Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

What’s going on in Iraq?

Perhaps those of us who are trying mightily to follow events in Iraq should be excused if we don’t have deep opinions on the game affot. We don’t know enough. One of the genuine problems is that the establishment media’s reporting is either non-existent, or stupidly biased (I exclude some of the print media from this, see last paragraph). On the first point: All we are told is that someone has been killed, someone taken hostage, part of a city has been retaken, or that another mortar has landed somewhere, and so on. This tells us almost nothing. There is virtually no genuine analysis based on some facts (or even probabilities). Why are we not told of the relationship or lack between Sadr and Sistani? Why do they not talk about all the Iranian inlfuence and money going to Sadr? Why doesn’t the media explain what Sadr’s relationship with some Iranian ayatollahs is? (I know not all of it favorable.) Why don’t we have an explanation of why Sistani is not (it would appear) being run by the Iranians? Why don’t we hear about the fundamental distrust between the insurgents in Fallujah and Sadr’s gang? And then we are told that there are negotiations by the Governing Council in Fallujah, and so operations have stopped. Which guys on the Governing Council have more authority, which ones have (unlawful) militias loyal to them? Not enough information, and not enough thinking.

This is made worse by the bias of the media. I am amazed by the bias. Everything happening in Iraq is either another Mogadishu or another Vietnam, and is most certainly a quagmire. The so called chaos there means that we don’t have enough troops, that we are utterly unprepared for the mischief that has arisen, that we have have two left feet as we walk. So they keep showing a few pictures (repeated over and over) of a truck being blown up, of an Iraqi holding an American pair of boots high in the air (front page of today’s New York Times), or photos of Sadr being removed from walls, etc. Big deal, this is not useful. And if this isn’t enough, the elite media is attempting to collapse the 9/11 hearings (the public part, that is) with the so called chaos in Iraq. The administration was incompetent then, and it is incompetent now; the only difference is that before 9/11 they didn’t want to fight, and now that’s all they want to do. But it is a quagmire, we are told. The administration doesn’t understand that their policy is in shambles, that Iraq is spinning out of control and the President is on vacation at the Ranch! The elite media is banging their drums, demanding to be heard, demanding that someone pay attention to them. In the meantime, the public is not being well served by this drum beat.

Things are messy in Iraq; this is true. But, frankly, it’s not as if the mess is new. This is both war and nation-building, both conducted at the same time. A ramarkable effort, when you think about it. It is also possible that the lid has been blown off, and that it can’t be put back on until the water stops boiling. But let’s think through the difference between what is going on now and what that has to do with the short-run consequences, and what might happen (and be made to happen) in the long-run. There is a difference. The al Sadr led violence may well reveal that this is his last grasp at power (we should have dealt with him months ago, by the way), that if he doesn’t succeed now he will not, ever. Sadr has always been a political outlaw; it is not in Sistani’s interest that Sadr succeed, and never has been; they have fought. Besides, note that Sistani’s paramilitary forces are not fighting (and he has a more serious organization, (technically illegal, by the way) a couple of them, than that of Sadr. That Sadr has taken refuge in Najaf--Sistani’s stronghold--is quite smart, in the short term. We will not go in there to get him; yet, he will end up in Sistani’s control. Sistani is holding the cards already, and he may have more cards to play before this is over. But that may not be entirely a bad thing. From what we know about him, he does not seem to be interested in waging a civil war, or, even a war against the Coalition. Yet, and no surprise here, he doesn’t want to seem as if he is controlled by the Americans.
By the way, in saying all this I am not suggeting that the situation cannot get worse. Of course it can. The Kurds could take up arms. Sistani can take up arms. Now that would be serious.

Here are a few articles from the press that, it seems to me, shed light on some of these matters. I include them here not because I agree with each one, but because, each in its own way is informative. The AP reports on the cease fire in Fellujah. Los Angeles Times reports on how some of the Iraqi Governing Council are disenchanted with our policy in Fellujah. Washington Post reports on our tactics in Fellujah, and also on how are military efforts are doing elsewhere around the country. An idiot in Newsweek calls this Iraqi uprising an Intifada. Reuel Marc Gerecht, in contemplating a Shiite war, has some good analysis of the current fog. And Larry Diamond argued two days ago that we should arrest al Sadr, as soon as possible. And Yitzhak Nakash argues for letting Sistani broker a cease fire. David Brooks argues against negotiations. Victor Davis Hanson reflects on this odd sort of Western cannibalism wherein we are eating one another, while forgetting that we are at war. he advises us to get a grip. Good advice.

Shia voting

Note this story of five days ago from the London Guardian. It outlines elections in Tar (about 15,000 population). Note that the religious parties did not do well at all in this overwhelmingly Shia area. "Seventeen towns have voted, and in almost every case secular independents and representatives of non-religious parties did better than the Islamists." (Thanks to Andrew Stuttaford at NRO.)

Turning up the bass

Two more large explosions sounded beyond the Green Zone, followed by a large plume of smoke. Because the explosions just happened, I have not been able to confirm any details as to target or casualties.

UPDATE: The two rounds hit inside the Green Zone, in the motor pool just behind the Combat Support Hospital. The explosions damaged one of the hospital’s generators. I have not been able to confirm if there are any casualties as a result of this attack.

UPDATE II: I have been informed that everyone is alright. The attack was not serious. We can all be thankful.

Fighting in Adhamiyah

Reuters is reporting that fighting erupted in the Adhamiyah region of Baghdad this morning. I was embedded a couple of weeks ago with an Army unit there. The region is the last place that Saddam was seen in public prior to being found in the spider hole. For years, it has been a place where bad elements from Ramadi and Fallujah would congregate in Baghdad, so it is not terribly surprising that there would be unrest in Adhamiyah given the activity in Fallujah.

Relatively Quiet Morning in Baghdad

It has been relatively quiet this morning in Baghdad, other than one mortar blast somewhere near the Green Zone. General Kimmitt offered a bilateral cease fire effective at noon with the insurgents in Fallujah. As of the time of this writing, it was unclear whether they would comply with this offer.

I revisited my friendly banker this morning. He offered words of caution. "With the kidnappings, you must be careful, my friend. . . ." Recognizing me as American, he said, "You must be careful. You are my brother."

Bush’s Easter message

Here is President Bush’s Easter message.

Condi, the press, and the polls

Howard Fineman writes about the Rice interview in front of the 9/11 Committee. Here is his point: "Stylistically and tactically, she was serviceable." And then: "But the larger picture she painted of herself, her president and the administration certainly won’t help George W. Bush’s re-election chances." Thanks Howard, that’s some serious thinking.
CNN conducts a poll right after her testimony, and uses this headline: "Poll: Rice testimony yields mixed results for White House. What does the poll show? "Forty percent of the 1,000 Americans polled said that the administration, based on the information it had, could have done more to stop the terrorist attacks, compared with 54 percent in a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll conducted March 26-28." And then this: "Rice won the credibility race against former counterterrorism aide Richard Clarke -- who testified that the White House had ignored warnings about Osama bin Laden’s terrorist organization. Forty-three percent of the poll’s participants said they were more likely to believe Rice, as opposed to 36 percent naming Clarke." Good headline, don’t you think?

Status Report

The afternoon briefing just finished. Here is the status report from Iraq, which I’m sure you will find to be very different from what you here on the news this evening. Ramadi, where 12 Marines died earlier this week, was quiet today. In fact, a local shaik came out last night and revealed the names of 11 belligerents in the city, who have subsequently been taken into custody. Al Kut, which was overrun by Sadr’s militia, is expected to be under complete Coalition control by late this evening or early tomorrow morning. There have been only minor casualties to Coaltion forces inflicted by Sadr’s militia, which is using what General Kimmitt described as "shoot and scoot" tactics. There is cessation of offensive operations in Fallujah, which was orchestrated at the request of the Iraqi governing council. The council has sent a delegation to bring food and medicine to the people there, and to see if progress can be made with Fallujah’s leadership to prevent the need for additional Coalition action. The one sore spot remains Al Najaf. Sadr’s forces are dominant in the city, but Coalition forces are well positioned outside. The strategy is to fall back in light of the 1.2 million pilgrims traveling for the Shia holiday. I would not expect this reserve to last long. These are facts confirmed by CJTF-7. And again, this represents a very different picture than the slices of violence that permeate the news.

The sun is fading, and I must make my way back to my hotel, which I understand had another close call with a mortar. Because of security measures, I doubt I will be able to post anything else until tomorrow. Until then, Good Friday.

Japanese hostages & cannibalism

I just thought you’d like to know that Reuters reported that not only did the bad guys threaten to burn the Japanese hostages alive, but they also threatened to "feed them to the fighters" (after they burned them alive). I did not see this reported on CBS, NBC, ABC, or CNN, or anywhere else. Surprise.

Sadr vs. Sistani

Spencer Ackerman explains the relationship between Moqtada Al Sadr, the bad guy, and Ali Sistani. This brief essay is very much worth reading. As far as I can tell, Ackerman is right: Sadr is making a power play to take over the Shiites by calling for a war against the Coalition. Sistani understands this, that’s why he is telling his people not to participate (and that’s why this is not an upring) and will try to prevent him from doing so. Because this is Sadr’s last chance (he has tried it before), he will do everything he must; this explains the violence. Sadr and Sistani also have ideological differences, having to do with the role of Islam in politics; this is what makes Sistani a moderate. There is a reason why Sadr moved into the Imam Ali Shrine, he wants to see if he can wrest moral authority from Sistani. If he can’t do it within the next few days, during their religious holidays with perhaps as many as a million Shiite pilgrims coming into the city, then he will fail. Take a look at this long article on Grand Ayatollah Sistani from the Washington Post, in February. This is what you have to pay attention to.

Good Democrats

Some Democrats, I am heartened to see, are bahving better than Carter. Tom Daschle: "Yesterday’s events will only serve to strengthen America’s resolve and seal America’s unity. The brave people who lost their lives did not die in vain. Americans stand together today and always to finish the work we started and bring peace and democracy to the citizens of Iraq." And Sen. Evan Bayh, Indiana Democrat, said that the United States must "stay the course."
"This is really as much a test of our perseverance as anything else," he said, though he cautioned that Americans must be prepared for the conflict. "It’s going to be difficult. We’re going to have too many days ahead of tragedy like yesterday, unfortunately." Good. Better than Carter, Kennedy, and former KKK member Byrd. There is hope.

Carter’s wisdom

The wisdom of Jimmy Carter shows up, again. The war against Iraq is unnecessary and "has turned out to be a tragedy," Carter says. There is more: "Carter, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002, also blamed what he called Bush’s pro-Israel policies for engendering animosity against America.

’The prime source of animosity towards the United States is the lack of progress in dealing with the Palestinian issue,’ Carter said, adding that past U.S. administrations since Harry Truman’s have maintained a ’balanced position’ in dealing with the rights of the Arab population within the Jewish nation." There you have it, Carter is now re-writing history. His views were already pro-Palestinian when he was president, as
Steve Hayward’s new book on Carter, The Real Jimmy Carter, makes clear, and they have remained anti-Israeli; his contacts with Palestinian terrorists continue to this day. He is still fond of Arafat. Carter is a motley fool. It’s embarrasing.

Tet II on NRO

Peter mentioned this article last night, but I thought I would give you all a heads up that my Tet II article has now been posted on NRO.

Two men from Baghdad

This morning, I went to the sixth floor deck of my hotel (where the missile hit a few weeks ago) to get a sense of what was happening in the city before I attempted to go out. The mosque near the hotel was broadcasting its morning prayers, but the square in front of it was empty--an odd site for Friday. The street was once again closed off, and an Army Humvee with a loudspeaker was blasting something in Arabic. I later learned from a local that they were warning people not to come out with weapons, or they will be shot. As I was standing out there, a few Iraqis came by. The first spoke little English, but we got by. He complained, "Saddam is gone, but where is the freedom?" He was soon joined by a Jabr, an out-of-work translator who was getting by doing work in the laundry room of the hotel. He was happy to see an American to talk to, and, as I have mentioned time and again on this page, began to tell me his thoughts on the United States and Iraq without my asking. He explained that America had done a great thing in removing the "large tyrant." He described the Saddam’s tyranny as "bigger than Stalin . . . bigger than the Italian Mussolini." He seemed confident that Iraq would weather the unrest of Al Sadr, who he referred to as "that gentleman," because Al Sadr does not command the support of the majority of the Iraqi people. He described Sadr’s followers bluntly as "dumb," and said that the educated people support the United States.

He explained that the first man I had spoken with did not share his views. He began translating for me, and the first man asked why it is that Americans shoot women and children. For those who wonder why it is that Sadr’s newspaper Al Hawza was silenced, this is exhibit A. I am told that the publication falsely attributed a number of killings and attacks to U.S. forces--actions meant to provoke not only outrage but violence against the Coalition. I attempted to explain that the Coalition does not target civilians, and that if soldiers do, they are prosecuted. As an example of how civilians may be accidentally killed, I explained how the Al Arabia reporters who were killed were driving behind a vehicle which attempted to hit U.S. officers by running a checkpoint. When the U.S. opened fire on the attacking car in self-defense, the bullets pierced that vehicle and also hit the Al Arabia car traveling behind it. Thus, the reporters were killed, but the killing was not intentional. Indeed, American troops go to great lengths to limit collateral damage, unlike Al Sadr, whose forces spray bullets without regard to how many of their fellow countrymen they kill.

We then got to what I think was a key complaint for the man: he explained that he thought that once Saddam was gone, he would instantly have a good life. He would have good food. He would have cheese everyday. I explained that he must give it time, but that things are improving. I pulled my cell phone out, and noted that cell phones, which were not permitted previously, are everywhere. I pointed from the deck to the sea of satellite dishes, and reminded him that no one could have one during Saddam. I recommended that he go to Rasheed Street, where commerce is thriving. Jabr, my new found translator piped in, "I know, I know." He translated my words, following which I assured the first man that if I had cheese, I would give it to him. He smiled, shook my hand, and returned to work.

The conversations were illustrative of the challenges in Iraq. False information and rumors fan the flames of anti-Coalition sentiment, and all too often the Iraqi press contributes to the problem. Yet most Iraqis still recognize that the Americans are there protecting them from dangerous elements, and therefore appreciate them. The second challenge is that despite the numerous advances in the standard of living over the past year, many Iraqis are still out of work, and the average Iraqi does not yet enjoy the comfort of, to use my interlocutor’s example, cheese. But with any luck, the recent hard work of the military will provide greater security for the country, which will in turn pave the way for more commerce. And yes, even for cheese.

Today in Baghdad

I was able to make my way to the Green Zone to get internet access this afternoon, and can therefore offer you a few observations about today in Baghdad. The military is taking few chances, and has exercised extraorderinary control over the city. The main street which runs by the hotels us closed, and filled with armored vehicles and soldiers. (I tried to snap a few shots to show you a rare sight--Baghdad with no traffic--but for security reasons I was asked to delete them.) In my short trip to the Green Zone, there was hardly a time that U.S. soldiers were not in sight. Aong the way, I noted that they had detained a group of three men by the river. There have been very few signs of fighting in downtown, although sitting here in the Press Center, I just heard three loud booms which I would estimate went off near the edge of the Green Zone.

From a Marine in Fallujah

"Things have been busy here. You know I can’t say much about it. However, I do know two things. One, POTUS has given us the green light to do whatever we needed to do to win this thing so we have that going for us. Two, and my opinion only, this battle is going to have far reaching effects on not only the war here in Iraq but in the overall war on terrorism. We have to be very precise in our application of combat power. We cannot kill a lot of innocent folks (though they are few and far between in Fallujah). There will be no shock and awe. There will be plenty of bloodshed at the lowest levels. This battle is the Marine Corps’ Belleau Wood for this war. 2/1 and 1/5 will be leading the way. We have to find a way to kill the bad guys only. The Fallujahans are fired up and ready for a fight (or so they think). A lot of terrorists and foreign fighters are holed up in Fallujah. It has been a sanctuary for them. If they have not left town they are going to die. I’m hoping they stay and fight.

This way we won’t have to track them down one by one.

This battle is going to be talked about for a long time. The Marine Corps will either reaffirm its place in history as one of the greatest fighting organizations in the world or we will die trying. The Marines are fired up. I’m nervous for them though because I know how much is riding on this fight (the war in Iraq, the view of the war at home, the length of the war on terror and the reputation of the Marine Corps to name a few). However, every time I’ve been nervous during my career about the outcome of events when young Marines were involved they have ALWAYS exceeded my expectations. I’m praying this is one of those times." A letter from a Marine, posted by Andrew Sullivan. May he prosper and live long. God bless.

Quagmire III

Hugh Hewitt helpfully points out that Democrats and liberal pundits predicted a "quagmire" in Afghanistan in 2001 ("snows" in the mountains, said Joe Biden), and in the Iraq offensive last year. (Remember the dust storm? "Bogged down! Quagmire!!") He predicts that in the current action in Fallujah and elsewhere, the Democrats and the pundits will go 0 for 3.

Condi Rice’s testimony

Here is Condaleezza Rice’s opening remarks during her testimony this morning. Here is the Washington Post’s story on her testimony, and here is the AP story. I saw most of her testimony and I must say that she was perfectly poised and intelligent. I was especially happy to see that she went toe to toe with Richard Ben-Veniste, a Democratic member of the Commission (I have no idea why he is on it, never held public office, spent his life as a legal Demo Party hack, but never mind). I noted that during the first half of his attack, his hands were shaking; he was nervous, as well he should have been since he met his match. She was not going to be bent by him.
It amazes me that the same Demos are pretending that the Clinton administration was in effect on a war footing against terror (which they were not) for eight years, and are chastizing the Bush administration during its first eight months for not being on a war footing. Yet, these same people claim that we shouldn’t be on a war footing now. They are not even sure that a war is going on. Well, all of this will come out in the wash, as they say. We’re still on the first cycle.

Vietnam and Iraq

Robert Alt, our man in Iraq, explains why the Tet offensive in Vietnam seems to resemble the recent upturn in fighting in Iraq, and how the outcome may have to do more with the press’ reports on the fight than what actually happens on the ground; that’s what happened after Tet. And Mac Owens explains why Ted Kennedy is wrong in comparing Vietnam to Iraq. He makes crystal clear why the senior gas-bag from Massachusetts understands neither Vietnam nor Iraq. Both are excellent.

Not Above the Law

I had the privilege of attending the press conference yesterday in which the Iraqi judge who issued the arrest warrant for Muqtada Al Sadr took questions. He explained how Al Sadr ordered the murder of a rival cleric, tellings his followers to take the cleric and two other men and to kill them in your "special" way.

What was striking was the response of the Iraqi reporters. They repeatedly asked questions which began, "But he is a religious leader . . . ." Just as police training in Iraq had to emphasize that law enforcement is not above the law, the rest of Iraqi society must learn that even those of high political and relgious positions are subject to the laws.

Darkness Before Dawn

There is much doom and gloom about what is going on in Iraq. By now I am sure that you will be shocked to learn that I think the popular wisdom is wrong, and that what we are seeing is the darkness before the dawn. To understand this, let’s review recent events.

Ramadi and Fallujah:Simply put, we are doing what should have been done some time ago by sending in the Marines. It is important to note that the decision to crack down on this region was made weeks before the death and desecration of the contractors. While it is easy to count the deaths of Marines as strategic losses, what is essentially happening is a concentration of what had previously been sporadic fighting. Previously, Fallujah and Ramadi were sites of or safe havens for those who would launch IED and other terror attacks. Thus, the proper way to view the casualty counts is not zero one day and 12 the next, but rather a slow and steady stream of small casualties followed by a spike caused by the frontal attack on our adversaries. The big difference is thus not the American casualty count, but the number of opposition forces that have been killed, injured, or captured. These were strongholds of Saddam supporters and Fedayeen, and unlike many of the other cities, they chose to continue their opposition after all hope of Saddam returning was gone.

Al Sadr:Contrary to what you may have heard from Senator Kerry, Al Sadr is not a legitimate leader in Iraq. He is the 31 year old son of a powerful Ayatollah who was killed by Saddam in 1999. He is too young to have any religious authority, so his followers rely instead on the religious authority of extremists Imams in Iran. His appeal is therefore not religious; in fact he is expressly rejected as a religious leader by the older and mainstream Shias. Rather, his appeal is political. His followers are concentrated in Sadr City (named after his father), which is essentially a Shia ghetto. He is a classic political animal who opposes the U.S. because a Constitution which creates even a marginal separation of church and state limits his power. In seeking power, he appeals to those Shias who view Democracy as an exercise in "what is good for the goose is good for the gander"--that is, those disenchanted Shias who would like to receive the spoils and mete out the oppression after being on the losing side for the last 30 years. He has always been a volatile element. My guess is that his decision to align himself publicly with Hamas and Hezbollah on Friday and to call for violence was a response to the fact that a warrant had been issued for his arrest. (The warrant was issued months prior, but had not been made public. I would be surprised if he did not know that it was about to be made public, and that Coalition forces were about to move against his deputies.)

In general, despite taking on greater casualties, the Coalition has tackled pockets of resistance that really should have been addressed much sooner. The result should be greater stability, but it will come with a price. The question is whether we will be too squeamish to see it through.

David Boze Radio Program

I’ll be a guest on David Boze’s radio show on Talk 770 KTTH Seattle at 5:05 am. That would be a more reasonable time for listeners on the East Coast to tune in via the internet, but it doesn’t appear that the station has a webcast.

How to interpret news from Iraq

I have received a number of questions about the news from Iraq. I begin with a word of caution. Much of what is being reported is unconfirmed. What does this mean?

First, it means that any numbers that you hear are based largely on speculation, rumor, and hearsay. To give but one example, look at what happened a few weeks ago with the car bomb at the Mt. Lebannon Hotel. At 11 pm, the ranking officer at the scene gave me a count of 16 Iraqi casualties. By mid-morning, other news services were reporting a number in the mid-twenties. By the time I filed my story at about 10 am, the count was up to something in the neighborhood of 37. And by the midafternoon, the official number was given: 7. When asked about the discrepency, General Kimmitt offered a word of wisdom which I now offer to you: early numbers are almost always wrong. Another example is Al Najaf. Reporters were wildly speculating high troop casualties. In the end, the casualty count was zero Americans and one El Salvadoran.

Second, on-the-scene reporting also gives you a narrow perspective. Anyone who has seen a local newscaster babbling at the scene of an earthquake or natural disaster knows exactly what I am talking about. The disaster report is accurate to the extent that the reporter says what he or she saw. Witness accounts are often offered without any regard for their validity, and the remainder of the time is filled with wild speculation. So it is in a war zone. As I have explained, it is difficult when you are standing amidst a barrage to make sense of it all. Were the rounds that just exploded from mortars or missiles? Where were they fired from? How did the Coalition respond? Is this part of a larger offensive by the Coalition or insurgents? What is the status of the city and the region? All of these questions are very difficult to answer on the ground. While some guesses can be made, they are often just that--guesses. While on-the-ground reporting provides intriguing color, it should not be mistaken or used as a substitute big picture reporting. Big picture questions about the status of the war and the progress in a region requires reflection and more details than are available in the heat of the moment.

Because the holiday will make for a tumultuous day, and will make it more difficult for reporters to confirm stories, I advise you to keep these warnings in mind. Particularly on the question of casualty counts, do not trust them unless they are confirmed by someone from CJTF-7.

This Morning’s Quiet Blog

To put minds to rest, this morning’s blog was quiet because I was working on a few different articles at a location where there was no internet access. It does make me long for the simple pleasures of 24-hour broadband at home.


Tomorrow marks the Shia holiday of Arba’een, which is the 40th day after the day marking the martyrdom of Imam Hussein. Forty days ago, the Shias were able to celebrate his martyrdom on the holiday of Ashura for the first time since Saddam Hussein took power. The event was tragically marked with a series of bombs which went off outside the mosque in Al Najaf. Even before the recent increase in hostilities, it was predicted that tomorrow would bring more violence, as thousands of pilgrims flood to Al Najaf from Iran and from all parts of Iraq. Now the predictions are all the more dire. The consular office has issued a travel advisory warning against all non-essential movement--an advisory which applies even within the far more secure U.S.-controlled Green Zone. Because it will be imprudent if not impossible for me to get to the Green Zone tomorrow, and because the internet cafes are closed on Fridays, I will not be able to post updates or respond to emails until Saturday. Accordingly, please do not read my silence as a bad omen.

The Silence Broken

The silence was broken last night by a series of thundering booms, most of which were far away, but at least one of which was close enough to let you know that you are still alive. My post last night had to be dictated over the phone, because the cafe closed early. As the manager at the cafe told me, something strange was going on. With the main street closed, the silence was eery. The mood was tense, and, without revealing troop levels, suffice it to say that my hotel was very well protected.

Al Sadr’s friends

Rowan Scarborough is reporting that

"Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr, the fiery Iraqi Shi’ite cleric who ordered his fanatical militia to attack coalition troops, is being supported by Iran and its terror surrogate Hezbollah, according to military sources with access to recent intelligence reports."

Knowledge on the ground

Max Boot outlines a fundamental and systemic problem that has to be considered, and seriously considered, if we are to be victorious in the long run in the war on terror. This has to do with "contested zones" and actionable intelligence.

Hearing from Robert

As you know Robert is in Iraq and is hard at work. That work on the ground is varied and often difficult, as well as time consuming. Running after information, attempting to see some things first hand, conversations with officials, soldiers, even with fellow reporters, as well as Iraqis, takes time and effort. Sometimes that means sitting down and drinking tea with the locals, and sometimes that means marching along with soldiers. Of course, while he is doing these things he cannot be blogging and writing.
I know that during this remarkably active and dangerous period, we are especially interested in hearing from him. And we will. Be patient.

Iraq as tragi-comedy

The situation in Iraq seems dramatic, verging on tragedy. Maybe. Yet, it is not clear that the
events of the last few days are so dramatic that they in any way foretell the heart of darkness that may come. Nothing is very clear and, let’s face it, it never has been, and probably will not be too much clearer six months from now. The easiest mode to slip into is to say that the battles of the last few days are proof that we will fail to bring to that unfortunate place something of the Americans’ more hopeful, and more comic, view of life. It is not shocking that the news reporters lean in the direction of tragedy. These are folks much prejudiced; their eyes are habituated to see what is not possible, the critical and sceptical view seems so smart and sophisticated. Statesmen act in the world, and the sceptic says, "You just watch, you will be beaten down, and your actions will go awry, and the consequences will be awful." The sceptic sees tragedy. The American statesman looks at chaos and sees that something may be done that may--given this and given that--bring some good. The greater the good at stake, the more interested he is in the act and the more reason he has to hope that much good will follow. When clear-eyed, this view is not strangely idealistic or utopian, it is essentially practical, but driven by an overwhelming sense of the possible of what human beings--yes, even Iraqis--may yet become. This American view is fundamentally comic. It is this view, in the end, that makes us go into the heart of darkness so that we may change it. It is this American disposition, this tendency toward sacrifice (and most certainly not empire, as the thoughtless Left understands it) in favor of the human condition as comic, as something with a happy and hopeful ending that Americans are willing to fight and die for. Things would be easy if they just fought for their own interest, for their own land, or for their own tribe.
Base and vicious war was made upon us, and we fight back so that it doesn’t happen again. But that’s not enough for these new men of the new world, they take the given horror, go to the cause of the anger and try to make the place that can affect its source into something approaching the comic, into something approaching the hopeful and the happy. I know that in the meantime much fighting, much diplomacy, and much shifting interests will take place and some of it, alas, will not be able to be controlled by even the wisest actors. It is possible that this fellow Sistani--a religious leader who is religiously followed by millions--may make the wrong decision and let slip the dogs of war and then tragedy will have arrived. But maybe not. Maybe, just maybe, he understands something of the politics of freedom, of duty, of hope. Just maybe he understands that life, even in Iraq, may yet be a comedy. Thus far, he has not called blood for blood; thus far, he has sat and thought and called for calm. It is possible that his sensibilities are fully human, and he may help write the future as comedy. It is easy for the reporters of human scepticism to remind those of us watching that politics is always tragic. That seems so true, and so simple. Yet, it is not always tragic. Not always.

The Eye of the Storm

Many of you may be wondering about the view on the ground here in Baghdad. The cafes closed early and one of the major thoroughfares was blocked off. A gentleman sitting in the cafe commented to me that "it was quiet—too quiet." Indeed, with the turmoil all round the city, including in nearby Sadr city, Baghdad has remained relatively calm. But this evening, the feeling was one of bracing for what is to come, much like those sitting in the relative quiet of the eye of a storm.

Latest reports

Here are the latest reports from Iraq: Washington Post, AFP, and here is a blogger from Iraq.

New Parenting Method

As modern American parents, we now all know that spanking is extremely inappropriate and can actually harm our children. A good friend recently shared with me a safe and effective alternative for behavior modification that she discovered purely by accident.

According to her, all you have to do is take your child for a car ride and talk it out. She says that her children usually calm down and stop misbehaving the very first time.
Click here for a photo from a recent session with her son. You may find it helpful in understanding and learning how to use this new method of enlightened parenting.

Robert Alt from Iraq on Linda Chavez’s Radio Show Today

Robert Alt will be discussing the recent events in Iraq on Linda Chavez’s radio show today at 12:15 pm eastern time. If you can’t find her on your radio dial, the show is also broadcast live on the internet.

To Fight and Help Political Islam

In a Jerusalem Post article entitled "Which Islam is Best?", Daniel Pipes praises a recent backgrounder on political Islam by Rand researcher Cheryl Benard. Her primer on Islam’s various political faces in the world today,
Civic Democratic Islam
(available for free as a PDF, either in summary or full version), presents useful strategies to counter the attraction and spread of radical, militant Islam. She does so by identifying certain Islamic groups as open to Western or American ideas and support, and those inimical to these, as a kind of rhetorical counterpart to the administration’s war on terror.

For America’s intervention in Iraq to succeed, the recent insurgencies in Iraq first and foremost deserve to feel America’s wrath quickly and decisively. But we should not forget to wage a rhetorical on terror, a prudent adjunct to the heroic boots on the ground.

Watch Sistani

As we know from Robert Alt, the battle started by Moktada al-Sadr’s forces is not inspired by a burst of new anti-American sentiment. Instead, it springs out of internal Iraqi politics: as the transfer date approaches, Moktada al-Sadr is trying to position himself as a leader within the Shiite majority.

Previously, he tried quietly to get some distance between himself and Grand Ayatollah Sistani, whom he [and his now deceased father, killed in 1999] regarded as too moderate and apolitical. But with the car-bomb assassination of Ayatollah Al-Hakim late year, one of Sistani’s main rivals is gone and Sistani’s influence has stayed strong. Looking around, al-Sadr has realized that he cannot gain influence by speaking or apprearing to move against Sistani. Hence, the armed uprisings now: they show Sistani that he is not afraid of him while simultaneously offering Sistani a kind of alliance. According to the New York Times, al-Sadr just released this statement: "I proclaim my solidarity with Ali Sistani, and he should know that I am his military wing in Iraq... I will put the city with the golden dish [Najaf] between Ali Sistani’s hands after liberation."

The key here is what Sistani will do. So far, he has tried to walk the thin line: urging calm but saying that al-Sadr’s political demands for an end to occupation are not unreasonable. Since Sistani also cannot move against al-Sadr openly, the Coalition needs to destroy al-Sadr’s armed force in such a way that impresses Sistani with our resolve but does not suggest that we are coming after him and the other Shiites too. A tricky business, but one critical for the transition.

Fighting in Al Anbar Province

Because there has been a lot of speculation and misreporting about the fighting in Ramadi, I include the following press release issued by CJTF-7 in its entirety:

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq – I Marine Expeditionary Force continued to execute Operation Vigilant Resolve yesterday throughout the Al Anbar Province and in several cities known to harbor anti-Iraqi forces.

Operations from the Syrian border to the Baghdad suburbs have resulted in the capture or death of a significant number of anti-Iraqi Forces and foreign terrorists. To the west, a combination of the ongoing efforts in the Husaybah and Al Qa’im regions are undercutting the ability of the anti-Iraqi Forces to import foreign fighters, cash and equipment. Heightened operations to the east, to include the cordon around Fallujah and combat operations in other major cities in the Al Anbar Province, are drawing out anti-Iraqi Forces.

Establishing a persistent presence in areas where U.S. forces have not consistently operated over the last 12 months has been costly. Operations as they unfolded yesterday in Ar Ramadi were shadowed by the loss of 12 Marines. Eleven Marines died while engaged with the anti-Iraqi Forces for more than seven hours; one died from wounds suffered during the firefight.

The increase in the number of attacks on Coalition Forces in the Al Anbar Province is attributable to the I Marine Expeditionary Force’s strategy to heighten their profile, operate throughout the zone and challenge anti-Iraqi Forces in place where they’ve gained influence.

The citizens of Ar Ramadi remained in their homes during the engagement. Several calls from Iraqi citizens to the Coalition tip line aided Coalition Forces in identifying, isolating and combating the terrorists. Throughout the fight, members of the Iraqi Police Service and Iraqi Civil Defense Corps soldiers secured key city government facilities and helped control traffic in and out of the city.

When the fighting subsided, Ar Ramadi remained under the supervision of the governor of the province, the chief of police and the Iraqi security forces.

As of 8 p.m. yesterday, the Iraqi Police Services and Iraqi Civil Defense Corps were providing security for the residents of Ar Ramadi. Coalition Forces are monitoring the situation and ready to provide support in the event that terrorists resume hostilities.

The names of the dead are being withheld pending next of kin notification.

Iraq is Back

The Iraqi National Boxing Federation, through the National Olympic Committee of Iraq, is now selling merchandise on the internet emblazoned with the boxing team’s motto--"Iraq is Back"--to raise money for the boxing program in Iraq. This is yet another sign that commerce is coming to Iraq.


In case you are wondering how the left will play out the current fighting in Iraq, see the London Guardian’s headline, "On the Brink of Anarchy." Here is the latest from the Washington Post. Although not much is clear about the specific actions, there are some very good lines in the article, most having to do with how we Americans fight and how the soldiers talk about what they are doing. I heard one of our generals last night saying something this: "We will wield a mace, but use a rapier." Very American. May they all act honorably and come home victorious.
I will pay attention to this all tonight and give you my reflections in the morning. I have a class tonight, will discuss what it means to be an American. Good timing.

Not a Civil War

Iraq hawk Andrew Sullivan opined yesterday that the situation in Iraq "sounds like civil war to me." His post from today reverses course, and asserts "No, this is not a quagmire. It’s the brightest opportunity for real change in the world since the end of the Cold War. We have to seize it." The latter is more accurate. What happened in Sadr City was largely a change of tactics rather than a dramatic change in the nature of the opposition. Rather than relying on guerilla warfare, they attempted direct attacks on hard targets. The result: they were handily defeated without the Coalition even resorting to the big guns. In Al Najaf, for instance, Apache and fixed wing air support were called in to stabilize the situation, but the aircraft did not need to fire a single shot. The mere presence of such firepower was enough to quell the masses. Sadr’s forces sustained heavy casualties. The Coalition also sustained casualties, but unlike during the Clinton years, the current President has expressed resolve to stay the course. This must be done. The disenchanted who make up the soft support for Sadr will quickly lose interest if they realize that "media event" attacks don’t deter their markedly more powerful adversary, but instead simply invite terrible retribution on those who perpetrate the acts of terror.


Larry Obhof, a friend and former colleague of mine emailed a post by Jacob Levy of The Volokh Conspiracy about caffeine intake. The highest number I saw quoted in the post was an average of 1400 mg. per day based on the the following table which rates a brewed cup of coffee at 80 - 135 mg. caffeine. Based on this chart, the admirable coffee drinker Mr. Obhof estimates his average intake to be 2700 mg., a number which, having witnessed his caffeine intake habits first hand, is probably about right. Before coming to Baghdad, I would generally drink 12 - 16 cups of very strong coffee (therefore, I will presume 135 mg. cups) before 9:30 in the morning, and then keep either a cup of coffee or a pepsi in front of me throughout the day. So my conservative estimate puts my intake at 1900 mg before the day really gets going. My readers can now understand why the weeks with limited coffee here in Baghdad were a bad, bad thing.

Bad News

I just stopped by the Combat Support Hospital, and was informed that they are facing a mass casualty situation. I have not seen any releases from the military yet specifying where the action was, but I suspect it will hit the news soon.

Kerry’s use of Cleland

Michael Crowley of The New Republic questions, harshly questions, whether Kerry should be using former Senator Max Cleland. A very good read. Here’s the last paragraph: "But does Cleland really send a much stronger message than Dukakis would? He brings no particular talent to Kerry’s campaign. Apart from his status as a brave war veteran, he sends no positive message to the public. As a Vietnam vet who tried and failed to fend off attacks on his national security credentials, he undermines the claim that Kerry’s own war record insulates him from similar attacks. What Cleland brings to Kerry’s campaign is the emotional power of victimization—a throwback to the worst of old-time Democratic Party politics, to its emphasis on victimhood over ability and virtue. But whereas in the past it was specific interest groups—minorities, women, gays—who were the noble victims, today it is the Democratic Party itself. Cleland is a reminder to fellow Democrats that they have spend the past three years being persecuted and that it’s time to start avenging their humiliations. That’s fine as far as it goes. But eventually Kerry will have to stand for something more than Bush hatred and payback. Revenge is not a campaign platform."  

No Left Turns Mug Drawing Winners for March

Congratulations to this month’s winners of a No Left Turns mug! The winners are as follows:

Luana Tringali

Mary Flannery

Tom Walsh

Tim Sumner

Deborah Peck

Thanks to all who entered. An email has been sent to the winners. If you are listed as a winner and did not receive an email, contact Ben Kunkel. If you didn’t win this month, enter April’s drawing.

Arrest Warrant Issued for Muqtada al-Sadr

Senior Coalition officials announced that an Iraqi judge has issued an arrest warrant for Muqtada al-Sadr, the young Shia cleric whose militia is responsible for much of Sunday’s violence in Iraq. The warrant is not for Sunday’s events, however, but is related to murder of Abdel-Majid al-Khoei, a rival Shiite cleric who was brutally stabbed and shot to death last year in front of a mosque. As of the time of this writing, al-Sadr is not in custody.

"Temporary Doves"

The May issue of Reason just came out. It includes a review (sorry, it’s only available in the paper version at this point) of Madeleine Albright’s memoirs and the recent books by George Soros and Wesley Clark. The reviewer, contributing editor Matt Welch, asks an important question: Why did all three of these individuals, who supported Bill Clinton’s 1999 intervention in the Balkans, oppose the Iraq War? After all, he writes:

Like Gulf War II, the 78-day NATO air campaign in Kosovo was waged without the explicit authority of the United Nations. Like Iraq, Yugoslavia was a sovereign country that was bombed into submission for essentially internal infractions. Both wars were expressions of American exasperation at European impotence in the face of dictatorial slaughter....

Sadr City

John F. Burns’ article in The New York Times on the uprising in Sadr City seems as good as anything I have seen thus far on the issue. Seven U.S. soldiers died in the battle with militia attached to the thirty-one year old ayatollah Moktada al-Sadr. This guy, who is suspected of other killings, should have been arrested last year. That this uprising is not good news is true enough, yet, I don’t think that Burns’ comments in the news story, ("Together, the events in Falluja and the other cities on Sunday appeared likely to shake the American hold on Iraq more than anything since the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein’s government last April 9." And later: "But on Sunday, Mr. Sadr’s veiled threats to stir public disorder erupted into carefully orchestrated violence, with potentially dire implications over the long term for the Americans, and for Iraq.") are justified. That things are rough and, as has been said by all, are likely to get even more difficult before they get better, is true. But why does that led logically to such comments? It takes a certain turn of mind (i.e., one who has been opposed to the liberation of Iraq in the first place), to question the war every time a soldier is killed, or more than a half-dozen killed, or every time something doesn’t go as well as it should under the best of circumstances. I regret this because such a turn of mind--over time--can have a corrosive effect on public opinion. We should stand fast. We have more friends than enemies.

Fallujah and Najaf

The Belmontclub blog has some interesting paragraphs on both the Najaf shootout with the Spanish contingent, as well as the Fallujah atrocities and what we may be planning, and why it is not Mogadishu. (Thanks to Reductioadabsurdum). Here is a map of Fallujah that may proves useful in the coming weeks.

Tolerating casualties

Lawrence Kaplan argues that while the American people have tolarated casualties in wars, their military and political leaders have not. Because the public takes its cues from above, it becomes very important for Bush, Powell, and others in the administration, to keep repeating that America will stay the course. Good article, and it will need to be re-read many times during the next few months. See also a previous note.

A note on the "lily pads"

Michael O’Hanlon, of Brookings, generally approves of Rumsfeld’s plan to revamp how the U.S. stations its military forces overseas, but has a few modest suggestions.

Immigration, or Mexican imperialism?

Jorge Castaneda, the foreign minister of Mexico for three years, and a candidate (from the Left) for president in 2006, writes on op-ed in the Los Angeles Times reflecting on Samuel P. Huntington’s recent article in Foreign Policy on why Mexican immigration to this country is different in kind from the immigration of previous groups. Castaneda, after seemingly praising Huntington’s purposes and understanding in ever moderate tones, then says that "a new type of assimilation" (of which amnesty is a part) must be constructed in the U.S. And this has to do, in part, with how Mexicans should understand themselves. Listen to this:
"We must change our traditional attitudes toward emigration and toward Mexicans in the U.S., no longer viewing them as exiles who have given up, who have thrown in the towel. As Fox has said, we have to consider our compatriots in the U.S. as part of a Mexican nation in the cultural and ethnic sense, and continue to push for improvements in their lives."
Ken Masugi is right to say that "More clearly than ever, immigration is a foreign policy and a national security issue." John Fonte’s testimony before the House Immigration Subcommittee on April 1, on H.R. 3191 introduced by Congressmen Jim Ryun to establish the Oath of Renunciation and Allegiance as Federal law, is also worth looking at; it is not unrelated.

Kerry and me in the Philippines

Robert’s note below on O’Rourke’s piece on John Kerry in the Philippines in 1986 needs a footnote. I was also part of that delegation to monitor the elections of 1986. This was the first explicit move in Reagan’s democracy project that--because once the election was scheduled we wanted to make sure it would be honest--looked with a weary eye on a former ally. After all, even though Marcos had recently moved toward a kind of nationalism and socialism, and put his country into a tail-spin, he had been a sincere ally of the U.S. since WW II. The people, however, were being strangled. Reagan decided to act to ensure that the election--which we were pretty certain would, if fairly conducted, go against Marcos--wasn’t going to be manipulated by Marcos and his thugs.

Because I wanted to stay away from the politicos (all of whom were spending their time in Manila; more cameras there) I volunteered to go to the island of Negros (main city is Bacolod), the fourth largest island in the country made up of thousands of island. It is one of the larger islands, with a population of around three million, is just west of Cebu and South of Panay. It is the prime sugar growing area of the country. I wanted to be in an area that was more interesting and more dangerous (I was young then) than Manila. There were four of us to cover the North of the island. We had many interesting adventures, including being arrested in a Northern fishing town by the mayor, a Marcos supporter, after we discovered that he wasn’t allowing his people to vote. We were brought to his office, offered something to drink. The mayor entered, as the guards were asked to leave. He pulled out a Colt 45, cocked it, placed it gently on the table, then delivered one of the best speeches I have ever heard (or read). It was Demosthenes-like in its elegance and pith, talked about friendship among nations, our common fight against the Japanese, the love his people had for America (and especially General MacArthur), and all the good that Marcos has done for both his people and ours. He said he would not believe that the U.S. came to his country to overthrow such an ally. My colleague and I were unpersuaded and, after we were able to prove to him that we were--in effect--representing the policy of the United States by asking for free and fair elections, he saw that he had no choice. He knew the regime was finsihed. He uncocked the pistol, placed it in his holster, bowed deeply, and bid us Godspeed. We went back to the polling stations, and noticed--unlike an hour earlier--the whole town was lined up to vote, and we were cheered. Marcos lost.

I mention all this because the O’Rourke essay reminds me, and to note that I also saw at the time that a choice had to be made and almost everyone I was with (both Republicans and Democrats) made the right choice, but some politicians (like Kerry) didn’t know what to do because there was a choice, and because they couldn’t calculate the consequences to their own persons, they dithered. Yet, a decision had to be made. Not all Republicans liked the gambit either, it should be pointed out. There were a few there who were Kerry-like in their unwilligness to decide in what they called a gamble. Even after I got back, Republican sentiment was not simply on Reagan’s side in this matter. But it worked. And Kerry, and such other over calculating and wrongly ambitious low level politicos, were jerks then (as O’Rourke says) and remain jerks now.

Kerry’s Fecklessness

P.J. O’Rourke relates the story of his first meeting John Kerry in this article in The Weekly Standard. Kerry, who was acting as a U.S. election observer in the Philipines, was contacted by reporters including O’Rourke to talk to, and, if possible, provide protection for a group of election tabulators who were terrified after witnessing voting "irregularities." Kerry refused to even talk to them. O’Rourke does not spare Kerry the wrath of his pen:

Now, with benefit of hindsight, I think I can tell you why Kerry didn’t [assist the election tabulators]. He was caught in Kerry-ish calculation--an ambitious young senator on his first important bipartisan delegation with its delicate mission of neutrality. Cory Aquino was very popular. But so was President Reagan. Which way to have it? Why, have it both ways! So Kerry was firmly behind Pash Commit of Flips to Dem [journalist shorthand for the oft-repeated phrase, Passionate Committment of Phillipine people to democracy], up to a point. Just as today Kerry is brave sailor/bold war protester; foe of Saddam/friend of Hans Blix; political underdog/entitled nominee; big government liberal/corporate tax-cutting conservative; rider of Harleys/marrier of Heinz; and, incidentally, still a real jerk.

O’Rourke also has a forthcoming book, which is bound to be fun given its title:

Peace Kills.

Strike Three

For what is now the third time, I was unable to meet with the 1486th today. I came to the Green Zone this morning to catch the shuttle to the airport, which was the designated meeting point. When I arrived at the shuttle staging area, I was told by a soldier that Rumsfeld himself had issued a directive ordering everyone under his command not to travel outside the Green Zone because of large and potentially violent demonstrations. A travel advisory issued by the U.S. Consulate stated "[w]ith the concurrence of Ambassador Bremer, travel outside the Green Zone from 0500 – 1200 hrs on Sunday 4 April 04 will be prohibited due to large demonstrations at ALL Green Zone check points." At 8:15 when I arrived, there was no sign yet of protests. I have not been able to ascertain the nature of the demonstrations, although I have heard that they have been orchestrated by Shia contingents.