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February 27, 2008

William F Buckley Jr. - An Appreciation

I first heard about William F. Buckley, Jr. while at Radford University, sometime in the 1980-81 time period. I'd taken a few political science classes, and the professor mentioned him as being some sort of important conservative. He mentioned a magazine that Buckley had started, and I didn't catch the exact name. It had "review"? or maybe "national"? in the title; I wasn't sure. One thing I did know was that my political beliefs were already on the right side of the political spectrum.

So the next time I was at the university library, I went to the magazine section to see what I could find. Lo and behold, there it was, National Review. Obviously Radford was not the hotbed of leftist activism that had infected so many colleges and universities to allow such a publication in it's library.

From that day on I read National Review every time a new edition came out. During the summers I had to do without it, but immediately upon graduation in May of 1983 I took out a subscription, and have been addicted ever since. Of all the conservative publications I have sampled since then, none has had the appeal of National Review. Some of the reason for that is style, but most of it is political philosophy. I simply find myself most in tune with the opinion expressed in that magazine.

Indeed, this very blog is named after one of his books: The Redhunter

William F. Buckley, Jr. was probably the single most influential American political thinker of the second half of the twentieth century. No single person founded modern American liberalism, but modern conservatism got its start because of Buckley.

The two events that kicked it off, of course, were the publication of God and Man at Yale in 1951, and the founding of National Review in 1955.

But Buckley didn't just write a book and start a magazine. Conservatism as we know it today simply didn't exist then. There were disparate group of writers and thinkers, not all respectable. Buckley made order of the mess, and purged the nascent movement of its less-desirable elements. Anti-Semitism was of particular concern, as was conspiracy theorists. The John Birch Society, among others, found itself excommunicated from the movement.

Although the first edition of National Review is famous for Buckley's declaration that his magazine and movement would "athwart history, yelling Stop", to portray him as a reactionary or Luddite would be a gross caricature. If anything, conservatism became the movement of ideas, with liberalism trapped by old ways of thinking. Buckley was a famous early adopter of computers, and I remember reading him discuss something called "MCI Mail" in his 1992 book Windfall without having the foggiest notion of what he was talking about.

Buckley did not just write about politics, however. An avid sailboat racer and cruiser, the aforementioned Windfall, The End of the Affair was one of many about sailing. He both raced in the Chesapeake bay, and sailed several times across the Atlantic, and once across the Pacific. As someone who spent many weekends himself racing in that same bay, myself just outside of Annapolis, I can appreciate the experience of the challenge.

I read, I think, two of his Blackford Oakes spy novels, and they were interesting, but I've never been one much for fiction. Other than that, some of his novelized history books, such as The Redhunter: A Novel Based on the Life of Senator Joe McCarthy and Nuremberg: The Reckoning, struck me as being particularly noteworthy.

Of course there were times when I disagreed with him over this or that. It's hard to think of specifics, but there is never a situation where you agree with someone 100% (the Bible doesn't count). It's not the details that count, however, but the overall philosophy. And there he and I are almost perfectly in tune.

In the end there is nothing I can say that can do justice to the man. No doubt that while reading this brief tribute to him from his present perch on high he would notice my (undoubtably) many errors of grammar, punctuation, and style. The only real justice we can do is to carry forth his ideals.

William F Buckley Jr, 1925 - 2008, R.I.P.

Posted by Tom at 8:00 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 24, 2008

Reform Muslims We Need

Every now and then it is good to remind ourselves that in our fight against Jihadism, there are in fact Muslims on our side. I do not mean pseudo-moderates, who claim to be "against terrorism", but then either refuse to condemn groups like Hamas or Hezbollah, or who insist on denouncing Israel in the same breath as they do al Qaeda.

I've mentioned some reformist Muslims in the past, and today want to take time to do so again. In fact, I've started a new blogroll dedicated to reformist Muslim organizations.

Unfortunately much of the thinking regarding Islam alternates between the extremes. On the one hand you have the insistence that Islam is a "religion of peace" and how dare you suggest otherwise. In this view, Islam was "hijacked" by a small band of extremists and we are instructed that "only 10% are radicals" and the rest good peaceful Muslims. These are the people who object to terms like "Islamic Fascism", let alone "War on Jihadism".

At the other end are the Islam-haters. To them Islam is an evil religion, Osama bin Laden is the one who is interpreting the Koran correctly, and how dare you suggest otherwise. They insist that Islam can never reform because it teaches violence against unbelievers and that is that. Oddly, these are often the same people who support our efforts in Iraq.

As you may guess I don't buy into either of those views, but I don't want to go through all that now. Today I want to highlight some true reform-minded Muslims.

The point of recognizing them is that we have to recognize that as scholar Walid Phares says we are in a War of Ideas with the Jihadists. While military operations are vital, and shutting down their financial transcations important, unless we win the war of ideas we will lose. Part of winning that war of ideas is recognizing that Islam is in trouble, and that radical surgery is required. As such, we need to seek out, find true reformers, and do all that we can to encourage them.

What follows is by no means meant to be a complete list. Due to a computer freeze and reboot I lost one or two organizations that were going to be part of this post. As time goes on I'll do more posts, adding to this list. Several of the people and groups listed below have already been the subject of a post on Redhunter.

American Islamic Forum for Democracy

First up is Dr Zuhdi Jasser, founder of the Phoenix Arizona based American Islamic Forum for Democracy.

From their website

American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD) was formed in March of 2003 by a group of Muslim professionals in the Phoenix Valley of Arizona. The group's founder is M. Zuhdi Jasser, M.D.

Dr Jasser is the son of Syrian immigrants, and his medical specialty is internal medicine and nuclear cardiology. He served as a Lieutenant Commander in the United States Navy, receiving an Honorable Discharge 1999.

And from their "Mission Statement":

Mission: We proud citizens of the United States of America join together as devoted and patriotic citizens and as devout Muslims in this forum in order to serve as a vehicle for the discussion and public awareness of the complete compatibility of America's founding principles with the very personal faith of Islam which we practice.

Core Principles and Goals:

To be a voice of Muslim American citizenry in strong support of the following:


  1. The devout practice of Islam and the Islamic concept of consultation and consent (shura) as being wholly compatible with the American form of democracy

  2. The support of the separation of religion and state as being perfectly non-contradictory with Koranic principles.

  3. As United States citizens we support our American armed forces.

  4. As United States citizens we support absolute and literal adherence to our citizenship pledge.

  5. We support our American interests, domestic and foreign.

If you're still not sure about AIFD read this interview of Dr Jasser by Katheryn Jean Lopez of National Review.

Free Muslims Coalition

Another strong reform-minded organization is the href="http://www.freemuslims.org/">Free Muslims Coalition. From their mission statement

The Free Muslims Coalition is a nonprofit organization made up of American Muslims and Arabs of all backgrounds who feel that religious violence and terrorism have not been fully rejected by the Muslim community in the post 9-11 era.

The Free Muslims was created to eliminate broad base support for Islamic extremism and terrorism and to strengthen secular democratic institutions in the Middle East and the Muslim World by supporting Islamic reformation efforts.

The Free Muslims promotes a modern secular interpretation of Islam which is peace-loving, democracy-loving and compatible with other faiths and beliefs. The Free Muslims' efforts are unique; it is the only mainstream American-Muslim organization willing to attack extremism and terrorism unambiguously. . Unfortunately most other Muslim leaders believe that in terrorist organizations, the end justifies the means.

Their founder, Kamal Nawash, had a rough start in life but all that changed when his parents came to America. Best of all, Nawash appreciates what this country has to offer.

Kamal Nawash began life as a Palestinian refugee. One of six children born in Bethlehem, Kamal was nine years old when his family arrived in New Orleans in 1979.

Upon completing his education in 1997, he became the Legal Director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), Today Kamal is a successful attorney with degrees in business and law and international legal studies. An active member in his community, as well as in his voting district, Kamal ran as a Republican candidate for Virginia State Senate in 2003.

After 9-11 Kamal was dismayed to see the nearly mute reaction of American Muslims to the tragedy waged by Islamic extremists. As time progressed and President Bush launched the War on Terrorism, American Muslims did very little to show their support for the President's initiative and often actually criticized his efforts to fight Islamic terror. Kamal saw the need for Muslims to speak out against terror and he founded the Free Muslims Coalition.

International Quranic Center

On their advisory board is is Exiled Egyptian cleric Sheikh Dr. Ahmed Subhy Mansour. Sheikh Dr Mansour has his own organization, the International Quranic Center. A true reformer, his studies have led him to form his own branch of Islam which is neither Sunni nor Shia, which he calls Quranist. From their mission statement

The IQC is committed to spreading a vision of Islam that is true to the letter and spirit of the Quran and that focuses on the consistency between the word of God and democracy and human rights. Our goals are to:
  1. To advocate peaceful reform in the Muslim world based on democracy and human rights and to offer practical strategies for such change;
  2. To mobilize on the web and convene in person open-minded scholars of the Quran to share research demonstrating the consistency of Islam with democracy;
  3. To communicate the value of ecumenical democracy to Muslims of all denominations;
  4. To initiate a real inter-religious dialogue among Muslims, Christians, Jews, and members of all religions who believe in creating societies based upon tolerance and justice.
  5. To educate Muslims in America to understand and interpret Islam as consistent with American democracy.

Irshad Manji

No discussion of Muslim reformers would be complete without Irshad Manji. Her 2004 book The Trouble with Islam Today, A Muslim's Call for Reform in Her Faith earned her the hatred of radicals and no doubt many death threats. From her website

Irshad is Director of the Moral Courage Project at New York University. It aims to develop leaders who will challenge political correctness, intellectual conformity and self-censorship. In the best spirit of liberal education, the Moral Courage Project teaches that rights come with responsibilities, that we are citizens rather than members of mere tribes, and that meaningful diversity embraces different ideas and not just identities. ...

Born in 1968, Irshad is a refugee from Idi Amin's Uganda. In 1972, she and her family fled to Vancouver, where Irshad grew up attending public schools as well as the Islamic madressa. In 1990, she graduated with honors from the University of British Columbia, winning the Governor-General's medal for top academic achievement in the humanities.

From her description of the book

The Trouble with Islam Today shatters our silence. It shows Muslims how we can re-discover Islam's lost tradition of independent thinking -- known as "ijtihad" -- and re-discover it precisely to update Islamic practices for the 21st century. The opportunity to update is especially available to Muslims in the West, because it's there that we enjoy precious freedoms to think, express, challenge and be challenged without fear of state reprisal. In that sense, the Muslim reformation begins in the West.

It doesn't, however, end there. Not by a long shot. People throughout the Islamic world need to know of their God-given right to think for themselves. So The Trouble with Islam Today outlines a global campaign to promote pluralistic and progressive approaches to Islam. I call this non-military campaign "Operation Ijtihad." In turn, the West's support of this campaign will fortify national security, making Operation Ijtihad a priority for all of us who wish to live fatwa-free lives.

Muslims Agrainst Sharia: Islamic Reform Movement

Lastly, the other day I ran across a group called Muslims Agrainst Sharia: Islamic Reform Movement. In checking out the bona fides of this organization I found a link on their website to an interview of their president, Khalim Massoud, by Jamie Glazov on FrontPage Magazine. It's a very positive interview, and given that the founder and editor of FrontPage Magazine is none other than David Horowitz, we can add this group to our list of genuine reform-minded Muslims.

In the interview Massoud lists the goals of his organization as being

  • To educate Muslims about dangers presented by Islamic religious texts and why Islam must be reformed.
  • To educate non-Muslims about the differences between moderate Muslims and Islamists (a.k.a. Islamic Religious Fanatics, Radical Muslims, Muslim Fundamentalists, Islamic Extremists or Islamofascists).
  • To educate both Muslims and non-Muslims alike that Moderate Muslims are also targets of Islamic Terror.

We need groups and individuals like these to help us win the War on Jihadism. Bombs and bullets, propaganda and economic aid are not enough. Diplomacy is a means to and end, but not an end in itself. Islam must be reformed, and we need to support and encourage reform-minded Muslims.

Posted by Tom at 9:00 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 22, 2008

"Thank you, George W Bush"

If you only paid attention to the usual news sources you'd never guess that President Bush has done more for Africa than any other US president, this even according to Irish rock star Bob Geldorf, who is also an activist for helping the beleaguered continent.

Mr. Geldof praised Mr. Bush for his work in delivering billions to fight disease and poverty in Africa, and blasted the U.S. press for ignoring the achievement.

Mr. Bush, said Mr. Geldof, "has done more than any other president so far."

"This is the triumph of American policy really," he said. "It was probably unexpected of the man. It was expected of the nation, but not of the man, but both rose to the occasion."

"What's in it for [Mr. Bush]? Absolutely nothing," Mr. Geldof said.

It's not just disease and poverty that makes at least some Africans happy with the President, but his democracy initiative draws cheers too. He stopped in Liberia as part of his Africa tour, and got rave reviews

America's popularity verges on exuberance in this nation founded in 1847 by freed U.S. slaves. "If you were to take a survey, you would find that there is not one Liberian that doesn't love George Bush," said Miss Endee, whose songs calling for peace were among the most heavily played during Liberia's civil war.

The Bush administration has made Africa the centerpiece of its aid strategy. Twelve of the 15 countries receiving funding from the five-year, $15 billion President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief are in Africa. Nine African countries are among the 16 drawing grants from Mr. Bush's Millennium Challenge Corp., which provides support to nations that have reached benchmarks from stemming corruption to investing in immunizations.

Since Mr. Bush took office, U.S. development aid to Africa has tripled, funding for HIV programs has vaulted from less than $1 billion to more than $6 billion per year and garment exports from Africa to the United States, fueled by special trade deals, increased sevenfold, according to U.S. statistics.

Development aid has tripled? AIDS spending sextupled? Don't expect much credit for it, Mr President.

It wasn't just in Liberia that they appreciated his efforts, though. The Washington Post has recognized what's going on:

They proclaimed George W. Bush Day in Benin, thronged streets by the tens of thousands in Tanzania and christened the George Bush Motorway in Ghana. As he wrapped up his Africa trip in Liberia on Thursday, they sang about him on the radio, crooning his name and warbling, "Thank you for the peace process."

For a president in his final year in office and saddled with low poll numbers, heading overseas, especially to a generally friendly part of the world, offers affirmation not always available at home. It has been years since President Bush drew crowds in the United States comparable to those he saw in Dar es Salaam, and it's hard to find U.S. highways named after him outside Crawford, Tex. Dancing women at home rarely wear his face on their skirts or blouses.

I suppose I shouldn't crow over all this, but it's kind of hard not to. We on the right do get tired of being portrayed as ogres who don't care about everyone else in the world, and if the right thinks it has a monopoly on patriotism, too the left thinks it has a monopoly on compassion.

Of course, no matter what you do you can't make everyone happy. No doubt there are plenty of folks who want more-more-more aid, who claim that we exaggerate what we send there, that it contains unacceptable conditions, or that it's all a plot to establish military bases so as to expand the US "empire". The "empire" complaint is based on the recently established AFRICOM. President Bush swatted that down when he said that we have no plans for new bases on that continent.

One can debate what we should do for Africa, and whether our aid programs are properly structured. But you can't say that President Bush hasn't tried hard to improve life in Africa, and from what I can tell he's done more than any of his predecessors.

Posted by Tom at 8:23 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 20, 2008

Flex Fuels Revisited

There is a certain type of conservative who delights in using massive quantities of gasoline. They intentionally buy big vehicles like Hummers and put bumper stickers on them like "My SUV and I Do our Part for Global Warming".

All very entertaining, and no doubt most of it is simply a reaction to the nanny-state libs who buy into the global warming hype and want us to drive Mini-Coopers and hand our home thermostat over to the government. I can understand this sentiment, and for the record don't buy into Al Gore's "the earth has a fever" nonsense either.

I do however think that it would be nice if we could reduce on our gasoline useage, but for altogether different reasons that the tree-huggers: much of the petroleum that we import comes from countries that are trying to destroy us. I'm speaking primarily of Saudi Arabia and other Wahhabist gulf states . And even though we do not directly import the stuff from Iran and Venezuela, our demand drives up the price, so they benefit from our consumption.

Last week Dr Zubrin made his case in an article posted on National Review, and on a National Reviewblog on the same site Henry Payne wrote a post in which he criticized Dr Zubrin. Let's take a look at their arguments.

First up is Robert Zubrin. From his article "Breaking OPEC's Grip"

Consider the following: In 1972, the U.S. paid out $4 billion for oil imports, an amount equal to 1.2 percent of our defense budget at that time. In 2006, we paid $260 billion -- about half of what we paid for national defense. Over the same period, Saudi oil revenues have grown in direct parallel: from $2.7 billion in 1972 to $200 billion in 2006 -- which will likely exceed $300 billion this year. Much of that money is being used to fund an international network of front organizations and Wahhabist madrassas devoted to spreading terrorist ideology. Meanwhile, Iran is using its share of the take to fund its nuclear bomb program, as well as terrorist groups like Hezbollah.

If something isn't done to break the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) -- the cartel that dominates and manipulates the global oil market -- the situation is likely to get much worse....

However, there is now a way to break OPEC, a surprisingly simple one. What is needed is for Congress to pass a law requiring that all new cars sold (not just made, but sold) in the U.S. be flex-fueled -- that is, be able to run on any combination of gasoline or alcohol fuels. Such cars already exist -- two dozen different models of flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs) are being produced by Detroit's Big Three this year -- and they only cost about $100 more than identical models that can run on gasoline only. (The switch to FFV requires only two minor upgrades: in the materials used in the fuel line and in the software controlling the electronic fuel injector.)

FFVs currently command only about 3 percent of the new-car market. After all, there is little upside for consumers to own one, with alcohol-fuel pumps being nearly as rare as unicorns. Little wonder: Why should gas-station owners dedicate one of their pumps to alcohol fuels (like E85 -- a mix of 85-percent ethanol and 15-percent gasoline -- or M50 -- a mix of half methanol and half gasoline) when only a tiny percentage of cars can use them? But, within three years of the enactment of an FFV mandate, there would be 50 million cars on American roads capable of running on high-alcohol fuels. Under those conditions, fuel pumps dispensing E85 and M50 would be everywhere -- creating, for the first time, an effectively open market in vehicle fuels, and competition for OPEC oil.
...

By mandating that all new cars sold in the U.S. have flex-fuel capacity, we would induce all foreign automakers who want access to the American car market to switch their lines to flex fuel as well, effectively making flex fuel the international standard. In addition to the 50 million FFVs we'd see in the U.S. in three years, there would be hundreds of millions more worldwide that could be powered by any number of alternative fuels derived from numerous sources around the globe, forcing gasoline to compete everywhere. This would effectively break the vertical monopoly that the oil cartel currently holds on the world's fuel supply, constraining prices to the $50-per-barrel range (where alcohol fuels become competitive).

Such a development would also create a market that would mobilize tens of billions of dollars of private investment into techniques for the production of cellulosic ethanol and other advanced alcohol fuels. Those investments will further reduce the price of alcohol fuels and will radically expand America's and our allies' potential resource base (although methanol already can be produced from any kind of biomass, without exception, as well as coal, natural gas, and urban trash).

After last month's post on Zubrin's idea, commenter jason wrote that a similar program had been tried in Brazil and was in his opinion successful:

The last time I heard people get excited over flex-fuel vehicles was when a group of my friends returned from Brazil. They were impressed with the flex fuel system system in Brazil, most cars were flex fuel and both types of fuel were readily available. The story of how this 'emerging market' country is quickly on the way to energy independence is worth further research. After a little online searching, I was amazed to find that this change in Brazil was started in earnest after the 1970 oil crisis. The Brazilian government poured money into research and development.

---Researchers "developed alloys to protect the internal parts of gasoline-powered engines and fuel tanks from corrosion by ethanol. At the program's peak in 1986-89, 90% of all new vehicles sold in the domestic market were ethanol-fueled.

...Today, Brazil is the second biggest producer of ethanol in the world (20 billion liters) after the United States (24 billion liters). Close to 80% of this is for the domestic market - the fuel used in 45% of Brazilian vehicles is ethanol.---

With Brazil's booming economy, Ford has decided to gain some of the market and has unveiled a flex fuel car in Brazil.

Sure, Brazil has a natural advantage because they grow so much sugar cane. But the story of their path to energy independence is a good rebuttal to those who say there are too many obstacles (it rusts gas tanks, etc) in having the government actively encourage this conversion. Look what government intervention has done for Brazil, imagine if we had 45% of fuel in our cars from ethanol. Would our president still be holding hands with the Sauds?

All very fascinating and exciting. But are these advantages all they're pumped up to be? Henry Payne thinks not. In a post on National Review's Planet Gore blog, he writes that

Brazil, in fact, has followed just the path Zubrin subscribes. But it took that country -- led by a military dictatorship -- much more than just a flex-fuel mandate to get it to an energy market where home-grown ethanol is currently 40 percent of its transportation fuel.

Heavily dependent on OPEC oil, Brazil embarked on a national plan of oil independence during the last oil price panic in the 1970s. Dubbed "Proalcool," the central government nationalized its largest energy company to goose ethanol production, massively subsidized sugar ethanol, mandated the production of ethanol cars, and mandated at least a 25 percent mix of ethanol in gasoline. In effect, government took over its domestic energy sector in the name of national security.

A one would expect from government decrees, there were unintended consequences. Inflation soared thanks to government spending and an agricultural economy now skewed towards fuel -- not food -- production. Brazil suffered widespread environmental degradation with the rush to convert cropland to fuel, and ultimately -- with the collapse of oil prices a mere decade later -- the program failed because ethanol is fundamentally an uncompetitive fuel source relative to oil.

Why? Because ethanol -- whether corn, sugar, or cellulosic (the current U.S. fad) -- contains just 70 percent of the energy content of a gallon of gasoline -- a fact Zubrin blithely ignores. A recent EPA test of 31 flex-fuel cars (FFVs) found they averaged 26 percent fewer miles per gallon when filled with E85 ethanol. For example, the fuel economy of a gas-powered Chevy Tahoe SUV (17 mpg) plunged to 13 mpg on ethanol. Methanol (another so-called alcohol fuel) is even worse, with just 60 percent of gasoline's energy content.

With the rise of democracy in Brazil in the 1990s, much of Brazils' ethanol program was dismantled and pure E100 ethanol use evaporated. But the mandated 25 percent (E25) ethanol mix in gas remained. So as oil prices rose again this decade, the temptation to utilize Brazil's unique sugar resource (the most efficient crop for ethanol) returned and the government has once again intervened in the name of energy independence.

Let me state right here that I am not wedded to "flex fuels" or any other alternative fuel. My goal is to reduce our petroleum consumption because we have to stop funding those who want to destroy us. I'll consider any method that works towards that goal.

So what of it? Zubrin's idea is certainly intriguing. Payne, however, makes some good points that cannot be ignored. Further, I haven't read Zubrin's entire book (and don't have time to) so must recognize that he can't make all his arguments in a short article. Further, I have to think that current ethanol and methanol production techniques can be very much improved if we put our minds to it. I understand how growing corn for ethanol inflates food prices. But as the article commenter jason linked to shows, the Brazilians get a lot of their ethanol from sugarcane and even straw. From what I can tell these fuels can be processed from any number of biological sources, so surely again if we put our minds to it we can vastly improve upon the current process.

The bottom line though is that I really don't have the expertise to say who is right.

I've debated all this with conservatives on a few websites, and I get three lines of objections. One is the "free market" objection. They say that the free market will resolve all of our difficulties if only we'd reduce government regulation. The model they have in mind is Reagan's deregulation of Carter's energy schemes. While I am certainly sympathetic to this line of reasoning, I think it faulty for two reasons. One, the free market hasn't done us any good in this area so far, and two the only way it would produce alternative sources of energy is if prices got higher; usually just the opposite of what consumers want.

The other argument I run into is the "personal freedom" argument. My libertarian side is sympathetic to this as well. I don't like the government telling me what size house I can live in or what size car I can drive either. And this is where I think flex fuels look good; unlike CAFE standards it does not mandate what size car you drive, only what type engine it should have.

The third is a combination of increasing production by opening up ANWR and increasing our refining capacity. Unfortunately, from what I can tell but a bit of google research ANWR would supply maybe 5% or less of our daily consumption. This will have a negligible effect. Increasing refining capacity might be a good thing but I've not seen numbers that convince me that this either would have much effect.

Whether flex fuels are the solution or not, we've got to find some way of reducing our dependence on foreign sources of energy.


Posted by Tom at 8:09 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 19, 2008

LtGen Odierno Interview - Explanation of the Surge and What is to Come

Please watch this in its entirety, as I promise you will not be disappointed.

If you're not aware, LtGen Ray Odierno was commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq from December 14, 2006 until February 14, 2008. He was responsible for day-to-day operations in Iraq, and implementing the "surge" strategy. He reported directly to General Petraeus. Replacing Odierno as part of the normal rotation is Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III. Odierno is scheduled to be the U.S. Army's next vice chief of staff. This video can be seen as a sort of "exit interview".

This video can also be viewed at DODvCLIPS

I think that Odierno gave a very good explanation of what the "surge" was all about, and was honest in his assessment of the situation. "Cautious optimism", I think, best describes his outlook. I do not think you can say that he's looking at the situation through rose colored glasses, but neither is he unduly pessimistic.

Following are the major points that I took from the interview, followed by how each is related to the US Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24 (also available on The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual">Amazon). FM-3-24, edited by Gen Petraeus and released in December of 2006, is the basis for our 2007 strategy in Iraq. (I cannot find a transcript on-line, so any errors are my own.)

Odierno: "(The "surge") was all about protecting the population. It started because of a significant rise in sectarian violence at the end of 06...and what happened was they (the Iraqi people) gave up their passive support of al Qaeda, and now they are rejecting al Qaeda throughout the country....the difference this time was because of the increased amount of coalition forces as well as Iraqi forces we stayed in the Mahallas once we cleared it with enough combat force that would not allow them to take back those areas,.that's what's made the difference."

FM 3-24 / 1-131 SECURITY UNDER THE RULE OF LAW IS ESSENTIAL The cornerstone of any COIN (counterinsurgency) effort is establishing security for the civilian populace. Without a secure environment, no permanent reforms can be implemented and disorder spreads.

3-67 PHYSICAL SECURITY. During any period of instability, people's primary interest is physical security for them and their families. When HN (host nation) forces fail to provide security or threaten the security of civilians, the population is likely to seek security guarantees from insurgents, militias, or other armed groups. This situation can feed support for an insurgency.

Odierno: "What I worry about is, there's a window. And we need is some political progress in order to maintain this window. And if we don't maintain the window, the populate will feel that they have no where to turn and I don't know what will happen then, and so this is what makes this somewhat of a tentative security gain right now. Because unless you have the populace behind you you will not maintain security."

FM 3-24 / 1-113 LEGITIMACY IS THE MAIN OBJECTIVE. The primary objective of any COIN operation is to foster development of effective governance by a legitimate government.

Odierno: "Here is the bottom line ,is what happened was is they for the first time felt that they were secured enough to where to fight al Qaeda and they chose, they chose they'd rather work with the coalition forces than work with al Qaeda, they want to be part of the future of Iraq...to be recognized by the government of Iraq, and that means a lot to them, so that's why the reconciliation effort as we move forward is so important."

Here is LtCol (Dr) David Kilculen (former senior counterinsurgency advisor to Gen Petraeus) on the importance of getting the population on your side

"...what is essential here is making the population choose. The gratitude theory - "be nice to the people, meet their needs and they will feel grateful and stop supporting the insurgents" - does not work. The enemy simply intimidates the population when COIN forces / government are not present resulting in lip-service as the population sees COIN forces / government as weak and easily manipulated. In time, this leads to hatred of COIN forces / government by the population. On the other hand, the choice theory - "enable (persuade, coerce, co-opt) the population to make an irrevocable choice to support COIN forces / government usually works better. The population typically desires to "sit on the fence" and not commit to supporting any side in an insurgency / COIN environment. COIN forces / government need to get the population off that fence and keep them there. This requires persuading the population, then protecting them, where they live."

Odierno: (Discussion of the importance of the "three R's": reconciliation, returning of displace persons, and reconstruction) "We have moved from a majority of lethal operations at the beginning of 07 to a majority of non-lethal operations in the beginning of 08."

FM 3-24 / 1-153 SOME OF THE BEST WEAPONS FOR COUNTERINSURGENTS DO NOT SHOOT. ...While security is essential to setting the stage for overall progress, lasting victory comes from a vibrant economy, political participation,and restored hope. Particularly after security has been achieved, dollars and ballots will have more important effects than bombs and bullets. There is a time when "money is ammunition." Depending on the state of the insurgency, therefore, Soldiers and Marines should prepart to execute many nonmilitary missions to support COIN efforts. Everyone has a role iin nation building, not just Department of State and civlil affairs personnel.

Odierno: "There is no doubt they (the Iraqi Army) are fighting. They are staying they are fighting, they are fighting bravely...About 80% of the battalions that are available in the Iraqi army are capable of doing planning and executing operations. That's a significant improvement. Where they still need help is in logistics, they still are having problems sustaining themselves over the long term."

FM 3-24 THE HOST NATION DOING SOMETHING TOLERABLY IS NORMALLY BETTER THAN US DOING IT WELL. It is just as important to consider who performs an operation as to assess how well it is done. Where the United States is supporting a host nation, long-term success requires establishing viable HN leaders and institutions that can carry on without significant US support.

Odierno: "(at the beginning of the surge) First, we decided to push everyone (American troops) out into the population, and that was done before we brought forces on....We got more and more people out into the neighborhoods as the surge went on and we had less and less people at the large forward operating bases....and we learned that was a very successful tactic.... We're finding that with the interaction with the population you gain their trust and confidence and they give you information..more accurate information."

FM 3-24 / 1-149 SOMETIMES, THE MORE YOU PROTECT YOUR FORCE, THE LESS SECURE YOU MAY BE. Ultimate success in COIN (counterinsurgency) is gained by protecting the populate, not the COIN force. If military forces remain in their compounds, they lose touch with the people, appear to be running scared, and cede the initiative to the insurgents. Aggressive saturation patrolling, ambushes, and listening post operations must be conducted, risk shared with the populace, and contact maintained...These practices endure access to the intelligence needed to drive operations. Following them reinforces the connections with the populace that help establish real legitimacy.

1-159 Unsuccessful Practices: ...Concentrate military forces in large bases for protection.

Odierno: "As long as they (the Iraqi people) feel safe... they will continue to support us... if they feel rejected by their government.. that will be a turning point on what decision they make."

Odierno: (Q: "What is the most valuable lesson you'd like to pass along to your successor?")
Number one is you have to secure the population, that is everything. And that doesn't mean we have to do it, you can do it with Iraqi security forces....

Odierno: "It is a very complex environment..."

Odierno: "I go out on patrols 4 or 5 times a week... And it is very interesting now that we've moved into the neighborhoods....When the soldiers go downtown they (the people) know them by name....That's really what's changed, those relationships, those confidence levels... And also doing it side by side with the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police, where the population is gaining confidence in them as a security force."

Odierno: "If Iraq becomes a real contributor in the Middle East, with a democratic government, that is an ally with the United States, that helps to being peace and stability to the Middle East, I think you'll see 2007 as the turning point. But there's still a lot of work to be done."

Odierno: "The work has to be done mainly by Iraqis....And we have to have patience with them to move forward, and I think if we do that we'll be successful."

FM 3-24 1-159 ...Successful Practices: ...Place host-nation police in the lead with military support as soon as the security situation permits.

Odierno: "It's also important for us to remember those who have given their lives, and those who's lives have been changed forever because of injury...so that their sacrifice was not in vain.

Odierno: "I think this is the right thing to do on many different levels, I think it is the right thing for our own country, because I think overall it will provide stability in the Middle East, it will also protect against future terrorism. Secondly, I think it is right for the Iraqi people. 99% of the Iraqi people want to move forward and have good lives for their children, and they have sacrificed and been resilient, and we owe it to them as well."

Odierno: "I also want to thank the American people...."

Odierno: "We need to push the (Iraqi) government to move forward, we need to push the government to be unified with all Iraqis. Those are the kinds of things that if they don't happen could derail the sacrifice and progress that's been made so far this year."

FM 3-24/ 1-4 Long-term success in COIN depends on the people taking charge of their own affairs and consenting to the government's rule. Achieving this condition requires the government to eliminate as many causes of the insurgency as feasible.

1-108 In almost every case, counterinsurgents face a populace containing an active minority supporting the government and an equally small militant faction opposing it. Success requires the government to be accepted as legitimate by most of that uncommitted middle, which also includes passive supporters of both sides. Because of the east of sowing disorder, it is usually not enough for counterinsurgents to get 51 percent of populat support; a solid majority is often essential.

Me: The effort in 2006 to write FM-3-24 was led by then LtGen David Petraeus. Petraeus stared out OIF as a major general commanding the 101st Airborne during the initial invasion. In June of 2004 he was promoted to lieutenant general and was placed in command of e Multi-National Security Transition Command Iraq, which had the responsibility of training the new Iraqi security forces. In October of 2005 he returned to the United States and assumed command of the Combined Operations Center in Ft Leavenworth, KS, where he led the project to write FM-3-24. It was released on Dec 15, 2006. Petraeus was promoted to full General and placed in command of Multi-National Forces Iraq in January of 2007.

2007 has certainly been a learning experience. It seems clear that we got things backward the first several years of OIF(Operation Iraqi Freedom); we focused on political and economic progress hoping that they would quell the insurgency, when exactly the opposite is the truth.

So the fact is that sending more troops to Iraq was right and essential because it allowed commanders such as Odierno to redeploy troops from large operating bases into the population. We could do this with 20 brigades, but not with the pre-surge level of 15. Critics who said we were only "sending more troops to do the same thing" would have had a point if what they were saying was true. However, with the additional troops we employed an entirely different strategy, and this is what made the difference.

On the other hand, we on the right should not be so quick to dismiss the importance of the "benchmarks" that were established by congress last year. They are in fact important, and just because one suspects that some Democrats put them in place hoping the Iraqis would fail and thus provide an excuse for immediate withdrawal does not diminsh their importance. On the one hand we need to push the Iraqis to make solid gains, but on the other we can't be so quick to cut-and-run of they don't do everything on our timetable.

Odierno and all other generals I have seen interviewed stress that our gains are fragile and could be reversed if we pull out too soon or if the Iraqis themselves do not uphold their end of the bargain. Establishing hard-and-fast timelines is not the answer, but putting pressure on the Iraqis is. Reasonable people can disagree on at what point we might need to cut our losses and withdraw, but from where I sit were are nowhere near that point now. Much progress is in fact being made and if current trends hold I believe we will win.

Posted by Tom at 11:30 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 16, 2008

Silver Spring MD Recruiting Station - Countering the Leftists

Yesterday, February 15, about a dozen or so hard-core leftists gathered outside of the Armed Forces Recruiting Station at 8202 Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring MD, from 4-6pm. There to counter them and support the troops was Free Republic.

World Can't Wait staged a series of protests at 6 military recruitment centers across the US.

Here's the background on this group from David Horowitz' Discover The Networks website

Founded in June 2005 by Charles Clark Kissinger, a longtime leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party, World Can't Wait (WCW) is a direct action movement seeking to organize "people living in the United States to take responsibility to stop the whole disastrous course led by the Bush administration." The organization asserts that removing President Bush from office "will be like removing a forty-pound tumor from your gut." WCW vows "to send Bush, Cheney and the rest of those fascists packing. ... After that, there are people in 'World Can't Wait' who are working for everything from reforming the Democratic party, to building a 3rd party, to revolution."

Also present were a few members of Code Pink, including Desiree Anita Ali-Fairooz, the woman who attacked Secretary of State Rice last October 24 as she prepared to testify before Congress. Here she is on that day

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And here she was yesterday, trying to explain to an Army recruiter (just out of the picture) why the war in Iraq was evil etc. Needless to say, he wasn't buying.

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The protesters gathered at the corner of the parking lot maybe a 100 feet away from the recruiting center. In this photo, Georgia Avenue is to the left, and the parking center and recruiting center are to the right. On the opposite end of the parking lot was Free Republic, which you can see in the background. One of our members had a large Amercan and US Marine Corps flag, which you can see waving proudly in the breeze.

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One leftist had on a Palestinian kuffiyeh "support" scarf. You might recognize that his sign is recycled from previous protests. I saw it last Sept 15 at GOE III and GOE I, at the International ANSWER protests in Washington DC.

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This is the flyer that they were handing out to passers by

World Can't Wait Flyer


Here's the view from behind the FReepers. At the end of the sidewalk are the leftists

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And here we are. As the cars would slow for a traffic light, motorists could observe the scene. We got many honks, friendly waves, and thumbs up from them.

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Here's Desiree Anita Ali-Fairooz with a typical Code Pink sign

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Throughout most of this the military recruiters stayed in their office, windows shuttered and door locked. In good military fashion they prepared for the worst, fearing a repeat of the seige of the US Marine Corps Recruiting Station in Berkeley, California. No doubt they were monitoring the situation from inside. After some time, though, one of the recruiters came outside and stood in the parking lot where he could observe the protesters better. There was a Montgomery County police officer in the parking lot, but he left after awhile and we were never sure if he was there to monitor the protest or if he was just there by accident.

The Leftists Ratchet Up their Protest

Eventually growing bored with standing at the street corner, shortly after 5:00 some of the Pinkos decided to head over to entrance of the recruiting station and entertain themselves by chanting slogans. By this point two of the recruiters were out front, engaged in debate with the leftists

Here's the scene

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One of our number decided that he wasn't going to let the leftists have it all to themselves. The big orange sign says "Hey! Recruiter Leave our Kids Alone!

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The leftists started chanting and unfortunately I didn't have a recorder or notepad, so I didn't get their exact words, but it was something to the effect of "No More Rape, No More Torture, No More War"; standard leftist fare. Yawn. This group was a pale imitation of their brethren in Berkeley and elsewhere. They didn't attempt any vandalism or try to force their way inside the recruiting center. They drew some slogans on the parking lot with chalk but that's it.

After chanting for maybe 10 or 15 minutes they grew bored, and some returned to their street corner. Others stayed to try and debate the recruiters and a few of us. We heard all of the usual stuff; that we are "bombing Iraq" (apparently at random), doing nothing but "killing women and children" (no terrorists ever die in their world), that 1.2 million Iraqis had died since the invasion (no doubt referencing the hightly questionable Lancet Study, and when the terrorist kill people it's still our fault), and the "how would you like it if the Chinese invaded the United States and imposed their system here" (the logical fallacy of moral equivalence). As debating them is pointless, I mostly just stood and observed. Here's the scene

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The two recruiters handled the situation with grace. They patiently explained to the leftists why the war was justified, what we were trying to do, and that in fact the surge was succeeding. They were quite knowledgeable and overcame the leftist's objections one by one. Each had served in Iraq.

Around 6:00 the leftists decided they'd made their point and stared to pack up. We thanked the recruiters for their service and were sorry that they had to put up with a bunch of idiot protesters. They in turn expressed their appreciation that we were there to show support.


You can see all of my photos on my Photobucket site.

Here are additional photographs taken by fellow FReeper "Mrs Trooprally."

Update

Leftists physically attacked and vandalized the Armed Forces Recruiting Center at 14th and L Streets in Washington DC that same day. From Indymedia, which apparently approves of this sort of activity:

At the peak of the second"Funk the War" dance party/protest, the entire group swarmed the military recruiter at 14th st, with about half the group getting inside and the rest securing the entry and plastering windows with stickers.

After many previous protests had found the 14th st recruiter "closed" at 5PM, Funk the War found them open, and the door unlocked at nearer to 6Pm and promptly exploited the situation by demonstrating to them first hand how an occupying force behaves.

After a loud commotion inside while outnumbered cops watched, recruiters finally managed to get protesters to leave-but not before literature and full-body length cardboard displays in the street window area were destroyed. In addition, hundreds more "Funk the War" stickers were plastered all over just about everything that would take them. By the time everyone was out it looked like a tornado had swept through the lobby.

One recruiter tried to grab an activist but found himself overpowered by SDS's superior strength and numbers and had no choice but to give up!

This came on the heels of the whole group marching in K st and Connecticut Ave at the height of rush hour, closing War Profiteer's Row to cars fro quite a while. The group closed out by going after DC GOP headquarters, but that door was locked and there were too many cops around to break it down.

If conservatives did this they'd call us terrorists.

Posted by Tom at 12:30 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 13, 2008

AQI On The Run Part II

Two days ago MG Mark Hertling, Commander of Multi-National Division-North ( also known as Task Force Iron) and the 1st Armored Division, told reporters that al-Qaeda in Iraq was "leaving the country because of what they perceive as an increasing amount of pressure." Pressure, that is, from the U.S. and Iraqi Armies. If you don't want to believe MG Hertling that AQI is in trouble you can read all about it in a story published last Friday in The Washington Post.

The bottom line to the story is that AQI knows it has suffered serious setbacks in 2007, and is attempting to change tactics.

Here are some key excerpts

From internal documents and interviews with members of al-Qaeda in Iraq, a picture emerges of an organization in disarray but increasingly aware that its harsh policies -- such as punishing women who don't cover their heads -- have eroded its popular support. Over the past year, the group has been driven out of many of its strongholds. The group's leadership is now jettisoning some of its past tactics to refocus attacks on American troops, Sunnis cooperating closely with U.S. forces, and Iraq's infrastructure.

The Post reporter even spoke with a member of AQI. It's interesting stuff, but 65 years ago would they have met with an SS trooper? Not if they wanted to avoid FDR's wrath they wouldn't have.

"We made many mistakes over the past year," including the imposition of a strict interpretation of Islamic law, he told a Washington Post special correspondent. Al-Qaeda in Iraq followers broke the fingers of men who smoked, whipped those who imbibed alcohol and banned shops from selling shampoo bottles that displayed images of women -- actions that turned Sunnis against the group.

Ogaidi(the AQI terrorist) said the total number of al-Qaeda in Iraq members across the country has plummeted from about 12,000 in June 2007 to about 3,500 today.

But remember Clausewitz' dictum that the enemy is "an animate object that reacts."

The insurgent group is now reaching out to disaffected Sunni tribal leaders in a bid to win back their support, even as it attacks Sunnis working closely with the Americans, according to Abdullah Hussein Lehebi, an emir from the Amiriyah section of Anbar south of Fallujah. "In exchange, we would not target them again and would respect the authority of the tribal leaders," he said in an interview with a Post special correspondent at a date orchard near the Euphrates River in Amiriyah.

Lehebi, 47, whose nom de guerre is Abu Khalid al-Dulaimi, said the group's main focus now was to attack bridges, oil pipelines and telephone towers, as well as U.S. troops and their Sunni allies.

Further, we shouldn't be under any illusions that AQI has ceased to be able to intimidate people into submission. An AP story in today's Washington Times makes it clear that such tactics are alive and will in the dangerous Diyala Province up north (MG Hertling's AOR):

Fear is more than a four-letter concept in Iraq's Diyala pro-vince. It's real. It's constant. It's all-pervasive, and for years, while the area was under the thumb of al Qaeda, it was a matter of life and death.

It still is all of the above.

The number of active al Qaeda terrorists in the province north of Baghdad is thought to be less than a hundred following Operation Raider Harvest.

Yet the fear remains palpable.

The center of gravity in an insurgency is the population, not the enemy. In order to succeed we must secure the population, the objective of which is to get them off of the fence and into our camp.

And many Iraqis are helping us out. Rich Lowry, just back from Iraq, tells the story of a very brave little girl:

Gen. Mark Hertling, who commands American forces in the north, recalls being introduced in the village of Himbus to a 12-year-old girl who had pointed out where the al-Qaeda thugs were hiding. "I asked her why she had done that," Gen. Hertling says, "and she said, 'They killed my two brothers, my father couldn't farm, and I couldn't go to school.' "

It would still be that way without U.S. forces. Iraq is a mind-bogglingly complex country that defies generalizations, except this one -- where U.S. troops have a substantial presence, there is more security, more grass-roots political ferment, and more economic activity.

And on the Political Front

We're all aware the the national Iraqi government is not at all performing like we want it to. Progress is being made, however. The Belmont Club links to this AP story

BAGHDAD - Iraq's Parliament cleared the way Wednesday for provincial elections that could give Sunnis a stronger voice and institute vast changes in Iraq's power structure after the Oct. 1 vote.

The new law is one of the most sweeping reforms pushed by the Bush administration and signals that Iraq's politicians finally, if grudgingly, may be ready for small steps toward reconciliation.

Make sure you follow the link to The Belmont Club for Richard Fernandez' excellent analysis of what it means.

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Iraq Briefing - 11 Feb 2008 - AQI Is On the Run

Posted by Tom at 7:49 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 12, 2008

Book Review - The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades)

Robert Spencer is one of the bravest writers today. Those who criticize Christianity, such as Christopher Hitchens, can do so secure in the knowledge that the worst they will receive in return is hate-mail. Those who criticize Islam must live in secure locations, for the worst they will receive is to be killed.

This is not to say that I necessarily agree with everything Spencer has written. I don't. He goes too far, I think, at times. But in our age of political correctness in which we're all supposed to think that Islam is a "reiigion of peace" and how-dare-you-even-ask-questions-about-it we need someone who is not afraid to take a look under the hood.

The reason why this is important, I think, is twofold; one, that we have to force Muslims to come to terms with aspects of their faith that they would rather ignore. Second, that non-Muslims as well need to face uncomfortable truths about Islam.

The alternative is more of our current political correctness in which we issue soothing statements that "Islam is a religion of peace" and that "90% of Muslims reject al Qaeda", or the reassuring "Islam has been hijacked by a band of extremists."

Spencer shows that violent jihad is integral to the way Islam is and has been interpreted by mainstream Islamic scholars throughout the centuries, and that far from "peaceful coexistance", their goal is worldwide Caliphate.

Some months ago I read and reviewed his 2006 book The Truth About Muhammed. I just finished his 2005 book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), and will review it here. Spencer is also the founder and primary author at JihadWatch.

As the title implies, Spencer's book is divided into two main parts and a short third section. The first is an overview of Islam as he sees it, and the second is a historical overview of the crusades. There is a shorter section on "Today's Jihad".

The short version of his overview of Islam is that it is a religion of war which is intolerant of anyone who will not submit and is used to oppress women. The chapter titles for this section tell the story

Muhammed: Prophet of War The Qur'an: Book of War Islam: Religion of War Islam: Religion of Intolerance Islam Oppresses Women Islamic Law: Lie, Steal, and Kill How Allah Killed Science The Lure of Islamic Paradise Islam-Spread by the Sword? You Bet

I have not read the Quoran, so I really can't say how accurate Spencer's work is. But I can read the newspaper, and I have figured out by now that a whole lot of Muslims would indeed agree with Spencer's interpretation of their religion. They just think it's a good thing.

I do not want to get into a "Christianity/Judiasm vs Islam" here, but one point needs to be made. According to Spencer, the Quoran teaches that war must be fought against unbelievers all over the world until they are defeated and Islam rules. The old Testament books of the Bible teach only that the Jews occupy land promised them by God and make war upon those people, and those people only. Therefore, unless you are a Hittite, Cannanite, Jebusite, or Philistine, you've got nothing to worry about from even the most fundamentalist Christian or Jew.

Spencer's thesis is that Islam was not "hijacked" by extremists who have "misinterpreted" the Quoran, but that Islam is in and of itself a violent religion. This does not mean, he stresses, that all Muslims are violent or subscribe to the jihad:

...there are enormous numbers of Muslims in the United States and around the world who want nothing to do with today's global jihad. While their theological foundation is weak, many are heroically laboring to create a viable moderate Islam that will allow Muslims to coexist peacefully with their non-Muslim neighbors. They are to be commended, but make no mistake: This moderate Islam does not exist to any significant extent in the world today.

In other words, "moderate" Muslims are those who simply don't follow their own faith.

All of this raises the question; if Islam is so bad, how can we possibly succeed in Iraq? Again, we need to recognize that as Spencer says "there are enormous numbers of Muslims ...who want nothing to do with today's global jihad." Many of those, as we are seeing, are in Iraq.

The solution, I think, is that Islam needs a true reform movement. "Moderate" Islam isn't enough, for clearly they are not able to stop the extremists. As Walid Phares says, we are in a war of ideas, but it's so much not the West against Islam, as it is modernity against ancient ways of thinking. The war is being fought within Islam, and within the West. Right now it's the moderates vs the extremists in Islam, and in the West it's those who see the danger vs the new breed of anti-antijihadists (or anti-antiterrorists, as you wish. They are the intellectual heirs to the leftist anti-anticommunism of the Cold War).

By "reform", I mean that the text of the Quoran and the Hadith need to be reexamined and reinterpreted. The hard passages must not be ignored. These reformers will have their job cut out for them, and arguable have a more difficult task than even Martin Luther, John Calvin, and their heirs did for Christianity.

The Crusades

Whatever the merits of his views on Islam, Spencer is on more solid ground when discussing the Crusades. His technique here is simply to cite historical events and let them speak for themselves. Here is a brief chronology

622 - 632 A.D. Mohammed leads armies in conquering the Arabian peninsula

632 - Mohammed dies

634 - A small seaborne invasion of India is mounted

635 - Damascus falls to Muslim armies, and the whole of the region shortly thereafter

668 & 717 - Muslim armies lay seige to Constantinople (modern day Istanbul), capitol of the Byzantine Empire, but fail to take the city

639 - The Muslim invasion of Egypt begins

633-656 - The Muslim conquest and defeat of the Persian Empire

647 - 709 - The conquest of North Africa by Muslim armies

664 - Muslim armies invade India

711 - Muslim armies under Tariq ibn-Ziyad invade what is today Spain. By 715 the conquest is complete. After this conquest they head north into what is today France. They will rule all or part of the Iberian peninsula until 1492

732 - A Muslim (Moorish) army is defeated by Charles Martel ("the Hammer") at a location between Tours and Poiters in what is today France

792 & 848 - Additional Muslim armies attack what is today France but are defeated

827 - Muslim armies invade Italy and Sicily. In 846 they reach Rome, but after exacting a promise of tribute from the Pope they do not sack the city. The Muslims eventually leave Italy, but occupy Sicily until 1091, when they are driven out by the Normans

1071 - An army of Seljuk Turks defeat the Byzantines at the Armenian town of Manzikert, leaving them free to occupy Asia Minor (the modern-day Turkish peninsula)

Note all of this occurs before the first Crusade is called

1095 - Pope Urban II receives an appeal for help from the Emperor of Byzantium, who has been under attack from the Muslim Caliphate for several centuries. He issues his call to what becomes the First Crusade in response.

The Crusades, therefore, were really a response to several hundred years of unending assault by Muslim armies who did all they could to conquer the Christian world. They were an attempt to recapture land once held by Christian and Jewish nations or empires. They were, then, a defensive operation. Their practical effect was to relieve Europe from attack for a few centuries while we took the war to the Muslims.

The point of all this is not so much to justify the Crusades as it it to demolish the PC myth of "poor innocent Muslims sitting around minding their own business when the bad Crusaders swept down on them committing atrocities."

And, of course, after the Crusaders were defeated and their new kingdoms demolished, Islam started right up again attacking the West. Their last big assault (before our modern war, anyway), was an attack upon Vienna, Austria, by a Turkish army in 1683.

All in all this is a worthwhile book. If nothing else it demolishes many politically correct mantras about Islam. Those who want more from Spencer will want to consult his The Truth About Muhammed. However, none of these can really be called scholarly books, so readers who want an in depth and complete treatment of Islam will have to go elsewhere.

Posted by Tom at 9:30 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 11, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 11 Feb 2008 - AQI Is On the Run

Not only is al Qaeda in Iraq on the run, many are fleeing the country. The 1st Armored Division, in concert with the Iraqi Army and aided by the people of Iraq, have made much of Diyala unsafe - for al Qaeda.

Maj.Gen. Mark Hertling, Commander of Multi-National Division-North ( also known as Task Force Iron) and the 1st Armored Division, spoke via satellite today to reporters at the Pentagon. MG Hertling provided an update on Operation Iron Harvest, which is his part of Operation Phantom Phoenix. Phantom Phoenix is the Corps level operation which is takign place across the entire country. MG Hertling reports to Lt.Gen Ray Odierno, who in turn reports to Gen Petraeus.

(note that while the video expires from the PentagonChannel website after a month or so, it can still be viewed at DODvCLIPS)

The transcript for this briefing is here.

Here are the parts of this briefing that I found the most interesting

From MG Hertling's opening remarks

A major part of the ongoing -- excuse me -- a major part of the reasons for the ongoing success is Diyala's -- is the -- Diyala and the Iraqi security forces' capacity to work with us in these very complex operations. And then it's been our combined ability to establish with the Iraqi security forces enduring bases in the province, and finally the improving ability of the government at the national and the local level to serve their citizens. And I can answer some questions on that, if you'd like, later on.

As we all know, it will be key for the Iraqi Army to be able to operate on it's own.

Q Sir, it's Kristin Roberts with Reuters, hoping you can give us your assessment of the strength of al Qaeda right now in your area. The last time we spoke, we spoke about al Qaeda being driven into your area from the west and from the south. So can you give us an idea about their strength today versus maybe two weeks -- two months ago, rather, and the numbers of fighters you're seeing right now?

GEN. HERTLING: Well, Kris, I wouldn't want to give exact numbers, because I'd be wrong. What I will tell you is that there are less now today than there were six weeks ago. We know that for certain. We also know that they've moved to different places. They were in many of the major cities, like Baqubah, like Muqdadiyah, some in Mosul, some in Hawija. And we've seen them move outside of the cities into the desert areas in smaller groups. So we're doing exactly what we're trying to do, and that is, make the cities safer for the Iraqi citizens while continuing to target al Qaeda and the other extremist groups.

In terms of numbers, to be honest, Kris, I wouldn't want to hazard a guess. All we know is that they are still capable of inflicting harm on the Iraqi people. And until we substantially reduce that, we won't be happy.

Q Sir, are you driving any of them out of the country?

GEN. HERTLING: We have had indications that many of them are leaving the country because of what they perceive as an increasing amount of pressure. We have also had indications that several of their leaders are leaving the country with cash, the cash that they were sent to pay fighters with. We are seeing some indications in various forms that there is an attempt at reconsolidating outside of the country and coming back in, so we're watching the borders very closely and, in fact, have captured several fighters at some of the border posts. So not large groups are we driving out, but there are some that are definitely leaving because they perceive, rightfully so, that it's not safe to be here because of our pursuit operations.

Q You also mentioned some that were going to the desert, that were fleeing the cities in your area. Do you have any sense of -- are these members of al Qaeda -- are they going to ground? Do you have the sense that maybe they're going to try to wait out the U.S. presence there? Or are they going to build up new terror groups? Or do you have any idea what they're moving up there to do?

GEN. HERTLING: Well, I think their motives to get out of the city is to gain safety. They know that we are trying to secure -- that we are trying to secure the city and gain the support of the population, which we are doing in droves. The people are beginning to see a better life. So I think the terrorists who have been inside the cities realize that they not only have to deal with Iraqi security forces and coalition forces, but they also have to deal with the citizens of the specific towns and cities, who are beginning to see increased security, so they're turning people in.

That's their biggest fear. So many of them are going to the desert regions to just get away from being ratted out by the citizens by being pointed out and captured.

They're not getting the support. In fact, we've seen indicators that they are -- and you know the terrain over here; you know what it's like. They're staying overnight in abandoned mud huts or next to canals or in caves. So literally they are going in small -- much smaller groups than they have been in the past to just get out of the city so they can avoid capture. But even now we've seen reflections lately, and this is what -- going back to the early questions about driving people out of the country, we are now even beginning to see -- gather intel that some of them are saying it's not even safe in the desert because the night raids are coming to get them. That's some of the reflections that we're beginning to see, and that's a good thing. We want them to keep thinking that they can't sleep well at night because we're coming after them, because, quite, frankly, we are.

Attacks have dropped and leveled off. From what I can tell, most of the trouble these days is in Diyala. Note also MG Hertling's comment about reconciliation; some people are coming forward but the "hardcore guys are still out there". This is classic counterinsurgency; you can't kill all of them, so what you do is find those with whom you can reason and get them to lay down their arms. Counterinsurgency is not all guns and bullets.

Q General, it's Mike Mount with CNN. I just want to go back to my colleague's original question about numbers, and I know you can't really identify a true amount. But are we talking dozens, hundreds or thousands of al Qaeda? And also, if you could just give us some context on the number of attacks now in your AOR compared to what we were talking about six weeks ago and where they're kind of concentrated and how that's coming along?

GEN. HERTLING: Yeah, what I'll tell you -- I'll answer the second question first, Mike, because it's the easier one to answer. We have a great deal of statistics on that.

The attacks against both Iraqi security forces and coalition forces, which we track on a daily basis, have about leveled off from December. We saw a significant drop. It was double last June to what it was in December. We saw a huge decline through the months of June through December, and now it's kind of leveled off. And we think that's because of two things. Number one, it's an increased op tempo -- operational tempo on our part. We're conducting more operations than ever before in the north. Plus, as been stated before, many more of them are attempting to come to our area and go to the last groupings of locations where they think they can find safe havens, which they're quickly finding they can't.

But again, going back to your question about numbers, I don't mean to be evasive, but we just don't know. I mean, we have -- if you ask me about any specific town or city, I might give you a guess and it might be more accurate, but over all in the north, which is the size of the state of Pennsylvania, what we're seeing is some people moving between groups. We're actually -- in fact, I talked with an individual yesterday, as part of reconciliation, who wants to lay down their arms and is promising to lay down arms and the arms of his group in order -- because he's just had enough. He's had enough fighting. And we're seeing increasing indicators that more and more groups -- not just al Qaeda, but others are coming forward. The hardcore guys are still out there.

One more thing that Hertling said bears quoting:

...I've got to tell you, the difference now from my last tour over here is the unbelievable capability of the Iraqi army and, in many cases, the Iraqi police. That Iraqi security forces: They're doing operations; they're getting after it.

Be sure to watch the video and read the transcript.

Update

Al-Qaeda leaders admit: 'We are in crisis. There is panic and fear'

Here is the story on the MNF-Iraq site.

Previous briefings by MG Hertling
19 November 2007
09 January 2008 - Operations Phantom Phoenix and Iron Harvest
22 Jan 2008 - Operation Iron Harvest

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February 8, 2008

Sharia Law is OK by the Archbishop of Canterbury

via today's Washington Times I learn that the Archbishop of Canturbury has "called for applying Islamic Shariah law in Britain in certain instances". The Archbiship, a certain Dr Rowan Williams, said this and more as part of a lecture series. Here are a few tidbits that I picked out this morning

Among the manifold anxieties that haunt the discussion of the place of Muslims in British society, one of the strongest, reinforced from time to time by the sensational reporting of opinion polls, is that Muslim communities in this country seek the freedom to live under sharia law.

He may has well as told us that Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength, and that War is Peace.

But it is important to begin by dispelling one or two myths about sharia; so far from being a monolithic system of detailed enactments, sharia designates primarily – to quote Ramadan again – 'the expression of the universal principles of Islam [and] the framework and the thinking that makes for their actualization in human history'

The "Ramadan" the Archbishop refers to so approvingly is none other than Tariq Ramadan, an apologist for the worst excesses of Islam. Ramadan is the grandson of none other than Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the jihadist groups seeking the restoration of the Caliphate and destruction of the West.

The Archbishop goes on to argue for a "transformative accomodation" of Sharia law into the British legal system, because it seems "unavoidable."

In an interview on BBC Radio 4 the Archbishop repeated many of these themes, if anything even more explicity

It seems unavoidable and indeed as a matter of fact certain provisions of Sharia are already recognised in our society and under our law. So it's not as if we're bringing in an alien and rival system.

In other words, we're not going to ask Muslims to accept Western values, so we'll just accept theirs.

When asked if this would bring stoning to Great Britain, he replied that

There's a lot of internal debate within the Islamic community about the nature of Sharia and its extent; nobody in their right mind I think would want to see in this country a kind of inhumanity that's sometimes been associated with the practice of the law in some Islamic states - the extreme punishments, the attitudes to women as well...

No doubt native Britons don't want these things. But how about some of the Muslims who want the Sharia law? The Archbishop avoids that topic with weasel words, going on about

I think one of the points again that's come up very interestingly in recent discussion between Muslim and other legal theorists is the way in which in the original context of Islamic law, quite often provisions relating to women are more enlightened than others of their day; but you have to translate that into a setting where actually that whole area, the rights and liberties of women has moved on and the principle, the vision, which animates the Islamic legal provision needs broadening because of that.

What jibberish.

Does anyone think that it will end here?

To be sure, as he points out,

We have orthodox Jewish courts operating in this country

Which is something liberal apologists love to bring up. But the last time I checked Western-style civil rights were alive and well in Israel, and yes that includes it's Arab citizens too. No one is afraid of orthadox Jewish law. There is reason to fear Sharia law, and anyone who does not need only look at Islamic countries where it has been implimented, like Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf states.

In the interview the Archbishop insists that Muslims could appeal Sharia court decisions to the regular British court system, and we are supposed to be reassured by this. But Muslims won't put up with this for long. They don't recognize any higher authority than their law, and as the Muslim population increases they would put what would probably become irresistible pressure on the appeal courts to let their decisions stand.

Liberals often roll their eyes when you tell them about Sharia law coming to Europe. They think it's a conservative scare story, the purpose of which is to take away civil liberties, put us under a permanent war footing, etc etc. I've heard and read many say that oh no, Muslims are integrating into European society perfectly well.

If that's true, then why is the Archbishop so willing to grant them their own legal - limited - system within a European country?

Melanie Phillips has more analysis than I have time to write this morning.

Posted by Tom at 8:16 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

February 6, 2008

Super Tuesday

The results are in, and while it's all pretty much over on the GOP side, the Democrats are in a dead heat.

The Republicans

1,191 delegates are needed to win. Here is what each candidate has so far

680 McCain
270 Romney
176 Huckabee

Even though McCain barely has half the delegates he needs to win, he has all the momentum and unless a miracle occurs will win the nomination.

By all rights McCain should not by the Republican candidate. That he did speaks volumes about the weakness of the Republican field. There was simply not a single viable conservative with broad national appeal in the bunch.

Once Thompson dropped out, conservatives spent a lot of time pushing Mitt Romney. It should be clear by now that he can't win in November. That he lost the south on Super Tuesday proves it. Whether this was due to the presence of Huckabee, anti-Mormonism, or lack of "authenticity" on his part is irrelevant. Romney simply couldn't connect with voters. He came across as a programmed ken doll who would say whatever it took to get elected.

By the same token, however, McCain didn't win the south either. The big states that he won (CA, NY, IL, NY & NJ) were those that will go Democrat anyway. He could pick Huckabee as his veep to try and shore up his support in the south, but Huckabee would be the wrong guy to pick. He needs a solid conservative, one without Huckabee's baggage (preacher, one-liners, "too christian").

The problem conservatives have with McCain isn't so much his overall record, which is more conservative than many are now giving him credit for. He has an 82% lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union, which has to count for something. It's more his attitude towards us than anything else. He enjoys being a "maverick"; i.e. unpredictable. He seems to enjoy sticking it to us, and abandoning us on hot-button issues like immigration. It's not that he "reaches out to the other side", it's that he does so gleefully and as if he likes working with Ted Kennedy more than his fellow Republicans. He glows in the media spotlight, which fawns over him.

Further, the hard truth is that McCain's appeal is mostly based on a cult of personality. His persona is the war hero, the guy who endured 5 1/2 years in the Hanoi Hilton. He has exploited this more than any other politician I can think of, and that even includes John Kerry. While George McGovern and Bob Dole famously refused to use their war records in their presidential campaigns, John McCain uses his relentlessly. Yet is is far from clear that military service makes for a better president, even a wartime one. Our two best wartime presidents, Lincoln and FDR, never served.

McCain now has an obligation to reach out to conservatives, and to make a herculean effort to unify the party. When I got home tonight I listened to a robocall on my answering maching from Senator McCain. He spoke about "securing the border first" and appointing Supreme Court justices "like John Roberts and Samuel Alito", as well as the "right to life". These are all important issues for conservatives, and I for one appreciate this first step he took to getting us on board.

The question now is whether conservatives will come together and support McCain if he wins the nomination. If we do, then we stand a chance, at least against Clinton. If not, we're doomed. Conservatives can either pout, sit at home, and put a Democrat in the
White House, or they can grow up and accept that even though McCain leaves a lot to be desired he's much better than any Democrat.

If conservatives want to hold out until the next round of primaries, hoping against hope that Romney (or even Huckabee) can stage an upset that's fine. But the time is fast approaching when it'll all be over.

The Democrats

2,035 delegates are needed to win. Here is what each candidate has so far

818 Clinton
730 Obama

Unlike the situation in the GOP, this race is far from settled.

My heart says that I want the Democrats to keep fighting it out as long as possible. I'de love a brokered convention in which nasty barbs were traded. I'd love to see liberals spend all their money on the primaries.

My head, however, tells me that the infighting among the Democrats is something of an illusion. The Democrats had a huge turnout in their primaries. The Republicans had low turnout. This speaks volumes about how the Democrats are excited about their candidates while the Republicans are not thrilled about any of theirs.

Despite the sniping between Obama and Clinton, the reality is that ideologically there's not a dimes worth of difference between them. Their differences are simply the result of identity politics. In all likelihood they'll unit once they choose their candidate.

On the other hand, there were and are bigger ideological differences between the GOP candidates. There also seems to be more animosity between the various camps. This means that conservatives will have a hard time accepting McCain, whereas ideologically liberals can accept Obama or Clinton.

Conclusion

This race is the Democrats to lose. They can, however be beaten. Despite the undeniable excitement among Democrat voters, both Obama and Clinton have serious libabilities that, if properly exploited, could prove fatal.

But this will only occur if the Republican party units. Conservatives can pout for a time, but sooner or later will have to decide if putting Obama or Clinton in the White House is worth sitting this election out. I think such a decision to be absolutely nuts, and will explore why in future posts. For now we are still in the primary season.

Posted by Tom at 7:00 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

February 5, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 04 Feb 2008 - "We do not drive or commute to work"

Col Wayne Grigsby, Commander of the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division spoke via satellite with reporters at the Pentagon earlier today. Col Grigsby is in FOB Hammer.

Since he gave one of the best summaries I've heard regarding who he is and what his unit does, I'll let the Colonel introduce himself:

I am the commander of the Sledgehammer Brigade and we are part of Multinational Division-Center, or Task Force Marne, under the command of Major General Rick Lynch. We deployed to Iraq in the middle of March '07 as the third of five surge brigades, to interdict the flow of accelerants into Baghdad. We assumed responsibility of an area called the Madain qadha, a portion of the Baghdad province. Our operational environment is approximately the size of Washington, D.C., beltway region adjacent to Baghdad on its eastern boundary. We are part of the Baghdad belts. Our battlespace is populated by a mix of Shi'a, 70 percent; and Sunni, 30 percent. Approximately 1.2 people live in the Madain qadha.

This video and others can be seen at DODvClips.

The transcript can be found here.

Many important points were discussed during this briefing, and there were some very good and tough questions from the journalists. First, however, let's explore what he meant when he said that "We do not drive or commute to work"

Here's the quote in context:

From my vantage point here east of Baghdad, the surge was the right decision at the right time, and the Sledgehammer Brigade was put in the right spot and we're kicking the extremists' butt. We are at the front door of Baghdad, checking ID cards and positively affecting the lives of the good people in the Madain qadha as well as Baghdad.

However, our success cannot be attributed solely to security operations or the application of greater amounts of combat power. We attacked the problems in the Madain qadha by applying pressure on insurgents along all six lines of operation -- being security, governance, economics, transition, information, and rule of law. It requires projecting army units and American soldiers out of large forward-operating bases and into the population centers. We do not drive or commute to work. We live in the towns with the people that we are here to help. We walk to work.

By doing this immediately upon our arrival, we were able to develop strong relationships with governmental, Iraqi security forces, and perhaps most importantly out here, the tribal leaders, and catch insurgents off balance. Our efforts to assist the government and spark the economy, along with our constant presence, have demonstrated to the population and its key leaders that we are trustworthy and committed to the cause of stabilizing the communities we work in and that we will help them, always.

This is important because we did not always operate like this in Iraq. Before Gen Petraeus, our troops largely operated out of five large bases, and did "commute to work". Wesley Morgan explains in "Iraq Reborn" (Feb 11 2008 print edition of National Review, digital subscription required to view on-line)

Soon after the president's address, Petraeus and his civilian counterpart, Amb. Ryan Crocker, gathered a team of well-regarded officers, including Cols. H. R. McMaster, Peter Mansoor, and Bill Rapp. This team drew up a campaign plan that incorporated creative counterinsurgency solutions at all levels, with an emphasis on getting fighters out into hostile areas, keeping them there, and following up on their successes. One key innovation was the formation of a "strategic engagement cell" to lead reconciliation efforts with former insurgents. Another was the relentless emphasis on pushing combat units off the large bases from which they had "commuted to combat" in 2006, and onto outposts from which they could secure the population....

Most important, it was at the tactical level, overseen by battalion commanders, that the strategic emphasis on combat outposts was implemented. Across central Iraq, colonels and lieutenant colonels shouldered the risk of stationing their troops in exposed outposts from which they could more effectively secure the population....

The center of gravity in counterinsurgency operations is the population, not the enemy, and the objective is the population's security, not the destruction of all insurgents -- an impossible goal....

We could not have implimented this new strategy without the "surge brigades", but by the same token we are not succeeding in Iraq simply because we sent more troops.

"Sons of Iraq"

The formation of Concerned Local Citizens groups has been an integral part of our "Hearts and Minds" strategy. They've apparently been renamed to "Sons of Iraq".

Q Colonel, it's Luis Martinez with ABC News. I've just picked up lately that the new term, I guess, is Sons of Iraq. Can you tell us, is this a term for concerned local citizens that they have themselves come up or the Iraqis have come up with, or this is the American forces that have come up with this name? And if so, can you tell us why?

COL. GRIGSBY: This term, Sons of Iraq, I think, came from the government of Iraq. And it just shows -- from my perspective, it just shows that these individuals that are providing security, that are standing up for their country, are exactly what the government of Iraq wants for their country. They want the sons of Iraq to stand up and take care of their country and focus on improving the life of the good people of Iraq.

Q So can I infer, then, that you will no longer be calling the local Iraqis who assist U.S. forces concerned local citizens?

COL. GRIGSBY: That's correct. In the Madain qadha we will call them sons of Iraq, and I think that's throughout Iraq as well.

In response to an earlier question by Courtney Kube from NBC News Col Grigsby said that there were 6,093 Sons of Iraq in the Madain quadha, and that they were a mix of Sunni and Shia. 507 have applied to be national police.

Al Pessin asks the tough questions

Q: Colonel, it's Al Pessin from Voice of America. In your opening remarks you made a very strong case for the importance of numbers in your area. You explained it was 72 soldiers, then went up to 3,500. There was the unit that I guess went away for a while then came back, and you talked about their impact. I understand as you said another brigade's coming in behind you in your specific AOR, but thinking a bit more broadly, given the importance of the numbers, how can U.S. forces keep the lid on, keep the progress going in Iraq after they lose one quarter of the combat power they have now?

COL. GRIGSBY: That's a great question, and I appreciate that. All's I can do is talk about the Madain qadha, and this is what I can tell you.

...by us communicating more with the Sons of Iraq, which causes us to communicate out in the Madain qadha, more with the sheikhs and more with the people and more with the government, then we're starting to -- they're starting to trust us more. They start to realize that we are here to support and assist, and if and when we do reduce some forces in the Madain qadha, the people of Iraq will have a strong stable security element because you have a stood up Iraqi police, you have the Sons of Iraq that are protecting infrastructure and are protecting their neighborhoods.

But most importantly, you now have a functioning government, a government that can now help the people of -- help the people of the Madain qadha....

Q So, Colonel, do you think that -- in the near term that we're talking about, later this year, that the combination of the Iraqi army, the Iraqi police and these irregular Sons of Iraq forces will be able to take the place of one quarter of the U.S. combat power in terms -- in terms of maintaining security?

COL. GRIGSBY: What I'm saying is this is conditions based, and I -- all's I can focus on is the -- in the Madain qadha, and what I see happening in Madain qadha is pretty incredible. I see the individual person standing up and saying, "I do not want this type of violence in the Madain qadha anymore."...

...So as you can see, as these individuals stand up, the extremists can no longer hide where they used to hide in the populace because the populace no longer wants them in the Madain qadha...

Here's the critical part
Q But sir, if I may, even with all that, accepting all that, you've told us that your brigade's going to be replaced with another brigade, a one-for-one swap, but it won't be possible to do that nationwide. So if the local citizens and the Iraqi security could accomplish as much in security terms as you're saying, then it seems it wouldn't be necessary to replace your brigade with another full brigade.

COL. GRIGSBY: All's -- again, all's I can state is what's happening in the Madain qadha.

Again, this brigade was one of the first coalition force brigades that came out here. We came out here with 3,500 soldiers just about 10 or 11 months ago. We've made some great gains, but conditions-based, and we have a lot more to do still out here. I gave a couple examples of that as well, sir, where in certain areas we still need to go out and take care of some extremists. And also, we would need to work very hard with the qadha government so they have that linkage back into Baghdad with the Baghdad governorate. So we have some positive momentum but there's still a lot of work that still needs to be accomplished out here in the Madain qadha.

Q Thank you.

In his first question, Pessin tried to ask about the whole of Iraq, when we reduct our brigades from 20 to 15 ("...after they lose one quarter of the combat power they have now? ) Experienced reporter as he is, I am surprised he didn't know that the Colonel wasn't going to take the bait. Having watched many of these briefings and read many interviews, I can tell you that they are very disciplined about not discussing things either above their rank or outside of their physical area of responsibility.

It would seem to me that the situation in the Madain qadha is such that at this point we don't have enough confidence that our gains will hold if we don't do a one-to-one swap. Pessin makes the accurate observation that there are places in Iraq that we can't do a one-to-one swap, with the implication that those areas might regress. The strategy is to keep our troops in areas that we fear most might go to al Qaeda and other anti-Iraqi elements, and withdraw them from areas we are most confident about. Only time will tell whether this works.

So as far as the Madain qadha is concerned, it seems that this is an area were we are not completely confident that Iraqis can take control by themselves. This doesn't mean that Col Grigsby was blowing smoke in his introdction That Iraqis aren't ready to assume responsibility isn't necessarily "proof" that we aren't succeeding. As Max Boot pointed out in a recent article; "We Are Winning. We Haven't Won."

Yes we want the Iraqis to take over total responsibility as soon as possible. We also have to recognize that this is going to be a very long process. Lt Col (Dr) David Kilcullen pointed out to Charlie Rose a few months ago that there has never been a successful counterinsurgency that took less than 10 years to win. This does not mean that the same number of troops is needed throughout the entire war, because this is not World War II but rather what they call a low-intensity conflict.

Another good interview which contributes to our understanding of the situation in Iraq.

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February 1, 2008

Max Boot: Perspective on Iraq

The title of Max Boot's latest piece in The Weekly Standard says it all

We Are Winning. We Haven't Won. America has a chance at a historic victory in Iraq, but only if we don't pull out too many forces too soon.

Boot is just back from an 11 day tour across central and northern Iraq. I think his report is pretty honest, as he tells the good, the bad, and the ugly. First, though I think it useful to provide a map so that you can somewhat trace where he went

map_of_iraq_basic.gif

Multi-National Force Iraq (MNF-Iraq) has divided it's commands into Areas of Responsibility (AORs). I cannot find a map that shows the various AORs, but if you reference the organization page of the MNF-Iraq website you can figure things out.

Much of what I've posted recently are press briefings by the various generals who command the units you see on that organization site. Contrast them with Boot's assessment and tell me what you think (see links at bottom of post)

Here are what I think are the most important excerpts from Boot's article, but be sure and read it in it's entirety:

I saw many achievements and an equal number of obstacles during 11 days touring the American brigades spread across central and northern Iraq. (I was traveling in the company of my friend and fellow author Bing West at the invitation of General David Petraeus.) In broad strokes, the picture that emerged was of an Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) organization that is on the run but not yet fully eliminated. AQI has been largely chased out of the capital and its southern and northern belts, but the terrorists have taken refuge in the rural areas of Diyala, Salahaddin, and Ninewa provinces, where, as part of a new operation called Phantom Phoenix, American and Iraqi troops are starting to root them out. ...

As we drove the streets of west Mosul in a Humvee, I saw IED-scarred roads flooded from broken water mains--something I had last seen in Ramadi in April 2007. In many areas, shops were closed and no people were visible on the streets.
...

My bleak impressions of northern Iraq were reinforced the next day while visiting Bayji, site of an important oil refinery in Salahaddin province. There are too few American and Iraqi troops stationed here to control a city with a population of 140,000, and it shows.
...

A  good deal of work obviously remains to be done before northern Iraq is pacified--the region now accounts for 61 percent of all attacks in Iraq (Baghdad Province is second with 17 percent). But even here you find pockets of normality. We were told that Tal Afar, which had been occupied by the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in 2005-06, remains relatively stable. We saw for ourselves the resounding success in Kirkuk, a city made up of Kurds and Sunni Arabs. While Bayji has been hit with nine major VBIEDs (vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices) in the past two months, Kirkuk has gone four months without any successful such attacks. The Kirkuk marketplace is bustling and full of Iraqi police. The vibe here was as friendly as it had been hostile in Bayji. No one shot at us. The highlight of my visit was buying a small mountain of delicious baklava for less than $5 from a friendly storekeeper.

The security situation is just as good in western Iraq. Anbar Province, the scene of the heaviest fighting from 2003 to 2007, has become so quiet that Marines are complaining of boredom and their inability to earn combat action ribbons. The transformation in the southern Baghdad belt is less complete but in many cases just as dramatic....

Similar sentiments were expressed in the Dora district of western Baghdad. A predominantly Sunni neighborhood, Dora had been the scene of heavy fighting in 2006, which turned it into a ghost town. The American-led offensive of 2007 produced a dramatic turnaround. Concrete walls were erected to limit access to the neighborhood while American and Iraqi security forces, working out of small bases, confronted the militants. The cumulative impact of such steps has been dramatic: Multi-National Division-Baghdad calculates that 75 percent of the capital is now under control, up from just 8 percent a year ago.
...

Many factors account for the dramatic turnaround. First was the willingness of President Bush to commit more American forces to what was widely deemed a lost cause. Just as important was General David Petraeus's decision to switch the U.S. mission from handing off authority willy-nilly to the Iraqis in favor of trying to secure the safety of the Iraqi population--a basic tenet of counterinsurgency strategy that had never been implemented on a large-scale in Iraq. This meant moving many U.S. soldiers off giant forward operating bases into smaller joint security stations and combat outposts where they could work closely with Iraqi security forces to gain the confidence of the population. Iraqis in turn responded by ratting out the terrorists hiding in plain sight.

But while this growing success would not have been possible absent the American role, it also could not have occurred were it not for the willingness of tens of thousands of Iraqis to come forward and take up arms against extremists, both Sunni and Shia. The Iraqi Security Forces, particularly the army, have grown in size and effectiveness over the past year. In much of southern Iraq, they are the ones maintaining order: imperfectly to be sure, but with only minimal help from coalition forces.

But even more important than the Iraqi Security Forces has been the role played by what American commanders call Concerned Local Citizens (CLCs)--mainly though not exclusively Sunnis who have banded together to chase insurgents out of their neighborhoods. This process, known as the Awakening (sahwa in Arabic), started in Anbar Province in September 2006 and has since spread across all the Sunni areas of Iraq and even into parts of the largely Shiite south. There are more than 80,000 CLCs--with 70,000 of them on the American payroll earning an average of $300 a month: a good wage in Iraq. They enhance not only security but also economic activity.
...

Many of the CLC members are former insurgents themselves who made a conscious decision to switch sides, and coalition forces have received few reports of any going back to fighting the government. The success of the CLCs may be judged from the fact that they have themselves become a top target for AQI....

American commanders who work closely with them rave about the effectiveness of the CLCs. Their main concern is the opposite of the one so often heard in Washington: Instead of worrying about what the CLCs will do if they remain in business, they worry about what they will do if they go out of business.
...

American commanders also worry about the performance, or the lack thereof, of the Iraqi government. The theory behind the surge is that a reduction in violence would make possible political reconciliation. There is some evidence of this occurring, especially at the local level. But at the national level the record is spotty.
...

American diplomatic and military officials have an increasingly low opinion of Maliki. They argue, as do many Iraqis, that he has not been able to overcome the paranoid, conspiratorial habits he developed as an exile plotting against Saddam Hussein.
...

An even more profound cause for hope is that the Americans are finding so many effective partners--Iraqis who are willing to risk their necks to fight with the coalition against extremists, both Shiite and Sunni. Some of these men are members of the CLCs. Others are part of the Iraqi army, which in many areas is undertaking the same kind of civil-affairs work as the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps.
...

... the United States has a real chance to secure a historic victory in Iraq--one that would deal a heavy blow to Sunni and Shiite extremists alike. But only if we don't pull out too many forces too soon, whether motivated by the illusion that we have already won or the delusion that we can never win. The reality is that we are winning but that the war is far from over. We need to make a long-term commitment to prevent Iraq from sliding back into the kind of civil war that began to erupt in 2006. As Abbas put it, "It's very important for your forces to stay here and kick the bad people out." His views were echoed by Abu Abed, a leader of the CLCs in the Ameriya neighborhood of Baghdad. "If coalition forces left it would be a disaster. All of us would get killed," he told us.

There is much of importance here. First, Boot makes clear that we are succeeding not just because we sent more troops, but because of a change in strategy. Second, despite so much of what you read, Iraqis are in fact stepping up to the plate, at least at the local level. Yes the national government remains disfunctional. Too many here are home are using this as an excuse to pull out. Third, the Concerned Citizens Councils seem to me a true Hearts and Minds strategy in action. Fourth, we are winning but haven't won. All could be lost if we withdraw prematurely (this is also made clear by MG Fil, see link below). It seems to me that we've come this far and are indeed now making progress, so we need to see it through.

Military Briefings

Iraq Briefing - 22 Jan 2008 - Operation Iron Harvest: Maj.Gen. Mark Hertling, Commander of Multi-National Division-North. AOR includes the cities of Balad, Kirkuk, Tikrit, Mosul, and Samarra.

Iraq Briefing - 17 January 2008 - LTG Ray Odierno: Lt.Gen Odierno commands Multi-National Corps - Iraq, and the divisional commanders (major generals) report to him. Odierno is responsible for day-to-day operations in Iraq, and he reports to Gen Petraeus. As part of normal rotations, LTG Odierno will be replaced sometime this month by Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin.

Iraq Briefing - 09 January 2008 - Operation Phantom Phoenix Major General Kevin Bergner, Multi-National Force-Iraq spokesman, and Major General Mark Hertling, commander of Multi-National Division-North. MG Hertling's AOR includes the cities of Balad, Kirkuk, Tikrit, Mosul, and Samarra.

The December General Barry McCaffrey Report on Iraq. McCaffrey is retired, so it's not an official Pentagon briefing.

Iraq Briefing 17 December 2007: Major General Joseph Fil, Commanding General of Multi-National Division-Baghdad and First Cavalry Division. Their AOR is the city of Baghdad. (MG Fil and the 1st Cav has since been rotated back home, and taking their place is the 4th Infantry Division, commanded by MG Jeff Hammond.)

Iraq Briefing 10 December 2007: Maj. Gen. Walter Gaskin, Commanding General, U.S. Marine Corps, of Multinational Force West, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward). MG Gaskins AOR includes the cities of Ar Ramadi and Fallujah.

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