Monday, July 30, 2007

Kombat Kagan

Fred Kagan wants you to have faith in the Iraq "surge" strategy. You might expect that he would. Kagan is, after all, the strategy's chief architect. A darling of the neoconservative elite, Kagan is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and was associated with the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) which his brother Robert co-founded with Weekly Standard editor and Fox News pundit Bill Kristol.

Amid talk that the so-called surge has failed, Kagan went before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in late June to defend the strategy. Kagan's prepared remarks not only make one cringe at the knowledge that the Great Decider not only listens to his advice, he follows it.

Plucking Bulls

Early in his speech to the Committee, Kagan said, "It is now beyond question that the Bush Administration pursued a flawed approach to the war in Iraq from 2003 to 2007." That was pretty much the only accurate statement he made during the course of his presentation.

The old approach failed, according to Kagan, because it "relied on keeping the American troop presence in Iraq as small as possible, pushing unprepared Iraqi Security Forces into the lead too rapidly, and using political progress as the principal means of bringing the violence under control." He also stated, "For all of these reasons, the president changed his strategy profoundly in January 2007, and appointed a new commander in General Petraeus and a new Ambassador in Ryan Crocker to oversee the new approach."

What a sack of pro-war poppycock!

We can't say for certain whether our woes in Iraq came about because of inadequate troop presence. Keep in mind that at one point we had a half million troops deployed to Vietnam, and a fat lot of good that did us. But we can be darn sure that a major factor in our multi-faceted failures in Iraq was the total lack of planning for the post- major hostilities phase. Now retired Brigadier General Mark E. Scheid told the Newport News Daily Press in September 2006 that during the run up to the Iraq invasion, then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said "he would fire the next person" who talked about the need for a postwar plan. All the king's horses and men couldn't have kept Iraq from falling apart without a plan. That wasn't Saddam Hussein's statue you saw taking a great fall into the main square in Baghdad. It was Humpty Dumpty.

When exactly did Iraqi Security Forces take the lead in a security operation? We're lucky if we even can get them to show up in the numbers they promised to provide. At what point were we pushing them to "stand up" too rapidly? Was it during the first year of the occupation? They second year? The third year? The fourth? And why, after four years, are they still unprepared? Could that have something to do with the fact that one of the officers in charge of training them was none other than the boy genius currently in charge of U.S. forces in Iraq, David Petraeus?

Of political solutions, Kagan told the Committee "Political progress is something that follows the establishment of security, not something that causes it." Anyone familiar with political philosophy is aware of Thomas Hobbes and his almost universally accepted assertion that order can only be achieved by a social compact that recognizes the authority of a sovereign political entity. Lack of violence doesn't produce stable political institutions. It's the other way around. In the case of Iraq, the insurgent groups at war with each other are controlled by the very members of Parliament who can't arrive at a political solution, and as long as the politicians can't agree on anything, the insurgents will keep fighting.

And nobody in his right mind or otherwise believes that Bush changed his strategy and commanders for the reasons Kagan gave. Bush canned his old strategy and commanders because the people of the United States voted his party out of power.

In arguing that it is too soon to give up on the surge strategy, Kagan said that "great commanders in history" have understood "that it is best to delay decisions until the last possible moment to ensure that they are made on the basis of the most recent and accurate understanding of the situation, rather than on preconceptions formed in different circumstances."

It's difficult to believe that Kagan actually taught military history at West Point for ten years. Great commanders in history have understood the deadly evils of both hasty decisions and procrastination. As George S. Patton famously said, "A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week." History's biggest losers have been political and military leaders who fell victim to "victory disease" when they persisted in pursuing an inferior course of action until the "most recent and accurate understanding of the situation" proved it to be and abject failure. Think of Lee at Gettysburg. Think of Hitler's invasion of Russia. Think about George W. Bush's three years of "stand-up, stand-down."

When he proposed the escalation strategy in January 2007, Kagan claimed that all other competing plans would fail, including the ones suggested by the Iraq Study Group. In his presentation to the House Committee of Foreign Affairs, Kagan said that his strategy might fail too, but that it is too early to judge it or project probable results. It would be "a very grave error indeed to rush now to abandon the first strategy that offers some real prospect for success."

One is hard pressed to find anyone other than the administration and its cheerleading team who thinks Kagan's strategy has shown "some real prospect for success." Attacks in Iraq during June 2007 reached the highest daily average seen since the end of "major hostilities" in May 2003. According to Petraeus's latest latest projections, "sustainable security" won't be established in Iraq until summer of 2009, and the 2009 target date may be overly optimistic. Outgoing Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Peter Pace recently suggested that we may want to increase troop levels in Iraq even further. That would be in keeping with that fine military tradition that says if we can't prove that what we're doing is working, we should try doing more of it.

Which brings us back to Fred Kagan. How much longer should we give his "Plan for Victory" a chance to prove it won't fail? How long do we wait until it's "beyond question" that we once again "pursued a flawed approach?"

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Taking Bush Seriously

Here's another one from the "Irony is Dead" file.

On Wednesday, Jim Rutenberg and Alissa J. Rubin of the New York Times revealed that George W. Bush has taken beleaguered Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki under his wing. Once every two weeks, sometimes more often, Mr. Bush gathers up Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Steven Hadley and they all head to the White House situation room for a videoconference with Maliki. These sessions last over an hour, during which the two heads of state discuss leadership, democracy, troop deployments and their domestic challenges.

Too bad for Maliki that his main mentor on leadership, democracy and troop deployment is a man who has clearly illustrated total lack of understanding of any of those subjects. On the other hand, if Maliki wanted to learn how to create domestic challenges, he couldn't have picked a better role model than Bush. And just in case Bush can't tell Maliki the best way to screw up things in his country, Cheney and Hadley are there to pick up the slack.

Thus it is that we find ourselves in the kind of mess we're in. The leader of the world's most notable failing state is taking advice from the most failed presidency in the history of the United States.

But Seriously, Folks

If Maliki is really taking Bush seriously, he's among an ever-dwindling minority of the global population that does. The problem is that as laughable as Bush and his self-parodying rhetoric has become, we all need to take him seriously because he's still the president of the United States, one who thinks he has absolute powers to conduct his woebegone "war on terror" in any manner he chooses without so much as passing go, collecting two hundred dollars or asking permission from Congress.

In his speech at Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina on Tuesday, Mr. Bush made one of his most convoluted, nonsensical arguments to date attempting to tie al-Qaeda in Iraq to the 9/11 attacks. Mr. Bush accused his opponents of having a problem with the facts, but as usual, the only person in this debate playing fast and loose with the facts is Mr. Bush himself. Al Qaeda in Iraq did not exist prior to the 9/11 attacks, and its original leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, did not swear allegiance to Osama bin Laden and the larger al-Qaeda movement until October of 2004, more than a year and a half after the U.S. and its allies invaded Iraq.

Bush's assertions were part and parcel of the administration's recent propaganda campaign to re-associate the Iraq war with 9/11 and the greater war on terror in the public mind, but there's an even more sinister motivation behind the attempt to relate all things terrible and scary to al Qaeda.

Remember that little resolution both houses of Congress passed a week after the 9/11 attacks called the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF)? The AUMF is a short and sweet piece of legislation that many consider to have been a blank check that gave Bush the virtually unlimited executive war powers he claims to have. Here's the money clause:
…the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

This gives Mr. Bush "specific statutory authorization" under the War Powers Resolution of 1973 to use armed force against anybody he determines had anything whatsoever to do with the 911 attacks.

Bush doesn't need to prove the al-Qaeda connection to continue U.S. involvement in Iraq. That's covered by a separate authorization passed by Congress in October 2002. But the 2001 AUMF leaves Bush with a virtually unlimited option for expanding his war on terror whenever, wherever and however he wants to. We've been running air strikes on villages in Somalia since January 2007, ostensibly for the sake of terminating "top al-Qaeda members." We've heard hints that Iran has provided safe haven to members of al-Qaeda. Now, the Bush administration is talking about dropping bombs on al Qaeda targets in Pakistan or anywhere else it deems necessary. On the July 22 edition of CNN's Late Edition, Bush's Homeland Security Adviser Frances Townsend told Wolf Blitzer that if the U.S. had "actionable targets anywhere in the world," including Pakistan, "then we would pursue those targets."

Of Iraq, Mr. Bush recently , "I don't think Congress ought to be running the war." Based on their performance since September 11, 2001, I don't think Mr. Bush or his advisers or his generals ought to be running the war, either the war in Iraq or the so-called "war" on terror. I won't pretend to have a definitive diagnosis of Mr. Bush's mental state, but his words and actions, as well as those of his subordinates and supporters, are not sane.

Congress may not yet be poised to legislate us out of Iraq, but it should do everything it can to put our out of control executive branch back in its box. One of the first steps the newly installed Democratic majority should have taken in January was to repeal the 2001 AUMF. The longer it waits to take this necessary action, the longer it risks allowing the Bush administration to commit this country to even further unrecoverable fiascos.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

More Dubya Talk

It's been another week chock full of Bush administration double talk, starting off with the latest stall for time in the Iraq "surge" strategy.

The New York Times reported that in closed-door videoconferences on Thursday, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker told members of Congress that it was unlikely that the Iraqi government could reach all its benchmarks by September. But that shouldn't be a reason to abandon the present strategy, according to Crocker. The 18 benchmarks may not be the best measure of success in Iraq, he says.

As a vassal of the Bush administration, Crocker doesn't want the Iraq policy and strategy held up to any measures of success because measures of success are also measures of failure.

The Fear of Fear Itself

Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, the number two U.S. commander in Iraq, told Pentagon reporters that it will really take "at least until November" before to tell whether the surge strategy is working. One wonders what Odierno will have to say come November.

Odierno, his boss General David Petraeus, and Crocker characterized the coming September report as nothing more than a snapshot. When government types call a situational analysis a "snapshot," they're generally saying that it's transitory to the point of being worthless, and that they can't be held responsible for any conclusions the target audience might walk away with. And if, after more than four years of occupying Iraq and roughly 9 months into the "surge" strategy, a "snapshot" is the best the boys in charge of the operation can give in September, it will be the best analysis they'll ever be able to give in November too, or at any time after that.

Ambassador Crocker warned legislators that, “If there is one word I would use to sum up the atmosphere in Iraq — on the streets, in the countryside, in the neighborhoods and at the national level--that word would be fear.”

When one congressman asked General Petraeus what the consequences would be if he were ordered to begin withdrawing one Army brigade a month, Petraeus said that the Iraqis would become more fearful.

That's a heck of a lot of fear from a population that overwhelmingly (70 percent) want us out of their country, 61 percent of which supports attacks against U.S. led forces, and 58 percent of which believes overall violence will decrease if U.S. troops leave.

Wanted: Dead or Alive, Sooner or Later

Fran Townsend, President Bush's homeland security adviser, had a heck of a day Sunday on Wolf Blitzer's Late Edition. When Wolf asked if the U.S. government was ready to use military force to strike Pakistan in an attempt to take out Osama bin Laden and other high ranking al-Qaeda leaders, Townsend responded, "No question that we will use any instrument at our disposal to deal with the problem of Osama bin Laden and Zawahiri and Al Qaida."

Those are interesting words, coming from an adviser on homeland security who, in theory at least, has no business talking about foreign policy matters in a public forum. At a minimum, Townsend stomped on rice bowls belonging to the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Adviser, the "War Czar" who does most of the National Security Adviser's job, and, oh yeah, Congress, the branch of government that supposedly authorizes things like launching strikes on other countries.

It's also interesting that Townsend said we "will use any instrument at our disposal to deal with the problem of Osama bin Laden." The tallest Arab ever wanted dead or alive by a U.S. president is still at large. It's obvious that we haven't used any instrument at our disposal to deal with Osama bin Laden for more than five years.

Some Dis-assembly Required

As is often the case, the top prize for exceptional audacity in the blathering department for last week goes to the commander in chief himself.

On Friday, Bush criticized Senate majority leader Harry Reid for pulling the defense authorization bill on Wednesday after Republicans blocked a proposal in the bill to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq within 120 days. Bush specifically pointed out that failure to pass the bill had blocked a military pay raise of 3.5 percent.

The irony (if such a thing as irony still exists) is that when the Congress first proposed a 3.5 percent military pay hike for fiscal year 2008, the White House objected that 3.5 percent was unnecessary, that 3 percent would do quite nicely. Moreover, as Reid pointed out, the authorization bill wouldn't take effect until October, do pulling it off the floor now doesn't threaten the troops' pay raise or the flow of equipment and supplies they need to conduct Mr. Bush's woebegone Middle East wars.

Lo and Behold

It's not like most of us haven't seen this coming, but the truth of Bush's intentions in Iraq are finally bubbling to the surface. The New York Times reported Tuesday morning that Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus have prepared a detailed plan for Iraq that will involve a significant American role for the next two years. The "Joint Campaign Plan," according to NYT's Michael R. Gordon, "is an elaboration of the new strategy President Bush signaled in January when he decided to send five additional American combat brigades and other units to Iraq."

The plan involves two phases: "local security" in Baghdad and other areas to be achieved by June 2008 and "sustainable security" on a nationwide basis to be established by summer of 2009.

Military officials in Iraq are careful to note that there is no guarantee of the plan's success, Gordon notes. Which means that even though they want two more years to "get the job done," the job may take even longer than that.

It's funny how Crocker and Petraeus claim they won't be able to assess the "surge" in September, but they already know we need to spend at least two more years in Iraq.


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

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Hiding Behind the Troops

Bush: Hiding Behind the Troops

"The one thing I really take objection to… Is politicians who try to put their political views into the mouths of soldiers."

--Senator James Webb (D-Virginia)

This quote is my favorite line from the now celebrated 15 July debate on Meet the Press between Webb and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Graham had, indeed, put political speech in the mouths of soldiers when he said "The soldiers are speaking, my friend, let them win," referring to the mass reenlistment held in Baghdad on July 4th. One can hardly accuse any of the nearly 600 soldiers who reenlisted of purposely creating political propaganda or doing anything other than reenlisting in a time of war, a laudable act by any judgment criteria.

But one can safely assume that the ceremony was a carefully crafted public relations stunt, designed by U.S. commander in Iraq General David Petraeus to provide the likes of Graham the opportunity to use the troops to justify the otherwise indefensible policies and strategies of the Bush administration.

General Petraeus is hardly the first Bush liegeman to duck for cover behind the troops. From the beginning of the adventure in Iraq, pro-war pundits have, at least at a subliminal level, hammered away at the notion that it is not possible to "support the troops" without supporting the policies, and this basic propaganda arc has remained little changed in over four years.

Hiding Behind the Troops

Mr. Bush's "Mission Accomplished" event aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln was the most embarrassing example of conspicuous swagger in the history of the U.S. presidency. Still, as a case study in exploiting the troops for political purposes goes, the Lincoln episode was nothing compared to what followed. As more and more of the ugly truth about the run-up to the Iraq invasion and the incompetent handling of the war came to light, Mr. Bush came to increasingly rely on using the troops as window dressing to his reelection campaign. In the cases of Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman, the Rovewellians spun reality from bull feathers to create "heroes" at a time when the truth about Abu Ghraib and other scandals needed to be hidden behind a smoke screen.

We have also seen extensive use of the "soldier testimonial," in which service members, usually junior ones, tell us in their "own words" how much they believe in their mission, and how much people who don't support the mission just don't "get it." Much of this testimonial rhetoric spreads in the form of viral propaganda, supposedly genuine email letters written by troops in the field to friends and family that, just by coincidence, get forwarded to darn near anyone who might be sympathetic with the message. Generally speaking, these emails feature two tell-tale indications that they're not on the up and up: 1) all traces of the message's origin have been carefully removed and 2) however the letter starts, it eventually turns into a standard litany of "consequences of losing," "they'll follow us here" and other talking points from the pro-war playbook.

The Bush administration doesn't stop at milking political capital from active duty military types. It is also perfectly willing to co-opt so-called veterans' rights advocacy groups, the most notorious of which is the American Legion, which for all practical purposes has become a branch of the Republican National Committee and one of the most vocal supporters of Bush's Iraq policies. Granted, other veterans' groups exist that both support and oppose the war, but those groups are up front about the reason they exist, and don't pretend to be veterans' rights advocates. Outfits like the American Legion, on the other hand, are flying under false colors. (Interestingly enough, American Legion National Commander Paul Morin describes himself as a "Vietnam veteran of the U.S. Army" even though his entire military career consisted of two years of duty at Fort Dix, New Jersey in the 70s. If Morin is a Vietnam veteran, so is George W. Bush.)

Hiding Behind Skirts

I always find it amusing when the administration trots out Laura Bush to defend her husband's Iraq stance. It not only puts Bush in the position of being conspicuously protected by his wife's apron, it puts the defense of Bush's policy in the hands of the one person in Washington who actually understands less about warfare and the situation in Iran than Bush does.

Less amusing is an emerging class of pundit that I've come to think of as the "War Mommies." The Mommies are spouses and/or mothers of service members. Some of them have lost a spouse or child in Afghanistan or Iraq. They typically complain of being persecuted for their support of Bush and the war in Iraq, even as they castigate Cindy Sheehan for her condemnation of Bush and the war. One War Mommy consistently asserts that anyone who doesn't have a family member in the armed services can't understand the issues involved in our overseas military adventures. Almost all of the War Mommies are diehard Republicans. However their op-ed pieces start out, they generally devolve into a Readers' Digest version of the neoconservative manifesto that manages to blame all the Bush administration's mendacity and incompetence on the mainstream media and the Democrats.

Like everyone else, the War Mommies have a right to express their views. I wish they would do so in a more responsible manner. They add nothing to the national debate other than emotional noise that obscures the sorts of rational analyses we need to conduct in order to find our "way forward."

Hiding Behind False Main Assumptions

A lot of people won't like to hear this, but…

Ultimately, it is moot to discuss what the troops think or how they feel about a particular war they happen to be fighting because it doesn't matter what they think or feel about it. America doesn't exist to support its military. The military exists to support America. We should not engage in warfare for the sake of keeping the troops happy any more than we should avoid wars that the troops don't want to fight. The opinions of the troops--from buck private to four-star general--carry no more validity than the opinion of any civilian citizen. Today, that's true even of military strategy issues. The generals in charge of our present wars have proven themselves incapable of formulating and executing coherent strategies, and the people who have most influenced our war policies and strategies are neoconservatives like Bill Kristol and Fred Kagan, civilians who never served a day in the military.

But the powers that be in the administration will continue to hide behind soldiers and their mommies' skirts because that keeps the issue in the realm of fear and guilt, and away from the cold light of critical analysis.


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

Monday, July 16, 2007

Iraq and Summer Vacation

I swore I'd stay away from the war news for a week during my "vacation." I couldn't do it. It's a dead skunk sort of thing: horrible to look at, but so hard to look away from.

First on my list of fond summer holiday recollections is Wolf Blitzer's July 8th interview of Lieutenant General Richard Lynch, who commands the security operation in the region south of Baghdad. As Bush administration generals go, Lynch sounds like your standard issue bull feather merchant.

Yeah, old Lynchie is in favor of sticking with the current strategy. In fact, according to him, any attempt to change the strategy could seriously undermine the whole effort. See, if the surge forces go away before the Iraqi forces are ready, then the enemy will regain ground, and reestablish sanctuary, and build more of those IEDs. And the Iraqi forces aren't ready to take over yet. Won't be for quite a while.

Of course in Lynch's battle space, his magnificent platoons and the really good Iraqi Army and Iraqi police battalion he has working with him are taking the fight to the enemy. But things take time. They don't happen overnight. And things would be going a lot better if it weren't for those pesky Iranians helping out the enemy, helping kill Lynch's magnificent soldiers. Lynch doesn't know for sure what Iranians are behind helping the enemy, but he has "no doubt" the Iranians are causing trouble in his battle space.

Wolf showed Lynch a video of retired Major General John Batiste saying, "Our Army and Marine Corps today are at a breaking point, little to show for it. It's serious." Wolf then asked Lynch if the U.S. military is at a breaking point.

"By no means," Lynch said.

When Wolf asked if political pressure from Washington might force a change in strategy, Lynch said that the surge strategy is "on target, but it's going to take time."

Iran Ate My Homework

I also caught Joe Lieberman on C-Span, reciting the litany of flimsy accusations of Iran's "interference" in Iraq. Lieberman's primary reference was to statements made by Brigadier General Kevin J. Bergner, who is the new head military public affairs officer in Baghdad. Bergner himself has no actual knowledge of the source intelligence surrounding the Iran allegations. His job is to craft whatever message the administration/Pentagon want transmitted; in this case that Iran is the cause of all problems in Iraq.

That Lieberman would read Bergner's propaganda into the Senate record and call it "evidence" is… Well, we're talking about Lieberman here, so it's no surprise at all.

On Report

The reports came out. One said al Qaeda is not stronger than it has been since before 9/11/01. The other said Iraq's government has done a lousy job of meeting its "benchmarks."

Mr. Bush denies that al Qaeda is stronger than ever before. But it's strong enough to pose the primary threat in Iraq, even though the al Qaeda the first report was really talking about is the one that's reemerged in the safe haven border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Bush's spin doctors tried to make "security" one of the issues in which Iraq's government has succeeded, pointing to al Anbar province as a "victory" over al-Qaeda. They don't bother to mention that the "victory" was achieved by local tribal chiefs, and that U.S. forces had little to do with it and Iraqi forces had no connection to it at all. They also fail to note that the "victory" consisted of chasing al-Qaeda out of Anbar province and up to Diyala province, where U.S. forces have launched Operation Arrowhead Ripper (yes, they really call it that.) Arrowhead Ripper consists of 10,000 U.S. troops deploying to kill or capture maybe 500 al-Qaeda militants in Diyala's capital city of Baqouba. Some "victory."

Senior Senate Republicans (John Warner and Richard Lugar) have proposed non-binding legislation that calls for Bush to change the Iraq strategy. That'll go over like a lead zeppelin. Heck, Bush won't even have to veto it to ignore it. Of the proposed bill, Mr. Bush said, "I don't think Congress ought to be running the war. I think they ought to be funding our troops." He thinks Congress ought to keep on signing those blank checks, and let him and his generals continue to squander them.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki put his foot in it over the weekend when he said that U.S. forces could leave Iraq "any time they want" because Iraqi forces were ready to take charge. He later said his remarks were misunderstood.

On Sunday, the last day of my vacation, Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Jim Webb (D-VA) appeared on Meet the Press. Graham thinks we can destroy al-Qaeda in Iraq. I think we can too. Best estimates are that there are fewer than 1,000 al-Qaeda fighters in that country. I'm not entirely clear why, with a hundred to one or better numeric advantage, we haven't been able to eliminate them by now. But unlike Graham, I know that destroying al-Qaeda in Iraq will not solve the security situation there.

I once had such hopes for Lindsey Graham. Was it just three years ago, at an Armed Services Committee hearing, that he looked mad enough to jump across the table and throttle Donald Rumsfeld? Since then, Huckleberry has become one of the administration's trustiest echo chamberlains, adept at polly-crackering any talking point the Rovewellians want injected into the info-sphere.


It appears that both the U.S. Congress and the Iraqi Parliament will take August off. That guarantees there will be no progress on political solutions in Iraq and no change to U.S. strategy for a month. That will cover Bush until the ides of September, when U.S. commander in Iraq David Petraeus will tell Congress that he needs more troops and more time to "win" in Iraq, and make boo noise about the consequences of "losing."

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Summer Hiatus

Now that the Fourth has come and gone, I'll be throttling back on the writing for a few weeks, partly to refill the well and partly just to rest and catch up with a taste of real life.

Thanks to everyone who has supported and continues to support Pen and Sword.



Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy Energy Dependence Day

Can we ever rein in this president? Last week, Arlen Specter introduced the Presidential Signing Statements Act of 2007. The bill is designed to stop Mr. Bush's use of signing statements that Specter calls an "unconstitutional attempt to usurp legislative authority."

Would Mr. Bush really sign a bill like that? He might, I guess, but only after making a signing statement that said he didn't have to abide by it. Whether such a thing is constitutional or not is moot--we all know how Mr. Bush regards the Constitution.

Overshadowing the Signing Statements Act is the Scooter Libby sentence commutation story. As Michael Roston of Raw Story reports that the Federal Judge who sentenced Libby to 30 months for perjury and obstruction of justice thinks the commutation cannot be issued until Libby has actually served time in jail. The House Judiciary Committee plans to hold hearings on the commutation issue next week.

What I'm not clear about is whether a president is allowed to issue sentence commutations at all. Article II of the Constitution says "he shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States." The Constitution doesn't say anything about commutations. Every modern dictionary I can get my hands or keyboard says "pardon" means "to release someone who has committed a crime from punishment." To "reprieve" is to "halt or delay somebody's punishment, especially when the punishment is death." "Commute" is generally defined as "to reduce a legal sentence to a less severe one." By my reckoning, "commute" means something quite different from "pardon" or "reprieve," but then come might say I have peculiar ideas about what "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall no be violated" means too.

Speaking of peculiar ideas…

Mr. Bush used the occasion of this Independence Day to equate his war in Iraq with upholding the First Amendment. In a speech at a West Virginia Air National Guard base he exhorted the audience that victory in Iraq is vital to our cherished freedom of religion. You know--if we withdraw, they will follow us here and take away our bibles.

I'd get real scared if I thought "they" would follow us here and take away our right to habeas corpus and due process. But, oh, yeah, Mr. Bush and his supporters have already done that. So what do we have to fear from the terrorists again?

Bush also played the "A" word gambit: "We must win it, we must succeed for our own sake. We must defeat al-Qaeda in Iraq," he said. If you haven't noticed yet, administration rhetoric increasingly folds any and all threats to al-Qaeda. Look and listen closely, and you'll find that they use al-Qaeda, terrorists, militants, and insurgents almost interchangeably these days. But how many of the militants in Iraq are actually al-Qaeda?

In the 24 June issue of Progressive Daily Beacon, A. Alexander makes a convincing argument that al Qaeda in Mesopotamia strength is somewhere between 400 and 1,000 fighters. Why all the hype about al Qaeda then? Alexander quotes a memorandum written by a Marine first lieutenant in response to a reporters question, "Are the marines in this unit still serving in Haditha?"
Yes, we are still fighting terrorists of Al Qaeda in Iraq in Haditha. ('Fighting terrorists associated with Al Qaida' is stronger language than 'serving'. The American people will side more with someone actively fighting a terrorist organization that is tied to 9/11 than with someone who is idly 'serving', like in a way one 'serves' a casserole. It's semantics, but in reporting and journalism, words spin the story.)

This resonates of the propaganda principles Mr. Bush used in this years Fourth of July speech when he said, "we must defeat al Qaeda in Iraq." Yeah. All thousand of them, if that many. The thousand or fewer who would gain control of Iraq and its massive oil reserves plus follow us here plus who knows what else? Boy, that al-Qaeda sure can accomplish a lot with not many people. If Michael R. Gordon of the New York Times can be believed, Operation Arrowhead Ripper involves 10,000 U.S. troops assigned to capture or kill 300 to 500 al-Qaeda fighters holed up in Baquaba, the capital of Diyala province. A pretty tough crowd, that al-Qaeda must be, if they can convince the mighty U.S. Army that it needs a 20 to one manpower advantage to ensure operational success against them.

The bottom line for all of us on this Independence Day is that our president says we need to stay in Iraq so al-Qaeda doesn't control the oil that Dick Cheney's pals want to control, that anybody who did anything for Bush has nothing to fear from the law, and that the law is still pretty much whatever Bush says it is.

For this we fought a revolution?


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

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Iran Ate My Homework

Michael R. Gordon of the New York Times is once again at the center of a mainstream media story that appears designed to get the Bush administration's message out. On Tuesday, Gordon and co-author John F. Burns gave us the low down on the latest accusations about Iran's involvement in Iraq in "U.S. Says Iran Helped Iraqis Kill Five G.I.’s."

Previous accusations of Iranian intervention in Iraq were presented at closed press briefings by "officials" who insisted on remaining anonymous. This time, we get the name of the "senior military official" leveling charges against Iran. Brigadier General Kevin J. Bergner, a military spokesman in Baghdad, says that "agents of Iran" helped plan a January raid on the holy Shiite city of Karbala that killed five U.S. soldiers.

This information, according to Bergner, came from interrogations of three men captured in Basra in May, one of whom was a Lebanese Hezbollah agent. The other two, Bergner said, were Iraqi Shiites working as agents for the Quds Force, the elite Iranian unit.

The star of the show was the captured Hezbollah agent, whose American captors initially called "Hamid the Mute” because he pretended for weeks after his apprehension that he could not speak or hear. Deaf and dumb Hamid turned out to be Ali Musa Daqduq, whom Brigadier Bergner said was a previous commander of a Hezbollah special operations unit.

The article goes on to point to dozens of indicators of Iranian sponsorship of Iraqi militants, none of which are definitive or entirely convincing.

Michael Gordon is perhaps best known these days as Judith Miller's partner in crime in spreading pro-invasion propaganda through the New York Times. He wrote articles in which "officials" argued the need for the surge in Iraq, and has also written numerous articles that echo the administration's case against Iran.

Brigadier General Kevin J. Bergner is no stranger to public affairs. In March 2006, while serving on the National Security Council as Special Assistant and Senior Director for Iraq, Bergner hosted one of those God-awful "Ask the White House " web chats. I'll hand this to the guy, he knows how to spread cheese. Some examples:
There are…efforts underway to enhance security in Iraq, including Baghdad. The Iraqi security forces are at the center of that effort and they are making significant progress…

…The President's National Strategy for Victory in Iraq has three tracks – Political, Security, and Economic. All three tracks are progressing. Some of the signs of progress include:
Political: Iraq has elected and is now forming a democratically elected government, based on their constitution.
Security: An all-volunteer Iraqi Security Force is increasingly taking responsibility for security.
Economic: Iraq’s economy is showing signs of recovering after 30 years of dictatorship. In 2005, the economy grew an estimated 2.6 % in real terms, and the IMF estimates it will grow by more than 10% in 2006…

…Our strategy is making progress in establishing the conditions for victory. Although we are confident of our progress, we do not put a date on when each stage of success will be achieved. Lack of a timetable does not mean that our posture in Iraq is static.

Brother. It's little wonder that Bergen was chosen to take over from Major General William Caldwell as the spokesman for the Multi-National Force-Iraq. From a Rovewellian point of view, he and Gordon are a propaganda match made in heaven.

Gordon is getting a little better at hiding his methods, but not much. The only person actually quoted by name in the article is Bergner. Gordon gives the names of the prisoners who were interrogated, but all we know about what they said is what Bergner told Gordon, and all Bergner knows about what the prisoner said was told to him by somebody else. So anything attributed to Bergner is fourth hand information at best.

Other officials are cited as giving condemning information regarding Iranian training and financing of Iraqi Shiite groups, but Gordon doesn't name those officials (of course). As lamentable as I find Gordon's practices, Brigadier Berger's offend me even worse. He knows damn good and well he's being used to spread misinformation--if not downright disinformation--and it doesn't appear to faze him one bit. He's typical of the new breed of flag officer that has emerged under the Bush administration: the bull feather merchant.

Is it any wonder that officers in the lower ranks are protesting the failure in generalship?


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

Monday, July 02, 2007

Permanent Bases

Once again, the Democrats are looking to ban pursuit of permanent military bases in Iraq. Good luck to them, they'll need plenty of it.

John Kerry and other Democratic war critics have been calling for the Bush administration to deny any ambitions for permanent bases for years, and for years, the Bush administration has refused to make any such denials. Why do you suppose that is?

You can choose to believe this or not, but the paper trail of the neoconservative Project for the New American Century clearly indicates that the aims of the Iraq invasion were to establish a military base of operations in the center of the Middle East from which the U.S. could control the flow of oil and protect its friends in the region. And, as Thomas Donnelly, a defense specialist with the American Enterprise Institute stated in late 2004, "The operational advantages of US bases in Iraq should be obvious for other power-projection missions in the region."

From a purely military point of view, establishing a large base of operations in Iraq makes perfect strategic sense, and at this point in the Mesopotamia experiment, giving up on establishing that base makes little sense at all, at least if you're one of the strategists who originally came up with the idea.

The administration and its supporters can't come right out and tell us what they're really up to. That would goon the whole deal. That's why they continually remind us of the theoretical "dire" consequences of a complete withdrawal from Iraq--mass genocide, regional war, terrorists get control of the oil, etc. The truth be told, however, to the movers and shakers behind the Iraq policy, the most dire consequence of not keeping permanent bases in Iraq is not having permanent bases in Iraq.

Thus it is that the Bush strategy in Iraq has morphed into a series of stall tactics designed to keep American militarily engaged in that country until the next administration comes along and sees that it has no choice but to stay the course. The "surge" strategy, designed and sold by neocon luminary Frederick Kagan, appears to have come up bust by most estimates, but it actually served its purpose. It bought eight months or more of commitment and funding for Iraq operations as well as time to come up with the next "plan." That plan, which the Pentagon once labeled "go long," is now described by Defense Secretary Robert Gates as the "Korean model."

The Korean model, in essence, describes a troop presence of tens of thousands or more for multiple decades. Where else are those troops going to base out of than permanent bases? And if the point of maintaining troops in Iraq is "further power-projection missions in the region," those bases will have to be big enough and numerous enough to support a whole bunch more troops the next time we need to call for a surge.

There's More Where That Came From

If we're going to maintain a 30,000 something troop presence in Iraq for the indefinite future, we'll need a much larger Army, especially if we continue to keep our enclaves in Europe and Asia at their present levels. If we want to maintain the ability to do further power projection missions in the Middle East, and do them with any frequency, we'll probably need a draft.

Many, including many on the left of the political spectrum, are in favor of a "universal national service draft," one that will not only provide the number of military personnel we need but that will shore up other public service organizations. I'm against that for several reasons, some of which have to do with constitutionality. A universal conscription would amount to making national service a condition of citizenship, and I can't see how that jibes with the 14th Ammendment, which grants citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the U.S.

More importantly, though, a "national service" draft would mainly be a "military" draft. The military would get first choice of the nation's 18 year olds, and the draft wouldn't be any fairer than any other military draft we've had. Rifle humpers would come from the same demographic they've always come from. The likes of the Bush twins will "fight" aids in Africa or serve cocktails onboard Texas Air National Guard logistics flights.

But draft or no draft, or whatever the nature of that draft, do we really want to commit our nation to a long-term course of action designed to control oil flow? Do we really want to invest more American blood and treasure to ensure that Dick Cheney's big oil pals have a say in what happens to Iraqi oil revenues?

This is the elephant in the middle of the room nobody wants to talk about, but it's the crux of what this is all about, folks. Mr. Bush exhorted us recently that we must make energy independence a top strategic priority, and yet he continues to push on a strategic path designed to ensure we have access to a resource we claim to not want to need?