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December 30, 2008

Israel Hits Hamas in Gaza: "Disproportionate Force?"

The Jerusalem Post reports that despite the usual nonsense the UN, it would seem that Israel is doing well in the international media, if not outright ahead. The main reason seems to be that having learned it's lesson from the 2006 Lebanon War, Israel is doing a better job of getting it's message out. The reason for this is that their various government agencies, from the IDF to the Prime Minister's office and more, are offering a coherent, unified message, and are coordinating efforts much better than in the past.

This said, the criticism that is still out there is that the Israeli response is "disproportionate." French President Nicholas Sarkozy, also the President of the European Union, said that he "firmly condemns the irresponsible provocations that have led to this situation, as well as the disproportionate use of force." We've all seen multiple statements of this sort so there's no point in my posting more here.

So is the Israeli attack a disproportionate to Hamas' rocket attacks?

Before we answer that question, we need to ask the critics to come clean.

What exacrtly is the Objection?

Those who say the Israeli attacks, officially Operation Cast Lead, are disproportionate, need to tell us what they would have Israel do. I've surveyed leftist sites, as well as news media reports, and for the life of me I cannot find any concrete proposals. The most I get is that Israel shouldn't have attacked at all.

Any commenters here who say the Israeli attacks are disproportionate are advised to make clear what they would have Israel do.

The Just War

Just War Theory (JWT) is a specific body of thought that has built up over the past few hundred years. Primarily Catholic in origin, it is used by many today, Christian and secular, as a model for determining whether a war is just or not. At it's most basic, it can be broken down into two parts; Recourse To War (jus ad bellum) and Conduct In War (jus in bello).

The entire body of thought is quite complex, and for our purposes we will only consider that part of it relevant to the current charge against Israel, that of using force disproportionally (See my entire series on JWT here).

Proportionality comes up twice in JWT, once as part of Recourse To War, and again in Conduct In War.

Here are the essentials of what I wrote about Proportionality as part of Recourse to War

Proportionality in the decision to go to war means "...that the damage to be inflicted and the costs incurred by war must be proportionate to the good expected by taking up arms."

...we need to consider the cost of not resisting aggression.

...One must beware of a strict "cost-accounting" approach. Quality of life, or values, matters too. Who would accept life as a slave by any of the aforementioned tyrannies?

This is the type of stuff you can twist any way you like if you're not careful. Looking at all three criteria above:

The question in whether the cost of going to war is greater than the good expected depends on Israel's objective. If they just hit Hamas for a few days and then stop, Hamas retains it's strength and will continue it's rocket attacks. If they have a credible plan for ending Hamas' ability to launch attacks, then it seems more justified.

The cost of not resisting Hamas' aggression is not only more attacks with Qassam rockets, but an encouragement to Hamas to obtain larger, more powerful rockets. As we can see in the below chart (via Wikipedia), as it is the attacks have steadily escallated

Qassam Rocket attacks from Gaza

There have been reports for some time of Hamas attempting to obtain longer range rockets. From their standpoint, if Israel never responded, why not obtain and launch them?

One can say that the rocket attacks weren't killing very many Israelis, and it wasn't inconveniencing too very many of them. Quality of life is pretty subjective. One can also say that Hamas doesn't have the ability to destroy Israel, but that's only true if Israel sits back and lets them build up strength.

In the end, I say Israel is justified according to this criterion.

Turning to Conduct In War, here is what I wrote that is relevant to our discussion (quotation marks mean I am quoting Joseph Martino, see link above)

"The principle of proportionality with regards to conduct in war "deals not with a whole war but with a single military action in that war. The criterion requires that the good to be achieved by the action be proportionate to the damage done. Again, this means values preserved compared with values sacrificed, not a single cost-accounting of lives and dollars." ...

Giving our enemy a sanctuary is unacceptable. Yet we must not be callous and "hardcore" and simply state that any and all accidental civilian casualties are acceptable....

On the one hand, a "...we have to reject the view that simply concentrating the deaths in one location makes the total disproportionate when the same total would be proportionate if it were distributed widely." In other words, concentration or dispersal of civilian deaths is irrelevant.

On the other hand, "...the total values to be preserved by going to war, the values forming the basis for the jus ad bellum proportion, amount to a budget of values." This is not to imply a precision such as one has in financial accounting. Rather, we must keep in mind that there is a "total budget" available in a war, and we exceed it we risk making the entire war disproportionate.

In other words, "...we may not attack anything and everything of some military value in the enemy nation, simply 'because it's there'". Some people, of course, would have us do just that. We must reject that extreme view....

There's a lot to digest here. Despite a plethora of information from the media and other sources we see through a glass darkly, with the Nelsonian fog of war obscuring exactly what is going on. How precise are the Israeli strikes? How much care are they taking to avoid civilian casualties? The answer you get seems to depend on your source, and frankly I don't have the time to do a complete survey.

Hamas, like Hezbollah, deliberately locate their bases and stage their operations from civilian areas, knowing that no matter how precise the attack civilians will be killed. They do so for the most cynical of reasons; to get good propaganda. The world is catching on to these tactics, yet there are those who seem to think that they should be allowed what amounts to a sanctuary because any attack on them will result in civilian casualties. This view must be rejected.

In the end, I'll assume that Israel is taking reasonable care to only strike military targets. That civilians are killed is primarily the fault of Hamas.

An Israeli View

Dore Gold is a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations 1997-1999) who is now President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA). Two years ago I reviewed the book he wrote about his experiences at the UN, Tower of Babel: How the United Nations has Fueled Global Chaos. The title pretty much says it all.

Call it biased if you like, but the JCPA has published a useful primer by Dore Gold explaining why in his opinion Israel is not using disproportionate force. Following are a few key excerpts:

* Israeli population centers in southern Israel have been the target of over 4,000 rockets, as well as thousands of mortar shells, fired by Hamas and other organizations since 2001. Rocket attacks increased by 500 percent after Israel withdrew completely from the Gaza Strip in August 2005. During an informal six-month lull, some 215 rockets were launched at Israel.

* The charge that Israel uses disproportionate force keeps resurfacing whenever it has to defend its citizens from non-state terrorist organizations and the rocket attacks they perpetrate. From a purely legal perspective, Israel's current military actions in Gaza are on solid ground. According to international law, Israel is not required to calibrate its use of force precisely according to the size and range of the weaponry used against it.

* Ibrahim Barzak and Amy Teibel wrote for the Associated Press on December 28 that most of the 230 Palestinians who were reportedly killed were "security forces," and Palestinian officials said "at least 15 civilians were among the dead." The numbers reported indicate that there was no clear intent to inflict disproportionate collateral civilian casualties. What is critical from the standpoint of international law is that if the attempt has been made "to minimize civilian damage, then even a strike that causes large amounts of damage - but is directed at a target with very large military value - would be lawful."

Look at the second paragraph again. JWT does not require exact tit for tat. What it requires is that you size the bomb (missile, whatever) to the target so that collateral damage is limited. As civilian casualties have been very low, we may infer that Israel has been careful to do just this.

More from the JCPA document

When international legal experts use the term "disproportionate use of force," they have a very precise meaning in mind. As the President of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Rosalyn Higgins, has noted, proportionality "cannot be in relation to any specific prior injury - it has to be in relation to the overall legitimate objective of ending the aggression." In other words, if a state, like Israel, is facing aggression, then proportionality addresses whether force was specifically used by Israel to bring an end to the armed attack against it. By implication, force becomes excessive if it is employed for another purpose, like causing unnecessary harm to civilians. The pivotal factor determining whether force is excessive is the intent of the military commander. In particular, one has to assess what was the commander's intent regarding collateral civilian damage.

When most people talk about Israel using "disproportionate' force they are comparing the Israeli attacks to the Qassam rockets. But as shown above, this is not the correct comparison.

Further, as I asked above, those who make this charge against Israel need to come clean. Are they asking Israel to hit back tit for tat? They fire one missile to every one fired by Hamas? If so, doesn't this perpetuate the "cycle of violence" Israel's critics are always complaining about?

One last quote

There clearly is no international expectation that military losses in war should be on a one-to-one basis; most armies seek to decisively eliminate as many enemy forces as possible while minimizing their own losses of troops. There are NATO members who have been critical of "Israel's disproportionate use of force," while NATO armies take pride in their "kill ratios" against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Bingo. We hear the charge that the United States uses disproportionate force against insurgents in Iraq and elsewhere. Would they be happy if more American soldiers were killed?

The long and the short of it is that most people who talk about Israel using "disproportionate' force don't know what they're talking about.

Analogies

On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked the United States Naval base at Pearl Harbor. In the weeks and months to come, they attacked and overran our facilities across the Pacific, including Wake Island and the Philippines. The Japanese never had credible plans to attack the continental U.S., much less march into Washington D.C. Yet we sank every last ship in their navy, bombed their homeland into oblivion (this before the atomic bombs, ended their government and occupied their nation. Was our response, then, disproportionate?

On September 11, 2001, al Qaeda terrorists seized four civilian aircraft and crashed three of them into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon. Excluding the 19 terrorists, some 2,974 people were killed in the attacks. Neither al Qaeda nor their Taliban hosts had any credible plans to end our government and occupy our nation. Yet we ended the Taliban government and occupied their base country. I don't know the exact number of Afghan civilians killed by us, the insurgents, or through indirect causes, but it's a lot more than 2,974. Was our response, then disproportionate?

Conclusion

Of course our response to Pearl Harbor and the other Japanese aggressions were justified and proportionate, though one may dispute this or that U.S. bombing campaign. I think our fire raids on Tokyo were not justified, but without them Japan may not have surrendered, atomic bombs or no. Of course it was right and just for us to march into Afghanistan and end the Taliban as the government there and kill them and the al Qaeda, though again we may dispute this or that attack along the way.

The reason is that one does not proportion the response to the attack, but rather proportions it to what it will take to end the threat. In order to end the threat of Japanese fascism we had to end their government. The first step towards ending the threat of al Qaeda was to eliminate their sanctuary of Afghanistan. And in order to end the threat not only of Qassam and other rockets but of all terrorism from Gaza, Israel must eliminate Hamas as a fighting force, if not entirely.

Therefore, from what I can tell Israel is justified in using the level of force it has been using.

Update - January 1, 2009

Melanie Phillips has a much better post on this topic than I do, which is why she's a paid editorialist and I'm a hack blogger. Money quote:

If anything has been 'disproportionate', it's been Israel's refusal to take such action during the years when its southern citizens have been terrorised by rockets and other missiles raining down on them from Gaza. No other country in the world would have sat on its hands for so long in such circumstances. But whenever Israel defends itself militarily, its response is said to be 'disproportionate'. The malice, ignorance and sheer idiocy of this claim is refuted here comprehensively by Dore Gold, who points out that Israel's actions in Gaza are wholly in accordance with international law. This permits Israel to launch such an operation to prevent itself from being further attacked. Moreover, it defines 'disproportionate' force as when
force becomes excessive if it is employed for another purpose, like causing unnecessary harm to civilians.

But Israel has demonstrably not been targeting civilians but Hamas terrorists. Despite the wicked impression given by the media, most of the casualties in this operation have been Hamas operatives. Even Hamas itself has admitted that the vast majority of sites Israel has hit were part of their military infrastructure. UNRWA officials in the Gaza Strip have put the number of deaths at 310, of whom 51 were civilians. The rest were Hamas terrorists.

Read the whole thing.

Posted by Tom at 8:15 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

December 28, 2008

Israel Hits Hamas in Gaza

I thought about titling this "Israel Hits Hamas," but in our modern age of moral confusion that wouldn't do. Israel isn't "attacking Gaza" any more than they were "attacking Lebanon" two years ago. Apologists for whichever terrorist faction being hit like to make it appear that Israel is attacking the whole country, civilians and all. Unfortunately, too many seem to buy into this story line. As such, I find myself including "Moral Clarity" as a category for all of my posts on the Middle East.

Starting yesterday, Saturday Dec 27, Israeli jets have struck Hamas positions in Gaza in Operation Cast Lead. This in response to unrelenting Qassam rocket attacks by Hamas and it's associated factions/groups into Israel. One wonders what Hamas was thinking. Surely they knew that the Israeli strikes were bound to happen.

Most likely Hamas was looking for a replay of the July-Aug 2006 war against Hezbollah in Lebanon. It is thought by most that because Israel did not succeed in neutralizing Hezbollah or it's ability to launch rockets, the latter won. Hamas has been provoking Israel, hoping for a retaliation, and calculating that they will survive. The mindset of the terrorists is that if they survive somewhat intact they win, an in a way they're right. That hundreds or thousands of of their own fighters, never mind innocent civilians may die helps all the more, as photos of dead bodies shown on TV around the world make for good anti-Israel propaganda. A Reuters report has it that Hamas is not allowing the wounded to cross into Egypt for treatment.

Israeli motivations, of course, are different. Their stated intention, as taken from a story on the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) website:

"Our intention is not to arrive at a ceasefire; it is to destroy Hamas' motivation and intention to fight," explained IDF Spokesperson, Brig. Gen. Avi Beninyahu. "The IDF's goal is to create a different reality along the Gaza periphery; to create a safe and secure environment that will be long lasting." In addition, Brig. Gen. Beninyahu expressed complete confidence that IDF forces are acting with caution and intention: "We know exactly what we need to do and what needs to be done. We will continue to act in order to decrease the terror coming from the Gaza Strip."

Ok, but I'm not exactly sure what this means. On the one hand it's possible this is just a short-term attempt to quell the rocket attacks. The government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is not a strong one, and the PM himself caught up in many scandals and criticized for many things, including his handling of the 2006 war in Lebanon. His popularity is low. As such, it's hard to have much faith that this will be a better thought out war than the last one.

But people do learn, and anyway Gaza is not Lebanon. It and Hamas are smaller than Lebanon and Hezbollah. Olmert may be determined to carry through until Hamas cries uncle or has truely suffered to the point where they are not even much of a political entity anymore. Unlike in Lebanon, where Hezbollah had an open supply line from Syria, Hamas can be much more easily cut off.

Seen from it's most cynical perspective, it's possible that the Israeli government is doing this for purely political reasons. There will be a general election this Feb 10, and according to this scenario Olmert just doesn't want to look weak going into them.

The last possibility is that Olmert will follow air strikes with a ground assault and will not only reoccupy Gaza but will go all out to end Hamas' existence. This would take time and would be difficult, and so is not likely.

It's impossible to say how long Israel has been planning this. The reason is that they no doubt constantly monitor Gaza, Lebanon, etc, so keep their target lists updated daily. It's probably more a matter of arranging air schedules and flight paths than anything else. My guess is they can "pull the trigger' with very short notice.

Before we go farther, here's a useful timeline I found at Fox News

-- June 1967: Israel captures the Egyptian-controlled Gaza Strip during six-day Mideast war. An Israeli census put the population at 380,000, at least half of whom were refugees from Israel. Today the population stands at about 1.5 million. The U.N. lists just over 1 million as refugees and their descendants.

-- December 1987: A clash in the Jebaliya refugee camp sets off Palestinian uprising, which lasted until 1993 and claimed the lives of more than 2,000 Palestinians and 192 Israelis. The militant Islamic Hamas is formed early in the uprising.

-- September 2005: Israel withdraws its troops and all of its 8,500 Jewish settlers. It retains control of Gaza's airspace, coastal waters and border crossings.

-- June 2007: Hamas violently seizes control of Gaza after routing forces loyal to rival Fatah faction of President Mahmoud Abbas.

-- June 2008: Hamas and Israel reach truce to halt the cross-border rocket attacks and end Israeli offensives in Gaza.

-- November 2008: Palestinians resume rocket and mortar fire into Israel after Israeli incursion.

-- Dec. 19, 2008: Hamas formally declares the truce over, rocket fire on Israel intensifies.

-- Dec. 27, 2008: Israel launches a fierce air offensive, killing more than 200 Palestinians in the first day.

As of this writing, a story on the IDF website says they've hit some 210 target locations in Gaza. Hamas has fired some 110 rockets and mortar shells into Israel since Operation Cast Lead began.

Moral Clarity, Please

Whenever Israel strikes back at terrorists you can count on stories like these to appear:

The Telegraph: Israel launches more air strikes as UN calls for ceasefire

The United Nations Security Council called for an immediate ceasefire as there was growing evidence of Israeli plans to increase its military operations.

Jerusalem Post: Israel defends Gaza op to UN chief

President Nicholas Sarkozy of France, who holds the rotating European Union presidency, said he "firmly condemns the irresponsible provocations that have led to this situation, as well as the disproportionate use of force," according to an e-mailed statement.

The EU itself has also urged an immediate halt to Israeli air strikes and Palestinian attacks in and around Gaza and the lifting of Israeli blockades in the area, saying in a statement that the 27-nation bloc "condemns the disproportionate use of force" from both sides. "There is no military solution in Gaza," the EU statement said, urging a lasting truce.

The EU statement also urges the "reopening of all checkpoints and the immediate resumption of fuel and humanitarian aid deliveries."

Washington Post: Israeli Airstrikes on Gaza Strip Imperil Obama's Peace Chances

Israel's airstrikes on Gaza yesterday, in retaliation for a nonstop barrage of rocket attacks from Hamas fighters, raised the prospect of an escalation of violence that could scuttle any hopes the incoming Obama administration harbored of forging an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

Terrorist groups can fire rockets at Israel for years with no "international condemnation", yet everyone calls for an immediate cease fire when Israel responds.

Israeli response to terrorism must be "proportionate." Yet these same moral pontificators are quick to condemn "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" thinking.

And of course there is the "peace process" that must be preserved, even when it is obvious to anyone with eyes that it is all process and no peace. We could only make peace with these terrorists if only those dastardly Israelis would stop defending themselves.

Israel isn't perfect. I wish they'd stop growing the settlements in Judea and Samaria (the "West Bank"). Sometimes I wonder if bulldozing homes, even those of terrorists, is really the best response.

Of all the criticisms leveled at Israel, the one that their response is not "proportionate" is the most ridiculous. Don't get me wrong; I very much know that proportionality is part of Just War Theory. Follow the link and you'll see that I wrote quite a bit on the subject a few years ago.

Suffice it to say for now that the requirement for proportionality does not mean "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." After all, our own response to Japanese attacks on U.S. forces at Pearl Harbor, Wake Island, and the Philippines was hardly proportional as measured by this standard. We invaded and ended their government, while they never had plans to even attack the continental United States, much less march into Washington D.C.

So of course Israel's response is greater than Hamas' rocket attacks. If the schoolyard bully pushes you, you don't push him back, you knock his block off. The point is not to engage in tit for tat, but to end the rocket attacks. Just as the bully won't push you anymore if you show that you will go all-out to defend yourself, Hamas will stop if it becomes convinced that it's very existence is threatened. If not, then Israel ends it's existence.

More later. For now check out the live blogging of the war over at Israellycool.

Posted by Tom at 9:30 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 26, 2008

Obamamania - Soft Porn from the Washington Post

Yesterday I spent a wonderful Christmas Day with family. Then, sometime after opening gifts my brother showed me this story in the Washington Post:

As Duties Weigh Obama Down, His Faith in Fitness Only Increases

By Eli Saslow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 25, 2008; Page A01

Being elected president forces a man to take inventory of his life, so Barack Obama has trimmed his schedule to the bare essentials. He's not in the White House yet, but gone are the hours he once spent reading novels, watching television and obsessing over the daily transactions of Chicago's sports teams. He eats out only once every few weeks. He visits friends rarely, if at all.

But one habit endures: Obama has gone to the gym, for about 90 minutes a day, for at least 48 days in a row. He always has treated exercise less as recreation than requirement, but his devotion has intensified during the past few months. Between workouts during his Hawaii vacation this week, he was photographed looking like the paradigm of a new kind of presidential fitness, one geared less toward preventing heart attacks than winning swimsuit competitions. The sun glinted off chiseled pectorals sculpted during four weightlifting sessions each week, and a body toned by regular treadmill runs and basketball games.

There is a term for this, and it's "soft porn."

Note that this was a page 1 story, with the section quoted on the front page. Below the fold, but page 1.

It is good that we have a president who keeps himself in shape. It lessens the chance that he will die or become disabled in office. It's also a positive example for the rest of us. Further, I go to the gym three days a week when I can (although I've hurt my knee so am staying away for a few weeks).

Bu this "sun glinted off chiseled pectorals" business is messiah cult-of-personality worship. One doesn't comment this way on someone's body, at least not publically, and certainly not in a news story. It is weird and it is creepy.

Democrats cannot at once complain that the right is not respectful of our new president (ok, president-elect) and turn their heads at this type of story. Conservatives can often go too far with the Reagan this, Reagan that, and "what would Reagan do," . We've also seen it with John F Kennedy. But in the end there is just no comparison to what we're seeing today with Obama.

The rest of the story isn't any better. A few more excerpts:

"He does it every day like clockwork," said Marty Nesbitt, one of Obama's closest friends from Chicago. "He doesn't think of it as something he has to do -- it's his time for himself, a chance for him to reflect. It's his break. He feels better and more revved up after he gets in his workout." ...

Ubermenschen Obama!

"That's one of the first things you learn working for him: You better make sure he gets his workout," said Jim Cauley, who managed Obama's 2004 U.S. Senate campaign. "If there isn't any time, he's not going to feel his best that day. If he only gets 30 or 40 minutes, he's still not really happy.

His physical prowess exceeds that of the average human!

"It's something he takes seriously, and that's why he's in great shape," said Alexi Giannoulias, a friend of Obama's and a former professional basketball player. "When people picture him running or whatever, they might think he's just going through the motions. But he goes hard. He's fit. He could convince you he's half his age."

Age does not affect him as it does others!

Even Obama's closest friends said they marvel at how he has maintained his commitment.

He even amazes his friends, who no doubt are used to being amazed!

For the small group of reporters tasked with following Obama's every move, his fitness has become a running joke repeated in the stories they file. They sit at McDonald's while he exercises in Hawaii. They eat calorie-rich scones while he sweats at Regents Park. One reporter for the Christian Science Monitor, filing his report about one of the president-elect's gym trips last month, noted: "While Mr. Obama worked at maintaining his lithe look, your pear-shaped pooler spent quality time at a local coffee shop."

The reporters are amazed!

Obama still suffers from one vice -- smoking -- although he has worked hard to quit since he started the presidential campaign. He's down from three or four cigarettes each day to what he terms the occasional "slip."

He is working to eliminate his one small vice with a will of steel!

Oh my heavens. I thought I'd seen a lot but this story just about takes the cake. This Eli Saslow has a man-crush on Obama that is embarrassing.

One can say none of this is Obama's fault, as he neither wrote the story nor has issued any press releases about "chiseled pectorals." But neither has he dissuaded anyone from writing this type of story. Indeed, as Mark Levin pointed out a few months ago, it's just this cult worship that "his campaign has carefully and successfully fabricated."

This is cult-of-personality stuff. It's the type of thing we used to see about the great dictators of the 20th century; not only did they espouse great ideas and were great leaders, their personal qualities exceeded those of their subjects. Any faults are minimized and they are working successfully to overcome them.

I am not saying that Obama is or wants to be a dictator. But it's getting hard to deny that the cult of personality that is building up around him does bear similarities to what we saw during the last century.

The symbols created of him are cultish: the Obama "O" sign, the special Obama flag and presidential seal, the weird picture that I've seen in all sizes, one at least 8 feet tall:

barack-is-hope.jpg

There are all of the songs sung to Obama, some by children, some by adults, one by kids in camouflage marching military style.

All of this has got to stop.

One more thing. If his duties are weighing him down, how it it that he's on vacation and going to the gym 90 minutes a day? Didn't George Bush get in trouble when he went or stayed on vacation during a time of national emergency? I thought we had a financial crisis going on. Oh that's right, he is Ubermenschen, who will unite and save us all. He can do all this and more while on vacation and going to the gym regularly. And don't you dare say otherwise.

Sunday Update

Michelle Malkin points out media hypocrisy in comparing how journalists treated George W Bush's workouts with how they treat Obama:

...For adoring journalists, you see, Obama's workout fanaticism demonstrates his discipline and balance in his life. Apparently, what's good for Obama's glistening pecs is good for the country. Zaslow quoted Obama Chicago crony Marty Nesbitt, who offered this diagnosis: "He doesn't think of it as something he has to do -- it's his time for himself, a chance for him to reflect. It's his break. He feels better and more revved up after he gets in his workout."...

Former Washington Post writer Jonathan Chait famously attacked Bush three years ago in an opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times headlined, "The (over)exercise of power." Recounting how President Bush ran 3 1/2 miles a day and preached more cross-training to a federal judge, Chait fumed: "Am I the only person who finds this disturbing?...What I mean is the fact that Bush has an obsession with exercise that borders on the creepy."

Chait argued that Bush's passionate devotion to exercise was a dereliction of duty. "Does the leader of the free world need to attain that level of physical achievement?" he jeered. "It's nice for Bush that he can take an hour or two out of every day to run, bike or pump iron. Unfortunately, most of us have more demanding jobs than he does."

Can you imagine any member of the Obamedia mocking the incoming gym rat-in-chief this way?

No.

Posted by Tom at 1:00 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

December 24, 2008

The Christmas Story

The relevant sections of Matthew 1 and 2, then Luke 2. Then a bit of commentary. All via Biblegateway.com, NIV translation:

Matthew 1

18This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. 19Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,[c] because he will save his people from their sins."

22All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23"The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"[d]--which means, "God with us."

24When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Matthew 2

The Visit of the Magi
1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi[e] from the east came to Jerusalem 2and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east[f] and have come to worship him."

3When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ[g] was to be born. 5"In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written:

6" 'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'[h]"

7Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him."

9After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east[i] went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

The Escape to Egypt
13When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. "Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him." 14So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called my son."[j]

16When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

18"A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more."[k]

The Return to Nazareth
19After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child's life are dead."

21So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: "He will be called a Nazarene."

Luke 2

The Birth of Jesus
1In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2(This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3And everyone went to his own town to register.

4So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

I took this photo of an ancient manger at the ruins of Tel Meggido while in Israel last summer. A "manger" is an animal feeding trough, not, as I always thought, a barn-type structure. The nativity scenes you see where Jesus is in a structure are pure guesswork.

Manger in Israel

The Shepherds and the Angels
8And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ[a] the Lord. 12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

13Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14"Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."

16So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

And that's it. The actual part about the manger, the magi ("wise men") and Shepherds is always so much shorter than you imagine if all you've seen are the manger scenes in people's yards. You get the impression that there's a whole story about how they went to the inn, spoke with the manager, couldn't get space, had to go elsewhere... etc.

Further, the birth story is only in 2 of the 4 gospels. Mark and John ignore it completely, going straight to Jesus' baptism.

On the other hand, all four discuss His arrest, trial, crucifixion and resurrection extensively. Matthew devotes 3 chapters, Mark 3, Luke 3, and John 4. Each is also a lot longer than the sections of Matthew and Luke that describe His birth.

It's not any different in the rest of the New Testament. Neither Acts, the various letters by Paul, James, Peter, John and Jude, not John again in Revelation, give much attention to Christ's birth.

The reason is pretty simple; we are not saved by His birth but through His death on the cross. As such, the fact that He was born is more a means to an end than anything else. The important business came at the end of his life.

Theologically, then, one may say that Easter, not Christmas, should be the biggest and most important holiday on the Christian calendar. The reasons why Christmas has that honor are long and complicated, but I think have more to do with economics than theology. The story of the birth is also a lot cuter than that of a beaten man nailed or tied to a cross and left to die.

In any event, the history of the holiday is a lot less important than what it means. More to the point, matters of salvation and eternity are not things that should simply be remembered during holidays, or even just on Sunday mornings. Nor is Jesus just a teacher of morals and ethics. He was born of a virgin, and died on a cross for our sins. The least we can do is our best to honor him every minute of every day in all that we do.

Posted by Tom at 9:09 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

December 21, 2008

More Troops for Afghanistan: The Real Question

We've heard a lot about how President-elect Obama wants to send more troops to Afghanistan to win that war. For years we've all heard liberals tell us that Iraq was a distraction, but that oh they wanted to fight in Afghanistan.

So the news is full of stories like this one:

The top U.S. military officer said Saturday that the Pentagon could double the number of American forces in Afghanistan by next summer to 60,000 -- the largest estimate of potential reinforcements ever publicly suggested.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that between 20,000 and 30,000 additional U.S. troops could be sent to Afghanistan to bolster the 31,000 already there.

All well and good, and we should be thankful that Petraeus' surge strategy has been so successful that we can now safely draw down troops in Iraq so that we will have some to send to Afghanistan. If the commanders in Afghanistan want more troops, then by all means lets send them.

Let's also ask how those troops are going to be used, however. After the surge was announced in January 2007, there was much criticism from the left to the effect that "more troops to do the same thing won't do any good." And indeed, if that's all the troops were going to do then such criticism would have been justified.

The problem in Afghanistan is summed up by Tim Lynch, as quoted by Bill Roggio in The Weekly Standard:

America cannot bring security to the rural population of Afghanistan if every time they interact with that population they treat them as potential enemy fighters. The military believes "force protection" is the job number one and I have listened to officers wax eloquent on the subject of protecting their men and woman no matter what because this country is not worth the noble sacrifice that their young troopers would represent if they lost life or limb here. I have used all my self control to avoid kicking these idiots in the teeth which is what they deserve. That kind of thinking will lead to our defeat just as certain as day follows night. It is ridiculous and based on an inflated self centered egotism which I find alarming. Infantry officers are paid to think - to think about the best way to beat those who ask for it while maintaining the cohesion and high morale amongst their troops. The job of military leaders is to spend blood, American blood, and spend it wisely in pursuit of the missions and objectives given them by their civilian masters. I know what those masters have said is our mission in Afghanistan. I also know the current American TTP (tactics, techniques and procedures) do not in any way support the mission they have been given and in fact do the exact opposite by alienating the very population we are supposed to be "winning." I might be being a little harsh here but how else do you explain the performance of our military to date?

Ouch. I have little way of knowing whether such criticism is accurate or not, but Roggio is generally a reliable source.

Roggio also says this about how U.S. and allied forces are operating

Unfortunately in Afghanistan, the United States and NATO have learned little from the success in Iraq, and are still largely operating from large bases (there are of course exceptions to this, but as a whole, combat power is concentrated in large bases).

This is very bothersome, if true. Roggio is dead right about Iraq. Prior to the surge, we tended to keep our troops on 5 large bases and only send them out on raids (a simplification to be sure, but as a general observation correct). We did this because we wanted to protect our troops, and thought that keeping them secure on bases was the way to do it. No one likes casualties.

Then came then-Lt. Gen. David Petreaus, who in October of 2005 returned from his second tour in Iraq to take command of the Combined Arms Center (CAC) at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He took charge of the team that was writing what would eventually become the U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24, released on December 15, 2006.

FM 3-24 revolutionized how we fought the war in Iraq. The 5 additional surge brigades to bolster the existing 15 in Iraq weren't just sent to do the same thing; there was a radical change in strategy. No more were we going to stay on our bases and only head out on raids.

Not only did this lead to a more successful prosecution of the war, it also made our troops safer. Here is one of the key insights from 3-24 as it applies to the problem in Afghanistan stated above:

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

In other words, get off the bases and be among the people. Get to know them personally. Know your area of operations backwards and forwards; economics, religious sects, clans, tribes, ancient rivalries, who owns every store and shop, what holidays the celebrate and how, who the village/clan/tribal leaders are, local politics, on and on. Yes kinetics are important. It's just that alone firepower cannot win.

Petraeus' team wrote about this in FM 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.

You can't do this if your emphasis is on "force protection," and indeed as stated above such an emphasis is counterproductive, as counterintuitive as that may sound. Now, I understand that it's easy for me to sit here and type these words, never having served myself. And I'm not an original thinker here; all I'm doing is relaying what other more learned and experienced men and women have said.

Here are just a few posts in which our commanders in Iraq explained how they did these things and more:

Iraq Briefing - 04 Feb 2008 - "We do not drive or commute to work"
Iraq Briefing - 22 February 2008 - "We are Living with the Population"
October 12, 2008 - Gen Petraeus' Speech on Iraq - How We Did It

Earning the trust of the people is critical to beating an insurgency. As Lt. Col. (Dr.) David Kilcullen wrote in FM 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.

What is important to note that this emphatically does not mean "making the people like us." The people can hate the counterinsurgents for all it matters. What is important is that they believe the counterinsurgents will win and that it is in their best interests that they win. It is a hard-headed calculation of self interest, not emotion.

In some recent Afghanistan briefings (here and here), our commanders discussed something called "Human Terrain Teams." Essentially, the HTT is part of a "counter-insurgency effort of the United States military which embeds anthropologists with combat brigades in Iraq and Afghanistan to help tacticians in the field understand local cultures."

All fine and good, but Tim Lynch isn't convinced it's all working (direct link to his post here). He points out that although we can beat the Taliban every time even when outnumbered 10-1, this doesn't mean we are winning. Kinetics, as stated above, alone will not beat an insurgency. More to the point, he lays out the relationship between the HTT and the concept of "living with the people" as discussed above:

The mixing of civilian experts with the military in the current Human Terrain Team program has not gone well and I don't care what you read in the press on the subject believe me when I say the program is an abject (multi-million dollar) failure. HTT teams can only venture off base when embedded with large American convoys and therefore seldom get out. Because their offices are on base they use the military computer networks which will not allow them to access the very Jihadist website they are supposed to be monitoring. They will not be a useful tool to any commander until they are let off base and given the freedom of action to move about their areas of responsibility, develop relationships with the tribal elders and basically gather the information the program is supposed to gather.

In other words, force protection is more important than getting out among the people, however risky that may seem. No one, including Lynch, is saying that we send the HTT civilians out unprotected. What is being said is that they're being sent out with too large a force, one that intimidates the very people whose trust we're supposed to be winning. Send them out with a smaller security force and let them do their job. Keep airpower and other resources on standby but that's it.

Let's hope that President Obama takes heed of this and more. Sending more troops to Afghanistan to do the same thing is not only unlikely to produce results, it will lead to declining popular support for the war. It's not only the population in Afghanistan that matters, but the one back home as well.


Posted by Tom at 11:00 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 18, 2008

Lila Rose Rocks Planned Parenthood's World Again

Earlier this week our heroine Lila Rose, President of Live Action, released a second film as part of their Mona Lisa Project, the purpose of which is to expose how Planned Parenthood encourages underage girls to cover up statutory rape. Recorded June 24th, 2008, here it is:

Stay tuned, because this is just a preview of more to come. A note on the Live Action website says that they will release the full, unedited version tomorrow, Friday December 19, which I'll post here as an update. The reason for the delay is that they "are taking extra precautions to protect the identity of private individuals included on the tape." Apparently there are legal implications.

An extraordinary young woman, Rose is a 20 year old student at UCLA, who at age 15 founded Live Action, a pro-life student group. Rose and her friends work to expose the culture of abortion and how it degrades and corrupts our society. As the largest provider of abortions in the country, and a recipient of some $272.7 million annually in taxpayer money totaling $3.9 billion since 1987, Planned Parenthood is an integral part of the abortion industry. Planned Parenthood clinics perform some 255,000 plus abortions annually.

The good news, if there really is any in all this, is that on December 15 Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter announced that his office will investigate Planned Parenthood (h/t The Warrior)

The bad news is that the Indiana Department of Child Services won't be doing an investigation. From the WTHR news story:

The Indiana Department of Child Services says it won't investigate a Planned Parenthood site in Bloomington after a worker was fired for violating policies on abuse reporting and intervention.

A conservative anti-abortion group sent a woman to the office who claimed to be a 13-year-old pregnant by a 31-year-old man.

The worker reportedly brushed aside that information when the law calls for any health care professional to report inappropriate relationships to CPS.

Planned Parenthood says it's retraining workers on mandatory reporting procedures.

To the IDCS it's all business as usual, and nothing must come in the way of abortions.

WTHR apparently sees it important to identify Live Action as "a conservative anti-abortion group," as if that really matters.

But hey, Planned Parenthood is "retraining" workers and "suspended" the counselor in question, so everything's ok now. I hate to sound snarky but this is all really just too much.

Not Just Isolated Incidents

Don't kid yourself; what you saw in the video above was not an isolated incident. As I discussed in my first post on Rose and her work last week, in 2002 WB33 News of Dallas TX did an investigation in which they used a company called Life Dynamics to call over 800 Planned Parenthood clinics. The calls were legally recorded. The investigation found that in 91% of the calls, Planned Parenthood employees were willing to cover up statutory rape.

In addition, Students for Life of America recently did their own investigation, which showed how Planned Parenthood clinics in North Carolina were covering up statutory rape:

So I think it's pretty clear that there is credible evidence that the practice of covering up statutory rape is widespread. If this isn't cause for congressional investigation, what is?

Where's the Outrage?

If members of a liberal group had posed as minors, and gone into gun shops and bought firearms, the left would have gone bezerk. The Washington Post, New York Times, CNN, MSNBC, and all the others would headline the story day after day. Exploiting the incident, Democrats in Congress would demand, and probably get, new legislation restricting gun rights in areas having nothing to do with underage purchases of firearms.

As I said in my last post on all this, I too would be outraged.

My analogy with firearms sales may not be perfect, but it does make the point. Abortion is the holy grail of liberalism. Nothing, and I mean nothing, must come in the way of unlimited abortion, apparently to the extent of ignoring credible accusations of coverup of statutory rape.

At the very least, what we need is a full investigation of Planned Parenthood and all abortion providers. PP officers should be hauled before congressional committees and grilled. Their records need to be examined. At a minimum, their funding needs to be cut off.

Write your congressmen today. I have.

Instead of outrage, the left is preparing measures that will increase the numbers of abortions performed in this country. You can read all about it in a document called "Advancing Reproductive Rights and Health in a New Administration," which is posted on Obama's stupid Change.gov website. Details on how far reaching it is are in an editorial in today's Washington Times. Follow the link for details, but among other things they want $700 million for "family planning."

Much, Much, More

All I can really say is go to the Live Action website and view the videos of their investigations, of which there are many. Rose has made quite a name for herself as a result of all this. She has been interviewed by Laura Ingraham, Bill O'Reilly, Ed Morrissey, and more.

Lila Rose is one of the bravest conservatives there are. It's easy to sit here and write blog posts. Going uptown to Washington DC to be among a small group of conservatives counterprotesting tens of thousands of insane leftist "anti-war" types took a bit of doing, but it's not really that much.

Rose, however, disguises herself, hides a camera in he purse, and with a compatriot, Jackie Stollar, goes into Planned Parenthood clinics, and tapes the resulting interview. She catches them covering up felony behavior, then posts it on the Internet for all the world to see. it's not just one or two few videos, either, as they've got quite a bit of material on their website. What she has caught Planned Parenthood doing is pretty explosive, as testified by the national media attention she and her group have received.

She is taking on one of the most powerful lobbies in the country, and doing so in a manner guaranteed to earn her scorn and abuse from the left. That she presses on is testament to her character and determination.

One more video and then we'll stop for tonight. Here is Lila Rose' address to the Values Voters Summit

More to come. In the meantime, my hat is off to the Lila Rose and the team at Live Action.


Posted by Tom at 9:00 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 16, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 15 December 2008 - "Coach, Teach, Mentor"

This briefing is by Colonel Mark Dewhurst, commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division. With him is Mr. Conrad Tribble, who is his Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team Leader. On Monday they spoke via satellite from Camp Liberty in Iraq with reporters at the Pentagon, providing an update on ongoing security operations.

As mentioned, the 4th Brigade is part of the 10th Mountain Division, also known as Task Force Mountain, currently headquartering Multi-National Division Center. However, the 4th Brigade is currently part of Multi-National Division-Baghdad. MND-Baghdad, also known as Task Force Baghdad, is headquartered by the 4th Infantry Division under Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Hammond.

The area they are responsible for includes the "three political districts of Karrada, Rusafa and Tisa Nissan, also referred to as New Baghdad. This is a heavily urbanized area with 80 percent of the ministries. We have the Baghdad city government here. We have the -- a lot of the government leaders live in the Karrada Peninsula that we have responsibility for the security." It is mostly a Shia area, with pockets of Sunnis and Christians.

Col. Dewhurst, I believe, reports to Maj. Gen. Hammond, who in turn reports to Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq. Austin reports to General Odierno, commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq, who on September 16 replaced his one-time boss Gen. David Petraeus in this position. Odierno reports to Gen. Petraeus, now commander of CENTCOM. Petreaus reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

This 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 is an awful lot of importance in this briefing, so watch the video and follow the transcript. However, for purposes of brevity we'll only concentrate on a few areas.

From their opening comments

COL. DEWHURST:... This area's comprised of a lot of Shi'a Muslims. I do have pockets of Sunni and Christians that also live in this area. And I am partnered with four Iraqi security force brigades that are composed of 11 Iraqi security force battalions. Three of those brigades are national police brigades, and one of those brigades is Iraqi army brigade. They're commanded by highly competent Iraqi brigadier generals. They are very patriotic. They're very aggressive. And they've been working very hard to deliver security and reconciliation and reconstruction to the population over here.

In our area I operate from two forward operating bases. I have three combat outposts, known as COPs, and nine joint security stations, JSSs. And those are where we work with and live with Iraqi security force partners, and we -- we're -- we eat with them, sleep with them, prepare for missions together, go on missions together and train together.

This partnership with the Iraqi security forces has enabled us to increase their capabilities and has led to them receiving many more tips from the Iraqi people that has led to the successful detention of many unaligned extremists and criminals being taken off the streets, which has increased the security here in east Baghdad. The combined effects of these partnered operation has been the cornerstone in our fight against extremists and other criminals.

"...we eat with them, sleep with them..." This is straight out of Petraeus' U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24 and is the major strategy change from pre-surge days. Previously, our forces more or less stayed on one of 5 major bases in Iraq, going out on raids when we got usable intel. It didn't work for several reasons. One, as soon as we left the insurgents came back. The Iraqi security forces were not able to maintain control. Second, because the populace knew the insurgents would return, they were hesitant to provide quality intelligence.

The 5 additional surge brigades (up from 15) provided U.S. commanders with the numerical safety to take the risk of leaving our bases to live among the people. This time, when we went to the communities, the leaders would ask "are you staying this time?" When the answer they got was "yes," they provided all the information and help we needed. The Iraqi security forces knew that this time they would be backed up in a fight.

See as examples

Iraq Briefing - 04 Feb 2008 - "We do not drive or commute to work"
Iraq Briefing - 22 February 2008 - "We are Living with the Population"
October 12, 2008 - Gen Petraeus' Speech on Iraq - How We Did It

COL. DEWHURST:...I like to say that our Iraqi partners are doing a superb job in the transitioning of the Sons of Iraq. In my area I have about 1,200 Sons of Iraq, of which already 400 of them have now transitioned into the Iraqi security forces, mainly to the Iraqi police. I have about 300 more that are getting ready to start into the Iraqi police academy, starting in the next month.

The Sons of Iraq program (originally called Concerned Local Citizens) has been instrumental in getting Iraqis to take ownership of their own security. The SOI program is a sort of "super neighborhood watch" of Iraqi citizens who patrol their neighborhoods and report suspicious activity to the authorities. Many of the SOI were armed, but with their own private weapons, as we did not provide them any. Because no one knows a neighborhood like the people who live there, the intelligence they provided was invaluable. More importantly, it got Iraqis "off the fence" and into our camp, taking responsibility for their own security. It also provided jobs and a paycheck; initially courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer.

Ultimately, the program was temporary in nature. Now that we've largely wrapped up the insurgency, the program is being disbanded. The idea is to move the SOI participants to jobs in government, the Iraqi security forces, or private enterprise. The problem with the latter is lack of jobs, with the first two suspicion by the Maliki government. Most or many of the SOI are Sunnis, and Maliki is a Shiite. This has caused many to worry that Maliki just wants to disband the SOI without making sure as many as possible get jobs; a recipe for disaster. The U.S. command understands this full well, with Lt. Gen. Austin sending Maliki a not-so-veiled warning on the matter last September.

From Mr Tribble's opening remarks:

MR. TRIBBLE:...My team is nine people. It's a mix of State, USAID and civil affairs Army Reservists. We are -- they're experts in governance and business and industry and in agriculture, primarily, and we work directly with the brigade both at the brigade level down to the battalion and company levels, even....

The five main areas that we're working on are everything on the other side of the spectrum from the security issues that Mark was talking about. Governance -- primarily, it's helping the Iraqi institutions develop better and more effective ways of delivering essential services -- sewer, water, trash and so forth.

We do a lot of political development, focusing primarily now on elections and support for parties and candidates, and just in general the electoral process that's starting in this -- in January of 2009.

We have a lot of programs focusing on business and economic growth in our area. Again, at the sort of local level, we do -- we're working with a lot of NGOs, trying to develop a civil society, the whole network of NGOs and professional associations that makes up a society, that makes things happen outside of government, government intervention and government control.

And finally, we're doing some programming in support of reconciliation among these communities that we mentioned earlier: Christian and Sunni and Shi'a, the mix that's in our neighborhood....

I would say -- I would go so far as to say that in a lot of our areas we're beyond counterinsurgency. We're really into a development phase. And that means that our mission has changed a little bit. We're focusing not so much on individual symptoms or specific neighborhoods, but it's really about the system that is or is not in place to address the issue, whether it's sewer or water or economic development. We're trying to get away from a focus on small projects, and look at the processes that have to be in place on the Iraqi side.

Really, what it comes down to is trying to help the Iraqis develop Iraqi solutions to their problems, not impose or deliver our solutions. This means fewer projects on our side. It means less U.S. money spent. And gradually, the trajectory over the next six to eight months, I suspect, is going to be in that direction, and that's a good thing.

Although the PRTs are small in number they are big in effect. However, unless used properly, economic and political development will have little effect on ending an insurgency.

One reason for our failure in the early years is that we put the economic and political cart before the security horse. That is to say, we though that economic and political progress would make up for or even end the security problem. This was incorrect, and at odds with history. What Petreus' team found out while writing Field Manual 3-24 in 2005-6 was that history conclusively showed that unless you secure the populace economic and political progress will achieve nothing.

Therefore, now that security has been achieved can the PRTs play a useful role. We also have much political progress taking place, as for example the recent passage in the Iraqi parliament of the SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement). Of course, there is much yet to do.

On to the Q & A

Q Dawn Casey, Talk Radio News Service. My question is actually for Mr. Tribble.

You said some of the areas you were assisting in, with governance, and you would give some specific examples of helping with the essential services there. I am really curious what sort of help you are helping them with and, you know, what the programs are.

MR. TRIBBLE: The big picture is, the mantra that we use is pretty much the same one that the military uses on the security force side -- coach, teach, mentor.

We have a small team of governance advisers: I myself along with some in the brigade as well as a couple of my EPRT team members. Essentially what we're doing is getting out to the municipal city, the city municipal works department, its various offices and affiliates in the city, in our district.

We're just helping them identify their priorities. It's just a constant engagement with them.

We're training them or helping them to train them on things like planning, budgeting, resource management; how they link their needs to resource requests to their higher headquarters, to the city government; things as mundane as how do they track service requests from customers or from the neighborhood councils that identify neighborhoods where the sewer is backed up. A lot of it is very mundane and it's just daily, weekly, talking to them, working with them, and sort of showing them ways to do things.

And at the same time as we work at the -- really at the sub- municipal level, then there's the -- a Baghdad PRT above us that's engaging with the mayor and the sort of leadership of the city, trying to push down resources to the local -- to the local government.
So if you came out and saw it, you'd see us going to the municipal works departments; looking at their equipment; talking to them about how they manage their equipment, how they deploy it; helping them develop plans for trash pickup and that sort of thing. It's all very -- very, very nuts and bolts and not particularly glamorous, but it is in fact, I think, having some effect.

As he mentions later in the interview, it is indeed as if we are starting from scratch. One occasionally wonders, "didn't they have an army and local governments before we came in?" The answer is yes, but they were dysfunctional to the point of being barely recognizable. Among our many bad assumptions in pre-invasion thinking was to understimate the damage a totalitarian system can do to a country. The Germans were lucky to have only been under the Nazis for 12 years.

Q Colonel, it's Mike Mount with CNN. Going back on the security situation -- as we've been talking about the SOFA, you know, pulls you back out of the main parts of the cities by June, what's your confidence level -- and you've been working with them for some time now -- what's your confidence level with the Iraqi forces and the police in your region? And do you have a high level of confidence that they're going to be able to kind of take control of the area as you start backing off and maybe further down the road, too, as troops are eventually pulled out?

COL. DEWHURST: Yeah, I can tell you from day one -- this is actually my second tour over here -- and the difference from my first tour to the second tour is the -- one is the confidence and competence of the Iraqi security forces and, two, their logistics, their supplies and equipment is much better than it was two years ago when I was over here. And what I have seen in my year of working with them, they have greatly increased their capabilities to -- a lot of the operations now are Iraqi-led, Iraqi-planned, and we are supporting their operations. And that's very encouraging for me as we look forward.

Over the past two years I have covered several briefings in which commanders have expressed concerns about the logistical capabilities of the Iraqi Army.

The saying about how "amateurs discuss strategy, pros talk logistics" may be overstated, but it has a lot of relevance. Be wary, for example, about anyone who rattles on about how we need "more troops in Afghanistan" but says nothing about how we'll keep them supplied (hint; google for the "Khyber Pass").

Continuing with his answer:

COL. DEWHURST:...However that's now created lots more challenges for us to work through. It's now, okay, we have this agreement; now we've got to work through, how are we going to start withdrawing, pulling back? And how are we going to shape that? Because we want to do that in a very methodical manner because we don't want to lose the security gains that we have made.

Hello Barack Obama, are you listening? Democrats and Republicans in Congress? Any liberals reading this post, did you catch that? Any of you types who like to say things like what Kevin O'Meara* says about bloggers like me:

Redhunter also tells us the "War is over". Ok, then let's immediately stop spending $10bl per month, bring the troops home, downsize the Pentagon and get on with life. Oh, maybe they liked the war when it was raging.

Are you paying attention? Stop with the Movon.org talking points and learn what's really going on.

Regarding the violence; what I hear time and again is that we can reduce the overall level of violence, but stopping the isolated "spectacular attack" is hard. One time I heard Gen Odierno (I believe) say that that the way they judge progress is by a 90 day rolling average.

Col Dewhurst speaks about the "spectacular attack" later in the briefing:

COL. DEWHURST:....Probably the -- you asked about the most negative thing. I don't know if it's negative or it's just -- my concern is that there -- what keeps me up at night is that -- is that extremists that still trying to do that spectacular attack. And that is my concern, of trying to find out, get the information, who that is, to prevent that attack from happening in the first place. And that's probably the only thing that still bothers me, is those spectacular attacks are -- still have the potential of happening.

The lesson is; don't let the occasional spectacular attack convince you that things have not changed dramatically since the terrible days of 2006.

The journalists challenged and questioned some of Col Dewhurst and Mr. Tribble had to say, but I think mostly on non-vital issues. Time will tell if we can translate the security, economic, and political gains into a viable state at peace with itself and it's neighbors, but you'd have to be blind or in complete denial to think that the trends are not strongly in our favor.

A defeated insurgency, and an at least somewhat pluralistic Iraq would be a major blow to the worldwide jihadist movement, and an enhancement to U.S. prestige. Just the recent signing of the SOFA alone was a blow to Iran and a sign of an ever more confident and capable Iraqi leadership.

All in all, a very interesting and useful briefing, which contributed to our understanding of the situation in Iraq.

* Update - Kevin has now decided to hide his website behind a password. I'd challenged a few of his posts in comments there, and saw that at least one other conservative had too. Apparently this was too much for him.

Update II - January 3 2009 - Kevin has come out to play again, removing the password restriction from his website.

Posted by Tom at 9:45 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

December 14, 2008

Quillam Foundation - Reform Muslims in the UK

My research has led me to believe that the West is threatened by a worldwide jihad, and that it is being fought on many different levels. On of those is a "war of ideas," and it is not only being waged by Islamists against the West, it is being waged within Islam itself.

Islam is a religion that as it is mostly practiced is antithetical to Western values. It is in this that lies the greatest danger, not in bullets and bombs but in a sort of "creeping sharia." The Islamists are trying to replace Western ideas and practices with their own, and they are doing it in our own countries. They are also trying to replace secular Arab governments with Islamist ones in which Sharia is the law of the land.

Most Muslims around the world are not violent, and are not keen to be governed by a strict Sharia. But they also tend to be cowed and intimidated by the radicals, who are the "strong horse" in the war of ideas within Islam. The lesson of history is that a determined minority usually gets their way if the mass remains passive. Being opposed to an idea or movement does no good if do don't step out and do something about it.

This said, there are some true reform minded Muslims who are willing to speak out. It is absolutely vital that we in the West recognize them, promote them, and support them against the extremists. In previous posts I have recognized several such groups and individuals (see list at bottom of page).

Today I am going to profile the Quilliam Foundation, based in London.

The Quilliam Foundation (h/t The Weekly Standard) seeks change in the Muslim world. Their founders reject Islamism, but are committed Muslims.

From their website, the foundation seeks to


  • Expose and challenge the weaknesses, inconsistencies, and failings of Islamist thought and actions;

  • Provide a scripturally rooted theological and ideological alternative to the rigidity of Islamism;

  • Narrate public testimonies as to why Islamists have abandoned these movements;

  • Encourage current Islamists to sever ties with their movements and enter the fold of mainstream Islam;

  • Advocate full integration of Muslims into Western society as citizens, not as a faith community, and counter the separatism of Islamists.

They're not passive about it either. The only way to get one's views heard and hopefully adopted is to step out and challenge those with whom you disagree. The founders of the Quilliam Foundation do just that with their "Open Challenge:"

The Quilliam Foundation openly challenges Islamist groups to public debates. Our first challenge is to Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT), the group that influenced Syed Qutb in prison and is thus the ideological inspiration to al-Qaeda. While HT may disagree with Osama bin Laden's methods, they both aspire to the same end: the creation of a theocratic, expansionist dictatorship....

Islam, like other world faiths, is a religion, not a political ideology. As such, it makes no specific, monolithic prescription of an 'Islamic state', 'economic system', or 'foreign policy'. Hizb ut-Tahrir, and by extension al-Qaeda, have rejected mainstream Muslim tradition and are an aberration of global Muslim discourse. Their neo-Wahhabite Islamism is the backbone of jihadism, as illustrated by the history of Islamist movements in Algeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other countries.

The Quilliam Foundation is relatively new, having been founded in April of this year.

I do not know quite enough about this group to give them my unqualified endorsement. That Ulf Gartzke of TWS likes them is a good start, but an article on the Counterterrorism Blog questions their support of a particular Egyptian Mufti Sheik.

Investigate the matter and reach your own conclusions. My guess is that they're not perfect but are headed in the right direction. We need to be careful, but not absolutist in looking for reformist Muslims to support. But find them and support them we must.

Other Reformist Muslim Groups and Individuals

Following are reformist Muslim groups and individuals that I have profiled here:

American Islamic Forum for Democracy
Free Muslims Coalition
International Quranic Center
Muslims Agrainst Sharia: Islamic Reform Movement
Irshad Manji

Update - January 1, 2009

Sigh. The Quillam Foundation has issued a press release calling "for (the) UK Government to pressure Israel to stop military operations " (h/t Melanie Phillips)

"The UK Government cannot seek to win hearts and minds across Muslim communities while failing to stop Israel from murdering Palestinians en masse. Gordon Brown and David Miliband have reached out to Damascus and Darfur in recent weeks in an attempt to bring peace and stand for fairness. That is commendable. And in that spirit, where is the outright condemnation of Israeli atrocities and pressure on Israel to stop its inhumane operations? Perceived double standards from our Government and the current green light (from Washington and London) to Israel's killing machine will strengthen Al Qaeda's metanarrative and radicalize yet another generation of young Muslims. Isolating and angering millions of Muslims by sitting on the fence will not aid the PREVENT agenda, or the moderate majority of Muslims. The FCO and Downing Street has a duty to stand, condemn, and call for immediate cessation of Israel's military operations, and end the siege".

Ed Husain, co-founder of Quillam, has an equally ridiculous editorial in the Guardian.

The International Quranic Center isn't a whole lot better:

The world sympathized with Israel for the rockets they endured in their backyards, but when they get on the revenge bandwagon and indiscriminately kill, they lose sympathy. The oppressed ones all around the world including the majority of Israelis and Jews feel the pain of this violence, it flies in the face of our continued efforts to stop massacres, it is time for all of us to speak up. This is not the act of peace making; this is the act of destroying a people.

Yes yes, how dare the Israelis respond.

Meanwhile, Muslims Against Sharia are supportive of Israel

The Free Muslims Coalition doesn't really take a position, which at this point I'll take as a positive. They recommend a two-state solution, which I could support maybe possibly support for Fatah, but not at this point I don't think they're much better than Hamas.

American Islamic Forum for Democracy and Irshad Manji are silent. I'm sure the AIFD supports Israel, though.

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December 11, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 08 December 2008 - "A New Hope in the Eyes of the Iraqi People"

This briefing is by Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling. Hertling is commander of the the 1st Armored Division, also known as Task Force Iron.. Until this past Tuesday, December 9, Gen. Hertling commanded, and the 1st Armored headquartered, Multi-National Division-North. This ended a 15 month deployment in Iraq.

MND-North is now headquartered by the 25th Infantry Division from Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. It is now known as Task Force Lightning. MND-North and the 25th ID are commanded by Maj. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr.

Before his rotation back to their home base in Germany, Maj. Gen. Hertling reported to Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq. Austin reports to General Odierno, commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq, who on September 16 replaced his one-time boss Gen. David Petraeus in this position. Odierno reports to Gen. Petraeus, now commander of CENTCOM. Petreaus reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Maj. Gen. Hertling spoke from Iraq via satellite Monday to reporters at the Pentagon. Here's the video:

This 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.

As journalist Al Pessin notes in his first question, Maj Gen. Hertling and the troops of his 1st Armored Division arrived at a critical time. Violence was escalating out of control and the Iraqi government was at best chaotic. With the help of various volunteers from the State Department, the troopers of 1st Armored applied the counterinsurgency doctrine spelled out in Petraeus' Field Manual 3-24 and were able to achieve stunning successes in northern Iraq.

Readers should note that no, I don't just believe whatever military commanders say. I gather my information from a variety of sources that I have found to be trustworthy. Further, these briefings are two-way affairs; the journalists get to ask whatever tough and hard-hitting questions they want. I listen to their questions, and try and determine which part of the briefers stories they believe and which parts they challenge.

With this in mind, let's turn to Hertling's opening statement. Following is an exerpt:

GEN. HERTLING: ... When we arrived, there were nearly 1,800 attacks per month. Last week we had our lowest number of attacks in the north, with 108. When we arrived, there were four Iraqi army divisions in the north struggling to conduct operations above the company level, and there were about 55,000 Iraqi police. Nearly 75 percent of those were untrained. Today there are five Iraqi army divisions. They are conducting offensive operations at the brigade level, usually partnering with us. And they are beginning to build confident enablers, like engineers, explosive ordnance teams, intelligence and aviation. And there are 76,000 Iraqi policemen, and 70 percent of them are trained. And there's about a hundred women as well.

When we arrived, there were distrust of the central government, and the unemployment rate was staggering. For every two steps forward, we assessed, they were making one step back. Now there is improved coordination and communication between the government of Iraq and the provinces. And they are slowly executing provincial budgets, they are rebuilding infrastructure with their own dinars, and they are taking three to four steps forward for every one step back.

These actions were brought about not only by the desire of the Iraqi people but, frankly, by the performance of the U.S. military and a very small band of committed and selfless volunteers from the Department of State. The soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Provincial Reconstruction Teams that I have had the honor of serving with have been phenomenal. And I have been amazed as I -- as I've watched them make miracle happen.

We have had 104 of our comrades pay the ultimate price while we've been here, and 891 of our own have been wounded, some very seriously. Many more of our Iraqi brothers have experienced the same at the hands of an evil and committed enemy. At every memorial we rededicate ourselves to our motto, "Make these sacrifices matter." We try to do that, but our prayers are with the family members of our fallen as we complete this tour.

There are still enemies that need to be destroyed. The Iraqi government is still very fragile. And there is a need to polish the representative process and methods of infrastructure repair.

But despite the statistics and the assessments, the most dramatic change is one that only we get to see over here, and that's now a new hope in the eyes of the Iraqi people.

Hertling gives several reasons here for success

  1. An improved Iraqi government. Trust, coordination, and execution of budgets have improved
  2. The performance of the US military
  3. The performance of the PRTs (Provisional Reconstruction Teams, the "volunteers from the Department of State")

The result has been a change in the attitude of the Iraqi people.

We have discussed the role of the PRTs previously on this blog. In a previous briefing a PRT leader described their function:

The chief role of the PRT is to teach, mentor and partner with provincial and local governments, civil society organizations and other provincial actors, increase their abilities, efficiencies, technical expertise and transparency.

A January 2007 story in the Washington Post tells us that the idea behind the PRTs was to move from massive construction projects to microfinancing of Iraqi entrepreneurs.

On to the Q & A.

Q Hi, General. It's Al Pessin from Voice of America. You've been there during a very key period when things went from spiraling downward to a much better situation. What would you say was the key, or the few keys, the most important factors in the turnaround in your area?

GEN. HERTLING: Well, I think a couple things, Al. I think, first of all, as I said in the opening comments, it's been the military that's been here as well as the work of the members of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams.

That's certainly been a factor.

I think in some parts of the north -- and you know how big the northern area is; it's about the size of the combined states of Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland and Vermont -- I think the -- in some of those areas, the rising up of the Sahwa, the awakening movements, in areas where they could rise up, was extremely helpful.

I think the Iraqi people themselves have really, as I've mentioned several times in these formats -- they're just sick of violence and they want to push the violence away from their society and get started again after 30 to 40 years of trauma at the hands of dictators.

But I think probably one of the more important facets of the improvements has also got to be placed right in the hands of the Iraqi security forces; the improvement in the army and the Iraqi police that have stood up over the last couple of years. That's always been the strategy, to get them to stand up to take responsibility for their own work, but today that's a reality. They're getting better and better every day.

And I think a combination of those factors -- the people wanting it, the U.S. military and our State Department friends assisting, and the standup of the Iraqi security forces have been the three keys to all of this.

I'm not sure if Pessin missed what Hertling said in his opening comments or was expecting more, but Hertling pretty much said the same thing, that the reasons for success in northern Iraq were:

  1. The people wanting to end the insurgency
  2. The assistance of the State Department Provisional Reconstruction Teams
  3. The re-emergence of the Iraqi security forces as a potent force

Note that I said "keys for success in northern Iraq." There are or were several wars in Iraq, and because the problem was different in each one we used different techniques in each one.

While our military gets most of the attention, much credit must go to the PRTs and the Iraqis. In another part of the interview, Hertling says about the leaders of Iraq, civilian and military. At another point in the interview Hertling says a but more about how the Iraqis have stepped up:

GEN. HERTLING:... I'm confident that what we have allowed them to do is take on the security of their country. And what I'm seeing in the Iraqi army is some true patriotic leaders. They are in fact leading the way in terms of bringing this society into a representative government and a representative society. And they are fighting in very nationalistic terms for the future of Iraq. And it's heartwarming to see that.

In Pessin's next question we hear the word we've heard so often in these briefings; fragile. In briefing after briefing we hear the same thing; that we've pretty much got the insurgency beat but that it's too soon to just declare everything fine and solved. There are problems that require our presence, albeit at a much reduced level.

Q If I could just follow up, General: We almost always hear the word "fragile" along with declarations of progress in Iraq. How fragile or not fragile is it in your area?

GEN. HERTLING: Yeah, that's a great question.

What we've seen over this last -- these last 15 months is a coming together of the provincial governments -- the four provincial governments in the north with the government of Iraq. It's fragile because, frankly, they don't have the democratic processes and the bureaucracies that are needed in something like this. I mean, everything they do is starting from scratch.

Rule-of-law procedures -- I mean, you say, "Hey, you arrest criminals on the street; let's put them in jail." Well, the jails are bad. "And let's try them." Well, we don't have enough lawyers or judges. "Let's work the warrant process." Well, that doesn't exist in the rule of law, for example.

The budget execution problem -- I mean, we literally have budget offices in the four provinces that -- whereas we look at our state budgets as being executed with Excel spreadsheets, you walk into a budget office in Nineveh province, as an example, and these guys are there with big ledgers, opening up and literally writing billions of dinars worth of notes and contracts. There isn't the capability right now to hold people accountable for contract execution. Those are just some examples of the kinds of things we're talking about.

And then you throw into that, you've got an enemy that's affecting this, and in the north for the past several years, and it got extremely bad this year, there was a -- even a disaster of the drought, which affect the -- affected the agricultural area of the north.

So it's been interesting to watch everything, potentially, as a negative effect, but the Iraqi people have continued to fight this. They've fought the enemy. They fought the crisis of the drought. They've tried to put bureaucratic processes in place.

There is -- when we got here, and I think this is true throughout Iraq, nothing works right.

The infrastructure system, repair, the economy, all of the things were really in a very bad state. And that's why I would say it's fragile. And that's why you keep hearing many of the military and the civilian leaders say that it is fragile.

Maj. Gen. Hertling speaks to two things we didn't take into account before we invaded. One is cultural. The Iraqis have no tradition of pluralism or democracy.

The other is technical. We tend to forget, I think, just how backwards so many non-Western countries are.

Neither of these mean that we cannot succeed in Iraq. Our efforts to instill democracies in Germany and Japan at the end of WWII were criticized because it was pointed out that neither had a tradition of democracy, Japan less than Germany.

This said, it has been much commented on that we underestimated the cultural and infrastructure challenges in Iraq before we invaded. Once again we see that these criticisms were mostly correct.

Next, we'll look at upcoming elections, something that is crucial to building confidence in the government.

Q General, this is Joe Tabet with Al Hurra. When you say nothing is working right and when you say the situation is fragile, how long do you think the situation needs to be resolved? How long -- what the Iraqi government needs to do to help to fix this situation? And I don't know if you could give us, like, in terms of time, how long do you need to start drawing down in your area?

GEN. HERTLING: Well, again, I'm not going to address the drawing down issue. I'll let my senior commanders address that. But in terms of some of the things that the Iraqi government has to do, they're already doing them.

They are increasing -- as an example, they're increasing the visits of Deputy Prime Minister Rafi al-Issawi to all of the provinces. Within the last month, he has been to three of our four provinces. He's been to Diyala, to Nineveh and last week he was in Salahaddin, where he was making a connection with the government of Iraq to the provincial governments, and seeing what they needed, in terms of infrastructure repair. He's been tasked by the prime minister with synchronizing the various ministries to go after the things that the central government needs to do to support the provinces. That's number one.

I think the big thing that will occur is the provincial elections, which are now scheduled for, as you know, the late January, the January 31st time frame. That, in and of itself, will be huge in order to get elected officials into power that are answering directly to the people.

Right now, all of the governors of Iraq, to include our four governors in the northern provinces, had not been elected. They had been appointed. The governors are increasing the amount of time they're spending with their people.

But I think the provincial elections, what we will see in terms of more of a representative government, the election of a true elected official as the governor and the deputy governor and the provincial counsels, that will be critical in terms of representing all the people within each one of the provinces.

So those are really two examples of things that could happen. I think a third one is, what we have seen over the last three years is a -- fits and starts in terms of execution of provincial budgets. Within the last several months, there has been great gains by the fielding of some technological equipment to the various provinces, which will allow them to increase their capability of executing their budgets to better serve their people.

At the end of the day the people have to believe that their government represents them and has their interests at heart. We've heard this time and again from American military commanders in these briefings. Petraeus (his team, anyway) wrote about it in the U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24.

Next we'll do a human interest story.

Yes I know, anecdotal stories can be used to prove just about anything. And I'm not trying to argue from the specific to the general here, just relating a story that needs to be told. With this in mind I think it good though to step back from the geeky high-level analysis a bit and look at how close the partnership is between us and the Iraqis on a human level:

GEN. HERTLING:...The third one occurred about two weeks ago. That individual has confessed to the crime. But what was interesting about that particular incident is, the same day that made the news, the partnership with the American -- between the American army and the Iraqi army is so incredibly strong, the division commander called me, called -- the Iraqi division commander called me, called the regimental commander, called the battalion commander, offered his apologies. I happened to be up there that day. The Iraqi division commander literally was crying about the fact that someone within his ranks would have committed this act.

But that same day, we lost another soldier who -- and this is the part -- the kinds of things that don't get reported. And I'd just say this: The exact same day that many things were being reported about how there was infiltration within the Iraqi ranks, there was another soldier who slipped off a river bank in the Tigris River south of Mosul; another soldier jumped in to try and grab him, and drowned saving his life. Sergeant First Class Wilson drowned.

But when that body was lost, there were several Iraqis -- who didn't know Sergeant Wilson -- who entered that freezing water with that rapid current and searched for four hours for that body. This is the other side of the partnering, that sometime isn't recorded.

Finally, what can we look forward to in the future?

GEN. HERTLING:...I think when -- when you walk the streets of Mosul -- and I'd invite any of you to come over and -- well, not walk with me, because I'm leaving tomorrow, but walking with General Caslen -- what you will hear is the people not talking about security anymore. What they are now talking about is government and the economy.

And as soon as those two things are taken care of -- and I think they will be with the provincial elections -- we'll see a much stronger Mosul, and it will be the final destruction of al Qaeda in that particular city.

Previous Briefings by Maj. Gen. Hertling
Iraq Briefing - 06 October 2008 - Three Steps Forward, One Step Back
Iraq Briefing - 11 August 2008 - Going after al Qaeda with a Vengance
Iraq Briefing - 09 June 2008 - Job Creation to Defeat the Insurgency
Iraq Briefing - 11 Feb 2008 - AQI Is On the Run
Iraq Briefing - 22 Jan 2008 - Operation Iron Harvest
Iraq Briefings 15/19 November 2007

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December 9, 2008

Trutherism on the Right

For eight years we have had to live with various "truther" insanities from the left. The first, of course, was that Bush was "selected, not elected." These nuts say that AlGore really won the 2000 election and that George W. Bush is therefore an illegitimate and illegal president.

They also say that the evil Republican stole the 2004 elections in Ohio. Google for "stolen election Diebold voting machines" and you'll see what I mean. One leftie truther site that comes up is WhatReallyHappened. Check it out for entertainment.

Of course there are the real 9/11 Truthers, whose website is always good for a laugh.

Lastly there are the Bush Lied! idiots, convinced that GWB and his evil sidekick Cheney cooked up the entire idea of Saddam Hussein having WMD, the better to steal Iraqi oil. Or something like that.

Long before Barack Obama won the White House, I'd made up my mind not to fall for any right-wing equivalent of the above. I told myself I would not let an equivalent to "Bush Derangement Syndrome" take hold me me. You can count on me to be harshly critical of our new president when he deserves it, which I believe will be quite often, and I was very hard on him during the campaign. But I will not subscribe to conspiracy theories, I told myself.

Well lo and behold, it didn't take long for a right-wing conspiracy theory to come up. It's the notion that Barack Obama is not a naturalized U.S. citizen as required by the Constitution for the office of the Presidency, because his birth certificate has not been produced. Or it was produced but is a forgery. Or something like that.

The people pressing the suit are nutjobs, and not a single respectable conservative columnist, thinker, or publication gives it an ounce of credibility.

However, I am tired of trying to convince people on certain email threads that it's all a bunch of nonsense. So if you won't believe me, maybe you'll believe Michelle Malkin and David Horowitz. Both are fire-breathing conservatives.

First up is Michelle Malkin


Truthers to the left of me, truthers to the right
By Michelle Malkin • December 5, 2008 06:53 AM

...Alas, Trutherism thrives on both the left and right. Which brings us to the spate of lawsuits challenging President-elect Barack Obama's U.S. citizenship. On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court considers one of those suits filed by New Jersey citizen Leo Donofrio, who maintains that Obama is not a "natural born citizen" because his father held British citizenship.

There may be a seed of a legitimate constitutional issue to explore here (how is the citizenship requirement enforced for presidential candidates, anyway?) And at least Donofrio concedes that Obama was born in Hawaii. But a dangerously large segment of the birth certificate hunters have lurched into rabid Truther territory. The most prominent crusader against Obama's American citizenship claim, lawyer Philip Berg (who, not coincidentally, is also a prominent 9/11 Truther), disputes that Obama was born in Hawaii and claims that Obama's paternal grandmother told him she saw Obama born in Kenya.

Berg and his supporters further assert that the "Certification of Live Birth" produced by Obama was altered or forged. They claim that the contemporaneous birth announcement in a Hawaii newspaper of Obama's birth is insufficient evidence that he was born there. (Did a fortune-teller place it in the paper knowing he would run for president?). And they accuse anyone who disagrees with them of being part and parcel of the grand plan to install Emperor Obama and usurp the rule of law.

I believe Trig was born to Sarah Palin. I believe Barack Obama was born in Hawaii on U.S. soil. I believe fire can melt steel and that bin Laden's jihadi crew - not Bush and Cheney - perpetrated mass murder on 9/11. What kind of kooky conspiracist does that make me?

You're not a kook at all in my book, Michelle. You're one of not the most courageous conservative bloggers there are.

As with Malkin, David Horowitz has earned the hatred of most liberals and leftists. He is relentless in his pursuit of the truth and an ardent defender of conservatism. In an article published in the respectable conservative journal of opinion National Review, he is even more blunt that Malkin on the matter:

Obama Derangement Syndrome

Shut up about the birth certificate.

By David Horowitz

The continuing efforts of a fringe group of conservatives to deny Obama his victory and to lay the basis for the claim that he is not a legitimate president are embarrassing and destructive. The fact that these efforts are being led by Alan Keyes, a demagogue who lost a Senate election to the then-unknown Obama by 42 points, should be a warning in itself.

This tempest over whether Obama, the child of an American citizen, was born on American soil is tantamount to the Democrats' seditious claim that Bush "stole" the election in Florida and hence was not the legitimate president. This delusion helped to create the Democrats' Bush derangement syndrome and encouraged Democratic leaders to lie about the origins of the Iraq war, and regard it as illegitimate as Bush himself. It became "Bush's War" rather than an American War -- with destructive consequences for our troops and our cause.

The birth-certificate zealots are essentially arguing that 64 million voters should be disenfranchised because of a contested technicality as to whether Obama was born on U.S. soil. (McCain narrowly escaped the problem by being born in the Panama Canal zone, which is no longer American.)

What difference does it make to the future of this country whether Obama was born on U.S. soil? Advocates of this destructive campaign will argue that the constitutional principle regarding the qualifications for president trumps all others. But how viable will our Constitution be if five Supreme Court justices should decide to void 64 million ballots?

Conservatives are supposed to respect the organic nature of human societies. Ours has been riven by profound disagreements that have been deepening over many years. We are divided not only about political facts and social values, but also about what the Constitution itself means. The crusaders on this issue choose to ignore these problems and are proposing to deny the will of 64 million voters by appealing to five Supreme Court Justices (since no one is delusional enough to think that the four liberal justices are going to take the presidency away from Obama). What kind of conservatism is this?

It is not conservatism; it is sore loserism and quite radical in its intent. Respect for election results is one of the most durable bulwarks of our unity as a nation. Conservatives need to accept the fact that we lost the election, and get over it; and get on with the important business of reviving our country's economy and defending its citizens, and -- by the way -- its Constitution.

This issue is over and done with.

Saturday Dec 13 Update

Just for the record, in case any Truthers come by here and insist on evidence! , the following sites have examined the issue in detail and found that the vast weight of the evidence shows Barack Obama to be a U.S. citizen

Snopes
FactCheck
PolitiFact

And sure to irritate the Truthers

10 Characteristics of Conspiracy Theorists

Read the whole thing, but the best two are these

4. Fondness for certain stock phrases. These include Cicero's "cui bono?" (of which it can be said that Cicero understood the importance of having evidence to back it up) and Conan Doyle's "once we have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however unlikely, must be the truth". What these phrases have in common is that they are attempts to absolve themselves from any responsibility to produce positive, hard evidence themselves: you simply "eliminate the impossible" (i.e. say the official account can't stand scrutiny) which means that the wild allegation of your choice, based on "cui bono?" (which is always the government) is therefore the truth.

5. Inability to employ or understand Occam's Razor. Aided by the principle in 4. above, conspiracy theorists never notice that the small inconsistencies in the accounts which they reject are dwarfed by the enormous, gaping holes in logic, likelihood and evidence in any alternative account.

Yup. You can find small inconsistencies in just about anything. The question is where the weight of the evidence lies.

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December 8, 2008

Lila Rose - Exposing Planned Parenthood and the Culture of Abortion

If you don't watch any other videos today, make sure you watch this one:


Pretty outrageous, no?

The person who made this video is Lila Rose, president of Live Action, a small youth led organization based in California and dedicated to the pro-Life movement. I heard about her today while listening to Laura Ingraham. The video was recorded on June 24th, 2008.

Currently a student at UCLA, 20 year old Lila founded Live Action when she was 15. I'm in awe of someone that young doing so much for a cause so good. Further, this isn't just working at the local homeless shelter, good though that is. No one will, or should, attack you for dolling out Thanksgiving meals to the homeless. But go after the abortion industry, and watch out. It is for this bravery in the service of a good cause, and willingness to be mocked and vilified by those on the other side that I admire her.

Lila and her associates "use new media and educational presentations to share the truth about life and the threats to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness posed against the born and unborn." They tell the story of the abortion culture and abortion industry. Lila is a woman who makes the world better through her work. If you want to see women who make the world worse, go here.

The purpose of her Mona Lisa Project is to expose Planned Parenthood for what it is:

Planned Parenthood's "clinics" contribute to the abuse of young girls.

The Mona Lisa Project videos document Planned Parenthood's willingness to repeatedly violate mandatory reporting laws for statutory rape that protect children.

Our series of hidden camera investigations, collected by a team led by Lila Rose in summer 2008, provide the public the inside story about the abortion industry and its abuses across the nation. Despite a consistent pattern of lawlessness and abuse, Planned Parenthood receives over $300 million from taxpayers. The tax-exempt "nonprofit"netted $100 million in profits last year including revenue in excess of $100 million from performing 250,000 abortions.

We hope that our project will lead to criminal prosecution of Planned Parenthood so that their business practices will be forced to comply with governing laws that protect young girls.

Concerned Women of America says that

Planned Parenthood Federation of America released its 2004-2005 Annual Report on June 1, revealing a record income of $882 million and Planned Parenthood's second-highest profit of $63 million. The organization also set a record number of abortions performed in one year¯255,015¯ and an all-time low in adoption referrals: 180 abortions were performed for every one woman referred to an adoption agency.

The organization is using these alarming numbers to promote their services and gain customers.

"Planned Parenthood will use any means or any claim to lure more customers and money," said Wendy Wright, President of Concerned Women for America (CWA). "It insists that the morning-after pill will reduce abortions. Yet Planned Parenthood posts its highest number of abortions committed at the same time as its aggressive campaign promoting and selling the morning-after pill."

On top of its $63 million profit, Planned Parenthood last year received its largest sum of state and federal taxpayer funding ever: $272.7 million, making Planned Parenthood the recipient of $3.9 billion of taxpayer money since 1987.

It's bad enough that we have legal abortions. But do we the taxpayers have to pay for them?

Please follow the links to Live Action and read their many reports and view their many videos. There is also much on YouTube, but you know how to search that site for yourself.

Next is a condensed version of a three part series about an investigation into Planned Parenthood by WB33 News of Dallas TX. In 2002, they used a company called Life Dynamics to call over 900 Planned Parenthood clinics. The calls were legally recorded.

The investigation found that in 91% of the calls, Planned Parenthood employees were willing to cover up statutory rape.

Obviously, Planned Parenthood didn't learn their lesson. They've continued this behavior again and again. Michelle Malkin, to her everlasting credit, has report after report on their nefarious activities at her website.

The Culture of Sexual Abuse

In this interview with Pro-Life Unity Lila explains what he group does and why they do it

As she says, this is not just about Planned Parenthood, though they are the biggest target because they represent the abortion industry and lobby. From the video above, Lila says that

"Planned Parenthood... is violating, is mocking, federal and state regulation ob abortion, they're manipulating women, and they're giving the one choice, of abortion, to women, which is the taking of human life. So all of that is the reason why we stand against them and that we're fighting to get the truth out there."

Much of her expose' centers around workers at Planned Parenthood helping young girls cover-up statutory rape. Lila explains why this is no small matter:

The young girls of America are not being protected. These young girls are victims of the... heavy dose of sexuality that our culture pours on them. Older men prey on them, they get pregnant, and to cover up the crime of that sexual abuse, the older men drive them to an abortion clinic, drive them to a Planned Parenthood, they get the abortion and no one ever knows about the sexual abuse.

...it's all part of the abortion culture that we need to combat and that we need to educate about, and that's what we strive to do at Live Action.

According to a Live Action press release, someone at YouTube is pulling Live Action's videos, and it's not clear why. I'm sure we'll hear an excuse to the effect that "the videos may have been made illegally," but that seems patent hogwash, since there has been no court injunction.

In the Final Analysis

I suppose one can make the argument that the reason Planned Parenthood does this is because they actually have the best interests of the girl at heart. By covering up the rape, the girl doesn't get risk get beaten by her parents (which in the world of the defenders of abortion happens all the time, don't you know). If they knew, the parents might not allow an abortion, and having a child at this age would presumably hurt the child (apparently adoption is not to be considered?). This way, the girl is relieved of a tragedy and goes on with her life unscarred. Or something like that.

Here's the bottom line: Even if you are pro-abortion, er, pro-choice, you should be appalled at this. I'm about as pro-Second Amendment as they get, and I would be furious if a gun store was caught selling guns illegally to anyone. One, I would be angry that they would knowingly sell guns to felons, minors, whomever. Second, as a gun owner and NRA member I would be embarrassed for my movement. I would clearly see how the other side would use this against us and would strive to make sure that all gun stores obeyed the law from here on out.

But where is the investigation of Planned Parenthood? It's clear that these are not isolated incidents but part of a trend. And this organization gets $300 million dollars of taxpayer money each year. I'm sure that if an equivalent thing had happened at gun stores we'd have already had Federal legislation. Senators Chuck Schumer and Barbara Boxer would be salivating over the opportunity to press their agenda. Getting hearings about Planned Parenthood in congress now, however, will be impossible. It's the penalty, I suppose, for losing elections.

For her actions Lila Rose is a hero.

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

December 7, 2008

Muslim Nations and the UN: The Goal is Censorship

Last week in The Washington Times we learn that Muslim nations are unhappy with the UN. Something we can agree on, perhaps? Unfortunately, no

Muslim-majority nations are yearning for a stronger United Nations, freed from what they regard as a prevailing influence of the United States, a new survey reveals.

The poll conducted in Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, Iran, Indonesia, Palestinian territories, Azerbaijan and Nigeria by WorldPublicOpinion.org, a global network of research centers, found that people in those countries favor a more dynamic United Nations while simultaneously viewing the international organization as dominated by the U.S. and failing to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"There is a surface negativity about the U.N. in Muslim countries, but if you scratch underneath, there is actually a tremendous enthusiasm for the role that could play a robust U.N. able to stand up to the United States," Steven Kull, director of WorldPublicOpinion.org, told The Washington Times.

Nearly every option for giving greater powers to the U.N. received strong support.

A vast majority of Muslims favored the U.N. Security Council having its own standing peacekeeping force (64 percent) and being entitled to authorize military force to stop a country from supporting terrorist groups (76 percent) or to prevent genocide (77 percent).

If I didn't know these areas/countries so well, I'd be encouraged by that last paragraph. Stopping countries from supporting terrorist groups sounds good to me. Then we remember that among those countries surveyed are Iran and the Palestinian territories. I rather doubt they're asking for a force to invade themselves.

No, I think there's another reason for the strong UN support.

The Wall Street Journal has the story everyone who cares about freedom of speech should read:

"Durban II," planned for April in Geneva, promises to be an encore of the same old Israel-bashing. The draft declaration says Israel's policy toward the Palestinians amounts to no less than "a new kind of apartheid, a crime against humanity, a form of genocide and a serious threat to international peace and security." We'll spare you the rest of the diatribe.

Israel will be the conference's main object of obsession, but it's not the only target. The draft declaration also goes after the West's freedom of speech and antiterror laws under the guise of protecting religion -- read: Islam -- from "defamation."

The entire West will be in the dock for allegedly persecuting Muslims. "The most serious manifestations of defamation of religions are the increase in Islamophobia and the worsening of the situation of Muslim minorities around the world," the draft reads.

"Islamophobia" is a vague term used to brand any criticism of Islam as a hate crime. The real Islamophobes, though, Islamic terrorists who have killed hundreds of thousands of their co-religionists, get a free pass.

Instead, the draft calls for a media code of conduct and "internationally binding normative standards...that can provide adequate guarantees against defamation of religions." If this sounds like censorship, that's because it is.

The conference is being organized by the U.N. Human Rights Council, which, like its discredited predecessor, the Human Rights Commission, has been taken over by several of the world's main abusers of human rights. The Organization of Islamic Countries, the most powerful voting bloc at the U.N., managed to put Libya in charge of preparing Durban II. Tripoli is being assisted by such other pillars of the international community as Iran and Cuba. Last week a key U.N. General Assembly committee passed a draft resolution, sponsored by Islamic states, that calls for national laws against the "defamation of religions."

If the Durban II drafters have their way, any challenge of Islamic teachings, including teachings used to justify violence, would be taboo. Reprinting the Danish Muhammad cartoons, exploited by Muslim agitators in 2006 to incite riots around the world, would be a criminal offense. Even gross human-rights violations in Islamic countries -- such as the stoning of adulterers in Iran -- could be immune from criticism as these practices are rooted in religion.

This cannot stand. Nothing can be exempt from challenge or criticism.

I don't like it when my religion, Christianity, is mocked. I don't like it when militant atheists such as Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins spout their nonsense about religion being not only wrong but dangerous in and of itself. I don't like it when people draw nasty cartoons about Jesus, or caricature, deride, insult, laugh at, make fun of, parody, show contempt for, or sneer at Christianity of Judaism. I myself criticize conservatives who go overboard in their attacks on Muslims and Islam.

But not for anything in the world would I take away any one's right to do any of the above.

Back To The Survey

While I do think that such nefarious reasons are part of, even much or most of the motive behind support for the UN, there are other reasons too.

Part of it is anger at Israel. It's mostly unjustified, to be sure, but it is a real motive.

A lot of it is also a feeling of impotence. With the exceptions of Iraq and Turkey, Muslims are ruled by autocrats, live in societies notorious for their corruption, and whose econonomies make our current difficulties look like paradise. Of course their frustrated. At school they learned about the glories of the Umayyad, Abbasid, Fatimid, and Ottoman empires, and realize that those days are long gone with little chance of regaining them.

As a result of this, the colonial period, and more, they believe that Islam is "not respected." Because they also have no tradition of tolerance as we understand it, their reaction is to want laws to prevent criticism of Islam.

Their reaction is understandable, perhaps, but it must be stopped nonetheless. The WSJ article notes that "the decision about whether to send a delegation to Durban II will be an early test of Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton and the new Obama Administration." Indeed it will be. Let's hope they boycott it.

Posted by Tom at 9:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 4, 2008

The Cluster Bomb Treaty

This is maddening

OSLO, Norway (AP) -- Ninety-three countries signed a treaty banning cluster bombs Thursday, as diplomats accepted the wishes of victims who begged them to bar the weapons that kill and maim civilians long after the conflicts end.

Some of the world's top military powers -- including the U.S., Russia and China -- refused to attend, arguing cluster bombs have legitimate military uses, such as repelling advancing troop columns.

"We're of course disappointed by the states that did not show up here in Oslo," said Steve Goose, the arms director of Human Rights Watch. "They're on the wrong side of history. Some of them are clinging to what is now a widely discredited weapon."

Under the accord, negotiated in May, signatories agreed not to use cluster bombs, to destroy existing stockpiles within eight years, and to fund programs that clear old battlefields of dud bombs.

Grrrrr

They may has well just call it the "Screw the United States Treaty" for what it amounts to.

What I want to know is after they're done here if these brave souls will push for a ban on suicide bombers. Call me crazy, but I'm not going to hold my breath for that one.

These people suffer from a case of serious moral confusion.

It's all so typical. Here we have the mad mullahs of Iran working feverishly to obtain nuclear weapons, and when they get enough of them they'll probably nuke Israe. We have terrorists the world over building heaven knows how many suicide vests and car bombs to kill thousands of innocents. Fidel Castro wannabe Hugo Chavez seeks dictatorial powers, is arming himself to the teeth with Soviet weapons, is tied to the FARC terrorists in Columbia, and is cozying up to Iran. Hugo Chavez wannabe Evo Morales would make himself a dictator if he could. Pakistan is turning out terrorists by the thousands from it's madrassas, and the Saudis sending forth cadres with zillions of dollars to take over and radicalize Mosques the world over, China wants to take over Taiwan and seeks hegemony in the south-west Pacific. The Russians seem not to know the Cold War is over as they continue to modernize their ICBMs and develop modern warheads. They're doing business with Iran and want their empire back. Did I miss anything?

Yes I did; the United Nations has no agreed upon definition of "terrorism."

It's true. You'd think terrorism would be pretty easy to define. We all know it when we see it. So why can't we get a definition that will satisfy everyone? Eye on the UN has the story:

The definitional impasse has prevented the adoption of a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism. Even in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 the UN failed to adopt the Convention, and the deadlock continues to this day.

The prime reason is the standoff with the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). It seeks to insert into the Convention: "The activities of the parties during an armed conflict, including in situations of foreign occupation....are not governed by this Convention." Or, as the Pakistani delegate describes the standoff on behalf of the OIC, there is a need "to make a distinction between terrorism and the exercise of legitimate right of peoples to resist foreign occupation." In October 2007 the Coordinator of the informal negotiating meetings which had been organized "to move the process forward" circulated a document in which she named the outstanding issues. The OIC demand was on the top of the list, namely, "the importance not to affect the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination."

The Arab Terrorism Convention and the Terrorism Convention of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) define terrorism to exclude armed struggle for liberation and self-determination. This claim purports to exclude blowing up certain civilians from the reach of international law and organizations. It is central to interpreting every proclamation by the states which have ratified these conventions in any UN forum purporting to combat terrorism.

in other words, they want to be able to claim that Palestinian is not terrorism. In fact, I think they want to be able to claim that any Muslim terrorism that suits their purposes is not terrorism. And no doubt they want a definition that allows them to brand Israel, and, when it suits them the United States, as terrorist countries.

But no, to this bunch it's much more important to go after a weapon that is important to the United States.

The group behind it all is one called the Cluster Munition Coalition. From their website, here are the ones who have signed

Albania, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brunei Darussalam, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Chad, Chile, Comoros, Republic of Congo, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, Croatia, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Holy See, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Lao PDR, Lebanon, Lesotho, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia (FYR), Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Malta, Mauritania, Mexico, Moldova, Montenegro, Morocco, Mozambique, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Qatar, Samoa, San Marino, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sudan, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Timor-Leste, Togo, Uganda, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Venezuela and Zambia.

Here's the bottom line; when all hell breaks lose somewhere no one is going to rely on any of the nations listed above. Please don't bring up the UK or France; they couldn't even take care of Bosnia/Kosovo by themselves. Their military's are a hollow shell of what they were during the Cold War, and they were pretty small them.

No I am not saying that just because we're the United States we can do whatever we like. What I am saying is that treaties to ban specific weapons usually miss the point, and this one strikes far from the mark.

First, it's usually not the weapon but who's using it and how. Just as there are responsible and irresponsible use of firearms in the home, there are responsible and irresponsible use of cluster munitions. The US military only uses them to stop an advancing army. Israel, who also refused to sign, uses them because to lose a war means 6 million dead Jews. Further, we have worked hard to reduce the dud rate, which seems to be the biggest concern for those pushing this ban.

Therefore, if they wanted to set rules as to how cluster munitions could be used, or set an upper limit on their dud rate (and every weapon has a dud rate) that would be one thing, and that's an approach I agree with. We have rules with regard to civilian use of firearms; when you can use them in self-defense, and we ban certain types of guns like automatic weapons. We can do likewise with cluster bombs.

Second, of all the world's problems and things that ought to be banned cluster bombs falls pretty far down in my book. It's typical of the mindset that promotes this treaty to go after the United States and Israel (which is what they are doing), because they know we're law abiding nations. They won't go after nations that send forth terrorists because they know those nations will tell them to get lost. Oh, and direct some of the terrorists their way.

Look at the nations who refused to sign; the United States, Russia, China, Israel, India, Pakistan, and Finland.

These are all nations that have to take war seriously. Most the nations that signed don't, and the rest I think just wanted to stick their thumbs in the eyes of the great powers. That Finland refused to sign may strike one as odd, but as their defense chief told the Washington Times, "we would have risked having a significantly weaker and more expensive defense." He explained that without cluster munitions defending their border with Russia would exceed $1.2 billion, more than they could afford. Those who are unsure of why the Fins are so sensitive about this need only read about the "Winter War," when Stalin invaded their country in 1939.

I'm still waiting on the treaty to ban suicide attacks. I'll settle, though, for a meaningful UN definition of terrorism.

Posted by Tom at 9:00 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

December 2, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 01 December 2008 - From a Brigade to a Battalion

This briefing is by Col Tom James, commander of the 4th Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, and and Mr. Howard Van Vranken, the Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team leader with the brigade. On Monday they spoke from Camp Victory via satellite to reporters at the Pentagon.

The 4th Brigade took over their area of responsibility from 4-25 Infantry on December 1, 2007. Their AOR "encompasses North Babil province and stretches from the Euphrates River Valley in the West to the Tigris River Valley in the East." it is "just over 40,000 square kilometers, an area roughly the size of Switzerland, and contains approximately 625,000 Iraqis."

The 4th Brigade is part of Multi-National Division - Center, also known as Task Force Mountain. MNF-C is headquartered by the 10th Mountain Division (Light) from Fort Drum, New York.

Col. James reports to Maj. Gen. Michael Oates, commanding general of the 10th Mountain Divison and MND-C. Oates, in turn, reports to Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq. Austin reports to General Odierno, commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq, who on September 16 replaced his one-time boss Gen. David Petraeus in this position. Odierno reports to Gen. Petraeus, commander of CENTCOM, who in turn reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

This 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 website.

Although there was much of interest in this briefing, what we'll concentrate on are

  • The reasons for our success in Babil province
  • The role of the PRTs
  • The drawdown in U.S. forces from brigade to battalion size
  • The status of the Sons of Iraq program

From their opening statements

COL JAMES: ...There are five key points I'd like to make about the current situation in our area of responsibility.

First, the population feels secure, and the quality of life is improving.

Attacks are down from eight a day last year to less than two per week. When we arrived, the population could not move in 30 percent of our area of responsibility. They now enjoy freedom of movement throughout both provinces. The population believes in the Iraqi army and police, and no longer allows sanctuary to extremists.

The capabilities of the Iraqi security forces have improved dramatically over the last year, enhancing security and enabling positive and real growth in local economies and governments.

The second point: The Iraqi security forces are capable and competent. The Iraqi army and police have made great strides in terms of manning, equipping, basing and training. The Iraqi army is capable of conducting precise offensive operations, based on intelligence that they have personally generated. The army and the police work extremely well together, and the population believes in both organizations.

We continue to assist with training and provide reconnaissance and -- correction -- aviation assets as required.

The third point: Governance and economics continue to flourish in both provinces. The security situation allows the governors, provincial council leaders and directors general to routinely travel to north Babil and throughout Karbala, feats that were inconceivable only a year ago.

This -- (audio break) -- provincial leadership resulted in initiation of more than 100 government-sponsored projects in north Babil alone. Another 50 projects were facilitated by coalition forces but funded by ICERP, Iraqi money, applied at the local level.

The Provincial Reconstruction Teams mentor the provincial leadership, encouraging development and investment in areas outside the provincial seats of government. We continue to enable reconstruction team operations in both provinces.

The fourth point: We're focused on several key tasks for the future.

Number one, the successful execution of free and fair elections in January.

Number two, the transfer of the Sons of Iraq program to the Iraqi army and government Iraq for management, payment and eventual transition to other forms of productive employment.

Number three, continue to work professionalization of the Iraqi security forces.

And number four, further basing adjustments -- (audio break) -- forces in accordance with the pending SOFA agreement.

Finally, our soldiers and families are the greatest in the world. None of these -- correction -- none of these successes would be possible without the dedication and sacrifice of our soldiers and their wonderful families.

Their ability to rapidly adapt to the complex and dangerous situations never ceases to amaze me. I am honored to command such a dedicated group of warriors.
...

MR. VAN VRANKEN: Good morning. I'm Howard Van Vranken. For the last 11 months I've been the team leader of the embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team attached to Colonel James' 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd ID, working in -- primarily in north Babil....

The population's looking forward to the Iraqi High Electoral Commission's education campaign. That's going to kick off later this month, with the support of the EPRT and the PRT. In general, we're beginning to see vigorous campaigns by candidates. It's -- a significant importance in this election is the full participation of the Sunni population, who boycotted, in large part, the 2005 provincial elections. They recognize that the boycott was a mistake, a serious blunder on their part, and they're committed to maximizing their participation in -- (audio break). That's a big change and a big improvement, quite frankly.

There's still a lot of work to do. The progress that we've seen is not irreversible. But budget execution, the provision of essential services and improving the rule of law stand out as areas that still need to be improved.

I've said and explained why a million times here on Redhunter but it bears repeating again; security for the populace must come first, and only then can political and economic progress take place. This is why Col. James' first point above is so important.

Don't take it from me, listen to Col. James himself explain the details himself in his Feb 22 2008 briefing, which I covered here on Redhunter.

Pay close attention also to his second point, that "the Iraqi security forces are capable and competent." You don't need to be a military strategist to know that we can't be there forever and that the Iraqis must take over. The point here is that Col. James has been talking about the progress of the Iraqis for some time now, see for example his July 22 briefing which he co-hosted with Brigadier General Abdul Amir, commanding general of the 31st Iraqi Army Brigade.

Also of note is status of the Sons of Iraq. Originally called Concerned Local Citizens, the SOI program is a sort of "super neighborhood watch" of Iraqi citizens who patrol their neighborhoods and report suspicious activity to the authorities. Many of the SOI were armed, but with their own private weapons, as we did not provide them any. Because no one knows a neighborhood like the people who live there, the intelligence they provided was invaluable. More importantly, it got Iraqis "off the fence" and into our camp, taking responsibility for their own security. It also provided jobs and a paycheck; initially courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer.

Ultimately, the program was temporary in nature. Now that we've largely wrapped up the insurgency, the program is being disbanded. The idea is to move the SOI participants into civilian jobs or the Iraqi security forces. The problem with the former is lack of jobs, with the latter suspicion by the Maliki government. Most or many of the SOI are Sunnis, and Maliki is a Shiite. This has caused many to worry that Maliki just wants to disband the SOI without making sure as many as possible get jobs; a recipe for disaster. The U.S. command understands this full well, with Lt. Gen. Austin sending Maliki a not-so-veiled warning on the matter last September. More on the SOI later in this briefing.

Lastly, we heard Mr. Van Vranken, leader of the Provisional Reconstruction Team attached to the 4th Brigade. The PRT's don't get the attention they deserve, and many people seem not to know they even exist. The fact though, is that they're vitally important. Providing basic services pulls the rug out from under the insurgency and denies them important propaganda points. The program has also been very successful, more so in Iraq than Afghanistan.

It also shows that people who say things like "all the Bush Administration has done is use military force, so it's time to try something different," simply do not know what they are talking about.

A Washington Post story from January 2007, when the surge and PRT program in Iraq was just getting started, is useful in explaining what it is all about.

(Provisional Reconstruction Teams provide) the U.S. military with funds for local, quick-fix reconstruction projects; and a separate quick-response fund.

All of those preexisting efforts will be expanded, along with a Pentagon-led jobs program to revitalize dormant state-owned industries and new "microfinancing" for Iraqi entrepreneurs. Having largely abandoned the huge, unsuccessful construction projects that marked its early years in Iraq, the United States will now emphasize putting Iraqis back to work to dissuade them from joining Shiite militias and the Sunni insurgency.

"It's not a bad choice under the circumstances," said one veteran of the administration's initial reconstruction effort. "Everybody who had half a brain cell knew this is what we should have done four years ago" instead of paying private U.S. contractors to rebuild and modernize infrastructure and trying to turn Iraq's highly centralized, government-owned economy into free-market capitalism overnight.

In summary, not only did our military strategy change, our reconstruction one did too. We moved from large-scale projects to financing small Iraqi entrepreneurs. Big surprise; capitalism works.

On to the Q & A with the assembled reporters:

Q This is David Morgan from Reuters. Colonel James, given the improvements that have taken place, as you say, and the optimism about the SOFA, the lack of tension over the approaching elections, how do you see the role of the U.S. military changing over the next several months? And from a practical point of view, really, how much longer would it be necessary to have a U.S. military presence in your area?

COL. JAMES: Yeah, absolutely. The progress has been enormous over the past year. The successes we have had in reducing the attacks, as I mentioned in my statement, it's -- the Iraqi security forces have improved to a point now where they can handle the security situation with minimal support from coalition forces.

We envision -- and Babil Province alone, I'll take that as an example -- that we can reduce our footprint from a brigade combat team of roughly 3,800 soldiers down to about a battalion's worth of about 1,000 soldiers to be able to handle the security situation, and that is changing because on 22 November -- correction, October -- when we did a provincial Iraqi control of the province, they took the lead. And so now we're in a support role as opposed to leading the security fight.

So we're now much less of a footprint providing resources as required and training as required, but the Iraqi security forces have been in the lead for the majority of the time we've been here and will continue in the future.

So I see us being able to reduce our footprint in Babil Province while the Iraqi security forces take this over. And we're seeing that now and we're prepared to do so.

Now, we're going to rip out -- we're going to transition with another brigade that's coming here over the next month, and when they take over, they will fall in on us about with a like-size organization, but that's just to draw equipment and pieces -- to set them up for success to be redistributed in other places with a multinational division center -- expanding as it covers more provinces. But for the most part, we can reduce almost two-thirds as far as the coalition footprint goes, but still providing the support to the Iraqi security forces, really continuing to build up their confidence that they continue to build on daily.

Q Hey, this is Courtney from NBC again. What's the timeline that you expect you can reduce from a brigade down to a battalion? What's the estimated date you think you might be able to be down to a battalion in Babil?

COL. JAMES: You know, I don't have specific timelines. I could just tell you that the conditions exist on the ground right now operationally with the Iraqi security force capability and the government's ability to control those security forces in Babil Province, that we could reduce down to about a battalion's worth now, I mean, the operational set is available now to do that. And we will see that eventually happen, but it will be in the near-term; I don't have specific timelines associated with that because it has to do with some repositioning of forces throughout the theater.

Got that? We're going from a brigade of 3,800 soldiers in Babil Province to a battalion of 1,000.

Next, Courtney Kube asked for details about about the Sons of Iraq program

Q Can I also ask about the Sons of Iraq program in your area? Can you give us sort of an update on that, how many you have, if any have been transferred over to Iraqi security forces?

COL. JAMES: Absolutely. The Sons of Iraq program has been a great program for securing the population and thickening the security lines where we don't have Iraqi army and Iraqi police. Right now, we have 5,115 Sons of Iraq in Babil Province and that's what we manage as a brigade combat team. I am optimistic about this program in the future. It's going to really require the government of Iraq and the Iraqi security forces to take it over from us and be able to transition it.

You know, I look at it in two ways, transition -- correction, transfer -- which is transferring the Sons of Iraq program over to the Iraqi army and the government of Iraq managed by the Iraqi army and that is going really well. We started that months ago. The Iraqi army is paying our Sons of Iraq forces -- (audio break) -- and they've been doing that for a period of time now. So that system is in place, but we're still paying them with coalition money. Around the turn of the year, January, February time frame, the GOI is going to take over that payment and the system will already be in place and plugged in and be able to work the transfer. So I'm very positive about the transfer of Sons of Iraq to Iraqi army control and the GOI.

Then the next step is transition to other forms of employment, be it the Iraqi security forces or any other employment like farming or industrial-type jobs, those kinds of things. Right now, we're looking at 20 (percent) to 30 percent transitioning of the Iraqi army and police and then further transitioning to other jobs potentially related to security -- FPS or facility protection services, those kinds of things. But it's going to really require the government of Iraq to get involved, working through the reconciliation cell and processing the Sons of Iraq into these other forms of employment, productive off-ramps.

At this point in time, its been slow-go with us trying to get Sons of Iraq into the Iraqi forces. We've prepped all of the packets and we've handed them over to the reconciliation cell and that's working right now, it's just -- it's slow, but I believe when the GOI takes this over, it will gain momentum.

MR. VAN VRANKEN: I'll just highlight. I think it's been an essential program over the course of the past year and I've got full faith that the Iraqi government is going to do as they've pledged to do and that is to maintain it and to work to find suitable employment for those current Sons of Iraq. So I think it was a good program and it's headed in the right direction the way it is now.

"...slow-go with us trying to get Sons of Iraq into the Iraqi forces...." The words of Clausewitz come to mind: "

Everything is very simple in war, but the simplest thing is difficult. These difficulties accumulate and produce a friction which no man can imagine exactly who has not seen war.

Yes I know, if we had done this or that differently Iraq would be a lot easier. But it's all very easy in hindsight, isn't it? In the midst of a problem, you're getting a hundred different opinions, and only in retrospect is it "obvious" which one was correct. I'm just glad we have finally got the place right. Now lets just hope our new president listens to his Secretary of Defense and military commanders like Col. Tom James on just how fast we should draw down. The situation is still fragile in Iraq, and if we don't do it right we lose all that we've gained.

Previous Briefings by Col. James

Iraq Briefing - 24 July 2008 - Confident and Capable Iraqi Leadership
Iraq Briefing - 22 February 2008 - "We are Living with the Population"

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

December 1, 2008

Book Review - Why I Left Jihad

I'm not sure where I first heard of Walid Shoebat, but it was probably on a radio talk show or on an Internet blog site. Finding his story intriguing, I picked up his book.

There are any number of Muslims who have seen the light and either left the faith or at least turned from radicalism. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is among the most famous, but there are others, such as Irshad Manji.

Shoebat tells his story in Why I Left Jihad: The Root of Terrorism and the Return of Radical Islam. It's an amazing story. Unfortunately, I'm not sure all of it is exactly true. More to it, his book is more than a bit odd and in the end I really cannot recommend it.

What he says in his book is basically this: He was born in Bethlehem and raised on what is termed elsewhere the West Bank (they call it Judea over there). I have not been able to find his exact birthdate, but he looks to be in his mid 40s. He was raised and educated to hate not just Israelis but all Jews. He was eventually recruited into the PLO by bomb-maker Mahmud Al-Mughrabi.

Al-Mughrabi made a bomb and instructed Shoebat to blow up the Bank Leumi branch in Bethlehem. With the assistance of confederates, Shoebat managed to get through security and to the bank. He was ready to throw the bomb into the bank, when he saw Palestinian children playing in front. Not wanting to kill them, he threw the bomb onto the bank's roof where it exploded but did no damage and didn't kill anyone.

He was eventually arrested for other acts and imprisoned for a short time in an Israeli prison. Released, he returned to the PLO.

Eventually he came to the United States, working as a counselor for the Arab Student Organization at Loop College in Chicago. He married a Christian woman, and set about trying to convert her to Islam. To do so he decided he had to learn the Bible so as to prove to her that it was false. After about six months, he changed his mind and not only decided that the Bible was true and the Quran false, he converted to Christianity himself. His studies in the Bible and elsewhere convinced him that "everything he had learned about the Jews was a lie."

To say that he has since done a 180 and become an ardent defender of Israel is something of an understatement. Fanatical defender of Israel is more like it.

Back To The Beginning

I mentioned earlier that I wasn't exactly sure if his story is completely as he says. Normally I try and write these reviews without looking at what others have to say about the book, because I want to make sure these reviews reflect my own judgment and opinion without subconsciously importing those of others. Once or twice, though, I've become suspicious and did some poking around before I'd even finished the book. This was one of those times.

There's a very interesting March 2008 story in the Jerusalem Post about Shoebat that made me start to wonder. The JP is not to be taken lightly. It's a well respected newspaper. Here are few key excerpts

Shoebat's claim to have bombed Bank Leumi in Bethlehem is rejected by members of his family who still live in the area, and Bank Leumi says it has no record of such an attack ever taking place.

His relatives, members of the Shoebat family, are mystified by the notion of "Walid Shoebat" being an assumed name. And the Walid Shoebat Foundation's working process is less than transparent, with Shoebat's claim that it is registered as a charity in the state of Pennsylvania being denied by the Pennsylvania State Attorney's Office.

Shoebat's claim to have been a terrorist rests on his account of the purported bombing of Bank Leumi. But after checking its files, the bank said it had no record of an attack on its Bethlehem branch anywhere in the relevant 1977-79 period.

Shoebat told The Jerusalem Post that this could be because the bank building was robustly protected with steel and that the attack may have caused little damage....

A New York Times report last month on the Air Force Academy event (at which Shoebat spoke), headlined "Speakers at Academy Said to Make False Claims," noted that "Academic professors and others who have heard the three men speak in the United States and Canada said some of their stories border on the fantastic, like Mr. Saleem's account of how, as a child, he infiltrated Israel to plant bombs via a network of tunnels underneath the Golan Heights. No such incidents have been reported, the academic experts said. They also question how three middle-aged men who claim they were recruited as teenagers or younger could have been steeped in the violent religious ideology that only became prevalent in the late 1980s."

That certainly doesn't sound good.

On the other side, two people I respect have stuck up for Shoebat. One is Frank Gaffney, a contributor to National Review and founder of the conservative Center for Security Policy, had this to say about Shoebat

In the 25 years I have been in Washington I have never heard anything so extraordinary and the truth so eloquently told by someone like this [Walid Shoebat].

In 2006 scholar Daniel Pipes said in response to charges that Shoebat was being less than honest that

Walid Shoebat took the time to visit me in my office today and to show me proofs that his life story is a true one. I accept that it is.

My Take

Is his story true, false, or an exaggeration? It's impossible to say. On the one hand it's certainly plausible. His family (see the JP story) may be the ones who are infected with "selective memory." They are Palestinians and Muslims and their attitude towards those who leave the faith is well known. Further, they can expect retribution if they were sympathetic to Shoebat.

Another curiosity is that on the bookcover it says that "Walid is an American citizen and lives in the USA under this assumed name." Yet the JP story indicates that this may not be true either, that it might be his real name.

I don't think he's outright lying, but it's likely that he's exaggerating certain parts. At any rate even if you accept everything he says his claim to being a terrorist is fairly tenuous, as it most of it rests on the one attack on the Bank Leumi.

Either way it's a take-it-or-leave-it type of book.

The Rest of the Book

I expected most of the book to be like Ayaan Hirsi Ali's Infidel, mostly autobiography, with a minimal discussion of history and theology. However just the opposite is true. Only the first chapter or so is dedicated to his life story, and that is pretty sparse. Shoebat has the maddening habit of skipping around so that a narrative is hard to follow.

Even so, the next several chapters looked promising, and indeed there is much to recommend in them. Shoebat covers the recent history of the region, and goes into some detail on how Palestinian children are educated and raised, the definition of "jihad," and indeed even where the term "Palestinian" comes from. There is much interesting history here and the whole book is very well footnoted, although annoyingly there is no index.

Better, Shobat demolishes many Palestinian/Muslim claims, titling them "Common Claim" "Response" style, as a sort of catechism. His responses are pretty solid.

It didn't take long, though before I started to become uneasy. Rather than limit himself to secular arguments, he continually pits the Bible against Islam with the intent to show that God is on the side of the Jews and this is why they should have the land. This was ok for a bit, but the book went off the rails completely by chapter 6 or 7, the latter of which was titled "God and Magog War." We eventually see chapters like "Mystery Babylon," "The Antichrist, the Beast, and the Mark," and "How to Interpret End-Time Prophecy." The book starts out as regular biography and secular history and ends up pure theology.

Now, just so we're all clear, as a good conservative evangelical Christian, I like to study the word of God as much as any other believer. At my church the pastor goes through the Bible book-by-book, and his Sunday sermons are more Bible studies than traditional sermons. In the four plus years I've been there we've gone from the end of Exodus to Mark, and I figure in another three years we'll be back at where I started, so I'll have done a 360. All of the sermons are posted on the web here, knock yourself out and watch or listen to them. The point is that I like to study prophecy and end-times and all that as much as any other committed Christian.

But I am not one to base my study of the world on theology, and I certainly didn't buy this book to read about Shoebat's theories on the book of Revelation or the significance of ancient Babylon.

This is one of the few books I had to stop reading about a third of the way through and just skip through the rest. In the end, unless you are seriously interested in some of the more esoteric aspects of Christian and Muslim theology I wouldn't bother with this book. I'll have something much better for my next book review.

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