Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The long war (not just in Iraq)

Owen West in the New York Times:
One party is overly sanguine, unwilling to acknowledge its errors. The other is overly maudlin, unable to forgive the same. The Bush administration seeks to insulate the public from the reality of war, placing its burden on the few. The press has tried to fill that gap by exposing the raw brutality of the insurgency; but it has often done so without context, leaving a clear implication that we can never win.

In the past, the American public could turn to its sons for martial perspective. Soldiers have historically been perhaps the country's truest reflection, a socio-economic cross-section borne from common ideals. The problem is, this war is not being fought by World War II's citizen-soldiers. Nor is it fought by Vietnam's draftees. Its wages are paid by a small cadre of volunteers that composes about one-tenth of 1 percent of the population — America's warrior class.

The insular nature of this group — and a war that has spiraled into politicization — has left the Americans disconnected and confused. It's as if they have been invited into the owner's box to settle a first-quarter disagreement on the coach's play-calling. Not only are they unprepared to talk play selection, most have never even seen a football game.

This confusion, in turn, affects our warriors, who are frustrated by the country's lack of cohesion and the depiction of their war. Iraq hasn't been easy on the military, either. But the strength of our warriors is their ability to adapt.

First, in battle you move forward from where you are, not where you want to be. No one was more surprised that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction than the soldiers who rolled into Iraq in full chemical protective gear. But it is time for the rest of the country to do what the military was forced to: get over it.

If we can put 2003's debates behind us, there is a swath of common ground on which to focus. Both Republicans and Democrats agree we cannot lose Iraq. The general insurgency in Iraq imperils our national interest and the hardcore insurgents are our mortal enemies. Talking of troop reductions is to lose sight of the goal.

Second, America's conscience is one of its greatest strengths. But self-flagellation, especially in the early stages of a war against an enemy whose worldview is uncompromising, is absolutely hazardous. Three years gone and Iraq's most famous soldiers are Jessica Lynch and Lynndie England, a victim and a criminal, respectively. Abu Ghraib remains the most famous battle of the war.

Soldiers are sick of apologizing for a sliver of malcontents who are not at all representative of the new breed. But they are also sick of being pitied. Our warriors are the hunters, not the hunted, and we should celebrate them as we did in the past, for while our tastes have changed, warfare — and the need to cultivate national guardians — has not. As Kipling wrote, "The strength of the pack is the wolf."

Finally, today's debates are not high-spirited so much as mean-spirited. To allow polarizing forces to dominate the argument by insinuating false motives on one side or a lack of patriotism on the other is to obscure long-term security decisions that have to be made now.

We are clashing with an enemy who has been at war with us in one form or another for two decades. Our military response may take decades more. We have crossed several rivers and the nation is hoping that ahead lie streams. But if they are oceans, we should heed Lincoln's call: "With malice toward none, with charity for all ... let us strive on to finish the work we are in."
(Hat tip Centerfield.)

Iraq at the precipice

There will be no troop draw down in the near term, and General Casey's report on planned troop deployment is overdue. A brawl between populist Sadr and the Badr Brigade brews in Basra, and Maliki's brief tenure is caught in the middle -- his position may be untenable. Ramadi is an insurgent's city. Insurgent attacks are at the worst level since such levels were evaluated.

The Boston Globe:
WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon reported yesterday that the frequency of insurgent attacks against troops and civilians is at its highest level since American commanders began tracking such figures two years ago, an ominous sign that, despite three years of combat, the US-led coalition forces haven't significantly weakened the Iraq insurgency.
The Los Angeles Times:
BAGHDAD — The Pentagon's hopes of making substantial reductions in U.S. troop levels in Iraq this year appear to be fading as a result of resurgent violence in the country, particularly in the Sunni Arab stronghold of Al Anbar province, military officials acknowledge.

Army Gen. George W. Casey, commander of U.S.-led forces in Iraq, said Tuesday that he was moving 1,500 "backup" troops from Kuwait to Al Anbar, the western region that includes the war-torn cities of Fallouja and Ramadi.

Publicly, Pentagon officials insisted Tuesday that the move was temporary and unrelated to Casey's much-delayed recommendation on overall troop levels, now expected to be made next month. But other officers have privately acknowledged that the worsening situation in Al Anbar — particularly in Ramadi, which U.S. officials say is now under insurgent control — is likely to prevent any significant drawdown this year.

Since the beginning of the year, military commanders have said that progress in forming a government and training the Iraqi military might allow U.S. troop levels to be reduced from more than 130,000 to 100,000 or fewer. But a senior officer privy to Iraq planning discussions, who requested anonymity when discussing internal Pentagon debates, said there was "a growing realization" that ongoing violence was hampering withdrawal plans.
The Times of London on the troubles in Basra:
Iraq's new Prime Minister promised today to use "an iron fist" against armed gangs who have killed hundreds of people in recent weeks in the oil-rich southern city of Basra.

Nouri al-Maliki declared his intent to confront the gangs on a visit to Iraq's second city, where UK forces have been unable to prevent a bloody power struggle between rival Shia Muslim militias and have increasingly become the target of militia attacks.

Mr al-Maliki, who took office two weeks ago at the head of a grand coalition of Shias, Sunni Arabs and Kurds, told tribal leaders and politicians that security would be restored in Basra after a string of clashes and murders.

"We will hit the gangs with an iron fist and those who interfere with the security of the city. Security is first, second and third. This must be said," he said. "What are these assassinations and murders? Who are these gangs kidnapping people? What is going on in this city?"

The situation in Basra, where British forces are headquartered, has been exacerbated by a public dispute between the mayor and the local heads of the army and police. The power struggle involves the armed Badr Brigade, the Fadhila party loyal to the Basra governor, Mohammed al-Walli, and the al-Mahdi Army that follows the firebrand cleric Hojatoleslam Moqtada al-Sadr.
Oddly enough, Fareed Zakaria ponders just such a conflagration in the Washington Post today:
Maliki will have to handle Sadr politically as well as militarily, enlisting Ayatollah Ali Sistani's help. If Maliki cannot handle him, Moqtada al-Sadr will become the most powerful man in Iraq. And Nouri al-Maliki will not be the first elected prime minister of a new Iraq, but the last prime minister of an experiment that failed. Iraq will continue down its slide into violence, ethnic cleansing and Balkanization. In places such as Baghdad, with mixed populations, this will mean the city will be carved up into warring neighborhoods, with gangs providing a mafia-style system of law and order, and constant guerrilla attacks. It will be Lebanon in the 1980s, except that 130,000 American troops will be in the middle of it all.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Al Qaeda's war

Michael Scheuer, who has spent more time studying bin Laden than anyone I can think of, has an opinion piece in today's Asia Times. I am going to republish the entire piece, highlighting important paragraphs -- in my opinion. Please take the time to read the entire work, and note the development of a Maoist insurgency throughout the Islamic world. This is serious stuff:
In recent weeks, media reports from both Iraq and Afghanistan have suggested the appearance of a slow evolution of the Islamist insurgents' tactics in the direction of the battlefield deployment of larger mujahideen units that attack "harder" facilities.

These attacks are not replacing small-unit attacks, ambushes, kidnappings, assassinations and suicide bombings in either country, but rather seem to be initial and tentative forays toward another stage of fighting.

In the past month, reports have suggested Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his Iraqi resistance allies are trying to train semi-conventional units, and this month's large-unit action by the Taliban at the town of Musa Qala in southern Afghanistan may be straws in the wind in this regard.

Al-Qaeda believes that it and its allies can only defeat the United States in a "long war", one that allows the Islamists to capitalize on their extraordinary patience, as well as on their enemies' lack thereof. Before his death in a firefight with Saudi security forces, the leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Abu Hajar Abd al-Aziz al-Muqrin, wrote extensively about how al-Qaeda believed the military fight against the US and its allies would unfold. He envisioned a point at which the mujahideen would have to develop semi-conventional forces. He identified this period as the "Decisive Stage" [1]. [Copy Editor: This seems inspired, or informed, by Mao's People's War Doctrine -- whereby more conventional formations spread the influence of the insurgents.]

Muqrin told his insurgent readers that the power of the US precluded any expectation of a quick victory. He wrote that the war would progress slowly through such phases as initial manpower mobilization, political work among the populace to establish trust and support, the accumulation of weaponry and other supplies, the establishment of bases around the country and especially in the mountains, the initiation of attacks on individuals and then a gradual intensification of the latter until a countrywide insurgency was under way.

Each of these steps was essential and none could be skipped, Muqrin maintained; the steps would prolong the war, thereby allowing the mujahideen to grow in numbers, experience and combat power. "We should warn against rushing from one stage to the next," he wrote. "Rather, we should be patient and take all factors into consideration. The fraternal brothers in Algeria, for instance, hastily moved from one stage to the other ...The outcome was the movement's retreat ... from 1995-1997."

As these steps were traversed by the mujahideen, Muqrin argued that the resources, political will, morale and manpower of the insurgents' enemies would be eroded and their forces would assume more static positions in order to limit the attrition they suffered. In this stage of the insurgency, Muqrin predicted that the US and its allies would conduct far fewer large-scale combat operations in the countryside and would turn toward conducting smaller raids on specific targets, while simultaneously hardening their bases and protecting their supply routes and lines of communication.

At this point, Muqrin wrote, the mujahideen could begin the final stage of preparation for victory, "which is building a military force across the country that becomes the nucleus of a military army".

With the end of the constant pressure and danger generated by major enemy sweep operations, Muqrin wrote that the mujahideen should begin "taking advantage of the areas where the regime has little or reduced presence" to train semi-conventional military units. In these areas, "the mujahideen will set up administrative centers and bases ... They will build camps, hospitals, sharia courts and radio transmission stations at these areas, which will serve as a staging area for their military and political operations".

Currently, Anbar province in Iraq; Nuristan, the Kunar Valley, Kandahar and Paktika provinces in Afghanistan; and swathes of Pakistan's border provinces would seem to meet the requirements laid down by Muqrin.

It should be clearly noted that Muqrin neither envisioned nor called for mujahideen units that could evenly square off with the units of their foes. Although the formation of such insurgent units would mark "the era of victory and conquests for the mujahideen", Muqrin wrote, the development of "semi-regular forces that gradually become regular forces with modern formations" would not yield forces equivalent to those of the enemy.

"By modern," Muqrin wrote, "I mean the need for these troops to be knowledgeable about regular warfare, the army formations [and] their function in urban areas. I do not mean following the suit of the regimes ..." The purpose of these forces? "Through these regular forces," Muqrin explained, "the mujahideen will begin to attack small cities and publicize the conquest and victories in the media to lift the morale of the mujahideen and the people in general and break the morale of the enemy."

Muqrin continued: "The reason the mujahideen should target the small cities is that when the enemies' soldiers see these [small] cities falling into the hands of the mujahideen it will destroy their morale and they will realize that they are no match for the mujahideen."

Interestingly, Muqrin uses for his example the activities of the Afghan mujahideen from 1988-92. In Afghanistan, this period encompassed the era after the Soviet military terminated its large-scale, hammer-and-anvil sweep operations - leaving most of the country's non-urban areas to the mujahideen - and after the Soviet withdrawal when the Afghan communists were hunkered down in a few urban bastions.

In these years, Ahmad Shah Massoud and Jalaluddin Haqqani began to train small, semi-conventional units to use in attempts to take small cities of the kind to which Muqrin refers. Both Afghan commanders successfully used these units; Massoud took several small cities in northern Afghanistan - including Takhar - and Haqqani took Khost, then the capital of Paktia province.

These relatively small victories produced a substantial morale boost among the Afghan mujahideen and their supporters and produced equal dismay among their enemies. In a similar but more recent example of this phenomenon, the Iraqi insurgency's morale received a boost - and the US-led coalition was embarrassed - when Zarqawi's forces took and temporarily held the small city of al-Qaim near the Syrian border in September 2005 [2].

In closing, it is again important to note that al-Qaeda's doctrine as explained by Muqrin does not call for semi-conventional units to replace guerrilla forces; the latter will remain a main force of the insurgency, as well as its safety net. At this stage, Muqrin wrote, "we should keep the guerrillas because the mujahideen may need them in some cases."

Muqrin argued that it was always possible that the enemy would revert to large-scale aggressive offensive operations and force the insurgents back into an earlier stage of the war. He also noted that the enemy's airpower would always afford it great mobility. "It should be noted here that the main bases on the mountains must maintain a strong garrison and that the conquests [taking small cities] should not tempt the mujahideen to abandon their fortified bases," Muqrin warned.

"This is [done] so not to give the enemy an opportunity to conduct a rear-landing operation, taking advantage of the absence of the mujahideen in these bases. This is why we mentioned earlier that the mujahideen must keep the guerrillas constantly prepared."

The larger insurgent units that have been sporadically operating in Iraq and Afghanistan during the past year may signal the initial, limited success of Muqrin's call for the building of semi-conventional mujahideen units. The data to make a definitive judgment, however, are currently not available.

It will suffice to say that what is known about al-Qaeda's doctrine for the "long war" calls for the eventual creation of such units, and that al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri's instructions to Zarqawi - in Zawahiri's letter of July 9, 2005 - clearly infers that the mujahideen will need semi-conventional forces to control Iraq after the withdrawal of the US-led coalition [3].

Michael Scheuer served in the CIA for 22 years before resigning in 2004. He served as the chief of the bin Laden unit at the Counterterrorist Center from 1996 to 1999. He is the once anonymous author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror and Through Our Enemies' Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam, and the Future of America.

1. Abu-Hajar Abd-al-Aziz al-Muqrin, "The Second Stage: The Relative Strategic Balance," Mu'askar al-Battar, February 2, 2004.
2. Ellen Knickmeyer, "Zarqawi militants seize key town in western Iraq," Washington Post, September 6, 2005.
3. Zawahiri to Zarqawi, July 9, 2005, sirector of National
Our continuing slide in Iraq looks more worrisome and dangerous each day.

Gonzales to testify in Congress search?

He'll be there to talk. Not sure if he will be sworn in. CNN:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner said Tuesday he will summon Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FBI Director Robert Mueller before his panel to explain their decision to raid a lawmaker's office for the first time in history.

"I want to have Attorney General Gonzales and FBI Director Mueller up here to tell us how they reached the conclusion they did," said Sensenbrenner, one of President Bush's most loyal House allies. Sensenbrenner's hearings, which began Tuesday, are examining whether the May 20 raid violated the Constitution.

Calling the decision to authorize the raid "profoundly disturbing," Sensenbrenner signaled that he would not be among the lawmakers backing off their criticism of the Bush administration. Any progress in talks between House and Justice Department lawyers in crafting guidelines for future criminal investigations of Congress would not deter Sensenbrenner from calling the administration to account for weekend search of Rep. William Jefferson's offices.

"They didn't get it right this time," Sensenbrenner said.

Iran's power play in Basra

Iran has agreed to supply Basra with 175 megawatts of electricity, the head of the southern city’s municipal council said.

Nasseif al-Ubadi, fresh from a visit to Tehran, said Iran has promised to start furnishing the city with power “very shortly.”

The agreement comes as Basra, Iraq’s second largest city, suffers from acute power shortages with outages extending for nearly 20 hours a day.

It also comes as demand is soaring with the approach of the summer season during which temperature normally brush 50 degrees centigrade.

Provincial electricity officials estimate Basra’s needs for power at 550 megawatts.

But the city’s nearly two million inhabitants have about 150 megawatts at their disposal, leading to prolonged outages, said Zyad Fadhel, a head technician.

Even if Iran honors the agreement, Basra will still face a deficit of 175 megawatts.

Fadhel said the state-owned petrochemical, fertilizer, paper and steel factories needed nearly 200 megawatts to operate.

He said Basra’s electricity problem will ease if these companies purchased their own generators.

Harry Reid, you....

Thanks, Reid. I hope you enjoyed that boxing match. The New York Times (with the AP story everyone is running):
WASHINGTON, May 29 (AP) — Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, accepted free ringside tickets from the Nevada State Athletic Commission to three professional boxing matches while the agency was trying to influence him on the federal regulation of boxing.

Mr. Reid took the free seats for Las Vegas fights from 2003 to 2005 as he was pressing legislation to increase government oversight of the sport, including the creation of a federal boxing commission that Nevada's agency feared might usurp its authority.

Mr. Reid defended the gifts, saying that they would never influence his position on the bill and that he was simply trying to learn how the legislation might affect an important industry in his home state. "Anyone from Nevada would say, 'I'm glad he is there taking care of the state's No. 1 businesses,' " he said.

Senate ethics rules generally allow lawmakers to accept gifts from federal, state or local governments, but specifically warn against taking such gifts — particularly on multiple occasions — when they may be connected to efforts to influence them.

"Senators and Senate staff should be wary of accepting any gift where it appears that the gift is motivated by a desire to reward, influence or elicit favorable official action," the Senate ethics manual states.
How many beers and hot dogs did you have whilst reviewing the impact on that industry from 2003 - 2005?

Reinforcing Anbar province

In retrospect, the idea of a draw-down in Iraq was foolish. There still are not enough troops to control Sunni dominated Anbar province -- but more are on the way. Ellen Knickmeyer of the Washington Post has the best coverage (excerpts and my emphasis):
BAGHDAD, May 29 -- The U.S. military said Monday it was deploying the main reserve fighting force for Iraq, a full 3,500-member armored brigade, as emergency reinforcements for the embattled western province of Anbar, where a surge of violence linked to the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq has severely damaged efforts to turn Sunni Arab tribal leaders against the insurgency.

The insurgents have assassinated 11 tribal leaders in the Ramadi area since the end of last year, when Sunni sheiks in the city began open cooperation with the U.S. military. That alliance was heralded by U.S. commanders as a sign of a major split between Sunni insurgents and the larger Sunni community of western Iraq.

The insurgent attacks since then have all but frozen the cooperation between Sunni tribal leaders and U.S. forces in Ramadi, local leaders say.


Last week, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad conceded, in answer to a question about Ramadi in an interview with CNN, that parts of Anbar were under insurgent control. Ramadi is the capital of the overwhelmingly Sunni province. The difficulties facing stretched-thin U.S. Marines in Ramadi suggest the continuing obstacles to a reduction of American forces in Iraq.

"We hope to get rid of al-Qaeda, which is a huge burden on the city. Unfortunately, Zarqawi's fist is stronger than the Americans'," said one Sunni sheik, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of insurgent retaliation. He was referring to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, an umbrella group for many of the foreign and local resistance fighters in Iraq. Local Sunni leaders often insist that the most violent insurgent attacks are by foreign fighters, not Iraqi Sunnis.

In Ramadi, "Zarqawi is the one who is in control," the sheik said, speaking to a Washington Post special correspondent in Ramadi. "He kills anyone who goes in and out of the U.S. base. We have stopped meetings with the Americans, because, frankly speaking, we have lost confidence in the U.S. side, as they can't protect us."


Gen. George W. Casey, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, has called up the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, the main standby reserve force for the roughly 130,000 American troops in Iraq, Maj. Todd Breasseale, a Marine spokesman in Baghdad, confirmed.

The call-up leaves a Marine Expeditionary Unit, which typically includes one combat infantry battalion and air and logistical support, in Kuwait as the only American reserve in the Iraqi theater, a U.S. Central Command spokesman said.

CNN reported last week that as many as two of the brigade's three battalions were headed to Ramadi. U.S. military officials would not comment then, citing security of any ongoing troop movements.

Breasseale confirmed Monday that the full armored brigade is headed to Anbar, where both U.S. Marines and many local tribal leaders -- particularly in Ramadi -- have appealed for more U.S. troops.


Scores of local Sunni tribal leaders turned out for a groundbreaking meeting with U.S. Marine officers in Ramadi in November. Robed sheiks and Marine officers in camouflage faced each other in a town hall, ignoring mortar rounds that insurgents lobbed at the meeting, to start talking about the first major, open cooperation between Ramadi's sheiks and U.S. forces.

But when U.S. and Iraqi forces held the first local recruiting drive for local Sunni young men in January, bombs killed more than 60 of the Sunni tribal enlistees and others. The local residents said the bombs were set by Zarqawi's group.


Marine officers on the ground have been open for more than a year now about needing more troops in Anbar, whose Sunni population, remoteness and comparative lawlessness have made it a stronghold for the insurgency. Anbar borders Syria, a conduit for some of the weapons, money and fighters.


Rumors routinely circulate of a Fallujah-style clearing operation in Ramadi. Residents say they both hope for it and fear it. The November 2004 operation in Fallujah, a largely Sunni Arab city about 35 miles west of Baghdad, involved a major deployment of troops and sometimes intense fighting with insurgents.
The New York Times coverage:
The movement of the brigade comes as several senior American officials in Iraq have begun to raise doubts about whether security conditions there will permit significant troop reductions in coming months.

"General Casey has been working with the government of Iraq, and he has asked permission to draw forward more forces that will be operating in Anbar," a senior military official said. The officials were granted anonymity because they were not authorized to talk officially about continuing troop movements.

The brigade comes from the Army's First Armored Division, which has been deployed in Kuwait for months as a reserve in case conditions in Iraq deteriorated. One official said the additional troops would be deployed at multiple hotspots in Anbar Province, a Sunni insurgent stronghold west of Baghdad.
The Washington Times covers something almost the same, but underplays the importance of that brigade's new role in Anbar:
U.S. troop levels in Iraq will likely stay around the 133,000 mark in the coming months even if an Army brigade or two is cut from the current number of 15 total combat brigades, defense officials say.

The officials said Army Gen. George Casey, the top commander in Iraq, may decide he does not need a replacement brigade for one going home. Yet the overall force level will likely stay the same because new training teams are entering the country to embed with units of the Iraq Security Force (ISF).

Gen. Casey is also periodically tapping an Army "call-forward" brigade of about 4,000 soldiers in Kuwait for periodic duty in Iraq, most recently in Baghdad. Such moves, when coupled with the influx of trainers, also increases the overall force level.
Officers in Ramadi have said that they need three brigades. This deployment gives them a little under two. Also, General Casey now has the unenviable position of a field-general lacking sufficient reserves.

Monday, May 29, 2006

It could happen here...

This New Yorker opinion is very important. More needs to be done to stop potential home-grown terrorism:
The results are predictably depressing: a startling number of America’s several million Muslim residents think that the United States is not safe for them. A poll conducted by Zogby International just before the last Presidential election, for example, showed that more than a third of American Muslims believe that the Administration is waging a war on Islam; a similar number believe that “American society overall is disrespectful and intolerant toward Muslims”; and more than half said that they knew someone who had suffered discrimination. It is fair to assume that these numbers understate the problem. If you were a media-literate Muslim immigrant, would you express your frustration to a pollster on the telephone?

British and European Muslims are more often poor, unemployed, and trapped in segregated housing than their American counterparts, but this hardly seems grounds for self-congratulation or complacency, particularly in this country’s current phase of fence-building and nationalism. The Bush Administration has failed to manage the connection between immigration policy and counterterrorism strategy; instead, the President is succumbing to immigrant-bashers. The nativists are ascendant in the Republican Party as final negotiations begin in Congress on a major immigration-reform bill that is rooted in a demagogic movement to strengthen border security (a worthy objective, but not one likely to be achieved by such craven symbolic gestures as the deployment of National Guard troops). It is not clear whether a new law will be passed this summer, or just how bad a bill it will be. Even if a compromise is reached that offers a reasonable path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who have long lived here, the price will almost certainly include an expansion of police powers and the re-categorizing of many immigration violations as felonies—a prescription for error and abuse.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told the Washington Post last week that it is “very, very hard to detect” a jihadi terrorist who is “purely domestic, self-motivated, self-initiating.” The population in which such radicalization may occur is, of course, the one that is on the receiving end of our hysterical immigration debate. To impress upon immigrants that the federal sheriff and his posse will be riding yet again, that detention and expulsion await those whose papers are not in order, and that obtaining citizenship will prove, at best, a risky ordeal is not only unnecessary and wrong; it is dangerous. Almost five years after September 11th, we remain burdened by a President who believes passionately that he is at war and yet has only the most tenuous grasp of his enemy.
In fact, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed began his radicalization in an American college.

Memorial Day, 2006

Some news stories...

The Boston Globe:
``Sadly, we've had a lot of missions in the Northeast," said Sergeant First Class Harvey Schirrmacher, who heads the Massachusetts chapter of the Patriot Guard Riders. ``I think families should be given this respect and know that they're not alone, and that people do care. Being military, it makes it closer to my heart, too."

Like Schirrmacher, an Army career counselor, some of the 35,000 riders nationwide are either enlisted or are veterans.

But the fast-growing group also includes lifelong civilians and relatives of slain troops who want to show their respects.

The Patriot Guard Riders were formed last year in Kansas to shield families from a fringe group of protesters associated with Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka.
The Chicago Tribune:
"Father Time and Mother Nature are beating the living hell out of us," said Topps, weathered hands holding a group photo of the 758th in his basement.

When the all-black units shipped to war in 1944, their ranks numbered 800 or more, he said. "Out of all of us, I don't think there's 200 left alive."

In Chicago, there had been 30 veterans of the tank battalions. Seven are left. Four meet regularly in Topps' basement, surrounded by banners and photographs depicting their history. A fifth was hurt in a fall a few weeks ago.

Over the Memorial Day weekend, they have agreed to lay a wreath at Oak Woods Cemetery on East 67th Street. Then, likely as not, they'll sit down together to relive stories echoing with humor and heroism.
The Baltmore Sun on a barely remembered Union soldier:
Citizens and local officials opposed to development near the battlefield in the 1980s persuaded the National Park Service to declare the site a National Historic Landmark. The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority took over maintenance of the cemetery, which is owned by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. That meant that Allen's remains would stay there, standing out as one name among unknowns, at rest on the thin line between being remembered and forgotten.
The blogs...

Black Five honors SGT Rafael Peralta, USMC 4/7/1979 - 11/15/2004.

Law Dawg writes a history of Memorial Day.

As does Maha, but he also includes links to pictures.

The White House veterans page.

Iraq, Afghanistan on Memorial Day

Of all days, this is the one to seek out the best from our bravest in Iraq and Afghanistan. CENTCOM reports that women are gaining prominence in the Afghan National Police. CNN has a special report on troops returning home. I will write more on this day in a little while, but the latest from Iraq -- in particular -- remains troubling. Also, a combative riot in Afghanistan needs to be mentioned. CNN reports 46 deaths from attacks today in Iraq.

The latest from Iraq

The AP:
BAGHDAD -- A tribal chief who challenged Iraq's most feared terrorist and sent fighters to help US troops battle Al Qaeda in western Iraq died in a hail of bullets yesterday, the latest victim of an apparent insurgent campaign against Sunni Arabs who work with Americans.
The San Francisco Chronicle:
It is hard to tell how many Iraqis have left their homes in the past three months, during which sectarian killings have reached new heights. Iraqi immigration officials estimate that between 90,000 and 100,000 families have been displaced, most of them since the Feb. 22 bombing of the Shiite Askariya shrine in Samarra, an event that set off the latest wave of violence.

In interviews with The Chronicle, dozens of Baghdad residents told stories of their neighbors, Sunnis and Shiites alike, leaving their homes to flee attacks by sectarian militias.
But the local security forces have become inept in the face of the growing influence of militias.

Analysts believe that conditions are now as worse in Basra as any other city within the so-called Sunni Triangle, the stronghold of anti-U.S. resistance.

The analysts say the situation is worsening in much of the south but Basra is the key to the stability of the region and the country at large.

Iraq’s most prolific oil wells are situated within the provincial borders. These wells currently produce most of Iraq’s oil output and make the bulk of its oil exports.

Iraq’s wrangling factions, aware of Basra’s strategic position as the country’s principal oil producer, have built up strong militia forces and infiltrated government and police ranks in the city.
Bloody Haditha

The actions one day in that Sunni city are a developing albatros for American forces in Iraq.

The Los Angeles Times has an American Marine's account:
He said he erased the digital photos he took at the scene after first providing them to the Haditha Marine command center. He said Navy investigators later interrogated him about the pictures and confiscated his camera.

At least two military investigations are underway into the incident at Haditha, which is emerging as possibly the worst case of alleged criminal misconduct by U.S. forces in the 3-year-old Iraq war.

Of the 12 Marines being investigated, three or four are thought to have done the killing, according to officials briefed on the investigation. The others are being investigated for failing to stop the killings or for not reporting the incident truthfully.

Briones is the first of his unit to speak publicly about the events. His account provides background on the atmosphere and activities that day in the Euphrates River town and the traumatic memories it left in its wake.
The New York Times interviews residents of Haditha:
Four people who identified themselves as survivors of the killings in Haditha, including some who had never spoken publicly, described the killings to an Iraqi writer and historian who was recruited by The New York Times to travel to Haditha and interview survivors and witnesses of what military officials have said appear to be unjustified killings of two dozen Iraqis by marines. Some in Congress fear the killings could do greater harm to the image of the United States military around the world than the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

The four survivors' accounts could not be independently corroborated, and it was unclear in some cases whether they actually saw the killings. But much of what they said was consistent with broad outlines of the events of that day provided by military and government officials who have been briefed on the military's investigations into the killings, which the officials have said are likely to lead to charges that may include murder and a cover-up of what really happened.
As has the Times of London:
GRAPHIC accounts of the apparent slaughter of unarmed civilians have been obtained by The Times as Washington braces itself for the results of an investigation into what threatens to be the most damaging military scandal in Iraq.

On Saturday Iman Hassan, a 10-year-old Iraqi girl, told The Times how she had watched US marines kill her mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, four-year-old cousin and two uncles.
Jack Murtha has responded forcefully, the Boston Globe:
Representative John P. Murtha, Democrat of Pennsylvania, said that Marine commanders knew within days of the deaths in the Iraqi city of Haditha in November that initial military reports suggesting the civilians died in an explosion triggered by insurgents were false, but that the officers did not alert Congress or the public.

A spokesman for the Marine Corps, Lieutenant Colonel Scott Fazekas, said yesterday that until investigations were complete, the Marines would not comment on the deaths or respond to Murtha's allegations of a coverup.

Military investigators have privately told members of Congress that the Marines shot the civilians, including six children, ``in cold blood," Murtha said, in apparent retaliation for an insurgent attack that killed a Marine.
It is a somber day for all countries involved in these wars.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Sports, stats and Allen Iverson

Fascinating read from Malcolm Gladwell of the New Yorker:
It’s hard not to wonder, after reading “The Wages of Wins,” about the other instances in which we defer to the evaluations of experts. Boards of directors vote to pay C.E.O.s tens of millions of dollars, ostensibly because they believe—on the basis of what they have learned over the years by watching other C.E.O.s—that they are worth it. But so what? We see Allen Iverson, over and over again, charge toward the basket, twisting and turning and writhing through a thicket of arms and legs of much taller and heavier men—and all we learn is to appreciate twisting and turning and writhing. We become dance critics, blind to Iverson’s dismal shooting percentage and his excessive turnovers, blind to the reality that the Philadelphia 76ers would be better off without him. “One can play basketball,” the authors conclude. “One can watch basketball. One can both play and watch basketball for a thousand years. If you do not systematically track what the players do, and then uncover the statistical relationship between these actions and wins, you will never know why teams win and why they lose.”

President enters document/raid conflict

The story gets bigger and bigger. The AP:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush stepped into the Justice Department's constitutional confrontation with Congress on Thursday and ordered that documents seized in an FBI raid on a congressman's office be sealed for 45 days.

The president directed that no one involved in the investigation have access to the documents under seal and that they remain in the custody of the solicitor general.

Bush's move was described as an attempt to reach a cooling off period in a heated confrontation between his administration and leaders of the House and Senate.

"This period will provide both parties more time to resolve the issues in a way that ensures that materials relevant to the ongoing criminal investigation are made available to prosecutors in a manner that respects the interests of a coequal branch of government," Bush said.

In a statement, Bush said he recognized that Republican and Democratic leaders in the House had "deeply held views" that the search on Rep. William Jefferson's Capitol Hill office violated the Constitution's separation of powers principles. But he stopped short of saying he agreed with them.

"Our government has not faced such a dilemma in more than two centuries," the president said. "Yet after days of discussions, it is clear these differences will require more time to be worked out."

In their rare joint statement issued Wednesday , Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, and House Minority Leader Pelosi, D-California, demanded that the FBI return the documents and that Jefferson then would have to cooperate with the investigation.
The Washington Post this morning:
The FBI raid on Rep. William Jefferson's congressional office was an aggressive tactic that broke a long-standing political custom. But while it might violate the spirit of the Constitution, it might not violate the letter of the document or subsequent rulings by the Supreme Court, legal analysts say.

Bing in Baghdad

Bing West, for Slate, with the troops:
The Council on Foreign Relations recently published a piece that accused the American military of not adapting in Iraq. That was true in 2003 and midway through 2004, but no reasonable person can walk the streets with a Winski, Davenport, Weston, or Barela and argue that the U.S. military is hidebound today.

The American way of war has historically been to seek out and defeat the enemy army, not to assist a foundering ally. Following in that tradition, through mid-2004 most American units in Iraq were focused on offensive operations to crush an insurgency recruiting from among a million military-age Sunni males. Beginning in 2005, it was Gen. George W. Casey, the Multi-National Force commander, who identified this strategy as shoveling against the tide and redirected the military effort toward training an Iraqi security force. Calm and thoughtful, Casey eschewed the press and met with every infantry battalion to explain the new strategy. The first time I saw Casey was in Ramadi, huddled in a corner with a company commander and a squad leader fresh from a heavy firefight.

"When Gen. Casey visits," Col. Nicholson said, "it's just him and his aide. He lays out his plan and talks about the risks. There's no bullshit."

Sadr's growing power base

Dan Murphy has a must read in the Christian Science Monitor:
"The problem is primarily rooted in the way in which the militias have been incorporated into the police, but that's not the only problem," says John Pace, who was the head of the United Nation's human rights mission in Baghdad until his departure in February. "Iraq has a Ministry of Human Rights, but that's more or less just for decoration."

Since a Sadr loyalist was named health minister last year, longtime ministry employees say members of his movement have been packed into the Health Ministry's Facility Protection Service (FPS). Doctors and nurses in Baghdad hospitals complain - always asking that their names not be used - that administrative posts have gone to unqualified members of his movement.

These problems were evident, and widely reported on, before the new cabinet was announced last weekend. But Sadr kept control of the ministry.

That makes sense in the parliamentary calculus that required Maliki to build as large a coalition as possible, but would appear to make meeting his objectives of disarming militias and ending corruption that much harder. The Sadr movement also won the agriculture, transport, and education ministries. The outgoing SCIRI interior minister was given the coveted Ministry of Finance.

Those who control the Health Ministry don't try to hide where their ultimate loyalties lie. One of the first things visitors now see at the main ministry building is a 12-foot-high billboard of Sadr and his father, Ayatollah Mohammed Sadek al-Sadr, a cleric killed by Saddam Hussein's regime. There are dozens of smaller posters of the duo around the compound - most bearing the elder Sadr's famous anti-American slogans.

"The Decider"

Bush said in March that a future president would decide when American forces left Iraq. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki may assume that role as a decisive head of a government.

The Australian:
IRAQ'S army and police will be able to assume responsibility for security from US-led forces across the whole country by late next year, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said.

Mr Maliki's statement appeared to firm up his envisaged timetable for foreign troop withdrawals compared with comments on Monday when he said Iraqi forces could take charge of security in 16 of Iraq's 18 provinces by the end of 2006.

"Our forces are capable of taking over security in all provinces in Iraq within a year and a half," he said today in a brief written statement issued by his office after talks with Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen in Baghdad.

He did not make clear whether this meant foreign forces, now numbering about 150,000, including 500 Danes, would then be able to withdraw. The United States and its allies say they will pull out their troops once Iraqi forces can do the job.
The AP's lede notes what went unsaid:
BAGHDAD — Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki said Wednesday that he believed his nation's forces were capable of taking over security within 18 months, but he did not mention any possible timetable for U.S.-led coalition forces to leave.

In Washington, the White House said it was premature to talk about withdrawals.
Nonetheless, this is a major development. I wonder what George and Tony are talking about today.

Why bother reading the bill when you can just vote?

The Christian Science Monitor:
WASHINGTON – After months of emotional gridlock, US senators are pushing the pedal to the metal on the first overhaul of immigration policy in two decades.

The trouble is, no one is quite sure what's in it. The quickened pace in recent days has helped the Senate get to "yes" on the 614-page bill - a final vote is expected this week. And it's given senators a rare chance to actually legislate. But it's also produced several surprises that have caught members off guard.


In the end, the Senate raised the number of visas for high-tech workers from 65,000 to 115,000 a year. But with an automatic 20 percent escalator clause in the bill that could mean an additional 3 million foreigners will compete with American workers for high-tech jobs in the US during the next 10 years.

"To do a bill like this on a forced march, it wasn't ready to come out," said Senator Feinstein, after joining 72 other senators to vote to end debate on the bill Wednesday. "I am very pro-high tech, but these are prize jobs in our economy. They really should be evaluated every year."
Stories like this... This bill does not stand a chance in conference. The Senate and House won't come to terms. We have a stalemate. Chalk another "major initiative" of Bush's second term as bound in limbo.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Trouble in Iraq

Four different accounts portraying an extremely difficult situation that our "commander-in-chief" doesn't want to address with any sense of realism. No one does.

Ramadi (UPI)
WASHINGTON, May 24 (UPI) -- The Iraq city of Ramadi -- capital of Anbar province -- is one of several under terrorist and insurgent control, according to the U.S. ambassador to Iraq.

"I believe that parts of Anbar are under the control of terrorists and insurgents," Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said on CNN Tuesday. "But as far as the country as a whole is concerned, it is the coalition forces, along with Iraqi forces, who are in control. But it's a difficult security situation that Iraq is going through."

Ramadi is the single most dangerous place for U.S. troops to serve, according to military officials in Iraq.

But Joint Staff Deputy Director for Regional Operations Brig. Gen. Carter Ham said Tuesday pacifying Ramadi is the job of the Iraqis, despite the U.S.-led operations in Fallujah and Tall Afar to oust entrenched insurgents there.
Spreading sectarian war (Los Angeles Times)
Violence and Iranian influence in Iraq "will shake the base of society and drive Saudi Arabia to enter the war, with the United States or without," said Abdullah Askar, a columnist and political science professor at King Saud University. "There is a misconception that we have a solid social base. We don't. There are deep roots and viruses just waiting for the time to erupt and rise up."

Among hard-liners, there is talk of organizing and funding Sunni militias in Iraq to fight powerful Shiite paramilitary groups and alleged death squads. Aside from helping to protect Sunnis, Saudi-backed gunmen could give the kingdom a foothold from which to fight Iranian influence.

"The option is for us to start arming and creating Sunni militias," said a Saudi official who asked not to be named. "If things got out of hand, we absolutely would."
Death squads are not just for Shiites any more (New York Times)
But the 16th Brigade was different. Unlike the others, the 16th Brigade was a Sunni outfit, accused of killing Shiites. And it was not, like the others, part of the Iraqi police or even the Interior Ministry. It was run by another Iraqi ministry altogether.

Such is the country that the new Iraqi leaders who took office Saturday are inheriting. The headlong, American-backed effort to arm tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers and officers, coupled with a failure to curb a nearly equal number of militia gunmen, has created a galaxy of armed groups, each with its own loyalty and agenda, which are accelerating the country's slide into chaos.

Indeed, the 16th Brigade stands as a model for how freelance government violence has spread far beyond the ranks of the Shiite-backed police force and Interior Ministry to encompass other government ministries, private militias and people in the upper levels of the Shiite government.

Sometimes, the lines between one government force and another — and between the police and the militias — are so blurry that it is impossible to determine who the killers are.

"No one knows who is who right now," said Adil Abdul Mahdi, one of Iraq's vice presidents.
Basic human needs (San Francisco Chronicle)
Baghdad -- "Leaving aside security," Kassim the carpet salesman asked rhetorically, "when you come home, what do you need?" He ticked off the answers on the fingers on his right hand: "Electricity. Water. Food."

"Getting any of this in Baghdad is a problem," he said.

The Iraqi Shiite's elegant, two-story house in the busy central Baghdad district of Karrada gets power four hours a day -- "one hour on, six hours off," said Kassim, a divorced father of three.

Running water is available for one hour, between 1 and 2 in the morning. Kassim pours the water into giant plastic jugs he stores in his bathroom, kitchen and on the rooftop.

"It's a good thing that I go to bed late," he said.
This is no collection of stories from recent weeks -- or days -- that I have saved for this post. These were all published today.

Iraq is not even close to "standing up" as its own sovereign country. Don't tell that to the infallible commander-in-chief nor the anti-war left. We'll both keep barking at each other and pointing to half-measures.

Either Iraq is the central front of the war on terror, or it is not. When you read about Ramadi, you would be inclined to think it is -- though Afghanistan shows signs of a rekindled insurgency, while we've been at the new central front. That rekindled war is another miserable failure on the shoulders of this president.

President Bush is tracking toward another failure, and remains in his ridiculously optimistic bubble. In his mind, the battle is between suicide bombers on CNN and U.S. troops training Iraqis. He neglects the sizeable and resilient nationalistic insurgency. He ignores -- to an extent -- the machinations of Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. He stands by ineffective and corrupt Iraqi leaders.

The opposition party seems to be willing to let the president stumble along without much rebuke, because they think they have a House or two in their reach this fall.

Iraq is in serious trouble. It may or may not be salvageable. Remarkably, astonishingly, the debate has yet to evolve in America beyond simple platitiudes.

Drawdown in the air?

The president seems to be a little ahead of the Pentagon, and his own press secretary, on the potential to reduce American forces in Iraq. At least, that's the tone from this short story in the Los Angeles Times:
The president said progress was being made as Iraqis were learning to handle their own security force and the new government began its work.

Iraq's government will assess the nation's security needs and work with U.S. commanders, Bush said, adding that "we're now able to take a new assessment about the needs necessary for the Iraqis."

Bush's comments came hours after the White House had played down prospects of major troop withdrawals.

"The conditions on the ground tell us that our job's not done," Press Secretary Tony Snow said.

At the Pentagon, Brig. Gen. Carter Ham said he was unaware of any numerical target for cuts this year, and he cautioned against expecting major reductions before Iraqis showed they could handle the insurgents.
More on General Ham's briefing from VOA:
Brigadier General Carter Ham, who works on regional conflicts for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says the delay in naming ministers of defense and interior will have an impact because those ministries have the most direct involvement in issues that affect security. The Defense Ministry controls the army and the Interior Ministry handles the police. "For us from the security standpoint, those are the two key ministries, and having stability, having responsible, capable leaders in those ministries is clearly beneficial to everyone," he said.
Also covered by AFP:
WASHINGTON, May 23, 2006 (AFP) - A senior US military official cautioned Tuesday against turning security responsibility over to Iraqis too hastily, tamping down expectations of cutbacks in the US force.

Brigadier General Carter Ham, deputy director of operations of the Joint Staff, said he was unaware of specific targets for a US drawdown this year despite ambitious goals espoused by new Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

"We want to do it as soon as we can, but you can't do it too fast. We've talked about rushing to failure. We've got to be very careful to not do that," Ham told reporters here.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Branching out

More on the outrage from prominent Republican leaders over the Executive Branch's investigation in a sitting congressman's office. The AP:
House Majority Leader John Boehner of Ohio told reporters Tuesday that the Congress will somehow speak to “this issue of the Justice Department’s invasion of the legislative branch. In what form, I don’t know.”

“I’ve got to believe at the end of the day it’s going to end up across the street at the Supreme Court,” Boehner said.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert said the Justice Department had never before crossed a line that separates Congress from the executive branch by searching a congressional office while investigating a member of Congress.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Tuesday he understood the concerns of some members of Congress about the search and said he was working with lawmakers as to how to handle the investigation.

“We’re in discussion privately about what can be done to alleviate the concerns,” Gonzales said at a Justice Department news conference. “I ... and the department have a great deal of respect for the Congress as a coequal branch of government ... and obviously are sensitive to their concerns. We are working to address those concerns. We have discussions with the House. Those began last night.”
I think the White House was caught by surprise on this one -- though they should not have been. The FBI's search through Foggo's offices at CIA raised eyebrows just a few weeks ago, NY Times wire.

What does this demonstrate? A lack of sensitivity to the Congress? The rule of law? An overemphasis on the power of the Executive?

Or, a mistake-prone B-Team?

The combustible politics of immigration

A complicated though riveting read from the Washington Post this weekend. (Hat tip, Charlie at Chuck 2008.) Some excerpts:
While President Bush was on the U.S.-Mexican border Thursday promoting an overhaul of the nation's immigration laws, Senate conservatives were persuading a team of White House aides to deny 200,000 low-skilled immigrants citizenship.

In a series of private meetings, the conservatives thought they had convinced the Bush team that as many as 200,000 low-skilled workers who enter the United States under special work visas should not be allowed to stay forever. The plan thrilled conservatives -- but also threatened to rip apart a fragile coalition supporting Bush's call for a comprehensive, and compassionate, immigration solution.

Just as conservatives were declaring White House support for the controversial amendment, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) stormed to the Senate floor to announce that new White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten had assured him that the president now opposed the measure in the name of preserving bipartisan backing. The plan was promptly defeated, and the delicate pro-reform coalition held. For now.

This late-night White House about-face -- as described by senators, House lawmakers and presidential aides -- illustrates the difficulties Bush will confront in the months ahead as he seeks what he calls "the rational middle ground" in the emotional immigration debate. Lately, the issue has seemed to operate by a political version of Newton's third law: For every action Bush takes to reassure skeptics in his own party, there is likely to be an equal reaction by supporters of a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.


The dilemma played out publicly Thursday night, when Sens. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) tried to amend the bill to stipulate that the 200,000 low-skilled immigrants allowed to enter the country under a new temporary-worker visa would have to leave when the visa expired. With Bush and his top political aides in Arizona, conservative Republican aides persuaded lower-level White House staff members to back the amendment, reasoning that Bush has always said he backs a "temporary worker program," not a permanent funnel of immigrants to the United States.

"It was a matter of truth in advertising," Cornyn said.

When word reached the backers of the compromise, they were furious, according to a senior Republican Senate aide involved in the events.


But the Republican players were unavailable. Sen. Mel Martinez (Fla.) was on his way to his son's wedding. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) had left Washington for commencement ceremonies. Hagel was in secret hearings with Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the president's nominee to direct the CIA.

Calls from aides to White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove went unanswered because he was at a dinner. Finally, after nightfall, first Hagel, then Graham and Martinez reached Bolten from the road, telling him passage of the amendment would destroy the coalition and scuttle the legislation. They pleaded with him to call off the White House lobbyists.

After 8 p.m., a succession of conservatives went to the Senate floor to declare Bush's support for their amendment to ensure that temporary work visas really would be temporary.

Then Hagel walked onto the floor, announcing that he and his allies had just gotten off the phone with the White House chief of staff, who had assured them that Bush opposed the amendment.

"The American people have a very low opinion of you, of me, of the Congress, of the president. Read the latest polls," Hagel thundered. "Why are the American people upset with us? Because we are not doing our job. We talk about, 'Let's run to the base. Let's run to the political lowest common denominator.' That is not governing. That is cheap, transparent politics."

Cornyn fired back, "I recognize this is what some have called a 'fragile compromise' -- that if we tinker with it, all of a sudden it implodes and nothing is going to happen." But if compromise supporters "think that they have found some adversaries" in the Senate, he warned, "just wait until they get to the conference with members of the House."
Which leads us to today's Post:
Backers of President Bush's bid to revamp immigration laws scored another small victory in the Senate yesterday, but they are increasingly concerned about a House Republican policy that could block final agreement even if a bipartisan majority is within reach.

Speaker J. Dennis Hastert's insistence that major legislation reach the House floor only if it appears to be backed by a "majority of the majority" could throw a high hurdle in front of efforts to reach a House-Senate compromise on immigration later this year, lawmakers said. Hastert (R-Ill.) has invoked the policy in blocking bills that appeared likely to win approval from more than half of the House's 435 members but less than half of its 231 Republicans.

How much longer will they have the Americans?

Increasingly, I grow more and more frustrated by the Bush administration's complete ignorance -- or unwillingness to be honest -- about the difficult counterinsurgency work remaining in Iraq. Yes, more Iraqi units enter the field every day. Yes, their training improves on a daily basis as well. But, American forces are undermanned in Ramadi and throughout the country.

Todd Pitman of the AP in Ramadi:
Though not powerful enough to overrun U.S. positions, insurgents here in the heart of the Sunni Muslim triangle have fought undermanned U.S. and Iraqi forces to a virtual stalemate.

"It's out of control," says Army Sgt. 1st Class Britt Ruble, behind the sandbags of an observation post in the capital of Anbar province. "We don't have control of this ... we just don't have enough boots on the ground."

Reining in Ramadi, through arms or persuasion, could be the toughest challenge for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's new government. Al-Maliki has promised to use "maximum force" when needed. But three years of U.S. military presence, with nearly constant patrols and sweeps, hasn't done it.

Today Ramadi, a city of 400,000 along the main highway running to Jordan and Syria, 70 miles west of Baghdad, has battles fought in endless circles. Small teams of insurgents open fire and coalition troops respond with heavy blows, often airstrikes or rocket fire that's turned city blocks into rubble.

"We're holding it down to a manageable level until Iraqis forces can take over the fight," Marine Capt. Carlos Barela said of the daily violence battering the city.
Counterinsurgency doctrine calls for one soldier/Marine for every 25 civilians in the area. That would mean a force of 16,000 just for Ramadi. TIME magazine reported on Sunday that Ramadi is under the control of the Army's 2/28th Brigade Combat Team. As of June 2005, that unit had 4,000 men to field. I would expect that number to be accurate, or close to accurate, for their strength today.

Political pressure is mounting in Britain and America to sizeably reduce the foreign footprint in Iraq. The Times of London reports that British withdrawals could be a matter of weeks away. It is no secret that Bush and the Pentagon would like to announce a troop level of 100,000 before the November elections. However, Rumsfeld and Bush have bullied the military into accepting too few troops throughout the Iraq campaign. With false pride, they assert that only the Bush White House has the guts to stick with this mission till it is accomplished; hence they refuse to set a timetable to withdraw (though one exists to some extent as evidenced by that 100,000 signpost).

Yet, our troops fight on -- and they are still needed in parts of Iraq.

Bing West for Slate on Palestine Street, Baghdad:
Lt. Altawee stopped before a long table that blocked half the street. Sitting on stools and broken chairs were a dozen men with weathered faces, too poor to afford coffee or tea, sitting idly, staring at the soldiers.

"Iraqi soldiers, yes! American soldiers, yes!" an older man burst out in English. "Police, no!"

"Fadhal has a mean reputation," Davenport said. "You don't come down here if they don't want you here. They fought the police the other night. They don't trust them."

The patrol continued past a large mosque guarded by soldiers.

"Sadr's militia tried to take it over," Capt. Muhamed Eba, 28, explained. "We got here first. They drove up, shouting and honking horns. Then they drove away. They knew they'd lose. We have the Americans."

He pointed his finger toward Davenport. As the twilight darkened, the traffic thinned out, and the shopkeepers began pulling down the aluminum siding that protected their storefronts.
Bush wants to package some quick exit and incomplete mission as his gutsy legacy. Perhaps he's using his spotty record with the Air National Guard as a guide. No one who authors a competent history of this period will be deceived, and few who witness this so-called war-time president are deceived today.

My fear is that Bush and Rove will lose the Fall elections and paint an exit from Iraq as a left-wing goal. As I see it, there are three options. Bush's stumbling toward failure. A quick-exit to restore the military. Or, following actual counterinsurgency doctrine (for once) and trying to win a war. The first option is the worst. The second the least costly, and the third may not be politically tenable. But, that needs to be the debate.

How much longer will they have the Americans? Will the war still be conducted by the terrible team of Bush and Rumsfeld?

High cost of gas, high cost of remedying it

Senator Clinton has detailed a plan to reduce foreign oil consumption substantially by 2025, the AP. A rough sketch of her plan is as follows:
Clinton is calling for the creation of a $50 billion "Strategic Energy Fund" paid for by increased profits of the big oil companies. She had urged the creation of such a fund last fall when hurricane damage in the Gulf Coast sent the price of gas soaring.

She is also calling for a massive expansion of ethanol, a corn-based fuel additive and substitute, which is currently only available at a small percentage of gas stations in the United States.

President Bush and other elected officials have called for a greater expansion of E-85, a fuel made of 85 percent ethanol that can be used in vehicles built to run on both regular unleaded gasoline and E-85.

Clinton's speech calls for accelerating the spread of E-85 to half of the nation's gas stations by 2015 by offering a 50 percent tax credit for station owners who install ethanol pumps.

Ethanol is also a popular political cause in midwestern corn states like Iowa, which plays a key early role in the presidential primary process.
Creating a $50 billion dollar energy fund, no matter how well we name it, will not remedy the problem. Moreover, I am philosophically disinclined to tax certain industry sectors at an additional rate because they are now more profitable. However, I do believe we can stop oil subsidies and apply that money to low interest grants and loans for research.

The Federal Government can use its substantial buying power to create a productive market for e85 consumption in the short term. General Motors and other U.S. automakers have the ability to produce hundreds of thousands of flex-fuel vehicles. At present, the cost of gas encourages action toward alternatives. It would have been nice if this was not something new -- if there had been a higher gas tax to fuel alternative research. Tom Friedman, on last night's episode of Charlie Rose, proposed a $3.50/gallon (net, with tax) rate to protect investors in alternative energy; he also said that lower and middle income people would be granted a lower tax rate to offset this cost.

Clinton's idea of a substantial fund in government hands will not fly. However, a small government research fund combined with deliberate government spending on alternative fuel vehicles and higher gas taxes to support alternative fuels economically and in the lab can happen.

Why the GOP agrees with William Jefferson (D., LA)

The Hill notes the GOP's misgivings of the weekend search:
Republicans should have been elated in the days after the FBI raided the Capitol Hill office of Democratic Rep. William Jefferson (La.), but instead some were bristling, suggesting that the first-time-ever search of a sitting congressman’s office may violate the constitutional separation of powers.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) told a wire service yesterday that he was “very concerned” about the constitutionality of the search and had queried the Senate legal counsel to look into it.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) sent an e-mail to Capitol Hill Republicans on Sunday night decrying the FBI’s actions.

“What happened Saturday night ... is the most blatant violation of the Constitutional Separation of Powers in my lifetime,” Gingrich fumed, after having seen news of the search on CNN. “The President should respond accordingly and should discipline (probably fire) whoever exhibited this extraordinary violation. ... As a former Speaker of the House, I am shaken by this abuse of power.”

The comments showed that congressional Republicans were more concerned about possible infringement on the authority of the legislative branch than on fueling the flames now circulating around Jefferson.

The raid of Jefferson’s office in the Rayburn House Office Building is the latest in a string of FBI searches conducted in the Jefferson investigation. The FBI executed search warrants on Jefferson’s homes in Washington and Louisiana and his car at the Capitol in August of last year. It also raided the New Orleans office of his campaign treasurer.
In the extreme execution of executive power -- beyond the scope of the Constitution, I can think of few rivals to George W. Bush.

Gore in 2008

No offense to my Chuck Hagel supporting friend, but I'm siding with Gore in 2008 -- tad early, yes. Sure, I would love to see Wesley Clark run, too. But, Gore's got some building buzz and he's a hawk on the environment.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Will Gore run in 2008?

My guess is: Yes.

The USA Today:
WASHINGTON — In a parallel universe, President Al Gore reports that his administration has stopped global warming. Gas costs 19 cents a gallon, and oil companies warrant a federal bailout. "If it were the other way around, you know the oil companies would help us," Gore deadpans.
OK, so that was on NBC's Saturday Night Live on May 13, and Gore isn't president. But the reality is, Gore is back and he's hot.

Six years after his agonizing election loss to George W. Bush, the former vice president is basking in the limelight generated by the national release this week of An Inconvenient Truth, an independent film that documents his crusade against global warming.

Gore says he's trying to get people to lead their leaders. A groundswell of political will from regular citizens, he says, will pressure politicians and automobile, fuel and chemical corporations to embrace green technology.

"There are a few irresponsible companies, making billions of dollars by dumping massive qualities of global warming pollution into the Earth's atmosphere," Gore, 58, told USA TODAY. "When 50.1% of the American people are passionate and committed and feel the sense of urgency that's appropriate here, then the political system will flip. I think we're close to a tipping point."

Gore's re-emergence has fueled speculation that he still wants to be one of those leaders. He has fun with the idea even as he bats it away. Asked where he'd like to be in 21/2 years, he strokes his chin, stares ahead and says dreamily, "Standing on the steps of the Capitol — " before buckling with laughter.

Seriously, Gore says, "I've been in elected politics for more than a quarter-century. I've run four national campaigns. I've been there, done that. I've found there are other ways to serve, and I'm enjoying them."

Tough days in Ramadi

Michael Ware has a must-read story in TIME this week that shows the bravery of American troops and the journalists that cover them. It also shows the bullshit from senior officers when they say they have enough troops. Some excerpts with one emphasized:
It's another sweltering afternoon in the most dangerous place in Iraq, and the men of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, are looking to pick a fight. First Lieut. Grier Jones splits his 30-odd-man platoon into two squads and sets them loose on the streets of Ramadi. They run block to block, covering one another as they sprint across intersections. Insurgents bob their heads out of homes to catch a glimpse of the Marines--"turkey peeking," as the troops call it--a sign that they are preparing to attack."We come out here every day, and we get shot at," Jones tells an Iraqi woman who speaks American-accented English. "Where are the bad guys?" She falls silent. Outside, a blue sedan peels away. "Watch that car," a Marine yells, sensing a possible ambush.

His instincts are right. At the next intersection, the Marines duck into a house. Suddenly a machine gun lets rip, spewing bullets around them. "Where's it coming from?" a Marine yells. Immediately, shooting opens up from a second direction. Jones gets his men to the roof to repel the two-sided attack. "Rocket!" screams a grunt, unleashing an AT4 rocket at one of the insurgent positions. Men reel from the blast's concussion. The shooting from the east stops. But as Jones peers over a cement wall to locate the second ambush position, a 7.62-mm round whizzes by. "Whoa, that went right over my head," he says, smiling. As the Marines on the roof fire at the insurgents, Jones orders a squad to push toward the enemy position. Then the enemy weapons go quiet; the insurgents are apparently withdrawing to conserve their energy. Jones radios back to his commanders. "We saw the enemy do a banana peel back, then peel north." He chuckles. "This is every day in Ramadi."


TIME spent a week with Kilo Company, the 120-person unit that goes head to head with the insurgents every day. The goal is to lure al-Qaeda into attacks, which Kilo Company has been doing successfully: in a single week, five men were wounded, three foot patrols were ambushed, and there were unrelenting attacks from small-arms fire and mortars. The experience of the Marines in Ramadi illuminates some of the shortcomings of the U.S. strategy for defeating the insurgency. The commander has only one brigade to secure the town, even though U.S. officers say privately that at least three are needed. Among the troops, frustration is growing: many officers say that the U.S. is too lenient in its dealings with the enemy, allowing too many captured insurgents to go free, and that soldiers can do little more than act as international police. Others claim that superiors are overlooking their reports about conditions on the ground. If the U.S. and its Iraqi allies are making progress in eroding the appeal of the resistance, the men in Ramadi don't see it. Says an American officer: "This s___ ain't going anywhere."


U.S. efforts to woo Iraqi groups were beginning to pay dividends, as the city's tribal and insurgent leaders gave their approval for young Sunnis to join the new police force. Recruitment mostly ran at about 40 a month, though in January, 1,000 showed up to join. But al-Qaeda responded by sending a chest-vest suicide bomber into the queue of applicants, killing about 40 Iraqis, wounding 80, and killing two Americans. When the recruits returned days later, al-Zarqawi followed up with a wave of seven assassinations of tribal sheiks. "That hurt us a lot," says Gronski.


So why does Ramadi remain beyond the U.S.'s control? Part of the problem, many officers say, is that the troops' authority to act is constrained by politics. Soldiers cannot lock up suspected insurgents without first getting an arrest warrant and a sworn statement from two witnesses. And those who are convicted often receive jail sentences that are shorter than a grunt's tour of Iraq. "We keep seeing guys we arrested coming back out, and things get worse again," says an intelligence officer.

The bigger problem, though, is one that few in the military command want to hear: there aren't enough troops to do the job. "There's a realization, as every military commander knows, that you cannot be strong everywhere," says Gronski of Ramadi. "In the outlying areas, we think in terms of an economy of force where we are willing to accept risk by not placing as many troops." But while Gronski says his fighting strength is "appropriate," other commanders bristle at the limitations. "I can't believe it each time the Secretary of Defense talks about reducing force," says a senior U.S. officer. War planners in Iraq say just getting a handle on Ramadi demands three times as many soldiers as are there now. Several U.S. commanders say they won't ask superiors for more troops or plan large-scale operations because doing so would expose problems in the U.S.'s strategy that no one wants to acknowledge. "It's what I call the Big Lie," a high-ranking U.S. commander told TIME.

To be fair, gains are being made in Ramadi with the Iraqi army, the police and the young provincial government. A brigade intelligence officer says that "we are not getting excited because this is a long process--though we are winning. The tide is turning." But for those in the midst of the battle, that can sometimes be hard to see. "No matter what they say about the rest of the country, it ain't like this place," says a battalion officer in the thick of the fight. "It's the worst place in the world."

Slow progress with the Iraqi police

One should not ignore the progress that has been made. However, it is at best a mixed bag. The New York Times reports:
Now the Pentagon is spreading 3,000 police trainers across the country. Maj. Gen. Joseph Peterson, who is in charge of the Pentagon's current program to remake the force, said his top priority was to improve basic skills while preventing corruption. He said the new effort was making strides toward the goal of having a force of 190,000 officers by early next year with better training and an appreciation of human rights.

"Every day the Iraqis improve their capability to do their job," General Peterson said.

The task ahead is reflected in recent confidential field reports filed by police trainers and obtained by The Times. The reports display a startling mix of heroics and incompetence, dedication and criminality.

In Diyala Province on March 21, where nearly two dozen police officers were killed when militants attacked their station, the police "fought until they ran out of ammunition," a police adviser reported. A week earlier, when the police in western Iraq were attacked, the officers abandoned their post or generally "responded horribly, displaying no firing discipline and failing to take defense positions."

One of the grimmest dispatches came from Mosul, where a police general reported militant "schools" operating inside a nearby prison teaching detainees insurgent tactics and extremist views. When an insurgent was released from prison, another general reported, officers at a station in Al Hawd fired their weapons to celebrate his freedom.

In Nineveh Province in northern Iraq, an alert major crimes unit stopped a car after noticing that it had a jerry-rigged bumper and that hidden inside were all the tools for an insurgent attack — mortar tube and shells, ski masks and AK-47 rounds. But just to the south in Al Tamin, a police officer seriously injured himself trying to disarm a roadside bomb by shooting it.

Two tones on Tony Blair and the latest with Iraq

CNN has the most tepid account of Tony Blair's visit to Iraq. You have to dig down deep to arrive at the following:
The senior British official told PA he hoped that at least one of the four of Iraq's 18 provinces currently controlled by UK forces would be able to transfer to civilian control soon.

He said: "The UK has four provinces. I would certainly hope that at least one of our provinces would be able to transfer during the course of the summer."

That would almost certainly be al Muthana or Maysan, the two most stable of the provinces -- the others being Basra and Dhi Kar, PA said.

But the official repeatedly made clear that handing over to civilian control would not lead to an immediate repatriation of British troops this summer.
However, the London Times and the Guardian have a very different sentiment and give it top-billing.

The Times of London lede:
Britain and Iraq announced an accelerated timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops from much of Iraq today during a surprise visit by Tony Blair to show his support for the country's new government.

Britain could return two southern provinces to Iraqi security control within in a few months. Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq's new Prime Minister, said that he expected as many as 16 of the 18 provinces to be "Iraqi-ised" - under the control of Iraqi forces - by the end of this year.
The Guardian's:
The new Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, today said Iraqis could be in control of security by the end of the year in all of the country apart from Baghdad and Anbar province.

Mr Maliki, appearing at a news conference with Tony Blair, who is visiting Baghdad, indicated that he expected the Iraqi government to begin taking over control of some of the more peaceful provinces from the multinational forces from next month.
The different accounts from CNN and the Brits are not mutually exclusive, but their tones are very different.

TIME on the new Iraqi government:
But for many Iraqis, such optimism is hard to justify, especially since the new government includes several of the inept, corrupt and thoroughly discredited leaders who had made such a hash of the interim administration under the previous Prime Minister, Ibrahim Jaafari. Indeed, the most discredited of them all, former Interior Minister Bayan Jabr, has received a promotion.

During his year as Interior Minister, Jabr had become the symbol of governmental failure — and that was the charitable view. Others, especially the minority Sunnis, accused him of looking to other way as Shi'ite militias infiltrated the police force and, shielded by their uniforms, launched a campaign of kidnapping, torture and assassination of Sunnis. Jabr is himself connected to the Badr Brigades, a Shi'ite militia that was created and funded by Iran. Although he denied that death squads were at large in the police force, he failed to halt the killings, which currently run at around 1,000 a month in Baghdad alone.

In the new cabinet, Jabr has been made Finance Minister. "The message this sends to Iraqis is that incompetence is acceptable, even in the most crucial ministries," says a Western diplomat in Baghdad. "Any cabinet that has Bayan Jabr in a top position is starting with a huge credibility gap."
The A.P. via the Boston Globe: "Iraqi leader vows to stop bloodshed"

The San Francisco Chronicle:
Just a year ago, Sunnis were the driving force behind the calls for immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops. (The Chronicle agreed not to identify the man and some other Iraqis interviewed for this story to protect their safety.) But since the Feb. 22 bombing of the revered Shiite Askariya Shrine in Samarra, the dramatic escalation in sectarian violence has given Sunnis an enemy to loathe more than the Americans -- Iraqi police, who are mostly Shiite.

Sunnis say militias affiliated with Shiite political parties have infiltrated the police and are using their status to kidnap, torture and kill Sunni civilians. Shiite officials have denied the accusations.

The interim head of the Interior Ministry -- which has authority over police forces -- was a Shiite, and control of the agency is so controversial that the selection of a permanent minister has been postponed by the coalition government that took office Saturday.

Friday, May 19, 2006

More troops to Ramadi

(CNN) -- U.S. military commanders will order more U.S. troops to the Iraqi city of Ramadi, the volatile Anbar provincial capital where troops and insurgents have been fighting new pitched battles, CNN learned on Friday.

The reinforcements, described as a significant number, will come from other areas inside Iraq, but military sources are not saying exactly when the troops will arrive.

Fighting has been raging in the sprawling, largely Sunni Arab province west of Baghdad for days; coalition forces have engaged insurgents in the area every day since May 7, the military said.

Anbar has been a major front in the ongoing insurgency.

USA Today:
BAGHDAD — Iraqi leaders will announce the makeup of the country's new government this weekend, then turn to the task of running a country increasingly divided along ethnic and religious lines.

At what point is it amnesty?

One more reason that the Senate and the House will not be able to conference on this issue. Now that I think of it, maybe Bush and Company want the issue to be "punted" in 2006. Have the more conservative House stand up for something and attract their base to the polls, whereas the nationalized GOP looks more middle-of-the-road.

Just a thought.

The Washington Times:
The Senate voted yesterday to allow illegal aliens to collect Social Security benefits based on past illegal employment -- even if the job was obtained through forged or stolen documents.

"There was a felony they were committing, and now they can't be prosecuted. That sounds like amnesty to me," said Sen. John Ensign, the Nevada Republican who offered the amendment yesterday to strip out those provisions of the immigration reform bill. "It just boggles the mind how people could be against this amendment."

Is Hayden the one to level with the president?

The Washington Post:
The consensus among officials who have worked with Hayden is that he possesses a well-developed ability and willingness to deliver contrarian views, albeit diplomatically, as he did during yesterday's hearing.

Will Hayden convey the agency's deep concern about Iraq to Bush? "Yes, I think he will," said a senior CIA official who has seen Hayden in high-level meetings. "I think he'll be professional about it, though. He won't jump on the table. But he'll make the point."

In the past year, the CIA station in Baghdad has told headquarters that the situation in Iraq is deteriorating dangerously, according to a senior CIA official familiar with the station's view and with Hayden. The assessment has only gotten worse, the official said.

Although the CIA director no longer briefs the president every day, at least once a week he has the chance to give Bush his views directly on a wide range of subjects.

More on brave reporters in Iraq

The Washington Times:
BAGHDAD -- The recent killings of six Iraqi journalists have rattled the country's fledgling press corps, a battle-worn crew that has persisted in covering the nation's turmoil while suffering dozens of dead at the hands of insurgents, government troops and even American forces.

"We are scared working as journalists," said Thamer, a burly radio reporter, sitting in the threadbare cafe of the al-Hamra hotel. "There is no protection and we are well-known people, easy to get to."

Reporters Without Borders counts 68 reporters and cameramen killed so far trying to cover Iraq at war; if translators and other assistants are counted the total is 86, making this the deadliest conflict for journalists since World War II.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

One gutsy reporter

The Washington Post profiles CBS News' Lara Logan. Some excerpts:
NEW YORK -- The words erupt in machine-gun bursts as Lara Logan strafes the critics who say she and other journalists in Iraq are ignoring the signs of progress there.

"That's complete nonsense," Logan says. "I tell the American commanders all the time: When we can get in our cars and drive to the opening of a store and interview people on camera without fear of being killed, or getting everyone involved with us killed, the good-news stories will be told."


Two weeks ago, Logan was embedded with a U.S. military unit in Ramadi when the Marine walking just in front of her was shot by a sniper during an ambush. She did a stand-up moments later, even as the gun battle raged. "It was distressing," she says matter-of-factly, as if acknowledging fear might be viewed as a sign of weakness. "You have to be professional. You can't fall apart in front of the Marines."

Viewers of the "CBS Evening News" also saw Logan in a combat helmet, crouching alongside members of the Marines' Kilo Company as gunners exchanged fire with Iraqi insurgents in a deserted building nearby. Some CBS executives have grown concerned for her safety, believing that she takes too many risks.


Determined to get into Afghanistan, Logan flew to Russia but still needed a Tajik visa. She found the head of the Tajikistan airline and hired his nephew as a translator, which somehow facilitated her paperwork. Traveling with the Northern Alliance rebels as the U.S.-backed war raged on, Logan, who had been a CBS Radio stringer, began making television appearances and caught the eye of Jeff Fager, then executive producer of "60 Minutes II."

"I was so impressed by her understanding of the story and her ability to tell it," Fager says. "I just thought, wow, she's really got something special."


Logan, who shoots some of her own footage, has been embedded with the military several times and says that many soldiers in Iraq "pour their hearts out to you because you're a woman and you're sympathetic." Logan says she would never report such conversations.

She disputes the notion that U.S. efforts to rebuild Iraq are going well, noting that one Iraqi contractor was afraid to take her to a reconstruction project out of fear for his life. Such a fatality, she says, would be "a line at the end of a New York Times piece, another Iraqi killed that no one cares about."