Just Jihad: June 2007: Archives

June 29, 2007

Bush Touts Surge...Sunni's Boycott Iraq Cabinet genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Juggling Blindfolded

Even if one assumes that the latest troop surge in Iraq has some merit (which I doubt), the prevailing issue remains that the various sectarian groups are no closer to crafting a workable government or ending their years of animosity. The latest example of this elephant in the room...one that the Bush administration can't or won't acknowledge...is the Sunni withdrawal from participation in the Iraqi cabinet.

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's main Sunni Arab bloc said on Friday it was suspending its participation in cabinet because of legal steps being taken against one of its ministers, deepening the sectarian gulf between the country's politicians.

The Sunni Accordance Front has six cabinet posts and the move is a blow to Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki at a time when he is under U.S. pressure to push through laws aimed at reconciling majority Shi'ites and minority Sunni Arabs.

The bloc also suspended its participation in parliament a week ago over the ousting of speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, one of its members. The latest move effectively removes Sunni Arabs from the cabinet and parliament, leaving Shi'ites and Kurds.

"We have suspended our membership in the cabinet until the government puts an end to procedures being taken against Culture Minister Asaad Kamal Hashemi," the head of the bloc, Adnan al-Dulaimi, told Reuters by telephone from Amman.

While I have no way to judge whether the Sunni's were justified in their actions, if one thinks about our own government (one that American's often view as dysfunctional) and tries to imagine what similar event would elicit the withdrawal of a large block of high ranking politicians, I would speculate that it would be a far more egregious event. I draw the comparison to highlight the distance the Iraqi's must travel before they can be expected to have a functional government.

Until Iraq's sectarian groups place more value on establishing a consensus government than on settling scores or defending their cronies from legitimate scrutiny or sanction, there is little chance that they will succeed in implementing a security force. At the moment, one would be hard pressed to presume that the current security structure is anything more than an assemblage of soldiers and police officers that first and foremost honor their sectarian allegiances.

With an Iraqi security force well over 300,000 strong...in addition to the 160,000 U.S. troops...one would expect far more law and order and far less violence. Unfortunately, there are indications that the Iraqi security forces may simply be using their positions to further sectarian objectives. Whatever the case may be, security remains elusive.

Washington has been urging Iraq for months to pass major laws aimed at drawing Sunni Arabs more firmly into the political process. None of the drafts have reached parliament.

The laws deal with sharing revenues from Iraq's huge oil reserves more equitably, holding provincial elections and amending a ban on former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party serving in the government and military.

U.S. President George W. Bush pleaded for patience for his Iraq strategy on Thursday as he scrambled to prevent further defections by fellow Republicans skeptical of his war strategy.

Perhaps I'm just a pessimist but if the various groups in the Iraqi government are bickering over how to conduct investigations into possible wrongdoing by fellow members of the government, what are the chances they can reach agreement on the distribution of oil revenues or any other critical issues.

While the Bush administration attempts to focus the American public on the need for the latest surge in U.S. troops, I'm of the opinion that the surge's success or failure is irrelevant so long as Iraq doesn't have a functional government. In the last four years we have heard a litany of explanations and excuses for the lack of progress.

I fear that this latest surge and the associated campaign to persuade American's to stay the course will only be followed by an admission that Iraq simply lacks the wherewithal and the will to step in and assume responsibility for the country's security.

I hope I'm wrong but in the end I'm awfully thankful that I'm not George Bush or a supporter of his Iraq strategy. If my instincts are right, and the situation goes from bad to worse, the president and his apologists are in for an even rougher period of voter unrest. When that happens, look for many of the remaining Republican members of congress to jump ship.

Daniel DiRito | June 29, 2007 | 1:46 PM | link | Comments (0)
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June 27, 2007

Distrust Of U.S. Grows: How Low Can We Go? genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Doubting Thomas

To say that the foreign policy of the Bush administration defies logic is to presume that it had its origin in a rational, reasonable, and logical dialogue...a premise that may not be sustainable. Looking at the current status of our foreign policy efforts and the impression of its effectiveness held by other nations, one might well conclude that regardless of whatever the initial due diligence, it is time for a wholesale reevaluation.

In the latest Pew Research Center survey, distrust of the United States continues to grow...primarily as a result of a foreign policy that is viewed to be arrogant and arbitrary.

In one measure of Bush's unpopularity, the poll showed he is less trusted on foreign policy than Russian President Vladimir Putin by allies Britain, Germany and Canada, even as faith in Putin has plummeted. About half in the U.S. say they have little or no trust in either leader's conduct of foreign affairs.

Bush's sagging numbers partly reflect widespread opposition to the U.S. war in Iraq. Of the countries surveyed - which included the U.S. - more people favored the removal of American forces from Iraq in all but Israel, Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya.

"Even though there is a mixed view of the United States around the world, there is increasing disapproval of the principal cornerstones of our foreign policy," said Pew President Andrew Kohut.

Yet wide-ranging majorities think the U.S. does not consider their interests when formulating foreign policy; worry that U.S. customs are hurting their countries; and think the U.S. contributes to the gap between rich and poor nations.

As the U.S. has waged its war on terrorism over the past five years, its overall image has worsened. It has dropped from 75 percent favorable in Britain in 2002 to 51 percent now; from 60 percent to 30 percent in Germany; and from 64 percent to 56 percent in Mexico.

The report also found:

-While views of American people have gotten worse in many countries, they are generally better liked than the U.S. itself.

From the Pew Research Center:

Global Image

The most glaring piece of data is the fact that since 2002, twenty-six countries have a less favorable view of the United States. The key fact to recall is that following September 11, 2001, the United States was seen as an aggrieved nation with wide support and sympathy for the losses sustained in the terrorist attacks. In less than six years, the image of the U.S. has undergone a wholesale reversal. The nation with the moral high ground has followed a foreign policy agenda that has done little more than to tarnish its image.

While the data doesn't directly speak to the reasons, I would suggest that a large number of respondents simply don't view our efforts to have been effective in reducing the threat of terrorism and they likely view our invasion of Iraq coupled with our inability to bring security and stability to the nation as an accelerant for extremist ideology and animosity.

Instead of maintaining our image as a force for good and an honest broker in the international arena, our actions have planted the seeds of doubt that we can be impartial. No doubt there are concerns that we have taken advantage of our status as the singular superpower...becoming a bully that is inclined to actions that focus on augmenting our authority and demanding that other less formidable nations comply.

The fact that the Bush administration chose to ignore the Palestinian leadership rather than continuing to seek a lasting resolution simply heightened concerns that the United States was no longer focused on acting equitably and with the best interest of all the parties in any given conflict around the world. While those perceptions may not be fully accurate, the rhetoric used by the Bush administration has failed to assuage the concerns; serving to add fuel to an already smoldering suspicion.

Despite the generally negative data, Americans can be encouraged that those surveyed were able to distinguish the actions of the U.S. government apart from their impressions of our citizenry...a sign that with new leadership our image should be able to rebound as quickly as it deteriorated. I know I'm not alone in hoping that will soon be the case.

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Daniel DiRito | June 27, 2007 | 12:34 PM | link | Comments (0)
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June 25, 2007

Black Military Recruits Drop Significantly genre: Just Jihad & Six Degrees of Speculation

Military Recruiting

The number of Black recruits has dropped significantly since the onset of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. No doubt family and friends are encouraging young blacks to find alternative jobs that don't carry the risks of military service. One might also conclude that the drop off reflects the growing opposition to the war and the belief that an end is not in sight.

WASHINGTON - The number of blacks joining the military has plunged by more than one-third since the Afghanistan and Iraq wars began, as other job prospects soar and relatives of potential recruits increasingly discourage them from signing up.

According to data obtained by The Associated Press, the decline covers all four military services for active duty recruits, and the drop is even more dramatic when National Guard and Reserve recruiting is included.

According to Pentagon data, there were nearly 51,500 new black recruits for active duty and reserves in 2001. That number fell to less than 32,000 in 2006, a 38 percent decline.

When only active duty troops are counted, the number of black recruits went from more than 31,000 in 2002 to about 23,600 in 2006, almost one-quarter fewer. The decline is particularly stark for the Army.

The percentage of minorities in the military has typically been larger than their percentages in the population at large and many critics contend that the absence of a draft leads to a higher percent of economically disadvantaged individuals.

Representative Charles Rangel of New York has been an outspoken opponent of the all volunteer military; suggesting that a draft might make politicians think twice about supporting military interventions. Rangel's bill to reinstate the draft has had little support in either party.

Daniel DiRito | June 25, 2007 | 11:48 AM | link | Comments (0)
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June 23, 2007

George W. Bush & John McCain: A Tale Of Two Fools genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Why Do Fools Fall In Love?

Is it any wonder that George W. Bush has the lowest approval ratings since Richard Nixon? This President has pursued his vision of Iraq for over four years despite numerous signs and signals that it was an exercise in futility. His most recent stab at salvaging Iraq has been his highly touted surge...the addition of some 30,000 U.S. soldiers...and it too, is beginning to look like a miscalculation.

With the surge fully implemented, once again we are hearing that the troop level may not be sufficient to bring stability to the war torn country and that it is likely that the sectarian and insurgent violence will simply shift to regions of the country that are not secure...a la the notorious game of whack-a-mole we've been playing since the outset.

As the U.S. offensive, code-named Phantom Thunder, has been greeted with a week of intensified fighting in areas outside the capital -- areas that the U.S. military has largely left untouched for as long as three years -- the push raised fears from security experts and officers in the field that the new attacks might simply propel the enemy from one area to another where there are not as many U.S. troops.

Retired Army Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, who in 2003 was among the first to call public attention to the relatively small size of the U.S. invasion force, said that the new operation shows how outnumbered U.S. troops remain. "Why would we think that a temporary presence of 30,000 additional combat troops in a giant city would change the dynamics of a bitter civil war?" he said in an interview yesterday. "It's a fool's errand."

An officer working in Arrowhead Ripper, the subsidiary offensive in Diyala province, said wearily, "We just do not have the forces in country right now to have the appropriate level of presence across the country."

Many counterinsurgency experts agree. Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr., the director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a national security think tank, said flatly that Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, does not have enough troops. "I suspect General Petraeus is taking a risk here, but that's what commanders do," he said.

I keep coming back to the original assessment by General Shinseki, the general who was forced into early retirement after arguing that it would take 300,000 U.S. troops to bring security and keep the peace after the toppling of the Hussein government. At what point are we going to admit that it would still take something closely approaching that number to achieve our goal of securing the country?

Senator McCain, one of the last staunch supporters of the president's Iraq war, has time and again admitted that we made a number of mistakes in the early stages of the war...yet he seems to be suggesting that we've ceased making those same mistakes. I believe Senator McCain was the first person to use the term whack-a-mole when describing our undermanned effort...yet he now contends that the surge is the right thing...despite evidence that there will not be enough troops to secure and hold the peace. Is it any wonder that McCain's campaign is struggling?

There is a tendency to presume that voters don't take the time to understand the nuances of any particular problem and that Iraq is simply one of those problems. I would argue that the voting public has understood the issues in Iraq for far longer than they have been given credit...and their waning support for Senator McCain simply represents their recognition of his inconsistent and insufficient analysis of the Iraq war...and his sellout to win the President's favor.

The issue of the number of troops has dogged the Bush administration and its generals since before the war began. Retired Gen. Colin L. Powell, then secretary of state, told Gen. Tommy R. Franks in September 2002 -- seven months before the U.S. invasion -- there were not enough troops in the war plan. Most famously, Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, then the Army's chief of staff, told a congressional hearing a month before the assault that the plan did not call for a sufficiently large occupation force.

"I believe we have enough U.S. troops for this specific operation," said a U.S. military strategist there, referring to Phantom Thunder. "I do not believe we've ever had enough troops to do all of the tasks we should be doing in Iraq."

One of Petraeus's nerviest gambles is that enemy fighters will not be able to move and disrupt other areas. The biggest concern for U.S. commanders is the big northern city of Mosul, where insurgents counterattacked the last time the U.S. military conducted an operation this size, in November 2004. That is especially worrisome because the United States now has only one battalion of about 1,000 troops stationed there, far fewer than were there then.

"For the control and retain phases, we will need reliable Iraqi security forces in sufficient numbers," said Lt. Col. Douglas A. Ollivant, a senior Army planner in Baghdad. "There are clearly not yet enough reliable forces."

Iraqi security forces are "the weak link," said counterinsurgency expert Krepinevich. The Iraqi government is so factionalized that Iraqi forces remain largely ineffective, he explained: "This is the principal weak spot in our strategy -- and I'm afraid it may be fatal."

A senior commander in Iraq, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said that U.S. plans do not call for holding cleared areas.

Perhaps I'm dense, but the only thought that comes to mind when reading an analysis of this latest strategy is, "Been there, done that". How many times are we going to go into an area, kill and capture some low level insurgents, hand the ongoing security effort over to the woeful Iraqi security forces, then watch the insurgency return again?

George Bush may be a man of conviction but he wouldn't be the first man whose convictions made him nothing more than a stubborn fool. I'm not sure how far George Bush would go to avoid an admission of failure or a concession that others were right and that he and his neocon cronies were wrong...but it appears he's nowhere near his limit...and he's racking up the casualties to prove it.

John McCain used to present himself as a man of conviction (and I occasionally thought he was) until he decided he needed George Bush to anoint him to be his successor. Since that moment, John McCain has not only lost his standing as a man of conviction, he has proven that George Bush has no monopoly on foolishness...though Senator McCain appears to be the type of fool reserved for someone who sells out in hopes of a bigger prize. Regardless, I have to hand it to Senator McCain...he may have demonstrated that it’s possible to be a fool's fool.

Daniel DiRito | June 23, 2007 | 10:39 AM | link | Comments (7)
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June 20, 2007

Doubts About Economy Grow: It's The Stupid Iraq War? genre: Econ-Recon & Just Jihad & Six Degrees of Speculation

Bumps In The Economy

The view of the economy by the voting public seems to be moving from bad to worse. In the latest Gallup poll, only 23 percent of Americans think the economy is getting better...a full 5 percent drop in the past month. The number of Americans that feel the economy is getting worse jumped ten percent since April.

PRINCETON, NJ -- Food and gasoline prices both rose last month. At the pump, gas prices increased about 10% in May and are up almost 40% since January. In addition, average weekly wages for non-supervisory workers fell, after adjusting for inflation, for the second consecutive month in May. At the same time, the stock market continues at record highs and manufacturing output is edging upward, making factories a tad busier this year.

Such conflicting economic reports make it difficult to explain exactly why Gallup's June reading of Americans' economic views remains as negative as seen in May. A modest one in three Americans rate the economy today as either excellent or good, while the percentage saying the economy is getting better fell slightly, from 28% to 23%. Fully 7 in 10 Americans now say the economy is getting worse, the most negative reading in nearly six years.

For the first time this year, a majority of Americans are negative about the employment market, saying it is a bad time to find a quality job. Generally however, this measure remains more positive than in the period from 2002-2005.

While the numbers seem puzzling to a number of observers, I would suggest that voters have taken a longer view on the economy. There is little reason to expect energy prices to improve...the housing industry is struggling, foreclosures are up, and the prospects of low interest loans may be waning...leaving borrowers struggling to pay adjustable rates that will continue to climb.

Further, despite the relatively low unemployment rate, the real question is whether the available jobs pay enough to meet the growing costs encountered by families. We rarely see an analysis of how many Americans are in jobs they view as temporary stop gap positions that are intended to keep the family fed but that they know will not suffice in the long run.

A quick look at the rise in credit spending demonstrates as much...suggesting that many workers are able to justify the taking of lower paying jobs in the short run by using their credit to augment the deficit in income. Unfortunately, available credit is eventually exhausted and the overall debt burden coupled with the insufficient income will lead to increasing bankruptcies and a worsening economy.

Factor in voter pessimism with the Iraq war and the huge costs associated with prosecuting that war and no doubt Americans expect to bear the brunt of those expenses in reduced funds available for programs that could benefit the average worker...especially with regard to rising health care costs. If we couldn't justify a revamped healthcare system prior to the war in Iraq, what are the prospects of having the funds to enact one now?

It doesn't take an economist to understand that when a country has already doled out half a trillion dollars and counting...dollars that it is borrowing...that there will have to be sacrifices. This new trend in polling simply reflects that Americans have already begun to factor that reality into their view of the future.

Image courtesy of www.yourmoney2keep.com

Daniel DiRito | June 20, 2007 | 8:43 AM | link | Comments (0)
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June 18, 2007

Turn Out The Lights...The Party's Over In Iraq genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Lights Out

Mission accomplished...the lights are out. Sometimes one simple fact can provide more perspective than a thousand page report. I think this obscure report by United Press International speaks volumes about our efforts in Iraq as well as the potential for further progress.

There have been thousands of attacks on Iraq's electric power infrastructure since May 21, 2003, an expert in safety and security of the energy sector worldwide told UPI on condition of anonymity. The expert said many attacks go unreported in the media, thus preventing an accurate ceiling on attack numbers.

Last month an average of 3,720 megawatts of electricity was generated per day, below the 6,000 megawatt goal to be reached by July 1, 2004, according to the Brookings Institution's Iraq Index. Demand is as much as 9,000 megawatts.

The entire country averaged about 10.9 hours of electricity per day, while Baghdad averaged 5.6 hours.

Perhaps I'm oblivious to human nature, but if I were an Iraqi living in the midst of a constant threat of violence trying to assess the benefits of a continued U.S. presence, I would be asking myself, "If they can't even provide sufficient electricity to keep the lights on fifty percent of the time, just what are they achieving and what are the prospects they can protect me and my family?"

If the sectarian violence isn't enough to demoralize the citizenry, the level of demonstrable progress in living conditions after four years has to be mind-boggling. In a recent article, a leading military officer remarked that he was amazed at the amount of violence the Iraqi people were able to endure. While that may well be true, I assume that coupling that level of violence with our inability to restore basic services has turned a number of otherwise peaceful Iraqis into staunch critics of all things American. That is painfully unfortunate.

Image courtesy of www.mun.ca

Daniel DiRito | June 18, 2007 | 6:44 PM | link | Comments (1)
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Washington Post: Assessing Defeat In Iraq genre: Just Jihad & Six Degrees of Speculation

Chasing Our Tail

When one thinks of the expression, "The tail wags the dog", the vision one gets from a literal interpretation can seem comical. When one thinks of the expression in relation to real events...events like the war in Iraq, not only does it fail to coax a smile, it is a sad commentary on the misguided calculations following the events of 9/11.

To understand the magnitude of the miscalculation, consider the many explanations offered to justify our invasion of Iraq:

1. We were told that Sadaam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that could end up in al-Qaeda hands. Included in this particular "miscalculation" were the aluminum tubes, yellow cake from Niger, mobile biological weapons labs, and a possible clandestine meeting with an al-Qaeda official.

2. Hussein failed to honor numerous United Nations resolutions and while he may not have had weapons of mass destruction, he intended to obtain them and his sporadic cooperation with the UN inspection program proved as much.

3. By bringing the war on terror to Iraq, we are fighting them there so we don't have to fight them here in the Homeland. The argument suggests that Iraq has become the focal point in the war on terror which has provided us an opportunity to face and defeat an otherwise hidden enemy.

4. The world is better off without Sadaam Hussein in power. He was a vicious dictator who killed thousands of his own countrymen, had rape chambers, and routinely tortured innocent citizens.

5. The Middle East, given our oil dependency, is vital to our national security and an American presence in Iraq will be a stabilizing factor in the region.

6. The Iraqi people were liberated from an oppressive regime and given the opportunity for democratic self rule. When millions voted in the subsequent elections, it no doubt proved that Iraqi's were determined to embrace democracy.

7. The enemy wants to destroy our way of life and the best way to combat that mentality is to bring freedom and liberty to the people of the Middle East through an active plan of exporting democracy to the region.

8. We now hear the final justification...the one that tells us that leaving will have disastrous consequences...the one that brings us full circle. At the outset, it would have been disastrous if we didn't invade...and now...over four years later, it will be disastrous if we leave.

Along the way, each of these rationales has been sold to the American voter with clever slogans and statements intended to invoke fear in order to obtain approval. However, 2006 marked a turning point in the success of that strategy and voters sent a message that they were tired of the ever evolving explanations for what they essentially viewed to be a failed effort.

Today, in a Washington Post article titled, "We've Lost. Here's How To Handle It", we continue to see the degree to which the Bush administration is out of touch with a reality that most Americans have already embraced...a reality that accepts that all of the above reasons have little meaning in light of the stark and somber events taking place in Iraq on a daily basis. What was believed to be true and what we were told would eventually take place have both failed to materialize...and voters simply lack the willingness to accept further excuses and further delays.

Last week's bloodshed in Iraq and the bombing of what remained of the historic Shiite shrine in Samarra and of two Sunni mosques in Basra were more reminders of a terrible truth: The war in Iraq is lost. The only question that remains -- for our gallant troops and our blinkered policymakers -- is how to manage the inevitable. What the United States needs now is a guide to how to lose -- how to start thinking about minimizing the damage done to American interests, saving lives and ultimately wresting some good from this fiasco.

No longer can we avoid this bitter conclusion. Iraq's winner-take-all politics are increasingly vicious; there will be no open, pluralistic Iraqi state to take over from the United States. Iraq has no credible central government that U.S. forces can assist and no national army for them to fight alongside. U.S. troops can't beat the insurgency on their own; our forces are too few and too isolated to compete with the insurgents for the public's support. Meanwhile, the country's militias have become a law unto themselves, and ethnic cleansing gallops forward.

But the most crucial reason why the war is lost is that the American people decisively rejected continuing U.S. military involvement last November. As far as the voters are concerned, the kitchen is closed. U.S. policymakers have not yet faced this hard fact. Some disasters are irretrievable, and this is one of them. Unless we admit that, we cannot begin the grueling work of salvage.

For the most part, I can agree with the above assessment. However, blaming the loss of the war on the sentiment of the American voter is truly the ultimate misuse of the expression, "The tail wags the dog". I would offer a far different characterization. For four years the American public was content to be wagged by countless cleverly crafted sound bites...meaning they accepted that the tail was wagging the dog. Today, the American public hasn't suddenly become the tail...what they've done is assert their right to place all four feet squarely on firm ground and demand that the proverbial tail, our elected government, begin to face reality and function accordingly.

In fact, history suggests that the consequences of a U.S. defeat will not be that dire. First, the risk of a regional Shiite-Sunni war is modest. The region has endured many civil wars: Algeria, Lebanon, Oman, Pakistan, Yemen. While some have drawn in outsiders, none has led to war among those outsiders. Such meddlers tend to seek advantage in their neighbors' civil wars, not to spread them, which is why they rely on proxies to do their fighting. You can already see that pattern at work in Iraq today: All of Iraq's neighbors, especially Iran, are trying to protect their interests there, but all are also carefully calibrating their involvement.

As for al-Qaeda: True, its Iraqi branch has established a stronghold in Anbar province, and trained fighters from Iraq are, predictably, returning to their home countries, hardened by combat and looking for blood. But thus far, the chief jihadist threat to the West continues to emanate from Pakistan, not Iraq. The proportion of foreign fighters in the insurgents' ranks is smaller than ever -- perhaps 10 percent of the total number of Sunni combatants. Moreover, al-Qaeda's Iraqi forces are already under pressure, not just from the United States but also from other Sunni leaders jealously guarding their own turf. And beyond all that, it's simply too late to stop jihadist blowback from Iraq, which will persist regardless of whether U.S. forces remain.

The Post goes on to outline the elements of a managed defeat...terminology that I can embrace but that I would argue is semantic gymnastics. Let me explain. This war was likely a losing proposition from the outset...so it seems a stretch to even suggest that victory was an alternative. Perhaps that isn't wholly accurate but even assuming that the war had been properly executed from the outset, the differences may have included marginally better security and possibly hastened rebuilding...but the underlying sectarian dynamics would have remained unchanged...leaving victory still unachievable.

Further, if one returns to the prevailing motivations for executing the invasion of Iraq...a response to 9/11 and an effort to win the war on terror...one might, at best, conclude that Iraq was a wrong turn in the road. At worst, it was an enabling force in creating further animosity towards the United States and a tool in the efforts to recruit more terrorists. If it accomplished the latter, it was, by its very initiation, a losing proposition. Notwithstanding, I believe it is safe to conclude that winning or losing in Iraq was irrelevant to the primary goal.

I think its also worth noting that an admission of defeat by the government (meaning primarily the Bush administration) will shift the discussion away from should we or shouldn't we have invaded Iraq towards what was the cost of the mistake...what one might call the accounting or reckoning period. While we all have a sense of the costs associated with the war in Iraq...including damage done to U.S. standing in the world...we have yet to begin discussing what we might have done with the money had we had it to spend on other programs important to voters. Beginning that dialogue so near to the next presidential election can't be a debate the GOP wants to engage.

While I agree that the Post has identified some keys to managing the defeat...containing Iran, improving the grim outlook for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and accepting the reality that democracy will not be the tonic that will fix all that ails the Middle East...I'm not sure the average voter will focus on those or any other measures of consolation.

I suspect voters may choose to attach their own footnotes to the Iraqi fiasco...one that will suggest that the dog should wag the tail...and that the government learn to stop chasing its tail long before the dog has to force the issue.

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Daniel DiRito | June 18, 2007 | 9:11 AM | link | Comments (1)
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June 16, 2007

Troop Surge At Full Strength - Baghdad 40% Secure? genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak

Full Surge

I'm no math whiz but the numbers in Iraq continue to defy logic...and the rhetoric that has characterized the Bush administration's four year fiasco continues to sound more like fairy tales than facts. We've been told that all of the additional troops needed for the latest surge are in theatre...and we've heard suggestions that the initiative will be reevaluated in late fall. With today's report by Lt. General Odierno that 60% of Baghdad remains unsecured, one has to question the likelihood the surge can succeed as well as the possibility that the ambitious goals will be achieved by late fall.

Security forces in Baghdad have full control in only 40 percent of the city five months into the pacification campaign, a top American general said Saturday as U.S. troops began an offensive against two al-Qaida strongholds on the capital's southern outskirts.

Odierno said there was a long way to go in retaking the city from Shiite Muslim militias, Sunni Arab insurgents and al-Qaida terrorists. He said only about "40 percent is really very safe on a routine basis" with about 30 percent lacking control and a further 30 percent suffering "a high level of violence."

In Baghdad, aides to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told The Associated Press that talks Saturday between the U.S. defense secretary and the Iraqi leader were difficult.

Two top advisers to the prime minister said al-Maliki, a Shiite, objected vigorously to the new U.S. policy of arming and training Sunni militants in the fight against al-Qaida.

A third said Gates told al-Maliki that political and legislative action sought by the U.S., including a new law to share oil revenues among all Iraqis, must be complete by September when the defense secretary has to report to Congress on progress in Iraq.

So in addition to the lack of security, efforts to resolve any of the issues necessary to effect some degree of political stability appear to be stalled. The oil agreement has been in limbo for months and its approval in its current form looks rather doubtful. Reading between the lines, al-Maliki is doing little more than keeping warm the seat of a Prime Minister in a government that is by and large symbolic.

While one can criticize the lack of action on the part of the al-Maliki government, the reality is that consensus is all but impossible. Even if one assumes that the surge can achieve some measure of security, the lack of trust among sectarian groups will remain...leaving little room for optimism that a functional government will emerge. I can't help but wonder if we're simply trying to put a band-aid on the symptom while having no real plan for curing the disease.

Let's assume we bring the violence to a minimum through the heightened presence of U.S. troops. That still leaves all of the underlying resentments and mistrust intact. Consequently, given the stated objectives of the surge and the Bush administration's belief that a stable Iraq is essential, how will there be a plausible rationale for the removal of our troops?

The situation reminds me of a football game wherein the score is 31-3 and the losing team has the ball with 45 seconds remaining...the coach is barking signals from the sidelines as if the game were tied...they snap the ball and the running back proceeds to run back and forth frantically as if to suggest that so long as the clock has a few more ticks, the game isn't lost. Meanwhile the stadium is empty, the clean-up crews are gathering the trash from the stands, and the television network switched to a competitive game twenty minutes ago.

George Bush recently suggested that our presence in Iraq may be akin to our Korean experience...and thinking men everywhere let out a collective "What?!". Sadly, it may have been the first honest assessment of what it would take to resolve this complex conflict. Even for the most ardent evangelical, that has to be one awfully difficult "come to Jesus" moment they'd rather skip.

Daniel DiRito | June 16, 2007 | 7:59 PM | link | Comments (1)
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June 13, 2007

Middle East: Banging Our Head On, Head On The Wall genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Banging our heads

It's been said by former presidents and high ranking public servants, by numerous scholars, and by leaders of other nations...and yet George Bush and his neocon klatch have chosen to virtually ignore it for the bulk of his presidency. What is it? It's the belief that the key to resolving the festering fury in the Middle East will be found in resolving the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians...and that must include the establishment of a defined and sovereign Palestine.

I've written about the issue before and I'll likely do so again and again. Today's posting results from the latest commentary on the issue contained in an article at United Press International.

WASHINGTON, June 13 (UPI) -- Resolving the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian dispute should be made a priority of U.S. foreign policy, say Middle East experts.
At a conference earlier this week hosted by the Century Foundation and the Center for American Progress, the panelists focused on the need to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli issue -- echoing the recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton Report on Iraq, which they often mentioned, and citing a recent U.S. State Department brief that a resolution to the issue is a sine qua non for all other U.S. relations in the region.

"Everyone knows what the solution is, but no one knows how to get there," said Daniel Levy, senior fellow at the Century Foundation, referring to a two-state solution with various conditions on Israel's withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories, Palestinians' right of return, access to holy sites and the status of Jerusalem.

"When people know what they have to do, but they don't want to do it, they need an external push," said Levy, and that external influence is the United States.

Speaking after the session concentrating on the Middle East, scholar and former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski said that bringing about a resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is one of three critical steps America must take if it wants to "continue to be a force for good in the world." Another necessary task is to begin seriously negotiating with Iran.

I realize that both sides of the conflict are entrenched in intransigent rhetoric and that the Palestinians are likely more divided now in their approach to the issue than they have been in recent memory. Some contend the Palestinian chaos is a good reason to remain detached...at least until a viable political structure emerges. I argue just the opposite.

What we're witnessing with regard to the competing Palestinian factions is simply the result of fatigue brought about by perpetual failure in achieving a lasting solution. Simply stated, desperation has led to disagreement and dissention. That, in my opinion, provides the perfect opportunity for a U.S. brokered solution (read that to mean serious arm twisting). Call it an end around designed to win the support of the populace of the combatants while the leadership groups continue to babble their rehashed laments...a groundswell brought about by a concrete plan with rigid timeframes, detailed requirements, and necessary compromises.

Is there a degree of risk with this approach? Of course. Is the potential reward worth the risk? I say it is. Given the worst case suggestion by President Bush (a fully farcical notion) that we may need to look at Iraq as a duplicate model of our Korean presence in order to prevent the full meltdown of the entire Middle East...and the best case that we trudge along in Iraq year by year at a cost of billions holding the region together with a few weary threads...what would be wrong with removing the leading tool for the recruitment of fanatical terrorists...the contention that the U.S., in consort with Israel, has no interest in a Palestinian solution and every interest in a stranglehold on precious oil reserves?

In psychology we talk about behavior and outcome...and we argue that the best way to extinguish bad behavior is to get the person committing the bad behavior to focus on the repeatedly bad outcomes. In other words, you simply challenge someone to keep banging there head on the wall in a rigid ritual of diminishing returns. Actions equal outcome...keep doing the action...keep getting the same or worse outcome. I suspect there are more sore heads in this region that you can shake a head on...head on...head on stick at. Maybe a new approach will bring some much needed relief?

Daniel DiRito | June 13, 2007 | 3:06 PM | link | Comments (0)
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GWB's Song Of Iraq: Doin' The Boot Scootin' Boogie genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

GWB's boot scooting boogie

I'm not sure how one ought to measure the level of incompetence with regard to managing the war in Iraq and our efforts to bring stability and democracy to its citizenry, but I've been pondering my own formula for some time now...and I'm ready to share my findings. We know that there have been major disagreements over the number of U.S. soldiers that should have been used in the operation and given the recent "surge"; it is probably safe to conclude that we grossly underestimated the size of the force required.

I've been tinkering with some other numbers and statistics in an attempt to ferret out the hidden factors that might be contributing to the lack of progress. While it has been difficult to trust the reported numbers, my focus has been on determining the size of the Iraqi police force and whether that number is adequate to maintain security in the war torn nation. I took this approach because I believe the recent "surge" has really been a significant change in strategy. U.S. soldiers are being assigned to conduct duties that would typically be the responsibility of a police force....and the rising U.S. casualties support my contention.

As I understand military strategy, it isn't standard practice to use soldiers in independent roles or to apportion them into very small patrol groups that are stationed in neighborhoods to serve as 24/7 peacekeepers in order to halt citizen upon citizen violence. In other words, standard procedure would be that once a military mission is completed by a platoon or a strike force (say to take out a strategic enemy position or a bridge used to transport supplies to enemy forces), they would return to a fortified location to regroup and determine the next organized assault. Living in, and policing large neighborhood grids has never been a mainstay of tactical military training.

OK, that's the background required to follow the rest of my argument. The following information is from a new Washington Post article detailing the report of Lt. General Martin Dempsey to a House panel seeking to understand the administrations efforts in Iraq and to assess the readiness of Iraqi security forces to "stand up so we can stand down".

A senior U.S. military commander said yesterday that Iraq's army must expand its rolls by at least 20,000 more soldiers than Washington had anticipated, to help free U.S. troops from conducting daily patrols, checkpoints and other critical yet dangerous missions.

Appearing before a House panel, Dempsey outlined his assessment of Iraq's 348,000-strong security forces looking into 2008 and the prospects that they can take over from U.S. troops. He said the Iraqi forces are improving but are still riddled with sectarianism and corruption and are suffering from a lack of leaders and the attrition of tens of thousands of members -- including 32,000 police between mid-2005 and January.

His projection of the size of the police force required to help bring stability -- 195,000 -- is more than 40 percent higher than Washington estimated in 2003. The remarks follow other blunt comments by U.S. military commanders that civilian deaths and attacks on U.S. troops have recently risen and that particularly tough fighting is expected in the coming months.

Similar problems, including "ghost" personnel, afflict the police, Dempsey said. Of the 32,000 Iraqi police lost from the U.S.-and-foreign-trained force of 188,000 in the 18 months before January, more than 14,000 were killed or severely wounded, 5,000 deserted, and the rest are "unaccounted for," he said.

Asked whether the absent police could be fighting U.S. troops, Dempsey replied, "We just don't know," adding that he is trying to track how many of the U.S.-trained forces end up in U.S. custody "down the road."

Now the numbers. I wanted to know what criteria we used in the United States for establishing the police presence needed to maintain the streets of our major metropolitan areas...then draw some comparisons to the numbers being tossed around with regards to Iraq. Here's what I found:

The national rate of full-time law enforcement employees per 1,000 inhabitants remained at 3.5 in 2004, unchanged from the 2003 rate. (Based on Table 74.)

Among the Nation’s four regions, law enforcement agencies in the Northeast had the highest rate of law enforcement employees, 3.5 law enforcement employees for every 1,000 inhabitants. Agencies in the South had 3.4 law enforcement employees per 1,000 inhabitants, in the Midwest, 2.7, and in the West, 2.4. (See Table 70.)

An examination of the 2004 law enforcement employee data by population group showed that in the Nation’s cities collectively there were 3.0 law enforcement employees per 1,000 inhabitants. Of the population groups with the city label, cities with 10,000 or less in population had the highest rate of law enforcement employees, 4.2 per 1,000 inhabitants. Cities with 25,000 to 49,999 inhabitants and cities with 50,000 to 99,999 inhabitants had the lowest rate, 2.3 law enforcement employees per 1,000 in population. The Nation’s largest cities, those with 250,000 or more inhabitants, averaged 3.8 law enforcement employees for every 1,000 inhabitants. (See Table 70.) The law enforcement agencies in the Nation’s metropolitan counties averaged 4.4 employees per 1,000 inhabitants; agencies in the Nation’s nonmetropolitan counties collectively reported having 4.5 law enforcement personnel for each 1,000 inhabitants. (Based on Table 74.)

I think it’s safe to say that we employ approximately 3.5 law enforcement officers for every 1,000 citizens...and I've used that number to draw some comparisons to the Iraqi police force.

Our first projection (in 2003) regarding the size of the police force needed in Iraq was apparently 140,000 strong. Given the estimated population of 25 million in Iraq, that would equate with a ratio of 5.6 law enforcement officers per 1,000 inhabitants. With the new 2007 number of 195,000 provided by Dempsey, that ratio would increase to approximately 7.85 per 1,000. Factor in the annual attrition rate of 15 to 18 percent (this rate was the rate reported for the Iraqi military...which I'll assume is comparable for the police force) and you're back down to an effective ratio of approximately 6.63 per 1,000.

Clearly, any comparison has a degree of subjectivity...but when I think about the state of affairs in Iraq including a completely new government (I'm being generous), the dismissal of the entire security structure once we assumed control of the country, centuries of sectarian conflict, an economy in shambles, a piecemeal education system, the infiltration of insurgents intent on influencing the future of the country and the region, a devastated infrastructure, and all of the many other limitations that make Iraq exponentially more unsettled that the U.S., I cannot imagine that a police force that isn't even double that of the U.S. has a chance in hell of keeping the peace.

I know, I know...I'm no Dick Cheney...I missed the cheering crowds that greeted us as liberators...that threw rose petals at the feet of our soldiers...that were yearning for an occupation by soldiers with little appreciation for their religious and cultural norms...that would be thrilled to have less electricity and higher priced fuel...that understood the benefits of democracy though they had nary an inkling of what the word meant.

I'm content that readers can draw their own conclusions...but let me end with my own final estimation. This latest surge was necessary to prevent full fledged civil war and it is intended to allow those in charge to reconnoiter long enough to determine just what the hell they can do to put an end to this protracted nightmare. I don't suspect that an Iraqi police force of 195,000 is going to do the trick and I'm not sure what number might suffice.

In reality, the Iraqi disaster is not an issue that will be solved by numbers...it is an issue that will be resolved when reasonable people decide to set aside their longstanding hatred. Until they realize that spilling the blood of their countrymen will do little more than satisfy their primal rage and fill their cemeteries, democracy will remain nothing more than "that thing those Americans say they do in that country we don't live in and don't understand".

It won't be long before George Bush will have a lot of spare time...so if I may be so bold as to ask, "What would be wrong with him putting on his cowboy boots and traipsing around in the sand in order to put the finishing touches on his little experiment in the exportation of democracy to the rest of the world?" At least it would be his own boots navigating this mess we call Iraq. Hey, I suspect he still lacks a better plan.

Image courtesy of nmazca.com

Daniel DiRito | June 13, 2007 | 8:53 AM | link | Comments (0)
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June 10, 2007

Watergate Figure Calls Islam Evil & Atheism A Threat genre: Hip-Gnosis & Just Jihad & Six Degrees of Speculation

One of the lead figures in the Watergate scandal during the presidency of Richard Nixon...Chuck Colson...told a conference of Southern Baptists that Islam is evil and atheism is intent on destroying religious beliefs.

Watergate figure Chuck Colson warned a gathering of Southern Baptist pastors Sunday night against what he described as two dire threats: the deadly marriage of Islam and fascism and a new, militant atheism growing in popularity in the West.

At one point, Colson said "Islam is a vicious, evil ... " and then before finishing the sentence, said, "Islamo-fascism is evil incarnate."

"Islamists," Colson said, "are very different. We will die for what we believe. They will kill for what they believe."

"The problem isn't terrorism," Colson said. "The problem is an ideology that is mixed with fascism ... We are in a long war, a long struggle."

Comments about Islam have generated controversy at past Southern Baptist meetings. In 2002, a former Southern Baptist Convention president, the Rev. Jerry Vines, called Muhammad, the Muslim prophet, a "demon-possessed pedophile."

The second threat, Colson said, was evident in the popularity of several best-selling books espousing atheism by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and others.

"This is a virulent strain of atheism which seeks to destroy our belief system," Colson said.

Colson is certainly entitled to his beliefs, but am I the only one who sees a disturbing pattern? Why is it that so many individuals who previously lived lives of debauchery are focused on distinguishing the good people from the bad? Perhaps their understanding of the dynamics that led to their own fall from grace makes them more prone to suspicion?

Maybe the equation follows a rationale that once you've been able to deny decency in your own pursuit of power, money, or self-gratification...without regard for the damage it may inflict upon others...you assume everyone else is teetering on the same precipice. What these individuals may fail to realize is that they are members of a small minority...which more likely indicates that the real issue is their inability to process their own questionable character flaws.

Instead of attempting to identify the flaws of others, wouldn't these individuals be better served to immerse themselves in self-reflection in the hopes of coming to grips with the demons that allowed them to abandon civility? Demonizing others seems to be nothing more than transference designed to elevate the fragile self at the expense of another. I just wish we would stop appointing and electing these people to positions of influence.

Daniel DiRito | June 10, 2007 | 10:23 PM | link | Comments (1)
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June 5, 2007

GWB: Iraq Is Korea...And The Earth Is Flat...Uh-Huh genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Bush in a bubble

Well that didn't take long. The attempt by President Bush to frame the situation in Iraq as an equivalent to our long standing presence in Korea is being roundly dismissed by a number of former high ranking military officials. Frankly, I'm at a loss to understand the benefit of drawing such a comparison.

WASHINGTON, June 5 (UPI) -- Two former U.S. Army generals and a former high-ranking Pentagon official have criticized the Bush administration for comparing the war in Iraq to the Korean War.

"It's a gross over-simplification to reassure people that we have a longer-term plan," retired Lt. Gen. Don Kerrick said in a teleconference Friday.

However, Kerrick and retired Brig. Gen. John Jones denied there was any parallel between the two wars. "Clearly there was no insurgency or terrorism going on in South Korea," Kerrick said. "There was a clear line between North and South Korea; the United States was really there as a trip-wire to protect South Korea. It's completely different in Iraq. As we know there is no line. The analogy just doesn't cut in this set of circumstances."

Jones called the comparison "blatant PR" that can't be taken seriously. "It's an umbrella for staying the course," he said.

Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, said: "When the North Koreans attacked South Korea we knew instantly that it was a violent attack and we responded." Iraq, he said, was different. "We're there with a very bad policy in a part of the world that's vital to us. The Korean analogy just doesn't work."

Gelb further accused the president of comparing the war in Iraq to the Korean War to head off comparisons to the war in Vietnam. "I think there are major parallels to Vietnam because there is no strategy that will produce victory. He's trying to change the terms of debate and put another analogy on the table."

Kerrick, who served as a deputy national security adviser to President Bill Clinton, also saw similarities to the Vietnam War. "In Vietnam we won all of the military battles, in Iraq we've been winning all the battles as well but we're still losing the war," he said.

"Bush implies that if we stayed the course in Vietnam the outcome would have been different, which to me is nonsense," Jones said.

According to Jones, the grand scheme was for the United States to maintain a permanent military presence in Iraq, to be divided among 13 permanent military bases in order to have "military hegemony in the Middle East." Although support for this plan seems to be waning, Jones believes "that's still in the back of President Bush's mind." Germany, by contrast, only has nine U.S. military bases.

Perhaps I'm wrong, but the best rationale I can find for the President to compare Iraq to Korea is as an attempt to frame his legacy in a better light...something that would be consistent with this man's ongoing focus on besting his father and soothing an intransigent and egocentric persona.

It wouldn't surprise me that George Bush may well be willing to keep troops in Iraq for fifty years...if it could be construed to validate his ill-conceived decision to invade Iraq and his mismanaged prosecution of that decision. Sadly, it seems to me that this President prefers to isolate himself from differing opinions...going so far as to turn a tin ear and a blind eye to his own father's prior experience in Iraq.

In fact, he went so far as to suggest that he went over his father's head and consulted directly with the heavenly father when contemplating difficult issues. If that isn't evidence of a man enamored with his own visions of grandeur, then not only is Iraq like Korea, George Bush is the second coming of Abe Lincoln. I hate to be a doubting Thomas...but I'm not inclined to buy any of the rhetoric George Bush is selling.

Image courtesy of xnerg.blogspot.com

Daniel DiRito | June 5, 2007 | 5:57 PM | link | Comments (0)
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June 3, 2007

The Middle East Forty Years After The Six Day War genre: Just Jihad

A Long Burning Tinderbox

Clearly, the Middle East is a region with a complex history which continues to fuel much of the ongoing conflict. A new article by the San Francisco Chronicle offers a brief yet succinct recap of the region since the Six Day War...a war that shocked the Arab nations and began a long run of bitter disputes and impassioned violence. Despite Israel's tenacity and its capacity for self-defense, the past forty years have been difficult.

(06-03) 04:00 PDT Jerusalem -- Four decades after Israel's staggering military victory in the Six Day War, the peoples of the Middle East are still reeling from its aftershocks.

A new generation of leaders now governs the countries that fought in 1967, but not a single day has passed since that has not been dominated by its legacy, and the battle for peace remains unresolved 40 years later.

The Israeli conquest and subsequent occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip with their large Arab populations brought the young state of Israel state face to face with the paradox that had haunted the Zionist movement since its inception at the end of the 19th century: How could the desire to establish a Jewish state in the ancestral Jewish homeland mapped out in the Bible be reconciled with the future of the Palestinian Arabs who had been living in that same land for centuries?

Before June 5, 1967, Israel appeared to be a David facing a Goliath-like coalition of 22 Arab states sworn to its destruction. Six days later, Israel had emerged as a regional superpower, finally ending centuries of Jewish victimhood but forcing its leaders to confront the responsibilities of victory and military might.

For the Palestinians, still reeling from the "Naqba" -- the "catastrophe" of Israel's founding in 1948, which turned 600,000 Palestinians into refugees -- the Israeli victory galvanized Palestinian nationalism. The war's outcome convinced Palestinians that Arab leaders' promises were worthless, and they resolved to take charge of the struggle against Israel.

The Arab states whose forces had been shattered were shocked at their defeat, but it had a strangely calming effect on them. The previous decades had been riven with inter-Arab rivalry, coups and wars. The Egyptians had tried to assassinate King Hussein of Jordan 11 times. But after 1967, the vanquished governments stopped fighting each other and united in their opposition to Israel.

"Forty years later, we are still grappling with the outcome of this war," says historian Michael Oren, author of "Six Days of War" and a senior fellow at the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies at the Shalem Center think tank in Jerusalem. "For statesmen and military leaders throughout the Middle East, the Six Day War has never really ended.

"All other developments since then, from the two Palestinian intifada uprisings, the Israeli settlements to the rise of Hamas, can all be traced back to these six very short, intense and fateful days," he says.

Israelis remain traumatized by the period before the war, when annihilation seemed likely. Many are unwilling to take risks for peace because they fear one mistake could destroy the state of Israel.

Palestinians remain spellbound by the war and its aftermath. They regard Israel as a superpower that should make the first move toward peace .

I've said it before and I still believe that had we focused as much energy on the creation of an independent Palestinian state as we did in our attempts to bring democracy to Iraq, the middle east would be a far more peaceful region, there would be fewer new terrorists, and much of the underlying animosity towards the U.S. would have already begun to wane.

Just to be clear, I do realize that men like Osama bin Laden would likely never moderate their hatred of the United States...but resolving the Palestinian issue would undermine his ability to recruit and likely lead to his eventual irrelevance.

Instead, since 9/11, our actions in Iraq under the Bush administration have laid the groundwork for a new generation of anti-American fanatics who will view the United States as an aggressor nation that cannot be trusted and that abandoned the efforts of prior administrations to position the U.S. as an honest broker of peace within the region.

Whether this can be undone remains to be seen. Nonetheless, I believe that if we rekindled and recommitted ourselves to a Palestinian solution, we would begin to reverse some of the damage created by the Bush administration's neoconservative agenda.

Image courtesy of www.jewishworldreview.com

Daniel DiRito | June 3, 2007 | 7:22 PM | link | Comments (0)
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June 2, 2007

TB Patient Breeches Border: Feeling Safe And Secure? genre: Just Jihad & Six Degrees of Speculation

A Little Persuasion

We hear a lot of discussion about the safety of our borders and the efforts of the Homeland Security Department to prevent the entrance of terrorists. Given the fact that we haven’t had any further attacks on U.S. soil since 9/11, the impression is that our efforts are succeeding. While I have no doubt there is truth to that assumption, the recent crossing of our northern border by the gentleman infected with a rare strain of drug resistant tuberculosis raises more questions and doubts.

Congressional investigators, who will be holding hearings on the way the case of the man, Andrew Speaker, has been handled, say that the border agent at the Plattsburgh, N.Y., border crossing with Canada decided that Mr. Speaker did not look sick and so let him go.

Russ Knocke, press secretary for the Homeland Security Department, would not confirm the agent’s rationale for releasing the man, saying only that the case was under investigation by its internal affairs and inspector general’s offices.

Mr. Speaker came back into the United States at Plattsburgh, N.Y., at 6:18 p.m. on May 24 in a car he had rented at Pierre Trudeau International Airport in Montreal after flying there from Prague on Czech Air.

A day earlier, on May 23, the disease control centers alerted the Atlanta office of Customs and Border Protection, a part of the Homeland Security Department, that a man with a serious medical condition might try to enter the United States and the information was entered in the department’s computer system.

The department instructed any border control agents who encountered the man to “isolate, detain and contact the Public Health Service," Mr. Knocke said.

Allow me to offer some speculations in advance of the hearings on the incident. Always a skeptic, my first thought was, “What actually transpired between the border agent and Mr. Speaker?" Two thoughts arise...one, our border agents are poorly trained and prone to ignoring directives intended to protect against threats...and two, assuming that the border guard understood the directive, what actually led him to allow Mr. Speaker to proceed into the U.S. rather than carrying out the detention order?

I don't buy the explanation that the border agent thought Mr. Speaker didn't look ill so he let him enter the country...that would mean that not only didn't the agent consider Speaker a threat to others...he didn't feel personally threatened. That makes no sense to me given my belief that most people are quite alarmed by exposure to a contagious disease...often well beyond what may be warranted...and the fact that the sick individual may look healthy doesn't often overcome the fear of exposure.

So my cynicism leads me to another scenario. Suppose the border agent was in fact troubled by the threat to his own well being...and suppose that he viewed the prospect of detaining Mr. Speaker as a further personal risk (he would have to be near the ill man for an extended period of time)...and finally, suppose Mr. Speaker's motivation to gain entry to the U.S. without detention resulted in a couple crisp hundred dollar bills finding their way into the border agents hand? Keep in mind that the most recent reports suggest that the CDC was willing to retrieve Mr. Speaker from Italy on a private plane...but it was communicated that it may cost a hundred thousand dollars...that sounds like sufficient motivation to part with a few "Benjamin bills" to me.

Now I'll gladly admit that I have no evidence to support my speculation...other than my own preoccupation with understanding human nature and believing that when something just doesn't ring true, there is likely a more suspect rationale. Regardless, it left me wondering whether all of the debate over adding more border crossing stations and agents was nothing more than our propensity to embrace measures we believe will protect us from danger...even if those measures are simply providing a false sense of security.

Bear with my argument for a moment longer. Let's suppose that a directive is issued to detain a man named Joe Smith because he is suspected of ties to a middle eastern terrorist group...and let's suppose that a similarly minded guard encounters Joe Smith...and Joe Smith speaks fluent English, talks about his golf game, has a cute blond girlfriend in the passenger seat that he says he just married in Greece, and tells a tale of mistaken identity (hey, there's bound to be a few Joe Smiths out there, right?)...and let's assume he convinces the guard that he is just trying to get back home so he can make it into work the next morning. Now toss in a few greenbacks to close the deal and Joe Smith the terrorist is in the homeland...security be damned. Far fetched? Maybe. Plausible? I think so.

To presume that the people who executed a plan to highjack four planes and take down two high profile buildings in the heart of New York City aren't scheming to recruit a few Joe Smiths and get them into the U.S. is, in my opinion, an exercise in blatant denial. If Bill the border guard can be persuaded with a sad story and a few hundred dollars, what would it take to assemble twenty disgruntled Joe Smiths to carry out the next terrorist attack? Further, you may not even need to get the Joe Smiths across the border...they could be our neighbors.

OK, so none of these observations are reasons to abandon efforts to secure our borders...and my goal isn't to suggest that hard working, sincere individuals aren't employed at the Homeland Security Department. However, I am suggesting that combating terrorism and the hatred towards the United States requires a broad arsenal of strategies and tactics. Further, anyone that believes we have employed all the means necessary to prevent another attack is not only naive, they are likely delusional.

Time may well prove that while we were busy devouring the 24/7 coverage of a self-centered man who lacked the good sense to take care of himself and those around him, a far more lethal intruder made its way into our midst. But hey...as I'm writing this and listening to the discussions about a terrorist plot at JFK Airport, I know I’m feeling safe and secure today...you too?

Image courtesy of www.democracyfornewmexico.com

Daniel DiRito | June 2, 2007 | 9:39 AM | link | Comments (0)
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