Friday, December 28, 2007

The New Way Forward, 11 Months Later

Less than a year ago, I outlined at least 10 aspects of The New Way Forward that provided hope for victory in Iraq.

While many were focused exclusively on one aspect of the plan, The Surge in troops, the whole plan, The New Way Forward, showed much more promise in its comprehensive nature and deserved thorough analysis.

Eleven months later the facts on the ground in Iraq show the indisputable success of a plan well conceived and executed.

So what were those 10 points and how have they achieved such stunning success?

First, we changed the rules of engagement in Iraq. Small unit leaders were given the necessary permission to act as best they saw fit. Our outstanding young NCO’s and Officer’s enacted true counterinsurgency tactics, made the right decisions, and succeeded. We were finally allowed to engage all insurgents and terrorists.

The New Way Forward also set out to address the turmoil created by Iran. We have pursued their operatives inside Iraq. We focused on interdicting their armament shipments. We have sent the diplomatic message that their interference would not be tolerated. We isolated the militias they were trying to support.

Third, the plan called for Iraq’s neighbors and regional influencers to realize their stake in a peaceful Iraq. We have tried to reinvigorate the Middle East peace process and pursued ongoing diplomacy with Iraq’s neighbors, achieving at least limited success in this area.

Fourth, The New Way Forward was conceived in large part by those in the military who saw this as a fight we needed to and could still win, those who would be called upon to implement it. No one can dispute that General Petraeus has executed the plan brilliantly. No one can dispute the skill with which our troops have accomplished what so many defeatists thought impossible. Not only are they winning the fight, they continue to believe they will prevail, reenlisting to fight through to victory at record levels.

The President had to convince Prime Minister al Maliki to address all militias in Iraq. If an end to the sectarian violence was to be reached, all antagonists must be dealt with. That included Muqtada al Sadr. Albrecht Muth succeeded with Sadr. Uncooperative militias have been dealt with and cooperative ones have become part of the solution for peaceful neighborhood policing.

Sixth, the new strategy called for acceleration in the training and development of Iraqi Security Forces. That has happened. Iraq’s security forces continue to operate more and more independently. There is still some degree of reliance upon the Coalition, but their proficiency has absolutely helped with the force to space ratios and in establishing the improved conditions.

Seventh, the plan focused our troops where the most violence was. The metrics from Anbar and Baghdad are staggering in their turnaround for peace. Anbar is now almost the safest place in Iraq and Baghdad is on its way. We have chased Al Qaeda and all troublemakers from those areas and done something we’d not done before, continued to pursue and crush them every placed they’ve fled. We were successful with the first step in counterinsurgency warfare, security for the people.

Benchmarks were set for the Iraqi government to which they’ve fallen short. But reconciliation at all levels below the national has occurred and lent itself to the peace. Despite the shortfalls of the national government, the Iraqi people have moved forward.

Ninth, the Administration continues, through diplomatic trips by the Secretary’s of State and Defense, to insure the Iraqi’s understand that at all levels they must be willing to stand strong and soon address all of their own problems.

Lastly, the force to space ratios which had been needed were met and tactics changed to reflect sound counterinsurgency strategy, allowing us to address Anbar and Baghdad while exploiting the opportunity which was presented with the Anbar Awakening and the subsequent spread of reconciliation through the country.

I also questioned a year ago whether we would let defeatists like Chuck Hagel and John Murtha convince us to cower and run home, or would we truly support our troops to victory and bring greater insurance of security for our country by being a bold, victorious world leader?

Enough Americans have stood with stalwart leaders like Senator’s McCain, Cornyn, and Lieberman and prevented the defeatists from winning in Washington D.C. Previously skeptical critics have now become advocates for victory. Even John Murtha, although not fully in the victory camp yet, has said what we’re doing in Iraq is working.

Now will the others come around, or will they continue to advocate for the death of a winning strategy in Iraq?

The Patriot Meets The Architect

On a recent trip to Washington D.C. I met Karl Rove aka "The Architect" and had a chance to visit with him. What stood out the most from my time with him is the sincerity of his appreciation for the troops and all we've done. It was clearly genuine, emotional support for all we've sacrificed and accomplished.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Why Weren't We Fighting This Way All Along?

It would be interesting to know why the strategies and tactics we learned prior to deploying to Iraq in early 2004, the very same ones that are achieving so much success now, were not being fully utilized from mid-2004 through 2006.

What happened then to impede the execution of sound counterinsurgency strategy and progress in Iraq? “Impeded” is the optimum word here, not “prevented.” Had none of the counterinsurgency actions been taking place, Iraq would have been far worse.

The success achieved in Tal Afar long before the New Way Forward and The Surge is a good example of leaders at subordinate levels doing well to implement known counterinsurgency strategies, despite any floundering taking place around them. Many a squad leader, platoon, company, battalion, or even regimental commander did well to move the process forward. They were the glue that held the country together for two and half years.

On the other hand, had full blown counterinsurgency strategies and tactics been implemented then as they are now, we likely would have seen the present success two years ago.

Questions and analysis of the disparity between what was known and trained for and what was directed is intended here in the military sense of after action improvement, the process by which we become better war fighters. (Sadly I concede that any attempt to question previous shortcomings in order to improve our military is likely to be spun into political fodder.)

For example, as a mobilized reserve Marine infantry battalion, we underwent 1st Marine Division’s whirlwind training regimen prior to deployment. We accomplished in 30 days what normally took place over the course of about 3 months.

That training included counterinsurgency tactics for unit leaders at all levels within the battalion, highlighted by a full blown, nearly week long exercise in SASO (Security and Stability Operations) aboard a large abandoned housing area at March Air Force Base, complete with an entire cadre of Iraqi role players and insurgents.

The training was led by those Marines who had been successful in the early parts of the Iraq war, others who were experts in counterinsurgencies, as well as British and Australian officers who had experience in this kind of fighting from other places in the world.

The package that General Mattis put together prepared us well for what lie ahead, including his motto “No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy” which summed up how we were to interact with the Iraqi’s and insurgents.

Within our battalion was also historical knowledge of previous counterinsurgency campaigns. The lessons of Vietnam, the Philippines, and even Lawrence of Arabia were not lost to us. In fact, much required reading and study had taken place long before our activation.

The deployment to Iraq started with our implementing what we’d studied and trained for. And we were successful. In fact, so much was being achieved during the early stages, eager young officers and NCOs were pulling to move quickly to the next levels and repeat the achievements of previous counterinsurgency operations.

Our outstanding young Marines were making it happen. It was an incredible opportunity to see them take all they’d been trained to do and execute it in a real world scenario. They were the Iraqi’s best friends and the worst enemy of all who stood in the way.

But then Fallujah happened in the spring of ’04. And then the money for reconstruction was held up and then re-released with burdensome strings attached. And then missions and directives from higher headquarters inconsistent with history and training started coming down. And the fight turned into something not completely consistent with what we’d trained to do.

It was not a derailed train, but it was slipping on the tracks instead of charging full speed ahead.

When speaking to others who were there from that time through 2006, much of the same is revealed in their experiences. They’ve shared many success stories, but some of similar frustrations as well. We could have always used more troops, but would numbers have mattered given the tactics and strategies being used?

None the less, the progress we made seemed to chug along at a pace not wholly inconsistent with the inherent difficulties of a counterinsurgency campaign.

But the last 12 months have given us something with which to compare the period from ’04 through ‘06.

With the success of The New Way Forward, The Surge, and the rapidity at which General Petraeus has changed the very face of the fight and the country, the comparison and hindsight show just how off-target from sound counterinsurgency strategy we were for two and half years. And we must beg the question “why?”

As War Critics Change Views, Focus Turns to a Political Solution at Home

Another previous war critic became a public supporter for victory in Iraq this week. In doing so, he highlighted the need for Congressional lawmakers to set aside differences and find a way forward in this war.

Retired General John Batiste had, until this last weekend, been an open critic of the war in Iraq, receiving much publicity in his criticism of the war. Although not to be wholly lumped in with the “cut and run” camp, he was certainly not a catalyst for victory either.

Now he, like John Murtha the week before, has come forward with a not so critical perspective. The truth about the successful surge in Iraq continues to reclaim those who had not been hopeful in this war.

Last Saturday General Batiste co-authored an opinion piece in the Washington Post with Vets For Freedom Executive Director Pete Hegseth outlining the need for perseverance in this Long War and the need for Congress to become united in the cause for victory.

Thank you to the General for standing for victory.

In the column, Batiste and Hegseth make a very strong case for rallying Americans to five fundamental tenets: U.S. success is imperative in the fight against Islamic extremists, Iraq is the central front in that fight, the Petraeus plan is the right plan and is working, our strategy must also address Iran, and lastly, our military must grow and change to fit our national strategy.

Highlighted in the column were the open reconciliation between two who had been on opposing sides and an emphasis on finding common ground in order to focus our energies on America’s long term national security interests.

They called on Congress to have the courage to do the same.

That brings us to the fight as big as the one in Iraq itself, the fight in Washington D.C.
Much is made of the need for political reconciliation in Iraq. It is probably needed more in Washington.

The surge in Iraq is clearly achieving success, some of it beyond even our greatest hopes at this time last year. Yet the success of the surge does not necessarily reflect success toward the “benchmarks” set for the Iraqi national government.

Some in Congress will be quite focused on those benchmarks during the funding fight coming in February or March. They would however, be in error, to ignore the success on the ground in Iraq, the reconciliation taking place among the Iraqi people and various religious groups, as well as the increasing functionality of local and lower levels of government.

Either reconciling the differences in political success among Iraq’s people with the shortcomings of Iraq’s national government or providing their government a pathway to success, a “political surge,” is the single biggest challenge we face over the next few months.

Ignoring success which is creating stability and achieving political reforms across the power base of Iraq, the people, simply because the Iraqi national government has been slow to move would be shortsighted and foolish.

The current trends around the country are creating the needed political solution. It just happens to not be evolving in the manner foreseen via the benchmarks.

Throwing out this success toward a political solution because it did not fit our predetermined method would most certainly be throwing the baby, the infant democracy in Iraq, out with the dirty bathwater of Washington politics.

During the next few months it will be imperative that leaders in Washington D.C. heed the calls of Pete Hegseth and John Batiste to find the courage to act in the country’s best interest, not a political party’s or that of a vocal minority.

The solution here at home and a way forward toward victory will obviously not come from those who have been adamant defeatists.

Although it may, there are doubts it will come from lawmakers who have stood unyieldingly resolute in the cause for victory, though their strength will continue to be imperative for victory. We should continue to stand with those who have been critical for our success thus far.

But we should also be ready to stand with those to whom the burden for finding a workable path toward victory is likely to fall, lawmakers like Senator Ben Nelson. Those leaders who have held a reasoned stand on the war, previously sought resolutions to partisan issues, and who understand the consequences of defeat in the war against Islamic extremists will be critical to this fight in the upcoming months.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Congressman Murtha Admits Positives in Iraq

I had to look up the word “conniption.” I wasn’t sure how to spell it, but I’m sure that the likes of Code Pink, MoveOn, and other far left anti-war groups had a collective conniption fit last week.

One of their poster boys, John Murtha, quit toeing their line.

Surely what followed were the same fits of rage I’ve seen them have before.

In September at a Washington D.C. rally as Senator Joe Lieberman began to address a group of pro-mission vets and Gold Star Families, several members of the anti-war groups charged toward the stage with seemingly unrestricted fury, screaming with hatred, red faces, and flying spittle. Even as the police hauled them away, their venom did not subside.

Last week gave them another reason to become completely unhinged when Congressman Murtha visited Iraq and came back with a new view.

After a long run as one of the war’s most vocal critic he now says the surge strategy is working. He joined a growing list of previously critical lawmakers who see the undeniable positive developments in Iraq.

That can’t sit well with Code Pink or MoveOn who have counted on John Murtha to carry their Kool-Aid in Congress.

This summer and even into the fall when all metrics indicated growing and huge successes with the surge, Congressman Murtha remained absolutely adamant that it was not working.

At times he would fly off into tirades against those who saw and declared success in any aspect of the war. At one point he even let his emotions about the war override his senses when he publicly accused fellow Marines of cold-blooded murder at Haditha before an investigation was completed or charges leveled.

Now he says the surge is working.

We should welcome him back to reality with open arms.

Because the reality is that we are winning in Iraq and hope for the future has never been brighter with regards to the defeat of Al Qaeda there.

Congressman Murtha finally sees the truth of what’s happening. The surge is working, there is tremendous success in Iraq, but the national leaders still need to get their act together.

He should take heart with regard to the national leaders. As reconciliation continues at the lower levels, as has now been well documented by multiple parties, it will increasingly pressure Iraq’s national leaders to do the same and get their act together.

Needed pressure for reconciliation increased on the national level last week when, according to the Kuwait News Agency, a fatwa was issued by the leading Shiite cleric in Iraq, Ali Sistani, who “banned the killing of Iraqis, particularly the Sunnis, and urged the Shiites to protect their brother Sunnis.” During the meeting in which the fatwa was issued, Ali Sistani was quoted as saying, “I am a servant of all Iraqis, there is no difference between a Sunni, a Shiite or a Kurd or a Christian."

If national religious leaders can take that strong of a stand for all Iraqis, surely the political leaders are capable of doing so as well.

The counter-insurgency strategy of General Petraeus, the professionalism of our troops, their hard work, and the difficult risky stand taken by many Iraqis against the various terrorist and insurgent groups have all meshed to create the environment for success.

And John Murtha finally sees it.

The flip-flop bashers now need to leave him alone. He’s changed his mind based on the facts of the situation. Isn’t that how and why we want our lawmakers to change their positions? Too many times politicians change views for purely political reasons. Leave well enough alone on those occasions when politics takes a back seat to the truth.

However, two very visible questions remain on the political front here at home.

First, will Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi (whom reports say was furious with Murtha) quit playing politics with the war, finally concede that the surge is working, and reinforce success, or will they continue to play games, seeking our defeat for their own political victories?

Second, will the other Vietnam veteran to whom the left has often turned for quotes, sound bites, and solace, Senator Chuck Hagel, also concede that things are going well and finally support victory in Iraq, or will he continue to be the favored endorsee of Cindy Sheehan? If he were to finally admit success in Iraq and start voting for victory, he too would be welcomed back.

As Al Qaeda Shrinks, Focus Turns to Iran

As violence continues to drop and hundreds of Iraqi’s return home each day, a result of extinguishing the influence of Al Qaeda, many eyes are focusing on the negative impact of Iran’s involvement in Iraq.

With Al Qaeda’s violence waning, Iran’s meddling is increasingly sky-lined against Iraq’s reformation.

The capture of Iranian weapons and Quds Forces (Iranian Special Forces operatives) in Iraq is now well documented. Iraq’s residents have quickly become effective informants on the movement of these munitions and personnel. Coalition Forces have been successful in diminishing the impact of Iran’s intervention through these means.

But Iran’s relationship and involvement through Iraq’s militias is still creating instability.

Two large Shiite militias had been responsible, to a lesser extent than Al Qaeda and the Sunni insurgency, for sparking previous troubles. Al Qaeda started the problems and the Shiite militias escalated the violence as they sought to defend Iraq’s Shiite population against Al Qaeda.

One Shiite militia responsible for their share of trouble was the Jaash al Mahdi or JAM led by Muqtada al Sadr. Sadr is well known for his anti-Americanism and ties to Iran.

However, as part of “The New Way Forward” at least one diplomat was specifically assigned the task of working with Sadr to have the JAM stand down and bring cooperation between JAM and the Coalition Forces. Although it took some time, he succeeded and earlier this year Sadr agreed to do that very thing. The stand down of most of the JAM has helped curb the violence in Iraq, although splinter groups continue to be troublesome.

The second group is the BADR Organization formerly known as the BADR Army controlled by Iraq’s largest political party, The Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. Many leaders of this group spent years of exile in Iran during the reign of Saddam Hussein. The BADR Organization is thus very close to Iran.

Through BADR, Iran is trying to assert the most influence and the most violence.

The same diplomat who has been successful in working with the Sadrists believes that it is now BADR, not JAM, working directly with the Iranians for training and equipment.

BADR is suspected in the bombing of a Baghdad market last week. Subsequent arrests have now been made which also include the arrests of members of a “special group,” Coalition speak for those with direct ties to Iran. BADR is often associated with such forces.

Although both militia groups have been responsible for adding to the complexity in Iraq, as with so many current trends, there is reason for optimism with regard to their diminishing negative impacts.

In Shiite dominated southern Iraq, particularly around Basra, BADR has been somewhat of a thorn in the side of the Coalition as British forces have been turning over control to the Iraqi government. However, at this time “JAM is fully engaged with the top UK brass regarding stabilizing Basra” according to the same diplomat.

Having to concern themselves with one potentially hostile group certainly simplifies the situation for the Coalition forces.

There is a better sign, however, than this willing militia cooperation. That comes from the Iraqi people themselves.

Through the course of the last 6 months, the Iraqi people have been rejecting combatants and insurgents on all sides. On many occasions tribal and community leaders from all religions, groups, and sects have come together and rejected the violence being perpetrated by any antagonist. Accords have been reached which excluded all violent groups, including Al Qaeda and at times BADR and JAM.

They are doing the same with Iran. In a nearly amazing development, Reuters provided a story on the 21st about a group of Iraq’s sheiks who released a petition signed by more than 600 Shiite tribal leaders and 300,000 Iraqi’s condemning and rejecting Iran’s involvement in their affairs. Although both Shiite, the Arab Iraqi’s are rejecting the Persians who they say are guilty of "The most poisonous dagger stabbed in us, exploiting the Shi'ite sect to implement its evil goals, and planning to divide Iraq."

As has happened in so many parts of Iraq, the people are again rejecting a group which has shown that its interests are not solely focused on the Iraqi people, stability, and peace. The people increasingly seem to understand that they hold the key to their future and the power to influence what takes place in their country.

Coalition and Iraqi ability to diminish Iran’s influence will thus be achieved, not just through diplomacy and interdiction of Iran’s weapons and forces, but by continuing to foster the environment in which Iraq’s people reject Iran.

Supporting Their Mission Supports the Troops

I’ve always felt that those who said they “support the troops but not the mission” held an untenable position. Supporting the troops and their mission are inseparable.

That is especially true in the fight against Islamic extremists in Iraq. For the Islamic extremists to win their fight against us, they need Americans to lack perseverance in the protracted war they are more than willing to endure.

They need Americans who will shrink from victory. Their goal has always been to defeat the will of the American people, not defeat our troops in battle.

Thus, those who do not support the mission provide the enemy exactly the kind of morale boost he needs to continue his fight against us and our troops. As long as this enemy believes he can outlast the will of a majority of the American people, he will keep fighting.

Encouraging an environment in which our enemy’s resolve is steeled against our troops does not support the troops.

Now, with the undeniable success we’re having in Iraq, the “support the troops, but not the mission” position is becoming increasingly precarious. In fact, taking a position which encourages our enemy to keep fighting when our troops are achieving so much success in their mission against them is unjustifiable.

One mission of our troops has been to foster an environment where cooperation and reconciliation can take place among the different groups of Iraqi’s. Our troops are succeeding in that mission.

They have united the Iraqi people against both Al Qaeda and the Iranian influenced Shia militias.

The L.A. Times published a story this week, as so many others have over the last several months, about Sunni and Shia joining together to defend their local communities against militants on both sides. This column has chronicled many events where groups from all backgrounds in Iraq have been participating in “bottom-up” reconciliation.

Who can’t support our troops in that mission?

Another of our troops’ missions has been to drive Al Qaeda from Iraq.

Numerous stories over the last few months have detailed that very thing. Our troops, working with Iraqi forces and Concerned Iraqi Citizens have been relentless in their pursuit of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, reducing the terrorist organization to a mere fraction of what it once was.

Who can’t support our troops in that mission?

Another mission for our troops has been to eliminate the violence in Iraq fueled by militants and terrorists so that normal civilian life could once again take hold for the growth of the people and self governance.

The number of attacks against civilians is at its lowest point since early last year. Civilian deaths are down by 60% since June alone. Attacks are averaging less than 1 per day in many areas. Anbar province has become so calm that the Marines are starting to get bored. The sectarian violence has all but ended and recently Prime Minister Malaki declared the same for Baghdad.

Newsweek recently did a story about Baghdad coming back to life from the perspective of a journalist who has been there off and on for the last four and a half years. He now sees definite progress with durability. This week, Multi-National Forces – Iraq released a story about Baghdad schools reopening and the distribution of school supplies by our soldiers. Other recent stories have shared news of markets reopening and staying open late, amusement parks being attended, and people moving back to Baghdad.

Through the efforts of our troops working with Iraqi forces and citizens, a sense of normalcy is returning to many areas of the country, the kind of normalcy that allows for self-governance.

Who can’t support our troops in their mission to end the violence in Iraq sparked by the same terrorists who also plan our demise?

One goal of this counter-insurgency “surge” strategy has been to create an environment which is less risky for our troops. It is sadly unfortunate when our troops are injured or killed. The news of their deaths is very emotionally difficult for me. So, I am a firm believer in our troops having a mission which allows them to defeat our enemies with the least number of casualties.

Our troops have that mission with “The New Way Forward,” a strategy which has decreased the number of their deaths to the lowest point since October 2006.

When there’s a war to win, you need to support a mission which does that.

In every way, by every metric, our troops are succeeding in their mission. They are winning. Truly supporting them requires that we support them in these winning endeavors.

Religious Zealotry, Not Foreign Policy, to Blame

Those who believe that Islamic terrorist groups flourish in response to U.S. policies need to review this week’s news to see that Salafist beliefs and organizations are trying to impose their will throughout the world for their own reasons.

Simply put, the United States is not to blame for the existence of Islamic terrorist organizations or the hatred they harbor.

A world-wide movement exists among a minority of radical Islamists, not the world-wide Muslim population, who believe it is their obligation to force, impose, and enforce their interpretation of Islam upon the people of the world.

It’s not just the spread of Islam these terrorist groups concern themselves with. It’s the spread of their version (emphasis added) of Islam they believe in. Nothing less will be tolerated, nor will anyone who tolerates anything less.

In their eyes, all who do not follow their philosophies or who tolerate those who do not follow their philosophies are infidels worthy of destruction.

To them, not only are westerners, Christians, and all non-Muslims worthy of death, but so are other Muslims who don’t interpret the Koran as they do.

They have therefore declared enemies and attempted to proselytize by the sword around the globe.

They exist in the Philippines.

Bill Gertz reported this week on a briefing by Special Operations Command – Pacific on the status of the Al Qaeda affiliated group in the Philippines known as Abu Sayyaf. For several years Philippine and American special operations forces have been hunting members of this Islamic terrorist organization.

The extremists demanded action against Muslim nations in northern Africa this week.

Al Qaeda number two man Ayman al Zawahiri called for the overthrow of the leaders in Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria.

These mostly Muslim, northern African countries do not practice Islam exactly as the terrorists believe it should be practiced. To their detriment they have also developed relationships with many other countries the terrorists view as “dogs, crusaders, and infidels,” which in turn makes them “slaves” who deserve punishment.

Although largely Arab and Islamic, they do not adhere to the Al Qaeda mentality and interpretation of Islam. They are therefore worthy of being overthrown and replaced by regimes which do.

In conjunction with Zawahiri’s calls came reports from the AP and Al-Jazeera that a terrorist organization from Libya, the Fighting Islamic Group in Libya, has joined ranks with Al Qaeda. Reuters had a story about terrorists in Algeria noting extremists from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat. In an AFP report, Zawahiri also touted jihad by militants from these African countries against the United States, France, and Spain.

Radical Islamists exist in Pakistan.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf took steps this week in his country, unfortunately acting anti-democratically, in order to confront the growing threat of extremism in his own country.

Pakistan’s proximity to so many radical groups, including the Taliban, refusal to nationally submit to a Taliban style belief system, and cooperation in fighting against terrorists has made Pakistan and Musharraf prime targets. This week he took actions he felt necessary to defend against them.

He did so in response to those groups growing in strength, their offensive against the government (including publicly beheading six Pakistani soldiers), and moving outside their traditional tribal areas into other parts of the country.

Pakistan has become yet another example of extreme Islamic militants acting violently against other Muslims who do not share the same radical interpretations and beliefs they do. The same has happened in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Somalia.

Bloomberg news also reported this week that Al Qaeda is recruiting British children to carry out attacks against their own country. The head of MI-5 stated that, “terrorists are methodically and intentionally targeting young people and children in this country.”

Recent history, not just this week’s news, proves the trend of a global network of Islamic terrorists who are set upon converting or killing anyone who disagrees with them.

Many nations throughout the world, regardless of religion or belief system, have now had to face the reality of Islamic terrorists who refuse to tolerate those who do not worship as they do.

The world-wide trends and threats are clear. Islamic terrorists are waging a jihad against everyone, not just the United States, who does not share the same religious beliefs as they.

It is foolish and short-sighted to believe that the policies of the United States alone cause them to exist.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Iraq Provides Lessons on Local Control

In yet another step forward this week in Iraq, Karbala became the 8th province to be turned over from Coalition to full Iraqi authority.

It is now well documented that reconciliation has been taking place between Iraqi’s at local and provincial levels. Cooperation between different sects and religions is occurring in several areas of the country.

Local people and their leaders have been finding ways to bring about stability and peace to more and more neighborhoods, eventually into whole villages and towns.

Many Iraqi’s have rejected the radical form of Islam that Al Qaeda is so desperately trying to import. Their brutality has finally brought many of the Iraqi people together, standing in opposition to the tyranny terrorists have tried to impose.

At the provincial levels, local governments have found ways to function. They’ve allocated assets and put them to use for necessary public works projects and economic stimulation.

At local levels, and sometimes even at the provincial level, the Iraqi people have begun to shake off a generation of oppression. It can not go without notice that the present day Iraqi has lived under dictatorship and brutality for the majority of their lives. Yet they understand and are making strides toward the freedom of self-rule.

They are doing this as individuals. They are growing in the knowledge of liberty at the personal and local levels. They are beginning to exhibit the actions of free people.

They do all this despite their national government struggling to find its identity and its way.

While personal freedom, local, and provincial governments grow, the influence the Iraqi national government has on their lives grows proportionally smaller and smaller.

Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be?

Interestingly, some Americans view the weakness of the Iraqi national government as a “failure” for their country. They project their own ideas for a powerful federal government upon the Iraq situation, neglecting the progress of local governments.

Is it any wonder that as our federal government continues to grow in size, scope, influence, and power, that some Americans would become incapable of seeing growth in personal liberty and local governments in the newly emerging democracy of Iraq?

Has what is happening in Iraq become an example of what our country was? Personal freedom and governance pushed down to the lowest levels with as much power going to individuals, state and local governments as possible, while the power and scope of a federal government remains limited.

Some of the same individuals who have called for partitioning, with the intent being more provincial autonomy and local control, as a resolution to the conflict in Iraq are among the same group which has been trying to consolidate more and more power in our own federal government.

There is constantly a push toward higher taxes which controls income and forces dependence upon the government.

One can look toward the growth in regulations from the EPA, FDA, USDA, Department of Education, and other government agencies to see the increase in government telling us how we may or may not live.

The constant assault on our Second Amendment, the very thing that guards us against a tyrannical government, allows consolidation of power within government.

Iron grip control of retirement funds through a failing Social Security program is another way our federal government has outgrown its purpose.

Recent attempts toward nationalized healthcare through the SCHIP program attempt to control yet another facet of our lives. As with Social Security, the attempted growth in SCHIP is another move from a well-intentioned program for those in need to a government controlling the future of individuals.

Federal judges who legislate from the bench rather than letting the people’s body decide how they ought to be governed shifts power away from the people.

Lists could be made of areas where state’s rights have been infringed upon and the many times national leaders have called “foul” when a state attempted to assert the authority granted to it by the Constitution.

While Iraq moves slowly toward self-governance, local control, and growth in individual freedom, our country moves away from those very same things upon which we were established.

We will long remember the war in Iraq for the militarily hard lessons learned there.

We should also take care to remember the lessons of people establishing personal liberty along with functionality and power of government at levels below the national. Those lessons, along with the history of our own nation, may be useful should the day come when we decide to move back away from such an overgrown federal government.

How Much Will We Tolerate From Iran?

How loud would the outrage and the call for action be against Iran had they attacked an American base in the Middle East and killed several hundred of our troops?

Would the American public tolerate Iran attacking one of our ships in the Persian Gulf, killing several hundred sailors?

What if an Iranian sponsored terrorist group made an attack in the U.S. and killed hundreds of Americans?

In reality, Iran is already responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American troops in Iraq over the course of the last year.

Explosively formed projectiles (EFPs) imported from Iran have been deadly to our troops. These copper-disked roadside bombs have been linked to Iran time and again.

Each week Multi-National Forces Iraq reports on disrupted and destroyed terrorist cells that had direct ties to Iran. These cells are often implicated in moving fighters in and out of Iraq and Iran. They receive military training in Iran and are then sent back into Iraq to kill Americans.

There are others with training and financial ties to Iran, often lumped into a group identified as “Special Groups.” These groups include everything from kidnapping cells to the EFP and terrorist trafficking cells noted above.

Several members of Iran’s Quds force have been caught in Iraq. The Quds force is that specialized branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard responsible for special operations and covert actions. Roles of the Quds force include stirring up anti-American sentiment, training insurgents and terrorists, and leading subversive attacks against our forces in Iraq.

Shiite militias with close ties to Iran have been warring with those loyal to a stable Iraq in southern parts of the country.

British SAS troops have been fighting Iranians trying to smuggle people and weapons into Iraq.

There is overwhelming evidence of Iran’s detrimental influence in Iraq and their complicity in the deaths of our troops.

However, these questions and facts about Iran’s involvement and their direct ties to the deaths of our troops are not offered as an endorsement for war with Iran. They are offered as a way to question why the piecemeal loss of our troops has not steeled Americans for action against Iran.

I dread the thought of yet another public front on the war against terrorists opening. Unfortunately that front is already opening, and Iran is, without doubt, heavily involved in terrorist activities which have killed Americans.

But America is not ready for war with Iran.

Fighting in both Iraq and Afghanistan in addition to other world-wide commitments has shown that our military is too small to take on much more without an expansion or a mentality where our troops leave to fight for years at a time. The American public is not ready for that.

There is far too much dovish sentiment in Washington D.C. and the rest of the country for an expanded conflict with Iran. That dovish sentiment has been reborn with the distance of time since 9/11. Too many have forgotten the true threat and intent of Islamofascists, even of the Iranian Shiite variety.

Nor should anyone seek war. The analogy has been made that the enemy are the “wolves,” Americans are “sheep,” and our military the “sheep dogs.” Well, war is tough on the sheep dogs. Those who have experienced war should never want it revisited on their brothers and sisters in arms if other options still exist.

Sadly, Iran is likely to push us and others to war, and sadly, America’s warrior class and their families will shoulder the burden alone, again, because all Americans are not willing to sacrifice for their defense.

Although we don’t want it, some are ready for war with Iran if pushed to it. The deaths of Americans at the hands of the Iranians have already steeled their resolve.

But America is not ready for war with Iran.

Which leads us back to the original questions: would we be thinking differently about fighting Iran had they killed the same number of Americans at one time? Would we be ready then?

Hundreds of our troops have died individually, but their deaths have not carried the same weight had they all died during one large attack, or were it civilians who had been killed.

Why the difference in value upon their lives, and the likely difference in outrage by Americans?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Medal of Honor Awardee Ignored

Next week the Congressional Medal of Honor will be posthumously awarded to Navy Lieutenant SEAL Mike Murphy from New York. The medal will be presented to his family by the President at the White House.

This will be the first Medal of Honor awarded for the fight in Afghanistan against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, and the third during the war against terrorists.

Lieutenant Murphy’s heroism is detailed in the book “Lone Survivor” written by Marcus Luttrell, the only member of Lieutenant Murphy’s four man reconnaissance team still alive after a fight with over 100 Taliban in the mountains of Afghanistan.

Not surprisingly, The New York Times didn’t even mention the awarding of our nation’s highest honor for valor to a home state boy.

Their neglect of this remarkable story is to be expected. After all, as the icon of liberal mainstream news, why would they ever report something positive about the military?

After dozens and dozens of front page stories about Abu Ghraib, they have no room, ideologically, for reporting the extraordinary heroism of one of the world’s most elite warriors.

But, it also seems appropriate that they didn’t cover the story. After reading Marcus Luttrell’s account of Lieutenant Murphy’s final day, I have doubts that Lieutenant Murphy or Luttrell would have wanted the bastion of liberal media to cover it.

On that fateful day in 2005, while conducting a reconnaissance mission in the Hindu Kush, their four man team was accidentally happened upon by three Afghani goat herders.

What ensued was a discussion among the four SEALs about what to do with the three Afghanis. The rules of engagement weren’t specific enough for them to decide whether they should kill, detain, or release the men.

During the debate, Lieutenant Murphy pointed out that if they killed the three men, “The media in the U.S.A. will latch on to it and write stuff about the brutish U.S. Armed Forces. Very shortly after that, we’ll be charged with murder.”

At that point, Luttrell confessed that even though he wasn’t afraid of the Taliban, he was “afraid of the liberal media back in the U.S.A.”

As the discussion continued, Lieutenant Murphy again stated that “…the liberal media will attack us without mercy” if they killed the three.

The four SEALs weighed the strategic, tactical, safety, legal, and religious implications on the rules of engagement as best they could.

Unfortunately, these men served during a time with a biased liberal media, bent more toward an ideology, less toward honest and accurate news reporting, and one with an eager willingness to publicly sacrifice members of the military, often without proof. In this environment, Lieutenant Murphy had to consider the impact of the press against his men, the mission at hand, and the strategic blow the press was likely to deal the mission in Afghanistan.

In the end Lieutenant Murphy decided to let the men go. The three immediately alerted the Taliban who then attacked them en masse.

The four fought valiantly, making one fighting withdrawal after another down the side of a mountain. When all other options failed, Lieutenant Murphy moved to an open area where his satellite phone would work, exposed himself to heavy gun fire, made a call for a rescue, was shot in the back during the call, but finished and continued to fight until his death.

Sadly, as I read through this account, I couldn’t keep the blaring headlines of Haditha out of my mind. I could hear John Murtha screaming “cold-blooded” murder as he did about our Marines at Haditha. Similar treatment would have befallen the four had they made a different decision that day.

Their story flashed back through my mind as I read through the recent, relevant words of General Sanchez about the press:

“Unscrupulous reporting…solely focused on supporting your agenda…preconceived notions of what our military had done…no regard for the ‘collateral damage’ you will cause…tactically insignificant events have become strategic defeats for America…unjustly destroyed the individual reputations and careers of those involved…”

Lieutenant Murphy became a hero that day through his courage, fighting spirit, unselfish decision to expose himself to mortally dangerous gunfire, and his decision to err on the side of strategic victory by letting three innocent civilians live despite the personal danger.

Unfortunately he had to weigh the bias of our press in his decision.

Given that, maybe the New York Times, or other decidedly anti-military news organizations, shouldn’t cover the stories of such heroes. They somehow don’t seem worthy enough to print their names or their deeds.

"Phony Soldier" Debate Ignores Service, Disguises Other Problems

A soldier I know who served in Iraq, and remains quite indifferent to the war, asked me one day, “have you ever noticed how those vets now opposed to the war never left the base they were on, they were some clerk or something, but never left their base?”

I didn’t think it was a fair statement, and have ruminated over it on several occasions.

He made that comment long before the whole “Phony Soldier, Rush Limbaugh” thing blew up.

I should ask him what he thinks now, because the soldier who is on the television ads calling out Rush, the one who suffered traumatic brain injury, is evidence that not all vets against the war stayed behind a desk in Iraq.

The reality is, all of us who’ve served have earned the right to take a stand on the war: for, against, or indifferent. All who served have earned the right of respect from that service. Whether we agree or disagree with each other matters not, because all of us have “been there, done that.”

Every American has the right to their opinion on the war as well. All of us, for and against and indifferent to the war, fight to insure our fellow citizens retain that right, whether we agree with their opinions or not. We serve unconditionally.

Jesse MacBeth, whom Rush referred to, who couldn’t even make it through boot camp, but then had the audacity to belittle the service of others through horrific tall tales, also has the right to an opinion (not to contrive stories), but should know he’s on very thin ice when sharing it.

His tales of atrocities not only demean the service of all, but they also make the jobs of those still fighting even more difficult. His stories help fuel the fire for Islamic Jihadists. They are a recruiting tool, encouraging others to kill America’s finest.

He is worthy of the title “phony soldier” and all the shame, venom, and disrespect the label is intended to carry.

Those who willingly prop he and his stories up in their deliberate attempts to attack, conspicuously or inconspicuously, the service of our troops are only one rung up the ladder of disgust from him. They are complicit in making the jobs of our troops more difficult.

Sadly, while the national debate rages about what was said or not said, several things have been lost along the way.

First, we stopped talking about the war and the best ways to move forward against terrorists. There are still extremists who want all of us, regardless of status or opinion, dead. There is still a war to be won; something much more important than discussing those sitting on the sidelines.

Second, we continued to ignore the valiant efforts of those who’ve fought for us. Instead of talking about true heroes, we were talking about a phony soldier.

More than 180 of our troops have earned our nation’s highest commendations for valor in the fight against terrorists. There are countless others who have made a difference to those they served alongside, to the Iraqi and Afghani peoples, and the security of this nation. We should be talking about them.

Third, our Senate took yet another step away from the great body it once was. Instead of acting as the greatest deliberative body in the world, the Senate continued its descent toward becoming a debilitated body. Only the Nebraska Cornhusker football team is falling farther and faster than they.

Officially attacking the cloudy comments of a citizen, albeit one with a large audience, and demanding action against him, is so very far from what our founders intended and from what this country needs from our Senate.

Lastly, the credibility of our national media eroded even further after taking up the spin and talking points of a group designated specifically to the task of contorting the media to its agenda, reporting it as hard news.

Our national media was gullible and biased enough to take a direct feed from one of several incredibly biased, far-left attack groups and run with it: hook, line, and sinker. No apparent research, no balance, no debate, no objectivity, just plain and simple ideology and incompetence.

To see this cornerstone of democracy crumbling as it is, is truly disconcerting.

Although we all serve unconditionally, isn’t it right for us to ask, “Are these crumbling, eroding pillars of our government, national identity, and democracy what we fight for?”

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Facts and Reality Change Minds About Iraq

Suddenly Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama can no longer promise their far-left base they’d make an immediate pull out from Iraq if elected President. In fact, they couldn’t even promise to have all our troops out by 2013 at the end of the term.

I guess sometimes the light of truth even penetrates the sand these two usually have their heads stuck in.

If you caught the most recent debate of Democratic Presidential hopefuls, several of the lead candidates could no longer answer in the affirmative that they’d immediately pull troops from Iraq.

Have they been listening to the counsel of President Bush about Iraq and the complexities of the Middle East?

Are they trying to distance themselves from the unhinged MoveOn crowd after public sentiment turned sharply against them following their attack on General Petraeus?

Did their internal polling finally move them from “dangerously weak” on national security to “absolutely unelectable?”

Or is it the fact that the surge is working and for them to deny this would illuminate their ignorance about the current situation in Iraq and reveal to the world how partisan and selfishly, politically ambitious they truly are? Neither good positions as more and more Americans see success in Iraq while paying attention to the politics of this Presidential race.

The fact is we continue to experience and achieve success in Iraq across many fronts as illustrated by several different metrics.

Living in small combat outposts in the villages and neighborhood and sharing risk with the Iraqi’s has protected them, gained their trust, and in turn given us the actionable intelligence to fight Al Qaeda.

Not only have we been able to take down many Al Qaeda cells in Iraq, last week we also killed Abu Osama al-Tunisi after earlier capturing several members of his immediate cell. Al-Tunisi was the emir of foreign terrorists in Iraq, part of Al Qaeda’s leadership circle, and the man responsible for kidnapping, torturing, and killing three American soldiers last summer.

Brigadier General Joseph Anderson speaking from Iraq says that our efforts have isolated the terrorists into pockets which we can easily exploit. From personal experience, I know the information to locate these groups comes from Iraqi citizens who are increasingly secure and are then more and more willing to provide intelligence about these cells.

The value of taking the volatile Al Qaeda element out of the picture is immeasurable in its benefit to the safety of the Iraqi people, our troops, our national security, and the ability of political processes to move forward in Iraq.

The Iraqi Army continues to show more and more competence, is operating independently in many places, and providing promise for a drawdown of American forces replaced by skilled Iraqi forces. Just on the 30th alone, Reuters reported that Iraqi forces had killed 44 militants, arrested 52 others, and defused 3 roadside bombs in one 24 hour period.

In addition to the reconciliation and cooperation across religious and sectarian lines taking place between tribal sheiks and provincial leaders, the New York Times reported this week on increasing provincial government competency. At local levels schools, hospitals, and power plants are being built, factories reopened, and loans being made for small business ventures.

This is yet another indicator that Iraq is rebuilding itself from the bottom up, not from the top down as many big-government types in Washington believe must happen.

Also, the trend over the last few months has been toward fewer American and Iraqi deaths. Now the AP is reporting that the number of deaths actually reached their lowest levels in over a year. The troop surge and movement on the political front are having an undeniably positive impact.

Not to be overlooked among the successes being achieved in Iraq is the fact that the Anbar Awakening is a group of Sunni Arabs openly fighting against the radical, Wahabi teachings of other Sunni Arabs. The Iraqi’s have said “no” to the extreme version of Islam which gave birth to Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Many of us have wondered where the Muslim voices have been to disapprove, disavow, and distance themselves from the ideology which brought us September 11. Well, Iraqi voices are doing just that, fighting against radical Islam, making a statement across Iraq, doing what we’d all hoped would happen in the fight against terrorists. They’re just having trouble being heard over all the defeatist bloviating coming from Washington D.C.

If they get loud enough, maybe even Barack and Hillary will hear their muffled voices through the sand.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

On Capitol Hill With Vets for Freedom and Families United

This week nearly 250 members of Vets for Freedom and 450 members of Families United For Our Troops and Their Mission gathered on Capitol Hill to tell our elected officials to stay strong in the fight, for others to get in the fight against terrorists. We wanted to let them know that there is another voice in America other than the one they hear from MoveOn, ANSWER, and Code Pink.

These veterans, Blue Star, and Gold Star family members were on the Hill to let their Senators and Congressmen know there are plenty of us out here who believe in persevering in the war on terrorists and that victory in Iraq is essential to long-term success over the terrorists.

Their visit to the Hill came on the heels of Gathering of Eagles rallying in Washington D.C. to counter the anti-war protestors the weekend prior.

I am a member of Families United For Our Troops and Their Mission as well as Vets for Freedom, one of two Nebraska state co-captains for Vets. Carl Hartmann, an infantryman, a Corporal in the Marine Corps and veteran of three combat tours in Iraq is the other co-captain.

For he and I, the event started on Sunday evening with a dinner and informational, training meeting with other state leaders, the executive director of Vets for Freedom, Pete Hegseth, as well as the original co-founders of the group, including Wade Zirkle and David Bellavia.

Staff Sergeant Bellavia is a highly decorated Army infantryman and the author of “House to House,” a must read for anyone who wants to get a picture of an infantryman’s life and what fighting in Fallujah was really like.

On Monday evening, after the arrival of the other vets through the day, a banquet was held for the entire group. Guest speakers for the event included Wade Zirkle, David Bellavia and:

  • Fred Kagan from the American Enterprise Institute, one of the nation’s leading scholars on Iraq
  • Retired Army General Jack Keane whose testimony before Congress got Kansas Congresswoman Nancy Boyda so worked up
  • Congressman Brian Baird from Washington who has shown more political courage than I can recall from a member of Congress with his new found support for the war
  • Congressman Jim Marshall from Georgia

Highlights from their speeches that I jotted down. Mostly just comments and ideas listed. Direct quotes as noted:

David Bellavia – “Every day is Memorial Day for us.”

Fred Kagan

  • The surge strategy was developed by military leaders frustrated with the strategy up until then. They were frustrated with the deaths and lack of progress.
  • There is Iraq and “Myraq.” Myraq is the distorted view that so many in Congress have.
    The number of troops was never the issue, the strategy was wrong – we weren’t doing what was needed.
  • The first that needed done was security for the populace.
  • Congress can’t legislate a strategy. Many actually want to revert back to and pursue the strategy that we pursued in ’05 and ’06 which didn’t work.
  • Why are we still there? Because of Al Qaeda and Iran. Fighting against them is protecting the vital national interests in the middle east.
  • There are no longer any Al Qaeda sanctuaries in Iraq. None. They are all gone.
    Baqouba is now clear because of the surge.
  • We need to go after the Iranians now which includes their Quds force, terrorist cells, Lebanese Hezbollah agents.
  • We are now disrupting those Iranian agents, closing up the Iranian border, trying to clear EFP’s.
  • Focus is shifting to stopping the Iranians.

General Keane

  • The strategy we are pursuing, which is to protect the people is defeating the insurgency, including Al Qaeda, Iran, and any indigenous insurgents.
  • Security was the first step and is/will lead(ing) to political movement and economic development.
  • The surge was never designed to be permanent.
  • The surge is a classic counter-offensive campaign for those who think militarily.
  • There is significant progress in Iraq.
  • Al Qaeda is defeated. That coming from our very best intel guys.
  • The Anbar Awakening is the first significant push back by Arabs against fundamental Islamists.
  • We’ve now defeated Al Qaeda in the Diyala province as well, with the help of the local population. They started helping us in July.
  • We’re not letting Al Qaeda rest or reset this time. We keep after them.
  • The most profound event is what’s happening with the Sunni’s in Anbar. They have rejected Taliban-like thinking, Sharia law, beheading children, cutting fingers off for smoking. It was a political movement among the provinces leaders.
  • The Sunni insurgency is fading away. Those who used to fight against us are fighting with us.
  • The Iraqi government is reaching out to former Sunni insurgents. There is political reconciliation taking place.
  • Progress is growing exponentially.
  • The Shia militias are still a problem.
  • The Iraqi people demanding change/progress in the national government will drive even more progress far more than our brow beating them over their bench marks.
  • We have turned the corner.
  • We know for a fact that the objective of Al Qaeda and those loyal to Iran is to break the political and moral will of the American people.
  • The Shia are not as formidable a problem as Sunni’s and Al Qaeda.
  • The Shia militias exist to protect their own people, and really didn’t become a problem until Sunni’s starting direct attacks in ’06. (’04 was an exception).
  • A few of the Shia are irreconcilable, like Al Qaeda. With that exception we are able to work with the Shia.

Congressman Baird

  • “I can get another job, I can’t get another country.”
  • Petraeus and Crocker provided a stark contrast between professionals like themselves and politicians making 7 minute speeches during their testimony. The politicians “should have been shutting the hell up and listening to those who know what they’re talking about.”
  • Talk of withdrawal hurts the cause in Iraq, it doesn’t help pressure the Iraqi’s to work and stand up (like so many in Congress think). Why should they stand if we’re not going to help?

At the banquet I met Bill Kristol from The Weekly Standard and frequent guest and panelist on the Fox News Channel. I also had the privilege of sitting with two sisters whose brother had been killed with others from Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines near Haditha. One of the things that strengthens me is being able to stand with people like that, who’ve lost so much, but still believe in fighting through to victory in Iraq. If they can stay strong for victory, then I have to as well. Or in military parlance, if they can hack it, then I will too.

Tuesday, The Big Day, Starting at The White House

The next morning our Vets for Freedom group, Families United, members of the VFW and American Legion all had breakfast on the south lawn of the White House. The Marine Corps band played in the background from the veranda of the White House. We were treated to a speech by the President. Also in attendance were the First Lady, Secretary of State, and the Vice President. Many of those in attendance were able to speak with our nation’s leaders after the President’s speech, but others had to head for Capitol Hill to carry out the mission we were there for.

In addition to the honor of being there and having the President, Vice President and Secretary of State in attendance was getting to meet some of the Gold Star families, including the mother of the sisters I’d met the previous evening. This again reaffirmed and steeled my resolve to stay in this fight.

With Senator Hagel

Our first meeting of the morning was with Senator Chuck Hagel. If you’ve been reading my columns for the last year or so, you’ll know that I have not been a fan of the Senator’s position on Iraq. I’ve been quite critical.

We first met with his Chief of Staff, LouAnn Linehan, herself a Marine Corps Mom (her son’s a helo pilot) and the Senator’s MLA. LouAnn and I have had previous discussions on the phone after some of my columns appeared in Nebraska newspapers. LouAnn’s a nice lady, we just disagree on Iraq. Carl laughed when the Senator’s aid mentioned that she thought LouAnn and I had spoken before. I had previously joked that we’ll be lucky to get in the door after the relationship I’ve developed with his office.

The four of us had a good discussion for 20 minutes or more about our views on Iraq. They certainly see it differently than those of us in Vets for Freedom. LouAnn said almost all of their calls on Iraq are “get out now” calls. By the end of the next day, after visiting with the rest of Nebraska’s congressional delegation (except Fortenberry), I found this interesting because it is not consistent with what others said they are hearing from Nebraskans. Maybe it’s just a matter of people calling those representatives they agree with.

One lighter moment came toward the end of discussing deployment stress on us and our families when Carl told her he was volunteering for a fourth tour in Iraq next summer. LouAnn immediately switched from “political mode” into “concerned Marine Corps Mother mode,” and demanded of Carl, “What does your mother think of that?” I think Marines and their mothers can all appreciate the sincerity and humor of such a moment. Marines take care of each other, and so do their moms.

The Senator then stepped in and spent about 20 – 30 minutes with us. I know we didn’t change his mind, but at least we delivered our message and he listened, although he did speak his mind. I was thankful for so much time and his attentiveness knowing the busy schedule of everyone on Capitol Hill.

He is concerned with the deployment tempo on the troops and their families. I believe his concern for the lack of political progress at the national level overcomes his ability to see the impact the success of the troops and the surge is having on a broader scale. He hesitates to acknowledge any success in Iraq. He cited several examples of failures by the government, and seems to be solely focused on that.

It’s as if he’s stuck in a mode of criticism and pessimism, and can’t see beyond that.

Although he expressed concern that funds will get completely cut off and we’ll have to make the precipitous pull out which would send the whole middle east into chaos creating a bad national security situation for us, I was disappointed with his votes during the rest of the week. He voted for (and co-sponsored) the Webb amendment which is the back door way to cut off troops for the war and then voted with 46 others to bring all the troops home in 9 months. Those votes aren’t consistent with the concerns for a stable middle east.

With Senator Roberts’ (Kansas) Staff

Carl, Pete Hegseth, the lone VFF rep from Kansas on the hill, and I then met with Senator Roberts staff. They assured us the four of us that Senator Roberts intends to remain very solid for victory. It was reassuring after having been in Hagel’s office. It was also good to sit in the meeting with Pete as well, there was much to learn from him. He speaks to the issues very fluently, the benefit of doing so all day every day I’m sure.

With Senator Nelson

Pete Hegseth, Carl, and I then headed to Senator Ben Nelson’s office. Senator Nelson had just returned from his fourth trip to Iraq over the weekend. Although we were only scheduled for a few minutes with him, he graciously took more time to discuss some of the issues. We shared our views and concerns. He did the same for us.

My assessment of the meeting is that Senator Nelson understands the complexities and the obstacles to victory in Iraq which we all discussed. At the same time he is afraid that funding could get cut off forcing a precipitous withdrawal, a disaster for the region, and a bad national security situation for us.

He doesn’t want to impose hard time lines, only recommended dates as goals, nor does he want to tie the hands of our commanders on the ground in Iraq. He sees where we’re having success with the Petraeus plan at the local levels, but has concerns over the lack of progress with national political reconciliation.

I got the impression that he wanted General Petraeus’ plan to continue moving forward given the success it’s shown and is working to find some way to provide the political cover for that to happen. He’s been working hard on his Nelson-Collins amendment which he believes will do that. He didn’t phrase it in those terms, that’s simply my assessment of what he sees as the best route to victory, resolving this war, and what he’s trying to do.

His votes against the nine month pull-out deadline and the Webb amendment were consistent with the spirit and intent of what he told us during our time with him.

With Congressman Adrian Smith

Carl and I headed to Congressman Adrian Smith’s office. Being delayed at the White House earlier had set the schedule back and we had to cancel an earlier morning appointment with him. But we showed up unscheduled, happened to catch him in the office, and he graciously agreed to meet with us before he had to head to the Capitol for a vote.
(I am very surprised at the schedule’s all of our representatives keep. They are jam packed and non-stop well into the evening hours every day. Getting the chance to catch them for even 10 minutes is a challenge.)

Congressman Smith assured us he understands the complexities and obstacles of Iraq, but is committed to victory there. I felt confident and comfortable with his position after the meeting. Although the meeting was fairly short, he and I have spoken about Iraq before and I had a pretty good grasp of his position. His comments in this brief meeting reinforced my confidence in him.

At The Rally and Press Conference With Vets, Families, and Members of Congress

All the vets (who’d also been meeting with their members of Congress) then headed to the Upper Senate Park for a press conference and rally with the Families United members, about 700 of us in all. We were a little short of that number probably because there were still members of both groups meeting with their delegations.

As vets we were joined on stage by about 18 different Senators and members of the House. Some were there for the duration, others floated in and out as their schedules allowed. The Gold Star and Blue Star Family Members sat in the chairs in front of us. We in our khaki shirts, they in their red.

There were also about 3 dozen anti-war protesters from MoveOn, ANSWER, Code Pink and maybe some other groups. That was my first time around any of them. They did not make a good first impression. “Wacky,” “loony,” and “lunatic” seem to be the words of choice for describing them by many on the Hill. I would agree.

I was surprised at how nasty they really were and some of the crummy things they were willing to say, especially to the Families United members who had lost family members. They even harassed Merilee Carlson, who lost her son in Iraq, when she got up to speak. As much as I dislike and disagree with Cindy Sheehan, I would never do that to her or say to her the things these protestors were saying. I think they showed how low and ghastly of people they are.

I was thinking that the moms weren’t going to tolerate much of it, and at one point the protestors must have said something really nasty (I didn’t hear) because a wave of red clad moms all headed for them at once, but stopped themselves short of an altercation. Overall, our group showed a good contrast being what was right, and what was crazy. It was also a contrast in civility and decorum between our group and theirs.

Senators like Cornyn from Texas were there, as was Thune from South Dakota. The place got loud when Lindsey Graham showed up, then went crazy when John McCain and Joe Lieberman showed up. Those three defenders of the troops were shown much appreciation for all the hard work they’re doing.

When Joe Lieberman got up to speak, the protestors went nuts. Several headed for the stage shouting at the top of their lungs. I’ve seen and heard pure unadulterated hatred before, and this was it. A few were arrested by the Capitol Hill police who had a small showing at first, but quickly gathered in numbers as the protestors gathered. Senator Lieberman gave it right back. I think the words “despicable” and “stupid” were used, especially as he referenced their actions and linked those groups to the attack on General Petraeus the week before.

Mary Katharine Ham from Townhall had a nice story on the event as well as a video.

The whole experience of Tuesday was quite motivating. It was humbling to be in the presence of so many Gold Star families at the rally. It was invigorating to stand with so many others of the same mind. Hearing the Senator’s speeches was enough to fight another day, and to the end. I believe it was Lindsey Graham who called us vets and families “the political cavalry” so many on Capitol Hill had been waiting for.

Seeing the protestors, understanding how nasty and fanatical those involved in the anti-war movement are gave me a first hand revelation of how intent they are on destroying the life we love in pursuing their own motives and desires. Fighting against what they’re trying to do to our country is more than enough to stay in this fight.

Wednesday Morning in Pursuit of Lee Terry, Jeff Fortenberry, and Brian Baird

The next morning, on my own, I headed back to Capitol Hill in search of Nebraska’s other two Congressmen. I was able to speak with Lee Terry’s Chief of Staff for a while, even though I had shown up unannounced. He was quite gracious with his time. I am confident after visiting with him, that Congressman Terry has a reasoned and solid position for victory. I was also impressed with his Chief of Staff’s ability to immediately cite some of the most important and informative web sites on Iraq; obviously their office makes a regular study of events in Iraq.

I proceeded to Congressman Fortenberry’s office. He had requested an appointment with us on Tuesday, but we weren’t able to match his schedule with ours. I popped in anyway and visited briefly with the staff members on hand. The staffers present felt that we shared similar ideas on the war, but no real details were shared or ideas discussed. I asked them to let Congressman Fortenberry know we’d have his back as long as he stays strong for victory.

I then went to Congressman Brian Baird’s office. I wanted to let the Washington Congressman know how much I appreciated his strong stand and political courage. He wasn’t in the office, so I wrote and left him a thank you note. Seeing that kind of political courage is a reason for all of us to have hope. A note was the least I could do.

It was then time to catch a cab for the airport and head back to Nebraska.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Don't Speak For Me

There is a detailed account of the Vets for Freedom trip to D.C. forthcoming.

Now, this week's column:

Don’t Speak For Me

“The will of a nation is one of those phrases most widely abused by schemers and tyrants of all ages…Some have even discovered it in the silence of a nation and have supposed that from this apparent submission, they had a right to control.”

True words written by Alexis de Tocqueville over 150 years ago that applied to his observations of history, of America at the time he wrote them and which still apply today.

Time and again we hear defeatists in the war against terrorists use derivations of that phrase, “the will of the nation,” or “the will of the people.” In their presumptive attempts to speak on behalf of all of us, we often hear politicians use this idea to further their cause of pulling out of Iraq: “the American people sent us to Washington to…the American people expect us to…the people spoke in November and told us to…”

Beyond the fallibility of assumptions and interpretations of election results is the arrogance of thinking one possesses the authority to speak for all of us.

Statements such as, “The American people want us to leave Iraq now…” or anything similar which attempts to speak for all of us, even those who absolutely disagree, are conceited and lack merit.

Because they don’t speak for all of us, nor should they assume that perceived silence by other Americans who want to defeat the terrorists gives them the right to lead our country toward defeat.

To do so puts them in the company of the schemers and tyrants of whom Tocqueville spoke.

While these individuals attempt to speak for all of us, there are fortunately more and more Americans who are no longer silent, who are unwilling to allow them the privilege of speaking on their behalf. They refuse to submit to political schemers who pursue power and control over our security our futures and our country.

This week several groups stood in opposition, and through their actions, told them, “you don’t speak for me.” Groups invested in American success, arguing for perseverance and defeating the terrorists, converged on Capitol Hill.

Vets For Freedom, a grassroots organization of Iraq and Afghanistan War Veterans and those who support them, who believe in victory, were there, visiting Congressmen and Senators, encouraging them to stay in the fight, or in some cases to get in the fight.

Families United For Our Troops and Their Mission were there doing the same with hundreds of the Gold Star and Blue Star Family members who comprise the base of their organization. Despite the sacrifices of their families, despite the personal suffering they’ve endured, they were there, not silent, not letting anyone speak for them.

Gathering of Eagles, an organization dedicated to honoring and protecting our war memorials as well as supporting our troops (which they rightfully claim also means supporting their mission) was in D.C. They performed their primary mission of defending the war memorials against the anti-war groups which had converged on Washington. They also supported our troops by countering the message of the anti-war groups, addressing them directly.

Freedom’s Watch, a group which believes in American victory over terrorists, has been addressing success in Iraq through a very prolific ad campaign highlighting wounded veterans and Gold Star Families over the last month. Obviously Harry Reid does not speak for them.

When MoveOn ran their despicable newspaper ad in the New York Times attacking General Petraeus, renaming him “General Betray Us” before he had even given his testimony, there was widespread, very public outrage against them from these organizations and others willing to fight for victory in Iraq. That ad came from a group tied to many of the same politicians (through contributions and/or policy positioning) who incorrectly believe they speak for all of us.

Association with such a radical, anti-American group is absolutely why people like Harry Reid and Hillary Clinton don’t speak for all of us. It’s one of the reasons why those who oppose surrendering the fight should not be silent or give them a free pass.

When it comes to the defense of this country, and ultimately the defense of our freedom and liberty, be on guard against those who claim to do your will, and falsely claim to speak for you, especially when their position does not advocate American victory. Beware of them and their schemes. History has proven they both lead to the loss of freedom and liberty, not their preservation.

Caring For Our Troops and Veterans

The Global War On Terrorism and resultant casualties among America’s warriors have revealed many of the inefficiencies and inadequacies of the health care system for our active troops and veterans. Gaps have also been shown in the health care transition process from active duty to civilian and retired status.

Some corrections have been made to these flaws, but there is still much work to do. Improvements and attention are needed at the national and local levels to assist them with the unique health care challenges developed during their service. For rural states like Nebraska, special needs exist because of the distances to military and VA treatment facilities.

It looks like help is on the way at the national level.

As an original sponsor, Senator Nelson has been instrumental in moving a very important piece of legislation forward that addresses many of the veterans health care needs revealed to us during this war. Some of the highlights of “The Dignified Treatment of Wounded Warriors Act” include:
A comprehensive policy for the care, management, and transition from the military to VA or civilian life of service members with combat-related injuries or illnesses
Authorization of medically retired service members to receive the active duty health care benefits for 3 years
Requirements for a comprehensive plan on prevention, diagnosis, mitigation, and treatment of Traumatic Brain Injury and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and authorization of $50 million for improved diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation of service members with these conditions
Provision of respite care for family members who care for injured service members
Improved travel reimbursements for retired personnel seeking continuing medical treatment
Defense Department reporting on existing conditions and criteria used for contracting with civilian rehabilitation providers

3rd District Congressman Adrian Smith has been pushing to address the needs of veterans in rural areas, highlighted by being one of the original co-chairs of the House Rural Veterans Caucus and one of the original cosponsors for legislation establishing the Office of Rural Health within the Department of Veterans Affairs.

He was a cosponsor for the HEALTHY Vets Act of 2007 which would require the VA Secretary to contract with local doctors and hospitals to provide medical services, including primary care, for those veterans who live far away from VA medical facilities.

He is also a cosponsor to the Rural Veterans Health Care Improvement Act of 2007. This legislation is intended to improve access and care for veterans living in rural and/or geographically remote areas. Smith also voted for the Veterans’ Health Care Improvement Act of 2007 which addresses many aspects of veterans’ health care, including grants for veterans in rural areas to be transported to medical facilities.

Additionally, he has been publicly critical of the VA cutting ties with St. Francis Medical Center in Grand Island because that action is contrary to the needs of rural vets.

Not to be overlooked in the delivery of services to our vets are the representatives who put this legislation into action for them, the people working “where the rubber meets the road,” our County Veterans Service Officers.

The rules and bureaucracy of the VA system have been likened to an octopus. In reality it’s probably more like a whole tank full of live octopus.

Our County Veterans Service Officers are the ones tasked with sorting through the tentacles of ever-changing rules and pointing vets in the right direction (or even driving them) for care and claims. They are the important liaisons who lead veterans to the points of delivery for the services available.

Their jobs aren’t getting any easier either with aging vets requiring more care, the influx of new war veterans, and the constant change of bureaucracy at the VA. But they are still successful in helping our veterans.

For example, according to the office in York County, the VA compensation and benefits being obtained through that office has increased from $1.3 million in 2002 to $4.5 million in 2006. Although roughly 1/3 of that amount is for claims filed by vets from other counties and states, it still increases, by about $1.7 million, the money coming into York county veterans. Those figures not only indicate an ever present need for services among our vets, but also reveal a county officer who is quite successful in sorting through the red tape to get them what they need.

We need to make sure our county governments are taking care of these successful county officers with the same zeal and enthusiasm with which those officers take care of our vets. Otherwise, we could end up not improving delivery of the services our Congressional delegation is working so hard to provide and improve.

Friday, September 07, 2007

There Isn't a Civil War in Iraq

There is no civil war in Iraq. I agree with the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Conway, on this one.

On July 10th, he gave a speech in San Francisco and addressed the subject with the following, “I sat this week and listened to a United States Senator who criticized the U.S. effort in Iraq as being involved in an Iraqi civil war while ignoring the real fight against terrorism that was taking place in Afghanistan.
With due respect to the senator, I would offer that he is wrong on two counts. The fact is that there is no civil war taking place in Iraq by any reasonable metric. There is certainly sectarian strife, but even that is on the declining scale over the past six months…”

As one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a student of war and politics, and with direct access to all the information coming out of Iraq, I’m confident the Commandant is qualified to make those statements.

Knowing there is no civil war in Iraq is important, because it debunks the notion that our troops are somehow caught up in a civil war and that we need to change war policy accordingly.

Even Senator Nelson, in trying to find sensible resolutions to this battle (which I have commended him for doing) incorrectly bases his Nelson-Collins amendment on the premise our troops are caught in the middle of a civil war, which they are not.

It also throws water on the attempt by others to utilize the “civil war” reference with all the negative connotations of an impossible situation, much as they would venomously use the term “quagmire,” claiming “civil war” as a reason to surrender in Iraq.

Previously, one NIE report noted the country was approaching a civil war, but it never reached that level. More importantly, improved conditions in Iraq over the last 8 months definitely do not support the notion of a civil war.

The Commandant’s speech was given on July 10th, and already the trend during the previous six months was for a decline in sectarian strife. The progress made during those six months pales in comparison to the success achieved during the last two months since his speech.

Now that The New Way Forward and The Surge are completely staffed, they have shown even greater results, many detailed in previous weeks’ columns.

Anbar Province continues to be a model for the rest of the country. That same success is being replicated in other provinces. Military commanders this week reported a 75% decrease in violence in Baghdad during the last month. Tribal leaders are cooperating at unprecedented levels.

The improvements in Iraq are undeniable, and they are taking place in a country not sunk in a civil war.

Sectarian strife is not a civil war. It may be the exhibition of decades old disagreements between groups, but it is not civil war.

There were groups fighting because they felt powerless after the fall of Saddam or were unhappy with our presence. But that does not qualify as a civil war.

There have not been whole blocks of the population rising up and trying to start their own nations or governments within Iraq, both hallmark of a civil war.

The Islamic State in Iraq made an announcement along that line this week. However, with the capture of ISI terrorist leader Abu Shahid, we learned their group was nothing more than the Iraqi face Al Qaeda puts on its activity in Iraq. It is not a group of Iraqi’s rising up in a civil war against their own government. It’s just another Al Qaeda tactic to take over Iraq, and one of the reasons we need to persevere in the fight against Al Qaeda there.

Even Muqtada al Sadr, one of the most power-hungry leaders in Iraq, is not calling for a civil war or encouraging one. He has made past declarations to allow the government the time it needs to become established. Recently he ordered his followers involved with militia activities to stand down.

That is not the sign of a country caught up in a civil war.

One of the reasons for the decrease in violence throughout Iraq is the treaties and accords being made among tribal leaders of all different backgrounds, such as the one recently reached in the area around Taji. Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish leaders have all agreed to fight any group committing violence against the population, regardless of the background of those groups.

This type of cooperation between different sects for the good of all is a scenario completely opposite that of a civil war.

In a recent meeting of Iraq’s national political leaders, Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds all came to an agreement on ways they can move forward together, areas where they feel they can cooperate for immediate results. Cooperation at the national level between the different sects is not reflective of a country suffering the throes of a civil war.

Claiming, whether mistakenly or intentionally, that civil war exists in Iraq, especially as grounds for policy change, will only lead to more mistakes and prolong the fight against terrorism.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Tide is Rolling in Iraq

Positive Developments Continue for Iraq

Can you feel the tide turning, rolling in?

The week’s news detailing the achievements of our troops, politicians finally accepting the success of our troops, Iraqi’s continuing to battle insurgents and Al Qaeda, the Iraqi government starting to act like a government, and other nations acknowledging their role in the fight against terrorists was nearly overwhelming. The record number of positive news stories for the week was indicative of the undeniable improvements in Iraq.

Multi-National Forces – Iraq reported on the improving situation in Baghdad. Army Major General Joseph Fil, the commander of the Multi-National Division in Baghdad noted the improved cooperation between the Iraqi people with his forces and away from terrorists. “We have found that throughout the city there is increasing distrust, fatigue and disillusionment by the population with al-Qaeda and Jaysh al-Mahdi (militia group),” he said. “There is a strong desire in the neighborhoods to turn away from them.”

The General also reported that “fewer innocent Iraqis are being murdered as a result of sectarian violence, and statistics show murders are at their lowest level since the beginning of surge operations.” He noted, “Markets that were once targets by indiscriminant killers are now safer and thriving…more and more Iraqis are turning from the ‘rule of gun’ to the ‘rule of law.’”

At home, Senators Hillary Clinton and Carl Levin acknowledged the success of our troops in Iraq, with expected caveats of course. Although Hillary lives on a carousel of ever-changing positions, at least she momentarily had something positive to say about the war on terror.

After a trip to Iraq, Democratic Representative Brian Baird from Washington, a staunch opponent of the war, acknowledged the success we’re having, and has actually come to share the same thoughts as others about the cost of defeat in Iraq. He expressed powerful sentiments about what he saw in Iraq and the implications for the future with comments like these in a Seattle Times newspaper column: “I am convinced by the evidence that the situation has at long last begun to change substantially for the better…strategies and facts on the ground have changed for the better…the fact is, the situation on the ground in Iraq is improving in multiple and important ways…Terrorist organizations will be emboldened by our departure…Progress is being made and there is real reason for hope. It would be a tragic waste and lasting strategic blunder to let the hard-fought and important gains slip away.”

Multi-National Forces – Iraq reported on the 27th on the economic progress being made. As the security situation has improved, the diplomatic and economic gains have followed. The State Department now has 29 Provincial Reconstruction Teams making “positive strides” in all 18 provinces. These teams help provincial governments develop a transparent and sustained capability to govern, increase security and the rule of law, promote political and economic development, and provide the administration necessary to meet the basic needs of the local population.

The same story noted the security situation, pointing out joint operations between coalition and Iraqi forces have doubled since this time last year and the number of attacks against civilians and security forces is at its lowest point since August of 2006.

A separate MNF-Iraq story covered the continuously improving cooperation between the sheiks and provincial government of the Salad Ad Din province in their efforts to rid the area of terrorists and insurgents. Other stories through the week discussed the improvements being made in electrical services and sewage treatment, as well as the reopening of Iraqi industries.

On Sunday, the BBC reported that Iraqi national leaders (Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish) signed a reconciliation agreement for areas in which they agreed they could accomplish solutions. Although somewhat symbolic in nature, it’s a step in the right direction toward communication and action for a government which is still learning the ropes of democracy and overcoming the animosities fueled under Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime.

France became reengaged, in a positive way, in the war. Her new foreign minister, as part of France’s newly elected conservative government, finally visited Iraq. As New York Post columnist Amir Taheri points out, this signals to Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, who have reopened their embassies in Baghdad, that they and the U.S. are not alone in working toward a stable Iraq and Middle East. It also sends a message to Al Qaeda and Iran that they have not succeeding in dividing western powers.

Frontline reports by the troops in military blogs like that of “Badgers Forward” also showed progress in Iraq. The soldiers at Badgers Forward noticed a change in their area which reflects the current situation and the positive outlook of the Iraqi’s. After a long time without, homeowners and shop keepers have started putting glass back in what were previously boarded up windows. If the people are finally willing to spend their money on glass windows again, it’s a pretty good sign that things are going well and that the Iraqi’s believe the trend will continue.

So many positive developments over the week are a signal that the tide is turning. Although I’m a Cornhusker for life, I feel like my friends from Alabama, shouting “roll tide!”

Monday, August 27, 2007

Modeling the Way

Have our troops opened the doors to political reconciliation and gone beyond simply creating a secure environment in which the political solution in Iraq can be attained? Are they on the path toward attaining what professional diplomats could not?

The Marines have found a way to bring tribal Sheiks together, provide local security, and run Al Qaeda out of Anbar province. What just a year ago was counted as lost to Al Qaeda according to the intelligence report of the time is now a success story.

The Army’s 1st Cavalry has brokered a deal in the area around Taji which includes Sunni and Shiite tribes. The agreement has a diverse group ridding their neighborhoods of all terrorists and insurgents, regardless of political or religious affiliation, and working together to improve the area.

Under General Petraeus counter-insurgency leadership, our military has been able to achieve more than just security in areas of Iraq. In some cases, they are achieving political reconciliation at the grass-roots level.

The “surge” started out as an aggressive, collaborative, armed version of the “neighborhood watch” program, but has grown into a process by which previously disagreeing factions are discussing and smoothing out differences, allying for a common cause.

The professional politicians, diplomats, and critics should take note. What they have been unable to accomplish at the national level, our troops are accomplishing at the local level.

We have State Department and other officials involved in the political reconciliation processes at the national level in Baghdad. Their sole purpose has been to help the national government find a way to come together for national Iraqi unity.

In many ways, their tutelage has fallen short of attaining that which is pursued. As the professional diplomats, shouldn’t they be the experts at leading the Iraqi’s to political solutions?

They should, but they have not yet reached their goal.

Maybe they should look to our soldiers and Marines, who have been achieving political solutions, for some guidance. What they have accomplished at the local level in bringing together the different groups can surely be repeated at the national level.

But the diplomats need to follow at least two of the closely intertwined lessons learned and now being implemented by our troops on the ground.

First, this is about the people and their tribes. The interests of the other, varied groups which claim a stake in Iraq should be secondary. The diplomats must first and always ask “are my pursuits good for individual Iraqi’s and the tribes to which they belong?”

By comparison, there are diplomats and counselors who have chosen sides at the national level. There are some who have invested themselves in moving the cause and position of Muqtada al Sadr forward. There may be others who want Al Qaeda to have a place at the bargaining table or others who want a disproportionate Sunni or Iranian influence. They seemingly fail to ask if their pursuits are good for the Iraqi people. Instead, they focus on one of the power brokers in Iraq.

By comparison, our troops have to be civilian-centric, addressing immediate security for the people themselves. Part of that process involves bringing disputing factions together to stop local violence against the citizens. It also means that anyone not willing to work toward local security must be dealt with and eliminated from the equation.

There is no place in the neighborhoods for radical religious zealots who are unwilling to live peacefully by accepting others not like them. Where diplomats believe they can accommodate Sadr or Zawahiri, our troops know they and the Iraqi’s can not.

That then is the second lesson. There is no room for any of the groups willing to use violence to further their own cause at the expense of the Iraqi people.

At the national level, attempts to appease radical individuals and groups like al Sadr and even Al Qaeda, to give them a place at the collective bargaining table, have been made. That is a mistake which will continue to be an obstacle to national unity.

Our troops (and a growing number of Iraqi people) have learned that such violent groups with zealous self-serving interests can not be part of the future of Iraq. Their presence in the neighborhoods makes every situation untenable.

In some cases our troops are working with previously violent individuals and groups who had been the opposition, but whose interests have shifted away from being so personally or religiously radical. However, our troops and some Iraqi’s have learned that inflexible, radical individuals and groups similar to al Sadr or Al Qaeda are of little value. Eliminating them from the equation creates an environment in which peace can finally move forward at the local level. The diplomats need to learn this for peace at the national level with regard to who they’re willing to represent and tolerate.

Our troops are succeeding in bringing about local political reconciliation as well as the security necessary for national political reconciliation. They are laying the groundwork from which a political solution can be developed in Baghdad. Those responsible for attaining that solution, but who still struggle to find it, need to search no further than the streets of Anbar and Taji for a model.