Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Over the past several years I have worked with a few computer programmers who are from foreign countries. I've asked some of them what is their impression of America. What strikes me is their explanation of what their impression was of America before the came here, and how it has changed since they got here. Prior to coming to America their only perspective was what they saw at the movies and on television, which was (and still is) predominantly immoral. But when they came to America, they realized that our entertainment media reflected the reality for only a tiny sliver of our society, and that most Americans are basically good, honest, respectful, respectable people.
While I was in Iraq, one of my fellow soldiers told me of the experience of having been asked by an American reporter visiting Iraq if he had ever thought what it must be like to be an insurgent. I told my buddy at the time that my opinion would have been that I didn't give a [crap] what an insurgent felt like, because he has no business being an insurgent. Although I still think there is no excuse for killing innocent people, as insurgents often do, I now think it is interesting to delve into the thoughts of members of the insurgency. I find their thoughts are very rational. There are things that Americans and other westerners who have no ties whatsoever to the military have done to incite the Islamic insurgency.
Could 9/11 have been prevented? By many means. But there is one clear way that America could have avoided even the contemplation of being attacked. This way is presented clearly in the writings and sayings of every well-known representative of radical Islam. It is the reason why so many Muslims rejoiced on that poignant September day nearly 6 years ago.
The opinion of "Camp 1" is correct insofar that we were attacked because we have too much influence on other nations. Ironically, the influence that encouraged the 9/11 attackers was not that of American foreign policy as so many in Camp 1 believe. Rather it is the influence that many in Camp 1 themselves exert.
The perspective of "Camp 2" is correct insofar that we were attacked because of our sins. God was not our punisher, however. Radical Muslims anointed themselves to be.
Whether right or wrong, the reason that America was attacked on 9/11 is that the Islamic world feels like it was attacked first. They attacked us with airplanes because we first attacked them with debauchery.
To be continued...
Saturday, March 24, 2007
I was invited to appear on The Right Balance with Greg Allen again yesterday. We continued right where we left off a few weeks ago, and I was very pleased with the outcome. I hope you will be, too. We were able to talk about the spiritual aspect of the war on terrorism, and how our faith makes us want to serve.
Greg is a member of the Society of Quakers, the other guest, Dave Jeffers, is an Evangelical, and I am a Mormon. But it was an interesting meeting of the religious minds during the segment. Dave's son Eddie is currently serving in Iraq.
We agreed that everyone--Quaker, Evangelical, Muslim, Mormon, so on and so forth--is a child of God, and that we should treat one another as such.
We talked about how it seems, despite the problems with the war in Iraq, caused largely by the mismanagement of the Bush Administration, we feel like we're part of something big, something magnificent that can ultimately bring freedom to the people of Iraq.
We discussed the concept that everyone was born with a conscience, and nearly everyone can distinguish good from evil. And that nearly everyone yearns for freedom, because freedom feels good.
So take a listen. (It's broken up into 3 segments, because my hosting service charges me for larger than 10MB files!)
The best counter-insurgency tactic is to let the people know you care.
The second best counter-insurgency tactic is to let the people know you share their values.
Friday, March 23, 2007
I'm going to go out on a limb here...I don't think torture is going on at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. I haven't looked into it a great deal, but a lot of what I have seen is based on hearsay and assumption that the Bush administration isn't telling the truth.
Guantanamo Bay is one of the poster children of those who are against the war in Iraq. Allegations are thrown left and right that people at Guantanamo are being tortured. Matt Lauer, in a one-on-one interview with President Bush, clearly conveyed he thought the president was lying about torture when the President refused to discuss the way we interrogate terrorists. Let me say two things about that:
- I don't believe it
- If someone can convince me with evidence I will change my mind
Here's an attempt to impute evil to the Americans at Gitmo. To me it is not convincing.
The story linked above admits that the United Nations never even visited the facility to view the situation for themselves before stating that the United States is engaging in torture.
The healthiest claim made in the story is that we are force-feeding some people. Why? Because they are on hunger strikes, and if one of them successfully kills himself from lack of nutrition, you can guarantee that will be all over the news as 'proof' that Americans are torturing terrorists.
The story claims that because we are not at war we cannot hold enemy combatants for extended periods of time without trial. Hmmm... I'm pretty sure when I was over there I was in the middle of a war. From the looks of things, which happen to be improving, there are still a lot of fundamentalist Muslim terrorists who are trying to kill coalition forces and innocent Iraqi civilians.
I'm only hazarding a guess, but I'd call it war.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
It seems like the war in Iraq has been somewhat of a generally muddled mess since the thunder runs of early 2003. It appears that that might be changing in one of the most difficult areas of the country--Ramadi in the Anbar province.
When I was in Ramadi, Iraq, it seemed like there was little rhyme or reason to the way we conducted operations. Patrols would go out and patrols would return to the operating base. Observation posts were always manned, but for the most part they were just observation posts--there was very little positive contact with the people. On a higher level there seemed to be progress; battalion and brigade commanders met with sheikhs and mayors and planned for the phased withdrawal of coalition forces.
But the results never seemed permanent.
In Ramadi today there is a different feeling. Coalition troops, including Iraqi military forces, as well as Iraqi police are beginning to see the fruits of labors that have a rhyme and a reason.
"When they told me I have to go to Ramadi, I told myself 'this is not good,' but now I believe it is better here than in Baghdad," said Alaa Mohammed, one of the Iraqi soldiers.
"The battalion is moving east, where the danger comes from. Building observation posts deny freedom of movement for the enemy," said Captain Kyle Sloan, Alpha company commander.
As a result, people within the ever-expanding safe zone are beginning to be able to live lives of increasing normalcy. Iraqi police are now able to operate with a modicum of order and independence. According to proven counter-insurgency tactics, American soldiers are developing relationships of trust with not only Iraqi military and public safety officials, but also with many other Iraqis.
To one side of the post, a school has reopened, and Marines say that more people are daring to venture out into the streets and that their attitude towards the Americans has changed for the better.
"Every squad has a favourite family. When on patrol, they are making a point of going to the house, see if they need anything, give stuff to the kids," said Corporal Joshua Barrett.
Excellent. That is what Serving Iraq is all about.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Whenever I participated in foot patrols while I was in Iraq, I had a sense when things were wrong by the fact that there were no children around. If there were children laughing and playing I had--right or wrong--a sense of ease that I wasn't about to be sniped or blown up.
That sense of ease can no longer be trusted.
Most car bombings are simple intimidation tactics, not to intimidate Coalition Forces personnel, but to intimidate Iraqi civilians. Car bombings occur on a regular basis in Iraq because terrorists can see the controversy in America (on their satellite TVs) about whether American forces should or should not stay in Iraq and whether they should be funded by Congress. Another car bombing adds a little more emphasis that the terrorists want us to leave so that they can rule with unrestricted blood and horror.
It's hard to be surprised at the immoral tactics of the Iraqi terrorist insurgency, because the only thing that makes sense is that their tactics are immoral. It is good, however, to be incensed at their cowardice, as I think far too few Americans are, their only focus being that George W. Bush lied to the American people to get American forces into Iraq in the first place.
It's time to be fair in our indignance. Since coming home, I have learned a great deal that frustrates me about the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq war. However, I have never changed my opinion that to kill innocent civilians, Iraqi terrorists are cowards. I would appreciate it if those who are focusing on the sins of George W. Bush would balance their viewpoint by admitting that there is no justification for Iraqi terrorists to indiscriminately kill innocent people.
For the first time (as far as I know), children were inside a vehicle that was used as a car bomb. The two children inside the car were killed along with 3 other innocent bystanders. The two adults in the front seat of the car were able to run from the vehicle before it exploded. They were unharmed. They are pansies.
It's been time for a long time to stop giving the terrorists a free pass, blaming it on the American military presence in Iraq. Hopefully this new reminder will convince many who have looked the other way for far too long.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Women have their place in the military. But they can also cause problems. Here's one problem that would likely never have occurred had women not been there.
I was eating lunch with co-workers the other day, and one of them asked me if I would encourage my daughters to join the military. After what I saw in the US army females in Iraq, I would not encourage my daughter to join. If they wanted to, I responded, I would warn them about a plethora of problems that they would face, the greatest of which is the likelihood that most male military members would think my daughters were there to provide comfort to the male soldiers, if you know what I mean.
When I served in Iraq, it was pretty obvious that a fair number of the females (there were probably 25 in the brigade) were there for more than one purpose. I was embarrassed by a couple of them one time in the base PX as they asked each other loudly in front of me if they would look better in this bra and panty set or that one. I was naive enough to wonder why such outlandish underwear was even available in a war zone.
There are certain situations in which males and females should not serve together. Combat is one of them. I was reading in A Deficit of Deficiency by Zell Miller tonight, when I came across this paragraph on pages 143-144:
Also in Spring 2004 came the unbelievable stupidity of a few American soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison. Again this proved highly divisive. The sadistic sex games and torture pointed out what many of us have long believed, but most are hesitant to talk about because of political correctness. The truth is that there are certain kinds of military missions that male and female soldiers should not serve together.
I will admit that until now this conclusion not once had crossed my mind, but I think it remarkably true. If there had been no women prison guards at Abu Ghraib, would there have been torture? Probably, because there were not enough guards there and because at the time a lot of division and brigade policies were to round up huge swaths of men as insurgents and dump them off at Abu Ghraib. What makes the torture so demeaning and angering to Iraqis, though, was not that it was run of the mill torture.
It was sexual. This is perhaps the worst form of degradation for a Muslim man--to be sexually tormented in front of a woman.
Military men pride themselves (at least in public) as being as heterosexual as the day is long. It is not to me conceivable that the sexual torture to which these Iraqi prisoners were put would have happened if only male prison guards had been at Abu Ghraib.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
I've stated here before that I don't think the Bush Administration has done a very good job in their plan for the post-invasion occupation of Iraq. I've also mentioned that I don't think adding 21,500 troops will improve much our ability to maintain security in the areas we have cleared in Iraq. I've mentioned my optimism that, if anything might work, it's the fact that General David Petraeus is now at the helm.
It may be a premature statement, but the Petraeus way of doing things appears to me to be paying dividends. In two recent incidents, increasing cooperation of Iraqi citizens has led to significant reductions in the ability of the insurgency to terrorize the Iraqi people.
Cybercast News Service reported today that
 soldiers  uncovered two underground rooms being used to store some 50 completed IEDs and materiel including grenades, end caps, blasting caps, welding equipment, 20 lbs. of bulk explosives, 200 bags of fertilizer and more than 1000 lbs. of urea, used with fertilizer in the production of car bombs. The rooms also contained shackles, apparently for restraining prisoners.
In another incident, an informant's tip led Iraqi police officers U.S. forces to a large cache of IEDs, rocket launchers, anti-aircraft rounds and other weaponry in the Baqubah area.
The idea of working with the civilian population to provide security (read: "Serving the People of Iraq") is the only way it's going to work. It appears that it just might be working. And a lot of the credit can likely go to General Petraeus. Said a US representative:
...the fact that the information leading to the raids was provided by local residents is an encouraging sign of the success of our efforts, based on increased presence of coalition forces in local neighborhoods, to build relationships and ties of confidence with Iraqi citizens.
Regarding the violence in Baghdad, an AFP report states
Iraq's spokesman for Fardh al-Qanoon, Brigadier General Qassim Atta al-Mussawi, at a separate press conference listed the successes of the security plan, involving 90,000 Iraqi and US forces.
"A total of 265 civilians and 57 militarymen, including nine officers, have been killed since the plan kicked off on February 14," Mussawi said. This compared with the preceding month when 1,440 people were killed.
He also said that 94 "terrorists" were killed by Iraqi and US forces since the launch of the plan, compared to 19 in the preceding month.
Security forces had arrested "713 terrorists and 1,052 terrorist suspects compared to 169 terrorists before the plan was put into action," Mussawi said.
Scotland yard has discovered a plot to destroy Britain's largest internet hub in London. Several suspects have been arrested.
In a series of raids, detectives have recovered computer files revealing that terrorist suspects had targeted a high-security internet “hub” in London.
The facility, in Docklands, houses the channel through which almost every bit of information on the internet passes in or out of Britain.
The suspects, who were arrested, had targeted the headquarters of Telehouse Europe, which houses Europe’s biggest “web hotel”, containing dozens of “servers” , the boxes which contain the information that makes up the web.
Recently, public safety officials in Britain discovered a plot against natural gas delivery in the UK.
Last year MI5 uncovered intelligence which suggested that Islamic terrorist suspects had carried out reconnaissance of the huge Bacton complex of gas terminals on the Norfolk coast. The threat led to the deployment of armed guards around the plant.
Britain has taken substantive action to protect their infrastructure in ways that does not infringe on people's liberties.
The discovery led Eliza Manningham-Buller, head of MI5, to set up the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure last month. It is a special MI5 unit to help to protect “infrastructure” sites from terrorist attacks, such as telecommunications, the internet and key utilities such as oil, gas installations and nuclear power stations.
I wonder if the United States is paying attention. All of the terrorists are not in Iraq. Some of them, unfortunately, could be here.
Saturday, March 10, 2007
What are the odds that an American administration would make fools of its military by not having a plan of what to do once it conquered Iraq? Better yet, what are the odds that it would happen twice? Now for the impossibility--what are the odds that it would happened twice in the same family of leaders? Yet it did happen to both George H. W. Bush and to George W. Bush. Does that suggest something to us about whether we should vote for establishment republicans (or establishment anyone) for president?
I read the following paragraph from Barry Lando's remarkable work, Web of Deceit: The History of Western Complicity in Iraq, and for just a moment I thought I had skipped a few pages and about 12 years into the future.
It became obvious that, though the US had meticulously planned the military campaign against Saddam Hussein, the Bush Administration had no plans for the aftermath. Thomas Pickering, who was then US Ambassador to the United Nations, revealed later, "We had wonderfully prepared combat activities, and we had absolutely no idea what to do in the post-combat phase. There was no policy, no examination of what we should do; no examination of how we should deal with the future..." (page 166)
When I served in Iraq, I was often irritated by what I saw in the news media about supporting the troops but not supporting the war. My opinion has changed somewhat now that I am home and have begun to investigate what has happened. The ones who are really against the troops are the ones who did virtually nothing to plan for their ultimate success.
It is perhaps forgivable that one President Bush would not have thought far enough into the future to decide what to do after he attacked Iraq. In that case, provocative statements the elder President Bush made led to massacres of thousands of Iraqi people. But how could the exact same thing happen to his son? "No plan" once again has led to the death of more thousands.
Have father and son not spent any time together in the last 15 years? I'm sure they have.
Thursday, March 08, 2007
Greg Allen has one of the most thoughtful and provocative radio programs in the United States today. It was my good fortune to be on his show this morning. In the segment (included below), we talked about my service in Iraq and my feelings about how things are going. Greg's show is called The Right Balance. Click the image at right to go to his website.
About 3 or 4 months ago, I began listening to the Accent Radio Network. One of the shows I still listen to in the mornings while getting ready for and driving off to work is The Right Balance with Greg Allen. I was immediately impressed by the show because it was not bombastic and it interviewed a wide variety of well-spoken and very interesting people. Almost every day I hear on The Right Balance of a web site that I want to check out or a book that I want to read.
A few days ago I e-mailed Greg and told him how much I like his show, and told him a little bit about my service in Iraq. An e-mail conversation ensued, followed by a telephone conversation in which he asked if I would like to be on his show. My only radio experience is having called in to two talk shows in my life, but I decided it would be a fun thing to do.
It was. If you'd like to hear the interview, click on the player below. Check out Greg's show as well. I think you'll be impressed. Then drop him a line and tell him you think he has one of the best radio talk programs in the country. Because he does.
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
The "Abilene Paradox" revolves around the fact that everyone in a group or organization is in such a state of agreement that they cannot manage needed change. As I watched the re-creation of the true story of the Abilene Paradox today, I thought that it probably applies in part to the Walter Reed hospital fiasco.
In our staff meeting today at work, we watching a very interesting re-enactment of a true story, narrated by the guy it happened to. He, his wife, and her parents were sitting in the sweltering heat playing dominoes, and obviously every one of them were bored and irritated at the current situation. The father-in-law suggested that they get in the car and drive to Abilene, Texas, 53 miles distant, to have dinner at a restaurant. The looks on the faces of all (even the father-in-law) suggested that, as bad as things were, none of them wanted to do it, but none felt comfortable speaking out. Such inability to speak out when it appears that all are in agreement has come to be known as the "Abilene Paradox."
Four or five hours later they returned from what every one of them had endured as a not-fun time. But it wasn't until they got back that they realized that no one had wanted to go, but that all felt pressured to toe the line of propriety.
So it goes in large organizations as well. I don't know much about the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, even though it's been in the news quite a bit lately. But I'll bet there were a lot of people who knew that things were wrong, and they didn't have the courage to speak out.
People are afraid to speak out because of the fears they conjure up about what might happen if they do divulge their feelings. Ironically, however, the ultimate result, is that much worse things do happen when people don't speak out.
In large organizations, when the poop ultimately hits the fan, everyone really knows it is going to hit and scatter everywhere, but they hope that they can either push the inevitable off as long as possible or avoid getting splattered on.
Part of the Abilene paradox is that when the splattering finally occurs, there is always a search for a scapegoat (ergo General Janice Karpinski as the fall gal for abu Ghraib). In reality, however, the problem is systemic, and the problem cannot be solved by blaming just one person. Most everyone knows what's going on, but doesn't speak out.
Those who have been scapegoated at Walter Reed thus far are responsible. But so are probably a lot of other people. I suspect that scapegoating won't fix the problem this time either. Honesty and speaking out will, however.
Why will a surge of military forces in Iraq not be successful? Thomas Friedman says because we don't have the moral high ground. Until we have a "moral surge", we can't hope for success.
When a suicide bomber blows him- (and now even sometimes her-) self in a crowded marketplace, university campus, or funeral procession, why doesn't George W. Bush speak out about it. It's very likely because President Bush has very little capital--at least with the rest of the world--according to Thomas Friedman.
Maybe because there is in the eyes of others around the world some sense of moral justice when these things occur. There is definitely moral outrage at the Bush administration.
Friedman discusses some of the recent grisly mass murders by suicide, and then wonders:
Stop and think for a moment how sick this is. Then stop for another moment and listen to the silence. The Bush team is mute. It says nothing, because it has no moral authority. No one would listen. Mr. Bush is losing a P.R. war to people who blow up emergency wards. Europeans are mute, lost in their delusion that this is all George Bush’s and Tony Blair’s fault.
But worst of all, Muslims, the very people whose future is being killed, are also mute. No surge can work in Iraq unless we have a “moral surge,” a counternihilism strategy that delegitimizes suicide bombers. The most important restraints are cultural, societal and religious. It takes a village — but the Arab-Muslim village today is largely silent. The best are indifferent or intimidated; the worst quietly applaud the Sunnis who kill Shiites.
Nobody in the Arab world “has the guts to say that what is happening in Iraq is wrong — that killing schoolkids is wrong,” said Mamoun Fandy, director of the Middle East program at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “People somehow think that killing Iraqis is good because it will stick it to the Americans, so Arabs are undermining the American project in Iraq by killing themselves.”
What would it take for President Bush to gain the moral upper hand? Let's assume just for argument that it's not too late. How about apologizing to the Iraqi people on Iraqi television for the atrocities that American soldiers have committed? How about coming clean about the sins of several previous US administrations and how we have helped over the last several decades to cause the morass that is Iraq? How about apologizing to the Iraqi people for never really having looked at them as equals? How about condemning these murder bombings and making it for once clear to the Iraqi people on Iraqi television that America's purpose is no longer wasting our and their time, but to leave Iraq when they want us to? How about asking them if they still want us there, and respecting their wishes? How about encouraging the American media to show and discuss the grisly truths?
President Bush yesterday appointed a commission to look into the Walter Reed hospital fiasco he said, because it is our moral imperative to provide good care for our injured soldiers. He is correct, but he can go much further.
George Bush, besides not having a plan for the first nearly 4 years of our less than noble endeavor, is conspicuously absent when it comes to morals. For the rest of he world, and for an increasing number of Americans, that is becoming painfully obvious. It's as though most of the time he's been hiding in vice president Cheney's undisclosed 9/11 bunker.
I agree with Thomas Friedman. At this point, even if we did have the 250,000 additional troops necessary to create the appropriate troop-to-populace ratio, we would still very likely fail.
Unfortunately, even wars are 'moral'. In other words, he who has the moral upper hand usually wins. And the Bush Administration currently does not have the upper hand.
Sunday, March 04, 2007
Given any one of a number of duplicitous actions by the United States government over the last few decades, it does not surprise me at all that the Iraqis would have a tendency not to trust the United States. Were our historical actions taken into account by the Bush II Administration when we went into Iraq in 2003? I'm not sure which of "Yes" or "No" is the worse answer.
Disclaimer: In areas with which I am not overly familiar, I am greatly influenced by the perspectives of those whose books I am reading. This post fits that category. I need to do more research, but at this point I am afraid that I will not like what I find in the footnotes of two copiously footnoted books:
- Web of Deceit by Barry M. Lando
- Hegemony or Survival by Noam Chomsky
In the guise of spreading liberty across the globe, it appears what the United States has done in the last 50 years is sown discord and hatred while protecting what it terms its international (read elite and corporate) interests. If this is true, America has much to be embarrassed about and much to apologize for. I'm not sure if the juggernaut is too fully formed that a clean electoral sweep of the House, the Congress, and the White House would solve the problem, but that's beginning to look more and more like the only viable solution.
The problems of US duplicity in Iraq pervade every US administration since at least John F. Kennedy, if you believe Barry Lando and Noam Chomsky. Their research is detailed. They draw attention to the schemes of power players in every administration, whether Republican or Democrat. I, therefore, have a tendency to believe that the information they are providing is true.
I recently posted about US involvement in the Middle East (and particularly Iraq) as told by Barry Lando in his recent book "Web of Deceit". I'm nearly half finished with the book, and will have more to say on it here later. For now, I will say I am thoroughly disgusted with my government's attempts to mind the business of nearly every country but its own. Its short-sighted siding with Iraq-then Iran-then Iraq (and sometimes both at the same time) during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980's is but one example of how I am embarrassed for my country in that we as a populace cannot see beyond the sound bites to elect leaders who truly care about liberty rather than foisting the worst facets of American capitalism and imperialism on the world.
It is no surprise to me, then, as Noam Chomsky says in his book Hegemony or Survival that most countries see the United States as the most dangerous country in the world. It is not possible to understand this concept until we understand the history of American involvement in the Middle East.
At least one microcosm of today's Iraq is told on page 5 of today's Parade Magazine:
"Before the United States came here, no one cared who was Sunni or Shia," Muhammad [not his real name] says... "Everyone was Iraqi."
"There would be no insurgency if you [the United States] were not here."
Muhammad was in his second year at the Iraqi Military Academy when L. Paul Bremer disbanded the Iraqi army. It is suspected that between recently, when Muhammad joined the Iraqi army, and then Muhammad was an insurgent. He might still be.
Like Lando, Noam Chomsky gives some insight into why Iraqis like Muhammad feel like they do, and why they probably do for good reason. The first time I heard of Chomsky, through the filter of the establishment media, my impression was that he was a kook. After having read one of his books, however, I no longer think so.
Chomsky, whose book was written in 2003, has this to say:
..a US attack could "globalize anti-American and anti-Western sentiment...attacking Iraq would intensify Islamic terrorism, not reduce it."
An understanding of their mistrust of America makes that an un-surprising prognostication.
With the Iraqi people at the edge of survival after a decade of destructive sanctions, international aid and medical agencies warned that a war might lead to a serious humanitarian catastrophe. Switzerland hosted a meeting of thirty countries to prepare what might lie ahead. The US alone refused to attend.
Perhaps Chomsky's most interesting observation in this context was not even stated about Iraq:
It has been regularly observed that the extension of formal democracy in Latin America has been accompanied by increasing disillusionment about democracy.
I am sad to say that, considering the ineptitude (purposefulness?) of the Bush Administration, Iraqis have every reason to feel the same way about democracy.