Update on Polk

February 28, 2007

The Daily Camera reported earlier this month that there were problems with the case against Boulder City Councilman Richard Polk, and that he plea bargained to reckless driving, a misdemeanor. The problems according to the prosecutor, David Cheval, were that the stop may not have been legal in the first place, and the results of the roadside test Polk was given, plus a urine test, showed that Polk was not impaired by marijuana. The question I have from this is was Polk impaired by alcohol? When the incident was first reported, the Camera said that he admitted to having had “a glass of wine” before getting in his car. The prosecutor suggested prescription drugs Polk was taking may have been to blame, though this hasn’t been confirmed. It doesn’t sound like they’re going to bother analyzing further what was in his system.

The reason Cheval said the stop may have been illegal is that Polk’s driving was not affecting any other cars on the road at the time. He also conflated “straddling traffic lanes” (a term used in the police report) to “swerving once” over the center line. He didn’t think he had a case that he could prove beyond a reasonable doubt, so he didn’t pursue a DUI case.

What’s been undisclosed is what the deal is with the marijuana that was found in the car. Last I checked, marijuana possession is still illegal in Colorado, unless the person possessing it has medical authorization for it. It sounds like this matter isn’t even being pursued. Is marijuana possession of any amount legal in Boulder? The Camera has been a bit confused about the amount. When they first reported it they said there were “a couple bags” of it. This time they said it was in “a baggie” (note the singular).

The picture the prosecutor is painting is of an overzealous police officer, or perhaps one trying to fill his quota of tickets. Polk just happened to fall in his net and it turned into a bigger problem than he anticipated. The plea to reckless driving sounds like a compromise, like I imagine many plea bargains are. The prosecutor hasn’t established that the stop was in fact illegal. He “questioned” it. That seems to be as far as that’s gotten. I think that’s uncalled for. If he’s going to question the stop, he should question just about every traffic stop. A lot of them are for minor infractions like this. They occur even when no other traffic is around. It’s not uncommon. Anyway, Cheval left that in murky waters, and he and Polk agreed to the reckless driving charge.

The prosecutor has not pursued a complete investigation, and is willing to leave some loose ends. Maybe the Camera is trying to respect Polk’s privacy, but it appears to me the elephant in the room that’s being ignored is the marijuana possession. What they’ve established at least is Polk wasn’t driving while impaired by it.

I don’t know what really happened. I wasn’t there. I don’t know what was going through Polk’s head as he went driving that night. If we know all of the facts here, I don’t blame the police officer for doing any of what he did. It sounded pretty routine to me. In years past I’ve seen police stop people for minor infractions on the level of what Polk did. It’s not fair, because the law is enforced so inconsistently, but it’s nothing new. Maybe all Polk was doing was trying to find a house on the other side of the street he was driving on. I know when I’ve driven down Pine it’s hard for me to see the signs on cross streets at night. I’ve swerved a few times so I can shine my lights on the signs so I can see them. I’ve done so carefully, of course, so as to not endanger other traffic. Would that rise to the level of a reckless driving charge, though? I would think all that would call for is a ticket; not the points, the fine of a few hundred dollars, and the community service. What’s up with that? It seems to me Cheval is going out of his way not to charge Polk with drug posession. He’s found a charge that on its face is overkill, but seems to fit the severity and combination of violations (the violation of traffic rules, and drug possession), but with a different label on it. Is Polk getting special treatment? I wonder.

Meanwhile Polk went through “drug education” and is seeing a counselor regularly. Something tells me this isn’t enough. I’m not talking about any sort of punishment. He was found with marijuana in the car with him and a warm pipe. Does that say “drug addict” to you?

The City Council is investigating whether what Polk has been charged with rises to the level of a “crime or felony”, which is the wording of the section of the City Charter that deals with ousting a City Council member. Given what Polk actually did, I wouldn’t boot him for his driving, but rather his drug possession. But then, we’re not supposed to talk about that, are we.

Amir Taheri digest

February 27, 2007

Once again I present my digest of articles by Amir Taheri.

Edit 3/6/2009: I’ve updated the above links. I used to get all of my Amir Taheri articles from Benador Associates, but they no longer host them. So I went looking on the net for other sites that had these articles. Some of the sites I reference above are not the news sources I site in this post, but the articles are the same.

Unlearning the lessons of war

February 8, 2007

And so the complacency sets in some more. I’ve written about this before. The attitude Americans are taking towards the jihadists is gradually changing from being actively focused on the threat, to relaxing that focus and thinking they are safe from it.

David Bell wrote a reasonably well thought out column in the L.A. Times called “Putting 9/11 into Perspective” (h/t to HotAir.com) where he argues that the U.S. has overreacted to the jihadist threat. He says the U.S. has taken a policy position that the jihadists represent an existential threat, equivalent to the threat of fascism in WW II. I’d say that’s accurate. Where I think he misses the boat is the difference between now and then. Now, we are not waiting for our enemy to grow in strength. We know what their aspirations are, ultimately. They have demonstrated that they have the skill and determination to carry out attacks, sacrificing their own lives in the process. We know they would like to grow in strength. We are going to deny them that opportunity. We could have addressed this threat sooner, in fact, but it would have been more difficult politically than it is now. After 9/11 it became clear to most people that we had to address it.

Before WW II Europe took the stance that I see some Americans taking: We shouldn’t do anything unless we are attacked. They do not like President Bush’s policy of pre-emption. A potential opponent should be allowed to do whatever it likes, such as develop WMD. No matter what their operating philosophy is, no matter what we read from their actions, as long as they don’t use them we should just leave them alone. We should attempt to talk to them as well, convince them we are not a threat, and offer them incentives to stop developing WMD or taking aggressive postures. This is basically the approach that Europe took to Nazi Germany, for too long. I’m not saying that diplomacy should not be given a chance to work. There comes a point though where you have to look at whether the other country is interested in acting in good faith. If not, and the other country continues to act aggressively towards your country you have to conclude that diplomacy is not working and prepare for war.

We need to remember that the Nazis originally were just a small political party inside Germany. After Hitler joined them they became a small peasant army. They were not that powerful. Hitler wrote about his intentions for the world with his book Mein Kampf. The Nazis only became powerful once Hitler was put in a position inside the German government, which he gained with political finesse. Once Hitler took the leadership of the government, and the Reichstag (their parliament building) was burned, then he was given ultimate power. He and the Nazi party had the full resources of the German government at their disposal. When Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia, Europe noticed but said, “Let them have it.” When he invaded Austria they did the same. These were acts of aggression designed to increase Nazi Germany’s wealth and power, to build up a war machine. Europe practiced appeasement, partly out of a sense of guilt, and partly because they loathed confrontation. They “fed the beast” in hopes it would not come after them. They thought they could have a tolerant relationship with Nazi Germany. The rest is history.

The point is Hitler didn’t start out as a man of power. He did not come from royal birth, or a prestigious family. He tried being an artist, but was rejected by prestigious art schools. His first position of note was as a soldier in the German army during WW I. Other than that he was a troublemaker. He was arrested at least once and put in jail. Up until Hitler took power the outside world ignored him. The Nazi Party really started from nothing.

Had Bell taken a look at the Nazis before 1933 he probably would have said the same thing as he says about the jihadists, “Yes, their ambitions are vile, but their capacity is limited.” Up until Germany invaded other countries it was a weak state. It had been devastated after WW I, and the Treaty of Versailles just ground in the defeat more. Had Europe pre-emptively attacked Germany after 1933, Bell might’ve asked rhetorically, “Isn’t Europe overreacting?”

The general sense I’m getting from some quarters is that the jihadists are not really a threat to us, despite what we experienced on 9/11. The brain does not remember pain, the saying goes. The first to say that it wasn’t so bad were some on the far left, like Michael Moore: “There is no terrorist threat.” Moore was later quoted as saying that more people die from car accidents than terrorism. Bell makes a similar argument. Moore said these things shortly after 9/11 occurred. Was he right? I’m not drawing a comparison between Moore and Bell in terms of their character. Bell is clearly an intelligent man trying to make a thoughtful argument. I am drawing a comparison between what both of them are driving at.

Bell makes the argument that so few American civilians have been killed from jihadist terrorism, that we should view it as a small problem. I can go back to WW II as a comparison. How many American civilians were killed during that war? Not that many. What was the Pearl Harbor attack? Yes, nearly as many soldiers were killed in that attack as civilians who died on 9/11, but Pearl Harbor is on a far off Hawaiian island. Hawaii wasn’t even a state at the time, but a U.S. territory. It did not join the Union until 1959, 14 years after the war was over. Yet we lost hundreds of thousands of soldiers fighting in a war that started on that island. What was the war about? Was it about an existential threat in terms of civilian lives? No. It was about a political existential threat: fascism.

Let’s look at this from another angle. Despite the fact that Nazi Germany declared war on us, did it represent an existential threat in terms of its capability to attack us? Did Italy, Germany’s ally? No. Nazi Germany has long been remembered through our history as once being a major threat to the U.S. I’m not challenging this notion. It was a major threat, but it was one that was far off (for us) at the time our involvement in WW II started. Looking at it from Bell’s perspective, would Germany and Italy have seemed like a major threat at the time?

Let’s look at the weapons Nazi Germany had. They had tanks and short range fighter planes. None of their airplanes could reach the U.S. They did not have ships. They had U-boats (submarines), but they did not have surface-to-air missile capability. They had underwater torpedoes. That was it. So they had the capability to sink our ships, threaten civilians on ships in the Atlantic, and disrupt trade. Even then they were “polite” about it. They would surface their sub near the ship, make their intentions known, allow the civilians and crew to leave the ship via. lifeboats, and then the Germans would sink it.

Did the Germans have the capacity to invade us? Absolutely not. At some point Nazi Germany developed the V-2 rocket that could reach England, but that was it. They didn’t have the capability to reach the U.S. If anyone would’ve had that capacity it was Japan. Had the war with Germany lasted long enough, they might’ve developed technology that could reach us. A year or so ago I read an article about an idea Hitler had about a potential weapon against the U.S., called the “Amerikabomber” (image). The article showed a conceptual drawing of it. It looked kind of like one of those planes you see modern day adventurers build who want to fly around the world. It was aerodynamic, had a large wingspan, and had two stages. It was guessed that it was designed to fly across the Atlantic, and crash into some location in the U.S. It was never built. So despite his lack of capacity, Hitler did not lack ambition of being able to cause civilian casualties in the U.S.

Bell also makes the point that the rate at which American soldiers died in WW II was much higher than in the War on Terror (so far). This is true. I’ve often used this argument myself about why the hysteria over how many U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq is irrational. We should feel lucky we have lost so few. Such a measure shows the sacrifice that was made to defeat the enemy, but I don’t see that it bolsters his argument much. It does show that the enemies we faced had a greater capacity to cause us harm, but it also shows that the world waited too long to address the fascist threat.

Bell’s argument is off base because it’s purely materialistic. It misses the fact that this is a political/ideological battle. Wars often are. There’s a saying that goes “war is politics by other means”. And likewise politics is war by other means. The way in which the jihadists hope to influence geopolitics is by killing innocent civilians. That’s what it boils down to. That’s what the war in Iraq is largely about. It’s an attempt to change the political equation in the Middle East with democracy. Bell misses the boat because he focuses solely on the civilian casualties, not the political threat. What political threat do I speak of? The threat is existential, because what the jihadists want to do is spread their philosophy of government throughout the world. You need only look to the Taliban and the way they treated people in Afghanistan as a small example.

Let me go back to another part of Bell’s argument: do they have the capacity to cause us great harm? From the very beginning, within a week of 9/11, I had a conversation about this with a liberal friend of mine. He didn’t believe the jihadists had the capacity to achieve their ultimate goal, despite what had just happened. He just thought of them as crazy fanatics with delusions of granduer. We agreed to disagree. I knew how I felt about the attack. I was devastated. He appeared more calm about it. I heard stories, even a year after the attack, about people in the Northeastern states being so devastated emotionally that they acted like zombies, numbed out by the experience. We seem to have forgotten that now.

Al Qaeda has shown a capacity to do a lot of damage with very little in the way of resources. Secondly, if they were to increase their resources by capturing a state like Pakistan, with nuclear weapons, I have little doubt they would use them.

The 9/11 Commission commented on the fact that we lacked the imagination to anticipate the al Qaeda attack. What I see in Bell’s argument is the same lack of imagination. It’s not what the jihadists have done so far that we have to worry about. We have to worry about what they could do. Attacks have to be anticipated. We can’t just take the posture of sitting back and waiting for them to happen.

The reason Bell feels he can make this argument is he feels safe. A lot of us feel safe. It is because of this that a creeping complacency is setting in, “It’s not so bad. What are we afraid of, little ‘ole terrorists?” As President Bush has said on a few occasions, there have been many more attempts by al Qaeda to attack the U.S., but they have been stopped. What’s the difference between something that was planned but was stopped, and a situation where nothing happens? To a lot of people there is no difference. They assume that nothing has happened.

This is a bit off the subject but the same thing happened with Y2K. You remember that catastrophic computer glitch that was supposed to be so scary? Remember how very little happened after the year 2000 rolled around? The truth was it was kind of scary, but the problem was fixed. Hence nothing much happened. Years later I’ve heard people say they think Y2K was just a big scam. I know better. The problem was very real. The fact that nothing happened is due to the fact that programmers did the job of fixing it well.

I saw an interview with someone recently where this creeping complacency was discussed. Unfortunately I’m terrible with names. I see programs on TV, interesting discussions, but a day later I forget who was involved. I don’t forget what was discussed though. The person interviewed was asked about this. He said, “Of course this is happening. It’s natural.” When you get far enough away from a traumatic event, normalcy returns and people forget about it. I think there’s also a kind of denial. People don’t want to be reminded about 9/11. We saw this last year when the movie “United 93” was released. There was resistance from some people, particularly New Yorkers, who said, “It’s too soon.” I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, but I think some conservative commentators were right when they said the reason for this is people don’t want to remember. It’s too painful. They’d rather forget about it. If they don’t want to look at it they don’t have to, but I think in a way it’s unhealthy to turn away from the horror. If you turn away you’re not being honest about it. You’re choosing to not see the threat. Unfortunately I think the person in the aforementioned interview is right. This complacency is a natural process, and we’re likely to see more of it as time passes. I have made a conscious effort not to forget, because it doesn’t feel right to do so. It’s obvious to me the threat still exists, and it’s going to require vigilance to defeat it. I consider myself an active citizen, so I choose to take on the responsibility of educating myself about the issues that face our country. I’ll do all I can so that people who are willing to listen do not forget.

Arkin is an idiot

February 7, 2007

I found the following article through Little Green Footballs (LGF), called “The Troops Also Need to Support the People”, by William Arkin of the Washington Post. He complained about a segment that NBC News aired recently where troops were given a chance to give their 2 cents on the anti-war feeling back at home. Arkin is employed by NBC News from time to time as a “military analyst”. As you can see, that’s a farce. NBC News should be ashamed of itself.

It was striking for me to hear about the NBC News segment with the soldiers. I had been hoping it would happen because people need to know that there are soldiers who believe in what they are doing in Iraq. I thought they would not say such things, however, because of the military’s traditional role of just doing their job and not getting involved in politics.

The newspapers and TV news have shown plenty of segments with soldiers who disapprove of the war. It was nice seeing the other side of it from their perspective. The soldiers shown in the segment did not see Iraq as a lost cause. I value this feedback from them. As long as they believe in it, it should give people back home pause when they think the war needs to end right now.

Where William Arkin stepped over the line was when he chided the troops for saying anything contrary to public opinion. He got an earful from readers about this. Arkin later issued an apology, which was a little nicer. He said that he was grateful for the soldiers putting their lives on the line for him. He couldn’t help but put the soldiers down a peg, though, by saying that they are mere “pawns” in this situation.

He is right when he says that the military serves at the pleasure of the American people. The Founders wanted it under civilian leadership. He asks a valid question that liberals have often asked about expressing dissent with the war, when challenged.

Liberals are hung up on the idea that the war was a “war of choice”. This reminds them of Vietnam and all that it implies. Vietnam was a war we could get out of without risking our necks back at home. The only example most of them have though is Vietnam, so they have no context for this sort of war where there is a consequence for the U.S. if we lose. Yes, you can express dissent. You have that right, but keep in mind that some forms of dissent are encouraging to the enemy. It makes them think they are winning. Morale counts for a lot in war. If you think you’re winning you try harder to reach your goals. You’re more focused and ambitious. I’d rather see that we didn’t provide that edge to those who would want to kill you and me. So how do we express dissent? My answer is express thoughtful dissent. Come from a standpoint of facts, not emotions. Also, if you can, communicate your dissent discreetely. By this I mean in a manner where it can’t be transmitted all over the world. Write to your representatives and to the President. Express it at organizational gatherings where it’s in context. Let your opinion be known where it could actually do some good. Don’t say it on TV, radio, or the internet where the radical Islamists can pick it up and use it. These are just my suggestions. Do what you like, but I’d encourage those who are against the war to consider them.

Back to the article. What Arkin fails to grasp is the need for some kind of victory in this war. All he sees is a boondoggle, a massive mistake. He condescendingly says that the troops think it’s a worthy cause because that’s what they’re told by their superiors. They don’t know any better. Tell that to the soldiers who went to Vietnam and fragged their superior officers. This happened quite often. If anyone is naive here it’s Arkin, not the soldiers.

The soldiers see what’s happening on the ground in Iraq every day. How much has Arkin seen? They hear about the suicide bombings. They know what it’s like to get shot at, and to shoot and kill the person shooting at them. Arkin is oblivious to any of this. Of course when a soldier is doing these things they ask themselves, “Is this worth it?”, and, “Why are we doing this?” It’s natural for someone in that situation to ask such questions. Who does Arkin think he’s fooling? The reason there’s a disconnect between what Arkin and I dare say the American people see, and the soldiers, is that the news that people see is not reporting the whole story. But Arkin doesn’t want to look at that. Instead he blames the soldiers for bringing up the fact that there is a disconnect. He thinks they’re the ones who are out of touch. The American people know what’s going on in Iraq better than the soldiers do. Yeah, right. What a pompous ass. The American people only know what they are told by news outlets unless they’ve actually been to Iraq themselves. It may very well be, Mr. Arkin, that one reason the American people think Iraq is not worth it is that’s what they’re told day in and day out in newspapers and on their TV sets.

Arkin further discredits himself when he says that soldiers get “obscene amenities”. What, like hotel rooms? What planet is he from? You know what soldiers are issued to sleep on in combat zones? A sleeping bag. That’s it. Not even a kot. No pillow and no sheets. If they do have these things, they were donated to them, or sent from home.

I’ll grant him one thing. Soldiers do get served delicacies on military bases. I’ve seen documentaries where they show what the meals are like. They serve stuff like lobster sometimes. Soldiers also get to play video games when they’re off duty at the bases. The thing is, there have been times when soldiers have gotten killed waiting in line for these delicious meals, because the people fighting us shoot mortars into these bases, and they do it around meal times, because they know a bunch of people are congregated around the mess hall. So it’s no country club by any stretch. In my opinion what they get is fine. They’re doing a hard, dangerous job. They deserve some pampering. I don’t see a problem with that. They deserve good medical and rehabilitative care when they get injured. They’re doing a job that you or I would s**t our pants doing if we tried it. Just be thankful there are Americans willing to do it.

This piece by Arkin is idiotic. He never learned that lesson about how it’s better to be thought of as a fool than to open your mouth and confirm it.

I’m sure when soldiers think about the anti-war sentiment back at home, what they’re thinking goes something like a little saying I see often on Tammy Bruce’s blog. Mr. Arkin should hear it from them. It goes:

“Saving your ass like it or not”

Some advice for President Bush

February 6, 2007

I know this is very presumptuous of me. I’m a person of little consequence in the big scheme of things. I had these thoughts in response to an interview I saw on C-SPAN recently with Dinesh D’Souza talking about his new book The Enemy At Home. I’ve heard others say the same thing as the book’s thesis: President Bush is in fact fighting two wars. One abroad against Islamic extremism, and one at home against the American Left. One who is familiar with the democratic process would say, “Yeah, so? What’s your point?”

According to a recent poll done by Fox News (PDF–see page 6, question #19), 22% (about 1 in 5 Americans) want Bush’s troop surge plan in Iraq to fail. This seems incomprehensible. I can’t read this any other way than this proportion of our populace wants us to lose the war in Iraq. Going into the demographics, the highest proportion that want this plan to fail are Democrats (34%), coming in 2nd are independents (19%), and lastly Republicans (11%). On the bright side, 63% of Americans want the plan to succeed, but you would think the proportion would be higher.

In a later question, #22, when respondents were asked “If U.S. troops were to withdraw from Iraq before the country was stabilized, do you think Usama bin Laden would claim victory?”, most said “yes”, though the number saying “no” is close to the proportion that did not want the troop surge plan to work, 26%.

In question #30, when respondents were asked “If the United States loses the war in Iraq, do you believe terrorists would be more likely to be satisfied, and leave the United States alone or encouraged to attack the United States again, or will it not make a difference to future attacks?”, a plurality, 48%, said it would make no difference at all (we would face the same danger of attacks as we do now), or did not know. Slightly less, 46%, thought it would encourage attacks. The remaining 7% thought it would likely cause the terrorists to leave us alone entirely.

Most of the people who said it would make no difference or did not know were Democrats (54%) and independents (49%–plurality). A significant minority of Democrats (11%) thought it would likely cause the terrorists to leave us alone.

D’Souza’s thesis in his book is that there is a strange symbiosis going on between the far left in this country and the jihadists abroad. He makes clear that they are not coordinating or cooperating with each other, but that they are independently playing off of each other, with the common goal of causing America to lose its political will to continue fighting in Iraq. The jihadists abroad are using the Left’s opposition to the Iraq war as encouragement and propaganda for their cause, and the far left in this country is using the jihadist attacks as a means of diminishing Americans’ confidence in President Bush. They want America to lose the war in Iraq because they think it will have the effect of defeating Bush politically, and cause America to refrain from intervening militarily in the future, among other things.

I don’t think this is idle speculation. I have been getting this sense as well from watching what the far left has been saying. Instead of looking at what is actually happening on the ground in Iraq–the potential for the basing of terrorist operations–the Left has instead tried to tie the war in Iraq exclusively to a political argument about the Bush Administration. For them it’s all about Bush, not jihadist terrorism. The potential for increased terrorism on the U.S. as a result of losing in Iraq appears to not even be a consideration.

I think this is terribly dangerous, but the polling data above sheds some light on why the problem exists. There is a disconnect between what people think of the Iraq conflict and the reality on the ground.

My advice to Bush is that he, or someone he can dedicate to this task, needs to tell the American people as much as he can about how al Qaeda operates. He needs to illustrate the process. Secondly a cultural context needs to be put in place. People need to see a reason why it’s important to fight for democracy in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc., and why the jihadists are actively fighting against it. They need to see how this is a part of defeating Islamic radicalism as opposed to it just being a preference of the Bush Administration.

Polling shows that most Americans, despite what they feel about Iraq, want to continue the fight against al Qaeda. The message has not gotten through to people that al Qaeda is spread across many nations, and that it operates rather like a virus. The methods by which it recruits and brainwashes people needs to be disseminated. Al Qaeda is systemic. It is a combination of ideology and support systems, such as madrassas and training camps, and in some cases complicit governments. It does not have a top-down leadership structure where once you “cut off the head” (excuse my use of metaphore) the rest of the organization dies. It needs to be clear to people that getting Osama bin Laden will not stop al Qaeda. It’s not enough that Bush tells people this. The reasons behind this reality need to be illustrated. It needs to be clearly communicated to people that al Qaeda is in Iraq right now and hopes to establish a base of operations there from which to launch attacks on other countries, including the U.S., just as they did in Afghanistan before we invaded there.

A primer on the functioning of jihadist terrorist groups, what they need to form and thrive, would be very helpful in getting people to understand the problem. They would also need to see the prototypical functioning of a growing terrorist cell structure mapped to events that have been transpiring abroad, especially in Iraq. From what I can tell right now, most people don’t understand this. They need to.

Lastly, it’s not enough to illustrate all of this on PBS, the Discovery Channel, or on C-SPAN. This needs to get out through mainstream outlets to reach the broadest audience.

To be honest, despite my dislike of the far left, when it comes to this issue I could care less what their agenda is. I only think their agenda in this case is dangerous because they have blinded themselves to the threat of Islamic terrorism. They are so focused on their own perception, as D’Souza says, that Bush represents “Christian terrorism” that it shuts out every other consideration. I’ve heard about this here and there, but it has not been blatently exposed for all to see. Instead the far left agenda message takes other forms like, “This war is not even worth winning.”

Somehow the Bush Administration needs to communicate about the war better than it has to the American people. It’s essential for our own national security. The far left is on its own “jihad” against Bush right now, and they’re using the Iraq war as their wedge issue. They are rooting for America to lose for their own domestic political reasons. That’s an unfortunate fact of life. It’s a distraction, but it has to be dealt with, again, not because I want to defeat the far left in this instance, but because the method they are using to try to bring Bush down will, if they succeed, have the effect of putting this country in grave danger. I do not say this because I think Bush is the only one who can fight the War on Terror. I say it because military and political success in Iraq is important to our national security.

The danger of the Vietnam example

February 5, 2007

The statement has been made many times that the war in Iraq is another Vietnam. Nevermind the differences on the ground between the two. The enemy has fought us to a stalemate, or is even winning, using guerrilla tactics in a war that in the minds of Americans has lost its definition. That’s enough for a lot of people. There has been news of finding some chemical weapons shells, and links between Saddam Hussein and individual terrorists or terrorist organizations. You practically have to go looking for this to find out about any of it. To the major media outlets it’s not big news; more like picking nits. So the nation has made up its mind that Iraq is like Vietnam, and like with Vietnam we should get out of Iraq, lick our wounds, suit up and focus on going after al Qaeda exclusively, presumably in Afghanistan and Pakistan. There’s just one problem with this idea: al Qaeda is in Iraq right now, in Anbar Province, and has been since about 2004. If we were to leave we would be ceding the battlefield to them. Is this smart? It seems to me the American people have lost the forest for the trees. From what I’ve been hearing about public opinion, we want to continue the fight against al Qaeda, and get Osama bin Laden. That’s great, but not if we insist that we up and leave an area where al Qaeda is based. That’s just stupid.

Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri are not in Iraq, presumably, but even if they were, getting them would not end the War on Terror. President Bush made this clear early on. Why none of this has sunk in with the public is beyond me. It seems that for most people here they assume that every attack against some ethnic group or our soldiers in Iraq is done by Iraqis, which is not true at all. Some attacks are homegrown, but a lot of them are not.

The dangerous situation we are in now politically is a lot of people here think that, just like Vietnam, if we get out of Iraq it will go through its own trials and tribulations, mass killings (which is not trivial, but Americans have already shown in recent years that they have no appetite for dealing with genocides), and whatever else, and things will work themselves out. Vietnam stayed in its “box”, and communism did not spread throughout Asia. Thirty years later we have a trading relationship with Vietnam, and it sounds like things are going swimmingly. It’s turned into a bit of a success story, and the dire predictions of the Domino theory have been proved false. I think the situation in Iraq is different.

Since its beginning, al Qaeda has sought out places in the world that are unstable, like Afghanistan was after the U.S. cut off its involvement there at the end of the Cold War. They use these places as bases from which they can plan their operations and train recruits. If we were to abandon Iraq, we would be handing al Qaeda just what they want. It wouldn’t be an ideal situation for them, but it would give them more breathing room in that part of the world. They would face opposition from the remaining Ba’athists (who have an alliance of convenience with al Qaeda right now), and the Shia. Whether these forces could defeat al Qaeda in Iraq is another matter.

In any case it’s clear the situation in Iraq would devolve into a true civil war if we got out, and I don’t think we would have an incentive to root for any side to win. Any of the possible victors: the Ba’athists, al Qaeda, or the Shia religious militants (such as al Sadr’s Mehdi militia) would be bad news for us.

It would also have geopolitical consequences, as John Burns and Michael Ware have made clear. Other Middle Eastern nations are getting nervous about Iran’s expanding sphere of influence in the region, and they fear that Iran may have designs on Iraq as well. The civil war could devolve further into a regional war between Sunnis and Shiites across the Middle East. I have no idea if this would benefit al Qaeda but I know it would not benefit us.

It’s a dangerous mistake to think that we are repeating history, and that by acting the way we did more than 30 years ago we will achieve the exact same result. Al Qaeda in Iraq recently discussed a possible strike at the U.S. (no, not at U.S. soldiers–at us). It’s time to stop looking to the past for answers to the current war. We don’t have the luxury of reminiscing about past exploits.

The sobering truth about Iraq

February 3, 2007

John F. Burns of the New York Times was a guest on the Charlie Rose show just after he returned from Iraq. He’s been in Iraq for a few years. What he says about the current situation in Iraq is sobering. It illustrates why the situation has been described as dire and deteriorating, and puts a damper on any optimism people might have about our involvement ending anytime soon, or any assurance of some kind of victory. As with any tough fight, victory is never assured.

Nevertheless he says some interesting things. I encourage you to watch the whole program. It’s enlightening, but I’ll highlight some points here.

  1. The Iraqi people are still glad we got rid of Saddam. He indicated that Iraqi emotions about this are complex. He said that if you were to approach many Iraqis and ask them about this they’d probably complain about the U.S. presence, but if you sit down and talk with them for a while, they’ll all say it’s better with Saddam gone, and they’re thankful we got rid of him. Even the Sunnis say this. Most Sunnis didn’t gain much from Saddam’s reign.
  2. Charlie Rose asked Burns about different Democratic strategies that have been suggested, such as partitioning the country, or a gradual pullout. Burns strongly recommended against both of those options. He said partitioning the country along sectarian lines would be impossible. He said there is a lot of intermarriage, and Baghdad is “like an omelet” in ethnic terms. It sounded like partitioning could not take place without violating the Iraqis’ human rights. He also recommended against the U.S. pulling out, since it would destabilize the region, and cause Sunni governments in the region to side with militant islamists in Iraq.
  3. The Sunni insurgency is led by Ba’athists, more specifically the former Vice President of Iraq, Ibrahim al Duri–who we still have not found, with some cooperation from al Qaeda. He described the Ba’athist leader as an evil man. He said what al Duri hopes to do is get the U.S. to leave Iraq, and with the support of surrounding Sunni-led governments re-establish the Ba’athist regime, with himself as president, basically restoring the status quo ante. It’s really ironic that we managed to find Saddam Hussein, but we haven’t found this guy.
  4. The UK, our main ally in Iraq, has been part of the problem, though it’s unlikely you’ll ever hear the U.S. government say this. The forces of the UK have managed the southern part of Iraq. The U.S. wanted to confront and disarm al Sadr’s Mehdi militia, but since al Sadr is Shia, and the Shia reside in the south of Iraq, it was up to the UK to handle al Sadr. The UK has held this belief that since they are the “elder country”, having been “around the block” more than the U.S. has, they felt they knew best how to handle the situation. Drawing from their past impirial experience they felt it was best to allow the Shia militias to stay as they were. Burns said the overriding belief was, “You take the country as it is.” This probably sounded like a fair idea at the time, but more recently it’s caused problems because of Iran’s influence. Iran has been prodding, training, and supplying the Shia militias, and these militias have been attacking U.S. forces, in addition to carrying out reprisal attacks on Sunnis.

Burns offered no solutions of his own on how to win the war, except to say, “Maybe the big mistake was going in the first place.” I wouldn’t expect much more from a journalist. His job is just to report what’s going on, not to find solutions, and I don’t blame him for that.

I saw an episode of Anderson Cooper 360 on CNN, with Michael Ware this week. Ware has been a CNN correspondent in Iraq for a few years. The feel of Ware’s report was different from Burns’s. It sounded like he had spent a lot of time embedded with the Sunni insurgents. The gist of what he said was that the U.S. doesn’t understand Iraq at all, and it’s operating under an illusion of what’s possible. He spoke with admiration about how Iran and al Qaeda have been able to influence events in the country. I suspect he admires them because he gets the sense that these groups understand how to win the hearts and minds of Iraqis, whereas in his mind the U.S. doesn’t have a clue. He didn’t mention the Ba’athists at all, and made it sound like al Qaeda was in charge of the Sunni insurgency. This was a little confusing because he was not with al Qaeda. He was just embedded with “Sunni insurgents”. Being an informed viewer I noticed a few places in his story where he left critical facts out, which had the effect of making things sound worse than they were. Not to say that what he was saying was in any way inaccurate. I lost some respect for his reporting though. He committed errors of omission, in my opinion.

His assessment was valuable in explaining the current sectarian rift that is developing, where people are siding more and more with their local sectarian militias instead of the Iraqi government.

One thing he said that rang true was that in Iraq you don’t have political power unless you have a militia. I suspect the main reason for this is that the Iraqi military is not strong enough yet to take over the role of securing communities and the country as a whole.

On the issues of partitioning the country, or a gradual pullout, what Ware said agreed with Burns’s assessment: we can’t do either without a terrible disaster.

The conclusion of both is that we are stuck in Iraq for good or for ill. The least worst option is to stay there and fight it out.

The worst case scenario I see occuring is that the democratic government cannot get on its feet and the American government as a whole loses patience with it, moves towards pulling the plug, and we install a dictator that is friendly to us, forming a police state in Iraq. It would be bad for the Iraqis, but at least it would be good for us in the short term. It would be a sad outcome, because Iraqis would lose their newfound freedoms, but it would be better than the chaos that would ensue if we were to just leave it up to the insurgents, giving a great sanctuary for al Qaeda in Anbar Province, and an excuse to Iran to seize the southern oil fields in Iraq. The far left in this country would rather leave it to the insurgents than have us install a dictator. They didn’t like it when we were cozy with dictators in the past. I don’t expect them to be any different in this case.