporters. When a graphic showed a region, and had a statistical breakdown of population by Sunnis and Kurds, they quickly noted that many of the Kurds are Sunni. The proper distinction would have been between Kurds and Arabs. The whole episode provided yet another stark contrast--the "quagmire" drumbeat of the media, contrasted with the more buoyant reality on the ground.
My article about a Christian church in Baghdad is now online at NRO. I did a brief interview with Bill Bennett this morning. I say brief because the weather--in particular the wind--was not cooperating with my satellite phones clarity. What conversation we were able to have was good, so I hope to do the show again soon--weather permitting. Finally, I spent most of the day putting together some thoughts on Abu Ghraib. I have submitted the article, so you should see it relatively soon.
ABC News wonders why, in spite of the deluge of bad news coming from Iraq, the president continues to enjoy a slight lead in the polls. They suggest the following reasons:
1. Hes keeping the conservative and Republican base happy — and were making the necessary distinction between the roots of the grass and its tippy-tops. The Presidents support among the faithful remains quite strong.
2. A gradual, inarticulatable, unpollable sentiment among most Americans that enjoys the feeling of being at the top of the heap, disregards potshots, favors the exercise of unilateral power, distrusts entangling institutions, and isnt quite sure what the alternatives are. American exceptionalism is still a fundamental creed — and this President embodies it.
3. The failure of President Bushs opposition to come up with a credible alternative to Iraq. By credible, we mean widely accepted and comfortable to the masses. This tracks with a general and enduring split among Democrats and left/liberal progressives about the nature and aims of American power.
4. Wars (in Iraq and versus terror) provide for now a floor and a ceiling on the presidents numbers. And no domestic terror attack since 9/11 is arguably the administrations largest unalloyed, if untrumpeted, success.
5. An unvetted (bubble-benefited) Democratic nominee who has yet to find a voice that comforts while it enervates. And who may, by dint of the possible death of the jobless recovery (see the WSJs ed page) have lost his best issue. Lets see how the national and local breakthrough on his health care message goes this week.
6. Masterful message massaging and communications work by the Bush-Cheney re-election team.
7. A country that views political developments through two increasingly sharp cultural lenses — perhaps (checking the back of the envelope here … ) 42% Red to 39% Blue.
8. News cycles that speed up, chew over, and swallow both the good and the bad and then take a bite of something else — leaving little time for reflection or news to "sink" in to the national consciousness. And then theres the general disconnect between what the media wants (i.e., a Bush apology during the press conference) versus what the public seems to want (reassurance that things are going to get better and the course were taking is the right one).
9. The First Lady, the personal likeability, and the Bush Brand in times of adversity.
Were he still alive, yesterday--May 8--the brilliant economist F.A. Hayek would have turned 105. Hayeks 1944 best-seller The Road to Serfdom played a major role in turning the intellectual tide away from economic planning.
Just to be provocative, I urge you to read this excerpt from his 1960 book The Constitution of Liberty, entitled "Why I Am Not a Conservative".
Very late last night, around 3 a.m., as I was preparing to take Becky to the airport for the first leg of her flight to South Dakota, I was able to watch a few minutes of Rumsfeld testimony and pay attention to how it was being reported. This
Washington Post story (substance aside, I like the way it is written) reflects the general mood: Rumsfeld is apologetic, and on the defense; he looks tired and haggard, maybe even aged (he is 71, by the way); he is no longer certain of himself. Finally, his detractors assert he begins to doubt himself. His time has come. He must resign. Some tried to argue--before 9/11--that he would be the first cabinet officer to wash out, then even his enemies admitted that he was brilliant in Afghanistan, then came Iraq and a few months after the brilliant campaign, he was fair game again. More problems in Iraq showed up than he may have expected or planned on, and he was once again the bad guy. The neo-con conspiracy stuff is not irrelevant in this; much internal DOD arguments becoming public; many personal animosities coming into play. And then the elite media was in a permanent attack mode. Then this Abu Ghraib fiasco. We have humiliated the Iraqis, it is said. Worse then torture. A good time to get rid of Rumsfeld, if not Bush. Now we are a shellsocked hegemon, says David Brooks. Everything we are attempting to do in Iraq and elsewhere is at stake. Maybe. Probably not. Rumsfeld most certainly should not go. If you think that you should support John Kerry for president, and then youll get a real Secretary of Defense, so you think.
As I have said, I dont like what happened at this prison. Bad show, to humiliate the soldiers of Saddam Hussein. I agree. Yet, this wasnt even a Mai Lai, never mind dropping a couple of nukes on Japan, or firebombing Dresden. So lets not get carried away by all this. Political men have political enemies, and enemies try to take advantage of opportunities; they always push and shove, on all fronts, and sometimes the pushing penetrates. Yet, this Washington Post-ABC News poll find that 69% of Americans dont want Rumsfeld to resign. I side with the common sense of the American people. We are in a war, and certain things follow. Get petty and silly and stupid some other time, will you? Why should I now start listening to the great moralist Senator Kennedy, as always full of passionate intensity, (or that moron from Minnesota, Mark Dayton)? I will not. Here is the transcript of the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing of yesterday. On the one hand the American people dont like what happened at the prison (and some argue that we should have blown the prison up as soon as we went in; maybe, but you should have argued it at the time), on the other hand they understand that what we are doing in that part of the world is too important to be affected by an isolated incident. After all, we dont humiliate (or torture) as a matter of policy. But what about the opinion of the Iraqis, or Muslims more generally? Well, thats interesting, and I have said from the beginning that this incident(s) could have broad unfavorable strategic consequences, and most certainly will be useful as propaganda for our enemies. And yet, I saw an Iraqi being interviewed (he claimed to be in one of the infamous photographs) and he said this: I am so deeply humiliated by how I was treated that I cannot continue to live in Iraq, so I will have to go to America. I have nothing else to say for now save this: Let the best of us have conviction, hold the center, do not let mere anarchy loose upon the world, and things will not fall apart. A great speech from the President within the next few days would be helpful toward this purpose.
I have been insanely busy, so I hope you will understand why I have not been around. Board meetings, papers to read, graduation Saturday morning, etc. It goes on and on. So, some amusement in the midst of all this. Click here to read what "Boodle" might mean (the nickname of our daughter Becky; she is leaving tomorrow morning for South Dakota for three months!). The site you see this on is fun and useful. Look up other interesting words or phrases, for example cop, or upsidaisy. Have fun. Learn your tongue.
Robert Alt will be Bill Bennetts Morning in America radio show on Monday at 6:30 am. In case you cant find it on the radio dial, it will be archived on his website later in the day.
After traveling to Anaconda, I returned to find the internet working reasonably well here at Bernstein. If this keeps up, I should be able to offer more frequent reports.
Because the news of the prisoner abuse came while I was embedded, I have had very few details. I and the soldiers at Bernstein only knew that pictures had come out. Having now seen a few reports, all I can say is that there is no excuse, and that the people who committed these acts should be severely punished. Those who were in their immediate command should be scrutinized, and punished according to their negligence or participation. But the fact that Harkin and Kennedy are calling for Rumsfelds dismissal is rank partisanship, and I think everyone can see it as posturing. As best as I can tell from the ground over here, the military took immediate action as soon as they were notified of the abuse--suspending those who were accused, and initiating an investigation. This should have never happened, but the military appears to have taken it seriously, and to have responded swiftly.
Life at FOB Bernstein near Tikrit is, well, rustic. There are no MWR facilities with gyms or televisions like at some other bases. And while they do have internet and phones, the base has had substantial problems with the system crashing. (They are currently in the process of upgrading the system.) Forget about indoor plumbing. They do not even have chemical latrines, but rather use sunken PVC pipes for urinals (this is a Cavalry and Infantry forward base--there are no women), and have wood outhouses with toilet seats over metal buckets for, shall we say, other tasks. The mail was delayed for a couple of weeks this last time, and they are still waiting for some equipment and personal effects that was sent over in large seaborne containers when they left the States. When the mail finally did arrive this last week, the soldiers described it as being like Christmas. Packages and letters from loved ones, friends, and neighbors filled the cots. In addition to letters from people they know, the DOD distributes mail addressed to "Any Soldier" among the troops. It was good to see from the letters how communities were coming together. For example, a Lieutenant from North Carolina got a package from one of his neighbors, who explained how the other neighbors on the block were helping the soldiers wife by mowing the lawn, and doing repairs around the house. The mail service and the internet service are supposed to be improving soon, and this will be good for the soldiers. While they understand that they have it much better in terms of communication than their brethren who fought in previous wars, it is nonetheless difficult to be out of touch with their families for extended periods of time.
I am currently writing to you from FOB Anaconda/Ballad Airbase in the Sunni Triangle. One of the main reasons I have traveled here is to get access to the internet, which has been down for some time at the base near Tuz. As a result of getting high-speed access, you can now see a number of new pictures from my trips to villages around Tuz.
Should we surprised that Rumsfeld is being attacked by all his political enemies? No. This isnt rocket science. They attack all the time, and the prison guard fiasco is a perfect opportunity. Keep at it, stay with, something eventually will stick; thats their mode. And James Lileks points out something very important:
"The minute I heard Biden refer to Rumsfeld with the magic words - “what did he know, and when did he know it?” - I knew that the Iraqi POW story had jumped the shark. Or rather jumped a pyramid of blindfolded, homoerotic sharks. It’s not the question, it’s the words: use of the Vietnam and Watergate era terms like an incarnation that will topple the current administration. I almost expect someone to ask whether there is a cancer on the presidency, a chancre, or a weeping mole. Stop it! STOP LIVING IN THE PAST!
What really bastes my brisket (did I just write that? I need a beer.) is the constant desire to return us to the nadir of the post-war era. They want us to think: quagmire. They want us to think: Nixonian scandal. How inspirational. How Churchillian. I have nothing to offer the American people but blood, sweat and Billy Beer...
That Biden would float the idea of axing Rumsfeld in the middle of this confliict over this tells you how seriously he takes the war. He knows what he says won’t bring victory next year. But it will get him on TV tonight, and perhaps in the Times tomorrow." I dont have anything to add to that. Lileks nails it. But, it wont work.
The New York Times runs a distressing op-ed by a Muslim anguished at the takeover of his local mosque in Morgantown, West Virginia by people promoting radical Islam. The stakes in the struggle for the Muslim soul in America are incredibly high: as the piece concludes, "if tolerant and inclusive Islam can’t express itself in small corners like Morgantown, where on earth can the real beauty of Islam flourish?"
In a previous entry I mentioned that Echo Troop of the 196th Cavalry had discovered a daisy-chain IED, which included 13 bombs strung together. Here and here are videos of two of the larger bombs (one of which was 500 pounds) being detonated by the Army’s Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) unit. And here are some photos provided to me by the unit that should give you an idea how big the explosions really were.
An interesting comparison of CNNs coverage (and coverage, and coverage) of the recently revealed prisoner abuse by a few Army guys at Abu Ghraib and their lack of mention of Saddams torture/murder/mayhem chambers. Click here.
This short article from the Jerusalem Post talks about a possible Israeli plan to build additional parts of the security fence in reaction to the killing last week of an Israeli mother and her young daughters by terrorists. Rarely mentioned amidst the recent talk about this terrible killing (and the rejection of Sharon’s disengagement plan by Likud party members) is one massive fact: terrorist groups (especially Hamas) have carried out only one or two successful attacks inside Israel in quite awhile.
Israeli security forces and the fence have disrupted a lot of attacks partially underway, but the fact is that fewer attacks have been conceived in the first place because Israel has been successful in eliminating so many terrorist operatives in the West Bank and Gaza, including Hamas leaders like Rantisi and Yassin (watch out for similar action in Lebanon and Syria against Hezbollah, which has become an even bigger source for terrorist money and support). Simply put: Anger and threats of revenge on "the street" do not determine how many terrorist attacks there will be: they have to be planned, financed, and carried out by operational leaders with hard-to-acquire (and replace) contacts, skills, and knowledge. And those people can be eliminated.
Here is the Boston Globe story on yesterdays press conference by retired Navy guys talking about Kerry. It seemes to be reported on widely last night. And this is John ONeills piece on Kerry from yesterdays Wall Street Journal. I dont think this is a small thing, and it will not do for Kerrys campaign to say that it is a GOP trick. This cannot help but hurt him since Kerry was the one who wanted to make a big deal about his service in Vietnam. Well, it is a big a deal, but not exatcly the way he had hoped.
James Woolsey has an interesting op-ed in the Los Angeles Times on the "buuterfly effect" and interdependent systems. Quick read.
U.S. News & World Report’s cover story is worth reading. It is called "Hunting bin Laden: Where the World’s Most Wanted Man is Hiding and Why He’s so Hard to Get." Good read. It explains both how hard this work is, and how we seem to be doing it right; although there is no guarantee of success. Note the so called "nuanced approach to counterinsurgency" operations. This is both right and necessary. This Lt. Gen David Barno seems to be a good guy. There are two more related stories on Afghanistan in the same issue, go here and here. Good portrayals of special forces; also note the importance of Pakistan in all this.
NBC has put out the full text of invetigation conducted by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba on the abuse of the Iraqi prisoners. I have only read into it; its pretty bad.
Congratulations to this month’s winners of a No Left Turns mug! The winners are as follows:
L.A. Times runs a boring story about Kerry and the Catholic vote. You have to look a bit to find the nuggets. The short of it is that 80% of Catholics voted for Kennedy, and 75% supported Johnson, the so-called Catholic vote is no longer that unified. Also, circa 30% of the Catholic vote is Hispanic. And, two-thirds of the 17 critical battleground states, more people identify themselves as Catholic than any other faith. Pennsylvania has a larger Catholic population than any of the other 16 hotly contested states. And Bush is ahead in Pennsylvania. Also, I think Rove once calculated that if Bush got only three or four percent more of the Hispanic vote, there wouldnt be a way a Demo could win. Kerry will have to struggle for the Catholic vote.
The Belmont Club continues to produce good stuff. It has a few good pages on what may be going on in Fallujah, with a footnote on Najaf. The short of it is this:
The enemy is probably still in the city
the enemy may consist, in part, of Syrian fighters;
the USMC is probably still bottling them up otherwise how to account for the enemy containment, and is therefore present in the city, contrary to press reports;
the USMC is attempting to drive a wedge, as per General Conway, between the hard core and the peripheral enemy elements. Thoughtful, read it all.
Charles Krauthammer on FOX News about the pictures from Abu Ghraib prison: "I think there has been a huge overreaction. Obviously it is a terrible thing, it shouldnt have happened and the people who did it are going to be punished. Lets put it in context, nobody was killed, nobody was maimed.... This has been the most humanitarian occupation in history. The fact is the Arabs are outraged over this. Where was the outrage when the four Americans in Fallujah were murdered and burned and desecrated? Where is the outrage when women and children are used as human shields? Where was the outage for 30 years when Saddam Hussein routinely tortured and maimed and humiliated. When I here all this Arab outrage I see it as highly selective, highly anti-American and highly hypocritical. I think our response ought to be were sorry, it shouldnt have happened, were going to punish who did it, and then carry on." (via Realclearpolitics.)
I have spent more time than I should have watching TV news over the last few days and it is a constant and universal fact that a bitter, callous and gloomy view pervades all the news about Iraq. It is irritating, to say the least. They lead off with the body count, and give the viewer the impression that the talking heads have a vested interest in Iraq failing. Interview a politician who was always against the war from the start, interview a grieving mother who lost her son and wonders why, show the same truck burning that you have seen a hundred times, and so on. I used to not rave about media inbalance because, what the heck, it was just an extension of politics. But this is different. This is not imbalance, this is recreational pessimism about a war that must be won, and not only for Iraqs sake. There is a conscious attempt to corrode public opinion about the war in Iraq; this explains why Ted Koppel only showed the names and faces of those who died in Iraq, but not those who died in Afghanistan and elsewhere. These guys remind me of the Copperheads during the Civil War.
So I guess I shouldnt be surprised by this pessimistic George Will column. After all, he claims that pessimism is realism is conservatism. Not quite, Mr. Will. But deep philosophical discussions aside for now, he is wrong to assert that we should not be conserned with what ought to be but only with what is: Too simple, too clever a formulation. Besides, Will is now neocon bashing. If he wants to sign on to the Kerry campaign, thats fine, but he ought to say so. There are plenty of others out there who are losing their optimism and their nerve about Iraq. They are wrong. Let courage mount with the occasion. And let the Iraqis (with our help) work all this through, but for Gods sake this is not the time to doubt our purposes. This piece by David Ignatius about the good work being done in Nasiriyah is very good. The place was falling into a chaos a month ago, but the Iraqis--frightened by the possibility of falling over the precipice--withdrew from chaos. Very good progress is being made. Ignatius is hopeful, as am I.
Keep in mind that all the chatter and the criticism during a war is not new; it is always thus in a Republic. Everybody is not only an armchair general, but a platoon leader on the ground in real time trying to make decisions; and everyone has an outlet for his views. Pretty messy, all this. Yet it may be a good idea to remind us that it has--more or less--always been so. How was the war going against Japan and Germany in the year after Pearl Harbor? Was the president criticized? John Moser looks at the year 1942, and how hard things were. Good article.
In "Abu Ghraib," Victor Davis Hanson gives an eminently sensible, informed, and worldly-wise assessment of how we should understand the recent ugliness that took place at Saddam’s old Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. To give the sense of his May 3rd editorial, I include just two paragraphs--the last sentence of which brings to mind at once Shakespeare and Churchill:
Right now we see only revolting pictures that properly shock our sensibilities. But because we do not know the circumstances of the interrogations, the conditions of confinement, or the nature of the acts that warranted imprisonment, we are also ignorant to what degree, if any, these men were responsible for horrendous acts--or if their clumsy interrogators were trying to shame and humiliate them to extract information to save other lives.
We who are appalled in our offices and newsrooms are not those who have had our faces blown off while delivering food in Humvees or are incinerated in SUVs full of medical supplies--with the full understanding that there will be plenty of Iraqis to materialize to hack away at what is left of our charred corpses. War is hell, and those who do not endure it are not entirely aware of the demons that are unleashed, and thus should hold their moral outrage until the full account of the incident is investigated and adjudicated.
Peggy Noonan writes a spendid little piece in Opinion Journal about the "new" Broadway play, "Raisin in the Sun," written by Lorraine Hansberry and first performed on Broadway in 1959. It showcased a virtuoso performance by Sidney Poitier, whose movie version is available on DVD. Don’t rent it, buy it.
Incredibly, Noonan thinks the lame performance by rapper Sean Combs (in the lead role!) does not hurt the play, buttressed as he is by the acting of Phylicia Rashad and Audra McDonald. Noonan observes that his celebrity is drawing folks to the play who would not otherwise take one in. Which leads to another observation of Noonan’s that should startle us all. She rightly notes that "a terrible cultural moment" took place during the play’s performance when the audience she was in responded with cheers when a character decides to put a $5 down payment towards an abortion. "They didn’t understand it was tragic," Noonan observes. Indeed.
We then arrived at FOB Bernstein on the outskirts of Tuz, which will be my home for a bit. There I met up with the 196th Cavalry Unit, which includes elements from northern Ohio, and from North Carolina. Among the members of the unit is Lt. Barry Naum, who I have known since college. Lt. Naum is a member of the Ohio National Guard. He was in the middle of his last semester at Ohio State School of Law when his unit got called up to go to Iraq. Within days of being called up, he found out that his wife Olivia was pregnant with their first child, who was born just last month. Because of problems with Internet access, it was a few weeks before he could see a picture of his new son. Lt. Naum’s story is a testament to the sacrifice of the men serving over here: men who left their families at important times, and left their careers at important times, to serve their country at a critical time.
Tuz is where tradition says that Abraham was born, and there is a large mosque commemorating the birthplace. It is a relatively diverse city, including within its boundaries Kurds, Sunnis, and Turkoman. Many of the surrounding villages are extremely poor. The dominant structures are mud huts—which nonetheless sport satellite dishes. FOB Bernstein itself is a former Iraqi airbase. The men live in the bunkers, and eat their chow at one of the hangers. (Having now seen it at two FOBs, I can tell you that the brown egg concoction appears to be a staple at the Forward Operating Bases.)
In the first two days here, I have gone out on missions with Cpt. Bumgardner and Lt. Naum to view the local villages and to meet with their Muqtars, which essentially are village mayors. The children in the villages are instantly drawn to the soldiers and swarm around them. The response is particularly emphatic in the Kurdish villages such as Changalawa, the first village I visited, where the soldiers handed out toothpaste and toothbrushes to the kids, and gave them a hygiene lesson on brushing. The children ask for common items from the soldiers such as water bottles (which many of the children already have), just to have something which they can show off as given to them by an American soldier.
The next village we visited was the Arab village of Davaj. Despite being another small, poor village with mud huts, it was one of Saddam’s favorites--one which he is known to have visited regularly. Prior to the 196th coming into the region, one of the prior units drew fire from a tent in Divac. They returned fire, but after the fact it appears that the shooter must have been firing from some place near but not in the tent. As a result, a boy of about nine became his immediate family’s sole survivor. The captain over the unit took it very hard, and began supporting the boy (who came under the charge of the Muqtar) out of his own pocket. When Cpt. Bumgardner inherited the region, he requested that his wife send a couple of boxes of clothes for the boy, who happened to be the about the same age as the Iraqi child. At each of the towns, we met with the Muqtars to assess the needs of the community, and examined facilities such as wells and roads.
Today I traveled to three cities in the area with Lt. Naum. We visited the schools, and chatted with the Muqtars about conditions in the villages. We started in Albu Najm, a village consisting of a population of 700 that is about 50 percent Arab and about 50 percent Kurdish. One man explained to me that under Saddam, the soldiers would come in, hit people, and take their money. As a farmer, he was forced to pay a selectively applied tax of 500,000 dinars per year to Saddam. He was enthusiastic about the conditions now: “Everybody has freedom. I can go wherever I want.”
In Mansur Agur, another Kurdish village of around 2,100 people, we spent a considerable amount of time with the Muqtar. He explained that under Saddam, people in his village who fell out of favor were simply moved to northern regions. One of his key complaints to the Coalition had been about the power blackouts. When I asked him if power access was better under Saddam, he explained that even if there was “No water. No power. Still better life now that Saddam gone.” He then went on to explain that there was in fact more power available now as well.
We were then invited to a local political party leader’s home for lunch. There were 15 people in our group, and on short notice he prepared a feast for 50. The food was quite good and plentiful, including chicken, schwarma bread, two kinds of rice, squash in something like a tomato soup, chicken broth, and topped off with chai tea. Again, the children were drawn to the soldiers, and swarmed around the vehicles so much so that it was difficult to actually maneuver the Humvees to leave the village.
Internet access has been difficult here—and in fact has been down the last three times that I have tried to get online. I hope to be able to get online more often in the next few days, and I will try to post some of the pictures (and maybe even video) from my recent travels soon.
I spent Thursday with the Engineers from the 216th at FOB Speicher. These are men and women who are building force security measures such as berms, repairing bridges, and in general doing a much of the unsung work to keep the bases up and running. Because these men and women are reservists, many of them have very profitable businesses back in Ohio as contractors. Thus their sacrifice is not only being away from their family, but depriving their family of the higher incomes to which they are accustomed. I chatted with a number of the soldiers, and will pass along some of their stories in a future article.
I was told the guys build things in any spare moments they have, and I found this to be true. When I came back to the quarters that I was sharing with a couple of soldiers, I found Sfc. Setty, a reservist who I would guess to be in his mid-fifties, building something. When I inquired what it was, he told me that he thought I might need a place to work that night, so he was building a table for me to use. And sure enough, by the next time I came back to the room, he had finished the table, complete with adjustable legs.
On Friday, the 216th took me on a convoy to Forward Operating Base (FOB) Caldwell—which is 30 kilometers from the Iranian border. The convoy would be a large one, including 11 vehicles, at least two of which were hauling heaving equipment. Before heading out on the six hour convoy, we received a briefing from the unit’s S-2 about security issues. He warned that “[t]here’s an abundance of IEDs” on the roads we would be traveling, and told us about an IED daisy-chain found by the 196th Cavalry which was composed of 13 bombs (including a 500 pound bomb) wired together and buried by the side of the road.
Just before heading out, Chaplain Sizemore, an Ashland University Theological Seminary graduate, offered a prayer. A military prayer. A prayer reminiscent of Patton’s weather prayer. He prayed not just for protection, but asked God to confuse and confound our enemies. He implored God to use his battle ax, and to go before the convoy and bring down his destruction on the enemy. After the talk about the IED daisey-chain, this seemed eminently appropriate.
I traveled in the lead vehicle of the convoy—an unarmored Humvee—with Lt. Courtemanche, who was leading the convoy, Spc. Sams, who was driving the Humvee, Spc. Corielle, who was a medic on the only female in the convoy, and Sgt. Caldwell, who was manning the turret. The trip was relatively (and thankfully) uneventful. The terrain was varied, and included a reasonably large lake, hills, and wadis. A number of miles from Caldwell, we began to encounter reinforced trenches and sunken bunkers. These positions are not from recent conflict, but are remnants of the Iran-Iraq war.
Upon arriving at FOB Caldwell, we met up with other members of the 216th, who had been detailed to build up security at the base. The base was built by Saddam as a threat to the Iranians after the first Gulf War. Of potential interest to Schramm, he contracted with Hungarians to build the facility. The Coalition shares the facility with the Kurds, who occupy about half the base. Because of repairs to facilities and the number of soldiers at the base, the members of the 216th were quartered in large tents, each of which housed something like 10-15 men. A large thunderstorm rolled through that night, forcing several of the men to try in vain to avoid Chinese water torture as the water trickled through the tent just where the cots were placed. The chow hall was also in a tent, and brought back memories of M*A*S*H—particularly the brownish egg concoction which did not resemble eggs as they occur in nature.
The next morning, we were on a convoy back to FOB Speicher, with a brief stopover in Tuz to drop me off with the 196 Echo Unit. On the way, we encountered a large sand storm. The sand was as fine as dust and resembled brown fog—limiting visibility to just a few feet in front of the vehicles. We eventually made it through the storm, and came across what appeared to be a family whose vehicle was broken down. They signaled for assistance, but the car was parked directly between two sets of hills on either side of the road. It would be a perfect place for an ambush, and it would be consistent with some of the tactics that insurgents have been using on the open highway. So we traveled on, only to see Shia flags waiving in the next small village. While in the south, Shia flags are waived by moderates and extremists alike, in this region, I was told flag waiving tended to be more the domain of the extremists. The soldiers, while initially regretting the decision not to stop to help the vehicle, felt more secure in their decision upon seeing the flag.
John Kerrys campaign on Monday "rolled out a pair of new television ads as part of a $25 million, 19-state advertising buy that campaign officials say is unprecedented in size and scope for a presidential challenger." The spots will last about three weeks, and will be a wholly positive ad campaign "based upon his record -- something President Bush cannot do," Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill said in a news conference.
Sam Waterston, the actor, will read Lincoln’s Cooper Union speech (Feb 27, 1860) in its entirety this Wednesday--all 7,715 words of it. He will read it in the same hall from the same (short) podium that Lincoln used. This seems to have come about because of the publication of Harold Holzer’s Lincoln at Cooper Union: The Speech that Made Abraham Lincoln President. A pretty good story, that doesn’t mislead the reader much on the importance of the speech. It is true that Lincoln’s speech was a stunning success--it was restrained, intricate, and scolarly--wherein he made clear to a national (i.e., Eastern, sophisticated) audiance that Steve Douglas’ policy deniying that the Federal government had authority over the expansion of slavery was the radical departure from both the principles and the habit of the Founders. Lincoln said that slavery for the Framers was "marked...as an evil not to be extended." In short, he argued that it was the Southerners who were extremists, while the Republicans should avoid "passion and ill temper."
Here is the whole speech, and the last two sentences:
"Let us be diverted by none of those sophistical contrivances wherewith we are so industriously plied and belabored—contrivances such as groping for some middle ground between the right and the wrong, vain as the search for a man who should be neither a living man nor a dead man—such as a policy of ’don’t care’ on a question about which all true men do care—such as Union appeals beseeching true Union men to yield to Disunionists, reversing the divine rule, and calling, not the sinners, but the righteous to repentance—such as invocations to Washington, imploring men to unsay what Washington said, and undo what Washington did.
Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves. LET US HAVE FAITH THAT RIGHT MAKES MIGHT, AND IN THAT FAITH, LET US, TO THE END, DARE TO DO OUR DUTY AS WE UNDERSTAND IT."
Things are getting rough, arent they? The elite media has already agreed that our Iraq policy is in shambles, or that we never had one? The fact that we havent leveled Fallujah once again--oh! you soft Americans--indicates to the world that we will not take the hard steps necessary to win a battle (and the war). Some say that everything is being done by the seat of our pants, from Bush to Bremer to the Marines, and on down. Everybody is an idiot. No plan, no strategy, bad tactics on the ground. Everyone is hyperventilating, from the Left to the Right. I am not convinced that the sky has fallen (the worst piece of strategic news is the mistreatment of prisoners by a few American soldiers). And, although my temptation is to level Fallujah, I also understand that that may not be prudent, given certain circumstances. Lets all calm down and watch the developments of the next few weeks. In the meantime, see The Belmont Club, wherein it is explained how optimism is a word for nothing left to lose. Because our preservation is at stake, we will not lose. There really are people out there who think that Americans are made of cotton candy! Really? Come on now. Sit back and watch what happens and wish our troops success. This is a war, and it gets a bit foggy. The fog will lift.
John ONeill and other veterans (over twenty) will hold a press conference tomorrow announcing that they are convinced that Kerry is not fit to be President. ONeill said: "We have 19 of 23 officers who served with [Kerry]. We have every commanding officer he ever had in Vietnam. They all signed a letter that says he is unfit to be commander-in-chief." ONeill was the guy that debated Kerry on Dick Cavett in 1971 and which C-Span has recently aired. "We are going to be presenting a letter that deals with Kerrys unfitness to be commander and chief that has been signed by hundreds of swift boat sailors, including most of those who served with Kerry," ONeill explained.
"The ranks of the people signing [the letter] range from admiral down to seaman, and they run across the entire spectrum of politics, specialties, and political feelings about the Vietnam War," he added.
This could be interesting.
We have seen several examples since the death of Pat Tillman of people on the Left making graceless statements that he deserved it. So far I have yet to see anyone on the Right making a justification or rationalization for the torture of Iraqi prisoners under our control (nor should there be, of course). To the contrary, every comment Ive seen from the Right has correctly recognized this as a disaster and condemned the people responsible. I am sure there will be some whack-job out there who will disappoint, but for now the contrast is instructive.
The Belmont Club has some clarifying observations on what might be going on in both Fallujah and Najaf. A different picture emerges than the one we get from the news: We are still in control (this is a "military initiative of the American Marines"), the Fallujah brigade is more a political force force than an actual military entity, and the whole thing smells more like a political trick than a defeat. There are many chessboard-like moves, some more visible than others. Consider it. But also consider Mac Owens’ argument for crushing the insurgents in Fallujah, and doing it now, else we will seem to be paper tigers. My high-stomached instinct is with Owens, yet I am not yet persuaded that we will not achieve our ends with our current chess moves. Lear: "Have more than thou showest, speak less than thou knowest."
Thomas Lifson has a few observations on the President and his Harvard MBA and what it may mean. Also note that the author claims that Bush was reputed to be a great poker player. This was written in February, but it still stands. Useful
The 27th Combat Engineering Battalion is building an airport, the largest in Afghanistan, in a remote place, in just a few days. "So, how do you build an airbase in the middle of nowhere, where there is little more than a goat track to connect it to the outside world?
Again, simple for the US military. You parachute in all the construction equipment from planes.
’This is going to be one of the largest heavy drops since World War II’, said one officer, sounding very excited as we waited for the aircraft to arrive.
There is no doubt though that this was a display of military might that probably no other nation could match."
Adam Nagourney writes in todays New York Times that the Kerry campaign is not doing well, it is not focused, and disorganized. And, as has been clear and public for a couple of weeks, Democratic insiders are worrying. Donna Brazile: "George Bush has had three of the worst months of his presidency, but they are stuck and theyve got to move past this moment." I didnt know this: "In Ohio, the state that strategists for Mr. Kerry and Mr. Bush view as perhaps the most critical battleground, Mr. Kerry has yet to hire a state director or open a campaign office. His operation is relying so far on the work of committees working independent of the Kerry campaign."
This is the story (excerpted from a just published book) of an "honor killing," a young woman burned alive in the West Bank by her brother in law. But, she survived. Brutal story.
Max Boot reviews John Lewis Gaddis new book, Surprise, Security, and the American Experience. He thinks it is a fine book. "Leaving aside the validity of this or that detail, Gaddis’s major contribution is to treat the Bush Doctrine as a set of ideas worthy of scholarly examination rather than as a subject for ritualistic denunciation. He does not denigrate the President as a cowboy or a neo-Nazi, a simpleton or a dupe. Instead, Gaddis suggests that Bush is honestly grappling with the challenges that we confront today and, if he does not always get it right, he is nevertheless coming up with more interesting and ambitious responses than most of his critics."
Dr. Roy Walford, the free-spirited UCLA gerontologist who pioneered the idea of restricting food intake to extend life span and practiced the concept rigorously in an effort to live to 120, has died. He was 79.
This guy was interesting, to say the least. He shaved his head, sported a Salvador Dali mustache and rode a motorcycle, once breaking his leg while attempting a wheelie on Santa Monica Boulevard. So far so good, but it gets better: "In a career that can only be described as colorful, Walford alternated years of intensive laboratory research on mice with yearlong sabbaticals in which he walked across India in a loincloth measuring the rectal temperatures of holy men, traversed the African continent on foot and lived in Biosphere 2, practicing what he called the Signpost Theory of Life."
This story about some U.S. soldiers abusing and/or torturing Iraqi prisoners is simply awful. While it should go without saying that such immoral behavior is an anomaly, yet it is a horror and should be acknowledged as such, as the President has already done. The people, the stupid, heartless, vile people--from the privates to the generals--responsible for this must be brought to justice. In my anger I am am even willing to consider bringing them up on charges of aiding the enemy, for surely these actions and photos--splashed across all TV screens and newspapers in Iraq, and the world--will make our good work in the region all the more difficult. How could it not? The justice to come should be harsh and swift and public.
Here is Spencer Ackermans take on the matter, Ralph Peters calls it an American disaster. Phil Carter thinks its criminal, disgusting, makes his stomach turn, and is truly reprehensible stuff. He wants to throw the book at the whole chain of command that allowed this happen. Sgt. Stryker is enraged. The Arab world is outraged.