February 27, 2009
Obama's Porkulus Package will Break the Bank
Via Michelle Malkin, here's Republican House Minority Leader John Boenher's assessment of Obama's federal budget
In 2009, federal spending will approach $4 trillion, or 28 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) - a one-third increase in the size of government in a single year. The budget released by the White House today is loaded with job-killing tax hikes and a slate of even more government spending. Overall, the blueprint projects a record $1.75 trillion deficit this year while doubling the national debt over the next ten years. Following are just 10 fast facts about the Administration's budget, which our children and grandchildren will be paying for far into the future.
1. The Administration's projected budget deficit of $1.75 trillion is higher than the last five years of deficits combined, and under this plan, we will see three consecutive trillion dollar deficits between now and FY 2012.
2. While it was purported to cut the budget deficit in half - from $1.75 trillion in 2009 to $533 billion by 2013 - this budget projects higher deficits in 2014 ($570 billion), 2015 ($583 billion), and 2016 ($637 billion). In 2019, the final year in the budget, the deficit is projected to be $712 billion.
3. Including the recently-enacted trillion-dollar "stimulus" spending bill, discretionary spending will soar by 24 percent this year under this budget.
4. The budget projects that the national debt will increase from $8.4 trillion in 2009 to $15.4 trillion in 2019.
5. The Administration's budget contains $1.4 trillion in tax increases - tax hikes that will impact everyone, from small businesses, charities, and seniors to everyone who owns a 401(k) and anyone who flips on a light switch.
6. After promising that he will reduce taxes on 95 percent of Americans, the Administration's budget establishes a $646 billion energy tax hike that will impact anyone who uses electricity, drives a car, or relies on energy in any way.
7. This budget forecasts more than $1.5 trillion in new health care spending, including a 10-year, $634 billion a health care "reserve fund." The budget also calls for seven percent annual growth in Medicare and more than six percent annual growth in Medicaid over the next 10 years.
8. The budget includes a $750 billion placeholder for a second round of spending under the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP), even though the first round of TARP spending is not yet finished, nor is there a clear explanation of how funds under the initial round was spent.
9. The Administration's budget claims that reducing the number of troops in Iraq over the next 10 years will cut the deficit by $1.6 trillion; however, that is only because the budget allocates the same amount of funds for the Iraq war each year over the next decade, even though most combat troops may be withdrawn during the next 19 months. The savings are, at best, deceptive.
10. The budget provides a scant 2.9 percent pay raise for military personnel as required by law, less than a week after Democrats in Congress provided the necessary funding to implement District of Columbia locality pay for overseas Foreign Service officers, which would constitute an 18 percent pay increase.
Heaven help us with this idiot in the White House.
Oh, and let's not have any nonsense from leftie commenters about how Obama "has identified $2 trillion in government spending cuts that can be made over the next decade."
It's all budget trickery, as explained by Brian Riedl and James Capretta. Let's also not have any nonsense about how we can tax "the wealthy" enough to pay for it all, because the Wall Street Journal destroys that argument.
We're going from bad to worse with regard to federal spending with Obama. I did not like President Bush's budgets, or the spendthrift ways of the Republicans in congress, and said so many times on this website. But Obama take the cake when it comes to fiscal irresponsibility
February 26, 2009
Do I Want Obama to Succeed?
Do you want Obama to succeed?
This has become a test question for conservatives. The only correct answer, of course, is "yes." Heaven forbid you should answer otherwise. Rush Limbaugh said that "Obama failing is a victory for the America I've always known," a statement that has sent the left into a tizzy. There's even a page on the Democrat Congressional Committee's website, where you can "express your outrage about Rush's comments today."
I went to the site and entered my name, and what I wrote is similar to what I write below. What's funny, though, is that conservatives have raided the DCCC blog post on it and from what I can see 90% of the comments support Rush. Heh heh.
So do I want President Obama to succeed? Here's my response:
I want Obama to fail; fail to implement the specifics of his program.
This "do you want Obama to succeed" is one of the most dishonest questions I've ever heard. If Republicans answer "yes," then we'll be required to support each of his proposals, otherwise we'll be told "he can't succeed unless what he proposes is voted into law." If we say "no," we're accused of subverting the country.
So if you mean "succeed" in some vague, general sense of "make the economy better" or "keep us safe from terrorism" then yes, I want him to succeed.
But candidates don't run on vague generalities, they run on specifics. Obama has a whole list of specific proposals in the Agenda section of the White House website. I think that most of his specific proposals would be bad for the country, so I want him to fail to get them implemented into law.
If you really need specifics;
I want Obama to fail to confiscate the wealth of the producers in this country.
I want him to fail to set up a permanent Democrat majority through instituting government programs that create a need for funding year after year, and thus government employees, most all of whom will vote Democrat so as to keep their taxpayer funded jobs. This is why I opposed the so-called "stimulus" bill.
I want Obama to fail to radically transform our country into a French style dirigisme relationship between the government and the economy.
I want Obama to fail to get the so-called "assault weapons ban" through congress that his Attorney General announced today.
I want Obama to fail to get "comprehensive immigration reform" passed, which he says will "allows undocumented immigrants who are in good standing to pay a fine, learn English, and go to the back of the line for the opportunity to become citizens."
I want Obama to fail to get the additional "hate crime" statutes passed that he wants. These laws are at best Orwellian and at worst ridiculously unconstutional.
I want Obama to fail to get any sort of government run universal coverage health care system passed.
I want Obama to fail to get his pro-abortion agenda passed into law.
I want Obama to fail to pressure Israel into giving up territory in a foolish "land for peace" deal.
I want Obama to fail to get the defense cuts through congress that I'm sure he will propose.
I want Obama to fail to "Create a Green Jobs Corps" or raise the minimum wage, or any of another hundred things.
In fact I want Obama to fail to impliment just about all of the proposals I see at the White House website.
So rather than go on, in closing I'll quote the great Rush Limbaugh as he response to a question to him by James Carville;
There's not going to be cooperation here, James. Why do I want this to work? Why do I want an attack on capitalism to succeed? Why should any of us want that? Why should anybody want a fundamental restructuring of the United States of America to succeed? What is so hard to understand about this? Let's say that you're a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers. They've just come back and scored the touchdown that puts them up four points with 15 seconds to go, and Kurt Warner of the Arizona Cardinals drops back. You damn well better believe I wanted Warner to fail. I wanted Warner to screw it up. I wanted him to fumble. I wanted him to get tackled on his backside. The last thing I wanted was Warner to succeed in beating the Steelers. Now, what is so unusual about this?
When was the last time we ever heard the Democrats say, "Gosh, I hope Bush succeeds"? Do you realize what a straw dog this is? And here come a bunch of cowardly Republicans who know exactly what I said and know exactly what I mean, but because of the historical nature and the aura and the power of The One, "Oh, no, we can't... We can't... We gotta hope he succeeds." Do you realize what a hypocrite it makes all of you on our side, when you say you "hope he succeeds" means? Do you realize how your own voters hear that? What does both of my succeeding mean? Somebody tell me. Some of you on our side, I want to hear from you on the phones. If you can't find it within yourself that you hope he fails. Because, you see, Obama failing is a victory for the America I've always known, the America I grew up in.
Obama failing to socialize this country is success for the country. It's a victory for the country. Obama failing to confiscate the wealth of the achievers and the producers in this country, that's success. That's victory for America.
Well well, look what ace reporter Bill Sammon has unearthed:
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, just minutes before learning of the terrorist attacks on America, Democratic strategist James Carville was hoping for President Bush to fail, telling a group of Washington reporters: "I certainly hope he doesn't succeed."
Yup. James Carville wanted President George W. Bush to fail.
Make sure you read the whole thing.
February 24, 2009
Iraq Briefing - 23 February 2009 - Still A Third World Country
This briefing is by Colonel Joseph Martin and Mr. John Bennett. Col Martin commands the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Multinational Division-Baghdad. Mr. Bennett is in charge of in charge of the Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team 6 (EPRT), which works with Col. Martin's brigade. They spoke via satellite from Camp Victory in Iraq with reporters at the Pentagon on Monday, providing an update on ongoing security operations in Iraq.
MND-Baghdad is also known as Task Force Baghdad. Its major area of responsibility is the city of Baghdad. MND-Baghdad is headquartered by the 1st Cavalry Division from Fort Hood, Texas.
On February 10, 2009, the 1st Cav took over responsibility for MND-Baghdad from the 4th Infantry Division, which is commanded by Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Hammond. Congratulations and a job well done to the men and women of the 4th ID.
Col. Martin reports to Major General Daniel P. Bolger, commanding general of the1st Cav. Bolger, 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 Gen. David Petraeus. Odierno reports to Gen. Petraeus, now commander of CENTCOM. Petreaus reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
The transcript is at DefenseLink.
COL. MARTIN: ...Our mission here is simple and focused: secure the people, allowing them to continue building civil capacity and returning to normalcy....
I mentioned that we trained for almost 18 months in preparation for our deployment. But even with the best training that any army can experience in the entire world, we've been constantly amazed at the changes that have occurred in just the last four months since we arrived. A new security agreement governs our partnership operations. Iraqi provincial elections occurred without any noticeable violence, and it was Iraqi-funded, Iraqi-led and secured exclusively by our Iraqi counterparts. Our role is to fully support and assist our counterparts in whatever -- in that great endeavor.
And finally, we're seeing U.S. forces move out of selected sites within Baghdad, transferring them to the Iraqi government ministries or security forces as designated by the government of Iraq.....
MR. BENNETT: ...We're truly at ground level. We deal with people.
We're part of the BCT. The EPRT is embedded with it, as journalists are embedded with the brigade combat teams from time to time. However our chain of command, if you will, goes back to the embassy, through the Baghdad PRT, up to the Office of Provincial Affairs, to the ambassador himself.
...The team is small, just seven people.
What do we do? If you compare us to, let's say, Google, we are an active or a proactive Google. The idea is to give sound, current advice and counsel and ideas to the brigade combat team.
In the areas and particular some of those areas affect security; others are more along the political, economic lines. And of course very important is our services.
What we're really interested in is not so much individual things to do but more to uphold or to recover institutions which have fallen on ill times here in Baghdad, for example, the department of public works....
Our idea is to, as the military is mentoring and coaching and dealing with the Army, we're also -- with the Army, U.S. Army -- we're out working with services, working on politics, working on economics....
"constantly amazed at the changes;" this is something we hear quite often from our commanders who redeploy back to Iraq these days. We hear time and again how impressed they are with the changes.
On to the Q & A
The first exchange we'll look at is on the supply of electricity. Much has been written over the years about how the residents of Iraq do not get electricity all day long. I googled around but cannot find a graph that shows current hours per day availability of electricity.
I did find a story published yesterday on Radio Free Europe which said that for the first time total electrical production was higher than before the invasion in 2003. In fact, total production has reached 6,760 megawatts, which is 2,500 megawatts higher than pre-invasion levels. Even better, this summer an additional 2,000 megawatts of generating capacity will come on line.
Even so, we all know it's still a problem because residents do not get power around the clock like they should.
Q Hi, Colonel. This is Courtney Kube from NBC News.... If I could also ask a question of Mr. Bennett, you mentioned that you work with the department of public works there in Baghdad. Can you update us ... on the average daily electricity that the majority of people in Baghdad are seeing? It seems like that number has been relatively stagnant for the past year or two...
MR. BENNETT: Let me -- let me answer your questions as you gave them, but in reverse order. On electricity, which is a national question because of national grids and national ministry involved, it's not 24 hours a day in Baghdad, or elsewhere in the country. It's growing that way, and in some areas of Baghdad -- for example, the hospitals, police stations and so on -- it has been and remains 24 hours a day.
However, through much of our three districts that Colonel Martin and I work, it is several hours a day; more in the winter than in the summer, because of the demand going in the winter -- going in the summer, because of the air conditioning and the heat.
Mr. Bennett completely ducked the question.. Fortunately, a few minutes later, another reporter followed up. Perhaps seeing that they weren't going to get out of it, both Col Martin and Mr Bennett gave more direct answers:
Q (General ?), hi. I'm Kevin Baron from Stars and Stripes....You were mentioning the electrical grid. If you could explain a little bit more of why we're -- I believe at this point we're still experiencing only partial amounts of electricity per day. What are the root causes for that? And then what it will take to fix that, to get that up to, you know, a normal working city with electricity 24 hours a day.
MR.. BENNETT: Sounds to me like a military problem.
COL. MARTIN: Well, I think in the end it comes down to this is a higher-level problem than us in northwest Baghdad. I know that it's something that we continue to monitor, but it's -- the national grid is something that would be much more appropriately addressed at a headquarters above us.
MR. BENNETT: And the fact is that through many, many years, more consumers, degraded equipment, war damage and so on, there's just simply not enough electricity. The security situation over the last few years contributed to that.
The good news is that we saw that as also an opportunity with some of the people that we have outreach to to be trained as generator mechanics. Small generators are in great demand here on the street, so we have set up some training programs, vocational-type programs, to train people on generators.
So we've turned that lemon, if you will, into a small glass of lemonade.
COL. MARTIN: And we've done some other initiatives as well. Recently we opened a solar power project on a clinic in A'amiriya, where the clinic and its critical services receive continuous power. And that has made a huge difference for that particular clinic. And we're actually looking at some others to expand in that regard.
I would imagine that Col. Martin gave Mr Bennett an earful later with the latter's initial response of "Sounds to me like a military problem. " What was that supposed to mean? Insurgent attacks are way down from years ago.. Surely the problem with electrical production is still that insurgents are blowing up power lines and/or substations?
Perhaps he realized his own mistake because at the next opportunity he addressed the issue more clearly.
I think the lessons here are that despite the progress, Iraq is still a third world country, and Saddam destroyed the country more than we had realized.
Let's compare the U.S. to Iraq using the CIA Factbook:
Per Capital GDP
U.S. - $48,000
Iraq - $4,000
U.S. - 78.14
Iraq - 69.62
U.S. - 6.3 deaths/1,000 live births
Iraq - 45.43 deaths/1,000 live births
School Life Expectancy (years spent in school)
U.S. - 16
Iraq - 10
U.S. - 99%
Iraq - 74.1%
U.S. - 7.6%
Iraq - 18% to 30% (uncertain)
With statistics like these it drives me nuts when some Americans, on the right as well as the left, demand that Iraq "pay us back" what we've spent there just because they ran a budget surplus this past year. Do these same people want to exact payment from Germany and Japan as well?
Finally, we come to Col Martin's closing statement. Note how insurgent attacks went from 25 per day in January 2007, before the surge got under way, to 1.5 per day today. Yup, the surge has certainly worked....
COL. MARTIN: I've got four things I'd like to leave with you.
One, it's incredible, the progress I've seen since I arrived back here, having served here a couple years ago, in 2003, 2004. Within our area that we're in right now, an area in January 2007 that had 25 attacks per day, currently the attack-per-day ratio -- or the attack- per-day rate is down to less than 1.5. All right, that's 5 percent of what it was in January 2007. That's a function of, first, the Iraqi people and their strength and resilience; second, Iraqi security forces; and third, the strength of our partnership with those security forces and our relationship with the people here.
I'd like to thank each of you for the opportunity to speak about what superb soldiers of this tremendous brigade are doing every day for the people of northwest Baghdad in concert with their security partners. Their discipline and high standards remain the cornerstone of the numerous successes here, and they frankly amaze me every day.
I'd like to send a special thanks to our families and friends back in the greater Fort Riley community out in the middle of Kansas. Their continued support coupled with their caring efforts for brigade rear detachment has allowed me and frankly the entire brigade to focus on point, on mission.
Most importantly, we want to thank Junction City, Manhattan and northeast Kansas and our community partners in Dickinson County for all of their support. It's a great community there, a great place for soldiers to know that their families are cared for. Their continued support allows us to focus on mission and continue to be successful here in Baghdad.
Thank you very much. Have a wonderful evening..
MNF-Iraq reported today that violence in Iraq was at a 6 year low. This represents a 90 percent decrease since the surge began in early 2007.
Glad we didn't listen to Obama on the surge.
At the time of this briefing Maj. Gen. Joseph Fil commanded the 1st Cav, which was then just leaving Iraq. His message at the time was straightforward
Now, I want to be absolutely clear that while we have seen significant progress during our tour here, we are very mindful that it is fragile and that there is very tough work ahead. Al Qaeda is down, but it is by no means out. It remains a very dangerous enemy that maintains the ability to conduct attacks against the innocent, and we must continue to pursue them, to attack their networks even as they're trying to regenerate. Likewise, militia and criminal networks are still very potent threats who are continuously seeking to regain power and authority....
I think it's clear that pulling out too quickly, before the Iraqis are truly able to take over these areas independently, would be very risky. And there are some areas in the city where, at this point, it would fail. They're simply not ready to stand entirely on their own.
A few months later, in February of 2008, Fil was promoted to Lieutenant General and assumed command of Eighth United States Army and Chief of Staff/United Nations Command/Combined Forces Command/United States Forces Korea.
A good promotion for a job well done.
February 23, 2009
Afghanistan Briefing - 18 February 2009 - Not at the Tipping Point
This briefing was by General David McKiernan, Commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan and NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Last Thursday he was in Washington DC, speaking with reporters at the Pentagon.
Gen. McKiernan reports to Gen. Petraeus, commander of CENTCOM. Petraeus reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
The transcript is at DefenseLink.
This briefing was rather long, at 50 minutes, so we'll only cover some of it. The questions were very good, and McKiernan gave what I believe was an honest and informative assessment of the situation.
First of interest is what McKiernan said about the ultimate solution for the country during his opening remarks:
GEN. MCKIERNAN:...But I would like to reinforce what the president has said, that this is not going to be won by military forces alone. And while this will give us a security foundation, we certainly need additional contributions, civilian capacity building programs that will enable people in Afghanistan to feel hope and to develop their abilities to take the lead for their governance....
It was during the early days of the surge that I noticed that the left ramped up their theme of "there can be no military solution to Iraq." What's interesting is that nobody ever said that there was an exclusively military solution. The whole point of the surge was to stop the violence so that political, social, and economic progress could take place. As I trust we're all aware, so far it has worked out very well.
In the end, to defeat an insurgency the people need to believe that the counterinsurgents will win and that the government has their best interests at heart. During any insurgency most people want to sit on the fence, committing to neither side. To win the counterinsurgents must get them off the fence and into their camp.
All of this is part of the "additional contributions" and "civilian capacity building programs" that the general was talking about. But the lesson of the 20th century as spelled out in Petraeus' US Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24 is that this sort of progress can only take place after the populace has been secured.
Now let's get to the exchange that prompted the title to this post;
Q You couldn't -- if you got the full complement of the 30,000 and you combined that with the Afghan army, the ratio of troops to civilians would still be lower than it is in Iraq and lower than what most counterinsurgency doctrines suggest. Why the 30,000 cap? I mean, can you see it --
GEN. MCKIERNAN: It's not a -- it's not a cap. I've never approached it as a cap. And it's also related to the fact that we need to continue this to be an international effort. So there are NATO contributions and other troop-contributing nations. So it's not just U.S. military capabilities, it's international military capabilities while we are growing the Afghan army, the Afghan police, because what we want to get to is what I've called the tipping point, where the lead for security is in Afghan units, police and army, and we increasingly are more of in a training and mentoring role.
Q (Off mike) -- looking at the big picture, what is the earliest that you would project that this time -- that that tipping point might be reached?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: You know, that's a million-dollar question. I don't -- it's always hard to predict years out. But we have a program to accelerate the growth of the Afghan army, as we talked about earlier, to 134,000. We know we need to increase the size of the police and train and focus our efforts there and reform in many cases. Those are programs that are at least going to go out over the next three to four years.
So I -- let me answer the question by saying for the next three to four years, I think we're going to need to stay heavily committed and sustain -- in a sustained manner in Afghanistan.
Anyone who has followed my extensive posting on Iraq knows that we reached the point where Iraqi forces were in the lead last year (the exact time varied by region). We are nowhere near that point in Afghanistan, and in fact the situation has deteriorated in the south.
Let's be clear; when McKiernan mentioned "three to four years," that wasn't a time until all would be finished and we could pull out all of our troops. As I have said innumerable times, most recently in Afghanistan and the Long War, no insurgency has been defeated in less than 10 years. That's the absolute minimum, and most last longer. That said, I hasten to add that insurgencies don't end World War II style, they peter out. So if all goes well we may be able to draw down troops somewhat in a few years.
But even then it's not so simple. At least Iraq was relatively isolated. We had trouble from Syria and Iran, to be sure, but we could and did defeat the insurgency without striking into their countries. Not so with Afghanistan. Too much of the insurgency has sanctuaries in parts of Pakistan.
This exchange really gets to the heart of the matter:
Q General, why should the U.S. expect to succeed in Afghanistan where other superpowers have failed?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Because it's in our vital national security interest to succeed as the United States of America. It's a country that is absolutely worth our commitment, the Afghan people. And it's a region that is absolutely worth the commitment of the international community to ensure that it's stable at the end of this.
And I know there is -- especially with the history of Afghanistan, there's always an inclination to relate what we're doing now with previous nations and history that have been in Afghanistan for other reasons. And I think that's a very unhealthy comparison.
We're in Afghanistan with the support of the Afghan people, to bring stability and a better future to that country. That's a, certainly, far different reason than, say, for instance, the Soviets were in there. So I think that to a certain degree is comparing apples with oranges.
And I think the insurgency is not going to win in Afghanistan. The insurgency is not going to win in Afghanistan. By any metric, by any polling data, the vast majority of the people that live in Afghanistan reject the Taliban or other militant insurgent groups. They have nothing to offer them. They do not bring any hope for a better future. The insurgency will not win in Afghanistan.
It was a great question, and the general gave a near perfect answer. The only thing he couldn't say is "whether we win depends on whether we have the willpower to stick it out." The Democrats wanted to abandon Iraq as early as 2004. Despite all of their talk about wanting to fight the "real war" in Afghanistan, it is not at all clear to me that they'll have the fortitude to stick it out. If the economy tanks more than it has, the cries to save money will get louder and louder. And if progress is uneven, we may see a resurgence of the Copperheads.
The last exchange that I'll quote is interesting mostly for it's insight into counterinsurgency tactics:
Q Sir, are you just going to shape, clear, hold and build? What conditions would you not in clear, hold and build?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Well, I like to put the word "shape" in front of it, because there are a series of actions in terms of understanding the environment where you're going to work, understanding who lives there, what are the dynamics of the people that live in that area, what are the dynamics of the agriculture system, of the terrain, of the irrigation systems, of governance, intelligence building? What needs to happen before you move a capability in there to clear -- meaning separate the insurgent from the population? There's a whole series of actions that can run from being very non-kinetic, such as coming in with projects, to very kinetic.
I am happy that President Obama is sending 17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. We need to send more. We asked our "allies" to help us by sending more themselves, and once more we have been betrayed. If we win this, it will because the people of the United States and Afghanistan do not give up.
February 21, 2009
Afghanistan: Harder Before It Gets Easier
Most wars are not fought in linear fashion, but rather go back and forth, and often it is not clear until close to the end who will win. World War II was atypical in this fashion. In both theaters, the Axis won early victories, then you had the turnarounds at Stalingrad and Midway, and then a long string of Allied victories.
Iraq is more typical of most wars. We wiped out the Iraqi Army fairly quickly, and so won the first stage. The insurgency hit us hard and unexpectedly, and so by late 2003 we were clearly losing. We appeared to gain our footing in 2005, only to lost it by the end of 2006, when it became clear that the country was sliding into a type of civil war, or at least mass ethnic cleansing. The surge put us right again, and by 2008 it was clear that we had mostly won the war, and now only had to win the peace. Today I think it's clear that Iraq is making the much of the political progress we had hoped for, although of course it still has a long way to go and could always backslide.
When we did commit the 5 additional brigades to the surge, and kick off kinetic operations with Phantom Thunder, allied casualties rose. So did that of our Iraqi partners, and for that matter of the civilian population as well. Followed by Phantom Strike and Phantom Phoenix, we slowly but surely applied the new counterinsurgency lessons of Field Manual 3-24 to create space where political and economic progress could take place.
Setting aside for the moment the larger War on Jihadism (something that exists whether the Obama Administration wants to admit it or not), our current focus is on Afghanistan. Here, too, we've seen it go back and forth a few times. Early on we clearly were winning when we chased the Taliban and al Qaeda from the country. They've slowly come back, in somewhat different forms, and an uneasy stalemate has persisted.
In Iraq we're in Stage 3 operations, called "OUTPATIENT CARE--MOVEMENT TO SELF-SUFFICIENCY" 5-6. in FM 3-24. In Afghanistan, we still need to go through a "surge" of operations. There we've probably regressed from "MIDDLE STAGE: "INPATIENT CARE--RECOVERY" 5-5." backwards to stage one; "INITIAL STAGE: "STOP THE BLEEDING" 5-4"
General Petraeus, commander MNF-Iraq during the surge and now commanding CENTCOM, had this to say about the future of Afghanistan last month:
In recent months, our President and many others have highlighted the need for additional forces in Afghanistan to reverse the downward spiral in security, help Afghan forces provide security for the elections on August 20th, and enable progress in the tasks essential to achievement of our objectives....
As Senator Lieberman highlighted in his Brookings speech, a surge in civilian capacity is needed to match the increase in military forces in order to field adequate numbers of provincial reconstruction teams and other civilian elements....
First and foremost, our forces and those of our Afghan partners have to strive to secure and serve the population. We have to recognize that the Afghan people are the decisive "terrain." ....
It is also essential that we achieve unity of effort, that we coordinate and synchronize the actions of all ISAF and Afghan forces -- and those of our Pakistani partners across the border -- and that we do the same with the actions of our embassy and international partners, ....
Indeed, as Vice President Biden observed recently, Afghanistan likely will get harder before it gets easier. And sustained progress will require sustained commitment.
There's a lot here, more than I really have time to address properly tonight.
I've blogged on this until my fingers are blue, but since I'm sure my readers do not have encyclopedic knowledge of all of my posts on this, let's go through each of the issues the general raises.
Just as bad, many of our allies insist on such strict ROE (Rules of Engagement) for their troops that they end up in safe areas guarding things that are not likely to be attacked anyway. As such, there is a split command between ISAF and OEF.
This is not to say that all of our allies do not fight, for that is untrue. The Netherlands, Canada, and UK troops stand out. But even with them there are far too few.
Worse, it's not getting better. We were told that the Obama Administration would make nice with the world and our relations with everyone would improve, but that hasn't carried over to the area of additional troops for Afghanistan. From the Telegraph
Washington had hoped to persuade European allies to contribute more in the wake of the President Barack Obama's election and the announcement this week of the deployment of 17,00 extra American soldiers.
American defence secretary Robert Gates condemned their failure to do so far as "disappointing" with European states promising to deploy no more than just a few hundred extra troops....
With public opposition to the Afghan war hardening across Europe, and disquiet in many European capitals over a command structure in Afghanistan that keeps the vast bulk of the 55,000-strong American force separate from Nato, few expect any member to commit significant additional forces.
And I thought that Afghanistan was the war we were all supposed to want to win.
One can object that that Bush so screwed up the war and poisoned our relations that this is what we get. If so, then they weren't allies worth having to begin with, and anyway the minimum it's ever taken to win against insurgents is 10 years.
Perhaps Obama just needs more time to convince them to come around. Perhaps, but I'm not optimistic. For reasons that have been explained elsewhere I don't think the Europeans care about Afghanistan.
A Surge in Civilian Capacity
By this, I believe, Petraeus is referring to Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) and Human Terrain Teams(HTTs).
PRTs bring civilian expertise to various projects designed to defeat insurgencies by providing essential services to the people. Gen. Barry McCaffrey (ret) noted that they have been extremely successful in Iraq, and recommended that while we've been using them in Afghanistan too, they'd work a lot better there if the international community would step up and provide some help
I've blogged about HTTs here and here. Essentially, the HTT is part of a "counter-insurgency effort of the United States military which embeds anthropologists with combat brigades in Iraq and Afghanistan to help tacticians in the field understand local cultures." There is some question about how effectively we are using them in Afghanistan, but I don't have enough information to make a complete judgment.
Secure and Serve the Population.
The key lesson of Petraus' Field Manual 3-24(linked to above) was that political progress cannot come before military progress. In other words, you must secure the population through proper counterinsurgency tactics before you can expect social and political progress. One of our key mistakes in 2004-6 was that we got this backwards. The left made the same mistake when the opposed the surge, insisting that political progress was the only route. The truth is that both need to occur, but in the proper order. See Iraq II 2007 - 2008 for about a zillion posts on the subject.
Afghanistan likely will get harder before it gets easier
I don't think anyone disagrees with this. After all, although President Obama has pledged another 17,000 troops to the fight, a wise idea and I applaud him for it, we have had these things go wrong for us recently
You have the agreement of the government of Pakistan to essentially turn over the Swat Valley to the Taliban, which is a disaster. You've got the announcement two weeks ago our base in Kyrgyzstan is being shut down under the pressure of the Russians. And you have the blowing up of our bridges in our supply areas into Afghanistan.And just the other week DOD Press Secretary Geoff Morrell admitted to a "deteriorating security situation" in Afghanistan.
I actually think Obama's biggest challenge, assuming he really wants to win there, that is, will come from the American left. For the past several years they've been saying that Iraq was a "distraction" from the "real war" that they wanted to fight oh-so-badly in Afghanistan. Now that they're in power, they'll have to make good on this promise. This story in the Washington Post last month isn't encouraging, and as Charles Krauthammer notes, Obama has been amazingly weak in responding to foreign policy challenges thus far.
So for reasons both at home and in Afghanistan, it is going to get a lot harder before it gets easier.
February 19, 2009
Are We "A Nation of Cowards" on Race?
On Wednesday Attorney General Eric Holder delivered some remarks at the Department of Justice African American History Month Program. Following is the controversial section, which I will quote with context (emphasis added):
Every year, in February, we attempt to recognize and to appreciate black history. It is a worthwhile endeavor for the contributions of African Americans to this great nation are numerous and significant. Even as we fight a war against terrorism, deal with the reality of electing an African American as our President for the first time and deal with the other significant issues of the day, the need to confront our racial past, and our racial present, and to understand the history of African people in this country, endures. One cannot truly understand America without understanding the historical experience of black people in this nation. Simply put, to get to the heart of this country one must examine its racial soul.
Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards. Though race related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion, and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race. It is an issue we have never been at ease with and given our nation's history this is in some ways understandable. And yet, if we are to make progress in this area we must feel comfortable enough with one another, and tolerant enough of each other, to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us. But we must do more- and we in this room bear a special responsibility. Through its work and through its example this Department of Justice, as long as I am here, must - and will - lead the nation to the "new birth of freedom" so long ago promised by our greatest President. This is our duty and our solemn obligation.
Of all the thing's I've written about, race is the most dangerous topic there is.
In fact, for reasons stated below I hesitated before decided to write it. But since we must be brave, I will go on.
Reading the rest of Holder's speech, he offers no specific policy prescriptions. All he does is "urge all of you to use the opportunity of this month to talk with your friends and co-workers on the other side of the divide about racial matters."
Really? So people are supposed to approach someone of a different race and strike up a conversation about race? Yes, that sounds awkward and I'll tell you why; normal people treat other people like human beings and ignore their race. That's what I do.
Not to mention that such discussions will inevitably cause division. Most people don't randomly talk about sensitive subjects like race, politics, or religion with people they don't know for just that reason; they don't want to create bad feelings. Isn't that the way it's supposed to be?
So what does he want us to talk about? The speech offers few clues. He does say that
...if we are to make progress in this area we must feel comfortable enough with one another, and tolerant enough of each other, to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us.
One wonders if he really means it.
Conservatives tend not to believe such assurances because we know that to say anything other than the approved party line is to risk being called a racist, or at least "racially insensitive."
Later Holder allows that
There can, for instance, be very legitimate debate about the question of affirmative action. This debate can, and should, be nuanced, principled and spirited. But the conversation that we now engage in as a nation on this and other racial subjects is too often simplistic and left to those on the extremes who are not hesitant to use these issues to advance nothing more than their own, narrow self interest. Our history has demonstrated that the vast majority of Americans are uncomfortable with, and would like to not have to deal with, racial matters and that is why those, black or white, elected or self-appointed, who promise relief in easy, quick solutions, no matter how divisive, are embraced.
So there can be debate, and it can be spirited, but we can't be simplistic and must avoid "those on the extremes." Isn't that a contradiction? And what in the world does it really mean? Apparently someone who wants to end preferences, like Ward Connerly (quoted below) is "divisive" and on the extreme.
I'm one of the simplistic ones; no racial preferences for anybody. Is this a "narrow, self interest?"
A Nation of Cowards?
After rereading the speech I'm still not entirely sure by what he means when he says we're a nation of cowards. The closest I can figure is that he thinks we don't talk about it enough.
This, I think, is a lot of hooey. From my perch we talk incessantly about race. The mere fact that we have something called "Black History Month" proves Holder wrong. That's one whole month that every public school and college in the country has to talk about it. Jonah Goldberg points out that we have "endless courses in colleges and universities, chapters in high school textbooks, movies, documentaries, after-school-specials and so on are devoted to discussing race." and
...to the extent we don't talk about race in this country the primary reason is that liberals and racial activists have an annoying habit of attacking anyone who doesn't read from a liberal script "racists" or, if they're lucky, "insensitive."
Further, there's no evidence that his boss, President Obama, wants to open that can of worms. To his credit, so far Obama has not shown any sign of using racial politics. Perhaps he will let his subordinates do his bidding for him. Only time will tell.
Ward Connerly points out that
...it is difficult to have such a discussion when some with differing views are harshly and publicly attacked for their views. For example, when asked about my initiatives to end race preferences, candidate Obama labeled them as those "divisive Ward Connerly initiatives." Such characterization is hardly consistent with the view that we should openly put our views about race on public display.
Connerly is one who would know. A brave man, he.
Some Possible Subjects
But if AG Holder really does want to just "talk," then here are some topics for the agenda:
- How is it that Al Sharpton, who has been at the center of a whole series of ugly racial incidents, is now mainstream in the Democrat party, and indeed in America as a whole? What can be done to marginalize him?
- Why have black leaders not adopted the recommendations Bill Cosby and Dr Alvin Pousssaint set forth in Come On, People! On the Path from Victims to Victors ?
- A few years ago die-hard liberal Juan Williams can wrote a book with the title of Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America--and What We Can Do About It . He shares the same thesis as Bill Cosby, that only individual responsibility can pull black people up from where they are now. Do you agree?
- Following up on these books, how can we combat a culture of victimology?
- Much if not all "Gangsta Rap" music is vulgar, demeaning to women, and promotes a violent criminal lifestyle. Why won't more leaders, black or white, speak out against it? What can be done about it?
Heather MacDonald Nails It
Is he nuts? Leave aside for a moment Holder's purely decorative call for a "frank" conversation about race. The Clinton-era Conversation also purported to be frank, and we know what that meant: a one-sided litany of white injustices. Please raise your hand if you haven't heard the following bromides about "the racial matters that continue to divide us" more times than you can count: Police stop and arrest blacks at disproportionate rates because of racism; blacks are disproportionately in prison because of racism; blacks are failing in school because of racist inequities in school funding; the black poverty rate is the highest in the country because of racism; blacks were given mortgages that they couldn't afford because of racism. I will stop there.
Not only do colleges, law schools, almost all of the nation's elite public and private high schools, and the mainstream media, among others, have "conversations about . . . racial matters"; they never stop talking about them. Any student who graduates from a moderately selective college without hearing that its black students are victims of institutional racism--notwithstanding the fact that the vast majority of black students there will have been deliberately admitted with radically lower SAT scores than their white and Asian comrades--has been in a coma throughout his time there.
Education bureaucrats maintain an incessant harangue on white racism because they see the writing on the wall: most students are indifferent to race and just want to get along. If left to themselves, they would go about their business perfectly happily and color-blindly, and the race industry would wither on the vine. Thus the institutional imperative to remind black students constantly about their victimization and the white students about their guilt. Last month, the elite Phillips Academy at Andover proudly announced a student presentation on White Privilege: A History and Its Role in Education. Would the student have come up with such a topic on her own without the school's educators deliberately immersing her in such trivial matters? Of course not.
February 18, 2009
Iraq Briefing - 17 February 2009 - A Stable Situation at the Golden Mosque
This briefing is by Col. Walter Piatt, Commander of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, and Major General Hamed Nameq Yaseen Al-Jubouri of the Salah ad Din provincial and director of police in the Salah ad Din province. They spoke via satellite with reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday, providing an update on ongoing security operations in Iraq.
MND-North is also known as Task Force Lightning. They are responsible for an area including the cities of Balad, Kirkuk, Tikrit, Mosul, and Samarra, MND-North is headquartered by the 25th Infantry Division from Schofield Barracks, Hawai
Col. Piatt reports to Major General Robert L. Caslen Jr, commanding general of the 25th Infantry Division. 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.
The transcript is at DefenseLink.
The the al-Askari Mosque, popularly known as the Golden Mosque, is considered one of the holiest sites in Shi'a Islam. It is located some 60 miles northwest of Baghdad.
In 2006 and again in 2007, the mosque was the target of two terrorist bombing attacks by al-Qaeda in Iraq. The first was on February 22, 2006, and the second on June 13, 2007. The first attack damaged the mosque's dome, the second destroyed it.
It was the 2006 that helped push Iraq towards civil war. The attack was followed by much violence and reprisal attacks. The 2007 attack less so, as by then the surge was well under way. Here's the mosque after the 2006 bombing:
This briefing is important, then, because Piatt's 3rd Brigade was in Iraq at the time of these attacks, and after a period of R&R is now back. What Col Piatt says will help us see how much Iraq has changed
From their opening remarks:
COL. PIATT:...Salah ad Din is also the home of the al-Askari, or Golden Dome, mosque. The major industries are agriculture and oil.
The security situation here has improved dramatically in the past year, and much of that progress is directly attributable to the provincial Iraqi police, almost 17,000 strong, commanded by Major General Hamed. I tell him every time I see him that he's one of my bosses, and I sincerely mean that. I'm here to enable his police force to secure the province.
GEN. AL-JUBOURI:...we would have been not able to achieve this process, the elections, without good security in the province of Salah ad Din. The police of Salah ad Din played a very big role and also put tremendous effort -- (audio break) -- succeeding the elections. And that's with the assistance and support of coalition forces and also the Iraqi army and the Sons of Iraq.
We also cannot forget the role of the citizens of Iraq, how they cooperated and assisted the Iraqi security forces in general.
Col Piatt looks very proud of Gen Al-Jubouri, beaming at times as if he was the proud father to his son or daughter who has come far and done well.
As is often the case, the Iraqi is a lot less comfortable in front of the camera than the American. I'm not sure completely sure why this is so. Perhaps because under Saddam no one had to explain themselves before the public.
Col Piatt, on the other hand, looks comfortable and confident throughout. This, I have noticed, is typical of all American briefers, whether military or civilian.
I do not want to disparage all Iraqi commanders, as I have seen a few who spoke confidently. It's just that they seem to be in the minority.
The Sons of Iraq (SOI, originally Concerned Local Citizens), played an integral part in defeating the insurgency. I have discussed them at length on this blog, but essentially they 1) got unemployed Iraqi males off the streets and into a paying job, 2) put them in charge of their own country's fate, 3) provided psychological "buy in", and 4) were a sort of "super neighborhood watch" that provided local intelligence you can't get any other way. They supplied their own weapons, everyone in Iraq seeming to own an AK-47.
Now that the insurgency is mostly over, they need to be disbanded, as you can't have a large militia force that might threaten the government. At the same time it would be dangerous to just let them go, as there is high unemployment as it is. So the idea is to transition them into civilian or military jobs.
One problem is that the SOI were mostly (though hardly exculsively) Sunni, and the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is mostly Shite. Early in the transition, there were signs that al-Maliki didn't want to transition Sunni SOI.
Acting on this, last September MNC-Iraq commander Lt. Gen. Austin issued what I believe was a stern warning to al-Maliki on this issue. Apparently Maliki took it to heart, because from what I read the transition of the SOI has gone relatively smoothly.
Q Okay. Courtney Kube from NBC News. You mentioned that you have about 17,000 Iraqi police in Salah ad Din. Could you give us some of the other statistics? How many U.S. service members continue to serve there?
And then if -- for either of you, if you could tell us how many Sons of Iraq are still in Salah ad Din and what are the plans for that, will they be eventually transitioned into police, army?
COL. PIATT: Yes. So in my brigade, I have over 3,600 soldiers in Salah ad Din province. And for the Sons of Iraq, we have over 9,000 Sons of Iraq in all of Salah ad Din.
The process that we're in right now with Sons of Iraq is, we're in the middle of transitioning. It's a two-phase -- first, we will transfer the Sons of Iraq oversight, contract and payment to the Iraqi army, and then we will transition Sons of Iraq to other employment, starting with Iraqi security forces, police and army...
Next month, beginning 1st of March, we will register all the Sons of the Iraq...And then we will execute payment alongside of our brothers in the Iraqi army, of all of the Sons of Iraq. And then the Iraqi army on 1 April will help pay them with us, and then on 1 May they will have complete oversight and control for the execution of the contracts of the Sons of Iraq.
With that, some percentage, about 20 percent, will be transitioned relatively soon to Iraqi security forces, police and army. And then the others will remain in their positions where they -- (audio break) -- along checkpoints, along -- throughout Salah ad Din province, until they are transitioned to other -- either other jobs, schools, or to other Iraqi security forces.
Q What's the basic timeline for when you expect those 9,000 Sons of Iraq to be in some other capacity? And so is it and it's -- the expectation is that only the 20 percent that will be transitioned to ISF will remain in Iraqi security force capacity.
COL. PIATT: No. That's the start point...
So what will happen is, they immediately -- some will transition over to police and army. Others will maintain their positions along checkpoints, along key routes in infrastructure, until they are transitioned either to other employment, through vocational schooling, or to the future hires for the police and the army.
So there's no set timetable. But the commitment up front is that they will remain Sons of Iraq, just under the oversight of the Iraqi army, until which time they are transitioned to other employment..
Everybody is interested in when the IA can stand on it's own so we can withdraw more troops. In this next exchange, journalist Joe Baten makes reference to this Feb 17 article in the Financial Times.
Q Colonel, this is Joe Tabet with Al Hurra. The U.S. commander in charge of developing the ISF, General Frank Helmick, told the Financial Times that the Iraqi security forces need at least three years to face or to fight against the insurgents. Would you give me your assessment on that?
COL. PIATT: Well, I can tell you here in Salah ad Din the Iraqi security forces, especially the provincial police, are ready now. What they will need is continued support in professionalization, equipping and training. But when it comes to fighting and combating terrorism in Salah ad Din, the police are the ones who take action first.
In the FT piece t Gen Helmick says that he "hopes the Iraqi army will be equipped and able to stand alone by the end of 2011." This seems about reasonable from what else I read. On the one side we do need to push the Iraqis, on the other we must have reasonable expectations, and remember that we risk all that we have gained if we give in to the extreme anti-war crowd and insist on a precipitous pullout.
Logistics has always been a problem with the Iraqi Army and Iraqi police. In briefing after briefing we've seen this come up. Although in general Gen Hamed seemed to give pretty scripted answers, he did make clear that they do need real military vehicles. We've all seen the photos of the IA and IP driving around in pickup trucks.
Q General Hamed, this is Joe Tabet with Al Hurra again. Just to follow up on what you said, if you could tell us what kind of equipment you need in the near future to handle your mission, your security mission in your area?
GEN. AL-JUBOURI: As far as supplies, we are very good with supplies. We are in a good situation at this time, but the only thing we lack at this time are up-armored vehicles, Humvees in particular. We are talking with -- (audio break) -- about getting a supply of up- armored vehicles, particularly Humvees. And we do have a good understanding that we will get Humvees in the very near future. The Ministry of Interior will supply the provinces of Iraq with up-armored vehicles.
But with regard to the supplies as far as light weapons, all types of weapons, I believe that we have enough at this time. Even vehicles, we do have enough. And I must say that the Ministry of Interior has provided us with whatever we've needed in the past, and they're a good support to us. They provide us several when we need it to endure the fight and continue providing security for the people of this province. Thank you.
This next exchange is important because of the issue of expectations and cultural differences. Of the mistakes we made before going into Iraq, perhaps the worst was that we didn't appreciate the cultural differences that would make our job so difficult.
Q (Joe Tabet/Al Hurra) Quick question, General Hamed, we've heard in the past about corruption cases among the ISF in your area. Could you update us on that?
GEN. AL-JUBOURI: I speak on behalf of the police of Salah ad Din.
And I must say that we have not had any indications of corruption within the police of Salah ad Din.
We also have a team that works closely with us and are -- that checks and also visits different IP police stations throughout the province. It visits police stations in the districts and subdistricts and villages of the province -- (audio break) -- and no indications. So be assured that there is no corruption amongst the police of Salah ad Din. And I don't believe that we've had corruption in the last six years.
However, there were some U.S. units that did have some -- that did think that there was some type of corruption in the police force of Iraq or in the police force of Salah ad Din. However, they searched that -- they investigated it. They did not find anything and there is no corruption....
COL. PIATT: I have a note to add, that I agree with General Hamed...we work side by side with our Iraqi partners every single day.
... I completely agree with him that in the police force we just are not seeing corruption. We're seeing uniformed officers on the street manning checkpoints. We're seeing professional leaders leading district police stations throughout Salah ad Din province. It's just amazing to see.
Maybe, but I'm not totally convinced. Did Joe Tabet really expect an admission of corruption? Maybe he was just looking to compare their answers what what he's discovered or heard elsewhere.
Corruption is a way of life in third-world countries. The issue is one of legitimacy, not corruption per se. In the end, the key to winning insurgencies is that the people must believe that the government is working toward their interests. The reality is that in third-world countries the people tolerate, or expect, a higher level of corruption that we do. As long as we can hold it down to tolerable levels we'll be ok.
Finally, the Golden Mosque:.
Q Hi, Colonel. This is Michael Carden from American Forces Press. Can you talk a little about the infrastructure situation in your province, mainly update us on the ...construction of the Golden Mosque?
COL. PIATT: One thing I will tell you is, our brigade was here in 2006-2007. And we were in Northern Iraq. And we were gone only 12 months. And when we -- (audio break) -- Salah ad Din, what we saw on the ground was really absolutely amazing, to see the security progress that this province has made....
So the golden mosque, it was, again, a very, very good scene for us to come back here and see the progress made in Samarra, where so much was destroyed and so much hope was destroyed and the town was very, very violent last time we left here. And it required a heavy force of coalition forces, police and army. Now you see markets are opened up. The mosque is being reconstructed at an accelerated rate. But not only is it being reconstructed and there's some normalcy returning to Samarra, pilgrims are returning. And we see thousands of pilgrims from other countries coming into Iraq to visit the shrine and they're not having any security incidents.
Col Piatt inspires a lot of confidence, General Hamed Nameq Yaseen Al-Jubouri less so. We'll see how it plays out, but the news from Iraq is good and getting better.
February 16, 2009
Are We All Fascists Now?
Liberals are fond of pointing out that their schemes aren't socialist, since they do not advocate state ownership of business. The more extreme socialism gets, the more private property is abolished, but the point is the same.
In this claim the left is surely correct. What they advocate is not socialism.
It's fascism, or at least a form of it.
Don't believe me? In a way I can't blame you. "Fascism" is an epithet, a term of opprobrium thrown around at whomever is on the low end of the political totem pole. As a practical matter it has lost most if not all of it's original meaning. Thus, both the Soviet and Chinese communists used to call each other fascists after their brief period of cooperation in the 1950s.
The cartoon version of fascism is that it is extreme nationalism, guys with guns taking over the government and goon squads beating up opponents, and a government that lets big business run the economy. The first two are aspects of fascism, though neither are central to it, at least in the way that most people think. The third is flat out false.
Yet original meaning, and terminology, counts. So do labels, as long as they're not used as simple insults.
What's interesting is that although today "fascism" is universally seen as a bad thing, not only was this not always the case, but the best people on the left called themselves fascists. It was widely seen as the "third way" between the capitalism and socialism and communism.
Let's go back to basics and discover what fascism is and is not.
There is the "hard" fascism of a Mussolini or a Hitler, which we all know about. Then there is "soft" fascism, of the sort Woodrow Wilson or Juan Peron practiced, and even FDR to a certain extent. Barack Obama and some or many of his followers are of this second sort.
This does not at all mean that all liberals are fascists. What it means is that many in the United States today do subscribe to a soft fascism whether they know it or not.
Jonah Goldberg identified the type in his groundbreaking 2007 best seller Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning (much of what follows in this post consists of parts of my review of Goldberg's book, but since I'm quoting myself I decided not to blockquote it).
Goldberg quotes Mussolini's political platform to make the point
- Lowering the minimum voting age to eighteen, the minimum age for representatives to twenty-five, and universal suffrage, including for women.
- "The abolition of the Senate and the creation of a national technical council on intellectual and manual labor, industry, commerce, and labor."
- End of the draft.
- Repeal of titles of nobility.
- "A foreign policy aimed at expanding Italy's will and power in opposition to all foreign imperialism"
- The prompt enactment of a state law sanctioning a legal workday of eight actual hours of work for all workers.
- A minimum wage.
- A creation of various government bodies run by workers representatives.
- The creation of various government bodies run by workers' representatives.
- Reform of the old-age and pension system and the establishment of age limits for hazardous work.
- Forcing landowners to cultivate their lands or have them expropriated and given to veterans and farmers' cooperatives.
- The obligation of the state to build "rigidly secular" schools for the raising of "the proletariat's moral and cultural condition."
- "A large progressive tax on capital that would amount to a one-time partial expropriation of all riches.
- "The seizure of all goods belonging to religious congregations and the abolition of all episcopal revinues."
- The "review" of all military contracts and the "sequestration" of 85% of all war profits."
- The nationalization of all arms and explosives industries.
What's important to understand is that these weren't just words to Mussolini; he meant it. He didn't just use this platform as a trick to get into power, because he implemented as much of it as he could once he was in power.
I shouldn't need to say it, but if you presented this platform to any Democrat today they'd accept it as their own.
Mussolini made a big deal about "getting beyond labels" and seeking a "third way" between left and right. He promoted himself as a pragmatist who "made the trains run on time." To be sure, he governed as a dictator. But he was no Hitler or Stalin in his level of brutality. He won reelection in 1924 in what were reasonably fair elections, and his granting of womans suffrage gained him applause from no less a source than The New York Times.
Mussolini defined fascism as "Everything in the State, nothing outside the State." Mussolini himself coined the word "totalitarianism" to describe his system, and it's important to note that he meant it in a benevolent manner, as he saw his system as a humane one in which everyone was taken care of.
The Militarization of Society
A core tenant of fascism is the desire to militarize society whether there is an external war to fight or not. The whole point, in fact, of fascism is to mobilize. What is important to understand, though, is that it is society that is being mobilized, not the military. When we say "militarization of society" we are NOT talking about putting people in uniform and giving them guns. Thus, Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was the most fascist organization ever seen in America.
Worse than the CCC was the National Recovery Administration (NRA), the cornerstone of Roosevelt's New Deal. It was led by General Hugh "Iron Pants" Johnson, and man who questioned the patriotism of his critics in a manner that would have made Joe McCarthy blush. He continually referred to the NRA and it's mission in military terms, saying for example that "This is war - lethal and more menacing than any other crisis in our history." In fact, Johnson was an ardent admirer of Mussolini's fascist government.
The symbol of the NRA was the Blue Eagle. Usually depicted in textbooks as an innocent symbol that businesses put in their window to show that they went along with NRA guidelines("We do our Part" was the motto under the eagle), it was really the method by which Roosevelt and Johnson bullied businesses into joining. The NRA stuck it's tentacles into every aspect of daily life, or at least tried to. The Blue Eagle was used for propaganda in a way that Goldberg says is difficult to exaggerate, and indeed the whole thing was really more an exercise in state religion than economics. Heaven help any business that refused to sign up, because people were admonished by the government not to buy anything from businesses that didn't have the Blue Eagle in their window.
It is perhaps in the area of economics that fascism is the most misunderstood. In the left's cartoon version, fascism occurs when right-wing politicians conspire with big business to oppress "the little guy," or that European fascists were tools of big business. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, as Goldberg demonstrates, "in the left's eternal vigilance to fend off fascism, they have in fact created it, albeit with a friendly face."
The fact is that the more free the market, the less fascist, and the more regulated and close to the political center, the more fascist. The far left, at outright government ownership, is socialist. Remember; it was Hitler and Mussolini who promoted themselves by claiming that they were neither left nor right but represented a "Third way."
Both Mussolini and Hitler were supported by small donations, and not, for the most part, by money from big corporations. Both denounced big business and the wealthy time and again, Hitler most notably in Mein Kampf. Their political platforms stressed regulating business and taxing the wealthy to benefit the working middle class.
Fascism is when the state says to business "You may stay in business and own your factories. In the spirit of cooperation and unity, we will even guarantee you profits and a lack of serious competition. In exchange, we expect you to agree with - and help implement, - our political agenda." This was not only the deal that Hitler and Mussolini made with big business in their respective countries, but it was pretty much the one that Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt imposed during the First World War and Great Depression as well. None of this can be called "right wing."
Brave New Village
If Roosevelt's CCC was the most fascist organization ever created in the United States, Hillary Clinton's It Takes a Village is the most fascist book.
It's very titleis about as fascist as you can get. If the motto of the Mussolini's fascism was "everything in the State, nothing outside the the State, then the implicit motto of It Takes a Village(to Raise a Child) is "everything in the village, nothing outside the village." The message is clear; your children belong to "everyone" which in the modern world means the state.
"Civil society" has traditionally meant free and open "independent associations of citizens who pursue their own interests and ambitions free from state interference or coercion" and "the way various groups, individuals, and families work for their own purposes, the result of which is to make the society healthily democratic." It consists of churches, labor unions, all those clubs and organizations that people form for their own purposes and as long as they are not outright criminal are outside the control of the state.
Hillary has a different view of civil society. To her it is a "term social scientists use to describe the way we work together for common purposes." This is factually incorrect and startlingly totalitarian. There are no truly free associations or clubs in Hillary's world, for everything in her "village" is managed or controlled by the state to achieve "common purposes."
Cult of Personality
Another aspect of fascism is that the person of the leader is built up and worshiped in proportions far greater than the average admired political leader. With Obama I don't think this needs much elaboration, but I'll quote Mark Levin from last October
There is a cult-like atmosphere around Barack Obama, which his campaign has carefully and successfully fabricated, which concerns me. The messiah complex. Fainting audience members at rallies. Special Obama flags and an Obama presidential seal. A graphic with the portrayal of the globe and Obama's name on it, which adorns everything from Obama's plane to his street literature. Young school children singing songs praising Obama. Teenagers wearing camouflage outfits and marching in military order chanting Obama's name and the professions he is going to open to them. An Obama world tour, culminating in a speech in Berlin where Obama proclaims we are all citizens of the world. I dare say, this is ominous stuff.
Are We All Fascists?
No, not all of us. I have to think that some or hopefully many on the left will wake up and see what they have created. While we on the right have our problems with people like Pat Buchanan, most of us simply want the government to leave us alone. And as I think I made clear above sending troops abroad isn't fascism, whether you like the war or not.
Not Just Me
Now that we're clear on what fascism is and is not, let me go back to the article that prompted this post; Michael Ledeen's We Are All Fascists Now, posted last Thursday at Pajamas Media.
Ledeen notes Newsweek's "embarrassingly ignorant" cover story "We are All Socialists Now" which makes the same mistake I noted above; Obama is not seeking to take over big business, just coopt it for his own purposes. Yes the stimulus spends huge amounts of money, yes the Democrats want to cap salaries, yet they want to regulate like never before, but
But that's not socialism. Socialism rests on a firm theoretical bedrock: the abolition of private property. I haven't heard anyone this side of Barney Frank calling for any such thing. What is happening now-and Newsweek is honest enough to say so down in the body of the article-is an expansion of the state's role, an increase in public/private joint ventures and partnerships, and much more state regulation of business. Yes, it's very "European," and some of the Europeans even call it "social democracy," but it isn't.
This isn't socialism, but fascism, as Ledeen goes on to say.
As tempting as it is to compare Obama to Mussolini, given the latter's political platform and oratorical skills, it's probably Juan Peron he more represents. After all, Obama and the Democrats are not going to abolish our democracy. They don't need to.
Writing in last Sunday's Washington Times, Jeffrey T. Kuhner elaborates:
The disastrous path on which America is currently embarked was tried in another country - in the Western Hemisphere: Juan Peron's Argentina. During the 1940s until a 1955 coup ousted him from power, Peron presided over a fascist state.
What is not commonly known about Argentina is that prior to World War II, it was an economic powerhouse. Beginning in the 1880s and continuing through the 1920s and 1930s, it was regarded as one of the most prosperous and advanced nations in the world.
Argentina had a strong industrial base, thriving agricultural exports and a broad and expanding middle class. Like America, it served as a magnet for immigrants from all over the world, especially Italians. Within 15 years, however, Argentina went from being one of the richest to one of the poorest countries.
This was due largely to Peronist policies. Upon coming to office, Peron, along with his popular wife, Eva, established a corporatist state characterized by lavish social spending, elaborate welfare programs, protectionism, confiscatory taxation and runaway deficits.
Peron used strident class warfare rhetoric, attacking big business, the banks, corporations and the propertied class. He greatly strengthened labor unions, making them pivotal allies of his regime.
Peronism transformed the Argentine state. The bloated bureaucracy and massive government intervention fostered widespread corruption. Central economic planning destroyed productivity and growth. Investment capital fled. Inflation and interest rates soared. The middle class was wiped out. The independent judiciary was undermined and eventually smashed. The fawning media class became co-opted by Peron's allies. His -and Eva's - cult of personality fostered a climate of violence and political persecution of the regime's enemies. Argentina degenerated into the Latin American basket case that it is today....
Mr. Obama is taking the first dangerous steps toward an American version of Peronism. His followers see him as a political messiah, a revolutionary change agent who will foster national cohesion and unity. He and the Democrats are plundering the state, using it as a vehicle to reward supporters (and punish foes). He is our Dear Leader, whose image is everywhere from magazine covers to T-shirts to baseball caps. His wife, Michelle, is the Eva Peron of our time - glamorous, chic, a fashion trend-setter who is beloved by the media.
A scary vision indeed, especially since Peronism is still very popular in some circles. The theatrical musical production Evita! was quite popular and won a whole list of awards. Given how things are going now, it's not hard to imagine a Michelle! in our future.
February 15, 2009
Afghanistan and the Long War
In a 2007 interview Lt. Col. (Dr) David Kilcullen stunned Charlie Rose:
DAVID KILCULLEN: . There has never been a successful counterinsurgency that took less than 10 years.
CHARLIE ROSE: Less than 10 years?
DAVID KILCULLEN: Successful.
It doesn't come across as well in print. Watching it, you see Rose lean forward and in utter amazement say "Less than 10 years?" with special emphasis on "10 years."
He had Kilcullen on for a reason; he's arguably the worlds foremost expert on the subject. A retired Austrailian Army officer, he was a contributor to then Lt. Gen. David Petraeus' U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24, the book that outlined the strategy behind what was popularly called the "surge." In 2007 he served as Senior Counterinsurgency Adviser to Gen. Petraeus. After that he went on to become a special adviser on counterinsurgency to Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. He knows what's what.
We in the West want our hamburgers fast and we went them perfect. Our system is geared towards not so much instant satisfaction, but a quality product delivered in record time. In What's So Great about America Indian immigrant Dinesh D'Souza writes that what amazes third-world immigrants about the United States is that "everything works." Indeed our capitalist system is geared towards this outcome. Complain about this or that as we may, anyone who has spent any time in a third-world country knows that you can't count on getting a dial tone when you pick up the phone.
Which such a cultural attitude has brought us great riches, it does not necessarily serve us well when dealing with insurgencies.
Let their be no doubt that the situation in Afghanistan is bad. On February 3rd DOD Press Secretary Geoff Morrell admitted to a "deteriorating security situation" in "some parts" of Afghanistan. The Taliban rule many of the border areas of Pakistan, and not just Waziristan either. The Pakistani Government is absolutely not to be trusted when they tell us of their efforts to eradicate them.
How long will Afghanistan take to win? Independent journalist and blogger Michael Yon says a very long time
Take all that, and be prepared to work for a century in Afghanistan. Afghanistan will not be a stable country ten years from now. Truly, be prepared for a century of commitment. Most comparisons to Iraq are false or completely inappropriate. Iraq is a relatively advanced country. To compare Iraq to Afghanistan is to compare the United States to Mexico. Vietnam is incredibly more advanced than Afghanistan. One of the poorest countries on earth, Nepal, is by comparison to Afghanistan an advanced country. We cannot allow ourselves to be deluded by the monumental task ahead in Afghanistan. Putting a man on the moon was simple by comparison.
That's an awfully long time. It's important to note that this doesn't mean the same level of warfare, and thus same number of American or allied troops, that entire time. Insurgencies don't end World War II style, with a dramatic battle, tons of casualties, then suddenly everything ends. They peter out slowly. As Kilcullen pointed out to Charlie Rose in the interview linked to above, although the "Malayan Emergency" (i.e. most of the fighting) took place from 1948 to 1960,
The Malayan Communist Party didn't actually surrender until 1989. OK? So the British ran the thing for 12 years. There was another 30 years after that where the insurgents were still out in the environment, still threatening from the Thai-Malay border, and yet reduced to a level where they couldn't threaten the existence of the Malayan state.
Ouch. It took 12 years to defeat the insurgency, but the entire thing lasted over 40. We've only been at Afghanistan for a little over 8.
A few years ago Iraq veteran Lt. Col. John Nagl explored the question in his book with the interesting title of Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam
The title comes from a description by Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence, better known as "Lawrence of Arabia," on how messy and slow it was to defeat an insurgency. If you stick it out you can do it, but it's a dirty business, it takes a long time, and it's awfully tempting to give up before you're finished.
Despite all this, it is important to note that few insurgencies actually succeed. This may seem counter intuitive, but it's true. Again, don't take it from me, but David Kilcullen
Counterinsurgency is winnable. About 80 percent of counterinsurgency campaigns have been won. It's a bit of a myth to think that we can't win against insurgents. Insurgents usually lose.
It's winnable, but we need patience. As quoted approvingly in then Lt. Gen. Petraeus' Field Manual 3-24,
"It is a persistently methodical approach and steady pressure which will gradually wear the insurgent down. The government must not allow itself to be diverted either by counter-moves on the part of the insurgent or by the critics on its own side who will be seeking a simpler and quicker solution. There are no short-cuts and no gimmicks - Sir Robert Thompson, Defeating Communist Insurgency: The Lessons of Malaya and Vietnam, 1966
The Challenge from the Left
Obama is not going to face his biggest challenge from the right on this issue. During the last two campaigns the Democrat candidates told us that Iraq was a distraction from the "real war" in Afghanistan. The left in general has echoed this theme. This, I believe, was simply a stick with which to beat the right for political advantage. The far left never even liked that our presence in Afghanistan, and you don't have to go far on leftist sites like this one to prove it. As such, I predict that it won't be long before they're clamoring for a withdrawal there.
Don't take my word for it. Just last month the Washington Post sounded the alarm about Democrat intentions:
For years, Democrats excoriated the Bush administration for not devoting sufficient resources to Afghanistan. But now that Barack Obama has taken office, some seem to be having second thoughts. "Our original goal was to go in there and take on al-Qaeda. . . . It was not to adopt the 51st state of the United States," said Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the new chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Mr. Kerry pioneered the Democratic argument to send more troops during his own presidential campaign in 2004. Now he says "the parallels" to Vietnam "just really keep leaping out in so many different ways."
Ah yes, it is an absolute rule on the left that all American wars must be immediately be said to be "another Vietnam." The better to declare defeat and sound the retreat.
Another story last month in the Post questions whether Obama himself believes we can turn things around
President-elect Barack Obama intends to sign off on Pentagon plans to send up to 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, but the incoming administration does not anticipate that the Iraq-like "surge" of forces will significantly change the direction of a conflict that has steadily deteriorated over the past seven years.
Instead, Obama's national security team expects that the new deployments, which will nearly double the current U.S. force of 32,000 (alongside an equal number of non-U.S. NATO troops), will help buy enough time for the new administration to reappraise the entire Afghanistan war effort and develop a comprehensive new strategy for what Obama has called the "central front on terror."
I've no idea what that actually means, and the worrysome part is that I'm not sure he does either.
Nonetheless, I do certainly hope that our president sticks it out and tells anyone who wants to pull out to shove it. I hope that he and Secretary Clinton can persuade our erstwhile allies not only to contribute more troops but to remove the restrictive rules of engagement that keep so many of them from doing anything other than pulling guard duty in safe areas. I'm not optimistic about any of it, but in this area I do want him to succeed.
But if and when the Democrats do demand withdrawal, it will be "for the children," because "the money is badly needed at home for a school lunch program." Mark my words.
February 12, 2009
Supply Lines to Afghanistan
It's been said that "amateurs discuss strategy, pros talk logistics." This may be a bit overstated, but it is true that too many people talk about sending troops here or there without any thought about how to get them there or how to keep them supplied. And as many generals throughout history have discovered, it's all very fine to move an army from point A to point B, but if you can't keep them supplied they will be destroyed very fast. Even in our modern age, supply via land route is the only thing that works, as aircraft alone simply do not have the capability to supply anything but the smallest force. Just ask Friedrich Paulus.
It is hard enough, I am sure, to keep our forces in Iraq supplied with all that they need. Much of the material is offloaded in Kuwait and trucked into the country, but in the end at least Iraq has seaports so worst case scenario we can use Iraqi ports. In most of our foreign wars we have had had direct access to seaports for supplying our troops. In all theaters of WWII, in Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf War we were able to supply our troops without having to go through a third country.
Not so with Afghanistan. It is completely landlocked, and surrounded by the following countries: Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China, and Pakistan. Iran is obviously unfriendly. The first three 'stans' are hard to get to in the first place. China only has a small border with Afghanistan, and is out of the question as a supply route anyway. That leaves Pakistan. Take a look:
The point of this post is not to formulate a policy or create a plan by which we can win in Afghanistan (though surely we must). This is rather one in a series of posts in which I will discuss the geopolitical situation in and around the country and explain why it's so hard to make progress.
What first made me think of this was an editorial by Arnaud de Borchgrave in the Washington Times last December (it's taken me awhile to put this together). Here's the key excerpt:
The U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan receive 70 percent of their supplies overland from Karachi, Pakistan's port city of 15 million, now the world's most vulnerable lifeline.
More than 350 trucks and oil tankers transit the Khyber Pass each day where Afghan drivers take over from Pakistanis. Earlier in December, Taliban guerrillas firebombed more than 200 trucks and Humvees in a gigantic parking lot. The battle for the allied supply line was joined.
Up and until now, Pakistani militant attacks against the convoys were kept secret, e.g., 42 oil tankers destroyed in one day last spring. Now they take place between Peshawar, the capital of the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) next to the Khyber tribal agency, and the Khyber Pass itself, normally less than an hour by car. U.N. workers are pulling out of Peshawar, described by The News, a Pakistani daily, as "a city under siege" and "the kidnapping capital of the world."
Increasingly brazen, some Taliban commanders now bypass the need to attack convoys protected by private security guards by charging tolls to let them through safely into Afghanistan.
The London Times' Tom Coghlan discovered some convoys got through roadblocks with a Taliban commander in the lead vehicle after paying $1,000 per truck, which is then added to NATO and U.S. bills.
All food, fuel and equipment for 70,000 foreign soldiers come by road from Karachi. Some 30,000 more U.S. troops are due in before summer, for a total of 65,000 Americans, bringing the total of foreign troops to about 100,000. They will all depend on the world's most vulnerable lifeline.
The United States is looking for alternative supply routes from the Georgian Black Sea port Poti through former Soviet republics. This presupposes a new quid pro quo between the Kremlin and President-elect Barack Obama. Given the Soviet Union's 1989 defeat in Afghanistan, and what it sees as U.S. marauding in its former "near abroad," the price may be too high.
What led to de Borchgrave's concern was the increasingly percarious situation inside of Pakistan. The U.S. has been sending our Predator drones over Pakistan, and firing on insurgent bases and terrorist leaders. No matter how careful one is in war, it is inevitable that civilians are killed. When they are it is exploited by jihadist sympathizers, many of whom hold prominent office in the Pakistani government and military. All of this leads to anti-American sentiment. Worst case, the government is taken over by a hard-line Islamist element which puts a stop to U.S. supply routes through their country.
If this happens we're looking forward to a Stalingrad on our hands. Anyone who brazenly says we should "shoot our way through" Pakistan is being silly.
Take another look
The flip side is that if we restrict our operations to Afghanistan, we grant the enemy a safe haven. Of course, it is a prime element of counterinsurgency warfare not to allow your enemy a sanctuary. Our commanders are therefore faced with a difficult decision; attack inside Pakistan and risk a backlash that could have dire consequences, or grant the enemy a sanctuary and lose the war that way.
Knowing all this, our commanders have been looking for alternate supply routes. This Dec 30 story in the International Herald Tribune describes the effort to find a route through the northern 'stans:
The plan to open new paths through Central Asia reflects an American-led effort to seek out a more reliable alternative to the route from Pakistan through the strategic Khyber Pass, which was closed by Pakistani security forces on Tuesday as they launched an offensive against militants in the region.
The militants have shown they can threaten shipments through the pass into Afghanistan, burning cargo trucks and American Humvees over recent weeks. More than 80 percent of the supplies for American and allied forces in Afghanistan now flow through Pakistan.
But the new arrangements could leave the United States more reliant on cooperation from authoritarian countries like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, which have poor records when it comes to democracy and human rights.
So although it makes strategic sense to look to these countries for transit rights, using them opens us to the criticism that we're doing business with human rights abusers and looking the other way at their nefarious deeds. Of course, this is just the criticism we get over our relationship with Pakistan, but adding to it never helps.
Ever at it, just yesterday Arnaud de Borchgrave had another piece in the Washington Times updates us with the latest:
Elevated to the rank of "Major non-NATO Ally" by President Bush (43), Pakistan is now deemed too dangerous for the hundreds of U.S. and NATO supply trucks that keep allied forces fighting against Taliban in Afghanistan.
In the latest attack against the NATO lifeline, 11 trucks and 13 containers were demolished outside Peshawar, near the northern end of the 600-mile route from the port of Karachi to the Khyber Pass. This followed the attack and collapse of a key bridge near the Khyber Pass, which backed up some 1,000 trucks all the way back to Karachi. Normally, some 600 supply trucks a day cross the border into Afghanistan....
On any given day, there are 3 million gallons of fuel on Pakistani roads destined for allied forces in Afghanistan. In some cases, Taliban extracted payments of $1,000 per vehicle at the point of a gun. Helicopter engines valued at $13 million were also hijacked. Taliban fighters gave Pakistani drivers certificates guaranteeing their trucks were requisitioned, not stolen
That's not good. Not having another source I have no perspective, and de Borchgrave does tend to always see the bad side of things. But that too, is valuable, as it provides a sort of "red team" alternative view.
As de Borchgrave points out later in the article, for all the promise of the northern 'stans, relying on them creates it's own set of problems. One, they're not terribly accessible themselves, which means we spend a lot of time and money just getting to Afghanistan. Second, they're right by Russia, who if annoyed with us over something could shut down our supply routes and there would be little we could do to stop them.
There are no easy solutions for Afghanistan, something our new president will soon find out. I wish him well, and hope that he has the fortitude to do what it takes as long as it takes there. In a future piece I'll examine the "long war" concept and why it is foolish to think we can win there in just a few years.
Iraq Briefing - 09 February 2009 - "A New Normal"
This briefing is by Colonel Richard Francey, Commander of the 41st Fires Brigade, currently assigned to Multinational Division-Baghdad. On Monday he spoke via satellite from Camp Victory, Iraq, with reporters at the Pentagon, providing an update on ongoing security operations.
The 41st Fires Brigade, also known as the Railgunners, is based at FOB Delta, which is just outside Al Kut in Wasat province, southeast of Baghdad, and bordering Iran. Although they are an artillery brigade, from what I can tell in the briefing they seem to be in a role similar to other combat brigades.
Col. Francey reports to Major General Jeffery W. Hammond , commanding general of the 4th ID which headquarters MND-Baghdad. 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.
The transcript is at DefenseLink.
Although there is much of interest in this briefing, the main message was simply that Iraq is turning into a normal country. From his opening remarks:
COL. FRANCEY: ...The latest indication that things are headed in the right direction here was the successful execution of the provincial elections last Saturday. The security was planned, rehearsed and executed by the Iraqi security forces. And the elections were run by the Iraqi high electoral commission.
The electoral process was handled smoothly and professionally. Most atmospherics indicate that the populace believes the election to have been safe, secure and legitimate.
Conditions as a whole are good. Security is stable; essential services improving. And with day to day freedoms of democracy recognized, a new normal is being embraced. I'd be happy to take any of your questions at this time.
Before moving to the Q & A, I must make a comment about Col Francey's style. When I first started watching, I thought that Col Francey was reading some of his answers from a sheet of paper, especially as he answered the first question. In the next minute or so I realized that wasn't the case, and thought that just a personal habit of his to keep his head down. Observing further, he simply looked tired and worn out, as if he hadn't had much sleep recently. His answers were halting and he looked as if he was having trouble thinking and forming answers.
I also think it may just be a problem he has with eye contact, as he often avoided looking into the camera. He seemed to get better as the briefing went on, which leads me to think it was mostly an issue of fatigue.
All in all, a somewhat strange performance and quite out of the ordinary. I wish there was another briefing of his that we could compare this one to.
Q Colonel, this is Nancy Youssef with McClatchy Newspapers. There has been some concern that the bad actors that were perpetuating the violence in the past are still there, and that they are laying low until the American forces leave. What evidence do you have about where those, for example, former Sadrists were? Have they left the country, or left your province? Are they laying low? What intelligence do you have about some of those people who were perpetuating violence in the past?
COL. FRANCEY: Yeah, and, well, just let me apologize if I misled anybody. Things are stable, but there are still some bad people out there, and we continue to work to kill or capture them every single day. It's an ongoing condition. But let me just try to give you an example of what it is that I face every day.
When I got here I -- (audio break) -- were pretty good shape. I saw it as a window of opportunity to try and win the hearts and minds and start to work with the Iraqi government to start the reconstruction effort, and work in schools, water projects -- all of those types of things. And the results were a population within Wasat that started tasting freedoms that they had never tasted before. And they enjoy those freedoms.
So now what we are seeing, as some of the bad actors start returning, these people don't want to give up those freedoms and don't want to return to what -- the way it was. They are calling on the tip line, they're coming to the front gate, and they're saying, "So-and-So is back. Follow me. I will lead you to them." It's exciting to watch it.
This is pretty much what we hear from all briefers; we've stomped the insurgency down, but they're still out there and if we aren't careful they may come back.
"Hearts and Minds" is one of the most misunderstood phrases in all of warfare. The full explanation is here, but the short version is
Hearts: The population must be convinced that our success is in their long-term interests.
Minds: The population must be convinced that we actually are going to win, and we (or a transition force) will permanently protect their interests.
Note that it has nothing to do with making the people like the counterinsurgents. Calculated self-interest, not emotion, is what counts.
Further, we need to remember that this is an insurgency we're fighting, not the Wehrmacht. Insurgencies tend to peter out, they're not won in grand World War II fashion. As Col. (Dr) David Kilcullen (Australian Army, ret), senior advisor to Gen Petraeus in 2007 for counterinsurgency told Charlie Rose, "There has never been a successful counterinsurgency that took less than 10 years."
It has been said many times that the first thing the Iraqis said to us when we started the surge, sending troops back into their communities, was "Are you staying this time?" When we said yes, they helped us. They had not helped us nearly as much earlier because we did not stay. This will also be true in Afghanistan. Only when the people are convinced that the counterinsurgents are there for the duration will they commit to their side.
The first task of counterinsurgents is providing security for the people. Without that nothing else is possible. But once that has been achieved, it is essential that they move toward providing essential services and a representative government for the people. In the end, the people will only commit to a government that serves their interests.
In the same interview cited above Kilcullen said that in the end "All counterinsurgency solutions are political." and that "The role of the military in counterinsurgency is to hold the ring and create space that allows the political process to take place." It's obviously this latter stage where we are now, but that doesn't mean all military operations are over.
Q Colonel, it's Jim Garamone with American Forces Press Service. You mentioned that -- you mentioned earlier that essential services are improving. Can you quantify that? How much are they improving?
COL. FRANCEY: Not enough. The -- you know, you just look across, there's still plenty of places that are -- don't have fresh drinking water, clean drinking water; many places that the sewerage is in very, very bad disrepair, if there is any sewerage.
And trash is a rampant problem in most of the bigger cities.
You see some of the projects ongoing. And do I think there are enough? No, and it's the party line that I continue to preach, to the provincial government, every time I have an opportunity.
I think they can do more. And we saw some movement, over the last three-four months. Don't know if it was tied, as part of their electoral process. But we have seen quite a few projects over the last three or four months. Hopefully that will continue, once we seat the new provincial governments as well.
That was a no-holds barred answer. And about what you can expect in most third-world countries.
Q Hey, Colonel, this is Courtney Kube from NBC News again. Do you see any -- given the fact that your province is primarily Shi'a, do you see a lot of influence from Iran in any way? Are they -- is Iran trying to help out with its agriculture problem, try and come in and provide infrastructure to curry favor with the local Iraqis in the area or anything?
COL. FRANCEY: Mm. Yeah. You can imagine being the -- one of provinces that borders with Iran -- every time I get a visitor, that's the number-one subject everybody wants to talk to me about. Iranian influence is in Wasat. You got to recognize, if you were in southern Texas, Mexican influence would be in Texas. It's something that's there. It's always been there and will always be there. (Audio break.)
What is the malign influence that we want to balance or defeat? The Iranian influence will be there. You can see it both in non- kinetic -- I see certain projects that will start popping up in different areas, and I know it's not GOI money, and I know it's not U.S. money. So I can -- and I now there aren't any outside investors coming in quite yet, no.
I would say I'd love to have some come in any time.
So, yeah, I think there is a lot of Iranian influence that's ongoing. To what degree -- I think it's still very manageable. You talk to the people on the street and they don't want it there. And there seems to be a pretty strong push across the -- with Iraqis for -- (audio break) -- nationalism. And I think they'll be okay.
Q Could I follow up on that, please? You said that the Iranian influence is manageable. Could you elaborate one what manageable Iranian influence looks like?
COL. FRANCEY: You know, if I have people in Wasat that don't have food, but Iran is importing watermelons or fruits and vegetables, is that Iranian influence within Iraq? If I have them importing other construction materials that are being used, because it's not coming in from other -- (audio break) -- influence that's not all that bad.
I see -- if you move up to some of the towns up around the border, you'll see some clinics or schools that are being worked on and, no, it's not our money but it's a pretty good project. And not saying that I can definitely attest to that being Iranian money that's building that school, but if it is, is that such a bad thing? I don't know.
Is it -- what's manageable? If the people have their individual freedoms and they're allowed to be Iraqis and not be leading down a path of Iranian support, then I think it's okay. But people will -- the people will speak, when I talk to the people -- (audio break) -- official positions, they'll tell you, we see it out there. We don't like it, and we're going to get rid of it. We just need time.
We can't just "seal the border" and be done with it. Since time immemorial the people in the region have engaged in commerce, and you can't just cut it off. I remember reading Michael Yon's account of what he saw at the border (can't find the link just now) and he was amazed at the enormous number of vehicles that passed through each day.
What Col Francey is saying then that Iran and this part of Iraq are intertwined just as the U.S. and Mexico along our respective border and it is what it is. We may be able to cut off illegal immigration (if we had the fortitude) but to eliminate all trade would be counterproductive. Ditto with Iraq and Iran. The key in each case is to keep out the people you don't want.
An interesting if somewhat odd briefing.
February 11, 2009
New Ideas for Afghanistan
It's no secret that the war in Afghanistan is not going as well as we would have hoped. We are probably close to a "tipping point" in public opinion, whereby either we show real progress soon or there will be pressure for withdrawal. Our "allies" are not going to send any more than they have, which is not much, so we're pretty much on our own. We faced this situation in 2006 in Iraq, and had the "surge" plan not been implemented the situation would probably have spun out of control, with resulting overwhelming pressure for withdrawal.
The story behind the "surge" plan is complicated, but one of it's intellectual authors was Frederick Kagan. Along with retired Army Vice-Chief of Staff Jack Keane, he authored a plan called Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq, which was released in January 2008. I first heard of it the following month after a public presentation at the American Enterprise Institute, where they are or were both resident scholars.
Coupled with then Lt. Gen. David Petraeus' just released U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24, we were able to turn the situation in Iraq around.
As such, it behooves us to listen to Kagan when it comes to Afghanistan. Granted that just because you were proven right on one war does not necessarily make you right on another, it's a better track record than most.
Earlier this week he published 9 principles that the Obama Administration would be wise to implement in a piece called Planning Victory in Afghanistan. Following are excerpts:
1. UNDERSTAND WHY WE'RE THERE
Afghanistan is not now a sanctuary for al-Qaeda, but it would likely become one again if we abandoned it. Mullah Omar, the head of the Taliban government we removed in 2001, is alive and well in Pakistan.... Allowing Afghanistan to fail would mean allowing these determined enemies of the United States to regain the freedom they had before 9/11.
Pakistan itself is another reason Afghanistan is vitally important to America....As long as Afghanistan is unstable, Pakistan will be unable to bring order to its own tribal areas, where many terrorist sanctuaries persist. It will also be distracted from addressing the more fundamental problems of Islamic radicalism that threaten its very survival as a state. Further, Afghan instability makes the U.S. dependent on Pakistan logistically.
Stated more simply; do not allow terrorists to have an entire nation or even region to themselves. They must not be allowed to have a sanctuary of any size. Without one they can still be dangerous, with one they can wreck untold havoc. Not only is sanctuary useful from a logistical perspective, they can use the fact of its existence as a propaganda ploy, in this case the seat of their new caliphate.
2. KNOW WHAT WE HAVE TO ACHIEVE
Success in Afghanistan does not require creating a paradise in one of the poorest countries on earth, but we cannot define victory down. Preventing Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for terrorists again, helping Pakistan fight its own terrorist problems, and liberating ourselves from dependence on Pakistan will require building an Afghan state with a representative government.
This almost seems a repudiation of some of what we've been hearing recently about how we have to "redefine expectations" in Afghanistan.
Kagan goes on to say that despite problems, "the country is neither ungovernable nor artificial." Again, unless I am misreading things this is a bit different than what we usually hear.
3. UNDERSTAND OUR ENEMIES AND FRIENDS
There is no such thing as "the Taliban" today. Many different groups with different leaders and aims call themselves "Taliban," and many more are called "Taliban" by their enemies....
In general terms, any group that calls itself "Taliban" is identifying itself as against the government in Kabul, the U.S., and U.S. allies. Our job is to understand which groups are truly dangerous, which are irreconcilable with our goals for Afghanistan--and which can be fractured or persuaded to rejoin the Afghan polity. We can't fight them all, and we can't negotiate with them all. Dropping the term "Taliban" and referring to specific groups instead would be a good way to start understanding who is really causing problems.
I had not known this but it makes sense. Unlike, for example, Vietnam, we have been fortunate not to face a unified insurgency in either Iraq or Afghanistan. The advantage from our perspective is that while we can't fight them all, we don't have to. Part of counterinsurgency as outlined in Field Manual 3-24 is determining which parts of the insurgency we can co-opt and turn to our side, or at least neutralize.
Not surprisingly, establishing the legitimacy of the government is important to Kagan. Again, this is stressed in Petraeus' 3-24. Right now the provincial governors and local leaders were appointed by President Karzia, which may have worked as a short-term solution but cannot stand in the long run. Leaders at all levels must be selected by the people or they will not be perceived as legitimate.
4. COMMIT TO THE EFFORT
The consistent unwillingness of the U.S. government to commit to the success of its endeavors in Afghanistan (and Iraq) over the long term is a serious obstacle to progress. The Pakistani leadership appears convinced that America will abandon its efforts in South Asia sooner rather than later, and this conviction fuels Pakistan's determination to retain support for (and therefore control of) Afghan Taliban groups based in its territory....
When U.S. forces moved into insurgent strongholds in Iraq in 2007, the first thing they were asked was: "Are you going to stay this time?" When the answer was yes (and we proved it by really staying and living among them), the floodgates of local opposition to the insurgents opened. The people of Afghanistan need the same reassurance.
Our history is very much against us in this effort. Islamists point to our retreat following the Marine-barracks bombing in Lebanon in 1983, the "Blackhawk Down" incident in 1993, our abandonment of Afghanistan following the defeat of the Soviet Union in 1989, and our abandonment of Shiite and Kurdish Iraqis to Saddam Hussein's retribution in 1991 and 1992. At the end of 2006, our enemies in Iraq were already declaring victory, convinced that the pattern would repeat itself. The question they are now asking is: Was the surge an aberration in U.S. policy or a new pattern?
When Walid Phares outlined the history of the modern jihad Future Jihad, he stressed that Osama bin Laden and his cohorts watched these and more incidents carefully. Concluding that the United States would run when it's forces sustained losses, in 1998 he released a fatwa that was for all practical purposes a declaration of war on the United States. Seeing no response, he took it as a sign from Allah that we were ripe for the picking, and started planning the operation that became the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001.
"Are you going to stay this time?" This goes to the very heart of counterinsurgency strategy. What we have to do is win their "hearts and minds." Unfortunately, this is perhaps the most misunderstood phrase in all of warfare. As properly explained in 3-24,
"Hearts" means persuading people that their best interests are served by COIN success. "Minds" means convincing them that the force can protect them and that resisting it is pointless. Note that neither concerns whether people like Soldiers and Marines. Calculated self-interest, not emotion, is what counts. Over time, successful trusted networks grow like roots into the populace. They displace enemy networks, which forces enemies into the open, letting military forces seize the initiative and destroy the insurgents.
Hearts: The population must be convinced that our success is in their long-term interests.
Minds: The population must be convinced that we actually are going to win, and we (or a transition force) will permanently protect their interests.
It's all about staying power. In the formulation of Osama bin Laden, it's about who the people perceive as being the "strong horse."
5. LEARN AND ADAPT THE RIGHT LESSONS
We cannot dismiss our extensive and painful experiences in Iraq, but we must recognize the differences between that country and Afghanistan.
Perhaps the most important lesson of Iraq that is transportable to Afghanistan is this: It is impossible to conduct effective counterterrorism operations (i.e., targeting terrorist networks with precise attacks on key leadership nodes) in a fragile state without conducting effective counterinsurgency operations (i.e., protecting the population and using economic and political programs to build support for the government and resistance to insurgents and terrorists).
All this gets terribly complicated, but think about it this way; counterterror focuses on chasing terrorists around the country, counterinsurgency is focuses on protect the population.
The lesson of Iraq is that you cannot "kill your way out of an insurgency." In Iraq we eliminated scores of terrorists from AQI and other organizations, includiing Abu Musab al Zarqawi himself in June 2006, yet the insurgency only kept getting worse.
Killing the leadership is all very fine, but the reason it doesn't work by itself is that we're not dealing with a criminal gang like the mafia. Insurgencies are more horizontally organized than vertically, so are not dependent on a few leaders.
Another thing to remember is that like politics, all insurgencies are local. Their nature varies from village to village. What works in one may not work in another. We did not win in Iraq using the same strategy in all parts of the country, because the problem was not the same in all parts. As the environmentalists say, we must think globally but act locally.
6. CONSIDER THE HUMAN TERRAIN
Pashtuns are not Arabs. They have different traditions, different tribal structures, different ways of resolving differences. One of the most important (and least remarked-upon) differences is that Iraqis fight in their cities and villages while Pashtuns, on the whole, do not.
Coalition forces fought their way through Iraqi cities and villages, sometimes doing fearful damage to the cities and local populations. We devastated Fallujah and Ramadi, for example. But local grievances did not focus on the collateral damage. Considering the scale of the destruction, Iraqi complaints about it were very mild....
Pashtuns don't work that way...The major urban centers are not insurgent sanctuaries, and most insurgent attacks occur not only beyond the city limits but outside of the villages as well.
In other words, the war in Iraq was fought in the urban areas, in Afghanistan it is in the countryside. We must adapt our strategy and tactics accordingly.
In fact, to solve the problems in Afghanistan we must have a deep understanding of local dynamics in many different areas. In the current security environment, only American and allied military forces can understand those dynamics, and they can do so only by living among the people in a way that is mutually acceptable to our forces and the Afghans.
This "living among the people" was key to our success in Iraq, a strategy that is stressed in 3-24. You cannot fight an insurgency from large bases, however safe you may think your troops are there.
7. UNDERSTAND WHAT WE MUST DO, CAN DO, AND CAN'T DO
The Afghan National Army consists of perhaps 70,000 troops (on paper). This number will rise gradually to 134,000--itself an arbitrary sum, based on assumptions about what the fifth-poorest country in the world can afford to pay for an army that is certainly too small to establish and maintain security. The Afghan National Police are ineffective when not actively part of the problem. Afghanistan is significantly larger than Iraq, its terrain is far more daunting, and its population is greater. The Iraqi Security Forces that defeated the insurgency (with our help) in 2007 and 2008 numbered over 500,000 by the end. There is simply no way that Afghan Security Forces can defeat the insurgents on their own, with or without large numbers of coalition advisers.
There's not much more to say other than that the Afghanis won't be able to stand on their own for quite some time.
8. HAVE A GOOD PLAN
Adding more troops to a failing strategy rarely works. Current military and political leaders recognize this, which is why reviews are underway in CENTCOM, the Joint Staff, and the White House to develop a new strategy for Afghanistan.
Kagan goes on to outline a number of recommendations for theater commander Gen. David McKiernan, some of which involve giving him more staff and bolstering the diplomatic corps that I won't detail here. The lesson though is twofold: One, critics of the Iraqi surge would have been right if in fact all we had done is send more troops to do the same thing. Second, Petraeus did not do it alone, but was ably assisted by a large staff, the most important of whom was then Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno. Odierno planned the individual operations and led the day-to-day conduct of the war during 2007-08.
9. PRIORITIZE EFFORTS
While the situation in Afghanistan is indeed deteriorating, it would be wrong to rush forces out of Iraq this year in response. Most important, as detailed above, we have not yet established the conditions in Afghanistan that would allow a surge to be decisive. Also, the theater cannot absorb too many reinforcements too quickly. The surge in Iraq brought U.S. troop levels up to something over 160,000 soldiers--about the same number we had had there at the end of 2005. By contrast, coalition force levels in Afghanistan are already at their highest levels. The logistical base that supports them is very sparse. In Iraq there was enough reserve logistical and infrastructure capacity to integrate five additional brigades and two battalions in the space of six months. Because similar resources are lacking, it would be much harder to accomplish such a feat in Afghanistan at this point.
It would be foolish to risk all that we have gained in Iraq for Afghanistan.
Also, it must be remembered that the logistical situation in Afghanistan is infinitely more difficult than in Iraq. In the latter we have direct access to the country by sea, with the former we are dependent on Pakistan and the northern "'stans" for access. It is easy to move units around on a map, quite another to keep them properly supplied, something that does not happen by magic.
In the end, Kagan stresses that this is not an outline for a plan for Afghanistan, but rather "a set of guidelines for thinking about how to develop one." They're good ones, and I do hope they're listening.
February 8, 2009
Obama's New Politics of Fear
Last March, the International Herald Tribune wrote this about candidate Obama
At the core of Senator Barack Obama's presidential campaign is a promise that he can transcend the starkly red-and-blue politics of the last 15 years, end the partisan and ideological wars, and build a new governing majority.
To achieve the change the country wants, he says, "we need a leader who can finally move beyond the divisive politics of Washington and bring Democrats, independents and Republicans together to get things done."
IN Des Moines, a week before the January 3 caucuses in Iowa, he criticized his opponent Hillary Clinton, "urging the crowd to reject the Clintons' politics of cynicism and fear."
And finally, let's go back to his 2004 address to the Democrat National Convention he asked
Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or do we participate in a politics of hope?
Then, from today's Washington Times, here's the politics he has actually brought:
President Obama on Saturday morning warned of a "national catastrophe" if Congress does not move quickly to pass and implement his economic-stimulus plan, praising the Senate's tentative deal on an $827 billion version of the bill.
"If we don't move swiftly to put this plan in motion, our economic crisis could become a national catastrophe. Millions of Americans will lose their jobs, their homes and their health care. Millions more will have to put their dreams on hold," Mr. Obama said in his weekly radio address.
In Williamsburg last week he delivered an bitterly partisan speech in an angry tone before fellow Democrats. Watch the whole thing and see how he talks out of both sides of his mouth the whole time:
Incredible, isn't it?
The Democrat's big criticism of President Bush is that he used "the politics of fear" to divide us. Obama was supposed to end all that.
But we're less than three weeks into his presidency and he's engaged in some of the worse fearmongering I've ever seen.
What's maddening is that Obama's attack on anyone who opposes his super spending stimulus package as trotting out "failed theories that helped lead us into this crisis." The only solution he can conceive of is an old-fashioned massive spending bill filled with pork-barrel spending. This is new?
In the video above he chastises opponents, telling them "don't come to the table with the same tired arguments and worn out ideas that helped create this crisis." Never mind that the idea that tax cuts got us into this crisis is ridiculous, but he seems to be saying the only acceptable ideas from the opposition are ones that involve massive spending.
What's most interesting is that he's doing all this because he seems panicked that the stimulus, his first policy initiative, if you can call it that, has become a hugely divisive bill that the GOP opposes en masse. Worse, a good portion of the public have mobilized against it and are flooding capital hill switchboards. That it will eventually pass is not the point, because the episode has shown that Obama is spectacularly politically inept.
I think that in addition, this episode has revealed that Obama is not used to opposition and doesn't know how to handle it other than lashing out in campaign mode.
Consider; before 2008 he never faced a serious political opponent in any of his races. When he finally did, he had a sycophantic media on his side, blatantly cheering him on. His background and record were not examined by the mainstream media, and we'd never know about Jeremiah Wright or William Ayers were it not for Sean Hannity and others. He allowed a cult-like following to develop in which many of his followers saw him almost as a demi-god.
Halfway through the video above he complains that he and his staff are tired. This is revealing, because it shows that he expected everyone to just bow down and accept whatever he proposed. He can't understand opposition. The idea that he has to engage in persuasion and compromise is unfathomable to him. The world used to be at his feet, and he can't understand the change.
Well, if he thinks this is rough going, wait until he tries to get his health-care proposals through. Or he meets with Ahmadinejad. Or Putin.
Forbes' Peter Robinson details the catastrophe that resulted (h/t Sister Toldljah):
President Bush's moment of nakedness took place more than four years and eight months into his administration. In office less than three weeks, President Obama has already provided a naked moment of his own.
The episode, of course, concerns the legislation now referred to only laughingly as an "economic stimulus." Drafted by the Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives, the bill represents a sham and an outrage. Of the more than $800 billion in spending that the legislation authorizes, less than $100 billion would go to highways, the electricity grid or destinations that might-might-produce genuine economic growth. The rest? Transfer payments to interest groups. More than half the "emergency" spending would not even take place until fiscal year 2010....
As Washington observers recognize, this entire debacle became predictable the moment the then president-elect decided to permit the House leadership to draft his stimulus legislation. While Obama was behaving like a professor, holding seminars with economists Lawrence Summers, Paul Volcker and Christina Romer, Democrats in the House were behaving like politicians, using Obama's call for a stimulus as cover for forking over tens of billions of dollars to Democratic interest groups.
You didn't even have to be a practicing politician to see what would happen. Even an intellectual like Obama himself ought to have been able to figure it out-any intellectual, that is, who had bothered to read the work of Nobel laureate James Buchanan. As Buchanan long ago noticed, economists who support Keynesian spending programs in theory tend to overlook the self-interested behavior of the politicians who must spend all the money in practice.
Permit House Democrats to draft his stimulus legislation? What could Obama have been thinking? Only one answer fits: Obama wasn't thinking....
The glee among Republicans right now is only to be expected. The long faces among Obama's startled supporters in Washington are a lot more telling.
Afghanistan Briefing - 04 February 2009 - Not Enough Progress
This briefing is by Colonel Scott Spellmon, who is the commander of 2nd Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, otherwise known as Task Force Warrior. Last Wednesday he spoke via satellite from Bagram Airfield in the Parvan province with reporters at the Pentagon.
Task Force Warrior is responsible for improving provincial- and district-level Afghan government capacity in the northern area of Regional Command East, north and west of Kabul.
I am not entirely sure of the chain of command here, but Spellmon's unit is part of ISAF (International Security Assistance Force), the NATO operation in Afghanistan. It's commander is General David D. McKiernan. During the briefing Spellmon said that General Schloesser was his boss. Major General Jeffrey Schloesser is the commander of Combined Joint Task Force 101 in Afghanistan.
Col. Johnson has an "ISAF" patch on his shoulder, yet Task Force 101 is part of Operation Enduring Freedom, so I'm not quite sure how the chain of command works above Gen. Schloesser. I have yet to figure out the command structure for the units in Afghanistan. Be that as it may, please watch the briefing in its entirety.
The transcript is on the DefenseLink site.
Usually we can find out a bit about what is happening in country from these briefings. This one proved a disappointment. Col Spellmon seemed to give non-answers to many of the questions. What this tells me is that things are not going as well as they should be in Afghanistan.
I've got a few longer posts about Afghanistan in the works, but for now I want to concentrate on the political drama in Washington with the stimulus bill and Obama's meltdown.
From Col. Spellon's opening remarks:
COL. SPELLMON: ...Broadly speaking, the purpose of our combined operations are to secure the population in these four -- (audio break). Now, to accomplish this with our international partners, we are conducting a counterinsurgency campaign across -- (audio break) -- information and security. And we are seeing success on each one of these.
I'd just like to give you a few brief examples, and I'll begin with security. I would tell you -- I would classify the bulk of my area of responsibility as a semi-permissive environment. And what I mean by that is if you look at the 30 districts that make up these four provinces, we have security challenges in about seven of those districts, and those challenges come from primarily Taliban and Hezb- i-Islami, Islamic party based insurgent groups....
Now, I'll share with you that our partnership, our strong partnership with the provincial governors and their staffs, proved successful during the voter-registration period that we -- (audio break) -- last fall, which was held in these four provinces without a single security-related incident. And we and our Afghan partners are incredibly proud of that accomplishment....
On to the Q & A
Q (Courtney Kube from NBC News) And Colonel, and so it sort of leads to the question of at what point do you think the Afghan security forces in your area will be able to handle the mission on their own without any U.S. presence or French presence there to assist them?
COL. SPELLMON: Well, I will tell you, in two of our provinces they are already doing that. I mentioned Panjshir, but I also mentioned Bamian. The only coalition forces that we have in both of those provinces is our Provincial Reconstruction Team. In fact, in Panjshir, the Provincial Reconstruction Team does not even have an embedded security force. It is all taken care of by the local security forces there. And the governor takes personal ownership of the security of that team while they are out working with his staff and working on improving infrastructure. It is much the same in Bamian.
The news about the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) not having an American security force for protection is very good news indeed. I can't seem to find the link, but I have blogged on this before. For the PRT's to be successful, they have to get out and work with the people. If they're shielded by an American force, or their presence is too heavy handed, the people will be less willing to cooperate.
The questions are whether this practice is widespread in Afghanistan, and more importantly whether the PRT's are becoming more effective.
Before I go on I just have to say it: Col Spellmon is the spitting image of a young Telly Savalis if there ever was one.
Now that I got that out of the way, on to the Q & A:
Q (David Morgan with Reuters) And so where are these seven districts where security is a problem? And how much of a challenge do those problems pose to development in those areas?
COL. SPELLMON: Well, the -- (audio break) -- Kapisa, primarily the Tagab Valley, where I mentioned earlier where we have made significant strides, but also the Alasay Valley and also the southern Nijrab district.
And bombing is primarily in the northeast, in the Kahmard, in the Shibar districts, and then in Parvan -- primarily in central Parvan, in the Ghorband district.
As far as the development challenges, we work very hard to not initiate any major development projects until we are sure that we have enough security in place and enough support from the local population that will allow us to move forward, whether it's a school or it's a road. If there is still security work that needs to be done, more destruction operations in this district, certainly we will continue to do our offensive operations against those insurgent networks, but invest our development dollars elsewhere, where we know it's in a secure environment.
Ok, sort of interesting, but not really much of an answer. In fact, he pretty much avoided answering the question entirely.
Q Colonel, it's David Wood from The Baltimore Sun, with a question about the provincial and district governments that you're working with. The latest DOD report identified corruption and a shortage of human capital, as it were, that's hampering operations of government at all levels. Could you talk about corruption and lack of human capital in governments in -- that you're working with?
COL. SPELLMON: I can. Over the past seven and a half months, I have a seen a number of allegations of corruption in the provincial governments. However, I have yet to see any evidence, as have the governors -- any evidence that would substantiate any of those claims.
The allegations that we do see leveled from -- in this region have primarily been from political opponents of those in office. So again, I have not seen the corruption as reported. The -- (audio break) -- against their staff -- it's an allegation against their staff or a district sub-governor, they have been very aggressive in investigating those claims.
No evidence of corruption? I'm not buying it.
Q Colonel, it's Luis Martinez with ABC News. In the four provinces that you mentioned, Khazars and Tajiks are minority populations. But you said that some of the districts in those provinces are security problems. Given that the insurgency is portrayed as a (Pashtun ?) insurgency, are these Pashtun pockets in those provinces? Or are these Khazar and Tajik insurgencies?
COL. SPELLMON: No, it's not (always ?) -- (audio break) -- to the Pashtun minority in these provinces. For example, in northeast Bamian, some of the security challenges that we are having right now are in a Tajik pocket, but we primarily think that this is criminal activity. In Bamian, in that part of the province, there are a lot of coal mines, and we think some -- a lot of landowner disputes in that region, as this -- these mines continue to be developed, on who should benefit from the profits. So we think some of the violence that has occurred at a low level over the past several months is really related to, more, criminal activity than any insurgent-based organization.
This was one of his more direct answers.
All in all not a very useful briefing. I covered it because I'm determined to cover every briefing by a combat commander that comes out of Afghanistan or Iraq, so that if nothing else I can spot trends. I found this one out of the ordinary for Afghanistan so we shall see how future ones go.
Not withstanding the interesting news about the PRTs, I can't say I came away from this briefing with the idea that we are making progress in Afghanistan. It's only one briefing about one area, so we do need to be cautious though and view it in that context.
I am not attacking or criticizing Col. Spellmon. I'm sure he is a highly qualified and competent officer doing the best he can. He comes across very well as a spokesman. It's more that Afghanistan makes Iraq look easy because the challenges there are much more difficult. Even with the best minds, money, people, and equipment, progress in Afghanistan will come very very slowly. Based on everything I've seen I'd say that for what we achieve in Iraq in a year it'll take ten to do as much in Afghanistan.
More to come in future posts.
February 6, 2009
"The Impending Obama Meltdown"
I think Victor Davis Hanson may have nailed it exactly with this one:
Some of us have been warning that it was not healthy for the U.S. media to have deified rather than questioned Obama, especially given that they tore apart Bush, ridiculed Palin, and caricatured Hillary. And now we can see the results of their two years of advocacy rather than scrutiny.
We are quite literally after two weeks teetering on an Obama implosion--and with no Dick Morris to bail him out--brought on by messianic delusions of grandeur, hubris, and a strange naivete that soaring rhetoric and a multiracial profile can add requisite cover to good old-fashioned Chicago politicking.
First, there were the sermons on ethics, belied by the appointments of tax dodgers, crass lobbyists, and wheeler-dealers like Richardson--with the relish of the Blago tapes still to come. (And why does Richardson/Daschle go, but not Geithner?).
Second, was the "stimulus" (the euphemism for "borrow/print money") that was simply a way to go into debt for a generation to shower Democratic constituencies with cash.
Then third, there were the inflated lectures on historic foreign policy to be made by the clumsy political novice who trashed his own country and his predecessor in the most ungracious manner overseas to a censored Saudi-run press organ (e.g., Bush is dictatorial, the Saudi king is courageous; Obama can mend bridges that America broke to aggrieved Muslims--apparently Tehran hostages, Rushdie, serial attacks in the 1990s, 9/11, Madrid, London never apparently occurred; and neither did feeding Somalis, saving Kuwait, protesting Chechnya, Bosnia/Kosovo, billions to Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinians, help in two Afghan wars, and on and on).
Fourth, there was the campaign rhetoric of Bush shredding the Constitution--FISA, Guantánamo, the Patriot Act, Iraq, renditions, etc.--followed by "all that for now stays the same" inasmuch as we haven't ben hit in over seven years and can't risk another attack.
Fifth, Gibbs as press secretary is a Scott McClellan nightmare that won't go away, given his long McClellan-like relationship with Obama (McClellan should have been fired on day hour one on the job). Blaming Fox News for Obama's calamities is McClellan to the core and doesn't work. He already reminds me of Reverend Wright's undoing at the National Press Club--and he will get worse.
Six, Biden is being Biden. Already, he's ridiculed the chief justice, trashed the former VP, bragged on himself ad nauseam in Bidenesque weird ways, and it's only been two weeks.
And the result of all this?
At home, Obama is becoming laughable and laying the groundwork for the greatest conservative populist reaction since the Reagan Revolution.
Abroad, some really creepy people are lining up to test Obama's world view of "Bush did it/but I am the world": The North Koreans are readying their missiles; the Iranians are calling us passive, bragging on nukes and satellites; Russia is declaring missile defense is over and the Euros in real need of iffy Russian gas; Pakistanis say no more drone attacks (and then our friends the Indians say "shut up" about Kashmir and the Euros order no more "buy American").
This is quite serious. I can't recall a similarly disastrous start in a half-century (far worse than Bill Clinton's initial slips). Obama immediately must lower the hope-and-change rhetoric, ignore Reid/Pelosi, drop the therapy, and accept the tragic view that the world abroad is not misunderstood but quite dangerous. And he must listen on foreign policy to his National Security Advisor, Billary, and the Secretary of Defense. If he doesn't quit the messianic style and perpetual campaign mode, and begin humbly governing, then he will devolve into Carterism--angry that the once-fawning press betrayed him while we the people, due to our American malaise, are to blame.
This indeed serious and our president needs to come to the realization that the campaign is over and the world will not automatically bend to his wishes. There is a difference between a fawning audience and press corps and the reality of political life. Western European leaders may be happy he's in office but our enemies will still behave like our enemies. He may overcome the fiascos of his first few weeks in office but so far it is not so good.
February 5, 2009
President Obama and His Porkulus Package
President Obama tries to defend the "stimulus" bill in an op-ed piece in today's Washington Post. Most of it is just a series of talking points, but here's the part that stuck out at me (emphasis added):
In recent days, there have been misguided criticisms of this plan that echo the failed theories that helped lead us into this crisis -- the notion that tax cuts alone will solve all our problems; that we can meet our enormous tests with half-steps and piecemeal measures; that we can ignore fundamental challenges such as energy independence and the high cost of health care and still expect our economy and our country to thrive.
I reject these theories, and so did the American people when they went to the polls in November and voted resoundingly for change. They know that we have tried it those ways for too long. And because we have, our health-care costs still rise faster than inflation. Our dependence on foreign oil still threatens our economy and our security. Our children still study in schools that put them at a disadvantage. We've seen the tragic consequences when our bridges crumble and our levees fail.
I'm not quite sure that anyone has said that tax cuts alone will solve all our problems, but if he wants to talk about "failed theories," bring it on.
Look at some of the things in the bill:
• $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts
• $380 million in the Senate bill for the Women, Infants and Children program
• $300 million for grants to combat violence against women
• $2 billion for federal child-care block grants
• $6 billion for university building projects
• $15 billion for boosting Pell Grant college scholarships
• $4 billion for job-training programs, including $1.2 billion for "youths" up to the age of 24
• $1 billion for community-development block grants
• $4.2 billion for "neighborhood stabilization activities"
• $650 million for digital-TV coupons; $90 million to educate "vulnerable populations"
• $15 billion for business-loss carry-backs
• $145 billion for "Making Work Pay" tax credits
• $83 billion for the earned income credit
• $150 million for the Smithsonian
• $34 million to renovate the Department of Commerce headquarters
• $500 million for improvement projects for National Institutes of Health facilities
• $44 million for repairs to Department of Agriculture headquarters
• $350 million for Agriculture Department computers
• $88 million to help move the Public Health Service into a new building
• $448 million for constructing a new Homeland Security Department headquarters
• $600 million to convert the federal auto fleet to hybrids
• $450 million for NASA (carve-out for "climate-research missions")
• $600 million for NOAA (carve-out for "climate modeling")
• $1 billion for the Census Bureau
• $89 billion for Medicaid
• $30 billion for COBRA insurance extension
• $36 billion for expanded unemployment benefits
• $20 billion for food stamps
• $4.5 billion for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
• $850 million for Amtrak
• $87 million for a polar icebreaking ship
• $1.7 billion for the National Park System
• $55 million for Historic Preservation Fund
• $7.6 billion for "rural community advancement programs"
• $150 million for agricultural-commodity purchases
• $150 million for "producers of livestock, honeybees, and farm-raised fish"
• $2 billion for renewable-energy research ($400 million for global-warming research)
• $2 billion for a "clean coal" power plant in Illinois
• $6.2 billion for the Weatherization Assistance Program
• $3.5 billion for energy-efficiency and conservation block grants
• $3.4 billion for the State Energy Program
• $200 million for state and local electric-transport projects
• $300 million for energy-efficient-appliance rebate programs
• $400 million for hybrid cars for state and local governments
• $1 billion for the manufacturing of advanced batteries
• $1.5 billion for green-technology loan guarantees
• $8 billion for innovative-technology loan-guarantee program
• $2.4 billion for carbon-capture demonstration projects
• $4.5 billion for electricity grid
• $79 billion for State Fiscal Stabilization Fund
If that list isn't bad enough for you here's another
• $2 billion earmark to re-start FutureGen, a near-zero emissions coal power plant in Illinois that the Department of Energy defunded last year because it said the project was inefficient.
• $246 million tax break for Hollywood movie producers to buy motion picture film.
• $650 million for the digital television converter box coupon program.
• $88 million for the Coast Guard to design a new polar icebreaker (arctic ship).
• $448 million for constructing the Department of Homeland Security headquarters.
• $248 million for furniture at the new Homeland Security headquarters.
• $600 million to buy hybrid vehicles for federal employees.
• $400 million for the Centers for Disease Control to screen and prevent STD's.
• $1.4 billion for rural waste disposal programs.
• $125 million for the Washington sewer system.
• $150 million for Smithsonian museum facilities.
• $1 billion for the 2010 Census, which has a projected cost overrun of $3 billion.
• $75 million for "smoking cessation activities."
• $200 million for public computer centers at community colleges.
• $75 million for salaries of employees at the FBI.
• $25 million for tribal alcohol and substance abuse reduction.
• $500 million for flood reduction projects on the Mississippi River.
• $10 million to inspect canals in urban areas.
• $6 billion to turn federal buildings into "green" buildings.
• $500 million for state and local fire stations.
• $650 million for wildland fire management on forest service lands.
• $1.2 billion for "youth activities," including youth summer job programs.
• $88 million for renovating the headquarters of the Public Health Service.
• $412 million for CDC buildings and property.
• $500 million for building and repairing National Institutes of Health facilities in Bethesda, Maryland.
• $160 million for "paid volunteers" at the Corporation for National and Community Service.
• $5.5 million for "energy efficiency initiatives" at the Department of Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Administration.
• $850 million for Amtrak.
• $100 million for reducing the hazard of lead-based paint.
• $75 million to construct a "security training" facility for State Department Security officers when they can be trained at existing facilities of other agencies.
• $110 million to the Farm Service Agency to upgrade computer systems.
• $200 million in funding for the lease of alternative energy vehicles for use on military installations.
No way no how is most or evevn a majority of this "stimulus" by any honest definition. Much of it is a payoff to liberal interest groups(ACORN, Planned Parenthood), or simply an attempt by Democrats to buy votes to keep themselves in power. It represents 8 or more years of greedy liberals waiting for federal largess, and now it's time for them to get theirs. Speaker Pelosi, Senator Reid, and President Obama are ready to open the floodgates to a never-ending that makes the amount we've spent on Iraq look like a drop in the bucket by comparison.
But even the "stimulus" stuff in the bill won't do much, if any, good. We're told that spending on infrastructure will jump start the economy because at least some of the projects are "shovel ready." This is a term that means "ready to go," i.e. no or little time need be spent in planning, designing, getting permits, etc, because all that's been done. Construction can start within 90 days, which puts people to work.
But even this isn't true, and Popular Mechanics explains why:
The programs that would meet the bill's 90-day restriction are, for the most part, an unappealing mix of projects that were either shelved after being fully designed and engineered, and have since become outmoded or irrelevant, or projects with limited scope and ambition. No one's building a smart electric grid or revamping a water system on 90 days notice. The best example of a shovel-ready project, and what engineers believe could become the biggest recipient of the transportation-related portion of the bill's funding, is road resurfacing--important maintenance work, but not a meaningful way to rein in a national infrastructure crisis. "In developing countries, there are roads that are so bad, they create congestion, because drivers are constantly forced to slow down," says David Levinson, an associate professor in the University of Minnesota's civil engineering department. "That's not the case here. If the road's a little bit rougher, drivers will feel it, but that's not going to cause you to go any slower. So the economic benefit of those projects is pretty low."
That might be acceptable to people focused purely on fostering rapid job growth, but, ironically, such stimulus spending could fall short on that measure, as well. "In the 1930s, when you were literally building with shovels, that might have made sense. That was largely unskilled labor. Today, it's blue collar, but it's not unskilled," Levinson says. "The guy brushing the asphalt back and forth is unskilled, but the guy operating the steamroller isn't. And there's an assumption out there that construction workers are interchangeable between residential and highway projects. But a carpenter isn't a whole lot of help in building a road."
Just as bad, the article goes on to point out, "shovel ready" thinking has actually helped create the current crisis. Because by definition such projects must start immediately, they're poorly thought out and such things as bridges are structurally deficient.
Getting back to tax cuts, though, the Republican Study Committee does have an excellent proposal that would cut a variety of taxes, which would be true stimulus. It wouldn't solve all our problems, but it would go a long way towards getting us out of our economic morass.
President Obama is trying to push the Democrat bill through Congress as fast as possible, because he knows that time is working against him. The more the American people learn about it the more they dislike it. It's time he listened to them and stopped the mad rush towards passing this bill.
February 4, 2009
If You take the King's Shilling, You do the King's Bidding
We knew this was coming:
Obama Caps Executive Pay Tied to Bailout Money
President Barack Obama on Wednesday imposed a $500,000 cap on senior executive pay for the most distressed financial institutions receiving taxpayer bailout money and promised new steps to end a system of "executives being rewarded for failure."
Obama announced the unusual government intervention into corporate America at the White House, with
tax cheatTreasury Secretary Timothy Geithner at his side....
The pay limit comes amid a national outcry over huge bonuses to executives who head companies that seek taxpayer dollars to remain afloat. The demand for limits was reinforced by revelations that Wall Street firms paid more than $18 billion in bonuses in 2008 amid the economic downturn and the massive infusion of taxpayer dollars.
The limit would apply to top-paid executives at the most distressed financial institutions that are negotiating bailout agreements with the federal government. It also would apply to other banks that receive aid, but they could get around the limits by publicizing to shareholders plans to exceed the salary cap.
This is exactly why bailouts are so bad. Once you take aid from the government, you are beholden to them.
These business executives are playing right into Obama's hands. What idiots. The left pretends to be outraged, but I think many are secretly happy as it gives them the excuse they need to set a "maximum wage," something they've wanted for decades.
We've all seen the stories. Bonuses paid to executives of companies who are losing money and laying off employees. Expensive trips, private airplanes, manicures and spas seem to be the rule.
The situation on Wall Street has gotten so bad that even the pro-business Washington Times editorialized that these "business excesses are disgraceful."
I've run into conservatives who say Obama is violating property rights on this matter. But that's only true in cases where he tries to impose these things on businesses that are not taking government money. More to it, this is about greed, which I also remind conservatives and Christians is also a sin, there being many passages about it in the Bible. To paraphrase Justice Potter Stewart, I may not be able to define greed, but I know it when I see it. And the American public knows what it sees.
If you come to me complaining that you can't pay your mortgage, and I loan you a few thousand dollars, I had better not see you going out to the movies or taking a vacation until you've paid me back.
Right now executive pay is only being capped for companies that take bailout money. As with most things government, I think it'll slowly spread. Once the left gets there way here, they'll come up with other reasons to cap pay all across the board, regardless of whether the company takes bailout money or not. For example, next they'll say that any company that gets a government contract must cap executive pay. Then...who know where this will end.
And years from now, they'll look at the corporate executives who paid themselves bonuses and such while their companies were failing, and say "It is you who are to blame."
Saturday Feb 7 Update
That didn't take long. Financial Week reports that House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank wants to set pay caps for all corporations:
Congress will consider legislation to extend some of the curbs on executive pay that now apply only to those banks receiving federal assistance, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank said.
"There's deeply rooted anger on the part of the average American," the Massachusetts Democrat said at a Washington news conference today.
He said the compensation restrictions would apply to all financial institutions and might be extended to include all U.S. companies.
Give these guys and inch and they'll take a mile.
Iraq Briefing - 02 February 2009 - Big Changes in Basra
This briefing is by British Major General Andy Salmon, who is the general officer commanding Multinational Division Southeast. On Monday he spoke via satellite from Basra, Iraq, with reporters at the Pentagon, providing an update on ongoing security operations.
Multinational Division Southeast operates in the southern part of Iraq, including the cities of Basrah(Basra), An Nasiriyah, and Al Amarah. The division is headquartered by elements of the British and Australian militaries. General Salmon took command of MND-Southeast in August of 2008, replacing Maj. Gen. Barney White-Spunner.
Although Maj. Gen. Salmon is with the British Army, as part of Multi-National Force-Iraq he reports to Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq. Austin reports to General Odierno, commander of MNF - 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.
The transcript is at DefenseLink.
Readers who follow the situation in Iraq will recall that before the surge, and even for a time after, Basra was considered lost to militia forces. Long story short, a determined Iraqi effort led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, backed by coalition forces, seems to have turned the situation around.
Anyway, let's see what the generals says, and what the assembled journalists question him about:
From General Salmon's opening remarks:
GEN. SALMON: ...Now, to a certain extent, there has been a big difference, and I think if you look at the situation we find ourselves in now in Basra, compared to where we were without (Operation)Charge of the Knights, in the words of Ambassador Crocker, there has been a radical transformation.
A couple of days ago we saw the first all-inclusive elections, I think a big step in the right direction for the future of Basra and Iraq. One-point-four million people had registered to vote. We had about a 50 percent turnout, more in the city and less in the rural areas, overall.
But they were safe and secure, and it was really important to the Iraqi security forces. It was a litmus test for them. And the fact that they passed with very minor incidents was a testament to the way that they developed since Charge of the Knights over -- in the last six months.
I think what's really impressed me about their performance was their ability to plan, their attitude, the way they handled incidents and responded to them very sensibly, in a measured way, and the fact that they kept a reasonable level of tempo going throughout the last few weeks.
And overall, it continues with this great consolidation from the Iraqi security forces. They're more resilient. They've now got a security architecture we've helped build in place, and there's more joint cooperation between Iraqi army and police, and to a certain extent they're working in a much more harmonious fashion....
House prices have doubled. There are fuller markets. Smaller businesses are cropping up all over the place. And some of the work that we've done, for example, on the microloan side of life, has provided an extra 900 jobs. And restaurants are busy. And people are starting to really enjoy themselves.
Most homeowners in the United States have seen the value of their house decline recently as a result of the recession. Rising prices signal increased demand, which will in turn spur construction. All very good news.
With increased prosperity come increased expectations, something that Gen. Salmon mentions also in his opening statement. The people have " tasted freedom recently...and they want more of it." At the same time they are demanding more of their politicians to deliver more services better and more efficiently. In other words, it's politics like a normal country.
As Salmon concludes, "It's the start of a new chapter." Now it's up to the Iraqi people to make the most of it.
On to the Q & A. As always, the issue of when coalition forces will come out is important. We'll skip most of this first exchange and get right to the heart of the matter
Q General, this is David Morgan from Reuters. As you know, Prime Minister Brown set out three goals that would have to be accomplished before British troops could withdraw from Iraq. One was to hand over control of the Basra airport to the Iraqis. Another was to hold provincial elections. And the third was to revitalize the economy. Have those goals now been met? And if so, how soon would you expect to see British forces begin to withdraw?
GEN. SALMON: ...in the main, you know, we've completely met, you know, the conditions and the tasks that the prime minister has set up.
When I say "in the main," the qualification, of course, is something that we can't deal with, which is the long-term building up of national defense forces and the enablers and the capability, which is not something that we're committed to doing, because that's not what was agreed. So that's being done....
I think overall, we are very much on track to deliver the prime minister's conditions. And with that in mind, then we will see British troops start to transition. They will finish the mission by the 31st of May, and British troops will be out of Iraq by the 31st of July.
While the Iraqi Army has made great strides towards tactical proficiency and overall professionalism, regular readers of this blog know that logistics has remained a problem. We have seen the journalists bring this up time and again in these briefings. While the situation seems to have improved recently, that they still ask about it is telling.
Q Yes. General, this is Joe Thabet with Al Hurra. Talking about the good picture that you mentioned earlier, how do you assess the Iraqi force's readiness and capability in Iraq? And what do you think what the Iraqi forces need in the future to handle security task and security mission?
GEN. SALMON:... The training establishment, which is obviously fundamental to a developed and professional army, is starting to look much better. And we're now seeing a much more -- greater effort and willingness to say that actually training is an important part of our development, so let's get down here. So I think that's pretty good.
I think where there's going to be a lot of work is over logistics and making sure that the chain of resource flow and logistics flow, materiel flow, is much more coherent and much more effective. And partly, this is to deal with budget execution, and also, you know, capacity.
So I think there's much more work required on the enablers, and I think that is part of MNSTC-I, you know, and the Iraqi ground force's command long-term development and aspirations.
What happens when the British leave? What coalition force, , if any, will take over?
Q General, Jeff with Stars and Stripes. Can you talk about what kind of footprint the British will leave behind at the end of July that the Americans might have to fill?
GEN. SALMON:...actually, we're not going to have a vacuum when the British forces redeploy back to the U.K. We're also going to make sure that we attend to the naval training. So that will continue as a coalition force, led by the Brits at the moment. We've got U.S. Marines, Royal Marines, U.K. navy, U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard. So the continual development -- again, in terms of national defense, sovereign (issue ?) of the Iraqi navy, we'll be leaving a residual force to be able to complete that task. And that's a long-term thing.
So what I'm saying is that there's a very different mission (surfacing ?). We know, in terms of the new security agreement, that coalition troops have got to be out of the city, aside from mentors and trainers, by the summer. And that's exactly what's happening.
So there aren't going to be any vacuums. There will be some level of military presence to make sure that situational awareness is all right. But essentially it's a very different mission. It's more of a rule-of-law/civility/growing-civil-capacity type mission. So that's what's actually happening.
Q (Off mike) -- your answer, it sounds like -- that no U.S. troops will have to replace some of the British troops that are departing. Is that correct?
GEN. SALMON: That is correct. But at the same time, I know that the commander on the ground here will want to make sure he has some situational awareness. But he won't be replacing U.K. troops man for man.
In other words, it's up to the Iraqis to take care of themselves in Basra once the British leave.
Finally, as part of his closing remarks, a word from the general about future challenges:
GEN. SALMON:...It's the start of a very significant phase in the Iraqis' path from, you know, what has been, you know, a failed position, a failed- state position to probably where we have been just before the elections, you know, a fragile state, and on the cusp now of increasing the capacities, you know, obviously subject to some of the things that I've talked about happening towards, you know, a more stable state.
And I think what needs to happen is, there needs to be this compact between citizens of Iraq, civil society, politicians, civil servants to make sure that governance is reformed and actually delivers, to the needs of the people, something that we haven't seen in Iraq for some time.
We also need to make sure that we set the conditions for sensible economic investment and attract international investors who are going to help trade and commerce and also do their bit, in terms of being part of this compact. And I think the international community needs to be part of that too.
So looking at the United Nations, I mean, only the other week, I spoke to an EU rule of law mission that were interested in joining in on the law and order pillar down here.
February 3, 2009
Save us from a Military Takeover!
WASHINGTON, Feb 2 (IPS) by Gareth Porter - CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus, supported by Defence Secretary Robert Gates, tried to convince President Barack Obama that he had to back down from his campaign pledge to withdraw all U.S. combat troops from Iraq within 16 months at an Oval Office meeting Jan. 21.
But Obama informed Gates, Petraeus and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen that he wasn't convinced and that he wanted Gates and the military leaders to come back quickly with a detailed 16-month plan, according to two sources who have talked with participants in the meeting.
Obama's decision to override Petraeus's recommendation has not ended the conflict between the president and senior military officers over troop withdrawal, however. There are indications that Petraeus and his allies in the military and the Pentagon, including Gen. Ray Odierno, now the top commander in Iraq, have already begun to try to pressure Obama to change his withdrawal policy.
A network of senior military officers is also reported to be preparing to support Petraeus and Odierno by mobilising public opinion against Obama's decision.
Petraeus was visibly unhappy when he left the Oval Office, according to one of the sources. A White House staffer present at the meeting was quoted by the source as saying, "Petraeus made the mistake of thinking he was still dealing with George Bush instead of with Barack Obama."
Petraeus, Gates and Odierno had hoped to sell Obama on a plan that they formulated in the final months of the Bush administration that aimed at getting around a key provision of the U.S.-Iraqi withdrawal agreement signed envisioned re-categorising large numbers of combat troops as support troops. That subterfuge was by the United States last November while ostensibly allowing Obama to deliver on his campaign promise.
It took me a day but I think I've figure out what this is all about.
It's an attempt by the kook antiwar left to make our president into a hero by portraying a fascist military takeover that he must immediately put down.
If you don't believe me follow the link and read the whole thing. It's the story of how active duty military officers are secretly planning a public relations campaign to undermine Obama.
Michael Goldfarb, writing at The Weekly Standard, says file this story under fiction. He's not buying it at all:
"Porter, relying exclusively on anonymous sources, has alleged that America's top general (known to the left as General Betray Us) is acting in defiance of his commander in chief and angling to subvert civilian control of the military. Is it true? Well, Gareth Porter was the man who wrote a book, Cambodia: Starvation and Revolution, attacking the "myth" that Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge were engaged in mass murder. I'm sure he had great anonymous sources for that story, too."
Googling around, I discovered how the left is spinning this; as insubordination that our heroic president must immediately squash. This one is precious:
Generals' Revolt Threatens Obama Presidency
If an article by Gareth Porter in run by InterPress is correct that CentCom Commander Gen. David Petraeus and Iraq Commander Gen. Ray Odierno, backed by a group of lower-ranking generals, are planning to mount a public campaign to try and undermine President Obama's plan for a withdrawal from Iraq in 16 months, Obama needs to act fast and nip this dangerous act of insubordination in the bud....
Obama, on a much more serious issue--the conduct of and termination of a war--is now apparently being more or less openly defied by his top generals, who after all get their glory and power by having troops in battle, and who are also worried that a collapse of the puppet regime in Iraq could leave them looking like losers. They are thus opposing a pullout from Iraq (and a hardly precipitous one at that!) out of self-interest and self-preservation...
There is only one answer to this challenge to presidential authority: President Obama must sack both Petraeus and Odierno...
This is not just a matter of salvaging an Obama presidency. It is also a profound constitutional issue....
Got it? Obama the hero saves us from a fascist military takeover. Sounds like this Porter fellow has seen Seven Days in May one too many times.
Don't misunderstand this post; I am not attacking President Obama, but rather some of his supporters.
I don't see that the Daily Kos has picked up this particular story, but diarist testvet6778 thinks that even retired generals speaking out are a threat to the republic. Really.
February 2, 2009
Elections In Iraq: A Victory for Democracy
Last Friday, January 30, most Iraqis went to the polls to elect local provincial representatives. Provincial councils are similar to an American state legislature. Representatives were elected to 14 of Iraqis 18 provinces. There was no voting in the four Kurdish provinces, as this is to come later.
We will not know full results for weeks, but we do know a few things right now. First, they went off mostly peacefully, which for any third-world country is an achievement in itself. Second, from the accounts I have read they were mostly fair, another achievement. Finally, this represents the fourth election in Iraq since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, which is more than have taken place in any other Arab country.
These have got to count for something. I don't care how opposed you were to OIF, you have to admit that it's a good thing that Iraqis can choose their own leaders. More importantly, I am cautiously optimistic that this moves Iraq in the direction of liberty. Voting is all very fine, but if it results in rule by Hamas it's all for naught. The point is to push societies towards concepts of individual freedoms, and adopting the things we specify in the Bill of Rights.
Clearly the Iraqis have a long way to go, and they could still backslide. As mentioned above, we don't know the full results, or the exact percentage that voted. But we have to take this one step at a time, and as a rule are not voting for Hamas-type parties. The editors of National Review call it a "quiet victory," and I think they're right.
Most news reports have it that secular parties did better than their religious counterparts. This is generally a good thing, but of course secular parties can go off the rails too. The Middle East alone has seen a few Ba'athist parties that were quite fascist in nature. Saddam Hussein's only party was Ba'athist, for example, as is the ruling party in Syria.
Further, the Sunnis participated fully this time, having realized their past mistake of boycotting the 2005 elections. Just as important, the Sunni parties who appear to have done well were the ones based around tribal loyalties who are not anti-American as is the Islamic ones.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Islamic Dawa Party also appears to have done well, beating out the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, which consolidates his position. As the name implies, the Dawa party is religious, but all in all seems better than the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, which is the major Shiite religious party.
Walid Phares, two of whose books on the worldwide jihad I have reviewed here, offers his usual cogent analysis of what the elections mean. Following are excerpts:
Why are the Iraqi elections important to Americans and the rest of the international community? Simply because it will show, or won't, that "spreading democracy" is possible in that part of the world, a principle against which Jihadist forces, authoritarian regimes and many critics within the West have challenged....
2) The Jihadist forces of Iraq, including al Qaeda, dislike the rise of a democratic culture and the pro-Iranian militants plan on using the system to their advantage. Massive violence didn't erupt in diverse areas such as the Diyala province or in cities such as Mosul but few incidents. But here again the preparedness of Iraqi forces, assisted by the Coalition, will tell about the readiness of the country to manage its own elections in the future.
3) The level of participation will tell us if popular trust in elections is taking root and any numbers higher than 60 % will confirm this....
5) These elections will produce a new majority in Iraq, which will be always determined by coalition building. However, one result is certain: there will be no return to a single-party dictatorship. Iraq may break in pieces, but it will never return to a Saddam-like monstrosity; and that is what authoritarians in contiguous countries fear the most.
The seeds of elections are now planted in Mesopotamia. With more than 140 political party and associations, hundreds of newspapers, publications, dozens of radio and TV stations, a mosaic is in existence. It will be hard on the Iranian Mullahs and on al Qaeda to crush all this diversity...Once young Iraqis (who will be voting for the first time), along with women who have broken the walls of gender exclusiveness and minorities emerging from the underground, have tasted and tested this democratic exercise, a resistance to fascism and totalitarianism is born.
Let's hope he's right. Not wearing rose-colored glasses, Phares cautions that "these are the early baby steps of Iraqi democracy" and the forces of totalitarianism, namely Syria, Iran, and, well, just about every other Muslim country in the region will work to kill the baby in it's cradle. A gruesome analogy but apt.
Kimberly Kagan's Institute for the Study of War has an excellent news roundup. As with Phares' piece above, check them out, but the titles alone are pretty telling:
Washington Post - In Iraq's North, Vote Tallies To Define Loyalties, Dispute, by Ernesto Londono
Washington Post - Maliki's Party Poised to Win in Key Regions, by Ernesto Londono
Washington Times - Iraqi election hints of party shift, from AP
New York Times - Secular Parties and Premier Lead in Iraq, by Alissa J. Rubin
New York Times - Election: What The Papers Say, by Stephen Farrell
LA Times - In Iraq, security trumps sectarianism at polls, by Tina Susman
Associated Press - Sunni party likely big winner in northern Iraq, by Kim Gamel
LA Times - Iraq vote turnout fails to meet expectations, by Monte Morin
Washington Times - Election troublesome for some Shiites, by Brian Muphy of AP
Reuters - Vote sows seeds of greater calm in Iraq's north, by Tim Cocks
Saturday February 7 Update
Bill Roggio reports in The Weekly Standard the good news that the Sadrists did poorly:
The results of Iraq's provincial elections are in, and the parties backed by Muqtada al Sadr's political movement fared poorly in regions of southern and central Iraq where he is considered to be influential. In Maysan province, which used to be run by the Sadrist movement, the Sadrists received 15.2 percent of the vote, placing it in second. In Baghdad, where the neighborhood of Sadr City has two million Shia supposedly under his influence, the movement received nine percent (tied second place). In Basrah, the movement received five percent (fourth place). The Sadrists finished third and fourth in Najaf and Karbala respectively. These provinces used to be considered Sadrist "strongholds."
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, who was said to have been defeated and humiliated by Sadr during the operation against the Mahdi Army in Basrah and in Baghdad, did quite well. His party won the elections in nine of the 14 provinces where elections were held, including in Baghdad, Basrah, and Maysan. Of the 10 Shia-dominated provinces, Maliki's party finished first on nine of them.
Sadr's Mahdi Army took a real beating last year at the hands of the Iraqi security forces and the Coalition. This year, the Iraqi people gave the Sadrist movement another beating, this time at the polls.
February 1, 2009
The Stimulus and the GOP
Every single Republican in Congress voted against the "stimulus," or American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan (HR-1 in the House), as it's officially called. All 178 GOP Representatives, and all 41 GOP Senators.
I am both proud and glad that they did so, and for three reasons.
One, it is bad economics. I'm not at all convinced that government spending boosts the economy, whether it's for infrastructure or anything else. There's a good deal of scholarship which has concluded the Roosevelt's New Deal didn't get us out of the depression, and perhaps made it worse (here and here for starters) Even if it does, most of the spending will not take place for several years. Further, as has been widely reported, much of the bill is simple pork barrel politics which in no way can be described as economic stimulus. Little of the Democrat stimulus bill consists of tax cuts, the only thing that will really boost the economy. Worst, it does not cut the most important taxes, capital gains and corporate taxes as Larry Kudlow advises, the two that would do the most benefit. The bill would massively increase our deficit, something we absolutely do not need.
Second, I don't think primary the point of the bill is even economic stimulus. What you have is a bunch of Democrats paying off their constituents after 8 years of being out of power. As shown below, most of the spending doesn't take place immediately, and most of it isn't on infrastructure. The Democrats are simply trying to consolidate their majority and implement other parts of their agenda.
In other words, it's old-time politics writ large for the Democrats. Not at all the "new kind of politics" that candidate Obama promised.
Third, the GOP badly needs a rallying point and this is as good a place to start as any. The bill goes against everything we believe in, or say we believe in, so to vote for it would once again tell the people we are not serious. Congressional Republicans didn't just say "no, no, no," however, but offered a credible alternative. Tie this to the election of Michael Steele as chairman of the Republican National Committee, and we may have a winning combination.
I also see almost no downside to our current course of action. There is near zero chance this bill will perform as advertised, so it's not as if we're missing out on enjoying the political benefits of success. Further, when the effect on the budget deficit becomes clear we have to be on record as having opposed it. For the past several years we have been on the wrong side of this issue. Better now than never.
As for President Obama's much ballyhooed attempt at bipartisanship with Republicans, please. He couldn't even keep all Democrats on board. 11 Democrats in the House, including my favorite, former Washington Redskins quarterback Heath Shuler (D - NC, 11th District)., voted against the bill.
It is therefore amusing to see some liberals and Democrats so upset about Republican opposition. If their bill does what they say it will, then they'll be able to say "see I told you so," won't they? What I think is driving their rage is more just incomprehension that anyone could not be wild about their messiah. I encountered this attitude a week ago while supporting our troops at our weekly rally outside Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and it is indeed a thing to behold.
A few tidbits on the Democrat bill from the website of the House GOP
- The legislation's spending portion contains $355.9 billion in discretionary domestic spending to expand existing programs throughout the federal government. Spending meant to stimulate the economy under this title includes funding for a wide variety of programs ranging from climate change research, federal building repair, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Federal Highway Administration, AmeriCorps, and nurse and physician training.
- The refundable spending, which is scored by CBO as direct spending, totals $79.9 billion over five years. Unlike long-term, growth-oriented tax cuts that have been offered by Republicans as an alternative to this plan, these refundable tax credits are more akin to increased spending through the tax code.
- According to CBO, the federal deficit will rise to a record $1.2 trillion, or 8.3% of GDP, in 2009. Even without this massive bill, the deficit will be by far the highest on record nominally and as a percentage of GDP during peacetime, easily exceeding the previousrecord of 6% in 1983 and the highest New Deal level of 5.9% in 1934.
- According to CBO, most of the $356 billion in discretionary spending provided will not actually be spent until after 2010. In fact, only 8.1% of the spending will take place in 2009.
- Despite calls by Democrats for increased infrastructure spending to create jobs, a relatively small share of the total $825 billion package is devoted to transportation infrastructure--$44 billion or 5.3% and only $30 billion or 3.6% for highway construction.
Keep in mind that candidate Barack Obama promised to go through the federal budget line by line and cut out wasteful spending. In fact, it's still on his website. Go see for yourself.
Obama and Biden review the federal budget line by line and eliminate programs that don't work or are unnecessary.
Guess that campaign promise is already out the window.
And if you think this level of spending is bad, keep in mind that last week Obama told GOP Rep. Frank Lucas (OK-3rd) that he thought that FDR's problem was that he didn't spend enough money on his New Deal projects. Sheesh.
Now, some details on the GOP alternative:
- Cut the lowest two income tax rates for 2009 and 2010, from 15 percent to 10 percent and from 10 percent to 5 percent.
- Extend through 2010 a patch to the Alternative Minimum Tax, which was originally designed to ensure that wealthy people pay taxes, but instead would hit millions of middle-income families with higher taxes.
- Expand the $7,500 first-time homebuyers tax credit for a principal residence to all homebuyers while limiting it to purchasers who can make a down payment of at least 5 percent of the purchase price.
- Provide a tax deduction for small businesses with less than 500 employees equal to 20 percent of their income.
- Offer new tax deduction for those who do not receive tax-preferred, employer-sponsored health care coverage. And provide assistance to the unemployed who do not qualify for a COBRA premium subsidy.
- Give tax exemption on unemployment benefits and extend temporary federal unemployment benefits through 2009, phasing it out through mid-2010.
- Allow companies to write off current losses against previous tax years for up to five years. Companies now can only "carry back" losses for two years. The tax break would not be available to banks and other companies receiving help from the $700 billion bailout package.
- Extend through 2009 a break for small businesses that allows them to immediately write off up certain capital expenditures.
One time rebate checks do not work. It was wrong when President Bush did it and it would be wrong today. For tax cuts to work they have to incent people to change their behavior in a way that lasts. Only if people think that they will have more money in their pocket in the future will they spend in ways the boost the economy.
A bit more about the Democrat's bill from the editors of National Review
Consider the $18.5 billion proposed for renewable-energy projects, less than $3 billion of which would be spent by 2011. Even if we conceded, for argument's sake, that the initial $3 billion would boost the economy in the short run by putting people to work and increasing demand for things like steel and concrete, why should we agree to spend the additional $15.5 billion when we do not share the green lobby's passion for such projects? Clearly, the extra money is being ramrodded through Congress in the guise of "economic stimulus," though it is actually the opposite of that.
Or consider the $30 billion proposed for highway spending, less than $4 billion of which would be spent by 2011. Again, accepting the questionable premise that the first $4 billion is necessary for economic recovery, why pile on $26 billion needlessly?...
Perhaps most egregious is the $80 billion "State Fiscal Stabilization Fund," intended to bail out those states that promised more in Medicaid and other welfare benefits than they had revenue to pay for. Just over $30 billion of the money would be spent by 2011. The rest is reserved for the years 2011 and 2012, with allocations stretching into the year 2019. This is not a stimulus plan. It is an invitation to states to engage in politically popular but unaffordable overspending for years to come.
Man of Steele
No, he's not "our Barack Obama" and I don't think any conservative sees him that way. He is, rather, a smart, articulate conservative who most of all is the fresh face that we know we need. I think I've got a pretty good ear from what conservatives want, both nationally and here locally, and the vast majority of us want to toss the "old guard" and bring in a new generation.
While driving to work in the morning I have had the chance to hear Michael Steele guest host Bill Bennett's morning radio show, and have been impressed every time. He will be the opposite of Howard Dean or Terry McAuliffe, two DNC chairmen who in my opinion came across poorly. Dean was just a ranting nut and McAuliffe too aggressive in an intimidating way. On the other side, our ourgoing chairman, Mike Duncan, was clearly ineffective.
Here is Steele making his acceptance speech:
His Blueprint for Tomorrow seems pretty on target for what we need. Importantly, he doesn't blame Democrats for our problems:
We squandered the trust of voters with a stunning display of spending and government growth that might have made a Democrat blush.
Public opinion polling is very clear on this point, it can best be summed up by these results from a recent national survey by Gallup:
Just as troubling, a majority of voters view our party as more closely tied to the corruption in Washington and the greed on Wall Street than to the interests on Main Street.
- 34% say they have a favorable view of the Republican Party, 61% have an unfavorable view
- 55% say they have a favorable view of the Democrat party, 39% have an unfavorable view
The first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one.
I've observed and more recently participated in politics for over 30 years. It's great when your side wins and it stinks when you lose. I've learned, though, to be careful in both instances because things can turn on a dime. Surveying Bill Clinton's victory in 1992, few if any conservatives would have predicted our stunning success a mere two years later. For that matter we didn't think that we'd lose as bad as we did in 1998.
Perhaps oddly, then, I am optimistic about the future of conservatism and the Republican Party. It's far to early to say where all this will go, as Obama is a smart man who will learn from his mistakes. But this joke of a stimulus was a bad start, written as it was by Democrats in Congress
Monday Evening Update
Democrat Senator Ben Nelson (NB) says that wants to cut tens of billions from the stimulus bill, "rejecting the White House claim that senators are complaining about just a tiny fraction of the package."
President Obama does not seem to know what to do. This bill is spiraling out of control, with half the public not believing it will help the economy. A few Democrats in the Senate seem to have figured this out.
The Democrats need to get this thing passed quickly, because time is not on their side. The more this thing lingers the more information about how much pork it contains will come out.
Kevin Hassett, writing at Bloomberg, has the goods
When the stimulus package, the SCHIP expansion and whatever else our representatives in Washington dream up are on the books, it seems likely that the deficit for this year will approach $1.7 trillion. This is an enormous swing in the U.S. fiscal condition.
Under President George W. Bush -- a big spender in his own right -- the federal budget deficit reached a record $455 billion in fiscal 2008, more than double a year earlier. Government bailouts of banks and other industries that started under Bush, and may accelerate under President Barack Obama, will help push the deficit toward that $1.7 trillion mark.
That is $1.7 trillion in future taxes. Nobody knows exactly when the tax hike will come. It might even be that we shall try to foist the costs on our children. Still, those planning their financial futures should account for the dramatically higher taxes that will be the result of this year's policies.