The latest round of coordinated attacks appear to have revealed something new: a possible marriage of convenience between former regime elements and Abu Musab al Zarqawi. According to a senior military official with whom I spoke, the attacks tend to show the coordination and spectacular effect which are hallmarks of al Qaeda, while integrating tactics and weapons that are more characteristic of former regime elements. There are rumors that Izzat Ibrahim al Duria, Saddams trusted advisor, pledged allegiance to Zarqawi. The official with whom I spoke doubted this, but suggested that it could be that he is jumping ship from the Baathists to increase his impact.
The official also noted that the Coalition has gotten very good human intelligence leading to the series of recent strikes against Zarqawi. One source which the military official cited as "very helpful" is Umar Baziani, the Zarqawi operative and former Ansar al Islam mastermind captured earlier this month.
Baghdad has been remarkably quiet since my return. In fact, it has been far quieter than when I was here last around 7 weeks ago. Then, it was common to hear explosions, however with the exception of a distant blast last evening, it thus far has been quiet. Conventional wisdom is that this is the quiet before the storm. The Zarqawi memo intercepted earlier this year called for his fellow terrorists to use the occupation as a pretext for their violence, and to step up the attacks as the transition approaches. Given the recent round of activity in Baqubah, Mosul, and Ramadi, few doubt his candor on this point. Some have begun to talk about a possible "Baghdad Offensive"--a coordinated strike on the capital in the days leading up to the transition. My sense is that they will try something "spectacular," but that they know that even this will not work. They tried a coordinated attack two days ago, which ended with 60 of their own men dead in Baqubah, and no real military progress. For this reason, it is my sense that they will make a concerted effort to make good on the threat to assassinate Prime Minister Allawi. Given Allawi’s popularity, this would likely be the most disruptive possible attack on the transition.
But they are not unchallenged in these efforts. Zarqawi complained in the same memo that the noose was tightening, and indeed it is. It now appears that Zarqawi may have been just outside the safe house bombed yesterday. If so, then he survived, but suffered a very close call. This is the third safe house that the Coalition has bombed this week. When coordinated attacks were launched in multiple cities, they were handily put down. The terrorists are making death throes. I have little doubt that they will launch more attacks in the next week which will be carried with splashy headlines by a hyperventilating press. But their objective will not be accomplished. The transition will proceed, and their attempt to relegate Iraq to despotisms of the past will fail.
Charles Krauthammer compares Reagan with Clinton, as hedgehog and fox. "Clinton was the fox. He knew -- and accomplished -- small things. His autobiography is a perfect reflection of that -- a wild mishmash of remembrance, anecdote, appointment calendar and political payback. This themeless pudding of a million small things is just what you would expect from a president who once gave a Saturday radio address on school uniforms."
"His great failing was foreign policy. Viewing the world through the narrow legalist lens of liberal internationalism, he spent most of his presidency drafting and signing treaty after useless treaty on such things as biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. All this in a world where the biggest problem comes from terrorists and rogue states for whom treaties are meaningless."
Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt just announced that the Coalition conducted another strike on a Zarqawi network safe house in southeastern Fallujah. The attack was based on multiple confirmations of Iraqi and Coalition intelligence, and was conducted with what were described as "precision weapons"--a term that the Coalition generally uses to describe laser guided bombs. This still raises questions in my mind about whether we should have abandoned the ground campaign in Fallujah. That said, I must admit that I have not heard the same sort of lamentations from the press--and particularly from the Arab press--regarding the bombing raids that I did during the ground campaign.
CNN is reporting that Hotmail will be increasing its memory for free account holders from 2 megabytes to 250 megabytes beginning in July. Why the big change? Competition. Google is preparing to launch G-Mail, a free service that will provide 1 gigabyte of free storage. Thanks to a technologically savvy friend, I am actually a beta tester of G-Mail. In addition to the added memory, it uses google search technology to allow you to search through sent and received emails.
AP is reporting that Solicitor General Ted Olson is resigning to return to private practice. The Solicitor General is the principal advocate of the United States government before the United States Supreme Court. I have a great deal of personal admiration for Mr. Olson. His wife Barbara was on the plane which crashed into the Pentagon on September 11th. He actually received a call from her before the plane went down, and talked about it in an interview just days after the attack. To this day, I don’t know how he was able to keep his composure through the interview. I have also been told that he took a very personal interest in the terrorism trials, actually making appearances on behalf of the government in district court cases--something which is uncommon for the SG. I am told that he did this for two reasons: he wanted to oversee the development of the record himself so that there would not be any cheap bases for reversal, and he did so as a gesture to his late wife. Best wishes in private practice, Solicitor Olson.
A couple of years ago, I was working for the summer in DC at a major law firm when a friend I have known since first grade came to visit. He is now a young adults pastor at a large church in California, and he was in town for a conference with the senior pastor from the church. As is customary, I played DC tour guide for a bit, and took them to Arlington National Cemetery for the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. While we were making our way through the cemetery, the senior pastor mentioned that he had recently seen the movie Black Hawk Down. He was genuinely moved by the film, but there was one feature that clearly troubled him: they kept going back. Why did the soldiers keep going back for those who were already dead—risking their lives for lives already lost? I had not seen the film, and so I could offer only cursory comments. In fact, I did not see the film until I arrived in Iraq and embedded with the troops.
It was good that I did see it relatively early into my time here, because it proved to be essential viewing to understand the jokes thrown around before missions. Hardly a raid goes by when one of the soldiers does not suggest that another soldier really doesn’t need the ceramic plate in the back of his body armor, or doesn’t need night vision goggles because the mission will only take a few hours, thereby mimicking ominous lines from the film. (I cannot speak to whether those two details occurred in the real life events depicted in the film.)
Having now seen the film, and having spent weeks with soldiers in the field, I can say that the answer to the senior pastor’s question is clear: because the soldiers fight not just for their country, but for each other. Indeed, a 2003 survey of U.S. combat troops fresh from the field found as much. (In addition, “Dr. Wong and his fellow researchers also found that soldiers cited ideological reasons such as liberation, freedom, and democracy as important factors in combat motivation. Today’s soldiers trust each other, they trust their leaders, they trust the Army, and they also understand the moral dimensions of war.”) To this end, I still recall chatting with Spc. Hart from the 1st Armored Division soon after I had gotten into country. Spc. Hart was 22-years-old, and by my recollection hailed from Arkansas. He was just a few weeks from going home, or so he thought (the 1 AD’s tour got extended for 6 months in order to take care of al-Sadr’s forces in Najaf). During his year, he had received a graze wound from a ricocheting AK round and a Purple Heart. Moments after arriving in Baghdad, he had been involved in an ambush involving RPGs and small arms fire at Saddam Mosque that rattled the men so badly that the fight, now a year old, was still fresh in their eyes. And along the way, he had learned something very important, which he passed along to me with a sort of stern resolve: “You know there are guys you can trust with your life.” This was not some sort of a cliché, or a misty hypothetical, but something which had been tested in battle when, for example, Spc. Dettwiler of Hart’s unit risked his own life to pull two fellow soldiers out of an ammo truck after it had been hit by enemy RPG fire. To spend any time with the soldiers is to better understand that they trust each other with their very lives—and that they trust their fellow soldiers to bring them home if things go wrong. This is why they go back.
The Economist explains that much good work has been done in building the Iraqi banking system; there are even private banks. This is the necessary condition of, among other things, foreign investment coming in. The Washington Post reports on a poll of Iraqis, the first survey since the new Iraqi government was announced, is very good news: "73 percent of Iraqis polled approved of Allawi to lead the new government, 84 percent approved of President Ghazi Yawar and almost two-thirds backed the new Cabinet. These impressive showings indicate that the new leaders have support spanning ethnic and religious groups, U.S. officials said." Also note that this overview of the Iraqi economy from the Council on Foreign Relations shows that the economy is on the rebound. The CPA announced a few days ago that all the ministries will be in the control of Iraqis by today, although I havent seen any news reports on it yet.
The New York Times reports that elite colleges are wondering if being black is enough to satisfy affirmative action goals. In "Top Colleges Take More Blacks, But Which Ones?", one reads that Harvard and other prestige universities worry that too much of their student diversity is due to "West Indian and African immigrants or their children, or to a lesser extent, children of biracial couples." Reparations looms large, here.
Harvard sociologist (and West Indian native) Orlando Patterson remarks: "The doors are wide open--as wide open as they ever will be--for native-born black middle-class kids to enter elite colleges." But echoing Sandra Day OConnors opinion in Grutter v. Bollinger, Lani Guinier counters that "colleges and universities are defaulting on their obligation to train and educate a representative group of future leaders." Representative of what? I ask.
To avoid slipping down this rabbit hole of racial representation, take a look at Ralph Ellisons Invisible Man.
In following my own recommendation, I relate to you the most recent press release from the Coalition:
The 1st Infantry Division along with the Iraqi Security Forces have secured four key infrastructures in Baqubah, June 24. These infrastructures include: the Blue Dome, the government building, the Mufrek Traffic Circle and the Baqubah Police Station.
Any "success" the insurgents in Baqubah was short-lived indeed.
Joan Biskupic has an article about Justice Sandra Day OConnor today entitled, oddly enough, "OConnor Not Confined By Conservatism." Biskupic refers to OConnor throughout as a Conservative--acknowledging at one point that "OConnor is a conservative with an asterisk: a pragmatic jurist who, when she sees fit, will vote with the four liberal justices." This is the sort of silly categorization that leads liberals like Cass Sunstein to protest that there are no liberals on the Supreme Court--a statement that surely makes Ginsburg and Stevens feel like Rodney Dangerfield. This fits with a common trend among academics and the legal press to define judicial ideology to the right. Under this scheme, all the liberals are "moderates," the moderates are conservatives, and the conservatives are epithets. But OConnor cannot run from her voting record. She has for years been at best a moderate, and is increasingly shifting not from conservative to moderate, but rather in cases raising issues such as campaign finance law, sovereign immunity, abortion, and affirmative action, she is shifting from moderate to liberal.
Here is an thought provoking piece by Seymour Hersh which is getting some attention here in Iraq. The article is somewhat sprawling, and runs in many directions, but the brunt of the argument is that the Israelis have infiltrated the Kurds and are using them to, inter alia, spy on Iran, and that the result will be instability in the region. While it offers a number of issues to consider, much of the article is too glib, fails to address the nuances of the questions, and in the end is of questionable credibility because it offers with little question the opinions of interested observers.
The article begins by pointing out that Israel allegedly warned the US to seal off the Iranian border to prevent the influx of insurgents. Hersh suggests that the increase in violence was a direct result of the failure to heed Israel’s advice. This is partially true, but woefully incomplete. The increase in violence was also fueled by the porous Syrian border, and by elements already on the ground. If the US had chosen to lock down the Iranian border as recommended, it would have functionally closed off the Shia Arba’een religious festivals in Najaf and Karbala, which could have led to more rather than less violence. When the US finally did decide to reduce the number of border crossings to Iran, the move met with resistance from a large segment of Iraqis, who recognize that they will have to deal with Iran for years to come. And finally, shutting down a 900 mile border from foreign fighters who are known to use camels to make their way across in the middle of the night is easier said than done. But to read Hersh, you might think that this could have been accomplished as easily as turning off a spigot.
Furthermore, many of Hersh’s arguments have pretty flimsy or self-serving support. Take for instance his argument that the June 30 transition date was chosen in panic, and that the UN was brought in to share the blame. His source: an unnamed UN consultant. Well, who better to explain the back room processes at the White House. One wonders why he didnt get the real scoop by asking a well-placed Kerry campaign staffer. At other times, his observations are so banal you wonder why he includes them. Take this sentence: “The Israeli operatives include members of the Mossad, Israel’s clandestine foreign-intelligence service, who work undercover in Kurdistan as businessmen and, in some cases, do not carry Israeli passports.” Really? How shocking! In a region in which simply having an Israeli stamp on your passport is enough to get you detained as a spy, the real spies don’t carry passports or wear “Hi, I’m Mossad” name badges. This is groundbreaking reporting.
But the biggest problem is that one of his major themes appears to be flawed. He portrays the Kurds as pawns being used by the Israelis against Iran, but fails to mention the ties that Iran has substantial ties of its own with the Kurds. Indeed, as Michael Ledeen noted in a recent article on NRO:
Then there are the Kurds, most of whom are actively engaged in commerce with Iran, including arms, explosives, and alcohol. [Kurdish leader] Jalal Talabani is closely linked to the Revolutionary Guards and the Iranian Intelligence Service, and reported to Tehran on U.S. activities in 1996 during the failed uprising against Saddam. His deputy reports directly to Iranian intelligence. Massoud Barzani, the other prime Kurdish leader, uses his cousin as a conduit to Iran, and the cousin is the head of Kurdish Hezbollah, an Iranian creation. Barzani meets regularly in Baghdad with the Iranians’ top man, who was a guest in Barzani’s house just two weeks ago. Barzani and Talabani both get funding from Iran.
The Kurdish role in the new Iraq is an interesting one, and it is one I will be writing more about in the coming days. But in the meantime, let me simply suggest that while it is interesting (albeit unsurprising) that Israel is taking an interest in Kurdistan, to treat the Kurds merely as pawns of the Israelis is a vast miscalculation.
Check out Byron Yorks piece on DNC chairman, Terry McCauliffes review of Fahrenheit 9/11. Turns out, Terrys in favor of the movie and finds it convincing. When asked by CNN if he thought the movie was "essentially fair and factually based," McCauliffe replied, "I do." If anyone has any reason why these two should not be joined, speak now or....
Today, I visited the currency exchange to trade for some Iraqi dinars. While you can generally use US dollars--and indeed for some goods and services such as hotel rent, that is the only currency that they will accept--many goods are priced in dinars. I had heard that the dinar had gotten stronger--that instead of trading at 1420 dinars to 1 USD, it was now something like 1350 dinars to 1 USD. When I walked into a trading office on Al-Sadoon Street, however, I found that the rate was now 1460 to 1 USD. When the man handed me my change, I noticed that he was 10,000 dinars short. Im not sure if he was trying to rip me off, or if he had trouble with the math (as I have said before, I have noticed a lot of trouble with math here--and the mistakes are not always in the stores favor), but I explained the error to him using a calculator. When he handed me the correct currency, he asked if this was good. I replied, "Zorbash," meaning very good. But "Zorbash" does not mean very good in Arabic--it means very good in Kurdish. He didnt seem to mind, but I must keep the languages straight.
While Colorados two Republican primary candidates have been described as "virtually identical" on the majority of conservative social issues, there is one issue on which they have now diverged: beer. It seems that Peter Coors would prefer 18 as the minimum drinking age. (Shocking!) His opponent, Bob Schaffer, is content with the status quo. Of course, Coors is doing his best to frame this as a states rights issue.
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s oath to fight "until Islamic rule is back on earth" will fail globally, as it will fail in Iraq.
Now is the time to watch the developments in Iraq, and yet--and this shouldn’t surprise you--I implore you to pay more attention to the strategic developments rather than the tactical ones, the numbers dying from the coordinated attacks in the Sunni triangle.
The media emphasis, of course, will be on the tactical, the seventy killed and over two hundred wounded in coordinated attacks today, for example. And this will continue, as the new Iraqi leaders will be targeted. Some of these attacks, unfortunately, have been and will continue to be successful.
Yet, the transfer of authority is going to take place as planned, the nay-sayers to the contrary notwithstanding. As the Belmont Club makes perfectly clear the U.S. is in "a curious position of strength" on the strategic issues relative to the Sunnis, Shi’ites, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon. He maintains that the real front is still the South, that is, the Shi’ites and what Iran can and may do; the Sunni Triangle, despite the violence, is the secondary front. The bad guys are sending in their best teams, and they will lose them, one by one. Also note that their targets have shifted almost enirely to Iraqis. How this will work out strategically will depend on who wins the election in election in November. But do note the shift in John Kerry’s rhetoric: He is now calling on NATO forces to send troops to Iraq. While NATO troops are not a military necessity, it would have a good diplomatic effect. This Kerry shift is substantial and shows a clearer grasp of the strategic possibilities than heretofore. In other words, Kerry recognizes that--despite the grumblings on the Left and the insane accusations of Michael Moore and Albert Gore--our Iraq policy is in place and the next administration, even a Democratic one, will have to follow through--more or less--according to the designs of the Bush administration. When the bad guys realize this, they will get even more energetic. But they will fail.
A few minutes ago, I attended an impromptu press briefing held by a senior coalition official. He reported that there have been a number of coordinated attacks this morning in Fallujah, Mosul, Ramadi, and Baqubah. In Baqubah, the police station was briefly overrun, and CNN is reporting that similar attacks on police stations occurred in Mosul and Ramadi. The spokesman stated that he was not sure if the Anti-Iraqi Forces were still claiming control of the police station in Baqubah, but he contended that a combination of Coalition forces and Iraqi National Guard (the new name for what was formerly the ICDC) had the situation well in hand. He also stated that the Coalition had struck back with laser guided bombs against homes which had been used to launch attacks with small arms and RPGs. In characterizing the overall status, the senior spokesman noted that "the attacks have gone over their peak."
The briefing was held in the International Press Center, where it is difficult to hear because of the large fans lining cubicles. A reporter in the front row asked a question referring to the attacks as "successful." The Coalition spokesman rightly jumped all over this. He argued that anyone who is armed sufficiently could take over a police station for a limited time. "If you go in a with machine guns and RPGs to the police station at the corner of 8th and I in Washington, DC, you’re going to be able to take it over for a time." His point, of course, is that you are not going to be able to hold the position. In fact, you are probably going to die or be captured very quickly, which is just what is happening to the terrorists here. This coverage of attacks without perspective as to the results is something that has distressed for me about media coverage since I arrived in Iraq. A case in point are the incursions by al Sadr’s forces. Any time they actively engaged the Coalition either directly or by attacking targets such as police stations, they were easily dispatched with huge casualties. Yet to read the news accounts, the attacks were emphasized while the outcome was not. This plays directly into the hands of the terrorists, who I have argued on this page before are carrying out the attacks not merely to intimidate the locals, but to stir up a press which through negligent and reckless reporting creates the impression that the terrorists are achieving some kind of "success." The spokesman was correct in concluding that "[t]here is nothing that you would rather see if you were Zarqawi than the headline, ’Iraqi Transition Marred’" by violence. I offer a simple appeal to the press: if you are going to tell the story--tell the whole story. Tell the people how quickly the threat is repelled, not just that an attack happened. Tell the people how severe the losses were on the terrorists side, and take the time to explain whether the terrorists were able to achieve any lasting military objective. And while you are at it, tell the people how the average Iraqi is still seeking freedom, and not terror.
The Hill is reporting that Michael Moore may not be able to advertise "Fahrenheit 9/11" because of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act’s prohibition on mass communications (radio/television) which reference candidates for federal office within 30 days of a primary (or, in this case, National Convention) or 60 days of a general election. The restriction is even broader than The Hill suggests. Because the ads would undoubtedly be paid for not by an individual, but by a corporation (the big, bad meanie in campaign finance law), they would be subjected 11 CFR 114.2(b)(2)(iii), which prohibits corporations from making any of these so-dubbed "electioneering" communications to those outside a restricted class. While there is a news exemption, it has been construed by the Supreme Court to be very narrow. Indeed, when I testified before the FEC in 2002, a frequent question debated among the Commissioners was whether comedy shows which reference the news (but are not traditional news services) such as The Daily Show, Letterman, and Leno would be subject to the news exemption.
To my mind, all of this shows how absurd campaign finance law has become. I think that Michael Moore is a grandstanding buffoon, but I believe that the First Amendment protects his ability to say political things. That does not mean that I think that Moore should get a pass with the FEC. Perhaps they will choose to expand the news exception, but if they do, it will be by doing violence to their own regulations. Moore’s movie, and any advertisement for it consistent with the themes of the film, are by the terms of the statute and regulations the sort of "attacks" that Congress and the FEC dubiously sought to regulate--even if those institutions did not contemplate this precise situation. For Moore to get a pass, many other communications should also get a pass and their sponsors thereby should be allowed to enjoy their First Amendment rights. But since I don’t see that happening, the law should be enforced equally.
Last Saturday, I joined Cpt. Bumgardner, elements of fourth platoon, and some Special Forces officers on a mission assessing a number of Kurdish villages. Anyone who doubts the merits of Special Forces need only see the response of ordinary soldiers to them. There is a sort of awe and respect. To give you but a taste, one trooper I was with exclaimed that "If I am to get into a firefight in country, I hope it is today. Id like to see these guys at work."
Early in the mission, one of the SF guys called me over. He noted that he had seen me on a previous day wearing a baseball cap (Yankees, of course), civilian clothes, ceramic body armor, and a beard. He explained that this was the profile that terrorists are using for Coalition intelligence officers. As case in point, another of the guys in his truck had a beard, something which is prohibited to the rank and file soldiers. I had been told something like this once before. When I arrived at the Joint Operations Center one day, a couple of the soldiers mistook me for SF from a distance (I assure you that no one would mistake me for SF up close), because the body armor and clothes I wore were similar to what they wear. To remedy this, the SF officer recommended that I shave down to a mustache. While I appreciated his advice, I do not intend to follow it. First, in Baghdad, I generally dont wear the baseball cap outside, because it does make you stand out. Second, the beard (which is not a recent addition, but is something I have sported for more than a decade) contributes to locals having to take a second look to tell whether I am from the region (Arab or Kurdish) or foreign. I have been mistaken for an Iraqi on numerous occasions in the north and in Baghdad. I take these mistakes to be a good thing: even if it just takes the bad guys a second look to figure out that I am not local, that is a split second in my favor.
I was a bit surprised to see this USA Today editorial beat-up on Kerrys claim that the economy is not doing well. Kerry exaggeration (his "middle-class misery index") is neither good policy or good politics, says the editorial.
Do read Jonathan Adlers article at NRO on the myth of the great Cuyahoga River fire -- the one that helped make Cleveland the "mistake on the lake" for decades. Adler writes:
The image of a river ablaze seared into the nations emerging environmental consciousness. Former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Carol Browner probably spoke for many Americans when she said "I will never forget a photograph of flames, fire, shooting right out of the water in downtown Cleveland. It was the summer of 1969 and the Cuyahoga River was burning." . . .
Theres a problem with this story. Much of it is myth. Oil and debris on the rivers surface did burn in 1969, and federal environmental statutes were the result, but so much else of what we "know" about the 1969 fire simply is not so. It was not evidence of rapidly declining environmental quality, nor was it clear evidence of the need for federal action.
Tens of millions of practicing Catholics in America have the blessings of their bishops to make political waves. Analyzing Friday’s statement issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, titled "Catholics in Political Life," Catholic League President William Donohue says the bishops spoke with "convincing clarity" on the subject of politics and religion. The bishops, he says, note correctly that the separation of church and state "does not require division between belief and public action, between moral principles and political choices, but protects the right of believers and religious groups to practice their faith and act on their values in public life." "Not only is the bishops’ ruling cogently written and without a single flaw," Mr. Donohue says, it "should be widely disseminated to public officials and the law schools."
"The American bishops have failed," said American Life League president Judie Brown. "The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops had an opportunity to provide strong leadership on the question of Catholic public figures who favor legal abortion. However, their statement misses the mark on several points. As a result, election year politics has trumped the right to life of the innocent and the protection of Christ from sacrilege. . . . Had the bishops united in their commitment to enforce Canon 915, they could have prevented Catholic teaching on the sanctity of human life from being misused for political ends by being represented as nothing more that a matter of "choice" in a pluralistic society. They failed to do that."
The Congressional Black Caucus had a few choice words for Ralph Nader yesterday: "Get your ass out."
Out of curiosity, who are the likely Nader voters? Is the African-American community really drawn to Nader? And if not, is the Congressional Black Caucus really concerned that it cant deliver its voting block to Kerry? And if the Caucus can deliver the black vote, why does it care what Nader does? I suppose the CBC has simply proven itself again to care more about the Democratic Partys political power than the interests of the black community.
The opening volley in Dick Morriss barrage on the Clinton ego reads:
Bill Clinton has a unique form of ADD — he is disordered when he does not get enough attention. Like a headlight reflector on the highway, he cannot shine unless a light illuminates him. Like a solar battery, he cannot generate energy unless he basks in the outside stimulus of sunlight. And like a cold-blooded creature, he cannot internally generate body warmth, but relies upon the sun to provide it.
Ralph Nader urges Kerry to pick John Edwards to be his runningmate. Is this supposed to be helpful to Edwards? Or, for that matter, to Kerry?
I have been reviewing some recent transcripts of events which occurred before I returned to Baghdad, and I thought that this was a particularly bold statement by Iraq’s new PM:
The enemy we are fighting is very evil and death, destruction, and the killing of defenseless Iraqis are the only things it knows. The Iraqis have suffered much and for many years under the yoke of the repressive regime. This is why the Iraqi people are determined to build a democratic government that provides freedom and equality in rights for all citizens. We are ready to work and even get martyred for achieving our objectives.
A few days back, Mr. Stewart inquired in a post about my thoughts on a Thomas Sowell article which chastised Iraqi leaders who placed symbolism above substance by attempting to subject foreign contractors to Iraqi law. I have a few thoughts on the topic. First, Sowell doesn’t mention the obvious problem: among the contractors who presumably would be subject to Iraqi law are private security forces like Blackwater. These individuals provide security not just for the American CPA officials and the future diplomats, but also for Iraqi diplomats (indeed, one was killed in the service of the Minister of Health), and other contractors. While there may be some agreement to try to place them into a separate category of immunity, I have not yet seen any evidence of this. The failure to provide immunity for these individuals would probably be the most serious deficiency of the proposed policy.
With that said, it is worth talking for a moment about symbolism. Recent polls showed that a majority of Iraqis had come to view Americans as occupiers rather than liberators. This is largely a function of symbolism. For example, when I interviewed Fr. Hermiz, the Catholic priest from Baghdad, a couple of months ago, he mentioned that the presence of the Americans in Saddam’s palaces and in his government buildings created a bad impression among the Iraqi people. First, they got the impression that Americans were living it up at the expense of the Iraqi people. I explained that in reality, these buildings are used as office space. The employees—even fairly high ranking employees—live in modular housing, and even then they have roommates in the cramped tin boxes. He told me that he understood, but that didn’t change the impression that people got. Second, he suggested that occupying the house that a brutal dictator built simply was “not a good image for America.” It was therefore no real surprise that the new government has voiced concerns about the US using the palace for expanded Embassy quarters in Baghdad. This is a case where symbols are important. It would be good for America to let the Iraqi people have the palaces, and in some cases we are. For example, the Republican Palace in Adhamiya, which I visited when I embedded with elements of the 1st Armored Division about three months ago, was being prepared at that time to be handed over to the ICDC as a base of operations for that area. This was a palace that was built with Oil for Food money, and was used by Uday as a “love shack.” It will now be, for the first time, in the hands of the Iraqi people. Other palaces, such as the main palace in Baghdad, may be more difficult to vacate just as a matter of space concerns. America will be opening its largest embassy in the world in Baghdad. The current US embassy building (which I believe is still being renovated), will simply not accommodate the staff. My understanding is that the government wants to give the Green Zone back, but that there are logistical snags which may drag the process out.
Now to substance. There have been numerous questions about what the transition will really mean. In some ways, it will mean little. The primary provider of security in the region will still be the Coalition—even after June 30th. While the Coalition will be here at the invitation of the Iraqis, who could technically choose to “un-invite” them, the prospect of such a move is remarkably slim. This is because Iraqi security forces, while making progress, are far from ready to overtake the day-to-day security operations for Iraq. Will this prevent factions from saber rattling if they disagree with the US on a particular military decision? No. But it will keep the moderates in check. And indeed, virtually every Iraqi I have spoken with has recognized the need for continued US presence in the country to preserve order.
Among the political branches, however, the transition will be far more substantive. To date, 60 percent of the Iraqi government has already transitioned to sovereignty. Some ministries, such as the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Electricity, and the Ministry of Communication will continue to retain a small handful of Coalition consultants. These individuals will have no operational authority, but will simply provide technical assistance as requested by the respective Iraqi minister. Other Ministries, like the Ministry of Education—whose 300,000 employees make it the largest of the 26 Iraqi ministries—will have no Coalition consultants. (I’m not entirely sure that the complete absence of consultants at Education is a good thing, but time will tell.)
I have already witnessed first hand some of the growing pains of transition. At FOB Bernstein, the majority of operations conducted fall in the category of Civil Affairs to use the military term, or nation building to use the civilian term. As such, I went to numerous villages with the troopers as they assessed the locals’ needs regarding drinking water, schools, and electricity. The troopers would generally get projects such as building schools and digging wells approved from funds allocated for these purposes, and then contract with local businesses to complete the projects. Recently, however, a number of projects were put on hold, because the funds were being shifted to Iraqi control. For those who question whether Iraqis are going to be given a real chance to govern, they need look no further than the fact that the U.S. Army will now be submitting improvement project proposals to the Iraqi government for consideration. Of course, even this is potentially subject to peril and abuse. For example, municipal services under Saddam were allocated to the villages by the major cities in the area. Many of the Kurdish villages in the Tuz area were therefore under the jurisdiction of Kirkuk. But Saddam tired of Kirkuk actually providing services to the Kurds, so he changed the Kurdish villages to the jurisdiction of the more distant and more Arab city of Tikrit, thereby functionally cutting off many services. The Kurds have expressed fear that shifting the decision making back to the Iraqi government without correcting the subtle oppression inherent in the structure of governance may perpetuate old wrongs.
There is much to think about on this topic, and I will be writing more on the subject in the coming days.
Major Stan Coerr, USMCR, writes an excellent short piece on why we went into Iraq in in Revue Politique. The crux: "...When is someone going to ask the guys who were there? What about the opinions of those whose lives were on the line, massed on the Iraq-Kuwait border beginning in February of last year? I don’t know how President Bush got the country behind him, because at the time I was living in a hole in the dirt in northern Kuwait. Why have I not heard a word from anyone who actually carried a rifle or flew a plane into bad guy country last year, and who has since had to deal with the ugly aftermath of a violent liberation? What about the guys who had the most to lose...what do they think about all this? .... I can speak with authority on the opinions of both British and American infantry in that place and at that time. Let me make this clear: at no time did anyone say or imply to any of us that we were invading Iraq to rid the country of weapons of mass destruction, nor were we there to avenge 9/11. We knew we were there for one reason: to rid the world of a tyrant, and to give Iraq back to Iraqis. None of us had even heard those arguments for going to war until we returned, and we still don’t understand the confusion. To us, it was simple. The world needed to be rid of a man who committed mass murder of an entire people, and our country was the only one that could project that much power that far and with that kind of precision. We don’t make policy decisions: we carry them out. And none of us had the slightest doubt about how right and good our actions were. The war was the right thing to do then, and in hindsight it was still the right thing to do. We can’t overthrow every murderous tyrant in the world, but when we can, we should. Take it from someone who was there, and who stood to lose everything. We must, and will, stay the course. We owe it to the Iraqis, and to the world." Do read it all.
If you have ever ridden a mototcycle for more than 400 miles a day you will know how impressive (and a little crazy) this accomplishment is: An American motorcyclist made the 5,632-mile trek from the northernmost road in Alaska to the southernmost tip of Florida in 100 hours and set a transcontinental record certified by the "Iron Butt Association" of bike enthusiasts.
"I’m a little tired ... a little bit bruised," biker Gary Eagan said by phone after finishing the journey on his Ducati Multistrada.
Reuters reports. "Frances conservative government has approved a draft law against sexism and homophobia that has worried press freedom watchdogs and angered feminists, who say it puts gays rights over respect for women." And: "A feminist group called Chiennes de garde (Guard Bitches) said it would be dangerous to send a signal that it is less serious to insult a woman because of her sex than to insult people because of their sexual orientation.
Calling someone a dirty dyke or a fag would become a serious insult in legal terms while there would be no punishment for calling someone a whore or a slut, it wrote in a statement published in the daily Le Monde."
Rowan Scarborough describes how we beat al Sadrs militia. "The Germany-based [1st Armor] division defeated the militia with a mix of American firepower and money paid to informants. Officers today say Operation Iron Saber will go down in military history books as one of the most important battles in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq." (via
The hunt was called off when the "panther" turned out to be a large housecat. Although, the story reports, the searchers were still unable to catch it.
Farks title for the piece is amusing: "France surrenders to large housecat."
Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney, is backing a federal marriage amendment to thwart the efforts of his state to impose gay marriage on the rest of the country. As the WaTimes reports, "Massachusetts has redefined marriage for the entire country," said Mr. Romney, who threw his support behind the federal marriage amendment that is set for a Senate vote in a few weeks. "I can guarantee there have already been [homosexual] people married in Massachusetts that have moved to other states."
Drudge has links to 19 articles suggesting the Clinton’s "My Life" is slow out of the gate in select markets. Many of the markets listed are in the south, but several are perceived battleground states (Florida, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Arizona). I personally believe the book will sell very well. Clinton had a charm--a way of drawing people to him--and that will motivate a large number of people to buy the book. He also had a controversial presidency, and he will likely get a bump based on the old adage that sex sells. But I doubt that the sales will help Kerry that much. Clinton is like a flame--bright and fascinating--which would lead one to think that another candidate would need but bask in his light. But when he is in the room, he shares another feature of a flame: he devours the oxygen, leaving none for another candidate, and his light reveals the inadequacies of the replacement candidates. Next to Clinton, Gore appeared all the more rigid. (Gore would have appeared rigid anyway, but the contrast was striking.) And next to Clinton, Kerry’s lack of finesse when it comes to flip-flopping and straddling positions will become all the more apparent. Clinton could play the left against the right and make it look easy. Oddly, this will hurt Kerry, who has to date failed to show Clinton’s skill in meneuvering between positions.
ITAR-Tass reports that 92 120 wounded in a night-time attack on the Russian republic of Ingushetia earlier this week. Other reports have the number of death at 57. Ingushetia is just West of Chechnya, and north of Georgia, has a native population of about 300,000, with an equal number of Chechen refugees. This is a brief introduction to the region. This is a map of the region.
Before I arrived at FOB Bernstein, there was much more terrorists and bandit activity, necessitating more raids and activity at the base. Just before I arrived, it became quiet. This was not bad--indeed as you will see from a longish article I am about to submit about my time there, the respite gave the troops time to do important nation building work. But we nonetheless joked that as soon as I left, things would heat up again. Things actually began to heat up a couple of weeks before I left: Infrequent rocket attacks occurred, and the operations tempo for raids concomitantly increased. But to make true the prophetic joke, I am told that within minutes of my departing, the troops went on a mission where they discovered that one of the local sheikhs (or tribal leaders) had been ambushed and brutally murdered.
I have received many comments and emails of thanks from family members of troopers stationed at FOB Bernstein, and I appreciate your well wishes. For those who have been checking this web site for updates about the troops at Bernstein, I would only advise that you should not stop browsing the site just yet. I have a number of pictures, posts, and a couple of full length articles that I have not yet been able to post, so there will be additional Bernstein content added over the coming days and weeks.
Betsy Streisand writes a tender personal note on Ronald Reagan and how he was, very private now, at the park with the children.
The Belmont Club continues to reveal that he thinks and writes (O.K., Im envious). This three page essay is very much worth reading, it is titled, "The Revolution Within the Revolution," and considers the massive shift in politics (understood most broadly) that has taken place since 9/11; how the unwritten constitution, the seeming civilizational norms of the liberals have been overthrown (Leftism), how Bush has become the enemy, and the liberals the supporters of the ancien regime, and what may be consequences; certainly electing John Kerry will not restore the antebellum world. Very thoughtful. Ponder.
The long trip back to Baghdad is now complete. I left FOB Bernstein Sunday morning on a convoy to Balad Airbase (I took a few final pictures before I left that can be seen here). The troopers on the convoy with me had reason to be happy: they were heading home for two weeks of leave. Among those making the trip was Sgt. Muirin from Ohio, whose wife was expecting their third child any day. She had complications in the previous two births, so Muirin was especially pleased to be able to be at her side. Unfortunately, nurses at Akron General Medical Center have gone on strike, which means that the Muirins’ hospital is not inducing labor except in emergency situations. (This brought a round of condemnations against union practices from the troopers, which surely warmed the cockles of Professor Richard Epstein’s heart.) If Sgt. Muirin is to be home for his child’s birth, nature will have to cooperate.
The trip to Balad was made in 5-tons, which are large cargo trucks with metal benches on the vehicle’s flatbed sides. This is the same kind of vehicles that the soldiers used to get in country from Kuwait, and I can assure you that they were built for utility, not comfort. The roads are inconsistent, and the suspension on the 5-tons is such that a good bump will toss you from your metal seat before gravity returns you to it with a vengeance. The open design also assures that you experience all the heat and dust that Iraq has to offer, both of which were in surplus on this day.
We arrived at the base at 11:45 am—a scant 15 minutes before I was supposed to be meeting up with another convoy to take me to the base at Baghdad International Airport (BIAP). The rendezvous point was the Mayor’s Cell—an office which, as the name implies, oversees municipal services (as well as some uniquely military functions) to a base the size of a small U.S. city. I arrived at the Mayor’s Cell a few minutes early, and the convoy I was supposed to be meeting was not there. I chatted at length with some of the guys in the office, who were National Guard members from Arizona. The base PX had just gotten hit the previous week with a missile attack, leaving 3 soldiers dead and 12 wounded. On Saturday, I had ridden through Kurdish villages with some Special Forces officers, who told me that one of the men killed while waiting in line at the PX was also Special Forces. It is tragic when any of our men die, but I have to agree with a trooper, who, upon hearing about the death, noted how unfortunate it is for someone who has spent so many years learning not just to fight but to protect himself in any situation to be killed while standing in line for pogey bait (i.e., snack food). I’ve been in that PX before, and I can tell you that nestled in the middle of one of the largest airbases in Iraq, the idea of missiles flying through the walls did not even rise to the level of a fleeting thought. But as Major Smith informed me, the base gets attacked daily. The only difference is that this time, the terrorists managed to hit an occupied area.
As we talked, Major Smith, the senior officer in the Mayor’s Cell, pulled up the National Review page and the Ashbrook page to see some of my writings. My work obviously did not offend his senses too badly, because he took the initiative to secure a flight for me when the late hour made it apparent that my convoy was not coming. The flight on the Blackhawk the next morning directly to the Green Zone saved me from arranging for and awaiting another convoy down to BIAP. (If Maj. Smith happens to read this, I am very grateful.)
When I arrived in Baghdad, the first thing I did was to stop at the PX to pick up some clothes. You see, every time I come to Baghdad, I must have some kind of luggage problem. This time, the day before my convoy departed, I was on a mission that ran a little longer than anticipated. The laundry service decided to close early that day, thereby assuring that my clothes would have to be shipped to me. And to complete the circle, much of the clothes remaining in the Green Zone PX were sized for the freakishly large or small.
Baghdad is much as I remember it, only busier. The transition and the court martial trials have clearly stepped up journalistic interest in the city. This led to some minor complications in finding accommodations. When I arrived at the Sheraton, it was booked, and the Palestine across the street was also full, however I eventually found a secure apartment building that had some space available. I then went to the Convention Center, where the pre-trial Abu Grab court martial proceedings were taking place. It was Baghdad’s version of the OJ media circus. I have never seen so many TV trucks out in front of the Convention Center—not even for the signing of the Transitional Administrative Law. They had closed off the proceeding by the time I arrived, but an Air Force Lt. Colonel I spoke with gave me some interesting impressions of the Iraqi press. The Iraqis seemed fascinated by the proceedings, because the people with the power did something wrong, and were being called to account for it. The Iraqis are used to their leadership doing bad things—in fact much worse things—so that has really not been as big of a story in Iraq as it has been in the U.S. Indeed, in northern Iraq, where I have been for the last 6 weeks or so, the general sentiment among the locals was something of a yawn. Many adopted a fatalistic view that those who were abused probably were guilty and therefore deserved it. While some Iraqis were particularly outraged by the abuse, I have not yet seen evidence here of the level of interest displayed by American media. But the idea of holding people with power accountable does seem to have struck a chord. The Iraqis want to see whether justice will actually be done. We should not disappoint them.
Christopher Hitchens has a devastating review of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 on Slate. He begins with a few words of description:
To describe this film as dishonest and demagogic would almost be to promote those terms to the level of respectability. To describe this film as a piece of crap would be to run the risk of a discourse that would never again rise above the excremental. To describe it as an exercise in facile crowd-pleasing would be too obvious. Fahrenheit 9/11 is a sinister exercise in moral frivolity, crudely disguised as an exercise in seriousness. It is also a spectacle of abject political cowardice masking itself as a demonstration of "dissenting" bravery.
Hitchens then offers a crushing rebuke to Moore’s (and the Left in general’s) theory that Saddam really wasn’t a problem. The paragraph where he details Iraq’s role as haven for Abu Nadel, haven for Zarqawi after 9/11, its daily violations of UN Resolutions wrought by firing into the "No Fly Zone," and Saddam’s negotiations with N. Korea to purchase a weapons systems is too long to reprint here, but is worth reading.
Hitchens concludes with what should be a knockout punch to those who support Moore’s philosophy based on what they believe is best for the collected nations:
If Michael Moore had had his way, Slobodan Milosevic would still be the big man in a starved and tyrannical Serbia. Bosnia and Kosovo would have been cleansed and annexed. If Michael Moore had been listened to, Afghanistan would still be under Taliban rule, and Kuwait would have remained part of Iraq. And Iraq itself would still be the personal property of a psychopathic crime family, bargaining covertly with the slave state of North Korea for WMD.
Do read the whole article.
A reader sent along the paragraphs below from The New York Times, June 13, 2004,
"A Cold Morning in Vermont," by John Tierney. Heres part of this remarkable story, assuming it’s true:
"IGNAT SOLZHENITSYN understands why so many
people have warm thoughts of Ronald Reagan, but one
of his earliest memories is on the frigid side.
In 1980, Ignat was an 8-year-old transplanted to
Vermont by his father, the famous chronicler of
Siberia’s gulags. As Ignat tells the story, on the morning
after the presidential election he got a taste of American
political re-education at the progressive private school
he and his brothers attended.
In response to the Reagan victory, the school’s flag was
lowered to half-staff, and the morning assembly was
devoted to what today would be called grief counseling.
The headmaster mourned "what America would
become once the dark night of fascism descended
under the B-movie actor," recalled Mr. Solzhenitsyn,
who is now the music director of the Chamber
Orchestra of Philadelphia. "At one point he interrupted
himself to inquire if anyone present did not share his
gloomy view of the Reagan victory."
The only students to raise their hands were Ignat and
his two brothers, Yermolai and Stephan. After a stony
silence, he recalled, they were sent outside, without
their coats, to meditate on the error of their ways
underneath the lowered flag. Vermont in November was
hardly Siberia, but there was frost on the ground, and
they spent an hour shivering and exercising to stay
warm. Still, Ignat said, their political exile was a relief
from sitting in the auditorium listening to the party line."
"Now therefore, I, Ronald Reagan, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim and declare the unalienable personhood of every American, from the moment of conception until natural death, and I do proclaim, ordain, and declare that I will take care that the Constitution and laws of the United States are faithfully executed for the protection of Americas unborn children...."-- Ronald Reagan, Emancipation Proclamation of Preborn Children. January 14, 1988.
"If President Bush truly wants to honor the legacy of former President Reagan ... [h]e should approve broader federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research. And he should do it right now."
...a President afraid of science. Or so says John Kerry in his "his pledge to overturn the ban on federal funding of research on new stem cell lines."
Space Ship One reached outer space, and came back safe and sound. The first private spacecraft to take people into space. Well done!
The Belmont Club has a few good paragraphs on the latest enemy offensive, Irans seizure of eight British sailors. This is a broadening of the offensive, but the Iranians miscalculate, in his estimation. Tony Blair is not Jimmy Carter. Pay attention to the developments.
The Washington Post is running a series on what went wrong with the occupation in Iraq. This, the second in the series, focuses on our attempt to help rebuild Iraqi universities, and relies on a lengthy interview with John Agresto, our guy in charge. He is now quite a bit more pessimistic than whe he got there, both about the democratization of Iraq and about having a good effect on higher education. He says, "I’m a neoconservative who’s been mugged by reality." Very long, very interesting.
Something interesting has happened in Algeria: "Nabil Sahraoui, leader of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), was killed in a gun battle with the armed forces along with his three top aides in eastern Algeria. His death is significant because he radicalised Algerias principal Islamic rebel group by aligning it to al Qaeda, kidnapped 32 European tourists in the Sahara last year, and declared war on foreign individuals and companies in Algeria.
Analysts say in addition to Sahraoui, the head of the committee that picked GSPC commanders and the groups explosives expert were among seven militants killed on Thursday and Friday east of Algiers in an army sweep involving thousands of troops."
Iran has seized three British patrol boats, it claims, in Iranian waters. Eight British sailors have been taken into custody.
Here is the Reuters report on Clintons "Sixty Minutes" interview. Predictable stuff, it would seem. But look at this report from the U.K.s Telegraph which reports on Clintons interview with David Dimbledy of the BBC. "The former American president, famed for his amiable disposition, becomes visibly angry and rattled, particularly when Dimbleby asks him whether his publicly declared contrition over the affair is genuine.
His outrage at the line of questioning during the 50-minute interview, to be broadcast on Panorama on Tuesday night, lasts several minutes. It is the first time that the former President has been seen to lose his temper publicly over the issue of his sexual liaisons with Ms Lewinsky.
The President initially responds to Dimblebys questions by launching a general attack on media intrusion. When the broadcaster persists with the question of whether the politician was truly penitent, Clinton directs his anger towards Dimbleby."
Read the whole of it. This interview will be broadcast Tuesday in the U.K. A BBC executive said: "He is visibly angry with Dimblebys line of questioning and some of that anger gets directed at Dimbleby himself. As outbursts go, it is not just some flash that is over in an instant. It is something substantial and sustained.
It is memorable television which will give the public a different insight into the Presidents character. It will leave them wondering whether he is as contrite as he says he is about past events. Dimbleby manages to remain calm and order is eventually restored."
Ray Bradbury is not amused that Michael Moore took the title of his movie from Bardburys famous book, Fahrenheit 451. "He didnt ask my permission," Bradbury, 83, told The Associated Press on Friday. "Thats not his novel, thats not his title, so he shouldnt have done it."
Critical Mass has a note on ugly words, "not words that mean hateful things, necessarily, but words whose sheer phonetic misshapenness repels us." He cites a few: phlegm, goober, segue, problematize. It started me thinking. I guess I have some favorite ugly words: ideology, quiz, swastika, artichoke, bureaucracy, midriff, hopefully, understand. Just dont like the way they sound. If I think about it for a minute, it maybe true that there are few German words whose sound I like, but I do like the sound of all Italian words I have ever heard. I have no idea what all that means except to avoid the ugly. Come to think of it, Im not sure I like avoid either. I once asked Vicki (my wife) what Hungarian sounded like to hear ears (she doesnt speak it, but was in the midst of a group of Hungarian speakers) and she said it sounds like the barking of dogs. I didnt translate, but then asked a Hungarian (who didnt know a word of English) what English sounded like (having just heard the conversation I had with Vicki in English) and he said it sounded like the barking of dogs. I pushed it a bit, and asked what sounds they considered lovely. The Hungarians came up with words like "lehel" (to breathe) or "lelek" (soul).
In English we came up "willow", "home", and "lovely", "hush", (and a few more I cant remember). This may be worth thinking about.
Michiko Kakutani writes what I take to be the first book review of Clintons My Life for the New York Times. The review slams the book, both as a literary effort and as a work of history or biography. It is neither. These few lines will give you the idea, but read the whole review. It is both well written and short. "The book, which weighs in at more than 950 pages, is sloppy, self-indulgent and often eye-crossingly dull — the sound of one man prattling away, not for the reader, but for himself and some distant recording angel of history.
In many ways, the book is a mirror of Mr. Clintons presidency: lack of discipline leading to squandered opportunities; high expectations, undermined by self-indulgence and scattered concentration."