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Archives, 2005

War archives, etc.


Monthly archives
(all categories)

U.S. war fatalities
in Iraq

Month Monthly deaths Cum. deaths
Mar. 2003 65 65
Apr. 2003 73 138
May 2003 37 175
June 2003 30 205
July 2003 47 252
Aug. 2003 35 287
Sept. 2003 30 317
Oct. 2003 43 360
Nov. 2003 82 442
Dec. 2003 40 482
Jan. 2004 47 529
Feb. 2004 19 548
Mar. 2004 52 600
Apr. 2004 135 735
May 2004 80 815
June 2004 42 857
July 2004 54 905
Aug. 2004 66 971
Sept. 2004 81 1052
Oct. 2004 63 1121
Nov. 2004 137 1258
Dec. 2004 72 1330
Jan. 2005 107 1437
Feb. 2005 58 1495
Mar. 2005 36 1531
Apr. 2005 52 1583
May 2005 79 1662
June 2005 77 1739
July 2005 54 1793
Aug. 2005 84 1877
Sept. 2005 48 1925
Oct. 2005 96 2021
Nov. 2005 83 2104
Dec. 2005 66 2170
Jan. 2006 61 2231
Feb. 2006 53 2284
Mar. 2006 30 2314
Apr. 2006 74 2388
May 2006 69 2457
June 2006 59 2516
July 2006 42 2558
Aug. 2006 65 2623
Sept. 2006 70 2693
Oct. 2006 100 2793
Nov. 2006 63 2856
Dec. 2006 105 2961
Jan. 2007 82 3043
Feb. 2007 81 3124
Mar. 2007 75 3199
Apr. 2007 102 3301
May 2007 121 3422
June 2007 98 3520
July 2007 75 3595
Aug. 2007 77 3672
Sept. 2007 62 3734
Oct. 2007 37 3771
Nov. 2007 35 3806
Dec. 2007 23 3829
Jan. 2008 40 3869
Feb. 2008 29 3898
Mar. 2008 37 3935
Apr. 2008 51 3988
May 2008 20 4008
June 2008 28 4036
July 2008 13 4049
Aug. 2008 22 4071
Sept. 2008 25 4097
Oct. 2008 13 4110
Nov. 2008 16 4126
Dec. 2008 12 4138
* so far

NOTE: Includes all deaths, caused by enemy forces or not. Excludes military personnel (currently 72) whose names have not been released because their next of kin have not yet been contacted.

Washington Post, Sept. 8, 2004

December 28, 2005 [LINK]

Bloggers & the information war

Monday's Washington Post reported on the use of bloggers and cash donations as part of the effort to influence the perception of the war in Iraq. It's not really news, but it provides a good in-depth look at the war over information. There was a mini-scandal a month or two ago when it was learned that American military units had been paying Iraqi journalists, possibly in exchange for favorable reporting. U.S. officers quoted in the Post story insisted that they do not control or try to manipulate the Iraqi news, and if any of them tried to do so, a huge scandal would no doubt erupt. In a blog post at, one of the bloggers cited, Bill Roggio, objected to some inaccuracies in the story with regard to journalists are embedded, and what he believes is a suggestion by the Post authors that he was a tool of the military. I didn't get that sense from the article, which seemed to me to be balanced in its scrutiny. Roggio does draw attention to past sins by Western journalists, however, which might explain why he is so sensitive to criticism by them:

In the past, the established media has paid Iraqi stringers that have turned out to be insurgent or al-Qaeda operatives. And they have provided cover for Saddam's brutal regime in order to maintain a Baghdad office. Never have these improprieties caused the media to question the motivations of their counterparts as the motivations of my embed have been questioned.

Hopefully, anyone who questions U.S. efforts in the information war will take into account the need for doing so. The Post story also features another one of the "embedded" bloggers in Iraq, Michael Yon, an intrepid independent photojournalist. I took note of him on Nov. 23.

December 26, 2005 [LINK]

Why U.S. Muslims are silent

In this season of three religious holidays (Christmas, Hannukah, and Eid) and one ethnic one (Kwanza), the "clash of civilizations" theme becomes more salient. While in the Washington area yesterday, I noticed a television ad sponsored by the Embassy of Saudi Arabia (which I visited in early 1991), highlighting that country's cooperation in the struggle against terrorism. I just wish a greater portion of the people in Saudi Arabia were sincerely committed to that end.

Reason for a bit of skepticism in that regard is offered by Stephen Schwartz, who explains why so few American Muslims speak out against terrorism: "because the price of speaking out is immediate, coordinated attack." It puts an ironic twist on the Nixonian phrase "silent majority." The guilty party, in Schwartz's view, is the extremist "Wahhabi lobby," mainly funded by certain Saudi princes and Hamas. (via Instapundit)

Democracy evolves in Iraq

Demonstrations by Sunnis against the Iraq election results, and counter-demonstrations by Shiites in favor of the same, indicate that there is a lack of consensus on basic democratic norms. See Washington Post. Of course, the same thing could be said of the United States since November 2000 at least, suggesting that we should not set our standards too high. The big increase in turnout by Shiite Muslims suggest that a large portion of that group is coming to realize that their future depends on participating in democratic processes, and that their interests are not served by cooperating with the terrorist resistance of Baathists and fanatics linked to Al Qaeda. Iraq obviously has a long way to go, just as the United States did in 1789. The ball is mostly on their side of the court now, and all we can do as the gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops gets underway is hope for the best. Democracy can be encouraged, under the right conditions, but it can't be force-fed.

December 20, 2005 [LINK]

Bush: sober realism on the war

President Bush's ongoing public relations offensive aimed at pointing to the progress that is underway in Iraq has begun acknowledging the difficulties and some of the past mistakes in his administration's policies. It is not the first time he has done so, but it is wisely timed to coincide with the apparently big success of Iraq's first parliamentary elections. Nevertheless, as Bush said, there are likely to be terrorist holdouts for years to come. This tacit redefinition of victory was clearly aimed at lowering expectations for a clear-cut, decisive military triumph, which I have long believed is necessary -- to avoid disappointing the faithful, pro-war segment of the population. In his televised speech on Sunday evening, Bush also made an unusual appeal to war opponents, saying that he understood their arguments. It was an appropriate gesture of respect for dissenters, many of whom, sadly, have not earned much respect. For Bush the Swaggerer, adopting a humble attitude does not come easily. Well, practice makes perfect. The best part of his lengthy, wide-open press conference on Monday was when he took on the argument of Rep. John Murtha that the presence of U.S. troops inflames terrorists. See for a full transcript.

From the standpoint of domestic politics, Bush's P.R. offensive is likely to convince skeptical folks in the middle that we are on the right general course in Iraq. On last Sunday's "Meet the Press," Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) repeated his argument that current U.S. war policy is headed in the wrong direction, but he also made several comments suggesting that he and other Democrats are no longer wedded to defeat. His hopes that the new Iraqi government might be able to take care of its own security in the near future could be interpreted as a first delicate step toward a semblance of a bipartisan consensus over Iraq war policy. Miracles do happen!

Outrage over "domestic spying"

Bush's momentum was slowed on Friday by the New York Times report that Bush had authorized domestic wiretapping without court approval soon after 9/11. It is hard to imagine that the publication of the story might have been unrelated to the vote to renew the PATRIOT Act. It is very worrisome, at least potentially, but legal shortcuts are a common feature of warfare in any age. In the present situation, rigid adherence to the letter of the law by intelligence operatives could handcuff their ability to track the movement of terrorists in this country. Bush's outrage about the leak by the Times is somewhat ironic given that his own administration stands accused of leaking the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame to the press. For more on Bush's response, see Washington Post.

Part of the dispute over such extraordinary security measures involves the question of whether or not we are at war. In time of war, the president does have broader discretion to safeguard the country, and Lincoln and FDR are among past chief executives who have wielded wartime power in bold, controversial ways. In strictly legal terms, however, there is some question as to whether the United States is at war, because Congress did not formally declare war, as is its constitutional prerogative. Today Rush Limbaugh tried to argue that the resolutions authorizing Bush to take action against states that were fomenting terrorism amounted to a declaration of war, but I heartily disagree. The resolution on Iraq in October 2002 was an explicit abdication of constitutional duty, passing the buck to President Bush. Both Congress and the White House share responsibility for this lapse, which hardly anyone besides me commented on at the time. Hopefully, the next time this country faces the decision to go to war, it will be decided upon in the halls of Congress, with a formal declaration of war if necessary. That way, there will be no "escape route" for wobbly-kneed politicians.

December 14, 2005 [LINK]

Various reflections on the war

As the Iraqi parliamentary elections are about to begin, it is appropriate to take stock of where we stand in the conflict. In this month's Atlantic Monthly, veteran defense reform advocate (and editor) James Fallows has a troubling article: "Why Iraq Has No Army." In it, he repeats familiar charges against the Bush administration for failing to plan for turning over control to the Iraqis, and for failing to give the matter of training the Iraqis the urgency it was due. Some of that criticism is no doubt valid, but he goes overboard in calling the decision to the disband Iraq's army after liberation a colossal mistake. The historical verdict on that will not be rendered until several years have passed, at least. He correctly notes that many newly-trained Iraqi troops attached to U.S. units just melted away during the battles in Fallujah and Mosul in 2004, but there have been a lot of improvements since then. His overall thrust is extremely pessimistic, but at least he concludes on a sound note: Either we make a multi-year commitment to stabilize Iraq, with all resources that are necessary, or we just back out and hope for the best.

Long wars are better

Common sense tells us that, when it comes to something as horrifying and repugnant as war, the quicker it's over the better. Well, perhaps not. In The New Republic, Harvard Prof. William J. Stuntz notes that "blitzkrieg" type campaigns leave the defeated country physically intact and lacking a sense of having been conquered. Clausewitz would probably agree. (via Donald Sensing)

Training takes time

Here is another good reason to be patient: Daniel Ingham writes "Comparing Apples & Oranges: Why The Training of Iraqi Security Forces is Taking So Long" at (via Chris Green, who relates his own experiences in Marine boot camp, showing why NCOs are such a vital part of the military. Every American soldier is trained to take command of his squad if the leader is killed or incapacitated.)

Sectarianism in Iraq

One worrying trend as the campaign against the Sunni-Baathist insurgency continues is that many Iraqis are turning to a Shiite-based militia for their security, especially in Basra, which is occupied by British troops. These militias are loyal to fundamentalist mullahs who have close ties to Iran, and do not tolerate minority opinions. The question of how much they should be tolerated is a very delicate one. Harsh repression would only incite a nationalistic reaction among the Shiites and spur recruitment, while a passive posture would be a signal to extremists among them that they could grab even more power. Like puppies in training, the wisest course for the U.S.-led Coalition forces right now would be to keep those militias on a loose "leash," giving them a chance to let off steam, and yanking them back when they get out of hand. If support for the war in this country continues to erode as the Fall 2006 elections approach, there will be increasing pressure to turn the job of policing Iraq over to whoever is available to do the job. Ironically, we may have made Iraq safe for Iran-inspired Shiite extremism.

Strategy and politics

Last week, Daniel Drezner examines the domestic political strategy behind the recent White House document, National Strategy for Victory in Iraq. There's some truth to that, but given the fact that this conflict rests above all on national will, such a tack is appropriate.

Murtha's confusion

Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) held a news conferece today (via C-SPAN), repeating his call for a quick "redeployment" of U.S. forces out of Iraq. Of course he repeated the old lines about the supposed untruthfulness of President Bush, but what struck me the most was when he said the United States does not go to war to spread democracy, it does so for its own national interests. Obviously, he is appealing to realists like me who tend to be skeptical about invoking values such as freedom or democracy when rationalizing foreign policy. What he does not acknowledge are the facts that 1) Encouraging a friendly government to take root in Iraq emphatically is in our national interest, and 2) That the situation there is a textbook case of our values and interests being in harmony. In other words, he posits a false dichotomy. On the plus side, he expressed confidence that the Iraqis would be able to deal with the terrorists after our troops leave, which makes one wonder why he considers our intervention there a "failure." I must say, the way he stumbled over his words suggest that he is quite ineffective as a spokesman for the anti-war cause. There is a case to be made that the Bush administration made a strategic error in toppling Saddam Hussein's regime (I disagree, of course), but Murtha is not the one to articulate such an argument. His confusion and contradictions about who the enemy is, and what the terrorists are aiming for, are very sad and even pathetic.

"Truth on the Ground"

In today's Washington Post, Major Ben Connable, USMC, tries to explain to skeptics why the war in Iraq really is heading toward victory, notwithstanding the continued carnage, and why U.S. troops need to stay there until Iraq's own government has firm control. He is about to begin his third tour in Iraq, and is very confident about the mission and his troops ability to carry it out. The crux of his piece is a direct rebuttal to Rep. Murtha:

The impression of Iraq as an unfathomable quagmire is false and dangerously misleading.

It is this false impression that has led us to a moment of national truth. The proponents of the quagmire vision argue that the very presence of U.S. troops in Iraq is the cause of the insurgency and that our withdrawal would give the Iraqis their only true chance for stability. Most military officers and NCOs with ground experience in Iraq know that this vision is patently false. Although the presence of U.S. forces certainly inflames sentiment and provides the insurgents with targets, the anti-coalition insurgency is mostly a symptom of the underlying conditions in Iraq. It may seem paradoxical, but only our presence can buffer the violence enough to allow for eventual stability.

Hopefully, this eminently sensible statement from a first-hand participant in the conflict will offset the gloom purveyed by those like Rep. Murtha.

December 7, 2005 [LINK]

Remembering Pearl Harbor

Japanese naval aircraft bombed the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor 64 years ago today, destroying most of our Pacific surface fleet and killing over 2,300 Americans. The memory of that unthinkably horrific shock remained seared in the American consciousness for many decades thereafter, even for us baby boomers who were born a decade or more later. This, in turn, had a huge influence on how Americans perceived external security threats. It is also interesting to note that while there were obvious lapses in intelligence in 1941, there was not much recrimination over it. Everyone understood that we were at war, and the most pressing issue was how to win, not second-guessing past slip-ups. That is one of the universal effects of war: It forges national unity by forcing citizens to realize that they either "hang together, or hang separately."

Time does funny things to our perception of events. The 9/11 attacks killed hundreds more people than died at Pearl Harbor, and yet somehow the sense of immediate alarm stemming from that awful day seems to be fading away, as hardly any video clips of the attacks and the aftermath are broadcast on television any more, for fear of upsetting someone. This, in turn, may explain why so many Americans seem so clueless about the nature of the global struggle we are in, and the part played by Iraq in that struggle. I am convinced, nevertheless, that for all its flaws, this country is simply too great, and this conflict too serious, to let silly partisan political spats weaken our resolve. I am willing to bet that the younger generation of Americans, for whom 9/11 was the first major historical event in their memory, will soon come to resent having that episode conveniently set aside by the mainstream news media barons. Ultimately, I think 9/11 will be ranked as a more important historical episode than Pearl Harbor.

Florida professor not guilty

Sami Al-Arian, a Kuwaiti-born Palestinian who used to teach engineering at the University of South Florida, was found not guilty on charges of conspiracy to aid terrorism by a Federal jury in Tampa. The jury deadlocked on several other charges, and he may be retried later. None of the three co-defendants were convicted either, after 13 days of deliberation. A representative of the Council on American-Islamic Relations praised the verdict; hopefully most of the members of CAIR will take this as a sign that all Americans, immigrants or not, have equal rights in our court system. See Washington Post. Al-Arian was active in Palestinian extremist groups, and was once videotaped exhorting a crowd with the chant of "Death to Israel." A friend of mine who has some inside knowledge about that controversy said that Al-Arian was just speaking metaphorically, but in these times, such inflammatory words cannot be eaily brushed off. It's like yelling "fire" inside a movie theater, but what he was doing was more important than what he was saying. Free speech is one thing; sedition is another.

As for this criminal trial, if the jury decided there wasn't enough evidence to convict, I can accept that. The verdict certainly does not constitute vindication for his promotion of terrorist-related groups. More generally, this case illustrates the limits of treating the campaign against terrorism as a problem of law enforcement. Since the evidence obtained by intelligence agencies often is not accpetabe in a court of law (where there is a high standard of proof, and a presumption of innocence), there will be many situations where extra-legal means of preventing anticipated terrorist attacks will be necessary. Such tactics (including "rendition" of terror suspects and coercive interrogation methods short of torture) do expose our government to the risk that rogue agents will go too far, however. That is why we need novel institutional means to oversee such operations, so that the Executive Branch does not gain too much power as the war is being waged. The PATRIOT Act will need to be tinkered with over and over again before we can arrive at a workable balance between security and justice.

December 5*, 2005 [LINK]

Winter counteroffensive + 64

In a fitting coincidence, given the weather we are having, today [December 5] marks the 64th anniversary of the opening of the Soviet counteroffensive that pushed the German Army back from the gates of Moscow in 1941. Not expecting such prolonged resistance by the Red Army, the overconfident Germans did not bring winter uniforms, and did not properly winterize their weapons, tanks, or transport vehicles. Within days the German front line was shattered, and it took a huge amount of effort to stabilize the front after retreating over 100 miles in some sectors. This counteroffensive signaled the end to the Germans' hopes for a quick victory in their quest to dominate Europe. A year later came the Battle of Stalingrad, the decisive turning point that put an end to any German hopes to dominate Europe.

The German invasion of Soviet Russia, code-named "Operation Barbarossa," is a textbook example of imperial overstretch, as historian Paul Kennedy would define it. In strategic terms, it represented a high-stakes gamble -- some would call it reckless -- without adequate logistical preparations. What's more, it was a preemptive attack that may not have been warranted. That is, Hitler calculated that Stalin had a bigger industrial base, with greater raw material resources, so he decided to attack before the military balance shifted in the Soviets' favor. In rational terms, it was a close call that could have gone either way. If Hitler had not diverted the Second Panzer Group to the south in August 1941, thereby giving the Soviets time to prepare the defenses around Moscow, the Germans probably would have won the war. In human psychological terms, the way the German invasion was carried out exemplified hubris, the limitless arrogance of those who are addicted to power and glory, and refuse to listen to counsels of prudence. Of course, it also exemplified barbaric cruelty, for this is where the Holocaust began in earnest.

Military overstretch in Iraq?

That brings us to President Bush and the war in Iraq. The death of ten U.S. Marines in a single bomb attack in Fallujah three days ago reminds us that the Sunni heartland remains defiant and unpacified, and that victory is not "around the corner." One of the most compelling arguments against the war made by critics who share a genuine concern for the U.S. national interest (such as William Odom or Joe Biden) is that our armed forces simply cannot maintain the occupation of Iraq at current troop levels indefinitely. Many of the loudest critics of the war are fond of making comparisons between Iraq and Vietnam, and indeed there are some parallels, but I think a strategic-minded person would see greater parallels with the German invasion of the U.S.S.R. in 1941. Both invasions were launched as a "crusade," counting on a quick victory and relying upon subordinate allies who were not deeply committed to the cause. Other than fringe radicals such as Ramsey Clark, no one would make a serious comparison between the liberating U.S. government and the conquering Nazi regime, of course, but the parallels in the strategic decision making and the mental framework of the leaders are rather intriguing.

Having had its "comeuppance" in the failed pacification of Iraq in late 2003, just as the Germans failed with their initial invasion plans, the United States now has a precious second chance to get it right. As the decisive phase of the handover of Iraq to its own people's control proceeds, the margin for error is small; one more Abu Ghraib could ruin it. Will the U.S. counter-insurgency effort in 2006 reflect a prudent balance between means and ends, taking into account possible adverse contingencies, or will it be a vain exertion to win at all costs -- like Stalingrad? Perhaps the biggest difference compared to the Russian front in 1942 is that the United States is on the other side of the planet from the enemy homeland, so we are less vulnerable than the Germans were to being conquered by vengeance-minded hordes. If worse came to worse, we could always withdraw from the Middle East, revert to our old isolationist ways, and get used to the price of gasoline fluctuating unpredictably between $2 and $8 a gallon. That would be the tragic result of American "neo-puritans" refusing to see the obvious harmony between our interests and our values in the present conflict.

* Written December 5, but not posted until next day due to Internet service outage.

December 1, 2005 [LINK]

Letter to the editor on Iraq

My letter to the editor about the controversy over the war in Iraq was published in today's Staunton News Leader. I wrote it in response to an editorial that said that "thousands of lives have been wasted" in Iraq, which I think is a gross misjudgment about the course of events. My letter represents yet another plaintive, mild-mannered effort on my part to reach out to war skeptics, something that is hard to do in the short space available. I would have liked to expand on certain complex issues, above all the precise nature of the well-documented links between Saddam Hussein and terrorists. Many war critics falsely construe such assertions as saying that Saddam Hussein was complicit in planning for the 9/11 attacks, or that he was a close partner of Al Qaeda. Those are nothing more than worn-out red herrings. I also wish I could have expanded on the nature of the terrorist insurgents in Iraq, which many Americans believe reflect widespread opposition to the U.S. presence there. In fact, those insurgents are an amalgam of Baathist regime remnants who want to restore the Sunni faction to dominance, and Al Qaeda outsiders. True, many Iraqi people are deeply angry at the ongoing violence, and it is only natural to blame the authorities, i.e., the United States and Coalition allies, even though they probably realize that the violence is not being perpetrated by our forces. This simply illustrates the universal tendency of people to want to have it both ways: Just as Americans want to enjoy an opulent life style but not pay high prices (only possible when labor is cheap, hence illegal immigration and imports from China), Iraqis want domestic peace and freedom from external occupation. Those objectives were not compatible under the regime of Saddam Hussein, and they will remain in conflict to some extent until the new democratic regime is firmly consolidated. That could take at least five or ten years, a time span that would sorely test the American people's patience and would stretch our armed forces to the limit. If the buildup of Iraqi security forces continues to proceed as well as it has been going, however, I would expect virtually all U.S. combat forces to be out of Iraq within the next two or three years, depending mainly on political trends in this country.

November 30, 2005 [LINK]

Bush outlines victory strategy

Continuing his effort to get caught up with long-overdue tasks, President Bush today presented a clear-cut plan to achieve victory over terrorists in Iraq, and the greater Middle East. The highlight of his speech at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis today was when he declared with sincere, deep emotion: "America will not cut and run from car bombers and assassins so long as I am commander in chief." Wow! In conjunction with the President's speech, the National Security Council released National Strategy for Victory in Iraq, available (as PDF) from For me, the most notable aspect is the way that the various processes (or "tracks") -- political, security, and economic -- are integrated with each other. (The link between security and economic policy is my own research specialty.) The strategies devoted to each of those tracks are based on clear, sensible assumptions, and are tied to each other in a logical fashion. The document rightly points out that no war has ever been won "on a timetable," and neither will this one. Likewise, "The terrorists have identified Iraq as central to their global aspirations." Like German, Italian, and Japanese fascists in World War II, the Islamo-fascists cannot be satisfied until they have achieve world domination. Prevailing over them will require sustained effort on the part of all Americans. Let honest debate among us proceed!

Democrats react

The speech has already had a very positive effect on the home front: Sen. John Kerry is scrambling to jump on board the victory bandwagon, rapidly shifting rhetorical gears. Only two weeks ago, Kerry had made a speech responding to Bush's Veteran's Day speech (text HERE) that was filled with distortions of fact and calumnies against the President, leaving no room whatsoever for building mutual trust, which is absolutely essential. Reasonable people can disagree about where the errors in intelligence lay, but Kerry simply refuses to accept any other interpretations or premises than his own. Unless Bush and the Republicans admit they were all wrong about Iraq, Kerry will refuse to negotiate. Meanwhile, Rep. Nancy Pelosi disparaged Bush's speech as warmed over "stew," declining the opportunity to respond with something positive. The close-mindedness of Kerry, Pelosi, and many Democrats is a classic sign of defeatism: Ironically, by spreading defeatist sentiment in this country, they have made defeat for their own party in next year's elections much more likely. The American people may be fickle and only semi-attentive to world events, but they're not so stupid as to fall for the rhetoric of the war opponents.

November 29, 2005 [LINK]

The view from the "sandbox*"

Strangely enough, the troops on the ground in Iraq don't see the war the way it's portrayed by the mainstream media. Fortunately, an article in the Christian Science Monitor took a step toward rectifying that deficiency. Key excerpts:

Yet as perceptions about Iraq have neared a tipping point in Congress, some soldiers and marines worry that their own stories are being lost in the cacophony of terror and fear

"We know we made a positive difference," says Cpl. Jeff Schuller of the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines... "I can't say at what level, but I know that where we were, we made it better than it was when we got there."

Part of the reason that such stories usually aren't told is simply the nature of the war. Kidnappings and unclear battle lines have made war correspondents' jobs almost impossible.

That last bit shows why pro-war folks should refrain from too-heavy criticism of the mainstream media. Trying to be objective isn't easy when you're the target!

* "Sandbox" is military slang for "Iraq," for you folks in Rio Linda.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, often regarded as the lonely conscience of the Democrat Party, recently traveled to the "sandbox," and points to many signs of improvement there. He reminds wavering Americans that it would be a "colossal mistake" for the U.S. to withdraw its forces right now. See, registration required. (via Instapundit)

The Sunnis and terrorism

Well, of course, all of the Sunnis cannot possibly be terrorists, but it is getting harder and harder all the time to find any who are not sympathetic to the mass murderers who lurk in alleys throughout the "Sunni Triangle." James Dunnigan in, writes of the desperation the Sunnis find themselves in, as the insurgency alienates the non-Sunni population of Iraq. I think they brought it on themselves, and we may have to accept partition of Iraq as a result of the failure of enough moderate Sunni leaders to step forward. It would be reasonable to suppose that Saddam had nearly all such prospective leaders executed while he was in power.

Saddam on trial

Speaking of which, the next phase of the former dictator's trial has just resumed. Saddam Hussein tried to disrupt the court proceedings, and from what I could tell from C-SPAN, the judge was unflappable. With any luck, most Iraqis will make the connection between Saddam's Baathists and the surge of vicious terror being inflicted upon their country.

Odom: darling of Left

After reading the anti-war essay and comments by retired Gen. William Odom last week, I became curious about his connection to right-wing dictators when he served in the Reagan administration. While Googling on that (I didn't find much), I came across a curious fact: Virtually all of the top-ranked Web sites that have quoted him lately are leftists! I know that politics makes strange bedfellows, but this is ridiculous! Are those folks even aware of how disdainful he was of human rights activists during the Cold War?

Murtha: not a "hawk"

The standard template in the MSM is that, until very recently, Rep. John Murtha was a stalwart pro-war, pro-military Democrat. Well, in May 2004 his opposition to the war was already so strong that it earned him a feature one-on-one interview with Ted Koppel on ABC's Nightline. See

November 27, 2005 [LINK]

U.S. division deployment

After researching the Web sites of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps combat divisions, including National Guard divisions, I have updated and revamped the table that shows their current deployment, which can be found on the War page. The information on it is still tentative, pending further research. One useful feature of that table is that it includes links to each division's official Web site, though some are not currently available. Some of those Web sites are of professional quality, and others are embarrassingly amateurish. I used to count on a similar but much more detailed page called "Where Are the Divisions?" at, but it has not been updated in nearly one year.

Stryker vehicles

I asked a friend of mine who used to serve in the Army [Marine Corps!], Chris Green, how it is that wheeled combat vehicles such as the new Stryker can withstand having their tires blown out by rifle bullets. He said the tires are built integrally onto the wheel rims, presumably with a stiff inner frame. He also sent me this interesting link:

November 25, 2005 [LINK]

"Cutting and running"

Is Rep. Murtha right or wrong to urge an immediate withdrawal from Iraq? There is a debate over this hot topic under a commentary written by retired General William Odom at (link sent to me by an anonymous benefactor) He concludes:

The wisest course for journalists might be to begin sustained investigations of why leading Democrats have failed so miserably to challenge the US occupation of Iraq. The first step, of course, is to establish as conventional wisdom the fact that the war was never in the US interest and has not become so. It is such an obvious case to make that I find it difficult to believe many pundits and political leaders have not already made it repeatedly.

Expressing views on complex issues in such terms of absolute certainty is not convincing to me. General Odom is an international affairs realist, meaning that he downplays values and emphasizes balance of power above all else. During the Cold War, he argued that the United States had no choice but to support authoritarian dictators (such as Chile's Pinochet) as preferable to allowing Soviet clients to gain more power in the Third World. I consider myself a "normative realist" in the tradition of Hans Morgenthau, allowing for some consideration of values and ethics. I noticed that one of the commenters on that page is Michael Schrage, whose Washington Post op-ed piece in 2003 I praised (see May 19, 2003 blog post), and who was nice enough to contact me about it. For the record, I am not so fervently "gung-ho" that I regard the Iraq war as a "do-or-die" mission. It is clearly in our national interest that pluralistic, non-despotic regimes take root in that part of the world, and while that outcome could not have come about without the U.S.-led effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power, it may be the case that our continued presence there could prove to be counter-productive. I strongly hope that is not the case, but I don't think winning the war is worth tearing apart our nation. War opponents need to understand that their own words and actions can have a self-fulfilling effect. Of course, the less sincere ones among them certainly do realize that...

Iraq syndrome: Neo-isolationism?

Meanwhile, Daniel Drezner explores the possibility that the Iraq war may spawn a renewal of the age-old tradition in American politics to just tell the rest of the world to go to hell. He also ponders the difference in attitudes between civilian and military Americans, wondering which of those social groups is more delusional. Very interesting...

November 23, 2005 [LINK]

"Redeployment" done right

Today's Washington Post reports that the Pentagon plans to reduce the U.S. force level in Iraq by three brigades (from 18 to 15) early next year. This would be a return to a "normal" force level, since reinforcements were deployed to maintain extra security for the consitutional referendum in October and the election next month. It is hoped to reduce the number of U.S. troops from 150,000 to less than 100,000 (10 brigades) by the end of next year, depending on how well the new Iraqi forces perform. No one knows how such contingencies will turn out, and the battlefield situation could improve markedly or deteriorate. The latter would be much more likely if the drawdown of U.S. forces proceeds too hastily, as Rep. John Murtha wants.

This is encouraging news, especially since as of eleven months ago, it was thought that 13 U.S. brigades would have to remain in Iraq through early 2007. Nevertheless, we must remember that in the heady days after the liberation of Baghdad, the plan was to have all major U.S. combat units out of Iraq by the end of 2004. Since Americans are virtually unanimous in wanting to get out of Iraq as soon as is practical to do so, the less political opportunism, the better. In that regard, it is fortuitious that the Thanksgiving holiday provides us all with a "time out" to let our tempers cool.

Murtha & retreat

Army Col. James Brown, commander of the 56th Brigade Combat Team, which is scheduled to leave Iraq next month, pointed to signs of progress in the fight, noting that the number of road-side bomb attacks is declining except in western Iraq, and warned against ending the mission prematurely:

Physically here on the ground, our job is not done. We have to finish the job that we began here. It is important for the security of this nation. It is important for the security of this region, and certainly it is important for the vital interest of the United States of America. (SOURCE: See

N.Z. Bear (via Instapundit), debunks the new "Murtha Myth" propagated by some on the Left, above all the false notion that Murtha did not call for immediate retreat but only sought to begin a discussion of the subject. There was, in fact, no mention of such dialogue in his speech on Thursday. He wants to bug out!

Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-OH) has retracted her comments on the House floor (conveying a message from a constituent) suggesting that Rep. Murtha was a "coward." In retrospect, that was unduly harsh, and disrespectful of an elder veteran, however mistaken he might be.

Photo-blog from Iraq

Take a look at Michael Yon, an intrepid independent journalist. (via Instapundit)

November 19, 2005 [LINK]

House rejects anti-war resolution

Well, what did they expect? The Democrats have been asking for such a showdown on Iraq war policy for many months, and Rep. John Murtha's speech on Thursday provided the Republicans with the perfect opportunity to dare them to back up their words with an actual vote. Not surprisingly, the Democrats flinched from the challenge. Pent-up anger on both sides exploded when Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-OH) invoked the dreaded "C" word as she conveyed the thoughts of a constituent Marine reserve officer:

"a few minutes ago I received a call from Colonel Danny Bubp," an Ohio legislator and Marine Corps Reserve officer. "He asked me to send Congress a message: Stay the course. He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message: that cowards cut and run, Marines never do." (SOURCE: Washington Post)

A fistfight almost broke out, and I caught the tail end of it on C-SPAN. Interestingly, Schmidt was the victor in that high-profile special election held in August, defeating Iraq war veteran Paul Hackett. The key vote on the House floor last night was HR-572, the procedural question of whether to consider HR-571, "Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately." The former measure passed 210 - 202, not exactly a strong show of support for the war effort, but it was useful nonetheless. The vote on HR-571 was 403 - 3, with 6 abstentions and 22 not voting. Both Rep. Murtha, who had announced that he would introduce such a resolution, and Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), who actually did so, voted against it. The three "brave" dissenters were Reps. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA), Jose Serrano (D-NY), Robert Wexler (D-FL). To the untrained eye, this parliamentary maneuver seems like an exercise in hypocrisy, but it's a good illustration of how legislative bodies work. In R. Douglas Arnold's terminology, HR-571 was a "Politically compelling policy: The popularity of the intended effects outweighs the legislator's doubts that the means will actually work, because his opposition would be construed as lack of sympathy." The Republican leadership in the House deserves credit for astute handling of this issue, in holding the Democrats' feet to the fire.

In his speech on Thursday, Murtha said that "U.S. troops are the common enemy of the Sunnis, Saddamists and foreign jihadists." However, he did not mention the Shiites and Kurds, who comprise a majority of Iraq's population and do want us to remain there to ensure that the old regime does not regain power and subject them to persecution once again. Murtha then laid out his "plan":

  1. To immediately redeploy U.S. troops consistent with the safety of U.S. forces.
  2. To create a quick reaction force in the region.
  3. To create an over- the- horizon presence of Marines.
  4. To diplomatically pursue security and stability in Iraq.

He seems to be calling for a retreat from Iraq without abandoning the Persian Gulf, but where could a U.S. presence is maintained? We already withdrew our forces from Saudi Arabia, where we had worn out our welcome after a decade, and Kuwait and Bahrain would be rather precarious footholds in such an unstable region. Such a shift in deployment makes no strategic sense at all. If we do indeed pull out of Iraq, we might as well kiss the entire Middle East goodbye. As for diplomacy (!), perhaps Murtha could suggest someone to serve as the first ambassador to Al Qaeda. Murtha is an old man, and I suppose he can be excused for not comprehending the nature of the shadowy yet vicious adversary that we all face. I do not doubt that the pain he feels from the families of servicemen and women is genuine, and in a sense he is correct to say that military means are not the key to victory in this struggle, in which the psychological dimension is paramount. The huge irony is that he seems completely unaware that what will determine whether we ultimately prevail or succumb in this war is the home front, where he himself plays a critical role!

As a resolutely open-minded participant in this national discourse, I fully understand both the logical arguments and emotional sentiments against the war. I share some doubts myself, but I have more confidence in our President -- for all his faults -- than with the general public. Sad to say, many Americans are simply not attentive to global politics, and not particularly inclined to make sacrifices for the collective good. I'm well aware that "staying the course" does not sound like a sophisticated strategy, but the situation we are in simply does does not lend itself to any other approach than slow, grinding exertion. What I do not understand at all is how so many people in this country seem oblivious to the basic fact that our national unity and resolve is being tested by the Islamo-fascists. It sounds trite, but it cannot be repeated often enough: United we stand, divided we fall. I dearly hope that most Americans wise up and come to agree that there is No End But Victory (via Instapundit)

November 17, 2005 [LINK]

Wobbly knees in Congress

The resolution passed by the Senate yesterday was interpreted by some as a slap in the face to President Bush, but it really didn't mean very much. It simply declared that there will be a "significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty" next year, and it would be hard to argue against that. Even Bush welcomed the measure as he began his trip to Asia, with perhaps equal measures of sincerity and face-saving. Sen. John Warner, normally a stalwart on defense matters but also a bit too fond of conciliating with Democrat adversaries, was among those who expressed frustrations felt by the American people. Hugh Hewitt (via Instapundit) chronicled the pandering comments, noting that Markos crowed that Republicans are "plagiarizing" their issues, proving that the Democrats have taken back the mantle of being "the party of ideas." Ugh.

Today Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) went a step further, announcing he was introducing a bill calling for a prompt withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq. For such a drastic measure, he offered a surprisingly weak rationale:

"The war in Iraq is not going as advertised. ... It's a flawed policy wrapped in illusion." SOURCE: Washington Post

"Flawed"? Based on "illusion"? Well, the same thing could be said about every war this nation, or any nation, has ever fought! Valley Forge, Bull Run, Little Bighorn, Pearl Harbor, Kasserine Pass, Anzio, the Bulge: one devastating setback after another, and yet somehow we came out ahead. For Pete's sake! War is a chaotic, ugly, frustrating mess, and always has been. Deception is part and parcel of a winning strategy, 99 percent of the time. Ironically, Murtha is correct to say that "the war in Iraq is not going as advertised," inasmuch as the "advertisers" in the mainstream media -- from whence most Americans get their news and form their opinions -- have been portraying the war in an unduly negative light. Only those who lack historical grounding would fall for Murtha's naive, school boy reasoning. He literally choked back tears as he recalled his 27 years of military service, invoking the worn-out "chicken hawk" retort to pro-war folks. He should know better than that. An abrupt U.S. withdrawal now, just as the next round of elections is going forward, would have devastating consequences for the Iraqi people, which is why no responsible leader seriously contemplates it. At least Murtha sounded sincere and concerned about the national interest, in sharp contrast to those such as Democrat Senators Dick Durbin or Harry Reid, who have become virtual cheerleaders of defeatism.

The greater significance of the Senate resolution, perversely, was that it may encourage the terrorists and undermine the Iraqi government. The silver lining around the gray clouds of gloom is that all this political cacaphony in Washington is ultimately irrelevant to the delicate task of handing over more and more responsibility to the Iraqis. No finger-pointing or grandstanding in Washington will change the facts on the ground in Baghdad, and no silly protests by Cindy Sheehan will sway most Americans. Because our government is firmly committed to seeing through this vital historical task, Iraqis will get an excellent chance to set up their own government, and unless most of them are incredibly fearful or short-sighted, leaders will emerge to take up the reins of self rule. Why? Because they share common interests in maintaining commercial ties with the United States, which is very fortunate to have such superb, dedicated soldiers, and a president who is determined to prevail. That doesn't mean total victory or elimination of terrorism, but simply the creation of a new political dynamic in the Middle East that favors more liberal, limited governmental systems. Once that trend gets underway, the proud (though premature) words "Mission Accomplished" will have greater resonance.

November 17, 2005 [LINK]

Latin American guards in Iraq

About a thousand privately employed ex-soldiers from Peru, Chile, Nicaragua, and Honduras recently began patrol duties in the (relatively) safe "Green Zone" of Baghdad, where government ministries, embassies, and Western journalists are concentrated. They are paid $1,000 a month, plus room and board. Whether they ought to be considered as mercenaries remains to be determined. See El Heraldo of Tegucigalpa. (in Spanish). Honduras had deployed 300 of its troops to Iraq, but withdrew them later. El Salvador still has a small contingent there, as far as I can determine...

November 15, 2005 [LINK]

France on the front line

There are many explanations for the sudden outburst of rioting in African- and Muslim-populated neighborhoods around Paris and throughout France. If you follow the global-scale perspective of Samuel Huntington, there is no question that the riots are yet another manifestation of the "Clash of Civilizations." As with all such social phenomena, it reflects a confluence of various latent trends, and I see no point to emphasizing one at the expense of others. Jim Hoagland made that point in last Wednesday's Washington Post: Religious grievances probably have little or nothing to do with the violence, so this is not "jihad" -- at least not yet. (French laws that restrict scarves and similar outward expressions of Muslim faith no doubt contribute to the immigrants' sense of exclusion, however.) Hoagland also points out that for years, French police have retreated from the immigrant ghettos out of expediency and fear, letting the residents police themselves. It will take years to restore law and order there, if the attempt to do so is even made. That's the price they pay for putting their heads in the sand, and the same phenomenon is transpiring right here in the United States, though on a lesser scale. As I wrote on August 9, "In France, it's probably too late to resist the Muslim invasion by means of law enforcement, and time is running short in the United Kingdom. Is that the route we want to follow?"

Why do the children of immigrant families burn their own neighborhoods? Pourquoi non? As with the angry black youth in America during the 1960s, arson and vandalism can be loads of fun for marginalized, bored kids, and it helps to get attention as well. Sometimes such acts even entice the government into providing more funds for social programs. (Such remedial measures could never hope to offset the original destruction, however, so no rational mind could contemplate this as a deliberate strategy.)

Neglect by the French government is certainly another big part of the equation, but the prevailing social attitudes rank at least as high: French people feel entitled to the good life, and this attitude rubs off on the new arrivals. President Jacques Chirac lamented yesterday that his county is suffering from malaise, probably not even realizing that Jimmy Carter's use of that word (which is French) in 1979 cemented his image as a dour pessimist and sealed his political fate. It is an apt comparison, however: The French political system is essentially paralyzed by a complacent, pampered electorate that is accustomed to getting high wages, cheap government health care, and long paid vacations, all of which is made possible by cheap labor of immigrants. Well, it was nice while it lasted...

One big difference in urban geography between France and America will probably save Paris, Lyon, and Toulouse from the fate of Detroit, Newark, and Los Angeles: In France, the poor people live in the outskirts, while the rich folks live closer to the center. Not being as dependent on the automobile as the Americans, the French can at least go about their daily lives while riots continue a few miles away without too much disruption. "Out of sight, out of mind." (That's part of the problem, too, however.) Another big difference relative to the U.S.A. is that France is an indigenous, ethnically homogeneous national culture, whereas America is a nation of immigrants with a strong tradition of assimilating immigrants, and incorporating immigrant culture into the "blank slate" mainstream. (Taco Bell: Think outside the bun! ) In sharp contrast, France has long had a strong tradition of exporting its culture to the rest of the world, and now it's on the receiving end of the stick.

How the leaders and average citizens of France respond to this challenge will have a critical effect on how the global clash between the Western and Middle Eastern civilizations unfolds. For our own sake, let's hope they react wisely and bravely, not hysterically. Since they were the ones who gave us the Statue of Liberty, it would be supremely ironic if the United States ends up as the refuge for millions of native French people fleeing from a second great invasion by "Moors," almost fourteen centuries after the first such invasion was turned back at the Battle of Tours.

Years from now, who will remember how this tragedy was unleashed? Two North African boys were fleeing from police on October 27, and were electrocuted while climbing a fence at a utility substation. The fact that the police were blamed for their deaths by the immigrant community shows how deeply they distrust the government. In an unstable social setting, such minor, random acts can trigger a horrifying cascade of violent consequences, one of the most common applications of chaos theory in the social sciences. Just another friendly reminder to the complacent majority in this country who convince themselves that all is well, or nearly so: Watch out!

France and Iraq

According to Jim Dunnigan (on Strategy Page), a French staff officer visited the Pentagon in December, 2002, offering to send a reinforced division of troops to help invade Iraq, on the condition that France be given exclusive control over its zone of occupation. "What exactly were the French up to? No one is sure, but the most plausible theory was that the French wanted to be in Iraq, after Saddam fell, to make sure no embarrassing documents, or witnesses, showed up." In any event, the Department of Defense rejected the idea, and France ended up sharply opposing the subsequent U.S.-led liberation. The proposed territorial partition would have been just like after World War I, when France and Britain carved up the Arab-populated lands formerly controlled by the Ottoman Empire. Such a neoimperialist approach, clashing directly with the United Nations mandate, would have been an ironic twist. History repeats itself.

Recruitment is up

One bit of good military news is that the Defense Department reported that it surpassed its monthly recruitment goal (4,700) in October by 225. For fiscal year 2005 (ending [September] 31), there was a shortfall of 6,700 troops, which delayed the planned increase in force level. Successful recruiting will be essential if the Army is going to carry out its planned expansion of aggregate troop strength by 40,000, adding six additional active-duty combat brigades (from 37 to 43, each with about 3,500 soldiers and officers) over the next two years. This will take the pressure off the National Guard, which currently provides a large fraction of the U.S. military presence in Iraq. President Bush and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld had initially rejected the argument that pacifying Iraq would require a significant boost in Army manpower. Rumsfeld's huge miscalculation has eroded his credibility, and some believe that his days in the Pentagon are numbered. I just hope his reform initiatives don't stall when he steps down.

What puzzles me is why the Army insists on maintaining divisions of such large size: 18,000 or more is now the norm. They could cover much more territory by thinning each division down to the historical level of 12,000 - 15,000 men. That might entail reducing brigade strength to 3,000 or less, and/or reducing certain support units.

November 12, 2005 [LINK]

Veterans Day Parade in Staunton

  Veterans Day Parade 2005

Clockwise from top left: Veterans of Foreign Wars; Civil War Reenactors Unit - 5th Virginia Company B; American Legionnaires in a WWII Army truck; Daughters (and Sons) of the American Revolution.

We are eternally grateful.

November 11, 2005 [LINK]

Bush marks Veterans Day

In the good old days, Veterans Day would be an occasion for expressing national unity, but that ideal is elusive given the current state of affairs. Battered and bruised by a barrage of slings and arrows over the past three months, President Bush came out swinging as he spoke to a group of veterans in a town near Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, marking Veterans' Day. He got to the heart of the matter in exceptionally eloquent and determined fashion:

While it's perfectly legitimate to criticize my decision or the conduct of the war, it is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began. Some Democrats and anti-war critics are now claiming we manipulated the intelligence and misled the American people about why we went to war. These critics are fully aware that a bipartisan Senate investigation found no evidence of political pressure to change the intelligence community's judgments related to Iraq's weapons programs.


The stakes in the global war on terror are too high, and the national interest is too important, for politicians to throw out false charges. These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will. As our troops fight a ruthless enemy determined to destroy our way of life, they deserve to know that their elected leaders who voted to send them to war continue to stand behind them. Our troops deserve to know that this support will remain firm when the going gets tough. And our troops deserve to know that whatever our differences in Washington, our will is strong, our nation is united, and we will settle for nothing less than victory.

SOURCE: (Applauses deleted.)

Well put, Mr. President! (It's about time.)

Shields on antiwar rhetoric

Sometimes I wonder if the harshest critics of Bush and the war effort realize the damage their words do. On the PBS News Hour this evening, Mark Shields casually brushed aside the question of how American troops in Iraq feel about those who say the war is based on lies, saying that troop morale is all about buddies and unit cohesion, not lofty issues of justification. It was a stunning remark, and may provide insight as to how war critics can look themselves in the mirror after spouting such bitter anti-American venom: They apparently refuse to even consider that their words may have repercussions. One might also interpret what Shields said as an indirect put-down of American servicemen and women, implying that they don't know or care much about what we are fighting for.

Jordanians despise Al Qaeda

Whatever message the mass murderers of Al Qaeda were trying to send in the recent vicious suicide bombings in Jordan, deliberately killing the guests at a wedding party and other innocent Jordanian Arabs, it seems to have backfired. In massive protests in Amman, one Jordanian yelled, "Burn in hell, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi!" See In the all-important public opinion front in the war on terror, the tide may be turning...

Operation Steel Curtain

Donald Sensing has been following very closely the latest U.S.-Iraqi offensive against terrorists around the town of Husaybah, near the Syrian border. The Iraqi soldiers seem to be performing better all the time. The Rev. Sensing's son is currently stationed in Iraq, and may be involved in these operations.

No words can possibly express the gratitude that we all owe our soldiers who put their lives on the line in the fight against the fascist movement that uses religion as a cynical masquerade for its global ambitions. Let us all resolve to remember the sacrifices of current and past American soldiers throughout the year.

November 3, 2005 [LINK]

2,000+ dead in Iraq

October was the fourth deadliest month for U.S. forces in Iraq, and the total number of American military deaths there now exceeds 2,000. How many more? Inasmuch as this war is primarily being fought in the realm of psychology and will, the answer to that question depends, as much as anything else, on us folks on the home front.

Although the recent wave of bombings will probably recede now that the elections are over, it remains to be seen how soon the Iraqi security forces will be able to shoulder more of the responsibility for policing their own country. The huge truck bomb [ten days ago] outside the motel at Firdaus Square, where Saddam's statue was toppled in April 2003, was a potent symbol of the insurgency's deadly capabilities. Demonstrating careful planning and coordination, one truck bomb blew a hole in the protective concrete barrier along the edge of the safe "Green Zone," and a cement mixer filled with explosives drove through and blew up near a hotel used by journalists. Sixteen people died, and it was fortunate that casualties were not higher. The fact that journalists were the target is a good example of terrorist logic.

Secret prisons for terrorists

The Washington Post reported on Monday that the United States has established secret detention facilities for captured terrorists in certain Eastern European countries. I would guess that means Poland and Romania. Some key excerpts from today's online chat with the author, Dana Priest:

I don't actually think the Plame leak compromised national security, from what I've been able to learn about her position. As for my article, we tried to minimize that by not naming the countries involved and, otherwise, no, I don't believe it compromised national security at all.
[The secret prisons] are not illegal under U.S. law, which allows for the CIA to undertake covert actions abroad. Executive Order 12333. Maybe I can get it posted here.
No one from the CIA and no one who used to be in the CIA proposed that I write the article I did. On the contrary.

Well, that last part is reassuring to those who worry that the CIA may be riven by policy disputes, as some have interpreted the Wilson-Plame case. As for the secret CIA-run prisons, that is not terribly surprising to me. Many human rights activists have complained about the "rendition" of terror suspects to countries such as Egypt and Turkey where torture is routinely practiced, and keeping the bad guys locked up by our guys will at least minimize that potential problem.

Bull Moose on Romney

Bull Moose blog (via Instapundit) made the same comparison as I did yesterday between the Senate Democrats and George Romney's "brainwashing" remark that ended his political career. Just remember, you read it here first! Scrupulously fair-minded, the "Moose" concludes,

During the late 90's the Moose was appalled by the behavior of many of his fellow Republicans who ascribed the worst motives to President Clinton for attacking Saddam and going to war in Kosovo. Clinton drove the Republicans to lose all judgement. Although it involves different different players, the Moose is feeling deja vu all over again.

For the record, I gave Clinton the benefit of the doubt on the decision to bomb Iraq during the impeachment proceedings in late 1998, but I strenuously opposed the 1999 war in Kosovo, which had nothing to do with U.S. interests and lacked any authorization from the United Nations. (Either of those criteria could justify U.S. military action, and in some rare cases such as Desert Storm, both applied.) I stand by my original judgment, and see no evidence that the people of Kosovo are becoming inclined to live at peace as part of Serbia. Perpetual de facto partition, courtesy of the U.S.A. In retrospect, however, I probably did let my antipathy toward Clinton influence the tone of my opinions about that intervention, which I regret.

October 19, 2005 [LINK]

Second area soldier killed

Marine Lance Corporal Daniel Bubb, of Grottoes, VA, was killed in combat on Monday, on the day before his 20th birthday. For details, see This comes nine months after the first area youth, Jason Redifer, also a Marine Lance Corporal, was killed in Iraq; see Feb. 3 and Aug. 27 blog posts. May God comfort the families of both fallen heroes, and may all Americans pay honor to their sacrifices.

The total number of American military personnel who have been killed in action in Iraq is approaching 2,000. Reaching that landmark figure will be another occasion for questioning war objectives, testing the ability and willingness of both war opponents and the Bush administration to engage in constructive discourse about "what we are fighting for."

October 17, 2005 [LINK]

Local soldier is heading to Iraq

Yesterday I attended a dinner in honor of Herb Harman, a U.S. Army NCO from this area who is about to report for training duty at Fort Dix in New Jersey, after which he is heading to Iraq. I met Herb about a year ago while working on the Republican campaign, and he is an enthusiastic, unabashed patriot who puts his life where his mouth is. He served at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and can attest to the humane treatment given to the detainees there, contrary to what many journalists and critics claim. Herb's son is already serving in Iraq, and is about to complete his rotation there. The event was reported by WHSV-TV3 in Harrisonburg and by the Waynesboro News-Virginian [updated link], but there was nothing in the Staunton News Leader. We all wish Herb the very best as he takes on this big challenge of standing up against the forces of terror in the Middle East. His wife Jan deserves huge appreciation and support for the sacrifices she makes while Herb serves his country -- and the cause of freedom.

This dinner came at a fortuitous moment, as the results of the Iraqi referendum on the draft constitution seems to be very positive.

October 15, 2005 [LINK]

War by other means in Iraq

Today the Iraqi people went to vote on whether to approve the draft constitution. The only major disruption was an electrical blackout in Baghdad, and hardly any bomb attacks were carried out. I'm confident that most Iraqis know what kind of future they want for their country, and it does not include murderous thugs from the Ba'ath Party or Al Qaeda. Sunday's Washington Post has the reactions of various Sunni people, many of whom fear the proposed constitution will leave their country divided. Au contraire. Even if the constitution does not receive strong popular support, the fact that the Iraqi people are getting used to expressing their will in a peaceful way constitutes, ipso facto, a major victory in the long-term war against Islamo-fascism. Ironically, the armed might of the United States is of secondary concern right now, as Iraq tries to substantiate the age-old liberal (!) hope that "the pen is mightier than the sword." The sight of brave Iraqi citizens proudly showing their ink-stained fingers after casting their ballots is one of those special heart-warming occasions that remind us what all the sacrifices have been for. Any comment from Cindy Sheehan?

Offensive in west Iraq

U.S. Army forces launched an offensive in western Iraq two weeks ago, and the Iraqi government has now established firm control over the towns of Haditha, Haqlaniyah, and Barwana. The name "Operation River Gate" refers to the Euphrates River, which is apparently being used as a covert conduit. See Belmont Club for more.

It is no coincidence that this offensive, like the one in Tall Afar last month, took place very close to the Syrian border. I would bet that U.S. agents and/or Special Forces teams are already operating across the border in Syria, disrupting the flow of supplies and recruits to the resistance forces. Syria has already been identified as a rogue regime, and we are at war against fascism in the region, so it makes perfect sense. The suicide committed by the Syrian interior minister, who was implicated in the assassination of the Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri back in February, is a sign that the regime of Bashar Al-Asad may be beginning to crack.

Bush talks to troops

The television news reporters jumped all over the rehearsed responses by U.S. soldiers in preparation for their chat on Friday with the Commander-in-Chief, but there is no indication that they were coached on what to say. It's amusing, because The Today Show, GMA, and the CBS Morning Show all routinely let their guests rehearse, which is obvious from the rapid, to the point delivery they universally give in response to questions. For the perspective of an Army medic who was there (in Iraq), see: 278medic. (via Instapundit) Read it, and you'll agree, Katie Couric should be ashamed of herself.

Is Al Qaeda failing?

A letter purportedly from Al Qaeda's number two man, Ayman Zawahiri, criticized Iraqi terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi for alienating the Islamic world by engaging in gruesome mass murder against other Muslims. It was intercepted by U.S. agents. Zawahiri expresses frustration that Al Qaeda's strategic goals are being thwarted by inappropriate tactics by insurgents in Iraq who are beyond his control. That is one of the downsides of resorting to terrorism: Like nuclear weapons, it is an extreme measure that can easily get out of hand without achieving the desired objectives. See Washington Post.

October 12, 2005 [LINK]

Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib

Recent reports that soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division substantiate some of the charges about mistreatment of prisoners in Iraq by U.S. military personnel. Andrew Sullivan, who generally supports the war against terrorism but has been highly critical of the treatment of prisoners by American soldiers, has more on this. He calls particular attention to "Major General Geoffrey Miller, the commander ordered by Rumsfeld to transfer the torture and abuse techniques developed at Gitmo to Abu Ghraib." I remain attentive to such accusations but maintain a touch of skepticism, pending further reports. Ultimately, the verdict on the overall conduct of U.S. forces will be rendered by the Iraqi people themselves. If the overwhelming majority of troops are treating Iraqi people well, that will be reflected in the degree of support for the new democratic government. The next big test will be when the referendum on the proposed constitution is held this weekend. Terrorist bomb attacks are all but certain, so the main question is what the turnout rate will be, especially among the Sunnis.

Sunday's Washington Post had a profile on Captain James Yee, the Muslim Army chaplain who was accused of passing secrets to the enemy, charges that were later reduced and replaced by morals charges, and finally dropped. His parents are Chinese immigrants who took him to church in suburban New Jersey, but he only went grudgingly. He graduated from West Point in 1990, and converted to Islam after becoming an Army officer. He left active duty after his three-year commitment was over, went to Syria to study Islam, and returned to active duty as a chaplain in 2000. He ministered to Muslim detainees at Guantanamo, and was arrested in September 2003, accused of spying and aiding the enemy. His family life suffered terribly, both emotionally and financially, and he is now promoting a book he wrote about his experiences in the Army and at Guantanamo. He seems to fit the profile of an gifted and sensitive but alienated immigrant child, but in any event he deserves to be heard. As with all such tell-all books written by disgruntled misfits, the charges he makes must be taken with a grain of salt.

Jihadists in the Old Dominion

An enterprising blogger named Baron Bodissey went to scope out the compound operated by the Muslim extremist group Jamaat ul-Fuqra, located east of Lynchburg, Virginia. He only managed to get a few blurry photos before he was scared off, but his findings and analysis are worth reading. (via Instapundit) This illustrates once again, the need for this country to get serious about immigration reform, in terms of both policy consistency and providing sufficient resources to guard our borders and enforce the laws.

UPDATE: Mr. Bodissey contacted me to point out that immigration reform would have little effect on Jamaat ul-Fuqra, most of whose members are African-American U.S. citizens, typically "former inmates radicalized in prison by Saudi-funded chaplains." As he explains today (on his Gates of Vienna blog), the real problem highlighted by that group is "the omnipresent cultural poison that has infused every nook and cranny of American life: the PC desire to avoid being labeled a 'racist.'"

September 27, 2005 [LINK]

The Tall Afar offensive

Though scarcely mentioned in the mainstream media, last week's U.S.-Iraqi offensive against the terrorist resistance in Tall Afar, near the Syrian border, went very well. Not many enemy combatants were killed, probably because they had advance warning, but at least that town is cleared of hostile elements for the moment. Little by little, the new Iraqi army is gaining experience and confidence, in spite of the continued attempts to intimidate recruits by bombs at Iraqi police and military bases. Most of the troops in that attack were in fact Iraqis. See Washington Post. Though the mere televised sight of such attacks make many Americans cringe, for most Iraqi people, it seems to have the opposite effect. This is discussed at strategypage by James Dunnigan, who explains "Why Al Qaeda Has Lost Its War in Iraq." A cartoon by Cox and Forkum makes this point graphically. There is a risk, nevertheless, that the insurgents will simply take refuge across the border in Syria, in which case there would be a possibility of a U.S.-led incursion into that rogue state, much like the brief incursion into Cambodia ordered by Nixon in 1969. The difference between the situation now and then is that the Ba'athist regime headed by Bashar Al-Asad is on the defense, under heavy international pressure because of the murder of the Lebanese politician earlier this year, and facing growing internal demands for more freedom. The "dominos" are leaning in the other direction this time, and a well-timed, properly justified U.S. incursion might just tip the balance.

Whether it was related to the battlefield success or not, the death of Al Qaeda leader Abdullah Abu Azzam today is a clear indication that the strategic situation is heading in the right direction, notwithstanding the surge of desperate terrorist attacks. More such leaders will arise to replace him, but it's still a very real, concrete victory.

On the all-important home front, a group of high school and college students traveled from Staunton to Washington for the "Support the Military Families" rally. See

As for the left wing (or "wrong wing," perhaps) folks, the silly grin worn by Cindy Sheehan as she was arrested outside the White House yesterday made it very clear what a riotous, unserious farce is the movement for which she serves as mouthpiece.

September 18, 2005 [LINK]

Almost hell in Iraq

Even though most of Iraq is rebuilding and moving forward, the key cities where most of the television cameras are deployed are steadily descending toward a version of Dante's Inferno. With hundreds more dead in car bomb attacks in recent days, Americans and Iraqis alike wonder how much longer can this go on?

One thing is certain about terrorists, they usually don't bother to conceal their unstated but all-too-obvious political aims. In the March 2004 Madrid attacks, they successfully induced Spanish voters to opt for a government less inclined to confront Islamo-fascism head on. In the July 2005 London attacks, they tried but failed to create a split in the British electorate that would have caused the downfall of Tony Blair's government. In Baghdad this month, likewise, they are transparently striving to torpedo the negotiations over the drafting of a new constitution. What the Western media generally fail to report, however, is the fact that virtually all of those attacks are being perpetrated by Sunni Muslims, who comprise the majority of Muslims worldwide but only about 30 percent of the population in Iraq. Many if not most Sunnis in Iraq have apparently come to the conclusion that the potential benefits of engaging in an all-out war against the Shi'ites and the Kurds (first one, then the other) outweigh the risk that they will lose everything under a democratic regime. (One sign of the persistent distorted mindset in Iraq, one consequence of three decades of totalitarian rule under the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein, is that most [Sunnis in Iraq] refuse to believe that they really are in the minority.) Another way to interpret the carnage in Baghdad and other cities is that they are part of a bargaining posture aimed at intimidating other factions into submission.

So why haven't the Shi'ites and Kurds responded more forcefully to Sunni provocations thus far? It appears that they are biding their time, busily mustering a more capable militia army before they engage in a direct confrontation with the Sunni-based Baath regime holdouts. Some Iraqi police and army units appear to have been infilitrated with Shi'ites and Kurds who are prepared to stage mutinies if the central government in Baghdad cannot maintain control. (See Washington Post, August 21.) President Jalal Talabani, who was recently given a warm welcom by President Bush in Washington, openly praised Shi'ite militias back in June, infuriating the Sunni leaders. Determined support by the United States and Coalition partners is now more important than ever, which is why the rising defeatist sentiment orchestrated by Democrat leaders in the United States (think Cindy Sheehan) just might tip the balance in the wrong direction. However bad Iraq looks right now, it would look an awful lot worse if the United States retreated at a moment when the enemy has the strategic initiative. If in spite of our best efforts, full-scale civil war does break out, Iraq would then become a genuine nightmarish hell, making Yugoslavia or Somalia pale in comparison.

All too aware of this risk, President Bush will no doubt "stay the course" for the short term, but if the United States is to prevail in this historic challenge, his national security staff (Condoleeza Rice, Philip Zelikow) must come up with a daring plan to regain the initiative. That would involve a temporary increase in military commitment coupled with novel diplomatic approaches and a deadly serious ultimatum for the political factions in Iraq to reach an accord. Doing so would indeed risk getting entangled in the potential civil war among the ethnic-religious groups in Iraq, which is why we must be prepared to follow through on our threat to scale back our military deployment if the needed cooperation does not materialize. Such a posture does not signify retreat but would be a cold, hard calcuation of strategic risks and benefits, acknowledging the brutal reality that our means and ends are finite. One clear lesson from Vietnam that applies now is that fierce shows of resolve by leaders are not sufficient to persuade the enemy to back down, and prolonging such displays for the sake of prestige or credibility can backfire badly. If it becomes evident that Iraqi civilian leaders cannot resolve their differences peacefully, meaning that the U.S. military presence would become pointless, Democrats and leftist critics of Bush would no doubt rejoice in what they would consider a vindication of their position. I for one would not want to be in the position of taking cheer from the success of mass murderers. From a longer-term perspective, this is all a part of the century-long three-way debate between gloomy isolationist "American firsters," giddiliy optimistic missionary proselytizers (both Wilsonians and Neoconservatives), and sober realists who have a firm grasp of both the strengths and limitations of American values when applied to the world arena. Oddly, many critics of the U.S. war effort seem to hold the contradictory beliefs that we are both too good to sully ourselves with foreign entanglements and not worthy to uphold the (neoimperialist?) burden of defending Western civilization. The bottom line is that if we as a nation cannot agree to oppose and punish barbarous thugs in a part of the world where we have clear interests at stake, then we will have lost our moral standing in the world, thereby squandering our enormous influence over the course of global trends.

September 12, 2005 [LINK]

Los Angeles blackout

Since Islamic extremists warned just yesterday that Los Angeles would be the target of their next attack, today's massive power blackout there looks very suspicious. Mere coincidence? Of course, local officials downplayed any link between the mishap and terrorism, but one of their main jobs is to keep people calm. The extremists also threatened Melbourne, Australia.

Is this a job for Special Agent Jack Bauer? Each season of the FOX-TV action series 24 has taken place largely in Los Angeles, which seems strange since the nation's economic and political nerve centers are on the east coast.

There seems little doubt that the ability of Al Qaeda to operate in the United States has been severely curtailed since the post-9/11 security measures were put into place, but no one thinks they are no longer a threat. From a strategic point of view, the big question is whether they seek to keep us jittery and distracted via semi-regular "pin-prick" attacks, or are biding their time until U.S. vigilance begins to wane over the next few years, and then unleash an even worse attack than the one four years ago. As long as our culture remains fixated on the short-term, demanding rapid solutions, we will remain vulnerable to the discretion of Islamic extremists, who will retain a degree of strategic initiative. Reversing that situation is a major reason for the offensive-oriented strategy being pursued by the Bush administration.

UPDATE: Never mind!? It now appears that the entire blackout was triggered by a utility worker who shut off the wrong power line, overloading the local power grid and precipitating a cascade of automatic shutdowns; see Sometimes suspicious coincidences are entirely innocent...

September 11, 2005 [LINK]

Four years after 9/11

For many Americans, the sense of utter horror and disbelief accompanying the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon seem to be fading into the mist. This numbness induces a complacent tendency that is very unhealthy and must be countered by periodic exposure to the awful images of that day. When is the last time you saw broadcast video clips of people jumping to their death or the towers crashing to the ground? Are we too terrified (!) to relive our recent past? PBS broadcast a program this evening in which Christian, Jewish, and Muslim clerics reflected on what that event and the conflicts since then mean to them. It is always encouraging to hear voices of reason and moderation in troubled times, but as all of them agreed, the Islamic faith is at present under a particularly dark cloud in which zealous fanaticism dominates. We must remember that all religions, including the Christian and Jewish faiths of the West, are subject to the same perversion through which good intentions are transformed into evil deeds. This does not mean we should let ourselves be paralyzed by moral relativism, it just means that even as we endeavor to defend our nation and the broader civilization of which it is a part, we should keep our ears attuned to the occasional gestures of peace and reconciliation that emanate from the proud but tormented and bedeviled Arab-Islamic world.

September 10, 2005 [LINK]

Court approves detention

A three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals overturned a lower court's ruling that U.S. citizen Jose Padilla could not be detained indefinitely without being charged in a criminal court. He was arrested in Chicago in 2002 and designated an "enemy combatant," suspected of plotting to blow up apartment buildings. The case will probably be appealed to the Supreme Court, whose composition is in the midst of a major change. See Washington Post.

This decision represents a big victory for the global anti-terrorism effort. If Padilla had been released, it would have discouraged potential informers to cooperate with authorities, and would have encouraged the Al Qaeda-sympathizing fifth columnists in this country. The reason why more people who suspect their neighbors do not come forward is precisely because they live in terror of retribution. The fact that he was once a gang member illustrates the potential for a tacit alliance between immigrant gangs and the more formal terrorist organizations. Predictably, the ACLU denounced this ruling: "So long as the civilian courts are open and functioning, American citizens arrested in the United States are entitled to due process protections provided by a traditional criminal trial." In the abstract, of course, all U.S. citizens are entitled to equal protection under the law, but this case illustrates the latent clash between individual rights and the collective right of the American nation to the best security the government can reasonably provide. Civil libertarians often fail to acknowledge the vital distinction between criminal violence, which is typically motivated by hatred or hopes of easy material gain, and warfare, which is organized large-scale violence motivated by power politics. Jose Padilla may have started as a mere common thug, but when he joined with avowed enemies of the United States in time of war, he forfeited his rights as a citizen. It is important to remember that there must be checks on the executive branch's ability to detain terrorist suspects, but as long as an appeals process exists, a reasonable balance can be struck between national security and personal freedom.

August 28, 2005 [LINK]

Dueling Gold Star Mothers

Only one day after her stirring speech here in Staunton (see photos and event summary from my August 27 post), Rhonda Winfield, mother of local fallen hero Marine Lance Corporal Jason Redifer, appeared on the Fox News Sunday program hosted by Chris Wallace this morning, along with an anti-war Gold Star Mother, Barbara Porchia. Both were intelligent and articulate, but the arguments of the latter seemed quite stale and pre-programmed to me. She must have rattled off the phrase "noweaponsofmassdestruction noimminentthreat noconnectionto9/11" at least five or ten times. For the record (just in case anyone on the Left still has an open mind), the WMD rationale was only one of several reasons for launching the war, President Bush said specifically that Iraq was not an "imminent threat" but rather a "gathering threat," and the connection between Saddam Hussein and Muslim terrorist groups was very real, though indirect.

Rally video

Winfield, Landes, Gold Star For an inspirational rebuttal to the defeatism of Cindy Sheehan, see and hear the video (which I took and edited) of Rhonda Winfield's heartfelt and powerful speech in yesterday's support troops rally in Staunton. The video lasts nine minutes, in Apple QuickTime format. The file is just under 22 megabytes, and will take about 15 minutes to download with a dial-up Internet connection. It is worth the wait!

Virginia House of Delegates member Steve Landes presents a Gold Star Mother certificate to Rhonda Winfield.

August 27, 2005 [LINK]

Staunton rally: Support the troops!

Rhonda Winfield Local Republicans and other concerned citizens held a rally in support of the troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan in downtown Staunton today, and over 100 people attended in spite of the steady rain. The words of the speakers were often drowned out by the noise of honking car horns by drivers expressing their support. The featured speaker was Rhonda Winfield, mother of fallen Marine Lance Corporal Jason Redifer, who died in Iraq on January 31. She spoke very eloquently and forcefully about what her son's loss means to her, pointing out that Jason at least lived long enough to know that the Iraqi elections were held successfully. She let it be known loud and clear that she "gets it": Her son's blood was part of the price paid so that the Iraqi people can live freely and choose their own leaders, so that the terrorist movement will die out as more and more Arabs and Muslims learn that they can live a better life without violence. She also said that she understands the pain that Cindy Sheehan is feeling but made it clear that she sharply disagrees with her opinions and actions. Ms. Winfield's other other son, Justin Redifer, has also joined the Marines, taking up his brother's place in the line of duty.

Support troops rally Mother Between speeches, the names of local servicemen and women were read, and several of the folks in the crowd carried signs with photos of their loved ones who are serving their country in its time of greatest need. The derisive epithet "chickenhawk" would carry no weight around here! This earnest expression of patriotism in small town "red state" America would probably be scorned and ridiculed by most of the elitists who run the mainstream media, but it does remind us of a vital fact: Inasmuch as the war against Islamo-fascist extremism is a contest of wills between two civilizations, the real battlefront is right here at home. If a majority of American people keep the faith, the good guys will win. It really is as simple as that.

On Friday a group of about 10-20 anti-war protesters gathered at the same spot. By all acounts, the reaction from passing motorists was deafening silence. Bad news for the enemies of freedom!

Support troops rally

August 23, 2005 [LINK]

Cindy Sheehan and war morale

The protest "sit-in" by Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a fallen soldier, outside President Bush's ranch in Texas was one of those red-hot polarizing issues that fails to excite me as much as it does most other political observers. Among the several lessons it offers, one is that family members of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice do deserve a full explanation of what is at stake in the conflict in Iraq. From her television appearances and brief statements, Ms. Sheehan strikes me as a person who is either quite naive or disingenuous. Since she is evidently distraught, however, I would not even think about casting aspersions on her own motives. The Bush-bashing political motivations of those who camped out in her midst are all too transparent, detracting from the sincerity of her cause. It would seem to be another case of self-righteousness veering off in the direction of self-delusion.

If Mrs. Sheehan really wants to know "why her son was killed," she should read a blog piece written by "The Idiom," cited by Donald Sensing, "Why Casey Sheehan Died." It is a no-holds-barred rejoinder to the pious indictment of Bush war policy, suggesting a chilling scenario of what would happen to American in the aftermath of a nuclear attack on New York. To those who pay attention to world events, the threat is all too real.

Another lesson is that many Americans have lost a sense of proportion as the war continues. The very fact that her demand to see the President is considered by many people as reasonable is itself an indication of the relatively light casualties American forces have suffered in this quasi-war* so far. Just imagine if during World War II President Roosevelt had to meet in person all of the hundreds of thousands grieving mothers. He would not have had time for anything else. If more Americans don't get a grip and view passing events in the war in a rational way, our troops' morale may suffer. Mrs. Sheehan already met with President Bush last year, and one would think that such an opportunity would be enough, given the large number of citizens who want the president's ear. Her reasons for demanding another meeting are unconvincing.

* (I hesitate to call the conflict in Iraq a real war, because the enemy combatants are not uniformed soldiers who openly resist foreign occupiers, but cowardly murderers who blend in with the local population. By comparison, the Vietnam War was much more of a real war, and even then some people questioned whether it was really a "war.")

A final lesson is that the President has fallen short in his obligation to explain American military objectives and political goals clearly enough for average citizens to understand. Every so often he comes through with just the right phrase or gesture, but more often not. It's good that he keeps trying, but it's just not good enough. It pains me to say it, but his limitations in the use of the English language, which most of his critics misconstrue as lack of intelligence, constitute a real weak spot in our nation's war effort. Donald Sensing wrote a long, thoughtful blog piece today critiquing the Bush effort to keep the public apprised of how the war is progressing.

Here in the Shenandoah Valley, folks are preparing a "Support Our Troops Rally" set for this Saturday in downtown Staunton. One of the speakers will be Rhonda Winfield, the mother of Lance Corporal Jason Redifer who was killed in action in Iraq last Janury 31. I'm hoping this event will be as non-political as possible, and am very eager to hear what this true Gold Star Mother has to say about her son's ultimate sacrifice.

August 6, 2005 [LINK]

Hiroshima + 60

Except in Bolivia, most people around the world remember today for the holocaust that befell the city of Hiroshima, Japan sixty years ago today. If Americans are puzzled why other countries so often fear or loathe us, they should remember what happened in August 1945 and bear in mind that from today's detached perspective, the exigencies of wartime mean nothing to average Egyptians or Mexicans. Harry Truman spent many years justifying his decision to drop the atomic bomb on the grounds that it saved many thousands of lives that would have been lost in a ground invasion of Japanese homeland. I happen to agree with that rationale, but it is not something that anyone should take lightly. Nuclear weaponry at once confirms one of the basic axioms of military science, Clausewitz's idea that the violence of warfare tends to escalate without limit. Yet on the other hand, the scale of destruction in nuclear blasts renders them almost impractical from a military standpoint. Strategic thinkers from George Kennan to Robert Jervis have questioned the utility of nuclear weapons stockpiles and the possible value as deterrent "leverage." The very irrationality of nuclear weapons is ironically what makes them so appealing to terrorists, who do not behave according to the precepts of rational political actors. Richard Rhodes, author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb, was interviewed on C-SPAN this morning, calling on the United States to accelerate the reduction of its nuclear stockpile so as to convince other potential nuclear armed states to abide by the Nonproliferation Treaty. We still have over 10,000 nuclear warheads in our arsenal, and the Russians have over 6,000, plus at least that many which have been "mothballed" pending dismantling. In spite of recent tensions between the two countries, there is no reason for maintaining such a huge nuclear force -- except for the fact that China and other countries are building up their arsenals, and in this new, unpredictable world in which more and more countries aspire to nuclear weaponry, keeping an extra reserve force on hand to face multiple potential adversaries is certainly understandable. Illogical? Perhaps. Necessary? Probably. Arms-control advocates will object bitterly, but in one form or another, the wretched angst spawned by the security-power dilemma will forever torment mankind.

August 4, 2005 [LINK]

Al Qaeda's blood-curdling threat

Al Qaeda's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has warned Americans and British of much worse attacks to come. See It may be empty bluster, or it may be deadly serious. As the 9/11 Commission has warned, it's not a question of whether we get attacked on a big scale once again, it's a question of when. Will Americans show as much courage and defiant resolve as the British have? Will the partisan divide doom us with a plague of defeatism? One thing that is certain, the world will not be at peace as long as any governments tolerate this kind of language. There is no reason for us to make a threat along the lines that Rep. Tom Tancredo suggested (see my July 22 post), but there should be no question that we will reserve the right to launch devastating punitive attacks on any country that gives material or moral support to Al Qaeda or its associates.

The enemy's real name

One complaint I have had with the Bush administration's conduct of the war is in the vague way it has defined our adversary. Apparently, that problem has been fixed. As explained by Kim Holmes at, the enemy is now being defined as "extremists" or "enemies of freedom" by top Bush administration officials. That is a step in the right direction, but it is still too timid, and therefore fails to rally the American people behind the long struggle we are in. The enemy consists of an ultra-ambitious non-state movement spanning the Islamic world: "Islamo-fascism." (Because ethnic identity plays a very large role among most (but not all) of the terrorists, I prefer to emphasize the Arab component of this movement, calling it "Arab-Islamic fascism.") The word fascist calls attention to the essentially aggressive nature of the movement that many critics on the Left ignore. Those who think we could avoid further bloodshed by ending support for Israel are as utterly wrong as those in the 1930s who believed that Adolf Hitler could be appeased by making territorial concessions.

IRA foreswears terrorism

Well, it's about time! The IRA renounced its terrorist ways last week, and the British Army quickly reciprocated the gesture by dismantling some of its guard posts in Northern Ireland. It's nice when separatist groups realize that they have more in common with their supposed oppressors than they had thought, and the clear and present danger posed to the native inhabitants of the British Isles by Muslim extremists certainly played a part in this. Common enemies are what forge alliances even between parties with sharply different values. In Wednesday's Washington Post, Anne Applebaum breaks a taboo in this country by pointing out that many Americans openly sympathized with the Irish Republican Army. It might be called a case of "selective outrage," which is one reason why defining our enemy as "global terrorism" was confusing to many people.

More fatalities in Iraq

Over 20 American Marines and Army soldiers have been killed in Iraq in the last few days, testing the willpower and determination of the American people. Over 1,800 Americans have sacrificed their lives in Iraq so far, which is bad, but what is even worse is that many millions of American remain tragically clueless about what the struggle is all about. President Bush needs to devote much more effort to explaining to the public what we are fighting for, and provide concrete examples of the improved conditions in Iraq that are so often ignored by the mainstream media.

August 1, 2005 [LINK]

Uzbekistan: "Yankee go home"

The authoritarian government of Uzbekistan has evicted U.S. military personnel from the air base near the city of Karshi. It supposedly provides a very useful refueling stop for U.S. aircraft headed for the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif, but during his trip to Kyrgystan and Tajikistan last week, Donald Rumsfeld he said the U.S. military did not really need that base. (Those two countries agreed to continue cooperating with the United States.) Uzbek President Islam Karimov brutally repressed a protest movement earlier this year, causing some embarrassment to the United States because cooperation since the 9/11 attacks with the Uzbek government (which has fought Islamic extremism) calls into question the Bush Doctrine of promoting democracy as a central part of the fight against terrorism. See Washington Post. China and Russia recently criticized the U.S. military presence in their mutual "backyard," and in spite of the unfriendly nature of those regimes, it is hard to deny that they have more compelling interests in Central Asia than we do, and even more reason to control the spread of Islamic extremism. As I wrote on May 26, unless there is some overriding compelling reason to remain (such as warding off coercion against nascent democratic regimes wielded by Russia or China), the sooner U.S. forces withdraw from the countries in that region [the former Soviet republics of Central Asia], the better.

Guns of August

Donald Sensing reflects on the outbreak of The Great War" 91 years ago today. By comparison, Barbara W. Tuchman's book The Guns of August was published in 1962, or 43 years ago, which is nearly as long ago as World War One was when the book first came out.

July 25, 2005 [LINK]

Sinai resort attack

The massive coordinated truck bomb attack that killed nearly 100 people in the tourist resort of Sharm El-Sheikh leaves little doubt that Al Qaeda is unleashing a global offensive. Inasmuch as the objective of such attacks is invariably psychological, the essential question is this: Will the morale of resolve of Western peoples hold up long enough for the latent anti-terrorist sentiment among the Arab-Muslim people to be expressed? There was an encouraging demonstration by Egyptians agains the attacks yesterday (see gatewaypundit), even as sundry Islamofascist groups scramble to claim credit for it (see jihadwatch). What is most disturbing that a variety of political and religious leaders in Egypt actually blamed the Israeli Mossad for the atrocities (see The fact that the decrepit regime of Hosni Mubarak has brutally repressed opposition rallies recently shows how complex and delicate this situation is.

London aftermath

Various lessons can be drawn from the mistaken killing of the Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes by British security agents. At the most trite level, even the most highly trained security personnel are liable to err in times of high stress. Mr. Menezes should not have run away from the authorities who ordered him to halt, but if the plainclothes officers failed to show him a badge, they share the blame. The quick apology by police officials was proper, and the outrage by Brazilians is understandable. According to BBC, the victim may have had an expired visa, which should give pause to anyone who takes lightly immigration laws in the Age of Terror. As for the controversial "profiling" suspects according to skin color and gender, to some extent that is only common sense, but Al Qaeda would probably adapt to such measures by recruiting light-skinned females with nothing to live for, so it doesn't matter much.

July 22, 2002 [LINK]

More bombs in London

The four dud bombs that went off in London yesterday may well have been the work of amateur copycats, but the fact remains that Great Britain is under siege. Londoners came face to face with the implications of that today when security agents shot dead a man who was attempting to set off another bomb in a subway car. For a country that prides itself on civilized norms of behavior, where "bobbies" keep the peace without the threat of lethal force, this is a rude awakening. Will Englishmen and women begin calling for the right to bear arms? The only purpose I can discern from the small-scale explosions is to provoke a security crackdown by British police and security forces, in an effort to sharpen the division between native English people and immigrants, thereby inflaming tensions around the world. Thus, I would expect the British government to proceed vigorously without going overboard; The specter of mass detentions of Islamic immigrants, like what happened to Japanese people in the United States during World War II is real, but we're not there yet.

Thinking the unthinkable

Donald Sensing recently posed a question that most folks would rather not face: What should we do if, God forbid, Al Qaeda succeeds in setting off a nuclear bomb in one of our cities? Until now, our military response has targetted countries that were known to be havens for terrorists, leaving alone countries such as Saudi Arabia or Pakistan that made at least a half-hearted effort to round up or suppress the bad guys. Could we continue to be so lenient when the consequences of giving ambiguous countries the benefit of the doubt? Sensing cites some possible options suggested by Jihad watch (by Robert Spencer), which in turn was prompted by Rep. Tom Tancredo who said on a Florida radio talk show, "if this [a nuclear attack] happens in the United States, and we determine that it is the result of extremist, fundamentalist Muslims, you know, you could take out their holy sites." (see A big part of the problem is that religious fanatics tend not to respond in a rational way to threats and incentives. The prevention of nuclear holocaust during the Cold War rested to a large extent upon the doctrine of "Mutual Assured Destruction," under which each side maintained a strong enough second-strike missile force to ensure that any surprise attack would be met with a devastating retaliation. It is hard to imagine that a U.S. threat to "nuke Mecca" would restrain Islamic radicals from attacking America or American allies, partly because such a threat would not be credible enough. Such a threat would only play into the hands of paranoid xenophobes in Karachi and Riyadh, in any case. As Sensing, Mideast expert Bernard Lewis, and others have said, the war against terrorism is primarily a war within the Arab-Islamic civilization, between those who believe in modernization without Westernization (the path that China is taking) and those who reject modernization outright, fearing that it is part and parcel of Westernization. These are the distinctions made by Samuel Huntington in Clash of Civilizations, a must read for anyone seeking to understand this terrible new global conflict. Unless and until there is a consensus among Muslim religious leaders that terrorism (or at least murdering innocent people) is an ungodly crime, we will not be safe.

Rather than threatening eye-for-an-eye violence, I think we should make it clear to Arab and/or Islamic oil exporters with a weak record in fighting religious extremists that we will expect them to pay in full for the damages from any nuclear attack on Western cities, and that our Navy will enforce this demand, with a total blockade if necessary. It may not prevent such an attack, but it would at least get their attention, while maintaining a restrained posture of moral superiority.

July 21, 2002 [LINK]

Diplomacy with India

The visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Washington this week was anything but routine. President Bush surprised almost everyone by announcing that the United States would share nuclear technology with India, in spite of the fact that India does not adhere to the Nonproliferation Treaty. Arms control activists are up in arms (!), fearing that this may undermine global efforts to prevent the spread of dangerous technology to terrorists and rogue states. Such an agreement with India had been expected, but not for several more weeks or months. The intellectual support for this strengthened partnership came from Robert Blackwill, a former ambassador to India, and Ashley Tellis, who recently wrote a paper titled "India as a New Global Power." It's not a done deal, however, as the administration will need to get approval from the 40-member Nuclear Suppliers Group, and persuade Congress to modify the U.S. Nonproliferation Act. See Washington Post. Bush stopped short of endorsing India's bid to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, but that day can't be far off. The only question is how to handle Germany, Japan, and perhaps Brazil. Some might regard this compromise with global nonproliferation norms as an ill-advised, hasty gamble, and some might see it as a sign of strategic desperation by a U.S. government that badly needs allies in South Asia. It at least has the virtue of consistency with the Bush administration's support for democratization and capitalist free trade, as India scores far better than Pakistan on both counts. Nevertheless, taking sides in such a volatile part of the world is something that could easily backfire. The stature of Pakistani President Musharraf seems to be shrinking, meanwhile, as his government fails to gain control over Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists along its border with Afghanistan. So much for the political payoffs of joining the nuclear club! Is Bush willing to put strategic cooperation with Pakistan at risk by solidifying an alliance with India, or is this just maneuvering to put pressure on Pakistan to get its house in order?

Tensions with China

The India story is inseparable from what has been transpiring in U.S.-China relations of late. Yesterday's Washington Post reported that the Pentagon is worried that China's military modernization poses a threat to the regional balance of power, making India's strategic role all the more important. China has acquired modern submarines and missile destroyes from Russia, and is developing a medium-range missile force, an air force capable of reaching hundreds of miles from the mainland, and a mobile ICBM force that could launch a second strike against the United States. We need to face this emerging situation soberly: China is unabashedly flexing its muscles over the Taiwan reunification issue, and it is not cooperating very much on nuclear proflieration or containing its rogue neighbor in North Korea. Henry Kissinger wrote an op-ed piece in the Washington Post on June 13, arguing that a passive strategy of containment of China will not succeed. For someone who has been a paid lobbyist for the Chinese Communist government, and whose firm maintains that relationship, that's quite a statement. He is correct to say that we should not panic and start treating China as an enemy, and we should make every effort to respect their new role as a great power, but we cannot be complacent about actions it takes that constitute a clear challenge to U.S. interests. It will take patience, wisdom, and determination to manage the inevitable rise of Chinese power in the 21st Century.

China raised fears in the U.S. when one of the giant state oil firms, CNOOC, made a takeover bid to purchase Unocal, which is also sought by Chevron. China bluntly warned Congress to stay out of the matter, even though it routinely bristles at any implied foreign intrusion into its internal affairs. Some say that in this era of globalization, corporations no longer have fixed national identities, as borders are blurred by ever-increasing trade and financial flows. That argument does not apply to state-owned enterprises, however. Coincidentally or not, China tried to assuage U.S. concerns about its huge trade surplus by announcing that it will no longer peg the value of its currency to the U.S. dollar. The yuan has been grossly overvalued in recent years, subsidizing Chinese exports and making imports of Western goods prohibitively expensive for Chinese consumers. It's a classic mercantilistic strategy that has obvious strategic motivations, and raises big doubts about whether China should have been granted membership in the World Trade Organization.

Ancient Chinese secret

The recent worries about China happen to coincide with the 600th anniversary of a landmark historical event that hardly anyone in the West even knows about. The Chinese fleet under Admiral Zheng He made a voyage of discovery in the Indian Ocean that reached the east coast of Africa, a century before Portuguese mariners first rounded the Cape of Good Hope from the other direction. Because of the expedition's high cost, however, Chinese leaders decided to give up their maritime ambitions, after which they retrenched and stagnated, paving the way for European civilization to dominate the globe. Paul Kennedy highlighted this fateful historical twist in the opening pages of Rise and Fall of the Great Powers.

July 19, 2005 [LINK]

What to make of carnage in Iraq?

As the horrific car bombings continue in Iraq, American people seem to be of two sharply different minds on what this means. Those on the Left believe that these attacks vindicate their argument that Iraq is a cesspool of violence that we should have just left alone. For example, Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury strip cynically portrayed Iraq as a lost cause that is being covered up by happy talk U.S. propaganda: "Rummyworld." Harping on that tired point for two straight weeks, as he did, amounts to satirical overkill that hints at possible doubt in Trudeau's mind; he "doth protest too much, methinks." I would agree that Cheney's "last throes" comment probably erred on the optimistic side. What I fail to understand is how anyone could see the barbaric murder of innocents in Musayyib and other towns as something we should just leave alone. Sure, we can't attend to atrocities in every corner of the earth, but if we can't help matters in a country where we have clear interests at stake, what would be left of our prestige or moral standing? Those qualities are markedly different from our "popularity," which the press focuses on, and which is beyond our control as a superpower. John Hawkins provides a noble public service by his piece "Debunking 8 Anti-War Myths About The Conflict In Iraq" at

Was Bosnia worth it?

In today's Washington Post, former Ambassador to the U.N. Richard Holbrooke, who makes John Bolton look like Mr. Rogers, stoutly defends the U.S.-led intervention in Bosnia ten years ago. He invokes the slaughter at Srebrenica, when Dutch peacekeepers failed to stop marauding Serb militias from rounding up and executing hundreds of Bosnian Muslim men. For him and many others, this tragedy was an occasion for pious breast-beating, lamenting the failure of the "international community," an entity whose existence has never been proven. I believed strongly then, and even more strongly now, that President Clinton's decision to send U.S. combat forces into the former Yugoslavia set a terrible precendent that basically let European nations off the hook for a crisis in their own back yard. France, Italy, and Germany had the troops and weapons; all they lacked was political will. U.S. forces paradoxically set the stage for anti-U.S. sentiment by making European countries think we would bail them out and do their bidding as the "police force" of the West. This false impression was reinforced in 1999 when Clinton bombed Serbia into submission in order to force the Serb army out of Kosovo. This was the first case of overt expansion by NATO into the sovereign territory of a nation outside its proper jurisdiction. Though motivated in part of noble sentiment, it constituted an act of imperialism that did nothing to resolve the underlying animosity between Serbs and Kosovars, and failed to impress Muslim nations that we would stand up for their peoples suffering oppression. It also set the stage for bitter disappointment in European capitals when a less solicitous administration came to power in Washington in 2001. We coddled them for far too long, and the sooner we withdraw our remaining land and air forces from the European continent, the better.

Londoners fear not

All indications are that the bomb attacks on London did not yield the psychological effect that the terrorists were hoping for, much less affect British policy. A new Web site,, expresses British defiance. (via Patrick Carne) On the other hand, there are signs that some people are interpreting the attacks in precisely the wrong way, that Blair's pro-U.S. policy made Britain vulnerable to terrorist attack; see Monday's Washington Post. In a related story, newly released documents show that Al Qaeda's central objective in the March 2004 Madrid attack was indeed to remove the pro-U.S. government of Aznar from power. See barcepundit. We have a long way to go...

Blood feuds & death cults

Calling the terrorist attacks "barbaric" carries a risk of suggesting that the people on whose behalf the attacks are purportedly launched are themselves barbarian. Warfare does engender a "race to the bottom," as each side justifies cruelty and bigotry toward the enemy in retaliation for combat losses it has suffered. Thus, we must choose our words carefully, without retreating into timid politeness. Born-again hawk Christopher Hitchens wrote about the London attacks, "It is a big mistake to believe this is an assault on "our" values or 'our' way of life. It is, rather, an assault on all civilisation." Arnold Kling made a provocative analogy to the war between Americans and Indians in the Old West, drawing some "Terrorism Lessons From 1870" in; see (via Instapundit)

It is possible that the culture of the world Muslim community, including its religious and secular institutions, simply is not yet equipped to confront the radicals in the way that Thomas Friedman and the rest of us might wish. A lack of social capital, or what James Bennett calls "civil society," means that the Muslim community's circuits are overloaded. Like the Native Americans living in Montana in 1870, Muslims are confronted with too much change happening too quickly.

Manufacturing dissent

My "career" in journalism pretty much ended after high school, but I'm pretty sure I recall that reporters are not supposed to make things up when they write news stories. Last week the Washington Post tried to analyze the perpetrators of the suicide bombing attacks, and went a bit too far:

Still, the profile of the suspects suggested by investigators fit long-standing warnings by security experts that the greatest potential threat to Britain could come from second-generation Muslims, born here but alienated from British society and perhaps from their own families, and inflamed by Britain's participation in the Iraq war. [italics added]

As Hugh Hewitt notes, there is no such evidence that the four Muslim youths (including one Jamaican convert) were motivated in any way by British war policy. The reporter just made that up, making the news fit pre-conceived assumptions. (via Instapundit) Likewise, the issue of justifying the original decision to go to war is being twisted beyond any resemblance to reality, as exemplified by the hype-filled Web site. The actual Downing Street memo includes nothing more incriminating than a few cautionary sentences that have been public knowledge for many months. So what??? The standard leftist way of thinking holds that public support for U.S. military action and global capitalism is the result of orchestrated propaganda campaigns; Noam Chomsky popularized this notion of "manufacturing consent." Is it not possible that the overwhelmingly negative coverage of war news that we are witnessing amounts to manufacturing dissent? Which leads me to propose the following bumper sticker, borrowing from the familiar "Question authority" theme:

Question* dissent
* as in scrutinize, not necessarily oppose

July 12, 2005 [LINK]

War, law, ethics, and torture

In the Washington Post's Outlook section on Sunday, Juliette Kayyem critiques U.S. interrogation practices. She begins by granting that Sen. Durbin's comparison with Nazis was unwarranted (as if that needed to be said), but still thinks that the "administration surely bears the lion's share of the blame" for the outrage over Guantanamo. In her mind "the administration consistently seeks to blur this distinction [between targets of interrogation and the interrogation tactics used] or ignore its import. "This is why the conservatives' outrage at the outrage rings so hollow." She thinks the U.S. would attain a higher moral ground and thereby garner more respect around the world if armed forces and intelligence officers were bound by a stricter code on acceptable interrogation practices. I was skeptical about the efficacy of such a formal legal mechanism in war time, where crucial snap decisions must constantly be made in unique situations in which no precedents exist, but I remained attentive to her arguments until I reached the concluding section:

But ultimately, the interrogation debates are not about how the world feels about us, but how we feel about ourselves. [Italics added.] Do we really believe that the insurgents in Iraq, or the terrorists worldwide, are motivated by our detention or interrogation procedures? Isn't it much more likely that our continuing presence in Iraq, for example, or our failure to provide security for its people, or even our support of autocratic regimes in the region might have more to do with the animosity that we now face there?

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you fatuous liberalism at its finest. Anyone who thinks that "how we feel about ourselves" (raising our self-esteem?) is among the main objectives of national security policy is just not serious. Leaving aside the way she holds out the U.S.-led occupation and the lack of sufficient occupation forces as explanations of anti-U.S. sentiment, it must be pointed out that she blatantly ignores the Bush administration's bold push for political liberalization in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and the successes our policies have already engendered elsewhere in the region. Some people are just blind to the facts of world politics. There is one general reason for anti-U.S. sentiment in Iraq: the poisoned civil society bequeathed by the 30+ year Baathist regime; and one specific reason: fear among the formerly dominant Shi'ites that the Sunnis and Kurds will wreak vengeance upon them. Most Iraqis support their new government.

By coincidence, I've been participating off and on in a polemical comment thread on Randy Paul's Beautiful Horizons blog. I took excepton to Randy's scathing derision of the President's Statement on United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, unwittingly unleashing a torrent of vitriol. (Is it any wonder I'm reluctant to include comments on my blog posts?) Randy and other Bush critics have made much of the memorandum written by former Justice Department official Jay Bybee, who is now a federal judge. It is posted at, though no source is given, so it can't be authenticated. John Dean (yes, that John Dean) derided Bybee and his legal arguments, but it seemed pretty reasonable to me. I can't find anything in it that justifies torture. The basic thrust of the Bybee memo was the need for the United States to resist politically motivated legal challenges from countries that are hostile to our interests. Though it is hard for liberals to accept this, the pursuit of justice in the international realm is always tainted by politics, interest, and favoritism.

By another coincidence, at the Fourth of July parade in Staunton I saw a veteran Army Reservist who has served in Guantanamo I had met last year, and he saw with his own eyes that the detainees are being treated very well. He can't vouch for the interrogation techniques, however. There must be something to the FBI reports about the abuse some detainees apparently suffered, but the recent outrage looks very contrived to me, and I will remain skeptical until further evidence emerges. Torture is unacceptable in a free, civilized society such as ours [as if that needed to be said], but simple prudence dictates that interrogators be given greater leeway in certain cases where they are convinced that heavy psychological pressure is the only way they can get information that would save thousands of lives. I just hope enough of the Bush critics understand that we all share an interest in gaining such intelligence before the next attack against us is launched.

July 7, 2005 [LINK]

The attack on London

The long-felt sense of dread that London would be next to suffer the fate of Madrid was borne out at last today. One senses an odd relief that the other shoe has dropped, breaking the tension and bringing the global security situation into focus once again. Though the loss of life was heavy, it apparently was not as bad as it could have been. The fact that only four bombs went off, rather than six or seven as earlier reported, shows how confusing terrorist attacks are, which is of course precisely the point of terror. For a quick summary of exactly what happened, see the BBC. Here are some quick reflections:

  • The timing of the attack to coincide with the G-8 summit suggests a sophisticated command structure and discipline within the terrorist ranks.
  • Tolerance for Islamic extremists among the burgeoning immigration population of Britain will have to end. Likewise for the United States and other Western nations.
  • The political strategy behind the London attack -- to divide and conquer the West -- is so transparent that one wonders if Al Qaeda (or some similar affiliated group) is either unaware that it might elicit a renewed solidarity among Western nations, or is so confident of its ultimate success that it doesn't care.
  • The British people will either grasp the broader meaning of the attacks and stand decisively behind Prime Minister Tony Blair, or else blame him for it and drop him like a hot potato. From what we know of Great Britain, the former course is much more likely. There's no room for hedging or fence-straddling.
  • Likewise for the Italians and Danes, who have supposedly been threatened with similar attacks if they don't pull their forces out of Iraq.
  • One may presume that Spain will remain safe as long as there remains a firm bloc of anti-terrorist nations in Europe. If that bloc crumbles, however, all of Europe would become a target for the fanatical Muslim jihad -- and in Spain's case, reconquest.
  • For the foreseeable future, Al Qaeda and its affiliates will retain some destructive capacity no matter what successes are achieved by counter-terrorism agents or Coalition military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • The long-term scope of this conflict, and its enormous stakes, will continue to baffle many Western observers and critics of the war effort.
  • At moments like this, it is imperative to avoid making honest differences of opinion in this country over the nature of the terrorist threat become the occasion for partisan sniping.

July 1, 2005 [LINK]

U.S.-India military ties

To the surprise of many, the United States and India have signed a military cooperation agreement that will last ten years. This comes as Pakistan struggles (?) to contain the Al Qaeda - affiliated bands operating along the border with Afghanistan, and new questions arise about its commitment to nuclear nonproliferation. India and China have recently engaged in discussions over security matters, and India may hold the key to the global balance of power in the 21st Century. See (via Donald Sensing)

More Ward Churchill

Yes, that bad boy of academia from Colorado is back at it again. This time he came out in favor of "fragging" U.S. officers, like some of the disgruntled grunts used to do in Vietnam. See Jackson's Junction. Much more on the Iraq-Vietnam parallels soon...

Trafalgar + 200

This week was the 200th anniversary of the greatest and most decisive naval clash in history, the Battle of Trafalgar, which took place off the coast of Spain. Even though the Admiral of the British fleet Lord Nelson died during the battle, Britannia ruled the waves for the next century. Eminent military historian John Keegan has some thoughts on that. (Barcepundit)

June 29, 2005 [LINK]

Somber pep talk by Bush

President Bush's speech at Fort Bragg said most of what needed to be said, but it fell short in terms of rhetorical edge and delivery. We are accustomed to Mr. Bush's shortcomings in verbal communication by now, but it would be nice if he could rise to the occasion more often. Some people expected Bush to express contrition for past strategic mistakes, but such a gesture would not have served any purpose. I take issue with some of the decisions he and his generals have made, but I'm the first to admit I don't know enough of the facts to render an expert opinion. No civilian does. To his credit, President Bush called on the general public to persevere in the face of adversity, at long last hinting that we will have to bear serious sacrifices in order to prevail. It's too bad he didn't make a strong pitch for energy conservation, which is becoming once again a vital element of our national security. In terms of substance, he drew a clear link between Iraq and 9/11:

The terrorists who attacked us and the terrorists we face murder in the name of a totalitarian ideology that hates freedom, rejects tolerance and despises all dissent.

That is quite true, but he should have acknowledged that there are distinct factions within the Islamo-fascist ("terrorist") movement, because that is what is so confusing to many Americans. In the Democrats' rebuttal, Rep. Nancy Pelosi complained that Iraq had nothing to do with the 9/11 attack, which may or may not be true. Bush certainly never claimed there was a direct link, though Vice President Cheney did make such an assertion. But such quibbling over historical facts that may never be known for certain is utterly beside the point: We face an enemy that is consciously exploiting divisions within this country, and within the Western world, and what happens on the socio-psychological level is even more important than what happens in the streets of Baghdad, Mosul, or Fallujah. Unless Bush manages to convince a sufficient number of Democrat leaders that we must stand (relatively) united, the war will drag on inconclusively for decades. A reassuring sign that some on the Left are facing up to reality came in today's New York Times; see justoneminute (via Instapundit).

UPDATE: Roger Simon (via Instapundit) calls attention to a depressing sign that even many Democrats who are regarded as very intelligent just don't get it: Sen. Russ Feingold denounced President Bush for failing to provide "some sense of when he believes this conflict in Iraq will be over and when our brave men and women in uniform will come home." Is it not obvious to everyone that self-imposed deadlines and talk of looking for an "exit strategy" serve to bolster the enemy's resistance? How many times does Bush have to repeat that? Besides, does anyone seriously expect candor about what our military strategy is? Feingold really ought to know better. Such silliness reminds me of the Saturday Night Live skit of a press conference during Desert Storm in which reporters kept asking "Gen. Schwarzkopf" for precise U.S. troop dispositions and other secrets likely to benefit the enemy. All this simply highlights the inherent difficulty that liberal, open democracies have in waging war. On the positive side, Simon calls Feingold's speech "one of the purest examples of the reason people like me have deserted the Democratic Party." To which I say, "ditto." Ahh, if only I could lower my standards and use the smash-mouth language popular on leftist blogs to say what I really think about political leaders like Feingold...

Who's winning?

Fighting a counterinsurgency war is inherently frustrating, because there will never come a clear-cut moment at which we are sure that the other side has conceded. Some die-hard resistance in Iraq will probably continue for several decades, long after Egypt and other countries in the Middle East have passed through the turbulent, uncertain process of democratization. Jim Dunnigan ponders the amorphous nature of "winning" at

It was long a popular myth in Moslem countries that the backwardness and poor government they suffered was somehow caused by the West. Much to the dismay of Islamic terrorists, coalition operations in Iraq show how false this is. While people are reluctant to admit they have been duped, many Moslems are now admitting that the problems in Moslem countries are internal, not some infidel conspiracy to "keep the Moslems down." Changing attitudes like this cuts off the flow of recruits for Islamic terrorist groups. This is a war that is not followed via troops dispositions and casualty counts, but by opinion polls and election results.

That is an accurate portrayal of the wider socio-psychological "battleground," except for the "opinion polls" part: Asking people on the phone what they think is not an accurate measure of how strong they feel about something. American people may be dissatisfied with how the war is going, but that doesn't mean they are losing their will to win.

June 17, 2005 [LINK]

Dick Durbin on Gitmo

Lately I've been getting the creepy feeling that the barrage of criticism by Democrats over the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo is part of an orchestrated campaign to undermine the war effort. Recent comments on that controversy by Al Gore, Howard Dean, Nancy Pelosi, et al. were too off-the-wall to be taken seriously, which is why I initially ignored Sen. Dick Durbin's comparison of the U.S. practices at "Gitmo" to totalitarian regimes. I suppose you could say I have a "nonsense filter" that insulates my brain from poisonous cacaphony. Durbin's words clearly gave aid and comfort to the enemy, and yet he refused to back down, complaining that he had been misinterpreted; see Washington Post. It is as thought those critics want to be brought up on charges. I dislike political polarization, but the effect of such words on a person like me who craves reasonable discourse is to intensify my loyalty to the side that is committed to winning the war. If the main objective of critics of U.S. war policy and conduct is make sure that American ideals and values are not unduly compromised in the name of security, the first step would be to exercise reason and restraint in their arguments, keeping things in proportion.

Indeed, there probably were abuses of some detainees, but no serious person would compare the overall level of treatment to that of the Nazis or the Soviets. This is a point that several bloggers have picked up on; see Mudville Gazette , via Instapundit. To imagine that the Pentagon is so blind to public relations to permit routine abuse or torture is just absurd. They are all too aware that this war will be won or lost as much on the plane of psychology and perceptions as on the physical battlefield. Most of the detainees are probably eating, sleeping, and being cared for better than they ever had before. One can only imagine how hard they must be laughing at all the suckers who are buying their bogus complaints. Speaking of which, Rush Limbaugh is "illustrating absurdity" of the accusations by peddling "official Club Gitmo" apparel and souvenirs. Get yours while they last!

In all seriousness, the detainees are in an unfortunate legal limbo of their own making. Virtually all of them were apprehended while they were with Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups, "caught red-handed" in a sense. As "illegal enemy combatants" they are covered neither by criminal law nor by the Geneva Convention which prescribes norms for treating captured soldiers of regular armies or organized militias. They may never be put on trial, as it is unlikely suitable witnesses could ever be found, and they may not be repatriated for several decades, depending on how the struggle between the Free World and its enemies goes. That is what is due to the terrorists who systematically violate international human rights norms on behalf of a global jihad, and then invoke civil rights rhetoric on habeas corpus, due process, etc. as a legal defense.

June 12, 2005 [LINK]

Kamikaze attacks continue

The daily onslaught of suicide bombings in Iraq is deeply distressing, but it may indicate that a critical "tipping point" in the conflict is at hand. At a commencement address at the U.S. Air Force Academy last week, Vice President Cheney declared, "Ladies and gentlemen, this is a war we are winning." See Washington Post. He was was ridiculed by some for asserting that the terrorist resistance in Iraq is near defeat, which may be a bit optimistic, but leaders are supposed to give upbeat, inspirational assessment. Historical analogies with Japan's desperate kamikaze attacks of 1945 are imperfect, but it would be reasonable to assert that few if any wars have ever been won by suicide attacks.

Anyone who thinks that such attacks indicate widespread resistance to the U.S.-backed regime by the Iraqi people should read the June 8 Washington Post article that describes in detail the network of smugglers operating in Syria. That is the source of the "martyred" radical youths whose lives are wasted in the unholy besmirching of the Islamic faith. Are their numbers unlimited? Time will tell. Fortunately, more Iraqis are coming to realize that far more of their people are being killed by Arabs from other countries than by Americans or other Coalition allies. The Baathist regime of Bashar Assad makes occasional reformist gestures, but the new leader is basically trapped by the ideology and power structure built by his father, the late Hafez Assad. If the U.S. had enough forces to patrol the Syrian border, suicide attacks would probably decrease sharply.

Blair & the Downing Street memo

P.M. Tony Blair got some minor concessions from President Bush during his visit to Washington last week. Bush agreed to release $674 million more for famine relief, mostly in Africa, but demurred on other items Blair wanted. Of perhaps more significance for the future of the anti-terror alliance was the news that in July 2002 Blair received a memorandum warning of inadequate planning for postwar Iraq by the Pentagon. See Washington Post. There is no doubt some merit in that line of criticism, and I think Rumsfeld should take responsibility for it. (Fat chance.) The truth, however, is that no one knew what to expect, precisely because the closed nature of Iraqi society under Saddam's totalitarian regime made it impossible to gauge popular sentiment in advance. Some antiwar critics warned before the war that sheer chaos and mass famine would ensue, but no fair observer of Iraq would characterize the situation there in that way. As for the protracted nature of the conflict, apart from some Neocon true believers, hardly anyone expected a quick "in-and-out" by Allied liberation forces. In one form or another, this war will probably drag on for several years or even decades. Given the high likelihood of erroneous premises necessary to formulate a comprehensive plan of occupation, a significantly increased effort devoted to postwar planning might have yielded little if any benefit. War is inherently chaotic and unpredictable, and "the best laid plans of men and mice..." Therefore, a more relevant question to ask is whether Pentagon staffers gave enough training and preparation to officers in combat units to adapt to the various kinds of emerging crises that could be foreseen.

Another criticism outlined in the memo was the familiar charge that U.S. intelligence reports were crafted in such a way to deliver the pre-ordained policy conclusion. Some of that may be true, as seemed to be the case with John Bolton. As anyone who has worked in the government knows, however, survival-oriented bureaucrats have a fetish for writing "CYA" memos that can be dug out to say "I told you so" when the need arises. Moreover, such memos are subject to differing interpretations. So, I'm perhaps less impressed by the Downing Street memo than most people. Blair deserves high credit for sticking to his guns, insisting that forcibly removing Saddam Hussein was imperative for the sake of Western and global security. If anyone should be held to account for lying about critical security issues, it should be George Galloway, the Labour M.P. on Saddam's payroll who recently testified before Congress. He was completely unrepentant, as would be expected of someone who is as deeply mired in corruption as he is; there's no turning back.

Home front morale

Yet another "push poll" from the Washington Post points to declining support for the U.S. war effort. As always, however, the answers you get depend on the questions you ask, and how you ask them. If someone asked me has the war in Iraq made me "feel safer," I might answer "no" as well, but calming our fears of terrorism is certainly not the immediate objective of the war. No doubt, many attention-deficit-afflicted Americans are losing patience with the slow grind on the battlefield, but I interpret the results primarily as an indication of the generalized angst in American society right now. It was probably the case that a majority of (northern) Americans felt the war was a mistake in the early months of 1864. Statesmen and wartime leaders who pay attention to poll numbers are doomed.

The bottom line question upon which all the peripheral questions hang is, Will the war in Iraq ultimately be judged to have been worth the cost? Since I fail to see how anyone could expect there to be a significant decrease in terrorist activity as long as the avowedly hostile regime of Saddam Hussein held power in Baghdad, to me that question almost answers itself. Nevertheless, I remain open to contrary arguments that are founded on solid facts and strategic logic. If Bush fails to do more to muster domestic support for a protracted conflict in Iraq, such as expanding the regular Army and encouraging recruitment, serious doubts about the long-term outcome would be in order.

June 6, 2005 [LINK]

D-Day Plus 61

Sixty one years ago today, nearly 150,000 American, British, Canadian, and other Allied soldiers waded ashore (or swooped in by air) to begin the liberation of France, and eventually, Western Europe. Thanks to the movie Saving Private Ryan, the World War II Memorial in Washington, and the D-Day Memorial in Bedford, VA, that momentous event is no longer as remote from our consciousness as it used to be. Many Americans are still rather weak when it comes to understanding that cataclysmic conflict, or in drawing lessons from it that might be applicable to our world today, but there is at least hope that the lamentable gap in historic knowledge will be narrowed.

UPDATE: The Daisy Cutter blog relates the memories of one of the elite Rangers who stormed the cliffs at Point du Hoc on D-Day to take out the German heavy gun emplacements. It includes a photo of what the place looks like today. (via InstaPundit)

May 31, 2005 [LINK]

A Day to Remember

World War II veterans and fallen heroes received more attention in the media on Monday, perhaps because this is the sixtieth anniversary of the end of World War II. Hostilies in Europe formally ended on May 8, 1945, and in the Pacific theater on August 15, 1945. The aftershocks lasted for several more years, however, as Germany and Japan were not sufficiently pacified to govern themselves until 1949 and 1951, respectively. Those who died on the battle field probably could not have imagined the enormous benefit to the world their sacrifices brought. The idea that the former Axis powers would not only cease resisting but learn to cooperate with the Western democracies during the Cold War that ensued would have seemed very far fetched during the grim final months of 1944 and 1945.

A column by Michele Dyson in Sunday's Washington Post reprinted the famous World War I poem, "In Flanders Fields" by Canadian John McCrae. It was the subject of a Canadian postage stamp I recall getting many years ago, and my father explained the context too me. It is moving and evocative, from the very first lines:

In Flanders fields, the poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row ...

Similar sentiments were expressed by President Bush at a wreath-laying ceremony yesterday, praising the noble sacrifices of the U.S. service men and women who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. "We must honor them by completing the mission for which they gave their lives; by defeating the terrorists." He read parts of letters sent home by soldiers who knew very well what they were fighting for; it's too bad so many Americans don't know... See Washington Post.

Carnage -- and progress -- in Iraq

It has been two years and one month since the war to liberate Iraq began, and it is remarkable that people actually debate whether it is really a war or not. In a strict military sense, it is a prolonged anti-insurgent campaign, similar to actions by U.S. forces in the Philippines and Nicaragua in the first half of the 20th Century, though on a bigger scale. In terms of duration and combat deaths, it is comparable to the War of 1812 or the Mexican War of 1848-1849. This strange quasi-war drags on, floating in and out of our collective consciousness. The Washington Post's Faces of the Fallen photographic series has been a valuable service to us all, reminding us of the human lives represented by the daily casualty toll. In our area, JASON REDIFER, a Marine lance corporal from the nearby town of Stuarts Draft, was killed in action on January 31, 2005. It was supposed to be his final mission before returning home. He belonged to the Second Marine Division based in Camp Lejeune, NC.

After a few months of attacks on oil pipelines, which are now better guarded, the terrorists have now turned their attention to the cities. The wounding of Abu Musab al Zarqawi probably doesn't mean much, as the suicide tactics do not seem to be well coordinated. With an almost unlimited supply of hate-inspired young men from many Arab nations, car bombs will likely be disrupting lives in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities for the foreseeable future. The upsurge in terror bombings coincided with the selection of the Iraqi civilian cabinet, after long negotiations among party leaders. That marked a major step forward, and signifies the consolidation of genuine state power, as more and more Iraqis recognize they are better off cooperating with authorities than joining the insurgents. Iraqi troops and police units have become much more active in tracking down hideouts and weapons depots. The recent counteroffensive by U.S. forces along the Syrian border sealed a major security gap through which foreign terrorists had been infilitrating. The other good news is that the country's economy is growing, but that could be changed by one or two spectacular attacks on the oil pipelines.

Andrew Clem Archives

February 3, 2005 [LINK]

War hits home

A soldier from the nearby town of Stuarts Draft was killed two days ago when his Humvee was struck by one of those "improvised explosive devices" in Babil Province, south of Baghdad. Marine Lance Cpl. Jason Redifer was 19 years old, and only had two weeks to go before his tour of duty ended. He enlisted in the Marines right after high school graduation, and was very proud of doing his duty for his country. In fact, he turned down an honor guard posting so that he could serve with a combat unit. See Staunton News Leader. I saw his mother being interviewed on TV, and she was remarkably composed as she said how proud she was of her son. It is the bravery of young men like Jason upon which our country's strength and security depend. In their selfless devotion to duty we see our highest ideals reflected. God rest his soul, and comfort his loved ones.

Andrew Clem Archives

January 30, 2005 [LINK]

Freedom rings loud & clear in Iraq

Upbeat assessments about prospects for the elections in Iraq that yesterday would have been judged as pollyannish wishful thinking are today borne out as fact. All indications are that voter turnout in today's historic elections in Iraq was high -- perhaps as high as 70 percent nationwide -- while disruption by the terrorists was low. Even Dan Rather was impressed by the strong show of support for democracy: "courage" indeed! To the many Americans who rely on the mainstream media for their news, the good news from Iraq will come as a pleasant surprise, but it really shouldn't have. In the Baltimore Sun, Thomas Sowell put the terribly negative press coverage of Iraq in historical perspective by noting that U.S. forces in World War II suffered major losses even in such lopsided victories as the "Great Marianas Turkey Shoot." (link via Chris Green) War reporting that lacks historical perspective is undermining American people's morale, but the recent burgeoning of alternative media at least provides a saving grace. I don't know what portion of our press would qualify as "fifth columnists," as he puts it, but it is certainly ironic that so many journalists exhibit such a dim appreciation for what is at stake in Iraq -- a free press, for one thing. (To maintain an upbeat tone suitable for this auspicious occasion, I will postpone until later any comment about what Democrat leaders have been saying about Iraq recently.) It will take weeks to count all the votes, so it is too soon to tell whether the Shi'ite candidates endorsed by Ayatollah Sistani will be in a commanding position or not. For an on-the-scene picture of events in Iraq, see (link via Donald Sensing) or Iraq the Model; the title in today's entry of the latter blog says it all: "The people have won."

Andrew Clem Archives ~ Trying times in Iraq

January 28, 2005 [LINK]

Trying times in Iraq

With only two more days to go before the elections in Iraq, the forces of tyranny and darkness are mustering all the cunning and resources at their disposal to try to derail the process of pacification and democratization. Wednesday's terrible helicopter crash that killed 31 U.S. Marines was a brutal reminder of how high the cost is in this campaign. (Four of those Marines were from Virginia: Cpl. Jonathan Bowling, Sgt. Jess Strong, Lance Cpl. Karl Kinn, and Cpl. Christopher Weaver.) This tragedy, in turn, reminds us how important it is to keep focused on what we are fighting for. For the last two months we have seen some of the most hideous carnage yet on the streets of Baghdad, Mosul, and smaller cities in Iraq. Just before Christmas, several dozen Iraqi civilians were murdered by presumed former Baath regime loyalists, and a score of Americans, including civilian employees of Halliburton, were killed in a mess tent in Mosul. Over 1,400 American soldiers have died in Iraq thus far, and we must constantly reflect on what their families have suffered.

The fact that such mayhem seems to be getting more dreadfully commonplace every day, in spite of all our efforts, recalls a controversial phrase coined by Hannah Arendt in her 1963 report on the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolph Eichmann: the banality of evil. (For a discussion of this theme, see Ulrich Baer at To Arendt, "banality" meant that evil could not be understood in rational terms since there was no depth to it. It just was. Perhaps in the same way today, those who strain to comprehend the ultimate political purpose behind the car bombings, kidnappings, and beheadings are just missing the point. A great amount of the killing is probably for the sheer, vicious sake of killing; as Thucydides and Hobbes knew so well, human beings who live in places with no effective government authority are prone to revert to barbarism. Yet, there certainly is some kind of political agenda behind the Baathist-Islamist-terrorist insurgency in Iraq. After all, part of the psychological impact of terrorism is the very absence of any rational basis for the particular act of violence. The more the victims' families wail, "Why?" the more power the terrorists amass.

Generally speaking, political observers should avoid demonizing opponents or casting struggles in stark good-and-evil terms, since self-righteousness can result in blind hubris. What we are facing in Iraq right now, however, is not a normal circumstance. Perhaps we are fortunate that al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi made his purpose crystal clear by declaring that democracy itself was an evil principle, and must be stopped at all costs. This blunt acknowledgment of domineering pretensions may backfire by pushing some nervous, undecided Iraqis into actively supporting the democratic transition. (See and Austin Bay.)

To begin to grasp the nature of our adversaries, we need to look back in history for parallels. By coincidence, yesterday was the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp in southern Poland by the Red Army. Until Nazi Germany was decisively beaten, hardly anyone could have imagined the monstrous extent of evil that was being committed under Hitler. Likewise, Iraqis today have learned much of the awful truth about the depravities of Saddam Hussein's regime. As they prepare to vote, they know that however difficult life is right now, the future in the post-Saddam era offers immeasurably better and happier prospects for the vast majority of Iraqi people.

Causes for trepidation

Granted, there are many well-informed pessimists on the war, such as Brent Scowcroft, who served as national security adviser for the first President Bush. He says the elections "have the great potential for deepening the conflict," even leading to a civil war. Furthermore, he sees the continued presence of U.S. troops in the Middle East as compounding the problem of terrorism, in effect playing into the hands of Osama bin Laden. (See Washington Post.) Scowcroft is one of the foreign policy "realists," a school with which I associate myself to a large extent. Realists are usually skeptical about the role of abstract values such as democracy in motivating political action, emphasizing instead the role of concrete interests and believing that craving for power is a universal trait. During the Cold War, such attitudes often prompted U.S. tacit alliances with dictators such as Augusto Pinochet. It seems that times have changed, however. As Secretary of State Condoloeeza Rice reminded U.S. diplomats after being sworn in yesterday of what President Bush said in his inaugural address: "America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one." I happen to agree with that bold assertion, but I recognize that many realists and others do not. Any invocation of idealistic rhetoric into foreign policy is a risky double-edged sword, and past leaders making similar arguments to justify dubious foreign campaigns have been accused of hypocrisy when they don't follow through 100 percent.

President Bush and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld have been harshly criticized for the conduct of the war, and as I have written, some of that criticism is well founded. In a Washington Post interview last week, President Bush responded to the National Intelligence Council's conclusion that Iraq has become a "terrorist breeding ground." He stood by his conviction that elections will constitute a major setback for the Salafist Muslim extremists who gravitate toward Osama bin Laden. His firm determination to stay the course is, in and of itself, a valuable, even indispensible strategic asset, but reluctance to to admit mistakes remains a worrisome sign that the U.S. military campaign in Iraq may lack the tactical flexibility needed to win. Retired military blogger Donald Sensing weighed in on the various criticisms of Rumsfeld. Like me, he is no fan of Rummy. He quotes from a National Review piece by Mackubin Thomas Owens, who compares Rumsfeld's attempted restructuring at the Pentagon the Eisenhower's "New Look" slimmed-down military force posture in the 1950s. Such reforms always provoke fierce bureaucratic infighting, and I've long been sympathetic to Rumsfeld on that issue. Sensing also brought up Frederick W. Kagan's essay in the Weekly Standard, "Fighting the Wrong War." Kagan makes the point, with which few would disagree these days, that Rumsfeld stubbornly refused to increase U.S. armed forces to meet the requirements of subduing the resistance and pacifying Iraq. On that count, I think Rumsfeld is guilty as charged. In sum, the Bush policy of understaffing the war effort and downplaying the need for sacrifice raises the possibility that the American people may lose their will to prevail, the vital element upon which our armed forces depend to go on risking their lives.

Another reason for caution with regard to success or failure in the war is that the civic culture of a post-totalitarian society such as post-Saddam Iraq is prone to fear and mutual distrust. Romania and Russia are perhaps the classic cases where democracy's progress has been stalled by the old mental habits that inhibit the free expression of ideas. It took Germany and Japan several years to become meaningfully democratic after World War II. Hannah Arendt captured the confused combination of gullibility and cynicism that prevails in societies that fall under the grip of totalitarian movements such as the Nazi Party and the Soviet Communist Party:

The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fanstastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuse in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness. {SOURCE: Origins of Totalitarianism (1973), p. 382}

This certainly applies to the Baathist Party and Islamo-fascist groups such as al Qaeda in today's world, hence the preposterous yet widespread belief in Muslim countries that the 9/11 attacks were plotted by Jews. (Is it possible that such deranged thinking exists even in our own country today? Absolutely.) The world will not be safe as long as such grotesque delusions persist, and democracy will certainly not take root. Curing such mass psychosis will not be accomplished via transparently propagandistic, heavy-handed "public diplomacy" campaigns by the State Department or hired P.R. firms. It will, instead, require patient, devoted attention by civic activists from various countries.

Keeping hope alive

Amidst the relentless drumbeat of discouraging televised images from Iraq, we need to keep things in perspective and remember that a full picture of reality cannot be conveyed through a narrow video screen, or even a wide one. Frankly, I don't think most Americans have the faintest idea about the tremendously liberating effect that a free press in Iraq has had. There are literally hundreds of newspapers and several dozen political parties, giving people in Iraq a range of choice they never had before. In that sense, progress toward a new culture of democracy there has been much more rapid than it was in Germany and Japan after World War II. Is civil war possible, as Scowcroft believes? Yes. Does that mean we will have "failed"? Certainly not. We are creating the conditions for a new Iraq, and thereby assume some responsibility for the ultimate outcome, but the final product is mostly up to Iraqi leaders and people. Many Iraqis will be intimidated from voting this time, unfortunately, and if too few of the once-dominant Sunnis show up, Iraq may well break apart as the Shiites and Kurds decide to make law and order in their own respective regions. In any case, the tiny minority whom the terrorists represent cannot impose their will on the majority as long as the United States and its allies press on with their mission: giving freedom -- and therefore peace -- a chance.

Is such a corny sentiment just whistling in the dark? It depends who you ask. As Iraqi exiles living in the United States begin to vote, I have in my mind the shy face of a bright young Kurdish woman from Iraq who was in one of my classes at JMU last year. Even though her family suffered terrible brutality under Saddam, thus having every reason to want revenge, she expressed great hope for her country's future. Freedom for her is not some corny sentiment or abstract ideal, it is a wonderful tangible reality. The energy and devotion of people of good will who are exposed to freedom for the first time after decades of oppression simply cannot be overestimated. Let freedom ring!