Thursday, August 31, 2006

A Mistake or a Bigger Plan?

Before the French sent their rubber craft squad into Lebanon, I was asked during a lunch meeting if the French military was capable of leading and keeping the peace in Lebanon under the auspices of the U.N. ceasefire. At that time, the initial word on the cease-fire was just hitting the streets and the French were talking about sending 7500 soldiers to Lebanon.

I answered in the affirmative. In the recesses of my mind I remembered training with the French as a young Lieutenant on a deployment somewhere to the Mediterranean. I remembered capable soldiers, despite all the “cheese eating surrender monkey” sarcasm many of us have pummeled them with. The capability of a military can differ from the will of a nation, our own country included. I was giving them the benefit of that doubt.

In my mind, the answer was “yes, their military is capable of keeping the peace, but it’s likely that neither their country nor the U.N. possesses the will to execute the mission as needed.” But, I forayed into an atypical political answer and have just about had to eat my words along with the prime rib sandwich I had that day.

The French drug their feet until this last week, trying to find every reason to send as few troops as possible to Lebanon. They did so despite their relationship with Lebanon. They did so despite their juvenile tantrums insisting that others recognize them as a leader in world affairs. They did so despite their insistence upon a U.N. resolution, forcing themselves upon the international community. They did so despite their pledge to lead the way with troops as a peacekeeping force.

They did so until Italy anted up a large contingent of peacekeepers. This left France looking like the spoiled kid who threw a fit to get his way, but when he finally did, he reneged on his promises of good behavior. The French were then forced to commit more troops.

I hope that not only our country, but others remember how the French behaved through the whole process. Insisting upon leading, forcing themselves upon others, and making promises, but then trying to back out when the time came to “put up or shut up.”

The U.N. still looks like a dog chasing its tail, squabbling over rules of engagement, working to scrounge together a peace-keeping force, refusing to enable the disarmament of Hezbollah, and condemning the Israeli’s but not the terrorists. All signs point to the likelihood of this being another failed action of the U.N.

For our sake, I hope this wasn’t something bungled by Condoleezza Rice. If she took the French or the U.N. at their word, she was more trusting than she should have been. My hope is that her actions were part of a larger, long-term plan.
The French proved their intentions to not let other countries act in their own best interest during the run-up to the Iraq war.

The U.N. has proven itself, time and again, to be an ineffective organization, long on debate, short on action; a fruitless organization which possesses an ever growing track record of failure to act on matters of substance.

Surely the Secretary Rice was aware of these attributes of our “allies” before agreeing to the terms of the cease fire. How could she not be? Their records and the evidence are extensive and unmistakable.

If that’s the case, the option left is that of her actions being part of a bigger plan.

Are we going along with the U.N. (and the anti-American EU countries) in matters such as Lebanon to establish a better position when the time comes to act against Iran or North Korea? Most likely, we alone, or with a few allies, will have to act against those countries before they do real damage.

The U.N. will most likely exude ineffectiveness and incompetence dealing with them. The unwillingness of others to take action against such openly hostile regimes, but insistence upon talking the subject in circles is characteristic of the impotence we should expect from the U.N. with regards to Iran and North Korea.

As such, Condoleezza Rice may simply be playing along for now, so that when the time comes our nation can take the position of: “We’ve tried every diplomatic avenue, but now we have to act. We’ve tried working within the realm of the U.N. to resolve the matter. The U.N.’s record is replete with failing to act and of failed actions, so we must act with our handful of allies, both for our security and international stability.”

Some may argue that’s the position and path we took with regard to Iraq and look where that’s led us, that aspect of the Bush doctrine is a failure.

But in this case, her actions may very well be positioning and leverage, not just for this President, but for the next as well. The resolutions to the problems with Iran and North Korea are not likely to happen through the diplomatic channels in the near future, or ever, and her actions may yet prove to be invaluable; unless of course we are forced to act after it’s too late.

The High Plains Patriot Meets the VP

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

On Terrorism and Taxes

There is certainly no shortage of “surrender” Democrats running this year, including Ned Lamont in Connecticut, Jimmy Carter’s son in Nevada, and former Secretary of the Navy James Webb in Virginia. All of whom are running primarily on anti-war platforms. They have stands on the other issues, but it’s the noise they make about running and hiding from terrorists which drives their campaigns.

And it’s their stand against fighting terrorists which has garnered them the support of their party. I give you Ned Lamont over Joe Lieberman for example.

It’s safe to say that the isolationists and weak national security crowd are currently dominating their party, either by number or volume.

Each Democrat elected to Congress, whether they claim to be conservative, liberal, or none of the above, empowers this group which dominates their entire party; that loud contingent which simply won’t accept or can’t comprehend the threat we face from Islamic extremists.

By affiliation, Ben Nelson also empowers those who would have us cut, run, and hide from the very real threat of terrorism, whether he believes the same or not.

In an effort to retain his power while empowering that loud group of isolationist McGovernites he has clearly misrepresented at least one position of his opponent, Pete Ricketts.

Ben Nelson would have us believe that Pete Ricketts’ tax plan includes a 30% increase in the tax burden for 95% of us (including me). He is trying to establish the notion that Pete Ricketts wants to add a consumption tax to the federal income tax we already pay. This is absolutely not true.

Pete Ricketts, from day one, has run on a platform of lower taxes and less government. So, the characterization of Pete Ricketts as a tax increase guy is wrong from the start.

One of the problems we face today is our federal income tax system. Setting himself above the politicians who like to talk about things, but never come up with solutions, Pete suggested that all options with regard to fixing the tax situation be on the table and open for consideration and discussion. He knows, from experience, that if we have an open, honest discussion and debate all potential solutions to difficult problems, like the tax code, we stand a good chance of coming up with outstanding solutions to those problems.

One of the many options he simply listed for discussion only was getting rid of the federal income tax and replacing it with a consumption tax. This was only on the list of ideas up for discussion, not presented as his tax plan. He was not advocating the addition of a consumption tax on top of our already burdensome federal income tax. He was not advocating that we pay more for everything with the consumption tax (30% is the number Ben likes to use) and pay federal income tax as Senator Nelson would have us believe. It was only an option to consider and an “either/or” option, not an “and” option at that.

I know from personal experience, both in the military and civilian world that the best groups, when faced with difficult problems, have honest, open, sincere debates of integrity about those tough situations. They always start with a “brainstorming” type session to get all ideas on the table. The ideas aren’t debated; they’re simply put up for consideration. And then, after all ideas are on the table, each one is discussed. From that courteous, respectful debate on all the options, amazing solutions are delivered.

I’ve also served in units and worked for a company where the opposite was true. When the “brainstorming” started the attacks began. Each idea floated was immediately derided and shot down. In the end, the solution delivered was not the best one, it was simply the one submitted by the loudest man in the room. Each time it turned out to be a poor solution. Everyone suffered accordingly.

Ben Nelson’s approach to taxes, attacking and misrepresenting Pete Ricketts’ position which is a simple and honest assessment of all options for solving this tough problem is truly reminiscent of those poor experiences, unsuccessful units, and faltering company.

Not only is it unfortunate that Ben Nelson has clearly tried to misrepresent and mischaracterize his opponent’s position, but it also goes to the heart of how likely he is to solve the problems we face. already has him listed as the 88th most effective Senator, meaning there are 87 who are more effective than he. This type of approach and attitude shows us why that may be.

If that’s the kind of problem solving we have in Ben Nelson, it’s time for a change to someone who is willing and able to look at all options to make our lives better, whether the subject be taxes, agriculture, or fighting terrorism.

Nebraska deserves better than 88th, someone willing to honestly assess all ideas, and who doesn’t empower those who won’t or can’t face the reality of terrorism.

Pete Ricketts provides us that option.

By slogan, Ben Nelson has tried to portray Pete Ricketts’ ideas as good for Pete, but bad for Nebraska. I’d say the best portrayal is “Pete Ricketts, good for Nebraska, bad for Ben Nelson.”

A Speech Validated

Since returning from Iraq, I have endeavored to speak publicly about my experiences and the war on terror every time I’ve been asked.

I made a commitment to myself (and my fellow Marines) that I would make sure their stories got told, that their good work would not go unnoticed, and that I would do my part in denying a repeat of history from Vietnam. I vowed that I would do all I could to prevent the loss of another war at the hands of those who lack the resolve necessary to win anything other than a match of cruise missile bingo.

I’ve kept that promise, except on Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day when the requests were too numerous and I simply couldn’t be everywhere I was asked.

Each time I’ve prepared a speech, it seemed as if the events of the preceding week and days not only helped shape the content and character of the speech, but also reaffirmed the validity of my message.

Last week was no different.

I wrote a speech on the evening of Wednesday, August 9th to give at a local Rotary Club the next day. I spoke to the fact the threat from Islamic Jihadists was not only real, but was ongoing, and would continue into the future. I spoke to the idea that Al Qaeda and other Islamic terror groups were right in their assumptions about certain segments of the U.S. population putting politics and partisanship ahead of national security. That the terrorists were right in strategizing these Americans would obstruct the war effort against them. That the Jihadists could therefore count on these Americans to foment anti-war sentiment and try to persuade others to surrender from the fight, allowing Islamofascists both short and eventually long-term victories.

I woke the next morning; the day of the speech, the 10th, to the news of the thwarted plot by Islamic terrorist’s who had intended to blow up airliners on the way to the U.S. from the U.K.

Once again, the reality of the Islamic Jihadists’ intent to harm America and her citizens was reaffirmed. Once again, the events of the day confirmed the validity of the prepared message.

And they did so, not because I have some sort of crystal ball or am tapped into the intelligence community. The events of the day reaffirmed the message of the speech because of the simple fact the threat is truly ongoing and persistent. The odds of saying that Islamic extremists are intent on hurting us and having them take action accordingly are pretty good.

But that didn’t surprise me as much as the liberal politicians and constituents validating the primary position of my speech; that of the terrorists being able to count on them to put politics and partisanship ahead of national security.

Before I gave my speech at noon, the comments were already starting about why the plot in and of itself was President Bush’s fault. How he had pushed the suspected terrorists into taking extreme action. The fringe left was already underway with their assumptions that the whole thing was concocted by Bush and Blair to give them a political boost, no threat or plot actually existed.

The rhetoric has continued, trying desperately to connect this plot to their list of reasons why we should surrender in Iraq; this being done by the same people who insist that the war in Iraq is not part of the war on terror. I find it interesting how they can connect Iraq to the war on terror when it’s time to criticize the President, but then turn around and desperately attempt to disconnect Iraq from the rest of the war on terror when it suits their political posture.

Harry Reid’s comments were particularly humorous. I understand the old joke about “How many existentialists does it take to screw in a light bulb? Answer - Blue.” But the senator’s comments trying to justify the airline terror plot as grounds for surrender in Iraq were even too much of a stretch for use as an existential joke, let alone a valid argument.

Through the course of the last week, I’ve also been amused by the lack of credit given to the use of terrorist surveillance programs, phone call monitoring, financial transaction monitoring, and all of the other tools used to catch these terrorists. The same tools which liberals have assaulted and condemned. The Attorney General said these programs and certain provisions of the Patriot Act enabled the American side of the successful investigation. I can’t help but keep rerunning Harry Reid’s boasting through my mind about killing the Patriot Act and how those words verify the message of Al Qaeda being right to count on their removing obstacles to the jihad.

If the odds are good that we can count on the Jihadists to validate the notion they mean to persevere in their war against us, the odds are even better that we can count on liberals to validate the message of their willingness to trump national security with political partisanship.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

I Don't Understand Racism

I don’t understand racism.

Why does this group hate that group? I don’t get it at all.

The recent wave of anti-Semitism that comes with Israel’s current conflict roused the long standing questions I have about racism.

My background has not given me a set of experiences to understand racism. Growing up in Nebraska, I learned people were judged simply by how hard they worked (and whether or not they adhered to the state law mandating their loyalty to the Cornhusker football team).

And then I entered the Marine Corps, where race definitely did not matter.

While giving a speech at a local college I was asked what things I liked about the Marine Corps. One of my answers was that everyone was equal. Race was not an issue. When you endure all the Marine Corps has to dish out, or when you enter a combat zone, the only thing that matters is the fight, not the color of the man or woman fighting next to you. It doesn’t matter if they’re red, white, black, brown, yellow, green, purple, or plaid. It only matters that they are fighting alongside you.

I know there are countless stories of Marines from different races and completely different backgrounds becoming good or even the best of friends. I had those same experiences in the Corps.

Sure, cases of racism arose, but when they did, they were dealt with swiftly and decisively, exactly as they should have been.

The Marine Corps gave me the opportunity to meet and work with people from all over the world. I always considered that a blessing; a unique set of experiences from which I would greatly benefit. I became friends with some of the Iraqi’s I worked with, but have had no contact with them since leaving Iraq. I now wish the war would end, if for no other reason than to find out how my friends have fared through all the sectarian violence.

I realized somewhere along the way, the Marine Corps allowed me to actually see the “divine spark” in everyone’s eye that Colonel Lawrence Chamberlain speaks of in Michael Shaara’s “The Killer Angels.”

If I’ve ever asked about the cause of racism publicly, the response I’ve gotten is that it’s simply because someone’s different. That’s not good enough for me.

They say racism is born from ignorance of different groups. But with my life experiences, the only thing I can say I’m ignorant of on this subject is how someone could hate anyone simply because they’re different.

After fighting the Global War on Terror, I grasp that not all Muslims hate everyone else. I comprehend how misinterpretations of their own religion have caused Islamic terrorists to hate everyone who’s not them. I understand the power of religion.

Beyond that group, the “they’re different” answer is not good enough for me. Just because you see someone as different, doesn’t mean you’re incapable of seeing the value they possess.

When I was much, much younger if I ever said anything off color it was out of ignorance of what I was saying. I simply did not know what it was I was saying. But, I don’t recall having ever felt animosity, and especially don’t ever recall having hatred toward anyone else simply because they were of a different race or religion.

So, I don’t get it.

I don’t understand the anti-Semitism coming from different groups in America or Europe. I don’t understand Mel Gibson’s comments or actions. I don’t understand why Mel Gibson gets the public thrashing he deserves from our press, but they give Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a pass for his anti-Semitism. Is it okay for an Iranian Muslim to say it, but not an American Catholic? I’m not Jewish, so is that why I don’t understand the hatred toward Jews?

I can’t figure out why anyone would belong to the Ku Klux Klan, Skinheads or Neo-Nazi’s, and I certainly don’t understand where their hatred comes from. What’s all this white supremacy stuff anyway?

I don’t understand Louis Farrakhan and his hatred toward others not like him. Why am I a white devil?

But what I have figured out is that racism and bigotry need to be dealt with immediately and decisively. And they need to be dealt with whether on a local, national, or international level.

America’s slave trade was despicable and should have never been started. The world failed to act against Adolf Hitler before he slaughtered millions. Here at home, the civil rights movement of the 60’s was way overdue. Apartheid should have been crushed at its onset. The failure to act against the genocide in Rwanda is a blemish on the world community, as it is now in Darfur.

And because the rise of Islamofascism, with its pursuit of destroying everyone else, meets the same qualifications as history’s most horrible practices and ideologies, it needs to be dealt with now, before it’s too late for a group of people somewhere, and too late to be dealt with in small wars, forcing us into a true world war.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

I'm Not Going Back to Iraq

I’m not going back to Iraq.

I’ve finally accepted that fact. It took some time.

My commission is resigned. I’m not sure I’ve accepted that yet.

Now I feel like there’s something missing.

The Marines have at least minimal screening for post-traumatic stress disorder when departing a combat zone. They are prepared to help those who show the signs or are likely to suffer from PTSD. I didn’t have to worry about that.

They provide separations briefs for VA benefits, how to get your job back in the case of uncooperative employers, how to find a job if you had previously quit yours, and a plethora of other information about where to turn under various other circumstances.

But what they didn’t have is the screening and preparation for Marine Corps withdrawal syndrome; that constant, nagging feeling that you’re letting your fellow Marines down by not being there, that you’re letting them down by not being in the “gun club.”

I don’t recall any preparation for the feelings of guilt associated with no longer standing side by side with those you’d been through so much with. There were no instructions on how to accept and cope with the fact you are no longer there for them by being there with them.

It’s a rather empty feeling, of being alone, lost, or at least not where you’re supposed to be. Why does it remind me of the grieving process my wife, the nurse, talks about?

In trying to cope, I hold tight to the motto of “Once A Marine, Always A Marine,” but some days it’s not enough.

I sometimes question the reasons I’m not there. To me they are good reasons, but I’m sure to those who are there, it would just be another list of excuses. Sometimes I wonder if they are too.

But when the fears of your children growing up without you around much or without you at all greatly exceed any of the natural fears experienced in a combat zone, it’s time to make a decision because you’ve put your family ahead of the Corps.

Each time I start to think I’m getting over it and finally accepting the decision, the feelings surface again.

They are refreshed when I hear from one of my fellow Marines who is now back in Iraq or in the training cycle to return. The feelings were awakened with each call from New Orleans looking to fill Civil Affairs billets. They were renewed each time I got the standard letter from a reserve unit looking for officers to deploy with. Those letters haven’t come for some time, so thankfully I seem to be off that mailing list. They resurface each time I get the brochure from the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps to come back into the reserves. I am obviously still on that mailing list for some reason.

Sometimes I’m grateful when I pull up my e-mail and I don’t see any from my old commanding officer who’s preparing to go train an Iraqi army unit. But mostly I appreciate that he keeps me on his e-mail list. He asked me to join his team. In fact, he asked me repeatedly over the last couple years to get back in the game, offering me dream billets. Each time I seriously mulled the prospects of going back. Each time I grudgingly had to say “no.” Each time it took a great deal of personal willpower to make that phone call or send that e-mail.

So, to overcome my Marine Corps withdrawal syndrome I’ve resolved to do what I can for them from here. If I’m not standing there with them, at least I can support them from here, and do more than just slap one of those magnetic yellow ribbons on my Jeep.

I can pass the word far and wide, reminding others that despite news cycles stuck in spin mode spitting out the dirty laundry of election year politics and blaming Israel for Hezbollah’s actions, our troops are still in Iraq fighting the good fight. They continue to move forward with their mission despite the sectarian violence. They continue to hunt and eliminate elements of Al Qaeda. They are successfully training the Iraqi army to assume more and more security responsibilities. They have enabled a sovereign government to be elected by the people of Iraq and slowly grow to autonomy. They are sharpening their own skills needed to fight asymmetrical wars and perform counter-insurgency operations which, unfortunately, will be needed again, probably sooner rather than later.

And through groups like Families United Mission and Vets for Freedom, I can stand with others who also publicly support those still in harms way and understand the connection between supporting the troops and supporting their mission.

Ultimately, I’ve had to accept that therapy for Marine Corps withdrawal syndrome does not exist and put my trust in where God has placed me, even though the reasons are not always readily apparent.

Maybe, after reading this, my wife will hit me in the head with a picture of my kids and make the reasons more apparent. But, I don’t know if that will actually make it any easier.