Commentary Magazine


Topic: military leader

Odierno on Iraq

Raymond Odierno, America’s longest-serving general in Iraq, was the subject of an important interview with David Feith in the Wall Street Journal. Pointing out that in 2004-2006 there was an open insurgency against Iraq as a whole, Odierno made a claim that a few years ago would have seemed fanciful: “Sectarian violence is almost zero. … Yes, there’s still some terrorism, but it’s not insurgents anymore.”

As for the surge, Odierno made this underappreciated point: the surge “shows we learned to adapt, to change. We changed our organization, we changed how we were equipped, and we changed how we did our operations—all while in contact [with the enemy]. That’s an incredible feat.” For those who claim that the Iraq war was a victory for Iran, Odierno disputed that assumption. “They might have balanced each other but how they balanced each other … [caused] significant instability in the region,” the general said. He added that 85 percent of Iraqis believe Iran is trying to harm their country. “Everybody I talk to, I mean every political leader, every military leader, every citizen—and if you’re there living and reading their newspapers and what they’re saying—it’s very clear they want to be their own country,” Odierno said. “They don’t want anybody—the United States, Iran, anybody—telling them what to do.”

On the inability of the Iraqis to form a government more than a half-year after the elections, he predicted a governing coalition will emerge by October. And he said the thing he’s been most pleased with is how the Iraqi military has remained neutral throughout.

On the broader meaning and ramifications of the Iraq war, Odierno said: “I think sometimes we don’t realize the importance of Iraq in the Middle East as a whole. A strong, democratic Iraq with a developing economy could really be a game-changer in the Middle East.”  He argued that “there’s a real opportunity here that I don’t think the citizens of the United States realize. I really truly believe there’s an opportunity we might never get again.” And he offered an assessment that is forgotten far more than it should be: “The fact that al Qaeda was targeting Iraq to be the center of their caliphate in order to carry forward terrorism around the world: They failed. … Now Iraqis are rejecting al Qaeda. Now we have a very important Middle Eastern country who is rejecting terrorism.”

During the darkest days of the Iraq war, many people settled on a narrative: it was a mistake of historic proportions that could not possibly turn out well. The surge was a “pipe dream.” New facts and changing circumstances could not shake people from their interpretation of events. No matter; reality does not depend on how dogmatists interpret it. And as we gain greater distance from the Iraq war, the good that it did comes into sharper focus.

Whether Iraq turns out to be the “game-changer in the Middle East” that Odierno says is possible remains to be seen. But this is what we know for now: the war was fought for honorable reasons. While serious mistakes were made and the cost has been quite high in several respects, Saddam — the genocidal leader of a criminal, soul-destroying tyranny — was removed from power. Al-Qaeda and militant Islam were dealt massive setbacks. The people of Iraq have been liberated. And a sworn enemy of America and freedom has become an ally and a (fragile) democracy. To be continued. But for now, that’s a pretty impressive outcome. Among many others, we have Ray Odierno to thank for that.

Raymond Odierno, America’s longest-serving general in Iraq, was the subject of an important interview with David Feith in the Wall Street Journal. Pointing out that in 2004-2006 there was an open insurgency against Iraq as a whole, Odierno made a claim that a few years ago would have seemed fanciful: “Sectarian violence is almost zero. … Yes, there’s still some terrorism, but it’s not insurgents anymore.”

As for the surge, Odierno made this underappreciated point: the surge “shows we learned to adapt, to change. We changed our organization, we changed how we were equipped, and we changed how we did our operations—all while in contact [with the enemy]. That’s an incredible feat.” For those who claim that the Iraq war was a victory for Iran, Odierno disputed that assumption. “They might have balanced each other but how they balanced each other … [caused] significant instability in the region,” the general said. He added that 85 percent of Iraqis believe Iran is trying to harm their country. “Everybody I talk to, I mean every political leader, every military leader, every citizen—and if you’re there living and reading their newspapers and what they’re saying—it’s very clear they want to be their own country,” Odierno said. “They don’t want anybody—the United States, Iran, anybody—telling them what to do.”

On the inability of the Iraqis to form a government more than a half-year after the elections, he predicted a governing coalition will emerge by October. And he said the thing he’s been most pleased with is how the Iraqi military has remained neutral throughout.

On the broader meaning and ramifications of the Iraq war, Odierno said: “I think sometimes we don’t realize the importance of Iraq in the Middle East as a whole. A strong, democratic Iraq with a developing economy could really be a game-changer in the Middle East.”  He argued that “there’s a real opportunity here that I don’t think the citizens of the United States realize. I really truly believe there’s an opportunity we might never get again.” And he offered an assessment that is forgotten far more than it should be: “The fact that al Qaeda was targeting Iraq to be the center of their caliphate in order to carry forward terrorism around the world: They failed. … Now Iraqis are rejecting al Qaeda. Now we have a very important Middle Eastern country who is rejecting terrorism.”

During the darkest days of the Iraq war, many people settled on a narrative: it was a mistake of historic proportions that could not possibly turn out well. The surge was a “pipe dream.” New facts and changing circumstances could not shake people from their interpretation of events. No matter; reality does not depend on how dogmatists interpret it. And as we gain greater distance from the Iraq war, the good that it did comes into sharper focus.

Whether Iraq turns out to be the “game-changer in the Middle East” that Odierno says is possible remains to be seen. But this is what we know for now: the war was fought for honorable reasons. While serious mistakes were made and the cost has been quite high in several respects, Saddam — the genocidal leader of a criminal, soul-destroying tyranny — was removed from power. Al-Qaeda and militant Islam were dealt massive setbacks. The people of Iraq have been liberated. And a sworn enemy of America and freedom has become an ally and a (fragile) democracy. To be continued. But for now, that’s a pretty impressive outcome. Among many others, we have Ray Odierno to thank for that.

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Petraeus Takes Charge

This report is promising:

[A]t least one senior White House official suggested using General McChrystal’s exit as an excuse for a housecleaning, according to senior officials. That was rejected as too disruptive during a military campaign that relies heavily on civilian support, these people said.

In recent days, other administration officials have begun floating the idea that Ambassador Eikenberry might be replaced by Ryan C. Crocker, the highly regarded former ambassador in Iraq who forged a close partnership with General Petraeus during the successful Iraq troop increase. Such a prospect is viewed as remote, given Mr. Crocker’s prestigious new post at Texas A&M University.

The problem, of course, is not merely that Holbrooke and Eikenberry have not gotten along with their own military leader — it’s that they’ve failed to do their core function, namely build a productive relationship with Hamid Karzai. It’s not surprising, then, but quite telling that the report reveals the degree to which Petraeus is now calling the shots:

General Petraeus is indisputably the key player, and he has wasted no time asserting his control. On a secure videoconference call last Saturday, a person familiar with the call said, General Petraeus threw his support behind a costly, and controversial, plan to install temporary generators to supply more electricity to Kandahar, the Taliban stronghold that is the next major American military target. Mr. Holbrooke and Ambassador Eikenberry swiftly assented.

It is at least a step in the right direction if Eikenberry and Holbrooke cease being impediments to progress. Now we just need civilian leaders who can contribute to success.

This report is promising:

[A]t least one senior White House official suggested using General McChrystal’s exit as an excuse for a housecleaning, according to senior officials. That was rejected as too disruptive during a military campaign that relies heavily on civilian support, these people said.

In recent days, other administration officials have begun floating the idea that Ambassador Eikenberry might be replaced by Ryan C. Crocker, the highly regarded former ambassador in Iraq who forged a close partnership with General Petraeus during the successful Iraq troop increase. Such a prospect is viewed as remote, given Mr. Crocker’s prestigious new post at Texas A&M University.

The problem, of course, is not merely that Holbrooke and Eikenberry have not gotten along with their own military leader — it’s that they’ve failed to do their core function, namely build a productive relationship with Hamid Karzai. It’s not surprising, then, but quite telling that the report reveals the degree to which Petraeus is now calling the shots:

General Petraeus is indisputably the key player, and he has wasted no time asserting his control. On a secure videoconference call last Saturday, a person familiar with the call said, General Petraeus threw his support behind a costly, and controversial, plan to install temporary generators to supply more electricity to Kandahar, the Taliban stronghold that is the next major American military target. Mr. Holbrooke and Ambassador Eikenberry swiftly assented.

It is at least a step in the right direction if Eikenberry and Holbrooke cease being impediments to progress. Now we just need civilian leaders who can contribute to success.

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Dershowitz on the Mahmoud al-Mabhouh Killing

As Alan Dershowitz is wont to do, he takes a lawyerly look at whether the killing of Hamas military leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a Dubai hotel room was legally and morally justified. He assumes, for the sake of argument, of course, that Mossad “did make the hit.” On the legal side, he notes that there are certainly extrajudicial killings that are not unlawful. “Every soldier who kills an enemy combatant engages in an extrajudicial killing, as does every policeman who shoots a fleeing felon.” After some analysis, he concludes: “This was not an ordinary murder. It was carried out as a matter of state policy as part of an ongoing war. … Obviously it would have been better if he could have been captured and subjected to judicial justice. But it was impossible to capture him, especially when he was in Dubai.” Well, the “obviously” is debatable, but his conclusion is sound.

Once Dershowitz considers the moral equation, the fun starts. He’s Dershowitz, after all, so he goes at it:

The Goldstone Report ordered by the UN Human Rights Council suggests that Israel cannot lawfully fight Hamas rockets by wholesale air attacks. Richard Goldstone, in interviews, has suggested that Israel should protect itself from these unlawful attacks by more proportionate retail measures, such as commando raids and targeted killing of terrorists.

Well, there could be no better example of a proportionate and focused attack on a combatant who was deeply involved in the rocket attacks on Israel, than the killing of Mabhouh. Not only was he the commander in charge of Hamas’ unlawful military actions, he was also personally responsible for the kidnapping and murder of two Israeli soldiers several years earlier.

It’s hard not to see the unalloyed benefit in the surgical assassination of Mabhouh, unless, of course, the applicable moral rule in these situations is that Israel is never entitled to defend itself. While the professional Israel hamstringers fret, others are mystified by all the hand-wringing, content in the knowledge that some women, children, and Israel soldiers might be spared. (“Was he sleeping the happy sleep of the just terrorist after completing yet another deal with the butchers of Iran to import Iranian-made weapons into Gaza when he was dispatched to the arms of his 72 virgins?”) Meanwhile, moral clarity reigns in Israel, even on the Left:

While Europe is up in arms over the slaying of top Hamas guerrilla Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh — and everyone blames the Mossad — the near-unanimous verdict in Israel: mission accomplished.

Even self-described Tel Aviv “Communist” Haish Harel gave a thumbs-up to the Jan. 20 assassination in Dubai, which has brought Israel a blizzard of unwanted international attention.

“He wasn’t a civilian. He was a fighter, and he was still active,” said Harel, 29, carrying his young son on his shoulders.

And thanks to Mossad — well, if it was Mossad — Harel and that young son may sleep a little sounder, and those who would seek to slaughter them both (and thousands more, if they could) may be warier of hotel rooms and many other spots on the planet where at any moment they too can be victims of a justified extrajudicial killing.

As Alan Dershowitz is wont to do, he takes a lawyerly look at whether the killing of Hamas military leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a Dubai hotel room was legally and morally justified. He assumes, for the sake of argument, of course, that Mossad “did make the hit.” On the legal side, he notes that there are certainly extrajudicial killings that are not unlawful. “Every soldier who kills an enemy combatant engages in an extrajudicial killing, as does every policeman who shoots a fleeing felon.” After some analysis, he concludes: “This was not an ordinary murder. It was carried out as a matter of state policy as part of an ongoing war. … Obviously it would have been better if he could have been captured and subjected to judicial justice. But it was impossible to capture him, especially when he was in Dubai.” Well, the “obviously” is debatable, but his conclusion is sound.

Once Dershowitz considers the moral equation, the fun starts. He’s Dershowitz, after all, so he goes at it:

The Goldstone Report ordered by the UN Human Rights Council suggests that Israel cannot lawfully fight Hamas rockets by wholesale air attacks. Richard Goldstone, in interviews, has suggested that Israel should protect itself from these unlawful attacks by more proportionate retail measures, such as commando raids and targeted killing of terrorists.

Well, there could be no better example of a proportionate and focused attack on a combatant who was deeply involved in the rocket attacks on Israel, than the killing of Mabhouh. Not only was he the commander in charge of Hamas’ unlawful military actions, he was also personally responsible for the kidnapping and murder of two Israeli soldiers several years earlier.

It’s hard not to see the unalloyed benefit in the surgical assassination of Mabhouh, unless, of course, the applicable moral rule in these situations is that Israel is never entitled to defend itself. While the professional Israel hamstringers fret, others are mystified by all the hand-wringing, content in the knowledge that some women, children, and Israel soldiers might be spared. (“Was he sleeping the happy sleep of the just terrorist after completing yet another deal with the butchers of Iran to import Iranian-made weapons into Gaza when he was dispatched to the arms of his 72 virgins?”) Meanwhile, moral clarity reigns in Israel, even on the Left:

While Europe is up in arms over the slaying of top Hamas guerrilla Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh — and everyone blames the Mossad — the near-unanimous verdict in Israel: mission accomplished.

Even self-described Tel Aviv “Communist” Haish Harel gave a thumbs-up to the Jan. 20 assassination in Dubai, which has brought Israel a blizzard of unwanted international attention.

“He wasn’t a civilian. He was a fighter, and he was still active,” said Harel, 29, carrying his young son on his shoulders.

And thanks to Mossad — well, if it was Mossad — Harel and that young son may sleep a little sounder, and those who would seek to slaughter them both (and thousands more, if they could) may be warier of hotel rooms and many other spots on the planet where at any moment they too can be victims of a justified extrajudicial killing.

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Sarah Palin’s Breasts and Andrew Sullivan

Matthew Continetti, among others, aptly detailed in his book The Persection of Sarah Palin the media’s Sarah Palin hate-fest, which raged throughout the campaign. That campaign — the media’s, not Palin’s — included not a small amount of hyper-sexualized language and imagery. Her reappearance at the Tea Party Convention has set off a new round of such slobbery commentary. Andrew Sullivan, for one — who gained much notoriety for his his gynecological scavenger hunt during the campaign — has left off where he began with what should be, but no longer is, shockingly offensive droolery about the former governor and Republican vice presidential nominee. He bellows:

It was the most electrifying speech I have heard from a leader of the GOP since Reagan.

She can electrify a crowd. She has the kind of charisma that appeals to the sub-rational. and she has crafted a Peronist identity – utterly fraudulent, of course – that is political dynamite in a recession with populism roiling everyone and everything. She is Coughlin with boobs – except with a foreign policy agenda to expand Israel and unite with it in a war against Islam.

Do not under-estimate the appeal of a beautiful, big breasted, divinely chosen warrior-mother as a military leader in a global religious war.

Clearly he is a man obsessed with Palin and her physique and who cannot resist the urge to degrade and reduce her to a sexual object. For those who portend to offer serious criticism of Palin, and there is legitimate criticism to be had, this should serve as a blinking red light: Go Back! Don’t do it! Don’t humilate yourself in the process, nor reveal yourself to be in the grip of some misogynistic thrall. Stick to what she says and how she says it, not the size of her breasts. For the sane and serious commentator, that should be easy enough advice to follow. But then not all bloggers fit that description.

Matthew Continetti, among others, aptly detailed in his book The Persection of Sarah Palin the media’s Sarah Palin hate-fest, which raged throughout the campaign. That campaign — the media’s, not Palin’s — included not a small amount of hyper-sexualized language and imagery. Her reappearance at the Tea Party Convention has set off a new round of such slobbery commentary. Andrew Sullivan, for one — who gained much notoriety for his his gynecological scavenger hunt during the campaign — has left off where he began with what should be, but no longer is, shockingly offensive droolery about the former governor and Republican vice presidential nominee. He bellows:

It was the most electrifying speech I have heard from a leader of the GOP since Reagan.

She can electrify a crowd. She has the kind of charisma that appeals to the sub-rational. and she has crafted a Peronist identity – utterly fraudulent, of course – that is political dynamite in a recession with populism roiling everyone and everything. She is Coughlin with boobs – except with a foreign policy agenda to expand Israel and unite with it in a war against Islam.

Do not under-estimate the appeal of a beautiful, big breasted, divinely chosen warrior-mother as a military leader in a global religious war.

Clearly he is a man obsessed with Palin and her physique and who cannot resist the urge to degrade and reduce her to a sexual object. For those who portend to offer serious criticism of Palin, and there is legitimate criticism to be had, this should serve as a blinking red light: Go Back! Don’t do it! Don’t humilate yourself in the process, nor reveal yourself to be in the grip of some misogynistic thrall. Stick to what she says and how she says it, not the size of her breasts. For the sane and serious commentator, that should be easy enough advice to follow. But then not all bloggers fit that description.

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Trouble In the Cave

The terrorists who carried out the 9/11 attack are a frightening bunch of ruthless murderers. But let’s not forget that they are also human beings, some of them perhaps with very charming qualities. Michael Scheuer, who ran the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit in the 1990’s, has gone so far as to describe bin Laden himself as a “gentle, generous, talented, and personally courageous” fellow.

But human as al-Qaeda members are, they have human foibles. The weather can become very hot in some of the countries in which they operate. And who doesn’t have a fondness for air-conditioning?

Here is Mohammed Atef chastising one of his underlings:

I obtained 75,000 rupees for you and your family’s trip to Egypt. I learned that you did not submit the voucher to the accountant, and that you made reservations for 40,000 rupees and kept the remainder claiming you have a right to do so. . . . Also with respect to the air-conditioning unit, . . . furniture used by brothers in Al Qaeda is not considered private property. . . . I would like to remind you and myself of the punishment for any violation.

Atef was a military leader in al Qaeda until 2001 when a U.S. smart bomb fell on his head. Was the AC unit in question a Kenmore, a Friedrich, or some other brand? That information, along with the tax ID number of Atef’s accountant, is not available.

The chastising memo appears in a collection of al-Qaeda documents compiled by West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center. They paint a picture of an organization that, along with a millenarian mission, has quite a few quotidian concerns. The Los Angeles Times carries a summary of the collection in today’s paper.

Michael Scheuer may or may not be right that Osama bin Laden is “gentle.” There is no evidence for that bizarre judgment in the documents.

The terrorists who carried out the 9/11 attack are a frightening bunch of ruthless murderers. But let’s not forget that they are also human beings, some of them perhaps with very charming qualities. Michael Scheuer, who ran the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit in the 1990’s, has gone so far as to describe bin Laden himself as a “gentle, generous, talented, and personally courageous” fellow.

But human as al-Qaeda members are, they have human foibles. The weather can become very hot in some of the countries in which they operate. And who doesn’t have a fondness for air-conditioning?

Here is Mohammed Atef chastising one of his underlings:

I obtained 75,000 rupees for you and your family’s trip to Egypt. I learned that you did not submit the voucher to the accountant, and that you made reservations for 40,000 rupees and kept the remainder claiming you have a right to do so. . . . Also with respect to the air-conditioning unit, . . . furniture used by brothers in Al Qaeda is not considered private property. . . . I would like to remind you and myself of the punishment for any violation.

Atef was a military leader in al Qaeda until 2001 when a U.S. smart bomb fell on his head. Was the AC unit in question a Kenmore, a Friedrich, or some other brand? That information, along with the tax ID number of Atef’s accountant, is not available.

The chastising memo appears in a collection of al-Qaeda documents compiled by West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center. They paint a picture of an organization that, along with a millenarian mission, has quite a few quotidian concerns. The Los Angeles Times carries a summary of the collection in today’s paper.

Michael Scheuer may or may not be right that Osama bin Laden is “gentle.” There is no evidence for that bizarre judgment in the documents.

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Where is Our True Policy?

Is it any wonder the world has difficulty making sense of Washington’s loudly proclaimed support for democracy and freedom? Consider the following: the headline, in the Financial Times of September 8-9, reads “Bush’s fury at [a certain Asian] regime.” Now try to guess which country is the object of his indignation.

According to the report, “President George W. Bush, who is in Sydney, called for the regime to ‘stop arresting, harassing, and assaulting pro-democracy activists for organizing or participating in peaceful demonstrations.’”

The regime in question, meanwhile, has alleged that “external, anti-government groups” were trying to foment uprising and warned that: “The people will not accept any acts to destabilize the nation and harm their interests and are willing to prevent such destructive acts.”

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Is it any wonder the world has difficulty making sense of Washington’s loudly proclaimed support for democracy and freedom? Consider the following: the headline, in the Financial Times of September 8-9, reads “Bush’s fury at [a certain Asian] regime.” Now try to guess which country is the object of his indignation.

According to the report, “President George W. Bush, who is in Sydney, called for the regime to ‘stop arresting, harassing, and assaulting pro-democracy activists for organizing or participating in peaceful demonstrations.’”

The regime in question, meanwhile, has alleged that “external, anti-government groups” were trying to foment uprising and warned that: “The people will not accept any acts to destabilize the nation and harm their interests and are willing to prevent such destructive acts.”

The article could easily be about China. The authorities in Beijing constantly “arrest, harass, and assault” pro-democracy activists and many others, and back up their intent to prevent “acts to destabilize the nation” with massive censorship, internet and cell-phone monitoring, and the deployment of tens of thousands of secret police and paramilitary People’s Armed Police. And they regularly blame “foreign forces” for what are actually indigenous Chinese demands for freedom.

But of course the country in question is not China. It is Burma, which has an ugly military regime that China supports. Yet in spite of the fact that the behaviors of the regimes in Burma and China are nearly identical, the United States regularly scolds and sanctions the Burmese regime, while embracing and engaging the government in China.

So angry is Bush with Burma that he has “excluded its military leader from a planned summit between the U.S. and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Texas.” Yet a day before announcing this, the same President Bush had a cordial talk with (unelected) Chinese President Hu Jintao. Unlike Burmese pariah Than Shwe, Hu was welcomed warmly in Washington last April. In Sydney two days ago, Mr. Bush accepted Hu’s invitation to attend the Olympics next year—in drum-tight Beijing, from which city many dissidents and activists have already been expelled, a year ahead of the games.

To confuse things even further, on August 27, evidently facing not-so-veiled military threats from China, top Bush administration officials administered unprecedented public scoldings to the elected government of Taiwan for planning a referendum about applying to the United Nations. But then last Thursday Bush seemed to reverse that position in a speech that called Taiwan’s evolution to democracy “one of the great stories of our time.”

Where is our true policy in this muddle? If we genuinely value democracy, why are we so ambivalent and self-contradictory about its practice in Taiwan? If dictatorships are best treated by engagement and dialogue, as with China, then why doesn’t the administration reach out to Burma to break its diplomatic isolation? But if pressure and quarantine are the right approach to autocracies, as our Burma policy suggests, then why doesn’t Mr. Bush rethink his plan to visit Beijing? The administration should strive for more consistency in its policies.

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