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!”