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January 28, 2009

Iraq Briefing - 26 January 2009 - The Upcoming Iraqi Elections

This briefing is by Colonel Todd McCaffrey, commander of the Commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, currently assigned to Multinational Division-Baghdad. On Monday he spoke via satellite from Camp Taji, Iraq, with reporters at the Pentagon, providing an update on ongoing security operations.

Camp Taji is in a rural region approximately 60 miles north of the city of Baghdad in the Baghdad Governorate. MND-Baghdad is, of course, responsible for Baghdad and the surrounding region. It is headquartered by the 4th Infantry Division from Fort Hood, Texas. The 4th ID, along with McCaffrey's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, is nearing the end of their tour and about to relocate back home.

Although the 2nd Brigade is formally part of the 25th ID, as part of MND-Baghdad Col. McCaffrey reports to Major General Jeffery W. Hammond , commanding general of the 4th ID. Hammond 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 at DefenseLink.

As always, we learn from these briefings in several ways. One, what the briefer says. Two, what they don't say. Third, what questions the journalists ask, and fourthly what they don't ask. Finally, we should compare these briefings to reputable news sources and commentators. With these things in mind, we will proceed.

Although there is much of interest in this briefing, the January 31 provincial elections are the most important thing that was discussed. After reviewing Col McCaffrey's opening comments, this is where we will spend most of our time.

Also following is a primer on the elections and what they mean for Iraq.

From Col. McCaffrey's opening remarks:

COL. MCCAFFREY: ...Over the last 14 months, we've seen a remarkable drop in violence, and a corresponding development of economic growth and Iraqi security force capabilities. And as you all are very much aware, we find ourselves poised on historic provincial elections later this week. In my mind, being here to watch the Iraqis conduct these elections is a perfect conclusion to this tour, and marks an important milestone on this nation's continuing development in democracy and freedom for its people.

While the upcoming elections are a culmination of our tour, there has been much progress that's brought us to this point....

When I last conducted one of these press conferences, I reported that insurgent activity was down nearly 500 percent from a comparable point a year earlier. Since that time in September, we've watched a further 50 percent decline in insurgent activity in northwest Baghdad. It's now very common to go for days without a single violent act in our area. And when attacks do occur, they tend to be isolated, ineffective and focused on the Iraqi security forces, who operate independently and provide the day-to-day security across the region.

Sunni insurgent groups have been pushed out of the towns and villages across our area, and are forced to find fleeting refuge deep in rural areas where it is increasingly difficult for them to plan and stage attacks....

While the insurgency here is not completely defeated, it's now only capable of conducting localized criminal activity that's increasingly within the capability of the local Iraqi security forces or institutions to handle. ....

Candidate posters seem to be everywhere, and there's a palatable excitement in the air. The Iraqi security forces are well prepared, they're well rehearsed, and I believe they have a very solid handle on election security. This is, without question, an Iraqi-led event, and we're honored to be able to see the Democratic process up close and personal.

No doubt the elections will be a major test of the new Iraq. I'm not really worried about election day violence this time. What concerns me is whether any party will emerge with a clear mandate, and whether any incumbent losers will step down gracefully. The latter was discussed more detail by Colonel Butch Kievenaar (2nd Brigade Combat Team, 25th ID): Iraq Briefing - 05 January 2009 - Trying to Ensure Peaceful Transitions of Power.

Dr. Kimberly Kagan's Institute for the Study of War has some very useful primers on the elections.

Excerpts from their Election Fact Sheet:

On January 31, 2009, fourteen of Iraq's eighteen provinces will hold Provincial Elections. Elections in the Kurdish region, including the provinces of Kirkuk, Dahuk, Arbil, and Sulaymaniyah, will be held at a later date. Iraq's last Provincial Elections were held in 2005.

The Iraqi Provincial Elections will be a critical step towards a more stable and sovereign Iraq if they are legitimate. The Sunni, who boycotted the 2005 Iraqi elections, will have the opportunity to achieve proportional representation in the country's provincial councils. Iraq's nascent political party system will have a chance to develop, and Iraq as a whole will be given the chance to demonstrate its ability to hold free and fair elections with a minimum of Coalition support. In short, the elections are a critical test of Iraq's ability to conduct the most fundamental function of a sovereign democracy.


  • A total of 502 parties have registered to participate in the election, and a total 14,431 candidates, including 3,912 women, will be vying for 440 open seats on the provincial councils of Iraq.

  • 80% of the political parties had formed after the 2005 elections.

  • There is an average of 33 candidates per position.

  • 36 Coalitions will participate in the elections.

  • A provincial council is a governing body similar to an American state legislature.

  • Under the Provincial Powers Law of March 19, 2008, provincial councils and governors are given significant authority. The councils have the power to make laws for the province and to allocate funds for projects within that province.

  • Provincial Elections were originally scheduled for October 1, 2008, but were delayed due to disagreements over electoral procedure for Kirkuk, a city hotly contested between Sunni Arabs, Kurds, and Turkomen. The Provincial Election Law, passed September 24, 2008, calls for Kirkuk's elections to take place later, under a separate process.

(emphasis added)

"...if they are legitimate." That is certainly the crux of the matter.

A year ago February then-Lt Gen Odierno discussed the importance of the people believing that their government cared about them and had their best interests at heart in what I called his "exit interview". Odierno was leaving his post in Iraq as commander of Multi-National Corps-Iraq for home. The plan was for him to become Army Chief of Staff, but when Adm Fallon was fired from CENTCOM and Gen. Petraeus promoted to fill his place, it was felt that no better person could take over in Iraq that Odierno, the "Patton of Counterinsurgency" himself. Anyway, the important thing is what Odierno said during this interview:

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

And

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

So the importance of the elections is pretty clear. I think that an honest assessment is that once Gates took over as SecDef and Petraeus at MNF-Iraq we've had a no B.S. policy. Petraeus himself said as much in what I call his "how we did it" speech last October before the Association of the United States Army.

Not surprisingly the first question about the elections was about the possibility of violence:

Q Colonel, can you talk about what the potential is for violence in the run-up to, in the aftermath of these elections?

COL. MCCAFFREY: Well, I think the potential is always there for violence. We have not seen a significant increase in violence from the norm, and I think partly for the reason that is of course there is a remarkable Iraqi security force presence on the streets. They are, as I mentioned up front, very well rehearsed and very much in the lead for security.

I'm quite confident that's going to continue through the elections, and I'm very optimistic. I watched elections here in January of '05, and there is a significant change in the character of the Iraqi security forces, both the army and the police, and the cooperation that they're operating with one another. And so I'm very, very optimistic as we make the run-up to the elections.

And then I would -- you know, forecasting across our area, and knowing the brigades we operate, I would imagine we'll see a similar security environment after the elections as well. So it's a very -- it's a positive step here and one I'm -- I sleep quite soundly at night knowing how the Iraqis are operating here.

Col McCaffrey seems pretty confident. I hope it's well placed. As we've seen in many briefings these past few months commanders have stressed that the Iraqi Army is in the lead and we are in oversight role.

Q Jim Mannion from Agence France-Presse. What do you foresee successful elections will do for your area? How will things -- how will that change things? ...I mean, do you expect to see, you know, changes in the way things are run, concrete changes in the way people's, you know, daily lives go?

COL. MCCAFFREY: You know, I'm not a politician, so I'm not sure how that will work over time. I imagine that the people will be satisfied with their elected leaders, and that will bring about a change in their attitude and at least their belief that they have a voice, which they may not feel in all cases they have right now. So I'm optimistic that that will be a change.

But what people on the street see as change all the time is the fact that markets are increasingly stocked with goods, they can move around much more freely than they could months ago, and their security forces are the ones on the street and they recognize very, very clearly that the Iraqi security forces have the lead here and that they are in control.

Indeed much of winning a counterinsurgency is getting the people to believe that the government can and will win. This is the "minds" part of winning "Hearts and Minds" - perhaps the most misunderstood phrase in all of warfare. See here for explanation.

Q (Al Pessin from Voice of America)So if I can follow up, to go back to Andrew's question then, if the elections go smoothly, as you expect, and if it results in a greater public satisfaction with their living situation, as you hope, then doesn't that pretty clearly indicate that a month or two from now, you won't need nearly as many U.S. troops in that area as you have now?

COL. MCCAFFREY: I'm not sure I could put a timeline at all on, you know, whether a month or two is the right time. I would tell you very clearly over time, you'll need fewer troops here in our area. And the Iraqis will continue to do what they're doing more independently. So undoubtedly over time, there will be a requirement for fewer coalition forces....

Although this last exchange is somewhat off topic, we'll cover it because it has been a recurring theme of these briefings. Although the Iraqi Army has made tremendous progress in the area of tactical ability, logistics and supply have been problems. Most briefers are asked how the Iraqi Army units in their areas are faring in this area. The reporters know it has been a problem, and want to keep track of whether we're making progress

Q Yeah, Colonel, it's Al Pessin. Just to follow up on that, I don't think you mentioned supply and logistics, which is what we had been hearing all along was one of the major lacking factors for the Iraqis. Are you doing that for them, or are they starting to do that themselves?

COL. MCCAFFREY: You know, especially at the brigade level, the Iraqi brigades are pretty self-sufficient. I think the logistics piece, in a broader sense, really higher than the brigade level, is really where they've had challenges. And we work with logistics battalions to help them do that.

I'll be honest. The logistics battalions that we've worked with have had phenomenal development, and I think they're working to integrate them in a broader scale. But at the brigade level, where they're out there in the field and living in joint security stations and on checkpoints, they seem to be supplying their soldiers with food, water, fuel, ammunition, as required, those things, quite capably in our area. So at the tactical level, the logistics seem to be working pretty well where I am across the brigades that we operate with.

I will report on the elections probably a few days after the occur, as by then we should have reports not only of the results but the situation on the ground at the polling places. Stay tuned.

Posted by Tom at 8:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 27, 2009

Geert Wilders and the End of Free Speech in Europe

In the wake of World War II it seemed a good idea to a few governments that no one should be able to deny that the holocaust occurred, because they didn't want another one. So, in certain countries, they they banned it. In 2006 British historian David Irving was sentenced to 3 years in an Austrian prison for holocaust denial.

Now we have Muslim groups demanding that anyone who criticizes Islam be punished.

Dutch Parliamentarian Geert Wilders is the latest person under attack. A critic of Islam for many years, Geert Wilders has lived under constant police protection, such is the danger from Muslims.

Now his own government is going after him:

An appeals court on Wednesday overturned a previous decision by prosecutors not to charge Geert Wilders, and ordered that he stand trial....

Prosecutors initially declined last year to charge the right wing politician after he issued his short film, "Fitna," which juxtaposes Koranic verses over footage of violence committed by Islamic terrorists.

But, the Netherlands allows private citizens to petition the courts to compel prosecution. In Wilders' case, eight parties, including a politician from an opposing party, asked the courts to force prosecutors to bring criminal charges.

A three-judge appeals panel on Wednesday ruled that Wilders' insults to Islam were so egregious that the principle of free speech was not sufficient defense.

"The court considers [Wilders' film] so insulting for Muslims that it is in the public interest to prosecute Wilders," a summary of the court's decision said. The court explained that Wilders' claims in "Fitna" and other media statements were "one-sided generalizations ... which can amount to inciting hatred."

Here's Fitna, the short film that started it all:


Fitna the Movie Geert Wilders' film (English)
Uploaded by groepwilders

(Source)

You can also see it and more on his blog, Fitna the Movie.

"Fitna" is Arabic for "strife" or "conflict"

Shortly after they put it up, LiveLeak received so many threats they took the film down. to their credit, they upgraded their security and put it back up, issuing this statement:

On the 28th of March LiveLeak.com was left with no other choice but to remove the film "fitna" from our servers following serious threats to our staff and their families. Since that time we have worked constantly on upgrading all security measures thus offering better protection for our staff and families. With these measures in place we have decided to once more make this video live on our site. We will not be pressured into censoring material which is legal and within our rules. We apologise for the removal and the delay in getting it back, but when you run a website you don't consider that some people would be insecure enough to threaten our lives simply because they do not like the content of a video we neither produced nor endorsed but merely hosted.

From what I can tell Youtube took it down and won't put it back up.

This Was Not the Beginning

You pretty much have to be living in a cave at this point not to realize that Muslim groups and governments have mounted a major assault on free speech. They've been doing it both at the local levels in Europe and at the International level at the UN.

Robert Spencer and Geert Wilders explain:

The Islamic bloc has been on record for two decades as opposing free speech. In 1990, foreign ministers of the 57 member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), currently the largest voting bloc in the United Nations, adopted the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam. It states clearly that Islamic law--sharia--is the only true source of human rights. Few analysts in 1990 understood that this was tantamount to declaring the legitimacy of institutionalized discrimination against women and non-Muslims, and signing the death warrant of freedom of speech and freedom of conscience as well. And not just in Muslim lands: The OIC and allied organizations have been aggressively pursuing efforts to extend elements of sharia into the West, though few people realize it even today.

Due to the relentless efforts of the OIC, passage of a resolution on combating defamation of religions is now a yearly ritual in the United Nations. First introduced in the General Assembly in 2005, the resolution has been adopted with landslide votes every year since. While this resolution is non-binding, the OIC has declared its intention to seek a binding resolution--one that would require UN member states to criminalize criticism of Islam, as the OIC defines such criticism. This is a clear indication of the progressing Islamization of the United Nations.

On March 28 of last year, the UN hit rock bottom. Its Human Rights Council--whose members include such stalwart defenders of freedom as China, Cuba, Angola, and Saudi Arabia--adopted a resolution that severely modified the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression. Instead of simply reporting on cases in which the right to free expression is being violated, the special rapporteur will now also have to report on cases in which that right is being "abused"--including when individuals use their freedom of speech to criticize Islam, or the particular elements of Islam that jihadists use to justify violence and Islamic supremacism. In essence, this means that the function of the special rapporteur has changed 180 degrees--from safeguarding the rights of individuals who hold unpopular or controversial ideas, to trying to limit the freedom of individuals to express such ideas.

Don't also labor under the belief that it's only a few radicals pushing this stuff. In August of 2006 I reported on polls taken of British Muslims which showed that 30-40% wanted Sharia law introduced into the UK. Sharia, to put it mildly, is antithetical to Western values. Obviously the British educational system is not doing its job.

Unfortunately, the assault on free speech is not limited to those countries across the pond. Canadian writer Mark Steyn was also under assault up north by their so-called Human Rights Commission for offending Islam. Fortunately, they came to their senses and he was cleared.

Another Video

I'm not necessarily a big fan of Pat Condell, as like Ann Coulter at times he goes too far. Like Christopher Hitchens, he hates all religions with equal passion, which perhaps gives him some credibility. Or not. I'll let you decide.

h/t DownEastBlog, the source of much additional information about the Gilders case.

Asleep at the Wheel

The Bush Administration seemed not to recognize the danger, as they remained silent during the various assaults by Muslim groups and countries on our freedoms. I didn't hear a peep from Democrats either.

Yesterday President Obama "reached out" to the Muslim world on on Arab television network Al Arabiya. Read the transcript and judge for yourself, but I'm not encouraged.

What we need to do is tell them plain and simple is something like "here are our values, among them are freedom of speech and tolerance of other religions and lifestyles, and we're not going to compromise on them." We can and must do this in a polite way without being rude or offensive, but talking about "all too often the United States starts by dictating" like the President only sends a message of weakness.

My Position

Fitna is not the issue. Whether you're offended or not is not the issue. I only posted the video so you could see what all the fuss was about.

As a conservative evangelical Christian I do not like to watch or read vicious mean spirited attacks on my religion. I don't like it when Pat Condell attacks us, and I think Christopher Hitchen's book God is Not Great is all wet.

And you don't have to go very far on the Internet to find things much worse.

But we don't have a First Amendment in the United States so we can debate how to fund Social Security. We have it so we can say anything that's not outright slanderous or libelous. We have it so that we can offend each other to our hearts content, even, yes, to the point of "inciting hatred," something that's certainly in the eye of the beholder. We have it so that we can insult each others religion. We should't do many of these things, but that's a different matter.

So I don't want even the most vile attacks on Christianity made illegal. I don't know a single Christian who does. As protestants, our ancestors fled authoritarianism to places like Amsterdam which had a well-deserved reputation for religious tolerance. The irony that they are now persecuting someone for his views is overwhelming.

Maybe Wilders will not be convicted and we can all breath a sigh of relief. This thing could go either way. We might weather this and future storms. Muslims may come to their senses and people in the West may grow backbones. Or not.

Geert Wilders should have absolute freedom to say what he wants (excluding traditional concepts of slander, libel, etc). So should Pat Condell and Christopher Hitchens.

Muslims who think otherwise need to get with the program or get out. They need to adopt traditional Western values or leave our countries. Where they go I do not care.

Posted by Tom at 8:45 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

January 25, 2009

Book Review - Economics in One Lesson

Some books are only relevant for a few years or even months after they are written. Others stay important for decades or more. The Bible is relevant for all time. Dale Carnegie wrote How to Win Friends and Influence People in 1936, yet is applicable today, as human nature does not change.

While economic issues change, the basic principles do not. As such, Henry Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson: The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics is almost as relevant today as it was when first published in 1946. The latest edition and update, and the one I have, was in 1979. Still a bit old but with many lessons that we can use in analyzing the current situation. Anyway, since he died in 1993 the edition we have is the latest we'll get.

At just over 200 pages it's a pretty short book. Hazlitt states up front that he's not going to footnote everything or provide a dozen examples or pages of statistics, as that's not his purpose here. He wrote many other, longer works on economics and other subjects for readers looking for more depth. Rather, it is to provide a basic overview for the average person who has neither the time nor the inclination to wade through a longer treatise. When it comes to the "dismal science," that's my type of book.

Here, in a nutshell, is the thesis of the entire book:

Economics, as we have now seen again and again, is a science of recognizing secondary consequences. it is also a science of seeing general consequences It is the science of tracing the effects of some proposed or existing policy not only on some special interest in the short run, but on the general interest in the long run. (emphasis in the original)

and elswhere

The whole argument of this book may be summed up in the statement that in studying the effects of any given economic proposal we must race not merely the immediate results but the results in the long run, not merely the primary consequences but the secondary consequences, and not merely the effects on some special group but the effects on everyone.

The difference between a good economist and a bad one, to Hazlitt, is that the good one sees secondary and general effects, while the bad one only the primary one.

Most of the issues discussed in the book are relevant today, but some are not. Relevant are discussions on the evils of public works programs, high taxes, tariffs, government price-fixing, saving particular industries, the minimum wage, rent control, and unions. Not relevant are disbanding large numbers of troops, parity pricing, stabilizing commodities, "buying back the product", and swatting down the alleged benefits of inflation. Some in this latter list will be unfamiliar to the modern reader, because no one anymore, for example, advocates price inflation as a good thing.

We all know that if we drink too much alcohol, the secondary consequence of a hangover will be unpleasant. There's a secondary, "hangover" effect from many economic policies as well. Yet the politics of the matter often mean that they're ignored.

The newspapers today carry news of an economic "stimulus" program that is mostly spending on so-called infrastructure projects. Hazlitt destroys the notion that this type of policy will bring any benefit whatsoever.

It's not that he's against infrastructure projects. If we need a bridge, he says, then by all means built it, and do so with public monies. But these projects should be justified on their own merits, not as part of a plan to "pump money into the economy" or whatever.

For every dollar spent on public infrastructure, a dollar is taken from the private sector, a dollar that would be spent elsewhere. As such, every job created in the public sector is a job destroyed somewhere else. We may be able to hide this with deficit spending, but in the end the piper must be paid. The immediate effect of this type of public works project is to put people to work. It is also highly visible and newsworthy. The secondary effect is to take money out of the economy that would be spent elsewhere. Because, though, this money isn't there and nothing is bought, it isn't directly seen and thus far less likely to be reported on.

Also in the news today are federal lending institutions such as Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. The Community Reinvestment Act provided loans to people who would not otherwise qualify. The Bush Administration, a few months ago, even pushed banks to lend more money.

Hazlitt explains how by definition government will never do as good a job in making loans as will the private sector for the simple reason that people are more careful with their own money. That this is true is often hidden, because when there is a bank failure due to bad loans it's all over the news, whereby bad loans made by government are hidden with more federal spending. Political considerations also warp government lending, something that can happen in the private sector only if there is excessive or politically motivated regulation.

There is broad agreement today, I think that tariffs harm the economy. This, of course, was the rational behind NAFTA and other free trade agreements. Special interests want tariffs, something that we today call "protectionism," a word that was apparently before Hazlitt's time. We all know that tariffs hurt consumers, but Hazlitt shows that they hurt producers as well. The reason is that a tariff forces consumers to pay more for a product than they ordinarily would, and ever dollar they spend is a dollar less they can spend somewhere else. Thus, producers of other products do not get that money.

Hazlitt does not address issues such as protectionism or about saving industries for for reasons of national security. The book focuses strictly on the economic impact of government actions.

We're all supposed to worry about our trade imbalance because we import more than we export. While too much of an imbalance can be bad, Hazlitt points to John Stuart Mill's maxim that "the real gain of foreign trade to any country lies not in its exports but in its imports." The reason is simple; we import something because doing so is cheaper for the consumer. This is a good thing.

Small fallacies are also addressed, such as the idea that price is determined by the cost of production. If you break it all down it is determined by supply and demand.

Last year we were to believe that high oil prices were due to evil speculators. Hazlitt demonstrates that far from being our enemy, they are essential to economic stability and indeed our prosperity. Speculators protect us from fluctuations in price. None of this is to stay that their activity shouldn't be regulated to ensure honest transactions, simply that in and of itself it is beneficial to our well being.

While one can never say for certain what a historical figure would say about a current issue, it is hard to imagine Hazlitt approving of current government bail outs. Besides the perils of deficit spending, it is a good thing when inefficient businesses to close shop because bankruptcy is a signal that the capital they are using would be better spent elsewhere. Again Hazlitt stresses that he understands that their are negative consequences for individual workers, and that we must address their short-term needs. But by the same token the general consequence of inefficient businesses closing shop is good.

We've all seen the phenomenon whereby someone insists on regulation, price fixing, etc on some other business but "mine is different." Hazlitt addresses this as well in his discussion on government price fixing. Recently we saw this in action with the price of gasoline. No one wants to pay more for essentials, and it is a natural tendency to assume the worst motivations behind the businesses supplying those products. When in the midst of complaining, we forget that in addition to consumer each of us is also producer and taxpayer. As a producer, we want inflation so that we can charge more for our own product to justify salary increases, as consumer we want deflation or price fixing. Profits are only "obscene" when someone else is making them.

We've all heard or seen news stories in which reporters breathlessly go after a "slumlord" for conditions in his buildings. What these journalists fail to tell us is that in the majority of these cases the real culprit are politicians who put rent control into place. The immediate effect of rent control is that poor people have a better place to live. The secondary effect is that their landlord has no money to fix up their buildings. The general effect is that contractors don't build more housing (because if landlords can't make a profit, they won't have more housing built) and so there is a housing shortage. The people who end up suffering are the very people such polices were meant to help.

Liberal politicians and their enablers think they are helping people with policies such as minimum wage laws. They would do better to promote policies that would raise marginal labor productivity. The goal should be profits, which is only way to increase wages without putting other people out of work. Unions have the same effect as minimum wage laws when they agitate for higher wages. They benefit us only when they push for safe working conditions and the like.

We have been fortunate in this country in that for a variety of reasons we have generally had a strong economy. Even during times of depression or recession most of us are better off than 90% of the rest of the world. As such, politicians assume they can do anything and it won't have negative consequences, at least not serious ones. This is incorrect.

Much of the above will be familiar to the libertarian or conservative reader, and indeed most of Hazlitt's arguments were not terribly new to me, though he explains them more clearly than I have seen elsewhere.

At least one thing that was new to me was his explanation that "saving was only another form of spending." The difference was that with "savings" we give the money to someone else to spend, and it tends to be spent on somewhat different products.

When we as consumers spend money directly, it is of course on consumer items. When we put our money in a passport savings account, or mutual funds, or even corporate bonds, it doesn't just sit there. The banker lends it to a business, and the mutual fund and corporate bond managers give it to businesses through the purchase of stocks or bonds. Corporations take this money and spend it on capital goods such as buildings, plant, trucks, computer systems, whatever. The point is that it does get spent, though maybe it takes longer and is on different items.

Economics in One Lesson provides a simple and quick way to understand libertarian free market economics. You will not like this book if you are a fan of the current "stimulus" plan.

If you are of conservative or libertarian bent, I strongly encourage you to purchase and study this book. We need to learn to speak the language of economics in order to fight off the big-government liberals. Our arguments must be clear, concise, and easy to understand, and as such book provides a good primer on the subject for the average person.

Posted by Tom at 9:00 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

January 22, 2009

March for Life 2009

For years I'd always heard about the March for Life in Washington DC the day before it happened, or read about it the day after in the newspaper. As such, I'd always missed it. Last year I decided to solve the problem by going to their website and signing up for their email alert. That way, I'd get reminder and would be able to schedule for it.

This year our new president gave us an extra reason for concern. On his campaign website he promised to sign the horrible Freedom of Choice Act if elected. He was, and I think he will. Here he is making the pledge:

Without going into details, suffice it to day that FOCA would dramatically expand abortions and federal funding for them in this country. It's bad enough to have virtually unlimited abortion, but we shouldn't have to pay for them. And our laws are far more liberal than in Western Europe, to which we often hear we should turn to for guidance.

But my purpose here is not to rehash the issues surrounding abortion, but rather to report on the March for Life 2009. All photos can be seen on my photobucket site, but here are a few along with the notes I took today.

Here we are assembled at about noon in front of the stage when the event kicked off. The idea was to listen to speakers for maybe 2 hours then march around the Capitol building to the Supreme Court where the march would end.

Photobucket

I have no idea how many people there were, but having been to many rallies and such on the Mall I can tell you that the crowd was very large. A story in this morning's Washington Times said today that past events had drawn about 250,000 each year since 2003.

It was hard to get a wide enough angle shot from a high vantage point to give an idea of the size of the crowd, but I got a pretty good flavor of events, I think.


Photobucket


Photobucket


It was a veritable sea of people

Photobucket


99.9% of the crowd dressed normally and maybe wore a pro-life sticker or button. Many had signs, most of which were pre-made. All, even the homemade ones, that I saw were in good taste. The worst thing you can do at these things is come across like a nut. Then people just laugh at you or shake their heads.

There's always one dope in the crowd, though. This was COMPLETELY unnecessary:

Photobucket

Don't get me wrong; I'm all for showing pictures of aborted babies if it is done right and to make the point. But if you dress up in a stupid costume and wear a chain of bloodied dolls no one is going to take you seriously. The point is to change minds, and this sort of nonsense does not achieve that goal. Besides, it is all too reminiscent of what I've seen the leftists do at their anti-war rallies.

Speakers and More

We started out by singing the national anthem, followed by a benediction, and then took the pledge of allegiance. They're 0 for 3 on those at ant-war rallies. I ought to know, since I've been to many of them as a counterprotester, or just to mingle with the lefties and get photos. Go under Categories at right and look down to Rallies and Protests.

March for Life founder and chief organizer ("president"? chairman? not sure on title) Nellie Gray was MC and started out with a brief talk. She then introduced a whole host of congressmen and one senator. It was impressive that so many showed up. I took notes and I think I got most of them:

Rep Jim Sensenbrenner WI
Rep. Mike Pence IN
Rep. Roscoe Bartlett MD
Rep. Todd Aiken MO
Rep. Jean Schmidt OH
Rep. Dr. Paul Brown GA
Rep. Steve King IA
Rep. E. Scott Garrett NJ (not sure if I heard this one right)
missed a name
Rep. Henry Brown SC
Rep. Robert Aderholt AL
Rep. Mary Fallon OK
missed a name
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry NB
Rep. Dave Bitter LA
Rep. Jack Kingston GA
Rep. Bob Latta OH
Rep. Bob Inglis SC
Rep. GT Thompson PA
Rep. Pete Olson TX
Rep. Todd Tiahrt KIS
Rep. Michelle Bachmann MN
Rep. Trent Franks AZ
Rep. Chris Smith NJ
Sen. Sam Brownback KS

Quite a list! Fortunately each only spoke for a minute or two. Nevertheless they all spoke well and I am appreciative that they took the time to come.

Senator Brownback got the crowd fired up and led us in a few changes

Are you ready to say Yes to Life?

Yes!

Are you ready to say No to FOCA?

Yes!

Then who spoke but "B-1" Bob Dornan! Dornan, a former Navy A-7 Corsair pilot, was a representative to Congress from California from 1977-1983 and again from 1985-1997. Among other things he quoted 1 Corinthians 13:11, the one about "when I became a man, I put away childish things." but my note taking wasn't good enough to get the context. No matter. With his raspy voice he delivered a firebreather for 3-4 minutes that got the crown roaring with approval.

There were also a number of pastors and priests who spoke. More on them tomorrow.

The Crowd

There were a lot of teenagers and what seemed their parents. This in contrast to anti-war protests in which you see mostly 20-somethings and aging hippies. At pro-troop/pro-war rallies you see mostly 20-somethings and Vietnam veterans. An interesting contrast.

From the various signs i it was an obviously very Christian audience. Many churches had their own banners and signs, and the vast majority with Catholic. I saw one "Lutherans for Life" but that's it. No evangelical presence that I could see at all. I wasn't surprised not to see the mainstream protestant denominations, since many of them, like the PCUSA (Presbyterian Church USA ) is very left wing. No Southern Babtists or black churches either (that I saw, anyway). While I'm happy that the Catholics are so active in this particular pro-life activity, I'm disappointed that others are not.

As such, there were a lot of Catholic church groups. EWTN was there filming the march. I saw many priests and some nuns and monks (or friars? they had a friar's habit on. I'm not familiar with Catholicism).

At no point did I hear even a single boo when a speaker mentioned President Obama. Many speakers, in fact, lauded his achievement of being our first black president. It was a very respectful crowd, not angry or bitter.

Back to the Rally

Here's a good photo of the stage with the Capitol in the background. I do have to say that the dome is absolutely beautiful when the sun shines on it.

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Here's a pretty typical banner from one of the Catholic churches

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After B-1 Bob spoke, Nellie Gray came back on to deliver her address. Here are some of her points:

  • No compromise on abortion
  • No killings
  • Abortion is not therapy
  • There is no moderate position on abortion. No middle ground between killing and not killing
  • No exceptions
  • She addressed President Obama. Quoted his statement that if one of his daughters became pregnant he didn't want her "punished with a baby." She challenged him on this
  • Live begins at fertilization by any means
  • There is an abortion site within walking distance of the White House
  • Abortion is the commercial equivalent of Dachau and Auschwitz
  • We want you, President Obama, to stop abortion
  • We can overturn Roe v Wade. Abortion must be made illegal at the federal level. It is not good enough to simply turn it back to the states

Later we heard from Bobby Schindler, Terri Schaivo's brother. He pointed out that Terri's case and abortion are all part of the same battle for life. We must battle the pro-euthanasia just as we must battle the abortionists as they're all part of the same philosophy.

I think he's right. National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru wrote a book on this called The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life. Although I haven't read it, I have read Ponnuru often enough in the magazine to get a pretty good idea of his thesis (and you can read the editorial reviews at Amazon) and I think he's pretty much got it right.

A Brief Comment

Obviously the message from March for Life, as it is with most pro-life groups, is completely to the right side of the spectrum. No abortion at any time unless it is truly to save the mother's life. The pro-choice folks are completely to the left; any abortion for any reason at any time.

The logic of each side is pretty straight, and it all depends on when you think human life begins. If life does begin at conception, then even an exception for rape and incest is wrong. If life begins at birth, then no restriction makes much sense.

Political reality being what it is, though, the battle is fought in the middle. Our laws are more restrictive than some, but less so than in western Europe. Right now I think we're way too far off to the pro-choice side, and unfortunately the situation is only going to get worse.

Sometimes conservatives get the objection that we're supposedly hypocrites because we tend to support the death penalty. Without arguing the case, I'll simply point out that ">Death Penalty Information Center 1.37 million abortions. If hypocrisy is really the issue then let's trade; no death penalty, no abortions.

The Message

Some years ago the message of the Pro-Life movement was essentially "you stupid woman don't have that abortion! You are killing your own baby now stop it!"

As you can imagine it wasn't terribly well received.

The movement has thankfully changed it's tune.

Now it's seen as a tragedy for women, as a painful terrible experience that is foisted on them by predatory males and a culture that pressures them into "getting rid of their problem."

It's now more all about finding women, young and old, who are pregnant and scared or don't know what do so, and supporting them. It's about finding a way for them to have the baby or put it up for adoption; so that the baby lives in a loving household.

This was made clear by the speakers today.

The March

At around 2:00 the events on stage seemed to be wrapping up, so I headed for the front left corner of the field where the march would start. Unfortunately, either there were just too many people trying to cram into too small a space, or the thing wasn't that well set up, but it took over an hour to where I was actually walking on the street in anything like a march. No matter, the weather was nice and it was a great crowd to be in among.

Note - due to technical issues I used photobucket up until now and the rest are posted locally. If you care why the posting looks a bit different from here on out.

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At the Supreme Court

The whole thing ended up at the Supreme Court, which is behind the Capitol building if you go back to the photo at top. The reason, of course, is that this is where Roe v Wade was decided in 1973. In my opinion, along with Dred Scott and Plessy v Fersuson, it is one of the wost decisions that have ever been issued.

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The organizers set up a small stage with sound system, and some 200 women (I heard) gave their testimony as to why they regretted having their abortion. I even heard one man talk about how, when he was younger, his girlfriend had "got rid of their problem" through an abortion and how horrible he now felt. I can say that it is only through the grace of God that I was not in his shoes.

Does it Matter?

The CNN story below makes pretty clear that President Obama doesn't care about the pro-life agenda. He is the most radical pro-abortion (not pro-choice (a copout anyway. Was any one ever pro-choice on slavery), but pro-abortion) president we've ever had.

But despite what the First Amendment right to "petition the Government for redress of grievances," we know that the purpose of these things is not to directly speak to anyone in government. The purpose, as I see it anyway, is to fire up the troops into local action. And that is something that I am all about.

Note - I will add to this post tomorrow or Saturday but it's late and that's enough for tonight. Come back for more!

More Reporting

Washington Times

Washington Post

Fox News

CNN

World Magazine

National Review - Kathryn Jean Lopez

National Review's The Corner - Mark Hemingway

Posted by Tom at 9:30 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

January 20, 2009

Congratulations to President Barack Obama

Congratulations to President Barack Obama.

I'm sure much will happen today that I could criticize, but I'll resist the urge and not do so. Let the Democrats have their day. Barack Obama won the election fair and square, and he and his followers deserve a day alone to celebrate. Tomorrow we'll get on with the business of blogging as usual.

I'm posting this now, before he's officially sworn in, for two reasons. One is simply that I have to run off to work and want to get this up now. Second, I'm sure he'll sign some executive order today that will annoy me greatly, so I want to post this before I change my mind.

Not really. I'd put it up anyway.

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And you know, he does look good there standing in front of the Capitol.

Further, it really is a good thing that we can elect a black person to the presidency of the United States. It wasn't that long ago when it seemed like such a thing would never be possible. Peoples and nations can change.

Obviously I wish that black person wasn't Barack Obama. But it is what it is, and we'll all just have to get on with it.

Posted by Tom at 7:30 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 19, 2009

A History Lesson for Bush Haters Part II

Two of the reasons the left tells us that the war in Iraq is illegal is because it never got the proper UN authorization, and Iraq was a sovereign nation that didn't threaten us.

I disagree with both assertions, but I don't want to argue those points here.

What I want to tell all Bush Haters is that President Clinton also invaded and/or attacked nations without getting authorization from either Congress or the UN, and that posed no threat to us.

Don't believe me?

Haiti

On September 19, 1994, President Clinton launched Operation Uphold Democracy, in which United States forces invaded the Caribbean island nation of Haiti. I'm not going to rehash the entire affair, but suffice it to say that it was done with neither congressional nor United Nations authorization.

And one can hardly say that Haiti posed a threat to the United States.

I supported what we did then and I think it was the right thing now. We restored the duly elected Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and General Raoul C├ędras stepped down even before we went in. It was a relatively easy operation in which we only lost one soldier, and on March 31, 1995 we ended our operation and handed it over to the UN.

No authorization from Congress or the UN. And Haiti hardly posed a threat to the US.

Bosnia and Kosovo

The war in the former Yugoslav republics is god-awful complex, and I didn't follow it in detail at the time. Haiti is bad enough, there's no way I'm going to try and rehash what was going on in the Balkans.

Suffice it to say though that in 1999, President Clinton once again ordered United States forces to attack a sovereign nation(s) without authorization from either Congress or the United Nations. Nobody can say that any of the former Yugoslav republics posed a threat to the United States. We called it Operation Allied Force.

Clinton did it under the aegis of NATO, but nowhere in it's charter does it give itself the right to invade a third country. Talk about how the fighting might "spill over" into other countries, or "don't you remember that World War I started there" was balderdash. Article 5 states that "The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all...." but Milosevic posed no threat to anyone in NATO.

So again, if I wanted to make silly arguments against what Clinton did in Bosnia it would be pretty easy. And all of you who love your

But as with Haiti, I supported what President Clinton did and I think he did the right thing now. No one else was going to deal with the situation, so he stepped up to the plate and took charge of a difficult situation.

The Point

My point, of course, is that throwing out talking-points such as "no UN authorization" or "X was a sovereign nation that posed no threat to us" is is childish and it's usually more complicated.

Of course I know that obviously Iraq is a huge affair in which we have spent much blood and treasure. From this perspective it's not the same as Iraq. But if you're going to make an argument on principal it is the same. If you're going to argue that we can't invade nations that don't pose a threat to us you must oppose Clinton's invasion of Haiti and his attack on Yugoslavia.

Not a Clinton Hater

I didn't vote for Bill Clinton in 1992 or 1996, and indeed have not voted for any Democrat ever. All in all I do not think he was a good president.

But I will say that at times he did the right thing. At times he was a good president. Yesterday I defended when he ordered cruise missiles fired at a Sudanese pharmaceutical factory, in a case when the intelligence turned out to be faulty. Other examples of good things are negotiating and signing GATT and NAFTA. He held down federal spending more than either Bush has done, and he signed onto welfare reform (though he had a lot of "help" from Republicans in Congress, who acted a lot more responsibly then than they did under GWB).

So unlike some liberals who don't give George Bush credit for anything, I'm not some wingnut who reflexively criticizes everything the other side does.

That's the lesson for today.

Posted by Tom at 9:30 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 18, 2009

A History Lesson for Bush Haters

Attention all Bush Haters

Consider your reaction if this story came across the wires today:

As was reported last week, President Bush launched cruise missiles at Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Sudan as part of what he called "Operation Infinite Justice". The missiles destroyed the factory, Sudan's primary source for ant-malarial and veterinary drugs. The day after the attack, which took place at night, Bush claimed that the factory was producing chemicals used in the production of VX nerve agent. He also claimed that the factory owners were tied to al Qaeda.

In the days since serious doubt has been cast on both of these claims. The evidence for the production of VX nerve agent is particular shaky. It has been revealed that it was based on a single soil sample taken by a CIA agent outside of the factory, which seemed to show the presence of EMPTA (O-Ethyl methylphosphonothioic acid), a VX precursor. But experts now say that testing errors could have been responsible for a "false positive," and at any rate there is no proof that the EMPTA was tied to the factory. Further, although Bush Administration officials first said that EMPTA was banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention, they have since backed off this claim.

Ties to al Qaeda are vague, with administration officials only stating that "intelligence sources" as the basis for their actions.

Administration officials have conceded that they had no congressional or UN authorization for the attack, which was on a sovereign nation not at war with the United States.

Experts say that as a humanitarian crisis looks as a result of the destruction of the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory. Werner Daum, the German ambassador to Sudan, says that it is possible that tens of thousands of Sudanese may die because they won't be able to get the medicines they need.

Everything in the above paragraph is true. It all actually happened. Ok, it's all true except for one thing:

The president that ordered the attack wasn't George W. Bush.

It was William Jefferson Clinton.

The attack described above took place on August 20, 1998. And tens of thousands of Sudanese probably did die as a result. Further, although Sudan demanded an apology, President Clinton never offered one. Look it all up if you don't believe me.

Here's another way to look at what happened: From an editorial published December 13, 2005 in the Washington Times:

From "Why the U.S. bombed," The Washington Times, Oct. 16, 1998, by National Security Adviser Samuel R. Berger:

"Following the Aug. 7 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the United States launched a missile strike against a factory in Khartoum, Sudan, as well as against terrorist camps in Afghanistan. Since then, some critics have suggested that we acted precipitously when we struck the Sudanese Al Shifa plant. But, given what we knew, to not have acted against that facility would have been the height of irresponsibility.

"First, we knew that the Osama bin Laden terrorist organization was bent on large-scale violence against Americans... And we had information that bin Laden has been seeking chemical weapons to use in his terrorist acts.

"Second, we had physical evidence indicating that Al Shifa was the state of chemical weapons activity... We found the presence of EMPTA, a chemical essential for making deadly VX nerve gas...

"Other products were made at Al Shifa. But we have seen such dual-use plants before -- in Iraq. And, indeed, we have information that Iraq has assisted in chemical weapons activity in Sudan.

"Third, we had information linking bin Laden to the Sudanese regime and the Al Shifa plant. Bin Laden lived in Sudan ... until he was expelled under international pressure. He left behind associates and facilities and has maintained a close relationship with the government...

"To those who assert we did not act appropriately, I would ask: With information that bin Laden had attacked Americans before and planned to do so again, that he was seeking chemical weapons to use in future attacks, that he was cooperating with the government of Sudan in those efforts, and that Sudan's Al Shifa plant was linked both to bin Laden and chemical weapons, didn't the United States government have a responsibility to the American people to counter this threat? I believe the unequivocal answer is yes."

Berger was exactly right. President Clinton made his decision based on the best intelligence available. He didn't want to risk VX nerve agent making it's way into the hands of al Qaeda, which was known to operate in Sudan (bin Laden even living there in the 1980s).

No serious person, certainly no Republican of any stature that I know of, has suggested that Bill Clinton or any of his officials be prosecuted for war crimes. Yet it is is entirely accurate to say that based on flawed evidence he destroyed a pharmaceutical plant in a poor third world nation which produced badly needed medicines. We don't know how many black Africans died, but it was surely many, given that the factory was Sudan's primary source for anti-malaria and veterinary drugs.

The left is forever insistent that George Bush and various administration officials be indited for war crimes.

Where are their calls for the indictment of Bill Clinton?

Posted by Tom at 8:45 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

January 17, 2009

Ceasefire in Gaza

Earlier today the Israeli cabinet declared a unilateral ceasefire. Fox News has a pretty comprehensive story so we'll quote them:

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced Saturday, folllwing a Security Cabinent vote in favor of a cease-fire, said that the goals of Israel's offensive in Gaza had been achieved.

Israel has no immediate plans to withdraw troops from Gaza, but the cease-fire likely will entail the end of Israeli attacks on Hamas now that the militant Palestinian group appears to have been disabled to the point that there is less of a threat of rocket attacks on southern Israel.

Olmert said in a televised address that Israel's "goals have been achieved, and even more." Fighting stopped at 2 a.m. local time (7 p.m. EST) but Israel will keep troops on the ground for the time being, Olmert said.

But Hamas leaders have repeated that it will not respect any cease-fire as long as Israel remains inside Gaza....

The vote follows Friday's signing of a "memorandum of understanding" in Washington between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni that calls for expanded intelligence cooperation to prevent Hamas from rearming. Livni called the deal, reached on the final working day of the Bush administration, "a vital complement for a cessation of hostility."

Israel's 12-member Security Cabinet was expected to approve the Egyptian proposal, under which fighting would stop immediately for 10 days. Israeli forces would remain in Gaza and the territory's border crossings with Israel and Egypt would remain closed until security arrangements are made to prevent Hamas arms smuggling.

We don't know if the ceasefire will hold, or how long Israel will remain in Gaza. We won't know for a few days or weeks whether Israel achieved it's war aims or not. But I do know how we may be able to tell here shortly.

Two things will tell us pretty quickly if Israel didn't achieve it's war aims: One, Hamas is able to gather up it's remaining forces and stage serious attacks on Israeli units inside Gaza. Two, if they are able to restart rocket attacks on Israel to a degree that is more than a few sporadic shots.

It's been reported today that Hamas fired 8 or 20 rockets (depending on the story) rockets and mortar shells in to Israel. No doubt they feel they have to fire a few now to save face. The question is whether in coming weeks and months they keep firing them at the rate at which they were before the war.

Other Long term signs will be how fast Hamas reestablishes itself, if at all. Right now Fatah is taking advantage of the situation by cooperating with the IDF in arresting Hamas elements on the West Bank. My guess is that hopes that Hamas is smashed to the point they disappear are over optimistic. Word is that they still have enough forces to control Gaza. However, they may have lost enough to the point where they conclude that terror rocket attacks on Israel are counterproductive. That in itself will be a victory for Israel.

A good sign is simply that Prime Minister Olmert was able to declare victory. He could not do so after the 2006 war against Hezbollah in Lebanon, because everyone knew it wasn't true. As I said in a previous post, during that war we saw a lot of commentary about how Israel wasn't achieving it's aims, and saw it from the beginning of the war to the end. We did not see similar coverage this time. Note that I'm only referring to reliable sources.

Also good is that Israel declared the ceasefire on it's own terms. It did not cave to international pressure and accept some UN brokered settlement, which would have been disastrous. Internationalists and UN types have Israel's worst interests at heart.

More importantly, my perception from browsing various news sources is that Hamas somewhat lost the battle for public opinion in the Muslim world, or at least did not do nearly as well as Hezbollah in it's war with Israel. They were seen by some or many as the instigators, as picking a fight they could not hope to win, and unnecessarily derailing the "peace process" (which I don't buy into but that's an argument for another day.

More to come.

Sunday Evening Update

Although it's all very fine to destroy Hamas, an editorial in the Jerusalem Post throws cold water on the idea that Fatah is much better:

They attribute Hamas's ascendancy and Fatah's decline to the current fighting, or to settlements, or to the "occupation" pushing ordinary Palestinians ever deeper into Hamas's embrace.

It is more accurate, however, to sadly acknowledge that Hamas's world view better reflects the extremism, rejectionism and self-destructive tendencies that embody the ethos of much of the Palestinian polity. Fatah's perceived drift toward moderation, combined with its corruption, have made it increasingly irrelevant to many Palestinians....

Though Fatah denounces Israel's battle with Hamas in the most venomous terms, the West Bank masses are said to be fuming that Fatah won't let them confront Israel directly. "This will irreparably damage its standing in the eyes of Palestinians..." an Arab expert told The Christian Science Monitor.

In other words, many ordinary Palestinians want Fatah to again lead them into another violent uprising - despite the devastation a third intifada would bring down on them. Never mind that the standard of living in the West Bank is better than it has been in years.

So the problem is not just a PA demonstrably incapable of reforming itself, or a politically toxic Hamas; it is, more fundamentally, much of the Palestinian political culture.

Unfortunately, this makes sense. Andrew McCarthy is right; in their present condition the Palestinians do not deserve statehood.

Sunday January 20 Update

Melanie Phillips links to sources confirming that since Israeli troops have left, Hamas has returned and Gaza has "returned to rule by thug." They're rounding up and shooting Fatah members and anyone else they dislike.

She points out that the UN, Human Rights Watch, the BBC, and all of the others who were oh-so-offended by Israel's conduct during the war are strangely silent.

No doubt it will all be blamed on Israel.

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Of Moral Idiots and War Crimes

Note: I wrote this before the cease-fire was announced. I'll have more to say about it later tonight.

Now we have "senior UN officials and human rights groups" accusing Israel of war crimes. The charge is that the IDF engages in "reckless and indiscriminate" shelling of civilian neighborhoods in Gaza. To add grotesqueness to an already idiotic charge, they charge that IDF soldiers are using "Palestinian families as human shields."

Just because I had to see the idiocy on display for myself, I went to the website of the UN Human Rights commission, and found their latest missive on how "the violence must stop." It is a model of moral neutrality. Read it for yourself. If you were completely unfamiliar with the players, you would never know from anything this commission said that Israel was a democracy that had been the subject of terrorist attacks for years, and that the other was a fascist jihadist terrorist entity.

But no, they couldn't do that. The article in the Guardian exposes the moral idiocy of the UN and that of these so-called human rights organizations in all their macabre glory. Or gory.

The UN's senior human rights body approved a resolution yesterday condemning the Israeli offensive for "massive violations of human rights". A senior UN source said the body's humanitarian agencies were compiling evidence of war crimes and passing it on to the "highest levels" to be used as seen fit.

Some human rights activists allege that the Israeli leadership gave an order to keep military casualties low no matter what cost to civilians. That strategy has directly contributed to one of the bloodiest Israeli assaults on the Palestinian territories, they say.

John Ging, head of the UN Palestinian refugee agency in Gaza, said: "It's about accountability [over] the issue of the appropriateness of the force used, the proportionality of the force used and the whole issue of duty of care of civilians.

Who said terrorism doesn't pay?

One of the things Israel is accused of doing is the illegal use of "white phosphorus," particularly in the form of what are called M825 Felt-Wedge projectiles. The claim is that the IDF is illegally using this and similar weapons in densely populated areas, and that this is illegal.

To be sure, White phosphorus can be nasty stuff. So can suicide vests, but the UN and so-called human rights groups can't be bothered with them. Might get death threats, you know.

John Noonan, writing at The Weekly Standard, explains

The problem in the UN's argument, as with most of the arguments against Israel's use of force in Gaza, is that it rewrites international treaties on warfare to better fit an anti-Israel narrative. White Phosphorous -- or 'Willy Pete' -- has been used for decades to create large smokescreens for troop cover and target illumination and is not -- despite any claim to the contrary -- an incendiary weapon (nor is it proscribed under any law on armed conflict). Article one of the treaty banning incendiaries says as much:
Incendiary weapon means any weapon or munition which is primarily designed to set fire to objects or to cause burn injury to persons through the action of flame, heat, or combination thereof, produced by a chemical reaction of a substance delivered on the target. (a) Incendiary weapons can take the form of, for example, flame throwers, fougasses, shells, rockets, grenades, mines, bombs and other containers of incendiary substances.

(b) Incendiary weapons do not include:
(i) Munitions which may have incidental incendiary effects, such as illuminants, tracers, smoke or signalling systems.

That's not to say Willy Pete is without collateral effects. There have been several documented cases where WP has injured or killed civilians, as the illuminant burns slowly at extremely high temperatures. But like with other legal conventional munitions such as artillery shells and guided bombs, the responsibility for incidental death and damage lies with Hamas and any other combatant which uses human shields to mask its operations.

International war crime statutes were written to prosecute those who fill mass graves with the bodies of noncombatants, the Hitlers and the Milosevics, not those who use legal illuminants in small, localized conflict. If a treatise on armed conflict can no longer differentiate between the use of military smoke shells and deliberate rocket attacks on civilian populations, the effect is to doom such treaties to irrelevance.

It's the last paragraph that's important. There is a type of "internationalist" and human-rights type who can no longer distinguish between a terrorist entity that deliberately puts it's own civilians in harms way hoping they will be killed so they can be used for propaganda, and a democracy fighting a defensive war imperfectly.

Balance of Outrage

What gets me is that the outrage over atrocities, real or imagined, is so far out of balance. No one would say that Israel, or the United States for that matter, is above reproach. If you want to say we should not use this or that weapon, fine, make your case.

But shouldn't you also spend just a little bit of time criticizing terrorists? If you want to ban cluster bombs ok, make your case, but why can't we have one banning suicide vests as well? Of course, we know why such a treaty doesn't exist; the UN and human rights organizations don't care, and the Muslim nations would object. They'd say that singled them out (as if banning cluster bombs doesn't single us out) or insist on an exemption for "wars of national liberation" (like they do for a simple definition of terrorism).

I've heard all the excuses about how we must maintain the moral high-ground, how it would be useless to ban something like suicide vests, or how two wrongs don't make a right so what does it matter? I don't buy any of them.

Melanie Phillips, as always, cuts to the heart of the matter and asks the right questions:

One final question: when Foreign Secretary David Miliband, UN Secretary-General Ban-ki Moon and a zillion others in the west lament the 1000 in Gaza whom the Israelis have killed, are they lamenting the killing of the 75 per cent-plus of that total who were Hamas terrorists, whose purpose in life was to annihilate Israel and exterminate Jews? Are they lamenting the killing today of the key senior Hamas leader Said Siyam, said to have been a radical close to Iran? Would they have preferred that all these individuals remained alive to continue pursuing their genocidal project? Are they saying that no-one should be killed in war and that therefore there should never be war? And if so, when will we hear Miliband similarly lament all those Taleban who have been and are still being killed by British forces in Afghanistan, along with al Qaeda in Iraq?

I'm not sure about the first three, but the answers to the last two are yes and that's probably next.

Double Standards

If the "world community" is so upset about civilian deaths in Gaza, why aren't they as concerned about what's going on in the Congo? A story in Pajamas Media, using at it's source a Ugandan news outlet, says that "over 1,000 civilians have been killed by a Ugandan rebel group since Christmas."

Terrible that so many of the horrors that take place in Africa go unreported.

Sunday Evening Update

Mona Charen adds more to our list of horrors ignored by those oh-so-concerned by Gaza:

Since the start of 2007, 16,000 civilians have been killed in fighting. Not in Gaza, so you may have missed it. It was in Somalia, where an Islamist movement is fighting Ethiopian troops. This is the 18th year of civil strife in that country.

In Sri Lanka, some 70,000 people have perished in a civil war that has flared on and off since 1983. The regime in Burma has killed thousands and forced an estimated 800,000 into involuntary servitude.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire), 45,000 people are dying every month. Nearly 5.5 million have died since 1998 in a conflict that grew out of the violence in Rwanda and spread. Half of those deaths were of children under the age of five, according to the International Rescue Committee. The violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has caused more human devastation than any conflict since World War II.

In Darfur, Sudan, more than 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million made homeless by violence.


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January 15, 2009

Iraq Briefing - 12 January 2009 - Partners with the Iraqis

This briefing is by Colonel Burt Thompson, who is the commander of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division,Multi-National Division - North.. On Monday he spoke via satellite from Forward Operating Base Warhorse in Diyala province, Iraq, with reporters at the Pentagon, providing an update on ongoing security operations.

From the MNF-Iraq website, "MND-North is also known as Task Force Lightning. Responsible for an area including the cities of Balad, Kirkuk, Tikrit, Mosul, and Samarra, MND-N is headquartered by the 25th Infantry Division from Schofield Barracks, Hawaii." Col Thompson's 1st Stryker Brigade assumed their duties in September of 2008. Their Area of Responsibility is Diyala Province.

Col. Kievenaar reports to Major General Robert L. Caslen Jr, commander of the 25th ID. Caslin 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.

As always, we learn from these briefings in several ways. One, what the briefer says. Two, what they don't say. Third, what questions the journalists ask, and fourthly what they don't ask. Finally, we should compare these briefings to reputable news sources and commentators. With these things in mind, we will proceed.

There was much of interest in this briefing, but we'll concentrate on how the Stryker Brigade has been partnering with the Iraqis. This is important because as we reduce our force levels the Iraqis are must take the lead. The faster they learn, the smoother the transition will go.

From Col Thompson's opening remarks:

COL. THOMPSON: ... Since we arrived here, our primary effort was to maintain and establish security, a safe and secure environment. That's our critical enabler here in Diyala province. Governance is the primary line of effort for us here in Diyala, working closely with Governor Rah from the Diyala governance here and the provisional council. So we spend a lot of time -- as a matter of fact, my deputy commander is the primary-line- of-effort lead for the brigade in Diyala province.

Next to that is essential services, reestablishment of and continuation of essential services in Diyala, on behalf of 1.2 million. And then close to that is economics, helping Diyala province spend three years' worth of budget. And we're working down the list of projects there that they could spend money on....

I know I've said this a hundred times but it bears repeating: Security must come before economic and political progress. Until the surge we put the political cart before the security horse. One of the primary lessons of Petraeus' US Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24 is that you cannot have either political or economic progress unless you have security. Once we got our cart in order we were able to make headway against the insurgency.

Back to the colonel's opening remarks:

... Sons of Iraq transition is the second area I'll talk to you about. Huge effort in registration of Sons of Iraq. We have nine thousand and twenty -- or 9,062 in Diyala province. We've registered those and are now in the process of transitioning them to the government of Iraq. And I'd be willing to talk about that and the ceremony we conducted on 4 January when we transitioned those over to the government of Iraq control....

The Sons of Iraq (SOI) were an integral part of our strategy to defeat the insurgency. They've been discussed in many briefings, and as such the subject of many posts on this blog. Now that we've mostly beat the insurgency, they're rightly being disbanded. But you don't just discharge thousands of young men without a plan to put them at work elsewhere. Of course there are politics involved. How smoothly this transition goes will be a key to the future stability of Iraq.

Back to the colonel:

...And then finally, elections, which is where we spend the majority of our energy right now, as you can imagine, getting ready for the 31 January elections. Done some very detailed planning and coordination meetings with not just the Iraqi security forces, but with the provincial government authorities and the council here. We've done combined planning efforts and we've made a lot of progress in that area....

The key to all this and the key to the success of the elections is making sure that, one, we seat the new governance. So as soon as the elections are over, about a two-month period of time where we've got to properly seat this new governance in Diyala province and then continue to partner with them and move ahead....

Elections have been discussed in the past several briefings, including the last one in which Col. Butch Kievenaar discussed the challenges of making sure that incumbents give up their power peacefully.

On to the Q & A part of the briefing. Before we do, however, a few quick quotes from FM 3-24 about the army of the host nation:

1-154 THE HOST NATION DOING SOMETHING TOLERABLY IS NORMALLY BETTER THAN US DOING IT WELL. It is just as important to consider who performs an operation as to assess how well it is done. Where the United States is supporting a host nation, long-term success requires establishing viable HN leaders and institutions that can carry on without significant US support....

6-1 Success in counterinsurgency (COIN) operations requires establishing a legitimate government supported by the people and able to address the fundamental causes that insurgents use to gain support. Achieving these goals requires the host nation to defeat insurgents or render them irrelevant, upholding the rule of law, and provide a basic level os essential and security for the populace. Key to all these tasks is developing an effective host-nation (HN) security force.

We might add the Clauswitzium dictum that

Everything in war is simple, but the simplest thing is difficult. The difficulties accumulate and end by producing a kind of friction that is inconceivable unless one has experienced war.

It all seems so simple from afar. But history shows that building up the military of third-world countries to where they can be effective is no easy task. It took us years to get the El Salvaroran army to go from being a 9 to 5 "barracks force" to where they could effectively fight the FMLN. Getting the various political parties to accept the democratic process was no piece of cake either.

And through it all the left in the United States wanted to abandon the fight. At times it was a near-run thing, but fortunately their views did not prevail and we were able to beat back the communists.

Likewise, Iraq was a near-run thing but President Bush finally did the right thing in firing Secretary Rumsfeld and Generals Abizaid and Casey, and allowing the team of Gates, Petraeus, and Odierno to implement what is called the surge. We have mostly won the military aspect, but much remains to be done.

Now, on with the Q & A:

Q Colonel, it's Mike Mount with CNN. You were just talking about the Iraqi security forces. Maybe you can talk a bit about how you think their capabilities are right now, maybe since your arrival or just before the arrival, and how you're looking at them now and, as you just talked about, into the elections. Are you also backing off a bit on patrols, or -- and do they have the lead on those? Maybe just kind of talk a bit about how that's working in your AOR.

COL. THOMPSON: I mentioned earlier that we went to school in -- on Diyala province before getting here. And I dialogued with two brigade commanders prior to getting here that spent, collectively, a year's time here in Diyala. I had a good feel for, one, the key leaders in the Iraqi security forces, specifically the army; not near as much the police, because they made some key changes to some of the key leaders in the police force.

So I felt pretty confident about the brigades in the 5th Iraqi Army Division, which is resident here in Diyala province. I felt good about the Diyala ops center commander, and also what we call the PDOP, their provisional director of police, General Damoukh , here. So I felt comfortable about their capabilities.

Obviously, as a commander, I spent the first 30 to 60 days pretty -- pretty much complete with my assessment of where they stand. And I think what you'll see is -- what I see is, individually, they're pretty competent. The equipment they've got, the kit that they have now, in many ways is just as good as some of ours.

Where you start seeing a little bit of a disparity is when they get to the collective -- a collective level, where we can do company combined arms live-fire exercises and operations here in Diyala, they can do those as well. But as far as integrating all instruments of power -- air weapons team, artillery, direct-fire weapons systems -- they got a ways to go there.

But again, the partnership, by, with and through, we spend a lot of time working with our partners. Every Iraqi battalion and brigade, all the way down to the squad and platoon level, has a partner. And those partners are from 1-25 Stryker Brigade. And so we've taken partnership serious. And quite frankly, we've raised it to a higher level.

You know, the SOFA and the security agreement says there are certain limitations for U.S. forces. I don't see it that way.

I see it as an opportunity not to get out there on point to clear these objectives, but to allow the Iraqis to get out front. And we partner with them, and we're brothers in arms, and we continue to move them forward. We take our tactics, techniques, procedures and our skill sets, and we rub up against them extremely hard. And the end result is we rub off on them.

And you can see their improvements every single day. My counterpart is Major General Khalid. He's the 5th Iraqi Army commander. And I can tell you, he has been working now for -- what? -- five-plus years with coalition forces, and you can't help not to have some goodness rub off on you. And so collectively, with the ability to integrate, to plan, to coordinate, to synchronize and efficiently and effectively execute operations, day by day they're improving.

So my assessment in the past 60 days is, yeah, they've got a ways to go, but quite frankly, you've got to understand that they've built this thing from scratch. They don't have the logistical systems we have, in many ways the technologies that we have, although that's even getting better, with the majority of our forces getting some of the same weapons systems that we have here in Diyala.

The Iraqi police. The Iraqi police, a little bit slower to get it professionalized; certainly have got the kit and equipment and they look professional, but you know, teaching them, again, the rule of law, order, justice, fairness -- all that stuff is a continuous process. And they're improving every single day.

Quite frankly, the Iraqi security forces, both the army and police, they have a herculean effort in front of them to maintain stability. And to me, that's the most important thing we can do. And the important gift I can give them is the ability to maintain a safe and secure environment here in Diyala. And that's what we've focused on an awful lot....

Q Can I ask a quick follow-up? This is probably not the best question, but with their level, are you confident that they are going to do a -- a good job during the election? I mean, you seem confident already, but do they have all the command, coordination, control in place to be able to pull off the security in the election without actually having to pull you guys in as well?

COL. THOMPSON: Yeah. And it's not a matter of pulling us in. To be honest with you, we want to be there. But we're transparent as we can possibly be.

We spent six hours yesterday with all the key players, to include those from the disputed zones up north, working through our security plan, painstaking detail.

In a couple of days here, we're going to do a full-up combined arms rehearsal where we'll bring and help facilitate and allow Iraqi counterparts to lead that rehearsal on the ground, just like a full-up rehearsal that we do in the Army: working through all the elements from movement of ballots to maintaining security of civilian population as they move through this processing of balloting; looking at physical security at each one of the polling sites or the voting sites, from the T-walls to the barrier materials, through the steps that we have to go through to, one, verify the individual, verify his identity, screen him to make sure he's not got any weapons or IEDs or anything else, and then moving those individuals -- to include female searchers, you know, to take into account the cultural differences here. So there will be a safe and secure election.

As mentioned above, it's interesting to see what the journalists challenge and do not challenge about what the briefer says. For example, I remember when they stopped challenging reports of military progress against the insurgents when the surge was going on. For awhile they were skeptical that the Iraqi security forces were getting better, but now I don't hear that so much.

Not the questions tend to be about the SOFA and it's implications. We also hear questions about how well the various parts or levels (federal vs local) of the Iraqi government work with each other, and also about how fast the Iraqis are taking over funding of their own operations.

Lastly, a story that illustrates the above points. We often hear that "the Iraqis don't like us" and/or want us gone, and I've no doubt that's true among may segments of the population. But it would be too simplistic to simply paint all of Iraq with one broad brush. My impression from these briefings and elsewhere is that the Iraqis serving their country in their military appreciate our forces and the sacrifices we are making on their behalf better than their countrymen:

COL. THOMPSON: On 16 October, when we had the indirect fire attacks that killed two of our soldiers, it would absolutely humble you to look at, one, the audience. On the front two rows were all of my counterparts. They didn't come because they had to; it was the Iraqi police, the Iraqi army commander, all our brigade -- subordinate brigade commanders and Iraqi counterparts. And I'm telling you, you rub up against them enough, you're going to rub off on them, and what's rubbing off on the Iraqis here is something that's good. We're teaching them the value of life -- you know, dignity, respect for others, rule of law. And quite frankly, day in, day out, the more we push and rub, the more is rubbing off on them. And it's going to take them time, but we are, one, quite proud of the progress that they're making, and we're not going to give up on them.

"We're not going to give up on them." This is more important than it may sound at first. In 2006, when the war was going south, the anti-war types wanted us to threaten the Iraqis with a pull out because they though "that'll show 'em to get their act together." This was always meant more for their domestic audience than the Iraqis, but it was flawed policy nonetheless. What worked is when we showed the Iraqis that we would not abandon them, and the insurgents that we would not give up.

So yes, we should and will eventually pull our troops out of Iraq. But it's still important not to do it too fast. We will generate a lot of bad will if we are seen as abandoning them before the situation is stabilized. Surely Generals Petraeus and Odierno are communicating this to incoming President Obama. I hope he listens.

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January 12, 2009

Israel in Gaza: Now is Not the Time to Stop

From today's Jersusalem Post:

Israeli ministers were told on Sunday that at least some of Hamas's leaders in Gaza are desperate for a cease-fire, on almost any terms. Hamas has sustained significant losses. Some of its fighters are going AWOL. Others have been captured. Amir Mansi, Gaza City's Kassam commander, was reduced to firing his own rocket at Israel on Saturday, and was killed by the IDF in the process.

Indeed we read in a different article from the same newspaper the leadership of Hamas is almost begging for a ceasefire:

For the first time since the beginning of the IDF military operation in the Gaza Strip, Hamas on Monday openly signaled its willingness to accept a cease-fire with Israel. The message from Hamas was issued by its prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, who has been in hiding since the beginning of the offensive.

Clearly the leadership of Hamas is worried. Gone is the bravado. They know that Israel can destroy enough of their movement so that what they have left will be a shell of it's former self. In the Arab/Muslim world, "face" is everything. Theirs is a culture based on honor, as Dr Sanity has pointed out. It was seen that Hezbollah won in 2006 because it retained it's honor, or face. It is this that the leaders of Hamas fear they will lose, I think.

Either way, now is not the time for Israel to let up. Napoleon knew that it was not enough to chase the enemy from the battlefield, but to destroy him entirely. It is imperative that Israel not agree to any cease-fire until she has achieved all of her war aims.

From the first article, here's yet another reason for Israel to press home the attack:

An immense network of tunnels - many of them still believed to be intact, despite repeated Israeli bombings - had enabled Hamas to progress a fair way down the path to replicating Hizbullah's weapons capacity and subterranean entrenchment. If the smuggling is allowed to resume, Israel will merely have set the stage for a far tougher next round against a Hamas more determined than ever to bring Israel to its knees - just as Hizbullah's serene rearmament since 2006 now sees it reconstituted as a greater strategic threat than it posed three years ago.

Such a shame all that energy directed towards tunnels was not directed towards building industry, which would work to the betterment of the people of Gaza.

Again from the Jerusualem Post, this time from Tuesday:

As the IDF operation in the Gaza Strip entered its 10th day, Hamas has begun sending conflicting messages regarding its intentions.

These contradictory messages, Palestinian political analysts said, reflected the state of confusion in Hamas and raised questions as to who was calling the shots in the Gaza Strip.

While some Hamas leaders have been openly signaling their readiness to accept a new cease-fire, others are still calling for pursuing the fight against Israel "until victory."

What is clear is that Hamas is now desperate for a lull in the fighting. But it is also eager to score some kind of a "military victory" before a cease-fire is reached.

During the July/Aug 2006 war against Hezbollah in Lebanon, we saw many articles from trustworthy sources questioning Israeli strategy and wondering whether they could achieve any meaningful victory. Not so much this time. We have the usual drivel from the usual sources, but once you filter them out we are presented with an entirely different picture: If Israel can hold out against the so-called "international community" she has a chance to smash Hamas. As I pointed out yesterday, the only chance for true peace is to let that happen.

Tuesday Evening Update

Bill Roggio, writing at The Weekly Standard, provides a hope and a warning. Roggio has a history of correct analysis with regards to Iraq, so I take him seriously.

First the hope:

The 18-day old Israeli operation in Gaza appears to be on the cusp of intensifying as Israeli troops are preparing to conduct the third phase of the operation and enter the urban sprawl of Gaza City. Intense fighting is expected as Hamas has dug in and planted mines and booby traps along the roads and in buildings. Clearing a city the size of Gaza City may take weeks and will generate more images of the plight of the Palestinian people.

Reports from the region indicate Hamas may indeed be on the ropes. Israeli intelligence believes Hamas's military arm has suffered significant losses. As Michael Goldfarb noted yesterday, Hamas's leadership in Gaza is pushing for a ceasefire, despite calls to continue the fight by Hamas's leadership in Damascus and the Iranians.

Fatah, Hamas's political enemy, has essentially endorsed the Israeli incursion and has held Hamas responsible for Palestinian deaths. And despite reports to the contrary, the vaunted "Arab Street" has been relatively quiet as the Israelis pound Gaza. Most Arab regimes are pleased to watch Israel destroy the Iranian and Syrian-sponsored Hamas.

Phase One was the air campaign, with Phase Two being the initial ground invasion. Now Israel stands poised to launch a Third Phase, which would be to enter Gaza City and clean out the rats nest of Hamas fighters, hopefully once and for all.

However, it might not be launched:

Despite the current momentum on the Israelis'side, the word from Israel is the leadership troika of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni may be getting cold feet in taking the fight into the heart of the cities in Gaza to root out Hamas.
Political sources said Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni decided late on Monday against ordering troops in the next two or three days to engage in all-out urban warfare.

Opening a "Phase 3" of the offensive would likely complicate truce efforts, lead to intense street fighting and could cause heavy casualties on both sides, a politically risky move less than a month before Israel's parliamentary election.

Israel clearly has the upper hand in the fight. While the Israelis were clear that their goal wasn't to defeat Hamas, they may actually have the opportunity to do so. Olmert, Livni, and Barak could very well snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by cutting a peace deal with Hamas and leaving the organization intact and in control of Gaza. As Goldfarb said yesterday, the Israelis would be well served to "give war a chance."

Olmert gave up in Lebanon because the war was not going well and international pressure was too much. This is different, however. Operation Cast Lead has been going relatively well and the objectives the IDF set for itself have been obtained. The international pressure is not nearly as intense, and many or most Arabs know that Hamas is to blame. If Olmert and his cabinet give up this time, they will have no excuse.

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January 11, 2009

For the Sake of Peace, Let Israel Destroy Hamas

Unlike the editors of Time magazine, who ask "Why Israel Can't Win," I think that israel can and possibly is winning it's war with Hamas. Rather than asking "Can Israel Survive It's Assault on Gaza?" they ought to be asking if Hamas can survive. Further, it's not Palestinian moderates who will be the casualties if Israel is allowed to win, but the radicals.

But of course to Time and those of their sort Israel must never respond to terror but must grant concession after concession. Only the so-called "peace process" will lead to peace. What hooey. As Natan Sharansky pointed out in The Case for Democracy, "strengthing" Arafat let to nothing good. Rather than weaken Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the defeat of Hamas will strengthen him. That the editors of Time cannot see this is mindboggling, but sadly not surprising. The only people Israel can or should negotiate with are moderates.

Too many people put the political cart in front of the security ox in Iraq. For years we tried to foster political and economic progress in a country where there was no security. Only when Gen. Petraeus' team published Field Manual 3-24, and we implemented the surge, did we reverse our strategy. When researching FM 3-24, the authors found that history proved that you cannot have political or economic progress unless you have security. We surged troops, changed the strategy, achieved security, and now you have political and economic progress in Iraq.

Although parallels are never exact, I believe that we have a similar situation with regard to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Trying to achieve political progress when there is no security for Israel is a fools errand. Let Israel destroy Hamas, and maybe things can move forward.

Martin Kramer (h/t TWS) explains

Hamas in power, from the outset, sought to break out of what it has called the Israeli "siege" by firing rockets into Israel. Its quid pro quo was an end to Hamas rocket fire in exchange for a lifting of the Israeli "siege." When Israel and Hamas reached an agreement for "calm" last June, Hamas hoped the sanctions would be lifted as well, and Israel did increase the flow through the crossing points, by about 50 percent. Fuel supplies were restored to previous levels. But Hamas was fully aware that sanctions were slowly eroding its base and contradicting its narrative that "resistance" pays. This is why it refused to renew the "calm" agreement after its six-month expiration, and renewed rocket fire.

Were Israel to lift the economic sanctions, it would transform Hamas control of Gaza into a permanent fact, solidify the division of the West Bank and Gaza, and undermine both Israel and Abbas by showing that violent "resistance" to Israel produces better results than peaceful compromise and cooperation. Rewarding "resistance" just produces more of it. So Israel's war aim is very straightforward, and it is not simply a total cease-fire. At the very least, it is a total cease-fire that also leaves the sanctions against Hamas in place. This would place Israel in an advantageous position to bring about the collapse of Hamas rule sometime in the future--its long-term objective.

Exactly. Fatah is hardly a bunch of boy scouts, but they're a preferable to Hamas. With Hamas there is no hope, because they have no intention of governing anything in the normal sense. They exist for one reason and one reason only; to destroy Israel and kill Jews. Agreements and treaties are things that they will only agree to when they need a temporary respite from the IDF, and something they will break as soon as they think they have the advantage again. Negotiating with them is pointless.

Hamas' War Against Fatah

Years ago, when the PLO was the only game in town, we could think of it as strictly an Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But after Hamas ("Islamic Resistance Movement") was founded in 1987, all that changed. The various PLO organizations were mostly secular and Marxist in outlook. Hamas, as the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, was strongly Islamic and jihadist.

What this means is that the differences between Fatah and it's PLO factions and Hamas are not those of two normal political parties, but a chasm that cannot be resolved.

Hamas won a resounding victory over Fatah and other factions in the January 2006 elections for the Palestinian Parliament. In June of 2007 they launched a coup against Fatah and the PA in Gaza, taking the place over and killing or ousting hundreds of Fatah members. Long story short this resulted in a split in the PA, with Hamas controlling Gaza and Fatah maintaining at least nominal authority over the PA on the West Bank.

If Israel had done nothing, Hamas would dominate future elections. If Israel stops it's offensive now it may be seen as a Hamas victory, with a resulting increase in their prestige. Again, Hamas benefits in elections. Is this what those who push for a cease-fire want?

The Democrats Know

Yesterday I wrote about how the leadership of the Democrat party was strongly behind Israel. Michael Goldfarb of The Weekly Standard tells us why:

The Democratic party leadership seems to understand completely the need for the current Israeli government to hold on to power, and the need for Hamas to be severely weakened, if the peace process is to resume. The left, however, is crying for a cease fire, the result of which would almost certainly be the strengthening of Hamas and Likud. In this case, reflexive anti-Israel bias has blinded the left to the fact that their own aspirations for a negotiated settlement hinge on the success of Israel's operation in Gaza. Leaving Hamas intact, as the settler quoted above points out, will only push a final settlement even further into the distance.

General elections in Israel are scheduled for February 10. If the Kadima-Labor government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert did nothing about Hamas, the Israeli electorate would be driven to the right, as they want someone who will protect them. I don't really follow internal Israeli politics that much, but it is well-known that Binyamin Netanyahu is more willing to use force, and less sympathetic towards the Oslo "peace process." Netanyahu is leader of the opposition Likud Party.

So Can Israel Win?

In the wake of Vietnam, too many Americans, especially those in the media, became convinced that we could never win again. Desert Storm only went a little ways towards destroying that myth, but it came back full force after the insurgency ramped up in Iraq.

We see a similar situation in Israel. Her initial adventure in Lebanon (1982-2000) and the 2006 war there led to the belief that Israel could not defeat a terrorist/jihadist army. But as Thomas Donnelly & Danielle Pletka explain in The Weekly Standard, Gaza is not Lebanon:

To begin with, the physical and geographical differences between southern Lebanon and the Gaza strip could hardly be greater....Gaza is also an inherently isolated battlefield. Whereas Hezbollah could be resupplied not from northern Lebanon, Syria, and even from the sea, Gaza is surrounded by Israeli walls and a closed border with Egypt. And the Israeli Navy dominates the coastline. As long as Egypt restricts movement into and out of Gaza, the Hamas leadership and forces are trapped in a very small pocket....

Hamas and Hezbollah are also profoundly different beasts. While neither is really the "non-state actor" as popularly understood, Hezbollah is a much more robust and state-like organization, while Hamas is only a notch above its roots as a terrorist group, and has failed to capitalize on its control of quasi-independent Gaza to organize or modernize. And further, while both are Iranian proxies, the duration, depth and strength of Tehran's investments in Hezbollah far exceeds its investments in Hamas....

Militarily, the Israelis seem much better organized, conducting combing and coordinated air and land operations, and committing adequate forces from the start rather than feeding forces into the fight in a piecemeal fashion. They've also been more patient, a very necessary virtue.

Given time, I do believe Hamas can be weakened to the point where it is no longer a serious player.

Give War A Chance

Charles Krauthammer, writing in The Washington Post, explains why a cease-fire now would not achieve anything, and in fact would be counterproductive:

The U.N.-mandated disarmament of Hezbollah in Lebanon is a well-known farce. Not only have foreign forces not stopped Hezbollah's massive rearmament, their very presence makes it impossible for Israel to take any preventive military action, lest it accidentally hit a blue-helmeted Belgian crossing guard.

The "international community" is now pushing very hard for a Gaza replay of that charade. Does anyone imagine that international monitors will risk their lives to prevent weapons smuggling? To arrest terrorists? To engage in shootouts with rocket-launching teams attacking Israeli civilians across the Gaza border?

Of course not. Weapons will continue to be smuggled. Deeper and more secure fortifications will be built for the next round. Mosques, schools and hospitals will again be used for weapons storage and terrorist safe havens. Do you think French "peacekeepers" are going to raid them?

Such a deal would buy Israel maybe a couple of years. After which, Round Two -- with Hamas rockets by then killing civilians in Tel Aviv, making Ben-Gurion airport unusable and reaching Israel's nuclear reactor in Dimona.

The good news, if we can really call anything in war good, is that far from acquiescing to a cease-fire, Israel is pressing it's offensive deeper into Gaza, with troops now in Gaza City itself.

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January 10, 2009

Congress Stands with Israel

I am proud and pleased to see that the United States Congress has issued strong bipartisan statements of support for Israel in it's current war with Hamas.

On Thursday January 8 the Senate passed Resolution #10. When it appears in Thomas Registry you can read it here. In the meantime, you can read Majority Leader Harry Reid's statement introducing the resolution:

"I rise to voice my strong support of a resolution in support of Israel that I have introduced with (Minority) Leader McConnell, along with an overwhelming number of bipartisan cosponsors. When we pass this resolution, the United States Senate will strengthen our historic bond with the State of Israel by reaffirming Israel's inalienable right to defend against attacks from Gaza, as well as our support for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

"I spoke with Prime Minister Olmert last week and again expressed my understanding of and appreciation for the terrible situation that Israel has faced. Hamas has been firing rockets and mortars into Israel, killing and maiming innocent Israeli civilians, for more than eight years.

"I ask my colleagues to imagine if this were happening here in the United States and rocket fire was coming from Vancouver, Canada, into Seattle. Would the United States react? Of course we would. We would have to react to protect our people, and it would be not only our right but our obligation to do so. That is what the Israelis have done.

"Hamas must stop the rocket fire from Gaza into Israel. That is the stated objective of the Israelis.

"I acknowledge and appreciate the calls by some for a cease-fire. Certainly we must encourage a peaceful resolution of the conflict. But we must be certain that any cease-fire is sustainable, durable, and enforceable.

"Our resolution reflects these sentiments. It states that:

* The United States Senate stands with Israel at this critical moment and recognizes Israel's right to self-defense;

* Hamas must end the rocket and mortar attacks against Israel;

* Any cease-fire must be durable, enforceable and sustainable;

* The lives of innocent civilians should be protected; and

* We support a just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a strong and secure Israeli living in peace with an independent Palestinian state.

"I encourage all of my colleagues to support this critical expression of support for our steadfast ally, the State of Israel."

I certainly don't say this often, but Senator Reid, my hat is off to you.

In the House, Republican Whip Eric Cantor and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer co-wrote an editorial in which they expressed their strong support of Israel which appeared in newspapers across the country. Here are excerpts:


During this difficult war in the Gaza Strip, we stand with Israel. Why? Because we have been to Israel. We have seen Sderot.

In August 2005 and again in 2007, we visited the region of southern Israel that includes this embattled Israeli border town. Taken together, the trips helped us define the historical and military context for Israel's current action in Gaza...

What distinguishes the two sides, however, is their very aim. While Israel targets military combatants, Hamas aims to kill as many Israeli civilians as possible. Hamas, after all, is one of the Middle East's most notorious terrorist outfits. Since its inception in 1987, it has worked systematically to fulfill the goal laid out in its charter: the destruction of Israel. During the last Intifada, Hamas claimed credit for 52 suicide bombings that killed 288 Israelis, according to Israeli government figures...

Like most Americans, we identify strongly with Israel's ongoing, elusive quest to achieve peace and security in a dangerous part of the world. We recognize that by arming and training Hamas, Iran has made this latest Israel-Hamas war a key front in its effort to remake the region in its own radical image.

America would never sit still if terrorists were lobbing missiles across our border into Texas or Montana; and just as we assert our right to defend ourselves, Israel has every right to protect its own citizens from the implacable foes on its borders. Support for Israel in her time of need, from both Democrats and Republicans, is not just the logical choice. It is both a strategic and moral imperative.

Would it be that out Congress could think so clearly on other issues.

Posted by Tom at 10:30 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 8, 2009

The Israeli War on Hamas - Not Nessarily a Left-Right Divide

While I think it's accurate to say that that most on the right support Israel, and most on the left at least oppose what Israel is doing even if they're not outright pro-Hamas, this is not always the case.

Republican Congressman Ron Paul reveals his moral bankruptcy when says that "we should be on neither side; this is a conflict that has been going on for a long time"


You can see why he didn't make any headway in the primaries.

Pat Buchanan isn't any better. Here's an excerpt from what he wrote on Dec 30:

About Israel's right and duty to defend its border towns, there is no dispute. When Hamas permits Gaza to be used as a launch pad for rockets, it must expect retaliation. Nor can Hamas claim some right to dictate the limits of that retaliation.

Yet the wisdom of so savage a retribution for rockets that killed not one Israeli is open to question. And crass Israeli politics seems to be behind this premeditated and planned blitz....

The moderate Palestinian Mahmoud Abbas, who has been talking to Israel, testifying to her good faith, has been made to appear the puppet and fool. A new intifada spreading to the West Bank, with suicide attacks inside Israel, is now possible.

Moderate Arabs, who have recognized Israel or backed peace, will now be seen by the Arab street as appeasers impotent to stop the public suffering of the Palestinian people....

Whatever Israel decides, we support. For eight years that has been the most reliable guide to U.S. Middle East policy.

Buchanan's statement that Israel has a right to defend itself is clearly a throwaway line. Where all his Arab moderates are is a mystery to me. None of this is a big surprise, though, because as far back as 1991 William F Buckley Jr concluded that Buchanan was an anti-Semite.

On the other side, consider this blog post by a guy who styles himself "Truth101." I ran into him over at American Power, where we usually disagree, but was pleasantly surprised to find him taking Israel's side. Here's an excerpt from his post "The Left isn't always Right"

One of my fellow lefties at Newshoggers posted some nonsense about Israel and the Gaza Conflict. He was trying to make a case that Israel was occupying Gaza and was overreaching or something.

Lefties: the people of Hamas are not your friends. They are lying, sniveling pricks that have no interest in peaceful coexistence with anyone. Let alone Israel. Once the Left and the world accepts these jokers for the no good terrorist, innocent women and children killing pricks they are, we will all be better off and ready to fight a real war on terror. Not the make Halliburton and Blackwater lots of money war Bush has waged.

In the comments section I wrote that my hat was off to him for his clear thinking on this issue.

No matter what Israel does the so-called international community disapproves. The good news is that unlike during the 2006 war in Lebanon, Israel is holding its own in the propaganda war, and setting the record straight as soon as Hamas propaganda hits the news. I'll go out on a limb and sai that I think Israel is going to win this one, much the the chagrin of the internationalists.

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

January 7, 2009

The Israeli War on Hamas and the Moral Bankruptcy of the "International Community"

Nothing so illustrates the moral bankruptcy of the so-called international community," and indeed of so many others both on the left and on the right, as does the Israel-Palestine issue.

Consider this letter to the editor published in today's Washington Times. A brief excerpt:

This is a call for women of the world to unite with peace-loving men to stop the terrorist tactics used by both parties in the Israel/Palestine confrontation. It is nonsense for one group to say they are fighting terrorism when they themselves are using terrorist tactics....

Is the main reason for using weaponry today so that those in positions of power can keep their power? Our present State Department can only mouth one-sided views having to do with "our allies."

This attitude tries to make us afraid and to urge us to fight "an enemy." The truth is that we are the people of one world, and when we harm others, we are harming ourselves and the whole earth.....

BETTY CYPSER

Katonah, N.Y.

If queried about her letter, my suggestion to Ms Cypser is for her to say that she was drunk at the time so didn't really mean what she wrote.

Unless Israel is perfect and kills absolutely no civilians it is condemned by folks like her and the "international community," while the actions of Hamas are ignored or excused. Don't believe me? Do as columnist Mona Charen did and google for "international condemnations of Hamas" She's right, no such condemnations come up, even if you fiddle with the wording. On the other hand, google for "international condemnations of Israel" and you get quite a bit.

Lest anyone think that I'm just reprinting a crazy letter to the Times and doing a google search to make the point, Charen points out that

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, "strongly condemned Israel's disproportionate use of force," as did Brazil. Indonesia called on all countries to "sever all forms of diplomatic and business ties with Israel." French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who currently holds the rotating chair of the European Union, did call upon Hamas to halt its rocket attacks but also censured Israel's "disproportionate response."

We've all seen the articles. There's no need to go on. We see this every time Israel responds to terrorism. After the failure of the 2000 peace talks at Camp David, Yassir Arafat launched an intifada against Israel, sending suicide bombers into Jewish cafes and pizza parlors. Israel responded with a security fence. Who did the international community condemn? Israel.

Israellycool get's it about right in what is unfortunately only a half-parody:

In other news, Hamas executed 6 suspected collaborators with Israel (leading to widespread condemnation by "human rights" organizations and "peace activists"), France's Channel 2 have once again shown their true colors, and an ex-aide of Saddam Hussein has gotten all Baghdad Bob on us.

The "international community" has been intent on pushing for a cease-fire from the moment Israel launched what they call Operation Cast Lead. They apparently actually think that if such an agreement was hammered out Hamas will honor it's side of the deal, all past experiences to the contrary. Nowhere have I found any proposal from anyone to stop Hamas from launching it's terror rockets.

Even if such a promise was to be made, Israel would be justified in rejecting it based on history. In 2005 the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1559, which demanded the disarming of Hezbollah. To this date Hezbollah has not been disarmed because it refused to relinquish it's weapons and no one has the will to do it by force. Countries do not send troops on UN peacekeeping missions if they think there is a chance of serious fighting.

Even so, it is important to note that despite the chatter, many Muslims and Arabs are not taking Hamas' side. They make the standard denunciation of Israel, but one gets the impression it's just for show. They're angry at Hamas for interrupting what they saw as a "peace process" that might actually get somewhere (I don't think so, but that's for another day). They also realize that Hamas basically had it's own country, and did itself no good by provoking a powerful foe into attacking. This is good, and Israel senses it.

What's really disturbing is when the Bush Administration joins in the international chorus. To be sure, they've kept the UN Security Council from passing egregious resolutions (see eye on the UN website) but why do they have to join everyone else in calling for a cease fire? Why can't they just say one time it would be good if Israel destroyed Hamas? We expect others to back our attacks, but we can't back Israel?

I'm sure that privately we are telling Israel to "go for it" but I get tired of the two-facedness of it all. Condi Rice has proven to be a terrible Secretary of State, her 2007 peace conference in Annapolis being ill-planned and achieving nothing. The good news for the Obama Administration is that they can hardly do worse. Knock on wood.

Saturday Evening Update

On Thursday, Jan 8, the UN Security Council Resolution passed Resolution 1860 calling for a ceasefire. It's all a lot of hooey. Here are a few excerpts

Expressing grave concern at the escalation of violence and the deterioration of the situation, in particular the resulting heavy civilian casualties since the refusal to extend the period of calm; and emphasizing that the Palestinian and Israeli civilian populations must be protected,...

Stresses the urgency of and calls for an immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza;...

Calls on Member States to support international efforts to alleviate the humanitarian and economic situation in Gaza, including through urgently needed additional contributions to UNRWA and through the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee;

The document expresses the moral equivalency the UN has been so famous for. All states are equal, and no blame is assigned. At least the US abstained, though we should have vetoed it. I know we abstained instead of exercising our veto power so as not to fray relations with states like Turkey and Jordan, but it was still a cowardly act.

The good news is that the Olmert government seems to have more backbone than we do. According to this AP story, they may even be escallating the war

Israel dropped bombs and leaflets on Gaza on Saturday, pounding suspected rocket sites and tunnels used by Hamas militants and warning of a wider offensive despite frantic diplomacy to end the bloodshed.

Good. Hamas is a cancer that needs to be cut out and killed. Although they were foolish enough to vote them into power, the real benefit would be the Palestinian people themselves.

Sunday January 18 Update

An editorial in today's Jerusalem Post hits the nail on the head. Money quote:

Israelis are told that no matter the provocation, we are "too quick" to resort to force. As if negotiations with Hamas were an option; as if eight years was too quick.

And if we've acted so "disproportionately" in our brutal march to triumph, how come the enemy is still standing and declaring victory?

To the morally obscene charge that we've committed "genocide" in Gaza - does anyone seriously doubt that were genocide our goal, heaven forbid, there would be 500,000 dead Palestinians, and not 1,000?

What other army drops warning leaflets and makes automated warning calls prior to attacking? Why is it ethical for Hamas to fire from a mosque or over the walls of a UN facility, but unethical for our citizen-soldiers to save themselves by responding with heavy weapons?

The truth is that no Western country faced with a similar set of circumstances - fighting an enemy that principally targets non-combatants while hiding behind its own civilians - would comport itself with higher moral standards than the IDF.

Sophomoric ideals about wartime morality are barely tolerable in Philosophy 101. When mouthed by leaders and pundits who should know better, they reflect intellectual laziness and dishonesty.

Posted by Tom at 9:15 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 6, 2009

Iraq Briefing - 05 January 2009 - Trying to Ensure Peaceful Transitions of Power

This briefing is by Colonel Butch Kievenaar, Commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, also known as the Warhorse Brigade. On Monday he spoke via satellite from Forward Operating Base Echo in Iraq with reporters at the Pentagon, providing an update on ongoing security operations.

Although the Warhorse Brigade is formally part of the 4th Infantry Division, which headquarters Multi-National Division - Baghdad, they are currently assigned to Multi-National Division - Center. MND-Center is also also known as Task Force Mountain, and is headquartered by the 10th Mountain Division. The Warhorse Brigade arrived in Iraq in September of 2008.

Col. Kievenaar reports to Maj. Gen. Oates, commander of the 10th Mountain Division. 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, 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 much of interest in this briefing, so I encourage readers to watch the video, which is 32 minutes in length. However, perhaps the most interesting exchange was about what happens after an election, when the incumbent does not get reelected. We in the West have grown accustomed to peaceful transfers of power; not so in places such as Iraq. Whether incumbent Iraqis accept defeat gracefully is anybody's guess.

From the colonel's opening statement:

COL. KIEVENAAR:...The Warhorse Brigade is responsible for the Najaf province, as well as southern Babil. Covering such a vast area is only possible due to the dramatic improvements in the security situation that the Iraqi police and the Iraqi army are providing to their citizens. This is my third OIF deployment, and I can tell you from my previous experiences that the Iraqi Security Forces have greatly improved and on a day-to-day basis provide the security that their population currently enjoys.

We work hard every day to professionalize the ISF leaders and to help them develop sustainable systems to ensure that the security forces can provide security well into the future. The focus of their training is no longer on individual soldier skills, but is on small unit tactics, on battle command, logistics, intelligence analysis and combined operations.

As I stated, the Iraqi security forces have made great progress. My first deployment in OIF was as a squadron commander in the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, and we operated out in the Al Anbar province. I returned to Baghdad in 2006 as the division G3, the operations officer for the 4th Infantry Division, which was Multinational Division-Baghdad.

The progress of the Iraqi security forces from then to now is amazing and rewarding, because I've seen it from the beginning. The Iraqi police and the Iraqi army are conducting complex operations, both unilaterally and then some with our assistance. We've conducted combined operations with the Iraqi security forces; have targeted, identified and captured high-value targets. The Iraqi security forces, partnered with our forces, have captured six of our top 10 high-value targets....

When we go out on patrol, they are all combined with the Iraqi security forces, and the Iraqi security forces are in the lead, with our forces providing assistance. Instead of having 10 U.S. soldiers to every one Iraqi soldier or police officer, we see a much more balanced ratio.

Iraqi security forces taking the lead is something we've heard in recent briefings by other commanders. We know it's working because levels of violence are not going up.

On to the Q & A. The big question everyone is asking in the U.S. is "when can our troops come home?" On the one hand we certainly want to draw down as much as possible. On the other we do not want to lose all that we have gained. As such, we need to understand that withdrawal needs to be in stages. We are, after all, fighting a counterinsurgency war, and things don't end all-of-a-sudden World War II style.

Al Pessin gets to the heart of the matter. Typically, he asks a followup question to make sure he's getting all of the information. This time he asks two. Pessin is one of the more astute journalists and asks the hard questions.

Q Colonel, it's Al Pessin from VOA. Just to follow up on that thought, what impact do you anticipate then from the June deadline if any? And what preparations are you making?

COL. KIEVENAAR: What I expect is that by June, the JSSs and COPs that we are in; we will have withdrawn and handed those back over to the Iraqi security forces. And that was part of the plan even without that strategic agreement.

We are currently in two JSSs and a COP, well, correction, two COPs at this point. We have Iraqi army, Iraqi police. We have joint command and control. And that's where we do our joint patrolling from.

They have moved from, when we first got here, with very few forces there, to a much more robust presence and command and control capability. They are now the ones planning the operations.

We will continue to work through those and help them, to get through the election period that is the end of the month, and then reassess.

But we believe at that point we will be ready to start to back out of those, because they no longer require us to be there, and that they are -- both the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police -- working very effectively together in joint command and control for their own country.

Q To follow that, then, where will your troops go? I mean, how far away will they go? And how would you describe their role after they've withdrawn from the urban areas?

COL. KIEVENAAR: Well, they won't go very far. I mean, all that will happen is, is they will withdraw back -- as a basing piece -- back to the FOBs that we're in. In terms of the operations, they'll -- we'll continue to do joint operations with the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police.

We are working on what we call professionalizing their security forces. That's focused on their leaders, their NCOs, and teaching them how to train, how to sustain themselves; working with the battalion leadership, the brigade leadership and the division leadership on how to do effective targeting -- instead of doing a sweep operation or a cordon and search, doing precise targeting -- and how to integrate both the intel with your maneuver.

And so we are working all of those things and we'll continue to work all of those training objectives with them as well as joint operations. It just means we won't live in the town as we currently do in those COPs and JSSs.

It being somewhat hard to translate into civilian-speak just what exactly the colonel means, Pessin asks a clarifying question:

Q So you'll continue to do joint operations with the Iraqis, including operations in the cities, but you just won't live there. Is that right?

COL. KIEVENAAR: Yes.

Thankfully Col Kievenaar kept his answer simple this time. I googled for "JSS" and "COP" but couldn't be sure I found the right definition.

Another question dealt with the upcoming elections.

It has become somewhat easy to set up reasonably fair elections in most non-Western countries. The hard part is setting up a second set of reasonably fair elections. Even harder than that is getting incumbents to relinquish their seats. All too often "one man, one vote - one time" has become the watchword across the world.

It is all very fine that we have Hamid Karzai elected as President of Afghanistan, and Nouri al-Maliki elected as Prime Minister of Iraq. The question is what will they do if they lose the next round. Equally important are provincial governors in Iraq, which is what the next round of elections in Iraq are all about.

To his credit, Col. Kievenaar is not shy about discussing this challenge. Here's an excerpt from the following exchange:

Q And Colonel, it's Andrew Gray from Reuters, here. Can you give us your assessment of the security situation around the provincial elections? Are you anticipating incidents? Are you making plans to make any changes to take account of the elections?

COL. KIEVENAAR:...Where we think the critical period is, is between those that get elected and those that do not. And if I was the governor and I was in power and then I did not get reelected, this country has not gone through a peaceful transition of power. And so that's what we're looking at. That's what we're trying to help them with. And that's where we see the greatest friction point.

And we use our election that just happened with the -- for president as a great example of how there was a change from one party to another, in terms of who's going to lead the country, and how the current incumbent is working very hard to hand over the reins of power, to the incoming president, and how that is being done peaceably and amicably versus what they're used to, which has been a coup, how they have changed power in the past.

I'll certainly be looking to see how the Iraqis react to any close voting results.

Lastly, we'll catch up on the state of the Iraqi Army and police, and then we'll assess the threats in the Warhorse Brigade's provinces.

Q Colonel, Bill McMichael, Military Times. You called the progress of the ISF, since your last tour in OIF, amazing and rewarding. I wonder if you could be a little more specific and tell us how far the Iraqi military and separately the Iraqi police, in your area of operations, are from operating completely independently.

COL. KIEVENAAR: Okay. I'll start with the Iraqi army.

The Iraqi army, from my last rotation, was really just forming itself and did not have really good battle drills and really good individual soldier skills to execute the COIN (counterinsurgency) operations we were asking it to do.

It was trying to grow, train and execute at the same time, and the tempo that it was facing really didn't allow itself to train properly.

What I see now is an army that is fully capable on its individual skills, is capable of unilateral operations, especially in a COIN environment, and is now focused on also training itself while it is doing that, and now has a -- at least in the province that I'm responsible for, the enemy level is low enough now that they have the ability to train -- cycle forces off to train while they're executing operations.

From the police perspective: One, there's a lot more. Two, they are much more proficient. It was a challenge the last time I was here to get them to conduct patrols, to man checkpoints. And if we weren't there or we didn't take them out on the patrols, they wouldn't go. That's not the case now....

So far so good, but what I'd also liked to have heard about was logistics, which has been a big problem for the Iraqi Army, as it is for armies in third world countries in general. In many of these briefings we've heard about the inability of the central government to supply all that is needed, though it does seem to be getting better.

Here's the exchange on the threat levels in Kievenaar's AOR (Area Of Responsibility):

Q Colonel, it's Mike Mount with CNN. Just briefly, you sort of answered it a little bit earlier, but what exactly is the threat level in your AOR? Are you looking at -- and who's involved? Is it mainly AQI or is it thuggery or -- and it seems to, down the road, tend to get worse. Do you have any confidence in the Iraqi army, Iraqi police since it has been a relatively quiet area that they would be able to actually control it without the help of the U.S., or with limited help of the U.S.?

COL. KIEVENAAR: To answer the kind of the overall piece, it's, yes, I think they can control it. In April, March and April of last year, this was not a very calm place. And the Iraqi army conducted an operation they call "Lion Bounce (ph)" in which they got rid of a lot of the significant JAM influence that existed in Diwaniyah province. Since those operations, there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of events that occur. Now, we don't have a huge al Qaeda presence in the province that -- or the provinces that I'm responsible for. It is mostly what we call JAM special groups or criminals.

What we have right now is a situation where your low-level fighters, those guys that would then go out and do something if somebody gave them money, gave them direction and gave them resources, they're still around. But they're not doing anything because none of their leaders are here. Their leaders have been targeted, picked up or they're hiding in a neighboring country. And every time they come in, try to come back into this country, they're effectively targeted and picked up. The example is the six HVTs that we picked up since we came into the province.

Without that leadership, without the money and without the resources then they basically return to their normal lives. And so we have a very safe and secure environment right now and I don't see anything on the horizon that their security force, both the police and the army, cannot handle.....

Nothing shocking or terribly new in this briefing, which is a good thing.

Posted by Tom at 10:15 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 5, 2009

The Israeli War on Hamas and Personal Responsiblity

Once again, here goes another post on the Middle East in which I have to check the "Moral Clarity" category box as well.

Of all the issues around the world, the Israeli-Palestine one is the absolutely most frustrating from this standpoint. It generates more moral confusion than any other. And let me be clear on this; I'm not talking about whether it was wise for Israel to attack Hamas, or Hezbollah in 2006. One can be morally clear on the issues and simply believe that there was another way to deal with the problem.

Here is a typical news story, this one from the AP

Israel ignored mounting international calls for a cease-fire Monday and said it won't stop its crippling 10-day assault until "peace and tranquility" are achieved in southern Israeli towns in the line of Palestinian rocket fire.

They never call for a cease fire when it's only Israel getting hit. Nor do they call it a "crisis", a word you see all over the news now that Israel is shooting back.

I could pick any of a hundred anti-Israel posts, but Glenn Greenwald, writing at Salon, is typical when he goes after pro-Israel blogger Michael Goldfarb of The Weekly Standard:

One should be clear that this sociopathic indifference to (or even celebration over) the deaths of Palestinian civilians isn't representative of all supporters of the Israeli attack on Gaza. It's unfair to use the Goldfarb/Peretz pathology to impugn all supporters of the Israeli attack. It's certainly possible to support the Israeli offensive despite the deaths of these civilians, to truly lament the suffering of innocent Palestinians but still find the war, on balance, to be justifiable.

Those who favor the attack on Gaza due to that calculus are certainly misguided about the likely outcome. And many war supporters who fall into this more benign category are guilty of insufficiently weighing the deaths of Palestinian innocents and, relatedly, of such overwhelming emotional and cultural attachment to Israel and Israelis that they long ago ceased viewing this conflict with any remnant of objectivity.

Greenwald is nicer than most of his sort in saying that it is "certainly possible to support the Israeli offensive despite the deaths of these civilians," but there's one big problem with his thesis.

The Palestinians aren't as innocent as he says they are.

A Brief History

Fist we need to set the stage.

In January of 2006 the Palestinians voted Hamas into power in the elections for the Palestinian Parliament, Hamas winning 75 seats to Fatah's 45. The electoral system is a bit complicated (see here), as some of the seats are awarded by proportionality and some by district. While because of these peculiarities (follow the link) Hamas didn't have quite the level of support the results would indicate, in the end a significant amount of people voted for Hamas.

In June of 2007, Hamas took complete control of Gaza in a bloody coup, killing who knows how many Fatah members and civilians (websites vary). They created their own government in Gaza, basically splitting the Palestinian Authority in two, with Fatah (nominally) in control in Judea and Smaria (the "West Bank").

Caroline Glick describes the run-up to the war in an interview with K-Lo over at The Corner

The fighting in Gaza today started about three weeks ago when Hamas renewed its rocket, mortar, and missile assault against Israel. Last June, Israel foolishly agreed to a six-month ceasefire with Hamas. Hamas used the time to have Iran double the size of its missile arsenal and double the range of its missiles, and to build up its Iranian-trained, armed, and financed Hezbollah-style army of 20,000 men. Hamas called its renewed offensive "Operation Oil Stain." On December 17, Hamas attacked Israel with more than 80 missiles, rockets and mortars. It took Israel ten days to finally respond to Hamas's assault, which for the first time put Israeli major cities like Ashdod, Yavne, Beersheva, and Gedera under assault.

Who is Responsible?

To varying extents, a people bear responsibility for their government. If it is a dictatorship, the people are only responsible to the degree that they try and resist it. I realize it's all very easy to talk about resisting tyranny from the safety of one's keyboard and from the perspective of the United States in 2009, but it's true nonetheless.

Certainly, though, if you vote that government into place you bear responsibility. And the fact is that when given the chance, Palestinians voted for Hamas. They got what they wanted. And let's be clear, Fatah isn't that much better. Their Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades are their terrorist wing, as they have been designated by the U.S. Department of State since 2002.

Here's the point - If you vote for terrorists as your government, and then they terrorize your neighbor, you have no legitimate reason to cry foul if your neighbor strikes back.

At least the Germans and Japanese had the decency not to pretend that they were the victims when we bombed and occupied their homelands.

Strangest of all, it is in the best interests of the Gazans that Hamas be destroyed. Ever since Israel withdrew from Gaza in August of 2005, they have basically had their own country. Not much of one, to be sure, and one beset with huge social and economic problems, but a country or homeland of sorts. They had a golden opportunity to show everyone that they could be a responsible self-governing entity. And they blew it.

Among other things the Gazans inherited in the wake of the Israeli withdrawal were more than 3,000 greenhouses, which could have been used to grow valuable flowers for export to Europe. American Jewish philanthropists even paid $14 million to save them from destruction by Jewish settlers so the Gazans could have them. And what happened? Many were damaged or destroyed by looters that the Palestinian authorities were helpless to stop, often because their security forces stood idly by.

They got their homeland, and they have made the worst of it.

Discrimination

This said, it is still incumbent upon nations to not directly target civilians. It is an integral part of Just War Theory. Now, I don't think that traditional JWT is completely applicable to our modern world. It needs updating. But the principal of discrimination, which basically says you cannot directly target civilians, is accepted by all civilized nations.

The whole issue gets complicated, and I urge readers to follow the links and read the whole thing themselves, but the salient point here is that Israel does not target civilians and Hamas does. Just because civilians are killed while attacking military targets does not mean that "Israel is killing civilians," because such a formulation implies that Israel is doing so deliberately.

In the end, the Gazans therefore bear some responsibility for what is happening to them. Critics need to stop pretending that they are totally innocent bystanders.

Posted by Tom at 10:00 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

January 3, 2009

Israel hits Hamas - The Ground War Begins

Updated with video at bottom - even if you don't read the whole post please watch it

A few hours ago at the gym I was treated to the usual "Crisis in the Middle East" headline from the media. In this case it was CNN, but they all do it.

Funny how it only becomes a "crisis" when Israel shoots back.

Moving on...

Earlier today Israel began phase two of Operation Cast Lead, it's operation to destroy Hamas and it's ability to launch terror rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel. A few hours ago Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak released this statement:

"A few hours ago, Israeli ground forces entered the Gaza Strip as part of Operation Cast Lead against the Hamas terrorists, their affiliates, and their infrastructure in Gaza. So far, the Israel Defense Forces have dealt an unprecedented heavy blow to Hamas. In order to complete their mission, we have now launched the ground operation.

I have said all along that our military activities will widen and deepen as much as needed. Our aim is to force Hamas to stop its hostile activities against Israel and Israelis from Gaza, and to bring about a significant change in the situation in southern Israel.

We have carefully weighed all of our options. We are not war hungry but we shall not, I repeat - we shall not-- allow a situation where our towns, villages and civilians are constantly attacked by Hamas. It will not be easy or short, but we are determined.

..... While we are fighting in Gaza, we keep watch on the sensitive situation on our northern border. We have no aggressive intentions there. We hope the situation there will remain calm; nevertheless, we are ready to face any unwarranted development in that area.

We are peace seekers. We have restrained ourselves for a long time, but now is the time to do what needs to be done. We are determined to afford our citizens what any citizen anywhere in the world is entitled to - peace, tranquility and freedom from threats."

Let's hope they succeed. Although the Palestinian people were foolish enough give Hamas a victory in the 2006 legislative elections, it is they who will benefit most from an Israeli victory. Their only hope is to be governed by peaceful leaders who will turn from terror to looking after their economic interests and social well being. If Israel has nothing to fear from them, trade would or could flourish and there would be no reason to cut off supplies of anything.

Predictably, the UN, most countries around the world, and even our own state department have issued statements to the effect that they are "working for a ceasefire," but I don't think this is like the Aug/Sept 2006 war in Lebanon. My take is that privately most, especially some of the Arab governments, are hoping Israel deals a severe blow to Hamas.

Why wouldn't a cease-fire work? Martin Peretz, writing in The New Republic, says that "Hamas is a Taliban State" (h/t JCPA):

...it is clearer in my mind than ever why a cease-fire between Jerusalem and the regime in Gaza will never hold. Even the so-called cease-fire in place since the summer was not remotely close to a true pause in the fighting. That is, in the fighting from the other side of the frontier. Day-in and almost every day-out, rockets were launched from Hamas territory, and Israel did not fight back. Then, one day last week, Hamas aimed 60 missiles, some more rustic, some much less, into the Land, into eretz, as it is commonly called in Hebrew. This was one violation of the truce too many. How long was Israel to stand aside while its enemies, sworn by fanatic Islam to its destruction, rained death, injury, and terror on its population?

In other words, this is not a standard war in which one or both sides started shooting more or less at the same time, and gee can't they both back off? The events of the past few years have shown conclusively that Hamas fires at Israel whether the latter responds at all. Therefore, it is certain that if there was a cease-fire, and Israel upheld it's end of the bargain, Hamas would resume it's terror rocket attacks.

What is the Israeli Goal?

From the website of the Israel Defense Forces:

The IDF Spokesperson emphasizes that this stage of the operation will further the goals of Operation Cast Lead as communicated: To strike a direct and hard blow against Hamas while increasing the deterrent strength of the IDF, in order to bring about an improved and more stable security situation for residents of southern Israel in the long now term. "Stage two of Operation Cast Lead has been launched to support our central goals which are to deal a heavy blow to the Hamas terror organization, to strengthen Israel's deterrence, and to create a better security situation for those living around the Gaza Strip that will be maintained for the long term," states Brig. Gen. Avi Benayahu.

A CNN story quotes Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev as saying that "We haven't articulated regime change as the goal of this operation. Our goal is to protect our people."

The invaluable Steve Schippert, writing on NRO's The Tank military blog, says this about probable Israeli goals:

Israel is most likely setting the stage for a Fatah-Hamas showdown redux in Gaza. A couple of things have to happen to prepare for this eventuality first, however. Hamas has spent two years -- under Iranian strategic direction, guidance, assistance and supply -- duplicating Hizballah's offensive missile capabilities in order to lure the IDF into a Hizballah-modeled urban defense of tunnels, deception, firepower, and explosives. See here from earlier.

As such, Israel has to accomplish a few things under increased Gaza Hizballah-modeled defenses.

  1. Destroy known large weapons caches -- for both immediate and down-the-road benefit.
  2. Disable the tunnel systems into Egypt that are used to re-supply Hamas's increasingly lethal arsenal.
  3. Seal sea-based approaches, as submersible containers are also used to ferry weapons ashore from cargo ships.
  4. Liquidate as much of Hamas's key leadership as possible.
  5. Liquidate Hamas terrorist ranks, especially rocket crews and builders, as much as possible.

Israel will stop the operations not when the rockets stop, but rather when Israel thinks it has crippled Hamas and hindered its regenerative ability to the point where the next incredibly challenging step can be taken: Assist and empower Fatah enough in Gaza that it can once again raise a significant challenge to Hamas's violent domination there. Fatah was decimated in Gaza by Hamas in '06 and '07. It must be rebuilt.

Follow the links to Schippert's posts; both of them.

Now to sit back and see whether Israel achieves it's objectives. I hope they do.

Sunday Evening Update

I don't think this needs any introduction:

link here.

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