Monday, May 29, 2006

In Memoriam

This year Memorial Day means a little something more to me. The following contains my thoughts on this Memorial Day as well as what various others in the media have to say about America's Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines.

A couple of years ago I gave the Memorial Day speech for a community gathering in my hometown. This year I am far from home, realizing what a different perspective such displacement gives me.

How will our service be remembered--those of us who participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom? Will we be revered or will we be excoriated like our brothers and sisters who served in Viet Nam? Do I support our continued service here in Iraq knowing that the fickleness of the American poll taker means it's more likely as time goes on that Iraq will be remembered like Viet Nam? (Coincidentally, the answer to that question is yes.)

My wife and children attended our community Memorial Day service this morning that was very touching. She had this to say:

the speaker was a National Guard soldier... He has been in the National Guard for 41 years. ...he has been to Iraq... He did an exceptional job, and I talked to him a little afterwards. He loves his country and his job so much. We need 50 million more men just like him so that this country would be awesome. I am proud of you and what you are doing. I didn't think that I would say it, but I am glad we have come through this tumultuous time. It has been the most difficult thing that I have ever done in my life, and I didn't even go over there.
In the hubub of what Memorial Day has become for many, some news outlets only talked about such stuff as how many people went to the beach or how much more expensive gas was this year than last. I did, however, find some very stirring tributes to those who serve and especially to those "who gave their last full measure of devotion".

In the Washington Times, Cal Thomas had the following to say:

What continues to amaze is how many of the wounded men and women did not want to leave Iraq, preferring to rejoin their units as soon as possible.
Chaplains prayed with the wounded and for the dead. If the American Civil Liberties Union objects, someone should tell them to shut up.
We are told most people don't have any relatives in today's all-volunteer military, or know anyone who does. That is too bad, because such people are missing the privilege of knowing a group of young men and women whose commitment to duty, honor and country is refreshing in a self-centered universe.
In Human Events, Armstrong Williams gave the following tribute:

After all, the importance of celebrating Memorial Day is not to celebrate per say, but to confirm the significance of lost lives.

By coming together in a large communal ritual, we reinforce the notion that these soldiers, that these people, have actually died. And that they died to strengthen our individual freedoms. After the fighting in their various wars, some of our soldiers returned home with tattered minds and spirits, only to be held in lower regard than the enemy they had struggled to defeat. Some were still relegated to the back of the bus because of the color of their skin; others never lived long enough to see the civil rights legislation of the '60s. Yet they fought for an idea so powerful that it moved many of them to die for their country. We cannot forget that what is best about this country rests on their shoulders.
In National Review, Victor Davis Hanson reminded us of the good we have accomplished recently, and the things we can be grateful for. Be begins thusly:

There may be a lot to regret about the past policy of the United States in the Middle East, but the removal of Saddam Hussein and the effort to birth democracy in his place is surely not one of them. And we should remember that this Memorial Day.
I would like to pay my tribute as well. Not only to the Americans who have given their lives to make Iraq free, but as well to the Iraqi men and women who have dedicated their lives to the proposition that all people are created equal, and that they are endowed with inalienable rights by their Creator, God. Their blood has fertilized a soil in which liberty has sprouted and begun to grow.

May God bless those who haven given their all here, and may He continue to bless this noble endeavor. May He comfort the Iraqi people in their hard-fought struggle to transform dream into reality. And may we, who already live the reality, always remember them in our prayers.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Christian Soldiers Worship in an Islamic Country

One of my favorite activities is weekly Sunday religious services. Not only does it help me keep my life in order and reduce stress, it reminds me why I'm serving in Iraq.

Just before we left the United States, where we trained for a couple of months before coming to 'The Sandbox,' church attendance skyrocketed. Many of us had been on active duty before, but very few of us had been in a combat zone. When you're confronted with your possible mortality--not to mention simply being in a new and uncomfortable situation--God is a good (and common) Someone to turn to. When we first arrived in Iraq, church attendance was rather high, as well. I've noticed, personally and generally, however, that when things aren't stressful or uncomfortable we forget that we need God in our lives. Now that we're closer to the end of our time in Iraq than the beginning, I've noticed that church attendance is dwindling.

My field artillery battalion is made up predominantly of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, so there have always been enough of us in the battalion to hold our own denominational church services. The down side of this is that I haven't taken the opportunity to attend a worship service of a different denomination since I've been here. And, come to admit it, the last time I did that was when I was serving a mission for the Church 22 years ago.

One of the things that was a high predicter of low attendance in one area that I was in was the rainy season. There were no paved roads on the base that I served at first, and walking through the mud was treacherous. Now, where I'm at, we're able to just walk down the hall to the other end of our building, and the rainy season is pretty much over anyway, so no more excuses.

Where I was before, we had a much larger group of soldiers who might attend. Where I'm at now, we have a smaller group of Latter-Day Saint soldiers, but we're able to hold our own services just the same. In the traditional sacrament meeting format where on most Sundays speakers are chosen in advance from the congregation and where on Fast Sunday (usually the first Sunday of the month, where members fast for a 24-hour period and donate offerings for the care of the poor) we have testimony meeting. In our small-group format, after we partake of the bread and water of the sacrament, one of our number conducts a lesson/discussion from a manual containing the teachings of one of our prophets. (This year we are studying the teachings of the 3rd prophet of our church, Wilford Woodruff.)

When the going gets tough, people go to church. When it's easy, comfortable, or predictable, they find other things to do.

I've missed Sunday church services twice in Iraq. One was due to a surprise visit to our base by Charlie Daniels. The other was as a result of an extremely long and rewarding conversation with a man named Abraham from Jordan. I'm a strong advocate of church attendance, but in both of these cases I think I made the right choice given the alternatives.

My Islamic friends are in no way offended by my Christianity, and I celebrate as well their right to worship as they see fit. In some instances we have understood each other better and become much closer friends by sharing the precepts of our religions with each other. Additionally, I hope that I have showed them my respect for Islam and other religions here by being here to stabilize and defend their liberty.

Fearful Society, Corrupt Society

A society that is immersed in corruption is a society that experiences constant fear. If fear and corruption have long been a part of society, they will not automatically be removed when the major sources of fear and corruption are removed. Patience is required as the society transforms itself to one of integrity and hope.

If you lived in a society where corruption were the norm and nothing could be achieved except for corruption, would you personally become corrupt in order to get along? Would you give and take bribes and come to understand them as simply the way things are done? If something that you wanted were available for the taking, and nobody was watching, would you have become accustomed to just taking it, because after all, anyone else would? And besides, would you think to yourself, even the normal things in life are hard to come by, so I think I deserve this? What if your society taught you that everything is the will of God—would this affect your decision?

If you lived in a society where every day was filled with a constant dread would you really ever learn to live with it? If you had one or more family members who were rounded up by the government and were never heard from again, how would you feel? What if you were sure that those by whom your family members were unjustly arrested belonged to a different race or religion? If the government mocked you by squandering all its receipts for its own aggrandizement, would you be angry? What’s more, how would you feel if you knew that any expression of your anger would be a punishable affront to the government?

I’ve never lived in a society that has been that way, so I’m not sure how I would react (I would probably be too afraid to act out), but I know how I would feel—day after day after day. No matter how long I lived, I would know that something was wrong with my society. But I cannot rule out that I would probably compensate for what was wrong by becoming ‘just like them’. Like I say, I’ve never lived in such a society, but I know someone who has.

What if the major sources of corruption were suddenly removed? What if, for a few fleeting moments, you suddenly had nothing more to fear?

You don’t really have to imagine this, even if all you’ve been watching of the news is the major news media for the past couple of years. You saw the looks of euphoria on the faces of thousands of Iraqis as Saddam Hussein’s statue was toppled in April of 2003. You saw tears of joy, spontaneous parades, and weapons fired into the air in exultant joy in December of that year as it was confirmed that Saddam Hussein had been captured.

The major source of corruption had been removed, but the veneer remained. (Mission accomplished, right? That’s what heartless haters of everyone’s liberty but their own would have you believe George W. Bush thinks.) If my grandpa were a thief, and my father were a thief, chances are high that they would have taught me how to be a thief.

From the first days after our entry into Baghdad, we saw through the chaos and looting that took place a systemic corruption that we could scarcely comprehend, and that would be difficult to unlearn. Corruption is still a problem in 2006 as in certain cases, insurgents infiltrate the Iraqi military and police, and as police and military occasionally abscond with public property and release insurgent prisoners because to them tribal loyalties or fear still trump integrity.

On the bright side, it is clear that corruption is becoming a much smaller part of the whole as stability replaces fear and men and women who can see the Iraqi dream before them step forward into the breach to help shore up the transition to hope and integrity.

The insurgent terrorists know what fear is. Whether from Iraq or another Middle Eastern country, chances are they have lived in a fear society. They know that fear is a powerful weapon, one which they are now not afraid to use to their personal aggrandizement. Contrarily, after the initial euphoria that freedom brought to the broad majority of Iraqis, it’s not surprising that some of these Iraqis are exacting reprisal killings against those they see as being the descendents of the creators of their fears of the past fifty years. And this especially after thinking for a fleeting moment that they no longer had anything to fear, only to have this hope temporarily but suddenly shattered by the desecrations of the terrorist insurgency.

A society mired in fear and corruption cannot be expected to stop on a dime and make a 180-degree turn in the direction of hope and integrity. Anyone telling you otherwise likely is either an insurgent or simply wants ‘George Bush and the Republicans’ to fail in Iraq. Millions of Iraqis felt the euphoria that a glimpse of liberty can bring. Liberty, enjoyed before the modern era by nearly no one else on the planet, has always been hard fought, but thereby all the more appreciated in its ultimate achievement.

Little by little, day by day, more and more Iraqis are signing on to the dream. Policemen, students, government officials, soldiers, and entrepreneurs are casting their lot for free thought and free markets. Is there still corruption here? Yes. Do people still live in fear? Many do. But gradually the Iraqi populace is approaching that critical mass where corruption and fear will be looked on in derision and as an aberration rather than the rule.

Do we have the patience to keep the faith while waiting for that day? I do, and I hope you do, too.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

"Bush, Bush! [Not] Ali Baba!"

Summary: During our stateside 'immersion training' before coming to Iraq, the actors we encountered commonly chanted "Bush, Bush, Ali Baba!" as we entered their makeshift villages. It just occurred to me who they were pretending to be...

Iraqis commonly refer to members of the terrorist insurgency as Ali Baba. In fact, anyone they think is a thief or some other sort of criminal is referred to as Ali Baba. If you want to know where an insurgent is, or if they come forward volunteering where an insurgent is, your linguistic bridge is the phrase "Ali Baba."

The story of Ali Baba comes from stories of The 1001 Arabian Nights. Mr. Baba was the head honcho for The Forty Thieves, who wreaked nothing but constant havoc. He, along with his forty friends, is not revered by Iraqis.

When we trained stateside before coming to Iraq, we underwent 'immersion training'. Various actors were hired, including several Iraqi expatriates, for us to interact with in various ways, and to portray the citizenry of various Iraqi cities and towns. Quite often when we entered one of their makeshift towns, either to conduct a search as a result of an intelligence tip, or as part of a foot patrol, the townspeople would taunt us with the words "Bush, Bush, Ali Baba!" I thought it interesting at the time that they would use such terminology, but at the time I dismissed it. I was too busy getting 'immersed' to think much about it.

Since being here in Iraq, and personally having had almost exclusively good relationships with the Iraqi people, it began to dawn on me that it was a bit inaccurate that the actors should be coached to chant "Bush, Bush, ali Baba!" at us at the National Training Center (NTC) in California.

Now, hold that thought...

Just today I read in the Times of London (not the New York Times, mind you) that dissident Amir Abbas Fakhravar has successfully fled Iran and arrived in the United States. Fakhravar, for whom a death warrant has been issued, has met with and given his assessment to members of Congress and the Bush Administration. In part, the news story reports:

Fakhravar believes dialogue with Iran is useless. “The regime wants to have a nuclear bomb so it can wipe out a country it doesn’t like,” he said. “We don’t understand why the rest of the world doesn’t understand this.”

In Iran, Bush is regarded as a liberator, Fakhravar said. “People are afraid to express what is in their hearts, but in small, private gatherings, they see him as a saviour.”

Now, back to my original story. If we as soldiers, and our Commander in Chief, are not seen by the majority of Iraqis as Ali Baba (and, coincidentally, if the same holds true for the people of Iran), then just who were the townspeople at the National Training Center supposed to be imitating? It occurred to me that whether they knew it or not, the townspeople were imitating American liberals.

The actors we encountered were very polished and realistic in their presentations. It means that they must have received acting lessons from somewhere. I don't know, but Hollywood is geographically fairly near the NTC...

A very small percentage of veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), particularly those who never leave a forward operating base (FOB) the whole time they're 'in country', turn against OIF after buying into the vicious lies spread by the American left about what's actually happening here. And to think that, unwittingly, they may have received their first such indoctrination from 'immersion training' in the United States.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Tribute to a Military Wife

Summary: For the most part this web log has been about me--what I feel, what I do, what I've seen. So at least for a moment I thought it might be important to give you a glimpse into the most important person in my life.

The soldier's life is a difficult one. Even if we're not in constant danger, it's still a difficult job, being away from what we know and are comfortable with.

The life of a military spouse, although in different ways, is just as--if not more--difficult. I want to pay tribute to one of those military spouses.

One of the main reasons that I have made it this far in my military career is because of my wife, Kara. As we've talked about my military future over the years, it has often been she that has been the encouragement and the incentive for me to stay the course. She enjoys the fact that it's a way to show our patriotism, and come to think of it, so do I. We just never knew what that really meant until we endured two deployments in 4 years. It's not always easy knowing that doing our duty sometimes means being apart, but as we've come to the downhill side of my Iraq deployment, it's getting easier to see what we've both learned from it.

We've learned that our chaplain is right. He said that separation makes good marriages stronger. Ours is. We've learned a lot about ourselves and our relationship while being in different hemispheres. It's been a great benefit to our children to realize that dad is away from home serving in a worthy cause. It's also interesting to reflect that we never knew how many good friends we had until I went away to war.

I am intentionally trying to give you the impression that things have gone very well for us while we've been apart. That's so I can throw one of those literary twist things in there someplace...

Some nights (okay a lot of them) are pretty lonely for a soldier's wife. When you've gone through things, such as when the lawnmower won't start, when the irrigation water runs everywhere but where it's supposed to, when another tire goes flat or a car won't start, or when you have to sit by yourself in church without your husband for the fiftieth week in a row, you know what it's like to be a military wife. When you run every kid to every choir practice and every ball game and every church activity and every day of school because dad is in Iraq and can't share in the driving duties, you know what it's like to be a military wife. When it's Christmas, and you don't know whether or not your sweetheart has yet opened his presents half a world away, you know what it's like to be a military wife. When it's hard to remember the last free time you had to yourself, you might have an idea what it's like to be a military wife. When you've had trouble with a situation that if only your soldier were there it would make it all right, but he's not, then you'll know what it's like to be a military wife. When at least once a day you hear a child pray "Bless dad in Iraq that he will be safe," you know what it's like to be a military wife.

And if that's not enough, I got the following e-mail from her just the other day. Part of me laughs, and the other part curses at the lousy, lazy, conniving, traitorous liberals we have in our midst, because without their misinformation, disinformation, and downright lies about what's going on here, I might have been home in time to help. The subject line said "I'm Tired":


I just wanted to give you a quick hello. I cleaned all day long, and just barely stopped. You would not believe the mice infestation that we had. I hope that we have gotten all of the mice. Under the stairs was so horrible, that the health department would have shut us down. There was literally piles of mice crap covering the floor. I had to throw away the Christmas tree, because they had chewed a lot of the branches, and it was full of mice droppings. Did I tell you that we caught about 20 mice off those glue traps? Anyway, I don't want to think about it anymore. I will probably have bad dreams. That was definitely a job I would have passed on to you soldier man IF you had been here...

Some day we'll look back on all of this and have a lot of good laughs and I'm sure a few good cries, too. Sometimes it's hard to imagine, but I suspect when we're back together again, we'll be able to say that it was all worth it. I know the Iraqi people will say that it was, and I am therefore grateful that my wife encouraged me to continue serving when, if it had been my own choice, I may have chosen to hang it all up before going on such an excellent adventure.

It's been said that behind every good man is a better woman. In my case that is definitely true. Much of what I am and what I aspire to be is because of my number one fan. I know I'm great, I know I'm strong, I know I'm handsome, and I know I'm smart, because she tells me so.

And so I pay tribute to you, who have been through it all with me, even though you're not here. My military wife. My sweetheart. I love you.

Casualties on the Basketball Court

Summary: Casualties in a combat zone are a bad thing, but they're not so bad when they're on the basketball court.

Any soldier will tell you that an excellent way to overcome stress or boredom is physical activity. A trip to the gym or a run around the base before the heat of the day nearly suffocates you brings welcome physical and mental relief, as long as you don't overdo yourself.

In our current situation, we inherited a basketball hoop in front of our barracks. So our physical activity has grown to include--in fact come to be dominated by--3-on-3 basketball games. But sometimes on the ball court we forget our rules of engagement.

Our Field Artillery battery has become well known at the battalion aid station lately. It started out as a couple of sprained ankles and bruises that we could take care of mostly ourselves, but as competitiveness increased, our spate of injuries increased to include bleeding that required stitches. "Oh it's you guys again," the aid station said the other day.

After three soldiers went down with cuts needing stitches, we thought our basketball days were numbered. One of them missed a couple of days of work as he had to be flown to another base to be checked for head trauma (everything turned out okay). As is so often the case, we envisioned a full-scale military investigation, whose verdict we were sure would be: 'Basketball is too dangerous; from here on out you can play H-O-R-S-E but nothing else.'

In an anticipatory countermove, we launched our own, internal investigation into the spike in inujuries requiring stitches. After careful review, we determined that all such injuries had occurred during 4-on-4 basketball games. Since requiring that all games include no more than 3-on-3 players (with only 2 violations of policy that I am aware of) we have had no further serious injury, except to an occasional ego. And a suggestion to our 'higher' that we had discovered and corrected the problem helped to avert an outright basketball ban.

Meanwhile, at another base... We have discovered that three lietenants in our battalion have gone down with basketball injuries. One suffered a dislocated shoulder, one required stitches to the head, and the other has bruised ribs and is waiting to discover if they are broken. Sounds like they better start their own internal investigation...

Remember When?

Summary: I know just about every one of us can remember where we were on September 11, 2001. But how well do we remember how we felt that day? And does it really matter?

I had just gotten out of the shower the morning of September 11, 2001, and the radio was on in the bedroom. I vaguely heard something about an airplane hitting a tower in New York. I will admit that my initial reaction was excitement at first, because I thought maybe the plane had hit the United Nations building. No matter how bad I still despise the UN, I feel bad now that I thought that.

When I found out that actually one of the World Trade Center towers had been hit, I grew just a little bit numb. It was hard to imagine that it had been on purpose--until the second plane hit the second tower.

I went to work, and everyone who had a television had it turned on. I didn't get much work done that day. Once it was clear what had happened, the president of Brigham Young University called a special devotional assembly so that we could pay tribute to those of many nations whose lives had been taken by terrorists. I went home and talked to my family about it all for most of the evening.

In the few days that followed, I wanted to donate blood, but there were already too many donors. As what had happened unfolded, I somehow didn't mind if my National Guard unit were called up to go to Afghanistan. We flew our flag in front of our house for several days. I flew a window flag in my car everywhere I went. And I remember that a whole bunch more people came to church for the next few Sundays than usually did.

It's been almost 5 years now. You know, it's funny how I remember more about where I was and what I saw than how I felt.

I wonder if you are like me? Do you remember how you felt on that day? Or is it easier to remember where you were? Why? Is life too busy that we don't take time to remember? Maybe it's not important. But wait...

I'll bet you felt a little closer to God for a while. I'll bet you felt good going to church a little more often. I'll bet you felt that America was the greatest country in the world and that we had done nothing to deserve such desecration by fundamentalist Islamic lunatics. I'll bet you even wanted to find out more about Islam so you could figure out if they were all this crazy. I'll bet you wanted to go out and do something about it. And, I'll bet you said "I'll support President Bush in doing anything he can to track down the people who are behind this and make sure that it never happens again."

Come to think of it...I still feel that way. I found out that not really very many Muslims are crazy (but a few still are) and I'm glad for that. I'm still convinced that America is the greatest nation on the earth, and we didn't do anything to deserve what happened on 9/11. And I still support President Bush in doing whatever is necessary to ensure that it doesn't happen again. (My research indicates that based on such things as WMDs and the al Qaeda-Iraq connection ,"whatever is necessary" includes building a free Iraq.)

What makes America the greatest nation on earth is our ability and desire to continue to give, even in the face of the abusive lies we endure both from the world and even from some of our fellow Americans who ought to know better. What makes America great is that we have never kept the spoils of war; not only have we helped our friends rebuild from the destruction of war, we have helped our enemies to do so as well. And in every one of these cases, our enemies have become friends in the marketplace of nations.

In future years, when we look back on 9/11, we'll also be able to remember when we used to serve in Iraq, and how we helped our Iraqi brothers and sisters to achieve liberty. The Iraqis as well will have become our friends in the marketplace of nations. I'm convinced it will be a fond memory. And how we felt will have mattered a great deal and in a very good way.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Polling by the Numbers

Summary: Some poll results vary widely by how the questions are asked, some are good indications of what the people of America think, and others are nothing more than a measurement of how well the media has been able to conceal its bias. Here's a breakdown of good and bad Iraq polling questions, and why it matters.

I came across an interesting web site today, called It is a compendium of various results from the various polling organizations across the United States. I found some interesting results, particularly on its catalog of polls taken about Iraq, that give us an idea that polling is not often what it seems. Sometimes in evaluating polling results, we need to evaluate the method behind the numbers, or, as the wizard in the Wizard of Oz did not want Dorothy to do, we DO need to "pay [] attention to the man behind the curtain." The following are some of my observations.

The poll results that have the greatest downward trend deal with those subjects most often harped on by the media. When you think of common national polling questions, which question comes to mind first? If you said something like, "What do you think of President Bush's performance with regard to the war in Iraq?", go to the head of the class. It's not hard to guess that a variation of this question is the mosst common national polling question over the past 3 years. This, coupled with a plethora of leading front-page headlines and lead news stories that ask such questions as "Is the Bush Administration Failing in Iraq?" cause one to be very unsurprised that approval responses to questions of this sort plummeted from about 70% in March 2003 to about 30 percent now. Also of note is that these polls seldom delve into the details behind why someone disapproves of the Bush Administration's prosecution of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Referring to current events in Iraq as a 'War'. In all of the polls compiled by about Iraq, the word "free" does not appear in any of the questions. Perhaps in an effort to be consistent, but as a result being consistently negative, what we are trying to accomplish in Iraq is consistenly called 'The War in Iraq' rather than Operation Iraqi Freedom. To be consistent, there would need to be monthly polls about inner-city Detroit, D. C., and Philadelphia that always ask the question about 'The War on the Streets,' such as "Do you feel more confident or less confident that the War on the Streets will come to a successful conclusion?" It would be interesting to see in a poll how many people thought Iraq was actually a war versus an attempt to help a country build upon freedoms recently established.

The nature of the question matters. Depending on how the question is asked, polls yield a dramtically different response on the same question. For example, when asked "Some people are comparing Iraq to the war in Vietnam. Do you think Iraq will turn out to be another Vietnam, or do you think the U.S. will accomplish its goals in Iraq?" a much higher percentage of people said that the US will accomplish its goals. Contrarily, when given the options of comparing Operation Iraqi Freedom--er, excuse me--'The Iraq War' to World War II, Korea, or Viet Nam, a much higher percentage of people feel like it compares to Viet Nam. These particular results surprised me the most, considering that a very common statement in the media is "Boy, this war is beginning to look more and more like World War II all the time."

Several results have changed little over time. Over the past year, the question has been asked by the Pew Research Center "Do you think the U.S. should or should not set a timetable for when troops will be withdrawn from Iraq?" Those in favor have climbed from 49 to 53%, while those opposed, have fallen by about the same amount. Over the past two years, the following question has also yielded little change in results: "In the long run, do you think the war in Iraq has increased the chances of terrorist attacks in the U.S., lessened the chances, or has it made no difference?" (Increased is up from 34 to 37%, while decreased is down by about the same amount.)

Some poll results are not intuitive. The question has only been asked one time, but I find it unusual, considering all the negativity around 'The Iraq War', that 78% of Americans said that "Iraq will be better off in the long run now that Saddam has been removed from office." It sure doesn't seem like many people feel that it is better off right now.

I also wonder why that question hasn't been asked as many times as the Bush question.
Just kidding. I don't really wonder. It's pretty obvious.

You know what else? In all of these media-sponsored polls, I have never seen a question that asks "Do you think the media is or is not fair in its reporting on Operation Iraqi Freedom?"

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Guantanamo Irony

Summary: A United Nations Commission on Human Rights today finally has started taking notice that torture is occurring in Cuba. Ironically, its claims are not against Fidel Castro, but against the United States at Guantanamo Bay. Why would the Commission make such allegations? First, because human rights advocates aren't allowed into the nations of Cuba or Iran. Second, because of the member countries of the 'august' UN Commission on Human Rights.

If irony were water, you could swim for miles in this one...

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights today publicized claims, not that Cuba continues to torture people who speak out in favor of human rights, but that the United States is not following the 1984 UN Convention on Torture, because we are holding prisoners of war at Guantanamo Bay without legal justification and without legal safeguards. Based on a loaded survey question, is reporting that 67% of Americans agree that we should close down Guantanamo. No specific instances of torture were mentioned in the news article citing the Commission report. The allegation without proof of secret prisons maintained all over the world by the US (well, they're secret--how would we have proof?) was trotted out on center stage again. Also without proof of specific instances that have not already been prosecuted by the United States, the Commission report stated "that the United States should end all forms of torture committed by its personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq." There may have been an allegation or two that we were flushing their Korans down the toilet, but I may be getting my stories mixed up.

Besides the fact that there is a war on, a couple of things struck me about the article and the report on the opinion survey.

First, what struck me was the irony in the claim that what the US might really be doing is sending prisoners to countries that really would torture them, although I didn't notice any proof of that either. But maybe they were thinking of countries like Iraq, where I've already documented there are people who think America is way too nice to the insurgents here.

Second, why doesn't the United Nations Commission on Human Rights investigate the gulag prison system that still exists in Cuba? While we're at it, it might change a few people's opinions of Iran if they knew what kinds of repression and torture were going on in that country. The allegations of what is going on in both these countries is much more substantial than anything the United Nations Commission on Human Rights can prove against the United States.

The difference is that the United States welcomes scrutiny while countries like Cuba and Iran do not allow it. Thank you, UN Commission on Human Rights for holding American once again to a higher moral standard. It'd jist be peachy if ya did it fer everbuddy. Sher would appreciatecha!!!

Iran, which uses systematic torture to keep its populace in check, and which dumps dead bodies on the outskirts of Tehran when they're finished with them, has never been investigated by anyone. Iran has not allowed it. The family members of many of those who have tried don't know where they are now. fairly regularly documents torture in Iran, as well as Many websites that used to exist inside Iran no longer exist. That's strange. I wonder why?

Cuba, the darling of the international power seekers, because they have perfected repression of its populace, and because it has successfully snubbed its nose at the Great Satan for 50 years, has never been investigated by the United Nations, despite a multitude of allegations from individuals who were tortured in the Cuban gulag, along with their families. has ample proof that torture in Fidel's Heaven on Earth continues unabated. Yet noone at the United Nations cares, and Cuba hasn't allowed anyone to investigate.

Third, just which countries are on the United Nations Commission on Human Rights? There are quite a few, with some more vocal than others. Let's have a look-see. France and Germany are there. No bias there, so they couldn't have had any influence on a shoddy Commission report, could they have? And...oh, Saudi Arabia, paragon of human rights is on the commission, too. I'm sure we can trust them to make a fair judgement about human rights, can't we? China--where you can have every kind of human right under the sun, except speaking out against the government and going to the church of your choice and keeping your land if they want it and having as many children as you want, and some others--is a Commission member as well.

Imagine the twinkly smirk on Fidel Castro's face when the Commission came out against torture on the island of Cuba, but not against him. Did I mention that Cuba is on the UN Commission on Human Rights? Aha.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Iraqi Constitution and Sharia

Summary: Many strident voices have claimed that American troops are dying for nothing more than the opportunity for another Islamic nation to apply Sharia (Islamic law) to oppress its people. The following is a discussion of how Sharia is applied in the Islamic world and what we might expect its implementation to be in the new Iraq.

A lot of people are worried that the rights of women, non-Muslims, and Iraqis in general will be trampled under the new Iraqi constitution, because the Constitution enshrines Sharia, believed by many to be a violently oppressive system of government. Conceptually—and in certain cases historically—the argument is valid. It appears, though, that the Iraqi constitution contains a healthy blend of support for the inalienable rights of humanity with a dependence on Islamic law. But as are all constitutions, the Iraqi Constitution is a framework that needs to be implemented, so it remains to be seen how Iraqi life will be affected by the Sharia going forward.

An overused and actually incorrect cliché of the modern world says “You can’t legislate morality.” The reality is that prohibitions against such things as murder, theft, and sexual abuse have their foundations in morality and religion. Most law in the world today is based on morality and religion. Sharia is one perspective on how morality and religion should affect everyday life through the application of law.

Sharia is a part of law in many Islamic nations, but to a surprisingly varying degree. While in Iran and Saudi Arabia all secular law is Sharia-based, in countries such as Turkey, it is applied very leniently. In countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Pakistan, Sharia plays almost no role in law. Iraq in 1959 softened the applicability of Sharia in its law, but it remains to be seen whether it will be applied more stringently in Iraqi life from here on out. The relationships many Shia in the new Iraqi government have with members of the Iranian government (also Shia) portends a greater emphasis on Sharia in Iraqi culture than heretofore, but we’ll see.

Only five punishments are delineated by the Quran as part of Islamic law. They are (1) flogging for drinking of alcohol, (2) flogging for fornication and stoning for adultery, (3) flogging for false accusation of fornication or adultery, (4) amputation of a hand for theft, and (5) amputation of a hand (or death if offense results in the death of the victim) for highway robbery. These punishments, outside of Iran and Saudi Arabia, are almost never applied. Sharia, most commonly applied, only affects marriage, divorce, and inheritance.

Other punishments, interpretations, and implementations of Sharia are based on the Hadiith (traditions of Mohammed). In some nations and cases ijma (scholarly interpretation) and qiyas (logical application of Quranic principles to modern problems) also play a part.

The following references are made to Sharia in the Iraq Constitution:

Article 2:
First: Islam is the official religion of the State and it is a fundamental source of legislation:

A. No law that contradicts the established provisions of Islam may be established.

Article 89:
Second: The Federal Supreme Court shall be made up of number of judges, and experts in Islamic jurisprudence and law experts…
It is important to note that all other religions—as well as religious properties—are protected under the Constitution. A few other excerpts from the Constitution are appropriate to include here as well:
Article 2:
B. No law that contradicts the principles of democracy may be established.

C. No law that contradicts the rights and basic freedoms stipulated in this constitution may be established.

Article 5:
The law is sovereign. The people are the source of authorities and its legitimacy, which the people shall exercise in a direct general secret ballot and through their constitutional institutions.

Article 14:
Iraqis are equal before the law without discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, origin, color, religion, creed, belief or opinion, or economic and social status.

Article 15:
Every individual has the right to enjoy life, security and liberty. Deprivation or restriction of these rights is prohibited except in accordance with the law and based on a decision issued by a competent judicial authority.

Article 16:
Equal opportunities are guaranteed for all Iraqis…
In my opinion, the Iraqi Constitution balances a respect for Islam and Islamic law with a respect for other religions as well as a multitude of liberties that have traditionally been considered western.

A handful of provisions exist in the Constitution that I disagree with, in most instances because certain rights guaranteed by the government require the effort of private sector enterprises to accomplish. (A more detailed analysis of the Iraqi Constitution will be the subject of future posts.)

In essence, it is my opinion that the Iraqi Constitution, if followed as it is written, is a pathway to peace and liberty in Iraq.
Posts in this series:
Iraqi Constitution and Sharia
Iraqi Constitution - Preamble
Iraqi Constitution - Fundamental Principles
Iraqi Constitution - Liberties
Iraqi Constitution - Branches of the Federal Government
Iraqi Constitution - Federal Powers
Iraqi Constitution - Regional Powers and Transition to the New Government

Iraqi Constitution - Preamble

Summary: The Preamble to the Iraq Constitution invokes Iraq's noble heritage, proclaims the greatness of God, and secures liberty to the Iraqi people. It establishes a firm basis for liberty, but does the main text of the Constitution remain true to its premise?
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Note: Click on each "Show/Hide Text" button to show or hide applicable portions of the Iraq Constitution text.

The beginning of the Preamble to the Iraq Constitution, much like the United States Declaration of Independence, invokes the Creator of earth and man, to whom we owe honor and respect. It traces the lineage of all peoples to the prophet Adam. It reminds us that great leaders, teachers, and discovers from all faiths have walked the gound that is now Iraq.
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God watches over the Iraqi people (Arabs, Kurds, and Turkmen) in both their sufferings (the depredations of Saddam, the terrors of the current insurgency, and the destruction of their lands by the Hussein regime) and their triumphs (the first free elections in their country's history). Iraqis pledge to work together to achieve religious and political harmony and freedom. In this portion of the text, the phrase "just distribution of resources" is troubling, being a possible harbinger of overuse of government power to determine such an outcome.
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The new Iraqi government will be a democratic republic (i.e. the people will be able to vote freely for their governmental representatives). The rule of law will be respected in the treatment of men and women, old and young, and people of all religions equally. The revelations of God and the truths of science and reason will provide a basis for Iraqi law.
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The intentions expressed for the Iraqi people in the Preamble to the Constitution are admirable. The themes of this Preamble are peace, liberty, and equality of opportunity. In most cases, the body of the Iraqi Constitution stays true to the intent of the preamble. In future posts in this series I will discuss the Constitution's strengths and weaknesses, particularly where it secures liberty to the Iraqi people versus where it makes promises that it cannot keep without taking away some of those liberties.
Posts in this series:
Iraqi Constitution and Sharia
Iraqi Constitution - Preamble
Iraqi Constitution - Fundamental Principles
Iraqi Constitution - Liberties
Iraqi Constitution - Branches of the Federal Government
Iraqi Constitution - Federal Powers
Iraqi Constitution - Regional Powers and Transition to the New Government

Saturday, May 13, 2006

All the Opinions that are Fit to Print

Summary: It used to be that news was in the news section of the newspaper, while opinion was clearly delineated in the opinion section. The breach of this code of conduct is perhaps nowhere more evident than in the news media’s opinion on Iraq. In this post I dissect some of the ‘news’ that is being reported about Iraq. defines "news" this way:

news Audio pronunciation of "news" ( P ) Pronunciation Key (nz, nyz)
pl.n. (used with a sing. verb)
    1. Information about recent events or happenings, especially as reported by newspapers, periodicals, radio, or television.
    2. A presentation of such information, as in a newspaper or on a newscast.

Pretty simple, don't you think? If you are a news reporter, you report what happens.

Not what might happen. Not what you think will happen. Not your opinion of what happened. Not even just that side of the story that supports your opinion of what you wish happened or want to happen. All of this stuff belongs on the opinion page.

The news media has been transforming itself into the opinion media—or better yet, the make-the-news media—for quite some time now, but it seems that their animosity for democracy, liberty, and particularly Operation Iraqi Freedom have caused them to throw caution to the wind in their Gadarene rush to ensure that their opinion reigns supreme.

One of the ways the media frequently accomplish this is through using polls as propaganda. This has recently been dubbed as “polloganda”. Polls are frequently slanted in the direction of the opinions the 'newsmakers' have. I have been asked to participate in several polls over the years where none of the politically charged options reflected my view. “Oh, I’ll just mark you down as I don’t know, then” is usually the pollster’s response.

Here are three additional ways (that I found in less than 20 minutes of searching) that the news media affects and makes the news rather than simply reporting it.

Prophetic Yearning. The San Jose Mercury News recently published a news story entitled “Support for War May be Fading in Congress”. Oh, how they hope this would be true! The article begins with the following ‘news’ paragraph:

“If Congress ever turns against the war in Iraq, analysts may look back at this week as a turning point.”

You can just imagine the ‘reporters’ of this ‘news’ story just salivating. The rest of the article discusses the never-before-revealed fact that John Kerry is against having troops in Iraq and that “…three Republicans in the House of Representatives endorsed a resolution calling for a robust and lengthy congressional debate on Iraq.”. Then to support their ‘repinions’, the ‘news reporters’ vaguely cite several recent polls that supposedly ‘prove’ that a “majority of Americans turned against the war months ago.”

Hiding the Positive. In an effort to place as negative a spin as possible on the news coming out of Iraq, AFP reported on May 12th that “US Terminates Part of Major Iraq Hospital Building Contract”. What is actually happening, as the report states at the bottom instead of the top, is that the contract is getting re-bid to Iraqi contractors in an effort to cut costs, reduce one level of management, and provide more impetus to a growing Iraqi economy.

The fact that Iraqi contractors are now able to take on projects of enormous magnitude is in and of itself newsworthy, as it demonstrates a trend of progress that most Americans are completely unaware of. Additionally, the original US contractor had completed 12 of 20 hospitals and 20 of 150 clinics had been completed, and that work on many others is ongoing.

But in its follow-the-biased-herd mentality, AFP accentuates the negative. Readers glancing through the news would never have had any idea that something positive is happening here.

Seeking out corroboration for existing bias. In a not even cleverly disguised propaganda stunt to further propagate its own opinions, entitled “Murtha Predicts U.S. Pullout from Iraq,” the AP recently solicited an interview with Congressman John Murtha, and then reported it as news.

Such newsworthy items presented in the article include Murtha’s predictions that Democrats will win control of congress and that President Bush would have to bring more than half the troops home before the elections to get Republican voters back on his side. To this, the AP adds as news the solicited opinion of Representative Murtha that President Bush’s “biggest problem he has had is admitting he made a mistake in going in there in the first place."

I think it would be nice to solicit an interview on this subject with, oh let’s say Nuri al-Maliki, Georges Sada, or Jalal Talabani. Then we might actually see whether Iraq thinks it was a mistake to send US troops to Iraq or when they think we should come home. Additionally, such an interview might give Americans a better perspective on the successes that are being achieved every day, rather than a marginally informed opinion of such. But I guess an interview with Iraqis who actually work with US and coalition diplomats and troops wouldn’t be newsworthy.

If newspapers moved all of their opinions to the opinion page, their news sections would be small indeed. It would also make far fewer Americans confused about what's really going on in Iraq.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Dirty Laundry

Summary: Why is it that a significantly higher percentage of Iraqis support American and Coalition troops in their country than do American citizens? The problem lies with “Dirty Laundry” (with special thanks to Don Henley for his prescient lyrics of 25 years ago).

Progess here in Iraq, although slow, is consistent. There are a lot of good things going on here, and this makes a lot of Iraqi people and American soldiers happy. Somehow, this message is not making it all the way back to the American public, though. Could it be because...

I make my living on the evening news
Just give me somethin’, somethin’ I can use
People love it when you lose
They love dirty laundry
In his book, Saddam’s Secrets, Georges Sada makes it clear that not only are nearly all Iraqis glad that the United States and other countries are in Iraq helping them to shed the legacy of Saddam Hussein, most Iraqis were very sad and frustrated to see us leave after Operation Desert Storm in 1991, when, to them, the task at hand had been barely begun. As a result of our leaving prematurely back then, tens of thousands of Iraqis were hauled off, lined up, and shot, their bodies buried in mass graves. Others, such has tens of thousands of Kurds, were not so fortunate—their deaths were prolonged by the agony that can be obtained by suffering through the effects of chemical Weapons of Mass Destruction (for you liberals out there who have willfully forgotten the connection, the phrase Weapons of Mass Destruction is often abbreviated as WMD). But you don't really care, because all you want is entertainment from yours news media.
Well I could have been an actor, but I wound up here
I just have to look good, I don’t have to be clear
Come and whisper in my ear
Give us dirty laundry
Better late than never, we returned to Iraq to finish a job that, had it been finished correctly the first time, would have made millions of people richer (rank and file Iraqis) and a handful of people poorer (see below).

It's funny how the news media really dosen't care what the Iraqi people think.
Kick ‘em when they’re up, Kick ‘em when they’re down
Kick ‘em when they’re up, Kick ‘em all around
It’s funny how the news media always tells you about other people’s dirty laundry while their hide their own and that of their friends. Inquiring minds notice--and their noses smell--a hidden stench, and after careful searching the hidden source of the odor becomes clear. In the interim of Operations Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, was the Oil for Food Program, instigated by the United Nations. This program is less often referred to by its own code name—Operation Dirty Laundry (ODL). It’s not too hard to follow the ODL money trail, and the money trail makes it a bit more clear why so many people from America, Germany, France, and other nations want us to fail in Operation Iraqi Freedom—because Operation Dirty Laundry ultimately failed, and they are down 0 to 1. It’s time for them to even the score so that they can finish rewriting themselves out of this sordid and embarrassing chapter of history. It becomes clear why the United Nations, far from being a help during Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), has actually become a net hindrance.

Saddam profited enormously during Operation Dirty Laundry, at the expense of his countrymen. But he wasn’t the only one. All up and down the money trail one finds kickbacks to various United Nations “employees” and other international playboys, including playboys from America. But...

You got the bubble headed bleach blonde, comes on at 5
She can tell you bout the plane crash
With a gleam in her eye
It’s interesting when [soldiers] die
Give us dirty laundry
There are actually more news organizations than one might think out there dedicated to the truth and not to the denizens of Operation Dirty Laundry. Every once in a while, though, even the dirty organizations throw something good out there to throw you off the scent. As long as you can distinguish between fresh scents and filthy odors, it might be okay to sample these news organizations from time to time. I suggest you use the Stupid Test. I have used this successfully on numerous occasions and have been able to severely curtail my intake of rotten news (as well as other fare that tries to pass itself off as entertainment). If you’re not sure about a news source, watch it or read it three times. If it’s high on the stupid meter three times in a row, you are statistically safe in assuming that it will be stupid forever. Because...

We can do the innuendo, we can dance and sing
When it’s said and done we haven’t told you a thing
We all know that crap is king
Give us dirty laundry
The most important thing in determining where you stand in the war on terror is an open mind. Ask yourself such stimulating questions as “Why do more Iraqis than Americans support OIF?” The American poll numbers are not the most important. The Iraqi ones are. Most Americans have no idea what’s going on over here, and many of them couldn’t care less except for the dirty laundry that has become a perfume to their noses every night at 5 PM.

The second most important item to have in ferreting out the truth about OIF and the war on terror? A good sniffer. Don Henley gives us some good advice:

You don’t really need to find out what’s goin’ on
You don’t really wanna know just how far it’s gone
Just leave well enough alone
Keep your dirty laundry

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Positive Developments for Iran

Summary: A couple of very positive developments occurred with relation to Iran in the last few days. No…’The Letter’ to President Bush wasn’t one of them. American reaction to it was, however. This, plus sarcasm wins the day, and a dissident escapes the evil clutches—all on this edition of Serving Iraq and Iran. I hope you’ll join us.

It was interesting to note how little original material Mahmoud Ahmadinejad presented in ‘The Letter’ to President Bush the other day. It was largely a rehash of everything the lunatic liberal fringe has been saying for a long time—over and over again with the Hitlerian attitude that if you say something enough times people will think it is true. Effectively, American liberals wrote Ahmadinejad’s letter for him.

Did it just make you angry that he could actually write such tripe? It did me at first, but then I started thinking about it, and calmed down a little bit. And then I read what President Bush’s reaction was, and I was very impressed that America is in good hands because the Bush administration is not prone to overreaction as I sometimes am. And then I was able to step back and laugh at how childish ‘The Letter’ actually was.

Bush’s response to ‘The Letter” was very professional. He simply brought up the point that Iran did not answer the question already on the table: Are you going to stop trying to develop nuclear weapons?

Actually, President Bush didn’t need to respond to “The Letter”. Iranians have done a much better job. did a wonderful satire of President Ahmadinejad shortly before “The Letter” appeared. Among other things, here is some of what the satire had to say:
One might think that the Guardian Council made you president just to produce nuclear energy.

If you had a notepad and wrote these things down, the government would have something to do now, and you wouldn't be such a pest about yellowcake and nuclear energy.

You said that with a minor effort... Iran can become a superpower... Did you mean a superpower like China or America?... or like Kuwait and Afghanistan?

I hope that you manage to make Iran a superpower before it is completely destroyed.
(Click here to read a full analysis of the roozonline satire.)

In another interesting development, Iranian dissident Amir Abbas Fakhravar recently escaped Iran and visited with Richard Perle in an undisclosed location. Mr. Fakhravar has been oppressed, imprisoned, and tortured by the Iranian regime since 2002 when he wrote a book critical of Iran, called This Place is Not a Ditch. He recently warned America not to take ‘The Letter’ seriously as it is a stalling tactic similar to what North Korea does when it needs more time to work on its nefarious plans. He states that millions of Iranians want “freedom at any cost” and are grateful to members of the United States Congress (mostly republicans) for their concern and willingness to help. (Click here to read the full text of the New York Sun article.)

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made (or was instructed to make) this pre-emptive political strike of sorts simply because he realizes that Iran is not in the driver’s seat. The Iranian government realizes that it has no moral authority in the world (let alone in its own country), reminded of this over and over again by that fact that its populace is lacking in nearly every liberty and many of the general comforts of life. It realizes that it could be toppled like a house of cards if the circumstances were right. The circumstances—for the overthrow of a diabolical government and its replacement by a free democratic republic—are aligning themselves more closely each day.

Ahmadinejad sent ‘The Silly Letter’ out of fear. And he should be afraid.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A Compliment to the Field Artillery

Summary: The field artillery in many areas of Iraq is not very busy. I happen to be in an area that, as of late, uses its artillery on a regular basis. Field artillery is effective—and still the King of Battle.

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned on this blog that it had been a really good day in Iraq…

I have been assigned to a field artillery unit for the past several months in Iraq. We provide fire support to various units, near and far, who come into contact with insurgents. We also provide timely counterfire against rockets and mortars that are fired against any of several operating bases or other coalition assets in the area. Lately we have been very effective.

I don’t enjoy the fact that my job includes killing other people, even if it is the enemy. (It’s not traumatic in the same way that face-to-face combat is traumatic—something which I’ve never experienced nor ever hope to.) But I do find a great satisfaction in knowing when there is one less insurgent trying to short-circuit the process of liberty currently going on here.

We recently received an e-mail from a Fire Support Officer who coordinates with the infantry on the ground, complimenting our ability to provide timely and accurate fires:

“[Your artillery] has been exactly what I’ve needed. Your soldiers are doing one helluva job. I know I speak for [everyone] when I say thank you for the support you…have given us. We all know the only all-day, all-night, all-weather preferred fire support platform in [our area of operations] does not have wings.”

We haven’t been shooting quite as much lately, but that’s because there hasn’t been as much to shoot at. But it’s good to know that the soldiers on the ground have less to contend with, at least for a while. And we’re ready and waiting for the next sucker who launches a mortar at us or any of our buddies. Because chances are, we’ll take him out too.

A Glimpse of the People of Iran

Summary: The populace of Iran has as much desire to emulate Western liberties as any country in the Middle East, and is very likely more at odds with its government than any country in the region. Here’s a brief look at what the people of Iran have to endure as their leadership rushes headlong into a desired confrontation with the United States.

The landscape of Iran is beautiful and variegated. But its current political and social atmosphere is stifling. The current Iran Regime has created (and for 27 years developed) its own monstrous brand of Islamic Fundamentalism to hide its own shortcomings--and its own people are the guinea pigs.

When Shah Reza Pahlavi was forced to leave the government in 1979, it was not a forgone conclusion that Ayatollah Khomeini would rise to the pinnacle of power. Several groups vied for various political solutions to Iran’s problems. In reality, Mehdi Barzagan and Abolhassan Bani-Sadr served as interim prime ministers before the mullahs stirred up enough fervor to gain control of the masses. But the people didn’t know what they were bargaining for, and it is now clear that (1) a predominant majority of the Iranian people despise their current government, (2) the Iranian government is one of the most oppressive in the world, and (3) that government is running the country into the ground (and would have already done so without substantial oil revenues).

I have read estimates that unemployment in Iran is between 15 and 20%. Public workers have not been paid for several months in some cases. And to make matters worse, the government pledged $50 million to the support of Hamas in Israel, angering the people further.

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times has visited Teheran, Iran several times. On one occasion he noticed anti-American graffiti. As he attempted to have it photographed, those people around him pleaded for him not to photograph the graffiti, as it had been placed there at the behest of the government and did not reflect the views of the Iranian people. The only country whose people mobilized in mass demonstrations of sorrow and compassion for America on 9-11 was Iran.

There was a darker side to the government of the Shah. But for the most part, Iran under the Shah was very westernized and very free. In her book Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi recalls of this time that the adults in her youth “could walk the streets freely, enjoy the company of the opposite sex, [and women could] join the police force, become pilots, live under laws that were the most progressive in the world…” Instead, now women are treated as second class citizens, state secret service operatives are everywhere, and the Ayatollah Khomeini has advised such things for men as sexual relations with animals in order to maintain their Islamic sexual purity.

Now, except for various short-lived attempts to convince the people that their government is not so bad, people are not allowed to do such simple things as listen to any kind of music. Most people understand that the mullahcracy is a betrayal of Islamic principles. People live life day to day with a constant, aching dread. The streets of many cities are patrolled by compliance militia, to ensure that people are living by the strict, perverted codes of conduct. The government confiscates satellite dishes—with stiff penalties for their owners when found—because it does not want the people to find out what they are missing in the outside world.

Nearly everything in Iran is now interpreted as through a political filter. If a man doesn’t wear a beard, if members of the opposite sex greet each other in public, if someone says anything remotely negative about the government, if individuals do anything interpreted to be Western, they are seen as being subversive of the government and will be punished in some way. Adultery and fornication are often punished by stoning of the offenders.

The Iranian government still makes a habit of arresting those who express public disagreement with government policy, the punishment being greater the more embarrassing the truth that is revealed about life in that benighted country. With few other outlets for their frustration, Iranians per capita are the most prolific web loggers in the world, an amazing statistic considering that much of what they blog gets filtered out and flushed down the memory hole by the Information Ministry.

Currently the people of Iraq enjoy more freedoms that the people of Iran. No wonder a significant investment from an Iranian government of already meager means is toward the destruction of the liberties that Iraq is now beginning to enjoy. For the Iranian government, which is edging ever closer to the precipice, a strong republican democracy in Iraq would mean the death knell of the mullahcracy. Freedom in Iraq would propel the Iranian people to capture the liberties they thought they were achieving 27 years ago before the process was short-circuited by religious radicals.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Spotting an IED with a UAV

Summary: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are used with increasing regularity to more effectively prosecute the war on terror. Here is an interesting personal success story.

On a regular basis, we take with us an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV-a remote- controlled airplane) on our mounted patrols. From various points in our area of operations, we launch the UAV in an attempt to keep the insurgents off guard as they try to place improvised explosive devices (IEDs) along an important supply route that we patrol. On several occasions we have used the UAV to thwart what appear on camera to be very suspicious circumstances. On one occasion we caught someone ‘in the act’.

A few days prior to this, we had noticed a suspicious vehicle driving in our AO (area of operations). Shortly thereafter, an IED exploded just out of our surveillance vision between two trucks on a supply convoy, causing no damage.

A couple of days later, we noticed the same car in the vicinity. We happened to have the UAV in the air at the time, so the UAV operator decided to bring the plane around and follow the car. What surprised us is that the vehicle had actually stopped along the side of the road. The UAV circled the area for several minutes and watched the insurgents at work. The insurgents then got in the car and drove away, with the UAV in hot pursuit.

In the meantime, we dispatched a fleet of our humvee crews to secure and cordon off the IED site. Just after our humvee teams sealed off the site, another supply convoy approached. The frustration they experienced in waiting for the route to be cleared was more than offset by what the demolition team robot discovered. This particular device was unusually lethal because rather than being hidden below ground (where the effects of the blast would be somewhat muted by the earth) the IED was placed on top of the ground and camouflaged very well by various debris along the road.

For various reasons the getaway car got away that day. But we did, though, perhaps save lives through the use of our unmanned aerial vehicle. Interestingly as well, the incidence of roadside bombs in our AO went down dramatically thereafter. The UAV is only one of many means of technology that helps improve Coalition Forces’ success on the battlefield and in bringing liberty to the people of Iraq.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

When Good People Do Nothing (Part 1)

Summary: There are a lot of intelligent, well-informed individuals in American society who do not speak out against the atrocities that are being committed in the American media today regarding Operation Iraqi Freedom. This post—the first in a two-part series—looks at one of the reasons why and what to do about it.

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
-Edmund Burke

Evil of a sort is triumphing every day in the way success is suppressed and failure is accentuated by the American media with regard to what is occurring in Iraq. Do negative events occur in the attempt to liberate Iraq? Yes. But the problem with a significant portion of the American media is that they report the negative in monumental disproportion to its relative occurrence. America is filled with well-informed individuals who understand this. But up to now, too many of us don’t know what to do about it. This 2-part installment discusses the phenomenon and how to break out of it. In part 1, I want to discuss a very common concern that leads to a breakdown in our ability to “do something” about the problem:

“I have to get my news somewhere, and I need it fast”. Many people, including me, are constantly on the go (right now in Iraq I’m working 12 hours every day—no days off). In an information-saturated and work-hectic society, we often feel the need to get our news from concise sources. As a result, we often turn to newspapers and television news shows to get a perspective of what is going on in the world. In my opinion, this is not a good idea. There are better ways to get our news and excellent reasons to do so.

My wife pointed out to me recently how utterly dismayed she is with our local newspaper’s coverage of Operation Iraqi Freedom. “Every story is so negative. Why does every story come with ‘AP’ in its byline? Can’t they do some of their own reporting?” The answer to her questions are (1) because that’s what the news mills produce, (2) because our local newspaper is lazy, and (3) yes, if they really wanted to. Once we find a good alternate source for the comics that we get from our newspaper, we will likely cancel our subscription.

There are about 3 sources from which a majority of newspapers get their news (AP, UPI, and Reuters) in the United States. It is frequently easy to perform a web search and find the identical story from one of these sources regurgitated in 10 or 20 different online newspapers. This means that a tiny group of people is determining what an enormous group of people are allowed to sample from the world news menu.

On a similar note, I recently read a survey that claimed just over 50% of Americans get their news from television. This, to me, is disappointing, particularly in light of the contrast between the reality here in Iraq and what I’ve seen reported on even the supposedly conservative Fox News Channel. Television is generally not a trustworthy source of news—especially as regards Iraq—if only for the fact that it tries to engage the eyes of the viewer (by using titillating sound bytes) while seldom delving into the reasons behind the events—and while seldom engaging the viewer’s mind. Almost all television news sources attempt to shape our opinions for us, rather than to give us the facts and contexts to allow us to form our own views.


The Internet
: To get an accurate picture of what is going on in the world, and particularly in Iraq, it is important to find multiple internet sources for news and commentary. Take time to compare what each site reports, and in time you will determine which sites are reputable and which sites have overweening bias. Ensure that you get your news from multiple sources in order that you may compare and contrast what is being reported, that you might become familiar with the bias or validity of any particular internet news outlet. Try to avoid those sites whose predominant content is a regurgitation of what is put out by the news mills (AP, UPI, Reuters, etc). Find websites which have a considerable amount of original reporting, especially if stories that turn out to be true are often ‘scooped’ on that site or are otherwise relatively unique. Uniqueness of stories is often as a result of indigenous news sources (sources that were born and live where the news is happening).

Weblogs: Often times weblogs are a good source for information and opinions. I enjoy reading others’ blogs, as it helps me further refine my opinions and perspectives of the way the world works. Sometimes, however, blogs are not a good source of information. Usually it is easy to determine when this is the case—blogs that use foul or offensive language are not worth one’s time. Well-thought out blogs are motivational and appeal to our reason and sense of fairness. They stimulate our thinking, whereas most newspapers and television news shows already have your thinking done for you.

Don’t forget to leave your comments on your favorite blogs. Not only does this help the blog site administrator know that his or her effort is appreciated, it also helps you become better expressing and understanding in your own words what is important in your own life.

You will find that your desire to study the news from the internet will far exceed your energy or time available to do so. Ultimately you’ll need to consolidate your news down to a few good sources. This is a good thing. With everyone creating similar ‘short lists’, a diversity of opinions and perspectives will obtain.

Good places to start. With your time and energy in mind, here are a few excellent sources for you to begin your search toward getting particularly accurate news and commentary about Iraq and Iran: - A daily news roundup and compendium of blogs on the Military Blog Ring. Includes links to several blogs by soldiers stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan. - An analysis of news and commentary related to Iran, including the status of Iranian dissidents and current conditions inside the country. - A reasoned critique of Islamic society by Muslims and former Muslims. - A portal to a large number of weblogs by Iraqis and Iraqi expatriates. - A similar web portal to weblogs by Iranians living both inside and outside of Iran. - A roundup of daily news, as well as commentary from a variety of angles on the political spectrum.

For some of us, gleaning the news in this manner will require a greater dedication of time than we are used to, especially at first. As we rely more on internet news sources and less on suspect newspapers and television news shows, their generally inaccurate portrayal of life in Iraq (and the rest of the world) will improve. It won’t happen overnight. But in the meantime, we can develop a calm assurance that our understanding of the world has more depth and accuracy than heretofore, and that it provides a surprising zest to our lives as we come to know and understand for ourselves. And in the longer run, because we live in a free market, newspaper outlets will soon begin to know that more and more of their subscribers (such as you and I and our friends) have renounced our allegiance to their mind-numbing regurgitation. It won’t take much longer, either, until the big television outlets find out that we’ve put our trust in alternate news sources—sources we can rely on to tell the truth more consistently. In fact, these events are already happening, and it’s time for us to accelerate their occurrence.

Once we experience the exhilaration of discovering the news as it really is, then talking about it with others becomes more and more a part of our everyday conversation.

To be continued…

Friday, May 05, 2006

Should We Just Go Home?

Summary: Every now and again, media types, liberal Democrats, and others committed to world debauchery complain that we should just bring the troops home from Iraq. Should we? Here’s a look at the 90% of the iceberg that is below the surface of that ocean…

A few days ago, Senator John Kerry expressed his dismay with the tepid pace of Operation Iraqi Freedom. We should allow the Iraqi government until May 15th, he said, and if they don’t have their government in place, we should pull out all American troops from Iraq and bring them home. This ill-thought outburst is only one in a frustrating litany of faux complaints from playboys and power seekers whose goal is not liberty for the peoples of the earth, but a share in governance and control over them.

The frustrating part about liberty is that it is extremely fair, while being inefficient at the same time. Liberty gives people the ability to develop and express their own opinions, almost ensuring a diversity of them. What sometimes adds to this frustration is that liberty does not discriminate—there always exists someone who wants to use his soapbox to advocate and practice tyranny. Perhaps the most frustrating part about liberty is that it gives idiots like John Kerry the freedom to make absolutely mindless, baseless, and stupid statements. But hidden inside this curse is also the blessing of liberty—that it gives people with a brain the right to understand such weak-minded outbursts for what they are, and to ignore them.

With that said, let’s dissect, country by country, what would likely happen if we simply pulled up stakes and went home from Iraq.

Iraq. There are approximately 40,000 people who want to see Operation Iraqi Freedom fail. Twenty thousand of those are insurgents. The other 20,000 or so make up liberal academia, news media, and Hollywood soul-sellers. Millions upon millions of Iraqis see that life is better here now than it has ever been, and that the only impediments to smooth sailing in the skies of liberty are the insurgency, the lack of a unified government, and a not completely mature security force. The first impediment is in disarray, with little ability to make a concerted attack of any sort but the cowardly kind and on anything except innocent unsuspecting civilians. The second impediment has seen remarkable improvement in recent days. As for the third problem, more and more Iraqi men and women are taking great pride in taking the lead in securing their country for a better future. Anything except a natural transition from American to Iraqi security of Iraq stands to destroy everything we have accomplished this far. Millions of Iraqis would be passionately opposed to this. But I think John Kerry knows this.

Iran. No other people in the Middle East understand liberty better than the older generation of Iranians. No other populace in the Middle East expressed more genuine sadness and sympathy for America when the Twin Towers fell on 9/11. No other populace in the world is more at odds with its government. Iranians want so bad to trust America and to be like America, but they’re not sure we’re yet deserving of that trust. If we leave Iraq now, while on the brink of something magnificent for both Iraq and Iran, it will require decades before the people of Iran will trust us again. I think John Kerry knows this, too.

Korea. Korea, with the assistance of the Clinton administration’s willing dupes, continues to snub its nose at America and the west. Meanwhile its people languish. Included in what little they know about the outside world is that their government is listed on the Axis of Evil, and that their neighbors in every direction enjoy a standard of living higher than they do. They see America succeeding in putting down country number one on the Axis of Evil, they see America beginning to engage country number two, and they realize that there is hope for a better future, because their country may be next on the Liberation World Tour.

Egypt. Egypt contains one of the more pro-western populaces It abhors the unfree events referred to there as elections that occur from time to time. Its people are demanding truly free choice in elections. Its people want what we in America have--freedom and prosperity—which they have never had in their lifetimes, but which they can now see on their satellite televisions. Egypt sees that if Iraq can make a turning point toward freedom, then Egypt can, too. If America leaves Iraq with unfinished business, masses of freedom-seeking Egyptians will feel betrayed.

Israel. Up until recently, Israel was the only democratic republic in the Middle East. Yasser Arafat talked often of bulldozing the Israelis into the sea. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said several times recently that he wants to wipe Israel off the map, and that Iran could ‘name that tune’ with one nuclear warhead. In the last week or so, Hamas subcontracted its terror operations to a separate organization, so that when the next rocket attack or suicide bombing kills innocent Israelis, Hamas has ‘plausable deniability’ for the murders. Imagine the relief Israel will have when first one—and then other—democratic republics are established in the Middle East, substantiating Israel’s ever-denied but God-given right to live in liberty and peace.

Lebanon. Lebanon is perhaps the second most westernized nation in the Middle East. Lebanon may have the most diverse religious culture in the region. Since President Rafiq Hariri was killed in early 2005 by Hizbollah they have clamored more for liberty than at any time before. But Syrians fear they may be losing control and are turning up the thumbscrews. Hizbollah, funded by Iran is also doing a great deal to bring Lebanese freedom-seekers back under control their control. The people of Lebanon see Iraq as a marvelous example of what they want to become. When Iraq becomes successfully stabilized, Lebanon may become the next democratic republic in the Middle East.

Spain. Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (Basque Homeland and Liberty), the terrorist organization based in Spain, knows how to get results. On March 11, 2004, just three days for the Spanish elections, ETA bombed several trains in Madrid, killing 190 people. As a result, Spanish troops were removed from Iraq. The removal of American troops from Iraq before the time is right will be perceived in the eyes of ETA terrorists as authenticating their vile and treacherous means of destroying liberty.

Cuba. Cuba remains the bastion of socialistic repression, propaganda, and torture in the Western hemisphere. While abusing its citizens on every hand, for decades Cuba has thumbed its nose at the United States, with acquiescence from the United Nations. If we leave Iraq at this stage of the liberty process, it validates everything that Cuba has been doing to deprive its people of liberty and dignity for the last 50 years.

There are other countries that could be listed. It is sufficient to say that the entire world stands as either players or spectators on the world stage where a monumental battle of what is good and wholesome is arrayed in mortal combat with all that in its diabolical debauchery would enslave and torment man. The sides are being chosen; it is becoming a foregone conclusion that each of us must choose one side or the other.

At first, this was only about America. We had been attacked on September 11, 2001, and we soon thereafter obtained credible evidence that the government of Iraq intended to coordinate further attacks against American assets, including those on American soil.

Now, with the Saddam regime irreparably dispersed and destroyed, the battle has become about something much more. Now the battle is about worldwide good vs. evil. Now it is about freedom vs. government control. So which side do you support? Those who want to help people exercise the liberties that God fully intended them to have? Or that small but powerful segment of the population that has been working behind the scenes for the last 100 years to ensure the enslavement of everyone on earth except themselves?

So to answer your question, Mr, Kerry: No, we should not go home.