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May 28, 2008

Thanks, Scott!

So as I think we all know by now, former Bush Administration Press Secretary Scott McClellan released his new book the other day in which he lambasted the President and other officials. McClellan served in this role from July 15, 2003 to April 19, 2006, in between Ari Fleischer and Tony Snow.

It's title alone, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception, is pretty sensational. What's in it is more so. Since the Amazon product description is too bland to be useful, I'll use the one on Wikipedia

In the book, McClellan unexpectedly and harshly criticizes the Bush administration. He accuses Bush of "self-deception"[1] and of maintaining a "permanent campaign approach" to governing rather than making the best choices.[2] McClellan stops short of saying that Bush purposely lied about his reasons for invading Iraq, writing that the administration was not "employing out-and-out deception" to make the case for war in 2002,[3] though he does write that the administration relied on an aggressive "political propaganda campaign" instead of the truth to sell the Iraq war.[4] The book is also critical of the press corps for being too accepting of the administration's propaganda on the Iraq War[2] and of Condoleeza Rice for being "too accommodating" and being very careful about protecting her own reputation.[1]

Well isn't that nice.

Here's the bottom line; if we take McClellan at his word then he is a self-promoting coward. Anyone who knew what he says he knew should have immediately quit and exposed the whole affair. He should have held his own press conference and then immediately gone before Congress.

But he didn't. He resigned just over two years ago and just now tells us...and in a book where he can make lots of money.

Further, and again for purposes of argument I am taking him at his word, for the almost three years that he was press secretary he lied continually to the press corps. He defended an administration that he knew was engaged in deception. Even more, from what I am reading he never expressed any objection to anyone in the Administration while all this was allegedly going on.

If this is the case then Scott McClellan is a money-grubbing coward. He was unwilling to sacrifice his career when it mattered, and waited until he could make a lot of money to make his revelations.

There are two other possibilities. One is that he is an outright liar, the other that he is speculating on matters he doesn't have full information about. Given the stakes, both are contemptible positions.

But before Democrat anti-war types get too full of themselves over McClellan's book, they need to look at their own in Congress.

For years we have heard from Democrats that "Bush lied (or misled) us into war", that he cooked the books, exaggerated the evidence, etc.

Those are charges so serious as to border on treason.

Yet there has never been a serious move toward impeachment. Before the last elections the excuse was that Democrats didn't have a majority and there efforts would be thwarted, but given the seriousness of the matter you'd think that they'd be courageous enough to stand on principle; if, that is, we take them at their word. But, oddly, now that they've got a majority they do nothing. And given the charges regularly leveled at Vice President Cheney, you'd think they'd be itching to impeach both of them, since now they could get one of their own, Speaker Pelosi, into the White House. They could then just pull out the troops immediately - which is what they claim to want.

So just as McClellan, those in Congress who make the "Bush lied/misled" charge are either cowards or liars themselves. They need to either put up or shut up.

As for McClellan, I doubt his book will be more than a one or two week wonder, especially if this Daily Kos article is any insight as to what the left thinks about him.

Posted by Tom at 9:00 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

May 27, 2008

Yes We Are Safer

To the left it is an article of faith that we are no safer today than we were on Sept 12 2001. Nothing the Bush Administration has done matters one bit. Their primary argument seems to be that Iraq is a distraction from the "real" war.

John Hinderaker of Power Line has done us all a service by actually researching terrorist attacks against the United States at home and abroad. Here's what he found:

On the stump, Barack Obama usually concludes his comments on Iraq by saying, "and it hasn't made us safer." It is an article of faith on the left that nothing the Bush administration has done has enhanced our security, and, on the contrary, its various alleged blunders have only contributed to the number of jihadists who want to attack us.

Empirically, however, it seems beyond dispute that something has made us safer since 2001. Over the course of the Bush administration, successful attacks on the United States and its interests overseas have dwindled to virtually nothing.

Some perspective here is required. While most Americans may not have been paying attention, a considerable number of terrorist attacks on America and American interests abroad were launched from the 1980s forward, too many of which were successful. What follows is a partial history:

1988 February: Marine Corps Lt. Colonel Higgens, Chief of the U.N. Truce Force, was kidnapped and murdered by Hezbollah.

December: Pan Am flight 103 from London to New York was blown up over Scotland, killing 270 people, including 35 from Syracuse University and a number of American military personnel.

1991
November: American University in Beirut bombed.

1993
January: A Pakistani terrorist opened fire outside CIA headquarters, killing two agents and wounding three.

February: World Trade Center bombed, killing six and injuring more than 1,000.

1995
January: Operation Bojinka, Osama bin Laden's plan to blow up 12 airliners over the Pacific Ocean, discovered.

November: Five Americans killed in attack on a U.S. Army office in Saudi Arabia.

1996
June: Truck bomb at Khobar Towers kills 19 American servicemen and injures 240.

June: Terrorist opens fire at top of Empire State Building, killing one.

1997
February: Palestinian opens fire at top of Empire State Building, killing one and wounding more than a dozen.

November: Terrorists murder four American oil company employees in Pakistan.

1998
January: U.S. Embassy in Peru bombed.

August: Simultaneous bomb attacks on U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania killed more than 300 people and injured over 5,000.

1999
October: Egypt Air flight 990 crashed off the coast of Massachusetts, killing 100 Americans among the more than 200 on board; the pilot yelled "Allahu Akbar!" as he steered the airplane into the ocean.

2000
October: A suicide boat exploded next to the U.S.S. Cole, killing 17 American sailors and injuring 39.

2001
September: Terrorists with four hijacked airplanes kill around 3,000 Americans in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

December: Richard Reid, the "shoe bomber," tries to blow up a transatlantic flight, but is stopped by passengers.

The September 11 attack was a propaganda triumph for al Qaeda, celebrated by a dismaying number of Muslims around the world. Everyone expected that it would draw more Muslims to bin Laden's cause and that more such attacks would follow. In fact, though, what happened was quite different: the pace of successful jihadist attacks against the United States slowed, decelerated further after the onset of the Iraq war, and has now dwindled to essentially zero. Here is the record:

2002
October: Diplomat Laurence Foley murdered in Jordan, in an operation planned, directed and financed by Zarqawi in Iraq, perhaps with the complicity of Saddam's government.

2003
May: Suicide bombers killed 10 Americans, and killed and wounded many others, at housing compounds for westerners in Saudi Arabia.

October: More bombings of United States housing compounds in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia killed 26 and injured 160.

2004
There were no successful attacks inside the United States or against American interests abroad.

2005
There were no successful attacks inside the United States or against American interests abroad.

2006
There were no successful attacks inside the United States or against American interests abroad.

2007
There were no successful attacks inside the United States or against American interests abroad.

2008
So far, there have been no successful attacks inside the United States or against American interests abroad.

I have omitted from the above accounting a few "lone wolf" Islamic terrorist incidents, like the Washington, D.C. snipers, the Egyptian who attacked the El Al counter in Los Angeles, and an incident or two when a Muslim driver steered his vehicle into a crowd. These are, in a sense, exceptions that prove the rule, since the "lone wolves" were not, as far as we know, in contact with international Islamic terrorist groups and therefore could not have been detected by surveillance of terrorist conversations or interrogations of al Qaeda leaders.

It should also be noted that the decline in attacks on the U.S. was not the result of jihadists abandoning the field. Our government stopped a number of incipient attacks and broke up several terrorist cells, while Islamic terrorists continued to carry out successful attacks around the world, in England, Spain, Russia, Pakistan, Israel, Indonesia and elsewhere.

So if we're not safer, where are the terrorist attacks? i

As for Iraq, I can do no better than quote the words of General Petraeus himself as he testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 8 and explained why winning in Iraq helps us defeat al Qaeda everywhere, and helps us defeat terrorism in general:

As we combat AQI we must remember that doing so not only reduces a major source of instability in Iraq, it also weakens an organization that Al Qaeda's senior leaders view as a tool to spread its influence and foment regional instability. Osama bin laden and Ayman al- Zawahiri have consistently advocated exploiting the situation in Iraq, and we have also seen Al Qaeda-Iraq involved in destabilizing activities in the wider Mideast region....

...withdrawing too many forces too quickly could jeopardize the progress of the past year; and performing the necessary tasks in Iraq will require sizable conventional forces, as well as special operation forces and adviser teams.

The strategic considerations include recognition that: the strain on the U.S. military, especially on its ground forces, has been considerable; a number of the security challenges inside Iraq are also related to significant regional and global threats; a failed state in Iraq would pose serious consequences for the greater fight against Al Qaeda, for regional stability, for the already existing humanitarian crisis in Iraq, and for the efforts to counter malign Iranian influence.

After weighing these factors, I recommended to my chain of command that we continue the drawdown in the surge to the combat forces and that upon the withdrawal of the last surge brigade combat team in July, we undertake a 45-day period of consolidation and evaluation. At the end of that period, we will commence a process of assessment to examine the conditions on the ground and over time determine when we can make recommendations for further reductions. This process will be continuous, with recommendations for further reductions made as conditions permit.

This approach does not allow establishment of a set withdrawal timetable, however it does provide the flexibility those of us on the ground need to preserve the still-fragile security gains our troopers have fought so far and sacrifice so much to achieve.

With this approach, the security achievements of 2007 and early 2008 can form a foundation for the gradual establishment of sustainable security in Iraq. This is not only important to the 27 million citizens of Iraq, it is also vitally important to those in the Gulf region, to the citizens of the United States, and to the global community.

It clearly is in our national interests to help Iraq prevent the resurgence of Al Qaeda in the heart of the Arab world, to help Iraq resist Iranian encroachment on its sovereignty, to avoid renewed ethno-sectarian violence that could spill over Iraq's borders and make the existing refugee crisis even worse, and to enable Iraq to expand its role in the regional and global economies."

Posted by Tom at 9:58 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

May 26, 2008

Remembering Our Veterans

This Memorial Day we would all do well to reflect on the words of General of the Army Douglas MacArthur in his speech to the cadets at the U.S. Military Academy on May 12, 1962. The occasion was his acceptance of the Sylvanus Thayer Award, and it has become known as his "Duty, Honor, Country" address. It is one of the most famous speeches delivered by an American and deserves to be read in it's entirety. You can follow the link above to hear an audio MP3 of the address.

Before I get to his address, however, I would like to relate to you a story of something tht happened to me that made me think of how perhaps we ought to celebrate our Memorial Day.

Earlier this month, I was in Israel with a tour group from my church. On the morning of Thursday May 7 we were atop the old mountaintop fortress of Masada, when at exactly 11:00 a voice came through a speaker (in Hebrew, of course), followed by a one minute siren. This happened all throughout Israel, and the message and siren was broadcast on public loudspeakers, and on radio and television. The speaker asked for a minute of silence in observance of Israeli war dead. We were later told by our tour guide that all throughout Israel, people stopped what they were doing, even pulling their car over to the side of the road, to observe this minute of silence.

It was their Memorial Day.

IM000891.JPG

Would it not be too much for us to do likewise? It would be nice if someone would start such a tradition here.

Douglas MacArthur.jpg

Duty, Honor, Country

General Westmoreland, General Grove, distinguished guests, and gentlemen of the Corps!

As I was leaving the hotel this morning, a doorman asked me, "Where are you bound for, General?" And when I replied, "West Point," he remarked, "Beautiful place. Have you ever been there before?"

No human being could fail to be deeply moved by such a tribute as this [Thayer Award]. Coming from a profession I have served so long, and a people I have loved so well, it fills me with an emotion I cannot express. But this award is not intended primarily to honor a personality, but to symbolize a great moral code -- the code of conduct and chivalry of those who guard this beloved land of culture and ancient descent. That is the animation of this medallion. For all eyes and for all time, it is an expression of the ethics of the American soldier. That I should be integrated in this way with so noble an ideal arouses a sense of pride and yet of humility which will be with me always.

Duty, Honor, Country: Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying points: to build courage when courage seems to fail; to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith; to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.

Unhappily, I possess neither that eloquence of diction, that poetry of imagination, nor that brilliance of metaphor to tell you all that they mean.

The unbelievers will say they are but words, but a slogan, but a flamboyant phrase. Every pedant, every demagogue, every cynic, every hypocrite, every troublemaker, and I am sorry to say, some others of an entirely different character, will try to downgrade them even to the extent of mockery and ridicule.

But these are some of the things they do. They build your basic character. They mold you for your future roles as the custodians of the nation's defense. They make you strong enough to know when you are weak, and brave enough to face yourself when you are afraid. They teach you to be proud and unbending in honest failure, but humble and gentle in success; not to substitute words for actions, not to seek the path of comfort, but to face the stress and spur of difficulty and challenge; to learn to stand up in the storm but to have compassion on those who fall; to master yourself before you seek to master others; to have a heart that is clean, a goal that is high; to learn to laugh, yet never forget how to weep; to reach into the future yet never neglect the past; to be serious yet never to take yourself too seriously; to be modest so that you will remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, the meekness of true strength. They give you a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions, a freshness of the deep springs of life, a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity, of an appetite for adventure over love of ease. They create in your heart the sense of wonder, the unfailing hope of what next, and the joy and inspiration of life. They teach you in this way to be an officer and a gentleman.

And what sort of soldiers are those you are to lead? Are they reliable? Are they brave? Are they capable of victory? Their story is known to all of you. It is the story of the American man-at-arms. My estimate of him was formed on the battlefield many, many years ago, and has never changed. I regarded him then as I regard him now -- as one of the world's noblest figures, not only as one of the finest military characters, but also as one of the most stainless. His name and fame are the birthright of every American citizen. In his youth and strength, his love and loyalty, he gave all that mortality can give.

He needs no eulogy from me or from any other man. He has written his own history and written it in red on his enemy's breast. But when I think of his patience under adversity, of his courage under fire, and of his modesty in victory, I am filled with an emotion of admiration I cannot put into words. He belongs to history as furnishing one of the greatest examples of successful patriotism. He belongs to posterity as the instructor of future generations in the principles of liberty and freedom. He belongs to the present, to us, by his virtues and by his achievements. In 20 campaigns, on a hundred battlefields, around a thousand campfires, I have witnessed that enduring fortitude, that patriotic self-abnegation, and that invincible determination which have carved his statue in the hearts of his people. From one end of the world to the other he has drained deep the chalice of courage.

As I listened to those songs [of the glee club], in memory's eye I could see those staggering columns of the First World War, bending under soggy packs, on many a weary march from dripping dusk to drizzling dawn, slogging ankle-deep through the mire of shell-shocked roads, to form grimly for the attack, blue-lipped, covered with sludge and mud, chilled by the wind and rain, driving home to their objective, and for many, to the judgment seat of God.

I do not know the dignity of their birth, but I do know the glory of their death. They died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in their hearts, and on their lips the hope that we would go on to victory. Always, for them: Duty, Honor, Country; always their blood and sweat and tears, as we sought the way and the light and the truth.

And 20 years after, on the other side of the globe, again the filth of murky foxholes, the stench of ghostly trenches, the slime of dripping dugouts; those boiling suns of relentless heat, those torrential rains of devastating storms; the loneliness and utter desolation of jungle trails; the bitterness of long separation from those they loved and cherished; the deadly pestilence of tropical disease; the horror of stricken areas of war; their resolute and determined defense, their swift and sure attack, their indomitable purpose, their complete and decisive victory -- always victory. Always through the bloody haze of their last reverberating shot, the vision of gaunt, ghastly men reverently following your password of: Duty, Honor, Country.

The code which those words perpetuate embraces the highest moral laws and will stand the test of any ethics or philosophies ever promulgated for the uplift of mankind. Its requirements are for the things that are right, and its restraints are from the things that are wrong.

The soldier, above all other men, is required to practice the greatest act of religious training -- sacrifice.

In battle and in the face of danger and death, he discloses those divine attributes which his Maker gave when he created man in his own image. No physical courage and no brute instinct can take the place of the Divine help which alone can sustain him.

However horrible the incidents of war may be, the soldier who is called upon to offer and to give his life for his country is the noblest development of mankind.

You now face a new world -- a world of change. The thrust into outer space of the satellite, spheres, and missiles mark the beginning of another epoch in the long story of mankind. In the five or more billions of years the scientists tell us it has taken to form the earth, in the three or more billion years of development of the human race, there has never been a more abrupt or staggering evolution. We deal now not with things of this world alone, but with the illimitable distances and as yet unfathomed mysteries of the universe. We are reaching out for a new and boundless frontier.

We speak in strange terms: of harnessing the cosmic energy; of making winds and tides work for us; of creating unheard synthetic materials to supplement or even replace our old standard basics; to purify sea water for our drink; of mining ocean floors for new fields of wealth and food; of disease preventatives to expand life into the hundreds of years; of controlling the weather for a more equitable distribution of heat and cold, of rain and shine; of space ships to the moon; of the primary target in war, no longer limited to the armed forces of an enemy, but instead to include his civil populations; of ultimate conflict between a united human race and the sinister forces of some other planetary galaxy; of such dreams and fantasies as to make life the most exciting of all time.

And through all this welter of change and development, your mission remains fixed, determined, inviolable: it is to win our wars.

Everything else in your professional career is but corollary to this vital dedication. All other public purposes, all other public projects, all other public needs, great or small, will find others for their accomplishment. But you are the ones who are trained to fight. Yours is the profession of arms, the will to win, the sure knowledge that in war there is no substitute for victory; that if you lose, the nation will be destroyed; that the very obsession of your public service must be: Duty, Honor, Country.

Others will debate the controversial issues, national and international, which divide men's minds; but serene, calm, aloof, you stand as the Nation's war-guardian, as its lifeguard from the raging tides of international conflict, as its gladiator in the arena of battle. For a century and a half you have defended, guarded, and protected its hallowed traditions of liberty and freedom, of right and justice.

Let civilian voices argue the merits or demerits of our processes of government; whether our strength is being sapped by deficit financing, indulged in too long, by federal paternalism grown too mighty, by power groups grown too arrogant, by politics grown too corrupt, by crime grown too rampant, by morals grown too low, by taxes grown too high, by extremists grown too violent; whether our personal liberties are as thorough and complete as they should be. These great national problems are not for your professional participation or military solution. Your guidepost stands out like a ten-fold beacon in the night: Duty, Honor, Country.

You are the leaven which binds together the entire fabric of our national system of defense. From your ranks come the great captains who hold the nation's destiny in their hands the moment the war tocsin sounds. The Long Gray Line has never failed us. Were you to do so, a million ghosts in olive drab, in brown khaki, in blue and gray, would rise from their white crosses thundering those magic words: Duty, Honor, Country.

This does not mean that you are war mongers.

On the contrary, the soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.

But always in our ears ring the ominous words of Plato, that wisest of all philosophers: "Only the dead have seen the end of war."

The shadows are lengthening for me. The twilight is here. My days of old have vanished, tone and tint. They have gone glimmering through the dreams of things that were. Their memory is one of wondrous beauty, watered by tears, and coaxed and caressed by the smiles of yesterday. I listen vainly, but with thirsty ears, for the witching melody of faint bugles blowing reveille, of far drums beating the long roll. In my dreams I hear again the crash of guns, the rattle of musketry, the strange, mournful mutter of the battlefield.

But in the evening of my memory, always I come back to West Point.

Always there echoes and re-echoes: Duty, Honor, Country.

Today marks my final roll call with you, but I want you to know that when I cross the river my last conscious thoughts will be of The Corps, and The Corps, and The Corps.

I bid you farewell.

Posted by Tom at 8:48 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

May 22, 2008

Book Review - The Iranian Time Bomb

It is perhaps fitting that I finished Michael Ledeen's The Iranian Time Bomb: The Mullah Zealot's Quest for Destruction, just days after the good Senator Obama and his fellow Democrats lost it over President Bush's remarks in Israel. Obama and his friends imagine that if only they were in charge, their magical words would convince the Mullah's to quit their pursuit of the bomb and stop their support of terrorism. All this, mind you, while running out of Iraq and cutting military spending.

In his book Ledeen demonstrates that diplomacy, "aggressive" or otherwise, is an utter waste of time. The only policy that has a chance of succeeding is regime change, something we should pursue both openly and clandestinely. A direct military attack, at this time, however, would be counterproductive. It may come to military action if that is our only option to stopping them from getting the bomb, but as of now we have many options if only we would pursue them.

The bottom line is that Iran has been at war with us since the Islamic revolution in 1979. They have attacked us numerous times, and are doing so to this day by sending weapons and personnel into Iraq. Yet astoundingly, many Americans do not grasp this fact. They are at war with us, yet we are not allowed to be at war with them. This would somehow be "fearmongering", and "racheting up tensions."

Every president from Reagan to Bush has negotiated with the Iranians, though not at the presidential level. Every single our attempt to find common ground has resulted in failure. Ledeen documents the whole sad story.

The negotiations were almost always based on a search, always futile, for an Iranian "reformer". President Reagan thought he had found Iranian leaders with whom we might be able to negotiate, and famously sent Oliver North and National Security Adviser Robert C. "Bud" McFarlane with bible and chocolate cake allegedly in the shape of a key. Nothing came of it. President Clinton was encouraged by the election of Mohammed Khatami as president in 1997, only to see those hopes dashed as well. The vote for Khatami was more a vote against the regime than a vote for him.

What makes all this so frustrating is that the human rights situation in Iran is much worse than is generally recognized, and no administration of either party has done anything about it. Ledeen spends a chapter detailing the abuses of women, minorities, non-Shiite Muslims, and anyone who disagrees with the regime.

The leaders of the Iranian revolution made clear from the beginning that there's was not a nationalist movement. The Ayatollah Khomeini said it best "We do not worship Iran. We worship Allah, for patriotism is another name for paganism. I say let this land burn. I saw let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world." Their motivation is important to understand, because all too many Western leaders think that we can placate the Iranians leaders and they will be happy secure within their own country. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is that they have quasi-religious/historical motivations which drive them to want to dominate the region, chasing out Western powers in the process.

For example, Muhammed started the practice of writing to infidel leaders, "inviting" them to accept Islam - or else. In 1989 the Ayatollah Khomeini wrote a similar letter to Gorbachev, then still leader of the then still USSR. In 2006, Ahmadinejad wrote such a letter to President George W. Bush. As with the others, Ahmadinejad's letter asked Bush to convert to Islam. Muhammed's letters presaged war. We ignore the letters they send us to day at our own peril. They mean what they say.

The main forces used by the Iranians to carry out their policies of terror are the Quds force (the overseas arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, or IRGC), and Hezbollah. They are not going to attack us with conventional military forces if they can help it. They are practitioners of asymmetrical warfare. They aim to wear us down, and to hit us in ways we can least defend against.

In another example of using proxies to further their cause, in the 1990s Iran supported the government of the Sudan, the latter a Muslim Brotherhood movement born out of Sunni Islam. In 1991 they "established a strategic alliance to wage war against their common enemies in the West". The alliance between Iran and Sudan extended to the former sending several thousand IRGC trainers to the Sudan in the 1990's. al Qaeda was in the mix too, as the 1998 U.S. Federal indictment of Osama bin Laden stated that

"Al Qaeda... forged alliances with the National Islamic Front in the Sudan and with the government of Iran and its associated terrorist group Hezbollah for the purpose of working together against their perceived common enemies in the West, particularly the United States."

The evidence is that Iran was behind the 1988 Khobar Towers attack. The al Qaeda terrorist who carried out the attack were in fact trained by Hezbollah, and the explosives came from Iran. "The entire operation was conceived, organized, and controlled by the Islamic Republic from beginning to end."

It took some doing, but finally in the spring of 1999 FBI interrogators got access to the terrorists the Saudis had captured, and what they heard confirmed Iranian involvement. Director Louis Freeh advised National Security Advisor Sandy Berger and President and Clinton that Iran was behind the Khobar Towers attack. There is some dispute as to what exactly happened within the Clinton Administration, but in the end there was no U.S. retaliation for the attack.

Unfortunately the Bush Administration has done any better than any previous one in dealing with Iran. Despite tough talk, the Bush Administration has no policy to permanently solve the problem. Regime change by whatever means seems off the table. Ledeen places most of the blame on Condolezza Rice, especially when she was National Security Adviser. In this role she was responsible for the formulation of policy, which in the case of Iran she absolutely failed to do.

Another factor contributing to the confusion is the intelligence community, which has been working against doing anything "muscular" with regards to Iran. They are quite happy to let the current negotiations regime take its course, believing that Iran will naturally flower into a democracy sometime in the next decade. Adding to that is that the CIA has very few true Iranian specialists and fewer Persian speakers. Most of the people assigned to the Iran desk are Arabists by trade.

Ledeen, like Richard Miniter, believes that bin Laden is most likely in Iran. This is hardly as unlikely as it may seem, once you get over the false notion that the Sunni-Shiite split precludes all cooperation. Ledeen takes this one more step; "...al Qaeda no longer exists as a separate entity, and that it has been integrated into the terrorist galaxy that revolves around Iran." This may be be going too far, but I don't have the information to make that judgement. I do know that al Qaeda is loosely organized, so that AQI can exist somewhat separately from the rest of the organization.

As with all totalitarians, the Iranians believe us to be weak, and unwilling to take casualties. Whether this is true or not is beside the point; what is important is that they believe it is so and act based on their beliefs.

Further, they believe themselves to be strong. Part of this is the cult of the return of the Mahdi, personified now in President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a member (or reputed to be) of the Hojetiah sect. The Hojetiah believe that they can prompte the return of the Mahdi by creating bloodshed and chaos on earth, something which even the Ayatollah Khomeini thought so extreme that he banned them in 1983.

To be fair, they have not succeeded in their objectives in Iraq. They were not able to prompt the civil war they hoped for, and the "surge" is working.

It would be bad enough if the Iranian leaders simply thought themselves strong and us weak. This might lead to dangerously overstep, and then get plastered by a determined U.S. president in response. Here's Ledeen:

Some of the most thoughtful analysis of contemporary Iran believe that the Islamic Republic is currently in the throes of a second Islamic revolution, driven by Ahmadinejad and the Revolutionary Guards Corps from which he comes. As the label suggests, Iranian leaders seek a revitalization of Khomeini's original vision - above all, the export of the revolution - and fully embrace "such events as 'destruction, pestilence, and wars' which they see as the inevitable accompaniments of the Mahdi's return. Amir Taheri terms this "a deliberate clash of civilizations with the West."

They believe they can achieve their Jihadist goal of chasing the U.S. and other Western powers from the gulf region and creating a regional Imamate.

Ledeen doesn't just complain about our past and current failings, however, for he does offer concrete proposals about what to do about Iran, ones that are in line with what I have been saying here.

One thing that he does not believe is useful is engaging in a "War of Ideas" with the Mullahs. Although he does not mention Walid Phares by name, it is apparent that Ledeen has him and similar thinkers in mind. Ledeen has other ideas for dealing with Iran.

Ledeen's starting point is that only regime change will solve the problem. The current government is inherently anti-Western and expansionist and cannot be reformed.

His basic strategy for regime change is pretty straightforward:

...the same way we brought down the Soviet empire, by exporting the American democratic revolution, by adopting the methods that have successfully been used against dictators from Moscow and Belgrade to Beirut and the Philippines. the best strategy is to support the Iranian people against the mullahs they so hate.

A direct military attack would not achieve this purpose because we do not have the capability to take down Iran as we did Iraq. Bombing nuclear installations would set back their program but not get rid of the root problem, which is the government.

Rather, we should use our vast "soft power" to do things like support Iranian dissidents and democracy movements and start a human rights campaign. We can provide these dissidents with material and moral support. Broadcast messages ("propaganda" if you prefer) should be stepped up (our current efforts are abysmal). An information campaign to educate people on the mullahs and their regime should be launched taking advantage of all media including the Internet. Simply providing moral support to regime opponents would go a long way.

Of course this may not work. And there will be many who object to such a campaign, including, sadly, the American left who is stuck in a paradigm of endless negotiations.

Unlike many others, Ledeen sees Iran as the key to winning the War on Terror, or War on Jihadism (or whatever you want to call it).

My take is that Ledeen is mostly correct in this book, but that he takes it all a step too far. Yes Iran is a huge threat, larger than is commonly realized. Yes we should revise our strategy to one of regime change, and, and no, negotiations will not work. Administrations of both parties have kicked the can down the road, and it is time to deal with it before they get nuclear weapons.

The "War of Ideas" that thinkers like Phares advocate will work well against the Wahabbists and Muslim Brotherhood, but alone cannot work against Iran. That said, I think Ledeen criticizes it too much, since I find nothing in Phares' work to indicate such single-mindedness. A War of Ideas can certainly be part of the information or propaganda war that Ledeen advocates.

I also don't see al Qaeda being submerged into Iran as Ledeen thinks. I'm not the expert, but I don't see that theory being promoted elsewhere. Bin Laden may well be in Iran, but that doesn't mean his movement has been totally captured by them. al Qaeda is a pretty dispersed and loosely organized movement, and I never did buy the idea that it's controlled from the top like the Mafia (so "getting bin Laden" would, I think, have minimal effect).

Next Up

Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning. Don't miss it!

Posted by Tom at 9:00 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

May 21, 2008

GOP Failures

I've hit Obama pretty hard recently, so it's time for some fair play. Besides, I still haven't finished my review of Michael Ledeen's book on Iran, so that has been pushed off until tomorrow (again). Two articles today struck me as emblematic of why the GOP is facing such problems at the polls.

Both will make my liberal readers chortle, but I'm going to post them anyway. First up is this from The New York Times, in which the chairman of the RNC responds to the Democrat victory in a special Congressional contest in Mississippi in which they took a seat from the GOP

"This was a real wake-up call for us," Robert M. Duncan, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, said in an interview. "We can't let the Democrats take our issues. We can't let them pretend to be conservatives and co-opt the middle and win these elections. We have to get the attention of our incumbents and candidates and make sure they understand this."

Groan.

In response to this, Cal Thomas makes the obvious point

Democrats didn't steal your issues, sir. You abandoned them. Your party discarded them. Democrats simply engaged in dumpster harvesting.... Republicans traded in their ideas in favor of gaining and keeping power as their sole objective. The party wants credit for giving lip service to its abandoned ideology while practicing cave-in politics.

Yup, and I've been saying this for some time now: The post-Gingrich crowd on the Hill has been a disaster.

The second article is by Andy McCarthy, and he takes the Bush Administration, and Secretary of State Rice in particular, to task on their Iran policy.

Writing in National Review, McCarthy nails Rice and good:

We were dealing with an apocalyptic regime certain that radical Islam's global triumph was as imminent as the long lost Mahdi's arrival any day now. President Bush had said time and again that it was pointless to negotiate with terrorists because they are -- surprise! -- incorrigible. Yet, Secretary Rice convinced the president that the ball would really be advanced by [drum-roll] . . . direct U.S. negotiations with Iran.

Flash forward to 2008. The Democrats' presumptive (and increasingly less-compelling) nominee, Sen. Barack Obama, has rightly been ridiculed for his offer to meet, without preconditions, with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. His stated policy is so patently idiotic that Obama, on the cusp of the brass ring, has been reduced to lying about whether he actually stated it (he did, repeatedly), and to dissembling about whether preconditions are the same thing as preparations he now purports to have envisioned all along.
...

Back to spring 2006. Iran was being particularly obstreperous about its nuclear-technology development. The State Department proposed direct negotiations -- i.e., face-to-face meetings between the president's emissaries and Ahmadinejad's subordinates.

What was the price? What stringent preconditions did Condi Rice persuade the president that we should demand?

A commitment to foreswear, or at least suspend, the development of nuclear weapons?

A commitment to refrain from abetting Iraqi insurgents in the murder of American troops?

A commitment to stop funding Hezbollah, the world's most adept terrorist organization -- and the one that, prior to 9/11, had trained al-Qaeda operatives and killed more Americans than any other?

A commitment to restrain its Revolutionary Guards and Qods force from targeting Americans?

A commitment to retract its threats to wipe Israel from the face of the earth?

Well . . . not exactly.

In the midst of the war on terror, at a time when the express policy of the United States was to regard and treat as terrorists the regimes that sponsor terrorism, in circumstances where Iran was actively coddling al-Qaeda and killing American soldiers, the Bush administration insisted on . . . no preconditions for negotiating with Iran.

Sure, Bush (unlike Obama) did not offer a personal sitdown with Ahmadinejad. But does that really matter? Top-level meeting or no meeting, what happened was a disgrace.

Ouch.

Posted by Tom at 9:11 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Senator Ted Kennedy

As I think we all know by now, Senator Edward Kennedy has a malignant brain tumor. The prognosis is not good.

I wish him nothing but a speedy recovery. He and his family are in my prayers.

Much as I may disagree with him and other liberals on policy matters, I wish none of them personal misfortune. It is time to put all of the aside right now as he and his family go through this difficult time together.

Posted by Tom at 7:50 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 20, 2008

Obama Tries To Spin His Way Out

Now Obama tries to tell us there's a difference between meeting "without preconditions" but with "preparation" (h/t TWS)

TAPPER: In recent days, it has seemed that some of your staffers and supporters have walked back from your statement that you would be willing to meet with the leaders of rogue nations, countries hostile to the U.S., without preconditions. Your foreign policy adviser Susan Rice said you wouldn't necessarily meet with Ahmadinejad, Sen. Daschle said of course there would be conditions -- (Obama interrupts)

OBAMA: You know, Jake, I have to say I completely disagree that people have been walking back from anything. They may be correcting the characterizations or distortions of John McCain or others of what I said. What I said was I would meet with our adversaries including Iran, including Venezula, including Cuba, including North Korea, without preconditions but that does not mean without preparation.

TAPPER: Well, what's the difference?

OBAMA: There's a huge difference. When you talk about Iran, for example, the Bush administration's position has been we won't have talks with Iran until they agree to everything we want to them to agree to. That's not diplomacy. That's asking them to do what they say and then acknowledge we are willing to meet with them. That's not how diplomacy works. That's not how Ronald Reagan operated with Gorbachev or Kennedy with Khruschev or Nixon with Mao.

His advisor, Susan E. Rice, is also trying to spin the "preparations" angle. From The New York Times (via LGF)

Susan E. Rice, a former State Department and National Security Council official who is a foreign policy adviser to the Democratic candidate, said that "for political purposes, Senator Obama's opponents on the right have distorted and reframed" his views. Mr. McCain and his surrogates have repeatedly stated that Mr. Obama would be willing to meet "unconditionally" with Mr. Ahmadinejad. But Dr. Rice said that this was not the case for Iran or any other so-called "rogue" state. Mr. Obama believes "that engagement at the presidential level, at the appropriate time and with the appropriate preparation, can be used to leverage the change we need," Dr. Rice said. "But nobody said he would initiate contacts at the presidential level; that requires due preparation and advance work."

Now, that last bit about "nobody said" there would be contacts at the presidential level without "preparation and advance work" is recently added spin, as we shall see.

Obama is talking out of both sides of his mouth. Nothing in his (new) "preparations" spin suggest that he'd require a darn thing from any of these dictators before meeting with them. Iran would still be killing American troops in Iraq as a President Obama met with President Ahmadinejad. Wonderful.

He's spinning in circles and he knows it. The bottom line is that he has said nothing to indicate that he'd be less than willing to meet with dictators who are working toward our demise without their agreeing to anything beforehand.

And of course his implication that what he wants to do is similar to how "Ronald Reagan operated with Gorbachev or Kennedy with Khruschev or Nixon with Mao" is ridiculous, and here's why

First up, Rich Lowry on Kennedy and Khrushchev

The earnest, young American president wanted to forestall any possibility of misunderstanding and to win Khrushchev's commitment to the international status quo. The blustery, risk-taking Soviet premier wanted to bludgeon Kennedy into making concessions that would further the Soviet goal of global revolution. With such clashing objectives, the two leaders didn't exactly hit it off.

When Kennedy thought he was being accommodating, Khrushchev thought he was being weak. He pocketed rhetorical concessions by Kennedy and demanded more. Afterward, Kennedy called it "the roughest thing in my life." Kennedy adviser George Ball later said that Khrushchev had perceived Kennedy as "young and weak," and Kennedy confidant Gen. Maxwell Taylor thought Khrushchev concluded he could "shove this young man around." Vienna was the backdrop for Soviet assertion in the Cold War flash points to come.

Not exactly the type of meeting we want to repeat, Senator Obama. Best you bone up on your history before talking about diplomacy again.

Obama partisans will claim that he will do better than Kennedy. Perhaps. But nothing he says shows that he understands just how risky these unscripted meetings are. What is striking about his statements is that he shows no knowledge of what actually happened at these summits. He just keeps repeating the mantra that "Kennedy met with Khrushchev, and Reagan with Gorbachev," as if that alone settles it.

Further, what exactly does he plan on saying to these dictators that will persuade them to change their policies? He never says. All we hear about from his partisans is the mantra about the "need for talk" and "aggressive personal diplomacy", but never a word about what he will actually say

Apparently we are to simply believe that the magic of Obama will be enough to carry the day, because he is, well, Obama. Details are not necessary.

Lowry then take on Reagan-Gorbachev

Reagan believed in personal diplomacy, but concluded upon taking office that it was pointless to talk to Soviet hard-liner Leonid Brezhnev. In stiffening U.S. defenses and pursuing the Strategic Defense Initiative, his administration sought to convince Moscow, in the words of Secretary of State George Shultz, that restraint "was its most attractive, or only, option," while pressuring the tottering Soviet economic system.

When Mikhail Gorbachev came to power, the administration thought it had the strategic upper hand, and a man it could work with. Reagan met with his counterpart in Geneva and Reykjavik. Keenly aware of his inability to keep pace in a high-tech arms race, Gorbachev wanted any deal contingent on prohibiting SDI. Reagan said "no." Out of his weakness, Gorbachev eventually gave the Reagan administration the kinds of arms cuts it wanted and openings in the Soviet system. The Cold War was about to end.

Note also that Reagan never met with Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov, or Konstantin Chernenko believe he did not believe it to be worth doing so. So he didn't just rush off and meet with every Soviet leader, as Obama implies.

Lastly, if you need it here he is actually saying he'd meet with Ahmadinejad

And from last year's YouTube debate, he said he'd meet without preconditions.

QUESTION: In 1982, Anwar Sadat traveled to Israel, a trip that resulted in a peace agreement that has lasted ever since.

In the spirit of that type of bold leadership, would you be willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?

OBAMA: I would. And the reason is this, that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them -- which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration -- is ridiculous.

And here's the video (h/t LGF)

Go and read the whole transcript if you want context. Nothing else he says changes the fact that he said that he'd meet with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea without preconditions. He didn't say anything about "preparations". That's all just recently added spin.

Oh, and it's also on his website

Diplomacy: Obama is the only major candidate who supports tough, direct presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions. Now is the time to pressure Iran directly to change their troubling behavior. Obama would offer the Iranian regime a choice. If Iran abandons its nuclear program and support for terrorism, we will offer incentives like membership in the World Trade Organization, economic investments, and a move toward normal diplomatic relations. If Iran continues its troubling behavior, we will step up our economic pressure and political isolation. Seeking this kind of comprehensive settlement with Iran is our best way to make progress.

Again, nothing about "preparations".

Update

From an article last year by Frank Gaffney on why negotiating with Iran is a bad idea

First, such negotiations will legitimate one of the most dangerous regimes on the planet. By acceding to the pressure to accord the mullahocracy in Tehran the status of equal partners and members in good standing of the "community of nations" -- especially against the backdrop of its increasing aggressiveness, we reward that bad behavior. It should come as no surprise that there will be more of it in the future.

Second, embracing Ahmadinejad and his mullahs in this way can only alienate our natural allies: the people of Iran. They have lately been demonstrating a growing willingness to challenge the Islamofascists who have oppressed them for so long. The intensifying economic pressure of recent months -- a product of efforts to divest the stocks of publicly traded companies doing business with Tehran, the declining price of oil and international economic sanctions (such as they are) -- has helped make the Iranian regime even more unpopular at home. Now, it is inevitable that such pressure will be alleviated, as governments and businesses seize on the new diplomatic opening to rush in and prop up Ahmadinejad.

Third, the adoption of the negotiating track effectively forecloses other options for dealing with the danger posed by the Iranian regime. In particular, efforts to bring about its downfall will be precluded. Diplomats predictably will insist that nothing be done -- for example, through covert operations, more far-reaching and effective economic sanctions, military preparations, or political warfare -- that will jeopardize the prospects for successful negotiations.

The cumulative effect of these three repercussions will be to buy more time for the mullahs in Iran. They will use this time not to slacken their efforts to destabilize Iraq and hand the United States an epic defeat there, to suspend (let alone dismantle) their nuclear-weapons programs or to terminate their active and generous support for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, Hamas, and al Qaeda.

Posted by Tom at 10:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 19, 2008

Obama's "Global Test"?

Now Senator Obama wants to hand over our energy and environmental policies to other nations.

"We can't drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times ... and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK," Obama said.

"That's not leadership. That's not going to happen," he added.

So... it's "leadership" to ask other countries to approve the temperature we set our thermostats at, or what size cars we buy and how often we drive them?

Talk about nanny-state government.

And to think that this is coming from a guy who's party accuses the right of wanting to "impose your values" on everybody.

These liberals want to tell you where to set your thermostat. Don't think it can happen? They proposed just that in California last year. Regulators wanted to mandate installation of a radio-controlled thermostat in everybody's house that they could control. Yes I know it didn't pass, but one thing's for certain, these liberals are nothing if not determined. And it looks like Obama may have bought into their plan as well.

Posted by Tom at 9:36 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

More Obama Follies on Iran

Not only is his idea of dealing with Iran to engage in "aggressive personal diplomacy", but he doesn't even think them to be a threat.

First, the Kennedy-Khruchshev talks were a disaster; for President Kennedy. The Soviet leader sized him up as a weakling and concluded that he could put nuclear missiles in Cuba, an event that almost brought about a war.

Reagan's meetings with Gorbachev are also problematic. The two met four times, and all but one were carefully scripted affairs. The one time they met without a prior agreement was in October of 1986 at Reykjavik, Iceland. This was a risky meeting for both leaders, and was widely viewed as a failure at the time, and is controversial to this day.

So previous presidents just didn't meet willy nilly with "our enemies". Most of their meetings were pre-planned events where they confirmed the results of months of behind-the-scenes negotiations. Further, Ahmadinejad is no Gorbachev or Brezhnev. He's more like Khruchshev, and unpredictable bully who can say just about anything, and for whom it's just about impossible to really prepare.

But the most silly part was when he said that "Iran may spend 1/100th of what we spend on the military," and that "If Iran ever tried to pose a serious threat to us, they wouldn't stand a chance."

And to think that this man might just become president.

Apparently the term "asymmetrical warfare" has never entered Obama's lexicon. Can he truly be unaware that Iran is killing our soldiers in Iraq? That they have sent in Quds Force agents and EFPs and do so to this day?

And outside of Iraq, does he imagine that Iran will only attack us in a traditional manner? Perhaps he's never heard of Operation Praying Mantis, the 1988 event in which the U.S. Navy sank half the Iranian fleet, an embarrassment they are wise enough not to repeat? If they do go after Navy again, it will be with unconventional tactics like the "swarm", which they practiced on three U.S. warships this past January.

And if Iran hits us around the globe, it will be through their terrorist proxies, making tracing difficult and time-consuming.

But suppose they do hit us directly with one or more nuclear weapons. Suppose that they don't hit the U.S., but one of our military installations in the region.

Would Obama respond? Would the liberal peace-at-any-price-nutroots-Movon.org crowd let him?

But don't just take it from me. The invaluable Victor Davis Hanson nails it

Talking with an Iranian theocrat like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad per se might not necessarily constitute appeasement. But continuing such talks without preconditions that made no progress in curbing Iranian nuclear agendas, or support for Hezbollah terrorists and Shiite militias in Iraq would not only be futile, but encourage further Iranian adventurism -- by the assurance that negotiations were infinite and there would be few lines in the sand and little chance of military opposition to follow. In our era, the locus classicus of appeasement is the near decade of negotiations, empty threats, and drawnout diplomacy with Slobodan Milosevic, in which with virtual impunity he butchered thousands of Croats, Kosovars, and Bosnians -- until a belated bombing war forced him to capitulate.

I'd say that's just about right.

Posted by Tom at 9:07 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 16, 2008

Bush in Israel and the Democrat Melt Down

Well well, so Senator Obama and a whole slew of Democrats are all bent out of shape over what President Bush said in Israel. Here's the part of his speech before the Knesset yesterday that has them all in a tizzy:

Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: "Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided." We have an obligation to call this what it is -- the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history. (Applause.)

Note, of course, that no Democrat is actually named. If the currently outraged Democrats had been thinking, they would have issued statements that went something like this:

"One thing all Americans agree on is that appeasement doesn't work. As president, I will engage in tough, principled, and direct diplomacy just like Kennedy, Nixon and Reagan before me. And of course, no American president will engage with terrorists, least of all those who seek to destroy our stalwart ally, Israel. I look forward to celebrating the 65th anniversary of Israel's independence."

But nooooo, they had to all go off and through a big hissy fit.

Senator Obama showed why he'll never be qualified to be president:

I'm a strong believer in civility and I'm a strong believer in a bipartisan foreign policy, but that cause is not served with dishonest, divisive attacks of the sort that we've seen out of George Bush and John McCain over the last couple days

and

That's exactly the kind of appalling attack that's divided our country and that alienates us from the world

"Divisive"? This from a senator who's party wants to force "gay marriage" on us through the courts; the most undemocratic branch of government? That is in bed with Movon.org, one of the most "divisive" groups out there? That panders to the nutroots crowd who regularly deride Bush and Cheney in the most vile terms?

Mark Salter nails Obama's M.O.

We have all become familiar with Senator Obama's new brand of politics. First, you demand civility from your opponent, then you attack him, distort his record and send out surrogates to question his integrity. It is called hypocrisy, and it is the oldest kind of politics there is.

Rich Lowry lists Obama's "rules", and what is "off limits"

He can't be called a "liberal" ("the same names and labels they pin on everyone," as Obama puts it); his toughness on the war on terror can't be questioned ("attempts to play on our fears"); his extreme positions on social issues can't be exposed ("the same efforts to distract us from the issues that affect our lives" and "turn us against each other"); and his Chicago background too is off-limits ("pouncing on every gaffe and association and fake controversy").

Should we on the right take Obama up on his stated desire to have an oh-so-clean campaign?

We could take Obama's rules in good faith if he never calls John McCain a "conservative" or labels him in any other way. If he never criticizes him for his association with George Bush. If he doesn't jump on his gaffes (like McCain's 100-years-in-Iraq comment that Obama distorted and harped on for weeks). And if he never says anything that would tend to make Americans fearful about the future or divide them (i.e., say things that some people agree with and others don't).

Oh, and he would have to stop lying about the meaning of Senator McCain's "100 years in Iraq" statement.

Obama's not alone, though, in his whining. Michael Goldfarb, blogging at The Weekly Standard, has usefully compiled a list of reactions. Here's one

(Senator Joe) Biden again did not mince words when discussing Bush's remarks, accusing the president of engaging in "long-distance swiftboating" with his speech in Israel. Biden also cited numerous examples of the Bush Administration reaching out to unfriendly regimes in Libya, North Korea and Iran, arguing that Bush's insinuation that the Democrats were soft on terrorism was "truly delusional ... and truly disgraceful."

The Democrats can sure dish it out but they can't take it.

So What of Appeasement?

The Democrats claim that they're not appeasers of dictators and terrorists. Are they?

Since Senator Obama is the one in the limelight, let's look briefly at his record:

Senator Obama: yesterday "George Bush knows that I have never supported engagement with terrorists..."

Senator Obama November 1, 2007: "I would meet directly with Iranian leaders. I would meet directly with Syrian leaders. "

A quick look at the relevant website for the State Department confirms what we already know

Iran remained the most active state sponsor of terrorism....

Since Syria's 1979 designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, it has continued to provide political support to Palestinian terrorist groups.....

What really is the difference between meeting with Hamas, Hezbollah, and the leaders of those who sponsor them? Neither group could survive were it not for their sponsors.

Want more? Here's Obama at one of the Democrat debates last year:

Asked if he would be willing to meet separately "without precondition" during the first year of his administration with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea, Obama said, "I would."

Here he is again:

"The notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them...is ridiculous," Sen. Obama said in a debate last year. "One of the first things that I would do in terms of moving a diplomatic effort in the region forward is to send a signal that we need to talk to Iran and Syria."

What's ridiculous is the notion that such a meeting will not be trumpeted as a victory by the Jihadists. What Obama does not seem to realize is that the United States is not just an average run-of-the-mill nation. The President, Democrat or Republican, is not called "the leader of the free world" for nothing. Simply meeting with the President will be interpreted as lending legitimacy to regimes that are illegitimate and worried about it. Dictators, by their very nature, have no real legitimacy. The pseudo-elections in Iran and Venezuela (they probably have them in Syria, Cuba, and North Korea too) change this not at all.

So even if nothing is decided at these "talks", they will be portrayed as a victory by the other side. We can say all we want that no, they're not a victory for Iran/Syria/Cuba/North Korea/Venezuela, but it won't matter. The propaganda organs of our opponents will be out in full force, and in one of Bush's biggest failings he hasn't beefed up ours, so there won't be much of a response.

Not Just Obama

It's not just Sen. Obama who is an appeaser. Kathryn Jean Lopez has helpfully compiled a list of other Democrats the President could have been talking about, such as

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, freelance diplomat, who in December 2007 said: "the road to Damascus is a road to peace."

Or, perhaps he meant Speaker Pelosi in April 2007: "I believe in dialogue. As my colleagues have said over and over again, unless you communicate, you cannot understand each other. You cannot reach agreement."

Or maybe he meant recent Obama endorser and former North Carolina senator John Edwards, who, according to his own press release in February of last year, believes "the U.S. should step up our diplomatic efforts by engaging in direct talks with all the nations in the region, including Iran and Syria."
...

Or former Democratic presidential candidates and senators Chris Dodd and John Kerry, who met with Syria's al-Assad and said: "As senior Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee, we felt it was important to make clear that while we believe in resuming dialogue, our message is no different: Syria can and should play a more constructive role in the region ...


Liberals typically bring up the fact that U.S. presidents from Roosevelt to Reagan met with Soviet leaders. This is true, but misleading. These were meetings well scripted out in advance, with little being left to chance. Reykjavik in 1986 was the exception, not the rule.

Further, Obama seems blissfully unaware that unscripted high-level meetings are highly risky. As often as not they backfire. Reykjavik backfired on Gorbachev. Khrushchev sized up Kennedy as a "weakling" in their initial meeting, prompting the former to believe he could get away with sneaking nuclear-armed missiles into Cuba. It's widely thought that Stalin snookered Roosevelt at Yalta. If nothing else, Obama should read Khrushchev's rants at Eisenhower or Nixon during some of their meetings. That alone would give him second thoughts.

So should we not "talk" with these regimes? I hate to sound Clintonian, but it depends on what you mean by "talk". A meeting with an Iranian representative in the back room of the Canadian embassy in Madrid? No problem. President-to-President talks surrounded by thousands of reporters? Hold your horses.

Lastly, in fairness I will say that President Bush's tough talk hasn't extended to the Saudis, who's export of Wahhabism is designed to destroy the West. Also, our dopey Secretary of State has been "pressuring Israel to meet with Hamas representatives". Side

On the upside, Senator John McCain tells it like it is

If Senator Obama wants to sit down across the table with the leader of a nation that calls Israel a stinking corpse--what is it that he wants to talk about with him?

Nothing.

Meaningful negotiations could take place if they stop sponsoring terrorist organizations...those are the preconditions for sitting down with the Iranians.

Exactly right.

Update

This is the guy who wants to negotiate with the dictators of Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, and Cuba (h/t Dagney's Rant)


I'm sure they'll all take him very seriously after he destroys our ability to respond to anything militarily.

What we need to do is spend more money on weapons, not less.


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

May 15, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 14 May 2008 - "The enemy does fear us"

This briefing is by U.S. Army Colonel Wayne Grigsby, Commander of the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division.

The 3rd ID is part of Multi-National Division Central, otherwise known as Task Force Marne. Their area of responsibility extends to the southern edge of Baghdad to the border with Saudi Arabia, and then to the border of Iran.

Col Grigsby reports to the commander of the 3rd ID, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch. Lynch reports to Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq. Austin, in turn, reports to Gen. Petraeus, commander of Multi-National Forces - Iraq, who reports to the commander of CENTCOM, who was Admiral Fallon until last month. Until Petraeus is confirmed by Congress for this position, Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey is the acting commander of CENTCOM. Dempsey reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

This video and others can be viewed at DODvClips. The transcript is here.

Grigsby's 3rd Brigade is a "surge brigade", which I think means it is not normally part of the 3rd ID, but came in as an "extra", when we bolstered our forces from 15 to 20 brigades the first half of 2007. They deployed in March of '07 to the Madain qadha just east of Baghdad as the third of five surge brigades. As such, they are nearing the end of their 15 month deployment, and are due a well-deserved rest back home.

This past February I featured Col Grisby in one of my "Iraq Reports", so you can go back and view that one and compare it with this one.

In his introduction, Col Grigsby gave a strong account of his unit's success, but avoided giving direct answers to the reporters questions.

The questions from the reporters were smart and good. The Col tended to fall back on talking points when answering, however. I'm not sure if this is because of instructions from above, concern on his part about saying something that gets him in trouble, or whether he doesn't want to give sensitive information to the enemy (who no doubt watches these broadcasts).

Anyway, here are the parts that I found to be the most informative:

COL. GRIGSBY: ...When we arrived, violent crime was out of control. Shop owners were extorted by criminal elements, and we were getting attacked about four to five times a day.

In our time here, murders have declined by greater than 50 percent, from 631 in '06 to 253 in '07. Shop owners are selling their goods in revitalized markets and we are now down to maybe one attack every other day.

We accomplished this by conducting doctrinally correct, sound, full-spectrum counterinsurgency operations on the fundamental base of conducting aggressive, intel-driven combat offensive operations. We wanted to bloody the nose of the enemy and make them fear us. We did bloody the nose of the enemy and the enemy does fear us, both coalition forces and Iraqi security forces.

We never forgot what a U.S. Army heavy brigade combat team is built to do: to close with and destroy the enemy. We killed 160 enemy combatants, detained more than 500 suspected criminals, 47 of which were division and brigade high-level individuals, or "most wanted." And we cleared every enemy sanctuary that existed prior to our arrival.
...

But beyond killing and capturing the enemy, we knew that we needed the good people of the Madain qadha to trust and respect us. While we were conducting 25 air assaults into enemy sanctuaries in the dead of the night, we were building relationships with the townspeople that we lived with as neighbors in the major population centers. Since we worked out of eight patrol bases and four joint security sites in the middle of population centers, we never commuted to work. We did not ride to work. When a combat patrol began each day, Sledgehammer Soldiers were already among their neighbors, living with them.

We built these relationships by trust, by treating local residents with dignity and respect and giving them their communities back. By taking extremists and criminals off the streets in Jisr Diyala, Wahida, Salman Pak, and Nahrawan, we emboldened the good people to step back into the traditional roles of leadership, leadership by the tribal leaders, leadership by local governmental officials rather than leadership by fear where individuals use murder, intimidation to control the masses.

The major population centers of the qadha all now have revitalized markets, health care facilities, water distribution systems, schools, and even some windmills.

These tactics are straight out of the U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24. If you're somehow not aware, this is the book written by a team led by then Lt. Gen. David Petraeus in 2006, and released in December of that year. It is the "bible" of U.S. troops in Iraq, and following its prescriptions is a major reason for our astounding success since then.

Continuing with Col. Grigsby's introduction

But with all positives in Iraq, our hold on this momentum and these gains is tenuous. To make these tenuous gains permanent, we will continue to hunt the enemy where he sleeps and we will continue to assist our Iraqi partners where they look to make improvements. We will continue to shake hands and build relationships during the daytime and kill or capture the extremists at night. We will never forget what a heavy brigade combat team is built to do. As I said earlier, we have been here for 15 months, so we are scheduled to soon redeploy. We have a lot of work to accomplish before we depart, however. We are integrating another combat-tested brigade, Colonel Pat White's 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, the Iron Brigade, into the Madain qadha, and they are iron-strong. ...

The Sledgehammer Brigade is the most deployed brigade in the Army, and our Sledgehammer Soldiers can be proud that we are leaving this country in a far better condition than we arrived. Just a couple days, a couple of the kids came up to me and said, "Sir, you know the difference between last time and this time is no kidding. We see the difference. We see the transformation from 15 months ago today. We see the gains that we've made."

I mentioned earlier that Col. Grigsby tended to evade directly answering many of the reporters questions, and that is true. But what is also interesting is that none of the reporters directly challenged his assessment of the situation.

The first exchange is representative:

Q Colonel, it's Andrew Gray from Reuters. Could you tell us something about the strength of Iraqi forces in your area? What kind of size of Iraqi security presence do you have and how capable are they? The fact that a new brigade is coming in to replace you, does that indicate they're not yet ready to take over security in that area?

COL. GRIGSBY: Well, that's a great question. We have some great Iraqi security forces in the Madain qadha. I was here in OIF 2, where we were just starting with the Iraqi security forces, and I can tell you over the last 15 months I see some great gains, the best I've seen in 37 months of combat.

We have an Iraqi National Police brigade that we focus a lot of effort on, the 3-1 National Police commanded by Brigadier General Emad. And they are the center focus of that Marne Dauntless operation. And they're conducting independent operations. He has an intel network and he goes out and he kills or captures extremists along with the 3-1 Cav and now 1-35 Armor.

We also have a great Iraqi army brigade that came into the southern portion of our battlespace which is a known brigade, the 35th, out of Baghdad. They came out to the Madain qadha -- saw the great gains. And they're keeping the southern portion of our battlespace free of the Sunni extremists. They're doing a great job.

And we continue to work with the Iraqi police. We will continue to partner with them. We'll continue to help them with their community policing within the towns so that when the common Iraqi comes out of their house, they will see that guy on the beat.

And we can't forget about the Sons of Iraq, the 7,000 Sons of Iraq, that has helped us with security, and their support in assisting the Iraqi security forces within the Madain.

And we are one of the surge brigades, but we're the only brigade that is being back-filled. And 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division will come out here and support and assist the Iraqi security forces within the Madain and take it to the next level.

Hope that answers your question.

Q Sure. Just to follow up, though, Colonel, does the fact that you need to be back-filled by another brigade indicate that they still have some way to go? What do they still need to do before they can take over security for their own area?

COL. GRIGSBY: I think it indicates that people see that the Madain qadha's a key piece of terrain. Before we came here there was maybe one or two companies coming across on the east side of the river -- Sunni extremists, Shi'a extremists and Persian influence were doing what they wanted to.

They no longer can do that. The Madain qadha has a government that's standing up. The Madain qadha has 70 percent agriculture, which was shown by a farmers' co-op we've done just two weekends ago, where over 1,500 farmers came and worked.

There's a lot of ways to go out here, not only with security, but also with the capacity build, with governance and economics. And the Baghdad government is starting to see, and they're bringing $86.1 million out here to help us out. I think we were backfilled because we see this as a key piece of terrain and we see that this also is a door into Baghdad and we can continue to interdict the accelerants, if they are out there, that may try to threaten Baghdad.

He didn't really answer Andrew's question, which means that although the Iraqis are making progress they're not ready yet to fully take over.

As for the gains being fragile (read "reversible"), this has been stated by commanders at all levels for months. I suppose you can compare it to WWII in late 1944. Things looked good for the allies, but as we discovered the enemy still had surprises for us; the Germans with what was termed the "Battle of the Bulge", and the Japanese with the kamikaze.

Lastly, this important information about R 'n R for the troops when they get home

Q Colonel, Nathan Hodge with Jane's Defence Weekly.

You mentioned, in your opening statement, a brigade had been deployed 41 months since 2002. You also mentioned the utility of a heavy brigade combat team in these kinds of operations.

When brigade returns back to home station, will you see the need for any kind of focus on things like the traditional operations that you would have -- high-end warfighting? What kinds of things does the brigade need to focus on when it returns to home station?

COL. GRIGSBY: We always need to remember that we're a heavy brigade combat team. But I tell you what, these boys have been fighting for 15 months. And as we go home, we're going to go home. We're going to give them a 48-hour pass.

We're going to go through 10 half-days deliberate training, dictated by Major General Rick Lynch, on 10 half-days of reintegration training. As we get all the soldiers back into the Fort Benning, back into Fort Benning and their family members, and make sure that's straight.

And then we'll give them 30 days of leave or more, and they'll come back off of leave rested.

We'll do some leadership changes, and then we'll start conducting some individual training.

But during that first six months, these soldiers won't train at night. These soldiers will have Thursday afternoons off, called Marne family time, and these soldiers won't train on the weekends. So we get these guys back with their families. That's the most important thing.

And then as the leadership changes over in the December-January time frame, we'll start it again, but we'll start off like a heavy brigade always starts off. We'll focus on marksmanship, killing what we shoot at. We'll focus on maneuver. All this stuff, we'll focus on synchronized and indirect fire and attack aviation. Everything that built a fundamental base of this heavy brigade combat team.

And just as a side note, as we go back, this brigade on 17 February made its reenlistment objectives on 17 February, five months into the fiscal year. We made that along with the great 3rd ID. So we have soldiers not only that want to stay in the Army, they want to stay at Kelly Hill and continue to get after it. And I couldn't be more proud of them.

That's time off well deserved.

Bottom line, nothing in this briefing leads me away from my oft-stated conclusion that our gains are real and if current trends continue we will win, which means a stable, at least somewhat democratic Iraq that is an American ally.

Note: I've received a report about getting an error message when leaving comments. If you do get an error message (not "pending") please do me a favor and send email to me at redhunter43@yahoo.com Thank you.

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

May 11, 2008

Israel Trip 2008

We visited the Mount of Beatitudes, watched Israeli F-15s and 16s fly in formation over Jerusalem, contemplated Jesus agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, saw one place where David hid from Saul, went to an Independence Day concert, spoke with Israeli soldiers, swam in the Dead Sea, peered into Syria from an old Israeli fort on the Golan, and stuffed ourselves with all manner of delicacies morning, noon, and night. Oh, and the weather was perfect.

It was a fantastic trip. Nothing I write here can do justice to all that we saw and experienced, and I can only post a few of the photos. Speaking of which I took 461 photos in 7 days of touring, more than on any other trip. Thank heavens for digital photography.

I've uploaded all of my photos to photobucket, but unfortunately they're out of chronological order, and I can't figure out why. They run from #IM000539 to IM001000, so that's your clue as you scroll through. I'll try and fix it when I get time. Even if I can't fix the order, I will go through and label as many as I can.

This was a trip set up by my church, and was mainly a tour of the holy land, to see where the various events occurred in both Old and New Testaments. My pastor, who went with us, said that once you've been to the holy land you'll never read the bible the same way again. I can already see that he was right. I can't say that it made me stronger in my faith, as I'm pretty strong now, but there's nothing quite like seeing the landscape where it all took place.

We landed in Tel Aviv on Thursday May 1 after what seemed two never-ending flights, and spent our first night there. The next day we boarded the tour bus and headed north to Tiberius by the Sea of Galilee, stopping at several placed along the way. We spent three days in Tiberius, and then headed south to Jersusalem, skirting the border with Jordan. We then spend the last three days in and around Jerusalem.

We'll start with this; for almost 2,000 years the doubters said that Pontius Pilate was a myth, a legend invented by Christians. There being no records in the Roman archive referring to him, Christians could only defend themselves by referring to scripture. Then, in 1961, a block of limestone was uncovered in Caesarea that referred to him, and was dated to the 1st century A.D. Once again, the scriptures were confirmed. Known as the "Pilate Stone", the original is in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Here's our Israeli tour guide, Ronnie Cohen, beside a facsimile of the stone at Caesarea, explaining its significance.

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Here's Pastor Gary teaching from atop Mt Carmel

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Our typical procedure when we arrived at a site was that Ronnie would first provide an overview, explaining the site's historical and religious significance and perhaps some geography. Then, Pastor Gary would lead us in a bible study. At Mt Carmel we studied 1 Kings 18, especially verses 16 - 45.

Long story short, Mt Carmel was where the prophet Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal, and challenged them to a contest, one that they failed miserably. The key is perhaps in verse 21

Elijah went before the people and said, "How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him." But the people said nothing

There's a point in life where you have to make a choice. You either follow the way of God or you choose the pleasures of the world. The prophets of Baal choose poorly.

Here's me in the small Catholic chapel built in 1939 atop the Mount of Beatitudes, the site of where Jesus gave his famous "Sermon on the Mount"

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The event is recorded in Matthew 5-7, and probably in Luke 6:17-49 (there's some disagreement over whether they're the same or different sermons).

Either way, the basic message is that we as believers are commanded to live the uncommon life. We should live to a higher standard, to a higher degree.

At various times over the centuries, the Catholic Church has purchased the land in and around holy sites in Israel. The advantage is that this has prevented commercial developers from spoiling the sites. The downside is that the churches really have nothing per se to do with the significance of the site.

We stopped off at a spot alongside the Jordan River and Pastor Gary did a mass baptism. The river water was somewhat stagnant, I've been baptized as an adult already, and and all-in-all I'd rather not have done it, but I figured there was no point in going all that way to Israel and not participate in everything.

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Baptism is not required for salvation, but, as with works, is evidence of faith.

North to the Golan Heights

The next day we headed north to the Golan Heights. We stopped at several places, but our ultimate destination was an Israeli fort that had been turned into a national park. The Golan is essentially a plateau that rises above Galilee to a maximum height of 1,700 feet. It is a strategic location that Israel captured in the 1967 Six Day War, and managed to retain during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. In my opinion they've have to be nuts to give it back to the government of Bashir Assad in return for a piece of paper promising peace.

Along the way we passed several Israeli Army bases. Here is a photo of some Merkava tanks that I took from the bus (as always, click on the photo to enlarge).

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The fort was atop Mt Avital, just a few miles from the Syrian border. Our guide, Ronnie, had been stationed here as part of his tour in the Israeli Army, Here's the fort

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And here's a view eastward from the fort. The farmland in the foreground is Israeli, and the treeline and beyond is Syria. Syrian military positions are hidden in the trees.

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I had the same feeling here as I did while standing on the beaches of Normandy some years ago. These are places that if you're like me you've read about dozens of times, and seen innumerable History Channel programs about. In Normandy I could almost see the American troops make their way through the villages, tossing a hand grenade over a wall before going around it. Here I could almost feel the victory of 1967 and the desperation of Yom Kippur some six years later.

South to Jerusalem

After three days at Tiberius we packed up and headed south. If you don't stop the trip from Tiberius to Jerusalem is only a few hours, but we took a whole day to do it since we made several stops along the way; Mount Arbel, of no biblical significance but a great view of Galilee, Beit Shean (or "Beth Shan"), where among other things Saul and his son's bodies were hung from the city walls1 Samuel 31, Gideon's Spring, where the Israelites won a victory over the Midianites because they obeyed God (Judges 7), and had dinner in a tent at Genesis Land hosted by none other than "Abraham" himself. It was kind of hokey but in the end pretty neat and well worth doing.

As we drove south the land went from green to arid. As mentioned earlier, we drove on route 90, which runs just parallel to the Jordan River, which is the border. As such, most of the Israeli "settlements" and Palestinian territory was well to the west of us. We did see a few settlements, however. What was striking was the Israeli ability to turn the desert into productive farmland, something that the Arabs never did when it was all theirs.

Jerusalem

We spent two of the next three days in Jerusalem itself, and one day went to the Dead Sea area. We did so much in the city it's hard to know what to exclude from this brief overview, but no account would be complete without the Garden of Gethsemane, which is at the bottom of the Mount of Olives, just outside the Old City (Matthew 26:36-46, Mark 14: 32-41, Luke 22:39-46 and John 17, although Gethsemane is not directly mentioned in the latter two.

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And here it is, the "Western Wall", or "Wailing Wall"; all that stands of Herod the Great's expansion of the second temple in 19 B.C.

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The photo above was taken the evening we arrived in the city. The soldiers in the foreground are there for a rehearsal of their Memorial Day observances (more about which later). You can't see it in this photo, but just to the right are a lot more soldiers milling about.

The photo below was taken on Thursday May 8, the last day we were in Israel. As you can see, there was a multitude of people up at the wall. Anyone could go up to it; they don't check your religion. The only requirements were that men and women were segregated (the women's section is to the right beyond a small wall in the photo) and all men had to have some sort of head covering.

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Despite the history and religious significance, one of the most moving and important stops was at a small shop called Shorashim Biblical Shop, owned and operated by Moshe and Dov Kempinski.

As we sat in a semi-circle in their shop, Moshe explained the unique mission he and his brother have set forth on: It's all about "bridge building". The fall of the Iron Curtain led to a fall of another curtain between Judaism and Christianity. Though they set up their shop 25 years ago, it has only been in the past 16 the Christians became interested in their store. We need to listen to each other, he stressed, and learn each other's language. God brought you to Jerusalem, he said. Sure, everyone has their own excuse for coming; to see the sights, where Jesus walked, to learn the history... all tricks God used to get you here. The fact is that why you think you're here is a trick played by God to get you here so that he could spend some time with you in His house. Of course, in the end, it's all about more than "god talk"; if you can't walk the walk don't talk the talk.

Because of the upcoming Israeli Remembrance Day (May 7. It's similar to our Memorial Day, but they're actually solemn about it) and Independence Day (May 8) observances, security was very tight, and soldiers were posted everywhere. I saw throughout the Old City, but also at toll booths and shopping centers. Geek that I am, I noticed that most carried the American M-4 carbine, some had the M16A2, but a few the Vietnam-era M16A1.

Here's a representative photo of the Old City. If I have it right, the large Menorah at right is a recreation by The Temple Institute of the original one in Solomon's temple (the First Temple, which lasted from 1000 B.C. to 586B.C. when it was destroyed by the Babylonian King Nebuchadrezzar).

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On May 8 we were just outside Jersusalem on a hill looking over into Bethlehem when what came flying overhead but several formations of F-16s, F-15s, old A-4s (!) and even a KC-135 tanker escorted by more F-16s. It was quite a thrill!

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There are two places where Christians believe Jesus may have been buried before rising on the third day. One is at Calvary (sometimes called "Golgotha"), and what is now the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The other is the Garden Tomb, the site of a tomb where he may have been buried (still having been crucified at Calvary). Of the two we only visited the latter.

Of course, no one really knows the location, so it may have been one of the above sites or neither. As our guide (an entertaining old gentleman) at the Garden Tomb stressed, it doesn't really matter.

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The Dead Sea Area

While the Sea of Galilee is about 900ft below sea level, and Death Valley only 281ft below sea level, the Dead Sea is a whopping 1,378ft below sea level. At 30% salinity vs 3.5% for the ocean, it is the second saltiest body of water on earth, with only a lake a remote part of east Africa being saltier. The Dead Sea is also quite large, at 42mi x 11 mi, versus 13mi x 8mi for the Sea of Galilee. The Great Salt Lake in Utah is 75mi x 28mi, but has an average depth of only 14ft and maximum depth of 33ft, versus 394ft and 1,083ft respectively for the Dead Sea. In other words, it is darn huge and very salty. As its name implies, nothing can live in it.

Unfortunately I didn't get any photos of me or the other swimming in it, but it is incredibly bouyant. You can float no problem on either you back or your stomach without any effort. If you try and stand straight up (in deep water without your feet touching), your feet want to pop up as if they have floats on them. It was very weird and quite fun.

However, before going in there were a few soldiers stationed outside, and I overheard they both speaking fairly good English. I approached them, said I was a tourist from the U.S.A., said that I appreciated what they were doing, and that our fight in Iraq and Afghanistan against AQI and the Taliban was part of their fight against Hamas and Hezbollah; "they're all jihadists". They enthusiastically agreed and let me have my picture taken with them.

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The mountaintop fort of Masada is not part of biblical history, but is such an important part of Jewish and Israelite history that no trip to Israel is complete without a visit. Overlooking the Dead Sea, it was the "last stand" of a Jewish group known as the Zealots after Rome destroyed the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and ended the existence of Israel until modern times.

Long story short, the Zealots held out against a Roman seige for three years. Finally, when the Romans broke through and entered the fortress city, they found no one alive but two women and five children. Why were the rest all dead? The Roman seize machines hadn't killed that many.

The answer is that the Jews knew that rape, torture, and slavery awaited them if taken alive. But Jewish law forbade suicide.

They way they got around it was the each man killed his family, then the men killed each other, until they were down to twelve. These then drew lots, with the loser killing his fellows, and finally falling on his sword, so that only he violated the law.

The story of Masada is not part of the Talmud, and was largely forgotten by Jews until the 1920s. That we know of it at all is only due to the writings of Flavius Josephus, who accompanied the Romans during their seige.

Because of the situation of modern Israel, it is therefore natural that they look to Masada as Americans look at The Alamo; "never again". Indeed, all or some Israeli soldiers take their oath atop Masada and repeat the oath "Masada shall not fall again."

Masada today is a national park, with the easiest way to get up by cable car. Atop the mountain they've got all the usual markers just as you find at any park in the U.S. Our tour guide Ronnie did his excellent job. But then, during the tour, something different happened. Something special.

At exactly 11:00 a voice came through a speaker (in Hebrew, of course), followed by a one minute siren. This happened all throughout Israel, not just through loundspeakers, but on radio and television. The speaker asked for a minute of silence in observance of Israeli war dead.

It was their Memorial Day.

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One of the places where David hid from King Saul was at the oasis of Ein Gedi (1 Samuel 23 - 24) Situated in a mountain crevice, it's just what you think of when you think of an "oasis"; a beautiful stream and waterfall surrounded by palm trees in the middle of the desert. The land surrounding the Dead Sea is a stark and harsh deseert; kind of like what you see in much the American southwest. Here's a representative scene

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Then here's Ein Gedi

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Pretty nice, huh? It doesn't take you long to figure out why David selected this place as a hideout.

We did much more in Israel than I can write about here. See the photobucket page for all photos, which I promise to label some day.

I've been fortunate to have been to a half a dozen or so European countries, and enjoyed every one. That said, most are only worth one visit. Before Israel, Greece is the only one I'd really like to go back to. Now Israel is on that list too.

Posted by Tom at 9:00 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack