Commentary Magazine


Topic: Major General

Insights on Egypt from Israel

Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yaakov Amidror, who held several senior posts in the Israel Defense Forces, including head of the IDF division preparing Israel’s National Intelligence Assessment, held a conference call this morning sponsored by One Jerusalem. In discussing Egypt, he said this:

There is no question that this is one of the fruits of the Internet technology — that these are mechanisms which give people the ability to organize without an organization … [T]his is the strength of the opposition: the fact that it was not organized by someone, but is a matter of people who organized themselves.

But when it comes to the next stage …  I mean “We don’t want Mubarak” is okay, but now you want something that can bring you to another stage. For that, you need an organization. And in elections after some months, there are very few organizations who have the ability to organize themselves … [other than] the Muslim Brotherhood. They have a long history, they have very deep roots in the society and when they compete with other elements of the opposition, which do not have these traditions, this organization, these roots, it is a new phenomenon …

In The Case for Democracy, Natan Sharansky warned that elections are never the beginning of the democratic process, but can only occur after the basic institutions of a free society are in place — a free press, the rule of law, independent courts, political parties. It was why he praised George W. Bush’s landmark June 24, 2002, speech conditioning U.S. support for a Palestinian state on prior Palestinian success in building “a practicing democracy, based on tolerance and liberty” — and then opposed the Roadmap, which he viewed as Bush’s abandonment of that condition in exchange for faith in Mahmoud Abbas as a “moderate.”

Sharansky’s insight was that moderation is not a function of a leader’s disposition or promises but of the society he governs: “One can rely on a free society to create the moderate, but one cannot rely on a moderate to create a free society.” In thinking about Egypt and its future, perhaps we can profit from a comparison of the Bush administration’s great achievement — the long, hard slog to create a representative government in Iraq — and the administration’s signal failure: the “shortcut” elections it sponsored in 2006 that produced the victory of Hamas.

The Obama administration’s current approach may be, as former State Department senior adviser Christian Whiton argues, too clever by half — closer to what produced Hamastan than what is necessary for a lasting democratic result.

Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yaakov Amidror, who held several senior posts in the Israel Defense Forces, including head of the IDF division preparing Israel’s National Intelligence Assessment, held a conference call this morning sponsored by One Jerusalem. In discussing Egypt, he said this:

There is no question that this is one of the fruits of the Internet technology — that these are mechanisms which give people the ability to organize without an organization … [T]his is the strength of the opposition: the fact that it was not organized by someone, but is a matter of people who organized themselves.

But when it comes to the next stage …  I mean “We don’t want Mubarak” is okay, but now you want something that can bring you to another stage. For that, you need an organization. And in elections after some months, there are very few organizations who have the ability to organize themselves … [other than] the Muslim Brotherhood. They have a long history, they have very deep roots in the society and when they compete with other elements of the opposition, which do not have these traditions, this organization, these roots, it is a new phenomenon …

In The Case for Democracy, Natan Sharansky warned that elections are never the beginning of the democratic process, but can only occur after the basic institutions of a free society are in place — a free press, the rule of law, independent courts, political parties. It was why he praised George W. Bush’s landmark June 24, 2002, speech conditioning U.S. support for a Palestinian state on prior Palestinian success in building “a practicing democracy, based on tolerance and liberty” — and then opposed the Roadmap, which he viewed as Bush’s abandonment of that condition in exchange for faith in Mahmoud Abbas as a “moderate.”

Sharansky’s insight was that moderation is not a function of a leader’s disposition or promises but of the society he governs: “One can rely on a free society to create the moderate, but one cannot rely on a moderate to create a free society.” In thinking about Egypt and its future, perhaps we can profit from a comparison of the Bush administration’s great achievement — the long, hard slog to create a representative government in Iraq — and the administration’s signal failure: the “shortcut” elections it sponsored in 2006 that produced the victory of Hamas.

The Obama administration’s current approach may be, as former State Department senior adviser Christian Whiton argues, too clever by half — closer to what produced Hamastan than what is necessary for a lasting democratic result.

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Pakistan Eyes Afghanistan as Obama’s Deadline Looms

All you need to know about the corrosive impact of President Obama’s deadline for withdrawal from Afghanistan can be found buried deep in this page-one New York Times story:

[T]he Pakistanis say they have chosen this juncture to open talks with Mr. Karzai because, even before the controversy over General McChrystal, they sensed uncertainty — “a lack of fire in the belly,” said one Pakistani — within the Obama administration over the Afghan fight.

“The American timetable for getting out makes it easier for Pakistan to play a more visible role,” said Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, the spokesman for the Pakistani Army. He was referring to the July 2011 date set by Mr. Obama for the start of the withdrawal of some American combat troops.

The Pakistani role here is not positive; they are trying to get the Karzai government to strike a deal with the Haqqani network, one of the most murderous factions of the Taliban. Such a deal may make sense in the long run but only after the Haqqanis feel defeated; at the moment, they are feeling anything but. And Obama’s deadline, as much as anything else, is giving them confidence that they can prevail.

All you need to know about the corrosive impact of President Obama’s deadline for withdrawal from Afghanistan can be found buried deep in this page-one New York Times story:

[T]he Pakistanis say they have chosen this juncture to open talks with Mr. Karzai because, even before the controversy over General McChrystal, they sensed uncertainty — “a lack of fire in the belly,” said one Pakistani — within the Obama administration over the Afghan fight.

“The American timetable for getting out makes it easier for Pakistan to play a more visible role,” said Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, the spokesman for the Pakistani Army. He was referring to the July 2011 date set by Mr. Obama for the start of the withdrawal of some American combat troops.

The Pakistani role here is not positive; they are trying to get the Karzai government to strike a deal with the Haqqani network, one of the most murderous factions of the Taliban. Such a deal may make sense in the long run but only after the Haqqanis feel defeated; at the moment, they are feeling anything but. And Obama’s deadline, as much as anything else, is giving them confidence that they can prevail.

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Drafting Diplomatic Alternatives for Israel

The one-day-old Israel Security Council, founded by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, seeks to fill a crucial gap in Israeli public discourse by crafting alternatives to accepted diplomatic dogmas.

JCPA chief Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the UN, explained to reporters that Israel’s biggest international-relations problem is its inability to articulate what it actually wants. Any Palestinian Authority official can recite his goals: a Palestinian state, the 1967 borders, East Jerusalem. But “if someone asks an Israeli politician they say, ‘It’s complicated’ or ‘We want peace,’ or ‘a secure peace.’ The Palestinians have clear targets and we have only indistinct goals.”

What Gold didn’t mention, but is equally true, is that the same problem plagues Israel’s internal discourse. Virtually the only Israeli who ever articulated a clear diplomatic vision is the left-wing Yossi Beilin. And this remains the left’s best argument against the center-right. Whenever someone points out the Beilinite vision’s dangers, leftist politicians retort: “So what’s your solution?” And since center-right politicians have no real answer, they wind up adopting Beilinesque solutions once in office.

Granted, a “solution” shouldn’t be necessary. In real life, not all problems have instant solutions, and Israeli politicians should be capable of saying so — just as successive American presidents acknowledged that there was no instant solution to the Soviet problem, so the free world simply had to hold the line against Communist expansion until a solution became possible. This has the great advantage of being true: until the Arabs accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, no diplomatic solution will be possible.

But Israeli politicians have never succeeded in making this argument. Thus Gold and his colleagues, who represent a broad center-right spectrum, are wise to seek to craft an alternative vision.

The council’s second vital goal is to restore security, and especially Israel’s need for defensible borders, to the center of the diplomatic discourse. At a JPCA symposium on Israel’s security needs earlier this year, Maj. Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan, a council member, noted that contrary to accepted dogma, high-trajectory weapons make defensible borders more important, not less.

The 2006 Second Lebanon War demonstrated one reason. The Israel Air Force destroyed all of Hezbollah’s medium- and long-range missiles the first day, because these missiles are easier for intelligence to detect. But short-range missiles are almost impossible to detect and destroy by air; the only solution is to keep them out of range by physically occupying territory. That’s why Israel is currently unwilling to leave the West Bank, which is in rocket range of all its major cities.

But Dayan also cited another reason: Israel’s small population means a small standing army, so its defense depends on the reserves. But rocket fire could disrupt their mobilization, requiring the standing army to fight for longer before they arrive. Moreover, the air force might be too busy with the missile threat to help. Both factors make strategic depth critical.

If the council succeeds in changing the diplomatic discourse on these issues, it will make an invaluable contribution to Israel’s future. So wish it luck.

The one-day-old Israel Security Council, founded by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, seeks to fill a crucial gap in Israeli public discourse by crafting alternatives to accepted diplomatic dogmas.

JCPA chief Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the UN, explained to reporters that Israel’s biggest international-relations problem is its inability to articulate what it actually wants. Any Palestinian Authority official can recite his goals: a Palestinian state, the 1967 borders, East Jerusalem. But “if someone asks an Israeli politician they say, ‘It’s complicated’ or ‘We want peace,’ or ‘a secure peace.’ The Palestinians have clear targets and we have only indistinct goals.”

What Gold didn’t mention, but is equally true, is that the same problem plagues Israel’s internal discourse. Virtually the only Israeli who ever articulated a clear diplomatic vision is the left-wing Yossi Beilin. And this remains the left’s best argument against the center-right. Whenever someone points out the Beilinite vision’s dangers, leftist politicians retort: “So what’s your solution?” And since center-right politicians have no real answer, they wind up adopting Beilinesque solutions once in office.

Granted, a “solution” shouldn’t be necessary. In real life, not all problems have instant solutions, and Israeli politicians should be capable of saying so — just as successive American presidents acknowledged that there was no instant solution to the Soviet problem, so the free world simply had to hold the line against Communist expansion until a solution became possible. This has the great advantage of being true: until the Arabs accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, no diplomatic solution will be possible.

But Israeli politicians have never succeeded in making this argument. Thus Gold and his colleagues, who represent a broad center-right spectrum, are wise to seek to craft an alternative vision.

The council’s second vital goal is to restore security, and especially Israel’s need for defensible borders, to the center of the diplomatic discourse. At a JPCA symposium on Israel’s security needs earlier this year, Maj. Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan, a council member, noted that contrary to accepted dogma, high-trajectory weapons make defensible borders more important, not less.

The 2006 Second Lebanon War demonstrated one reason. The Israel Air Force destroyed all of Hezbollah’s medium- and long-range missiles the first day, because these missiles are easier for intelligence to detect. But short-range missiles are almost impossible to detect and destroy by air; the only solution is to keep them out of range by physically occupying territory. That’s why Israel is currently unwilling to leave the West Bank, which is in rocket range of all its major cities.

But Dayan also cited another reason: Israel’s small population means a small standing army, so its defense depends on the reserves. But rocket fire could disrupt their mobilization, requiring the standing army to fight for longer before they arrive. Moreover, the air force might be too busy with the missile threat to help. Both factors make strategic depth critical.

If the council succeeds in changing the diplomatic discourse on these issues, it will make an invaluable contribution to Israel’s future. So wish it luck.

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Obama’s Want of Staying Power

Dion Nissenbaum of McClatchy Newspapers accompanied General Stanley McChrystal to Marjah and filed an outstanding report on the current state of play in that Helmand Province town three months after the Marines went in. There is general agreement that the operation has not gone as well in recent weeks as it did in the beginning:

There aren’t enough U.S. and Afghan forces to provide the security that’s needed to win the loyalty of wary locals. The Taliban have beheaded Afghans who cooperate with foreigners in a creeping intimidation campaign. The Afghan government hasn’t dispatched enough local administrators or trained police to establish credible governance, and now the Taliban have begun their anticipated spring offensive.

Commanders in southern Afghanistan are quoted as telling McChrystal that he needs to be patient. “How many days do you think we have before we run out of support by the international community?” McChrystal replied. Instead, he suggested to Major General Nick Carter, the British officer who planned the operation, that more troops should have been used:

“I think that we’ve done well, but I think that the pace of security has been slower,” McChrystal said in one meeting. “I’m thinking that, had we put more force in there, we could have locked that place down better.”

Of course, McChrystal knows that if you put more troops into Marjah, you risk a decline of security in another area. Now, the imperative is to marshal as many soldiers as possible to retake Kandahar, the most important city in the south.

The Marjah offensive should be a cautionary tale in that regard: yes, troops can enter Taliban strongholds quickly. But no, they can’t reverse years of Taliban gains in a heartbeat. That requires sustained presence. The question is whether the Obama administration will show the patience necessary given the deadline the president has set for starting to withdraw troops next summer. As usual, when it comes to American counterinsurgency, the war will be won or lost in Washington — not on some distant battlefield. I only wish I had more confidence in Obama’s staying power and resolution as commander in chief.

Dion Nissenbaum of McClatchy Newspapers accompanied General Stanley McChrystal to Marjah and filed an outstanding report on the current state of play in that Helmand Province town three months after the Marines went in. There is general agreement that the operation has not gone as well in recent weeks as it did in the beginning:

There aren’t enough U.S. and Afghan forces to provide the security that’s needed to win the loyalty of wary locals. The Taliban have beheaded Afghans who cooperate with foreigners in a creeping intimidation campaign. The Afghan government hasn’t dispatched enough local administrators or trained police to establish credible governance, and now the Taliban have begun their anticipated spring offensive.

Commanders in southern Afghanistan are quoted as telling McChrystal that he needs to be patient. “How many days do you think we have before we run out of support by the international community?” McChrystal replied. Instead, he suggested to Major General Nick Carter, the British officer who planned the operation, that more troops should have been used:

“I think that we’ve done well, but I think that the pace of security has been slower,” McChrystal said in one meeting. “I’m thinking that, had we put more force in there, we could have locked that place down better.”

Of course, McChrystal knows that if you put more troops into Marjah, you risk a decline of security in another area. Now, the imperative is to marshal as many soldiers as possible to retake Kandahar, the most important city in the south.

The Marjah offensive should be a cautionary tale in that regard: yes, troops can enter Taliban strongholds quickly. But no, they can’t reverse years of Taliban gains in a heartbeat. That requires sustained presence. The question is whether the Obama administration will show the patience necessary given the deadline the president has set for starting to withdraw troops next summer. As usual, when it comes to American counterinsurgency, the war will be won or lost in Washington — not on some distant battlefield. I only wish I had more confidence in Obama’s staying power and resolution as commander in chief.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

At last — conferees have been selected for the Iran sanctions legislation.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights begins to pull back the curtain on the New Black Panther case. The hearing begins today.

Didn’t we reset our relationship? A “spokesman for the Russian foreign ministry on Thursday criticized US plans to station missiles near Poland’s border with Russia, the Interfax news agency reported.” It seems that U.S. concessions beget only more Russian demands.

Nicholas Kristof learns that Obama’s a no-show on human rights. “Until he reached the White House, Barack Obama repeatedly insisted that the United States apply more pressure on Sudan so as to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur and elsewhere. Yet, as president, Mr. Obama and his aides have caved, leaving Sudan gloating at American weakness. Western monitors, Sudanese journalists and local civil society groups have all found this month’s Sudanese elections to be deeply flawed — yet Mr. Obama’s special envoy for Sudan, Maj. Gen. Scott Gration, pre-emptively defended the elections, saying they would be ‘as free and as fair as possible.'”

Michael Steele may have finally overstayed his welcome in the RNC. After all, he says there is “no reason” for African Americans to vote Republican. Well, sometimes it’s hard to figure out which party he’s chairman of.

I think this is the point: “Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Thursday said the Senate is not ready to tackle immigration reform and that bringing a bill forward would be ‘CYA politics.’ … Graham also said moving ahead with immigration would scuttle the Senate’s capacity to deal with climate legislation. ‘It destroys the ability to do something like energy and climate,’ he told reporters in the Capitol.” Sounds good!

Enough with the Bush-bashing: “Most American voters think it is time for the Obama administration to start taking responsibility for the way things are going in the country. A Fox News poll released Thursday finds 66 percent of voters think President Obama should start taking responsibility. That’s more than three times as many as the 21 percent who think it’s right to continue to blame the Bush administration for the way things are going today.”

At last — conferees have been selected for the Iran sanctions legislation.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights begins to pull back the curtain on the New Black Panther case. The hearing begins today.

Didn’t we reset our relationship? A “spokesman for the Russian foreign ministry on Thursday criticized US plans to station missiles near Poland’s border with Russia, the Interfax news agency reported.” It seems that U.S. concessions beget only more Russian demands.

Nicholas Kristof learns that Obama’s a no-show on human rights. “Until he reached the White House, Barack Obama repeatedly insisted that the United States apply more pressure on Sudan so as to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur and elsewhere. Yet, as president, Mr. Obama and his aides have caved, leaving Sudan gloating at American weakness. Western monitors, Sudanese journalists and local civil society groups have all found this month’s Sudanese elections to be deeply flawed — yet Mr. Obama’s special envoy for Sudan, Maj. Gen. Scott Gration, pre-emptively defended the elections, saying they would be ‘as free and as fair as possible.'”

Michael Steele may have finally overstayed his welcome in the RNC. After all, he says there is “no reason” for African Americans to vote Republican. Well, sometimes it’s hard to figure out which party he’s chairman of.

I think this is the point: “Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Thursday said the Senate is not ready to tackle immigration reform and that bringing a bill forward would be ‘CYA politics.’ … Graham also said moving ahead with immigration would scuttle the Senate’s capacity to deal with climate legislation. ‘It destroys the ability to do something like energy and climate,’ he told reporters in the Capitol.” Sounds good!

Enough with the Bush-bashing: “Most American voters think it is time for the Obama administration to start taking responsibility for the way things are going in the country. A Fox News poll released Thursday finds 66 percent of voters think President Obama should start taking responsibility. That’s more than three times as many as the 21 percent who think it’s right to continue to blame the Bush administration for the way things are going today.”

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Michael Flynn’s Revelatory Report

One of the reasons I admire Gen. Stanley McChrystal and think he is the right commander to turn around the war effort in Afghanistan is that he is not afraid to be unconventional and effective even if, in so doing, he leaves a few colleagues with noses bent out of joint. And he has surrounded himself with similar hard chargers, including Major General Michael Flynn, his chief intelligence officer. Now Flynn has done something that has caused a minor earthquake in the Pentagon — he has written a scathing overview of the intelligence operations in Afghanistan not for internal distribution to a handful of top-secret addressees but rather to the whole world, via the Center for a New American Security in Washington.

His report, co-written with a DIA officer and a Marine captain (who was formerly a Wall Street Journal reporter), is a must-read for anyone who cares about the war in Afghanistan, the wider war on terror, or the subject of intelligence in general, much in the news these days.  It includes the kind of blunt talk seldom heard from serving military officers. The authors begin this way:

Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy. Having focused the overwhelming majority of its collec­tion efforts and analytical brainpower on insurgent groups, the vast intel­ligence apparatus is unable to answer fundamental questions about the envi­ronment in which U.S. and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade. Ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about who the powerbrokers are and how they might be influenced, incurious about the cor­relations between various development projects and the levels of coopera­tion among villagers, and disengaged from people in the best position to find answers – whether aid workers or Afghan soldiers – U.S. intelligence offi­cers and analysts can do little but shrug in response to high level decision-mak­ers seeking the knowledge, analysis, and information they need to wage a successful counterinsurgency.

The rest of the report isn’t so diplomatic. Flynn and his co-authors go on to describe the tendency of intel analysts to “overemphasize detailed informa­tion about the enemy at the expense of the political, economic, and cultural environment that supports it.” They propose a solution—setting up new fusion cells called Stability Operations Information Centers, which would focus on Afghanistan district by district. The analysts who work there will not be allowed to remain in a cushy office far from the battlefield. They call for commanders to:

… authorize a select group of analysts to retrieve information from the ground level and make it available to a broader audience, similar to the way journalists work. These analysts must leave their chairs and visit the people who operate at the grassroots level – civil affairs officers, PRTs, atmospherics teams, Afghan liaison officers, female engagement teams, will­ing NGOs and development organizations, United Nations officials, psychological operations teams, human terrain teams, and staff officers with infan­try battalions – to name a few.

That may sound like common sense, but it is a radical departure from how many within the intel community work today.

Normally, reports of this sort come and go, issuing recommendations that are by and large ignored by policymakers. In this case, Major General Flynn’s rank and position mean that his insightful criticisms and prescriptions will get the attention they deserve — he can order many of these changes to be instituted. But he also knows that issuing memos in Kabul doesn’t affect fundamental change on the ground. To get out his message to current and future operational commanders, he has chosen a most unconventional approach — one that has caused predictable sniping at the Pentagon. Such uproar is instinctively avoided by most officers — indeed by most federal employees — but McChrystal and his aides know it is the only way to bring about the fundamental change needed to reverse the Taliban’s momentum.

One of the reasons I admire Gen. Stanley McChrystal and think he is the right commander to turn around the war effort in Afghanistan is that he is not afraid to be unconventional and effective even if, in so doing, he leaves a few colleagues with noses bent out of joint. And he has surrounded himself with similar hard chargers, including Major General Michael Flynn, his chief intelligence officer. Now Flynn has done something that has caused a minor earthquake in the Pentagon — he has written a scathing overview of the intelligence operations in Afghanistan not for internal distribution to a handful of top-secret addressees but rather to the whole world, via the Center for a New American Security in Washington.

His report, co-written with a DIA officer and a Marine captain (who was formerly a Wall Street Journal reporter), is a must-read for anyone who cares about the war in Afghanistan, the wider war on terror, or the subject of intelligence in general, much in the news these days.  It includes the kind of blunt talk seldom heard from serving military officers. The authors begin this way:

Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy. Having focused the overwhelming majority of its collec­tion efforts and analytical brainpower on insurgent groups, the vast intel­ligence apparatus is unable to answer fundamental questions about the envi­ronment in which U.S. and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade. Ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about who the powerbrokers are and how they might be influenced, incurious about the cor­relations between various development projects and the levels of coopera­tion among villagers, and disengaged from people in the best position to find answers – whether aid workers or Afghan soldiers – U.S. intelligence offi­cers and analysts can do little but shrug in response to high level decision-mak­ers seeking the knowledge, analysis, and information they need to wage a successful counterinsurgency.

The rest of the report isn’t so diplomatic. Flynn and his co-authors go on to describe the tendency of intel analysts to “overemphasize detailed informa­tion about the enemy at the expense of the political, economic, and cultural environment that supports it.” They propose a solution—setting up new fusion cells called Stability Operations Information Centers, which would focus on Afghanistan district by district. The analysts who work there will not be allowed to remain in a cushy office far from the battlefield. They call for commanders to:

… authorize a select group of analysts to retrieve information from the ground level and make it available to a broader audience, similar to the way journalists work. These analysts must leave their chairs and visit the people who operate at the grassroots level – civil affairs officers, PRTs, atmospherics teams, Afghan liaison officers, female engagement teams, will­ing NGOs and development organizations, United Nations officials, psychological operations teams, human terrain teams, and staff officers with infan­try battalions – to name a few.

That may sound like common sense, but it is a radical departure from how many within the intel community work today.

Normally, reports of this sort come and go, issuing recommendations that are by and large ignored by policymakers. In this case, Major General Flynn’s rank and position mean that his insightful criticisms and prescriptions will get the attention they deserve — he can order many of these changes to be instituted. But he also knows that issuing memos in Kabul doesn’t affect fundamental change on the ground. To get out his message to current and future operational commanders, he has chosen a most unconventional approach — one that has caused predictable sniping at the Pentagon. Such uproar is instinctively avoided by most officers — indeed by most federal employees — but McChrystal and his aides know it is the only way to bring about the fundamental change needed to reverse the Taliban’s momentum.

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Law Versus Proportion (and Plain Sense)

The Special Operations Commander for Central Command (SOCCENT) has a truly distasteful situation to steer through. The man in question, Army Major General Charles Cleveland, has brought charges against three Navy SEALs who seized a notorious Iraqi terrorist in September. The terrorist, Ahmed Hashim Abed, was behind the brutal murder of American civilian security guards in Fallujah in 2004. Producing a “fat lip” as evidence, he complained to Iraqi authorities that he had been roughed up by the SEALs. Military investigation of the incident produced the charges.

The blogosphere is thundering with justifiable indignation over this, and some perspective may be useful. It is, first of all, superficial to characterize the military’s motive for charging the SEALs as “political correctness,” an analysis that implies a self-conscious rejection of common sense and reality to avoid political retribution or to reap political reward. There is a deeper and genuine conflict at work here, between the rule of law, applied with meticulous honesty, and our sense of proportion and decency. This is a recurring conflict in all civilized societies: there are times when no reasonable man thinks the punishment fits the crime, even when there is little disagreement that a crime as defined by law has been committed.

The plain fact is that according to U.S. national policy, enforced by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, it is a felony-level crime for our soldiers to give detainees bloody lips in the gratuitous manner with which the SEALs are charged. That policy itself may well be an exercise in political correctness, but carrying it out is merely the enforcement of discipline.

The convening authority would not bring charges unless his legal advisers thought there was enough evidence for conviction. Much as I think he would hate to, my guess is that General Cleveland has preferred charges because, by the letter of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), the case merits prosecution. We mustn’t dismiss as irrelevant the paramount imperative of discipline in military operations. If the SEALs did beat Abed unnecessarily, the point for the military is not that Abed got a fat lip but that the SEALs breached discipline — and that is even more intolerable in Special Ops than in other branches. Indiscipline gets friendly forces killed and jeopardizes crucial missions.

The SEALs, all enlisted petty officers, have done what they can to obtain a just outcome. They were originally offered “non-judicial punishment,” a summary proceeding in which their commander could have administered, essentially, only a wrist-slap. But in their “zero-defect” community, a wrist-slap ends the hope of promotion. As is their right under the UCMJ, they chose court-martial instead, which will entail airing evidence before a military jury. Their preference here is almost certainly not a calculation but a belief: a belief in the intrinsically just character of their fellows in uniform.

I hope the SEALs are acquitted. That would be the just outcome. For a breach of discipline on the order implied here, the commonsense remedy is for the commander to put his men at attention, yell at them for half an hour, deny them some liberty, and give them some extra duty. But our national policy dictates another, disproportionate approach. I’m not sure how a civilized society avoids such confrontations entirely, but I will say this: juries have rescued the accused from the law before, and if anything will accomplish that for the SEALs, it’s a panel of their comrades in arms.

The Special Operations Commander for Central Command (SOCCENT) has a truly distasteful situation to steer through. The man in question, Army Major General Charles Cleveland, has brought charges against three Navy SEALs who seized a notorious Iraqi terrorist in September. The terrorist, Ahmed Hashim Abed, was behind the brutal murder of American civilian security guards in Fallujah in 2004. Producing a “fat lip” as evidence, he complained to Iraqi authorities that he had been roughed up by the SEALs. Military investigation of the incident produced the charges.

The blogosphere is thundering with justifiable indignation over this, and some perspective may be useful. It is, first of all, superficial to characterize the military’s motive for charging the SEALs as “political correctness,” an analysis that implies a self-conscious rejection of common sense and reality to avoid political retribution or to reap political reward. There is a deeper and genuine conflict at work here, between the rule of law, applied with meticulous honesty, and our sense of proportion and decency. This is a recurring conflict in all civilized societies: there are times when no reasonable man thinks the punishment fits the crime, even when there is little disagreement that a crime as defined by law has been committed.

The plain fact is that according to U.S. national policy, enforced by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, it is a felony-level crime for our soldiers to give detainees bloody lips in the gratuitous manner with which the SEALs are charged. That policy itself may well be an exercise in political correctness, but carrying it out is merely the enforcement of discipline.

The convening authority would not bring charges unless his legal advisers thought there was enough evidence for conviction. Much as I think he would hate to, my guess is that General Cleveland has preferred charges because, by the letter of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), the case merits prosecution. We mustn’t dismiss as irrelevant the paramount imperative of discipline in military operations. If the SEALs did beat Abed unnecessarily, the point for the military is not that Abed got a fat lip but that the SEALs breached discipline — and that is even more intolerable in Special Ops than in other branches. Indiscipline gets friendly forces killed and jeopardizes crucial missions.

The SEALs, all enlisted petty officers, have done what they can to obtain a just outcome. They were originally offered “non-judicial punishment,” a summary proceeding in which their commander could have administered, essentially, only a wrist-slap. But in their “zero-defect” community, a wrist-slap ends the hope of promotion. As is their right under the UCMJ, they chose court-martial instead, which will entail airing evidence before a military jury. Their preference here is almost certainly not a calculation but a belief: a belief in the intrinsically just character of their fellows in uniform.

I hope the SEALs are acquitted. That would be the just outcome. For a breach of discipline on the order implied here, the commonsense remedy is for the commander to put his men at attention, yell at them for half an hour, deny them some liberty, and give them some extra duty. But our national policy dictates another, disproportionate approach. I’m not sure how a civilized society avoids such confrontations entirely, but I will say this: juries have rescued the accused from the law before, and if anything will accomplish that for the SEALs, it’s a panel of their comrades in arms.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: A Third Lebanon War Could Be Much Worse than the Second

Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah recently announced that he could hit any and every place in Israel with long-range missiles. That would mean that, unlike in 2006, Hezbollah could strike not only the northern cities of Kiryat Shmona and Haifa but also Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ben-Gurion International Airport, and the Dimona nuclear-power plant.

I dismissed his claim as a wild boast last week, but Israeli army commander Major General Gabi Ashkenazi confirmed it this week. So while we’ve all been worried about Iran’s nuclear-weapons program, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been quietly arming his chief terrorist proxy with more advanced conventional weapons.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah recently announced that he could hit any and every place in Israel with long-range missiles. That would mean that, unlike in 2006, Hezbollah could strike not only the northern cities of Kiryat Shmona and Haifa but also Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ben-Gurion International Airport, and the Dimona nuclear-power plant.

I dismissed his claim as a wild boast last week, but Israeli army commander Major General Gabi Ashkenazi confirmed it this week. So while we’ve all been worried about Iran’s nuclear-weapons program, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been quietly arming his chief terrorist proxy with more advanced conventional weapons.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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More on Diana West

On Friday, I criticized Diana West’s defense of the U.S. military sniper who shot up a Qur’an in Baghdad. Over the weekend, Diana fired back at me on her blog. She begins:

Alas. Contentions, the blog of Commentary magazine, has a problem with this week’s column. Abe Greenwald writes:

Over on her blog, Diana West gets a little hysterical about the fallout over the U.S. military sniper who shot up a Qur’an in Bagdhad.

Nice, ad hominem opener.

She objects to the reprimand the soldier received and the general air of apology from the U.S.

Which included, just to refresh, a deferential public apology from Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Hammond during which another US officer presented the assembled locals (likely insurgents, not long ago) with a brand new Koran after kissing it. Abe then quotes briefly from my column:

“Let’s play around some more with the story. Imagine if, during the Allied occupation of post-Nazi Germany, a GI had been discovered using “Mein Kampf” for target practice. Would Gen. George S. Patton have kissed a new copy of the Nazi bible as he presented it to a cadre of former Nazis?”

And then he writes:

That won’t do, Diana.

What won’t “do,” Abe–comparing Gen. Patton and “Mein Kampf” with Gen. Hammond and the Koran? Why not?”

Critics like to say that for neoconservatives it’s always 1938. So I take particular relish in pointing out to Diana that the 1938 framework in which she’s placed the war on terror is a functional nonstarter.

Yes, there are many nasty injunctions in the Qur’an. Yes, there are calls to anti-Semitism and supremacy. But Diana’s line of argument–that the West is up against nothing less than the Qur’an itself–is inevitably countered by one of two points. First, there are nasty parts in the foundational works of other major religions. Second, there are Qur’anic passages promoting humanity and understanding. This is rebutted in turn: “But there are more nasty bits in the Qur’an than in other holy books.” And once you’ve reached that less-than-stellar point, your crusade has lost a good deal of its moral clarity. If you’re going to wage wholesale war on an entire religion, you’ll need more than a tabulation showing that the religion’s core text is, on balance, nastier than the next.

Why are the Iraqi Kurds such reliable American allies? Why, last week, did a Turkish Muslim sit down with me for a glass of wine? After all, they read the same Qu’ran bearing the same proclamations about infidels and the same prohibition on alcohol. Religion is personal, fluid, mysterious. Yes, I know: the Qur’an is supposedly the direct word of God and therefore not open to interpretation. But in reality, it is interpreted and reinterpreted constantly. In various times and various locales, Muslims have given different parts of Qur’anic text different weight. Because of the U.S.’s indefatigable efforts on both the military and diplomatic fronts, we are currently witnessing the rejection of jihad among the Sunni and Shia of Iraq. Nothing spurs religious dynamism like major shifts in the political landscape. I have a hard time seeing how the unapologetic desecration of the Qur’an puts America on a better footing in the war on terror.

Diana goes on:

“I’m not sure whether Abe disputes my argument, but he certainly thinks it shouldn’t be made. Here’s why he says “that won’t do”:

While the Qur’an is sacred to our enemies in Iraq, it is also sacred to our allies in that country. Moreover, it is sacred to the millions of Muslims who are citizens of the United States, to say nothing of the thousands who serve in uniform.

Notice that this fact is given as a rationale for silence, not as a cause for concern.

Not silence, merely restraint from vandalism. Bluster about shooting up a Qur’an is no substitute for beneficial inquiry into the relationship between moderate and radical Islam. I’m proud to note that COMMENTARY does not shy away from exploring such questions at length. I refer Diana to “In Search of Moderate Muslims” by Joshua Muravchik and Charles P. Szrom in the February 2008 issue, and to these dissenting letters from Stephen Schwartz and COMMENTARY contributor Daniel Pipes.

I understand Diana’s concerns and I share some of them. But all in all it’s a good thing that the U.S. is not in the habit of waging war on religions. Such undertakings would contradict the noblest intentions of our Constitution. And on a purely strategic level, doing battle with Islam itself would surely lose us our most important allies. I always enjoy fielding the anti-war charge that America is trying to oppress Muslims worldwide: there’s not a shred of evidence to support it. And forfeiting that assurance would be the same thing as giving up the fight.

On Friday, I criticized Diana West’s defense of the U.S. military sniper who shot up a Qur’an in Baghdad. Over the weekend, Diana fired back at me on her blog. She begins:

Alas. Contentions, the blog of Commentary magazine, has a problem with this week’s column. Abe Greenwald writes:

Over on her blog, Diana West gets a little hysterical about the fallout over the U.S. military sniper who shot up a Qur’an in Bagdhad.

Nice, ad hominem opener.

She objects to the reprimand the soldier received and the general air of apology from the U.S.

Which included, just to refresh, a deferential public apology from Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Hammond during which another US officer presented the assembled locals (likely insurgents, not long ago) with a brand new Koran after kissing it. Abe then quotes briefly from my column:

“Let’s play around some more with the story. Imagine if, during the Allied occupation of post-Nazi Germany, a GI had been discovered using “Mein Kampf” for target practice. Would Gen. George S. Patton have kissed a new copy of the Nazi bible as he presented it to a cadre of former Nazis?”

And then he writes:

That won’t do, Diana.

What won’t “do,” Abe–comparing Gen. Patton and “Mein Kampf” with Gen. Hammond and the Koran? Why not?”

Critics like to say that for neoconservatives it’s always 1938. So I take particular relish in pointing out to Diana that the 1938 framework in which she’s placed the war on terror is a functional nonstarter.

Yes, there are many nasty injunctions in the Qur’an. Yes, there are calls to anti-Semitism and supremacy. But Diana’s line of argument–that the West is up against nothing less than the Qur’an itself–is inevitably countered by one of two points. First, there are nasty parts in the foundational works of other major religions. Second, there are Qur’anic passages promoting humanity and understanding. This is rebutted in turn: “But there are more nasty bits in the Qur’an than in other holy books.” And once you’ve reached that less-than-stellar point, your crusade has lost a good deal of its moral clarity. If you’re going to wage wholesale war on an entire religion, you’ll need more than a tabulation showing that the religion’s core text is, on balance, nastier than the next.

Why are the Iraqi Kurds such reliable American allies? Why, last week, did a Turkish Muslim sit down with me for a glass of wine? After all, they read the same Qu’ran bearing the same proclamations about infidels and the same prohibition on alcohol. Religion is personal, fluid, mysterious. Yes, I know: the Qur’an is supposedly the direct word of God and therefore not open to interpretation. But in reality, it is interpreted and reinterpreted constantly. In various times and various locales, Muslims have given different parts of Qur’anic text different weight. Because of the U.S.’s indefatigable efforts on both the military and diplomatic fronts, we are currently witnessing the rejection of jihad among the Sunni and Shia of Iraq. Nothing spurs religious dynamism like major shifts in the political landscape. I have a hard time seeing how the unapologetic desecration of the Qur’an puts America on a better footing in the war on terror.

Diana goes on:

“I’m not sure whether Abe disputes my argument, but he certainly thinks it shouldn’t be made. Here’s why he says “that won’t do”:

While the Qur’an is sacred to our enemies in Iraq, it is also sacred to our allies in that country. Moreover, it is sacred to the millions of Muslims who are citizens of the United States, to say nothing of the thousands who serve in uniform.

Notice that this fact is given as a rationale for silence, not as a cause for concern.

Not silence, merely restraint from vandalism. Bluster about shooting up a Qur’an is no substitute for beneficial inquiry into the relationship between moderate and radical Islam. I’m proud to note that COMMENTARY does not shy away from exploring such questions at length. I refer Diana to “In Search of Moderate Muslims” by Joshua Muravchik and Charles P. Szrom in the February 2008 issue, and to these dissenting letters from Stephen Schwartz and COMMENTARY contributor Daniel Pipes.

I understand Diana’s concerns and I share some of them. But all in all it’s a good thing that the U.S. is not in the habit of waging war on religions. Such undertakings would contradict the noblest intentions of our Constitution. And on a purely strategic level, doing battle with Islam itself would surely lose us our most important allies. I always enjoy fielding the anti-war charge that America is trying to oppress Muslims worldwide: there’s not a shred of evidence to support it. And forfeiting that assurance would be the same thing as giving up the fight.

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Al Qaeda Weakening . . .

In a story from the Associated Press we read this:

The Al Qaeda terror group in Iraq appears to be at its weakest state since it gained an initial foothold in the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion five years ago, the acting commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East said Wednesday in an Associated Press interview. Army Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, who assumed interim command of U.S. Central Command on March 28, acknowledged that Al Qaeda remains a relentless foe and has not disappeared as a serious threat to stability. But he said an accelerated U.S. and Iraq campaign to pressure Al Qaeda has paid big dividends. “Our forces and the Iraqi forces have certainly disrupted Al Qaeda, probably to a level that we haven’t seen at any time in my experience,” said Dempsey, who served in Iraq in the initial stages as a division commander and later as head of the military organization in charge of training Iraqi security forces.

And this:

Earlier Wednesday, the Army general who oversees U.S. commando operations in the Middle East said that Al Qaeda in Iraq has yet to be vanquished but is increasingly running out of places where local Iraqis will accommodate the group’s extremist ideology. “Is he still a lethal and dangerous threat to us? Absolutely,” Maj. Gen. John Mulholland said in an interview with reporters at the headquarters of U.S. Special Operations Command, the organization with global responsibility for providing Army Green Berets, Navy SEALs and other commandos to combat terrorism. . . . Mulholland acknowledged that Al Qaeda, which U.S. intelligence says is led by foreign terrorists but is populated mainly by local Iraqis seeking to establish a radical Islamic state, still poses a major challenge in the Mosul area of northern Iraq and has occasionally slipped back into areas like Anbar province in western Iraq. “Do we think he can at least try to regain a foothold in Anbar province? Yes, we do think he’s trying to do that,” Mulholland said. While U.S. officials do not believe Al Qaeda is succeeding in re-establishing a significant presence in Anbar – which the group was forced to abandon a year ago as local Sunni Arabs turned violently against it – it does appear that small Al Qaeda cells can still slip into isolated areas and make trouble, he said. “I don’t want to paint a picture – or to convey to you in any way – that Al Qaeda in Iraq is being completely destroyed or rendered irrelevant, because that’s not the case,” he said. “They are still potentially a threat capable of death and destruction against the Iraqi people and our own forces there. But it is not something he can do easily any more.”

This news should be seen within the context of Max’s post earlier today in which he points out that the number of daily attacks in Mosul has dropped at least 85 percent since U.S.-Iraqi forces began an offensive against Sunni insurgents in the city earlier this month. And that news, in turn, follows on progress we’ve witnessed in the last few days in both Basra and Sadr City. And earlier today at his confirmation hearing to take over the U.S. Central Command, General David Petraeus said this:

I should note here that the number of security incidents in Iraq last week was the lowest in over four years and it appears that the week that ends tomorrow will see an even lower number of incidents. This has been achieved despite having now withdrawn 3 of the 5 Brigade Combat Teams that will have redeployed without replacement by the end of July. Recent operations in Basra, Mosul, and now Sadr City have contributed significantly to the reduction in violence, and Prime Minister Maliki, his government, the Iraqi Security Forces, and the Iraqi people deserve considerable credit for the positive developments since Ambassador Crocker and I testified a month-and-a-half ago. In the months ahead, Coalition Forces will continue to work closely with the Iraqi Security Forces in pursuing Al Qaeda-Iraq, their extremist partners, and militia elements that threaten security in Iraq. And though, as always, tough fights and hard work lie ahead, I believe that the path that we are on will best help achieve the objective of an Iraq that is at peace with itself and its neighbors, that is an ally in the war on terror, that has a government that serves all Iraqis, and that is an increasingly prosperous and important member of the global economy and community of nations. [emphasis added]

What are we to make of all this? For one thing, there is no question that on almost every front–including the political and economic front–we’re seeing heartening progress in Iraq. It’s virtually impossible to argue that after far too many years of pursuing a flawed strategy, which came at an enormous cost to both the Iraqi people and the United States, we now have in place the right strategy being executed by the right people. Progress that was unimaginable in Iraq fifteen months ago has been made–and a nation that was bleeding and dying is now binding up its wounds.

General Petraeus’s warning that tough fights and hard work lie ahead cannot be repeated often enough. Military victories in Iraq, as difficult as they have been, are still easier to attain than rebuilding a traumatized and broken society. But we really have no other choice. Given the hopeful developments we have seen since the surge began, to leave now, before our job is complete, would be reckless and shameful and probably catastrophic.

In the latter half of 2006 it was legitimate for war critics to argue that Iraq was irredeemable lost and therefore we should cut our losses and leave. But that case can no longer be made. The debate has shifted from what the right strategy is to one of national will. Will our nation, weary of this long and costly war, continue along the path which has brought about indisputable, and in some cases breathtaking, progress? If we do, there will be honor in our efforts–and, it’s now reasonable to say, success as well.

In a story from the Associated Press we read this:

The Al Qaeda terror group in Iraq appears to be at its weakest state since it gained an initial foothold in the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion five years ago, the acting commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East said Wednesday in an Associated Press interview. Army Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, who assumed interim command of U.S. Central Command on March 28, acknowledged that Al Qaeda remains a relentless foe and has not disappeared as a serious threat to stability. But he said an accelerated U.S. and Iraq campaign to pressure Al Qaeda has paid big dividends. “Our forces and the Iraqi forces have certainly disrupted Al Qaeda, probably to a level that we haven’t seen at any time in my experience,” said Dempsey, who served in Iraq in the initial stages as a division commander and later as head of the military organization in charge of training Iraqi security forces.

And this:

Earlier Wednesday, the Army general who oversees U.S. commando operations in the Middle East said that Al Qaeda in Iraq has yet to be vanquished but is increasingly running out of places where local Iraqis will accommodate the group’s extremist ideology. “Is he still a lethal and dangerous threat to us? Absolutely,” Maj. Gen. John Mulholland said in an interview with reporters at the headquarters of U.S. Special Operations Command, the organization with global responsibility for providing Army Green Berets, Navy SEALs and other commandos to combat terrorism. . . . Mulholland acknowledged that Al Qaeda, which U.S. intelligence says is led by foreign terrorists but is populated mainly by local Iraqis seeking to establish a radical Islamic state, still poses a major challenge in the Mosul area of northern Iraq and has occasionally slipped back into areas like Anbar province in western Iraq. “Do we think he can at least try to regain a foothold in Anbar province? Yes, we do think he’s trying to do that,” Mulholland said. While U.S. officials do not believe Al Qaeda is succeeding in re-establishing a significant presence in Anbar – which the group was forced to abandon a year ago as local Sunni Arabs turned violently against it – it does appear that small Al Qaeda cells can still slip into isolated areas and make trouble, he said. “I don’t want to paint a picture – or to convey to you in any way – that Al Qaeda in Iraq is being completely destroyed or rendered irrelevant, because that’s not the case,” he said. “They are still potentially a threat capable of death and destruction against the Iraqi people and our own forces there. But it is not something he can do easily any more.”

This news should be seen within the context of Max’s post earlier today in which he points out that the number of daily attacks in Mosul has dropped at least 85 percent since U.S.-Iraqi forces began an offensive against Sunni insurgents in the city earlier this month. And that news, in turn, follows on progress we’ve witnessed in the last few days in both Basra and Sadr City. And earlier today at his confirmation hearing to take over the U.S. Central Command, General David Petraeus said this:

I should note here that the number of security incidents in Iraq last week was the lowest in over four years and it appears that the week that ends tomorrow will see an even lower number of incidents. This has been achieved despite having now withdrawn 3 of the 5 Brigade Combat Teams that will have redeployed without replacement by the end of July. Recent operations in Basra, Mosul, and now Sadr City have contributed significantly to the reduction in violence, and Prime Minister Maliki, his government, the Iraqi Security Forces, and the Iraqi people deserve considerable credit for the positive developments since Ambassador Crocker and I testified a month-and-a-half ago. In the months ahead, Coalition Forces will continue to work closely with the Iraqi Security Forces in pursuing Al Qaeda-Iraq, their extremist partners, and militia elements that threaten security in Iraq. And though, as always, tough fights and hard work lie ahead, I believe that the path that we are on will best help achieve the objective of an Iraq that is at peace with itself and its neighbors, that is an ally in the war on terror, that has a government that serves all Iraqis, and that is an increasingly prosperous and important member of the global economy and community of nations. [emphasis added]

What are we to make of all this? For one thing, there is no question that on almost every front–including the political and economic front–we’re seeing heartening progress in Iraq. It’s virtually impossible to argue that after far too many years of pursuing a flawed strategy, which came at an enormous cost to both the Iraqi people and the United States, we now have in place the right strategy being executed by the right people. Progress that was unimaginable in Iraq fifteen months ago has been made–and a nation that was bleeding and dying is now binding up its wounds.

General Petraeus’s warning that tough fights and hard work lie ahead cannot be repeated often enough. Military victories in Iraq, as difficult as they have been, are still easier to attain than rebuilding a traumatized and broken society. But we really have no other choice. Given the hopeful developments we have seen since the surge began, to leave now, before our job is complete, would be reckless and shameful and probably catastrophic.

In the latter half of 2006 it was legitimate for war critics to argue that Iraq was irredeemable lost and therefore we should cut our losses and leave. But that case can no longer be made. The debate has shifted from what the right strategy is to one of national will. Will our nation, weary of this long and costly war, continue along the path which has brought about indisputable, and in some cases breathtaking, progress? If we do, there will be honor in our efforts–and, it’s now reasonable to say, success as well.

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Good News from Mosul

On top of the good news in recent days from Basra and Baghdad now comes good news from Mosul–the last stronghold of Al Qaeda in Iraq. According to Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, commander of Multi-National Division North, the “number of daily attacks in Mosul has dropped at least 85 percent since U.S.-Iraqi forces began an offensive against Sunni insurgents in the city earlier this month.” That’s good news for America and Iraq–and bad news for all those Democrats who long ago wrote off the war as lost.

On top of the good news in recent days from Basra and Baghdad now comes good news from Mosul–the last stronghold of Al Qaeda in Iraq. According to Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, commander of Multi-National Division North, the “number of daily attacks in Mosul has dropped at least 85 percent since U.S.-Iraqi forces began an offensive against Sunni insurgents in the city earlier this month.” That’s good news for America and Iraq–and bad news for all those Democrats who long ago wrote off the war as lost.

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Behind the Wire

If you’re interested in reading more about Abdallah Saleh Ali Al Ajmi–the former Kuwaiti soldier who was captured in Afghanistan, then released from Guantanamo, and who apparently blew himself up as a suicide bomber in Mosul, Iraq–you can read his Wikipedia page here. His case obviously points out the need to continue incarcerating a lot of the current detainees, if not at Gitmo (which has become a public relations embarrassment, and will be closed before long, by either this President or his successor), then at some other facility.

It also points out another need: to conduct “counterinsurgency behind the wire” with these detainees, wherever they are held. That is something that Task Force 134, the coalition unit responsible for more than 20,000 detainees in Iraq, has been doing successfully for the past year under the leadership of Marine Major General Doug Stone. His methods include holding classes where moderate clerics explain to the detainees why they should not engage in violent jihadism. This is akin to cult deprogramming, and there is evidence that it is working.

Similar programs have been run in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Singapore, and other countries. It is imperative that terrorism detainees not simply be warehoused, because then prison can turn into a terrorism university. We need to use the time while they are under our control to try to rehabilitate them if possible. Of course a hard-core element can never be brought around and simply needs to be locked up indefinitely. But many of those who fall into terrorism actually have fairly shallow ideologies and, in the right environment, some of them can be converted away from the path of violence.

If you’re interested in reading more about Abdallah Saleh Ali Al Ajmi–the former Kuwaiti soldier who was captured in Afghanistan, then released from Guantanamo, and who apparently blew himself up as a suicide bomber in Mosul, Iraq–you can read his Wikipedia page here. His case obviously points out the need to continue incarcerating a lot of the current detainees, if not at Gitmo (which has become a public relations embarrassment, and will be closed before long, by either this President or his successor), then at some other facility.

It also points out another need: to conduct “counterinsurgency behind the wire” with these detainees, wherever they are held. That is something that Task Force 134, the coalition unit responsible for more than 20,000 detainees in Iraq, has been doing successfully for the past year under the leadership of Marine Major General Doug Stone. His methods include holding classes where moderate clerics explain to the detainees why they should not engage in violent jihadism. This is akin to cult deprogramming, and there is evidence that it is working.

Similar programs have been run in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Singapore, and other countries. It is imperative that terrorism detainees not simply be warehoused, because then prison can turn into a terrorism university. We need to use the time while they are under our control to try to rehabilitate them if possible. Of course a hard-core element can never be brought around and simply needs to be locked up indefinitely. But many of those who fall into terrorism actually have fairly shallow ideologies and, in the right environment, some of them can be converted away from the path of violence.

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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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Sahwa

Michael Howard has a fascinating story in today’s Guardian. In his piece, Howard profiles Muhammad Rafiq (not the man’s real name):

Muhammad is one of the thousands of young Baghdadi men to have joined neighbourhood security groups, which have mushroomed over the last year and are a crucial factor in the dramatic decline in civilian deaths. U.S. soldiers call them “concerned local citizens”; Iraqis just call them sahwa (awakening) after the so-called Anbar awakening in western Iraq, which has seen Sunni tribal sheikhs take on foreign-led Islamists. There are now an estimated 72,000 members in some 300 groups set up in twelve of Iraq’s eighteen provinces, and the numbers are growing. They are funded, but supposedly not armed, by the U.S. military. “It is Iraq’s own surge,” said a western diplomat, “and it is certainly making a difference.”

It is a moving story about the reconciliation that is taking place in a nation that was traumatized by Saddam Hussein’s 35-year Reign of Terror, and the chaos and bloodshed that followed in the wake of Operation Iraqi Freedom. “We grew tired and angry about the killing, and so decided to act,” according to Muhammad. “Muhammad, a Sunni Arab, and his Shia colleagues in the neighbourhood watch group are determined to reverse the ethnic cleansing,” according to Howard.

This story is anecdotal evidence of two important trends: Iraqis are increasingly taking back their streets, and the Petraeus Plan is allowing political progress and reconciliation to take place from the bottom up. Critics of the war who insist that the surge has “only” shown progress on the security side are quite wrong. The success in pacifying Iraq is, in fact, allowing many other good things to take place.

Howard’s story comes during a week in which Major General Joseph Fil, Commanding General of the Multinational Division Baghdad and 1st Cavalry Division, reports that attacks against citizens in Baghdad have dropped almost 80 percent since November 2006, murders in Baghdad province have decreased 90 percent since November 2006, vehicle-borne IED incidents have declined approximately 70 percent since November 2006, and more than 500 shops are now open in the Dura Market in southern Baghdad, compared to less than a handful in January 2007. “Commerce has returned to many of the marketplaces in Baghdad,” Fil reports, “and many Iraqis now can shop without fearing for their lives.”

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Michael Howard has a fascinating story in today’s Guardian. In his piece, Howard profiles Muhammad Rafiq (not the man’s real name):

Muhammad is one of the thousands of young Baghdadi men to have joined neighbourhood security groups, which have mushroomed over the last year and are a crucial factor in the dramatic decline in civilian deaths. U.S. soldiers call them “concerned local citizens”; Iraqis just call them sahwa (awakening) after the so-called Anbar awakening in western Iraq, which has seen Sunni tribal sheikhs take on foreign-led Islamists. There are now an estimated 72,000 members in some 300 groups set up in twelve of Iraq’s eighteen provinces, and the numbers are growing. They are funded, but supposedly not armed, by the U.S. military. “It is Iraq’s own surge,” said a western diplomat, “and it is certainly making a difference.”

It is a moving story about the reconciliation that is taking place in a nation that was traumatized by Saddam Hussein’s 35-year Reign of Terror, and the chaos and bloodshed that followed in the wake of Operation Iraqi Freedom. “We grew tired and angry about the killing, and so decided to act,” according to Muhammad. “Muhammad, a Sunni Arab, and his Shia colleagues in the neighbourhood watch group are determined to reverse the ethnic cleansing,” according to Howard.

This story is anecdotal evidence of two important trends: Iraqis are increasingly taking back their streets, and the Petraeus Plan is allowing political progress and reconciliation to take place from the bottom up. Critics of the war who insist that the surge has “only” shown progress on the security side are quite wrong. The success in pacifying Iraq is, in fact, allowing many other good things to take place.

Howard’s story comes during a week in which Major General Joseph Fil, Commanding General of the Multinational Division Baghdad and 1st Cavalry Division, reports that attacks against citizens in Baghdad have dropped almost 80 percent since November 2006, murders in Baghdad province have decreased 90 percent since November 2006, vehicle-borne IED incidents have declined approximately 70 percent since November 2006, and more than 500 shops are now open in the Dura Market in southern Baghdad, compared to less than a handful in January 2007. “Commerce has returned to many of the marketplaces in Baghdad,” Fil reports, “and many Iraqis now can shop without fearing for their lives.”

As we reach the end of the year, there are many things for which we can (collectively) be grateful. Right at the top has to be the progress we’ve seen in Iraq in 2007. The situation remains fragile and the challenges there are enormous. The United States liberated a broken nation, and we lost crucial years while pursuing the wrong counterinsurgency strategy. Yet with all the appropriate caveats in place, we can still say the gains we have seen since the surge began earlier this year are staggering. A nation that was in a death spiral a year ago is reconstituting itself. Al Qaeda has absorbed tremendous punishment and is now scattered and on the run (if still lethal). Iraqis are now siding, in huge numbers, with a Western, “occupying” power in an effort to defeat Islamic militants. And, according to recent data from the Pew Global Attitudes Project, much of the rest of the Arab world is turning against bin Ladenism (in Lebanon, for example, 34 percent of Muslims say suicide bombings in the defense of Islam are often or sometimes justified; in 2002 – pre-Iraq war—74 percent expressed this view). And what seemed almost impossible a year ago now seems within reach. If we prevail in Iraq, the United States will have done so on a battlefield chosen by our enemies. And if we do, the war in Iraq—for all the cost in blood and treasure—will be seen as a key, and maybe even a decisive, moment in the war against militant Islam.

We’re not there yet. But we’re much closer than we were a year ago.

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The Right Promotions

One of the biggest impediments to transforming the U.S. government for the Long War is personnel policies that were designed for a different kind of world in which we faced very different kinds of enemies. The armed forces, for example, tend to reward officers who come from a very conventional mold. They may be world-class at defeating, say, the Iraqi Republican Guard. But can they deal with the threat posed by Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Jaish al Mahdi?

On the evidence of more than four years of war, a lot of officers have not been up to the challenge. Some have been—but they are not necessarily the ones getting promoted to general officer rank. For instance, two of the most outstanding and accomplished colonels in the U.S. Army have been passed over for promotion. Both Peter Mansoor and H.R. McMaster have history Ph.D.s, both successfully commanded brigades in Iraq, and both have been instrumental in crafting the Army’s counterinsurgency doctrine. Mansoor serves as General David Petraeus’s executive officer, or right hand man; McMaster, who is currently a fellow at a think tank in London, has been called back to Baghdad frequently for consultations. The fact that neither one has yet been raised to brigadier general indicates to a lot of people that there is something wrong with the entire promotion system.

Apparently General George Casey, the Army chief of staff, and Secretary of the Army Pete Geren think the same thing. Thus, according to the Washington Post, they’ve brought General Petraeus back from Iraq to preside over a board that will pick the next crop of 40 brigadier generals from among a pool of 1,000 colonels.

The article notes:

“It’s unprecedented for the commander of an active theater to be brought back to head something like a brigadier generals board,” said retired Maj. Gen. Robert Scales, former head of the Army War College. A senior defense official said Petraeus is “far too high-profile for this to be a subtle thing.”

The fact that the Army is taking such an unusual and high-profile step is good news indeed. There is much more that needs to be done to transform the armed forces for the fights of the 21st century, but this is an excellent start.

Too bad it’s too late for Mansoor. After having been passed over, he decided to retire and become a history professor at Ohio State University. The Army’s loss will be the students’ gain.

One of the biggest impediments to transforming the U.S. government for the Long War is personnel policies that were designed for a different kind of world in which we faced very different kinds of enemies. The armed forces, for example, tend to reward officers who come from a very conventional mold. They may be world-class at defeating, say, the Iraqi Republican Guard. But can they deal with the threat posed by Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Jaish al Mahdi?

On the evidence of more than four years of war, a lot of officers have not been up to the challenge. Some have been—but they are not necessarily the ones getting promoted to general officer rank. For instance, two of the most outstanding and accomplished colonels in the U.S. Army have been passed over for promotion. Both Peter Mansoor and H.R. McMaster have history Ph.D.s, both successfully commanded brigades in Iraq, and both have been instrumental in crafting the Army’s counterinsurgency doctrine. Mansoor serves as General David Petraeus’s executive officer, or right hand man; McMaster, who is currently a fellow at a think tank in London, has been called back to Baghdad frequently for consultations. The fact that neither one has yet been raised to brigadier general indicates to a lot of people that there is something wrong with the entire promotion system.

Apparently General George Casey, the Army chief of staff, and Secretary of the Army Pete Geren think the same thing. Thus, according to the Washington Post, they’ve brought General Petraeus back from Iraq to preside over a board that will pick the next crop of 40 brigadier generals from among a pool of 1,000 colonels.

The article notes:

“It’s unprecedented for the commander of an active theater to be brought back to head something like a brigadier generals board,” said retired Maj. Gen. Robert Scales, former head of the Army War College. A senior defense official said Petraeus is “far too high-profile for this to be a subtle thing.”

The fact that the Army is taking such an unusual and high-profile step is good news indeed. There is much more that needs to be done to transform the armed forces for the fights of the 21st century, but this is an excellent start.

Too bad it’s too late for Mansoor. After having been passed over, he decided to retire and become a history professor at Ohio State University. The Army’s loss will be the students’ gain.

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A New Direction?

From the Politico today:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday she would bring a new Iraq measure to the House floor shortly to provide $50 billion in funds for the war, while requiring U.S. troops to begin redeploying out of Iraq immediately and conclude by the end of next year. “In last year’s election, the American people called for a new direction; nowhere was that direction more called for than in the war in Iraq,” Pelosi told reporters. “And so in the next day or so, we [will] once again bring to the floor legislation that makes a distinction, a clear distinction: choose a new direction from the Bush foreign policy in Iraq.”

This is yet more evidence—as if we needed it—that the goal of leading Democrats is to withdraw American troops from Iraq, even if withdrawal destroys our chances of success.

How can one come to any other conclusion? After all, the surge has been more successful than anyone could have imagined. This year we have seen progress made in Iraq on almost every front.

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From the Politico today:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday she would bring a new Iraq measure to the House floor shortly to provide $50 billion in funds for the war, while requiring U.S. troops to begin redeploying out of Iraq immediately and conclude by the end of next year. “In last year’s election, the American people called for a new direction; nowhere was that direction more called for than in the war in Iraq,” Pelosi told reporters. “And so in the next day or so, we [will] once again bring to the floor legislation that makes a distinction, a clear distinction: choose a new direction from the Bush foreign policy in Iraq.”

This is yet more evidence—as if we needed it—that the goal of leading Democrats is to withdraw American troops from Iraq, even if withdrawal destroys our chances of success.

How can one come to any other conclusion? After all, the surge has been more successful than anyone could have imagined. This year we have seen progress made in Iraq on almost every front.

Earlier this week, for example, we learned from Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Fil, Jr., commander of U.S. forces in Baghdad, that American forces have routed al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) from every neighborhood of Baghdad and that violence had declined since a spike in June. Murder victims are down 80 percent from where they were at the peak, and attacks involving improvised bombs are down 70 percent, he said. General Fil attributed the decline to improvements in the Iraqi security forces, a cease-fire ordered by the Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, the disruption of financing for insurgents, and, most significantly, Iraqis’ rejection of “the rule of the gun.”

We’re seeing early reports (it’s still far too early to call it a trend) of refugees and displaced persons returning to their homes, which, if it continues, will be among the most compelling indicators of progress. People vote with their feet.

We have also seen substantial progress in the “war of ideas,” with Sunnis forcefully rejecting bin Ladenism. Earlier this week Lawrence Wright, author of The Looming Tower, told Hugh Hewitt about this development that took place in September:

Sheik Salman al-Awdah is a very prominent cleric in Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden himself lionized this man. But on two occasions, most recently at the beginning of Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month that just concluded, Sheik Awdah condemned, personally condemned bin Laden. You know, my son, Osama, how long will this go on? You know, this stain on Islam. I mean, it was a direct repudiation of everything that bin Laden stood for.

Sheik Awdah’s “open letter to Osama bin Laden” asked:

Brother Osama, how much blood has been spilt? How many innocents among children, elderly, the weak, and women have been killed and made homeless in the name of al Qaeda? The ruin of an entire people, as is happening in Afghanistan and Iraq . . . cannot make Muslims happy. Who benefits from turning countries like Morocco, Algeria, Lebanon, or Saudi Arabia into places where fear spreads and no one can feel safe?

This is a stunning and important, if largely ignored, development.

In Iraq we’re also seeing some encouraging news on the economic front and very encouraging, even dramatic, progress on the local political front; “bottom-up” reconciliation is continuing apace. The main problem in Iraq lies with the central government and its unwillingness, still, to share power. Nevertheless, almost every important trend line in Iraq is positive. And yet to the likes of Speaker Pelosi, it matters not at all. She and her colleagues are ideologues in the truest sense—zealous and doctrinaire people committed to a path regardless of the evidence. And the fact that good news in Iraq seems to agitate her and other leading Democrats is astonishing, as well as unsettling.

Nancy Pelosi’s effort to subvert a manifestly successful (if belatedly implemented) strategy in Iraq is reckless and foolish—and it may succeed in driving down Congressional approval ratings, already at record lows, to single digits. Which is about where they belong.

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“Running out of People to Kill”

Today’s Washington Post reports this:

The drop in violence caused by the U.S. troop increase in Iraq prompted refugees to begin returning to their homes, American and Iraqi officials said Wednesday. Tahsin al-Sheikhly, an Iraqi government spokesman, said 46,030 displaced Iraqis had returned last month from outside the country to their homes in the capital. He declined to comment on how the government determined those statistics. “People are starting to return to their homes,” said Maj. Gen. Joseph Fil, commander of U.S. troops in Baghdad. “There’s no question about it.”

If this report is in fact true—and the Post points out that the Iraqi Red Crescent says the number of internally displaced people has increased significantly in the last year—it would be another important step in the path toward the healing of Iraqi society.

The situation in Iraq remains enormously challenging—and even if things continue to go well, it will take a long time before Iraq becomes a functioning state. At the same time, this year we have witnessed several significant developments in Iraq: a sharp drop in violence across much of the nation, al Qaeda’s taking enormous punishment, steps toward “bottom up” reconciliation, and Sunnis turning against al Qaeda and its murderous ideology. If Iraqis are beginning to return to their homes, it means we are beginning to see the positive, radiating effects of better security.

This good news should be juxtaposed with the comments made earlier this week by Representative David Obey. According to the Hill:

If violence is decreasing in Iraq, it may be because insurgents “are running out of people to kill,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) said Monday. “There are fewer targets of opportunity,” Obey said in a speech to the National Press Club. Obey was responding to a question about reports touted by Republicans that security is improving in Iraq and that President Bush’s “surge” strategy is working. He stressed that military success has not led to political reconciliation.

These kinds of comments, made by a senior Democratic lawmaker, are by now perfectly predictable—but that makes them no less irresponsible. It remains stunning that critics of the war continue to deny what is true, simply because what is true is encouraging. Mr. Obey’s words embody what many of his Democratic colleagues think—and help explain why approval ratings for this Congress have sunk to new lows. Their marks are richly deserved.

Today’s Washington Post reports this:

The drop in violence caused by the U.S. troop increase in Iraq prompted refugees to begin returning to their homes, American and Iraqi officials said Wednesday. Tahsin al-Sheikhly, an Iraqi government spokesman, said 46,030 displaced Iraqis had returned last month from outside the country to their homes in the capital. He declined to comment on how the government determined those statistics. “People are starting to return to their homes,” said Maj. Gen. Joseph Fil, commander of U.S. troops in Baghdad. “There’s no question about it.”

If this report is in fact true—and the Post points out that the Iraqi Red Crescent says the number of internally displaced people has increased significantly in the last year—it would be another important step in the path toward the healing of Iraqi society.

The situation in Iraq remains enormously challenging—and even if things continue to go well, it will take a long time before Iraq becomes a functioning state. At the same time, this year we have witnessed several significant developments in Iraq: a sharp drop in violence across much of the nation, al Qaeda’s taking enormous punishment, steps toward “bottom up” reconciliation, and Sunnis turning against al Qaeda and its murderous ideology. If Iraqis are beginning to return to their homes, it means we are beginning to see the positive, radiating effects of better security.

This good news should be juxtaposed with the comments made earlier this week by Representative David Obey. According to the Hill:

If violence is decreasing in Iraq, it may be because insurgents “are running out of people to kill,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) said Monday. “There are fewer targets of opportunity,” Obey said in a speech to the National Press Club. Obey was responding to a question about reports touted by Republicans that security is improving in Iraq and that President Bush’s “surge” strategy is working. He stressed that military success has not led to political reconciliation.

These kinds of comments, made by a senior Democratic lawmaker, are by now perfectly predictable—but that makes them no less irresponsible. It remains stunning that critics of the war continue to deny what is true, simply because what is true is encouraging. Mr. Obey’s words embody what many of his Democratic colleagues think—and help explain why approval ratings for this Congress have sunk to new lows. Their marks are richly deserved.

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More on the Surge

During the last week there have been three noteworthy news stories regarding Iraq and what is unfolding there. There is this from yesterday’s Associated Press:

The monthly toll of U.S. service members who have died in Iraq is on track to being the lowest in nearly two years, with at least 36 troop deaths recorded as of Tuesday, but the military cautioned it’s too early to declare a long-term trend . . . At least 36 American service members have died so far in October, nearly a quarter from non-combat causes . . . It is the lowest number since 32 troops died in March 2006 and the second-lowest since 20 troop deaths in February 2004. . . . [Maj. Winfield Danielson, a military spokesman in Baghdad], welcomed the lower numbers but stressed it was too early to say it was a downward trend. “Have we turned a corner? It might be a little too early to say that,” he said. “It’s certainly encouraging.”

And this from Sunday’s Washington Post:

The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, said on Saturday that the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq is disrupted and no longer operates in large numbers in any neighborhood of the capital. “In general, we think that there are no al-Qaeda strongholds at this point,” Petraeus said. He added: “They remain very lethal, very dangerous, capable at any point in time, if you will, of coming back off the canvas and landing a big punch, and we have to be aware of that.”

And this from the AP last week:

October is on course to record the second consecutive decline in U.S. military and Iraqi civilian deaths and Americans commanders say they know why: the U.S. troop increase and an Iraqi groundswell against al-Qaida and Shiite militia extremists. Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch points to what the military calls “Concerned Citizens”—both Shiites and Sunnis who have joined the American fight. He says he’s signed up 20,000 of them in the past four months. “I’ve never been more optimistic than I am right now with the progress we’ve made in Iraq. The only people who are going to win this counterinsurgency project are the people of Iraq. We’ve said that all along. And now they’re coming forward in masses,” Lynch said in a recent interview.

This is additional evidence that the security situation in Iraq has made remarkable strides this year. Security is not the only metric of success—but it is vital. Nothing good could possibly happen in Iraq until we restored some measure of calm and order there. That is being done, in large measure because al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) is absorbing devastating blows.

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During the last week there have been three noteworthy news stories regarding Iraq and what is unfolding there. There is this from yesterday’s Associated Press:

The monthly toll of U.S. service members who have died in Iraq is on track to being the lowest in nearly two years, with at least 36 troop deaths recorded as of Tuesday, but the military cautioned it’s too early to declare a long-term trend . . . At least 36 American service members have died so far in October, nearly a quarter from non-combat causes . . . It is the lowest number since 32 troops died in March 2006 and the second-lowest since 20 troop deaths in February 2004. . . . [Maj. Winfield Danielson, a military spokesman in Baghdad], welcomed the lower numbers but stressed it was too early to say it was a downward trend. “Have we turned a corner? It might be a little too early to say that,” he said. “It’s certainly encouraging.”

And this from Sunday’s Washington Post:

The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, said on Saturday that the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq is disrupted and no longer operates in large numbers in any neighborhood of the capital. “In general, we think that there are no al-Qaeda strongholds at this point,” Petraeus said. He added: “They remain very lethal, very dangerous, capable at any point in time, if you will, of coming back off the canvas and landing a big punch, and we have to be aware of that.”

And this from the AP last week:

October is on course to record the second consecutive decline in U.S. military and Iraqi civilian deaths and Americans commanders say they know why: the U.S. troop increase and an Iraqi groundswell against al-Qaida and Shiite militia extremists. Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch points to what the military calls “Concerned Citizens”—both Shiites and Sunnis who have joined the American fight. He says he’s signed up 20,000 of them in the past four months. “I’ve never been more optimistic than I am right now with the progress we’ve made in Iraq. The only people who are going to win this counterinsurgency project are the people of Iraq. We’ve said that all along. And now they’re coming forward in masses,” Lynch said in a recent interview.

This is additional evidence that the security situation in Iraq has made remarkable strides this year. Security is not the only metric of success—but it is vital. Nothing good could possibly happen in Iraq until we restored some measure of calm and order there. That is being done, in large measure because al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) is absorbing devastating blows.

They, rather than we, look to be the “weak horse” right now.

The fact that AQI no longer operates in large numbers in any neighborhood in Baghdad is accepted in many quarters as almost commonplace (the story appeared on page A17 of the Washington Post). Yet this development is in reality staggering, especially if you consider where we were in December 2006, an awful month that was the capstone of an awful year. That this achievement occurred in only ten months ranks among the more impressive military operations we have ever seen. Even those who strongly supported the surge could not have imagined that it would do so much, so fast.

General Petraeus’ qualifications on the progress we’ve made are wise. We need to be vigilant and purposeful, since the task before us is still enormously difficult. Iraq remains a fragile, traumatized land, with between 1,000 and 2,000 Iraqis still fleeing their homes each day. The lives of Iraqis are still filled with daily hardships. The ethnic divisions remain real and deep. And the Iraqis must take greater responsibility for rebuilding and uniting their society. But we can now say, with some certainty, that the surge, rather than a failure (as Majority Leader Harry Reid recklessly declared months ago), has been hugely successful, and other good things (including efforts at ethnic reconciliation) are coming to pass.

The facts on the ground have changed dramatically in Iraq. What is notable is that many in the political class, weary of the war (and in some instances ideologically opposed to it), remain wedded to the old narrative. They have decided Iraq is a lost cause, regardless of evidence to the contrary (last night’s Democratic debate merely highlights this disposition). But a new narrative, with all the appropriate caveats, will eventually take hold. And those who declared Iraq as hopeless and therefore worth handing over to the enemies of civilization will be forced by developments to reconsider their judgment.

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Our Man in Mosul

Yochi Dreazen has an interesting article in today’s Wall Street Journal reporting on the heroic efforts of Colonel Saleem Qader, an Iraqi army intelligence officer, to clean up Ninewah Province (whose capital is the large city of Mosul). Dreazen writes:

U.S. commanders give Col. Qader much of the credit for a striking improvement in the city’s security situation. There hasn’t been a car bomb or large-scale attack here since early May, and U.S. commanders say the number of attacks has dropped to seven or nine a day from fifteen to eighteen earlier this year. Fewer than a dozen Americans have died in Mosul this year, a sharp reduction from 2006.

What the article doesn’t mention is that the U.S. troop presence in Mosul is down to a battalion—about a thousand men. In other words, Col. Qader and other members of the Iraqi security forces are managing to maintain order in this populous and volatile region pretty much on their own. That’s a cause for long-term optimism: It is not inevitable that Iraq will dissolve into all-out civil war once the U.S. starts to draw down its troop presence.

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Yochi Dreazen has an interesting article in today’s Wall Street Journal reporting on the heroic efforts of Colonel Saleem Qader, an Iraqi army intelligence officer, to clean up Ninewah Province (whose capital is the large city of Mosul). Dreazen writes:

U.S. commanders give Col. Qader much of the credit for a striking improvement in the city’s security situation. There hasn’t been a car bomb or large-scale attack here since early May, and U.S. commanders say the number of attacks has dropped to seven or nine a day from fifteen to eighteen earlier this year. Fewer than a dozen Americans have died in Mosul this year, a sharp reduction from 2006.

What the article doesn’t mention is that the U.S. troop presence in Mosul is down to a battalion—about a thousand men. In other words, Col. Qader and other members of the Iraqi security forces are managing to maintain order in this populous and volatile region pretty much on their own. That’s a cause for long-term optimism: It is not inevitable that Iraq will dissolve into all-out civil war once the U.S. starts to draw down its troop presence.

But premature and excessive troop withdrawals could indeed create disaster, as happened in Mosul in 2004 after the 101st Airborne Division (commanded by Major General David Petraeus) was pulled out and replaced by a much smaller unit. It is imperative to avoid such drawdowns until there are competent Iraqi police officers and soldiers—men like Colonel Qader—to take up the burden of maintaining law and order.

The major question—and the real unknown—is whether the Iraqi political system will reward and support those, like Qader, who are trying to enforce the law in a non-sectarian fashion. There is cause for real concern on this score. Dreazen writes:

Because Col. Qader, a 46-year-old Kurd, toiled loyally in the army of Saddam Hussein at the time of the former Iraqi strongman’s brutal anti-Kurdish campaign known as the “Anfal,” his job is threatened by his superiors. Gen. Babakir al Zibari, chief of staff for the entire Iraqi military and also a Kurd, has ordered Col. Qader’s commanders to replace him, said U.S. officials. The commanders have so far refused. Gen. Zibari responded by cutting off Col. Qader’s salary and delaying the promotions of his commanders, these people said.

The good news is that, for all the lobbying against him, Qader remains on the job and alive, having survived assassination attempts. There are many Iraqis like him, struggling against terrorists to serve their country as best we can. Let us hope that they will not be betrayed by corrupt Iraqi politicians or by misguided American politicians.

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Rearmament or Appeasement?

General Sir Richard Dannatt, head of the British Army, has warned in a leaked memo that military capabilities are stretched to the breaking point. Due to the commitment of all available troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, there are no reserves left for emergencies.

The conclusion drawn by the entire liberal establishment in Britain is that the troops should be brought home. On the BBC, a retired Major General was telling anyone who would listen that the army is stretched so thin it might break apart.

Yet nobody is making the obvious point that British armed forces are at historically low levels of manpower. Just as the Crimean War in the 1850’s shocked a nation still basking in the glory of Nelson’s and Wellington’s victories, so the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are a shock to the system. The disturbance could also have certain salutary effects, however, if only politicians were willing to respond correctly to the challenges the wars present.

The fact is that the number of British troops now committed to these two wars is smaller than that of Wellington’s forces at Waterloo. Now, numbers aren’t everything, but it is noticeable that the low level of manpower is precisely one of General Dannatt’s main complaints.

Unless countries like Britain can find new ways to recruit many more soldiers, the time will come when the jihadi enemy will only need to threaten to get what it wants. In the horrific scenes at the Red Mosque in Islamabad, there is a clear image of what awaits our allies if the West beats a premature retreat from either Iraq or Afghanistan.

The choice that General Dannatt presents is clear enough, though he does not spell it out. It is the choice between rearmament and appeasement.

General Sir Richard Dannatt, head of the British Army, has warned in a leaked memo that military capabilities are stretched to the breaking point. Due to the commitment of all available troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, there are no reserves left for emergencies.

The conclusion drawn by the entire liberal establishment in Britain is that the troops should be brought home. On the BBC, a retired Major General was telling anyone who would listen that the army is stretched so thin it might break apart.

Yet nobody is making the obvious point that British armed forces are at historically low levels of manpower. Just as the Crimean War in the 1850’s shocked a nation still basking in the glory of Nelson’s and Wellington’s victories, so the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are a shock to the system. The disturbance could also have certain salutary effects, however, if only politicians were willing to respond correctly to the challenges the wars present.

The fact is that the number of British troops now committed to these two wars is smaller than that of Wellington’s forces at Waterloo. Now, numbers aren’t everything, but it is noticeable that the low level of manpower is precisely one of General Dannatt’s main complaints.

Unless countries like Britain can find new ways to recruit many more soldiers, the time will come when the jihadi enemy will only need to threaten to get what it wants. In the horrific scenes at the Red Mosque in Islamabad, there is a clear image of what awaits our allies if the West beats a premature retreat from either Iraq or Afghanistan.

The choice that General Dannatt presents is clear enough, though he does not spell it out. It is the choice between rearmament and appeasement.

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