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September 28, 2010

In the Battle of Life and Death, Which Side are You On?

I wasn't going to watch this when I first saw it on Facebook, and then I thought I wouldn't watch the whole thing. But once I started I just couldn't stop.

This video is extraordinary. Trust me.

Posted by Tom at 8:15 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 25, 2010

The GOP Pledge to America

Here is the video introducing the Pledge to America unveiled by House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH-8) at Tart Lumber Company in Sterling VA.


You can read the whole thing at the Pledge to America website.

I really do not have time for an exhaustive analysis, so all I'll offer is a few excerpts from the pledge and some comments. Bottom line: I think it's a winning formula and a great plan. It goes much further than Newt Gingrich's 2004 "Contract with America," and if implemented would be very good for the country.

At 48 pages, the Pledge is an impressively detailed document, much more so than Gingrich's relatively short Contract with America. It also promises more. While the Contract simply pledged to bring certain bills to the House floor for a vote, the Pledge commits Republicans to implement a wide variety of popular conservative goals.

We will launch a sustained effort to stem the relentless growth in government that has occurred over the past decade.

In other words, we're not going to tinker around the edges.

The difference, of course, between 2004 and 2010 is that voters are much more cynical now and as a result are much more demanding. Lightweight promises won't cut it anymore. Few if any Tea Party folks will vote Democrat, but you can bet your last dollar that when they say they won't vote for Republicans if they don't hold true to their promises they mean it.

The Pledge outlines specific policy proposals in six key areas; jobs and the economy, reducing federal spending the size of government, repealing and replacing the Democrat's health care legislation, reforming and restoring trust in Congress, keeping our nation secure at home and abroad, and establishing checks and balances in government.

I was going to go through the pledge section by section, but I just don't have time. What I have read in it sounds pretty good, though. Hopefully this week I'll have a chance to post more.

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

September 22, 2010

Ban the Burqa?

Burqa - also transliterated burkha, burka or burqua from Arabic: برقع‎ burqu' or burqa') is an enveloping outer garment worn by women in some Islamic traditions for the purpose of hiding their body when in public. It is worn over the usual daily clothing (often a long dress or a shalwar kameez) and removed when the woman returns home (see purdah), out of the view of men that are not her family. The burqa is usually understood to be the woman's loose body-covering (Arabic: jilbāb), plus the head-covering (Arabic: ḥijāb, taking the most usual meaning), plus the face-veil (Arabic: niqāb).

Burqa

Should the wearing of the burqa and niqab be banned in public?

Some European countries are moving in that direction. Both the French National Assembly (like our House) and Senate approved a ban on burqa-style dress recently, and the issue is before the Belgium parliament as well. It has been considered in the Netherlands but no action has been taken yet. A ban has been proposed in Britain and polls show it would be hugely popular.

In this post we'll let two conservative authors state their cases: Caire Berlinski in favor of a ban and Andy McCarthy against. Both articles have recently appeared in National Review .

Niqab v Burqa

First up is Clair Berlinski. Following are just enough excerpts to get the gist of her case:

Ban the Burqa
To do so is an offense to liberty; not to do so is a greater one
Claire Berlinski
August 16, 2010
Istanbul

I moved here five years ago. In the beginning, I was sympathetic to the argument that Turkey's ban on headscarves in universities and public institutions was grossly discriminatory. I spoke to many women who described veiling themselves as an uncoerced act of faith. One businesswoman in her mid-30s told me that she began veiling in high school, defying her secular family. Her schoolteacher gasped when she saw her: "If Atatürk could see you now, he would weep!" Her pain at the memory of the opprobrium she had suffered was clearly real.

Why had she decided to cover herself? I asked. As a teenager, she told me, she had experienced a religious revelation. She described this in terms anyone familiar with William James would recognize. She began veiling to affirm her connection with the Ineffable. "Every time I look in the mirror," she said, "I see a religious woman looking back. It reminds me that I've chosen to have a particular kind of relationship with God."

Seen thus, the covering of the head is no more radical than many other religious rituals that demand symbolic acts of renunciation or daily inconvenience....

But that was when I could still visit the neighborhood of Balat without being called a whore. ...

Let's be perfectly frank. These bans (the ones in Europe mentioned at top) are outrages against religious freedom and freedom of expression. They stigmatize Muslims. No modern state should be in the business of dictating what women should wear. The security arguments are spurious; there are a million ways to hide a bomb, and one hardly need wear a burqa to do so. It is not necessarily the case that the burqa is imposed upon women against their will; when it is the case, there are already laws on the books against physical coercion.

The argument that the garment is not a religious obligation under Islam is well-founded but irrelevant; millions of Muslims the world around believe that it is, and the state is not qualified to be in the business of Koranic exegesis. The choice to cover one's face is for many women a genuine expression of the most private kind of religious sentiment. To prevent them from doing so is discriminatory, persecutory, and incompatible with the Enlightenment traditions of the West....

All true. And yet the burqa must be banned. All forms of veiling must be, if not banned, strongly discouraged and stigmatized. The arguments against a ban are coherent and principled. They are also shallow and insufficient. They fail to take something crucial into account, and that thing is this: If Europe does not stand up now against veiling -- and the conception of women and their place in society that it represents -- within a generation there will be many cities in Europe where no unveiled woman will walk comfortably or safely....

The cancerous spread of veiling has been seen throughout the Islamic world since the Iranian Revolution. I have watched it in Turkey. Through migration and demographic shift, neighborhoods that once were mixed have become predominantly veiled. The government has sought to lift prohibitions on the wearing of headscarves, legitimizing and emboldening advocates of the practice. Five years ago, the historically Jewish and Greek neighborhood of Balat, on the Golden Horn, was one in which many unveiled women could be seen. It is not anymore. Recently I visited a friend there who reluctantly suggested that I dress more modestly -- while in his apartment. His windows faced the street. He was concerned that his neighbors would call the police and report a prostitute in their midst.

Veiling cannot be disambiguated from the problem of Islam's conception of women, and this conception is directly tied to gender apartheid and the subjugation and abuse of women throughout the Islamic world, the greatest human-rights problem on the planet, bar none. ...

Banning the burqa is without doubt a terrible assault on the ideal of religious liberty. It is the sign of a desperate society. No one wishes for things to have come so far that it is necessary.

But they have, and it is.

As someone once said (the phrase has been attributed to several people) "The Constitution is not a suicide pact." Put bluntly, there are certain situations where you do what you gotta do.

Berlinski states clearly that such a ban violates our concepts of civil liberties, but the situation is so dire that it is necessary. I won't rehash the situation in Europe now, at this point there is so much information out there that you either understand the danger or you don't.

More, she admits freely that many women voluntarily take up the burqa; depending on your definition of "voluntary," and here is where things get tricky. Where is the line between free will and subtle yet pervasive brainwashing? Between doing something out of religious reverence and an unadmitted and almost unconscious fear of being called a whore?

There is no doubt that fundamentalist Islam is spreading. Egyptian-American author Nonie Darwish wrote about how the people of her home country have gotten much more fundamentalist in her book Now They Call Me Infidel, and how shocked she was by the changes she saw there in her latest visit as opposed to what the country was like when she was a child. This series of photographs of the graduating class of Cairo University in 1959, 1978, 1995, and 2004 are absolutely shocking. In 1959 the graduates all wore modern, Western dress. IN 2004 the style was middle-ages Islamic.

So put your scruples about civil liberties aside, she says. Western Civilization itself is in mortal danger, and if we do not stand up to Islamism now, "within a generation there will be many cities in Europe where no unveiled woman will walk comfortably or safely."

A serious argument to be taken seriously.

Just as serious is Andy McCarthy, who makes the case the burqa-style dress should not be banned. As I suppose everyone knows by now, McCarthy was the lead prosecutor in the trial of Omar Abdel Rahman, otherwise known as "Blind Sheikh," who along with a half-dozen others were the masterminds behind the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and additional plots to bomb five New York City landmarks: the United Nations building, an FBI office, the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels, and the George Washington Bridge. Today McCarthy is a writer and host on many TV and radio shows, speaking mostly on the issue of Islamic radicalism.

Following are enough excerpts from his recent article to make his case:

There Oughtn't Be a Law
The burqa ban won't save France, and preemptive capitulation won't save us September 18, 2010
Andy McCarthy

République française has banned the burqa. Along with the face-covering veil (the niqab), the burqa is the garment with which Muslim women conceal their bodies from head to toe. More accurately, it is the instrument by which their bodies are concealed. In fundamentalist Muslim communities, the burqa is not worn by a woman's free choice. It is imposed, a product of cultural submission that reflects the subordinate status -- in a real sense, the chattel status -- to which women are consigned in Islamist ideology. ...

What about the women who are extorted into cloaking themselves under pressure from a culture characterized by arranged marriages and honor killings? These women are pressured to submit because others have submitted. ...These women and girls are in France, but they are not free. They are "shut out from social life and robbed of any identity," as (French president Nicolas) Sarkozy puts it, and the burqa is their moving prison, enveloping every step. It extends the republic's 750 zones urbaines sensibles, "sensitive urban areas" -- Islamic enclaves over which the French state has effectively ceded sovereignty to sharia authorities.

This is a social problem, not a legal one. Law is the steel by which a body politic reinforces its vibrant, pre-existing mores. It is not a device for creating mores or for bringing to heel those who are at war with the body politic. ...For a dying society, though, a law, like the burqa law, is about as useful as a band-aid.

Islamist ideologues are ascendant because they are moving what they are proud to call their "civilizational jihad" against the West from the battlefield, where they know they cannot win, to our institutions, where the scales tip in the Islamists' favor. They are culturally confident. We, on the other hand, are ambivalent about whether our culture deserves to survive. No law can solve that problem. ...

The ethos of preemptive capitulation is all around us. It ran through last year's refusal by Yale University Press to publish Jytte Klausen's book on Muslim rioting over cartoon depictions of Mohammed until the book was purged of the cartoons. Even such classical representations of the prophet as Gustave Doré's illustration of Dante's Inferno, which portrays Mohammed as a "sower of religious discord," had to be censored out of fear that the religion of peace would go medieval. ... And the ethos is exploited by Imam Feisal Rauf, who now concedes the Ground Zero mosque was a bad idea but insists we must accept it lest "the radicals" explode in murderous rage.

It is the ethos of self-loathing. That is our burqa: our feebleness, our lack of cultural confidence. To shed it, we will have to rediscover why the principles it cloaks are superior and worth fighting for. If we don't, the law won't save us any more than it will save France.

McCarthy is saying bully; you're wasting your time with such a ban. At best it simply won't achieve your objective of stopping the spread of Islamism, at worst it deceives us into thinking that we have achieved something where we have not. We are much better served, he says, by facing the problem head on and telling the Islamists to accept Western values or get out of our countries.

My Take

In this case I think that Berlinksi is right and the European countries are right to ban burqa-style dress. Alone this won't save them, and McCarthy is right in that they still need to get their heads out of the sand and face the problem squarely. The bans might just give them that false sense of security that worries him.

But at the same time the bans might encourage Westerners to resist the spread of Islamism. It might give them hope that yes, we don't have to just sit here and take it from the radicals. And it might give Muslim women the strength to resist their oppression, and to realize that they don't have to take it either.

Further, it may send a signal to the Islamists that no, they may not import their more contemtible and degrading customs into our countries. Our message must be; if you accept Western values you are welcome to stay, otherwise leave.

Even so, of course, McCarthy may prove to be right. His point that the West has a social problem and not a political one is not one to be taken lightly. And most of all, until we realize that they have declared a "civilizational jihad" against us, we shall forever be blind as to the very nature of the enemy.

Posted by Tom at 9:45 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 19, 2010

In today's Iraq, "sectarian violence is almost zero"

Via National Review, the Wall Street Journal's David Feith interviewed General Ray Odierno. You have to subscribe to read the whole thing, and I'm not going to do that, so what's below is all I could get.

If you're not aware, which is to say not a regular reader of this blog. General Odierno was our longest serving general in Iraq. As a two star he commanded the 4th Infantry Division (2001-2004), which was originally scheduled to invade from Turkey, but after the Turks refused permission went in via Kuwait. Eventually they were made responsible for what is called the "Sunni Triangle," which is the area north of Baghdad. Promoted to three star in 2005, he was sent back to Iraq to take command of Multi-National Corps Iraq in 2006. MNC-Iraq is the operational command, tasked with carrying out the vision of the overall commander. At the time, General George Casey held overall command. Odnerino quickly realized his boss' strategy wasn't working, and told him so. Odierno and several others told President Bush that more troops were needed.

When General David Petraeus took over in February of 2007, he therefore assigned Odierno the task of implementing the new counterinsurgency strategy and positioning the new "surge" troops. Odierno carried out both tasks, earning him the moniker "The Patton of Counterinsurgency." When Petraeus was promoted to CENTCOM, Odierno assumed overall command of Iraq, and post he held until just two weeks ago.


General Ray Odierno

How the Surge Was Won
America's longest-serving general in Iraq says that when they realized the U.S. presence in their communities was permanent, allies came 'out of the woodwork.'
The Wall Street Journal
by David Feith
September 18, 2010

On Sept. 10, 2007, Gen. David Petraeus climbed the steps of the U.S. Capitol to testify that the surge in Iraq was succeeding. Already derided by MoveOn.org as "General Betray Us," he was lambasted by then-Sen. Hillary Clinton for his testimony's "willing suspension of disbelief."

On Sept. 10, 2010, Gen. Raymond Odierno--Gen. Petraeus's main partner throughout the surge--sits in a New York hotel room and reports matter-of-factly that in today's Iraq "sectarian violence is almost zero."

What a difference three years makes.

...

Gen. Odierno says that the moment he first thought a surge could work was in December 2006, when he learned that seven of Anbar Province's 13 tribes had decided to fight al Qaeda and join the political process. Fitting, since counterinsurgency doctrine emphasizes the imperative of earning the trust and support of the local population.

But trust earned must become trust maintained. That's the challenge going forward. Already some senior Iraqi leaders are suggesting that the U.S. drawdown is overly hasty. Lt. Gen. Babakir Zebari, the chief of staff of the Iraqi joint forces, said last month that "the U.S. army must stay until the Iraqi army is fully ready in 2020." Ayad Allawi, the leading vote-getter in March's election, recently agreed: "It may well take another 10 years," he told Der Spiegel.

Gen. Odierno says he isn't surprised by such comments. He adds: "If the new [Iraqi] government comes on board and says we still think we need some assistance beyond 2011 . . . I think we'll listen."

With a little help from Steve Shippert of Threatswatch, I explained in July of 2008 what really happened in the Sunni awakening in al Anbar and how Obama and the liberal left had it all wrong. The short story is that the awakening and stand down of the Shi'a militias did not occur separately from the surge but as a part of it.

More, what Odierno demonstrates that the notion that the Iraqis (or Afghanis) would be motivated to "step up," defend themselves, and "get their act together" if we threatened to leave is complete hogwash. Human nature just doesn't work that way. Threats to pull out only prompt them to hedge their bets by "making their arrangements" with the insurgents in case they lose. Only firm American resolve motivates the people to openly take our side.

As I have said about a zillion times, insurgencies are not World War II where you have a few years of intense fighting then that's it. They start up slowly, and then tend to explode as if out of nowhere. At this point either the insurgents get the upper hand and eventually win, or the government (with or without outside aid) gains the upper hand. Even if the latter occurs, it usually takes years to finally defeat an insurgency. Insurgencies end not with a bang but with a whimper, and it may be some time before you can be sure it's even over.

Finally, despite candidate Obama's rash and unwise promises on the campaign trail, we are going to be in Iraq for a long time. Odierno is probably right, even Obama will not want to be held responsible for losing Iraq.

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

September 10, 2010

Don't Upset the Religion of Peace!

Because I've been so crazy busy with various projects, I haven't had the time to post I've wanted to. I was going to post about Rev Terry Jones' plan to burn Korans on Sept 11; and now that I've got time he's decided to reconsider or suspend the burning. It doesn't change anything I was going to say, though.

Red Terry Jones

Don't upset the Religion of Peace, or they may become, you know, violent.

Even though Jones hasn't burned any Korans so far, and may not end up burning any at all, that certainly didn't stop a British Muslim activist has called for an international "Burn the Stars and Stripes Day."

Am flag burned

Of course I think that Terry Jones is an idiot and that it's wrong to burn Korans. It is also right and good for us to denounce him.

This said, what interests me much more than Jones is the reaction to him, especially from Muslims, and the insane double standard that is applied to these things.

We're all required to say by the politically correct crowd that Islam is a religion of peace. Just don't offend Muslims because they'll become violent. Just ask Imam Rauf, the man promoting the Cordoba House-Ground Zero mosque. He told MSNBC's Soledad O'Brien that moving the facility would cause Muslims to become violent.

Is that analysis or a threat?

A stupid preacher in Florida says he'll burn Korans, and egged on by the media Muslims around the world go nuts. Michelle Malkin calls Islam the Religion of Perpetual Outrage, and I swear she has a point. If it wasn't outrage and rioting over Terry Jones it'd be something else. When you've got a chip on your shoulder and are looking for an insult they're not hard to find.

On Wednesday CNN's Soledad O'Brien interviewed Imam Rauf, the front man for the Cordoba House-Ground Zero mosque. Of course, the issue of Rev. Terry Jones came up.

O'BRIEN: You've heard about this pastor in Florida, Terry Jones, who is proposing burning Korans on 9/11. What do you think of that?

RAUF: I would plead with him to seriously what he is doing.

O'BRIEN: Why?

RAUF: It's going to feed into the radicals of the Muslim world. It's dangerous. General Petraeus has said that. It is something that is not the right thing to do on that ground.

O'BRIEN: Do you think he has a right to do it?

RAUF: And more importantly -- and more importantly -- well, we have freedom in this country, freedom of speech. But with freedom comes responsibility. And a famous saying to shot fire in a crowded theater. This is dangerous for our national security, but also it's the un-Christian thing to do. Jesus Christ didn't teach us to do that. We Muslims have a -- we look to the example of our prophet. Many Christians say what would Jesus do? Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek. Jesus taught us to love your enemy.

We are not your enemies. But this is what Jesus taught us to do. And I would like to suggest that, you know, we all have to live by the highest principles of our faith traditions. As I mentioned, it's important -- I want Christians to live -- to be perfected Christians and I want Muslims to be perfected Muslims and Jews to be perfected Jews. If we don't do that, if we judge each other by the worst of the other's behavior and by the best of our own, where are we going?

Of course the good imam doesn't suggest that maybe, just maybe, he and other Muslim leaders could speak to their fellow believers and tell them "don't react violently to this provocation."

But then, this is the way most of these Muslim leaders are.

Imam Rauf is blackmailing us. Let us build the mosque or there will be violence.

If we give in to his sort of implied threat, then we only encourage more of them.

Americans are required now to fall all over themselves denouncing the Koran burning. You hear this time and again on all media outlets, even ones that don't normally even talk about this sort of thing.

Muslims are rioting Gen Petraeus says that the Koran burning will put our troops at risk. He's right, but the proper response is not to be on the watch for moreTerry Jones', but to demand that Muslims grow up and stop being violent when they're insulted.

Where are the Muslim leaders urging their people to stay calm? Where are the Muslim leaders denouncing the rioting, or decrying the fact that some Muslims may attack American troops over the incident? That's right; they're the same ones demanding democracy, women's rights, and secular governments in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, etc. They're the ones denouncing the attempt by the Organization of the Islamic Conference in the UN to push through something called the "Combating the Defamation of Religion," a resolution which would have Western nations, including the United States, curtail freedom of speech.

While we're at it, where are the Muslim leaders explaining how much better it is to live in the West, where they are not persecuted for their brand or sect of Islam? I'll tell you; they're the ones doing most of the complaining.

And tell me this; where are the rioting Christians when they burn Bibles in Saudi Arabia or Iran? Every now and then some eager Christian missionary will try and sneak into a Muslim country. Those who are caught have their Bibles confiscated and I am certain destroyed. You have to go onto evangelical websites to even know about these things, or be a member of an evangelical church.

For that matter, where are the rioting Jews and/or Israelis when newspapers in Muslim countries publish some of the most vile antisemitic cartoons? Or show the most insane antisemitic on their TV?

Did Christian extremists riot when Bill Maher's movie Religulous came out? Or when Christopher Hitchens' book God is Not Great? Or Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion? Although most of these do take shots at Islam, they are mostly anti-Christian works. We protested when martin scorsese's movie The Last Temptation of Christ was released (before, even), but riots? No.

Oh, and can we please stop bringing up the Crusades and Inquisition as something we're supposed to feel guilty about?

The Spanish Inquisition (there were four, the Spanish being the "big" one) took place from 1478 to 1834. In the 350 years of this Inquisition 3-5,000 people were killed. Tragic, yes. Pardon me if I can't get excited though over less than one person per month being killed. And no, the Inquisition was not all torture and execution of innocents. Indeed there are many examples of people petitioning to have their cases moved from civil to ecclesiastical (i.e. Inquisition) courts because the latter were perceived to be more fair.

I've dealt with the Crusades before, and suffice it to say that the idea that the poor innocent Muslims were sitting around minding their own business when the Christians attacked them is laughable.

Then there's this absurdity; we as a nation denounce Terry Jones for threatening to burn Korans, yet our own government burned Bibles sent to Afghanistan.

Tell you what; I'll apologize for the Crusades when Muslims apologize for conquering Christian north Africa, ruling all or parts of Spain for over 750 years, invading France, invading India, Invading Italy and Sicily, destroying the Byzantine Empire, invading Austria....

Perhaps most importantly, are we now to restrict our First Amendment rights because Muslims may become violent? As Bruce Bawer relates in While Europe Slept, the native Europeans themselves called for self-censorship in the wake of the "cartoon jihad" of early 2006.

And what is it with the term "moderate Muslim" anyway? Do we feel the need to apply it to members of any other religion?

When someone defends a Muslim as being moderate, they are saying "don't worry, he won't blow you up."

Anyone ever hear of Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddists, or Sikhs described this way? Of course not.

Insane double standards like what I have described contribute to civilizational collapse. It is fashionable and tempting to think that "we've been through worse before, we'll get through this one," but that's false logic. Running through speeding traffic 5 times without getting hit does not guarantee success the sixth time. We nearly lost the country in 1860, 1941, or at times during the Cold War. History is littered with once-strong civilizations that collapsed, often quite suddenly. We are not immune.

Not to worry, critics, because yes I do understand that there are true reformers within Islam. I've profiled them here before, just click on "Islam" under "Categories" at right.

Update

Here we go, all it took was a report by Press TV, the Iranian-run satellite news channel that a Koran had been burned in Florida, and there has been massive violence in Kashmir. The police shot 18 protesters dead and a policeman was killed too.

Posted by Tom at 7:45 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 4, 2010

Does Obama Even Care About Iraq or Afghanistan?

Last week President Obama gave a major address about the end of U.S. combat operations in Iraq. It was remarkable for his lack of passion on the subject, and that he used the opportunity to segue into domestic issues. When he announced his new Afghanistan strategy last year, he did so in a half-hearted speech in which it was clear that his heart wasn't in it. It was as if he was only sending the additional 30,000 troops because he felt he was pushed into doing so, not because he really cared.

This from one of the great orators of our day. The President saves his soaring rhetoric for healthcare and stimulus spending. I understand that Obama, like most presidents, has domestic issues as his primary focus. But that's no excuse, for as Charles Krauthammer says, most presidents don't get to decide whether they become wartime leaders or not.

Our Distracted Commander-in-Chief
Some presidents may not like being wartime leaders. But they don't get to decide; history does.
September 3, 2010 12:00 A.M.
Charles Krauthammer

Many have charged that President Obama's decision to begin withdrawing from Afghanistan ten months from now is hampering our war effort. But now it's official. In a stunning statement last week, Marine Corps commandant Gen. James Conway admitted that the July 2011 date is "probably giving our enemy sustenance."

A remarkably bold charge for an active military officer. It stops just short of suggesting aiding and abetting the enemy. Yet the observation is obvious: It is surely harder to prevail in a war that hinges on the allegiance of the locals when they hear the U.S. president talk of beginning a withdrawal that will ultimately leave them to the mercies of the Taliban.

How did Obama come to this decision? "Our Afghan policy was focused as much as anything on domestic politics," an Obama adviser at the time told Peter Baker of the New York Times. "He would not risk losing the moderate to centrist Democrats in the middle of health insurance reform and he viewed that legislation as the make-or-break legislation for his administration."

If this is true, then Obama's military leadership can only be called scandalous. During the past week, 22 Americans were killed over a four-day period in Afghanistan. This is not a place about which decisions should be made in order to placate congressmen, pass health-care reform, and thereby maintain a president's political standing. This is a place about which a president should make decisions to best succeed in the military mission he himself has set out.

But Obama sees his wartime duties as a threat to his domestic agenda. These wars are a distraction, unwanted interference with his true vocation -- transforming America.

Such an impression could only have been reinforced when, given the opportunity in his Oval Office address this week to dispel the widespread perception in Afghanistan that America is leaving, Obama doubled down on his ambivalence. After giving a nod to the pace of troop reductions being conditions-based, he declared with his characteristic "but make no mistake" that "this transition will begin -- because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people's."

These are the words of a man who wants out. Most emphatically on Iraq, where from the beginning Obama has made clear that his objective is simply ending combat operations by an arbitrary deadline -- despite the fact that a new government has not been formed and all our hard-won success hangs in the balance -- in order to address the more paramount concern: keeping a campaign promise. Time to "turn the page" and turn America elsewhere.

At first you'd think that turning is to Afghanistan. But Obama added nothing to his previously stated Afghan policy while emphatically reiterating July 2011 as the beginning of the end, or more diplomatically, of the "transition."

Well then, at least you'd then expect some vision of his larger foreign policy. After all, this was his first Oval Office address on the subject. What is the meaning, if any, of the Iraq and Afghan wars? And what of the clouds that are forming beyond those theaters: the drone-war escalation in Pakistan, the rise of al-Qaeda in Yemen, the danger of Somalia falling to al-Shabaab, and the threat of renewed civil war in Islamist Sudan as a referendum on independence for southern Christians and animists approaches?

This was the stage for Obama to explain what follows the now-abolished Global War on Terror. Where does America stand on the spreading threats to stability, decency, and U.S. interests from the Horn of Africa to the Hindu Kush?

On this, not a word. Instead, Obama made a strange and clumsy segue into a pep talk on the economy. Rebuilding it, he declared, "must be our central mission as a people, and my central responsibility as president." This in a speech ostensibly about the two wars he is directing. He could not have made more clear where his priorities lie, and how much he sees foreign policy -- war policy -- as subordinate to his domestic ambitions.

Unfortunately, what for Obama is a distraction is life or death for U.S. troops now on patrol in Kandahar province. Some presidents may not like being wartime leaders. But they don't get to decide. History does. Obama needs to accept the role. It's not just the U.S. military, as Baker reports, that is "worried he is not fully invested in the cause." Our allies, too, are experiencing doubt. And our enemies are drawing sustenance.


Posted by Tom at 3:02 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 3, 2010

"Lion-6 Out:" A Change of Command in Iraq

I realize that unless they involve violence or political instability events in Iraq are not considered particularly newsworthy these days, but since I've followed the country in some detail these past three or four years it seems logical to report on the change of command that took place this week.

General Ray Odierno marked the end of his address at the change of command-ceremony with is call sign "Lion-6 out," and with that he handed over command to General Lloyd Austin as commanding general for U.S. forces in Iraq. The event coincides with the withdrawal of the last U.S. combat brigade a few weeks earlier.

The 50,000 U.S. troops currently in Ira are in an "advise and assist" role, with the Iraqis taking the lead in combat operations. It is important to note that this is not a sudden change; for the past year or so American forces have mostly been in an advisory capacity with the Iraqis taking the lead. This change more just formalizes what has been going on for some time.

Our new commander in Iraq, General Lloyd Austin

General Lloyd Austin

And outgoing General Ray Odierno

General Ray Odierno

Other than General Petraeus, Odierno did more to win the war in Iraq than anyone else. Called "The Patton of Counterinsurgency" by people who know what they're talking about, Odierno's role during the 2007-8 surge was to implement the strategic vision laid out by Petraeus. Odierno was to Petraeus what Patton was to Eisenhower.

Odierno's bio on Wikipedia seems to have it about right:

Raymond T. Odierno (born 1954) is a United States Army general who was the Commanding General, United States Forces - Iraq, a post he held until September 1, 2010.[1] He assumed command of USF-I's predecessor, Multi-National Force - Iraq on September 16, 2008. He previously served as Commanding General, III Corps, from May 2006 to May 2008. General Odierno is known as the operational architect of the Iraq War troop surge of 2007 and is credited with implementing the counterinsurgency strategy that, along with the Sunni Awakening militia movement, led to the dramatic decrease in violence in Iraq from late 2006 to early 2008. The Weekly Standard has argued that his employment of forces to quell violence across Iraq "redefined the operational art of counterinsurgency".[2] General Odierno is the twelfth American military officer to command at the Division, Corps, and Army level during the same conflict and only the second to have this honor since the Vietnam War.

General Austin's bio on Wikipedia is, perhaps understandably, a bit shorter

Lloyd James Austin III (born August 8, 1953) is a United States Army general who currently serves as Commanding General, United States Forces - Iraq.[1] He was nominated to replace Gen. Ray Odierno as the top commander in Iraq, with promotion to four-star general.[2] Austin previously served under Odierno in Iraq. On June 30, 2010 he was confirmed by the Senate to replace Odierno as leader of United States Forces - Iraq.[3]

Why is Iraq Important?

The French ambassador to Iraq, Boris Boillon, made this amazing statement in an interview in Le Figaro earlier this week:

Iraq is true laboratory of democracy in the Arab world today. It is there that the future of democracy in the region will play itself out. Iraq could potentially become a political model for its neighbors. And, whether one likes it or not, all this has come about thanks to the American intervention of 2003.

Accuse me of Wilsonianism if you will, but I think the good Frenchman has it just about right. Whatever the reasons we went into Iraq and why we stayed are really less important now than what it will mean for near and long-term history. The American Civil War is remembered by the average person as the war that freed the slaves even as historians continue to debate whether that was it's proximate cause.

Our mission in Iraq may succeed, or it may fail. In the end, though, we have given them a republic, and it is up to them to keep it or not. The Arab and Muslim words desperately need reform, and Iraq may well provide the impetus. I think it can.

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September 1, 2010

Obama's End of Combat Operations in Iraq Speech

From late 2006 on, I covered the Iraq War pretty intently here at Redhunter. I watched and blogged on every press briefing by one of our combat commanders. I listened carefully to what they said, and whether it contradicted what I'd read in the news elsewhere. I paid a lot of attention to the questions the reporters asked, and where they challenged our commanders and where they did not. I read all sorts of analytical pieces, and not too long ago wrote an extensive book review of Kimberly Kagan's The Surge: A Military History. See Iraq and Book Reviews under Categories at right.

None of this makes me an authority on Iraq, but I did pay attention to what was going on.

Last night President Obama gave a major speech marking the end of U.S. combat operations in Iraq.

Obama Iraq Speech Aug 2010

Photo and transcript, Los Angeles Times

I don't have time to do an exhaustive review of the address, but following are some excerpts and my thoughts.

The President:

Good evening. Tonight, I'd like to talk to you about the end of our combat mission in Iraq, the ongoing security challenges we face, and the need to rebuild our nation here at home. ...

The Americans who have served in Iraq completed every mission they were given. They defeated a regime that had terrorized its people. Together with Iraqis and coalition partners who made huge sacrifices of their own, our troops fought block by block to help Iraq seize the chance for a better future. They shifted tactics to protect the Iraqi people; trained Iraqi Security Forces; and took out terrorist leaders. Because of our troops and civilians -and because of the resilience of the Iraqi people - Iraq has the opportunity to embrace a new destiny, even though many challenges remain.

Yes, and no thanks to you, Mr. President.

Does it make me a cad if I point out that while he was still a senator, Obama opposed the surge, saying it wouldn't work?

The fact is that Obama was wrong about the biggest military decision our country has made since the Gulf War.

Not that I expect any politician to apologize and say they were wrong about anything. If they do so, partisans on the other side simply use their apology against them . But you can appeal to the more reasonable members on the other side, and to those in the middle. President Obama could have at least mentioned the surge.

This was my pledge to the American people as a candidate for this office. Last February, I announced a plan that would bring our combat brigades out of Iraq, while redoubling our efforts to strengthen Iraq's Security Forces and support its government and people.

Not exactly. Your plan was to withdraw the troops regardless of whether we had achieved victory over the insurgents or not.

Ending this war is not only in Iraq's interest- it is in our own. The United States has paid a huge price to put the future of Iraq in the hands of its people. We have sent our young men and women to make enormous sacrifices in Iraq, and spent vast resources abroad at a time of tight budgets at home. We have persevered because of a belief we share with the Iraqi people -a belief that out of the ashes of war, a new beginning could be born in this cradle of civilization. Through this remarkable chapter in the history of the United States and Iraq, we have met our responsibility. Now, it is time to turn the page.

It is trite to say that "ending x war is not only in y's interest - it is in our own." Ending World War II was in Germany's interest as much as our own, but only because we had defeated the Nazis.

No we did not win because "we" persevered. You and your party bailed on the war sometime in 2004, as I recall. And I don't recall any talk from Democrats then of shared beliefs with the Iraqi people.

More, and I'll say it again; no thanks to you, Mr. President, or your party, that "a new beginning could be born in this cradle of civilization." If you had had your way we'd have left the Iraqis to fight it out on their own sometime in 2006 if not earlier.

As we do, I am mindful that the Iraq War has been a contentious issue at home. Here, too, it is time to turn the page. This afternoon, I spoke to former President George W. Bush. It's well known that he and I disagreed about the war from its outset. Yet no one could doubt President Bush's support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security. As I have said, there were patriots who supported this war, and patriots who opposed it. And all of us are united in appreciation for our servicemen and women, and our hope for Iraq's future.

Not nearly as far as I'd have liked him to go, but I'm sure that saying anything good about George W drives the left into paroxysms of rage. Indeed, Newsbusters reports that what little Obama said in the paragraph quoted above drove MSNBC host Rachel Maddow nearly 'round the bend.

Indeed, one of the lessons of our effort in Iraq is that American influence around the world is not a function of military force alone. We must use all elements of our power -including our diplomacy, our economic strength, and the power of America's example -to secure our interests and stand by our allies. And we must project a vision of the future that is based not just on our fears, but also on our hopes -a vision that recognizes the real dangers that exist around the world, but also the limitless possibility of our time.

Yes, and I've said this ad nauseum. It's fair to say that our initial approach to Iraq was military-centric, though again in fairness we were told by the anti-war people that it would be a huge challenge just to defeat the Iraqi Army in the initial invasion (remember the "Battle of Baghdad" that so many predicted, and how the Iraqi Army would wall off the city and it would take us weeks or months to break through?)

Although it was difficult the U.S. military changed it's doctrine and figured out that we weren't going to win the war just by killing the bad guys. It took time to develop a true counterinsurgency doctrine and put the right diplomats in place, but we eventually did it.

But while civilians are vital, they can only do their work after the military objectives have been met. The proper order is and must be; defeat the enemy in the field first, then the political process can start and the economy can be rebuilt. In 2006/7 the left insisted it be the other way around and they were simply proven wrong.

Our most urgent task is to restore our economy, and put the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs back to work. To strengthen our middle class, we must give all our children the education they deserve, and all our workers the skills that they need to compete in a global economy. We must jumpstart industries that create jobs, and end our dependence on foreign oil.

I guess someone told him that the economy was an issue.

Although of course he did not do so, Barack Obama has much to thank George W. Bush for. By winning the war he mostly took the issue off of the table, and for the time being at least we don't have to worry about "another South Vietnam" and tens of thousands of "boat people." seeking refugee status. There won't be another Khmer Rouge and mass murder in that region, at least not soon and not in Iraq.

But despite our military victory, we can still lose the peace in Iraq. The politicians are deadlocked, and no new government has been formed. A war with Iran could set of sectarian violence. The status of the Kurds has not really been resolved. A million things could go wrong.

This is why it is so important that President Obama not simply declare "mission accomplished" as Bush did and walk away from Iraq, thinking that a caretaker force will wrap things up. He must stay engaged, think strategically, and realize that for all the trouble he has domestically, a foreign disaster could destroy his presidency. There is much at stake, for Iraqis and for us.

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