Commentary Magazine


Topic: United States military

Despite Mistakes by U.S. Military, Still Not Time to Pull Out of Afghanistan

There are few if any Afghanistan experts I respect more than Sarah Chayes. A former NPR reporter, she came to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban, but unlike most journalists, she did not immediately leave for some other hot spot. She stayed. And she left journalism to make a difference. She founded a cooperative business in Kandahar, Arghand, employing Afghanistan’s lush fruits and herbs to produce first-class soaps and lotions which were then exported abroad, creating a source of employment other than drug production. She also wrote a first-rate book about post-Taliban Afghanistan, “The Punishment of Virtue,”  and went on to serve as an adviser to senior U.S. generals. I got to know Chayes during my own trips to Afghanistan and even worked with her briefly on an advisory team in Kabul, and came away tremendously impressed by her depth of knowledge of, and her empathy for, the long-suffering people of Afghanistan.

Yet I must respectfully dissent, just a bit, from this op-ed she just published in the Washington Post which reflects her understandable frustration with the many mistakes made by the U.S. military in Afghanistan. (I should note that I just left Afghanistan after another visit with U.S. troops and their Afghan allies.) She writes that both Staff Sgt. Robert Bales–the soldier who killed 17 civilians in the Panjwai district of southern Afghanistan–and the innocent Afghans he killed are both victims “of a war whose basis in falsehood and self-deception is growing daily more untenable.”

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There are few if any Afghanistan experts I respect more than Sarah Chayes. A former NPR reporter, she came to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban, but unlike most journalists, she did not immediately leave for some other hot spot. She stayed. And she left journalism to make a difference. She founded a cooperative business in Kandahar, Arghand, employing Afghanistan’s lush fruits and herbs to produce first-class soaps and lotions which were then exported abroad, creating a source of employment other than drug production. She also wrote a first-rate book about post-Taliban Afghanistan, “The Punishment of Virtue,”  and went on to serve as an adviser to senior U.S. generals. I got to know Chayes during my own trips to Afghanistan and even worked with her briefly on an advisory team in Kabul, and came away tremendously impressed by her depth of knowledge of, and her empathy for, the long-suffering people of Afghanistan.

Yet I must respectfully dissent, just a bit, from this op-ed she just published in the Washington Post which reflects her understandable frustration with the many mistakes made by the U.S. military in Afghanistan. (I should note that I just left Afghanistan after another visit with U.S. troops and their Afghan allies.) She writes that both Staff Sgt. Robert Bales–the soldier who killed 17 civilians in the Panjwai district of southern Afghanistan–and the innocent Afghans he killed are both victims “of a war whose basis in falsehood and self-deception is growing daily more untenable.”

In support of this provocative claim, Chayes cites various incidents where international troops have accidentally killed other Afghan civilians–including her fellow cooperative workers–and inflicted damage property in the course of their war against the Taliban. The war, she argues, is “chewing up the villagers”–and the men who are called upon to leave their homes to fight in Afghanistan. Men like Bales. She writes:

Never before has so much been asked of such a small segment of the American population. A startling proportion of the troops I’ve seen in Afghanistan have deployed three or more times: They make up less than 12 percent of the less than 1 percent of us in uniform. They endure multiple tours, layering scars on top of scars, becoming strangers to their children, unable to readjust to family life before shipping out again, bearing physical and psychological wounds in aching loneliness.

Chayes is absolutely right about the cost of the war on all concerned and about the serious mistakes made by the coalition, including not taking seriously enough the issue of corruption–a concern Chayes has repeatedly and courageously and correctly raised. Where I dissent is in her implication that Bales was a victim of a misguided war policy or that the mistakes that have been made could justify simply pulling out of Afghanistan–not a contention that Chayes makes in her article but a conclusion some will surely take away from it.

However much we ask of men like Bales who have deployed to combat on multiple occasions–however much stress we place on these men or, perhaps more accurately because they are all volunteers, however much stress they place on themselves–it can in no way justify or even explain his terrible acts. Tens of thousands of other veterans have served just as much if not longer in ground combat than Bales has, and they have not turned into homicidal monsters. In fact, their restraint in the use of force and empathy for civilians–exemplified by the recent story of a soldier who gave his life to save an Afghan child–has been exemplary by any standard. No doubt many soldiers have experienced stress and various traumas; but no one has done anything as heinous as what Bales is accused of doing. His act of evil cannot be cited as an example of combat stress. It is sui generis.

As for the Afghan victims of American and other international mistakes: I feel for them, but we must never forget that the international presence is the only thing keeping a far greater evil from taking power–namely the Taliban. Chayes knows better than I do the terrible cruelty inflicted by the Taliban during their years of rule. If we pull out prematurely there is unfortunately a good chance the Taliban will come back into power and  Afghanistan will be plunged into another terrible civil war as it was in the 1990s. By contrast, U.S. troops, for all their faults, have managed to push the Taliban out of many of their sanctuaries in Helmand and Kandahar and have given Afghans a chance at a better life. Kabul, for what it’s worth, is a bustling city full of street life, as I saw for myself for the umpteenth time a few days ago–it is a far cry from the devastated metropolis of the 1990s.

I sympathize with Chayes’ laments about American mistakes and the suffering of the Afghan people. But it would be to compound the errors of the past and to increase their suffering of the Afghans for the U.S. to leave prematurely.

 

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Flotsam and Jetsam

When debating illegal immigration, let’s remember who wants to come here: “those ill-used souls who, having braved coyotes both literal and figurative to get here, are now, with the submissive resignation of the most forbearing lama, slaving away washing dishes in restaurant kitchens, or bent double picking grapes in Napa, or cleaning the toilets of people who look right through them as if they were not flesh and blood, and whose children are serving honorably in the United States military.” Read the whole thing.

When looking for media bias, you can always count on the New York Times. In this hatchet job, it’s pretty obvious that the Humane Society and MADD roped the Gray Lady into going after their antagonist, the libertarian activist Richard Berman, who seems to be doing nothing illegal despite the Times‘s inferences. (Indeed, the IRS investigated a Berman entity and “found nothing that would warrant a revocation of its tax exemption.”)

When world leaders awoke from their Obama daze, they reacted like many Americans: “They are no longer dazzled by his rock star personality and there is a sense that there is something amateurish and even incompetent about how Obama is managing U.S. power. For example, Obama has asserted that America is not at war with the Muslim world. The problem is that parts of the Muslim world are at war with America and the West. Obama feels, fairly enough, that America must be contrite in its dealings with the Muslim world. … America right now appears to be unreliable to traditional friends, compliant to rivals, and weak to enemies.”

When will Jewish non-leaders start demanding that we withdraw from the UN Human Rights Council? “The United States and its allies suffered a series of setbacks at the United Nations on Friday as the Human Rights Council flirted with media censorship and was poised to elevate an anti-American politician and a Cuban to key positions. Concerns about censorship were raised after the 56-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which has tremendous sway in the United Nations, successfully pushed through a resolution that creates a watchdog to monitor how religion is portrayed in the media.” (And for this, we needed a new ambassador to the OIC? Doesn’t seem like the ambassador is persuading the OIC of anything — or is the point to demonstrate that we don’t care to oppose its totalitarian impulses?)

When you see evidence like this, you also see just how lacking in goodwill toward Israel Obama is, such that he would insist the Jewish state be the subject of an inquest: “New footage from the Mavi Marmara was released by the Foreign Ministry on Friday afternoon, this time showing IHH head Bülent Yildirim inciting to violence against Israeli commandos hours before the encounter that claimed the lives of nine Turkish passengers. ‘We follow in the footsteps of the martyrs,’ Yildirim could be seen declaring to a large crowd of activists. ‘You shall see, we will definitely claim one or two victories. … If you send the commandos, we will throw you down from here and you will be humiliated in front of the whole world. … If they board our ship, we will throw them into the sea, Allah willing!’”

When Obama can’t decide whether to send an aircraft carrier to take part in South Korean naval exercises because it might upset North Korea and China – after promising our ally unequivocal support — you get an idea of how much trouble we and our allies are in.

When you return a terrorist to the heart of Wahhabism, guess what happens? “The United States have sent back around 120 Saudis from the detention camp at the U.S. naval base in Cuba, set up after the U.S. launched a ‘war on terror’ following the September 11 attacks by mostly Saudi suicide hijackers sent by al Qaeda.” The Saudi running the fake rehab operation (“religious re-education by clerics and financial help to start a new life”) blames “strong personal ties among former prisoners but also tough U.S. tactics as the reason why some 20 percent of the returned Saudis relapsed into militancy compared to 9.5 percent overall in the rehabilitation program.” The Saudis consider the plan such a smashing success that they are building five new centers. Yes, it is madness for us to facilitate this.

When debating illegal immigration, let’s remember who wants to come here: “those ill-used souls who, having braved coyotes both literal and figurative to get here, are now, with the submissive resignation of the most forbearing lama, slaving away washing dishes in restaurant kitchens, or bent double picking grapes in Napa, or cleaning the toilets of people who look right through them as if they were not flesh and blood, and whose children are serving honorably in the United States military.” Read the whole thing.

When looking for media bias, you can always count on the New York Times. In this hatchet job, it’s pretty obvious that the Humane Society and MADD roped the Gray Lady into going after their antagonist, the libertarian activist Richard Berman, who seems to be doing nothing illegal despite the Times‘s inferences. (Indeed, the IRS investigated a Berman entity and “found nothing that would warrant a revocation of its tax exemption.”)

When world leaders awoke from their Obama daze, they reacted like many Americans: “They are no longer dazzled by his rock star personality and there is a sense that there is something amateurish and even incompetent about how Obama is managing U.S. power. For example, Obama has asserted that America is not at war with the Muslim world. The problem is that parts of the Muslim world are at war with America and the West. Obama feels, fairly enough, that America must be contrite in its dealings with the Muslim world. … America right now appears to be unreliable to traditional friends, compliant to rivals, and weak to enemies.”

When will Jewish non-leaders start demanding that we withdraw from the UN Human Rights Council? “The United States and its allies suffered a series of setbacks at the United Nations on Friday as the Human Rights Council flirted with media censorship and was poised to elevate an anti-American politician and a Cuban to key positions. Concerns about censorship were raised after the 56-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which has tremendous sway in the United Nations, successfully pushed through a resolution that creates a watchdog to monitor how religion is portrayed in the media.” (And for this, we needed a new ambassador to the OIC? Doesn’t seem like the ambassador is persuading the OIC of anything — or is the point to demonstrate that we don’t care to oppose its totalitarian impulses?)

When you see evidence like this, you also see just how lacking in goodwill toward Israel Obama is, such that he would insist the Jewish state be the subject of an inquest: “New footage from the Mavi Marmara was released by the Foreign Ministry on Friday afternoon, this time showing IHH head Bülent Yildirim inciting to violence against Israeli commandos hours before the encounter that claimed the lives of nine Turkish passengers. ‘We follow in the footsteps of the martyrs,’ Yildirim could be seen declaring to a large crowd of activists. ‘You shall see, we will definitely claim one or two victories. … If you send the commandos, we will throw you down from here and you will be humiliated in front of the whole world. … If they board our ship, we will throw them into the sea, Allah willing!’”

When Obama can’t decide whether to send an aircraft carrier to take part in South Korean naval exercises because it might upset North Korea and China – after promising our ally unequivocal support — you get an idea of how much trouble we and our allies are in.

When you return a terrorist to the heart of Wahhabism, guess what happens? “The United States have sent back around 120 Saudis from the detention camp at the U.S. naval base in Cuba, set up after the U.S. launched a ‘war on terror’ following the September 11 attacks by mostly Saudi suicide hijackers sent by al Qaeda.” The Saudi running the fake rehab operation (“religious re-education by clerics and financial help to start a new life”) blames “strong personal ties among former prisoners but also tough U.S. tactics as the reason why some 20 percent of the returned Saudis relapsed into militancy compared to 9.5 percent overall in the rehabilitation program.” The Saudis consider the plan such a smashing success that they are building five new centers. Yes, it is madness for us to facilitate this.

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Harvard’s Double Standard on Gay Rights

On FOX News Sunday, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, in talking about the nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, makes this helpful comparison:

On the one hand, Harvard accepts money from Saudis. Saudi Arabia, by the way, executes homosexuals, Saudi Arabia represses women, Saudi Arabia does not allow Christians or Jews to practice their religion, but Saudi money is fine. The American military didn’t have a policy. The Congress of the United States and the Clinton administration she served in had a policy. And for her to single out the military was an extraordinarily myopic position. And if you read what they said at the time, it was consistently focused on the military, and I just think that at a time when we have two wars, that’s a very inappropriate behavior.

This is a very good point for GOP senators to press Ms. Kagan on during her confirmation hearings. Apparently, accepting the money from a repressive government where sodomy is punishable by death is hunky-dory, but the military, in carrying through on the Clinton administration’s policy, deserves to be singled out for condemnation. (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a “moral injustice of the first order,” according to Kagan.) How exactly does one explain the different Indignation Meters at Harvard Law School?

For the record, it appears that $20 million (and perhaps considerably less) is enough to silence Harvard on the matter of human rights for gays. Here’s a report from 2005:

A Saudi prince has donated $20 million each to Harvard University and Georgetown University to advance Islamic studies and further understanding of the Muslim world. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Alsaud — whom Forbes magazine ranks as the fifth wealthiest person in the world, with assets worth $23.7 billion — is the nephew of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah. “Bridging the understanding between East and West is important for peace and tolerance,” Alwaleed said in a statement released by Harvard. At Harvard, the money will fund four new senior staff professorships as well as an endowed chair in the name of the 48-year-old billionaire. Harvard will also use the funds to begin digitizing historically significant Islamic texts and materials, and make them available for research on the Internet. “We are very grateful to Prince Alwaleed for his generous gift to Harvard,” President Lawrence H. Summers said. The gift is considered one of the 25th largest in university history.

Of course, Harvard, ever open-minded, wanted to “bridge the understanding between East and West” in order to advance the cause of “tolerance.” So Harvard, for the right price, can summon tolerance even when it comes to governments’ executing people for sodomy. Yet it showed considerably less tolerance for the United States military on the matter of not allowing openly gay people to serve in the military.

How principled of Harvard.

All this is indicative of a twisted set of priorities by Harvard and worth exploring in some detail.

On FOX News Sunday, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, in talking about the nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, makes this helpful comparison:

On the one hand, Harvard accepts money from Saudis. Saudi Arabia, by the way, executes homosexuals, Saudi Arabia represses women, Saudi Arabia does not allow Christians or Jews to practice their religion, but Saudi money is fine. The American military didn’t have a policy. The Congress of the United States and the Clinton administration she served in had a policy. And for her to single out the military was an extraordinarily myopic position. And if you read what they said at the time, it was consistently focused on the military, and I just think that at a time when we have two wars, that’s a very inappropriate behavior.

This is a very good point for GOP senators to press Ms. Kagan on during her confirmation hearings. Apparently, accepting the money from a repressive government where sodomy is punishable by death is hunky-dory, but the military, in carrying through on the Clinton administration’s policy, deserves to be singled out for condemnation. (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a “moral injustice of the first order,” according to Kagan.) How exactly does one explain the different Indignation Meters at Harvard Law School?

For the record, it appears that $20 million (and perhaps considerably less) is enough to silence Harvard on the matter of human rights for gays. Here’s a report from 2005:

A Saudi prince has donated $20 million each to Harvard University and Georgetown University to advance Islamic studies and further understanding of the Muslim world. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Alsaud — whom Forbes magazine ranks as the fifth wealthiest person in the world, with assets worth $23.7 billion — is the nephew of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah. “Bridging the understanding between East and West is important for peace and tolerance,” Alwaleed said in a statement released by Harvard. At Harvard, the money will fund four new senior staff professorships as well as an endowed chair in the name of the 48-year-old billionaire. Harvard will also use the funds to begin digitizing historically significant Islamic texts and materials, and make them available for research on the Internet. “We are very grateful to Prince Alwaleed for his generous gift to Harvard,” President Lawrence H. Summers said. The gift is considered one of the 25th largest in university history.

Of course, Harvard, ever open-minded, wanted to “bridge the understanding between East and West” in order to advance the cause of “tolerance.” So Harvard, for the right price, can summon tolerance even when it comes to governments’ executing people for sodomy. Yet it showed considerably less tolerance for the United States military on the matter of not allowing openly gay people to serve in the military.

How principled of Harvard.

All this is indicative of a twisted set of priorities by Harvard and worth exploring in some detail.

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Times Off-Base on U.S. Airpower in Afghanistan

The New York Times has run a curious op-ed by a writer I’ve never heard of: Lara M. Dadkhah, who is identified simply as an “intelligence analyst” for some unnamed defense consulting firm and also apparently a current or recent grad student at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service (h/t Glenn Greenwald). In it, she repeats the standard canard heard from a handful of right-wingers who accuse Gen. Stanley McChrystal of putting his troops at undue risk by limiting their use of airpower.

This is a serious charge to make against one of the most respected generals in the Army, and one who has been closely associated with some of the most dangerous and risky special operations that the military carries out. Anyone who flings around this accusation better have some good evidence. But Dadkhah seriously undercuts her case with sweeping overgeneralizations.

She claims, for instance, that “air support to American and Afghan forces has been all but grounded by concerns about civilian casualties” and that “American and NATO military leaders — worried by Taliban propaganda claiming that air strikes have killed an inordinate number of civilians, and persuaded by ‘hearts and minds’ enthusiasts that the key to winning the war is the Afghan population’s goodwill — have largely relinquished the strategic advantage of American air dominance.”

In the first place, she entirely neglects one of the key “strategic advantages of American air dominance” — namely, the ability to conduct surveillance and reconnaissance of the battlefield, which gives troops on the ground a huge advantage in terms of knowing where their enemies are. Other advantages of airpower that she neglects to mention are the ability to do aerial resupply and medivac. All three are vital to the conduct of operations, in fact probably more vital than the ability to call in air strikes. But even if you stick to kinetic strikes from the air, her evidence is weak. She writes:

While the number of American forces in Afghanistan has more than doubled since 2008, to nearly 70,000 today, the critical air support they get has not kept pace. According to my analysis of data compiled by the United States military, close air support sorties, which in Afghanistan are almost always unplanned and in aid of troops on the ground who are under intense fire, increased by just 27 percent during that same period

Even granting that those figures are accurate, what makes her think that they are the result of directives designed to limit air strikes? Might it not simply be a case of the troop presence growing faster than the number of aircraft they have available to support them? U.S. forces in Afghanistan have long been under-resourced in terms of air support simply because there were not enough aircraft to go around, and until last year Iraq had top priority. That is changing, but it is taking a while to build up Afghanistan’s primitive infrastructure to create runways and other facilities that can support a large number of aircraft. The task is all the more daunting because Afghanistan is much more spread out than Iraq, so aircraft have to be based all over the country to be available on-call within a few minutes of the start of a firefight. In fact, Dadkhah’s own figures suggest that there has been only a modest decline in the number of air strikes called in: “Pentagon data show that the percentage of sorties sent out that resulted in air strikes has also declined, albeit modestly, to 5.6 percent from 6 percent.”

Dadkhah is even more off-base when she denies the obvious: that sometimes excessive force can be harmful to mission accomplishment in a counterinsurgency. She writes: “So in a modern refashioning of the obvious — that war is harmful to civilian populations — the United States military has begun basing doctrine on the premise that dead civilians are harmful to the conduct of war. The trouble is, no past war has ever supplied compelling proof of that claim. ” No compelling data? Really? Perhaps she might examine the case of the Red Army in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The Soviets killed hundreds of thousands of Afghans and in the process lost the war by turning the population against them. That is a mistake that McChrystal is wise not to repeat.

The New York Times has run a curious op-ed by a writer I’ve never heard of: Lara M. Dadkhah, who is identified simply as an “intelligence analyst” for some unnamed defense consulting firm and also apparently a current or recent grad student at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service (h/t Glenn Greenwald). In it, she repeats the standard canard heard from a handful of right-wingers who accuse Gen. Stanley McChrystal of putting his troops at undue risk by limiting their use of airpower.

This is a serious charge to make against one of the most respected generals in the Army, and one who has been closely associated with some of the most dangerous and risky special operations that the military carries out. Anyone who flings around this accusation better have some good evidence. But Dadkhah seriously undercuts her case with sweeping overgeneralizations.

She claims, for instance, that “air support to American and Afghan forces has been all but grounded by concerns about civilian casualties” and that “American and NATO military leaders — worried by Taliban propaganda claiming that air strikes have killed an inordinate number of civilians, and persuaded by ‘hearts and minds’ enthusiasts that the key to winning the war is the Afghan population’s goodwill — have largely relinquished the strategic advantage of American air dominance.”

In the first place, she entirely neglects one of the key “strategic advantages of American air dominance” — namely, the ability to conduct surveillance and reconnaissance of the battlefield, which gives troops on the ground a huge advantage in terms of knowing where their enemies are. Other advantages of airpower that she neglects to mention are the ability to do aerial resupply and medivac. All three are vital to the conduct of operations, in fact probably more vital than the ability to call in air strikes. But even if you stick to kinetic strikes from the air, her evidence is weak. She writes:

While the number of American forces in Afghanistan has more than doubled since 2008, to nearly 70,000 today, the critical air support they get has not kept pace. According to my analysis of data compiled by the United States military, close air support sorties, which in Afghanistan are almost always unplanned and in aid of troops on the ground who are under intense fire, increased by just 27 percent during that same period

Even granting that those figures are accurate, what makes her think that they are the result of directives designed to limit air strikes? Might it not simply be a case of the troop presence growing faster than the number of aircraft they have available to support them? U.S. forces in Afghanistan have long been under-resourced in terms of air support simply because there were not enough aircraft to go around, and until last year Iraq had top priority. That is changing, but it is taking a while to build up Afghanistan’s primitive infrastructure to create runways and other facilities that can support a large number of aircraft. The task is all the more daunting because Afghanistan is much more spread out than Iraq, so aircraft have to be based all over the country to be available on-call within a few minutes of the start of a firefight. In fact, Dadkhah’s own figures suggest that there has been only a modest decline in the number of air strikes called in: “Pentagon data show that the percentage of sorties sent out that resulted in air strikes has also declined, albeit modestly, to 5.6 percent from 6 percent.”

Dadkhah is even more off-base when she denies the obvious: that sometimes excessive force can be harmful to mission accomplishment in a counterinsurgency. She writes: “So in a modern refashioning of the obvious — that war is harmful to civilian populations — the United States military has begun basing doctrine on the premise that dead civilians are harmful to the conduct of war. The trouble is, no past war has ever supplied compelling proof of that claim. ” No compelling data? Really? Perhaps she might examine the case of the Red Army in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The Soviets killed hundreds of thousands of Afghans and in the process lost the war by turning the population against them. That is a mistake that McChrystal is wise not to repeat.

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Iraq, One of the Great Achievements of This Administration?

I wanted to add my thoughts to those of Jen and Max, made in response to Vice President Biden’s claim that Iraq “could be one of the great achievements of this administration.”

Come again? This administration? Even for the Obama administration, this is a rather audacious claim. To begin with, “this administration” is comprised of people — most especially Messrs. Obama and Biden — who opposed the surge at every point, who said it would make things worse rather than better, and who would have given up on the Iraq war at the very time when things were beginning to turn around in our favor. [I have documented Obama and Biden's records here and here.]

If Obama and Biden had had their way, they would have engineered an epic American military loss. They would have handed jihadists their most important victory ever. And in Iraq mass death, and quite probably genocide, would have followed.

It was also the previous administration, not the Obama administration, which is responsible for the Status of Forces agreement that is unwinding, in a responsible way, American involvement in Iraq.

More important, the success we’re experiencing in Iraq is due above all to the most remarkable fighting force in the world: the United States military; to commanders like David Petraeus, who implemented a new strategy when it was clear the old one was failing; and to the Iraqis themselves, who are taking impressive, if halting, steps toward self-government.

I’m pleased that the Obama administration, having been handed a situation in Iraq that on every front was getting better, has decided to embrace that success. But to claim they are responsible for it is a bit hard to take. It’s wonderful news if the town prostitute converts; but she should not immediately insist on being credited for the purity of her life or author a book on the virtues of modesty.

Before Biden and Obama claim credit for the success in Iraq, perhaps they can admit — in the honest, transparent, “new politics” way they had promised — that they were wrong. Perhaps they can admit to us how flawed their counsel on the surge was, how massive the damage would have been if we had followed their counsel, and what was at the root of their errors in judgment.

If we are going to have a discussion about Iraq, let’s make it an honest one.

It is quite a thing to behold — Obama and Biden incessantly blaming Bush for problems of their own making while at the same time claiming credit for things they opposed and Bush brought to pass. There is a through-the-looking-glass quality to all of this. Such things have a way of catching up to an administration, as we’re seeing day by day, poll by poll, and election by election.

I wanted to add my thoughts to those of Jen and Max, made in response to Vice President Biden’s claim that Iraq “could be one of the great achievements of this administration.”

Come again? This administration? Even for the Obama administration, this is a rather audacious claim. To begin with, “this administration” is comprised of people — most especially Messrs. Obama and Biden — who opposed the surge at every point, who said it would make things worse rather than better, and who would have given up on the Iraq war at the very time when things were beginning to turn around in our favor. [I have documented Obama and Biden's records here and here.]

If Obama and Biden had had their way, they would have engineered an epic American military loss. They would have handed jihadists their most important victory ever. And in Iraq mass death, and quite probably genocide, would have followed.

It was also the previous administration, not the Obama administration, which is responsible for the Status of Forces agreement that is unwinding, in a responsible way, American involvement in Iraq.

More important, the success we’re experiencing in Iraq is due above all to the most remarkable fighting force in the world: the United States military; to commanders like David Petraeus, who implemented a new strategy when it was clear the old one was failing; and to the Iraqis themselves, who are taking impressive, if halting, steps toward self-government.

I’m pleased that the Obama administration, having been handed a situation in Iraq that on every front was getting better, has decided to embrace that success. But to claim they are responsible for it is a bit hard to take. It’s wonderful news if the town prostitute converts; but she should not immediately insist on being credited for the purity of her life or author a book on the virtues of modesty.

Before Biden and Obama claim credit for the success in Iraq, perhaps they can admit — in the honest, transparent, “new politics” way they had promised — that they were wrong. Perhaps they can admit to us how flawed their counsel on the surge was, how massive the damage would have been if we had followed their counsel, and what was at the root of their errors in judgment.

If we are going to have a discussion about Iraq, let’s make it an honest one.

It is quite a thing to behold — Obama and Biden incessantly blaming Bush for problems of their own making while at the same time claiming credit for things they opposed and Bush brought to pass. There is a through-the-looking-glass quality to all of this. Such things have a way of catching up to an administration, as we’re seeing day by day, poll by poll, and election by election.

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Freedom Fighter Called “Terrorist” by INS

Karen DeYoung published a story in the Washington Post that ought to embarrass anyone making decisions about who deserves permanent residence in the U.S.

Saman Kareem Ahmad is an Iraqi Kurd who worked as a translator with the Marines in Iraq’s Anbar Province. He was one of the few selected translators who was granted asylum in the U.S. because he and his family were singled out for destruction by insurgents for “collaboration.” He wants to return to Iraq as an American citizen and a Marine, and has already been awarded the Navy-Marine Corps Achievement Medal and the War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal. Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter and General David Petraeus wrote notes for his file and recommended he be given a Green Card, but the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) declined his application and called him a “terrorist.”

The INS says Ahmad “conducted full-scale armed attacks and helped incite rebellions against Hussein’s regime, most notably during the Iran-Iraq war, Operation Desert Storm, and Operation Iraqi Freedom” while a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

The KDP is one of two mainstream Kurdish political parties in Iraq. Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani is a member of the KDP. The KDP fought alongside the United States military as an ally during Operation Iraqi Freedom. After Operation Desert Storm the KDP fought the Saddam regime after President George H. W. Bush called on Iraqis to do so. During the Iran-Iraq War, the KDP fought the Ba’athists because they were actively resisting genocide in the Kurdish region where Saddam used chemical weapons, artillery, air strikes, and napalm to exterminate them. And he’s a terrorist?

The Kurds in Iraq–unlike the Kurds in Turkey and the ever-popular Palestinians– did not use terrorism as a tactic in their struggle for liberation. They fought honorably against Saddam’s soldiers, not against Arab civilians in south and central Iraq.

The INS revealingly refers to the KDP as an “undesignated” terrorist organization. Which suggests it’s aware that the KDP isn’t a terrorist organization but has unilaterally labeled it as one regardless. The blogger Callimachus thinks it may be because the Patriot Act defines terrorism as “any activity which is unlawful under the laws of the place it was committed.” He correctly points out that Jews in Hitler’s Warsaw Ghetto were “terrorists” according to this brainless definition.

This is an absurd inversion of the already absurd “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” slogan. Usually this sophomoric claim is made by terrorists or by leftists who make excuses for terrorists. This time, the INS is calling an actual freedom fighter a terrorist.

Somebody should tell Vice President Dick Cheney. He met with the KDP’s Barzani himself just a few days ago. “That was a unique and interesting opportunity,” he said, “to go look at what’s happened in a part of Iraq that was obviously freed of Saddam Hussein’s influence when the U.S. went in there and established the Operation Provide Comfort at the end of the Gulf War, and then set up the ‘no fly zones,’ and so forth.” Someone might also want to inform President George W. Bush, who invited Ahmad to the White House in 2007.

It’s worth comparing this case with two others.

Sayyed Rahmatullah Hashemi was a spokesman for the Taliban in Afghanistan, yet he was admitted to Yale University in 2006, though he wasn’t given a green card, as far as I can tell. And just a few days ago, drug-trafficking prostitute and Brazilian national Andreia Schwartz was offered a green card if she would reveal what she knows about former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer. But Saman Ahmad faces deportation to a country where actual terrorists threaten to kill him? The law (to say nothing of the INS) truly is “a ass,” as Mr. Bumble once observed.

Karen DeYoung published a story in the Washington Post that ought to embarrass anyone making decisions about who deserves permanent residence in the U.S.

Saman Kareem Ahmad is an Iraqi Kurd who worked as a translator with the Marines in Iraq’s Anbar Province. He was one of the few selected translators who was granted asylum in the U.S. because he and his family were singled out for destruction by insurgents for “collaboration.” He wants to return to Iraq as an American citizen and a Marine, and has already been awarded the Navy-Marine Corps Achievement Medal and the War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal. Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter and General David Petraeus wrote notes for his file and recommended he be given a Green Card, but the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) declined his application and called him a “terrorist.”

The INS says Ahmad “conducted full-scale armed attacks and helped incite rebellions against Hussein’s regime, most notably during the Iran-Iraq war, Operation Desert Storm, and Operation Iraqi Freedom” while a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

The KDP is one of two mainstream Kurdish political parties in Iraq. Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani is a member of the KDP. The KDP fought alongside the United States military as an ally during Operation Iraqi Freedom. After Operation Desert Storm the KDP fought the Saddam regime after President George H. W. Bush called on Iraqis to do so. During the Iran-Iraq War, the KDP fought the Ba’athists because they were actively resisting genocide in the Kurdish region where Saddam used chemical weapons, artillery, air strikes, and napalm to exterminate them. And he’s a terrorist?

The Kurds in Iraq–unlike the Kurds in Turkey and the ever-popular Palestinians– did not use terrorism as a tactic in their struggle for liberation. They fought honorably against Saddam’s soldiers, not against Arab civilians in south and central Iraq.

The INS revealingly refers to the KDP as an “undesignated” terrorist organization. Which suggests it’s aware that the KDP isn’t a terrorist organization but has unilaterally labeled it as one regardless. The blogger Callimachus thinks it may be because the Patriot Act defines terrorism as “any activity which is unlawful under the laws of the place it was committed.” He correctly points out that Jews in Hitler’s Warsaw Ghetto were “terrorists” according to this brainless definition.

This is an absurd inversion of the already absurd “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” slogan. Usually this sophomoric claim is made by terrorists or by leftists who make excuses for terrorists. This time, the INS is calling an actual freedom fighter a terrorist.

Somebody should tell Vice President Dick Cheney. He met with the KDP’s Barzani himself just a few days ago. “That was a unique and interesting opportunity,” he said, “to go look at what’s happened in a part of Iraq that was obviously freed of Saddam Hussein’s influence when the U.S. went in there and established the Operation Provide Comfort at the end of the Gulf War, and then set up the ‘no fly zones,’ and so forth.” Someone might also want to inform President George W. Bush, who invited Ahmad to the White House in 2007.

It’s worth comparing this case with two others.

Sayyed Rahmatullah Hashemi was a spokesman for the Taliban in Afghanistan, yet he was admitted to Yale University in 2006, though he wasn’t given a green card, as far as I can tell. And just a few days ago, drug-trafficking prostitute and Brazilian national Andreia Schwartz was offered a green card if she would reveal what she knows about former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer. But Saman Ahmad faces deportation to a country where actual terrorists threaten to kill him? The law (to say nothing of the INS) truly is “a ass,” as Mr. Bumble once observed.

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Obama Imitates Olmert

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has one of the lowest approval ratings in his country’s history thanks to his disastrous prosecution of the July 2006 war in Lebanon against Hezbollah.

Nevertheless, and contrary to Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah’s delusional and arrogant boasts, Hezbollah didn’t win. I toured South Lebanon and the suburbs south of Beirut – Hezbollah’s two major strongholds – after the war. The magnitude of the destruction was stunning. It looked like World War II blew through the place. (Click here and here to see photos.) Nasrallah survived and replenished his arsensal stocks, but, as Israeli military historian Michael Oren put it, “If he has enough victories like this one, he’s dead.”

Israel didn’t win, either. None of Israel’s objectives in Lebanon were accomplished.

The best that can be said of that war is that it was a strategic draw with losses on both sides. Hezbollah absorbed the brunt of the damage.

It should be obvious why Israel didn’t prevail to observers of modern asymmetrical warfare and counterinsurgency. Olmert’s plan, such as it was, was doomed to fail from Day One. It may not have been obvious then, but it certainly should be by now.

American General David Petraeus proved counterinsurgency in Arabic countries can work. His surge of troops in Iraq is about a change of tactics more than an increase in numbers, and his tactics so far have surpassed all expectations. The “light footprint” model used during former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s tenure may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but American soldiers and Marines had no chance of defeating insurgents from behind barbed wire garrisons. Only now that the troops have left the relative safety and comfort of their bases and intimately integrated themselves into the Iraqi population are they able to isolate and track down the killers. They do so with help from the locals. They acquired that help because they slowly forged trusting relationships and alliances, and because they protect the civilians from violence.

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Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has one of the lowest approval ratings in his country’s history thanks to his disastrous prosecution of the July 2006 war in Lebanon against Hezbollah.

Nevertheless, and contrary to Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah’s delusional and arrogant boasts, Hezbollah didn’t win. I toured South Lebanon and the suburbs south of Beirut – Hezbollah’s two major strongholds – after the war. The magnitude of the destruction was stunning. It looked like World War II blew through the place. (Click here and here to see photos.) Nasrallah survived and replenished his arsensal stocks, but, as Israeli military historian Michael Oren put it, “If he has enough victories like this one, he’s dead.”

Israel didn’t win, either. None of Israel’s objectives in Lebanon were accomplished.

The best that can be said of that war is that it was a strategic draw with losses on both sides. Hezbollah absorbed the brunt of the damage.

It should be obvious why Israel didn’t prevail to observers of modern asymmetrical warfare and counterinsurgency. Olmert’s plan, such as it was, was doomed to fail from Day One. It may not have been obvious then, but it certainly should be by now.

American General David Petraeus proved counterinsurgency in Arabic countries can work. His surge of troops in Iraq is about a change of tactics more than an increase in numbers, and his tactics so far have surpassed all expectations. The “light footprint” model used during former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s tenure may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but American soldiers and Marines had no chance of defeating insurgents from behind barbed wire garrisons. Only now that the troops have left the relative safety and comfort of their bases and intimately integrated themselves into the Iraqi population are they able to isolate and track down the killers. They do so with help from the locals. They acquired that help because they slowly forged trusting relationships and alliances, and because they protect the civilians from violence.

The Israel Defense Forces did nothing of the sort in Lebanon. Most Lebanese Shias are so hostile to Israel that such a strategy might not work even if David Petraeus himself were in charge of it. Even then it would take years to produce the desired results, just as it has taken several years in Iraq. Israelis have no wish to spend years fighting Hezbollah in Lebanon. International pressure would force them out if they did.

A Petraeus-like strategy wasn’t an option for Olmert. That, however, doesn’t mean we can’t compare the effectiveness of the Olmert and Petraeus strategies.

The Israel Defense Forces fought a month-long asymmetrical war in Lebanon mostly with air strikes. Israel didn’t aim at civilians, but it goes without saying that Israel likewise didn’t protect civilians from violence as the Americans protect Iraqis from violence. That can’t be done from the air. Israel did nothing at all to inspire the people of South Lebanon to come around to their side. Israelis, from the point of view of South Lebanese, are faceless enemies that devastated their towns from the heavens.

Many Hezbollah fighters were killed in the targeted strikes. Bunkers and weapons caches were destroyed. Safe houses proved to be anything but. Civilians as well as combatants were heavily punished.

At the end of the day, though, none of it mattered. Hezbollah remains standing. Their weapons stocks have been replenished by Iran through Syria. Civilian supporters of Nasrallah’s militia are more ferociously anti-Israel than ever. United Nations troops who deployed to the area will inadvertently function as “human shields” for Hezbollah if war breaks out again.

Meanwhile in Iraq, Al Qaeda has been vanquished almost everywhere. Moqtada al Sadr’s radical Shia Mahdi Army militia declared a unilateral ceasefire. Many previously anti-American enemies have flipped to our side. Overall violence has been reduced by almost 90 percent. 75 percent of Baghdad is now secure.

Responsible political leaders and military commanders would be well-advised to analyze both approaches to assymetrical warfare and counterinsurgency, and to hew as closely as possible to the Petraeus model. Olmert’s is broken.

Senator Barack Obama, though, prefers the Olmert model whether he thinks of it that way or not. (Actually, I’m sure he doesn’t think of it as Olmert’s model, though basically that’s what it is.)

“Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq,” says a statement on the senator’s Web site. “He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months. Obama will make it clear that we will not build any permanent bases in Iraq. He will keep some troops in Iraq to protect our embassy and diplomats; if al Qaeda attempts to build a base within Iraq, he will keep troops in Iraq or elsewhere in the region to carry out targeted strikes on al Qaeda.” [Emphasis added.]

Targeted strikes do kill some terrorists (and often, tragically, civilians, as well). But they have little or no effect overall in counterinsurgent urban warfare. Perhaps the senator or his advisors should read the new counterinsurgency manual – the one that has proven effective – and compare its strategy to targeted strikes which have proven to fail.

Here is just one critical excerpt:

Sometimes, the More You Protect Your Force, the Less Secure You May Be

1-149. Ultimate success in COIN [Counter-insurgency] is gained by protecting the populace, not the COIN force. If military forces remain in their compounds, they lose touch with the people, appear to be running scared, and cede the initiative to the insurgents. Aggressive saturation patrolling, ambushes, and listening post operations must be conducted, risk shared with the populace, and contact maintained… . These practices ensure access to the intelligence needed to drive operations. Following them reinforces the connections with the populace that help establish real legitimacy.

From “Counterinsurgency/FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5”

This strategy was not available to Olmert and the Israel Defense Forces. It will be available to Obama and the United States military should he choose to excercise it.

Obama is competing in a Democratic primary race. Perhaps if he is elected commander in chief and no longer needs to appease the left-wing of his party he will reverse himself and keep Petraeus right where he is. Reality has a way of imposing itself on presidents.

He would be wise to carefully consider what works and what doesn’t, not only for the sakes of the United States and Iraq, but also for purely calculating and self-interested reasons. Obama is a likeable guy. He could, in theory, be a popular president. Olmert, though, was also popular once. He probably never will be again.

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The Other Fallujah Reporter

“The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.” — Thomas Jefferson

I just returned home from a trip to Fallujah, where I was the only reporter embedded with the United States military. There was, however, an unembedded reporter in the city at the same time. Normally it would be useful to compare what I saw and heard while traveling and working with the Marines with what a colleague saw and heard while working solo. Unfortunately, the other Fallujah reporter was Ali al-Fadhily from Inter Press Services.

Mr. al-Fadhily is unhappy with the way things are going in the city right now. It means little to him that the only shots fired by the Marines anymore are practice rounds on the range, and that there hasn’t been a single fire fight or combat casualty for months. That’s fair enough, as far as it goes, and perhaps to be expected from a reporter who isn’t embedded with the military and who focuses his attention on Iraqi civilians. The trouble is that Mr. Al-Fadhily’s hysterical exaggerations, refusal to provide crucial context, and outright fabrications amount to a serious case of journalistic malpractice.

Some of what al-Fadhily writes is correct. The economy and infrastructure really are shattered. Unemployment is greater than 50 percent, as he says. It’s true that most Iraqis – in Fallujah as well as everywhere else – don’t have access to safe drinking water. But he proves himself unreliable, to put it mildly, after only one sentence: “The city that was routed in November 2004 is still suffering the worst humanitarian conditions under a siege that continues.”

There is no “siege” in Fallujah. He is referring here to the hard perimeter around the city manned by Iraqi Police who prevent non-residents from bringing their cars in. It’s an extreme measure, no doubt about it. But it keeps the car bombers and weapon smugglers out. Iraqis who live in Fallujah are free to come and go as they please. The non-resident vehicle ban is a defensive measure, like a national border or castle moat. Its purpose is to prevent a siege from the outside.

My colleague (of sorts) at least acknowledges that “military actions are down to the minimum inside the city.” He adds, however, that “local and U.S. authorities do not seem to be thinking of ending the agonies of the over 400,000 residents of Fallujah.”

This is nonsense on stilts. Marines distribute food aid to impoverished local civilians. The electrical grid is being repaired now that insurgents no longer sabotage it. Solar-powered street lights have been installed on some of the main thoroughfares and will cover the entire city in two years if the war doesn’t come back. Locals are hired to pick up trash that went uncollected for months. A new sewage and water treatment plant is under construction in the poorest part of the city. Low-interest microloans are being distributed to small business owners to kick start the economy. American civilians donate school supplies to Iraqi children that are distributed by the Marines. Mr. al-Fadhily would know all this if he embedded with the U.S. military. Whether or not he would take the trouble to report these facts if he knew of them is another question.

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“The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.” — Thomas Jefferson

I just returned home from a trip to Fallujah, where I was the only reporter embedded with the United States military. There was, however, an unembedded reporter in the city at the same time. Normally it would be useful to compare what I saw and heard while traveling and working with the Marines with what a colleague saw and heard while working solo. Unfortunately, the other Fallujah reporter was Ali al-Fadhily from Inter Press Services.

Mr. al-Fadhily is unhappy with the way things are going in the city right now. It means little to him that the only shots fired by the Marines anymore are practice rounds on the range, and that there hasn’t been a single fire fight or combat casualty for months. That’s fair enough, as far as it goes, and perhaps to be expected from a reporter who isn’t embedded with the military and who focuses his attention on Iraqi civilians. The trouble is that Mr. Al-Fadhily’s hysterical exaggerations, refusal to provide crucial context, and outright fabrications amount to a serious case of journalistic malpractice.

Some of what al-Fadhily writes is correct. The economy and infrastructure really are shattered. Unemployment is greater than 50 percent, as he says. It’s true that most Iraqis – in Fallujah as well as everywhere else – don’t have access to safe drinking water. But he proves himself unreliable, to put it mildly, after only one sentence: “The city that was routed in November 2004 is still suffering the worst humanitarian conditions under a siege that continues.”

There is no “siege” in Fallujah. He is referring here to the hard perimeter around the city manned by Iraqi Police who prevent non-residents from bringing their cars in. It’s an extreme measure, no doubt about it. But it keeps the car bombers and weapon smugglers out. Iraqis who live in Fallujah are free to come and go as they please. The non-resident vehicle ban is a defensive measure, like a national border or castle moat. Its purpose is to prevent a siege from the outside.

My colleague (of sorts) at least acknowledges that “military actions are down to the minimum inside the city.” He adds, however, that “local and U.S. authorities do not seem to be thinking of ending the agonies of the over 400,000 residents of Fallujah.”

This is nonsense on stilts. Marines distribute food aid to impoverished local civilians. The electrical grid is being repaired now that insurgents no longer sabotage it. Solar-powered street lights have been installed on some of the main thoroughfares and will cover the entire city in two years if the war doesn’t come back. Locals are hired to pick up trash that went uncollected for months. A new sewage and water treatment plant is under construction in the poorest part of the city. Low-interest microloans are being distributed to small business owners to kick start the economy. American civilians donate school supplies to Iraqi children that are distributed by the Marines. Mr. al-Fadhily would know all this if he embedded with the U.S. military. Whether or not he would take the trouble to report these facts if he knew of them is another question.

He claims seventy percent of the city was destroyed during Operation Phantom Fury, also known as Al-Fajr, in November 2004. This is a lie. If he really went to Fallujah himself, he knows it’s a lie. It’s possible that as much as seventy percent of the city was damaged, if a single bullet hole in the side of a house counts as damage. I really don’t know. It’s hard to say. But I saw much more destruction in nearby Ramadi than I saw in Fallujah. Even there the percentage of the city that was actually destroyed is in the low single digits – nowhere near seventy percent. And I spent triple the amount of time in Fallujah as in Ramadi. I didn’t personally see every street or house, but I followed the Marines on foot patrols every day and never once retraced my steps.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Look at Google’s interactive satellite image of Fallujah from space. You can clearly see which parts of the city were destroyed and which weren’t. Most of the damage is in the north. Some of the blanks spots you’ll see are empty lots, some are cemeteries, others are destruction from war. Even if all the blank spots in the city were sites of destruction, the percentage of the total area destroyed is far closer to zero percent than to seventy. Mr. al-Fadhily’s exaggeration is on par with the libelous claim that the Israel Defense Forces killed thousands of people in the Jenin refugee camp in April of 2002 when the actual number was a mere 52.

“All of the residents interviewed by IPS were extremely angry with the media for recent reports that the situation in the city is good,” he wrote. “Many refused to be quoted for different reasons.”

This is about as believable as his seventy-percent destruction claim. What media reports from Fallujah are the residents talking about? Fallujah is very nearly a journalist-free zone. Mr. al-Fadhily and I are practically the only ones who have been there for some time. Google News finds hardly any articles filed from the city aside from mine and his. Noah Shachtman published a Fallujah piece in Wired recently, but it’s unlikely that anyone there came across it. It’s also not very likely that the Arabic-language satellite channels Fallujah residents have access to are bursting with reports of good news from the former insurgent stronghold.

Anyway, the situation in the city isn’t good. Not at all. What it is is non-violent. It’s not a war zone anymore. The infrastructure and economy are only just now beginning to slowly recover because the war, until recently, made rebuilding impossible.

“Many residents told IPS that US-backed Iraqi police and army personnel have detained people who have spoken to the media,” al-Fadhily wrote.

Some Iraqis may well have said this. The idea that Americans were setting off car bombs was another theory that made the rounds in Fallujah not long ago. Only the most paranoid or irresponsible of reporters would bother to publish such claims without a dash of skepticism or evidence.

I have been to the Iraqi Police jail in Fallujah. It’s a terrible place that probably ought to be investigated by Human Rights Watch or the like. (The Marines I spoke to insist it is an abomination.) The Iraqi Police force gets, and deserves, a lot of legitimate criticism. But the idea that its officers arrest citizens for talking to journalists is about as plausible as the silly claim made by Iraqis in Nassiriya recently that the Americans dumped a shark in a Euphrates River canal to frighten people.

Mr. al-Fadhily quotes many disgruntled Iraqis. That’s all fine and good. I, too, heard lots of complaints. There’s plenty to gripe about. Fallujah is a broken-down, ramshackle, impoverished wreck of a city. It was ruined by more than three years of war. What else can you expect of a place that only stopped exploding this summer? But if the best possible scenario ever unfolds, if peace arrives even in Baghdad, if the government becomes truly moderate and representative, if rainbows break out in the skies and the fields fill with smiling children and bunny rabbits, somebody, somewhere, will complain that Iraq has been taken over by the imperial powers of Kentucky Fried Chicken and Starbucks.

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The New CW

The security progress in Iraq this year is so overwhelming and obvious that even critics of the war cannot gainsay it. And now, belatedly, we are seeing the inevitable political ramifications in this country of that progress. On the front page of Sunday’s New York Times, for example, we read:

As violence declines in Baghdad, the leading Democratic presidential candidates are undertaking a new and challenging balancing act on Iraq: acknowledging that success, trying to shift the focus to the lack of political progress there, and highlighting more domestic concerns like health care and the economy. Advisers to Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama say that the candidates have watched security conditions improve after the troop escalation in Iraq and concluded that it would be folly not to acknowledge those gains…. While the Democratic candidates are continuing to assail the war—a popular position with many of the party’s primary voters—they run the risk that Republicans will use those critiques to attack the party’s nominee in the election as defeatist and lacking faith in the American military…. “The politics of Iraq are going to change dramatically in the general election, assuming Iraq continues to show some hopefulness,” said Michael E. O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who is a supporter of Mrs. Clinton’s and a proponent of the military buildup. “If Iraq looks at least partly salvageable, it will be important to explain as a candidate how you would salvage it—how you would get our troops out and not lose the war. The Democrats need to be very careful with what they say and not hem themselves in.”

In the Financial Times, Clive Crook writes

Up to now, Democrats have been stinting in their recognition that the situation in Iraq has improved: “Yes, violence is down a bit, but….” That is the wrong posture. They need to celebrate the success, as long as it lasts, as enthusiastically as the Republicans. They also need to stop harrying the administration with symbolic war-funding measures demanding a timetable for rapid withdrawal, as though nothing has changed. This would take little away from their larger valid criticisms of the war and of its conduct until very recently. And it is not as though Iraq is all the Democrats have going for them in this election – they are on to a winner with healthcare. Any suspicion that they are rooting for defeat in Iraq could sink them.

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The security progress in Iraq this year is so overwhelming and obvious that even critics of the war cannot gainsay it. And now, belatedly, we are seeing the inevitable political ramifications in this country of that progress. On the front page of Sunday’s New York Times, for example, we read:

As violence declines in Baghdad, the leading Democratic presidential candidates are undertaking a new and challenging balancing act on Iraq: acknowledging that success, trying to shift the focus to the lack of political progress there, and highlighting more domestic concerns like health care and the economy. Advisers to Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama say that the candidates have watched security conditions improve after the troop escalation in Iraq and concluded that it would be folly not to acknowledge those gains…. While the Democratic candidates are continuing to assail the war—a popular position with many of the party’s primary voters—they run the risk that Republicans will use those critiques to attack the party’s nominee in the election as defeatist and lacking faith in the American military…. “The politics of Iraq are going to change dramatically in the general election, assuming Iraq continues to show some hopefulness,” said Michael E. O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who is a supporter of Mrs. Clinton’s and a proponent of the military buildup. “If Iraq looks at least partly salvageable, it will be important to explain as a candidate how you would salvage it—how you would get our troops out and not lose the war. The Democrats need to be very careful with what they say and not hem themselves in.”

In the Financial Times, Clive Crook writes

Up to now, Democrats have been stinting in their recognition that the situation in Iraq has improved: “Yes, violence is down a bit, but….” That is the wrong posture. They need to celebrate the success, as long as it lasts, as enthusiastically as the Republicans. They also need to stop harrying the administration with symbolic war-funding measures demanding a timetable for rapid withdrawal, as though nothing has changed. This would take little away from their larger valid criticisms of the war and of its conduct until very recently. And it is not as though Iraq is all the Democrats have going for them in this election – they are on to a winner with healthcare. Any suspicion that they are rooting for defeat in Iraq could sink them.

And in Newsweek Charles Peters, founder of the Washington Monthly, writes

I have been troubled by the reluctance of my fellow liberals to acknowledge the progress made in Iraq in the last six months, a reluctance I am embarrassed to admit that I have shared. Giving Gen. David Petraeus his due does not mean we have to start saying it was a great idea to invade Iraq. It remains the terrible idea it always was. And the occupation that followed has been until recently a continuing disaster, causing the death or maiming of far too many American soldiers and Iraqi civilians. Still, the fact is that the situation in Iraq, though some violence persists, is much improved since the summer. Why do liberals not want to face this fact, let alone ponder its implications?

These accounts reinforce what some observers have been saying for months now: the Democratic Party crossed into treacherous political territory when its leadership declared the “surge” to be lost even before it was in place. This mistake was compounded when scores of Democrats denied, and even seemed to get agitated at, the progress the United States military was making in Iraq; when Democrats went out of their way to attack the credibility of General David Petraeus, the architect of our success there; and when they persisted, and continue to persist, in their attempts to subvert a military strategy that is showing extraordinary gains.

The better things got in Iraq, the more frantic the Democratic leadership seemed to get. While it is entirely legitimate for Democrats to criticize the Bush administration’s mistakes in Iraq, and while it was also understandable for them to be skeptical about the progress in the early part of this year, given the false summits we have experienced, what was unpardonable, according to Christopher Hitchens, was “the dank and sinister impression [liberals and Democrats] give that the worse the tidings, the better they would be pleased.”

That this happened at all ranks among the most disheartening and disturbing political developments we have seen. That there will be an accounting for it is only just—and, perhaps, only now a matter of time.

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Mistakes Were Made

The United States military has lately been having a string of bad luck in its handling of things nuclear. But is it merely bad luck, or something else?

First came the “Bent Spear” incident of August 29, in which the Air Force lost effective control of the whereabouts of a handful of nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal, the most serious such episode in decades. An Air Force briefing explaining in detail what happened can be found here

Now comes word that the Navy has been derelict as well. Sailors on the submarine USS Hampton neglected required daily safety checks on the ship’s nuclear reactor for a month. They then forged records to cover up their neglect.

The Navy Times broke the story. It quotes a former submarine commander explaining what is at stake:

It’s not that it’s dangerous at the instant. Blowing off the chem sample that day isn’t what’s dangerous, but the operational philosophy adopted by people who would do that, if applied to the other aspects of operating the nuclear-propulsion plant-watch stations or other aspects of the submarine, could be dangerous. That’s what’s scary. Besides, why the hell wouldn’t you check the chem levels? First, that’s the ELT and the CRA’s job. Second, it takes about an hour and a half each day to do it. Third, you’re on a submarine, so it’s not like you’re going to get away with doing nothing on your free time.

At a time when the military is said to be spread thin by commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, these stories are not going to go away. Nor should they. This is an area where the Defense Department simply has to get things right.

The United States military has lately been having a string of bad luck in its handling of things nuclear. But is it merely bad luck, or something else?

First came the “Bent Spear” incident of August 29, in which the Air Force lost effective control of the whereabouts of a handful of nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal, the most serious such episode in decades. An Air Force briefing explaining in detail what happened can be found here

Now comes word that the Navy has been derelict as well. Sailors on the submarine USS Hampton neglected required daily safety checks on the ship’s nuclear reactor for a month. They then forged records to cover up their neglect.

The Navy Times broke the story. It quotes a former submarine commander explaining what is at stake:

It’s not that it’s dangerous at the instant. Blowing off the chem sample that day isn’t what’s dangerous, but the operational philosophy adopted by people who would do that, if applied to the other aspects of operating the nuclear-propulsion plant-watch stations or other aspects of the submarine, could be dangerous. That’s what’s scary. Besides, why the hell wouldn’t you check the chem levels? First, that’s the ELT and the CRA’s job. Second, it takes about an hour and a half each day to do it. Third, you’re on a submarine, so it’s not like you’re going to get away with doing nothing on your free time.

At a time when the military is said to be spread thin by commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, these stories are not going to go away. Nor should they. This is an area where the Defense Department simply has to get things right.

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