Friday, November 24, 2006

655,000--Why Didn't I Think of That?

The journal Lancet, that paragon of truthfulness and impartiality, recently 'reported' that at least 655,000 Iraqis have been killed since the American invasion in 2003. I never put a pencil to the numbers, but Common Sense Political Thought has.

October has been considered by America's enemies to be the worst month for killing in Iraq since--well, ever. That in and of itself is hard to believe after the uncovering of just one of Saddam's mass graves, by the way.

Even if you take the number of deaths at face value given by the United Nations for the month of October 2006, and multiply it by the number of months that Coalition Forces have been in Iraq, it doesn't even come close to 655,000.

The Iraqi government is vehemently disputing the death figure trotted out by the United Nations. Even one death is too many, but what point could there be for the Oil-for-Food Alumni club to exaggerate the terrorist bloodbath in Iraq?

Oh, I can think of a few... ;-)

Iran and The Bomb - Part 2

Iran learned a lot during its initial foray into building nuclear weapons. It all hinged on this one premise--don't do it the way Saddam did. Iran has been very successful at furthering its own nuclear ambitions as a result.

In 1991, Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani learned a few things after Saddam Hussein's very productive nuclear development facilities were partially uncovered.

1. Don't attack another country (Iraq invaded Kuwait) if all you have is chemical and biological weapons. Iran, although having recently been involved in a drawn-out war with Iraq, warned Saddam against the Kuwait invasion. Non-nuclear was and is seen by Iran as not a big enough deterrent to the United States. Iran still believes strongly that when its nuclear arsenal is fully ripe that the United States will be impotent in the face of it.

2. Make allies of fellow America haters
in the region. Saddam was too busy being full of Saddam to see the importance of this concept. Iran, meanwhile, made associations that were lucrative to Pakistan, China, and North Korea. An initial payment of $50 million brought Pakistan on board the Iranian nuclear train.

3. Set up clandestine operations that are kept hidden from the eyes of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and then build non- or small-functioning nuclear Potemkin Villages with which to present the image of cooperation with the international inspectors. One such smoke screen project was an experimental cyclotron installation in Karaj. This had a remarkable effect on European diplomats, convincing (and relieving them, perhaps?) that not only was Iran being 'cooperative', but also that their ability to enrich uranium was 'in its infancy'.

4. Make friends with the heads of the IAEA. Then they won't look so hard. IAEA heads, Hans Blix and Mohammed el Baradei, have made a business of looking the other way and intentionally under the wrong rocks when it comes to 'searching' for nuclear weapons. The years of covering for Iraq and Iran has now become more a case for them of saving face--not wanting to be embarrassed when it became clear that Iraq and Iran had significant nuke development facilities all along. More than once, IAEA investigators have been fired or threatened when they caught the scent of a fresh nuclear trail. In one case in Iraq, former IAEA investigator David Kay was fired as he arrived unannounced and was able to discover, with the help of US satellite imagery large machines known as calutrons being quickly ferried away from Tarmiya to the Abu Ghraib prison and military compound. Baker and some of his associates were able to photograph and later substantiate what they had seen. He and his inspection teams connected these dots with others and determined that Saddam had at least 3 separate programs that were as near as 3 months away from producing a nuclear bomb.

5. Make a moral claim for the need for nuclear weapons in order to counteract the ambitions of the Great Satan. Rafsanjani thought this was perhaps the biggest mistake Saddam made, never to combine his lust for domination with a seemingly innocuous claim that his nuclear research was exclusively for civilian purposes, such as medical and agricultural advances. Iran has not made the same mistake, timing its references to the Little and Great Satans with the necessity of Iran to gain nuclear parity with its enemies. Incessantly, as of late, Iran makes the completely spurious claim that its nuclear research is for non-threating purposes only.

6. Line the pockets of other governments who allow sale to you of both civilian items and items that have dual-use (including nuclear) purposes, so that it becomes an economic hardship for these countries to face the facts when the facts become evident. France, Germany, and other European countries fall into this category.

It was with obvious understanding of the Iraqi threat of nuclear weapons that Democrats and Republicans joined with President Bill Clinton to declare Iraq a rogue nation that must be dealt with before its nuclear ambitions came to full fruition. If was with this same understanding that members of Congress joined George W. Bush to declare war on Saddam Hussein.

If nuclear weapons facilities have not been found in Iraq, it is not because they weren't there before. They have been found there before, and both the Clinton and Bush administrations were perfectly rational to assume that Hussein was continuing to develop his nuclear program.

Maybe he was. A lot of individuals from the United Nations, to the IAEA, to Iran have a vested interest in ensuring that nuclear weapons are not discovered in Iraq. With the cover of the Oil-for-Food Alumni club, they could be anywhere.

Who knows? Somebody does. Saddam quickly scuttled some of his best military aircraft to Iran. What about nuclear warhead production equipment? Or was Iraq simply always a Potemkin village to obscure their joint nuclear ambitions in Iran?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Iraqis Must Stand Tall

Maybe the Democrats are on to a good idea. The Republicans contemptuously call it "cut and run", but there might be more to it. I'd rather advocate a clear transfer of responsibility. The Iraqi people must stand more firmly on their own. The world needs to be patient, but the United States can't be Iraq's protector forever.

It will be interesting, now that the Democrats are in ascendancy in both houses of Congress, how policy in Iraq will change. I hope it does, but not by how much the Democratic rhetoric initially threatened that it would.

When the Americans stormed into Baghdad in 2003, throngs of Iraqis were initially ebullient. Things turned quickly sour, however, as Iraqi police and security forces melted into thin air. Iraqis, who had been used to the strong hand of a dictator who kept order, now expected America to be that strong man. The Bush Administration apparently was not ready to entertain that eventuality, and the looting continued for quite some time. Things eventually evened out a bit, but in the run-up to and aftermath of a Democratic election victory, its been a trend for the worse. Let's hope the Democrats have some positive influence on the course in Iraq, rather than a knee-jerk pullout of troops that will embolden worldwide terrorism.

This past week, I took a computer programming course in New Jersey. One of the course attendees was a New Jersey man who had moved to America a few years ago from Pakistan. Many members of his extended family still live in Pakistan, and he visits them regularly.

One the first day of the class each class member introduced and told a bit about him- or herself. When the Pakistani man discovered that I had recently returned from Iraq, he was interested in my perspective on the issue. Most people's first question is, "Is it really like it says on the news?" (No.) His question was more along the lines of "Do you think the Iraqis are going to be able to stand on their own two feet?"

From his perspective, the Iraqis have not succeeded in the process of liberty as much as the Pakistanis have. But the likely reason for this is that not enough time has passed. Pakistanis have been trying to achieve freedom for a much longer period of time than the Iraqis, and yet their successes are often interrupted by military coups and other problems.

It is to be expected that the Iraqi liberty exercise will take time, like any other attempt at bringing freedom to a formerly despotized land. In retrospect, it looks pretty silly that America helped to build up and support Saddam Hussein, and so as a meager penance perhaps we have an obligation to ensure that the Iraqi freedom train is firmly on the tracks.

Recently, in an agreement with Balad, Iraq, the US military pulled back and gave more responsibility to the Iraqi military. Shortly thereafter, well-organized terrorists attacked and gained the upper hand on the Iraqi security forces. After the attack, the main question on the minds of the people was "Where were the Americans?" Such an attitude must be replaced with one of personal and community resolve.

This is not to say that everything coming from Iraq is bad news. Sunni Shia occasionally band together against the terrorists. All of the provinces except for Baghdad and Anbar are essentially patrolled and controlled by Iraqis. And there's more--it's just that we don't hear much about it, and the news media is not entirely to blame.

Good news is a magnet for terrorists, we have learned. In the past, announcements of completed projects and successful integration of peoples brought acts of terror from the insurgency. In an effort to quell such wanton barbarity, many positive news stories are intentionally suppressed.

Amid the storm of terror, good things are happening. It's important not to jump on the negativity bandwagon. Will Iraq achieve peace? I think they have it in themselves to do so. But my Pakistani friend and I agree, that peace in Iraq will not ultimately be achieved by the Americans. Peace will be achieved only if the Iraqis really want it.

Iraq--it's time to speed up the process by which you are standing tall. Like this family. America can't stay there forever. It's up to you.

Friday, November 10, 2006

A Tribute to the Corps

Happy Birthday to the United States Marine Corps. In my years in the military my impression of every Marine I have ever met is that he or she is a consummate professional. Marines are the backbone of the US Military.

In my 24 years in the Army National Guard, the most professional military service members I have met are generally in the United States Marine Corps. So on this, the 231st birthday of the Corps I wanted to wish them a happy birthday.

When I joined the military many moons ago, I never gave consideration to joining the Marines. I didn't think I had the mettle for it. And after I met a few, I think I was right.

A good friend of mine is an officer in the Corps. He typifies the Corps mentality. Confidence, strength, and the expectation that personal failure is not an option.

I've never met an overweight member of the Corps. I wish I could say that about my fellow soldiers. I don't know, but Marines probably almost never fail their Physical Fitness tests. I've seen more than a few members of the Army that had a hard time doing 40 pushups in 2 minutes, 40 situps in 2 minutes, and run two miles in 17 minutes.

Marines consistently exhibit a great knowledge of military history, rank structures of all branches of the service, and the like. The average member of the Army doesn't know about these things, nor is he or she expected to.

While in Iraq, I served with members of the Second Marine Division. I got to know foot patrollers mounted patrollers, artillerymen, IED hunters, and convoy security members. They excelled at their jobs. They knew they were good at their jobs, but it didn't dampen their show of respect to the members of other branches of the military.

Marines in Iraq share a disproportionate amount of the burden. I expect it has been that way in most wars America has fought. Marines are expected to--and do--do the dirty work more often, and as a result their numbers of casualties are much higher than their proportion of the total US service members in Iraq. Marines spend more of their time in Iraq as well, rotating home for relatively short periods of time and then heading quickly back to the sandbox again.

So on the 231st birthday of the Marine Corps, I salute you. I was glad to have served with some of you. Semper Fi.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Iran and "The Bomb"

Many soft voices are encouraging diplomacy with Iran. If we only knew how much Iran has been behind the terrorism that has affected the United States, and how long they have been working on "the bomb", we would think otherwise. Diplomacy with liars only gives them more time to develop their schemes of destruction.

Following the 1981 bombings of the US and French military barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, where 241 American and nearly 100 French lives were lost, investigation determined that Iran had commissioned and paid for the bombings. They were so concerned that the job be done correctly, that they even assigned Iranian drivers for the explosives-laden trucks that committed the mayhem. This is the first in a series of eye-opening anecdotal revelations in the recent book Countdown to Crisis by Kenneth Timmerman.

Fifteen years later a very similar attack occurred at the United States Air Force barracks in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Nearly 30 people were killed, this time including innocent wives and children of the airmen. The ultimate order for this bombing, as well, came from Tehran.

In 1992, the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires was flattened by a bomb. Twenty-nine people were killed and 242 were wounded. None of the casualties were Iranian--they having been apprised of the attack well in advance by the puppet masters in Tehran.

The notorious National Organization for Intelligence and Security (Farsi acronym SAVAK) was hardly disbanded before the Ayatollahn revolutionaries took over nearly the entire SAVAK network, using torture with far more effect and frequency than the Shah ever had. Inside the massive terror headquarters in Sultanatabad stood a notorious wall--the Target Wall. Names and locations of Iranian dissidents filled the wall, to be taken down when merciless Iranian Revolutionary Guards had taken the dissidents out in various places in Europe. In early 2001, a new target went up on the target wall:

a 5-foot tall poster of the World Trade Center. Next to that were similar photographs of CIA headquarters and the Pentagon.

German intelligence investigators learned that prior to the attacks on 9/11, the hijackers and higher ups from al Qaeda had steady visits to and other contacts with the Iranian mullahcracy. Many of the meetings were held in a posh suburb of Tehran. A frequent attendee was Ayman al Zawahiri. The second most important al Qaeda attendee was Imad Mugniyeh. They came to a quick agreement that they shared a common enemy. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, according to a Top Secret official Iranian document, stated that it was important to "strike at [America's] economic structure, their reputation...and their internal peace and security."

Saddam Hussein was worried enough about Iran's nuclear progress that on March 24, 1984, the Iraqi Air Force destroyed the Busheir nuclear plant in southern Iran.

On March 14, 1986 began a 6-day conference about the regeneration of Iran's nuclear program. Of 4,500 scientists prior to the 1979 revolution, only about 800 remained. A plea went out for the expatriates to return home, and not only would all be forgiven, but the scientists would receive special treatment.

Pakistani nuclear expert A. Q. Khan has been a frequent consultant for the Iranian dictators. He once spoke

"...there is only a weak, transparent screen between the two. Once you know how to make reactors, how to produce plutonium and reprocess it, it becomes a rather easy task to produce nuclear weapons."

To be continued...

Sunday, November 05, 2006

A Day to be Memorialized

How will November 5, 2006, the day that Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death, be remembered? I hope very fondly. I hope that it becomes known as a day that the struggle for freedom in the Middle East began to take a dramatic turn for the better.

I remember well, and I think it was a Sunday after I returned from church as well, when I discovered that Saddam had been found cowering in a rat hole on December 14, 2003. As they discovered that it really was Saddam, multitudes of Iraqis celebrated. Their wicked witch had been apprehended.

Hussein and his beefed-up Mukhabarat (secret police) created unpredictable terror. For reasons only explained as illogical, western powers, including the United States, supported Hussein before it became crystal clear what kind of a murderous leader he was. For this we should be forever chagrined, and cannot possibly form a suitable apology to the Iraqi people for our complicity in their lives destroyed by terror.

In a remarkable occurrence, Saddam Hussein was born only a few hundred miles from the birthplace of Josef Stalin. Hussein's bookshelves were filled with the works of the Soviet Communist butcher.

The pictures in the news today say it all, but many had their own words of exultance over tyranny to express as well.

"I would like today to raise my shirt and show the whole world what the regime did to me'" said Abdul Zahara Hatow after hearing the sentence of death for Saddam Hussein. "I feel that this sentence will be like a bandage to my wounds."

"We've been waiting for justice since 1982, but today is great day for the people of Dujail." said another Iraqi.

Tens of thousands of Shia celebrated in Sadr City alone. Abdul Aziz al Hakim put this day into perspective:
"I hope the verdict will bring closure to this tragic and brutal episode in Iraqi history. We must never forget and we must always be vigilant never to let tyranny rise here in Iraq ever again.."
November 5th, 2006 is a day whereon justice has been served. Whether you are Shia, Sunni, or of another religious persuasion, you must agree that Saddam is worthy of severe punishment for his crimes. It's difficult for me to comprehend that Saddam's egregious crimes would not make believers out of a great many who are opposed to the death penalty.

The celebrations of today were as glorious as they were on the day of his capture nearly three years ago. It was expected then that a verdict would require at least five years' time. In less than three, the wicked witch has now been sentenced to a rightful punishment.

There are certainly more trials to come, as Dujail is only one of many incidents for which Saddam is clearly culpable. But it is my hope that today will be memorialized for years to come as the day when Iraq turned the corner and made dramatic strides toward peace and liberty.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Sunni and Shia Working Together

We don't hear about it very often, but Sunni and Shia can live together. The insurgency does everything it can to create friction between the two groups, and has in many cases succeeded. But not completely. A coming together of Sunni and Shia will be the key to freedom in Iraq.

It is so much easier to break something than it is either to fix it or to create it in the first place. Seeing a news report on the thing that is broken is a lot more tantalizing to the average news consumer, as well. Liberty is in this way a lot like physical things.

In days gone by, Sunni and Shia worked and walked hand in hand in Iraq. In many if not most cases, noone really cared which group you came from. This was especially the case before Saddam Hussein came to power. For a brief interlude after Saddam was captured, this coming together had a renaissance.

More recently, however, the terrorists have come along and worked tirelessly to destroy the bonds of brotherhood. Realizing that destruction gets the attention and makes weak people back down, and having their assumptions validated day after miserable news reporting day, terrorists became emboldened in their attempts to kill a few Sunnis here and a few Shia there in order to pit them against each other, and cause them to lose trust in one another.

More and more Iraqis are realizing that terror is a sham with no goal other than destruction. Along with the slanted news the Iraqis see on their sattelite TVs, they also catch a glimpse of what it can mean to be free and in control of one's own destiny. And they want it.

More and more Iraqis are defending their freedom by standing up against the terrorists. About 2 months ago a predominant majority of tribes in Anbar province vowed to stand up against the terrorists in an effort to bring normality to the lives of Anbar Iraqis. Recently al Sabaah news reported the ongoing support of religious and political leaders for the action.

I met Iraqis in Anbar province of both Islamic sects who were civil and friendly to each other (this was not always the case, however), although it may not seem this way because the breakers always receive more press coverage than the fixers and creators.

The Iraqi News Agency
October 29th reported a cooperative incident between Sunni and Shia tribes. Terrorist tactics were to assault one tribe in an attempt to make it look as though the other tribe were the perpetrator. Fortunately, both tribes saw through the chicanery and banded together to ward off the terrorists.

Imagine an Iraq where Sunni and Shia work together with no animosity. Imagine an Iraq where terrorists are universally blamed and shunned for being terrorists. Imagine an Iraq where there are no terrorists because lovers of freedom no longer countenance such duplicity. Such a day can happen. In fact, it appears that it is happening.

Ultimately, American servicemen and women will not be the ones that silence the terrorists. Only Iraqis can do this. But they must make the universal choice that freedom is better than terror, even as this means that Shia and Sunni will sit down to the table of liberty as brothers and sisters.

It looks like this sentiment may be starting to take root. Let us pray for the Iraqi people, that they will have the stamina to see this adventure through to a glorious and peaceful end.