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August 30, 2008

The Vice-Presidential Selections

They're both in now:

Senator John McCain has chosen Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate


And Senator Barack Obama has chosen Delaware Senator Joe Biden as his.


Here's what I think about each:

First, unless you've never been to this blog you should know that I'm a conservative Republican. So of course I'm not going to pretend that I'm some neutral observer. I couldn't imagine voting for Obama no matter who he picked, and I would end up voting for McCain no matter who he picked. Further, since so much has been said elsewhere I'm not going to go into the respective nominees backgrounds or accomplishments.

That said...

Gov. Sarah Palin

Palin was an inspired if risky choice. She brings energy and enthusiasm to the conservative base of the party, which was much needed. There was a lot of nervousness that McCain was going to pick someone who was pro-choice, and indeed according to one report that I deem fairly reliable, almost did pick Joe Lieberman. The word from my family as well as local party members has been one of universal acclaim.

On the upside, she is a no-nonsense conservative; pro-life, pro-gun (lifetime NRA member!), small government, pro-drilling, and from what I can tell so far, hawkish on foreign policy. Best of all she is a genuine reformer who challenged her own party on issues of corruption and spending and won her battles hands down. She is immensely popular in Alaska. She is a governor, which means executive experience.

Selecting her means that McCain can still credibly to be more about change than Obama and Biden. He has a record of "reaching across the isle" while Obama has none, and Palin has a record of fighting corruption within her own party, while neither Obama or Biden have any accomplishments here either.

She's the one selection that can bring over disaffected Hillary supporters, and women in general who were unsure about McCain (having "old white guy" syndrome).

On the personal side, she doesn't just talk the talk, she walks the walk. She hunts and fishes ("baits her own hook" as we guys like to say), has a large family and refused to abort a child with Down syndrome. One of her sons is in the Army and is schedule to be deployed to Iraq this Sept 11. So far, she comes across as smart and articulate.

The choice also buried Obama's convention speech, something that a less-inspired choice would not have done.

On the downside, she's only been in office since 2006. That's less time than Sen Obama, who won his seat in the 2004 elections (taking office then in January of 2005). The Obama camp is gleefully throwing the "no experience" charge back at John McCain. We can point out that she has more executive experience than Obama and Biden combined (as does McCain, from his time in the Navy). We can also say that she has actual accomplishments under her belt, which again is more than Obama can say (whose only "accomplishment" is the self-glorification of getting himself nominated). But the fact is that she's not been in office even two years.

We also have to hold our breath that there is nothing in her closet that will come out to haunt us. The last thing John McCain needs is a Thomas Eagleton affair. I don't think it's very likely, but it is a risk.

Let's also face it; it's hard to imagine her being selected if she was a white male. But if the liberals want to pick that fight, we'll just point out that it's hard to imagine Obama being selected if he was a white guy. I think Geraldine Ferraro was mostly correct with her controversial comments of earlier this year.

Most importantly, she has to perform on the stump and her margin for error is paper-thin. A few gaffs and the media will tag her as "the new Dan Quayle."

Sen. Joe Biden

If Palin was "inspired but risky", then Biden is "boring but safe." Joe Biden is a Washington fixture that is known to everyone. There is nothing in his background that we don't know.

On the upside for the Democrats, Biden has experience. He's been a U.S. Senator since 1973, and as such has dealt with every issue under the sun. He's also smart and articulate, and will make the case well for himself and Obama.

On the downside, he's a walking gaff machine. He has foot-in-mouth disease and will no doubt provide much fodder this campaign. Further, he is another senator, which means no executive experience. He is just as liberal as Obama, and it's hard if not impossible for them to argue that they represent anything other than the most left part of the Democrat party line. Neither have much if any record of "reaching across the isle." Lastly, as the ultimate Washington insider, Biden can hardly preach much about change or reform (though he will try).

All in All

All choices have their upsides and their downsides. No one in either party is completely happy with their candidate. Democrats surely wish that Obama had more experience, and had never gone to Trinity United or knew William Ayers. Most also probably wish that he'd made a more inspired choice than Joe Biden. Republicans wish that McCain was more of a mainstream conservative and that Palin was a second term governor.

But we have what we have. Palin will prove to be either a brilliant choice or a complete flop. I doubt there will be much middle ground. I think it'll be the former, but am holding my breath against the latter. She could be the half of the ticket that propels him to victory.

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

Iraq Briefing - 28 Aug 2008 - "The progress...since my last visit is absolutely phenominal"

This briefing is by Pat White, Commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, who provided an update on ongoing security operations in Iraq on August 28. In Iraq, he spoke via satellite to reporters at the Pentagon.

White reports to Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, commander of Multi-National Division-North (also known as Task Force Iron), which is headquartered by the 1st Armored Division.

Hertling 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 April. Until Petraeus assumes comman of CENTCOM later this year, Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey is the acting commander of CENTCOM. Dempsey reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

This and other videos can be seen at the DODvClips website. The PentagonChannel website also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is on the DefenseLink website.

As is always the case, there was much of interest in this briefing. Perhaps most important though was the differences Col White saw in Iraq during his last deployment and what he encounters today:

COL. WHITE: ...And before I begin, I'd like to say this is my second tour in Iraq. My first was as a commander of the Iron Dukes -- 2nd Battalion, 37th Tank Regiment, 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division -- from May 2003 to July of 2004, where I served in Baghdad. First Armored Division, as you all know, was extended for three months during Muqtada al-Sadr's first uprising and my battalion fought for five weeks in An Najaf.

Honestly, the progress here in Iraq since my last visit is absolutely phenomenal. I can state this because a portion of my current brigade sector was also a portion of my battalion sector five years ago. Five years ago, as a battalion commander, I never worked with an Iraqi army unit. The combined security cooperation effort depended almost solely on an Iraqi police force heavily infiltrated by the Jaish al-Mahdi. At that time, we supported the recruitment and training of a nation organization named the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps.

Today, I'm partnered with an Iraqi army division and the qadha has six fully functioning Iraqi police stations with a district headquarters, highway patrol and an emergency response unit. Now Iraqi security forces routinely plan, prepare and execute offensive operations and the population clearly respects and trusts them.

Our mission, in partnership with the Iraqi security forces is to secure the population and interdict accelerants -- accelerants being described as enemy forces and munitions -- from entering Baghdad.

Clearly, there is a measurable improvement in the security of the Madain. And this improvement is primarily a function of the hard work done by our predecessor unit, the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, known as the Hammer Brigade, which is one of the surge brigades that operated out here in the Madain prior to our arrival.

When Colonel Wayne Grigsby's brigade assumed responsibility for the Madain in 2007, attacks averaged two and a half a day. In April, as we began transitioning with the Hammer Brigade, attacks were down to one per day. And today, as I sit here and speak to you, attacks are less than one per day, with over half of those directed at Iraqi security forces.

I believe the significant reduction and the fact that attacks remain low can be attributed to two things: first and obviously, the astounding efforts of the Hammer Brigade over 14 months and now our 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, in an area that really saw very little U.S. presence prior to 2007. Now the populace is absolutely assured of our commitment and the commitment of the Iraqi security forces. The second contributor to the decrease in attacks is the ever-increasing professionalism of the Iraqi security forces. Coupled with the security contributions of the Sons of Iraq, we have achieved a point here in the Madain where operations are by, with and through Iraqi security forces.

All these efforts combined deny anti-Iraqi forces sanctuary and provide a solid foundation of hope for the free citizens of the Madain.

So as you can see progress has been tremendous. I've seen this in briefing after briefing by commanders who have had previous tours in Iraq. Go over to the sidebar of this blog under "Categories,", select "Iraq II 2007 - 2008", scroll though the briefings and you'll see what I mean. More importantly, the reporters never challenge this assertion. The key new is moving forward to economic and political progress.

Fortunately, both seem to be happening. The Iraqi government has met most of the benchmarks set by Congress, and oil revenues are helping spur the economy. It is vital that we Americans not get stupid and short sighted by demanding the Iraqis "pay us back" before this thing is settled. Sadly, I've seen this call for "pay back" come from some on the right as well as the usual suspects on the left.

On to the Q & A. The camera shows that this briefing was pretty sparsely attended. Odd that this would be so. Given that these are military/Pentagon reporters, I wouldn't think that that they're all off covering the conventions. Maybe it's just an acknowledgment that the war is winding down. No bad news is no news.

The first major topic was the Sons of Iraq (SOI), formerly called Concerned Local Citizens, which have been discussed extensively in numerous briefings. They function as a sort of super-neighborhood watch. Many are armed, but not by us or the Iraqi government. The point is to get the Iraqis involved in their own security.

Many of the SOI are Sunni, and are thus regarded with suspicion with the mostly Shiite government in Baghdad. Reports are that the Iraqi government wants to disband them....but that may only be in certain areas, I'm not totally sure.

Our objective is to integrate members of the SOI into the police, army, or government, but this is easier said than done.

Q Colonel, Jeff Schogol with Stars and Stripes. I've seen reports that the government of Iraq is actually arresting members of the Sons of Iraq. Are you having to deal with any of that in your area?

COL. WHITE: Well, here in the Madain, as I mentioned, we've got 6,000 Sons of Iraq. ...We have not experienced any warrants or any arrests at this point in time for any of our Sons of Iraq, and I think that really goes back to a question of who reconciled with the government of Iraq and who -- and who did not.

Q Could you talk about how the -- what progress you're making in either integrating these Sons of Iraq into the security forces or training them for other jobs?

COL. WHITE: Absolutely. And I think this is a common theme across Iraq, but let me talk about specifically in the Madain. Again, I have a pretty low number of Sons of Iraq, and it's -- and it's based on the security situation here and the need for them. We have a number of programs that we transition. The first and most important for us and for the government of Iraq is that transition from Sons of Iraq into either the Iraqi police, the Iraqi army or the Iraqi National Police.

We currently have over 400 packets in with Ministry of Interior to transition Sons of Iraq into the Iraqi police force. Next month we'll begin a recruiting drive again for another 1,000 Iraqi police shurta. Now not all of those will be Sons of Iraq, but it's another opportunity for us to engage the Sons of Iraq. They consistently look at how they can backfill into the Iraqi army with Sons of Iraq after they are recruited and trained.

But that is just one area where we transition Sons of Iraq. Here in Madain we have nine civil service corps projects that are solely employing Sons of Iraq. Most of them are down in the Salman Pak area. I do have two that are in the Jisr Diyala area, and then we have three more that we're looking at for the Nahrawan area, to assist us in providing them the training that is required to seek and gain a sustainable job over time.

There are a number of Iraqi initiatives that will also begin, as we are familiar with it, on the new fiscal year. And as we study and look at those programs, I'll be able to pass along what we think from a percentage-wise that we be able to transition.

But truly we remain committed to the Sons of Iraq. The government of Iraq has also recently said they're very committed to maintaining the Sons of Iraq here in the Madain -- can't speak for the rest of Iraq.

So we'll see. The SOI are not so important as an institution, but as an idea or attitude. It is vital that the Iraqis believe that their government cares about them and that it has their best interests at heart. Further, they must believe that they can take part in that government, that they have a say in their future. I'll be watching these briefings and other news sources carefully for future developments.

Posted by Tom at 8:10 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Iraq Briefing - 18 August 2008 - "al Qaeda is in disarray"

This briefing is by the commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq, Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin III. Austin replaced Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno in February 2008, who at the time had been appointed Vice-Chief of Staff of the Army. This Wednesday Odierno was appointed commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq, the position now held by Gen. David Petraeus. Petraeus, in turn, has been appointed the next commander of CENTCOM. Both of these changes require Senate confirmation and so even if approved they will not take their new jobs until later this summer.

As the second-highest commander in Iraq, Austin reports directly to Gen. Petraeus. Petraeus reports to the commander of CENTCOM, who was Admiral Fallon until last month. Until Petraeus assumes command of CENTCOM later this year, Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey will remain as acting commander. Dempsey reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

This and other videos can be seen at the DODvClips website. The PentagonChannel website also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is on the DefenseLink website.

Truth be told, this wasn't a terribly exciting interview. Austin doesn't come across as well as his predecessor, or most of his subordinates, for that matter. But I'm pretty well determined to cover all of these briefings as we can learn something from each of them.

GEN. AUSTIN: ...Let me say up front that our mission in Iraq has not changed. Our number one task remains protecting the Iraqi population. We're also focused on developing a capable and professional Iraqi security force and helping to build civil capacity.

And we're making progress in each of these areas every day. And while these efforts are progressing at a different pace, they're all moving forward in a positive and tangible manner.

Today, the Multinational Corps Iraq is operating in more areas of the country with fewer troops, and our security gains continue to trend in a positive direction even after the redeployment of five brigade combat teams, and most recently the Georgian brigade. We've been able to achieve this success because of an increasingly effective Iraqi security force, one that is growing in capability and in confidence. And as a result, we have seen signs of hope and prosperity return to many parts of the country that were once previously threatened by criminals and terrorists and others who don't want Iraq to achieve its full potential.

For 10 of the last 11 weeks, we've sustained less than 200 attacks per week nationwide. It is undeniable that Iraq is in a much better place than it was several months ago. And we're very encouraged by these positive trends, but we realize that there remain threats to the population and there is still much work to be done.

In the north, al Qaeda is in disarray, and its capability to conduct well-planned and coordinated attacks is limited, but they still pose a real threat to the population. And a couple of weeks ago, I walked through an open market in Mosul that was several kilometers long, and it was overflowing with Iraqis. Now that's something that would not have been possible just a couple of months ago, and this is a clear sign that we are making progress indeed.

We must, however, keep sight of the fact that al Qaeda retains the capability to perform high-profile attacks on the population. Suicide vests, which are a trademark of al Qaeda, account for less than 3 percent of the total number all of all attacks, but they account for 65 percent of all casualties. And most of those casualties are innocent civilians. So you can see that while al Qaeda is in disarray, they are still capable of ruthless attacks.

In short, we've scored a decisive victory but dangers remain.

"Our number one task remains protecting the Iraqi population." This is straight out of U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24. Today such a strategy sounds obvious, but as unbelievable as it sounds this isn't what we focused on until the adoption of classic counterinsurgency tactics under Gen Petraeus.

Our focus from 2003-06 was on raiding from large, secure bases. As we learned, this simply doesn't work. To win, counterinsurgent forces need to live among the populace.

GEN. AUSTIN:...The Iraqi security forces have gained valuable experience through their operations in Basra and Sadr City, Mosul, Amarah and now in Diyala. And the operations in Diyala are some of the best Iraqi-planned and executed operations to date. And this is impressive because the Iraqi security forces are growing and training all while fighting an insurgency.

Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling
, commander of MNC-North, spoke about this on Aug 11 in his press briefing. Kimberly Kagan's Institute for the Study of War also has an excellent report on the situation in Diyala.

Troop levels are a concern back home and it's only natural that the American people want to know when we can bring more troops home. Al Pessin from the VOA asks about just this:

Q General, it's Al Pessin from Voice of America. I know that you and General Petraeus are now in the period of assessment. I wonder if you could share with us -- I see you smiling. You know -- you knew this was coming, I guess. Can you share with us your at least general feeling about how low you can go? You said security's been sustained with the withdrawals you've already had. What more do you think you can do, say, by the end of the year?

GEN. AUSTIN: Well, sir, as you know, we've always been clear that, you know, we'll make our recommendations based upon the conditions on the ground at the time when we have to provide those recommendations.

And so at the point that we make those recommendations, we'll take all of those things into consideration. And General Petraeus and I are in continual dialogue about these issues. And I'll make a recommendation to him. And at some point, he will make a recommendation to the leadership, at Central Command and in Washington.

But again it is a continual process of assessing the conditions on the ground, what we're faced with and our ability to provide the level of security necessary to continue to move forward. And we have seen some progress, some significant progress over the last several weeks, last several months.

Not getting the answer he quite wanted, Pessin tried again:

Q General, based on what you see today, do you feel like you could lose more combat brigades or battalions, between now and the end of the year, and still sustain security?

GEN. AUSTIN: Based upon what I see today, again, I'm always encouraged by what our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are causing to happen and the things that they're doing, working with the Iraqi security forces, to improve conditions on a daily basis.

If conditions continue to improve, absolutely, that presents some opportunities for us. But again we're not making that recommendation today. We'll make that recommendation at some point in the future. And that will be based upon what we're looking at at that point.

And once again Austin said that it depends on "conditions on the ground" at that moment. Our military leaders have been quite clear in that it is inappropriate to commit to numbers of troops ahead of time.

The Sons of Iraq program, originally Concerned Local Citizens, have been important to contributing to our success. It got the Iraqi people to take responsibility for their own security. For a variety of reasons the program is coming to an end, and the question is what will happen to its members.

Q General, David Wood from the Baltimore Sun. Could you give us a status report on the Sons of Iraq program; how many you've got nationwide, how many you envision being absorbed into the Iraqi security forces by the end of the year? And what are you going to do with the rest of them? GEN. AUSTIN: Well, a couple of weeks ago, we had about 101,000. Today, we're down to a little over 99,000. And the reason that that number has reduced is because some of those Sons of Iraq we've helped to find jobs. Others have been either wounded and some have lost their lives in the process of helping us to provide security for the country; helping us to help the Iraqis provide security for the country. ...

What we will look to do with the Sons of Iraq is to place about 20 percent of them into security force positions with the police or the army. And then the remainder of those Sons of Iraq's -- Sons of Iraq we hope to help find jobs, meaningful jobs that can help them provide for their families.

Q Hi, general. This is Courtney Kube from NBC News. When you answered Tom Bowman's question earlier, about transitioning Anbar to provincial Iraqi control, you said that the agreement wasn't yet finalized; there were still details to work out. Several weeks ago, we were told that it was a dust storm that was the delay in this PIC transition.

What's the reality here? Was the agreement never really finalized?

GEN. AUSTIN: At that point, it was, I think. But since then, they've gone in to work out some more details that they would have liked to have seen worked out. And that was, in fact, what delayed the ceremony at that point in time. It was a dust storm. And so again as the provincial government and the government of Iraq work things out, they will announce the scheduling of the ceremony. And I'll leave that to them to announce.

Q (Off mike.) changed since then? What's still not agreed upon?

GEN. AUSTIN: Well, you know, I'm not involved in that dialogue, between the provincial government and the Iraqi government. And so I'm really not the best person to outline, for you, the details that they may be finalizing.

Try as she might, she couldn't get much of an answer.

Overall Lt Gen Austin is less impressive than his predecessor, Ray Odierno. He tends to skirt questions, is less conversational, and isn't as decisive in his answers. He may well be a good corps commander and just doesn't come across well in press briefings. I've gotten more from the briefings given by his divisional and brigade commanders.

Iraq Briefing - 23 April 2008 - Meet the New Commander of MNC-Iraq

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August 28, 2008

Book Review - All Creatures Great and Small

All Things Bright and Beautiful,
All Creatures Great and Small,
All Things Wise and Wonderful,
The Lord God Made Them All

I only just looked up that poem, and discovered it was written by one Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895). Little did he know that each of those first four lines of a much longer poem would become book titles for one of the most successful authors of the late twentieth century.

Under the nom de plume James Herriot, James Alfred Wight published a series of books in the 1970s detailing his life as a country Veterinarian in Scotland in the 1930s and 40s.. The first was actually All Creatures Great and Small, the second All Things Bright and Beautiful, and the third and fourth from the last two lines of the poem. The books were eventually adapted into a television series, which I believe ran on the Arts and Entertainment channel. There are a few other Herriot books also, but these four are the most popular.

At the time I was in middle and high school, and I remember my mom talking about how much she enjoyed his books. For the life of me I couldn't understand how the story of a country Vet could be remotely interesting. Little did I know how much in later life I would enjoy them. At various points in my life I've picked up and read all four. I watched the series when it was on TV, and it was one of the few boom-to-TV transitions that worked as it captured the books perfectly.

I was reminded of the books recently when my cat Athena died. She was diagnosed with cancer of the mouth so there was really no choice but for me to have her put to sleep. Almost exactly 15 years ago I had gotten her with her brother, whom I named Zeus. He died in a mysterious accident two years later (I think he hit his head while playing and broke his neck or something. I was in the next room, heard a sound I didn't like and went in to see him immediately but he was already dead). Not too long after I got another cat, an orange tabby whom I named Bengal (Bengal Tiger...). He died two years of kidney failure.

Here are Athena and Bengal at their best:

Athena & Ben Best1.JPG

So after each of my cats have died I've gone back and reread one or more of James Herriot books. It's what I do for therapy, I suppose. Anyway it works.

So what makes James Herriot books so special?

There are several things that make the books, and TV series, so good. One is simply the superb writing and storytelling. Much of it is also characterization. The personality quirks of his partners and the local Darrowby farmers make for great entertainment. I have come to understand that the books are only partially autobiographical, and he employed some "literary license" in his stories. In other words, some of it is partially fiction. No matter, for it is all based on true experiences.

The books are written as a series of short episodes, each taking up a chapter or two of maybe 10-20 pages. They are absolutely laugh out loud funny. Herriot and his partners are always getting themselves into impossible situations. It's also stories of successes and failures, of many animals that he saves, but some he cannot. While most of it is farm work, there are stories of cats and dogs. More than the animals themselves, the farmers and pet owners are often the real subject of each episode.

The books are usually described as "heatwarming" in the reviews, and they are that. Though funny and historically informative, they are mainly the stories of people and their everyday life as regard their animals.

The first two books are five-star, with All Things Wise and Wonderful not far behind. The Lord God Made Them All is ok, and worth reading to round out the series, but is not as good as the first three. It's that time in the late 1930s and early 40s, during the great changes in medicine and agriculture, that make for the best reading.

Historically the first two books take place in 1938-39, when both human and animal medicine was in the midst of a great revolution. When Herriot starts practicing medicine, antibiotics were unknown, and their medicines were of the "Professor Smith's Universal Cow Medicine" variety. From All Creatures Great and Small, when Herriot has just arrived at Darrowby and with his new boss (later partner) Siegfried Farnon are surveying the dispensary, with all of it's bottles and tins of old-time medicine:

The two of us stood gazing at the gleaming rows without any idea that it was all nearly all useless and that the days of the old medicines were nearly over. Soon they would be hustled into oblivion by the headlong rush of the new discoveries and they would never return.

It is in the second book, All Things Bright and Beautiful, when antibiotics such as penicillin and the sulfonamides were introduced. It is perhaps hard today, when we take such things for granted, the effect that the new "wonder drugs" had. For the first time doctors and vets had medicines that actually worked.

Another theme is that for the first time veterinarians were treating pets on a regular basis as well as farm animals. Before this time the profession was centered around livestock and horses. Again, from All Creatures Great and Small

"Not much small animal work in this district." Farnon smoothed the table with his palm. "but I'm trying to encourage it. It makes a pleasant change from lying on your belly in a cow house. The thing is, we've got to do the job right. The old castor oil and prussic acid doctrine is no good at all. You probably know that a lot of the old hands won't look at a dog or a cat, but the profession has got to change its ideas."

And indeed in the second book Herriot takes several tough cases to a vet in a nearby town who - gasp - only did small animal work. Two of the reasons for the introduction of "small animal"(read "pets") work was the elimination of the plow horse as the mainstay of the veterinary profession and thus the need to find additional sources of revinue, and two, with the rise of a middle class people had the time and money to have pets and pay vets to minister to them.

There's much else, of course. World War II intervenes and all three take time out for military service. Herriot gets married and has children. Wikipedia and an "All Things James Herriot" website have much more if you want the full background.

But mostly, though, if you've never read James Herriot or seen the series on TV you just need to go out and buy the books. Pick one or more up from the library if you're still unsure whether you'll like them. But do yourself a favor and do get one. I promise you won't regret it.

I'll also get back to blogging now on a more regular basis.

Posted by Tom at 10:00 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 18, 2008

I'll be back

I'm taking a bit of a break on the blogging but I'll be back at it next week. I had to put my last cat, Athena, to sleep this past Saturday and though there's a lot to write about I'm just not up to it.

Stay tuned, though, because my next post will be on the books of James Herriot.

Posted by Tom at 8:52 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

August 12, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 11 August 2008 - Going after al Qaeda with a Vengance

Yes I know, I suppose I should be writing about the Russia-Georgia war. The truth is I want to but don't have the time to put together a proper post on it. I had some discussion on it with a commenter in my previous post, and if you want to talk about it in the comments to this post instead of the briefing that is fine.

Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, Commander of Multi-National Division-North (also known as Task Force Iron) and the 1st Armored Division, spoke via satellite Monday to reporters at the Pentagon.

Maj. Gen. Hertling reports to 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 April. 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 and other videos can be seen at the DODvClips website. The PentagonChannel website also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is on the DefenseLink website.

There were several items of interest in this briefing, but perhaps most interesting was Gen Hertling's description of how they have chased most of the insurgents from the cities into the countryside.

GEN. HERTLING:...Since Operation Umm al-Rabiain or Mother of Two Springs started on the 15th of May, we've seen a sharp decline, not only in attacks but in foreign fighters traversing the western Ninewa deserts. And we have captured or killed dozens of mid- and high-level AQI operatives in the province and in the city of Mosul itself. With the Iraqi army, we've also disrupted the flow of foreign terrorists from Syria, as I said, through that western Jazirah Desert.

I visited Mosul yesterday and walked the streets of that city with my good friend Lieutenant General Riyadh, who is the Ninewa Operations Command commander, real good friend of mine, as well as Governor Kashmula. It is still a city recovering from years of harsh combat, but the population is feeling more secure every day. We talked to many of the people on the streets on both sides of the city, and they are becoming increasingly concerned not so much about security but about infrastructure repair and their number one topic of jobs.

This pretty much mirrors what we've heard in the last two briefings, whereby operations have gone from kinetic to economics and jobs.

And, just as with all the other briefings I've watched recently, Hertling warns that it's still not over yet. Continuing with his opening statement:

GEN. HERTLING:...While security is improved, we are still involved in a tough fight against hardcore al Qaeda and other extremists in this city and this province. They've resorted to using car bombs. In fact, al Qaeda has called it -- the fight for Mosul -- the battle of the car bomb. And they have been seen to randomly kill innocent -- (inaudible). They are also using murder and intimidation to an increasing degree in Mosul, because those are crimes that can be done quite simply without being detected. So with our Iraqi friends, we are going after the cells that conduct all three of those types of operations with a vengeance.

The cities of Diyala and the large cities throughout the northern provinces are increasingly more secure because of Iraqis turning against al Qaeda and other extremists. The Iraqi police and army are becoming more capable. The extremists are being pushed into the rural areas because of this. They're active, so -- AQI is active, that is, so to secure the people of Iraq, we must continue to pursue the enemy -- and that's, in fact, the name of our operation, Iron Pursuit -- and we must capture or kill the hard-core terrorists that are residing now out in the hinterlands.

Keeping up the pressure against AQI (al Qaeda in Iraq) and the other insurgent groups is obviously key. We don't want them running around in the countryside either, but when they were in the city they could wreck much more havoc.

The first exchange goes to the heart of counterinsurgency strategy:

Q Hi, Major General Hertling. You had mentioned that the strategy in Diyala is to pursue the enemy. AP is reporting that the Iraqi government is giving insurgents a week -- has called a week-long cease-fire in Diyala in order to give insurgents a chance to turn themselves in. How does that fit into the strategy of continuing to pursue the enemy

GEN. HERTLING: Yeah. Well, we will continue to pursue with coalition force operations. We have heard of that tactical pause. And I think quite frankly, Jeff, that was a result of a session that was occurring on Saturday, which I attended, with the new deputy prime minister, Mr. al-Aswari (sp). He, in fact, got the governor of Diyala together, as well as the senior military leaders, as well as many of the sheikhs and provincial council members in that particular province, pulled them all together. And as we were conducting operation, he was looking not only to continue to go after the hard- core extremists and terrorists, but also to give those who are perhaps just along for the money or because they are gang members an opportunity to change their mind and perhaps not get killed or captured but instead turn themselves in.

We've seen the success of that particular strategy in other provinces. In fact, in Salahuddin, I can tell you that we've had over 2,000 former insurgents turn themselves in. Some of them have been tried in court, and in fact several of them are serving sentences now. But they came to us and said: Hey, we don't want to run, and we don't want to be killed anymore. We see the power of the vote overcoming the power of the gun, so we're turning ourselves in.

So I think -- I hope this answers your question -- I think what the Iraqi government is doing in this particular case with this cease- fire is as a result of the visit on Saturday of the deputy prime minister, to give those who don't want to fight anymore, the less hard-core, a chance to become a part of the society.

Some, primarily on the right, will object that we're pardoning insurgents who have attacked and maybe killed U.S. troops. And indeed they may have.

The answer is "do you want to win or are you just interested in making a moral point?" The fact is that history shows that successful counterinsurgencies win through a combination of militarily defeating the irreconcilables and moving into our camp those who can be reasoned with.

Although I don't have time to look up the exact quote the strategy outlined in the U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24.

Yes it is painful to realize that we've got to accept and forgive some insurgents who were involved in attacks on U.S. troops. I'm not minimizing that. Yes also that if we want to win it's something we've got to live with. Divide and conquer is part of every successful counterinsurgency.

Next, as with all insurgencies it is complicated, and we're not just facing one "al Qaeda in Iraq." Hertling explains:

Q It's Kimberly with CBS. Can you walk us through the makeup, as near as you can figure, of AQI, any other insurgents you're facing right now, foreign fighters versus domestic? Are you facing any militia activity as well, and what kind of -- you said car bombs; do you also have EFPs?

GEN. HERTLING: ...We have not seen very many EFPs. We have over the last several months. We have not over the last several weeks...

Yes, in fact, Kimberly, what I'll tell you is, we think, as we've looked at the enemy in the foreign northern provinces, we've -- we have about seven different enemies, seven different fights. Many of them are calling themselves al Qaeda. I would almost tell you that in the north, we have more foreign fighters associated with al Qaeda in Ninewa province, in Mosul itself. We are seeing reflections of several different foreign fighters coming in through the Syrian desert, and those are the ones we've been targeting very hard, the Shari'a cells, the emirs of Mosul, some of the areas in the western desert.

When you go to Diyala, they will call themselves AQI, or the Islamic State of Iraq. But they're more the homegrown extremists, and in fact many of the parts of ISI or AQI are truly gang members. And that's why I say this reconciliation -- or the Iraqis use the word "musalaha" -- is going after them to try and win them over, maybe show them the error of their ways.

In the areas in the central provinces, we've got really a mixed bag of Jaish al-Islami, Ansar al-Sunna, Naqshbandi, some new groups that are forming because the old groups are either breaking down or being literally sought and pursued, and they are trying to combine to keep viable. So we really have several organizations that are affecting the Iraqi people.

But the good news is, the Iraqis see them all as terrorists. They will call them all al Qaeda, although there are some differentiation between the different groups. But I've told my bosses that I think I've got about seven different organizations that I'm fighting in the north, and it depends on where you want to go to talk about which one is the most prevalent. That's -- (audio break) -- I know, and I'm sorry for that.

The Sons of Iraq (SOI) program, originally Concerned Local Citizens, has been a major factor in beating the insurgency. As with everything,though, there is controversy.

The purpose of the SOI is to get the Iraqi people to take ownership of their own security. In the battle of "hearts and minds" (please follow the link) it is essential to get them "off the fence" and into our camp. If they remain on the fence (or obviously if they support the insurgents), the insurgents win.

There are a few controversies over the SOI. One is that most or all of them are paid for by the U.S. and not the government of Iraq. This is a legitimate thing to bring up, but only to a point. There are some, on the right as well as the left, who seem willing to cut off our nose to spite our face. Their main objective seems to be getting money from the Iraqis rather than winning the war.

Two, the government of Iraq is wary of them because they're perceived as an alternate power structure. Many are Sunni, and of course Maliki is Shiite. Apparently the government is determined to disband the SOI program in the near future.

Q General, it's David Wood from the Baltimore Sun. Could you bring us up to date on the Sons of Iraq in your sector -- how many you've got on your payroll; how successful you've been in helping them move into the ISF? And are you telling them that this program is going to come to an end pretty soon and they ought to look for jobs as they can find them?

GEN. HERTLING: Yeah, I can, David. Thanks. That's a -- I can tell you to the number how many we have, but I'll just give you generalities. We started a few months ago with about 32,000 Sons of Iraq. We're down just under 29,000 today because we have been very active either in -- to getting them into the Iraqi security forces, primarily the police, but some into the army. And there's an interesting differentiation there. Most of them want to go into the police force because they can stay close to home. Some of them want to join the army.

There have been other programs established. In fact, the opening ceremony I was at this morning saw about 500 Sons of Iraq in Kirkuk province -- (audio break) -- into the civil service corps, which will train young men to be carpenters, electricians, farmers and things like that, all being paid for by the Iraqi government. So we're gradually transferring the responsibility to the Iraqi government, both from a security standpoint but also of getting them jobs and in some cases even giving them education.

We have an internal task force goal in the north of cutting that by about 40 percent by October. So we hope to be down somewhere around 16(,000) or 18,000 by October that are still on U.S. payroll, with a continual effort to get those into other jobs and other commitments. And it's working relatively well to get them down that way.

There was another question I was going to answer. It is -- oh, have we told them that this is happening? Yes, we have. In some cases, they choose not to believe it. They're putting this off, because some of these young men have done a very good, patriotic job of defending their country and would like to enter the security forces or other jobs, but right now the jobs just aren't available in those numbers. But we hope to have them available and have these individuals either trained or educated to join the security forces or get after jobs.

During his closing remarks, Gen Hertling reminds us as to why he is so optimistic regarding the future:

GEN. HERTLING: ...But what I'll tell you today is, I have never been as confident or as hopeful for Iraq as I am right now. It is -- today it was 127 degrees when I was out with some both Iraqi army forces and U.S. Army forces, and they were continuing to take the fight to the enemy. And then immediately I switched to a session with some politicians. I was with the governor of Diyalah on Sunday -- correction, Saturday. I was with the governor of Ninewa on Sunday. I was with the governor of Kirkuk today. And all of them are trying to get jobs for their people and make the system work.

Previous briefings by MG Hertling

Posted by Tom at 10:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 5, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 04 August 2008 - Achieving Durable Security

This briefing is by Col. Ted Martin, Commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. The 4th ID relieved the First Cavalry Division in December of 2007. This is Col Martin's first press briefing.

The 4th ID is part of Multi-National Division Baghdad, also known as Task Force Baghdad. Its major area of responsibility is the city of Baghdad. MND-Baghdad is headquartered by the 4th Infantry Division from Fort Hood, Texas.

Col. Martin reports to Maj. Gen. Hammond, commanding general of the 4th ID, and thus of Multi-National Division-Baghdad. Hammond 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 (Gen Ray Odierno will assume command of MNF-Iraq sometime later this year). Petraeus reports to the commander of CENTCOM, who was Admiral Fallon until April. Until Petraeus assumes command of CENTCOM sometime later this year, Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey is the acting commander. Dempsey reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

his and other videos can be seen at the DODvClips website. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is on the DefenseLink site.

There's quite a bit of interest in this brlefing, but perhaps most important was the issue of whether our security gains are permanent. From the Colonel's opening statement:

COL. MARTIN:...The mission of my brigade is to protect the population. We accomplish this by standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our Iraqi security force brothers defending the people of Rashid. Together, we conduct relentless offensive operations designed to kill, capture or drive from Rashid anyone who threatens the safety and security of the people we have sworn to protect. This is a straightforward mission and it translates into hours of backbreaking work in miserable conditions, patrolling alongside our Iraqi counterparts to defeat anti-government forces.

Our hard work and sacrifices have paid off. There's been a measurable improvement in the security in the Rashid district since our arrival here in March. When we arrived, we averaged five attacks per day in the Rashid district. By July, we'd reduced that average to 1.5 attacks per day. As a reference point, in the same security district there were 824 attacks in July of 2007 with a daily average of 27 attacks, making Rashid one of the most dangerous places in Iraq.

I believe this reduction in violence is a direct result of the conditions set by the success of the surge in forces and combat power. We built on this success and have seen a dramatic reduction in violence in the past four months. For example, we have reduced the number of attacks from 122 in April to 48 in July. This represents a 61 percent reduction. The daily attack average was four in April and has been reduced to 1.5 in July. Additionally, there were 18 rocket and mortar attacks in April and only three in July of 2008. This represents an 83 percent decrease. Regarding the IED (Improvised Explosive Device), there were 69 attacks in April and 37 in July, and this is a 46 percent decrease. When we look at direct-fire attacks, we saw 30 in April and five in July. This represents an 83 percent decrease.

"The mission of my brigade is to protect the population." This is the strategy laid out in U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24, which has been the bible for our troops in Iraq since its release in December of 2006.

The key to success in counterinsurgency is making protecting the population your first priority. Without that nothing else is possible. Political and economic progress can only occur after security has been achieved. Our mistake in the early years was in thinking that if we could put a stable, representative government in place, coupled with public works programs, we could win over the populace. This strategy failed.

Now that the populace has been secured, it is time to get on with the political and economic progress that is vital to ensuring that our gains take hold and are permanent.

Continuing with the Colonel's opening statement:

COL. MARTIN:(continued) What this reduction in violence in Rashid district has allowed me to do is to shift my focus from kinetic operations to enabling the improvement of essential services and to continue to improve the capabilities of our Iraqi security force partners. It is my firm belief that the decisive defeat of the special group criminals and militias in May and June of this year has opened a window of opportunity for us to make substantial and lasting improvements in the Rashid district...

Seizing on the improved security conditions, we are pursuing reconstruction progress -- projects to improve the quality of life for the Iraqi people. To date, we have completed 22 projects valued at more than $5 million. Currently, we are managing 78 active projects valued at more than $45 million. We've also proposed an additional 117 projects valued at more than $26 million. Each product -- project is coordinated with the Rashid district council leadership to ensure that we are meeting the needs of the people. I'm very proud of the work my soldiers have done working hand-in-hand with the Rashid district council.

In closing, I'd like to thank the American public for their support. We receive care packages from family, friends and caring and patriotic people that we've never met from all across America, from an elementary classroom in Frankfort, Kentucky; Cub Scout Pack 773 in Houston, Texas; volunteers from Operation Gratitude from Encino, California and many others.

If like me you are sending packages to Iraq, do not think that your efforts are unrecognized.

As for the switch from "kinetic" to " enabling the improvement of essential services", this is a fundamental part of counterinsurgency. From FM 3-24:

1-4. Long-term success in COIN depends on the people taking charge of their own affairs and consenting to the government's rule. Achieving this condition requires the government to eliminate as many causes of the insurgency as feasible. This can include eliminating those extremists whose beliefs prevent them from ever reconciling with the government. Over time, counterinsurgents aim to enable a country or regime to provide the security and rule of law that allow establishment of social services and growth of economic activity. COIN thus involves the application of national power in the political, military, economic, social, information, and infrastructure fields and disciplines. Political and military leaders and planners should never underestimate its scale and complexity; moreover, they should recognize that the Armed Forces cannot succeed in COIN alone.

Before we go on, though, some clarification was needed about the number of attacks:

Q Hi, Colonel. Jeff with Stars and Stripes. Just a really quick housekeeping question.

I think you said initially attacks had dropped from an average of 5 in April, 5 per day, to 1.5 per day in July. But later I thought I heard you say it had dropped from 4 per day to 1.5 per day. Can you kind of clarify that?

COL. MARTIN: Yeah. If I confused you there, it should be -- it's averaging right at 5 attacks per day when we arrived. It's down -- (off mike) -- a day now.

The issue of Iranian involvement in Iraq is much in the news and is important for many reasons. One, if it makes defeating the insurgency that much harder. Two, if they are supplying the insurgency, as I'm sure they are, it shows the true nature of the Iranian leadership.

Q Colonel, it's Al Pessin from Voice of America. You mentioned that some of the folks you've captured have gotten support from Iran. Can you tell us what the time frame of that support was? Is that still going on? And what sort of support are they getting?

COL. MARTIN: Well, I can only speak for the Rashid district. But I can guarantee you that we have found Iranian-made munitions inside of the Rashid district. Upon arriving into the battlespace in March of this year, pretty much we coincided with the uprising of the Special Group criminals. We started uncovering caches.

Some of these, we uncovered through reconnaissance operations, through active patrolling. But many of them were -- actually the people of Rashid district called in on our tip lines. And just as an example, within the last two weeks, we found a cache of munitions hidden inside of a water tank. That was a combined operation between the national police and my forces in the vicinity of the town known as Abu T'shir. Inside of that water tank, we found 107-millimeter rockets that were clearly Iranian made.

Now, I am not an expert on munitions. I rely on the experts, in the explosive ordnance disposal company and the other assets we have in Baghdad that can determine the origin of these weapons. So in this case, we found rockets which had obviously been used or been planned to be used against the people of Iraq; Iranian-made, I believe, February 2008.

Despite this, you don't have to go far on the Internet to see the left furiously denying Iranian involvement in Iraq. Their claim is that it's all falsified evidence and part of yet another plot by the evil neocons to invade another country.

The MRAP (link) has been a politically hot issue (also link to your post on Humvee armor). The Administration has been criticized for not getting more armor into the field faster.

MRAP stands for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected, and refers to not one but a whole family of vehicles. They were developed specifically in response to the IED threat in Iraq.

This is all a bit ironic since during the 90s the call was for "faster and lighter" fighting forces. Heavy armor was said to be "Cold War", and thus the product of old thinking. At the time The Enlightened Ones were severely critical of anyone who thought that we might just need armor on the battlefield.

However, as soon as it became apparent that we needed more armor in Iraq to protect our soldiers, the Administration came under attack for having too light of a force. When Rumsfeld made the common-sense statement that "you go to war with the army you have" (verify) he was chastised by those who apparently think you can field new equipment overnight.

Q Yeah. This is Kernan Chaisson with Forecast International. The GAO has talked about the MRAP program, saying that in order to get the vehicles to the field, multiple manufacturers were used, and as a result, there's the potential for problems with maintenance, sustainability, training and that sort of thing. Has your unit received its full complement of MRAPs? Are they all from the same company? And have you experienced any problems as a result of them being so new?

COL. MARTIN: Sure. I'm in a heavy brigade combat team. My primary mode of transportation on the battlefield are tanks, Bradleys and howitzers.

We do have our fair share of MRAPs. I think they're fantastic pieces of equipment. I currently have 136 MRAPs. There are, I think, three or four different varieties. Just like there's different varieties of humvees, there's different varieties of MRAPs. We have some of the larger troop-carrying ones and some of the smaller versions. My operational readiness rate is -- maintained over 90 percent since I arrived in country, and I don't see that falling off. There's not a reliability problem with the MRAPs.

I'm very pleased with the -- both the MRAPs and the maintenance support I've received at Forward Operating Base Falcon. It's a good piece of equipment.

The question on everyone's mind, though, is whether the success of the surge will be permanent:

Q This is Jim Mannion from Agence France-Presse. I was wondering if you could talk about how durable you think this decline in violence is in your sector and how you would go about judging that.

COL. MARTIN: Sure. That's interesting you use the word "durable," because our commanding general had challenged us to achieve sustainable security in Baghdad, and I thought, as I arrived in the country, that was a pretty lofty goal, a tough mission. And we went after that.

Just before -- I guess just about a week ago, I was talking to the commanding general, and I told him I think we're on the cusp of achieving durable security. So we share the same word. I think that what I'm seeing right now in Rashid -- and again, I'm -- my view goes back to 2003, when I first arrived, through 2004 and again in 2005, and I've been studying this area since October of last year. There's been a phenomenal change in the security situation in Rashid district. And I don't want to speak to all of Baghdad, because that's not my area of operation. But in the southern quadrant, what I've seen is, I've seen the people come forward now and not accept militias.

This really broke in the May-June time frame. There seemed to be a wedge that was placed between the people and the insurgents and we tried to exploit that. And we've exploited that by continuing to improve the effectiveness of the Iraqi security forces. We also went all-out on our clearance operations to take away the base of support, and by that I mean he can't fight unless he has access to munitions.

A signal that I see in the Rashid district is the quality of the improvised explosive device. When we see the Iranian-made explosively-formed projectile, we know that the pipeline has not been cut off. Less and less do we see these specific anti-armor improvised explosive devices. We're seeing homemade explosives, low quality, and many that have improper initiation systems. So not only are they -- have they not been very effective in the past 45 days, that -- we've actually been able to discover more. That means that the quality foot soldiers of the enemy have either been killed, captured or driven away and now the amateurs are at work in our area.

A less-effective IED was exactly what Col Tom James, commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 3rd Infantry Division, was saying just last week in another briefing. Seems like we have a trend - a good one.

Continuing with Col Martin;

COL. MARTIN:(continued) Now, that is not to say that there's no threat to our soldiers, because frankly it's -- the improvised explosive device is very deadly. And complacency, when it sets in, is a big danger to our soldiers. So I would say that we're aggressively pursuing the IED threat. And what I'm seeing on the battlefield right now is telling me that there has been a fundamental shift in the security situation in Iraq and we are moving out fast to exploit that.

Q What would you have to see to go beyond it being on the cusp of durable security to being durable security? What more are you looking for?

COL. MARTIN: Well, as a military man, I'm pretty conservative. I'm going to look at the battlefield and I'm going to have to feel it in my gut. And I've got quite a bit of time here in Iraq and I've had different feelings in my gut. But right now, my gut is telling me that if we're not there, we're close.

And I think to actually say that the security is durable in my district, I need a little bit more time to convince myself. Again, I said I'm very conservative here. I don't want to -- I don't want to make a rash judgment on what I'm seeing, because, you know, it's easy to get disappointed in a combat zone. But I think, with the attitude of the people -- and that's what's different, the attitude of the people. These people are reaching out. They're opening their stores back up. They're participating more in the government. And the Rashid district council's one of the best in Baghdad.

I have a great relationship with District Council Chairman Mr. Yaqoub. I see that Mr. Yaqoub and the Iraqi security force brigade commanders, of which there are three in this area -- he's got a great relationship with them. So the voice of the people is shared between both the security forces and the governing forces in Rashid. And I've never -- frankly, I've never seen anything like that. And that is enabled by the blanket of security, the hard-fought and hard-won blanket of security that's been provided in the Rashid district. And I'll be honest; a lot of that success is because of the quality of the Iraqi security forces that we're seeing.

Field Manual 3-24:

A-60 ...Whatever else is done, the focus must remain on gaining and maintaining the support of the population. With their support, victory is assured; without it, COIN efforts cannot succeed.

A few more comments by Col Martin that are illustrative:

COL. MARTIN:...So more than 60 percent of my brigade is forward-deployed to a small company-sized outpost. And really, that's what makes us so successful, our connection with the people....

Field Manual 3-24:

A-24 The first rule of COIN operations is to establish the force's presence in the AO (area of operations).... This requires living in the AO close to the populace. Raiding from remote, secure bases does not work.
COL. MARTIN:...But they're (his soldiers) confident and they're confident in themselves and their leaders and their equipment. And that confidence also, I think, inspires the people of Rashid. At least that's what I've seen. And that -- it's kind of hard to put my finger on what I'm seeing. Maybe I'm not articulating it well enough. But what I'm seeing is a level of confidence that I've never seen before and a willingness to take a risk, you know, to open the store, to transit the area, to drive around to, you know, spend a little money on better clothes.

I'll tell you, that's one thing I've noticed. When the security situation is better, people dress better. And I'm seeing a lot of that in the area; a lot of little intangible things that you really can't put your finger on. But I think the biggest thing I've seen is, you know, the people of Rashid, they trust the Iraqi security forces. And that is a big leap.

Notice that Col Martin is intimately familiar with is AO (Area of Operations). Again, straight out of 3-24:

7-7 ...Effective commanders know the people, topography, economy, history, and culture of their area of operations (AO). They know every village, road, field, population group, tribal leader, and ancient grievance within it...

7-8 Another part of analyzing a COIN (counterinsurgency) mission involves assuming responsibility for everyone in the AO. This means that leaders feel the pulse of the local populace, understand their motivations and care about what they want and need. Genuine compassion and empathy for the population provide an effective weapon against insurgents.

So as you can see, Col Martin knows exactly what he is doing. Let's not satisfy some political promise made during the heat of the primaries and ruin it all with a precipitous pullout.

Because if current trends continue, we're on the way to victory. And the United States, Iraq, and the Muslim world in general will be the better for it.

Posted by Tom at 10:15 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 4, 2008

"The New Reality in Iraq"

Time to post some of the more important articles on Iraq that I've seen in the past few months.

First up is one in the Wall Street Journal of a piece by Frederick Kagan, Kimberly Kagan, and Jack Keane. The Kagan's are married, and both are scholars with all sorts of degrees and whatnot. Jack Keane is retired chief of staff of the army. In December of 2006 Frederick Kagan, Jack Keane, and some others developed a plan to save Iraq that they presented to President Bush in December of 2006. Bush was impressed, and long story short their ideas helped lead to what we call "The Surge" (though they were hardly the only ones involved.

All of the most important objectives of the surge have been accomplished in Iraq. The sectarian civil war is ended; al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has been dealt a devastating blow; and the Sadrist militia and other Iranian-backed militant groups have been disrupted.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi government has accomplished almost all of the legislative benchmarks set by the U.S. Congress and the Bush administration. More important, it is gaining wider legitimacy among the population. The attention of Iraqis across the country is focused on the upcoming provincial elections, which will be a pivotal moment in Iraq's development.

The result is that we have an extraordinary - but fleeting - opportunity to advance America's security and the stability of a vital region of the world.

If you don't want to believe the Kagan's and Jack Keane because they were influential in promoting the plan that eventually became the Surge (are we to capitalize this or not?) maybe you'll believe the Associated Press. From an AP news analysis piece that has been quoted widely:

Despite the occasional bursts of violence, Iraq has reached the point where the insurgents, who once controlled whole cities, no longer have the clout to threaten the viability of the central government.

That does not mean the war has ended or that U.S. troops have no role in Iraq. It means the combat phase finally is ending, years past the time when President Bush optimistically declared it had. The new phase focuses on training the Iraqi army and police, restraining the flow of illicit weaponry from Iran, supporting closer links between Baghdad and local governments, pushing the integration of former insurgents into legitimate government jobs and assisting in rebuilding the economy.

Scattered battles go on, especially against al-Qaida holdouts north of Baghdad. But organized resistance, with the steady drumbeat of bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and ambushes that once rocked the capital daily, has all but ceased.

This amounts to more than a lull in the violence. It reflects a fundamental shift in the outlook for the Sunni minority, which held power under Saddam Hussein. They launched the insurgency five years ago. They now are either sidelined or have switched sides to cooperate with the Americans in return for money and political support.

Insurgencies don't end all at once, World War II style. They tend to peter out over many years. Lt. Col. (Dr) David Kilcullen (Australian Army, ret), senior advisor to Gen Petraeus in 2007 for counterinsurgency, was asked about timeframes by Charlie Rose in an interview on October 5, 2007. What Kilcullen said astonished Rose:

DAVID KILCULLEN: . there's two issues. One is a territorial issue. The other one is time. Let me talk time. There has never been a successful counterinsurgency that took less than 10 years.

CHARLIE ROSE: Less than 10 years?


You have to watch the interview to get the full force of Rose's surprise. He couldn't believe what he was hearing.

Kilcullen did not mean that in a successful counterinsurgency there would be ten years of heavy fighting. What he meant is that there would be ten years where there would be some insurgents somewhere who could at least theoretically pose a danger.

While on her fourth trip to Iraq since May of 2007, Kimberly Kagan, mentioned above, visited the headquarters of a small Iraqi political party in Baghdad. She wanted to find out more about their campaign plans for the upcoming elections. After a tour of their headquarters, she and her fellow visitors spoke for a few hours with about 30 political activists and aspiring politicians, some young, some older. Most were men, but there were several women. Her observations make for fascinating reading:

We sip our tea and discuss the upcoming provincial elections. The party leader proudly takes out a folder containing the results of last week's poll, which the party commissioned from an independent firm. He has very high name recognition, strong favorable ratings, and low unfavorable ratings. If these continue until Iraq's national elections in 2009, he thinks he will retain his seat in parliament, and the party may gain a few more.

We are guests, so we ask our questions first. We discuss the party and its campaign, national issues such as foreign investment in Iraq, and foreign affairs including the Iranian nuclear program. We ask what they tell people when they go door to door: Why should anyone join and vote for their party? One older woman answers, We are religious people, but we are not a religious party. Any Iraqi can join, regardless of sect. We stand for all Iraqis. She says this gravely, and it does not seem a platitude.

These party members are hardly naive, despite their optimism. They have experienced politically driven and sectarian violence. The headquarters is surrounded by low, concrete barriers to protect it from vehicle bombs. After the party signed a lease for its first headquarters in Baghdad in 2005, the homeowner reneged on the agreement for fear that his property would be bombed, so the party moved.

I ask the young people why they have joined the party, and whether they hope to have careers in politics. One young man, who has been to college, explains that many young Iraqis have not had a proper education. He has joined the party and its youth committee to help improve Iraqi education, recruit good teachers, and ensure that all young people can not only read and write, but also acquire the skills that they will need to pursue their careers in a high-tech world. This is important, he insists, not only for the young people themselves, but also for the future of Iraq's economy, which must be able to compete in the global market. Another young man will not pursue a career exclusively in politics, but believes that when he enters the business world his political connections will come in handy.

The young woman with highlighted hair is frankly ambitious. She intends to have a political career and hopes to be a high party official someday--so she can better help the people, she adds as an afterthought. The older woman seated next to the party leader smiles wryly at this comment and cleans her spectacles so no one will notice her expression. She is evidently the high official that the young woman aspires to replace.

This could be the future of Iraq. These people have a strong vision of what their country can become, and are working to bring it to fruition in their lifetimes. They are not alone.

Read the whole thing.

All this is possible because al Qaeda in Iraq is disintegrating. In a press briefing last week, Col. Tom James, commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 3rd Infantry Division, said that "we see that the recent attacks are IEDs of a primitive nature." He concluded from this that "the weakening (of al Qaeda) over time is obvious to us based on their ability to deliver an effective IED."

I've followed these press briefings pretty carefully for the past few years, and one thing I've noticed is that after our early and foolish over-optimism of the early years of OIF, we learned to be more circumspect and cautious in predicting the future. So when a MNF-Iraq release is titled "Al-Qaeda support structure dwindling" we need to pay attention.

If for some crazy reason you haven't been reading this blog (shameless self plug alert) and so don't know why we've been successful in 2007-8 where we failed earlier, Michael Yon explains what we did in an interview with Kathryn Jean Lopez this past April on NRO. Money quotes:

We are winning partly because in the most violent sections of the country this became a war of competing values, terrorist values vs. American values. But only when we got off our big bases, and out of our tanks and deeper into the neighborhoods, could we make that choice very clear. Few people with a choice choose al Qaeda. ...

...most of all I began to see the fruits. I saw it working, the Iraqi people beginning to align with us and for themselves. I saw it in big "kinetic" battles where we took a fraction of the casualties we expected because the citizens told us where almost every terrorist ambush and booby trap was hidden. And I saw it in neighborhoods in which the American military had become the most respected institution in Iraq, and it was our soldiers whom the people turned too for protection but also for justice.

You win a counterinsurgency by walking the neighborhood, not by flattening it.

Christopher Hitchens is always clear thinking on most issues of foreign policy. A leftist on most matters, he grants them no quarter on Iraq. In "Fighting good fight in Iraq" he goes after the notion that we should have concentrated on Afghanistan instead of invading Iraq:

Would we be bound to say, in public and in advance, that the Western alliance couldn't get around to confronting such a threat until it had Afghanistan well under control? This would be similar to the equivalent fallacy that nothing can be done in the region until there is a settlement of the Israel-Palestine dispute. Not only does this mean that every rogue in the region can reset his timeline until one of the world's oldest and most intractable quarrels is settled, it also means that every rogue has an incentive to make certain that no such settlement can occur. (Which is why Saddam supported, and now the Iranians support, the suicide-murderers.)

It would also be very nice to accept another soft-centred corollary of the Iraq v Afghanistan trade-off and to believe that the problem of Afghanistan is a problem only of the shortage of troops. Strangely, this is not the view of the Afghan Government or of any of the NATO forces on the ground.

The continued and indeed increasing insolence of the Taliban and its al-Qa'ida allies is the consequence of one thing and one thing only. These theocratic terrorists know that they have a reliable backer in the higher echelons of the Pakistani state and of its military-intelligence complex and that, while this relationship persists, they are assured of a hinterland across the border and a regular supply of arms and recruits.

If we had left Iraq according to the timetable of the anti-war movement, the situation would be the precise reverse; the Iraqi people would be excruciatingly tyrannised by the gloating sadists of al-Qa'ida, who could further boast of having inflicted a battlefield defeat on the US. I dare say word of that would have spread to Afghanistan fast enough and indeed to other places where the enemy operates.

The notion that fighting a low-intensity wars (another term for "counterinsurgency") in Iraq and Afghanistan simultaneously is too much for the United States is more than faintly ridiculous.

During World War II we fought two high-intensity wars simultaneously on opposite sides of the planet. During the Cold War we maintained plans to fight two and a half high-intensity wars simultaneously.

The idea that we cannot fight two counterinsurgencies that are geographically near each other at the same time is not sustainable.

Finally, let's give the Iraqis some credit, in particular Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Now, for the record, to put it mildly I'm not entirely happy with al-Maliki, but when he does come through it needs to be recognized. He came through a few months ago by defeating Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army in Basra. From the Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Maliki took a big risk when he decided to move against his fellow Shiites to reclaim Basra for the government. Iraqi troops were untested for such a complex, divisional-level operation and, in hindsight, their battle plans were too hastily drawn. The early setbacks might easily have emboldened Mr. Sadr, caused the Iraqi army to crumble and led to the end of Mr. Maliki's government.

Instead, Mr. Maliki and Iraqi forces persevered. And two months later, hundreds of Mahdi Army fighters have been arrested and weapons caches found. Following the model of the U.S. surge in Baghdad, Basra's streets are far safer thanks to the visible presence of 33,000 Iraqi troops. The Mahdi vice squads that terrorized the city's population are gone. The U.S. and Britain provided air support during the early stages of the operation, and continue to provide advisory support. But the Basra operation has clearly been an Iraqi success.

If you don't trust the WSJ, you can read largely the same story in The New York Times:

Three hundred miles south of Baghdad, the oil-saturated city of Basra has been transformed by its own surge, now seven weeks old.

In a rare success, forces loyal to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki have largely quieted the city, to the initial surprise and growing delight of many inhabitants who only a month ago shuddered under deadly clashes between Iraqi troops and Shiite militias.

More details on Maliki's Operation Knight's Charge in Basra can be found at Kimberly Kagan's Institute for the Study of War.

Despite all this, Iraq could still go south. A war with Iran will upset Iraqi Shiites, possibly to the point of reigniting the civil war. The government could degenerate into autocracy. And you or I could be killed in an auto accident tomorrow. But as Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson once said, "Never take council of your fears." His point was not that we should ignore or dismiss danger, but rather that it should not paralyze our thinking. Despite the dangers of what lies ahead, the future or Iraq has never been better.

Posted by Tom at 9:50 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 3, 2008

"Campaign is no place for religious bigotry"

Earlier this week I wrote a post in which I expressed disdain for some evangelical leaders who "warned" Sen. McCain against selecting Mitt Romney as his running mate, saying that their flocks will "abandon the Republican ticket on Election Day if that happens." The post garnered several comments from pro-Huckabee people taking me to task for my comments.

If they didn't like that one, they really won't like today's editorial from The Washington Times titled "Campaign is no place for religious bigotry":

He flip-flopped on abortion and same-sex marriage; he is now pro-life and opposes both same-sex marriage and civil unions. However, much of the white evangelical opposition to Mr. Romney is not based on principle. It is simply old-fashioned bigotry - a discomfort with Mr. Romney's Mormon faith. White evangelicals need to be reminded that this is America - a republic where neither religious convictions nor the lack thereof disqualifies a politician from office.

As Ralph Hallow, in collaboration with Don Lambro, reported in the July 29 editions of The Washington Times, white evangelicals prefer former Gov. of Arkansas Mike Huckabee as Mr. McCain's running mate. In a tight contest with Barack Obama, a white evangelical revolt might harm Mr. McCain's prospects. White evangelicals are the base of the Republican Party: 70 percent voted for the Republican Party in 2006. Also, President Bush won 68 percent of the white evangelical vote in 2000 and 78 percent in 2004, according to the Pew Research Center. Placing Mr. Romney on the ticket might lead to a drop of 7 percent to 10 percent of the white evangelical vote. It may also lead to a de-energized base. On the other hand, Mr. Romney would inspire fiscal conservatives to support Mr. McCain.

Rather than kowtowing to evangelical pressure, Mr. McCain should declare that he will not make a candidate's faith a factor in his deliberations. This will reinforce the Republican nominee's image as a man who marches to the beat of his own drum and is not a Party puppet. If Mr. McCain chooses Mr. Romney as his running mate, this will also help re-brand the Republican Party as one that can break down barriers.

White evangelicals need a history lesson. Protestants began to flee religious persecution in England in droves in the 16th and 17th centuries; they were especially victimized by the provision that there was a religious test in order to hold office. Evangelicals in America would do well to rise above the same kind of discrimination their ancestors were once victimized by.

Mr. Romney has a long record of serving America. If his service has been good enough for Massachusetts, why is it not good enough for white evangelicals across America? Also, in the battle to win more and more adherents to the social conservative causes they hold dear, it is in the interest of white evangelicals to recruit as many allies as possible - regardless of their religious convictions. Thus, these evangelicals would do well to be tolerant and work toward broadening the conservative base, rather than upholding barriers based on religious bigotry.

Exactly right. If you really can't take Mitt Romney because he changed his position on some issues, fine. But don't embarrass yourself by calling Mike Huckabee a conservative. He's not. The truth is that most evangelicals who support Huckabee are doing so because they want an evangelical Christian in or near the White House. And religion is not a reason to vote for, or against, anyone.

Posted by Tom at 8:00 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

August 2, 2008

Rush at Twenty

Today marks twenty years of Rush Limbaugh's radio show. I offer him my sincere and heartfelt congratulations.

I remember the first time I heard of Rush. It was a few months before the Gulf War, and I was driving to a sales call. I heard another commentator on a radio show remark that WMAL 630AM had started to carry this revolutionary broadcaster, someone whose style was completely at odds with the type of programming normally heard on the station. I heard mention that this new guy was a - gasp - conservative.

Intrigued, the next day (or later that day, I forget) I tuned in and got my first taste of Limbaugh. I was immediately hooked and have listened to him when I can ever since.

I am not the one to write the history of AM or talk radio, but it's no news to anyone that Rush revolutionized the dial. AM was said to be a dying medium. A few years earlier, while working at Radio Shack, for a short time we carried an AM stereo receiver, as there were tentative plans to save that spectrum by introducing stereo. It didn't take any great genius to figure out that static in stereo was no great benefit, but I guess they were desperate.

Then along came Rush and everything changed.

I remember reading William F Buckley Jr's account of when he first heard Rush; "I couldn't believe that such a thing was allowed." After years of either bland or left-leaning radio, that a such a talented conservative could go on the air and mock liberals in such an entertaining way was almost too much to believe.

Liberals were stunned. They didn't know how to handle this new phenomenon.

Many others have followed Rush, but none have been able to match his popularity. It is a tribute to his skill and talent that after so many years he has consistently maintained the number one position among radio talk show hosts. Often it is that the pioneer is eclipsed by someone who arrives on the scene a short time later. Not so with Rush.

His detractors in the media try to dismiss him by saying that he is simply an entertainer, while they, sniff, are journalists. What they miss is that Rush Limbaugh and other radio talk show hosts are neither journalists nor entertainers; they are something new under the sun. It speaks to their narrow thinking that they are unable to conceive of anything other than "journalist" or "entertainer."

Again and again the left has thought it has found its own Rush Limbaugh. Their list of failures is long; Mario Cuomo, Jim Bohanon, and Al Franken, just to name a few. Air America fails while Rush continues to enjoy stratospheric ratings.

It is the very success of "el Rushbo" that has driven liberals to resurrect the Fairness Doctrine, which is not called the "hush Rush" bill for nothing. Liberal hosts fail time and again, and driven to fits of rage, the only thing they can think of is to change the rules.

That they want to do this is no big surprise. The left has tried to get him off the air from day one. The liberal group Media Matters apparently spends much of its time monitoring all conservative talk show hosts in an attempt to catch them saying something that they deem inappropriate, and then create a media campaign to have that person removed from the airwaves. If you can't join 'em, beat 'em down.

I wish Rush Limbaugh the very best in all that he does. I'm sure he'll remain #1 on the radio.

Update: President George W Bush just called in to congratulate Rush! Also on the line were George H.W. Bush and Jeb Bush. While it's hard to call any of the Bush's true conservatives, it speaks to his influence that the President of the United States, an ex-President, and an ex-Governor would call him at the start of his show.

Posted by Tom at 12:15 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack