Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Upsetting Liberals With a Way to Victory

We’ll soon see if liberals think as highly of retired Major General John Batiste as they did before.

Not so long ago the liberal members of the media had a field day with several former high-ranking military officers who had “broken ranks” and criticized the Iraq war effort, specifically Donald Rumsfeld’s involvement. Former General’s Batiste, Zinni, and others were put upon altars and worshipped for their willingness to criticize the Bush Administration. They passed from rightfully deserved hero status for their achievements as Generals into the realm of super-heroes as critics.

The mainstream press was more than happy to run lead and front page stories about this criticism. Although they missed the point and reasoning for the Generals’ criticism, they were more than willing to paint this as yet another reason to surrender, cut and run from Iraq.

Liberal politicians and their minions were thrilled to do the same. They more than welcomed news like this they felt would precipitate defeat. They eagerly accepted anyone that made the situation in Iraq and the Administration look worse; after all, the worse the situation in Iraq the better their chances in November. How many mornings and evenings were spent with the likes of Murtha, Levin, and Durbin pointing to these retired Generals as yet another reason to accept defeat?

But an op-ed column written by General Batiste may turn their view of them on its head. The column was based on a white paper “developed and reviewed by a wide range of retired senior military leaders” which “represents much of their thinking. None of them disagrees with its general themes.”

It begins with four questions that need to be asked about our alternatives in Iraq. Question four is “Do you think that the United States’ long-term goals are well-served by a strategy that doesn’t include a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq?” That is followed by directions to proceed if the reader answered “yes” to this and the previous questions.

When I read that I started smiling. As I read through the column I kept smiling, and then applauded the concepts and specific ideas when finished.

The white paper and the General’s comments were all geared toward leading us to victory in Iraq.

What a novel concept these days. Especially when so many are willing to embrace the defeatism of the Iraq Study Group simply because it’s “bipartisan” in nature, implying that it must therefore have some sort of magical power to be THE answer and have an unquestionable supreme truth affixed to it.

Personally, the Iraq Study Group lost me when they failed to detail a path to victory and included as one of their recommendations that we train Iraqi soldiers, as if we weren’t doing that already. As one Marine who’s there training Iraqi soldiers put it, “What the hell do they think I’ve been doing over here for the last year?” At that point, the level of credibility the group was to be afforded became miniscule.

But now we have at least one retired General, supported by a cast of others, publicly proposing a path toward victory instead of the path toward defeat the liberals have been pushing this country down. Whatever will they do?

Now that retired General Batiste is advocating a sound strategy for victory, will he still be treated as a super-hero or will the white paper and his column get skimmed over by editors and producers? Will the strategy be publicized or ignored? Will the press celebrate the genius? We’ll see.

Either way, the white paper does provide a solid strategy for victory in Iraq. Major General Batiste’s group should be commended for their efforts and ideas.

The white paper addresses the political, diplomatic, economic, military, and home fronts and does so in a manner that does not lose its impact with the “diplo-speak” of a group trying to be bipartisan rather than effective. The strategy obviously comes from those who are experienced at both devising and executing plans which can be implemented at all levels.

It calls for more troops in Iraq and gives specifics for their deployment. It proposes focusing our main effort on the continued training of Iraqi security forces, and then establishing security and taking the fight to the Sunni insurgency; all starting points from which specificity can be given to manpower assignments.

Two of the other recommendations on the military front are to also be applauded: first, to deal with Moqtada al Sadr and his Mahdi Army, and second, provide security along the Iranian and Syrian borders. Both badly needed to minimize or eliminate the instability each of those entities keeps forcing into the region.

Their proposals for the home front are also sound and necessary, especially for upsizing and funding of the military, fixing dysfunctional interagency processes, fully funding the VA, and energy independence.

Most important of all though may be putting this “nation and our government on a wartime footing.” At some point, there are huge segments of this country which need to realize and accept the kind of long term fight we’re in against Islamic extremists and that it requires some attention and sacrifice on their part, not just their criticism or opposition.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

U.N. Not the Solution to Radical Islam

Every where we turn, we find Islamic extremists feeding on the weaknesses of those around them. Which is more than just a little scary given the inherent, exhibited weakness of the U.N. and the willingness of so many around the world, including some here, to permit the U.N. to settle their foreign affairs and insure their security.

The U.N. has an uncanny way of diffusing and diluting any semblance of strength, efficiency, or effectiveness. Especially when dealing with any matter of substance or security. The presence of the U.N. is in and of itself a sign of weakness.

Somalia and Ethiopia have become poignant examples of both the fundamentalist Islamic feeding frenzy and the failures of the U.N. The U.N.’s handling of the situation in Somalia is just a repeat performance for them and a demonstrated weakness for Islamic extremists to attack and feed upon.

The Islamic Courts Movement (ICM), set on installing an Islamic theocracy, is slowly taking more and more of Somalia from the weak, U.N. backed, transitional government. The ICM has pushed through the country from Mogadishu to the areas around the capital of Baidou. It has direct ties to Al Qaeda and actually has members or cells from the international terror group in positions of leadership.

Somalia’s neighbor, Ethiopia, knowing the dangers of having an Islamic theocracy next door tried to assist Somalia’s transitional government by providing them military advisors.

Now the Islamic Courts Movement has declared a holy war against Ethiopia. No surprise. Is there any country that hasn’t had a holy war declared against it by a radical Muslim faction at this point?

The U.N. responded by trying to put Ethiopia at more risk and encouraging them to take a backseat position which would ultimately have them relinquish more of their security to the U.N. The vaunted U.N. Security Council, in trying to find a peaceful resolution, suggested the deployment of 8000 African Union troops to handle the situation instead. This would “withdraw Ethiopia from the equation” as the Washington Post reported on the 15th, and avoid the looming holy war.

Noble enough cause to pursue, but not likely to succeed. Hasn’t anyone figured out yet that when Islamic extremists put their mind to killing people, they do so until the bitter end? You either do things their way or they declare holy war and try to kill you. Beyond your conversion to their brand of Islam, there is no other way.

In this case, they’ve already declared holy war against Ethiopia. The game board is set. War has already begun. Ethiopia has been declared their next target. So it begins.

But the Islamic extremist appetite for feeding on weakness received the usual Pavlovian stimulus from the U.N., pushed by the tunnel vision experts from our State Department, when it passed the Security Council Resolution to take Ethiopia out of the equation.

The U.N. resolution in trying to moderate the situation had the opposite effect. It prompted the Islamic Courts Movement to push even harder toward Baidou, and according to analysts in the Washington Post article, will likely become a rallying point for the movement’s most radical factions.

Again, no surprise. Show the Islamic extremists weakness by diplomacy and they’re sure to respond with increased hostility.

The U.N. has become the world’s poster child for weakness and the international dinner bell for Islamic extremists. A U.N. Security Council resolution is to Islamic extremists what the cries of an injured rabbit are to hungry coyotes.

Ethiopia to its credit has not let itself be taken out of the equation, nor should they. Maybe they know that without serious military backing they would be doomed. As nice and congenial a neighbor as they might try to be, they know the Islamic extremists are coming for them. Any position of weakness will only be exploited and fed upon by the Islamists.

And such is the feeding frenzy the world over.

In Afghanistan it was the Taliban and Al Qaeda feeding on the aftermath of Soviet invasion. Today in Lebanon it’s Hezbollah feeding on the weakness of a young democracy. In Iraq it’s both Al Qaeda and the radical Shiite Muslim Iranian regime feeding on a newly born democracy. Hezbollah and Hamas are emboldened by a weak Israeli response to Hezbollah’s hostilities earlier this year. In Darfur it’s Islamic extremists killing thousands of helpless civilians. Our weak response to previous attacks was cause for Al Qaeda to attack on 9/11.

The threat from radical Islamic groups and governments is clear. Both history and current events show us their methods and intentions.

Diplomacy only goes so far in any situation. Sometimes it goes far enough to resolve problems. But with Islamic extremists it always goes nowhere. It is only a weakness to be exploited.

Because the United Nations knows no other way than to debate an issue into the ground and then, when the need for action becomes apparent, chooses to debate some more, reliance upon them to face this international threat is clearly not the answer. Only a country’s willingness to take positions of strength while allying themselves with other like-minded countries and then decisively confronting extremists will insure security and prosperity for all.

The Shortcomings of a Leftist Government

As a young Lieutenant in the early 90’s, my unit was given the opportunity to make a good will visit to Varna, Bulgaria shortly after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. During that visit I remember thinking what a financially poor country it was. Communism didn’t seem to have done that country any favors and certainly hadn’t done much for the living conditions of the average Bulgarian I met.

Our unit returned to Bulgaria about a year and a half later as part of a NATO contingent to conduct military exercises with the Bulgarians. After seeing their equipment, watching their military sputter without junior leadership, and observing the operations of a Soviet style army, I remember asking myself, “why were ever afraid of these guys?” Except for that whole thermonuclear thing, their military itself left much to be desired. Communism didn’t seem to have done it any favors either.

We spent a little more time in Bulgaria on that second trip and got to know some of the soldiers we’d trained with and what life was like for them and other Bulgarians. It was at that point, after seeing how the average Soviet citizen lived and the stories of what life was like under communism, I became convinced of it being a terrible system of government.

It was not the worker’s paradise leftists in this country had made it out to be.

Up to that point in life I hadn’t cared or even concerned myself much with the realm of politics. I knew the arguments made for and against democracy and capitalism. I knew the arguments made for and against communism.

But on those trips to Bulgaria it became clear that the arguments made by the conservative economists and social scientists had been right. After getting the inside view, it was obvious democracy and capitalism allowed all people to have a better life than a socialist and communist system could ever hope to achieve.

It was also clear that the leftist argument for communism, the theoretical workers utopia where everyone was housed, fed, and clothed was, at best, a fantasy. Pigs had a better chance of flying than communism had of providing prosperity for anyone other than the communist elite.

Things aren’t much better now in parts of the former Soviet Union than they were then.

I recently returned from two weeks in Russia where I had the pleasure of getting to know many people from a large city as well as a small village and learning about the challenges of their lives.

Vestiges of capitalism have taken root, creating some wealth, a small middle class, and allowing some to improve their position in life. But the average citizen still lives much poorer than the average American and I’d say the poor among us are still doing better than the average Russian. They also have limits on their individual rights none of us could ever imagine.

I was talking with a friend about what I’d seen in Russia and describing the chance at hope they have with democracy and capitalism. If capitalism and democracy were allowed to flourish, the quality of life would improve with the generated wealth, the middle class could grow, and they would demand political reforms including more individual rights. But there were limits on that hope because it appeared their government was moving back to the left.

I went on to tell him how the Russians had shared the ways the government was starting to crack down on them again. Those who’ve held so much power in the government aren’t very willing to give it up to those who’ve started creating positions of power for themselves through business or popularity among their fellow citizens.

He caught me off guard when he replied that it “sounds just like the Democrats here.” Hmmm……

I couldn’t totally disagree with him because it’s just like the liberals here, but not the Democrats in general. There are after all, moderate and conservative Democrats.

Our far left is still in love with socialism and communism. Many liberal policies and positions are socialist or steps toward socialism. As in Russia, our left has problems with powerful businesses and attacks them directly or through government policies and taxes which target them specifically (Wal-Mart and “big oil” come to mind). Their positions inhibit and retard the growth of free markets.

They would rather tell you what to think than let you figure it out for yourself, and are always working to find ways to infringe upon your freedoms, especially religion and the right to keep and bear arms. Their positions are based upon plays for political power instead of principles. When I looked at it the way my friend had, the list detailing the commonalities of leftists here and there became apparent and extensive, too extensive for the constraints of this column.

But we do have the right to free speech, something that seems to be frowned upon in Russia and which caused me some consternation in writing this column. After all, I wanted the opportunity to go back and didn’t want to be too harsh on their government. Nor did I want to dread my next trip to a sushi bar.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Our Under-Funded, Under-Manned Military

This year’s election cycle put the military right in the middle of the political debate. Since nothing seems to be off limits in the political realm anymore, that’s to be expected.

The line designating that which was off limits for political-military relationships has always been a little undefined, a little fuzzy. But it seems that at some undesignated point in the not so distant past, the line disappeared altogether.

I feel compelled, for the sake of fairness, to acknowledge I myself am not innocent with regard to making distinct differences between military and political debate. But then again, I am now out of the service and in a position to pass along my sentiments as they pertain to my sincere regard for so many still in harms way with whom I have shared so much.

In this year’s political cycle, the biggest use of the military was to claim that it’s “broken.” Specifically, the claim was that our military has been broken by that part of the war on terror we’re fighting in Iraq. So we need to pull out of Iraq for the good of the military.

I often wonder, probably because I don’t think much of the average politician, whether they say those things for political posturing or out of sincere concern for the military. Only God knows their true intentions. I’ll just say that I’m skeptical of them.

Claims of the military being broken, for those reasons, for those purposes, misses the big picture and the biggest concern for our national security.

The war in Iraq and the rest of the war on terror should serve as a wake-up call to our nation that our overall plan for the military is broken. The military is not broken because of Iraq. Iraq has simply made unmistakably clear the fact our military lacks the manpower and funding for sustained combat.

With over 2 million active and reserve military personnel, how is that we can’t sustain 140,000 including support troops, in combat on that one front?

This fact makes the possibility of large-scale fighting on two fronts completely impossible. It also shows that our nation is completely unprepared to fight any country or alliance of any military significance.

Right now the liberals reading this are cheering and spewing forth Bush bashes.

But the fact is, the down-sizing of the military started under George H. W. Bush and went full speed ahead under Bill Clinton, who obviously took the military down too far. No surprise knowing the Clintonian contempt for the military.

The events of 9/11 then committed the Pentagon to fighting the war on terror while neglecting the fact we had become incapable of performing sustained combat operations under the previous administration. Regardless of what Donald Rumsfeld might have claimed over the years about changes to our military capabilities, technologies, and restructuring, it’s obvious we simply don’t have the personnel or assets to sustain combat on one front, let alone two. He didn’t start with the assets to do so, but he didn’t fix the problem either.

I understand our commitments to the corners of the earth by all services and the impact it has on war fighting capabilities. The commitments for joint exercises with other nations, Marine Expeditionary Units, air alert contingency units, peace-keeping missions, etc, etc, etc. all take troops from what has become the major front in Iraq as well as continuing operations in Afghanistan. But those together are what, 160,000 personnel now?

Given all of those commitments, weren’t we still supposed to be able to fight wars on two major fronts, or at least one?

Iraq has shown us that sustained combat with just 140,000 of our 2 million troops has forced us to rob Peter to pay Paul while deploying the same units over and over to the point of exhaustion for the troops and their families.

This proves our military is under-manned, under-funded, and maybe even incorrectly structured. If it doesn’t prove this, do we then have to consider two other possibilities? That either the deployment plans and use of military funding is completely, grotesquely inept or that the military is not broken at all, but is being used at an unprecedented level for domestic political gamesmanship.

The commitments and mission capabilities required of each service does not seem to have also left enough Marines, soldiers, and in some cases airmen or sailors to fight wars. So I believe it’s a case of being under-manned and under-funded. Recent declarations by the heads of some services would support this. General Conway’s comments after assuming duties as Commandant of the Marine Corps come to mind as the most recent example.

But instead of using this predicament as political fodder, after all the elections are over now, those in Washington need to act to correct this situation on a long term basis. Immediate pull out of Iraq would not fix the problem. It would only put a political band-aid on it. The fact would remain, as Iraq has proven, that we are not able to sustain combat operations given the current size and composition of the military.

Rangel Revealed

My apologies to the readers. The blog's been giving me fits.

I’ve argued in previous columns there are those I simply haven’t believed when they’ve said, “I support the troops, but not the war.” I haven’t believed they supported either the troops or the war.

They’ve not shown the courage to say so because they knew the firestorm of criticism they would endure for stating their true thoughts. After all, to do so would put them into treacherous waters where they could be questioned for not supporting America’s sons and daughters who willingly risk so much. If it happened to be a left-leaning politician who held those beliefs, even they, with their accomplices couldn’t afford that kind of criticism with upcoming elections.

But the elections have passed and the tables have turned. The threat of being voted out of office is gone, at least for now, and the courage to say what’s been on some minds is being summoned forth. The intoxication of impending power has provided the courage and we’ve now seen two episodes from those on the left who’ve come forward with their denigration of our troops.

John Kerry was the first and let his slip prematurely. The political environment was such that it wasn’t quite okay for him to say what was on his mind exactly when he did, but he was close enough. But now we have Charlie Rangel’s comments on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace from November 26th to stand as the second episode.

His argument for the draft has now also disclosed his belief that those who serve in the military have no other options in life, so the military is where they end up. They’re not as well-off, they’re not as smart, they are not as capable, and are the down-trodden, so the doors of opportunity are not open to them. They have no other choices. If they had they would certainly have taken them, and were thus forced, by default, to join the military as their last resort in life.

The spirit and intent of his comments are exactly like John Kerry’s. The Congressman is a little more eloquent, but his comments were no less derisive of the military than the Senator’s.

Except for the conservative radio shows yesterday, Monday the 27th, there seems to be no outrage over his statements and belittling of our troops. But then again, the climate has changed.

I know it is hard for some liberals to fathom the thought of patriotism felt so deeply within a person that they choose to sacrifice everything else for their fellow citizens and country. And I know the thought of standing for your country as a patriotic concept can be difficult to grasp for those who often choose the definition of patriotism which pits them against their country, so I’ll cut them a little slack. But don’t belittle those who choose the former and not the latter.

Up to this point Rangel’s been making an argument for the draft because he believed the military was not representative of America at large (economic and racial discrimination inferred). He argued if the military were more representative of America with draftees, lawmakers would be less willing to start a war and send drafted troops into battle than they would an all volunteer force. Fair enough thought process if his assumptions about the composition of the military were correct.

But, a detailed Heritage Foundation study spurred by his comments debunked that argument some time ago with regard to all the demographic groups Mr. Rangel believed were being forced into the military. In fact, that study found the opposite of Mr. Rangel’s argument. It found the military to be more diverse than the population at large and that the average military member is better educated and comes from households with higher incomes than their peers.

I know from our battalion of reserve Marines in Iraq we had plenty who took a pay cut when they were mobilized. In fact, the discrepancy in pay was so great for some of our enlisted Marines it created hardships for their families. We had Marines with graduate degrees and high level management positions in Fortune 500 companies.

There were enlisted Marines I served alongside who put high salaried computer programming jobs or the pursuit of a law degree on hold. Our battalion surgeon volunteered for the Navy Reserve to join the war on terror. He is one of the very few pediatric heart surgeons in the United States; certainly not a man without choices in life.

The angry parents and spouses of service members flooded some of the radio talk shows Monday with the stories of why their husband, wife, son, or daughter gave up scholarships, high paying jobs, or other opportunities to go fight.

So, Congressman Rangel simply made an incorrect scientific hypothesis. Honest mistake, had it been left at that.

But, the truth about his view of the troops was laid bare on Sunday as he expanded his argument and continued to speak about the troops and their deficiencies with respect to the rest of society. The truth is he doesn’t think much of us. In the end, his position and comments weren’t what anyone could call “supportive.”