Commentary Magazine


Topic: Colonel

The Limits of Technology in Counterinsurgency

The Washington Post has an interesting if depressing report on the 5th Stryker Combat Brigade, 2nd infantry division — the unit where five soldiers who are accused of killing several Afghan men “for sport” came from.

The Post notes that the brigade’s commander, Col. Harry Tunnell, was adamantly opposed to the prevailing counterinsurgency doctrine, which emphasizes protecting the population. He believed in “counterguerrilla operations” along the lines of his brigade’s motto, “Strike and destroy.” He encouraged an aggressive attitude that resulted in many casualties — both among Afghans and among his own men. Some of those losses were no doubt inevitable, because the 5th Brigade was deployed to a heavily Taliban-infested area on the outskirts of Kandahar. But it is striking, and alarming, that the army allowed the deployment of this brigade to a vital area even when it was obvious to all, as far back as pre-deployment training, that Col. Tunnell was dangerously out of sync with the state-of-the-art thinking on how to fight counterinsurgency. The Washington Post article notes that Tunnell is not implicated in the atrocities allegedly committed by his men, but it raises legitimate questions about whether his overly aggressive attitude may have been at the root of some of the brigade’s problems.

That was certainly an issue in my mind when I visited Col. Tunnell and was briefed by him at his brigade operations center at Kandahar Air Field in October 2009. A related issue, which isn’t mentioned in the Post article, is Tunnell’s faith in technology. The Stryker brigades are among the most high-tech in the army, equipped with armored vehicles that are “networked” to provide a common “operating picture” of the battlefield. This can breed hubris among soldiers who think that their gee-whiz gadgets give them an insuperable advantage over a more primitive foe. That was certainly the case with Tunnell, who actually told me that all his sophisticated computer systems gave him a better picture of his area’s “human terrain” than that that possessed by the insurgents. I thought this was a pretty amazing statement considering that few if any of his soldiers spoke Pashto or understand anything about local customs — all of which was second nature to the Taliban.

The army has made great strides in counterinsurgency, but this shows clearly that it still has a way to go. It clearly has to do a better job of making sure that all those in such important combat commands have a better understanding of counterinsurgency doctrine — which includes a keen appreciation of the need for cultural knowledge and the limits of technology in this kind of fight.

The Washington Post has an interesting if depressing report on the 5th Stryker Combat Brigade, 2nd infantry division — the unit where five soldiers who are accused of killing several Afghan men “for sport” came from.

The Post notes that the brigade’s commander, Col. Harry Tunnell, was adamantly opposed to the prevailing counterinsurgency doctrine, which emphasizes protecting the population. He believed in “counterguerrilla operations” along the lines of his brigade’s motto, “Strike and destroy.” He encouraged an aggressive attitude that resulted in many casualties — both among Afghans and among his own men. Some of those losses were no doubt inevitable, because the 5th Brigade was deployed to a heavily Taliban-infested area on the outskirts of Kandahar. But it is striking, and alarming, that the army allowed the deployment of this brigade to a vital area even when it was obvious to all, as far back as pre-deployment training, that Col. Tunnell was dangerously out of sync with the state-of-the-art thinking on how to fight counterinsurgency. The Washington Post article notes that Tunnell is not implicated in the atrocities allegedly committed by his men, but it raises legitimate questions about whether his overly aggressive attitude may have been at the root of some of the brigade’s problems.

That was certainly an issue in my mind when I visited Col. Tunnell and was briefed by him at his brigade operations center at Kandahar Air Field in October 2009. A related issue, which isn’t mentioned in the Post article, is Tunnell’s faith in technology. The Stryker brigades are among the most high-tech in the army, equipped with armored vehicles that are “networked” to provide a common “operating picture” of the battlefield. This can breed hubris among soldiers who think that their gee-whiz gadgets give them an insuperable advantage over a more primitive foe. That was certainly the case with Tunnell, who actually told me that all his sophisticated computer systems gave him a better picture of his area’s “human terrain” than that that possessed by the insurgents. I thought this was a pretty amazing statement considering that few if any of his soldiers spoke Pashto or understand anything about local customs — all of which was second nature to the Taliban.

The army has made great strides in counterinsurgency, but this shows clearly that it still has a way to go. It clearly has to do a better job of making sure that all those in such important combat commands have a better understanding of counterinsurgency doctrine — which includes a keen appreciation of the need for cultural knowledge and the limits of technology in this kind of fight.

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On Winston Churchill and Former Gov. Blagojevich

On Fox News Sunday, a slightly incredulous Chris Wallace asked former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich if he were serious when he compared himself to Winston Churchill in his ability to come back from political oblivion. Blagojevich replied: “You’re right, I’m not serious. I don’t smoke cigars or scotch, and I think I can run faster than him.” As Sir Winston died in 1965, it would be most surprising if the Governor were not fleeter of foot.

But Churchill would have smiled at Blagojevich’s observations on smoking, drinking, and running. The Governor’s first claim reminded me of one of Churchill’s interchanges with General Bernard Montgomery. The slightly priggish general is alleged to have said that he neither drank nor smoked and was 100 percent fit. Churchill immediately shot back that he both drank and smoked and was 200 percent fit.

And as for physical fitness, Churchill’s views on that subject, and its connection with leadership ability, are curiously relevant to Blagojevich’s desire to mount a comeback. In February 1941, Churchill – as recorded in the third volume of his World War II memoirs – wrote to his Secretary of State for War as follows:

Please see the Times of February 4. It is really true that a seven-mile cross-country run is enforced upon all in this division, from generals to privates? … A colonel or a general ought not to exhaust himself in trying to compete with young boys running across country seven miles at a time. The duty of officers is no doubt to keep themselves fit, but still more to think for their men, and to take decisions affecting their safety or comfort. Who is the general of this division, and does he run the seven miles himself? If so, he may be more useful for football than war. Could Napoleon have run seven miles across country at Austerlitz? Perhaps it was the other fellow he made run. In my experience, based on many years’ observation, officers with high athletic qualifications are not usually successful in the higher ranks.

It would seem that Churchill’s maxim also applies to governors.

On Fox News Sunday, a slightly incredulous Chris Wallace asked former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich if he were serious when he compared himself to Winston Churchill in his ability to come back from political oblivion. Blagojevich replied: “You’re right, I’m not serious. I don’t smoke cigars or scotch, and I think I can run faster than him.” As Sir Winston died in 1965, it would be most surprising if the Governor were not fleeter of foot.

But Churchill would have smiled at Blagojevich’s observations on smoking, drinking, and running. The Governor’s first claim reminded me of one of Churchill’s interchanges with General Bernard Montgomery. The slightly priggish general is alleged to have said that he neither drank nor smoked and was 100 percent fit. Churchill immediately shot back that he both drank and smoked and was 200 percent fit.

And as for physical fitness, Churchill’s views on that subject, and its connection with leadership ability, are curiously relevant to Blagojevich’s desire to mount a comeback. In February 1941, Churchill – as recorded in the third volume of his World War II memoirs – wrote to his Secretary of State for War as follows:

Please see the Times of February 4. It is really true that a seven-mile cross-country run is enforced upon all in this division, from generals to privates? … A colonel or a general ought not to exhaust himself in trying to compete with young boys running across country seven miles at a time. The duty of officers is no doubt to keep themselves fit, but still more to think for their men, and to take decisions affecting their safety or comfort. Who is the general of this division, and does he run the seven miles himself? If so, he may be more useful for football than war. Could Napoleon have run seven miles across country at Austerlitz? Perhaps it was the other fellow he made run. In my experience, based on many years’ observation, officers with high athletic qualifications are not usually successful in the higher ranks.

It would seem that Churchill’s maxim also applies to governors.

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Hype and Reality over Rules of Engagement

Having recently returned from more than two weeks in Afghanistan, I was struck by how overblown the whole debate over “Rules of Engagement” has become. Back home, bloggers are becoming apoplectic, claiming that, as one website put it, “Obama’s Rules of Engagement in Afghanistan Costing Our Troops Lives.” From such hyperbolic reporting, you would think that American soldiers and Marines are routinely being killed in firefights that they might have won had they been able to summon air or artillery support. Not so. The biggest killer of our troops is IEDs, which no amount of bombing can stop. In fact, too much expenditure of firepower can make it harder for our troops to uncover these deadly booby traps, because it alienates the population — the prime source of intelligence.

The National Bureau of Economic Research has just released an interesting paper on the effects of civilian casualties. It is written by four social scientists, one of them a U.S. Army colonel (Joe Felter) currently serving in Afghanistan. Through a careful study of collateral-damage incidents, they determined that every coalition-caused civilian death results in “6 additional violent incidents in an average sized district in the following 6 weeks.” In other words, being too indiscriminate in the application of firepower creates more enemies than our operations can remove. Which is precisely why General Stanley McChrystal — not President Obama — instituted tight limits on the use of force.

His restrictions have been in part responsible for a decline in American air strikes and in Afghan civilian deaths. As CNN notes: “Civilians killed by U.S. and NATO forces ‘reduced considerably’ to 210 during the period [the first half of the year] because of restrictions imposed on the use of airstrikes. … Deaths in airstrikes dropped by more than 50 percent to 94.” That means, in effect, that U.S. troops created fewer enemies for themselves than they have in the past.

The risks incurred by U.S. troops under this policy are somewhat ameliorated by the fact that their numbers have tripled over the past year. That means they can win more fights without having to call in air support. But there is no doubt that the tight restrictions on air strikes have somewhat increased the risks faced by ground forces, even though McChrystal always made it plain that troops have a right and a duty to act in self-defense.

This has resulted in a handful of highly publicized cases, recycled many times in news accounts, in which troops complain that they were prevented from calling in badly needed air strikes. It appears likely that McChrystal’s broad directives, while well-intentioned, were interpreted too bureaucratically and too narrowly by some units. That is something that General David Petraeus and his operational commander, Lieutenant General David Rodriguez, are now studying to determine whether adjustments are necessary.

But don’t expect Petraeus to declare Afghanistan a free-fire zone. Nor should he. He is mindful, as McChrystal was, that the Soviets killed more than a million Afghans in the 1980s and still lost the war. The “kill them all” approach to counterinsurgency seldom if ever works, and it is certainly not an option for the armed forces of a liberal superpower that must operate under the glare of media scrutiny. Our armed forces must strike a delicate balance between aggressively hunting insurgents and sparing the population among whom the insurgents hide. That is hard to do, and it requires tremendous discipline and fortitude on the part of the troops, but it is the only way to win a war like this one.

Having recently returned from more than two weeks in Afghanistan, I was struck by how overblown the whole debate over “Rules of Engagement” has become. Back home, bloggers are becoming apoplectic, claiming that, as one website put it, “Obama’s Rules of Engagement in Afghanistan Costing Our Troops Lives.” From such hyperbolic reporting, you would think that American soldiers and Marines are routinely being killed in firefights that they might have won had they been able to summon air or artillery support. Not so. The biggest killer of our troops is IEDs, which no amount of bombing can stop. In fact, too much expenditure of firepower can make it harder for our troops to uncover these deadly booby traps, because it alienates the population — the prime source of intelligence.

The National Bureau of Economic Research has just released an interesting paper on the effects of civilian casualties. It is written by four social scientists, one of them a U.S. Army colonel (Joe Felter) currently serving in Afghanistan. Through a careful study of collateral-damage incidents, they determined that every coalition-caused civilian death results in “6 additional violent incidents in an average sized district in the following 6 weeks.” In other words, being too indiscriminate in the application of firepower creates more enemies than our operations can remove. Which is precisely why General Stanley McChrystal — not President Obama — instituted tight limits on the use of force.

His restrictions have been in part responsible for a decline in American air strikes and in Afghan civilian deaths. As CNN notes: “Civilians killed by U.S. and NATO forces ‘reduced considerably’ to 210 during the period [the first half of the year] because of restrictions imposed on the use of airstrikes. … Deaths in airstrikes dropped by more than 50 percent to 94.” That means, in effect, that U.S. troops created fewer enemies for themselves than they have in the past.

The risks incurred by U.S. troops under this policy are somewhat ameliorated by the fact that their numbers have tripled over the past year. That means they can win more fights without having to call in air support. But there is no doubt that the tight restrictions on air strikes have somewhat increased the risks faced by ground forces, even though McChrystal always made it plain that troops have a right and a duty to act in self-defense.

This has resulted in a handful of highly publicized cases, recycled many times in news accounts, in which troops complain that they were prevented from calling in badly needed air strikes. It appears likely that McChrystal’s broad directives, while well-intentioned, were interpreted too bureaucratically and too narrowly by some units. That is something that General David Petraeus and his operational commander, Lieutenant General David Rodriguez, are now studying to determine whether adjustments are necessary.

But don’t expect Petraeus to declare Afghanistan a free-fire zone. Nor should he. He is mindful, as McChrystal was, that the Soviets killed more than a million Afghans in the 1980s and still lost the war. The “kill them all” approach to counterinsurgency seldom if ever works, and it is certainly not an option for the armed forces of a liberal superpower that must operate under the glare of media scrutiny. Our armed forces must strike a delicate balance between aggressively hunting insurgents and sparing the population among whom the insurgents hide. That is hard to do, and it requires tremendous discipline and fortitude on the part of the troops, but it is the only way to win a war like this one.

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Obama Enables the Iranian Misogynists

Recently, Iran was allowed onto the UN Commission on the Status of Women with not a peep of protest from the Obama administration. That distinction, I suppose, gives them immunity from scrutiny over this:

Iranian police have issued warnings to 62,000 women who were “badly veiled” in the Shiite holy province of Qom as part of a crackdown on dress and behaviour. Colonel Mehdi Khorasani, the provincial police chief, said police had also confiscated around 100 cars for carrying improperly dressed women and said that “encouraging such relaxations are among the objectives of the enemy.” … By law, women in the Islamic republic must be covered from head to foot, with their hair completely veiled and social interaction is banned between men and women who are not related.

The report explains that Ahmadinejad was opposed to the crackdown (his venom is reserved mostly for Jews these days?), but that he lost that one to “hardliners and several top clerics who have criticised him for opposing the police crackdown.” So the nation that makes pronouncements on other nations’ treatment of women has launched a crackdown on its own women:

Iran’s morality police have returned to the streets in past weeks, confiscating cars whose male drivers harass women, local media say, without clarifying what amounts to harassment. The reports say the police or hardline militiamen have been stopping cars with young men or women inside to question their relationship.

The Obama team is complicit in this farce, by treating the regime as legitimate and as capable of policing others’ human rights records. It is the same mentality that assumes that an international flotilla investigation can be “fair” or “credible” and that led us to rejoin the UN Human Rights Council. In sum, by ignoring evil and by elevating cordiality with despotic regimes over other interests, the U.S. is now a supporting player in the UN farce. That’s damaging to the credibility and standing of the U.S. but tragic for the females of the morality police.

One more thing: if an unmarried woman or a woman married to someone else is in a car with a man, what do we suppose happens to her then? Just asking, because our administration apparently doesn’t care to ask or consider the answer.

Recently, Iran was allowed onto the UN Commission on the Status of Women with not a peep of protest from the Obama administration. That distinction, I suppose, gives them immunity from scrutiny over this:

Iranian police have issued warnings to 62,000 women who were “badly veiled” in the Shiite holy province of Qom as part of a crackdown on dress and behaviour. Colonel Mehdi Khorasani, the provincial police chief, said police had also confiscated around 100 cars for carrying improperly dressed women and said that “encouraging such relaxations are among the objectives of the enemy.” … By law, women in the Islamic republic must be covered from head to foot, with their hair completely veiled and social interaction is banned between men and women who are not related.

The report explains that Ahmadinejad was opposed to the crackdown (his venom is reserved mostly for Jews these days?), but that he lost that one to “hardliners and several top clerics who have criticised him for opposing the police crackdown.” So the nation that makes pronouncements on other nations’ treatment of women has launched a crackdown on its own women:

Iran’s morality police have returned to the streets in past weeks, confiscating cars whose male drivers harass women, local media say, without clarifying what amounts to harassment. The reports say the police or hardline militiamen have been stopping cars with young men or women inside to question their relationship.

The Obama team is complicit in this farce, by treating the regime as legitimate and as capable of policing others’ human rights records. It is the same mentality that assumes that an international flotilla investigation can be “fair” or “credible” and that led us to rejoin the UN Human Rights Council. In sum, by ignoring evil and by elevating cordiality with despotic regimes over other interests, the U.S. is now a supporting player in the UN farce. That’s damaging to the credibility and standing of the U.S. but tragic for the females of the morality police.

One more thing: if an unmarried woman or a woman married to someone else is in a car with a man, what do we suppose happens to her then? Just asking, because our administration apparently doesn’t care to ask or consider the answer.

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More on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

My article taking retired Gen. Merrill McPeak to task for the weakness of his arguments against lifting the ban on gays serving openly in the military has generated some heated responses on the Web (e.g., this post on David Horowitz’s website and this post by a retired Air Force NCO). A few points of rebuttal and clarification are in order.

First, I suggested that studies of other armed services that have lifted the gay ban have found no deleterious impact on unit cohesion or performance. This has supporters of the ban fulminating that one of the key studies was conducted by the Palm Center, a research center at the University of California, Santa Barbara, which is openly committed to gay rights. That’s true, but the motives behind the study shouldn’t matter; what counts is whether the study is accurate, and I haven’t seen anyone suggest any actual distortion of the results. Besides, the Palm Center is not alone in its finding; see this article written by an Air Force colonel and published in Joint Forces Quarterly, an official publication of the National Defense University:

In a survey of over 100 experts from Australia, Canada, Israel, and the United Kingdom, it was found that all agreed the decision to lift the ban on homosexuals had no impact on military performance, readiness, cohesion, or ability to recruit or retain, nor did it increase the HIV rate among troops.

Critics can also argue that “other countries’ militaries aren’t comparable to the U.S. military. No other military on the planet, after all, can or will do what our military does.” That’s true, but while the Israeli, Australian, or British militaries don’t have the global power projection capabilities of the U.S., the general consensus is that on a unit-for-unit basis, they are just as effective as our own military. If having gays serve openly in their ranks hasn’t hurt their combat performance — and I have seen no indication that it has — I find it hard to believe it would have a major impact on our own forces.

Second, I suggested that allowing openly gay service members would have even less impact on unit cohesion than having women serve in the ranks. This has brought forth arguments that women have in fact contributed to a degradation of combat effectiveness, which has been covered up for “politically correct reasons.” I don’t doubt that pregnancy, sexual harassment, and fraternization have been real problems, but these would have existed even if women had been barred from service altogether, because of the presence of female contractors on all major American bases, even in combat zones. But there are also benefits to having women serve — see this article about how valuable female Marines are in interacting with Afghanistan’s women, something their male counterparts cannot do for reasons of cultural sensitivity.

The larger issue is that tapping into the female half of the population has allowed the military to draw on some great talent, which it would otherwise be denied. The same argument applies to gays (who are admittedly a much smaller percentage of the population). Women still aren’t allowed into some ground-combat jobs, and it may make sense, as I have previously argued, to extend that ban at least for some time to gays. But women are allowed to fill most jobs, and they bring intelligence, dedication, and hard work that the military — which has a hard time filling its all-volunteer ranks in wartime — badly needs. Same with homosexuals. The Joint Forces article notes: “Since 1994, the Services have discharged nearly 12,500 Service members under the law.” That’s a small number in the overall scheme of things, but a number of those had skills, such as Arab-language knowledge, that are very hard to replace. In recent years, the Army in particular has been forced to lower its standards to attract enough recruits. That suggests that we can hardly afford to discharge soldiers for their sexual preference — unless they act in undisciplined ways (e.g., committing sexual harassment), but those prohibitions should be enforced evenhandedly against both heterosexuals and homosexuals.

Despite the criticisms against my article, my sense is that most active-duty personnel are in fact comfortable with lifting the gay ban. That’s confirmed by this study, cited in an article by Owen West (himself a combat vet of Iraq): “A 2006 poll of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans showed that 72 percent were personally comfortable interacting with gays.” Given that 80 percent of the overall public favors lifting the ban, those  like Gen. McPeak favor keeping it in place are fighting a losing — and needless — battle.

My article taking retired Gen. Merrill McPeak to task for the weakness of his arguments against lifting the ban on gays serving openly in the military has generated some heated responses on the Web (e.g., this post on David Horowitz’s website and this post by a retired Air Force NCO). A few points of rebuttal and clarification are in order.

First, I suggested that studies of other armed services that have lifted the gay ban have found no deleterious impact on unit cohesion or performance. This has supporters of the ban fulminating that one of the key studies was conducted by the Palm Center, a research center at the University of California, Santa Barbara, which is openly committed to gay rights. That’s true, but the motives behind the study shouldn’t matter; what counts is whether the study is accurate, and I haven’t seen anyone suggest any actual distortion of the results. Besides, the Palm Center is not alone in its finding; see this article written by an Air Force colonel and published in Joint Forces Quarterly, an official publication of the National Defense University:

In a survey of over 100 experts from Australia, Canada, Israel, and the United Kingdom, it was found that all agreed the decision to lift the ban on homosexuals had no impact on military performance, readiness, cohesion, or ability to recruit or retain, nor did it increase the HIV rate among troops.

Critics can also argue that “other countries’ militaries aren’t comparable to the U.S. military. No other military on the planet, after all, can or will do what our military does.” That’s true, but while the Israeli, Australian, or British militaries don’t have the global power projection capabilities of the U.S., the general consensus is that on a unit-for-unit basis, they are just as effective as our own military. If having gays serve openly in their ranks hasn’t hurt their combat performance — and I have seen no indication that it has — I find it hard to believe it would have a major impact on our own forces.

Second, I suggested that allowing openly gay service members would have even less impact on unit cohesion than having women serve in the ranks. This has brought forth arguments that women have in fact contributed to a degradation of combat effectiveness, which has been covered up for “politically correct reasons.” I don’t doubt that pregnancy, sexual harassment, and fraternization have been real problems, but these would have existed even if women had been barred from service altogether, because of the presence of female contractors on all major American bases, even in combat zones. But there are also benefits to having women serve — see this article about how valuable female Marines are in interacting with Afghanistan’s women, something their male counterparts cannot do for reasons of cultural sensitivity.

The larger issue is that tapping into the female half of the population has allowed the military to draw on some great talent, which it would otherwise be denied. The same argument applies to gays (who are admittedly a much smaller percentage of the population). Women still aren’t allowed into some ground-combat jobs, and it may make sense, as I have previously argued, to extend that ban at least for some time to gays. But women are allowed to fill most jobs, and they bring intelligence, dedication, and hard work that the military — which has a hard time filling its all-volunteer ranks in wartime — badly needs. Same with homosexuals. The Joint Forces article notes: “Since 1994, the Services have discharged nearly 12,500 Service members under the law.” That’s a small number in the overall scheme of things, but a number of those had skills, such as Arab-language knowledge, that are very hard to replace. In recent years, the Army in particular has been forced to lower its standards to attract enough recruits. That suggests that we can hardly afford to discharge soldiers for their sexual preference — unless they act in undisciplined ways (e.g., committing sexual harassment), but those prohibitions should be enforced evenhandedly against both heterosexuals and homosexuals.

Despite the criticisms against my article, my sense is that most active-duty personnel are in fact comfortable with lifting the gay ban. That’s confirmed by this study, cited in an article by Owen West (himself a combat vet of Iraq): “A 2006 poll of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans showed that 72 percent were personally comfortable interacting with gays.” Given that 80 percent of the overall public favors lifting the ban, those  like Gen. McPeak favor keeping it in place are fighting a losing — and needless — battle.

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Goldstoned

One of the big questions surrounding the Goldstone report is whether the Israeli government made a mistake by refusing to cooperate with the mission. It was, admittedly, a serious gamble: If Goldstone’s “fact-finding” commission were in any way sincere in its efforts to present a balanced view, Israel would be giving up on a real opportunity to make its case to the world; on the other hand, if the commission had already decided from the outset to blast Israel and accuse it of atrocities, then to cooperate with the commission would have been to grant it a legitimacy it might not otherwise have had.

Part of an answer came in recent weeks from the mouth of none other than Desmond Travers, a retired Irish army colonel who was one of the commission’s members (h/t, JCPA and Haaretz). In an interview with the Middle East Monitor, Travers unleashes a pile of telling quotes. First, he points out that “the number of rockets that had been fired into Israel in the month preceding their operations was something like two.” For this reason, he “reject[s]… entirely” Israel’s excuse for the whole operation, since Hamas had anyway stopped terrorizing. This statement, blithely ignoring the thousands of rockets Israelis endured in the years leading up to the operation, or the fact that Hamas continued shooting rockets at Israeli civilians despite many warnings and more limited retaliations, is infuriating to anyone who watched as Israelis in Sederot and other communities suffered repeated barrages, and should alone be enough to call Travers’s objectivity, or at least his judgment, into question.

Second, he dismisses Israel’s claims that Hamas hid its missile stockpiles in Gaza mosques as “spurious.” What about the photographs? “Unless they can give me absolute forensic proof, I do not believe the photographs.” Well, we do have to wonder: If incriminating photos of missile stockpiles do not meet the threshold of “facts” that the commission was meant to find, why the head-spinning gullibility in repeating all those accusations of Israeli war crimes, which were almost entirely based on unverified hearsay?

Third, he makes the claim that when the IDF was in Lebanon, “a significant number” of Irish peacekeepers had been “taken out deliberately and shot” by Israeli forces. This of course would be a grave accusation if it could be taken even slightly seriously. Maybe I’m out of the loop, but I confess I’ve never heard this one before, although it’s true that some of these rumors rise and fall so quickly that it’s hard to follow them all. But I couldn’t find a trace of it in a Google search. Could it be that he’s heard a rumor and repeated it to justify his evident bias? Or that he made it up himself? Either way, it has nothing to do with Gaza, and therefore can only add to our sense that this man was anything but objective from the outset.

There is so much more, and it’s worth reading the interview in full. Not least, for example, is the evident glee with which he watches as Israeli officials have difficulty traveling in European countries because of accusations like those in the Goldstone report. Or the telling revelation that Goldstone himself was responsible for the one-sided mandate of the mission, which was supposed to look into Israeli violations but not those of Hamas. Or his flat-out denial of any of the mission’s members having ever made statements that might suggest their anti-Israel bias in advance of the inquiry — even though Goldstone himself has been a notorious basher of Israeli security measures for many years now, and other members of the mission made their bias about the Gaza war well known before the commission was appointed. (For a few examples, see this report by the European Center for Law and Justice, scroll down to p. 26.)

If Travers is in any way representative of Goldstone’s commission, we can all feel a little more comfortable with Israel’s decision not to cooperate.

One of the big questions surrounding the Goldstone report is whether the Israeli government made a mistake by refusing to cooperate with the mission. It was, admittedly, a serious gamble: If Goldstone’s “fact-finding” commission were in any way sincere in its efforts to present a balanced view, Israel would be giving up on a real opportunity to make its case to the world; on the other hand, if the commission had already decided from the outset to blast Israel and accuse it of atrocities, then to cooperate with the commission would have been to grant it a legitimacy it might not otherwise have had.

Part of an answer came in recent weeks from the mouth of none other than Desmond Travers, a retired Irish army colonel who was one of the commission’s members (h/t, JCPA and Haaretz). In an interview with the Middle East Monitor, Travers unleashes a pile of telling quotes. First, he points out that “the number of rockets that had been fired into Israel in the month preceding their operations was something like two.” For this reason, he “reject[s]… entirely” Israel’s excuse for the whole operation, since Hamas had anyway stopped terrorizing. This statement, blithely ignoring the thousands of rockets Israelis endured in the years leading up to the operation, or the fact that Hamas continued shooting rockets at Israeli civilians despite many warnings and more limited retaliations, is infuriating to anyone who watched as Israelis in Sederot and other communities suffered repeated barrages, and should alone be enough to call Travers’s objectivity, or at least his judgment, into question.

Second, he dismisses Israel’s claims that Hamas hid its missile stockpiles in Gaza mosques as “spurious.” What about the photographs? “Unless they can give me absolute forensic proof, I do not believe the photographs.” Well, we do have to wonder: If incriminating photos of missile stockpiles do not meet the threshold of “facts” that the commission was meant to find, why the head-spinning gullibility in repeating all those accusations of Israeli war crimes, which were almost entirely based on unverified hearsay?

Third, he makes the claim that when the IDF was in Lebanon, “a significant number” of Irish peacekeepers had been “taken out deliberately and shot” by Israeli forces. This of course would be a grave accusation if it could be taken even slightly seriously. Maybe I’m out of the loop, but I confess I’ve never heard this one before, although it’s true that some of these rumors rise and fall so quickly that it’s hard to follow them all. But I couldn’t find a trace of it in a Google search. Could it be that he’s heard a rumor and repeated it to justify his evident bias? Or that he made it up himself? Either way, it has nothing to do with Gaza, and therefore can only add to our sense that this man was anything but objective from the outset.

There is so much more, and it’s worth reading the interview in full. Not least, for example, is the evident glee with which he watches as Israeli officials have difficulty traveling in European countries because of accusations like those in the Goldstone report. Or the telling revelation that Goldstone himself was responsible for the one-sided mandate of the mission, which was supposed to look into Israeli violations but not those of Hamas. Or his flat-out denial of any of the mission’s members having ever made statements that might suggest their anti-Israel bias in advance of the inquiry — even though Goldstone himself has been a notorious basher of Israeli security measures for many years now, and other members of the mission made their bias about the Gaza war well known before the commission was appointed. (For a few examples, see this report by the European Center for Law and Justice, scroll down to p. 26.)

If Travers is in any way representative of Goldstone’s commission, we can all feel a little more comfortable with Israel’s decision not to cooperate.

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Recruitment of Foreigners to Be Welcomed

For years I have been arguing that we should open military enlistment to recruits who don’t have citizenship or even a Green Card. For this I have been pilloried by nativists and xenophobes from both the Right and the Left. Last year the U.S. Army finally implemented a trial program to accept 1,000 immigrants with specialized skills. The results? According to this New York Times article:

Although the program has started small, senior commanders have praised it as an exceptional success. Recruiting officials said it had attracted a large number of unusually qualified candidates, including doctors, dentists and native speakers of Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi, Korean and other languages from strategic regions where United States forces are operating.

“We don’t see this normally; the quality for this population is off the charts,” said Lt. Col. Pete Badoian, a strategic planner at the Army Accessions Command, the recruiting branch of the Army….

The immigrants who have joined the Army through the program scored, on average, about 20 points higher (on a scale of 100) than other recruits on basic armed forces entry tests, and they had three to five years more education, Colonel Badoian said. One-third of the recruits have a master’s degree or higher.

That’s pretty much what I expected. Yet now the program has been suspended pending an internal Pentagon review—even as hundreds of immigrants petition to sign up. No doubt the review has been slowed down by concern following Major Nidal Hasan’s shooting spree at Fort Hood. But keep in mind that Hasan was no immigrant; he was born in Virginia and graduated from Virginia Tech. Obviously military officials need to do a better job of monitoring such Islamist radicals within the ranks but that scrutiny should be applied equally to the foreign-born and the native-born; it should not stop this highly successful program of immigrant recruiting.

In fact the program needs to be expanded to recruit a much higher number of personnel and not only for the Army but for all the services—and by civilian agencies such as the CIA, State Department, and USAID as well. Only in this way can we address the pervasive, crippling lack of knowledge of foreign languages and cultures within our government, which constitutes a major strategic liability. As an army recruiting official told the Times: “We send people to language school, but it is tough to get a non-native speaker to the level of these folks.”

For years I have been arguing that we should open military enlistment to recruits who don’t have citizenship or even a Green Card. For this I have been pilloried by nativists and xenophobes from both the Right and the Left. Last year the U.S. Army finally implemented a trial program to accept 1,000 immigrants with specialized skills. The results? According to this New York Times article:

Although the program has started small, senior commanders have praised it as an exceptional success. Recruiting officials said it had attracted a large number of unusually qualified candidates, including doctors, dentists and native speakers of Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi, Korean and other languages from strategic regions where United States forces are operating.

“We don’t see this normally; the quality for this population is off the charts,” said Lt. Col. Pete Badoian, a strategic planner at the Army Accessions Command, the recruiting branch of the Army….

The immigrants who have joined the Army through the program scored, on average, about 20 points higher (on a scale of 100) than other recruits on basic armed forces entry tests, and they had three to five years more education, Colonel Badoian said. One-third of the recruits have a master’s degree or higher.

That’s pretty much what I expected. Yet now the program has been suspended pending an internal Pentagon review—even as hundreds of immigrants petition to sign up. No doubt the review has been slowed down by concern following Major Nidal Hasan’s shooting spree at Fort Hood. But keep in mind that Hasan was no immigrant; he was born in Virginia and graduated from Virginia Tech. Obviously military officials need to do a better job of monitoring such Islamist radicals within the ranks but that scrutiny should be applied equally to the foreign-born and the native-born; it should not stop this highly successful program of immigrant recruiting.

In fact the program needs to be expanded to recruit a much higher number of personnel and not only for the Army but for all the services—and by civilian agencies such as the CIA, State Department, and USAID as well. Only in this way can we address the pervasive, crippling lack of knowledge of foreign languages and cultures within our government, which constitutes a major strategic liability. As an army recruiting official told the Times: “We send people to language school, but it is tough to get a non-native speaker to the level of these folks.”

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NIAC’s PR Offensive

As the NIAC and Trita Parsi story unfolds in the wake of Eli Lake’s bombshell story, it is interesting to note just how it might be that many on the Left are simultaneously reaching the same conclusions (e.g., it’s all a neocon conspiracy, Parsi is besieged by an MEK agent).

On Parsi and NIAC’s side is Brown Lloyd James, a PR firm with much experience in this area. The firm’s website tells us: “Brown Lloyd James handled the international launch of Al Jazeera English.” And we also know from news reports that “Brown Lloyd James, a public relations firm with offices in London and New York, has opened an office in Tripoli. It is reported to have placed articles by Colonel Gadaffi in American newspapers.” So they have the best of the best when it comes to representing these sorts of clients.

It should come as no surprise then that even before the Washington Times story was released, NIAC was laying the groundwork to scream foul. Back on November 3, Parsi sent out a fundraising letter, which tipped the hand on the upcoming defense and those who would be telling a sympathetic tale:

Dear NIAC Friend,

When we launched the Truth out 2010 Campaign two weeks ago, we never expected the overwhelming response we got. Our sincere thanks to all those who responded. Clearly, our many supporters are just as tired of the smear campaign against NIAC as we are.

One thing that those behind the smears seem to have in common is a belief that Iranian Americans shouldn’t have a say in America’s approach to Iran simply because they are Iranian Americans. Not only is this ridiculous and offensive, it has a racist undertone with innuendos of dual loyalty.

See for instance what ultra-conservative Martin Kramer said at an AIPAC conference in 2009. Kramer argued that Iranian Americans tend to still have family in Iran and are therefore easily intimidated into backing Tehran, saying: “[W]e have to be extremely cautious about what we take away from Iranian Diaspora communities when it comes to understanding Iran. Many of these communities desperately want access to their own country. And it dramatically tilts their analysis toward accommodation.”

There has been a flurry of articles by fair-minded American journalists in the media that defend NIAC, push back and do not allow these smears to go unanswered.  Just today, the Huffington Post published an article uncovering the true motives behind the smears — stating that they “were dishonest at best and defamatory at worst,” and “as NIAC’s voice grew louder in foreign policy circles, so too did the vehemence of its critics.”

Other influential journalists have also rejected the allegations against NIAC:

Andrew Sullivan, The Atlantic:

“The implication that [Trita Parsi] is somehow a tool of the regime is unfair, untrue and malicious.”

Spencer Ackerman, Washington Independent:

“Any American reporter who paid any attention to the U.S. debate over the Iranian election quoted Parsi and NIAC, constantly, denouncing Ahmadinejad.”

Matt Yglesias, Think Progress:

“What can be seen, right out in the open and on the record, is that NIAC has consistently criticized human rights abuses by the Iranian government and agitated for liberalization, fair elections, and decent treatment of the population of Iran.”

Daniel Luban, The Faster Times:

“Why, then, is [Parsi] being attacked as a stooge for the Iranian regime? The answer is simple: while Parsi has harshly criticized the regime’s actions, he has joined Iran’s leading opposition figures in opposing the use of sanctions or military force against Iran, on the grounds that they would be likely simply to kill innocent Iranian civilians while strengthening the regime’s hold on power. For the Iran hawks, this is a mortal sin.” Read More

As the NIAC and Trita Parsi story unfolds in the wake of Eli Lake’s bombshell story, it is interesting to note just how it might be that many on the Left are simultaneously reaching the same conclusions (e.g., it’s all a neocon conspiracy, Parsi is besieged by an MEK agent).

On Parsi and NIAC’s side is Brown Lloyd James, a PR firm with much experience in this area. The firm’s website tells us: “Brown Lloyd James handled the international launch of Al Jazeera English.” And we also know from news reports that “Brown Lloyd James, a public relations firm with offices in London and New York, has opened an office in Tripoli. It is reported to have placed articles by Colonel Gadaffi in American newspapers.” So they have the best of the best when it comes to representing these sorts of clients.

It should come as no surprise then that even before the Washington Times story was released, NIAC was laying the groundwork to scream foul. Back on November 3, Parsi sent out a fundraising letter, which tipped the hand on the upcoming defense and those who would be telling a sympathetic tale:

Dear NIAC Friend,

When we launched the Truth out 2010 Campaign two weeks ago, we never expected the overwhelming response we got. Our sincere thanks to all those who responded. Clearly, our many supporters are just as tired of the smear campaign against NIAC as we are.

One thing that those behind the smears seem to have in common is a belief that Iranian Americans shouldn’t have a say in America’s approach to Iran simply because they are Iranian Americans. Not only is this ridiculous and offensive, it has a racist undertone with innuendos of dual loyalty.

See for instance what ultra-conservative Martin Kramer said at an AIPAC conference in 2009. Kramer argued that Iranian Americans tend to still have family in Iran and are therefore easily intimidated into backing Tehran, saying: “[W]e have to be extremely cautious about what we take away from Iranian Diaspora communities when it comes to understanding Iran. Many of these communities desperately want access to their own country. And it dramatically tilts their analysis toward accommodation.”

There has been a flurry of articles by fair-minded American journalists in the media that defend NIAC, push back and do not allow these smears to go unanswered.  Just today, the Huffington Post published an article uncovering the true motives behind the smears — stating that they “were dishonest at best and defamatory at worst,” and “as NIAC’s voice grew louder in foreign policy circles, so too did the vehemence of its critics.”

Other influential journalists have also rejected the allegations against NIAC:

Andrew Sullivan, The Atlantic:

“The implication that [Trita Parsi] is somehow a tool of the regime is unfair, untrue and malicious.”

Spencer Ackerman, Washington Independent:

“Any American reporter who paid any attention to the U.S. debate over the Iranian election quoted Parsi and NIAC, constantly, denouncing Ahmadinejad.”

Matt Yglesias, Think Progress:

“What can be seen, right out in the open and on the record, is that NIAC has consistently criticized human rights abuses by the Iranian government and agitated for liberalization, fair elections, and decent treatment of the population of Iran.”

Daniel Luban, The Faster Times:

“Why, then, is [Parsi] being attacked as a stooge for the Iranian regime? The answer is simple: while Parsi has harshly criticized the regime’s actions, he has joined Iran’s leading opposition figures in opposing the use of sanctions or military force against Iran, on the grounds that they would be likely simply to kill innocent Iranian civilians while strengthening the regime’s hold on power. For the Iran hawks, this is a mortal sin.”

Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com calls NIAC’s attackers “neocon character assassins.”

As part of our Truth in 2010 Campaign, we are providing a Facts vs Myths section on our website. It’s a great resource to find out the truth about NIAC’s work. Make sure you study it and tell your friends — nothing is more effective in fighting smear than the truth!

Your loyalty and support is what has gotten our community this far — so, please don’t stop now. Please continue to support NIAC by donating $20.10 or more to the 2010 Campaign — and remember, all your donations are tax-deductible.

But don’t just donate. Make sure you email the Huffington Post article and this email to all your friends. Post it on your Facebook status. Tweet about it. And talk to your friends about the work NIAC is doing!

Momentum is building in our favor, but that doesn’t mean our work is over. We have to continue our offensive in order to meet our commitment to you of dispelling myths and falsehoods by 2010.

As always, thank you for your support. We look forward to sharing more good news with you in the near future!

Sincerely,

Trita Parsi, PhD

Weeks before the story actually broke, the  groundwork for the defense was being laid. And it is interesting that just after the story did break, Andrew Sullivan rushed forward with the very same “dual loyalty” argument. Luban stepped up to smear a Parsi critic as a terrorist. And so it went as some in the Left blogosphere struggled mightily to paint Parsi as the innocent victim and somehow the friend of the Greens (neatly sidestepping the conspiracy to defund the same). That sort of smooth-running rebuttal doesn’t just happen on its own, it is fair to conclude, and you can’t say Parsi and NIAC aren’t getting their money’s worth from their PR team

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Killing Terrorists Saves Lives

When four Knesset members proposed legislation last week to institute the death penalty for child murderers, it revived a long-dormant Israeli debate over the pros and cons of this penalty in general. The latest installment, in today’s Jerusalem Post, supports the current de facto ban on executions, arguing that they deter neither murderers nor terrorists.

Regardless of whether that’s true, it misses the point: Israel desperately needs a death penalty for hard-core terrorists — not as a deterrent but to prevent them from being released to kill again. And, equally important, to spare the country wrenching emotional blackmail over kidnapped soldiers.

While ordinary Israeli murderers usually serve their sentences in full, terrorists have an excellent chance of being released early — either in an effort to “bolster Palestinian moderates” or in exchange for Israelis (or their remains, or even a “sign of life”) kidnapped by terrorist organizations. Israel releases hundreds of terrorists for one or both of these reasons almost every year. Most recently, for instance, it freed 20 female terrorists in exchange for a mere videotape of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.

There are no official statistics on what percentage of these freed terrorists return to kill again. While one would hope the security services track this data, no government has ever published it, possibly realizing that if the statistics were known, public support for prisoner releases would plummet. Unofficial statistics — leaked to journalists or compiled by private organizations — vary widely, ranging from 25-80 percent. But even the lower figure is hardly negligible.

And the anecdotal evidence is compelling. In 2007, for instance, the Almagor Terror Victims Association compiled a list of 30 attacks committed by freed terrorists in 2000-2005 that together killed 177 Israelis. IDF Col. Herzl Halevy said this September that terrorists freed in a 2004 swap with Hezbollah composed “the entire infrastructure of Islamic Jihad” in subsequent years — during which Islamic Jihad bombings killed at least 37 Israelis. In short, executing terrorists, and hence preventing their release, would save lives.

But beyond that, executions would also end the agonizing debate over whether to trade terrorists for kidnapped Israelis. Most Israelis, for instance, would have no objection to freeing minor offenders in exchange for Shalit; the problem is that Hamas is demanding hundreds of mass murderers — who, if freed, would almost certainly kill again. Had these terrorists been executed, however, they would not be available to trade. Hamas would either have to make do with low-level offenders or get out of the kidnapping business.

Might that not encourage terrorists to kill rather than kidnap? Well, do the math: over the past decade, terrorists have kidnapped exactly two live Israelis (plus five dead ones, for whose remains Israel also paid). During the same period, freed terrorists have killed hundreds. It may sound cold, but that’s a pretty good cost-benefit ratio.

The bottom line is that Israel needs a death penalty for terrorists now. Few things would do more to save Israeli lives.

When four Knesset members proposed legislation last week to institute the death penalty for child murderers, it revived a long-dormant Israeli debate over the pros and cons of this penalty in general. The latest installment, in today’s Jerusalem Post, supports the current de facto ban on executions, arguing that they deter neither murderers nor terrorists.

Regardless of whether that’s true, it misses the point: Israel desperately needs a death penalty for hard-core terrorists — not as a deterrent but to prevent them from being released to kill again. And, equally important, to spare the country wrenching emotional blackmail over kidnapped soldiers.

While ordinary Israeli murderers usually serve their sentences in full, terrorists have an excellent chance of being released early — either in an effort to “bolster Palestinian moderates” or in exchange for Israelis (or their remains, or even a “sign of life”) kidnapped by terrorist organizations. Israel releases hundreds of terrorists for one or both of these reasons almost every year. Most recently, for instance, it freed 20 female terrorists in exchange for a mere videotape of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.

There are no official statistics on what percentage of these freed terrorists return to kill again. While one would hope the security services track this data, no government has ever published it, possibly realizing that if the statistics were known, public support for prisoner releases would plummet. Unofficial statistics — leaked to journalists or compiled by private organizations — vary widely, ranging from 25-80 percent. But even the lower figure is hardly negligible.

And the anecdotal evidence is compelling. In 2007, for instance, the Almagor Terror Victims Association compiled a list of 30 attacks committed by freed terrorists in 2000-2005 that together killed 177 Israelis. IDF Col. Herzl Halevy said this September that terrorists freed in a 2004 swap with Hezbollah composed “the entire infrastructure of Islamic Jihad” in subsequent years — during which Islamic Jihad bombings killed at least 37 Israelis. In short, executing terrorists, and hence preventing their release, would save lives.

But beyond that, executions would also end the agonizing debate over whether to trade terrorists for kidnapped Israelis. Most Israelis, for instance, would have no objection to freeing minor offenders in exchange for Shalit; the problem is that Hamas is demanding hundreds of mass murderers — who, if freed, would almost certainly kill again. Had these terrorists been executed, however, they would not be available to trade. Hamas would either have to make do with low-level offenders or get out of the kidnapping business.

Might that not encourage terrorists to kill rather than kidnap? Well, do the math: over the past decade, terrorists have kidnapped exactly two live Israelis (plus five dead ones, for whose remains Israel also paid). During the same period, freed terrorists have killed hundreds. It may sound cold, but that’s a pretty good cost-benefit ratio.

The bottom line is that Israel needs a death penalty for terrorists now. Few things would do more to save Israeli lives.

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News from Sadr City

On the front page of today’s New York Times we read this:

Iraqi forces rolled unopposed through the huge Shiite enclave of Sadr City on Tuesday, a dramatic turnaround from the bitter fighting that has plagued the Baghdad neighborhood for two months, and a qualified success for Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. As it did in the southern city of Basra last month, the Iraqi government advanced its goal of establishing sovereignty and curtailing the powers of the militia.

The Times story, written by Michael Gordon and Alissa Rubin, rightly contains caveats. Nobody can say just where the militias, who melted away in the face of Iraqi troops backed by American power, might re-emerge, or when Iraqi and American forces might need to fight them again. The main military question is whether the ISF can solidify their hold over Sadr City. And the main political question is whether the Maliki government will cement its gains by winning over a wary population.

Yet the Sadr City military offensive is impressive, especially when executed on top of the success we’ve recently seen in Basra. (After a shaky start, for the first time the Iraqi government has pacified and restored government control there). The Sadr City offensive is doubly impressive when you consider that no American ground forces accompanied the Iraqi troops into there. While we shared intelligence, helped the Iraqi’s in planning the operation and provided overhead reconnaissance, it was “totally Iraqi planned, led and executed,” the U.S. military told the Washington Post.

Sadr City’s “Operation Peace” was better coordinated than the operation in Basra–and it needed to be, since Sadr City is a densely populated neighborhood of more than two million and has been a bastion of support for Moktada al-Sadr. It helps, of course, that the Shiite militia has been badly damaged since late March. According to Col. John Hort, commander of the Third Brigade Combat Team, Fourth Infantry Division, we have killed the equivalent of a U.S. battalion. At the same time, he says we have seen a lot of indications that some of the senior leadership of the Jaysh al Mahdi and the “special groups” supported by Iran have left Sadr City.

Everything in Iraq is hard, Ambassador Crocker has rightly said, and Sadr City is a particularly difficult nut to crack. There will be hard days as well as good days–and Iraq remains in many ways a broken nation. But it is also a nation in the process of mending itself and, day-by-day, it is taking up the tasks of self-government. That Iraq is a far less violent country than it was is indisputable; just this week we’ve seen the lowest level of security incidents since April 2004. And as the Times says in an accompanying story today, what we are seeing is the first determined effort by Prime Minister Maliki to assert control over the sprawling Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City.

Violence will almost surely erupt in Sadr City at some point; the malevolent forces in Iraq aren’t defeated or going away. But for the time being at least, the Iraqi government seems to have the upper hand. This isn’t everything that needs to be done in Iraq–but it’s a necessary part of what needs to be done. And perhaps the skeptics and critics of this war can find the time to recognize this success and laud the efforts of Prime Minister Maliki, his government, and his people, who are–with the extraordinary help of the American military–trying to rebuild a shattered society. There is poignancy and courage in this effort–and now, finally, hope as well.

On the front page of today’s New York Times we read this:

Iraqi forces rolled unopposed through the huge Shiite enclave of Sadr City on Tuesday, a dramatic turnaround from the bitter fighting that has plagued the Baghdad neighborhood for two months, and a qualified success for Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. As it did in the southern city of Basra last month, the Iraqi government advanced its goal of establishing sovereignty and curtailing the powers of the militia.

The Times story, written by Michael Gordon and Alissa Rubin, rightly contains caveats. Nobody can say just where the militias, who melted away in the face of Iraqi troops backed by American power, might re-emerge, or when Iraqi and American forces might need to fight them again. The main military question is whether the ISF can solidify their hold over Sadr City. And the main political question is whether the Maliki government will cement its gains by winning over a wary population.

Yet the Sadr City military offensive is impressive, especially when executed on top of the success we’ve recently seen in Basra. (After a shaky start, for the first time the Iraqi government has pacified and restored government control there). The Sadr City offensive is doubly impressive when you consider that no American ground forces accompanied the Iraqi troops into there. While we shared intelligence, helped the Iraqi’s in planning the operation and provided overhead reconnaissance, it was “totally Iraqi planned, led and executed,” the U.S. military told the Washington Post.

Sadr City’s “Operation Peace” was better coordinated than the operation in Basra–and it needed to be, since Sadr City is a densely populated neighborhood of more than two million and has been a bastion of support for Moktada al-Sadr. It helps, of course, that the Shiite militia has been badly damaged since late March. According to Col. John Hort, commander of the Third Brigade Combat Team, Fourth Infantry Division, we have killed the equivalent of a U.S. battalion. At the same time, he says we have seen a lot of indications that some of the senior leadership of the Jaysh al Mahdi and the “special groups” supported by Iran have left Sadr City.

Everything in Iraq is hard, Ambassador Crocker has rightly said, and Sadr City is a particularly difficult nut to crack. There will be hard days as well as good days–and Iraq remains in many ways a broken nation. But it is also a nation in the process of mending itself and, day-by-day, it is taking up the tasks of self-government. That Iraq is a far less violent country than it was is indisputable; just this week we’ve seen the lowest level of security incidents since April 2004. And as the Times says in an accompanying story today, what we are seeing is the first determined effort by Prime Minister Maliki to assert control over the sprawling Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City.

Violence will almost surely erupt in Sadr City at some point; the malevolent forces in Iraq aren’t defeated or going away. But for the time being at least, the Iraqi government seems to have the upper hand. This isn’t everything that needs to be done in Iraq–but it’s a necessary part of what needs to be done. And perhaps the skeptics and critics of this war can find the time to recognize this success and laud the efforts of Prime Minister Maliki, his government, and his people, who are–with the extraordinary help of the American military–trying to rebuild a shattered society. There is poignancy and courage in this effort–and now, finally, hope as well.

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Proper Promotions

An unusual amount of interest has attended the army’s latest promotion list to brigadier general because of a perception that, up until recently, the army was still operating a peacetime personnel system even in wartime. There seemed to be little correlation between battlefield success in Iraq or Afghanistan and the promotion process. Some outstanding officers, such as Colonels H.R. McMaster and Peter Mansoor, had been passed over by previous boards even though they were integral to the greater success we’ve been having in Iraq. (Mansoor got tired of the whole process and decided to accept a tenured professor’s job teaching military history at Ohio State–a great consolation prize.)

But now, reports the Washington Post, McMaster and some other battle-tested leaders–including Colonel Sean McFarland, who engineered the amazing turnaround in Ramadi, and Colonel Ken Tovo, who has distinguished himself over multiple tours as a Special Forces officer in Iraq–will get overdue promotions to brigadier general. These promotions–if in fact they actually occur; the Army has said nothing publicly yet–will be the result of an unusual decision by the Army chief of staff George Casey and Army Secretary Peter Geren to ask David Petraeus to take a brief break from his duties in Iraq to chair the promotion board. Other officers with considerable Iraq experience on the board included Lieutenant General Stanley A. McChrystal, who has headed the Joint Special Operations Command (home of our Tier 1 commandos), and Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, who served two tours in Iraq.

The (rumored) decisions of this promotion board mean that some of the army’s great innovators in counterinsurgency are being put into influential positions where they will be able to shape the future course of the armed forces. That’s good news not only for these officers and their families, but also for everyone who worries about whether our military can adapt to the challenges ahead.

An unusual amount of interest has attended the army’s latest promotion list to brigadier general because of a perception that, up until recently, the army was still operating a peacetime personnel system even in wartime. There seemed to be little correlation between battlefield success in Iraq or Afghanistan and the promotion process. Some outstanding officers, such as Colonels H.R. McMaster and Peter Mansoor, had been passed over by previous boards even though they were integral to the greater success we’ve been having in Iraq. (Mansoor got tired of the whole process and decided to accept a tenured professor’s job teaching military history at Ohio State–a great consolation prize.)

But now, reports the Washington Post, McMaster and some other battle-tested leaders–including Colonel Sean McFarland, who engineered the amazing turnaround in Ramadi, and Colonel Ken Tovo, who has distinguished himself over multiple tours as a Special Forces officer in Iraq–will get overdue promotions to brigadier general. These promotions–if in fact they actually occur; the Army has said nothing publicly yet–will be the result of an unusual decision by the Army chief of staff George Casey and Army Secretary Peter Geren to ask David Petraeus to take a brief break from his duties in Iraq to chair the promotion board. Other officers with considerable Iraq experience on the board included Lieutenant General Stanley A. McChrystal, who has headed the Joint Special Operations Command (home of our Tier 1 commandos), and Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, who served two tours in Iraq.

The (rumored) decisions of this promotion board mean that some of the army’s great innovators in counterinsurgency are being put into influential positions where they will be able to shape the future course of the armed forces. That’s good news not only for these officers and their families, but also for everyone who worries about whether our military can adapt to the challenges ahead.

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Gaza and the Green Zone

Palestinian rockets have been falling on the Israeli town of Sderot since 2000. So far, fourteen Israelis have been killed. And the rockets keep coming, some of them reaching further into Israel, hitting the port city of Ashkelon. Neither the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, nor its own air-strikes and limited incursions has managed to suppress the barrage. What should Israel do?

Worldwide pressure is growing on it to negotiate with Hamas. Jimmy Carter is leading the way. But whether it is wise to talk directly or indirectly with a terrorist organization sworn to one’s own destruction is an open question that Israelis will have to answer for themselves.

While thinking about that, they might look at the U.S.-Iraqi experience protecting the Green Zone in Baghdad. Like Sderot, the Green Zone is adjacent to a densely populated slum much like Gaza, controlled by radical Arabs — Sadr City, the territory of the anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Some 697 rockets and mortar rounds have been fired on the Green Zone from this area since March 23 alone. Only 114 hit the Green Zone, but U.S. coalition forces were struck by 291 of them.

Coalition forces have now managed to suppress the fire. “Attacks On Green Zone Drop Sharply, U.S. Says” is the headline of a story in today’s Washington Post.

U.S. officials said Wednesday that a military campaign in the stronghold of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has succeeded in nearly eliminating the deadly rocket and mortar attacks launched from the area.

U.S. and Iraqi forces have been battling for weeks in the capital’s Sadr City neighborhood against Shiite fighters tied to Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia. The U.S. military said at least 142 suspected fighters have been killed, including at least 15 Tuesday night.

“We accomplished what we were trying to do, which was to stop the indirect fire,” said Col. Allen Batschelet, chief of staff for Multinational Division-Baghdad. “The manifestation of the violence that you’re talking about has pretty much stopped.”

Are their lessons here for Israel?

Palestinian rockets have been falling on the Israeli town of Sderot since 2000. So far, fourteen Israelis have been killed. And the rockets keep coming, some of them reaching further into Israel, hitting the port city of Ashkelon. Neither the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, nor its own air-strikes and limited incursions has managed to suppress the barrage. What should Israel do?

Worldwide pressure is growing on it to negotiate with Hamas. Jimmy Carter is leading the way. But whether it is wise to talk directly or indirectly with a terrorist organization sworn to one’s own destruction is an open question that Israelis will have to answer for themselves.

While thinking about that, they might look at the U.S.-Iraqi experience protecting the Green Zone in Baghdad. Like Sderot, the Green Zone is adjacent to a densely populated slum much like Gaza, controlled by radical Arabs — Sadr City, the territory of the anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Some 697 rockets and mortar rounds have been fired on the Green Zone from this area since March 23 alone. Only 114 hit the Green Zone, but U.S. coalition forces were struck by 291 of them.

Coalition forces have now managed to suppress the fire. “Attacks On Green Zone Drop Sharply, U.S. Says” is the headline of a story in today’s Washington Post.

U.S. officials said Wednesday that a military campaign in the stronghold of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has succeeded in nearly eliminating the deadly rocket and mortar attacks launched from the area.

U.S. and Iraqi forces have been battling for weeks in the capital’s Sadr City neighborhood against Shiite fighters tied to Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia. The U.S. military said at least 142 suspected fighters have been killed, including at least 15 Tuesday night.

“We accomplished what we were trying to do, which was to stop the indirect fire,” said Col. Allen Batschelet, chief of staff for Multinational Division-Baghdad. “The manifestation of the violence that you’re talking about has pretty much stopped.”

Are their lessons here for Israel?

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A Debate On The Surge

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Yochi Dreazen airs the views of Lieutenant Colonel Gian Gentile, an Iraq War veteran now teaching at West Point. Gentile opposes the surge–and thinks the army is making a mistake by preparing for counterinsurgency warfare at the risk of diminishing its conventional combat capabilities. As Gentile makes clear in this essay, he doesn’t think that U.S. forces have gotten any better at counterinsurgency since he commanded a battalion in Baghdad in 2006. The only difference between now and then, he argues, is that we paid off the insurgents not to fight.

Colonel Peter Mansoor, General Petraeus’s executive officer (who is retiring soon to become a professor of military history at Ohio State University), demolishes Gentile’s arguments in the Small Wars Journal. As Mansoor points out:

Gentile’s battalion occupied Ameriyah, which in 2006 was an Al Qaeda safe-haven infested by Sunni insurgents and their Al Qaeda-Iraq allies. I’m certain that he and his soldiers did their best to combat these enemies and to protect the people in their area. But since his battalion lived at Forward Operating Base Falcon and commuted to the neighborhood, they could not accomplish their mission. The soldiers did not fail. The strategy did.

I side with Mansoor in this debate, much as it pains me to disagree with Gentile, a fellow U.C. Berkeley graduate. But I am glad that Gentile is able to express a contrary viewpoint while remaining an officer in good standing. The U.S. Army has a reputation for conformity that is to some extent well-deserved. Obviously you need a “yes, sir” ethos to command forces in battle. But you also need a lively intellectual discourse—the willingness to say “no, sir, you’re wrong” in order to figure out how to prepare for battle. There is no doubt that, as many soldiers themselves say, the army can do better in this department. But as demonstrated by the Mansoor-Gentile debate—and a hundred other doctrinal disputes which are never written up in the Wall Street Journal—there is a greater degree of spirited debate and tolerance for competing viewpoints within the army than on many of our major college campuses.

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Yochi Dreazen airs the views of Lieutenant Colonel Gian Gentile, an Iraq War veteran now teaching at West Point. Gentile opposes the surge–and thinks the army is making a mistake by preparing for counterinsurgency warfare at the risk of diminishing its conventional combat capabilities. As Gentile makes clear in this essay, he doesn’t think that U.S. forces have gotten any better at counterinsurgency since he commanded a battalion in Baghdad in 2006. The only difference between now and then, he argues, is that we paid off the insurgents not to fight.

Colonel Peter Mansoor, General Petraeus’s executive officer (who is retiring soon to become a professor of military history at Ohio State University), demolishes Gentile’s arguments in the Small Wars Journal. As Mansoor points out:

Gentile’s battalion occupied Ameriyah, which in 2006 was an Al Qaeda safe-haven infested by Sunni insurgents and their Al Qaeda-Iraq allies. I’m certain that he and his soldiers did their best to combat these enemies and to protect the people in their area. But since his battalion lived at Forward Operating Base Falcon and commuted to the neighborhood, they could not accomplish their mission. The soldiers did not fail. The strategy did.

I side with Mansoor in this debate, much as it pains me to disagree with Gentile, a fellow U.C. Berkeley graduate. But I am glad that Gentile is able to express a contrary viewpoint while remaining an officer in good standing. The U.S. Army has a reputation for conformity that is to some extent well-deserved. Obviously you need a “yes, sir” ethos to command forces in battle. But you also need a lively intellectual discourse—the willingness to say “no, sir, you’re wrong” in order to figure out how to prepare for battle. There is no doubt that, as many soldiers themselves say, the army can do better in this department. But as demonstrated by the Mansoor-Gentile debate—and a hundred other doctrinal disputes which are never written up in the Wall Street Journal—there is a greater degree of spirited debate and tolerance for competing viewpoints within the army than on many of our major college campuses.

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What McCain Gaffe?

When the MSM gets fixated on a certain idea it is almost impossible to dislodge it, regardless of the evidence. One of those ideas is that Sunni and Shiite extremists don’t cooperate with one another or with secular Arab regimes.

Thus, last week, we saw a spate of reports claiming that a government-funded think tank had found no links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. The report actually finds considerable evidence of Saddam’s links to a number of terrorist groups including Al Qaeda and its constituent organizations. This was noted by commentators such as Steve Hayes in the Weekly Standard but ignored by the MSM.

This week, the MSM is claiming that John McCain made a big gaffe by alleging links between Iran and Al Qaeda. To quote the lead of today’s Washington Post article:

Sen. John McCain, in the midst of a trip to the Middle East that he hoped would help burnish his foreign policy expertise, incorrectly asserted Tuesday that Iran is training and supplying al-Qaeda in Iraq, confusing the Sunni insurgent group with the Shiite extremists who U.S. officials believe are supported by their religious brethren in the neighboring country.

Actually it’s the authors of this Post article who are guilty of making incorrect assertions. There is copious evidence of Iran supplying and otherwise assisting Al Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni terrorist groups (including Al Qaeda central). The 9/11 Commission itself noted a number of links between Iran and Al Qaeda. That evidence is summarized here. A sample from the Commission report: “There is strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers.”

For more recent evidence of Iranian activity, take a look at this American Enterprise Institute report by Danielle Pletka, Fred Kagan and Kim Kagan. There is an entire section on pages 22-23 on “Iranian Support for Al Qaeda.” Relying solely on press accounts and coalition forces briefings, the authors write:

A supply of arms flowed from Iran into al Qaeda strongholds in Salman Pak and Arab Jabour, presumably from the Iranian border to the south and east. From there, al Qaeda transported the munitions to Baghdad. Iranian arms became an important part of al Qaeda’s arsenal. In May 2007, both [Major General Rick] Lynch and Colonel Ricky Gibbs, commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, briefed on the use of EFPs by Sunni extremists south of Baghdad.

This and other bits of evidence have been cited on a number of blogs—for instance, weeklystandard.com and powerline. It has even been noted in the past by the MSM. In fact, last year the Washington Post, the very newspaper now so contemptuous of McCain’s statement, ran this article which states: “Citing testimony from detainees in U.S. custody, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell said Iranian intelligence operatives were backing the Sunni militants inside Iraq while at the same time training Shiite extremists in Iran.”

But don’t expect the facts to get in the way of a good story.

When the MSM gets fixated on a certain idea it is almost impossible to dislodge it, regardless of the evidence. One of those ideas is that Sunni and Shiite extremists don’t cooperate with one another or with secular Arab regimes.

Thus, last week, we saw a spate of reports claiming that a government-funded think tank had found no links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. The report actually finds considerable evidence of Saddam’s links to a number of terrorist groups including Al Qaeda and its constituent organizations. This was noted by commentators such as Steve Hayes in the Weekly Standard but ignored by the MSM.

This week, the MSM is claiming that John McCain made a big gaffe by alleging links between Iran and Al Qaeda. To quote the lead of today’s Washington Post article:

Sen. John McCain, in the midst of a trip to the Middle East that he hoped would help burnish his foreign policy expertise, incorrectly asserted Tuesday that Iran is training and supplying al-Qaeda in Iraq, confusing the Sunni insurgent group with the Shiite extremists who U.S. officials believe are supported by their religious brethren in the neighboring country.

Actually it’s the authors of this Post article who are guilty of making incorrect assertions. There is copious evidence of Iran supplying and otherwise assisting Al Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni terrorist groups (including Al Qaeda central). The 9/11 Commission itself noted a number of links between Iran and Al Qaeda. That evidence is summarized here. A sample from the Commission report: “There is strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers.”

For more recent evidence of Iranian activity, take a look at this American Enterprise Institute report by Danielle Pletka, Fred Kagan and Kim Kagan. There is an entire section on pages 22-23 on “Iranian Support for Al Qaeda.” Relying solely on press accounts and coalition forces briefings, the authors write:

A supply of arms flowed from Iran into al Qaeda strongholds in Salman Pak and Arab Jabour, presumably from the Iranian border to the south and east. From there, al Qaeda transported the munitions to Baghdad. Iranian arms became an important part of al Qaeda’s arsenal. In May 2007, both [Major General Rick] Lynch and Colonel Ricky Gibbs, commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, briefed on the use of EFPs by Sunni extremists south of Baghdad.

This and other bits of evidence have been cited on a number of blogs—for instance, weeklystandard.com and powerline. It has even been noted in the past by the MSM. In fact, last year the Washington Post, the very newspaper now so contemptuous of McCain’s statement, ran this article which states: “Citing testimony from detainees in U.S. custody, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell said Iranian intelligence operatives were backing the Sunni militants inside Iraq while at the same time training Shiite extremists in Iran.”

But don’t expect the facts to get in the way of a good story.

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Winning Hybrid Wars

What is the future of war? In this report, Frank Hoffman, a retired Marine colonel and one of our most incisive strategic analysts, argues that we are seeing the “rise of hybrid wars” that blur the boundaries between conventional and unconventional conflict. The prototype, he argues, was Hezbollah’s war against Israel in the summer of 2006, in which this terrorist group skillfully fought the Israeli Defense Forces to a standstill by combining missiles and small unit tactics with information operations.

There is good cause to worry that the American armed forces may be as unready as the IDF for this type of foe. To reorient our military for the challenges ahead will require a recognition that conventional combat skills, while hardly obsolete, will no longer suffice. Apparently the new version of the Army’s Field Manual 3.0 (“Operations”), last updated in 2001, reaches precisely that conclusion. According to this New York Times article, the new FM 3.0 states:

Army doctrine now equally weights tasks dealing with the population — stability or civil support — with those related to offensive and defensive operations. Winning battles and engagements is important but alone is not sufficient. Shaping the civil situation is just as important to success.

That’s a huge change in military thinking. If that doctrine had been in place in 2003 we might have avoided some of the mistakes that were made in Iraq during the occupation’s early days.

To make those words a reality will require putting more emphasis in, among other areas, training foreign militaries. That’s a mission that has not won much favor with military bureaucracies in the past; in Iraq, our military commanders tried initially to assign contractors to the training role. Special Operations Command, in particular, has traditionally focused on “direct action” missions—i.e., rappelling out of helicopters and kicking in doors—at the expense of “foreign internal defense”—i.e., working with indigenous allies. Some critics, including yours truly, have criticized this focus as misguided. Now, according to the Washington Times, SOCOM is starting to get the message: It is expanding its focus on advisory work.

That’s good to hear, but obviously much more needs to be done before we have truly reoriented a Cold War military for the challenges of the Long War. Retired Army Colonel Bob Killebrew provides some other valuable ideas for how to empower advisers in this article in the Armed Forces Journal.

What is the future of war? In this report, Frank Hoffman, a retired Marine colonel and one of our most incisive strategic analysts, argues that we are seeing the “rise of hybrid wars” that blur the boundaries between conventional and unconventional conflict. The prototype, he argues, was Hezbollah’s war against Israel in the summer of 2006, in which this terrorist group skillfully fought the Israeli Defense Forces to a standstill by combining missiles and small unit tactics with information operations.

There is good cause to worry that the American armed forces may be as unready as the IDF for this type of foe. To reorient our military for the challenges ahead will require a recognition that conventional combat skills, while hardly obsolete, will no longer suffice. Apparently the new version of the Army’s Field Manual 3.0 (“Operations”), last updated in 2001, reaches precisely that conclusion. According to this New York Times article, the new FM 3.0 states:

Army doctrine now equally weights tasks dealing with the population — stability or civil support — with those related to offensive and defensive operations. Winning battles and engagements is important but alone is not sufficient. Shaping the civil situation is just as important to success.

That’s a huge change in military thinking. If that doctrine had been in place in 2003 we might have avoided some of the mistakes that were made in Iraq during the occupation’s early days.

To make those words a reality will require putting more emphasis in, among other areas, training foreign militaries. That’s a mission that has not won much favor with military bureaucracies in the past; in Iraq, our military commanders tried initially to assign contractors to the training role. Special Operations Command, in particular, has traditionally focused on “direct action” missions—i.e., rappelling out of helicopters and kicking in doors—at the expense of “foreign internal defense”—i.e., working with indigenous allies. Some critics, including yours truly, have criticized this focus as misguided. Now, according to the Washington Times, SOCOM is starting to get the message: It is expanding its focus on advisory work.

That’s good to hear, but obviously much more needs to be done before we have truly reoriented a Cold War military for the challenges of the Long War. Retired Army Colonel Bob Killebrew provides some other valuable ideas for how to empower advisers in this article in the Armed Forces Journal.

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Libya’s Son

Iraqi Police Colonel Jubair Rashid Naief claims Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam (whose name means Sword of Islam) is sponsoring a terrorist group in Northern Iraq called the Seifaddin Regiment. This group is allegedly responsible for recent attacks in Mosul that killed and wounded hundreds. The U.S. military so far has no comment on the accusation one way or another. I’ve never heard of this group and am not even convinced it exists. But U.S. military officials believe 19 percent of foreign terrorists in Iraq come from Libya.

Robert H. Reid wrote in an Associated Press article that Seif al-Islam “seems an unlikely figure as a sponsor of terrorism. Touted as a reformer, the younger Gadhafi has been reaching out to the West to soften Libya’s image and return it to the international mainstream.”

Yes, Seif al-Islam is touted as a reformer – by journalists. Perhaps naïve government officials also believe Seif al-Islam is a reformer. His father has certainly been given a pass in the last couple of years even though he barely deserves it – if he deserves it at all.

I visited Libya as soon as the U.S. government lifted the travel ban, after Qaddafi supposedly gave up his weapons of mass destruction program. (Click here to see my photo gallery.) It is by far the most oppressive country I have ever been to. Freedom House ranks it the most oppressive of all Arab countries, lower than even Saudi Arabia and Syria.

Qaddafi’s government structure is modeled after Nicolae Ceauşescu’s totalitarian regime in Romania. His state ideology, the unexportable “Third Universal Theory,” is a merger of The Communist Manifesto and the Koran. His own infamous manifesto, The Green Book, is a daft and sinister pseudo-intellectual excuse for his own absolute power. Don’t be fooled by Qaddafi’s court jester antics and buffoonish charisma. He is only funny and entertaining to watch from abroad. Libya is an Orwellian God-state with only Turkmenistan and North Korea as peers.

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Iraqi Police Colonel Jubair Rashid Naief claims Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam (whose name means Sword of Islam) is sponsoring a terrorist group in Northern Iraq called the Seifaddin Regiment. This group is allegedly responsible for recent attacks in Mosul that killed and wounded hundreds. The U.S. military so far has no comment on the accusation one way or another. I’ve never heard of this group and am not even convinced it exists. But U.S. military officials believe 19 percent of foreign terrorists in Iraq come from Libya.

Robert H. Reid wrote in an Associated Press article that Seif al-Islam “seems an unlikely figure as a sponsor of terrorism. Touted as a reformer, the younger Gadhafi has been reaching out to the West to soften Libya’s image and return it to the international mainstream.”

Yes, Seif al-Islam is touted as a reformer – by journalists. Perhaps naïve government officials also believe Seif al-Islam is a reformer. His father has certainly been given a pass in the last couple of years even though he barely deserves it – if he deserves it at all.

I visited Libya as soon as the U.S. government lifted the travel ban, after Qaddafi supposedly gave up his weapons of mass destruction program. (Click here to see my photo gallery.) It is by far the most oppressive country I have ever been to. Freedom House ranks it the most oppressive of all Arab countries, lower than even Saudi Arabia and Syria.

Qaddafi’s government structure is modeled after Nicolae Ceauşescu’s totalitarian regime in Romania. His state ideology, the unexportable “Third Universal Theory,” is a merger of The Communist Manifesto and the Koran. His own infamous manifesto, The Green Book, is a daft and sinister pseudo-intellectual excuse for his own absolute power. Don’t be fooled by Qaddafi’s court jester antics and buffoonish charisma. He is only funny and entertaining to watch from abroad. Libya is an Orwellian God-state with only Turkmenistan and North Korea as peers.

Of course none of this means Qaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam sponsors a terrorist group in Iraq. I really have no idea if that’s true or not. What I do know is that he is ideologically committed to preserving his father’s prison state system, and that he wants to export that system to as many countries as possible. Gullible diplomats and journalists may sincerely believe he’s a reformer, but a close look at his own statements proves that he’s lying when he passes himself off as moderate. And he is not even a good liar.

“My father has been promoting the idea of direct democracy in Libya for almost 26 years now,” he said to New York Times reporter Craig S. Smith in December, 2004. “It’s quite rational and logical that we have to continue in that direction.”

So much for him reforming his father’s system. He is quite up front about that part of his agenda, at least. What he’s lying about is the nature of his father’s system. Libya is no more a direct democracy than the Democratic People’s Republic of (North) Korea is a democratic republic.

In the same New York Times interview he said “We don’t have an opposition — there is no opposition.” Only “five people,” he claimed, oppose his father’s regime, and all five live in the United States.

It’s breathtaking, really, that even a totalitarian tool like Seif al-Islam doesn’t understand real democracy well enough to know that more than five people in any country will oppose the government regardless of its system or what it does. It takes real insularity from the modern world and its ways to say something like that to a reporter with a straight face. What’s even more striking is that reporters who actually live in a democratic country could take a serious look at this kid and think he’s a straight shooter. You might as well believe Saddam Hussein won 100 percent of the vote in Iraq. At least Syria’s dictator Hafez Assad only claimed to win 99.

I suppose it’s the “direct democracy” part of Seif al-Islam’s shtick that throws people off.

Here is what his father says about democracy in The Green Book: “Political struggle that results in the victory of a candidate with, for example, 51 percent of the vote leads to a dictatorial governing body in the guise of false democracy, since 49 percent of the electorate is ruled by an instrument of government they did not vote for, but which has been imposed upon them. Such is dictatorship.” His solution to the problem of “false democracy” is his version of “direct democracy” that enshrines himself as leader of 100 percent of the people rather than a mere 51. Political parties and political opposition are banned in Libya because they would divide that 100 percent. Libyan-style direct democracy is actually fascism or something very much like it. This is what Seif al-Islam is talking about when he says “we have to continue in that direction.”

The jury is out on whether he’s sponsoring a terrorist group in Iraq. I don’t have access to Iraqi Police Colonel Naief’s intelligence reports and cannot evaluate them. But the idea isn’t that much of a stretch. The Arab world has its reformers, but Seif al-Islam isn’t one of them.

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The Bravery of Iraqis

Iraqi Army soldiers have a terrible reputation for cowardice and corruption – especially in Baghdad – but it’s unfair to write them all off after reading the news out of Iraq’s capital Sunday. Three Iraqi Army soldiers tackled a suicide bomber at an Army Day parade and were killed when he exploded his vest.

While embedded with the United States Army and Marines I heard over and over again that the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police have improved a lot in the past year. This is encouraging, on the one hand, but at the same time it is worrisome. If they are as bad now in some places as I’ve seen myself, they must have really been something in 2005.

At the War Eagle outpost in Baghdad’s Graya’at neighborhood, I was told by a military intelligence officer that the most likely reason we weren’t under mortar attack is because huge numbers of Moqtada al Sadr’s radical Mahdi Army militiamen had infiltrated the ranks of Iraqi Army soldiers who shared the base with us.

A colonel at Camp Taji north of the city told me the U.S. Army doesn’t dare inform their Iraqi Army counterparts about sensitive operations until the very last minute because they don’t want infiltrators to alert the insurgents.

The Iraqi Police in Mushadah, near Taji, were more of a military force than a police force when I visited last July. As many as half were thought to be Al Qaeda operatives, and the other half were so scared they refused to go on patrols until a female American captain showed them up by going outside the station herself.

And this is the new and improved Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police of 2007 during General Petraeus’s surge. Progress in Iraq is relative. It’s hard to say if the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police could hold the country together by themselves in 2008. Personally, I doubt it. So do most American soldiers and Marines I’ve spoken to. The Iraqis certainly could not have held it together in 2005 or 2006.

The Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police deserve kudos for progress, even so. And they deserve more credit for bravery than they’ve been getting. Iraqis are far more likely to be killed in combat than Americans due to their inferior equipment and lack of experience. And if the insurgents win the war, American soldiers and Marines get to go home. Iraqis who sided with the Americans in the army and police will have to face retribution alone, with little chance of escape, from the new regime.

And what of those three who threw themselves on a suicide bomber? They are hardly less brave than American soldiers. They are arguably as brave as the Americans who sacked the Al Qaeda hijackers on United Airlines Flight 93 over Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001, and sacrificed themselves so that others could live.

These Iraqis deserve recognition, and they deserved to be recognized by their names. Yet I could not find their names cited in any media articles. All three of their names generate zero hits using Google at the time of this writing. I had to contact Baghdad myself to find out who they were. Lieutenant Colonel James Hutton was kind enough to pass their names on.

Iraq between the time of the initial invasion and 2007 was easily as nasty a place as Lebanon was during the 1980s, and the conflict is eerily similar. Thomas Friedman made a haunting observation about anonymous death during the civil war in his book From Beirut to Jerusalem: “Death had no echo in Beirut. No one’s life seemed to leave any mark on the city or reverberate in its ear.” Then he quoted a young woman. “In the United States if you die in a car accident, at least your name gets mentioned on television,” she said. “Here they don’t even mention your name anymore. They just say ‘thirty people died.’ Well, what thirty people? They don’t even bother to give their names. At least say their names. I want to feel that I was something more than a body when I die.”

Here are the names of the three brave Iraqis who hurled themselves on an exploding suicide bomber.

Malik Abdul Ghanem
Asa’ad Hussein Ali
Abdul-Hamza Abdul-Hassan Rissan

They were friends the Americans and Iraqis did not know we had until they were gone.

Iraqi Army soldiers have a terrible reputation for cowardice and corruption – especially in Baghdad – but it’s unfair to write them all off after reading the news out of Iraq’s capital Sunday. Three Iraqi Army soldiers tackled a suicide bomber at an Army Day parade and were killed when he exploded his vest.

While embedded with the United States Army and Marines I heard over and over again that the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police have improved a lot in the past year. This is encouraging, on the one hand, but at the same time it is worrisome. If they are as bad now in some places as I’ve seen myself, they must have really been something in 2005.

At the War Eagle outpost in Baghdad’s Graya’at neighborhood, I was told by a military intelligence officer that the most likely reason we weren’t under mortar attack is because huge numbers of Moqtada al Sadr’s radical Mahdi Army militiamen had infiltrated the ranks of Iraqi Army soldiers who shared the base with us.

A colonel at Camp Taji north of the city told me the U.S. Army doesn’t dare inform their Iraqi Army counterparts about sensitive operations until the very last minute because they don’t want infiltrators to alert the insurgents.

The Iraqi Police in Mushadah, near Taji, were more of a military force than a police force when I visited last July. As many as half were thought to be Al Qaeda operatives, and the other half were so scared they refused to go on patrols until a female American captain showed them up by going outside the station herself.

And this is the new and improved Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police of 2007 during General Petraeus’s surge. Progress in Iraq is relative. It’s hard to say if the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police could hold the country together by themselves in 2008. Personally, I doubt it. So do most American soldiers and Marines I’ve spoken to. The Iraqis certainly could not have held it together in 2005 or 2006.

The Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police deserve kudos for progress, even so. And they deserve more credit for bravery than they’ve been getting. Iraqis are far more likely to be killed in combat than Americans due to their inferior equipment and lack of experience. And if the insurgents win the war, American soldiers and Marines get to go home. Iraqis who sided with the Americans in the army and police will have to face retribution alone, with little chance of escape, from the new regime.

And what of those three who threw themselves on a suicide bomber? They are hardly less brave than American soldiers. They are arguably as brave as the Americans who sacked the Al Qaeda hijackers on United Airlines Flight 93 over Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001, and sacrificed themselves so that others could live.

These Iraqis deserve recognition, and they deserved to be recognized by their names. Yet I could not find their names cited in any media articles. All three of their names generate zero hits using Google at the time of this writing. I had to contact Baghdad myself to find out who they were. Lieutenant Colonel James Hutton was kind enough to pass their names on.

Iraq between the time of the initial invasion and 2007 was easily as nasty a place as Lebanon was during the 1980s, and the conflict is eerily similar. Thomas Friedman made a haunting observation about anonymous death during the civil war in his book From Beirut to Jerusalem: “Death had no echo in Beirut. No one’s life seemed to leave any mark on the city or reverberate in its ear.” Then he quoted a young woman. “In the United States if you die in a car accident, at least your name gets mentioned on television,” she said. “Here they don’t even mention your name anymore. They just say ‘thirty people died.’ Well, what thirty people? They don’t even bother to give their names. At least say their names. I want to feel that I was something more than a body when I die.”

Here are the names of the three brave Iraqis who hurled themselves on an exploding suicide bomber.

Malik Abdul Ghanem
Asa’ad Hussein Ali
Abdul-Hamza Abdul-Hassan Rissan

They were friends the Americans and Iraqis did not know we had until they were gone.

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The Attacks Slow Down. . .

News reports indicate that weekly attack levels in Iraq are down to their lowest level since before the Samarra mosque bombing in February 2006. As this New York Times account notes,

[R]oughly 575 attacks occurred last week. That is substantially fewer than the more than 700 attacks that were recorded the week that Sunni militants set off a wave of sectarian violence in Iraq by blowing up a Shiite shrine in Samarra in February 2006. And it represents a huge drop since June when attacks soared to nearly 1,600 one week.

Actually the news is even better than that. Colonel Steve Boylan, General David Petraeus’s public affairs officer, has released a PowerPoint slide that shows that, seen in the long run, January 2006 was a bit of an anomaly—a month when attacks levels dipped. The last time that attack levels were as consistently low as they are today was back in the first half of 2005. The PowerPoint slide below is a bit dense, but it’s worth studying because it shows how far we’ve come since the “surge” started earlier this year.

boot-image-4.jpg
Rod Norland of Newsweek offers an account of what this drop in violence means on the ground in this dispatch, aptly titled “Baghdad Comes Alive.” He writes:

Throughout Baghdad, shops and street markets are open late again, taking advantage of the fine November weather. Parks are crowded with strollers, and kids play soccer on the streets. Traffic has resumed its customary epic snarl. The Baghdad Zoo is open, and caretakers have even managed to bring in two lionesses to replace the menagerie that escaped in the early days of the war (and was hunted down by U.S. soldiers). The nearby Funfair in Zawra Park—where insurgents used to set up mortar tubes to rocket government ministries, and where a car bombing killed four and wounded 25 on Oct. 15—is back in business.

The biggest concern expressed by American officers is over whether the security progress made so far can be sustained at a political level. The answer is unknowable, but there are some positive indicators in this Los Angeles Times story. It describes how Shiites and Sunnis increasingly are working together in community-watch groups to fight terrorists.

The article notes that there are “nearly 70,000 Iraqi men in the Awakening movement, started by Sunni Muslim sheiks who turned their followers against al Qaeda in Iraq,” and “there are now more in Baghdad and its environs than anywhere else, and a growing number of those are Shiite Muslim. . . . As late as this summer, there were no Shiites in the community policing groups. Today, there are about 15,000 in 24 all-Shiite groups and eighteen mixed groups, senior U.S. military officials say. More are joining daily.”

Such cooperation across sectarian lines suggests that the drop in violence seen in recent months may not be a statistical blip but an indication of more enduring progress.

News reports indicate that weekly attack levels in Iraq are down to their lowest level since before the Samarra mosque bombing in February 2006. As this New York Times account notes,

[R]oughly 575 attacks occurred last week. That is substantially fewer than the more than 700 attacks that were recorded the week that Sunni militants set off a wave of sectarian violence in Iraq by blowing up a Shiite shrine in Samarra in February 2006. And it represents a huge drop since June when attacks soared to nearly 1,600 one week.

Actually the news is even better than that. Colonel Steve Boylan, General David Petraeus’s public affairs officer, has released a PowerPoint slide that shows that, seen in the long run, January 2006 was a bit of an anomaly—a month when attacks levels dipped. The last time that attack levels were as consistently low as they are today was back in the first half of 2005. The PowerPoint slide below is a bit dense, but it’s worth studying because it shows how far we’ve come since the “surge” started earlier this year.

boot-image-4.jpg
Rod Norland of Newsweek offers an account of what this drop in violence means on the ground in this dispatch, aptly titled “Baghdad Comes Alive.” He writes:

Throughout Baghdad, shops and street markets are open late again, taking advantage of the fine November weather. Parks are crowded with strollers, and kids play soccer on the streets. Traffic has resumed its customary epic snarl. The Baghdad Zoo is open, and caretakers have even managed to bring in two lionesses to replace the menagerie that escaped in the early days of the war (and was hunted down by U.S. soldiers). The nearby Funfair in Zawra Park—where insurgents used to set up mortar tubes to rocket government ministries, and where a car bombing killed four and wounded 25 on Oct. 15—is back in business.

The biggest concern expressed by American officers is over whether the security progress made so far can be sustained at a political level. The answer is unknowable, but there are some positive indicators in this Los Angeles Times story. It describes how Shiites and Sunnis increasingly are working together in community-watch groups to fight terrorists.

The article notes that there are “nearly 70,000 Iraqi men in the Awakening movement, started by Sunni Muslim sheiks who turned their followers against al Qaeda in Iraq,” and “there are now more in Baghdad and its environs than anywhere else, and a growing number of those are Shiite Muslim. . . . As late as this summer, there were no Shiites in the community policing groups. Today, there are about 15,000 in 24 all-Shiite groups and eighteen mixed groups, senior U.S. military officials say. More are joining daily.”

Such cooperation across sectarian lines suggests that the drop in violence seen in recent months may not be a statistical blip but an indication of more enduring progress.

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A Response to Charles Kesler

Charles Kesler is editor of one of the most intellectually impressive publications in America, the Claremont Review of Books, and he is also among the most intelligent skeptics of the Iraq war and our effort to bring democracy to that traumatized land. In his “From the Editor’s Desk” essay in the current issue of his review (Fall 2007), Kesler writes mostly about liberalism. But he also writes this:

[T]he GOP has its own looming problem. Sticking with the surge buys time but little else. What comes after the surge? The answer is the 2008 elections, which the party will lose, and deserve to lose, if it doesn’t separate itself from the administration’s stand-pat case for the war…. Conservatives have to prove that they can reason their way to an improved policy on Iraq, as on other issues. And they need to do so soon, before the primaries are over effectively in February or March.

Let me address these points in order.

Professor Kesler insists that “sticking with the surge buys time but little else.” But how does he know? One thing we can say, to the point that it is now beyond dispute even by Democrats, is that the surge bought us much more than time. It has made Iraq a far calmer and safer nation.

We learned from Lt. General Ray Odierno’s press briefing earlier this week that attack levels have been on a downward trend since June and are at their lowest levels since January; that IED attacks have been reduced by 60 percent in the last four months, with a notable decrease in lethality; and that in a change from the past, this year Iraqis celebrated Eid al-Fitr (the Muslim holiday that marks the end of Ramadan) in parks, restaurants, and streets due to decreased violence.

Col. Michael Garrett, also earlier this week, reported “measurable progress” in the Kalsu region southwest of Baghdad. Attacks have declined since March and are now at the lowest levels since the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division’s deployment thirteen months ago. And for good measure, on October 17, Sunni and Shiite leaders from the southwestern Baghdad neighborhoods of al-Jihad and al-Furat signed an important reconciliation agreement.

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Charles Kesler is editor of one of the most intellectually impressive publications in America, the Claremont Review of Books, and he is also among the most intelligent skeptics of the Iraq war and our effort to bring democracy to that traumatized land. In his “From the Editor’s Desk” essay in the current issue of his review (Fall 2007), Kesler writes mostly about liberalism. But he also writes this:

[T]he GOP has its own looming problem. Sticking with the surge buys time but little else. What comes after the surge? The answer is the 2008 elections, which the party will lose, and deserve to lose, if it doesn’t separate itself from the administration’s stand-pat case for the war…. Conservatives have to prove that they can reason their way to an improved policy on Iraq, as on other issues. And they need to do so soon, before the primaries are over effectively in February or March.

Let me address these points in order.

Professor Kesler insists that “sticking with the surge buys time but little else.” But how does he know? One thing we can say, to the point that it is now beyond dispute even by Democrats, is that the surge bought us much more than time. It has made Iraq a far calmer and safer nation.

We learned from Lt. General Ray Odierno’s press briefing earlier this week that attack levels have been on a downward trend since June and are at their lowest levels since January; that IED attacks have been reduced by 60 percent in the last four months, with a notable decrease in lethality; and that in a change from the past, this year Iraqis celebrated Eid al-Fitr (the Muslim holiday that marks the end of Ramadan) in parks, restaurants, and streets due to decreased violence.

Col. Michael Garrett, also earlier this week, reported “measurable progress” in the Kalsu region southwest of Baghdad. Attacks have declined since March and are now at the lowest levels since the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division’s deployment thirteen months ago. And for good measure, on October 17, Sunni and Shiite leaders from the southwestern Baghdad neighborhoods of al-Jihad and al-Furat signed an important reconciliation agreement.

This doesn’t mean Iraq is a calm and safe country, nor does it mean that ultimately we will succeed. But it does mean that progress on (a) the security side and (b) bottom-up reconciliation has been astonishing, happening more quickly and spreading more widely than almost anyone thought possible at the beginning of the year. This is not a sufficient condition for success in Iraq, but it is a necessary one. The notion that the surge has bought only time is simply wrong.

Professor Kesler then asks, “What comes after the surge?” Here are some possibilities. The surge may buy time that will allow the Iraqi Security Forces to build up so they are better able to handle a host of security challenges. It may make those challenges far more manageable than they would otherwise be, meaning the chance for success will improve. And it might well allow for bottom-up, top-down, and center-out reconciliation to take place.

If Kesler had asked “What comes after the surge?” last year, one answer would have been, “The Anbar Awakening,” which is spreading far beyond Anbar, and the massive Sunni rejection of al Qaeda in Iraq. The surge didn’t create these encouraging developments, but it has assisted them mightily. It’s also worth adding that Kesler probably did not anticipate either one.

Finally, Professor Kesler urges the GOP to “separate itself from the administration’s stand-pat case for the war” and conservatives “to prove that they can reason their way to an improved policy on Iraq.”

But of course the administration does not have a “stand-pat” policy; the Petraeus strategy is a significant break with the Rumsfeld-Sanchez-Abizaid-Casey strategy that preceded it. We have, in fact, reasoned our way to an improved policy on Iraq. It has taken more time that any of us wished, but it is bearing good fruit. And now, in the wake of such substantial progress in Iraq, it would be reckless and unwise (and perhaps even un-conservative) to change.

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Libya, Newest Security Council Member

Meet the newest members of the United Nations Security Council: Vietnam, Croatia, Costa Rica, Burkina Faso, and Libya, all elected yesterday for two-year terms starting next January 1. The United States chose not to fight Tripoli’s bid, which was unopposed. “We have not actively campaigned against them,” said State Department spokesman Tom Casey in the beginning of this month. Previously, Washington had engaged in a fifteen-year campaign to keep Colonel Qaddafi’s repugnant regime off the Council.

At one time, that regime was considered an international pariah. Yesterday, 178 of 192 nations in the General Assembly voted for the North African state. As Alejandro Wolff, the U.S. deputy ambassador to the UN, said, “The world obviously does change.”

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Meet the newest members of the United Nations Security Council: Vietnam, Croatia, Costa Rica, Burkina Faso, and Libya, all elected yesterday for two-year terms starting next January 1. The United States chose not to fight Tripoli’s bid, which was unopposed. “We have not actively campaigned against them,” said State Department spokesman Tom Casey in the beginning of this month. Previously, Washington had engaged in a fifteen-year campaign to keep Colonel Qaddafi’s repugnant regime off the Council.

At one time, that regime was considered an international pariah. Yesterday, 178 of 192 nations in the General Assembly voted for the North African state. As Alejandro Wolff, the U.S. deputy ambassador to the UN, said, “The world obviously does change.”

But has Libya? The same one-man system still rules the North African state. That tyrant was responsible for the deaths of two Americans in the 1986 bombing of a Berlin nightclub—and for the killing of 270 people from 21 countries over Lockerbie in 1988. “I feel that the U.S. has totally lost its moral compass,” said Susan Cohen, who lost her twenty-year-old daughter in the downing of Pan Am 103.

The outraged mother is right. In reality, the only thing that has changed is Qaddafi’s take on geopolitics. That is a slim reed—the Libyan strongman is, after all, known to be mercurial. Yet, if there is any justification for Washington’s passive stance toward Libya—and this is not much comfort for Ms. Cohen and the other grieving parents, children, spouses, and friends—it is the need to show a path for bad governments to return to the international community.

But which governments will learn from Libya? Iran, unfortunately, is bound to be unimpressed by the rewards offered to Qaddafi for his apparent conversion, because Tehran’s mullahs are much more determined to upset the global order. Perhaps the unpredictable Kim Jong Il will see a lesson in yesterday’s events. Yet, if Washington cannot convince the Korean to do a Qaddafi, America’s acceptance of Libya ultimately will be seen as an act of weakness instead of one of forgiveness.

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