Sunday, April 29, 2007

Iraq: Lowering the Bar

In the face of a showdown with Congress over mandatory timelines for troop redeployments from Iraq, the White House and Pentagon struggle to retain their blank check.

The art of the lowered expectation has long been a hallmark of Bush administration political strategies, so it's little surprise they're now applying it to the Iraq situation. According to David E. Sanger of the New York Times, some of Mr. Bush's top advises now say the White House is scaling back its expectations for Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government. Ryan C. Crocker, the new U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, describes al-Maliki's situation as "trying to fight fires from every direction."

“We have to be clear to him on where our priorities are," Crocker told U.S. reporters by phone, "so that we can buy him the time he needs. And we have to buy the time now because he is going to need it in the future.”

If we haven't made out priorities clear to al-Maliki by now, I doubt we ever will. And this business of buying him time now so he'll have it in the future sounds like something out of the worst Star Trek episode ever written. But don't be fooled--there's a method to this madness.

Lock Step

Not surprisingly, this new White House approach coincides with remarks made last week by General David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq. Of the escalation effort in Iraq, Petraeus told reporters "It is an endeavor that clearly is going to require enormous commitment and commitment over time," and refused to speculate on how many U.S. troops would need to be committed to Iraq over what period of time.

All the sound and fury about a "new way forward" has been a smokescreen to preserve the same old "stay the course" strategy. The "surge" was never really a "best last chance for success." It was a stalling tactic--the next step in ensuring America would maintain significant military presence in Iraq through at least the end of the Bush term.

What worries Bush and his advisers about Congress's timeline bill is that it catches them in a lie. In essence, the bill says "Okay, we'll fund your surge, but only for a limited amount of time. If the surge works, great, we're out of there. If it doesn't work, too bad, we're out of there anyway."

That's pretty much how the administration sold the so-called surge in the first place, but as we have discussed, the surge justification was a canard from the get go.

Hiding Behind the Troops

If the Congress wants to test my will as to whether or not I'll accept a timetable for withdrawal, I won't accept one. I just don't think it's in the interest of our troops.

-- George W. Bush, April 27, 2007

This statement is typical of Mr. Bush's fallback position in any debate--turn everything into a manhood measuring contest and hide behind the troops. You'd think that as the notional leader of the world's most powerful nation and having reached the ripe old age of 60, Mr. Bush would have abandoned this kind of schoolyard rhetoric long ago, but it appeals to the non-cognitive segment of his base, and it's worked for him so far, so why should he change now?

Most of us can see the foolishness in deciding vital questions of policy through adolescent genital comparisons, but it's somewhat harder to keep the discussion within the bounds of logic and reason when "support the troops" is invoked. Very few of us, no matter how much we may object to that administration's policies and strategies, wish anything but the best for our troops, especially the vast majority of them who have no say in the policies and strategies.

If you believe the administration's propaganda, the troops want to stay in Iraq and get the job done (whatever getting the "job done" might consist of). If you buy the results of a Zogby Poll, the vast majority of troops in Iraq have wanted a withdrawal timeline for over a year.

At the end of the day, though, when it comes to matters of foreign policy and national security strategy, what the troops think or want or feel doesn't matter. Certainly, if America decides to put its all-volunteer force in harm's way, it owes that force whatever it needs to accomplish the agreed upon mission and to sustain and protect itself (a pact, by the way, that the Bush administration and its sycophants in Congress and the Pentagon have miserably failed to live up to.)

But it's not up to the troops to determine where and when they go into harm's way, or how long they stay there. And as to the head troopers in charge--the active duty Generals--they've proven themselves throughout the course of the Bush administration to be little more than invertebrate yes men. I had hoped that Petraeus might turn out to have something more in the lumbar department than his predecessors, but those hopes began to vanish like a blind widow's silverware when he stage managed that outdoor market shopping trip in Baghdad for John McCain, Lindsay Graham, and a hundred of their very best heavily armed friends.

Given Petraeus's complicity in the neoconservative bait-and-switch "surge" plan (the "surge" that was actually a long term escalation), it's fairly apparent that Bush didn't expect Petraeus to win the war in Iraq. Bush was looking for a pliant four-star who would help him spin the war into the next administration's lap, and early indications suggest that Bush made a sound choice in that regard.

But as I said earlier, Petraeus's inputs on the future of U.S. involvement in Iraq aren't pertinent. The Iraq policy issue is now in the proper arena, a showdown between the executive and legislative branches. The first veto will no doubt come by the middle of this week. What happens then is anybody's guess. We hear rumors that some sort of compromise is already in the making, but these days we hear a lot of rumors that turn out not to be true.

Moreover, one has to wonder what kind of compromise can be crafted given the basic nature of the opposing positions. Mr. Bush wants a blank check that allows him to continue his war in Iraq indefinitely. The Democratic Congress wants put a finite cap on the duration and intensity of U.S. involvement in that war. I don't see how anyone can square a circle that big. The choice is between Mr. Bush and Congress, and in that regard, William Odom, a retired Army lieutenant general and former Director of the National Security Agency aptly framed the issue in a radio address last Saturday.
I am not now nor have I ever been a Democrat or a Republican. Thus, I do not speak for the Democratic Party. I speak for myself…

…Most Americans suspect that something is fundamentally wrong with the President's management of the conflict in Iraq. And they are right…

…We cannot 'win' a war that serves our enemies interests and not our own. Thus continuing to pursue the illusion of victory in Iraq makes no sense. We can now see that it never did…

… No effective new strategy can be devised for the United States until it begins withdrawing its forces from Iraq…

…I hope the President seizes this moment for a basic change in course and signs the bill the Congress has sent him. I will respect him greatly for such a rare act of courage, and so too, I suspect, will most Americans.

I appreciate General Odom's sentiments, but as we have observed over the past six years plus, acts of courage on the part of the Bush administration and its supporters are rare indeed.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Son of Stay the Course

As the Senate sent legislation to the White House that calls for troop withdrawal timelines, General David Petraeus, top U.S. commander in Iraq, said that the war will require "an enormous commitment" by the United States.

When asked by reporters what kind of troop commitment would be required to get the job done, Petraeus answered, "I wouldn't try to truly anticipate what [that] level might be some years down the road." Petraeus noted historic case studies of long-term U.S. peacekeeping missions, and added that Iraq is "an endeavor that clearly is going to require enormous commitment and commitment over time."

Petraeus has revealed himself to be a follower in the fine tradition of other four-star officers who have served under the Bush administration--a mouthpiece who's perfectly willing to polly cracker whatever message the regime wants injected into the echo chamber.

The Very Model of a Modern Four-Star General

Petraeus seems to have mastered the fine neoconservative art of talking out both sides of his mouth. He gave the press new details on the "exceedingly unhelpful activities" by Iran, revealing links to the Khazaali terrorist network allegedly responsible for the abduction and murder of five U.S. soldiers in Karbala in January. He said the Khazaali network "is directly connected to the Iranian Quds Force, received money, training, arms, ammunition and at some points in time even advice and assistance and direction."

But then, incredibly, he said there is no direct evidence that Iranians were directly involved in the Karbala incident.

Of the troop increase, Petraeus said "I think there is the very real possibility that there's going to be more combat action and that, therefore, there could be more casualties," Petraeus said. "When you're expanding your forces' presence, when you are going into areas that have been very lightly populated with coalition forces in the past, that there is going to be more action."

But he also said that “My sense is that there would be an increase in sectarian violence, a resumption of sectarian violence, were the presence of our forces and Iraqi forces at that time to be reduced.”

Yeah, Petraeus has the Rovewellian patter down pat all right: cover all outrageous assertions with plausible disclaimers and hedge all bets: things may be bad if we go with our plan but they may be worse if we don't go with it.

Wittingly or not, Petraeus has also offered himself up as the escalation strategy poster boy. The administration's pro-escalation argument goes that the Senate's confirmation Petraeus as the U.S. commander in Iraq was a de facto endorsement of the escalation plan. That's nonsense on several counts. Patreaus didn't propose the escalation plan; Bill Kristol's neoconservative cronies Fred Kagan and Jack Keane proposed it. Petraeus was, obviously, receptive to Mr. Bush's way forward of choice, or Bush wouldn't have nominated him for the four-star Iraq post. Whatever Petraeus really thinks of the escalation strategy (he's rumored to have said he thinks it has a one in four chance of succeeding), it's not his prerogative to dictate foreign policy, even if he's the four-star head of a regional unified command.

I don't envy Petraeus his job, but I'm not at all comfortable with the way he's going about it. It's starting to look like he's putting more effort into spinning the war than winning it. That little propaganda stunt he stage managed with John McCain and Lindsey Graham and a hundred of their best heavily armed friends on a shopping spree in an outdoor market in Baghdad was downright embarrassing.

Mr. Bush has stated he has no intention of withdrawing troops from Iraq during his tenure, and Petraeus seems determined to create conditions that give the boss what he wants.

At this point in our Iraq misadventure, anything Petraeus or any other active duty general or admiral has to say is moot. To date, everything we've heard from the folks with stars on their collars has been administration serving double talk, and Petraeus isn't sounding any different from any of his predecessors.

Lieutenant Colonel Paul Yingling aptly describes today's general and flag officer community in a recent Armed Forces Journal article titled "A Failure in Generalship."
While the physical courage of America's generals is not in doubt, there is less certainty regarding their moral courage. In almost surreal language, professional military men blame their recent lack of candor on the intimidating management style of their civilian masters. Now that the public is immediately concerned with the crisis in Iraq, some of our generals are finding their voices. They may have waited too long…

… Neither the executive branch nor the services themselves are likely to remedy the shortcomings in America's general officer corps. Indeed, the tendency of the executive branch to seek out mild-mannered team players to serve as senior generals is part of the problem. The services themselves are equally to blame. The system that produces our generals does little to reward creativity and moral courage. Officers rise to flag rank by following remarkably similar career patterns. Senior generals, both active and retired, are the most important figures in determining an officer's potential for flag rank. The views of subordinates and peers play no role in an officer's advancement; to move up he must only please his superiors. In a system in which senior officers select for promotion those like themselves, there are powerful incentives for conformity. It is unreasonable to expect that an officer who spends 25 years conforming to institutional expectations will emerge as an innovator in his late forties.

The future of our Iraq involvement lies in the current struggle between Mr. Bush and Congress over war funding and timelines. Mr. Bush says he won't back down. Here's hoping Congress won't either. I don't know what Democratic congressional leaders Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi plan to do when and if Bush vetoes the spending bill, but I'm ready to support a draconian measure.

If Congress responds to a veto by saying, fine, then we'll cut off all future funding and you, Mr. President, can use what's left in the money pipeline to bring our troops home right now, that will be just fine by me.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Iraq: Congress Steps Up to the Plate

The fight over the war spending bill is drawing to a head. The Senate is scheduled to vote on Thursday on a joint resolution that will give Mr. Bush his $124 billion in war spending but will call for a U.S. troop withdrawal timeline for Iraq. Mr. Bush, of course, likes the $124 billion, but has threatened to veto any bill that contains timelines.

Mr. Bush talks about wanting to "work with the Democrats" on finding a "way forward" in Iraq, but what he really means is that he wants Congress to give him whatever he wants the way it did for six years under a Republican majority. As far as he's concerned, it's his way forward or the highway.

On Tuesday, Messrs. Bush and Cheney accused congressional Democrats of political opportunism. Mr. Bush said, "Instead of fashioning a bill I could sign, the Democratic leaders chose to further delay funding our troops, and they chose to make a political statement. That’s their right. But it is wrong for our troops and it’s wrong for our country.”

Mr. Bush should know full well what's wrong for our troops and our country. He's been doing what's wrong for years. Unfortunately, there's little indication that he's learned from his mistakes, or that he actually understands that he's made any.

Cheney lashed out at Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada). “What’s most troubling about Senator Reid’s comments yesterday is his defeatism,” he said, referring to Reid's assertion that Bush is in denial about the situation in Iraq and that the war has been lost militarily. “And the timetable legislation that [Reid] is now pursuing would guarantee defeat. Maybe it is a political calculation.”

Bush and Cheney have both demonstrated over a considerable period of time that they couldn't find their way forward with a map and a flashlight. Timetable legislation will not "guarantee" defeat. If anything, timetables may be the key to getting Iraq's parliament off its collective ennui, order the sectarian militias to stand down, and make the kinds of compromises needed to form a true central government.

Last week, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told Pentagon reporters that "The debate in Congress . . . has been helpful in demonstrating to the Iraqis that American patience is limited," and that "The strong feelings expressed in the Congress about the timetable probably has had a positive impact . . . in terms of communicating to the Iraqis that this is not an open-ended commitment."

If the threat of imposed timelines is having a "positive impact," imagine how effective the reality of legislated timelines will be.

Still Going

All the Federales say, they could've had him any day
They only let him slip away, out of kindness I suppose.

-- Willie Nelson

The tallest Arab ever wanted dead or alive by a U.S. president is still at large, and by some accounts he's not only alive and well, he's still running the show. On Al Jazeera television, Taliban military commander Mullah Dadullah claimed that Osama bin Laden is orchestrating militant actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, including the February 27 attack on the U.S. base in Bagram during Dick Cheney's visit to Afghanistan.

We don't necessarily want to accept a claim made by a Taliban leader on Al Jazeera at face value. It's sad to say, however, that the likes of Dadullah are at least as credible as the likes of Bush and Cheney.

"Stay the Course" and "Last Throes" don't have a clue what they're talking about. They never did. Their conduct of the Iraq war and the war on terror in general has been an abomination. Why anyone still takes anything they say seriously is a sad commentary on the contemporary American body politic, but that's the way it goes. In a country this size, there always be a permanent core of lemmings eager to chug the grape flavored brainwash gushing from the Big Brother Broadcast.

Hopefully, the Democratic Congress will be able to put the lunatics back in their boxes, and lead this country back to the kind of sanity the majority of Americans mandated in November 2006.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Iraq: Surgin' Safari

General David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, says the ongoing surge of troops in Iraq is achieving "modest progress." But he also allows as how, yeah, there have been setbacks--devastating suicide bombings, penetrations of the Green Zone, blown up bridges and little stuff like that. Two months into the surge, Petraeus and other senior commanders say they see "mixed results." An increase in troop levels has improved security in Baghdad and Anbar province, they say, but attacks have increased elsewhere. Suicide bombings have increased 30 percent over the last six weeks.

If that's modest progress, cherry Life Savers are a modest cure for throat cancer.

Senior U.S. commanders admit that the real solution lies in political compromise among the various sectarian factions in Iraq, and they've been saying that all along. Security in Baghdad, in theory, is merely an enabling objective that will allow the political process to take place.

This line of reasoning is based on a flawed assumption, namely that the sectarian violence and the political infighting are separate issues. The key militia groups committing the sectarian violence are, for the most part, controlled by or loyal to the very members of parliament responsible for the political infighting. The "logic" behind the security strategy says that if we can (a) take away the politicians' militias then (b) the politicians will be forced to compromise. That's an overly optimistic expectation.

Even if (a) can produce (b), (a) itself has little likelihood of succeeding. As we have seen, Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has ordered his Mahdi Army to fade into the woodwork, thereby avoiding a decisive confrontation with U.S. forces. This leaves American troops with Sunni militias as the main available adversaries, and in the process of executing operations against the Sunni groups, we've allowed al-Sadr to manipulate us into doing his dirty work for him. Don't think we'll manage to take out the Sunni militias, though. They, along with the tiny al-Qaeda faction in Iraq, may continue to commit spectacular random acts of violence in Baghdad and elsewhere, but like the Mahdi Army, they understand that a key tenet of guerilla style warfare is to not risk defeat in a direct confrontation with a superior military force.

Adding to the difficulty of the military piece of the problem is lack of unity of command. U.S and Iraqi forces operate under separate chains of command, something that U.S. commanders claim has not caused major problems. One has to question that claim.

U.S. forces had planned to build a wall around Baghdad's mostly Sunni Adhamiya neighborhood. The neighborhood is a stronghold of militant Sunni groups, and the wall was intended as a means of controlling their movements. Last week, U.S. military officials described the Adhamiya wall as “one of the centerpieces of a new strategy.”

But Iraqis took to the streets in protest, and Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki ordered a halt to the wall's construction. American officials weren't eager to follow al-Maliki's directive right away, but on Monday, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker said, “Obviously we will respect the wishes of the government and the prime minister."

Interestingly though, according to other news sources, spokesman for the Baghdad Law Enforcement Plan Qassem Atta said on Monday that construction on the Adhamiya wall has resumed.

What's really going on over there? And who's really in charge? Petraeus? Al-Maliki? Ambassador Crocker? Qasse Atta? Ahmed Pyle? Anybody?

We get reports, mostly from mid-grade and senior U.S. officers, that Iraqi security forces are improving, but this kind of testimonial evidence is highly unreliable. We've heard this happy talk about "standing up" before, and it turned out to be false. Why should we believe it now? In the past, members of Iraq's security forces were known to be more loyal to the militias than to the government, and it's foolhardy to think that situation has changed significantly. Leopards and spots, and all that.

Petraeus met in Washington with Mr. Bush on Monday. At a press conference after the meeting, Mr. Bush said "As the general will tell the folks on Capitol Hill, there's been some progress. There's been some horrific bombings, of course." So it sounds like the company line on the surge progress is firmly established. Everybody's hunkered down behind the same pile of sandbags.

In response to a reporter's question regarding Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's remarks that he is in denial about Iraq, Mr. Bush said, "I believe strongly that politicians in Washington shouldn't be telling generals how to do their job." Bush also told reporters "I will, of course, be willing to work with the Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, on a way forward."

Mr. Bush has always been willing to work with Congress--as long as Congress gave him exactly what he wanted. Hopefully, the rubber stamp days are over for good. It is, in fact, time for Congress to start telling generals how to do their job. We're not talking about the nuts and bolts of where and how to deploy troops and design operations. The kinds of things Reid and others in Congress are pressing for--timelines, deployment cycles, training requirements and so on--are matters of policy, not of strategy or tactics, and in the United States of America, generals do not dictate national policy. At least, they're not supposed to.

Further, assertions that foreign policy is the sole prerogative of the executive branch are specious at best. Articles I and II of the U.S. Constitution make foreign policy a responsibility shared by the executive and legislative branches, and the Constitution assigns the preponderance of war making powers to Congress, not to the president.

Lamentably, in today's American political scene, the question of delegation of constitutional foreign policy powers has become moot because the people who now formulate that policy--and its companion strategies like the "surge"--are Bill Kristol's neoconservative cabal, the same folks who got us into our Iraq fiasco in the first place, and they don't have any authority under the Constitution.

The new "way forward" looks more every day like an extended run of "stay the course." Some of the featured players have been recast, and the script has been rewritten slightly, but it's still the same freak show.

The House-Senate Conference Committee announced late Monday that it has approved the Iraq Accountability Act. The Act covers troop readiness standards, benchmarks for the Iraqi government, and mandatory U.S. troop redeployment dates. Kudos to Congress for making a full court press to stop the Bush administration's Middle East madness. Hopefully, their efforts will be successful, and will come to fruition in time to keep the stern of our ship of state from disappearing under a sand dune.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.

Friday, April 20, 2007

How About That Surge? (Continued)

Kirk Semple of the New York Times reports on the "good news" in Baghdad.
BAGHDAD, April 18--In the deadliest day in Baghdad since the latest American-led security plan for the city took effect two months ago, at least 171 people were killed today in a flurry of insurgent attacks, including car bombs that tore through predominantly Shiite crowds gathered at a bus hub, on a shopping street and near a police checkpoint, the authorities said…

…As rescuers crowded the site, a sniper opened fire on the crowd, killing at least one more person and wounding two others…

…The flurry of attacks came as Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki declared that the Iraqi government would take full control of security from the American-led forces before the end of the year.

If you believe that the Iraqi government can take control of security by the end of the year, I have a few pyramid investment schemes you might be interested in. As to the recent car bombings in Baghdad, well, that's hardly a sign that the "surge" plan is succeeding. Subsequent to the April 16 Baghdad bombing, Maliki described the situation in Baghdad as an "open battle."

Military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Garver stated, “As we’ve said before, it’s going to be a tough fight,” but he added that “The plan is not even fully implemented yet.” One has to wonder how much tougher the fight will get when the plan is "fully implemented."

Ideologues and Brick Walls

Mr. Bush continues to threaten to veto any war-spending bill that sets time limits on our involvement in Iraq, and has accused Democrats of wanting to "legislate defeat." It would be more honest to say that the Democrats are trying to legislate sanity over Mr. Bush's off the rails foreign policy, and that their insistence on benchmarks and deadlines are the only thing that will force Iraq's government to get its act together.

According to the Times, in a Thursday visit to Baghdad, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told Iraqi political leaders in no uncertain terms that America's commitment to the war is not open ended. "The clock is ticking," he told reporters.
Gates, traveling to Iraq for the third time in four months, took a decidedly stronger tone this time, reflecting U.S. frustration and the political tumult in Washington where President Bush and Congress are deadlocked over whether to set an end date for the war.

The defense secretary stressed again, however, that the debate has been helpful in letting the Iraqis know that American patience with the war is ebbing.

"Ebbing" support for the war is something of an understatement.

On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the war in Iraq could not be won through military force--hardly a new sentiment-- but only through political, economic, and diplomatic means. ‘‘I believe myself that the secretary of state, secretary of defense, and--you have to make your own decisions as to what the president knows--[know] this war is lost and the surge is not accomplishing anything as indicated by the extreme violence in Iraq yesterday,’’ he said.

Republicans, naturally, denounced Reid's remarks as evidence that the Democrats do not support the troops. These, of course, are the same Republicans who have backed Bush's policies and strategies throughout the course of the Iraq War, and who are on board with Gates's plan to extend tours of duty in Iraq, shorten stateside rotations and send troops back into theater with insufficient training and equipment.

A report from McClatchy Newspapers indicates that military planners may have given up on the hope that "standing up" Iraqi troops will enable U.S. troops to come home soon, and believe that U.S. forces will have to bear the brunt of defeating insurgents and securing Iraq's trouble provinces. Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace says the U.S. is trying to buy "time for the Iraqi government to provide the good governance and the economic activity that's required."

But a State Department official put things a slightly different way. "Our strategy now is to basically hold on and wait for the Iraqis to do something," he said. If we wait for the Iraqis to do something, we'll wait for a very long time.

There's no telling what Mr. Bush is really thinking, but his actions and rhetoric indicate that he's bound and determined to maintain U.S. troop levels in Iraq at present levels or greater until the end of his term and leave his mess for someone else to clean up. Reid and Pelosi need to keep pushing for benchmarks and timelines, because without them, the Iraq fiasco will continue to compound itself until there is no solution whatsoever.

In the meantime, John McCain, who's trying to make himself into the heir apparent of the Bush legacy, is pushing the escalation strategy, opposing the Democrats' timeline initiatives, and wants to bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.

As a late, great veteran of World War II said, "hi ho!"


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

How About That Surge, Huh?

So much for political solutions in Iraq.

The New York Times reports that six Iraqi cabinet members loyal Moqtada al-Sadr resigned on Monday at the behest of the Shiite cleric.

The resignations were in protest of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's refusal to impose a timeline for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. As you've probably noticed, we're having a political showdown over withdrawal timelines over here, too. But nobody's threatening to resign over it, and at the end of the day, whatever the emergency war appropriation turns out to look like, it will finance Mr. Bush's so called "surge" plan. But Mr. Bush's surge is supposed to create conditions that will make a political solution possible, which with each passing day seems less and less likely.

Stand Up! Stand Down! Fight! Fight! Fight!

The recent suicide bombing in the Green Zone doesn't prove that the surge plan isn't working, but that little shopping that John McCain, Lindsey Graham and a hundred of their best heavily armed friends threw in a Baghdad market last week certainly doesn't prove that it is working either. It may be that U.S. commander in Iraq General David Petraeus bring relative stability to Baghdad. I'm skeptical about the chances he can pull off a miracle of that magnitude, but even if he can, he won't have achieved "victory."

Keep in mind that a secure Baghdad is merely an enabling objective in the surge strategy. The strategic aim--in theory at least--is to provide enough breathing room for the Iraqi government and institutions to stabilize and train up a security force that's loyal to the government. That I don't think Petraeus or Napoleon or the Supreme Being could make happen, at least not any time in the next 1,400 years. Invading Iraq was colossal idiocy. We would have been much better off to contain Saddam Hussein from the periphery and wait for him to die of old age.

In a recent op-ed piece, veteran military correspondent Joseph L. Galloway wrote that the surge plan is a "…search for a fig leaf to cover the emperor’s nakedness--a way for Bush to go home to Texas with a ringing but hollow declaration that 'Iraq wasn't lost on my watch.'"

Galloway is exactly right. Even George W. Bush has to know by now that there's no such thing as a "victory" to be had in Iraq. He wants to hang on long enough to let someone else take credit for his "defeat."

Waiting for Godot

Mr. Bush promises to veto any war-spending bill that contains benchmark or timeline constraints. His "common wisdom" argument says that if we announce a departure date, the enemy will lie low and wait for us to. Like so much that passes for common wisdom, this argument is all too common and none too wise. I'm not entirely convinced that the bad guys will decide to wait us out, and even if they do, that might be a good thing.

They might wait us out, but it's equally likely they would gather to do as much damage to us as they can before we go and to make sure we don't change our minds about leaving. If, on the other hand, they decide to lie low, that will buy us the kind of security we say we need to train up Iraqi security forces and let the various factions in the government settle their differences. At the end of the day, announcing a departure timeline would accomplish the same kinds of things the surge is supposedly designed to achieve and a timeline would provide the additional benefit of lighting a fire under the Iraqi Parliament to get its act together.

Keep in mind that the fighting among the militias and the infighting among the members of Iraq's government are part and parcel of the same thing. The Sunni and Shiite militias doing the fighting are loyal to individual members of Parliament who are doing the infighting. So there's no real separating the security situation from the political situation, and the longer we let Iraq's politicians use us to deal with their security situation, the longer they'll put off coming up with political solutions and the more the disparate parties will manipulate us into doing their dirty work for them. At present al-Sadr's Mahdi Army seems to have gone underground, and why not? Why go toe to toe with the U.S. surge force when they can lie low and let American troops mop up on the Sunni militias for them?

The Bush administration and its supporters are manipulating us into allowing Iraq's politicians to manipulate our troops. That, perhaps more than anything, is the true tragedy of this fiasco.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Heroes and Villains

Heroes and villains
Just see what you've done

-- Brian Wilson

Among the things I hate most about the nature of the woebegone wars we're fighting now is how easily our troops can become the bad guys. The New York Times recently reported on yet another collateral damage incident, this time in Afghanistan.
KABUL, Afghanistan, April 14--American marines reacted to a bomb ambush with excessive force in eastern Afghanistan last month, hitting groups of bystanders and vehicles with machine-gun fire in a series of attacks that covered 10 miles of highway and left 12 civilians dead, including an infant and three elderly men, according to a report published by an Afghan human rights commission on Saturday…

…One victim, a newly married 16-year-old girl, was cut down while she was carrying a bundle of grass to her family’s farmhouse, according to her family and the report. A 75-year-old man walking to his shop was hit by so many bullets that his son said he did not recognize the body when he came to the scene.

The incident took place on March 4 in Nangarhar Province. The military began an investigation shortly afterwards, and is now considering criminal charges against the Marines involved. I have no interest in condemning or condoning those Marines, and have no means of doing so. The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission report on the incident condemned the suicide bomb attack that started things, but also said that: “In failing to distinguish between civilians and legitimate military targets, the U.S. Marine Corps Special Forces employed indiscriminate force. Their actions thus constitute a serious violation of international humanitarian standards.”

That might be true, but it appears that the Commission's report is largely based on anecdotal evidence from eyewitnesses. Eyewitness reports are seldom reliable, and we have no way of knowing the underlying motives of these particular eyewitnesses, most of whom are families and friends of the victims and who may or may not have direct or indirect connections with al-Qaeda and/or the Taliban. That the U.S. military is in the final stages of approving condolence payments to the families of the killed and wounded doesn't tell us much. We've been doing that sort of thing for a long, long time.

But the outrage among Afghanis seems to be genuine. “This is not an isolated case,” said Nader Nadery, deputy director of the human rights commission. Nadery said this incident and others like it are defeating the U.S. goal of winning the hearts and minds of the Afghani people away from the Taliban. I'll second that sentiment.

Administrative Nightmare

The Afghan commission's report has been forwarded to Admiral William Fallon, chief of Central Command, for review. That's just the kind of administrative headache Fallon and his staff need right now. They're already presiding over two failed wars, some kind of murky monkey business or other in Somalia, plus the possibility of an air and maritime operation against Iran.

The Marines involved in the Nangarhar Province incident are still in theater, but the rest of their 120-man company has been pulled out of the country. The entire company will no doubt be subjected to intense scrutiny over the affair, and its morale and readiness will suffer for it. Platoons of rear echelon merry fellows will wipe out mighty forests coming up with lessons learned and corrective training syllabi that no one will ever read.

The Marines under investigation may get a fair shake from the military justice system and they may not. Military justice is always a crapshoot. You could be Private Lynndie England, who got 36 months in the Naval Brig in San Diego for her part in the Abu Ghraib scandal. Or you could be Major General Geoffrey Miller, Donald Rumsfeld's interrogation czar at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, who was allowed to retire as a two-star.

Or you could be Donald Rumsfeld, the man perhaps most singularly responsible for every crime and disaster committed in our Middle East misadventure, and retire as Secretary of Defense to a life of luxury that very few of us dare to dream of.

Funny how that works, isn't it? Lynndie England will be lucky to get back her civilian job at a fast food joint. Miller and Rumsfeld will never have to eat at one.

The Good, the Bad and the Culpable

Like I said, I can't condone or condemn the Marines in this story because I don't really know what happened. But I find myself sympathizing with them because it's a travesty that they were in Afghanistan in the first place. The fourth anniversary of the Mesopotamia Mistake took most of the public's eye off the fact that we've been flopping around in Afghanistan since October of 2001. Five and a half years later, Afghanistan is a narco-state, the Taliban are launching a spring offensive, the Karzai government is a joke and, oh yeah, the tallest Arab ever wanted dead or alive by an American president is still on the loose. None of that is the fault of the Marines under investigation for using "indiscriminate force" at Nangarhar Province.

None of those Marines concocted the elaborate hoax that led to our invasion of Iraq, none of them lied to us year after year about how well things were going there, and none of them tried to blame the "hostile media" or "Defeato-crats" for their own culpability in running two of the most mismanaged wars in U.S. history. Nor will they live comfortably the rest of their lives on the cushion of their war profits. Whatever the results of their investigation or trials, none of those Marines will land 7 figure book deals, or cushy fellowships with neoconservative think tanks, or high dollar jobs as pundits in Rupert Murdoch's right wing media empire, and they're not likely to pick up executive positions with big profile defense contractors.

And come January 2009, none of them will retire to their ranches in Texas and erect libraries dedicated to the redemption of their legacies.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Green Zone Bombing Proves Surge Is Working!

Last Thursday, two months into the "surge" plan to secure Baghdad, a suicide bombing took place in the capital city's heavily guarded International Zone (formerly known as the Green Zone). The explosion took place in a café located in the Parliament building. An Iraqi government source told Reuters that "We had prior intelligence that there would be an attack on the parliament." The explosives used in the attack had to pass through two checkpoints: an outer one manned by U.S. and an inner one guarded by security contractors and foreign troops in the U.S. led coalition.

As of Friday, three Green Zone cafeteria workers had been detained for questioning but not charged. Some parliamentary guards were questioned but not held. An unnamed "senior" government official said a member of Sunni parliament member's security team may have participated in the attack.

They knew the attack was coming, they couldn't stop it, and they can't figure out who was behind it even though a group that calls itself the Islamic State in Iraq claimed responsibility for it.

The casual observer might conclude this indicates the Baghdad security plan isn't going so well, but that's just, as Donald Rumsfeld once said, "Henny Penny the sky is falling" talk. As Reuters noted, "Washington and some Iraqi politicians dismissed suggestions the attack signaled a failure of the U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown in the capital."

So don't worry. Be happy. Go shopping.

Liars, Guns and Money

Lieutenant General Raymond T. Odierno, the number two U.S. commander in Iraq, said the Thursday bombing "has only strengthened the resolve of the government of Iraq."

Heh, heh, heh, heh, heh, heh, heh. Never mind pressuring them to get their act together with benchmarks and deadlines, I guess. Just set off a bomb in the Parliament building every week or so--that will light a fire under them.

Odierno also said that the Parliament bombing, along with a successful attack on a landmark Baghdad bridge the same day shows that there is a "long way to go," but he also pointed to "significant progress" being made in curbing the city's rampant violence.

As best I can tell, this "significant progress" consists of John McCain's tour through a Baghdad marketplace under the protection of 100 heavily armed U.S. troops and helicopters and snipers providing high cover. If we could cover every Iraqi family with a hundred troops to protect them, I reckon the success of the "surge" plan would be a guaranteed slamdunk.

Three weeks ago, according to the New York Times, Iraqi national security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie ordered a top-to-bottom search of the Parliament building that found 19 unaccounted for pistols. Mr. Al-Rubai was among the wounded in Thursday's suicide bombing.

The Times also notes that the image of the Green/International Zone as an "impregnable fortress" has been on the wane for some time.
Regular rocket and mortar attacks on the United States Embassy compound have killed a civilian and a soldier and wounded several others in recent weeks. And senior military officials said two suicide vests were found in a garbage bin in the Green Zone about two weeks ago.

Suicide bombers who take out Iraq's security adviser. Rocket and mortar attacks. 19 unaccounted for pistols. Suicide vests found in a garbage bin. All this and much, much more in the most "secure" part of Baghdad. If that's "significant progress," Gummy Bears are a cure for AIDS.

And yet, the neoconservative likes of Charles Krauthammer continue to echo the trumpet call that the "surge plan" shows "real signs of success."

Well, hey, if Charles Krauthammer says so, it must be true, huh?

It must be nice to make big bucks for pumping bull plop into the info-sphere.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

John McCain and the Jive Talk Express

John McCain is morphing into George W. Bush. With his hopes for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination fading into the sunset, he's taken to pushing his pro-Iraq war message in front of a friendly military crowd. But unlike Mr. Bush, who normally uses active duty troops for window dressing, Mr. McCain gave his most recent remarks before cadets of the Virginia Military Institute.


What's next for McCain--a keynote speech at the national Campfire Girls convention?

A Chip Off the Old Blockhead

From Adam Nagourney of the New York Times:
LEXINGTON, Va., April 11 — Senator John McCain of Arizona today accused his potential Democratic presidential rivals of playing “small politics” in opposing the war in Iraq, saying withdrawal would lead to chaos across the Middle East, embolden Al Qaeda and expose the United States to “another 9/11--or worse.”

Imagine that, John McCain accusing his political opponents of playing politics and invoking 9/11. Yeah, he's turning into George W. Bush all right. And like Bush, McCain seems blissfully dismissive of the fact that it's our presence in Iraq that has emboldened the terrorists and created chaos across the Middle East.

But why should I even bother to bring this up? If you've been following the American domestic and foreign policy scene at all for the last six years, I'm preaching to the choir. If you still support Bush's policies, I'm talking to the splinters on the pews.

McCain wants the 2008 GOP presidential nomination and he wants the Bush machine to throw its weight behind him. Backing the escalation strategy is one sure way to get it. Selling the success of the escalation strategy--as he did with his Baghdad photo opportunity while guarded by 100 heavily armed U.S. troops and five helicopters--is a vital part of McCain's campaign strategy.

But McCain is also hedging his bets. “Having been a critic of the way this war was fought and a proponent of the very strategy now being followed, it is my obligation to encourage Americans to give it a chance to succeed,” he said. “To do otherwise would be contrary to the interests of my country and dishonorable.” If the escalation "works" (whatever that might mean), he can take credit for having supported it. If the escalation plan flops like a bad sitcom, McCain can always remind us that he had called for a surge much earlier than the Bush administration executed it, and that he had called for more troops than Bush committed to it. That's standard Bush political procedure. Always position yourself to take credit for the good and delegate blame when things don't go so good.

And, of course, McCain stole a page from the Karl Rove playbook, getting in a dig at the press. I just returned from my fifth visit to Iraq,” he said. “Unlike the veterans here today, I risked nothing more threatening than a hostile press corps.”

Yeah, McCain: you needed a hundred armed soldiers and five helicopters to protect you from those mean old reporters?

War and Politics

Despite what some would like you to believe, there is no clear divide between politics and war, just as there is no real separation of domestic policy from foreign policy. That's always been the case, but it's probably truer in contemporary America than at any other time or place in history. And I'm not terribly interested in actively opposing McCain's presidential bid. He'll do enough damage to himself without any help from me whatsoever.

What does concern me, though, is that by hitching his political wagon to Bush's war, McCain is steering the national debate back toward the ad hominem collection of generalities, faulty analogies, false assumptions, straw man attacks, disinformation and so on that the neoconservative right has been manipulating us with for years. That's a shame. We've had enough of that twaddle.

The Democrats in charge of Congress have a tough road ahead of them. Not only do they have to come up with a reasonable, responsible solution to Bush's Iraq fiasco, they'll have to figure out how to sell their program to the American public through logic and reason, and that's going to be a big rock to roll up the hill. After years--decades really--of the neoconservative right's efforts at training Americans to respond to irrational and emotional stimuli, getting them to actually think will require significant reprogramming.

Making things even tougher for the Democrats is that whatever they come up will be imperfect. There is no perfect solution to a perfect disaster the likes of which Mr. Bush and his supporters have created in the Middle East.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.

RIP Kilgore Trout

Kurt Vonnegut has "passed away." I can't get too choked up about it. After all, the guy had an incredibly successful career, and lived longer than most of us can expect to.

Still, Vonnegut was one of my top four or five literary heroes (the others include Voltaire, Twain, Orwell and Heller), and Vonnegut was the last of them to go. I can honestly say that Vonnegut was a major influence on my worldview, and on my desire to achieve something as a writer.

Say "hi ho" to the folks on Trafalgamar for me, Kurt.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Al-Sadr Takes a Lesson From Gandhi?

Now here's a sign of real progress in Iraq: on Monday, tens of thousands of Shiites staged a peaceful demonstration in the city of Najaf to protest the American occupation. From the New York Times:
The peaceful demonstration was being held at the urging of militant Shiite cleric He exhorted Iraqi security forces on Sunday to unite with his militiamen against the American military in Diwaniya, an embattled southern city in Iraq where fighting has raged for four days…

…A senior official in Mr. Sadr’s organization in Najaf, Salah al-Obaydi, called the rally a “call for liberation.”

A peaceful call for support in a violent effort to liberate Iraq from its liberators. Ain't that a kick in the head?

Here's another kick. Iraqi soldiers in uniform joined the demonstration. Who's on whose side in this circular firefight? It doesn't appear that anyone is on our side, that's for sure.

With Friends Like These…

The Sunnis want our troops out, the Shiites want our troops out. Most of the American public want our troops out. According to a Zogby Poll from last year, most of our troops want to get out. Our biggest pal in the Middle East, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, has called our occupation of Iraq "illegitimate," so it's a safe bet he wants our troops out of Iraq too.

Like Jack Murtha, I'm convinced the only folks who want us to stay in Iraq are Iran, Russia, China and al-Qaeda. It's a Sun Tzu kind of thing. There's no need to trade shots with your enemy when you can sit on the sidelines and watch him shoot himself.

Our supposed friends want us out of Iraq and our supposed enemies want us to stay there, and the Bush administration's policies continue to play into our enemies' strategy. The gang driving the Iraq escalation policy is the same neoconservative cabal that snake oiled us into our Mesopotamia mistake in the first place. Talk about "friends."

National Interest

The reasons we're admonished by the administration and its echo chamberlains to stay the course change as quickly as the reasons they took us to war to begin with, and few of them make sense.

The "enemy," whoever they are, can't follow us back here. Nobody's going to invade America militarily. Terrorist groups may sneak through our borders and ports in dribs and drabs, but nothing we're doing in Iraq is keeping that from happening. Stopping covert infiltration is a Homeland Security function (Customs, immigration, law enforcement, etc.) We don't "honor" our dead and wounded by adding to their number. We can't achieve "victory" in Iraq because we're not in a war with Iraq, per se. Iraq is in a war with itself and we're in the middle of it. Our presence in Iraq has killed more innocent Iraqis that it has saved. We're not stabilizing the Middle East, we're destabilizing it.

Iraq's neighbors, including Iran, will not invade Iraq. After watching the quagmire the "best-trained, best-equipped" military in history has bogged itself down in there, who else wants to repeat the experience? Also keep in mind that no country in the Middle East has a world-class military. They have, at best, border skirmish armies, swimming pool navies and commuter class air forces. For that same reason, an outbreak of general regional war is next to impossible. When it comes down to projecting conventional military force, these countries can barely throw a pillow across their bedrooms.

The only real reasons for us to stay the course in Iraq indefinitely are the reasons we went there in the first place, and as the paper trail of the now infamous neoconservative Project for the New American Century reveals, we invaded Iraq for oil and Israel. I certainly don't have a problem with America playing the role of Israel's guardian angel, but we didn't need to invade and occupy Iraq to accomplish that. What's more, throughout the course of its relatively short history, the state of Israel has proven quite capable of defending itself. All we've really had to do is give them the gear they needed to get the job done.

In his 2006 State of the Union Speech, Mr. Bush urged an end to America's oil "addiction," and described our dependence of foreign oil as a "serious problem." More than a year later, Mr. Bush seeks to pour more national blood and treasure into Iraq in an effort to protect our sources of foreign oil. In his 2006 speech, Bush said his energy policy goal was to make a 75 percent cut in oil imports by 2025. Bushwah. If we were to spend the kind of money on energy independence that we're currently spending on Iraq, we could shake the Middle East oil monkey off our back in a relative blink of an eye.

Good Money and Blood After Bad

Peter Baker and Thomas E. Ricks of the Washington Post reported on April 11, at least three retired four-star generals have turned down an offer to become the "czar" of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The very fundamental issue is, they don't know where the hell they're going," said retired Marine Gen. John J. "Jack" Sheehan, a former top NATO commander who was among those rejecting the job. Sheehan said he believes that Vice President Cheney and his hawkish allies remain more powerful within the administration than pragmatists looking for a way out of Iraq.
"So rather than go over there, develop an ulcer and eventually leave, I said, 'No, thanks,' " he said.

Sheehan's remarks get to the crux of what I mentioned earlier about the neocons still calling the foreign policy tune. I can't read their minds, but I can read their considerable body of papers, letters and publications. It's quite clear that they want to keep the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan going as long as they possibly can, and if they can stir something up with Iran before Bush gets his pink slip, they'll take that too.

The neocons are, after all, the intellectual progeny of the late philosopher Leo Strauss, who believed the key to political order was perpetual war, that a populace can only be united if it is united against other people, and that if an external threat does not exist, it must be invented.

So if their justifications for staying the course don't make sense to you, keep in mind that their objective is not to make sense. Their objective is to make enough ad hominem noise to fool enough of the people enough of the time long enough for them to achieve their war aims. Behind the curtain, these post-modern Machiavellians equate war with power, and for them, just as the objective of power is more power, the aim of war is more war.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Jack Jacobs Dead Wrong About British Captives' Behavior

Also at DKos.

Sometimes it pays not to play Rambo.

Several voices in the media have been critical of the conduct of the recently released British service members captured by Iran. Among those critics is retired U.S. Army Colonel Jack Jacobs, MSNBC military analyst and Congressional Medal of Honor Winner.

On Friday, Jacobs castigated the British sailors and marines for allowing themselves to be captured without putting up a fight, and for cooperating with Iranian propaganda efforts.

I'm very glad Jack Jacobs wasn't with that British boarding party.

Pavlov's Dogs of War

Right wing blog NewsBusters provides a partial transcript and a video of one of Jacobs's Friday interviews:
I don't know where to begin, I've gotta tell you, that was the most disgusting, disreputable, dishonorable performance I can remember in more than forty years of my relationship with the military service. I think every man, every woman who wears the uniform, or who has ever worn the uniform of his country, no matter what country it is, ought to be disgusted by this… And I can tell you that my feelings are almost undoubtedly echoed by everyone I know who's worn the uniform.

Well, no, Colonel. Some of us think that the British sailors and marines played the situation as smartly as it could have been played by anyone.

At a press conference with six members of the recently released boarding party on Friday, Royal Marine Captain Chris Air said, "Let me be absolutely clear: From the outset, it was very apparent that fighting back was simply not an option… We were not prepared to fight a heavily armed force who, it is our impression, came out deliberately into Iraqi waters to take us prisoner."

The "heavily armed force," according to Air, consisted of eight Revolutionary Guard speedboats armed with heavy machine guns and rocket propelled grenades. "We realized that had we resisted, there would have been a major fight, one we could not have won with consequences that would have had major strategic impact." (Italics added.)

Bingo. By committing themselves to a battle that would have led to their certain slaughter, the British boarding party would have created a far more shocking international incident than the one that actually occurred. Mr. Bush might have used such an incident to justify a full scale naval and air strike on Iran.

As to the "confessions" that they were in Iranian waters, Royal Navy Lieutenant Felix Carmen said "We were interrogated most nights, and presented with two options. ... If we admitted we had strayed, we would be on a plane back to the U.K. soon. If we didn't, we faced up to seven years in prison." He also said "At all times, if you listen carefully to what we said, we always used words like 'apparently' or 'we were perceived' or 'according to this evidence.' At no time did we actually say, 'We apologize for intruding in Iranian waters.' At all times, we stuck to our guns, and we were conducting our operations legally."

And it's obvious to anyone familiar with prisoner of war resistance techniques that the sailors and marines who made taped statements were sending clear verbal and physical cues that they were speaking under duress.

The 15 British sailors and marines are home safe now. Thanks to the level headed thinking of a small team of junior British troops, led by a Royal Marine captain and a Royal Navy lieutenant, they did not turn into a cause for war by getting themselves killed in a hopeless battle, nor did they make themselves into a critical vulnerability by becoming long-term hostages.

With all due (and well deserved) respect to Colonel Jacobs and his magnificent service record, he displays the classic symptoms of the Pavlov's Dogs of War syndrome. Like many U.S. military officers of his generation, he can think analytically about military and foreign policy issues, but only up to a certain level. At some point, his cognitive processes short circuit and migrate from the head on his neck to somewhere below his belt.

In a written commentary, Jacobs wrote "one can recall few instances in recent memory in which a group of uniformed service members acted with less professionalism and more dishonor."

Jacobs seems to have forgotten the laundry list of scandalous behavior by U.S. troops in Guantanamo, Iraq and Afghanistan. Guys like Jacobs have selective memories when it comes to grinding their pet axes.

Jacobs quoted the part of the U.S. Military Code of Conduct that says: "I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command, I will never surrender the members of my command while they still have the means to resist," and added "By contrast, these British geniuses surrendered without a shot being fired in their own defense."

These "British geniuses" were trapped in rigid rafts and armed with relatively small caliber side arms, and were surrounded by superior numbers of speedboats equipped with significantly superior firepower. They did not have the "means to resist." Nothing in the U.S. Code of Conduct or Standing Rules of Engagement requires an individual or a commander to commit certain suicide, and surrendering in the face of hopeless circumstances is hardly an act of "free will." The way Jacobs frames things, all fighting men and women who allowed themselves to become prisoners of war are cowards. One has to wonder how the survivors of the Baatan Death March or the Hanoi Hilton like being marked with that label.

In print and on air, Jacobs inferred that U.S. troops taken captive are sworn to only give their names, ranks, serial numbers and dates of birth. As a graduate of the U.S. Navy's Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) training, I can assure you that is not true. For hopefully obvious reasons, I won't go into details of what SERE teaches about resistance techniques, but from everything I've heard and read, the British captives were isolated from each other (contrary to Jacobs's assertions that they weren't) and the threat of seven years imprisonment if they didn't confess to having been operating in Iranian waters was an entirely credible.

The Brits had no hope of escape. Even if, unarmed and unequipped, they managed to slip their captors, they never would have made it out of Iran. They had no hope of rescue either. As good as the British Special Air Service commando force is, it couldn't possibly have snatched them from captivity deep inside of Iran. The captives' only hope was to seek release, and the best way to achieve that was to make the non-confessional confessions they made. As far as we can tell, they didn't give up any vital operational details or strategic intentions information that might have presented a security breach.

Jack Jacobs referred to Royal Marine Captain Chris Air as a "meathead," but the biggest meathead in this scenario is Jack Jacobs. Captain Air appears to be a modern warrior who understands the strategic consequences of tactical actions. Jacobs is an old soldier who thinks we're still fighting World War II, the kind of warrior who still thinks that "brave" and "smart" are mutually exclusive virtues, and who likes to hide his lack of intellectual integrity behind his combat decorations.

Note to MSNBC: it's time for Jacobs to fade away.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Much Ado About Pelosi

We could replace Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice with Barney Fife and see an immediate improvement in the conduct of U.S. Foreign Policy. Barney, at least, had enough gumption to stand up to Sheriff Taylor from time to time, which is a lot more than you can say about Condi's relationship with her boss, Dick Cheney. So I was glad indeed to see House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) go to Syria and speak with President Bashar al-Asad.

Critics of Pelosi's trip to Syria claim she encroached on Mr. Bush's "constitutional" privilege to unfettered control of foreign policy. The latest Rovewellian talking point says that's why Congress doesn't have its own State Department. Well, our current executive branch doesn't have a State Department either, at least not a functioning one. What passes for a State Department under this regime is a propaganda arm of the Department of Defense, and the most important person in it is not Condi, but Karen Hughes, the Texas crony who Mr. Bush appointed as Undersecretary of State for Public Affairs.

Can She Do That?

Naturally, in criticizing Pelosi's trip to Syria, the White House neglected to mention that a Republican delegation had done the very same thing on April 1. But that sort of thing is SHP (standard hypocritical procedure) in the Bush administration.

A serious question does arise, however, as to whether members of Congress should be making diplomatic visits to nations the executive branch has shunned. It certainly would have been inappropriate if the House Speaker had gone to speak with
Adolph Hitler on the eve of the D-Day invasion without the blessing of Franklin Roosevelt. But that's a whole lot different from the situation we're looking at with Syria today.

For starters, we're not at war (declared on undeclared) with Syria. Yes, the State Department has named Syria as a state sponsor of terrorism, but at this point, who cares what the State Department has to say about anything? Nothing in the Constitution empowers State to "declare" who America's enemies are. What's more, Saudi Arabia isn't on the terrorist sponsor list, and we all know where the 9/11 attackers came from, don't we?

Arguments that the executive branch enjoys sole control of foreign policy don't hold water. All treaties have to be ratified by two thirds of the Senate. Congress has exclusive authority, according to the Constitution, to declare war, to maintain and regulate the military, and to fund foreign aid. Are congressional leaders to keep their noses out of the foreign policy process and simply act as a rubber stamp for the executive's dictates? I think not. We've just witnessed six years of that sort of thing, and it hasn't turned out so well.

As to whether there's a danger in sending "mixed signals" to the international community regarding our foreign policy intentions, I say there's more danger in not sending mixed signals. We can no longer afford to let the rest of the world think that the Bush administration's policies reflect the will of the American body politic.

The efforts of Nancy Pelosi and others to shore up the foreign policy damage done by the Bush administration won't likely have an immediate effect. Any good that Pelosi accomplishes over the next two years will be kneecapped by Condi Rice's bumbling and Dick Cheney's sinister influence. Nonetheless, it's important for the Pelosi's in our government to begin reaching out now. American foreign policy is already bow down in a sand dune. We can't wait until early 2009 to begin the damage control effort.

Damage Control

A new world order emerged when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and America became the world's sole superpower. The next world order began in 2003 with the staged toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue in Baghdad. Since that time, the moist neoconservative dream of global domination through military force has been proven impotent. The neoconservatives have refused to recognize that their delusional philosophy has failed, and continue to pursue it, caring little that it's clearly leading to a post-modern Gottendammerung for the United States.

The challenge in the post-Bush II era will be to reestablish America as a benevolent (but still strong) first among nations, what Ronald Reagan envisioned as the "shining city on the hill" that would inspire, not bully, the rest of the world to strive toward a new era of peace and prosperity.

That will take a lot of work, and the time to start is now. So I say that if Nancy Pelosi wants to grab the foreign policy initiative away from Mr. Bush, let her.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Iraq: More Dubya Talk

We can’t continue to pursue an Iraq policy based on fairy tales and rose-colored glasses.

--Representative Rahm Emanuel (D-Illinois)

Mr. Bush still wants his blank check. On Tuesday, at an address in The Rose Garden, Bush said that "…to succeed in their mission, our troops need Congress to provide the resources, funds, and equipment they need to fight our enemies."
It has now been 57 days since I requested that Congress pass emergency funds for our troops. Instead of passing clean bills that fund our troops on the front lines, the House and Senate have spent this time debating bills that undercut the troops, by substituting the judgment of politicians in Washington for the judgment of our commanders on the ground, setting an arbitrary deadline for withdrawal from Iraq, and spending billions of dollars on pork barrel projects completely unrelated to the war.

For four years, covered by the umbrella of a compliant Republican Congress, Mr. Bush and his commanders on the ground flopped and twitched their way through the Mesopotamia Mistake. Now, he calls the Democrats in Congress "irresponsible" for trying to recover his countless end-zone fumbles.

Mr. Bush's failures in Iraq are not the fault of Congress, or the media, or whatever scapegoat his Rovewellians find handy at any given moment. They're the fault of Mr. Bush and his inner circle of neoconservatives. Lamentably, that cabal--which includes names like Kristol, Kagan and yes, Cheney--is the same gang that came up with his "surge" plan.

It would be the height of irresponsibility for Congress to now let Bush and his ideologues continue to have their way.

Surge and Purge

Mr. Bush once again threatened to veto any emergency war-spending bill that puts limits on him or his "commanders." We don't know what that bill will look like yet--the House and Senate will have to craft a joint resolution that will pass in both chambers before they send it to the Oval Office. It's a good bet, though, that it will say something to the effect of Okay, you can have what you need to conduct your surge, but you have a limited amount of time to make it work.

And perhaps the less time they give the surge, the better. The New York Times reported on Tuesday that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most powerful Shiite cleric, has rejected a U.S. backed proposal to let former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party to return to government service. That's likely to play hell on Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's reunification program.

Pray the Course

We continue to pour troops and national treasure into a situation for which there is no military solution. Congress will tell Mr. Bush he can have his money for the surge plan, but Maliki's government will have to do certain thing and Bush has to start yanking U.S. troops out of Iraq by a certain date. Mr. Bush will veto the bill because it restricts his actions and accuse Congress of not supporting the troops. This silly game will go on until somebody blinks.

I'm also not entirely sure what Mr. Bush's real objection is. Our land forces can only sustain this escalation for a finite period. If it works, we can redeploy. If it doesn't work, we'll have to redeploy. In either case, we'll wind up doing something in 2008 that looks very much like what Congressman Jack Murtha (D-Pennsylvania) proposed in 2005.

Representative Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland) said on MSNBC Thursday that he thinks Mr. Bush will eventually back down. I wish I could be that optimistic. Mr. Bush isn't known for his stellar cognitive skills. His talk and his thinking seem to originate from somewhere below his belt.

Pots and Kettles

During his Rose Garden speech, he said, "Democrat leaders in Congress seem more interested in fighting political battles in Washington than in providing our troops what they need to fight the battles in Iraq."

Body armor. Vehicle armor. Four years of failed strategy rubber stamped by his "Republic" Congress, of standing behind failed generals and a failed Secretary of Defense. Walter Reed. Yeah, Mr. Bush. It's the Democrats in Congress who haven't been providing the troops what they need. Yeah, it's the Democrats who are fighting political battles and not supporting the troops.

I’m glad to see that the Democratic leadership is holding fast, and hope they keep it up. Somebody needs to put this Pandora Presidency back in its box.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Iraq: McCain and the Surge Talk Express

Also at DKos.

On Monday Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) told reporters in Baghdad that the "surge" plan was "making progress." He also chastised the press representatives for not giving the American public “the full picture about what’s happening.”

Old Straight Talk might have been testy because the press outed the truth about his downtown Baghdad shopping spree on Sunday. Representative Mike Pence (R-Indiana), part of McCain's congressional delegation, said the Shorja market was "like a normal outdoor market in Indiana in the summer time," and that he was deeply moved to be able to "mix and mingle unfettered among ordinary Iraqis."

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) said, "We were warmly welcomed… I bought five rugs for five bucks. People were engaging."

April Fools

It turns out McCain, Pence and the rest of the delegation traveled in a convoy of armored vehicles, wore body armor, were covered by a hundred heavily armed U.S. troops and covered from the sky by five helicopters.

One "ordinary Iraqi" gave a different version of the delegation's romp through the market (From the Washington Post):
Amir Raheem, 32 , a floor carpeting merchant at the Shorja market, disagreed with the upbeat assessment of the congressional visitors. "Just yesterday, an Iraqi soldier was shot in his shoulder by a sniper, and the day before, two civilians were shot by a sniper as well," he said.

He said Sunni insurgents routinely clashed with Shiite militiamen or with Iraqi soldiers and policemen in the area. "Everybody closes their shops by 2:30 p.m.," Raheem said….

…On Sunday, he said, U.S. soldiers were present in large numbers during the congressional visit and would not let customers "even cross the street to the other side."

Yeah, that sounds like a typical Sunday in Indiana all right.


The dollar-a-carpet congressional junket was part of the latest Rovewellian information operation, one designed to sell the surge and circumvent congressional attempts to impose benchmarks and time limits on Mr. Bush's Iraq war strategy. Among the leading voices in the pro-surge echo choir are neoconservatives Bill Kristol, Jack Keane, the Kagans (Robert, Fred and Kimberly) and, of course, young Mr. Bush himself.

Bush and Robert Kagan have both quoted "genuine testimonial" by a pair of Iraqi bloggers, two wild-and-crazy brothers in Baghdad who boast of a life of barbecue and beers in the strife-torn capital city and whose blog is part of a multi-million dollar right wing web network called "Pajamas Media." (There's a pretty good satire on this by Dood Abides at Unconfirmed Sources .

Senators Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) and Harry Reid (D-Nevada) announced on Monday that they're introducing legislation that will…
…effectively end the current military mission in Iraq and begin the redeployment of U.S. forces. The bill requires the President to begin safely redeploying U.S. troops from Iraq 120 days from enactment, as required by the emergency supplemental spending bill the Senate passed last week. The bill ends funding for the war, with three narrow exceptions, effective March 31, 2008.

The pro-war Bush crowd will cozy up to that bill like cats take to swimming pools. Stand by for more claws to come out.

And get ready for more digestive system product about how well the surge is going.

Also take a look at a recent memorandum circulated by retired Army General Barry McCaffrey as quoted by (of all places) the Washington Times on March 30:
Iraq is ripped by a low-grade civil war which has worsened to catastrophic levels with as many as 3,000 citizens murdered per month…

… The population is in despair. Life in many of the urban areas is now desperate…

… the armed insurgents, militias, and al Qaeda in Iraq without fail apparently re-generate both leadership cadres and foot soldiers… Their sophistication, numbers, and lethality go up--not down--as they incur these staggering battle losses…

…In summary, the U.S. armed forces are in a position of strategic peril.

Yep. Just another Sunday in Indiana.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Iraq: The Blue Surge Suits

We hear early reports that the escalation strategy in Iraq is working, but from whom are we hearing these reports?

Among the most notable of those cheering the "surge" is Bush administration water boy Joe Lieberman, who told CNN last Thursday that he "thinks the president's changed policy in Iraq has successfully decreased the violence in Baghdad and increased the confidence of U.S. forces there."

What makes Joe think that? Second hand testimony passed along by a neocon buddy of his.

"Our soldiers told [Ret. Gen. Jack Keane] they feel more confident than ever as they go on patrol in Baghdad in the neighborhoods we've settled into with their Iraqi colleagues," Lieberman said to CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "The American soldier is more confident walking the streets of Baghdad today and that's a very important change."

Retired Army General Jack Keane was a military adviser to the Iraq Study Group (ISG) who labeled the group's recommendations as "impractical." “Based on where we are now we can’t get there,” he said, and added that the ISG's conclusions said more about "the absence of political will in Washington than the harsh realities in Iraq.”

Funny thing about Keane. Around the time he was working with the ISG, he was also working with Fred Kagan of the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute on the so-called "surge plan" that Mr. Bush is presently executing. In late December of 2006, Keane and Kagan wrote:
Bringing security to Baghdad--the essential precondition for political compromise, national reconciliation and economic development--is possible only with a surge of at least 30,000 combat troops lasting 18 months or so. Any other option is likely to fail.

It's little wonder that Keane would say the surge is "working," or that he would seek out anonymous soldiers to tell him what he wants to hear, or that Lieberman would use questionable testimony to shore up the Bush administration's strategy.

In a March 11 Washington Post article titled "The 'Surge' Is Succeeding," Fred Kagan's brother Robert wrote:
…though it is still early and horrible acts of violence continue, there is substantial evidence that the new counterinsurgency strategy, backed by the infusion of new forces, is having a significant effect.

On what did Kagan base this conclusion?
Iraqi bloggers Mohammed and Omar Fadhil, widely respected for their straight talk, say that "early signs are encouraging."

These are the same two Iraqi bloggers who Mr. Bush cited in his March 28 speech the Cattleman's Beef Association in which he touted the success of the "surge." Oddly enough, it turns out that the Fadhil brothers met with Mr. Bush in the Oval Office in 2004.

Also odd is the look and sound of the Fadhil brothers' blog site, Iraq the Model. One of the first things I noticed when I visited the site was a conspicuous ad associating itself with Pajamas Media, a $3.5 million web media organization launched in 2005 by right wing bloggers Roger Simon and Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs.

The Fadhil brothers' prose comes across like standard rhetoric from the Karl Rove playbook, but I found a few of their remarks particularly interesting. On March 30, Omar wrote:
Almost every Friday night we gather with some friends for drinks and barbeque and we all take turns hosting the night.

What kinds of drinks are they having? According to a March 29 post by Mohammed:
Now excuse me, it's Thursday and I have barbeque and cold beers waiting for me.

It seems like these supposedly non-alcohol imbibing Muslims are having a jolly old time, doesn't it? Thursday, Friday, whatever--yahoo! These guys make Baghdad sound like a neoconservative jamboree in Crawford, Texas. One has to wonder where they're getting the money to finance this movable Mesopotamian feast. Between the U.S. State and Defense Departments, there's plenty of propaganda money floating around.

Neo-connecting the Dots

The Kagan brothers are loyal sidemen of William Kristol, Weekly Standard editor and founder of the infamous Project for the New American Century (PNAC), the neoconservative think tank that cooked up our woebegone war in Iraq. Kristol, as you might expect, thinks the surge is going swimmingly too. On March 19th he wrote:
It may well be that Gen. David Petraeus is going to lead us to victory in Iraq. He is certainly off to a good start…

… Obviously, it's too early to say anything more definitive than that there are real signs of progress in Baghdad. The cocksure defeatism of war critics of two months ago, when the surge was announced, does seem to have been misplaced.

Kristol bases his rosy assessment on an analysis titled Iraq Report, a study produced by the Weekly Standard and authored by Kimberly Kagan. You probably won't be shocked to learn that Kimberly is Fred Kagan's wife.

The people who sold us this war, and then sold Mr. Bush on the escalation, are the same ones now telling us how well the "surge" is going. After so many years of being wrong, is it possible that they're right now? Perhaps. But if so, why is it they have to base their arguments on fuzzy testimony and self-serving analyses?

Fool me once…


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.